Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
MR S THOMAS,
MR D MARKHAM
160. I understand that there is a statutory
obligation on the Department to meet with you. Is that the case?
(Mr Gilliland) We are statutory consultees on a number
of issues and they are required to consult us on those issues,
for example, where there is a pollution incident.
161. That is a yes, is it?
(Mr Gilliland) Yes, but that does not equal a statutory
requirement to meet us in terms of general liaison.
162. They can consult you but not meet you.
(Mr Gilliland) But it would be sensible.
163. You think that would be sensible and should
(Mr Gilliland) Yes, it should have done. I have to
say that some of the information we would have sought and some
of the benefits to be derived from a liaison meeting are set out
in the Business Plan: a forward look in terms of work and targets.
It could have preempted some problems as well in terms of timetables
when our input would have been required in terms of deadlines,
identifying where we might have been able to collaborate, identifying
where we may have been able to input into training more effectively.
164. Rolling all this together, would you say
that although you have a statutory right to consultation they
actually frustrate that process as it stands and that you would
want that improved and lengthier times to be given between notice
of meetings and meetings actually taking place?
(Mr Gilliland) Yes, we would like to see it happen.
Yes, it has improved in the two and a half years of the MCA being
in existence. There is room for further improvement but there
are current initiatives going on at the moment where we are working
quite closely with them, although again, deadlines are given which
are unrealistic. Short notice is given for responses or input.
My judgement, for what it is worth, is that I think that having
seen an improvement it has happened since early last year and
that is down to too few staff covering the issues.
Mr Donohoe: What representations have you as
an organisation made to Government about these inadequacies of
the relationship between yourself and the MCA?
165. Have you told Ministers that you have the
right to talk to these people and to be consulted and so far it
has not worked?
(Mr Gilliland) No, not that I am aware.
166. Do you intend to do so?
(Mr Thomas) Having discussed this, there is a feeling
that it is beginning to improve and has continued to improve and
there is a feeling that the sorts of negotiations which have been
going on recently are on a positive enough trend that we do not
feel there is a sufficient need to do as you suggest, is a fair
interpretation of where we see the position.
167. Our inquiry is into all the agencies which
report into the DETR and that includes the Vehicle Certification
Agency and the Vehicle Inspectorate. The Vehicle Certification
Agency has responsibilities for the recycling components of cars.
The Vehicle Inspectorate has responsibilities to do with environmental
pollution produced by cars. Is English Nature consulting with
either of those two agencies on environmental issues?
(Mr Thomas) I am pretty certain I can answer with
an emphatic no to that.
168. Should you be?
(Mr Thomas) I have never thought about it before but
if you were to ask me about the importance of all government departments
linking up with common targets, sustainable development, overarching
targets which we all aim towards, then you would have thought
that the recycling issue in particular and air pollution as well,
if other government agencies have any serious impact on those
targets and we are promoters of those targets, then we ought to
be. There is a logic in what you say.
169. Whereas they may defend themselves by saying
you have not asked to be consulted, you would argue that these
agencies should have approached you for input on the subject.
(Mr Thomas) No, I do not think I would argue that.
If being a public body we do make an assessment of whom we should
engage with, if we look we have 32,000 owners and occupiers, we
have the Environment Agency, we have the Highways Agency, other
regulators and we make a judgement about who has the most significant
impact on the outcomes that we seek, favourable conditions, sites
of special scientific interest, the bodies you talk about, given
our limited resources, possibly come too far down the list for
us to have diverted sufficient resources. It is not a matter of
whether we should, it is a matter of whether or not we
170. Coming back to the issue you raised of
departmental targets all needing to fit together, in so far as
the environmental aspects of your work are concerned, such as
where you have some proficiency to advise us, how well coordinated
are those targets within all of the agencies?
(Mr Thomas) Within all of the agencies?
171. Within each of the agencies. Do they actually
give some impression to you that they have actually tried to marry
up their targets into a strategy?
(Mr Thomas) We have seen some very positive movement
in two areas that I am aware of. Definitely the Highways Agency
and the adoption of biodiversity action plan targets, the adoption
of environmental management schemes would definitely be things
which I would say do make that link. The other thing is the Green
Government, Green Ministers type of initiative where we are beginning
to see Ministers within each department who are able to provide
that sort of topdown push to the various agencies. It may be that
those have not filtered through. If, for example, the Highways
Agency have agreed to consider when disposing of their estate,
getting rid of land, if it is of conservation value they will
consider giving the first offer to conservation bodies and that
is where we are beginning to see these targets filtering down
from the top. The Highways Agency, which is the one we have dealt
with, taking your earlier point that we have not dealt with these
other agencies, we have begun to see some sort of cross-cutting.
(Mr Gilliland) With regard to the Maritime and Coastguard
Agency things have certainly improved over the last two to three
years. Nature conservation issues have been taken on board more
although that has been driven by what needs to be taken account
of in terms of legislation. Legislation in relation for example
to pollution issues, port waste management issues.
172. I am sorry, permission to use what?
(Mr Gilliland) Legislation requiring better management
of port wastes etcetera. The situation has improved but it has
been driven by regulatory requirements. The MCA would claim that
proactively they have also become greener, but I think there has
been limited movement in terms of their proactive stance to take
on board nature conservation issues. For example, one of the key
areas that we would have sat down and talked to them about which
was coming on stream last year was the biodiversity action plan
because there was a large number of marine habitat and species
plans being published last year. I suspect I could sit down with
some colleagues in MCA who have never heard of the biodiversity
action plan. Yet it does inform a lot of our response and input
into work that they do.
Chairman: If they have not heard of the employment
laws it is quite possible they have not heard of the biodiversity
173. Would it be a general impression of all
of you that these agencies are responding to green changes in
the law rather than being proactively green converts?
(Mr Thomas) Speaking for the Highways Agency, I would
say that they are going beyond that. They are complying with the
law but take the example of the A30, they could have done something
else. There was no reason to make them do that. One of the interesting
things I did not mention earlier is the shift in towards the emphasis
on making better use of the existing network has real benefits
for us and that again is a cultural thing which we are beginning
to see the evidence of. They are going beyond the compliance bit.
174. Let me put you on the spot now. If there
is a green bad boy amongst these agencies, who is it?
(Mr Thomas) I am not going to put my hand up for the
Highways Agency on that one and the only other one we have actually
provided evidence on and deal with regularly would be the MCA.
Infer what you will.
(Mr Gilliland) A two horse race. I would say on the
MCA corporately that we have had to drag them along a little.
At the individual officer level there are some very committed
individuals who think the way we do environmentally. My impression
is that they are constrained from being proactive because there
is so little room for manoeuvre in terms of proactive work and
that is because there are so few individuals trying to cover their
Chairman: Yes, but I think I should make it
quite clear that the Committee is not criticising individual members
of any of the agencies. If there is a problem with the structure
and/or the funding and/or the general management techniques then
that is very important for us. It does mean that we will occasionally
say slightly disobliging things.
175. I should really like to ask you whether
you think the Spanish fishing fleet or the odd oil spill does
the most damage to the marine environment but I do not know whether
that is quite within the remit of the Agency.
(Mr Gilliland) Hobson's choice. They are both bad
176. In relation to the Agency, how do you see
their work in dealing with the dumping of sewage and industrial
waste, which of course does affect the environmental ecology,
the marine ecology? Do you think they are good at it, they do
not take enough notice of it or they are effective or what? Do
they consult you about it?
(Mr Gilliland) The dumping of sewage sludge waste
at sea was phased out a couple of years ago and should have ceased.
177. So it does not go on any more.
(Mr Gilliland) Indeed. The dumping of any material
which falls into the category of placing a material on the sea
bed is actually dealt with by MAFF, specifically the section of
MAFF which operates under the Food and Environment Protection
Act. It is not really within the MCA's remit and I have to say
in relation to MAFF that they do consult us quite well.
178. Given the broad spectrum of responsibilities
of the Agency, which includes looking after the safety of seafarers
and responding to maritime emergencies and all the rest of it,
do you think that their level of concern about the risk of pollution,
particularly in relation to marine matters, is quite good? It
talks here about their role in the control of ships which dump
at sea and so on. Do you feel they are doing a good job? Do you
get any impression of that?
(Mr Gilliland) It is certainly a difficult remit in
having to deal with all the way from health and safety issues,
seafarers, to environmental pollution. We recognise, and this
often is the case in the actual events or exercises, that where
there is a search and rescue element, that takes precedence over
the counter-pollution element. I do not know whether, because
of the amalgamation of the various bodies, there is a culture
within the MCA that the environmental protection side comes to
the bottom of the list but it is safe to say that it must be difficult
to fight with the other remits within the MCA. On the counter-pollution
side, which is the side I know and deal with, they do a good job
and it is improving, but there is room for improvement particularly
on the proactive side. Obviously they have to prioritise and they
are very good at and have a long history of dealing with the reactive
side and responding to pollution incidents. There is less of a
culture and less room for movement on the proactive side of following
up detention figures in terms of policy, of finding time to sit
down and produce guidance on how best to respond to pollution
incidents, although that has now effectively been done through
the national contingency plan. It has improved. There is room
for improvement. My view is that it is particularly enabling them
to spend more time on proactive work which is where the improvement
179. You expressed concern about the 25 per
cent of inspections done by the MCA on ships entering British
ports. Could you just elaborate on your concerns a little? Secondly,
what proportion do you think should be inspected? What sort of
system should there be for inspection? Have you done any estimates
of the costs of those improvements?
(Mr Gilliland) In fairness I should say that the 25
per cent figure comes from what is called the Paris Memorandum
of Understanding which is signed up to by all the EU states and
a number of other states such as Canada.