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Baroness Strange: My Lords, the debate on the gracious Speech has been well supplied with excellent maiden speeches as well as the eloquence one has come to expect, but never fails to enjoy, from other noble Lords, and was started so elegantly and gracefully by my noble friends Lord Wade of Chorlton and Lord Lindsay.
Although much has been said in the gracious Speech about NATO, peace in Bosnia, preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons, terrorism, Europe, GATT, foreign aid, drug abuse, human rights, South Africa, Hong Kong, former communist countries, linking up with Asia and the Pacific, something about debt, the Channel Tunnel link and discrimination against the disabled, not much was said about environment or agriculture except for the new environmental agencies and the changes in agricultural tenancies about which we have been speaking today. There has also been much said in relation to organic farming and I shall be grateful to my noble friend if he can define "organic farming" when he sums up.
Nothing at all, as far as I can see, has been said about the heritage and conservation. Does that mean that the Government have lost interest in it, have washed their hands of it, have abandoned it altogether? Yesterday I went to the AGM of the Historic Houses Association, and here I must quickly declare an interest. Not only are my husband and I members, but we live in a beautiful, slightly decayed pink castle where, when it rains, water pours not only through the roof where the slates have worn out but sometimes comes up through the ground-floor plumbing like a fountain as well. Our house is only open to selected toursand of course
Anyone who lives in an historic house with an historic garden is very lucky to do so, whatever the inconveniences. The President of the Historic Houses Association said that living in an historic house was rather like breast-feeding a dinosaur which can never be weaned. What he did not saywhich is perfectly truewas that one would not do it if one did not love the dinosaur. Which brings me back to the gracious Speech.
The Government will continue to implement policies and programmes responsive to the needs of the individual citizen. Historic house owners are individual citizens, too, just as much as anyone else. The Minister has said that the countryside is at the heart of the Government's conservation and environmental thinking. If not the heart, our historic houses are the jewels with which the countryside is decked.
There are three areas in which individual citizens who live in historic houses open to the public can very well be helped. The first is a lower rate of VAT on repairs to listed buildings. All buildings need repair but listed historic buildings tend to need more repair than others. In France, 95 per cent. of the costs of running a house open to the public can be claimed back in tax relief. Even a listed house which is not open can claim back 50 per cent., and that is for running costs. I am suggesting that there should be tax relief only on repairs.
The second area is capital gains tax. If you live in an historic house and money is desperately needed for repairs, anything that you sell may possibly be subject to capital gains tax. If the money from the sale is not spent on riotous living but is devoted to the repair of an historic house, it will be a very real help if capital gains tax can be waived on this issue. After all, if the house or property in question belonged to the Government and not to a private person it would cost the taxpayer a good deal more to maintain; or do we want to live in a country in which there are no privately owned historic houses?
The third area is that glorious financial bonanza: the national lottery. Although I bought a ticket last weekand will do so againI have not won anything yet. I do know someone who bought two tickets and won £20. A large part of the profitpossibly as much as £300 millionwill go to the heritage section. Not a penny of this can be paid out in grants to individual historic house owners, although in areas other than heritage, perhaps football or something else, individuals can benefit. In the heritage sector only government-run properties and the National Trust can receive grants.
We have a Conservative Government. Surely the policy of the Conservatives is to conserve; or in the field of heritage is it only to conserve properties which are publicly owned? Historic house owners do not throw stones, but they, too, are individual citizens with their own very specific needs. Surely the principles of the Citizen's Charter should apply to all citizens. Historic house owners are fast becoming an endangered species.
Clearly, people are deeply concerned about the environment and the welfare of animals. In many cases such concerns have been dealt with in international agreements, such as the International Whaling Commission's decision to introduce a moratorium on commercial whaling and the European Union's decision to ban the importation of fur pelts caught by the leg-hold trap. However, there is growing unease that the GATT agreement may not give due weight to such animal welfare and environmental concerns. With the new powers of the soon-to-be-created World Trade Organisation, there is a strong fear that disputes will tend to act against those countries which actively promote higher welfare or environmental standards.
Perhaps I may summarise the principles that I believe and hope can still be embodied within the GATT agreement. I deal first with the protection of the global commons. I believe that the GATT committee on trade and the environment should produce an interpretive statement on Article 20 of the treaty to the effect that conservation of exhaustible natural resources includes resources held in the global commons: for example, action to protect whales or other cetaceans in the high seas.
The second point is respect for international treaties. Action derived from international treaties should be exempt from challenge. This would recognise that important treaties, such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), would be granted equal status to GATT. There must be reassurance that such treaties do not have subservient status in comparison with the general agreement.
The third point is the open settlement of disputes. So that future disputes can be minimised and rulings gain more legitimacy, it is important that outside bodies can submit evidence to dispute panels and that the decision-making process is open to scrutiny in the same way that a court is. There is a fear that the GATT disputes procedure can be unduly secretive, and this need not be the case.
The fourth point, which is terribly important, is concern over Article 3 of the agreement. A statement of clarification should be produced which is unambiguous as to the fact that action by any country may apply to the way that a product is created and not just to the product itself: for example, the way that fur-bearing animals are caught and concern over the cruel leg-hold trap, rather than the quality of the finished pelt itself.
Another example is the use of BST, which is a growth hormone drug that is used in certain countries to increase milk production. This drug causes an increased incidence of mastitis in cows. This is extremely painful. Should we be obliged to buy from another country this kind of product produced with the help of this drug, having already banned its use in our own? So that there is no misunderstanding, these principles should be incorporated into the treaty, thereby recognising that unnecessary suffering to animals is quite unacceptable.
The final point is the recognition of standards. International standards are set to a recognised minimum and not a maximum, but states should be allowed to legislate for higher animal welfare or environmental standards if they wish without being penalised by the World Trade Organisation. That is the principle adopted in European legislation. I would be very grateful to the Minister if he were able to reassure the House on this point.
In conclusion, the United Kingdom has always been a leading voice in matters concerning cruelty and suffering. We have legislated against cruel farming systems such as the veal crate, sow stalls and tethers. In Europe, we have pressed for tighter legislation concerning the transportation and slaughter of animals. I believe that the British people support those humane advances and that there will be a huge public reaction if the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade adversely affects the higher standards that we have already achieved.
I was very interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, statistics on sheep exports. Even though 20 per cent. are exported live, I heartily agree with him and look forward to the time when all our livestock is slaughtered near its source and travels abroad only in carcass form. In that regard, I believe that we still have a long way to go.
Viscount Mills: My Lords, first, or should I say almost last, perhaps I may add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers on their excellent speeches. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, will forgive me if, as a fellow scientist, I pay an especial welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere.
I have not spoken in a debate on the Address before and I fear that my speech might be better suited to a Second Reading. My comments are specific to the proposed Environment Agencies Bill, but many of the issues I will raise are those that we shall have to address generally in order successfully to manage our environment. So I hope your Lordships may on this occasion indulge me.
In the setting up of any business, there are a number of obvious considerations. What do you want to make or do? How will this be achieved? Where will the necessary funds and resources come from? And what is the likelihood of success? It seems to me that the setting up of the new Environment Agency for England and Wales requires a fundamentally similar approach, but do the proposed Bill and the draft management statement issued with it provide all the answers; and, if likened to a business plan, how successful might these be?
At this point I should declare that I am an employee of the National Rivers Authority, one of the organisations which will be incorporated into the new agency. I do therefore have a vested interest in it being a success!
Leaving that aside, how much emphasis will be placed upon development and how much on sustainability? Will this requirement for sustainable development lead to a weakening of the agency's regulatory and operational activities? And what targets will be used to test sustainability?
In his speech, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell supported the concept of cost benefit analysis in relation to the future agency's activities. However, he questioned the actual mechanisms by which costs and benefits will be established and debated as well as the extent of their application to the new agency's activities. These are important practicalities that need to be considered.
Concerning the same issue, I was particularly struck by a recent article in New Scientist which quoted David Kinnersley, who, incidentally, was the architect of the legislation that set up the NRA, as saying:
The Aire and Calder project is an outstanding example of this happening in practice, albeit in this case it was a voluntary initiative. Initiated by the Centre for the Exploitation of Science and Technology and funded by the NRA, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, Yorkshire Water Services and the British Oxygen Foundation for the Environment, 11 companies in the Aire and Calder catchment participated in this project. It was established to demonstrate the benefits of waste minimisation and cleaner technology. As a result, these companies have made savings of more than £2 million within the first 18 months, with a further £2 million to be saved over the next two years. Here is a clear demonstration that reductions in pollution and
This raises the wider issue of what exactly is meant by cost in this context. When "having regard to economic impacts", the agency must surely include environmental costs; and will there be a recognition that the environment cannot and should not always be valued solely in monetary terms?
Moving on to how the agency will be structured and run, this has been considered in detail by Touche Ross, who prepared a report for the Department of the Environment entitled Options for the Geographical and Managerial Structure of the Proposed Environment Agency. In its response to this report, the NRA pointed out that the study appeared to have concentrated overly on administrative needs rather than examining the fundamental aim of the new body. Consequently, the NRA has recommended to government that environmental need should be the main criterion used to assess the various options proposed in the Touche Ross report. It is therefore encouraging that the Secretary of State for the Environment, when announcing the publication of the draft legislation, stated:
These views have already been supported by the NRA and are the product of its hard won experience over the past five years. Furthermore, the NRA's revised model for the agency is the only one which gives a strong link between regulation and operation; which provides for local delivery of services within natural geographic boundaries; which is locally accountable through statutory regional committees; and which proposes local multi-disciplinary teams providing a single point of contact for customers. It seems to me that this is the model most likely to deliver the Government's aims and mission for the new agency.
To return to my analogy of a business plan and the question of funding, the setting up of the agency will require considerable resources, and some fear that a failure to provide adequate resources for its start-up would be detrimental. An additional fear is that in setting up the agency the effectiveness of the organisations involved will be decreased. Dr. Tom Crossett of the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection was recently quoted in Environmental Business as saying:
Lastly, I should like to say a few words about what the draft Bill does not contain. When I first drafted this speech, I highlighted what I regarded as a major omission with respect to the wording of Clause 7 of the Bill. I was therefore delighted when I read the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for the Environment that he had decided to amend the wording of the agency's conservation commitments in Clause 7. However, to my mind and as I understand it, there still remains an anomaly in that the duty to further conservation will not apply to the pollution control function of the new agency. Especially for pollution control in the aquatic environment, this would be a retrograde step.
For the past two decades water pollution control regulation in the United Kingdom has been based on the setting of environmental quality standards for the protection of aquatic life. Thus, conservation objectives are already at the heart of the regulatory system. There are already numerous binding commitments through EC directives to meet water quality standards for the protection of aquatic flora and fauna. Commitments have previously been given by government that conservation interests would be incorporated into the statutory water quality objective scheme. The proposal that the agency should only,
However, that is far from the only omission from the draft Bill. There are a number of issues for which no provisions have yet been made. I refer, for example, to provisions to address the problems of contaminated land and abandoned mines; to add incentive elements to the charging scheme provisions; to introduce specific statutory powers to carry out preventive works to reduce pollution in the aquatic environment; to allow drought orders to be made on the application of the agency on environmental grounds; and there are others.
I started this speech by posing some important questions that need to be answered if the new environment agency is to be a success. It seems to me that much further work will be required in order to provide answers to these questions, thereby ensuring that the environment agency will contribute more to environmental protection, management and enhancement than its predecessor bodies.
We need to build on the experience and expertise of our existing agencies. We need agreement on how to measure sustainable development and environmental improvements in a broad sense, not just in economic terms. The new agency must deliver environmental
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