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5.4 p.m.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Beaumont and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, I support the broad thrust of the Bill. It is going in the right direction and in our deliberations at succeeding stages I hope that the changes we propose will be changes that will strengthen it.

I was particularly pleased that, in his introductory remarks, the noble Viscount praised the work of the existing agencies. I have had a number of dealings of various sorts with them. In tackling what turned out to be extremely difficult and sometimes contradictory work, and the varying interests that they had to balance, they have done a pretty good job. It is satisfactory to know that the intention of the Government in introducing a single agency is to build on what has already been achieved rather than to start from scratch.

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The noble Viscount referred to the doubts raised in the first draft of the Bill regarding the possible weakening of the environmental duties to be put on the new agency. There has since been a substantial strengthening of the wording, largely, as we understand it, at the instance of the Secretary of State, for which we are all grateful. But we shall still need to examine carefully at Committee stage whether that goes far enough. For example, the principles laid down in the Water Resources Act 1991 go somewhat further even than the strengthened wording in the Bill. But that we shall examine.

I agree with the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, regarding the guidance referred to in Clause 4. Under that clause Ministers will have the right to give guidance to the agency with respect to,

    "aims and objectives which they consider it appropriate for the Agency to pursue in the performance of its functions".

That is very wide-ranging. It makes one feel a little apprehensive as to how the agency, with that threat of guidance over its head, can really do its work. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, made a reasonable request when he said that we would like some guidance on the guidance when we come to the Committee stage. Otherwise we must be in some doubt as to how it is to work.

I should like also to raise the question of what the organisation of the agency will be at regional and local level. Parts of the country vary in regard to their environmental priorities. For example, in London the waste problem is of particular interest due to the concentration of population; in other parts of the country it may be water pollution; elsewhere, where there is a concentration of industry, it may be air pollution. Will those differences of emphasis be reflected in the regional organisation as it will be set up? Furthermore, will the regional organisation be based on catchment areas, local government boundaries or some other boundaries? Those are important issues and will affect how the whole operation is to be handled on the ground. We are used to the existing agencies, their boundaries and relative importance in our areas. We need to know how that is to be dealt with when we move into the new arrangement.

My noble friend said that I would say something about abandoned mines, and indeed I shall, but it will be brief. I have only two points to raise. First, I am extremely pleased that the rather anomalous statutory exemption relating to the escape of minewater from abandoned mines will be withdrawn. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I am concerned that that will be delayed until 1999. I am not sure why the delay has been introduced. I would have hoped that the intention of the new mine owners would be to keep the mines in operation at least for that period of time and that the mines that would then be abandoned would be abandoned only in exceptional circumstances.

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The Government must therefore be concerned about the mines that have already been abandoned. That seems to come out of the wording in the remarks on the financial effects of the Bill on page xiii. The Bill states:

    "For abandoned mines in the ownership of the Coal Authority there could be an increase in public expenditure, since the cost of any action taken ... would fall on the Authority".

Therefore, the Government have decided apparently to defer that until 1999. I do not believe that that is right. I believe that here we have a serious problem which should be dealt with sooner, even though it could involve some extra expenditure from the public purse.

Finally, I would like to turn to the question of waste. I need here to declare an interest. This is a subject in which I have accumulated some experience. I am chairman of a company called Sheffield Heat and Power which was set up under the initiative of the City of Sheffield to make use of the waste heat from the city incinerator. It has indeed been a model of its sort which many other cities have shown an interest in. I welcome the Government's intention to prepare a waste strategy covering the recovery and disposal of waste in England and Wales and for a similar strategy to be established in Scotland. I hope that these two strategies will run very closely together. It would be awkward if the English and Welsh strategies should diverge from the Scottish strategy, or vice versa.

The Government already support the concept of a waste hierarchy--that is to say, in the first instance there should be an attempt to reduce the amount of waste at source; to re-use as much waste as is produced; then to recycle; to recover heat and other valuable products from the waste and, finally, as a last resort, to landfill. But that hierarchy can be achieved only if there is a commitment to the integrated management of waste. I hope that this concept of integrated management will be very much borne in mind in working up that strategy. The proposal in the Budget to introduce a landfill tax is clearly desirable as a stimulus in the right direction, but it will be valid only if alternative means of disposal are promoted and developed.

For example, Germany has enormously overpromoted recycling and built up vast quantities of materials for recycling, in particular waste paper, which have not only exceeded the capability of the German market to deal with it but flooded other countries as well. Therefore, part of the integrated approach must be to have sufficient markets for recycleable material.

The integrated approach to waste management should include targets and timescales for moving waste up the hierarchy in such a way that all the different stages in the hierarchy are promoted in step with one another. There should be a sound and scientifically-based assessment of the waste technologies. In that connection I had the honour to open, on Monday 12th of this month, the waste incineration centre of Sheffield University, of which the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, is the Chancellor. Sheffield University is to be congratulated on this initiative. The director of the centre is Professor Swithenbank who has a world reputation in the scientific study of environmental issues. The centre will research the incineration of all types of waste and will particularly concentrate on the monitoring of flue gas

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emissions including the highly debatable question of dioxins which has been raised in a recent report from the United States. I believe that a scientific back-up of the waste strategy is an essential element in dealing with the whole issue. I hope that it will figure in the Government's strategy.

As part of the integrated approach to waste management there must be close co-ordination at regional and local level between the waste regulation authorities which will now pass to the new agency, the disposal authorities and the collection authorities. There is a good example of an integrated approach of that sort developed in the county of Hampshire where the county council responsible for regulation and disposal has co-ordinated its actions with the districts, which are responsible for collection. Perhaps that example can be used elsewhere.

In conclusion, I believe that the Government's intention to develop a national waste strategy is much to be welcomed. It needs to be based on the concept of integrated waste management. Particular regard will need to be had to the ways in which the different aspects of waste management can be brought together at regional and local level.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, in welcoming this important Bill I should begin by declaring an interest in my capacity as chairman of the National Trust, which has a considerable interest in the Bill.

The trust, as the major practitioner of conservation in this country and as a major landowner in, I believe, all the national parks, their effectiveness and that of the authorities is very important to us. They provide the framework in which we operate. Without them, and without the effective operation of their planning powers, our task --and it is a statutory task--would be a great deal more difficult.

Our principal interest in the Bill, therefore, lies in Part III, but I have a few observations on Part I and Part IV. As regards Part I, the idea of an environmental protection agency has been around for several years. I am, however, always rather nervous about proposals to merge organisations which appear to be working satisfactorily. The process of merger--the cost and disruption, the problems of different cultures and so on--can be quite damaging. Therefore, on the whole I am of the old-fashioned school which says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

But pollution in its various forms is no respecter of administrative boundaries and, moreover, as a subsidiary point, I suspect that we shall get a better response from industry from a one-stop shop approach. So I accept the proposed new agency as the right way forward. I would only ask--this has little to do with the legislation but picks up a point made just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra--that in merging the NRA and the HMIP the particular strengths of each organisation are recognised and taken into account.

Concern has been voiced this afternoon regarding ministerial guidance--here I am referring to Clause IV--and specifically by one noble Lord about the

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exclusion of pollution control from the duty to further conservation and so forth; that is to say, Clause 7(1). Again, at Clause 7(2) the Bill appears to be weak on recreational duties. We would like to see a strengthening--that is to say, a requirement to further the provision of access rather than merely a duty to preserve existing access.

We welcome the requirement at Clause 9(3) for the Minister to consult before issuing a code of practice. But there are particular problems that arise over National Trust inalienable land. This is not a straightforward point and it is, of course, peculiar to us. Therefore, I would like to write to the Minister on this matter and also perhaps on some related points to do with the proposed advisory committees.

I had proposed to comment in some detail on Clause 37; namely, the requirement to carry out cost benefit exercises. But I believe that with such a long list of speakers I should move on. So I shall content myself with guarded support for that clause. It is guarded support because, while I strongly believe in the need to identify and compare costs and benefits and to whom they accrue, these exercises are in my experience pretty subjective and beg the question of what you do about values that are inherently unquantifiable in monetary terms. Here, I do not believe that I share the same hope as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that we shall ever find a satisfactory solution to that.

Turning to Part III and the National Parks part of the Bill, first, there are the proposals to set up national parks authorities. They are of course closely similar to the proposals put forward so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, last winter in his Private Member's Bill which were widely welcomed. They have been widely welcomed this afternoon and I do not propose to say anything further.

Therefore, I turn next to the proposed revision of national park purposes. We welcome the extension of the first purpose by the reference to,

    "conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage".

So far, so good. But it is when we come to the second purpose that we run into difficulty. The Edwards Panel stressed "quiet enjoyment and understanding". That point has already been referred to by a number of noble Lords this afternoon. We have "enjoyment" and "understanding" in the Bill, but the word "quiet" is omitted. In our view, that is a serious omission and we should like to know why that word has been omitted. Is it for legal drafting reasons or does it represent a change of policy?

The Minister will be aware that as long ago as January 1992 in their response to the Edwards Report the Government welcomed,

    "the proposed references to quiet enjoyment and understanding as having special relevance to National Parks".

And only a few months ago the DoE in PPG 24 talked of the need to give special consideration to development which would,

    "affect the quiet enjoyment of National Parks".

I emphasise the word "quiet".

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I do not want to labour the point further except to make one personal observation. In stressing the need to include "quiet", we are not seeking to exclude or ban traditional pursuits or activities. We do not wish to ban, for example, grouse shooting from our parks. But we do want, again by way of example, to ban noisy speedboats from our lakes and to restrict the recreational use of all-terrain motorised vehicles.

Moving on, we welcome the inclusion of the so-called "Sandford principle" in Clause 59. I agree here with the observation of the Countryside Commission that in most instances where there is conflict between the two main purposes, they can usually be resolved by good planning and sensible management--and, one might add, by a dose of common sense. For that is our experience in the National Trust: much of the task of managing our open space properties--and many of them are in national parks--lies in dealing with balancing desirable but conflicting objectives.

This is perhaps an appropriate point to add my concern to that which has already been expressed by a number of noble Lords that the Bill does not contain proposals to test major development proposals in the national parks. I refer to the so-called "Silkin test". The Edwards Panel devoted a whole chapter and 10 specific recommendations to that issue. I do not think that I need say any more about that. It has been referred to already and I am sure that the Minister has taken those points on board.

It is argued by some, and in effect it was the point made by the Government in their response to Edwards, that there is sufficient protection from planning policy guidance notes and, in particular PPG7. But they do not have the force of legislation, nor do they cover all forms of development. They are general and do not cover the special needs of national parks. They depend very much on the whim of Ministers and there is nothing to ensure that they are applied consistently over time. In my view, that is probably the most serious weakness in what is otherwise a pretty good Bill.

By contrast, I can readily accept and, indeed, welcome the inclusion of the duty to have regard,

    "to the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Parks",

at Clause 59(1). But would it not be wise to buttress that duty by stating that it should be exercised in such a manner that it supported the essential character of a park?

That is all I wish to say at this stage on Part III of the Bill. I would like to make two brief comments on Part IV. I refer first to the measures to protect hedgerows. I note that those measures do not appear to cover stone walls, in particular dry stone walls which are such an important feature of many of our national parks.

I turn secondly to the proposed transfer of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme to MAFF in 1996. This scheme was one of the jewels in the crown of the Countryside Commission. One is sad to see this lusty infant being passed on to a new parent, but now that the scheme is up and running it is no doubt the proper thing to do. Clause 80 gives MAFF the necessary power to carry on the good work in that field and no doubt in related future fields. Clause 81 quite properly places a

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duty on MAFF to consult the relevant statutory agencies in respect of changes in legislation. After all, it is those agencies which have the experience and expertise. I note that the Countryside Commission has some regional concerns and would like to see a steering group to keep scheme objectives and performance under review. I have some sympathy for its view, given its outstanding record.

I have gone on quite long enough. I conclude by reiterating my support for this Bill and look forward to examining in more detail at later stages the points I have raised this afternoon.

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