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7.26 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, will forgive me if I do not follow him down the route he has chosen to discuss. Mindful as I am of the hour, I hope that other noble Lords will forgive me if I do not follow them. There will be another opportunity because nearly everything that has been said and no doubt will be said later will give rise to further discussion as the Bill progresses.

I am mindful of the hour. I am equally aware that this is the last night of term. There are those outside the Chamber who help us and for whom the last night of term is special. Therefore, rather than delay, perhaps I may get straight on with what I have to say without being diverted by others.

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Notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, said as regards Scotland and what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, touched on when speaking about the special needs of Wales, I am sorry that we do not have one single agency. I accept that in dealing with people the laws are slightly different as regards Scotland but pollution and the environment are no great respecters of national or political boundaries. It would be ludicrous, would it not, if waste matters were to be exported to or imported from Scotland where perhaps the different regimes would be perceived to be commercially or environmentally more advantageous for the disposer?

I do not believe that it will be done today but perhaps in the future the Minister will explain in greater depth how the Scottish agency and that which will obtain in the rest of Great Britain will have common standards. I believe most noble Lords know but it is proper for me to declare that I have an interest in the waste management industry, particularly in that arm called the disposal of waste.

When my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in July 1991 that it was the intention of the Government to establish the environment agency one would have expected the industry to be consulted. Sadly, during the lengthy gestation and planning period leading up to the publication of the Bill, perhaps the largest single industry--the waste management industry, with a turnover of between £5 billion and £6 billion--did not have any representation.

On 23rd November in the debate on the loyal Address, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, expressed her disappointment at the fact that the agency's advisory committee did not include a scientist. Today other noble Lords have deplored the fact that the shadow board, which now comprises 11 of the 15 members, does not include an expert in this, that or another area. I am not special pleading. However, given that the waste disposal industry has such a high profile and given, I am sad to say, that the public's perception of it is--quite wrongly--not of the highest, it seems essential that the industry should have a place on the board of the agency which, under Parts II and IV, will dictate and direct the objectives to be achieved and, to some extent, the route by which those objectives should be reached.

I take as an example the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, implemented only in May this year, as they relate to the waste management licensing system. Only a few months on, strains are already showing, and they will have to be dealt with. A particular problem of which the Government are well aware is the concern felt about the fact that waste management companies have to demonstrate that they are able to meet unquantified financial obligations for an indefinite period into the future. In some cases, that date could be 50 or even 100 years away. The insurance market is not interested. So individual companies are required by the current regulatory authorities to put up, in some cases, as much as £1 million in cash--not in bonds or in promises but in hard cash--in order to meet undefined and unquantified problems.

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Through its trade association (the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors) to which my noble friend Lord Lindsay referred, the industry suggested to the Government that a fund should be administered by an independent body to be financed by levies across the entire industry, not just from members of the trade association. The fund could amount to in excess of £1 billion within a very few years. However, that suggestion did not find favour with the Government. I think they were afraid that they would have to provide an exemption for the company handling the fund, which would have to prove that it was a fit and proper body to be involved in the licensing activities of the industry. It may be that the new environment agency should have the power to form subsidiary companies, as local authorities can, whereby such a scheme could be put into place. Before we reach the next stage of our deliberations, I should like to hear the Government's thinking on that. I think that a number of noble Lords from all sides of the House believe that such a scheme is viable and that it would provide the protection and monitoring system that will be required by the agency.

Another area of concern which demands, and will later receive, explanation comes in Part II which deals with contaminated land. Notwithstanding the fact that there was a draft Bill--the Bill was published on 1st December--it was only in mid-November that Framework for Contaminated Land, the outcome of the Government's policy review, was published. That document contains a totally different definition of "contaminated land" from that contained in the Bill. We must understand what we are talking about because excessive emphasis has been placed on landfill. It has been determined that landfill will account for 25 per cent. of the land that society is to dedicate to disposal. Under the Bill, that is to be subjected to even more rigorous monitoring than now. But what about the remaining 75 per cent.--the old gas works, chemical works, sewage works, sludge sites and petroleum depots? Apparently, they are not to be subject to the same rigorous control. We shall have to look at that point.

Turning to those parts of the Bill dealing with remediation, it is extraordinary that new Section 78F(1) states:


    "A person who appears to have caused or knowingly permitted any substance ... or ... knowingly permitted those substances to be in, on or under any other land to which they appear to have escaped",

shall have a liability in respect of that. The waste regulation authorities could be the agency that gave the licence for such deposits. Those authorities could be part of that process. Are they to issue a remediation notice upon themselves and accept the costs that that will involve? Again, we shall have to look at that.

There are a number of other oddities in the Bill, but I conclude by saying that when it has passed through both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent I hope that there will be a clear sense and understanding of the direction in which we are going, how we are going to get there and how we shall protect ourselves from the European Environment Agency which came into being on 31st October this year and which could

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really upset us. Above all, I hope that the agency--and that the guidelines which the Secretary of State will issue--will content itself with setting out the objectives rather than setting down the manner in which those objectives are to be met. If the latter happens, it will stifle industry and innovation and we shall end up in the same mess as currently.

7.37 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, for my part I wish to keep within the bounds of the national parks and I therefore begin by welcoming Part III of this Environment Bill which goes a considerable way to fulfilling the Government's commitments to the national parks. This is an opportunity to achieve in legislation some of the objectives for which those who care about national parks have been striving for many years. The Government's commitment to national parks is clear from this legislation, and all that is required is some fine-tuning and the addressing of two gaps in the Bill to put national parks on a firm footing for the future. So far, at least nine of your Lordships have spoken in this Second Reading debate about their concern that there should be quiet, tranquil and peaceful enjoyment of the national parks and about their worries about damaging developments within the existing 10 national parks. My noble friend Lord Peel mentioned care and diligence in attaining those criteria and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, showed concern for those criteria.

The Government's present-day intentions are founded in the vision of some of the fathers (and mothers) of the national parks' family which my noble friend Lord Norrie has already mentioned. In 1929 the Government set up an inquiry into the possibility of national parks in Britain and a national parks committee was set up under the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, my grandfather Dr. Addison. That was not silent on the two areas about which we must be most concerned today: the need to give the parks protection from intrusive activities and from damaging, major development.

In 1931 the report said that national parks should be established to improve recreational facilities for the public. It stated:


    "There is no occasion for us to speak of the natural beauty of this Island. The happiest moments and recollections of millions, are bound up with her quiet places".

I place emphasis on the word "quiet". That is what gives the national parks their special character which is so much valued, along with what the Addison Report called:


    "an intimate charm, and an association of the land and its monuments with the life-history of the race, which is justly regarded as an invaluable national heritage".

That special character is something all the national parks hold in common, however different the natural beauty of their landscapes.

The report went on to be even more helpful to today's government, in clarifying what was intended. On recreation it said that what was not meant by recreation in national parks was,

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    "playing fields, organised amusements or motoring facilities".

They were, and are, about,


    "opportunities open to nature-lovers, walkers, climbers and camping parties to enjoy natural scenery and to spend their leisure in the open air".

It is clear from that that it is not only where these inappropriate activities conflict with conservation that a problem arises but also where they conflict with appropriate and quiet recreation. That is why the legislation before us today must make clear what it is intended as appropriate recreation.

Of course the Addison Report could not have foreseen inflatable bananas dragged by motor boats across the lakes and waterways of the national parks or motorbike scrambles across open country, which cause noise as well as erosion. There is a place for such motorised activities, but it is not in the national parks which were always intended to be for a different kind of recreation and were clearly designated for quite different reasons. That must be made quite clear in legislation. The word "quiet" may cause problems, but some legislative solution must be found.

The Bill should also contain a test to ensure that the parks are not vulnerable to major and damaging development. In calling for a "systematic scheme" for conserving large areas of exceptional natural interest--today's national parks--the Addison Report said:


    "these areas constitute an important national asset and the Nation cannot afford to take any risk that they will be destroyed, or subjected to disorderly development".

The same ideas emerge over 60 years later in the Government's commitment to sustainable development, which incorporates the idea of "critical natural assets". Those include the national parks, which are not only important from the points of view of conservation of wildlife and flora and fauna but also as whole ecosystems which are able to be conserved on a large scale. Clearly the pressure was on those areas in the 1930s. How much more pressure from damaging development is being exerted today. A test in legislation which means that major development takes place in the parks only where a proven national need exists, and where there is no alternative, would address those concerns and implement the intention to afford the parks,


    "the highest status of landscape protection".

Finally, I am concerned about the legacy of old mineral permissions in national parks which would never be given consent today and which distort current planning decisions. Under Clause 63, the new national park authorities will be responsible for mineral planning and I shall wish to consider whether they can be assisted in their task by some provision for reviewing those old consents which fail to meet modern standards.

In conclusion, clearly it is desirable for the Government to seek the best possible package of legislation for national parks. The Bill is already on the way to achieving that with the changes I have outlined. Just like my grandfather and the founders of national parks who had great vision, we must neither be silent in

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our strivings to keep our national parks quiet, nor quiet in our efforts to keep our national parks free of damaging development.


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