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9.15 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I apologise to those members of the House whose pleasure this evening we are interrupting by talking so long. I shall try not to prolong the proceedings too far. This has been a long and interesting debate and the Bill was welcomed on all sides of the House. Moreover, we are grateful to the Secretary of State for the improvements to the Bill after its initial publication in draft form and we hope that that will be a precedent for future Bills. However, as my noble friend Lord Williams said at the beginning of the debate, we believe that the Bill can be further strengthened and, indeed, could have gone much further in its aim to protect the environment.

I take Part I, the agencies, to begin with. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, Clause 4 should explicitly state that the over-arching purpose of the agencies is to protect the environment. The aims and objectives of the National Rivers Authority were given statutory form, as my noble friends Lord Williams and Lady David said. We believe that that should apply also to the environment agencies and that they should not simply depend upon ministerial guidance which we have not yet seen and of which we have no precise knowledge at present.

Several noble Lords were concerned about that point. Indeed, it is essential that the agencies should become, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, centres of excellence in the protection of the environment. If their statutory purpose was laid down in the Bill, it would enable them to have a high public profile and they would then be able to provide a clear focus for the nation's environmental concerns so that, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, pointed out in his powerful and entertaining speech, appropriate advice could be tendered to Ministers as a matter of duty and with considerable weight behind it.

As my noble friend Lord Carmichael said, there should be more opportunities for local people to become involved with and to be represented on the agencies. We

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welcome the transparency that will be provided by an annual plan and by the promise of the Secretary of State on 30th November in another place that his guidance to the agency will be public. But at present that does not assist us as we do not know what the guidance will contain.

As several noble Lords suggested, it would greatly assist the passage of the Bill at Committee stage in this House if the Secretary of State's draft guidance were available to us. We might then spend rather less time arguing over specific powers and duties to be included on the face of the Bill. We believe that the agencies should have additional powers to provide an integrated strategy for the control and management of pollution. They should include, for example, additional powers to monitor pesticide use, to register common land and to protect SSSIs. We regret, as several noble Lords said, that the agencies' pollution control functions are excluded from their duty to further conservation and enhance national beauty. The much weaker requirement that the agencies should merely have regard to conservation and beauty is, in our view, insufficient and we shall attempt to strengthen that aspect of the Bill at Committee stage.

In relation to the control of air pollution, as with the management of waste, it is appropriate that the strategy and standards should be set centrally. But regional and local co-ordination will be absolutely essential. In relation to the Scottish agency, I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, in asking the Minister to explain why the word "protection" is in the title of the Scottish agency but, curiously, is omitted from that of the English agency. I hope that he will be able to explain that anomaly. If it is appropriate to have a national strategy for the control of air pollution in Scotland, it is essential that the urbanised local authorities which are currently responsible are involved in the implementation of that strategy. We shall be urging that at Committee stage.

A major concern in relation to both the English and the Scottish agencies which was voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and several other noble Lords, is the ambiguity and vagueness of the term "sustainable development". It is important to have due regard to the economic costs of environmental measures, but in the expression "sustainable development", as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has pointed out, the emphasis is inevitably on the noun rather than on the qualifying adjective. In Clauses 4, 7 and 29 of the Bill it would be far better if the agency were required to balance conservation against development so that the contradictions and tensions between the two objectives were at least made explicit.

Part II of the Bill deals with contaminated land. We welcome the provisions for dealing with that part of the Bill, so far as they go, but they are far too limited. As my noble friend Lady David said, we regret the repeal of the provisions for registers of contaminated land contained in previous legislation, but understand of course the problems of prohibitive costs for local authorities in establishing which land is polluted. The provisions as laid out in the Bill merely become

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operative if contamination has actually occurred and only if that contamination affects controlled waters or damages property. There is no provision for the protection of uncontrolled waters such as ponds, which are rapidly disappearing from our landscape. There is no provision for dealing with "brownfield" sites which could be used to regenerate our inner cities but which at present we are unable to use. Therefore there is ever-growing pressure on greenfield sites in our fields and countryside.

I believe that all parties are coming to realise that it is essential that we regenerate our cities and make them places which people want to live in and which have facilities, housing, jobs and so on in city centres. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, have said, the polluter-pays principle often cannot apply to old, industrial inner city sites which have been covered with factories: they are so-called "orphan sites" where there is no polluter who can be charged for cleaning up the pollution of many generations.

Therefore, we propose not only that there should be strict liability for future contamination, but also that, in relation to these particular sites, local authorities should establish a database of historical land use which will at least begin to establish which sites may be polluted. In collaboration with the environment agency and industry, strategies should be devised which can prioritise their use so that the contaminated land within local authority areas can be regenerated. As the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, has said, that may require some Government funds to assist the agency. But there might also be other fiscal measures which could be used, such as setting the capital costs of reclamation against corporation tax, which might encourage the business world to get involved. That would prevent covering even more vast areas of our town centres with car parks and often rather blighted green areas.

As has been said by many noble Lords, including in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, minewater pollution is totally inadequately dealt with in the Bill. The fact that mine operations are going to be exempt and will continue their exemption from liability until 1999, means that there are five years in which to get rid of the mines without any responsibility for dealing with consequent flooding and pollution. Quite clearly, that is wholly inadequate.

The Bill also fails to address the problem of long-abandoned mines where pollution is already occurring and mines which will be abandoned during the next five years. As the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, has said, additional funds will be required to help local authorities if these problems are to be addressed.

Part III of the Bill dealing with national parks has been addressed by many noble Lords, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who dealt eloquently with that section. Other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Williams, the noble Lords, Lord Denham and Lord Beaumont, my noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, have also dealt with the main deficiencies in this particular part of the Bill; namely, protecting national parks from major

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development and also the desire that noisy recreation shall be controlled; that the purpose of parks should be made more explicit; and that they are for quiet enjoyment, which the Government may be able to convert into tranquil enjoyment and write that into the Bill.

Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and my noble friend Lady Nicol have said, while it is the duty of parks authorities to have regard to the economic and social well-being of local communities, as the Edwards report recommended, that needs to be linked to environmental protection. It is essential that the national parks contain living communities with jobs and houses, but they should not jeopardise the nature of the parks themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said that there might be a democratic deficit in the setting up of the parks authorities in that the inhabitants of the parks may not be sufficiently represented by their local councillors. I am sure that account can be taken of that point in the drafting of the Bill.

Part IV deals with the national waste strategy and other miscellaneous provisions. We broadly welcome the development of a national strategy for dealing with waste, but in our view, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that will be effective only if implemented in partnership with the local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, it is regrettable that the waste management industry was not consulted about that part of the Bill.

We welcome the enabling powers in Clauses 76 to 79. We hope that Clauses 76 to 78 will bring forward secondary legislation for dealing with waste, and we hope that Clause 79 will deal with hedgerows. It would be extremely valuable if the draft regulations could be provided for us by the time we reach Committee stage or at the very least that we could be given some sort of timetable to tell us that the regulations will be introduced at least within the lifetime of this Parliament. We hope that their introduction will not be deferred, as has happened in the past with secondary legislation, until eventually it is repealed, as happened to the regulations governing the registers of polluted land.

We welcome the recognition of the importance of hedgerows. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, pointed out, the problem is urgent because 1,100 miles of hedgerow are currently being lost each year. We hope that the regulations on hedgerows will be before us soon. I am grateful to the Minister for his further exposition of the intended provisions which perhaps suggests that those regulations are already in draft form. We would also welcome a clear definition of what an "important" hedgerow is. To many people, any hedgerow is important in that it is a visible part of the landscape. The fact that parts of our agricultural land are being turned into vast prairies without any features shows the importance, visually at least, of our hedgerows.

As my noble friend Lady Nicol said, in some parts of the country other landscape features are equally important. In the north, stone walls play very much the same role as hedgerows do in the South. They are important landscape features. My noble friend also

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mentioned stone barns. I should like to mention the importance of ponds as wildlife reserves of perhaps equal importance to hedgerows.

In summary, our particular concern is that the Bill is only half complete. References to ministerial guidance and to regulations appear throughout the Bill, but neither the guidance nor the regulations are available for us to scrutinise. In particular, we believe that the primary purpose of the agency, which is to protect the environment, should appear on the face of the Bill. We also believe that when we discuss the Bill in Committee we should have before us the regulations relating to the landscape features that I have just described such as hedgerows, stone walls and ponds.

The Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions that our generation of legislators should not cheat successive generations. He has frequently talked about "our" grandchildren who, in my case, are notional. Succeeding generations are obviously extremely important and we have an obligation to preserve our natural inheritance for them.

I am particularly concerned that government spending on the environment is set to decline over the next four years by £40 million, which is a 13 per cent. reduction over those four years. I hope that the setting up of the combined new agency is more than just a cost-cutting exercise.

Various noble Lords have raised doubts about the attempt to apply cost benefit analysis to any scheme or strategy dealing with the environment. It is extremely important to remember that costs are generally short-term and, therefore, highly visible whereas environmental benefits tend to be long-term and can therefore be easily ignored.

Moreover, my slight experience of cost benefit analysis is that it is not the objective, mathematical formula that it sounds. It is often based on subjective values, opinions, attitudes and so forth. Apart from the difficulty, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, of attributing monetary values to environmental matters, the choice of what aspects should be taken into account are often entirely a matter of personal prejudice. That is why it is important that the environment agency provides a strong counterweight to the short-termism of economic development and the pursuit of quick profits for shareholders.

We live in a world which is becoming increasingly bleak, increasingly polluted and denuded of species. If we are to preserve our varied and beautiful countryside, provide habitats for our native species and ensure sustainable development, we have to give the environment agencies a statutory and primary duty to protect the environment. We are, as the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Beaumont, and the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Worcester, said, merely life tenants of our land, and we owe it to future generations to hand it on in good condition.


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