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9.30 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I have listened with interest to the speeches of noble Lords, and to their views on the measures proposed in the Environment Bill. I am delighted that the Bill has provoked so much

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interest and has been the occasion of such a broad and well-informed debate. I am pleased that many--indeed most--noble Lords have welcomed the Bill, which promises to do much for the protection of the environment, but I have noted too the concerns that have been voiced, not only on the agency provisions, but on the other measures that we propose to take forward. It is another step in the long stage of progress, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford said. I shall deal in my summing up with as many as possible of the points raised. Some, however, I shall need to consider further and, where it seems appropriate, I shall write later.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, started by questioning the new agency's remit and said that the Bill contained no obligation on the agency to prevent or minimise pollution of the environment. Clause 5(1) reads as follows:


    "The Agency's pollution control powers shall be exercisable for the purpose of preventing or minimising, or remedying or mitigating the effects of, pollution of the environment".

I believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who quoted the words of my Secretary of State, that it will be a centre of excellence. I hope that noble Lords will welcome that provision.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister at this early stage, and I shall try not to do so again. Does he recognise that the application of that clause is under ministerial guidance? The agency may use its powers in whatever direction Ministers tell them; that is, none at all.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am sure that we shall reach the guidance the Ministers may give to the agency at a later date. I want to make certain that noble Lords understand the agency's remit. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, indicated that it did not have a remit. I am telling the House that it has.

I have listened to your Lordships' views on the agencies. Many expressed concerns about the role of Ministers in issuing guidance to the agencies, especially on the guidance on aims and objectives to be issued under Clause 4.

I hope that most noble Lords, and particularly my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Lindsay, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, will welcome the inclusion for the first time in English law of a duty in relation to sustainable development. The need for sustainable development has become a cornerstone of international commitments to improving protection of the environment and one in which the UK has taken a leading role. The environment agency will have an important role in taking forward the Government's strategy. But it is important to recognise that the agency's essential role is as a pollution protection and water management body. It is not appropriate for it to have to decide what sustainable development means. Central policy decisions are a matter for government.

I must say to the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Ezra, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and my noble friend Lord Mills that the proposed aims and objectives of the agency were included in the draft management statement which was published on 13th

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October by my right honourable friend. It identified an overall aim for the environment agency; that it should help to promote sustainable development through high quality, integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement. It set six main objectives consistent with that aim. Ministerial guidance to the agency under Clause 4 will build on these principles, aims and objectives.

Although I used the Brundtland definition of sustainable development in the Queen's Speech debate, I must tell my noble friend Lord Northesk that I do not see the need to write it into the statute. However, I understand your Lordships' desire to see the guidance. We aim to have an initial outline of its scope ready for the Committee stage in your Lordships' House. But the guidance cannot be rushed; we must get it right. We propose to consult widely and to take into account the views of the many organisations which will have views on the matter, in addition to listening to the views of noble Lords and Members of another place.

Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of environmental protection, conservation and economic development. Regulators cannot be allowed to impose costs in the name of environmental protection without considering the environmental benefits that they will bring. This seems to me to be the normal good practice. The duty does not override the agency's other duties and obligations; it simply means that it cannot proceed as though costs and benefits are of no account.

The provisions as drafted in Clause 37 are a source of some anxiety for my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friends Lord Lindsay and Lord Mills. That clause requires the agency to consider costs and benefits in the round, including environmental costs and benefits. It is drafted so as not to restrict that consideration either to only specified sorts of cost and benefit or to costs and benefits falling only on specified classes of organisations or people.

Large amounts of work have been and continue to be done on the quantification of environmental costs and benefits. But I accept that not all costs and benefits can be quantified in financial terms. This is why the clause is not drafted so as to restrict consideration to those costs and benefits which can be quantified or to require the agencies to act only where they can demonstrate an excess of benefit over costs. The agencies must use their judgment and the clause is intended to enable them to do so.

My noble friends Lord Wade and Lord Marlesford were worried about the balance of costs and benefits for economic development. I have no reason to believe that a requirement to take account of costs and benefits is over restrictive or bureaucratic. It does not override the agency's other duties and obligations. It supplements BATNEEC (best available techniques not entailing excessive cost), applying to those areas of the agencies' work where it has a discretion and ensuring that the agencies cannot incur or cause others to incur costs unjustified by the environmental benefits. It does not

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bite where it would be unreasonable; for example, in cases of emergency where the agencies must be able to act immediately.

As regards the conservation duty, I repeat that it was never our intention to weaken the agencies' commitment to conservation. The existing NRA duty is not unqualified and must be adapted to the broader functions of the agency. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and to my noble friend Lord Norrie that an overriding duty to further conservation in every case would be inconsistent with the effective discharge of the agencies' role in issuing environmental licences. The duty to have regard to conservation interests in their pollution control functions resolves this difficulty while introducing for the first time a requirement to take account of conservation in relation to integrated pollution control and waste functions. For all the other duties of the agency, there is a duty to further conservation, subject to the same qualifications as in the NRA current duty and necessarily subject also to the needs of sustainable development.

There will be an agency for England and Wales and a separate body for Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the setting up of an agency for Wales. We considered setting up a separate agency for Wales but we concluded that it was not the most effective means of proceeding.

The NRA and HMIP both operate across England and Wales and would have to be reorganised and split so as to ensure that they could continue to deliver their functions effectively in England and Wales. Waste authorities in Wales presently operate at district level and lack a national structure. The same legislation operates in both countries and there are considerable advantages in having the agency operate consistently across the border. Far from improving environmental protection, establishing a separate agency would be disruptive and likely to reduce effectiveness. I think we heard that from my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I am sure that he would agree with me that the NRA has operated no less effectively in Wales than in England. The separate advisory committee for Wales will ensure that the distinct needs of Wales are given full consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about regional organisation. The environment agency for England and Wales will have regional environment protection advisory committees appointed by schemes designed to ensure the widest range of interest. The points that noble Lords have made will be considered very carefully when the agencies' regional structures are determined. Touche Ross issued a report in June 1994 with options for the geographical and managerial structure and the advisory committees set up by my right honourable friend will consider that and obviously make proposals to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was concerned about the new agency in Scotland being out of touch with local communities. Again, SEPA will establish regional boards and the Secretary of State--obviously

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in that case the Secretary of State for Scotland--will issue guidance to ensure a significant level of local authority representation on the regional boards.

The noble Lord asked me about the difference in the borrowing limits of the agencies. He indicated that SEPA's borrowing limit would be from £2 million up to £5 million with an order, whereas the environment agency for England and Wales would have a higher borrowing limit. Apart from the pure difference in size, the Scottish agency will not have the flood defence function which accounts for most of the environment agency's borrowing.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, asked why there should be two different names for the two agencies. I do not believe that too much should be read into that, but it is meant to indicate that SEPA will have a narrower range of functions. It will be concerned mainly with pollution controls, as Scottish river purification boards do not have the wide range of water management functions of the NRA.

The question of contaminated land was raised by, among others, my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Provisions are based on the suitable-for-use approach which removes real environmental hazards without imposing unnecessary regulations or costs. Suitable-for-use is an environmentally sound principle. There is no point in paying to clean up land if it is not causing any harm. That implements the polluter pays principle but recognises that owners of land are also responsible for its condition if original polluters cannot be found.

Local authorities have already shown their expertise when dealing with contaminated land under the existing powers and in bringing forward derelict land grant projects. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked me what sort of values were to be placed on that. Currently, some £500 million is being spent per annum in the UK in dealing with the contamination of land. Of that, about £250 million is public sector money, and I believe that that is the right order of magnitude to deal with the legacy of past contamination.

I turn now to abandoned mines. I believe that the measures in the Bill on abandoned mines will enhance the agencies' ability to deal with pollution from those sources. It is sensible that mineowners should give notice to the agency of their intention to abandon a mine so that proper steps can be taken to prevent minewater pollution in future.

I believe that there may be some misunderstanding in the matter. Indeed, it was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Mills, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. It is widely recognised that the present statutory position for permitting discharges from abandoned mines is no longer acceptable and should be repealed. I believe that all speakers agree with that principle. The person responsible will then be in the same position as any other polluter. The timing of the removal, for mines abandoned after the end of 1999, recognises that land values may take into account the benefit of the exemption and should be given a period for adjustment.

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Many noble Lords spoke at length about national parks, especially my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Norrie, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and others. Park purposes have been updated to reflect changes which could not have been foreseen when legislation was implemented over 45 years ago. For example, the influence of almost universal car ownership alone has had an unforeseen impact on parks. However, I am sure that that was certainly not considered by the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Addison. The revision of park purposes will enable national park authorities to take a more holistic and integrated approach to national park management.

While we have not made specific reference in the second purpose to the words recommended by the Edwards Panel, I believe that we have reflected the Edwards concept that the public enjoyment of the park should derive from their special qualities rather than simply maximising the number of visitors and their activities. I understand the wish to include reference to quiet enjoyment as recommended by the National Parks Review Panel. However, there are difficulties in using that term. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was the first to illustrate that fact in today's debate. It neither carries its specific legal meaning nor its common English usage. It is already subject to various interpretations. Our revision seeks to reflect the importance of promoting understanding and enjoyment among the public which is in harmony with the qualities of the park.

My noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway welcomed seeing the Sandford principle in the text of the Bill. It has been policy for many years--that is the so-called "Sandford principle"--that, where the two purposes of national parks are in irreconcilable conflict, the conservation purpose should prevail. That is now explicitly stated in the Bill. I believe that every effort should be made to reconcile them before the principle comes into effect.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Norrie that the new national park authorities should not assume the role of those agencies which are charged with the task of promoting economic development, although we expect them to work in co-operation with one another. It is our intention that the new authorities should reflect the duty with respect to the economic and social well-being of their local communities as they pursue park purposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, my noble friends Lord Norrie and Lord Marlesford, and others, were worried about the statutory tests on development in national parks. We are aware of calls for major developments to be subject to a statutory test, but we do not believe that primary legislation is an appropriate vehicle for dealing with such an issue.

Planning policy guidance notes set the framework for dealing with development proposals in the parks and elsewhere. The Government's objective is that major development should not take place in national parks save in exceptional circumstances. Because of the serious impact that major developments may have on the natural beauty of the parks, applications for such developments must be subject to the most rigorous

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examination. They should be demonstrated to be in the public interest and consideration of such applications should therefore normally include an assessment of the need for the development, the cost and the scope for developing elsewhere, and any detrimental effect on the environment and the landscape, and such other considerations which are given in Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 7 on the countryside and the rural economy.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, was concerned about the continuing military use of national parks. I daresay we may return to that matter in Committee. My noble friend Lord Derwent was concerned particularly with the membership of the national park authorities. While we cannot direct local authorities as to whom to appoint to national park authorities we intend to issue guidance strongly recommending that local authority members should be drawn from those who live in or represent wards in the park. Parish councils and community councils in Wales have an important role in ensuring that local views are heard and national park authorities should consider how best to take views. Some good examples are already in operation. National park authorities will be encouraged to set up local consultative groups drawing on the widest range of local interests where these do not already exist.

I shall deal with hedgerows. I can reassure my noble friend Lord Hesketh and the noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Beaumont, that we are a government of sensible regulation where, as in this case, there is a proven need. Our aim is to introduce a scheme which is fair, reasonable and practical and to minimise the burden both on those who are subject to these measures and those who are responsible for administering them. The detailed arrangements, as I think I said in my opening remarks, will be brought forward in regulations which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. This gives us

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flexibility to listen and to respond to the views expressed as the Bill progresses through Parliament and during separate public consultation. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that this is not a delaying tactic. We are committed to introducing measures to protect important hedgerows.

I should say a cautionary word to my noble friend Lord Marlesford. Our research shows that the rate of hedgerow removal has declined and is counter-balanced numerically, though not in terms of quality, by the gains from new planting. We have therefore made clear our intention to focus protection on the most important hedgerows; those of particular historic interest or that make a particularly valuable contribution to the wildlife or landscape of an area.

The noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Ezra, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, I think, supported the concept of the national waste strategy. I am pleased for the support that has been given for a national waste strategy. We are drawing up a strategy in advance of setting up the agency and expect to go out to consultation within the next few weeks. We will certainly be taking account of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on the waste hierarchy. The Government also recognise the need for close and effective liaison between the agency and local planning authorities. That is why, for instance, the Bill provides that the agency must consult local authorities before carrying out its national survey of waste arisings and facilities.

This has been a long debate which has covered a wide range of topics. I wish to thank noble Lords for their contributions. I am sure we shall return to many of the issues raised tonight when we discuss the Bill in more detail in Committee after the Recess.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

        House adjourned at five minutes before ten o'clock.


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