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Lord Nathan: I shall, of course, be happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I am also happy that practically every Member of the Committee has indicated agreement with the view that something should be inserted somewhere in the Bill on the object of the exercise. The problem is precisely that identified by the Minister—that the functions, duties and inheritances of the environment agency are so varied and wide that it needs some focus to enable those responsible for its conduct to determine how they are to formulate policy. At the moment, it would be extremely difficult for them to do so sensibly, except in accordance with guidance.

It is a matter of some concern to quite a number of people that the guidance to be given by the Government under the Bill is not constrained. There is to be regard for sustainable development as an essential element but beyond that the provisions are wide-ranging. Therefore, I would support an amendment along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, which might include "enhancement" if that were thought appropriate. I considered that. It seemed to me that my amendment had the merit of brevity but obviously it does not commend itself to the Committee. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

4 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 5:


Page 1, line 13, after ("out") insert ("integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement throughout all").

The noble Baroness said: In many ways my arguments in favour of Amendment No. 5 have already been made by Members in all parts of the Committee. Nevertheless, I should like to pursue the importance of having the purpose of the environment agency clearly outlined. We are talking here about overriding strategic purposes, not about specific functions. Therefore, I do not think that it would be as restrictive as the Minister suggests if we were to write that into the Bill at this stage.

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In speaking to Amendment No. 5, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 7, 33, 41, 42, 78 and 130. The amendments seek to impose upon the EA the specific purpose of doing much more than just protecting the environment so that it is frozen in its present state: to manage and to enhance it for the benefit of future generations. It is important that the EA has a clear, strategic and integrated purpose. If that is not spelt out in relation to the agency at this early stage, it is in danger of becoming no more than a cumbersome bureaucratic machine, subject to central regulatory control and the whim of Ministers.

It is also important—this is what Amendment No. 33 seeks to address—to set the strategic purpose clearly within the duties and obligations to the EU. As many Members of the Committee have said, the environment in this country is in serious danger. Things in our countryside are not well. It may look extremely neat and tidy but it is increasingly sterile and devoid of wildlife. In the past 25 years alone many of our birds have suffered a catastrophic decline. For example, 19 common species have declined by over 15 per cent. That includes, for instance, tree sparrows, skylarks, partridges and turtledoves. Other species are also threatened. There has been a 50 per cent. decline in our 18 species of butterflies. Fish are not just diminishing and being affected in rivers and ponds but also in the sea where, for example, 50 per cent. of our stock of cod has vanished in the past 25 years. Amphibia (frogs and toads) are also seriously affected.

Grants are given for drainage. Ponds that we knew as children no longer exist in the countryside. Due to set-aside, we now have a golden opportunity to increase habitats and food sources for many of our wild species. If the agency had as its clear purpose that it was to enhance the environment and not merely to freeze it in its present state, that would go some way towards setting a positive purpose for the agency from the start.

Of the consequential amendments grouped with Amendment No. 25, Amendment No. 41 gives Ministers the power to advise the agency as appropriate; and Amendment No 130 extends the purpose to the Scottish agency.

I urge the Government to insert at this early stage of the Bill a clear purpose for the agency along the lines proposed in the amendment, which has already been supported by Members in all parts of the Committee. It is not sufficient to leave the agency without a clear strategic purpose which will provide high quality, integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement.

At the moment the agency does not appear to have a clear, definitive purpose. It is merely to carry out functions transferred or assigned to it by or under the Bill. That is not the commitment that was heralded by the Government—that the agency would be a guardian of the environment. The legislation establishing the NRA clearly defined its direction and purpose. In the amendment we seek to have a similar clear direction and purpose for the EA. I beg to move.

Lord Ennals: Perhaps I may take the opportunity to support my noble friend as energetically as I can. I had

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the privilege of being at the Rio conference. I was mainly representing NGOs, but the Government kindly invited me to join the delegation. I greatly appreciated that. I came away an enthusiastic environmentalist, but not just in the sense of protection. That is why I appreciate so much the wording of the amendment which deals with management and enhancement.

Protection and enhancement can be done only by effective management. One of our main tasks over the next few years will be to ensure that local authorities and other agencies (national, regional and local) have the facilities to provide effective management. Obviously they will look to the agency for leadership. It must make things better than they are.

My noble friend referred to butterflies, birds and hedgerows, so I need not do that. I want to say just a word about air. There is no doubt that air pollution is worsening rapidly. I am married to a lady who suffers seriously from asthma. She is almost crippled by it. There is no doubt that over recent years her condition, and that of many other asthmatics, has become much worse as air pollution seems—I shall not say that it is in no way controlled because that would not be right—to be inadequately controlled. We shall have a growing problem with air measurement unless we have a national strategic plan for improving air quality.

In each of the fields at which we are looking, we must be interested in improvement and not just protection. I should have said that I speak—I shall not do so much more in Committee—as the chairman of the Round Table on Health and the Environment of the UK Environment and Development Committee. The committee is extremely interested in the work that is being done here in, we hope, strengthening an important Bill.

I want to support my noble friend in a positive way, because these provisions need to be in the Bill early so that it can be seen—in a sense this is a campaign—that there needs to be a strategy that can be carried out. Resources need to be found to enable that strategy to be fulfilled.

Lord Crickhowell: We now begin to get into the kind of difficulty that I suspect we shall face continually in Committee of discussing a group of amendments, all of which have different objectives. As a result, it may not always be easy to have a coherent debate.

I do not want to go over the ground covered by the debate on Amendment No. 2 because my noble friend the Minister raised a number of legitimate points of concern, which I share, about not finding ourselves with some contradictory and mutually incompatible objectives. I have a slight anxiety about the way in which these general clauses are added at the beginning of the Bill. We should look back thoroughly at the wording of previous legislation to ensure that we have a Bill that hangs together sensibly.

There is a word in Amendment No. 5 that causes me anxiety because it seems at least to hold out the possibility, perhaps even the threat, that the agency should get into the job of managing the environment. The only occasion upon which the NRA found itself in that unenviable position was when it was faced with the

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serious discharge of mine water pollution from the Wheal Jane mine in Cornwall, which breached EC regulations. There was no one else to take on the job of tackling that problem. The NRA has had to carry out an extensive research and development programme and the job of managing the water coming out of the mine. If we reach the position of the new agency having to do that often, we shall be on dangerous territory. Before we accept wording that includes "management" we need to ensure that we are not hanging a pretty heavy rock around the new agency's neck.

I come then to Amendment No. 33, which has the support of the CPRE. I have some sympathy with its objectives because it seeks to address them in a way that does not too tightly constrain and restrict the agency. The amendment tries to avoid the kind of conflict to which I have referred. I have not studied with sufficient thoroughness or enthusiasm all the other legislation and therefore I am unable to form a judgment one way or the other, but I believe that the intentions are sensible.

As regards Amendment No. 36, I am in difficulty. I make that comment now before we reach the following group of amendments when the difficulty will become severe. I understand that today my noble friend's department has circulated some kind of guidance on sustainable development and that it was supposed to be placed in the Library of the House. About an hour ago my noble friend Lord Mills made inquiries. Those in the Library could not lay their hands on the document but copies were later to be rushed into the Chamber. I was told that one would be passed to me when it arrived. Our debate on the next group of amendments will be constrained because I shall find difficulty in talking about sustainable development when we do not have the guidance that is circulating. That is not a satisfactory way of treating Members of the Committee who are debating an important subject.

In Amendment No. 42 the noble Baroness may be attempting to pick up a topic that I raised on Second Reading. It is the desirability of having environmental quality objectives. I referred to the fact that the National Rivers Authority expected to have the job of introducing water quality objectives. I expressed disappointment that five years down the road it has not yet received from the department the guidance and regulations that will allow it to do so. It is a good idea to seek to introduce wider quality objectives and therefore I have sympathy with the noble Baroness's attempts.

However, her new clause states:


    "The Secretary of State may make regulations establishing standards, objectives or requirements in relation to environmental protection".

That is the wrong way of doing it. I believe that the regulations, if we are to have them, should seek to establish the process and not the standards and objectives. If one is to have objectives one needs to consult widely about them. One needs to discover whether they meet the cost benefit requirement that is introduced in the Bill in a later clause. One needs to be able to propose the objectives and to learn of their consequences on industry, agriculture and a wide range of people who might be affected. One also needs to have

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a consultation process and to be in a position where the Secretary of State can set the objectives and the agency can enforce them.

I have refreshed my memory about the provisions of the Water Resources Act. Section 82, which introduces the classification of quality of waters, provides that:


    "The Secretary of State may ... by regulations prescribe a system of classifying the quality of those waters".

If we are to look at the topic at all we should not accept this amendment but return to the issue with an amendment that introduces a system rather than seeks to introduce the particular objectives.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I wish to address my remarks to Amendment No. 130, which deals with Clause 20 and the Scottish environment protection agency. Perhaps I may add to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Ennals in relation to asthma. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that for the past few years the number of cases of asthma and its related illnesses has been the fastest growing.

Recently I spoke to a gentleman who is involved in running youth football teams. He told me of his astonishment at the number of 14 and 15 year-olds who attend training and Saturday matches carrying the inhaler prescribed for them by their general practitioners. If ever there were an indication that we urgently need to do something about the environment it is the spread of asthmatic conditions, in particular among young people.

As regards Amendment No. 130, in an earlier debate the noble Viscount was kind enough to say that the powers of the English and Welsh authority were wider and greater than those of the Scottish environment protection agency. I wish to make it clear at the outset that I want the Bill to succeed. I do not want us to miss the opportunity that the legislation presents of extending the powers of the new Scottish environment protection agency.

It is an astonishing fact that the environment protection agency for Scotland will take its powers from an Act that is now 44 years old—Section 17 of the 1951 Act. Events have moved on significantly since then. When the Secretary of State published his consultation paper evidence was given by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Forth River Purification Board and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Rightly or wrongly, the impression was gained that the environment protection agency for Scotland would preserve the environment in the round. Indeed, that phrase was used. However, when we examine the powers to be given to the Scottish environment protection agency we see that they relate only to pollution control.

I believe that that approach is misconceived and shows a belief that damage to the environment is caused only by pollution. We all know that that is not the case. Damage to the environment can be caused in many ways. Forestry and farming management practices—indeed, land management practices in general—can damage the environment. Against the background of our recent experiences in Paisley in the west of Scotland and

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in the Tayside Region during the past two years, I believe that the Scottish environment protection agency should be involved in flood protection. There is some evidence—and I put it no higher—that one of the problems that caused the serious flood damage in the Tayside Region occurred because of the practices of the hydro-electricity companies and the hydro-schemes on the higher land in Tayside as compared with the lower lying city of Perth. It is my view that the Scottish environment protection agency should also have responsibility for flood protection.

We know about the discharge of chemicals and farm and forestry management practices. However, another growing problem in Scotland needs to be addressed and in my view it should be the responsibility of the Scottish environment protection agency; that is, the question of old abandoned mine-workings. When one studies the legislation it will be seen that it is not until 1999 that the owner of an abandoned mine will have to be responsible for ensuring that the water which is discharged from that abandoned mine does not pollute.

I give as an example the Frances Colliery in Kirkcaldy where there has been much debate about whether the Government should sustain the costs of keeping the water pumps operative or whether they should be switched off. The Committee will understand that almost all of the coal seams at that colliery are entirely under the North Sea and the River Forth. If the pumps were switched off, the Forth River Purification Board and Fife Regional Council have indicated that extensive pollution would arise from the waters discharged from the colliery. That will happen one way or another before 1999.

In my view, the opportunity provided by the Bill should be taken to give the Scottish environment protection agency more wide-ranging powers. Indeed, I go further. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and I part company in relation to this matter, but I would involve the Scottish environment protection agency in the planning process also because it seems to me that unless the agency is involved at the planning stage we could easily find ourselves locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

If we are serious about improving the Scottish environment —I am interested in the environment of the United Kingdom as a whole, but Clause 20 and Amendment No. 130 deal only with the Scottish position—the Scottish environment protection agency must be given more wide-ranging powers than is presently envisaged in the Bill. Flood protection and coastal erosion should be aspects with which the Scottish environment protection agency should deal, as are land management, forestry management practices and farming management practices. All those issues should come within the powers of the Scottish environment protection agency. I seriously ask the Minister to take away the whole question of the powers of SEPA, examine it and provide much more wide-ranging powers for what will be a very important agency.


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