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Viscount Ullswater: Perhaps I should say that Clause 5 is concerned with the agency's pollution control functions. I sought to indicate to my noble friend that the agency's responsibilities do not extend to those forms of statutory nuisance.

I turn to Amendment No. 45. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, considers that Amendment No. 44 has been dealt with on a previous occasion. The purposes set out in Clause 5 for which the agency may exercise its pollution control functions are for preventing, minimising, remedying or mitigating the effects of pollution of the environment. Amendment No. 45 proposes that "mitigating" should be omitted from that list. It is clear that the best way of dealing with pollution is to prevent or minimise it and render it harmless, wherever cost-effective options exist for that purpose. Where pollution has already occurred, it may be necessary to try to remedy it. However, it will not be

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possible or reasonable to effect a full clean-up of the effects of some past environmental contamination or of a particularly serious environmental incident in every case. In those cases it is necessary to do the best that one can in the circumstances. Therefore, I feel that the list of purposes must include "mitigating".

That is particularly the case when considering the matter of contaminated land. The proposed regime for dealing with past contamination focuses clearly on what truly matters: dealing with the harm that may be arising or the further pollution to controlled waters. A requirement to do more than that would produce both excessive and perhaps unnecessary financial burdens and in many cases be technically impossible.

If "mitigating" is retained—as I believe it must be—in the list of agency purposes for which pollution control functions are exercisable, it follows that it should also be retained in the other places in Clause 5 in which it occurs, contrary to Amendments Nos. 60 and 67.

The noble Baroness said that her amendment was in the form of a probing amendment. With that explanation, I hope that she will be able to withdraw it.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for having misunderstood his amendment. I would have enthusiastically supported it, of course, if I had understood it in the first place. I am reassured by what the Minister said, but there will necessarily be costs to local authorities in changing the lights, and the support of the environment agency in pursuing that policy would have been extremely useful. I regret that I did not understand the amendment in the first place.

I am grateful to the Minister for his elucidation of what "mitigation" might mean. I shall read carefully in Hansard his rather technical explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 45 to 47 not moved.]

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 48:


Page 6, line 5, after ("compile") insert ("and publish").

The noble Baroness said: I am afraid that we must now consider another group of amendments which deal with more than one subject. In the limited time available earlier, we tried to sort out this group. We removed several of the amendments, which we shall deal with separately.

My understanding of this group of amendments is that it deals with two main issues in relation to this clause. Amendments Nos. 48, 55, 59, 62 and 64 concern the wider publishing of reports and giving information to the public about the pollution of the environment. Those who heard the broadcast this morning about the difficulty of extracting information from government departments—particularly, as agencies are set up, it is possible to use the excuse of commercial disadvantage if one publishes information—will share with me the desire that as much information as possible should be published and automatically made available to the public, particularly in such an important area as

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pollution with the possible risks to health, and so on. In my view there should be complete freedom of information in this field and the Government have paid lip service to that view. The public should be entitled to know the dangers with which they are faced.

The amendments seek to place a mandatory requirement on the agency to let the public know where pollution has occurred. The published reports will not only describe the pollution that has occurred but also the agency's proposals for dealing with that pollution.

The other half of the amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56 and 57, represents an attempt to give additional discretionary powers to the agency rather than to Ministers and to provide it with some autonomy and greater independence. Amendment No. 49, and Amendment No. 50 which is consequential upon it, lays a duty on the agency to assess pollution, not merely at the whim of Ministers but through its own discretion. Similarly, Amendment No. 51 gives it discretion to decide when to carry out assessments of the extent of the pollution. Amendment No. 53 requires the agency not only to examine the effects and consequences of pollution but also to examine the causes.

Finally, Amendment No. 56, and Amendment No. 57 which is consequential upon it, requires the agency to submit reports, not in all instances but only if requested. It provides the agency with greater discretion as to whether reports are necessary. The agency is not required to submit reports in all instances. I beg to move.

Lord Crickhowell: One amendment in this group is curiously out of place. It is an amendment in my name and, though it is a technical amendment, it is important. I wish to speak first about the amendments to which the noble Baroness spoke. As I said at Second Reading, I was puzzled as to why the agency should carry out assessments only if required to do so and I expressed the hope that the information would and should be published.

I suppose the answer that the Minister will give me is that the agency can carry out such works without any request from the Minister and, no doubt, will do so, but if, that for some reason, the Minister wanted it, he must have the power to request it. The situation one envisages then is that the department will ring up the agency and say, "We would like you to do this assessment". A chairman even more difficult and bloody-minded than the present chairman of the NRA—if any such thing can be conceived—may turn round and say, "We have no intention of doing anything of the kind". I suppose therefore that one can envisage a situation where the wording may be required.

However, I find it odd and implausible, to say the least, that the agency will not do that kind of assessment as part of its work on its own initiative. Having done it, I am sure that it should be published. To prepare and send such a report to Ministers without publishing it would be extremely peculiar. It would immediately appear in that excellent journal ENDS, which takes every document which circulates around the DoE and informs the rest of the department and anyone else who

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cares to read it what is going on. So it would be better if there was a requirement to publish at the word go and then we would not need to rely so much on that excellent journal. I hope therefore that there will be a requirement to publish and thus avoid that nonsense.

Amendment No. 68 raises an important technical point. Clause 5 of the Bill sets out the agency's general functions with respect to pollution control and requires the pollution control powers of the agency to be exercised for the purpose of,


    "preventing or minimising, or remedying or mitigating the effects of, pollution of the environment".

Pollution control powers and functions are conferred upon the agency by virtue of this Bill—for example, in connection with contaminated land—and the definitions of pollution control powers and functions omit a reference to the environment Act itself. They refer to previous legislation. Clearly that matter ought to be dealt with. It is a technical error. I hope that we find an appropriate way of dealing with it. A similar point occurs later under Clause 90 which confers harmonised powers of entry on the agency's pollution control functions. However, we can look at that when we come to it. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept amendments which merely ensure that the agency can do its job that arises from the new powers conferred on it by the Bill.

Lord Moran: A number of amendments stand in my name; namely, Amendments Nos. 49, 52, 54, 55, 57 and 62. I wish therefore to say a brief word about their purpose.

The amendments reflect my belief in open government. Their purpose is twofold: first, it is to ensure that as many as possible of the agency's reports and assessments of the state of pollution in the environment are made public; secondly, to ensure that a proper assessment of the state of pollution of the environment becomes a duty on the agency and not simply a matter of ministerial choice.

In relation to the first point, we all know of cases where unpopular or embarrassing research reports have never seen the light of day. It is surely far better for the Government to publish all the agency's assessments of pollution so that the public can participate in the business of setting priorities. The agency ought to be—I hope it will be—one of the best informed environmental bodies in the country. It would be quite wrong, therefore, for any of its reports to remain under wraps.

In relation to the second point, surely an objective means of assessing environmental protection would be a great advantage in informing debate and be a basis for subsequent government action. I hope we shall not be told that the agency cannot decide for itself what is reasonably necessary or that Ministers alone can dictate what it tells us.


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