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Lord Williams of Elvel: Do we not have a ministerial response to this Question?

The Earl of Lindsay: Yes. While I stand at the Dispatch Box I represent the Minister, and therefore I am the Minister.

Clause 20 establishes the Scottish environment protection agency to carry out the functions assigned to it elsewhere in the Bill. SEPA would bring together responsibility for the prevention and control of the key forms of pollution to air, water and land. The functions that will be transferred are set out in Clause 21.

It is widely recognised that an integrated approach to pollution prevention and control is essential. Pollution to one environmental media can affect another. At present, however, our environmental regulators are organised separately. Pollution to air, water and land are dealt with in isolation to each other.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, suggested that the transition to the new arrangements would represent a loosening on the control of pollution. That will not be the case. The constituent parts that will be brought into SEPA have to date performed extremely well in their own rights and they will be absorbed in the functioning systems. The polluter-pays principle will be maintained and enforced where necessary. SEPA will instead offer a one-door approach to pollution prevention and control to the benefit of both the environment and industry.

The noble Lord suggested that pollution control could be styled on a commission, such as the HSC. The HSC works with three distinct partners; industry, government and the workers. To a large extent, policy is already settled. The problem with using such a model for the environmental protection agency is that much environmental policy is still being settled or must be allowed to evolve. Therefore, policy is best left to an arrangement between government and an agency.

I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that despite the pollution prevention function, which is at the centre of SEPA's existence, the agency is not precluded from seeking to improve the environment. The existing river purification authorities have successfully proved that during the past few years.

SEPA will be a non-departmental public body. We believe that it is within this organisational framework that a body such as SEPA will best operate. It will be one stage removed from the day-to-day work of government, but it will also remain accountable to Parliament through my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, raised other issues relating to the relationship between SEPA and local authorities. The first group of amendments on the Marshalled List today deals with that matter in detail and therefore I shall not go into the detail immediately.

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Clause 20 brings into effect Schedule 6, which sets out the constitution and proceedings of SEPA. I therefore recommend that Clause 20 shall stand part of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Is the Minister aware that there is a widespread belief that this new organisation represents no more than the centralisation of current pollution control arrangements? There is no confidence that the agency will be one for the protection of the environment, to which the noble Earl is devoted. On the contrary, the loss of the local nature of waste regulation, air pollution control and river purification is bound to lead to a much greater potential for pollution. How can the noble Earl say that this is an advance in environmental protection when it is a retreat?

Lord Elton: I do not know whether the exchange is intended to be only a duet; but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will bear in mind advantages which flow from the arrangements. At present, a host of authorities set standards and people conducting business in Scotland have to apply to each one. Each is able to apply different standards, and each must give permission for activity in its area. There is a general principle, which is satisfied by the Bill, which would not be satisfied without Clause 20; it is that there should be a single agency and a single point of application for permissions and licences.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, always supports the Government on these matters. That is perfectly reasonable. He sits on the Conservative Benches, and why should he not do so? But the fact is that there are local variations in relation to the protection of waste regulation, air pollution control and river purification. To say that there should be one Scottish body because it is useful for somebody to be able to telephone one telephone number does not seem to me to hold any confidence at all.

Lord Elton: I rise only to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, for that glowing testimony, which I draw to the attention, through the record, of my party's Chief Whip.

The Earl of Lindsay: The noble Lord made two principal points, both of which I think are inaccurate. The first is that very few people now with an interest in the environmental field do not believe that an integrated approach to environmental management, the prevention and control of pollution and then enhancement of environmental issues is the right method. To deal with different environmental needs in isolation from each other is seen by very few people as correct.

The second point I stress to the noble Lord is that many issues have a certain complexion which must be taken into account when they are managed. SEPA has a duty to appoint regional boards. That is not an option but a duty. Those regional boards will have executive functions delegated to them.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to prolong the debate but the noble Earl cannot have it both ways. We cannot have the noble Lord, Lord Elton, saying that a central body is of the greatest advantage to the people of Scotland while at the same time the noble Earl says

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that there will be regional boards all over the place which will take account of all the different variations. It must be one thing or the other.

The Earl of Lindsay: I cannot agree with the noble Lord. I believe that my view is shared by many Members of the Committee. There is a need for centralised cohesion, co-ordination and integration but very often there needs to be localised input to take account of local factors.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: I am disappointed by the noble Earl's reply, although I did not expect him to agree with me as that would have been very damaging to the Bill. Existing bodies are looking after pollution control reasonably well but would do so a great deal better were there to be one co-ordinating body bringing them together with their representatives who have direct contact with the people and who know, perhaps better even than the scientists, what are the local pollution problems. I am very disappointed but I shall not oppose the Motion.

On Question, Clause 20 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [The Scottish Environment Protection Agency]:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 131 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 132 to 135 inclusive.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 131:


Page 134, leave out lines 13 to 36 and insert:
("( ) SEPA shall consist of elected members appointed by such associations of local authorities as exist.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 140, 143, 144, 145, 146 and 181C. The amendments seek to ensure that members of SEPA are elected members of the new councils when they are formed. During our discussions on the Bill, I have emphasised the need for SEPA to have as its members people who are known locally and who have to be elected periodically. It is important that the control of the SEPA remains in the hands of local people who are democratically accountable. The only feasible way in which to achieve such an end is to require that membership of the agency is drawn from local authority members. It is not sufficient that the members of the agency should, as suggested in the schedule,


    "have knowledge or experience in some matter relevant to the functions".

That is far too wide a definition. The vital point is that decisions should be taken by elected members who are democratically accountable and who appear regularly before their electors.

Amendment No. 140 seeks to ensure that democratic accountability of the membership on the boards is retained. As I said, it is vital that decisions are taken by democratically elected members.

Amendment No. 143 seeks to retain the function of waste regulation within local authority control. The schedule is not strengthening the organisation of

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environmental protection in Scotland; the proposals merely seek to supplant the operational aspects of pollution control work which, in the view of most of us in Scotland, are matters for locally based personnel who are locally accountable. It is important that that matter should remain close to the industries and communities with which and within which it operates.

District and highland councils in Scotland have, since 1975, been responsible for waste regulation, first in terms of control of pollution under the 1974 Act and since May 1994 under the waste management licensing regulations which brought into force the licensing provisions of Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Even now consultations are taking place to amend the regulations and to revise the associated waste management functions. No justification has been offered for the removal of that function from local government.

I commend also Amendment No. 144 which seeks to ensure that the regulatory functions of waste disposal authorities are retained within local control. The other amendments are on the same theme. I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for local government to be represented in matters which affect everyone in the locality. Local government members are the best people to be contacted when things go wrong. I beg to move.


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