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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I support the amendment. I should have thought that the more democratic control we have, the better it will be. It is not to be expected that the Government will be very enthusiastic about that, particularly in Scotland where they have even less representation in local government than they do in England. Nevertheless, whatever the political control, it is right that the people, the voters, should have a say as to who runs that very important agency.

Lord Monkswell: I support the amendment. We must be very clear about the responsibilities of SEPA. I understand that it is to ensure the protection and enhancement of the environment in Scotland. That is for the benefit, I assume, of people living in Scotland.

The difficulty with which we are faced is that the agency will be answerable to the Secretary of State. I am sure that the noble Earl will say that it will be the Secretary of State for Scotland. But he is a national Minister. He is a Minister of a national government and therefore has to take cognisance of what is best for the UK as a whole and not just what is best for Scotland.

If the Government were to change the way in which the Secretary of State for Scotland is chosen so that Scottish Members of Parliament elect who is to be the Secretary of State for Scotland, I am sure that we should all welcome the proposals in the Bill. But I suspect that the Government will not do that. Therefore, the problem is that the people who are to be responsible for environment and pollution control in Scotland will not be answerable to the Scottish people; they will be answerable to a national government. There is a contradiction which I believe needs to be addressed.

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Obviously, the best way that we have to address it at present is to support the amendment moved by my noble friend.

4 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I think it is time that a Scottish-based Peer entered into this short debate. I must tell the noble Lord who has just spoken that what he said constitutes a most interesting and different form of Scottish nationalism which, perhaps, he would like to discuss some time during debate. It is quite strange, and if the noble Lord came a little more often to Scotland I believe that he would realise just how strange it is.

However, having said that, I know that the noble Lord is trying to be constructive and is representing the interests of local government in the matter of which he has knowledge and in which he is very interested. I, too, am most interested in it. In his response, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can outline a little to the Committee how the local government interest in such matters will link with the interests of SEPA. That is a critical question. In other words, we need to know how the powers, which to an extent overlap, will operate and how people who go to their local government councillors about a problem will be dealt with. I believe that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has in mind.

I do not believe that the magic solution of political control of SEPA is the probable answer. But it is extremely important that local government people should know how they are to relate to the agency. I have not given my noble friend notice of that question, but I should be most grateful if he could assist us in that respect.

The Earl of Balfour: I should like to intervene for a moment, drawing from my practical experience of having, off and on, close contact with the river purification boards that presently exist in Scotland. One-third of the membership of those boards was appointed by the Secretary of State. Over the past 30 years it has been very much my opinion that those members who were appointed by the Secretary of State were by far the most active. That is not meant in any way as a criticism of the representatives who were appointed by local authorities. But, of course, local authority councillors had many other duties to attend to and, in many cases, did not have the time to address their extra duties—it I may put it that way—of being members of a river purification board.

With very great respect to our elected councillors, many of whom are extremely dedicated people regardless of political party, I must stress that when it comes to environmental matters I believe it is important for us to have people who have the greatest experience in the field, and not necessarily locally-elected personnel.

Lord Elton: If the noble Lord is thinking of this as more than a probing amendment, I believe that it would probably be worth his while to explain how it is that the wording, which would appear to be designed to replace only paragraph 4 of the schedule, actually strikes out paragraphs 3 to 7, thus leaving the size of SEPA and

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the method of appointment, the duration of appointment and the actual role of the Secretary of State completely unstated. I do not believe that that point is picked up in the rest of the group, although there may be something that I have missed.

Lord Monkswell: During her remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, referred to my local government experience. I thank her for doing so. However, I should have advised Members of the Committee of a vested interest in the matter. I was educated in Scotland and I have relatives in Scotland. One of the things that I like doing in Scotland is swimming. Indeed I like swimming off the beach of Portobello in Edinburgh and I also like swimming off the Western Isles.

My vested interest is in ensuring that bathing water is clean. We have only to look at the history of the past few years to realise that our national Government do not seem to have that as a very high priority. I am concerned for the people of Scotland and, as I said, I want nice, clean bathing water when I go swimming. I want to ensure that the Scottish people have control, so to speak, of SEPA so that they are looking after their vested interests. That would ensure the best for the people of Scotland. It must not be controlled by the national Government here in Westminster who, unfortunately, still seem to like this country to go under the epithet of "the dirty man of Europe". I hope that that helps the debate.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I do not want to prolong the debate, but I expect that the noble Lord appreciates the fact that beaches have, for a long time, been the responsibility of local authorities.

The Earl of Lindsay: We are discussing a most important part of the Bill; and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, raises a most important issue. The amendments seek to involve local authorities in the work of SEPA. Yet, at the same time, they seek to remove from the proposed scope of the agency those functions currently carried out by local authorities in Scotland.

Amendment No. 131 would mean that SEPA would only comprise of local councillors who, in effect, would be appointed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA). I would certainly not rule out that appointments to the SEPA board made on the basis of merit, and the contributions that could be made to the effective running of the agency, may well include some individuals from local authorities. However, I cannot accept that that group should have an exclusive right of membership.

It has been suggested that the amendment would make the agency more accountable. I am not sure whether I accept that that would be the exact case. CoSLA is not itself elected and any representatives appointed to SEPA would not be accountable to their electors for that work. That is not to say that individuals with experience of local government may not have much to offer, but they would be appointed for their personal

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qualities and, most important, those appointments would not be made simply because their status is that of a councillor.

It would be very difficult for this non-departmental public body to be accountable to the Secretary of State, and through him to Parliament, if he was not responsible for appointing the members of the body. Choosing the members of the board is a crucial element of the Secretary of State's responsibility for the overall performance of the agency. I stress that point for the benefit of all noble Lords who are concerned that there may be a weakening of the democratic link between the operations of SEPA and those people who live in Scotland.

It seems to me to be vital that the operation and performance of SEPA is properly accountable to Parliament. I should stress that the Secretary of State will be answerable for the agency's overall performance, the specific aspects of its work related to his responsibilities as set out in Clause 4 and the appointments he makes to it. If the appointments to the board and the regional boards were made by the local electorate, the responsibility of the Secretary of State to Parliament would be very much diminished.

However, no one doubts that there is very probably a role for elected councillors at different levels of SEPA. I have already described the duty that SEPA has to establish regional boards. The Government certainly envisage elected councillors playing a full part on regional boards. I emphasise that to both noble Lords opposite and my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. Everyone acknowledges, especially in Scotland, the great role played by local authorities in environmental protection.

Amendment No. 140 would ensure that each of SEPA's regional boards included an elected councillor appointed by each local authority within its geographical area. I can envisage that the regional boards will, as I said, include a significant number of elected councillors. That will be included in the guidance which my right honourable friend gives to the agency. However, appointing one representative per authority could, in certain cases, make the regional boards unmanageably large as a wide range of interests would need to be reflected on the boards.

Amendments Nos. 143 and 144 would stop the transfer of local authorities' waste regulatory functions to SEPA. Amendment No. 145 would stop the transfer of local authority air pollution control to SEPA. Amendment No. 181C would remove integrated pollution control and local air pollution control from the list of SEPA's pollution control functions in Clause 31. In order to deliver environmental protection in a properly integrated manner it is important that the agency assumes responsibility for waste regulation. Another key benefit is the removal of dual responsibility for waste regulation and waste disposal. District and islands councils in Scotland currently perform both roles which effectively requires them to regulate themselves. Although this may not have caused serious problems to date, in principle there is a potential for conflict which need not exist.

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The Bill also transfers local authority air pollution control to SEPA. In Scotland we believe the balance of advantage lies with this more integrated approach. It reflects the comparatively small number of air polluting processes in Scotland with many local authorities responsible for only a handful of them even after taking local government reorganisation in 1996 into account. In a country of Scotland's size it makes little sense to establish a 600-strong agency with all the facilities and back-up that that entails while the 25 or so local authority staff working on air pollution control remain dispersed across all the local authorities. Pooling resources will bring real benefits in an area which is becoming increasingly technical. I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that integration of such skills is widely welcomed by environmental groups as well as others.

I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed over the transfer of local authority functions to SEPA, in particular the transfer of responsibility for local air pollution control under Part I of the Environmental Protection Act. The Government believe that local authorities will continue to play an important role in combating air pollution, even after the transfer. Indeed they will be assisted by the strengthened powers to tackle nuisance in Clause 89.

However, I can announce to the Committee today that regulations will be brought forward to make local authorities in Scotland statutory consultees for the prescribed processes which they currently regulate. I hope that the noble Lord welcomes that. The new arrangements will come into force when the air pollution controls are transferred to SEPA. They will ensure that local authorities continue to have a voice in the operation of such processes in their locality.

In the meantime I can further announce that, as part of the Government's air quality initiative, local authorities in Scotland and in England and Wales will become statutory consultees for IPC processes from this April. The new consultation arrangements will remain in place after regulatory responsibility for IPC transfers to the new agencies. This is a measure which local government has been keen for us to introduce. I hope that it is welcome to all noble Lords who spoke on the need for links between SEPA, the regional boards and the local electors. I hope too that the two announcements will reassure the Committee of the important role which the Government believe local authorities should continue to have in environmental protection matters. On that basis I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.


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