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Lord Williams of Elvel: That is only if the environment agency has no local authority representation.

Viscount Ullswater: I bear in mind that perhaps we trespass into Scottish time. I could go through the schedule in some detail and point out inadequacies in the drafting. I see that the noble Lord shakes his head. Perhaps we need to address the matter on another occasion.

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In conclusion, the Government continue to believe that the problems associated with common land need a more considered and structured approach than this amendment would provide. I hope I have said enough to show why we cannot accept it. Therefore, perhaps the noble Lord will be persuaded to withdraw it.

Lord Renton: Before the noble Lord, Lord Williams, replies, perhaps I may say that I fully understand the reply given by my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I was particularly interested when he said that he hoped to make a statement before long on the result of further thoughts in the department about the protection of common land. When he makes such a statement, will it be while the Bill is going through Parliament so that any consequential amendments in the present law that might be considered necessary could be made in this Bill?

Viscount Ullswater: I quite understand that that would obviously be of some interest. But the report that I would make as a result of the consultations would not be at such an advanced stage as to allow for the statutory requirements or amendments to be made to this legislation while it is before noble Lords.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and to my noble friend Lady David. I am also grateful to the Minister for responding to my amendment. I accept every criticism about its drafting. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, will be aware that I am not a conspicuously good drafter of amendments. The amendment may be rather technical. It comes from a hand which, I am bound to say, is not mine.

Nevertheless, the amendment tries to address what we consider to be the initial and major problems relating to common land. The Minister says that the amendment does not address the major problem relating to common land. I should like to have moved an amendment which addressed the whole problem of registration and the management of common land. If I may speak from my own experience, and, indeed, as the noble Viscount knows, it is the management of common land which is a major problem. In fact, the common land which abuts my property in Wales is simply not managed at all by anybody.

I should like to have introduced such an amendment. But, as the Committee knows, my aims in all things are modest. I do not try to persuade the Committee that I want to solve all the problems at once. In moving the schedule, I simply wanted to put the item on the agenda. It is now very firmly on the agenda.

The Minister replied to the amendment and clarified his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, saying that he would make an announcement "shortly" or "before long". We are rather cynical about ministerial announcements which are to be made as soon as possible, shortly or before long. So I wish to press the noble Viscount further. I said that the amendment was a probing amendment. If I do not receive a suitable reply—not at this stage of the Bill but at some future stage—it could easily become an amendment which stops being probing and on which I would seek the opinion of the Chamber. But since we are in Committee, we are entitled to a discussion and to have an assurance

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from the Minister that the Government at least recognise the problem and recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, that this Bill is the proper place for the matter to be addressed. I understand that the Minister may say that it cannot be done while the Bill is before this Chamber, but before the Bill leaves Parliament there should be some announcement from the Government about their intentions on common land.

As my noble friend Lady David pointed out, the problem has been around for a long time. The Government have a long-standing commitment. It is simply not good enough to say that they are still studying the problem and still consulting on it. We have heard that since their manifesto commitment of 1987. The ball is very firmly in the Government's court. I hope that the noble Viscount will honour us with an assurance that, before the Bill leaves Parliament as an Act, we shall have some announcement of the Government's future intentions for common land and the prospect of legislation.

Viscount Ullswater: I have to say no, I do not believe that this Bill is the proper place for that. It is not the proper legislation in which to include this point on common land. The use of the environment agency as a peg on which to hang this little piece of legislation is not appropriate. I indicated that informal consultations have been going on with a wide range of interested bodies. In order to report on the result of those consultations, there is need for further consideration. In this instance I sought not entirely to destroy the amendment the noble Lord proposes but I do not feel that this is the right place to introduce such legislation. I feel that it needs further thought and further consultation. It will not be ready before this Bill passes through Parliament.

Lord Renton: Perhaps I may add one point. The Bill deals with national parks. Common land and national parks are both of public concern and they are both precious parts of the environment. This is an Environment Bill. Whether or not we require the environment agency, which has quite different powers, to consider the matter, I should have thought that what we are doing for national parks would not be very different from what we might wish to do for common land.

Viscount Ullswater: What we are doing with national parks is setting up some authorities to deal with the management of national parks. That is a transfer of some local authority functions to the national park authorities. We shall be discussing that in some detail next week. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, indicated that he wanted the environment agency to have some function in common land. However, I do not believe that it is the right place to involve the environment agency in this rather specialised form of legislation.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I find the Government's response to all that the Committee has said extremely disappointing. As my noble friend Lady David said, we have been walking around this problem now for years and years and years. The Government had a commitment in the Conservative manifesto of 1987 to

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bring forward legislation on the basis of the common land forum. Even today, in 1995, the Minister can get up and say, "We are still considering the problem and we are still consulting with interested parties. We will make an announcement some time after this Bill receives Royal Assent". We are not satisfied with that. At a later stage of the Bill, regardless of what the noble Viscount says about whether or not this is the right place, there will be further amendments on this issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 [Functions of staff commission]:

[Amendment No. 151 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 152:

After Clause 23, insert the following new clause:

("Production of environmental quality plans

. SEPA shall coordinate the production of environmental quality plans with the aim of integrating the activities of environmental regulatory authorities in Scotland and to provide a framework for guiding decisions on the management and protection of the environment.").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford, I wish to move Amendment No. 152 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 182 to 184, 184A, 185, 185A, 185B and 185C. The purpose of Amendment No. 152 is to enable SEPA to fulfil the Government's intention to secure the opportunity for more integrated environmental protection. It is concerned with quality plans. Threats to the environment do not arise solely from pollution and Scotland's environment cannot be protected by an agency concerned only with the pollution control end of the cycle. The environment is complex and interrelated and requires to be looked at in an integrated way.

This amendment would enable SEPA to draw up environmental quality plans which build on the experience of the National Rivers Authority which produces water catchment management plans in England and Wales. Such plans would enable the integration of the various functions of Scotland's agencies as they relate to water catchments. Integrated planning of activities within catchments would enable SEPA to play an active part in tackling problems where a number of bodies may be acting at cross-purposes. It would enable SEPA to take account of and influence activities which may have a cumulative impact on the environment but which are currently planned or managed under separate and unconnected systems. For example, a catchment plan could address the cumulative effects of agricultural run-off, forestry practice, sewage inputs and other activities on a water body and would be an economic way of avoiding problems which are very costly to remedy.

The estuary of the River Ythan in Grampian is badly affected by nitrate enrichment, mostly from agricultural activities, which has been exacerbated by the removal of buffer strips along water courses. The nutrient enrichment causes algal mats on the surface of the mudflats which prevent birds, such as dunlins, from

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feeding on invertebrates. An action plan based on catchment management is now seen as the only solution and is being developed by a consortium of agencies. This amendment would enable SEPA to take this approach as a matter of course before costly problems reach that stage.

The other amendments are supportive of Amendment No. 152. Amendment No. 183 brings the Bill into line with current thinking on protection of the water environment. "Cleanliness" of the water, while important, takes an extremely limited view of the water environment, ignoring the biological quality, hydrological quality and geomorphological quality. All these factors should be within SEPA's duties with respect to water.

I hope that the Minister will be able to make another little concession on what to me is a commonsense and helpful group of amendments. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: I do not doubt the common sense of the amendment and especially the sentiment behind it. SEPA's relationship to the water environment is crucial to its functions and duties.

Amendment No. 152 would require SEPA to take the lead in the preparation of environmental quality plans, as the noble Lord described, to integrate the work of environmental regulatory authorities in Scotland and to seek to apply a common framework for the consideration of matters by these authorities. The noble Lord explained that the intention behind Amendment No. 152 is to require SEPA to adopt the catchment based management approach used by the NRA. The Government do not believe that approach is necessary in Scotland. Scotland's geography is very different from that south of the Border. Its rivers are relatively short and fast flowing with nothing comparable to the long and meandering rivers such as the Thames, the Severn, the Ouse and Bristol Avon. In addition, 95 per cent. of Scotland's public water supplies come from upland sources whereas that is true for only one-third of water supplies in England. The other two-thirds in England come from abstraction lower down the river or from groundwater sources.

These factors, combined with Scotland's relatively lower density of population and comparative lack of heavy industry, mean that the scale of potential pollution is less. As Scotland's river flow is greater, the result is that the effects of any pollution incidents are mitigated. Against this background there is less of a need for comprehensive controls of the kind which have been adopted in England and Wales.

That being said, the Government have acknowledged that existing arrangements can be improved. It is precisely because current regulatory arrangements are so fragmented that SEPA is to be set up to bring together responsibility for the key forms of pollution to air, water and land. In addition, we envisage SEPA agreeing memoranda of understanding with other public bodies which impinge upon its work. One such public body would be the HSE. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, mentioned a specific location in Scotland, the river Ythan estuary. It is where there are specific areas

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requiring environmental management that the work of SEPA will need to be co-ordinated with the work of other authorities that the memorandum of understanding and the bilateral obligations on both parties will be established.

I am satisfied that SEPA has the power to draw up joint plans, if necessary; but it would be wrong to give it the main co-ordinating role in every circumstance. For example, Scottish National Heritage might have a major interest in an issue. It would not be right therefore for SEPA to be in the lead. On reflection, I hope that the noble Lord will agree that these are not aspects on which the precision of legislation is appropriate.

The purpose of Amendment No. 182 is to remove the possibility of ministerial directions in connection with SEPA's duties with respect to the cleanliness of waters and the conservation of water resources. There is no hidden agenda here. The Government have no anxieties in relation to the river purification authorities meeting their existing duties. Clause 32(1) strengthens the current duties by widening the scope of the waters to be protected specifically to include groundwater. We should however bear in mind that these duties will in future apply to a body with a very different nature from river purification authorities. SEPA will be an integrated body whose functions encompass the prevention and control of pollution to air, water and land.

We accept the need for SEPA to have specific duties in relation to the water environment over and above its general environmental duties reflecting the existing RPA's wider scope in relation to pollution of controlled waters. However, we do not want these duties to skew unreasonably the work of the agency. This amendment would remove the safety net which we have built in to ensure this does not happen.

I should now like to turn to Amendments Nos. 183 to 185C. I have some sympathy with the general direction of these amendments, but I do not see their adoption for SEPA as appropriate. Other bodies will also have their part to play in achieving these objectives. Our aim is broadly to transfer the existing duties of the river purification authorities for water protection to SEPA with some strengthening in relation to groundwater.

Amendment No. 183 appears to reflect the European Commission's proposals for a new ecological quality of water directive. It would be inappropriate to define SEPA's role in these terms, particularly at this early stage in the preparation of a new directive, when it is far from clear what its eventual shape will be. SEPA is, for instance, unlikely to be the only statutory body contributing to the work of achieving high ecological quality in terms of the directive, should it be adopted. Other organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage are likely to have a part to play. We should wait until the directive is adopted to define such roles.

Amendment No. 184 effectively removes any reference to practicability in relation to SEPA's role in conserving water resources, and places an onus on SEPA to determine what uses of water are proper. This is too wide a task for SEPA.

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Amendment No. 184A similarly removes the reference to "practicable", and would place duties on the agency which it could not meet, given the powers available to it.

Amendment No. 185 gives a promotional role to SEPA which again goes well beyond its powers and duties as an environmental regulator. It seems to me that such a role more appropriately lies with the new water authorities. The same also applies to Amendments Nos. 185A, 185B and 185C. Those impose an absolute duty in relation to the conservation of the water environment that would deflect SEPA from its primary role as a pollution prevention and control body.

The noble Lord may be aware of Section 65 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 which will place a new duty on the Secretary of State and the new water authorities to promote the conservation and effective use of the water resources of, and the provision of adequate water supplies throughout, Scotland. I would suggest that this existing legislative provision is sufficient to meet his concerns.

This is an important area and water is an important factor within Scotland. I trust that I have been able to reassure the Committee that the existing water duties on the new agency and on other bodies are sufficient. On that basis, I ask noble Lords to consider withdrawing their amendments.

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