Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: As for the last amendment, I shall of course ask leave of the Committee to withdraw it. Again, there is nothing that I can do at this stage.

I am not persuaded at all by the Government's response to this amendment. I shall have to read very carefully what my noble friend said when he talked about the various categories that could then engage the special expertise and skills of the agency. We discussed this matter days ago when we talked about who would form the agency, what kind of people would be on the board of the agency and on the advisory boards. They should have wide enough skills and expertise to deal with all the problems that arise. It really does not matter whether you put it under the hat labelled "contaminated", "special" or "landfill". Those all present in their different ways hazards to the environment and to people. That is what we are concerned with—not a specialisation, one against another demanding special provisions. I am very disappointed that my noble friend cannot understand that simplicity in a Bill as complex as this one is a very desirable attribute which, certainly in Clause 34, we seem to be letting slip by.

Viscount Ullswater: Before my noble friend decides what to do about his amendment, it might just be useful if I pointed out to him the different categories, because I do not believe that he has really taken in the significance of my answer. We believe that there is a duty for the local authorities to look after the closed landfill sites and, when we come to remedial statements on the special sites, that those should be made by the agency since it has a particular expertise and the skill. That is the difference.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: Although I am most grateful, I do not think that I did misunderstand. However, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to study carefully what our exchange has been all about. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 228ZA not moved.]

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 228ZB:

Page 46, line 10, at beginning insert:
("(a) Subject to the provisions of paragraph (b) below,").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 228BB. These amendments are about the definition of "harm". This is a serious issue, although my amendments are probing amendments. The definition of "harm" in the Bill seems to me to be highly unsatisfactory, because it says:

I think we are all fairly clear what we want to say: the difficulty is that I do not think that form of words says it. We have already debated the question on an earlier

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1439

amendment of mine—the question of the seriousness of the harm. That is not what I am talking about here. I am talking here about the kind of harm—or, more precisely, the kind of personal thing to which that harm is done.

As drafted, this clause would include within the definition of "harm" every kind of harm to every kind of living organism or ecosystem. It would therefore designate as "harm" all activities such as pest control—rats and slugs, after all, are living organisms—dredging rivers and lakes, gardening, agriculture, forestry, road construction, cleaning up of pollution and many other activities. Clearly, that is not what the Government mean. The problem is that it is quite difficult to designate and to define the nasty things, such as pests and diseases, that we want to be harmed and the ones which we love and do not want to be harmed. It has to be admitted that the problem is complicated by the fact that one man's pest is sometimes another man's pet.

I acknowledge that my amendment is imperfect, but I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to take the problem away and come back with a much better solution. I beg to move.

Viscount Ullswater: Amendments Nos. 228ZB and 228BB of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, seek to recognise that there are some living organisms which are themselves harmful—for example agricultural pests. It would indeed be perverse if these contaminated land powers prevented the appropriate use of pesticides.

These amendments are closely related to those dealing with the wider questions of the overall definitions of "harm" and of "contaminated land" and, as I indicated in response to those amendments, the Government already intend to bring forward their own amendments on these at a later stage. So, while I appreciate the intention behind the noble Lord's amendments, I would not wish to accept them now. Perhaps he will be good enough to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 228A and 228B not moved.]

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 228BA:

Page 46, line 12, after ("includes") insert ("offence to any of his senses or").

The noble Baroness said: I rise to move this amendment and speak to Amendment No. 238ZZA, which is grouped with it. Amendment No. 228BA is intended as a probing amendment, to ask the Minister why the definition is being changed from that in the Environmental Protection Act. In that Act,the definition of "harm" is:

    "Harm to the health of living organisms",

and, in the case of man, includes offence to any of his senses or harm to his property.

The definition of "harm" in this Bill is almost identical but excludes any reference to any of man's senses. The reason for this anomaly is not immediately obvious. At this stage, therefore, the amendment is directed at asking the Minister to explain why there is a

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1440

different definition of "harm" in this particular Bill, and whether it should include offences such as smell or odour which would offend human beings.

Amendment No. 238ZZA is an attempt to suggest that the future use of contaminated land is an important factor when deciding the extent to which it should be remediated. There is obviously a difference between land which is intended for use purely as a public car park and land on which it is intended to build houses, or to have a children's playground or a school. The intention therefore is to include in this clause and any consideration of the extent to which the land should be improved or pollution eradicated, the intended future use of the land. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I believe that the amendment may be open to so many different kinds of interpretation that it would cause great difficulty when it came to be considered by the courts or applied in any way.

Lord Northbourne: I rise briefly to speak on Amendment No. 238B, which is grouped with Amendment No. 238A. It says more or less the same thing as the second amendment of the noble Baroness. The standard of remediation should be limited to the standard of "suitable for use". The arguments that guidance will limit it are not satisfactory. There seems to me to be no reason why a "suitable for use" approach should not be spelt out in the legislation.

10.15 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: Amendment No. 228BA, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, seeks to extend the definition of harm, and thereby of contaminated land, to include references to offences to man's senses. Amendment No. 372EB would also exclude premises which fell within that wider definition of contaminated land from all of the various categories of statutory nuisance set out in Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. As presently provided, only those categories most directly relevant to contaminated land are excluded.

The Government quite deliberately omitted offences to man's senses from the list of possible harm which would define land as being contaminated. For example, we do not consider that land should be considered as contaminated on the basis of smells and odours which are not themselves harmful to health or the wider environment. The statutory nuisance powers will potentially still be available to deal as necessary with those other problems. I believe that that would meet the problem outlined by my noble friend Lord Renton. The Government therefore would not wish to accept those amendments.

Amendment No. 238ZZA, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, would increase the possible requirements of a remediation notice by making it a positive requirement for an enforcing authority to consider potential uses of the land. By contrast, Amendment No. 238B, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, would restrict the degree of any remediation required to that justified to make the land suitable for its actual or likely use. It is intended that the guidance on remediation standards which the agency

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1441

would issue to local authorities should be informed by the "suitable for use" approach. But two important clarifications are needed.

First, any remediation notice also needs to consider those environmental effects which are not dependent on the use of the immediate site. Examples here could include any potential pollution of groundwater and, indeed, effects on health or property in relation to the use to which other sites nearby are being put. Amendment No. 238B would not allow those environmental issues to be addressed, and therefore I would not wish to accept it.

Secondly, it is not the intended role of this proposed regulatory system to make land fit for all of its potential uses. The powers have been quite deliberately structured around risks to health or the environment which are currently being caused, or are likely to be caused. In any event, planning authorities, in considering whether to grant permission for a new use of land, have powers to impose conditions to ensure that the development intended will not put future users or occupiers at risk if necessary by requiring improvements to the condition of the land before the development can be carried out. My department published a planning policy guidance note, PPG23, on Planning and Pollution Control in July of last year to advise local authorities on that question.

I hope I have said enough to convince the noble Baroness that both of the amendments to which she has spoken are not required and that she will be good enough to withdraw them.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page