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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am very grateful to those who have supported this amendment this evening. I shall not take the time of the House for very long. I

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sympathise, curiously enough, with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn. The last thing we want is a committee of yes-men; but equally, the last thing one would want is a committee of no-men. We need a committee of people who know what they are about. In that respect, the views of local government, because of the practical implications, are very significant.

I will consider what my noble friend the Minister has had to say, and whether I need to take this matter any further at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 57:


Page 13, line 23, leave out from ("to") to the end of line 24 and insert ("establish a Wales region").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to establish a Welsh region for the agency. I shall move it in a very reasonable manner, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said earlier.

Reverting to our debate in Committee on 19th January (specifically at cols. 844-845), the noble Viscount responded to this question of the boundaries of the new agency and its activities. He emphasised that this was a decision for the agency itself, and that it should be determined, in the case of Wales, by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales in consultation with the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.

However, it is now time that this issue was clearly discussed in this House, so that the thinking that is taking place within the agency should emerge. In particular, I would want to argue that the question of the national boundary of Wales in relation to the activity of the agency is a matter for Parliament.

No doubt I shall excite the opposition of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on this issue. When dealing with the amalgamation of the three parts of the agency, we deal with different boundaries relating to different structures and different functions.

I want to start the argument from the point of view that the Government have decided not to go ahead with the proposal to establish a separate agency for Wales, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel earlier. The issue was debated and no doubt it will be returned to in another place, if not in this Chamber, at a later stage of the Bill.

But given that that is not happening, it is very important that the structure of the Welsh region should remain strong in the activity of the agency. The noble Viscount said that. He said:


    "It is important that the agency's Welsh region has a strong identity".—[Official Report, 19/1/95; col. 844.]

A strong identity is best maintained by indicating clearly how the region of the agency is to function. The combination of some 430 full-time staff from HMIP, some 7,500 staff from NRA and about 1,100 staff from local waste regulation authorities joining together in the case of England and Wales—at some stage I should welcome the figures for Wales as well—will create an imbalance in the way in which the structure develops.

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My fear is that HMIP's present mode of operation will be over-determined, if not drowned—that is another metaphor —by the NRA's mode of operation and structure. The expertise of HMIP in developing the integrated pollution control system and all the important features of the EPA 1990 are extremely important not only in Wales but in the regions of England as well. As we know, HMIP is responsible for regulating the large polluting processes under the IPC; the smaller processes are governed by the local authority air pollution control.

As those aspects come together in the new agency, it seems to me that at this stage it is not clear which of the options for the geographical and managerial structure of the proposed environment agency, as discussed in the Touche Ross report last year, is the most likely to be implemented. I shall not repeat this evening all the models. Some of them emphasise the activity of the waste organisations and others emphasise the NRA model. But it concerns me that this should not be a matter just for the agency itself to resolve. It should be resolved in a relationship between the agency and the Secretary of State. I believe that Parliament should express a view, in particular about the integrity of the Wales region and its boundaries.

In the structure of the agency there are nine voluntary regional waste regulation committees in England; the Welsh districts carry out that function in Wales through the Council of Welsh districts; HMIP has field teams implementing the IPC system with its seven regions; the NRA has, I believe, eight regions where previously it had 10 regions. The NRA regions do not correspond to the geography of the waste regulation regions, which tend to follow local authority boundaries.

In the debates on this issue there have been arguments from the NRA about maintaining the integrity of river basin management. On the other hand, there has been the argument from HMIP that functions should be split because of the separate nature of the activities and the dangers of self-policing. Perhaps I may ask the Minister to respond, and if he cannot reply in detail tonight, perhaps he would ask his right honourable friend in another place, the Secretary of State for Wales, to consider what has been said in this debate and perhaps respond by letter. I am concerned by what seems to be happening. I describe merely a scenario which may only approximate to what is in fact going on.

It seems to me that a working group is trying to bring about a structure for Wales which is over-determined by the activity of the NRA. The Wales region of HMIP operated as a strong region, coterminous in its activities locally with local authorities. The NRA operates under the catchment areas. If the agency is allowed to decide the nature of its regions, then we may well see an England and Wales structure led by the NRA imposed on Wales. That will mean not only ensuring that Powys remains forever England—if one can use that expression—as part of Severn-Trent, as it is under the present structure of the NRA, but also that the Minister's right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be dealing with two regions of the environmental agency.

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As the waste regulatory functions are coming into the environmental agency, presumably the Part II functions of the 1990 Act now being transferred, based on existing local authorities, will be based on the new unitary authorities. But the Part I, if HMIP as part of the new environmental agency is to follow the new NRA boundaries, will be based on river catchment areas which are not coterminous with local authorities.

It is an important issue. We are in the middle of a local government reorganisation and the activities of the agency should follow similar boundaries. Part II of the Control of Pollution Act will no doubt conform with the NRA model. We may well see a situation where not only is the river catchment area structure taking place at the Wales regional level, but it may also be replicated at sub-regional level so that again the activity of HMIP, as taken into the agency, will not follow the boundary of the new unitary authorities and so the local authorities and the unitary authorities will not have parallel structures with the local activity of HMIP.

All that did not emerge in the debate on the Bill. Apparently the Government have not yet taken a view on the matter. The Government should express a clear view. It is not a matter for the agency. I am not putting forward a political argument for the Welsh political boundary in a devolutionary context; I am arguing for what I see to be a more efficient structure than that which may well be imposed upon us. For those reasons, I beg to move Amendment No 57.

10 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I wish to make a brief intervention. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, need not be concerned that I shall be excited about the issue, though there are some important questions to be asked. One matter on which I am clear and which I share with him is that the Secretary of State for Wales must be responsible for what goes on in the whole of Wales. That has always been accepted. However, a group has been set up by the new advisory committee to look at this matter and examine the Touche Ross report. When one knows that Professor Ron Edwards is involved, it is likely that Welsh interests will be well looked after.

When a group is making a detailed study it seems to me to be a good idea that it should be allowed to complete its work and make recommendations before we rush into imposing solutions on a situation on the basis of a brief debate after 10 o'clock at night in this House. It does not necessarily follow—this goes for England as well as Wales —that it is appropriate to have coterminous boundaries for all the functions of the agency. There is a case, and it may well be a solution adopted in England as well as in Wales, that the boundaries in every case will not be exact. It may be sensible to have boundaries for waste functions and HMIP functions that match more closely to local authorities. But for the important reasons that the NRA advocated for employing catchment management, it may be important to keep the catchment management principle operating for the NRA functions.

I simply want to record the importance of managing rivers on a catchment management basis. Some sensible proposals were put forward before the Bill was

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introduced and they were discussed in great detail with the Welsh Office at the time. They would have enabled that principle to be carried forward into the new agency. They were the subject of wide consultation with the advisory committees in Wales and of wide agreement. I hope that we can leave the matter to the outcome of the discussions that are going on in the fairly confident belief that a sensible, practical solution will be developed which will both protect the environment and leave the Secretary of State for Wales with his proper responsibilities.


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