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Lord Moran: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I should like to study carefully what he said about Amendment No. 281. I am sorry that he is not prepared to shift his ground on Amendment No. 287. I shall study carefully in Hansard what he said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 282 not moved.]

11.45 p.m.

Viscount Mills moved Amendment No. 282A:


Page 227, line 27, at end insert:
("( ) In section 110 of that Act (applications for consents and approvals under section 109) there shall be inserted at the end—
"( ) An Order made by Ministers under subsection (1) above may provide for different fees to be payable according to—
(a) the description of the consented activity in question;
(b) the scale of the consented activity in question;
and may make different provision for different cases, including different provision in relation to different persons, circumstances or localities.".").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in Committee I moved an amendment which proposed that the agency would be able to charge for pre-application advice relating to land drainage consents. In his response, the Minister did not accept my amendment but, in relation to the cost of processing land drainage consents, indicated that there is already a provision in both the Land Drainage Act and the Water Resources Act to specify by order sums other than the sum of £50 which is currently charged. I also pointed out that a scale of charges might be appropriate, given the wide variation in the amount of work involved. The example I gave was a comparison between the introduction of a few rocks to provide a habitat for fish and a major barrage scheme. However, I have been advised that the introduction of a scale of charges would not be possible under the existing legislation. Therefore, this amendment seeks to introduce a very basic charging scheme which would get round the problem.

As I explained in Committee, such a scheme would be more consistent with other charging schemes within the Bill as well as being fairer, both to the agency and its customers. I accept that the drafting of the amendment may be technically incorrect but I hope that my noble friend the Minister will at least accept the principle of the amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this amendment. Legal advice is that it would probably not be possible to prescribe a scale of fees for drainage consents under existing provisions in the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Land Drainage Act 1991. The amendment deals only with fees chargeable by the agency under the Water Resources Act, but we believe that further consideration should be given to whether amendments to both Acts could be introduced to provide for scales of fees—as the agency will have powers under both—and the precise form of words. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend

9 Mar 1995 : Column 545

will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment at this stage. We need to look at the matter further and with due care.

Viscount Mills: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response which I find encouraging. I am very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux): My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 283 I must remind the House that should it be agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 284.

Lord Moran moved Amendment No. 283:


Page 230, leave out from beginning of line 44 to end of line 31 on page 232.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Government are proposing to add a new Section 191B to the Water Resources Act. The new clause would provide a procedure whereby an individual or business could object to information being placed on public registers set up under the Water Resources Act on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Public registers were first set up under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, although they did not actually come into existence until 1985. Since that time they have operated as an efficient source of environmental information.

There has, to the best of my knowledge, been no prejudice to any business as a result of inclusion of any information on registers. If that is correct, one might ask what need there is to set up the regime proposed in new Section 191B. I do not believe that the regime is necessary. Moreover, the decision as to whether information should be kept off the register will be in the hands of the agency, subject to regulations issued by the Secretary of State. Those who may be affected by the exclusion of information from the registers have, as I see it, no opportunity to make any representations of their own. I beg to move.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 284, which is grouped with Amendment No. 283, which seeks to cover exactly the same area of concern as the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Discharges to waters are genuine matters of public concern and should be in the public domain. This amendment seeks to remove the exemption on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and to retain the release or escape of substances into rivers within the public domain so that people know what has happened to water and rivers. There is no excuse for retaining secrecy on a matter of genuine public concern and which should be in the public domain.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, as I said in Committee, I fully appreciate the concerns which lie behind these amendments. Of course, I agree that the public should have easy access to environmental information, including that held by the agencies, and that exclusions from environmental registers should be kept to the absolute minimum. But I do not think that it is right to remove the opportunity for exclusion on the grounds of genuine commercial confidentiality.

9 Mar 1995 : Column 546

Amendment No. 283 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, seeks to delete from the Water Resources Act 1991 the new Section 191B. The effect of this would be that no information could be excluded from a water discharge register on grounds of commercial confidentiality. I sympathise with the noble Lord's motives in wishing to ensure that all the relevant information about discharges should be available for public scrutiny. But the commercial needs of industry must also be taken into account. There are cases in which a company's business would be prejudiced if certain information were made public. These new provisions are based on similar provisions in other legislation; for example, Section 22 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. They thus help achieve consistency with other regimes under which the agencies will be operating.

Amendment No. 284, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, makes another attempt to limit the exclusion for commercial confidentiality in the disclosure of public records. As I said, I can understand her concern. However, if all emissions were required to be declared, a company's business competitors might be able to use these details to obtain complex information about specific processes being carried on. We are setting up the agencies to regulate environmental pollution, not to cause unnecessary damage to legitimate business interests.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, herself accepts that trade secrets must be excluded from public registers. This is, in fact, the effect of the provision as it stands. Information is considered to be commercially confidential only if its being included in the register


    "would prejudice to an unreasonable degree"

the relevant commercial interests. The new Section 191B of the Water Resources Act 1991 will thus be brought into line with Section 22 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. In practice, this should mean that the sort of information which will be excluded is the restricted type which I think the noble Baroness has in mind when she refers to "trade secrets".

It is clear from decisions which have been taken by the Secretary of State on appeals under Section 22(5) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 that the concept


    "prejudice to an unreasonable degree the commercial interests"

is a very rigorous test which is not satisfied by every assertion of commercial confidentiality. I would add that the Secretary of State may direct the agency that certain specific information is, in the public interest, to be included in registers, notwithstanding that the information may be commercially confidential.

I hope that, with these reassurances, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Moran: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I quite understand that the Government wish to be fair to the firms concerned who feel that their commercial confidentiality is important, but in doing so they may be unfair to those who may be affected by the fact that the information will not be publicly available. I shall think about what the Minister said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

9 Mar 1995 : Column 547

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 284 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 285 to 287 not moved.]

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 288:


Page 247, line 30, at end insert:

("Subordinate legislation and local statutory provisions

.—(1) In any subordinate legislation or local statutory provisions, for any reference (however framed) to the National Rivers Authority, and for any reference which falls to be construed as such a reference, there shall be substituted a reference to the Agency.
(2) In any subordinate legislation, for any reference (however framed) to a relevant inspector, and for any reference which falls to be construed as such a reference, there shall be substituted a reference to the appropriate Agency.
(3) The provisions of this paragraph are subject to the other provisions of this Act and to any provision made under or by virtue of this Act.
(4) In this paragraph—
"the appropriate Agency" means—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, the Agency;
(b) in relation to Scotland, SEPA;
"local statutory provision" means—
(a) a provision of a local Act (including an Act confirming a provisional order);
(b) a provision of so much of any public general Act as has effect with respect to particular persons or works or with respect to particular provisions falling within any paragraph of this definition;
(c) a provision of an instrument made under any provision falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above;
(d) a provision of any other instrument which is in the nature of a local enactment;
"relevant inspector" means—
(i) the chief inspector for England and Wales constituted under section 16(3) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
(ii) the chief inspector for Scotland constituted under section 16(3) of that Act;
(iii) the chief inspector for England and Wales appointed under section 4(2) (a) of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993;
(iv) the chief inspector for Scotland appointed under section 4(2) (b) of that Act;
(v) the chief, or any other, inspector, within the meaning of the Alkali, &c., Works Regulation Act 1906;
(vi) an inspector appointed under section 19 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by the Secretary of State in his capacity as the enforcing authority responsible for the enforcement of the Alkali, &c., Works Regulation Act 1906 or section 5 of the said Act of 1974;
"subordinate legislation" has the same meaning as in the Interpretation Act 1978.").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 257. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 19 [Transitional and transitory provisions and savings]:


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