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Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, as I understand it, Amendment No. 129 introduces a new subject. Perhaps the noble Earl may wish to expand on the subject that it introduces before the Question is put to the House.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, is enormously helpful. I am deeply grateful. I am afraid that in the excitement of the last amendments my papers became a little confused and I thought that we were dealing with a different amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having pulled me back on to the track.

In moving Amendment No. 129 perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 186 to 188, 214 to 219, 318, 320, 321, 327 and 335. All of these amendments are minor or technical amendments, other than Amendments Nos. 129 and 188. They are required to validate payments of national parks supplementary grant which have been made by my department and the Welsh Office to county and metropolitan district councils since 1990.

The Secretary of State must lay a report annually before another place. This should specify both the determinations relating to the amount of grant to be paid to country councils which run the national parks and the considerations leading the Secretary of State to make such determinations. The report should be approved by affirmative resolution by another place.

Regrettably both my department and the Welsh Office have failed to lay such reports before another place since 1990. The legislation permits the payments to be made. The payments were made. They were properly audited in the same way as other local authority expenditure is audited. However, regrettably, the necessary reporting procedure to Parliament was omitted. This problem has only recently come to light and we thought it important that the legality of the payments which have been made to local authorities should be put beyond doubt. That would be achieved by Amendments Nos. 129 and 188. I commend the amendments to the House.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, this is a regrettable event. Not only do we have retrospective validation of payments which were apparently made illegally, but we also have an admission by the Minister that his department and the Welsh Office did not lay the appropriate reports for the payments in question.

This is an important issue. Can the noble Earl explain to this House what inquiries have been made in his department and in the Welsh Office to find out why such

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reports were not laid before the other place, as was their duty? What sanctions have been taken against those who were responsible? Which Ministers were involved, and what sanctions have been taken against those Ministers?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a regrettable occurrence. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, is quite right. Rather than brush the matter aside, we thought it appropriate that it should be put right. It should be made clear that the payments were not made illegally. Legislation permitted the payments to be made and the payments have been properly audited.

Where we went wrong was in omitting the reporting procedure to Parliament. That was due to an oversight. It is clearly something which should not have happened. Both departments regret that it has happened. The failure appears to be associated largely with the major changes in the regime for local government finance which were introduced in 1990. Both my department and the Welsh Office faced a major task in introducing the new arrangements. In focusing on those they regrettably lost sight of the fact that approval for those grants continued under the previous arrangements. That is the position. It is a regrettable one and we thought it right to correct it.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the noble Earl said that the payments were not made illegally. If they were not made illegally, why do they have to be validated? I understood the expression "validated" to mean that payments which were made contrary to certain provisions, rather than merely not being reported—payments made by mistake—are validated retrospectively by both Houses of Parliament. That is the meaning of the word "validation" as I understand it. If that is not the case perhaps the noble Earl will explain that I am wrong. I believe that I am right.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, much as the noble Lord would like me to, I shall not enter into the semantics of the definition of the word "validate". I tried to point out to him that these payments were made perfectly correctly. There was legislation which permitted those payments. It is not a question of payments being made which should not have been made. However, there should have been a report to Parliament, as he says, validating the payments. That is why we seek to amend the Bill now.

I tried to make clear that that should have been done. Parliament should have known about it. It was an error. However, the payments themselves were covered by legislation which permitted them. In addition, the receipt of the payments was audited.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

130Clause 71, page 82, line 33, at end insert:
'( ) specifies a time for the purposes of section 4A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990,'.
131Page 82, line 35, leave out '2(3)' and insert '2'.
132Page 82, line 36, at beginning insert '(i)'.
133Page 82, line 38, at end insert:
'(ii) for so increasing the number of local authority members of a National Park authority to be appointed by any council as to secure that

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the number of local authority members of that authority remains unchanged notwithstanding any such exclusion of a council, or'.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 130 to 133 en bloc. I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 211 to 213, 312 and 316. These are all technical amendments relating to the interaction between national park and local government reorganisation in Wales. I commend the amendments to your Lordships.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 130 to 133.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

134After Clause 75, insert the following clause:—

National air quality strategy

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall as soon as possible prepare and publish a statement (in this Part referred to as "the strategy") containing policies with respect to the assessment or management of the quality of air.
(2) The strategy may also contain policies for implementing—
(a) obligations of the United Kingdom under the Community Treaties, or
(b) international agreements to which the United Kingdom is for the time being a party,
so far as relating to the quality of air.
(3) The strategy shall consist of or include—
(a) a statement which relates to the whole of Great Britain; or
(b) two or more statements which between them relate to every part of Great Britain.
(4) The Secretary of State—
(a) shall keep under review his policies with respect to the quality of air; and
(b) may from time to time modify the strategy.
(5) Without prejudice to the generality of what may be included in the strategy, the strategy must include statements with respect to—
(a) standards relating to the quality of air;
(b) objectives for the restriction of the levels at which particular substances are present in the air; and
(c) measures which are to be taken by local authorities and other persons for the purpose of achieving those objectives.
(6) In preparing the strategy or any modification of it, the Secretary of State shall consult—
(a) the appropriate new Agency;
(b) such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of local government as he may consider appropriate;
(c) such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of industry as he may consider appropriate; and
(d) such other bodies or persons as he may consider appropriate.
(7) Before publishing the strategy or any modification of it, the Secretary of State—

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(a) shall publish a draft of the proposed strategy or modification, together with notice of a date before which, and an address at which, representations may be made to him concerning the draft so published; and
(b) shall take into account any such representations which are duly made and not withdrawn.'.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 134. Perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 135 to 145, 169, 172 to 174, 181 to 184, 220, 261, 265, 267, 301 and 336.

The group of amendments introduces an important new part into the Bill which would provide a new framework for assessing and managing air quality in the United Kingdom. This new part provides for a national air quality strategy and for revised powers and duties on local authorities, the Secretary of State, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others.

The amendments implement the government policy as was expressed in Improving Air Quality and Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge. Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge was published only in January of this year when the Bill was already before Parliament. I realise that it is a substantial group of amendments for your Lordships to digest at this stage. I hope that it will be seen to constitute a full and constructive response to the amendments tabled in the House by the noble Lords, Lord Lewis and Lord Nathan, and by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding.

In summary, the amendments introduce a national air quality strategy which will contain government policies on the assessment and management of air quality. They will introduce by regulation-making powers the means to prescribe air quality standards and objectives, and to enable other steps to be taken to meet them; and they will place new duties on local authorities to conduct reviews on local air quality, to designate air quality management areas and to prepare action plans to use their powers to address problems in those areas.

Amendment No. 134 allows for there to be a national air quality strategy. That will be a statement of government policies on the topic. As well as dealing with the United Kingdom's aims, the strategy will be a means of implementing some of the important air quality provisions of European Community directives and international agreements to which this country is a party. It will set out general standards and objectives on air quality, and will include measures which the Government are looking to local authorities and others to take in pursuit of the strategy's objectives.

By means of Amendment No. 135, we intend to ensure that the new agencies—the Environment Agency for England and Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—have regard to the strategy in discharging their pollution control functions.

In Amendment No. 136, we require local authorities to carry out reviews in their areas of the present and likely future quality of air. The next step, described in Amendment No. 137, will be to require local authorities to designate local air quality management areas for all or part of their areas which are affected by air quality which is below the prescribed standards or objectives.

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Where local authorities have designated air quality management areas, Amendment No. 138 will require them to revise or prepare assessments and to prepare action plans for those areas with timetables for the measures which they intend to take to address the problem. District and county councils will be required to work together in preparing the action plan in areas where both types of councils operate.

Amendment No. 139 deals with the reserve powers of the Secretary of State, or, in Scotland, of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, acting with the approval of the Secretary of State. In substance, the Secretary of State and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency are given wide powers to make directions to local authorities over the steps which they must take on local air quality.

Amendment No. 140 seeks to ensure that both district and county councils will be properly involved at all important stages of assessing and managing local air quality. Amendment No. 141 contains wide regulation-making powers and has a number of features which perhaps I may draw to your Lordships' attention. Regulations will be made for the purposes of implementing the strategy, implementing European Community or other international obligations, or otherwise for the assessment or management of the quality of air.

Perhaps most importantly, "air quality standards" and "air quality objectives" are defined in the section, Interpretation of Part (Air Quality), as those prescribed under regulations made under that section. It is therefore those standards and objectives which will trigger most of the provisions of that new part. I should make it clear that regulations could deal with standards and objectives which stand as long-term goals and those which act as alert levels or indicators of episodes.

Regulations will also deal with local authorities' powers and duties prohibiting or restricting prescribed activities, provision to the public of information on air quality, offences and appeals, fixed penalty schemes for offences under the regulations, and other aspects of new local air quality management systems.

These are wide powers for a number of reasons. As many of your Lordships will know, my department and the Scottish and Welsh Offices are involved in very active discussions with local authorities about their role in respect of air quality issues. Rather than try to anticipate in this Bill every detail of what may be needed, we have sought to reflect the strong view of many local authorities that powers within the Bill should be wide enough and flexible enough to be able to give effect to the outcome of those discussions. We understand that view and I think that we have gone a long way to meet it.

We may well need to consider implementation of European Community obligations through the medium of those regulations. One example might well be the air quality framework directive which is being concluded.

I should also like to address the safeguards that we have introduced in order to balance the regulation making powers. We have introduced provisions to ensure that there is consultation before the powers are used. Importantly, we propose that they should be

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subject to the affirmative resolution procedure but with additional provision to the effect that provision for particular cases will not be treated as making the regulations hybrid. That last provision is necessary because the orders may relate to specific local authorities but will be made in pursuance of a national air quality strategy.

Amendment No. 142 allows for guidance to be given by the Secretary of State which can cover the exercise by local authorities of their powers under this Part. Amendment No. 143 applies the national air quality strategy to the Isles of Scilly. Amendment No. 144 introduces a new schedule for this part. The other amendments are, I think, fairly straightforward. I commend the amendment.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 134.—(Earl Ferrers).

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