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Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I wanted simply to welcome the amendments and to ask one question. During the passage of the Bill in this House we had a great deal of discussion about what constitutes an "important hedgerow". Has any progress been made in that regard? Are the Government any nearer a definition of what constitutes an important hedgerow? That information would be helpful to some of us.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, it goes without saying that I am concerned that yet another bureaucratic regulation is being imposed on farmers because they must notify a local authority if they wish to remove one of their hedgerows. In line with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, I should like to know what is a hedgerow and whether that will be spelt out clearly in the regulations.

Moreover and perhaps more important, if a farmer goes to a local authority to say that he wishes to remove a hedgerow, will the Minister ensure that there is a time limit in the regulations which provides that an answer is given within 28 days and that if he is not given an answer within that time limit, the permission will be granted automatically.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome which the noble Baroness has given to the amendments. The noble Baroness wants to know, as does my noble friend, what is meant by an "important hedgerow". I can understand the anxieties expressed by my noble friend because it is important that there is not too much bureaucracy in relation to the countryside or anything else. However, there are occasions when it is necessary to try to protect important hedgerows. Research is in hand to investigate what should properly be regarded as important hedgerows and to establish a system for assessing their quality.

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We have made clear our intention to focus protection on those hedgerows which are of particular historic interest or which make a particularly valuable contribution to the wildlife or landscape of an area. The kind of hedgerows which we have in mind are those which are long-standing and which form part of the natural countryside. If my noble friend planted a hedge 10 years ago, I do not believe that he would be refused permission to remove it because we place particular importance on those hedgerows which have been in place for a long time. My noble friend asked whether we could have a time limit of 28 days. That is rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asking earlier what "reasonable" meant. Now my noble friend tries to put me on the spot in asking for 28 days. This is a matter which is part of the regulations. We shall settle what is the appropriate time after we have had wide-ranging public consultations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


COMMONS AMENDMENTS
161Clause 82, page 97, line 37, at end insert:
'(h) the Moorland (Livestock Extensification) Regulations 1995.'.
162Page 105, line 2, leave out 'provision in relation' and insert 'amendments relating'.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 161 and 162. They have both been spoken to earlier. They are technical amendments.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 161 and 162.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


COMMONS AMENDMENTS
163Clause 91, page 105, line 20, at end insert:
'(1A) A person who appears suitable to the Agency or SEPA may be authorised in writing by the Agency or, as the case may be, SEPA to exercise, in accordance with the terms of the authorisation, any of the powers specified in subsection (2) below for the purpose of enabling the Agency or, as the case may be, SEPA to carry out any assessment or prepare any report which the Agency or, as the case may be, SEPA is required to carry out or prepare under section 5(3) or 31(3) above.
(1B) Subsection (1A) above only applies where the Minister who required the assessment to be carried out, or the report to be prepared, has, whether at the time of making the requirement or at any later time, notified the Agency or, as the case may be, SEPA that the assessment or report appears to him to relate to an incident or possible incident involving or having the potential to involve—
(a) serious pollution of the environment,
(b) serious harm to human health, or
(c) danger to life or health.'.
164Page 105, line 22, after '(1)' insert 'or (1A)'.
165Page 106, line 44, after 'for' insert '(i)'.
166Page 106, line 45, after 'above' insert 'or
(ii) any such purpose as is mentioned in subsection (1A) above,'.
167Page 107, line 28, leave out 'and' and insert 'to'.
168Page 108, line 19, after '(1)' insert 'or (1A)'.

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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 163 to 168. At the same time I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 170, 306 and 331 on the same subject of powers of entry.

During Committee my noble friend Lord Crickhowell moved an amendment to enable the new agencies to exercise their powers of entry in respect of their functions under this Bill. Very few of the agencies' functions are in fact conferred or imposed by this Bill, rather than by existing legislation. The Government were therefore not persuaded at that time by my noble friend's arguments.

Following the grounding of the MV "Braer" off the coast of Shetland in January 1993, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set up an ecological steering group on the oil spill in the Shetlands. One of the problems identified by that group was that of access to private land in order to carry out environmental assessments following that incident. The agencies have duties under Clauses 5(3) and 31(3) of the Bill to make assessments of the environment and of environmental pollution, and to prepare reports for Ministers.

Amendments Nos. 163 to 168 will enable them to exercise their powers of entry when carrying out those specific duties. The powers of entry provided by these amendments will be available only in connection with a serious pollution incident of the sort which I have described, and not for assessments of a more routine nature. The other amendments are technical.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 163 to 168.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


COMMONS AMENDMENTS
169Page 108, line 40, at end insert:
'(c) a local authority for the purposes of Part (Air Quality) of this Act or regulations under that Part;'.
170Page 108, line 47, after 'conferred' insert 'or imposed'.
171Page 109, line 13, leave out 'section 161' and insert 'sections 161 to 161C'.
172Page 109, line 21, leave out 'such authorities' and insert 'or transferred to, that authority'.
173Page 109, line 23, leave out second 'Part'.
174Page 109, line 24, leave out 'or' and insert:
'(aa) by or under regulations made by virtue of Part (Air Quality) of this Act; or'.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 169 to 174.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 169 to 174.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


COMMONS AMENDMENT
175After Clause 95, insert the following clause:—

Disclosure of information

'.—(1) Notwithstanding any prohibition or restriction imposed by or under any enactment or rule of law, information of any description may be disclosed—

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(a) by a new Agency to a Minister of the Crown, the other new Agency or a local enforcing authority,
(b) by a Minister of the Crown to a new Agency, another Minister of the Crown or a local enforcing authority, or
(c) by a local enforcing authority to a Minister of the Crown, a new Agency or another local enforcing authority,
for the purpose of facilitating the carrying out by either of the new Agencies of any of its functions, by any such Minister of any of his environmental functions or by any local enforcing authority of any of its relevant functions; and no person shall be subject to any civil or criminal liability in consequence of any disclosure made by virtue of this subsection.
(2) Nothing in this section shall authorise the disclosure to a local enforcing authority by a new Agency or another local enforcing authority of information—
(a) disclosure of which would, in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown, be contrary to the interests of national security; or
(b) which was obtained under or by virtue of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 and which was disclosed to a new Agency or any of its officers by the Secretary of State.
(3) No information disclosed to any person under or by virtue of this section shall be disclosed by that person to any other person otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of this section, or any provision of any other enactment which authorises or requires the disclosure, if that information is information—
(a) which relates to a trade secret of any person or which otherwise is or might be commercially confidential in relation to any person; or
(b) whose disclosure otherwise than under or by virtue of this section would, in the opinion of a Minister of the Crown, be contrary to the interests of national security.
(4) Any authorisation by or under this section of the disclosure of information by or to any person shall also be taken to authorise the disclosure of that information by or, as the case may be, to any officer of his who is authorised by him to make the disclosure or, as the case may be, to receive the information.
(5) In this section—
"new Agency" means the Agency or SEPA;
"the environment" has the same meaning as in Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
"environmental functions", in relation to a Minister of the Crown, means any function of that Minister, whether conferred or imposed under or by virtue of any enactment or otherwise, relating to the environment; and
"local enforcing authority" means—
(a) any local authority within the meaning of Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and the "relevant functions" of such an authority are its functions under or by virtue of that Part;
(b) any local authority within the meaning of Part (Air Quality) of this Act, and the "relevant functions" of such an authority are its functions under or by virtue of that Part;
(c) in relation to England, any county council for an area for which there are district councils, and the "relevant functions" of such a county council are its functions under or by virtue of Part (Air Quality) of this Act; or
(d) in relation to England and Wales, any local enforcing authority within the meaning of section 1(7) of the Environmental Protection Act

11 Jul 1995 : Column 1575

1990, and the "relevant functions" of such an authority are its functions under or by virtue of Part I of that Act.'.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 175. This amendment has been spoken to before.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 175.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 175A and 175B not moved.]


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