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Baroness Young of Old Scone: I should like briefly to speak against the amendment and support the Coal Authority having these additional powers. The Coal Authority is an excellent organisation which is doing an extremely important environmental job in preventing pollution breaking out from abandoned mines. I know that it works because its work is well known. It works primarily on a voluntary basis with landowners and often acquires land at full commercial rates, which is the preferable way forward.

Sometimes, however, those negotiations can be lengthy—when the water is rising and threatening to break out of the mine. Sometimes there is only one spot on which the requisite borehole or treatment facility can be placed but the landowner is unwilling to sell. It is vital that the Coal Authority can move quickly. I should therefore be loath to see the provision lost from the Bill.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mine water is one of the major polluters of rivers in coal field areas. An estimated 400 kilometres of rivers in England and Wales are affected by it. Persons who knowingly permit discharges from mines abandoned prior to January 2000 are exempt from statutory liability under the Water Resources Act 1991. It is almost invariably in respect of mines abandoned before that date that the Coal Authority acts to prevent or treat discharges. It does so on the basis of assurances given during the passage of the Coal Industry Act 1994 to the effect that the Authority would be expected,


The authority has subsequently implemented 19 mine water treatment schemes in England and Wales, saving over 50 kilometres of waterways from mine water pollution.

The authority already has power to acquire land by agreement. In most cases that is sufficient but, regrettably, not always. It has in the past met with intransigent landowners who have demanded exorbitant prices for their land. Either it has reluctantly paid or it has been forced to abandon its plans or consider less effective ways to control or treat a discharge. It is not desirable to be in that position, whether in terms of efficient use of public resources or effective pollution control.

In the absence of the authority, were the Environment Agency to step in to treat such discharges, it would have been able to employ powers of entry or compulsory purchase were that necessary to achieve efficient and cost-effective treatment. The clause recognises that the Coal Authority is simply doing what the agency would otherwise be obliged to do. The powers are based closely upon those already available to the agency, but every effort has been made to limit them to reflect the authority's more restricted role.

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The deletion of one aspect of those powers would not be acceptable. As drafted, Clause 78 would allow the authority compulsorily to purchase land not for mine water treatment but for the purpose of subsequently trading that land for other land that has special protected status under the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. The Act requires that special parliamentary procedures must be followed unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is appropriate to authorise and certify the purchase of such special land, which includes common land and open spaces. One ground for certification is a demonstration that there will be given, in exchange for special land, other land equally advantageous to those who enjoy rights. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to that point. However, the whole certification process sets the bar for successful exchange very high indeed, as the Secretary of State must be satisfied that a number of stringent conditions have been met.

We understand the concerns that have been expressed but believe that it is proper for the provisions that are the subject of this amendment to remain in place. However, I can give a categorical assurance that the authority, as a responsible public body, would seek to utilise any of these powers only as a matter of last resort and would do so only to the limited extent necessary to secure sufficient land or access for its environmental purposes.

I am sorry to have gone on at length, but it was important to have those points on the record. I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press his opposition to the clause standing part.

Lord Bridges: Before the noble Lord replies, it surprises me a little to see that common land and allotments are covered. Allotments are normally owned by public authorities; in the case of common land, there is always grave difficulty over taking it away from those who use it. Are there actually cases in which common land and private allotments have not been available, making these schemes impossible? It would be interesting to know if there were any examples.

Baroness Byford: Before the noble Baroness responds, I want to ask her a question on a specific point. She said that there had been difficulties with landowners not agreeing and, therefore, voluntary agreements not being activated in that way. Might I ask her how many cases there have been of that sort?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I believe that I would be wise to write to Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate or listened to it to give details about particular cases. All I can say to the noble Lord with regard to allotments is that, in my experience in local government, there is nothing more difficult than trying to deprive people of allotments. It may be that the process is lengthy, but I speak purely from memory of my time in local government and will write with greater detail.

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Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for her response, which has done a great deal to set out the background. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has also set out her position.

As we are already in letter-writing mode, it would help if the stringent conditions that must be met before one can jump the compulsory purchase hurdle for a land swap could be included as well. That might obviate future problems. We will have to study what has been said carefully, and we may need to come back to it.

As for allotments, I know that field allotments are a problem. They are a statutory creation and, like all statutory creations, they are regarded as almost inviolate and almost impossible to do away with, although it happens on occasion.

One question that I raised that was not answered was how the word "fuel" was included in the category. The Minister might put that in the explanatory letter. The penultimate line of subsection (3) of proposed new Section 4C refers to,


    "part of a common, open space or a fuel or field garden allotment".

I do not understand that.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In the clause, "common" includes any land subject to be enclosed under the enclosure Acts from 1845 to 1882, in any town or village green.

The phrase,


    "fuel or field garden allotment",

means any allotment set out as a fuel allotment or a field garden allotment under an enclosure Act. That may refer to peat, or the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, may be about to come in and talk about biomass—I know not. That is the answer that I can give the noble Lord. He may need further elucidation, as will I.

Lord Dixon-Smith: As we are already in letter-writing mode, perhaps a little archival research may satisfy me. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedules 5 and 6 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 182 not moved.]

Clauses 79 and 80 agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 183:


    After Clause 80, insert the following new clause—


"DISCHARGE CONSENTS: REMOVING RESTRICTIONS ON REVIEW
(1) Schedule 10 to the WRA is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 7(2), the words "Subject to such restrictions on the exercise of the power conferred by this sub-paragraph as are imposed under paragraph 8 below," are omitted.
(3) In paragraph 7(4), the words ", subject to such restrictions on the exercise of the power conferred by virtue of paragraph (c) above as are imposed under paragraph 8 below," are omitted.
(4) Paragraphs 7(5) and (6) are omitted.
(5) Paragraph 8 is omitted.

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(6) After paragraph 7(1) there is inserted— "(1A) Where any consent given under paragraph 3 or 6 above authorises a discharge—
(a) of any substances defined as a priority substance by Directive 2000/60/EC; or
(b) into any controlled waters which do not meet the definition of "good surface water status" set out in Directive 2000/60/EC,
the Agency shall review such consent and the conditions (if any) to which the consent is subject at least once in every period of four years beginning with the day on which the consent takes effect or, if applicable, the day on which any previous review under this paragraph was concluded.".
(7) In paragraph 7(3) after "a review under sub-paragraph (1)", there is inserted "or (1A)"."

The noble Lord said: I apologise to the Committee for not speaking on Second Reading, but unfortunately I was abroad at the time. Had I been here, I should have welcomed the Bill and, like many others, encouraged the Government to speed up implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. I am aware that my noble friend the Minister explained that the directive is being implemented in stages. He made that point in response to an earlier amendment that would have introduced a general purpose clause for the implementation of the directive, on the grounds that he did not like general purpose clauses.

The purpose of my amendment is to speed up the implementation of the directive for economic as well as environmental reasons. Here, I must declare an interest as honorary president of the Environmental Industries Commission, which represents about 225 companies who supply environmental technology and other services, including companies providing water pollution control technologies and services.

In moving my amendment, I remind the Government of the economic advantages of the higher environmental standards that the Water Framework Directive will bring. These include: increased recreational use of the rivers and related amenities; increased satisfaction—and, indeed, house prices—for those living near cleaner water bodies; and benefits to industries such as tourism. Indeed the Government's own assessment of the directive concluded that the benefits from higher water quality in the UK could be valued at up to £4.4 billion. In addition, industry itself can make considerable savings by cutting pollution and being more efficient, as the Government's own Enviro Wise Programme has demonstrated.

Then there are the advantages that would accrue to our environmental technology and services industry. My noble friend the Minister will be aware of the major effort being made to encourage innovation in British industry, and that an important element in encouraging innovation is how best to design and implement standards and regulations. That can influence innovation in business. Setting high environmental standards will encourage innovation in the environmental technology and services sector, because science and technology can achieve those higher standards as well as environmental management. Innovative science and technology will be required to control and prevent pollution.

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At present, 28 per cent of the UK's rivers are classified as of fair quality or below. Although the definition of good status has yet to be finalised, it is likely that most of these 28 per cent will have to be upgraded. Some of the rivers classified as good may also need to be upgraded to meet the new standard. Although good progress has been made in achieving higher water quality in Britain's rivers in recent years, that improvement will have to continue and accelerate to meet the challenge set by the directive. My argument for getting on with the work of cleaning up our rivers is not only environmental, but economic, because of the benefits to innovation that cleaner rivers will bring.

The Minister will understand that technology providers and laboratories will not invest in innovative environmental technologies if they are unsure of the standards and regulations that have to be met. To enable that investment, the timescales have to be financially viable. So it is important to have clear targets and timescales so that technology providers and laboratories have the time and incentive to develop and implement new solutions.

However, our environmental industry does not exist in isolation. It has many competitors overseas, so it is important that the standards set by the Water Framework Directive are implemented at least in line with our major competitors. If the implementation is later than our competitors, their innovative technology will be used to provide our environmental solutions. That happened with fridges. The Germans moved first to put in place new rules to reprocess old fridges without releasing ozone-depleting chemicals. When our turn came, we had to buy their technology.

If the timing is at least in line with our major competitors, our environmental technology and services industry will be given every opportunity and encouragement to succeed in the rapidly growing world market for environmental technology—a world market currently valued at over 500 billion dollars, which is comparable to the aerospace industry. The UK has only 4 per cent of that market compared with France's 7 per cent and Germany's 11 per cent. So there is absolutely no reason why we should not increase our share of the world market, while at the same time enjoying higher environmental standards. Those are the economic and business arguments for my amendment.

A simple way to achieve good status for rivers is to give the Environment Agency the power and responsibility to review and tighten the consents held by industry to discharge trade effluent into rivers. Currently, the Environment Agency is held back by a legal restriction on reviewing those consents more frequently than every four years, unless specifically asked to review a discharge by the Secretary of State. My amendment therefore proposes that the agency be given the power to review discharge consents as and when necessary. In addition, it requires the agency to review discharge consents at least every four years where those discharges are to rivers that are failing to achieve good status, or where the discharge consent includes priority substances as defined under the Water Framework Directive.

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The amendment fairly balances the very real interest and benefit to the public of having clean rivers with the need to encourage innovation in industry. It is not more red tape that stifles innovation, it is a proportionate and measured attempt to balance three things: the public interest in and benefit from a cleaner environment; the needs of our environmental industry; and the fact that we will eventually have to implement the directive. I beg to move.


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