|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill very warmly. Before I go any further, as on a number of previous occasions, I make a number of declarations of interest--as a farmer, a landowner, a chartered surveyor, a member of the Country Landowners' Association, and a member of the National Farmers' Union. I think that those are probably enough direct ones to start off with.
In Part I, I particularly welcome what I see as a much more integrated approach to the way in which the new agencies will take on the role that was previously dealt with by a number of other authorities. I also welcome, as have other noble Lords, the impressive recognition of the value of cost benefits. I should merely like to say on that matter that, if we are thinking in terms of best available technology not entailing excessive cost, then some measure of costs and benefits is essential. I believe that systems of accounting are being developed which will enable reliable financial and other weighting to be built into these decisions. We may not be there yet, but including this provision on the face of the Bill will lend major impetus towards bringing that to fruition.
In Part II, I should like to refer to Clause 54 regarding contamination. There is a problem here, in that there is an assumption in the Bill that there is always someone to blame; that there is always a long-stop person who appears to be, or can be deemed to be, the person responsible. That is a woolly formulation of words. At the end of the day a bankrupt polluter is still somebody who is a burden on society: it cannot be any other way. So the long-stop default route to landowner's (or for that
In Part III, I must declare a particular interest, in that my main farming operation is within a national park. I should just like to refer to Clauses 58 and 59. I can, as a chartered surveyor, shed some light on what is meant by "quiet enjoyment", which has a long and cherished pedigree in the area of landlord and tenant law. Unless the terminology of landlord and tenant law is amended, I fear that it is not capable of being applied in this particular context, because it infers the freedom to enjoy that which has been let or demised for whatever purpose under a legal grant.
There is a further problem in applying the concept to national parks. There is the matter of how it is defined: to whom, and by whom is the concept of "quiet enjoyment" measured? Is my pheasant shoot something which is a quiet enjoyment; and is the chap who opens up the throttle on his motor-cycle on the A.39 through the middle of the farm and can be heard for many miles taking part in something that might be called quiet enjoyment? There are real problems of definition, and they need to be sorted before that can be included in a Bill of this nature.
I should like some assurance from the Minister that the intentions behind the words "purposes, powers, functions and duties" as they refer to national parks will be operated in an integrated manner with the economic and social needs of rural areas. I stress the term "rural areas", which is in fact what Section 37 of the Countryside Act 1968 states. By that, I do not mean that the social and economic interests should be superior to the other functions and duties of national parks but that they should be an intrinsic factor worked in with them.
Beyond that, it is a crucial concept in the area of essential co-partnership in land management, about which I have spoken before to your Lordships. There has to be a common identity of purpose between those living and working in national parks, those who represent public authorities and the public at large. It is also intrinsic to the voluntary principle which was so successfully pioneered by the Countryside Commission under its Countryside Stewardship scheme. Regulation practically never secures good and positive forward management.
The Minister referred to "national assets" in national parks. That is true; but much land in national parks also happens to be in private ownership. It is that proprietorship which so often is able to deliver the speedy and effective hands-on decision-making which no amount of committees or consultations can ever replace. That should be borne in mind. I have spoken in this House before about the length of time that it takes
With regard to Part IV, I shall dwell on Clause 79, relating to hedges. I agree with a number of other noble Lords that the provisions are deficient in failing to spell out how the matter will be dealt with in practice. I dare say that some might refer to it as a Henry VIII clause. I shall leave that for the lawyers in your Lordships' House to discuss. But there is an essential minimum that needs to be added to primary legislation in this area to bring it into line with such matters as tree preservation orders, sites of special scientific interest, Section 3 designations under the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act, listing of historic buildings and scheduling of ancient monuments. I dare say that some noble Lords will rise and say that not all of those are in primary legislation, but I believe that most of them are.
Furthermore, what about the management of hedges? We talk about preserving and maintaining things but, if we do not have positive management, as I said before, it will be very difficult to see how they will survive in practice. It must be said that many hedges are a costly anachronism in certain modern farming systems. The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, rightly made that point.
In view of the number of speakers, I shall end there. I have written to the Minister and look forward to his reply in due course on my more detailed points. I welcome the Bill very warmly. It represents an important step forward and should receive the widest possible support.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, it has been said that environmental legislation has the capacity to offend virtually everyone. However, that observation was not inspired by the United Kingdom but by experience on the other side of the Atlantic, where a long abundance of environmental legislation was assessed by its own regulator as having been for too long reactive, disaster-led and, in the sum of its parts, unco-ordinated in focus and impact.
But on this side of the Atlantic--as I hope this Bill proves--I believe that we are fast becoming wise to the type of framework that can best deliver environmental protection. The policy on which legislation is based must, first and foremost, be integrated both between the different elements of the environment and across the different uses made of that environment. It must be driven not by sentiment but by continuing analysis and risk assessment. Thus, it must also remain flexible and be able to absorb new priorities as they evolve. It must recognise both the polluter-pays principle and that the focus of environmental concerns is no longer confined to a small number of large polluters but is increasingly preoccupied with a large number of small polluters, not least ourselves. It must aim for any costs imposed to be both commensurate with the benefits derived and equitable in their distribution. It must seek the participation, motivation and betterment of those who are affected and seek to protect the interests of those who will be affected. Policy must be, in one word, sustainable.
The Bill, ably introduced by my noble friend the Minister, acknowledges the importance of those emerging realities. It is certainly not, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested, out of date, although I should hate to cross swords with such a noted historian as the noble Lord. But in his opening remarks he said something else of interest coming from a historian: I heard that we were building airports in this country in the last century and I should be fascinated to know where. Perhaps he will tell me later.
What is undoubtedly out of date is dismissing the concept of cost benefit analysis and the cost benefit clauses as being factory charters or development charters. Clause 37 especially has been very carefully and strategically worded. I am as sensitive as anyone to the dangers of cost benefit analysis being badly applied. But the wording in Clause 37 has been carefully hammered into place. It insists on reasonableness in its application and that cost benefit analysis does not take precedence over the agencies' statutory obligations. Cost benefit analysis is part of good management, whatever the business one is in. It seeks to deliver best value from limited resources and by doing so increases opportunities. Therefore, it is possible to derive either the same benefits from fewer resources or more benefits from the same amount of resources.
In taking on those new realities, the Bill gains considerably in depth. Its substantial breadth is undoubted, given the different policy areas that its many parts cover. Is it indigestible, as was suggested? I doubt it. All these areas have been hammered into place with some kind of perspective.
Conscious of the long list of speakers and the expertise that has already been applied to many of these areas, I shall concentrate on some of those parts of the Bill which I believe bring a sense of depth to environmental management. At the heart of the Bill, in Part I, are many of the core elements. Integrated pollution control is vital. It is a concept in which we are world leaders. I have said before to noble Lords, but it bears repeating, that contrary to the normal flow of environmental legislation, we are currently exporting the policy of IPC to the European Union. We are also providing advice on it to Washington D.C.
Clauses 4 and 29 are a bold and perceptive recognition of the realities of sustainable development, in that they specify sustainable development as an objective but do not seek to prescribe the exact means by which it will be delivered. Avoiding detail has been seen variously this afternoon as an attempt to avoid scrutiny or as evidence of either a hidden agenda or some kind of ministerial fondness for unaccountable discretion. But in this instance, such reactions ignore an important truth. The pursuit of sustainable practices, which rightly underpins the Bill, is a pursuit which must be prepared and able to resolve dilemmas and uncertainties along the way.
There is an understanding of some issues. But fundamental difficulties remain and ever-improving research and analysis are causing a number of earlier assumptions to be substantially reassessed. When one considers by how much our grasp of environmental issues has grown in the two and a half years since Rio,
Therefore, setting prescriptions in stone is, in this instance, foolish. It could also be costly and counter-productive, as it shown by those European directives in which the prescription of detail has preceded science and analysis. A determination to deliver sustainable development, with flexibility as to how it is done, is a strength. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. However, it leaves a challenge for Ministers in the exercise of that discretion. No doubt there will be an expectation of wisdom.
Sustainable development seeks, through reconciliation and flexibility, some sort of harmonious balance between economic, environmental and social criteria. I therefore speculate as to whether it should not also be specified as a deliberate objective in Part III of the Bill, which deals with national parks. Its obvious resting place may be in Clause 59--a point made by my noble friend Lord Norrie--which rather more loosely seeks a balance between the different interests. As a concept, sustainable development is deliberate in its aims of reconciliation, equity and long-term vision. As a frame of reference, it may provide a substantive device for the integration, protection and encouragement of local community interests within national park purposes.
The Government and the DoE in particular have shown a substantial commitment to involving and motivating those who will be affected by policy in consultation on the setting of that policy. In the waste management industry, collaboration and dialogue proved useful tools in the delivery of effective and efficient initiatives and in sharing the responsibilities for so doing. I recently chaired a seminar held by the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, where operators, regulators, environmentalists, waste producers and government officials debated the national waste strategy. Therefore the clauses in Part IV that refer to that area and to producer responsibility are welcome. The agency is given a key role in the development of strategy. It will not only advise on policy, but will also collect statistics and other information. That is essential if we are to ensure that those policies are based on sound facts.
In doing that, the agency will seek information from and provide information to local planning authorities. After all, the strategy and the local plans are closely linked. But what of the people who will actually have to provide the treatment plants, build the incinerators and develop the landfill sites? Their involvement is left to the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Bill ought to provide for the involvement of the waste management industry on the same terms as it does for the planning authorities; its involvement is no less crucial to the success of the strategy and I hope that the Minister will agree.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell made the point that the relevant Ministers must listen to and read what the agency produces in the way of reports and advice before policy or guidance is issued, whether they want to or not. But, more crucially, the recipients of agency advice must stretch beyond the relevant Ministers. All Ministers should be potential targets. The expertise and aims of the agencies and their proximity to government could enable them to provoke a more penetrating strategic environmental assessment of all policies--even of Treasury policies, as noted by both the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont and my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I also echo the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont in guessing that there are times when the Department of the Environment itself may need some bolstering and support in its interdepartmental battles.
Outside central government, at local government level, the post-Rio slogan--"Think globally, act locally"--is increasingly difficult advice to follow. The creation of environmental benefits at national level often involves imposing environmental impacts at local level. I believe that the agencies are well placed to provide direction and advice on such difficult and strategic decisions. I look forward to the constructive debate that will run for many days in the later stages of the Bill. I wish the Bill well and I wish the formulation of the two agencies well also.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page