§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Madam Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State, I must announce that I have put a ten-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches today.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Government are committed to a high level of environmental protection. That is what the people of Britain want, and that is what we are determined to continue to give them. But, sometimes, when we talk about the environment, we use high-falutin' language which removes what we are discussing from the lives of most of us. The facts ought to be interpreted and presented in a more down-to-earth way.
It is not surprising that many were pleased to see that—for the first time in a long time—a salmon was caught in the Thames at Canary wharf. That is a more eloquent statement about the cleanliness and the quality of the river than any of the figures which can be put forward or the arguments which can be expressed. So often, the dense numbers, complex science and abstruse concepts we use pass people by. But that example is one of a series which show how much the countryside, the rivers and the urban environment have been improved and can be improved.
That has been particularly noticeable on the international stage in previous weeks. The Government's subjecting of energy policy to the disciplines of the market has meant not only that we are now confident of meeting our Rio commitment—unlike many who made a lot of noise at the time and presented all kinds of arguments about what they were going to do—but that we are able to go further than we promised.
I was able in Berlin to call upon other industrialised nations to join us in making a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by between 5 and 10 per cent. by 2010. The fact that we were able to do that in advance of the conference ensured that we were able to play a central role in ensuring a succesful outcome to the conference.
Those successes, and many others like them, are a result of the Government's environment policy which has set Britain on a course for sustainable development. But we have not been content simply to chart a course and sit idly by, waiting for progress to occur. To ensure that we attain the goals we have set ourselves, we have put in place perhaps the most comprehensive machinery of government to manage the environment to be found anywhere in the world.
I will not rehearse the details today, but it is necessary to see the Environment Bill not as the only part of the policy, but as part of a continuing programme to improve the environment at home and throughout the European Union, and to ensure that we lead the rest of the world in the direction in which all of us seek to go.
Many Members on both sides of the House have the same demands and desires, and this is an area where we ought to be trying to create as great a consensus as 36 possible, so that the demands which we shall make upon all the people of Britain are willingly accepted. If we are to do that, we must give support not only to the high-level panel on sustainable development which Sir Crispin Tickell chairs, and the sustainable development round table which has representatives from business, academia, local authorities and environmental organisations, but also to the Going for Green initiative, which was welcomed by all parties when we launched it earlier this year.
The machinery of government issue is of considerable importance, because the centrepiece of the Bill is a further and significant strengthening of our mechanisms for protecting the environment and delivering sustainable development.
§ Mr. Gummer
In a moment, if I may.
The new environment agency will give us opportunities to proceed much faster and in a more holistic way than we have so far been able to do. The whole idea is that we look at the environment much more in the round. We must recognise that we cannot deal only with water, as air and land pollution must be seen together with water pollution. The work of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and that of the local authorities in their waste management role needs to be brought together with what the National Rivers Authority has so excellently done in the past few years.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell
Could I raise the question of gas or stythe in Northumberland, which I raised some time ago in the House of Commons? What does the Secretary of State intend to do specifically about that problem in Northumberland? One man in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has lost his life, and some housing estates have been badly affected. It seems to me that everyone is burying his head in the sand.
§ Mr. Gummer
That was a sad occurrence. Of course, the Coal Authority is at the centre of those concerns, but the hon. Gentleman will find that, when I come to deal with the matter in general later, he will see what the Government seek to do. In the specifics, we are looking carefully at what has happened. We join the hon. Gentleman not only in sending condolences to the family of the man concerned, but in wishing to ensure that, so far as possible, there is no recurrence of what is universally seen as a tragic case.
The Government believe that, if we are to deal with such matters, not least the sort of occurrence which the hon. Gentleman has raised, we have to start with an attitude towards growth that is best expressed by the phrase "sustainable development". There is no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see a growing economy, but that they do not wish to see that growth bought at the price of the next generation. In the past, the profits of one generation have been paid for in costs to the next generation. We are all seeing that today, not least in the sort of incident that the hon. Gentleman has just raised.
We are paying now the costs of what produced wealth in the past. We can certainly accept that responsibility today, but it is also our responsibility not to lay similar costs on future generations if we are to proceed with the growth 37 which all of us want to achieve today. That is why sustainable development lies behind all that we do in the environment. That is why sustainable development and the concept that it encapsulates needs to be borne in mind in all that we do when we discuss the new environment agency.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Why does the Bill exempt coal mines from any consequence of polluted minewater until 1999? Why does it apply only to pits that are still open after 1999, and not to the large number of pits which have closed? Does that not speak more about the interests of the Government in creating a sustainable environment than all the lofty sentiments expressed at international conferences?
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Gentleman cannot have read what my noble Friend said in the House of Lords. He made clear the responsibility that the Coal Authority would take on its shoulders until 1999. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts, he will see that we have protected people. I hope that he will not spread a misreading of what the situation will be.
A proper balance has been introduced. It has been discussed in great detail in their Lordships' House, and it will undoubtedly be discussed here, too. We are clearly protecting the environment in a sensible way and making sure that people have proper notice of the responsibility which will lie on their shoulders after 1999. Up to that time, clear responsibilities will lie on the Coal Authority. The Coal Authority has accepted those responsibilities.
§ Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)
My right hon. Friend mentioned a moment ago the legacy that previous generations have left to future generations. I presume that he had in mind very much the question of contaminated land.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he has consulted on his proposals with those who might develop such land, that he has satisfied himself that he has made it possible for them to do so commercially and economically, and that his proposals will not have the opposite effect to that intended, and prevent such redevelopment?
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend is right to point to the need for balance, but detailed consultation is under way, and we are consulting all those interests. The issue he raised is crucial. We must ensure that decontamination is carried out to the level necessary for the purpose to which the land is to be put. If we try to ensure that all land has to be cleaned up to the highest possible standard so that it could have any use, then frankly, we will not get much land cleaned up. It is much better to ensure that the land is cleaned up to the level suitable for the use for which it is intended, and in that way we will get the balance right.
§ Mr. Gummer
I really must get on for a moment.
Balance is at the heart of sustainable development. The two words, sustainability and development, need to be held together if we are to get a sensible answer. We need to grow if we are to provide the resources our people need, but at the same time we need to grow in a sustainable way. It is not easy to keep those two words together. When people talk about sustainability but fail to talk about growth, they are talking about the destruction 38 of society, for a society without the resources for improvement, change and betterment is not one in which we would wish to live.
Those who talk about growth without giving any indication of how to make it sustainable are betraying the next generation. The two words must be kept permanently together. That means reconciling the needs of the environment and of economic development, rather than pursuing one at the cost of the other. It means placing the concept of the environment at the centre of decision making, rather than as an add-on extra.
When I was Minister of Agriculture, one of the issues associated with the common agricultural policy was putting the environmental concerns of farming at the centre, instead of their being an add-on extra that some nations would take on their shoulders but some would not, and about which some farmers were concerned while others were not. Environmental concerns must be part and parcel of the agricultural process and, indeed, of other processes.
To do that, we must take proper account of costs and benefits. Only in that way can we ensure that environmental priorities are central to the way in which we make up our minds about what we do, and are not something that one bothers about only when one can afford it.
Costs are important. We cannot deliver on environmental demands unless we take into account the costs and ensure that they are proportionate to the benefits that we gain. We can all give a list of desiderata, but we also need a list of priorities for we must ensure that we do not do the least important things first, or we will find that there are no resources left for doing the things that really matter. That means that we need a well focused and well managed series of bodies that will offer practical ways of ensuring that holistic approach to environmental protection and effective planning.
For example, one of the reasons why the change in the structure of the national parks is necessary is to ensure that they are run by bodies that are more able to take in the wider interests that they ought to represent. We must avoid festooning those new organisations with additional tasks and duties, covering everything with some environmental connection. They need to be properly focused, but they also need to ensure that they can cover the range of environmental demands that will be made of them.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
I was one of the members of the Select Committee on the Environment when Sir Hugh Rossi recommended that environmental agency. I expressed my concern at the time, and I do so again now. The idea of the environmental agency is second to none, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is selling it to the House very well, but he has not stated the cost implications. The Select Committee was concerned about the fact that 10,000 paid civil servants would be involved.
Our second concern is the agency's effect on industries and consumers, and whether this country would be at a disadvantage compared with other European countries that do not have all those high standards. Will my right hon. Friend say something about the on-costs to the nation as a result of the environmental agency?
§ Mr. Gummer
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The figures he quotes could apply to people currently doing 39 those jobs. They happen to do them under different hats, either as members of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, working for local authorities in their waste management function, or as members of the National Rivers Authority. If the numbers are added together, the figure is similar to what my hon. Friend quoted.
I hope and believe that, by bringing those resources together, we shall reduce the number of people involved in the agency. Indeed, the agency will have failed if it cannot make its operation as lean as humanly possible. It must also use contractors to involve the private sector in as wide a range of activities as possible. It must get the best value for money, and all those measures can be taken effectively by such an agency.
My hon. Friend knows that I am entirely on his side on that matter, as I am a late convert to the concept of an agency, on precisely those grounds. It was necessary to build an agency that did not end up being a juggernaut—so large that it could not see its priorities clearly. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of that, and I assure him that, with the balance in the Bill, we seek to make it absolutely clear that the agency will be effective and as lean as possible. By bringing together those responsibilities, it will ensure that its work can be done better and more effectively with fewer people.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
I welcome the Bill in terms of what it will do for the national parks, but I am concerned that the schedule says only that it is desirable to appoint councillors from wards. Will my right hon. Friend look at that and consider whether we should direct councils to appoint to national park authorities councillors who represent national park areas?
§ Mr. Gummer
I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's point, as, in some cases, national parks have given the impression that they have not been as understanding of the people who live in them as they have been about certain other matters outside. I want to ensure that people who live in national parks feel properly represented by those national park bodies.
I have tried hard to think of ways of doing that precisely as my hon. Friend suggested, but there are real reasons why, in a number of national parks, one could not direct that matter quite as he thought. We have some ideas about how we might give specific support to local people who live within national parks and ensure that they are represented on the relevant national park body, and I hope that we can talk those ideas through in Committee.
§ Mr. Gummer
I shall give way to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who represents an important national park.
§ Mr. Beith
Will the Minister include among the ideas that he considers the direct election of at least some members of the national park authority by residents of a park? Will he bear in mind the concern in areas like Northumberland, where people feel that the national park is, in some way, inimical to the continued presence of the Army, which has been a good conservator in the area, and has worked effectively and successfully with the park over many years?
§ Mr. Gummer
I have been impressed with how the Army has dealt with a number of issues, particularly in the right hon. Gentleman's area, and I am concerned about the attacks that have been made on it, unnecessarily and wrongly. However, we are looking at all sorts of ideas, and I rule out none that are put forward.
I have considered some radical proposals, and hope that we can have a consensus on the matter, because it will be better for the environment. If people who live in national parks feel much more closely allied and committed to how their national park is run, they are more likely to do, often voluntarily, things that it would be impossible to ask them to do statutorily. There is a real prize to be gained here if we can get that right.
§ Mr. Gummer
May I just complete this point? I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing him.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed accepts that we have sought to take that tone in the Bill, which was put into the public domain as a draft Bill in the first place. We have sought to listen carefully in another place. We have changed the Bill in a number of important areas where we believe that the case for change has been made.
I should certainly like the Bill to command as much consensus as possible. I do not want people to feel that we will not be as flexible as possible. Hon. Members must appreciate, however, that, on many of the issues involved, two genuine sides exist, and that both are seeking the best answer environmentally. That does not necessarily mean a battle between one side that considers sustainability most important and the another that is concerned only about growth. People are genuinely trying to bring those concepts together to get the balance right. The national parks are a good example of that.
In their Lordships' House, people argued on both sides about exactly how to offer the best mix of powers and responsibilities to the national parks authorities. They did so in order to achieve an end that they hold in common. I cannot promise that we will necessarily reach an answer that is universally acceptable, but all I can say is that we will seek one that carries the greatest consensus and the best balance between elements that are often diffuse and contrasting.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
The right hon. Gentleman said that environmental issues should be the centre of all decision making. With that in mind, would he care to comment on the development of the nuclear industry, and the legacy of nuclear waste that we will pass on to future generations?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am a strong supporter of nuclear, power, because I believe it is one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly ways of producing power. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) may laugh, but there is genuine disagreement between environmentalists about that.
What I have found most interesting recently is that many of the people who opposed the opening of a second nuclear power station in my constituency, and demanded that we should use wind power, are precisely the same people who now oppose any granting of planning permission for wind power generation anywhere in the country. A peripatetic anti-power group exists, which is 41 opposed to any type of development, whatever it is, as long as it is the one that it is on about—every other alternative is better than that one.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent should recognise that respectable grounds exist to argue that nuclear power plays an important part in ensuring that we can save the planet for future generations by reducing the amount of carbon that we emit into the atmosphere. Were we, France and other countries not to generate as much nuclear power as we do generate, we would have little chance of meeting the obligations laid before us.
The Labour party should remember how little nuclear waste is generated, and compare it with the damage done by sulphur and carbon dioxide. In those circumstances, the Opposition should take more seriously the case for nuclear power.
§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
On the national parks, does my right hon. Friend realise how strongly concerned motor rallyists are about what is meant by "quiet enjoyment" in country parks? Many people have spoken to me, as chairman of the all-party motor industry group, about the difficulty of defining that term.
§ Mr. Gummer
I am sure that you have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we have moved from nuclear power to motor rallying with one short step. That shows the range of issues that the Bill is bound to cover.
I am perfectly aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) has raised. I have received a most helpful and direct letter from the Royal Automobile Club about them. We must ensure that we recognise the range of activities in which people have every right to feel they can be involved in the national parks. We need to find a way to get that balance right.
One of the difficulties is that we are often faced by single-issue groups, which are only concerned about one particular aspect of the countryside. Somehow or other, we need to bring those interests together. That is, once again, part of the consensus that we must find in the debate.
The core of the Bill will be the establishment of the environment agency and the Scottish environment protection agency, SEPA. As I have already said, I was a late convert to the need for those new bodies. I am convinced of them primarily because of the nature of sustainable development.
I do not see how one can ensure that sustainable development lies at the heart of our decision making unless pollution can be controlled. A single agency can make that possible. We cannot ensure such sustainable development unless it is possible to deal with the way in which pollution affects all the elements and not just water. For that reason, the agencies will be more than the sum of their parts.
Those agencies will take forward the key aims of providing a more integrated approach to environmental regulation and management and improving the efficiency of regulation. We hope that that integrated approach will ensure that, by bringing management and regulation together, we can, in most cases, deal with such matters by management rather than by regulation. It is better to organise by the most voluntary means the best way of achieving our ends. If possible, the agencies will seek to foster such management, but they will have strong powers to back up those efforts at management.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
If we are to mean what we say about sustainable development, the public need to be aware of all environmental information, which may not be available to them now. I refer in particular to industrial operators' data on emissions from cement kilns, which affect areas near my constituency. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the public should be aware of that information?
§ Mr. Gummer
Of course. The tests that we are conducting in that respect are about to be completed and then all the figures will be available in the normal way. We are open about offering such information, but if the hon. Lady can point out to me any areas where we could be more open, I would be happy to look at them.
There is no question of wishing to restrict information. The only issue of concern is information of great use to us, but made available on a commercial basis, which makes it impossible to share. One must strike a balance, but wherever possible I shall certainly make the relevant information available.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
My right hon. Friend has just mentioned the aims of the agencies. Does he agree that, in order to promote good environmental practice, those agencies should have the ability to insist on clean technology, or at least to promote it as a way forward, not only to provide jobs, but to ensure that best practice is adopted when considering new techniques?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The work that he is doing as a member of the all-party environment committee is helpful. It is not only a question of clean technology, but of ensuring that we use the most efficient and cost-effective way of delivering our ends.
One of the dangers is to insist upon a particular mechanism, rather than being concerned to reach those aims. By introducing the concept of cost-effectiveness, I hope that the new environment agencies will be able to encourage best practice, to be achieved at the most reasonable cost. That is vital to ensuring that we use our resources to their best effect to improve the environment.
We must accept that there is a good deal of green posturing. For example, people demand that we should make reassuring general comments about the environment without being prepared to count the cost. They are not prepared to accept that, to improve the environment, we must take some tough decisions.
I exempt the current Opposition spokesmen from that charge, because they were not in place at the time, but I remember how difficult it was to follow an Opposition argument that we had to do much more to deal with CO2, emissions, but that the source of 30 per cent. of them—the homes of Britain—should not bear the cost. The Liberal party is keen on green taxation, but not on any that might lose it a single vote in any by-election. That type of green posturing must stop, because it will not help any of us. I hope that we will be able to get rid of it.
No doubt the Opposition will ask for various assurances, but I hope that they will not demand sustainable development as well as a system that does not offer the means to meter any resources to make people pay for the cost of those resources. If we do not have a mechanism that puts the cost upon the resource rather than on employment, we will not achieve our ends. We will 43 run contrary to the propositions to which the Government—and, I understand, the Opposition—signed up, not only at Rio but in the European Union.
In the Environment Bill, the Government are squarely tackling those issues. The creation of the new agencies will simultaneously benefit the environment and the wider economy, because they will be able to look more broadly across all the environmental media. However, those agencies will also be confronted with difficult judgments—there is no doubt about the difficulty of many of those judgments. We are giving those agencies a principal aim based on the precepts of sustainable development and a duty to take account of costs, including costs to the environment and benefits in carrying out their functions.
§ Mr. Gummer
I will give way in a moment, but I think I have an idea about what the hon. Gentleman might ask me, so in advance I shall say to him that, unless the concept of cost-benefit analysis is at the heart of our approach to the environment, we shall never bring home to business, local authorities and Governments the importance of the environment.
If one does not undertake cost-benefit analysis—if one does not make it necessary to express the importance of the environment in the imperative language that will appeal to bankers, as well as those who are naturally enthusiastic about flora and fauna—one will not give the environment the importance that it should have. Cost-benefit analysis is a crucial way of raising the profile of the environment, not only through the agency but elsewhere.
§ Mr. Williams
The Minister anticipated quite well the subject that I had in mind—it was the issue of cost-benefit analysis. He spoke earlier about carbon dioxide emissions, and the great importance worldwide of limiting those CO2, emissions. It is difficult to calculate the benefits of that. How does one calculate the cost of global warming? It is an enormously complicated calculation. When considering that cost-benefit analysis, should not the Minister adopt the precautionary principle that the environment is sacrosanct, and that any benefit of doubt must be in favour of the environment?
§ Mr. Gummer
If the hon. Gentleman says that, why was he not in the same Lobby as the Government on VAT on fuel? How does the hon. Gentleman come to the House, as usual, to say, "Let us make sure that someone else pays the costs as long as it is not someone who might vote for me in my constituency. Let us simply ensure that the cost falls on someone else"?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the environment should be at the centre of our decisions, but I cannot understand his argument that it is difficult to judge the extent of the benefit of avoiding the dangers of global warming. The benefit is obvious. That is why Britain has taken the lead. That is why we persuaded the other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries to follow us instead of dragging their feet.
The decisions of the EU were almost word for word written by this country, because we are determined to ensure that we face up to the damaging costs of global 44 warming, and do so on the precautionary principle, even at a stage at which, although the science seems to me to be pretty conclusive, there remain people who consider that perhaps it is not quite right. On the precautionary principle, it is sensible to take the measures we wish to take.
I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) will convince his party before he seeks to convince the House. Perhaps he would like to have one or two words with some of his friends in the coal mining districts, who did not seem to me to be entirely enthusiastic about the reality of what needed to be done to ensure that we met our Rio commitments. If he converts his own side first, we shall be pleased to allow them to join us on the environmentally friendly side of the House, because that would be an extremely beneficial thing for the nation as a whole.
§ Mr. Dobson
For fear of any confusion, will the Secretary of State tell us, in view of his most recent remarks about VAT on fuel, whether the Government have abandoned the proposal to increase VAT on fuel to 17.5 per cent. or simply postponed it to a better day?
§ Mr. Gummer
The House of Commons made it quite clear that it was not prepared to accept it. I was merely drawing attention to the fact that it was interesting to notice how ungreen the Labour party was about that issue when it thought that it might win a vote or two.
The Government have made it quite clear that we are not reintroducing any such question. I am merely drawing attention to the fact that that means that we must find a different way of delivering what the Labour party is always talking about but is never prepared to put its vote behind when difficult decisions need to be taken.
That is the problem with the Labour party—it is all talk, but never prepared to take the big decisions. We notice that in every aspect of life, and that is a great sadness. If the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras had been on the side of the environment, he would not have been in the Lobby that he was in on that night. That is very sad.
We have yet to tackle many issues.
§ Mr. Gummer
I want to continue, but I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo).
§ Mr. Yeo
While my right hon. Friend is on the subject of the Labour party, is he aware that, right on the doorstep that he and I share, we have an example of what happens when the Labour party has been in power for two years, propped up by its Liberal allies? So great is their contempt for the environment that they have produced lunatic schemes for a northern bypass in Ipswich. They have produced a lunatic traffic experiment scheme, disfiguring villages in my constituency such as Brantham, in a way that shows a complete disregard for the opinions of local residents and for the environment.
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend tempts me down a line that I shall be careful about, but I shall say that it is odd 45 that I have had to spend most of the Easter weekend dealing with my constituents who have been affronted by the fact that the Lib-Lab coalition in the Suffolk county council is pressing forward with plans for a north Ipswich bypass, although it has been told by the Department of Transport that there will be no money for it, it has been told by the Department of the Environment that it cannot put it in its plan because there is no likelihood of it being built, and I have told them that it is wholly contrary to any sensible environment policy.
A bypass would pollute a series of villages, blight the houses in those villages and cut into the very attractive, unspoilt countryside. A perfectly proper southern bypass has been built, and there is no need for that northern bypass. The Liberal party especially, the chairman of the transport committee being a Liberal, is promoting the idea of that bypass, although it knows it to be environmentally unfriendly.
That is the type of double-talk we hear throughout the country. Once the Liberals are in power, they become as unenvironmental as it is possible to be. Outside power, they are very environmental for those from whom they believe they might obtain support as a result, and very non-environmental for those from whom they suppose that they might obtain the odd vote or two in that respect.
I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), who will speak for the Liberals—
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Gentleman might wait for one moment, because I shall have a thing or two to say about Thurrock in a minute.
I hope that the hon. Member for Truro will be able to explain to us why the Liberals, to advance the environment, busily want to build new roads in my constituency and to drive a new lorry route right through some of the smallest and most distant villages in Suffolk. Perhaps he would like to explain that in his speech. I shall listen carefully.
I shall come to Thurrock in a minute—after I have dealt with contaminated land.
There are balances to be struck in tackling such major environmental problems as contaminated land. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) rightly argued that we need to clear up as much contaminated land as possible as quickly as possible, and we must ensure that in future we do not leave land contaminated by today's industrial processes. However, we cannot possibly make the position such that people will not dare to take on the responsibility of contaminated land because of the huge costs that would inevitably be involved. We need to obtain the right balance, and I believe that our provisions in part II achieve that aim.
There are important choices to be made: choices about how best to deal with environmental matters such as water pollution from abandoned mines. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who mentioned that issue, is not in the House at the moment, but I believe that it is important to ensure that industry's responsibilities for the environmental consequences of its actions are brought home to it.
That includes packaging waste and old minerals permissions. It also includes the protection of valuable 46 hedgerows, in relation to which the agricultural industry needs to balance its responsibilities properly with the need to produce the food that the country demands.
As far as abandoned mines are concerned—
§ Mr. Gummer
I shall give way in a moment, if I may first discuss abandoned mines.
Statutory protections in cases where a polluting discharge is permitted to flow from an abandoned mine will apply until 1999, but after 31 December 1999, those protections will no longer apply to the owner or operator of a mine, so the agency will be able to regulate discharges. In the meantime, we have made an absolutely clear commitment that the coal authority will take on the responsibilities delineated by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Construction and Planning.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
The Secretary of State has mentioned mining, and has tried to put forward a balanced case. There is a barytes mine in the United Kingdom which is perhaps one of the largest in the world for producing drilling mount, which is required for the North sea. Permission for the mine was rejected by the Department of the Environment, and now all the material has to be bought abroad. Is that the way to maintain the balance of which my right hon. Friend has spoken?
§ Mr. Gummer
When I deal with planning permission—I understand that is what was involved in this case—I have to take individual circumstances into account. The planning decision will have been made entirely on the basis of the facts relating to that mine and the circumstances surrounding it—those involved will have tried to weigh the facts properly.
A balance has to be struck—my hon. Friend has put one side of it and said how important it is to produce that material, but there will have been a range of other issues to take into account. One has had to try to get the balance right, and that is not easy. I cannot guarantee that, in every case, his decision would be exactly the same as mine, but I try to take such decisions in the most balanced way.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
My right hon. Friend referred to hedges and farmers. It will be crucial to the good running of agriculture for the definition of hedges to be clearly drawn up. Who decides whether a hedge is important? It could be difficult.
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend is right to say how difficult such decisions are. A modern agricultural industry certainly cannot be run with farm fields as small as they were in the days when everything was carted by horse. There are a large number of ancient hedges, which are important to the environment and which need to be protected.
The Government are introducing proposals that are not dissimilar to those introduced earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth). I hope that they will commend themselves to the House as part of the Bill, and provide us with the necessary balance. The balance enables the farmer to continue his role and job, and the countryside to be properly looked after.
Producer responsibility is also necessary to ensure that the industry takes fuller account of the environmental consequences of its action. Up to now, that has operated 47 by means of a challenge from the Government to the key industries—seven separate waste streams have so far been involved. The response has shown that industry is prepared to take up its responsibilities.
Concerns have been raised, most notably by the packaging industry, about the potential problem of free riders—those companies that might seek to gain a competitive advantage by refusing to accept their share of the responsibility. In response, we have agreed to introduce framework legislation in the Bill to provide the minimum necessary to ensure that the freeloaders will not be able to get away with their practices. That seems to be the proper balance—to get the industry to make cost-effective decisions, while ensuring that those who do what is right are not undermined by those who seek to make profits by doing what is clearly wrong.
I have already mentioned hedgerows. I hope that clause 80 will be seen as a sensible and balanced approach to a difficult decision. We also have to establish clear priorities. If we continue to deal with such issues in the customary way—choosing what happens to be popular or fashionable at one time and placing emphasis on a policy because it seems to be convenient—we will not strike the right balance. Therefore, we must establish priorities. The Bill will clearly help considerably in certain sectors.
Clause 75 requires national waste strategies to be drawn up in England, Wales and Scotland. I believe that that has been widely welcomed. There is an air quality strategy. In January, I launched "Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge", which set out our strategic proposals for air quality management. We intend to table amendments in Committee to give effect to those proposals.
From what we have heard from the Opposition parties, the general view seems to be that the sort of ideas we have will be valuable, not only in the centres of big cities, but in many of the urban areas surrounding them. Many people who have known and loved areas such as Grays and Purfleet will know that the air quality strategy involves not simply Westminster, Lambeth and Wandsworth, but areas which, although possibly of smaller import in the great national scheme of things, are important to the people who live there. I hope that the proposals we introduce will commend themselves to the House.
Further provisions will be made to provide for countryside grants, and fisheries and flood defence. In terms of countryside grants, the Bill will enable my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to operate the countryside stewardship scheme when it is transferred to him from the Countryside Commission at the end of its pilot period. It will benefit farmers and land managers by ensuring that all the schemes that make up England's agri-environment programme are administered by a single body.
I was conscious when I was Minister that it was not possible under the legislative framework for the Minister of Agriculture to run such a scheme. Clearly, it should be run by the Agriculture Minister, which is why the Department of the Environment is, through legislation, giving the Ministry of Agriculture the opportunity to carry forward such a scheme in future.
48 The Bill transfers to the agency all the existing functions of the National Rivers Authority in respect of fisheries and flood defence, but with some limited changes. It provides for the introduction of a fixed penalty scheme for offences under salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation. It transfers to the agency responsibility for approving the design and installation of fish passes and gratings. It enables the agency to expand the remit and membership of its fisheries advisory committees to include recreation, conservation and navigation instruments.
That last example shows just what we are seeking to do—to bring together a myriad of different interests to create the proper balance in countryside and town. We want to ensure that the environment takes into account all the interests of growth and sustainability, of those who want to walk, fish and participate in field sports, and of those who want to farm and participate in the myriad of countryside activities. We do not want one group, whether the ramblers or the Country Landowners Association, to have a monopoly on countryside interests. We want everyone to have a fair share in a limited resource, which we need to protect for the next generation.
The Bill is only the latest in a long line of Bills to protect the British environment from pollution. Those Bills date back more than 100 years, to the legislation to protect our water and air from the worst effects of the industrial revolution. They include the clean air Acts of the 1950s, the Control of Pollution Act 1974, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Bill now before the House.
It is no mere accident of grammar that "Conservative" and "conservation" have the same root in our language. The legislation to conserve our environment has a common feature: it was introduced by Conservative Governments. All those great landmark Acts are Conservative Acts proposed by Conservative Governments. That is because we are concerned not just for this generation, but for future generations. Our concept of continuity and of passing on to the next generation something better than we have received in the past is uniquely understood and supported by this country's oldest political party, the Conservative party.
It is not surprising that, when other Governments turn to see where the innovative ideas for conservation are coming from, they look to this Government. They look to us throughout the European Union and beyond. In Berlin only 10 days ago, the United States, the Canadians, the Australians and the New Zealanders had to face the fact that the British Conservative Government were leading the pack and setting the pace in international environmental control.
We face a new century and a new millennium, in which sustainable development will be the watchword of well-being for all our people. The Bill puts in place a key instrument for preserving and enhancing the quality of life for the British people as we enter a new era. It will be of importance not only to us, but to the rest of Europe and beyond.
We are setting the trend. We are creating a way in which, by a balanced approach to the environment, other countries can also ensure that the next generation has reason to be glad that this sort of legislation was introduced by a Government committed to its future.
§ 5.9 pm
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
Many of the Bill's proposals are in line with Labour party policy and we welcome them. We do not, therefore, propose to vote against the Bill at this stage.
As the Secretary of State for the Environment has explained at some length, the Bill brings together in one environment agency the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the waste regulation functions of local authorities. That integration is intended to make overall environment protection more effective. That is right and welcome. However, the Bill has many shortcomings and I hope that the Secretary of State will forgive me if I concentrate on the shortcomings rather than on votes of welcome for the provisions of which we approve.
The Bill weakens the conservation obligations of the National Rivers Authority, and makes all the new agency's functions subject to challenge in the courts on the ground of cost. We believe that that is wrong and should be changed. The Bill proposes the establishment of a separate agency for Scotland but not for Wales, which presumably accounts for the absence of any Welsh Tories in the Chamber today. We believe that that omission is wrong and should be changed.
§ Mr. Dobson
No. Clearly, a large number of hon. Members want to speak. The Secretary of State has spoken for the best part of an hour and I should like to be brief.
The Bill abandons the present statutory obligation on local councils to keep a register of contaminated land. That is wrong and should be changed. The Bill rightly repeals the law that permits contaminated water from abandoned mine workings to pollute rivers, streams and lakes. That repeal, however, will apply only to mine workings abandoned in the next century. That postponement is wrong and should be changed. We will seek to amend the Bill to put right those and other significant shortcomings.
Our other major criticism of the Bill is what it leaves out—the opportunities that are missed. The Bill could have placed on all Government Departments and public bodies a general duty to further the protection and enhancement of the environment; it does not. It could have enshrined in law the precautionary principle that could be applied to new materials and processes; it does not. It could have taken action to deal with growing public concern about air pollution, especially from vehicles; it does not, although this afternoon the Secretary of State has made the welcome announcement that the Government intend to amend their own Bill to do something on those lines.
The Bill proposes no action to tackle noise pollution. The Government have not taken the opportunity provided by the establishment of the new agencies to end the present confusion over responsibility, which is holding back an integrated and effective effort to reduce marine pollution, especially in the North and Irish seas. In short, the Bill is welcome in general, but it falls short of what is needed if the environment is to be given proper priority 50 as we approach the 21st century. However, we do not intend to vote against the Bill at this stage. We will not oppose it for the sake of opposing it.
The Secretary of State claims to be deeply concerned about the environment. He claims to be committed to sustainable development and conservation. We propose to give him the opportunity to make good his claims. We will table amendments to strengthen the Bill's provisions and to extend its scope. We look forward to their being accepted by the Government. If they are rejected and the major shortcomings of the Bill are not corrected, we will vote against it on Third Reading.
Some people cast doubts on the Secretary of State's commitment to the environment, but I suggest, if only for the sake of argument, that we accept that he is sincere in the concerns that he expresses. His problem is not lack of concern but lack of influence. He cannot get his Cabinet colleagues to accept what is really needed. He knows as well as anyone in the House that tough and effective regulation is necessary to protect and enhance the environment, but the rest of the Government do not believe in such regulation. Quite the reverse is the case—they regard all regulation as a burden on business. Instead, they glory in deregulation. That attitude dominates everything that the Government do, and it shows in the Bill.
Most people would agree that the aim must be to make the environment agency more effective than the various organisations that it replaces—that it should add up to more than the sum of its parts. Surely that is the object of the whole exercise, but that is not what the Bill proposes.
Under the Bill, the new agency will be in a weaker position than the present National Rivers Authority. The NRA has worked well and effectively. In all its activities, including pollution control, it was required to further conservation. That will not be the case any more. That obligation was to be removed all together. It is now to be retained, but the Secretary of State has excluded the agency's pollution control functions from its scope. That is simply not good enough. The agency should be required to promote conservation in every aspect of its work, including pollution control, which is one of its major functions. If a proposal on those lines is not accepted, the agency will be weaker than the NRA.
My next major concern is about the agency's general aims and objectives. Those require the agency to take into account the likely costs and benefits of its actions. No such requirement was placed on the NRA, yet I know of no public criticism of the NRA for exercising its powers unreasonably or for imposing excessive costs on water companies or on any other bodies whose activities it has supervised. That requirement must place the new agency in a weaker position than the NRA by leaving its actions wide open to challenge in the courts. I am sure that the Secretary of State realises that, but he has had to give way to the deregulators in the Cabinet, who do not seem to understand the role of the new agencies.
The new agency is there not to adjudicate between polluters and green pressure groups, but to protect and enhance the environment. It is not for the agency to act as a referee or umpire; it must be a player. To do its job properly, it must take sides. It must be on the side of the environment and against pollution.
Under the Bill, the new agency would not even be a strong referee. It would have to think twice before showing a polluter the red card, in case he challenged the 51 decision in court. As one of my hon. Friends has already said, we all know that it will be much easier in court for a polluter to present a case against the immediate identifiable cost to his business than for the agency to present a case that demonstrates and quantifies the long-term benefits to people, animals or plants that may be harmed by the pollution.
We understand that the Government's lawyers have advised that that proposition will not leave the agency open to challenge in the courts. I suggest to the Secretary of State that the Government's recent sad record in the courts suggests that he should be wary of complacent advice from Government lawyers. If the Council for the Protection of Rural England, at one end of the spectrum, and Greenpeace, at the other, both say that the provision will make it easy to challenge the agency in the courts, the Secretary of State had better take notice.
Concern about the new emphasis on the cost of regulation is heightened by the Bill's failure to place on the agency a countervailing duty to achieve specific objectives in terms of environmental quality. If the agency were set quantifiable targets for air or water quality, that would go some way towards counter-balancing the cost-benefit obligation, and it would be a great help if the agency were to be challenged in the courts.
Many other questions about the agency's powers and duties will need to be thrashed out in Committee, but I want to emphasise that, for the agency to work effectively, it must have the right structure, the right regional boundaries and the fullest involvement with local authorities in the regions concerned. Some people seem to think that, once the various separate agencies are brought together in one agency, everything is bound to be more effective. That is simply not true. Things could get worse.
For a start, the new agency will be a bigger and more complex organisation. One of the merits of separate organisations is that they know that they have to liaise with one another. It is sometimes assumed that communications within one organisation are bound to be easier than between separate organisations. Effective liaison within an organisation does not happen by chance. Information does not flow by a process of osmosis; it has to be arranged, worked for and managed. In Committee, my hon. Friends will want to ensure that the best arrangements are made.
§ Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I do not wish to press the hon. Gentleman too hard on this matter, but he mentioned the importance of the right to regional boundaries. Can he give us some idea of how he thinks those boundaries should be set?
§ Mr. Dobson
My view is that the boundaries that roughly coincide with the watershed boundaries to which the NRA works now would probably be the best. There may have to be variations at the margins where some local authority boundaries do not coincide with them, but, with the limited knowledge at my disposal now, that would seem to be the best arrangement.
We welcome some of the proposals in the Bill that deal with contaminated land. However, we do not support the proposal to repeal the requirement on local authorities to prepare and maintain a public register of contaminated land. That requirement was introduced by the Government 52 as recently as 1990, but they now propose to get rid of it. It has been suggested to me—not by the Government—that such a register would blight certain areas of contaminated land. In my view, it is the contamination, not the register, that causes the blight.
People resent the way in which some landowners, developers and councils think that it is okay for them to have the facts at their disposal but want to keep local people in the dark. A good example of that arrogant attitude was the refusal of British Gas to disclose details of the 380 contaminated sites that it owns. It will disclose the information to property speculators, but not to local people or even to their Members of Parliament. The chairman of British Gas has admitted to me in a letter that the sites "need closer inspection". Indeed they do. He refused to disclose details because it is, as he describes it,material which is extremely complex, publication of which might only serve to lead to an exaggeration of the actual risk".Not so much an example of big brother is watching as one of big rich brother knows best.
The Government seem to approve of that approach. The Bill obliges councils to inspect their area and to identify contaminated land and some landfill sites. The agency and the Secretary of State will have access to the information that the councils put together and so, presumably, will potential developers. The only people who are to be kept in ignorance are the general public. So much for open government.
The Bill proposes to repeal the law that permits the pollution of watercourses by water escaping from abandoned mine workings. That problem has become much worse recently because, in the past, pumping from operational mines has kept the water low in abandoned mine workings and there has not been a great deal of polluted water flowing out of them. Now that there are so few mines left in operation and a big reduction in pumping, the threat from minewater pollution is increasing.
The Government, quite rightly, propose to repeal the statutory exemption. That is welcome, but it will take effect only in mines closed in the next century. That postponement is not just unwelcome; it is plain unacceptable. The repeal was postponed because the Government feared that it would reduce their takings from the sale of the coal industry. It is no good the Minister frowning and looking puzzled, or the Secretary of State attempting to dispute it—although to be fair, he is not. It is set out clearly in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill, which says:Since these proposals are coming forward in parallel with the privatisation of the coal industry, there could be some adverse effects on proceeds to the Government. Accordingly, the removal of the statutory protections is being timed to reduce any possible effects.Whatever the claims of any Conservative Members, nothing could better illustrate where the Government's priorities lie. Given a choice between money for the Treasury and protecting the environment, the Treasury wins every time.
The Government have it in for the coalfield communities. They close the mines and then fail to prevent them from polluting rivers, streams and lakes in the former mining areas. When the pit closure programme was being pushed through the House, they promised 53 enterprise zones in quite a few of the coalfield areas. Nothing has yet happened. They have treated the coalfield communities with contempt.
The national parks were introduced by a Labour Government and have been a brilliant success. However, the increasing intensity of use of the parks, the uncontrolled development of noisy activities in some of them and the non-tourist economy of the parks have been a source of growing concern to all sorts of people.
The Bill proposes the establishment of separate park authorities for each park, and we welcome that. However, consideration should be given to the membership of each authority. It should include representatives not just from the local authorities within the boundaries of the park but from the towns and cities neighbouring the national parks whose people depend on it for relaxation.
For example, that could include representatives from Plymouth or Exeter on the Dartmoor authority. There are currently people from Plymouth and Exeter on that authority because, until the local government reorganisation, they are part of that county.
§ Mr. Dobson
Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, I should say that I believe that the people of Sheffield and Derby should have some representation on the Peak District authority, which is a great source of relaxation for them.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
What is proposed in the Bill is an important step forward. People from Sheffield are appointed to the national park. The hon. Gentleman is missing the fact that, even in the Bill as drafted, the Secretary of State will be able to appoint people who can bring national significance to the parks. The Opposition should think carefully about this matter. I believe that people who are supposed to represent local authorities should be elected members of the national park authorities. As I have said, in the Bill as drafted, the Secretary of State will be able to appoint people to improve national significance. We need to protect those who live and work in the park.
§ Mr. Dobson
My views do not differ from those of the hon. Gentleman. I believe that people who live in the national parks should have a say in who represents them on the park authority. I am saying that, when the Secretary of State considers who else should be on the authority, he should bear in mind the contribution that the Peak District authority makes to the lives of people in Sheffield and round about.
Against the votes of the Government, the House of Lords voted to restrict noisy activities in national parks by making quiet enjoyment one of the statutory purposes of the parks. It may be that the wording of the Lords amendment will cause difficulties in legal interpretation, but I hope that the Government will accept the principle of quiet enjoyment. If they introduce amendments that improve the wording but retain the principle that there is a presumption in favour of quiet enjoyment, they will be supported by my hon. Friends in Committee and on Report.
The Bill proposes some new protection for hedgerows, but it does not go far enough. It is confined to what Ministers are to conclude are important hedgerows. The mind boggles at the thought of how that great adjudication 54 will take place. It does not include drystone walls or other important threatened rural features such as ponds. We will press the Government to extend the coverage to drystone walls and ponds, and we will propose the extension of hedgerow protection to Scotland.
As I have already explained, the Bill as drafted does not provide for any attempt to secure improvements in air quality. Such provisions were promised in another place and have just been promised again by the Secretary of State, so we hope that they will be forthcoming. However, to be satisfactory, such proposals must include the setting of air quality standards or targets because, without standards or targets, the Government would be reduced to trying to combat air pollution with pious hopes.
In the time available, it has not been possible to deal with even all the important aspects of the Bill, but I have tried to highlight the improvements that we believe need to be made if the Bill is to achieve what the Government claim for it. Without these changes, the Bill will amount to little more than a technical consolidation of the existing statutes.
In addition, we believe that, if they are to achieve what they want, the Government must reverse the cuts that they have made in the resources devoted to maintaining and enhancing the environment, and equally important—perhaps more important—they need a change of heart. They have to abandon their headstrong opposition to regulating business in order to protect the environment.
No one believes that regulation alone will achieve what is needed. Regulation alone is not sufficient, but it is necessary. Without tough regulation and tough enforcement, we shall not make the necessary progress. In the long run, it is simply not true to say that environmental regulation is a burden on business. Regulation can raise standards of performance, clean up industrial processes, reduce engine emissions and increase energy efficiency.
In this way, regulation can give companies that take up the challenge a competitive edge, an edge we need if we are to compete in world markets to supply plant, equipment and industrial techniques that abate pollution. Beyond that, we need to develop plant, equipment and processes that, through the use of clean technology, do not harm the environment in the first place.
If we can secure a share of world markets for pollution abatement and clean technology, we can provide jobs for our people—jobs in research, design, development, manufacture, construction, installation, operation, maintenance and repair. We can provide good-quality, high-tech, well-paid jobs so that our people compete with the best in the world on quality and are not reduced to competing with the cheapest on price.
There needs to be a change of heart, not only by the Government but by some people in business. Many are changing their views, but others still need to recognise that protecting and enhancing the environment are good not only for the air that we breathe or the water that we drink but for trade, prosperity and jobs.
Tough environmental standards are not in conflict with industrial and commercial success—they go hand in hand with it, as has been seen in Germany, the United States and Japan. Those countries have far tougher regulations and a far better success rate in selling their pollution control equipment and their clean technology around the world. It may be that the Secretary of State understands that but has not managed to convince his Cabinet colleagues who are 55 still worshipping at the shrine of deregulation and still cutting funds for environmental protection. They still worship the market—so, for that matter, do the people they have appointed to quangos.
The person they have appointed to regulate the gas industry believes that energy conservation must take second place to her crackpot idea of a free market in gas. The Government appointed her, but she is lousing up the Government's efforts to promote energy saving.
The Government continue to cut funds for environmental protection and energy conservation. They have insisted in the Bill that the new agency must be weaker than the NRA whose functions it is intended it should take on.
§ Mr. Gummer
I should not like the hon. Gentleman to mislead the House. I am sure that he will remember that I have announced a series of considerable increases in the money devoted to insulation for the purposes of energy efficiency, and I have protected that part of my budget that is to be spent on environmental protection against the cuts to which he refers. He may be able to attack me in other respects, but in this case he cannot say that the Government have cut the funds available—they have increased them. The hon. Gentleman has only to ask Neighbourhood Energy Action, whose funds have been increased considerably. Indeed, this year we are insulating the homes of 600,000 poorer people.
§ Mr. Dobson
Let me take the right hon. Gentleman back to the gas regulator. The Energy Saving Trust is certainly being trussed by her. It was intended that it should receive public funds and funds from the gas industry, but it is not receiving the funds that it expected from the gas industry because she objects.
The Secretary of State says that he has protected spending of environmental protection, but I hope that he is better at protecting the environment than he is at protecting his budget because, according to the Department of the Environment's annual report, he will be cutting spending on environmental protection by £86 million over the next four years. If he wants to quarrel with that figure, he had better quarrel with those who wrote the report. The Government have got their priorities wrong.
As I said at the outset, we shall not vote against the Bill at this stage, because we support the basic principles behind it. However, its principles have been watered down and its scope is limited. It needs to be improved, and neither we nor the people of this country will be satisfied unless it is.
§ Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)
This is an important, welcome and wide-ranging Bill, but, conscious of the 10-minute limit on speeches, I hope the House will forgive me if I concentrate on matters of interest in respect of the river environment, and issues of particular concern to anglers. I do not claim to speak for all anglers, but I have many friends in the angling community and I am a member of one or two organisations that are active in that sphere.
As chairman of the fisheries committee of the British Field Sports Society, I recently chaired a meeting attended by representatives of angling bodies. They discussed the 56 state of the Bill when it left another place and identified the subjects on which it would be important to focus in this debate and in Committee. Some of the points that I shall make would no doubt be more appropriate to the Committee stage but I shall mention two general issues.
The job of the agency—[Interruption.] It would be helpful if I could have had the attention of one or two of the chatterers on Labour's Front Bench. The job of the agency will not be easy. What it is able to do will depend largely on the resources and funding available to it. I congratulate the National Rivers Authority on what it has achieved under the leadership of Lord Crickhowell. Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. We cannot pretend that the job of the combined body will be easy, but it is important that adequate funds should be available, especially in the context of angling, which I think is the only water sport whose participants make a substantial contribution to their own recreation.
It would be helpful if we could have a reassurance from the Government that the present levels of funding can at least be maintained, if not increased. If the Government are looking for ways to increase funding, it may be possible in Committee to consider a public levy along the lines of an environmental services charge to contribute to general work on rivers and waterways.
Before I deal with the structure and functions of the authority, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a question. Will he define exactly what is meant by sustainable development, which I do not see defined in the Bill? At least one of the bodies that has made representations—the National Farmers Union—says that the term has been left deliberately undefined. That may be the Government's intention, and the word "sustainable" may be a term of art not unlike another familiar term of art, the definition of the word "reasonable". That definition is subjective and, in my experience, varies from case to case. If the word "sustainable" has to vary from case to case, so be it.
I was encouraged by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the need to put right the mistakes of the past, because, without an element of retrospection in what is intended in the concept of sustainability, we shall not make much progress.
I do not suppose that I need remind my right hon. Friend that a number of rivers are in great danger of running dry and, indeed, do so at various times of the year. For example, the West Beck in Yorkshire, the Piddle in the west country and the Darent in Kent have from time to time been reduced to bare beds. The only success so far has been the remedial work on the Darent.
The over-abstraction of past years will not be put right unless some action is taken to put licensing back on an even keel. In some rivers, total abstraction licensing already exceeds the maximum flow of the waterway, and that clearly will not do. I hope that the agency and the Department will take a very strong line on, for example, the River Stour to ensure that such rivers are not literally pumped dry by water abstraction.
I know that many anglers would like some individual to be designated as a fisheries representative on the shadow board, or whatever its proper title may be. I know that anglers' representatives who met Lord de Ramsey recently were encouraged to discover that he is a keen angler. That is a great advantage, but there is a feeling 57 that there needs to be some assignment of functions to an individual, so that fisheries interests may feel able to relate to one particular member of the board.
I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on regional boundaries. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman but I think that he tried to have it both ways. I understood him to say that he was in favour of river catchment boundaries being modified according to the varied boundaries of local authorities, with which the river catchment boundaries do not always coincide. So that he should not be in any doubt, I remind him—I shall quote from a letter from the Angling Governing Bodies Liaison Group—that:
river catchment boundaries have never impeded full interface with local authorities on such matters as planning liaison".There seems to be no reason why they should do so in future. I understand that the definitive solution on that matter may not be determined in the Bill. Perhaps the agency will sort it out. I assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, however, that the river catchment boundary management system has the full support of the angling community and I hope that that system will remain.
§ Mr. Dobson
I should make clear my view that the present NRA watershed boundaries should be the dominant boundaries. The only point that I was making was that there may be places where some minor modifications would be of no consequence but would fit in with local government boundaries. I do not think that we should go crazy about it—that is all.
§ Sir Cranley Onslow
I am glad to join the hon. Gentleman in not going crazy about it, but it is rather crazy of him to advocate a separate agency for Wales. The existing system seems to have worked pretty well.
In referring again to structure, I should put on record the fact that the present proposal of regional fisheries advisory committees, as set out in clause 13, broadly meets with the approval of anglers, who do not think that it would be helpful if the interests of recreation, conservation and navigation were by statute subsumed into the responsibilities of the same committees that would deal with fisheries interests. If a voluntary arrangement could be agreed, that would be a different matter. It would cause a good deal of difficulty, to say the least, if recreation, conservation and navigation matters were compelled to be the subject of regional fisheries advisory committees.
I now turn to another matter on which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras touched: abandoned mines, which have concerned hon. Members of all parties for some time. I am not at all sure that the answers given in the House of Lords and the proposals in the Bill are as easy to justify as my right hon. Friend suggested. I say that in the knowledge that the recent news sheet of the National Rivers Authority contained an article headedPit disaster waiting to happen",which opened:Durham faces an environmental disaster if the Coal Authority stops pumping water from mine workings.The NRA has warned that within months of the pumps being turned off there would be massive pollution of the River Wear, which could last for years.58The cost of the damage would run into many millions of pounds and there would be unquantifiable environmental costs. This compares with the £1 million annual price of running the nine pumping stations.It is good to know that the situation has been resolved in the interim by the Coal Authority having taken over responsibility for pumping.
The problem does not apply only in Durham. It applies in south Wales, and may apply in other areas where abandoned mines are no longer being pumped out to the standard to which we have become accustomed. It is an extremely important matter, and I endorse the view expressed in the Coalfield Communities Campaign leaflet.
The matter must be clarified and if there are reasons why the exemptions should not terminate until 1999, they need to be spelt out carefully and in detail because, on the face of it, there seems to be no good reason—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I am afraid that the 10-minute rule has come down on the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Although I agree with some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow), I hope that he will forgive me if I first refer to the claim made by the Secretary of State about the Conservatives' pedigree in environmental concern.
Conservatives have long had an interest in the environment. They were hanging and transporting poachers who were seeking to add a bit of meat to their diet 200 years ago. Many of us who have sought to enhance the environment by private Members' legislation in recent years have, on numerous occasions, been blocked and thwarted by Conservatives, either those on the Treasury Bench or their minions on the Back Benches.
It was a pity that the Secretary of State sought to claim some monopoly of virtue because hon. Members from all parties have a genuine concern for the environment. The attitude adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), in welcoming the broad principles of the Bill and saying that we shall not vote against it tonight, should have encouraged the Minister to take a rather more constructive and less partisan view.
The right hon. Member for Woking quite properly referred to a source of grave anxiety to many of us who live in coalfield areas. Abandoned mine workings and the effect of inadequate pumping and so on merit rather more consideration than has so far been given. We face the prospect of an orange, ochreous legacy in many former mining areas. There is a real danger to the quality of water supplies and of an adverse effect on streams, rivers and wetlands. There is certainly a risk of rising levels of groundwater, which could contribute to serious subsidence, and there is also, of course, the problem of the contamination—or worse—of methane. The part of the Bill that refers to such problems needs to be urgently reconsidered.
I hope also—because of the time limit I shall rush through a number of points—that the Minister will reconsider planning permission for ironstone working, enhance the protection afforded to limestone pavements and reconsider the Government's approach to peat bogs. If the Government are to pursue a policy of sustainable 59 development, too lax an attitude to the safeguarding of our peat areas would certainly be inconsistent with their claim.
I endorse the point made by the right hon. Member for Woking about excessive abstraction of water, which affects not only anglers. Those of us who are interested in conservation and wetland areas must accept excessive abstraction can have very serious consequences. There may also be serious consequences if we continue to grant permission for people to discharge unspecified materials into the water courses of our country.
The Minister will probably be aware—I have corresponded with him recently—that for many years I have been trying to ensure the protection of hedgerows. I first tried to introduce measures under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) will recall that the Government were not prepared to accept my attempts. I presented a Bill on the subject in 1982. The Government then took the view that the problem had ended and that hedgerow destruction had virtually ceased. We have lost about 150,000 miles of hedgerows since then.
I presented another Bill in 1987 on the very day when the then Prime Minister called for hedgerow protection at the centenary celebrations of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. On that very morning, she called for Parliament to enact legislation to protect hedgerows. I presented my Bill that very afternoon, but it was blocked on the instructions of the then Prime Minister, who said that we had many other things to think about as well as conservation. That hardly fits in with the pedigree of which the Secretary of State reminded us.
Subsequent attempts were made to introduce legislation about hedgerows, including a distinguished attempt by the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth). He was greatly assisted by Opposition Members, but his attempt was blocked and ruined by the antics of a small number of Conservatives in 1993.
The same fate befell the Bill that I presented again last year. The Government were not going to block that Bill, and I was grateful for that, but a small number of political gangsters from their Back Benches called out "Object" at the wrong time.
We now have a promise of regulation. The Minister will understand that it is very important that regulations are valid and meaningful. The Secretary of State referred to agricultural change and the need to produce food. If we had not seen the grubbing of hedgerows on the scale that has occurred over the past 40 years, we would not have needed to set aside land at great cost to the taxpayer because we would be in agricultural balance. We simply released areas once covered by hedgerow into agriculture, the removal of which subsequent experience has shown was utterly unnecessary and uneconomic.
I want to refer to another aspect of my current correspondence with the Minister. Many thousands of miles of hedgerow in Britain are sometimes called parliamentary hedgerows. Common land was enclosed by those hedgerows, and landowners were given the land on condition that it was perpetually surrounded and protected by thorn fences.
I want to be sure that any regulations introduced under the Bill will not weaken the protection provided under the enclosure legislation. We are talking about 4,000 parishes 60 in England and 4,000 private Acts of enclosure before 1840. Those who were given the common land were given a considerable and historic advantage. They were also given a considerable condition of ownership—the maintenance of the hedgerow.
As the legislation has been forgotten, the Minister may feel that these matters can be fobbed off by regulations. However, no law has been repealed and no obligation has been removed. When I pointed out to the Minister that successive Governments had given taxpayers' money to people to grub out hedgerows, and that sometimes they gave taxpayers' money to people to grub out hedgerows that were already protected, the Government decided to stop providing taxpayers' money for grubbing out hedgerows. Shortly afterwards, they commendably decided to provide grants to plant new hedgerows. The difficulty is that a new hedgerow may take 100 or 200 years to reach the ecological value of the hedgerow that was grubbed out. Such a proposal is not entirely helpful.
The national parks authorities should have some say in relation to footpaths. My next comment may not be particularly fashionable, but I believe that the works of man are sometimes disadvantageous, if not always vile. It may be necessary for us to ensure that our conservation interest is made secure even at the cost of limits or inhibitions on the access of the general public.
I have been dealing with a constituency case in which people are clamouring for a footpath to be established not far from a footpath for which I called a long time ago. A new footpath which would, in certain circumstances, disfigure the quality of wildlife and perhaps turn the area into a wildlife desert, is hardly likely to be advantageous. At some point, authorities will have to be asked to look carefully at the consequences of unfettered or uninhibited access.
The need to protect the natural heritage is such that that interest should have a higher priority than it currently enjoys. I hope that there will be constructive consideration of the Bill in Committee, and that we shall secure from the Government an attitude to amendments which is necessary if the Bill is to be as valuable as it should be.
§ Sir Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
This is the right Bill at the right time. The Bill is important and it is right that it responds to genuine concern in this country and elsewhere about the environment. It is responding to the feeling that we should do more to protect the environment and that we should do everything possible to control pollution.
I am glad that the Government are responding in this way to genuine concerns. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister have made considerable progress over the past year or two in giving us the lead in this country and elsewhere with regard to promoting the environment.
One of the themes of the Government's environment policy is sustainable development. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) that it is not always easy to know what that means, but I believe that it means leaving the environment in better heart for the next generation. Sustainable development will be a key issue in environmental policy.
I am glad that another theme of the policy is integrated pollution control. It is right that we should control pollution in the round. The Government have taken on 61 board the need to enhance nature conservation. There have been a number of measures to improve the diversity and the richness of wildlife and to build on achievements which have occurred over the past 10 years. We must also consider the vital aspect of the control of industrial pollution. All those general and important themes are picked up by the Bill.
When I read the Bill and prepared for the debate, I was very struck by the widespread welcome for this diverse Bill. The general view is that the Bill is taking us in the right direction. With that in mind, when the Bill enters Committee, the Government should be confident that the Bill is correct and they should be confident enough to accept that its detail may have to be amended. Given the general understanding that there is overall support for the Bill in the House, I hope that the Government will look sensibly and practically at proposed amendments.
I have also been struck by the fact that, among most groups, there is support for the unity of direction in respect of pollution control which the Bill will provide. The Bill will provide clarity of purpose and it will concentrate control and policy in one agency. It will give a clear focus. However, we must also accept that there will be problems with regard to the reorganisation.
The Bill brings together the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the waste regulation authorities. They all employ people and pursue important functions in local areas. We do not want reorganisation to create more chaos so that the focus and intention are taken off the proper control of the environment. We do not want the reorganisation to be muddled and costly.
We do not know yet what route the Government are taking, but it must be a practical way forward and it must take into account local feelings, local wishes and the need to pay attention to local problems. In addition, as the Environment Agency will be a very powerful body, it is absolutely crucial that what it decides is transparent. We should understand the reasons for its decisions, and we should also be able to look at the costs of the actions upon which it insists.
One reason why I welcome the Bill is that it is practical. Clause 7 contains one of the central themes of the Bill, and it describes the duty to further conservation. That matter is at the heart of the Bill and it should be pursued. However, I am concerned that, in respect of pollution control, the duty is weak—the Bill imposes on the agency only the need to have regard to the desirability of the conservation of flora and fauna of special interest. One must ask the Government why, in that aspect of pollution, they have chosen a weaker imperative than for general conservation.
On conservation, there are two aspects of action that I can welcome. We now have hedgerows legislation. I warn the Government that no one should expect the Bill to produce too much. Many people may be disappointed by the result, but I do not want to see a mass of hedgerows being put under special protection. That simply would not work. We must be very selective. We must select only those hedgerows which are truly of local and national importance.
I fear that, by going too wide, we will create an industry of seeking grants to preserve and manage hedgerows throughout the country. That would be unwieldy and expensive and it would not work. Those who are involved 62 in maintaining hedgerows know that they can do so only by proper management and care. In the end, that is the responsibility of those who work the land.
I welcome clause 81, on grants for conservation in the countryside. That might help us towards a better balance of agricultural support.
It is always difficult to find a balance between conflicting interests. Clause 37 is important in that it helps to underline the practical nature of the Bill. It is always essential to take costs into account. The same applies to national parks. We cannot have beautiful national parks unless we create within them a balanced environment in which people can work effectively. Again, we must consider cost benefits, but I ask the Government to emphasise the need to protect the environment. I ask, too, that strong guidance be given that environmental benefits must form part of any cost-benefit analysis.
In any conservation policy the reclamation of contaminated land must form a central part. I am glad that the Government have consulted widely on that matter in their "Framework for contaminated land" and have introduced the very practical principle of "suitable for use". That principle will help to bring contaminated land back into positive use. Those who are involved in environmental matters want wastelands—brown lands—brought back into proper development. Certainly in Lincoln, we are doing our best to develop city centre areas that have been part of our industrial heritage. Indeed, I am glad to say that we are building a university on some of that land. It must be right to pursue the principle of bringing polluted land back into use.
In all that, much depends on the guidelines and instructions that the Government send out. We do not know enough about them yet, but, in all their instructions, I expect the Government to insist on giving the environment very high priority. Hon. Members will seek to know more about their views on that matter in Committee.
I greatly welcome the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about clear priorities for the environment. To date, his policies have delivered them. The Bill takes those priorities a step forward. They have to be put within a practical framework. In general, the Bill does that. Above all, we must ensure that, as it leaves the House, the Bill continues to give clear priority to conservation and to the enhancement of the environment.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)
There is cross-party support for the main tenets of the Bill. I suspect that that is reflected in the fact that there is unlikely to be a vote tonight. Nevertheless, there is a strong turn-out, as reflected in the time limitation on Back-Bench Members' speeches. That shows hon. Members' great interest in several clauses.
Liberal Democrats have argued for a single national environmental protection agency for many years and have emphasised the importance of taking an integrated approach to the environment. The Prime Minister conceded that such a body was needed more than four years ago. In that respect, the only complaint might be that it has taken a long time to be set up, which perhaps is explained by the Secretary of State's comment that he was a late convert to the agency.
63 The Bill presents a big opportunity not simply to integrate the control of pollution to air, land and water but to take real steps to protect and improve our environment—a chance to put action behind the Government's commitment to the environment at Rio and Berlin, and in the 1994 sustainable development strategy. We must ensure that the Bill results in stronger environmental protection than the sum of its constituent parts. My only regret about the Secretary of State's speech was how partisan he chose to make it. I do not think that the Bill's progress will be partisan, although there will be disagreement on individual items.
I agree with the hon. Member for Lincoln (Sir K. Carlisle), who called on the Government to show an open-minded approach to the concerns of hon. Members of all parties, to reflect what has been a relatively positive approach at least to some aspects of the Bill in the other place and, indeed, even the fairly positive approach to the Government's defeats, let alone when they have chosen to accept criticisms.
I am disappointed that the Government have not taken the opportunity to integrate environmental concerns into every aspect of policy making. At present, the mechanisms of environmental integration within Government are limited, weak and, frankly, inadequate. In 1990, the Government introduced a Cabinet sub-committee on the environment and so-called green Ministers in every Department, but there has been little evidence that that has had a significant impact on Government decision making.
The need to integrate environmental considerations into every aspect of Government policy has been acknowledged in Environment White Papers since 1990, with the most recent Department of the Environment annual report stating that a priority is to
ensure that environmental concerns are reflected in all areas of policy.At the Rio conference in 1992, the Government agreed to elevate environmental considerations in decision making, but I do not think that that has won acceptance in other Departments. Indeed, some of the very limitations of the Bill are, I strongly suspect, the result of other Departments resisting the environmental measures for which Environment Ministers were calling. With that in mind, the title of the Bill could allow a new clause to be included to give each Department a statutory duty to integrate environmental concerns into its policy making and policy reporting. That would ensure that environmental implications are taken into account by all Departments, Ministers and public bodies. I hope to table an amendment on that matter at a later stage.
I want to raise my concern about four main aspects of the Bill, some of which have been subjected to debate in the House and all of which have been subjected to substantial debate and amendment in the other place. They are: the aim of the agency, the ministerial guidance, the costs and benefits clause and the duty to further conservation.
I turn first to the aim of the agency. After concern was voiced in another place, the Government introduced a new clause 4 giving the agency a "principal aim" toprotect or enhance the environment".64 That principal aim, however, does not apply to the Scottish environment protection agency, and Ministers should explain why not. Moreover, the Bill still fails to give even the environment agency a clearly defined purpose. Furthermore, the aim is qualified, in particular with the requirement to take into account any likely costs, which serves to weaken it and to which I will return later.
If the agency is to be truly the guardian of the environment, its aim should be clear, simple and unqualified. There should be a clear purpose at the beginning of the Bill for both agencies to protect and enhance the environment, and as part of that, a duty to achieve environmental quality objectives should be put on the face of the Bill. Without such a duty recognising the importance of non-financial environmental quality objectives, the agency will fall short of the intentions that the Minister said were behind the Bill.
It is good news that the Government decided to produce draft ministerial guidance in another place and allow Parliament to scrutinise it, but the present definition of sustainable development in the guidance, as was mentioned earlier, is open to many interpretations and can mean all things to all people. To be meaningful, the guidance has to adopt an accepted definition of sustainable development.
Ministers have to clarify the position, and they should start with the accepted definition of sustainable development in the Brundtland report:sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.".I do not believe that the Secretary of State has a problem with that, but the fact that he has not put it in the Bill suggests that others in other Departments may have, and such a change would be a test of his ability to deliver on his fine words.
In addition, the ministerial guidance should stress the importance of clear and ambitious targets for the improvement of environmental quality. Unless targets are set, the success or otherwise of the Bill and the Minister's fine words will be impossible to measure.
Thirdly, I want to address costs and benefits—a subject that was raised on a number of occasions in the other place and, I suspect, will be discussed in great detail in the House. The impact on mainstream industry and competitiveness and the issue of costs and benefits have been central to political debate on the environment in the 1990s. Estimates of the cost of environmental improvement have won headlines in the press and have scared off some policy makers.
Costs, however, are not the whole picture. They have to be offset by countervailing benefits of creating markets for the environmental industry and jobs. Environmental regulation can save pollution-related costs incurred by third parties, such as the NHS. For example, treating asthma, which is exacerbated by air pollution, cost the NHS £350 million in 1993.
The emphasis that the Bill places on costs and benefits threatens the agency's role in protecting the environment. I question not the desirability of costs and benefits being taken into account, but a statutory duty being placed on the agency without proper definition or explanation of how it can be implemented. The clause on costs and benefits will make the agency vulnerable to judicial review, which may stop it carrying out its functions for 65 fear of expensive reprisals and for fear of losing. Perhaps, even when it believes it is likely to win a case, it may not be prepared to embark on the long and costly process of defending judicial action.
The statutory duty to take costs and benefits into account should be removed from the face of the Bill and left to ministerial guidance. The Government responded to concerns voiced in another place as to the definition of costs and benefits by clarifying in the Bill that costs include environmental costs, but the question remains unanswered.
There is no explanation of what "environmental costs" actually mean and no mention of how non-financial targets are to be given equal priority or comparability with financial targets. Frankly, until the methodology is in place, costs and benefits cannot be made a statutory duty on the agency in any meaningful way. Even those who take a different view on the record of the NRA and the costs that some of its actions have imposed on industries and others, have every reason to be suspicious of its place in the Bill as when the legislation is tested in the courts, it may move in a direction that they do not like. They have as much to fear as anyone else from the lack of clarity in the Bill.
Lord Crickhowell, with his expertise as chairman of the National Rivers Authority, raised just such a concern, saying that there must be
a mechanism for discovering what those costs are and for putting values on the environmental benefits. If that mechanism is not provided, there is a real risk that almost all the Agency's decisions will be challenged to appeal, or worse in the courts.By setting targets for biodiversity, for example, environmental benefits could begin to be measured, though not in any easy cost-benefit way. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recently suggested that an effective way of costing the environment would be to set targets for the protection and enhancement of certain aspects of the environment, but as yet Ministers have little or nothing to say about that. While I understand the politics of clause 37, I do not believe in the practice of it, even for meeting Ministers' objectives, let alone those of people concerned about the environment.
My fourth point raises our misgivings about the duty to further conservation set out in the Bill as it does not apply to the agency's pollution control functions. The NRA has had a duty to further conservation when formulating or considering any proposals relating to any of its functions, including pollution control. That duty has been especially important in the protection of sites of special scientific interest.
When more than 80 river and lake SSSIs are known to be threatened from pollution, a specific duty to further conservation must include pollution control. By excluding pollution control from the duty and saying there must just be regard to it, the new Environment Agency is being given powers substantially weaker than those of the NRA. We have to ask why, if we are to believe the Secretary of State's fine words about his commitment to the environment.
I have highlighted my major concerns about the Bill which have been echoed by others. There are other misgivings about the Bill and areas about which hon. Members will be seeking assurances or changes in 66 Committee. They include national parks, contaminated land, abandoned mines, hedgerows, accountability and freedom of information.
Before concluding, I shall touch on a couple of those points. On national parks, much of what is in the Bill is to be welcomed, but for national parks to be capable of meeting both national and local objectives, those who run them must be accountable to both levels. Clearly, the present arrangement causes confusion and we shall be seeking to strengthen the representative character of those responsible for national parks and tabling a amendment to that effect, particularly in relation to the local community within the national parks.
From my own perspective as a Member of Parliament representing a Cornish constituency, I welcome the hedgerow provision, provided that it includes the traditional Cornish hedges or banks which have been excluded in the past. I shall return to the subject in Committee in far more detail, as I am quite happy to speak on it at great length.
I am also concerned about the provisions relating to abandoned mines. I am probably the only hon. Member recently to have had a major pollution incident affecting their constituency. I refer to the closure of the Wheal Jane tin mine and the subsequent major pollution of the Fal estuary. That pollution is on-going and the costs of tackling it have escalated out of all proportion compared with the money saved from the original Government withdrawal of funding for the continued operation of the mine. Therefore, Ministers should be aware that the costs of not acting early can ultimately very much outweigh the apparent benefits.
Ministers seek to justify the delay—which at least they do openly in the Government's commentary on the Bill—on the grounds that it will help privatisation, and that therefore the postponement is justified on financial grounds. That is in sharp contrast to the Secretary of State's fine words about the present generation meeting the costs for—rather than imposing them on—future generations. Frankly, a failure to act early when mines are abandoned imposes a massive pollution cost on future generations which they must live with or incur greater costs in trying to clear up. The Wheal Jane incident made that clear.
I intend to introduce the Environmental Claims Bill as a new clause to the Bill. Too many misleading, meaningless and unsubstantiated environmental claims are made for products with the aim of inducing consumers to purchase them. As yet, there is nothing in statute to tackle that. I shall give one example. A type of sock is promoted as an ozone friendly sock, and the label states:Helps prevent foot odour which is probably a major cause of the destruction of the ozone layer".I would be quite prepared to donate a pair of these socks to the Secretary of State as an initial effort to tackle this problem were it true, but I am afraid that it is not. While that is a ludicrous example, there are many environmental claims which are more likely than that to mislead the consumer and which ought to be tackled through government, as other misleading claims directed at the consumer are tackled.
I hope to address in Committee our concerns about the Scottish environment protection agency. Scotland has been treated badly in the drafting of this legislation, and it is an example of the gap between the environmental concerns of some within the Department of the 67 Environment and the lack of environmental concerns of Ministers in other Departments. The Scottish agency bears the mark of being an afterthought, and appears to have been tacked on to the Bill. It has been given fewer and weaker powers that the English equivalent because, frankly, Scottish Ministers take even less interest than equivalent Ministers in England.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I must make clear that the other agency is not "the English equivalent", but the English and Welsh equivalent. We in Wales would have been glad to have had something "tacked on" to the Bill if it provided an independent agency.
§ Mr. Taylor
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I believe that there should have been a separate Welsh agency. But I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would have been happy to have had an agency tacked on in the manner of the Scottish agency, as that would have resulted in a worsening of the position for Wales. There is a democratic issue here, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would want to see a Welsh agency with the weaker powers provided to the Scottish agency.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro)
The hon. Gentleman is quite misinformed and out of order in saying that the Scottish section has been "tacked on". After the most careful consultation in Scotland, what the Scottish people want has been drafted in the Bill. As the Minister who took the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 through the House, I shall not renege in any way on my commitment to the environment.
§ Mr. Taylor
The great majority of those who represent the people of Scotland in the House do not agree with the Minister about the views of the people of Scotland. If the Minister's commitment to environmental issues is so strong, why does the Scottish agency lack the principal aim to protect and enhance the environment which is given to the English agency?
It is critical that both agencies are given adequate resources to meet the tasks which are ahead of them. The pressure on the new EPA during its start-up will be huge. If the Treasury—a Department which shows less interest in the issue than the Secretary of State claimed for the whole Government—under-resources the agency during that crucial period, the agency will find it hard to fulfil its role of protecting the environment.
There have been cuts at the National Rivers Authority, but the agency believes that it can live with them. The widespread view among all those involved—including those who support what the Government have been doing—is that any further cuts in the resources available to the agency would make it simply impossible to see through this further major change.
The Government have much support for what they are doing, but there are real misgivings which have been echoed across the House. The Bill must and should be a success, and it can be a success provided that Ministers—as the Bill progresses through this place—give a constructive response to the real concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides.
§ Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)
After listening to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and the intervention from my hon. Friend the Minister, I feel like telling the hon. Member for Truro to put a sock in it, as, frankly, he does not know what he is talking about.
I wish to talk about inland waterways. I am the chairman of the all-party group on inland waterways, and I am president and vice-president of a number of waterway organisations. There is widespread concern about the Bill on the subject of navigation. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the word "navigation" in his opening speech. That shows that there is at least some recognition of the subject, and that is important.
The feeling in the boating and inland waterways industry—including those who use and hire boats and the chandleries—is that, because the National Rivers Authority is being abolished, the concentration on navigation will diminish. There is great anxiety about that. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside has issued a paper whose purpose is to review navigation functions. It is an interesting document, which the all-party group is studying, and it gives options about what should be done about navigation.
One of the difficulties for inland waterways is that, after years of being in the doldrums, the industry is now going forward. There has been an enormous expansion in the use of the waterways. British Waterways now has 2,000 miles of navigable water, and a large amount of water is available through the Thames and other waterways. All concerned with waterways want some navigation co-ordination.
Those involved in waterways all over the country have asked for greater recognition to be given to navigation in clause 6, because nowhere in the Bill does the word "navigation" appear. Now that the Secretary of State has mentioned it, however, perhaps it will appear later in the Bill. I hope that members of the Standing Committee will discuss that subject. It was debated in the other place at some length, where it was said that the subject should be included in the Bill. I wish to press the point that those who use inland waterways want recognition of the subject of navigation in the Bill.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but the jury must be out as to whether its epitaph will be "Better late than never" or "Too little, too late". In his opening speech, the Secretary of State said that he had been a late convert to the idea of a protection agency. It is sad that the Government did not listen to the Environment Select Committee in 1986 when it recommended the setting up of one agency. When the Government reorganised the National Rivers Authority in 1989, they insisted on not carrying out the recommendations of the Select Committee, in spite of the fact that the Opposition had, pressed them to set up a single agency.
Having said that, I welcome the fact that the Government presented the Bill originally in consultation form, which allowed the Select Committee to have a series of hearings on the Bill. I also welcome the fact that the Government made concessions in the other place. The 69 Government listened, and I hope that they will go on listening. I also hope that, by the time we come back for Third Reading, the Bill will be further improved.
I will particularly press the Government on clause 7 and the question of the extension of the conservation duty of the National Rivers Authority. I received a letter from English Nature—I am sure many other hon. Members received such a letter—which set out the way in which 17 areas of water have benefited from that power. The areas include Bassenthwaite in Cumbria, Malham Tarn, the Wye river, Slapton Ley and the Mere in Cheshire. The letter went on to list a further 50 sites where English Nature believes that a failure to extend the duty of further conservation may hinder and damage conservation. I see no reason why the Government cannot concede the point and put back into clause 7 the duty of further conservation.
The Government were challenged in the other place to provide examples of where they believed there could be a conflict if those words were included. As I understand it, the Government have not been able to come up with any examples, so I hope that they can make that concession in clause 7.
It is important that the Government include in the Bill environmental quality standards, particularly for air. I welcome the proposals on hedgerows, although I believe that the Government are taking very wide powers in statutory instruments. I particularly press the Government to consider the problem that is being created with set-aside land. Clearly, if a farmer sets aside land, he has no reason to maintain the hedgerows between the fields, or the walls for that matter. I hope that the Minister can give us assurances that he will carefully consider introducing some mechanism that will encourage the farmer to continue maintaining the hedgerows and walls between set-aside land.
The hedgerow is important for conservation so long as it is a well-maintained hedge. It ceases to be of much conservation value if the hedge grows out and becomes a clump of trees along the edge of a field. There is a problem here. I hope that, in Committee, we shall be able to pursue with the Government how to prevent stock hedgerows being removed and ensure that they are maintained and laid back every 10 or 15 years, so that they continue to be not only stock-proof boundaries but good habitats for wildlife in general.
I press the Government to consider how they can introduce protection for walls. It worries me that on many occasions I see farmers allow someone to come along with a bulldozer, scoop up a wall and stick it in the back of a lorry. Sooner or later, it ends up being sold off in a garden centre at an exorbitant price as a rock garden wall. That is a deplorable practice. We ought to find some ways in the legislation to stop that happening.
I give a general welcome to the proposals in the Bill on the national parks, but I wish to place a question mark on the proposals that they should take over responsibility for footpaths. The boundaries of the national parks were drawn up carefully to exclude an awful lot of towns and their immediate environment. In Glossop, Buxton and one or two other areas, the footpaths leading out of town suddenly cross a national park boundary. It is important that there should be proper agency arrangements between local authorities, so that we do not have anomalies around some of the towns.
70 Although some national parks have a dynamic record, others do not. I should be worried if we handed over footpath powers to them and found that one or two of the newly constituted national parks did not pursue footpaths with vigour. The Countryside Commission has proposed that, by the year 2000, all footpaths should be free from obstructions and signposted where they leave the highway. I wonder whether the Government could insert a clause in the Bill saying that footpath powers will be transferred to the national park provided the national park gets on with the job. They could say that if, by the year 2000, the national park has not carried out its footpaths function with vigour, those powers will revert to the councils.
I accept the argument that national park boards ought to include elected representatives, but it is important that most of the Secretary of State's appointments should be consumers, so to speak, from outside the area. There has been a tendency recently to appoint people to national park boards from within the board area. That seems to be a disadvantage. They are not elected, but their neighbours tend to think that they should represent their views. I stress that people who come from within the board area should, wherever possible, be elected but that the Secretary of State should balance that by appointing people who represent the national interest of people in the country at large who come in to use the park.
The Environment Select Committee will publish a report tomorrow on air pollution and volatile organic compounds. I obviously cannot anticipate what will be in the report. The Secretary of State said at the beginning of his speech that he would consider the whole question of air pollution. I hope that that undertaking will be fulfilled as we go through the Committee proceedings, and that we can build some air quality standards into the legislation.
Increasingly, people in Britain think environmentally. The trouble is that they do not act environmentally. It is still important that we turn the rhetoric into practical proposals. I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, we can ensure that it is a practical contribution to fulfilling that vague commitment to sustainable development.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
I should start by declaring my interests. I am a parliamentary adviser to the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors. I am also on the board of two companies that run recycling operations and a member of the National Farmers Union and of Lloyd's. Those organisations may well want to raise points with my hon. Friend the Minister, and I shall not make any detailed comments during the next 10 minutes or so on their behalf.
I welcome the Bill. I particularly welcome the decision to set up an environment protection agency. I was a member of the Environment Select Committee that produced the report under Sir Hugh Rossi in 1989, which recommended that the best way to pursue integrated pollution control was to create a one-stop shop based on an environment protection agency. It is not necessarily a matter of regret that the Government have taken so long to introduce the Bill. They have listened, consulted and taken their time and, as a result, we have an excellent Bill. I only wish that the Government had adopted the same approach when setting up other agencies. They have taken a great deal of time. I believe that they have got it right 71 on this occasion. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister on the effort that they have put into the Bill.
Concern has been expressed—I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has voiced it himself—that, when a new agency based on a number of existing organisations is set up, there can be a tendency to empire-build, set up new bureaucracies and to build something that is greater than the sum of the different elements. That is one reason why it is welcome that the Government have taken their time. The formula which they have introduced as a result of a great deal of consultation will obviate the need to build something bigger.
I welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to create a streamlined organisation which will lead to a considerable element of saving when taken together with the different organisations. He must be held to his word. The danger is that, if we do not follow the agency closely, we shall have a body that wants to expand rather than become a thoroughly streamlined set-up that is readily identifiable to industry, business and the public as a whole.
I want to say a quick word about the existing organisations. Not enough tribute has been paid today to the National Rivers Authority for the excellent work that it has done or to Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the various local authorities involved in the waste regulation function.
The NRA has a first-class reputation in East Anglia, especially for the control of watercourses. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister in the other place said in Committee that he wouldconsider, during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, whether it should be amended to introduce now a duty on water undertakers to promote water conservation."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 January 1995; Vol. 560, c. 823.]In Norfolk, we have had a great deal of rain recently, but during the great drought that lasted until about nine months ago, some rivers in my constituency either were reduced to a pathetic trickle or ran dry. At the time, I welcomed the NRA's work and research and its proactive stance. I hope that, under clause 6, the new environment protection agency will have similar powers and influence and a proactive approach and I hope that the Minister will comment briefly on that when he replies.
I also hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on the NRA's recent work on integrated catchment management. I am sure that he read Lady David's speech in another place on Second Reading, when she mentioned the work that has been done in East Anglia on river catchment areas such as those of the Black Bourn, the Thet and the Little Ouse. Much research and a great deal of time has been put into setting up an integrated catchment management policy for that part of Norfolk and Suffolk, and I hope that that excellent work will continue apace.
On contaminated land, one aspect causes me a degree of concern. As I understand it, we are creating a new liability for some landowners, which is a departure from existing liability in common law because, if the person who has caused the problems, the pollution or the contamination cannot be found, the liability will be placed on the landowner, who might not be a farmer or someone who owns an estate but could be a small smallholder, a 72 householder, or a person who owns a bit of rough ground outside a village. It is probably a mistake for the press to portray the measure as affecting only the large landowners.
My hon. Friend the Minister and I have corresponded on the matter, and he made it clear that he did not feel that the Government were creating any new liability or laying down a tighter law. I am concerned that some categories of landowner could be faced with an immense liability and with on-going costs. I must declare an interest as a member of Lloyd's the insurers, although I am not affected by any measures in the Bill. Lloyd's has expressed grave concern that the insurance market could well be faced with considerable claims. It has flagged up what has happened in America, where civil fund legislation has led to expensive cases going backwards and forwards across the Atlantic, leading to nothing more than a good day out for the lawyers. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider that matter carefully?
In the few remaining minutes, I must say something about hedgerows. My neighbour the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Sir R. Howell) and I have had a lot of correspondence with farmers in our constituencies who were obviously concerned that, as the Bill was originally drafted, an unfair onus would be placed on them and too much power would be given to local authorities. They are also concerned that it would provide an opportunity for much meddling and scope for some organisations that might not have the best motives to take an intrusive look at everything going on on people's farms. We must bear in mind the fact that the vast majority of farmers are completely responsible. In Norfolk, more hedgerows have been planted in the past few years than destroyed.
I agree with the hon. Member for Denton and Redditch (Mr. Bennett), that more effort and time need to be put into encouraging farmers to manage hedgerows. He rightly pointed out that as many hedgerows have been lost by lack of management as by removal by a bulldozer. I want the scheme to help farmers to improve hedgerows to be beefed up and made much more effective.
The Bill underpins and underlines the Government's commitment to the environment. It is the fifth in a succession of Bills. The previous four have been enacted since I have been in Parliament, but this is the biggest so far. It is extremely ambitious and is really five Bills rolled into one. It shows the Government's total commitment to improving the environment into the next century. Above all else, it proves that the Government represent the party that believes in the environment. The 1992 election was not about the environment and green issues, because the economy was in recession, but the 1987 election was and the next election will focus on such issues. The Bill will put the Government and the party in a very strong position, which is why I welcome it.
§ Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham). The last time we met was during a debate in the Standing Committee on the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill, when his main contribution was a suggestion that we reintroduce wild boar and wolves into Scotland. He was not taken too seriously, but it is an idea whose time might come, as it is gaining more popularity as time goes by.
73 I shall deal with the Bill only as it affects Scotland, but I do not want people to think that I am dealing with it parochially. I am doing so because of the time limit. I realise that the principles behind these environmental issues do not stop at national borders. The practicalities might alter in different countries, but the principles are inherently the same, so please will hon. Members forgive me for limiting myself to the effects on Scotland?
One of the Bill's functions is to set up the Scottish environment protection agency, which will take over the functions of the river purification boards, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, the hazardous waste inspectorate and the air pollution and waste management functions of local authorities. I welcome the introduction of that agency. The principle is correct, and it is important to have an over-arching body for areas of the environment and pollution that do not respect any boundary based on catchment areas. Pollution from the River Ayr may arise in one local authority, but it spreads to others, so the principle is correct.
There are some general problems, which have been mentioned, such as the cost duty benefit analysis and the fact that the Bill creates a permissive power to take the environment into account, rather than a statutory duty.
I shall deal with the problems for Scotland, because there are some differences there. First, the Scottish environment protection agency will have no control over extraction from rivers. We do not suffer the problem of rivers drying up, which affects hon. Members down here in England. I have never seen any Scottish river even come close to drying up, so we obviously do not have a similar problem, but there are principles involved—for example, pollution and the flow rates in rivers—that we may want to consider in Committee to decide whether the Bill should be extended to cover those areas.
The Scottish environment protection agency will not have any control over river catchment areas, which is another deficiency that we might want to consider in Committee, especially as it relates to nutrition enhancement, acidification and so forth.
Flood control has become important in Scotland recently. It may come as a surprise to hon. Members who represent English constituencies that the SEPA will not have any control over flood control, as it will rest with the local authorities. In Scotland, flooding is not the problem that it is in England. Recently, however, the River Kelvin and various tributaries around the Glasgow area flooded and severely affected my constituency and Kirkintilloch.
We have had previous flooding around the Inverness area, down through the Beauly firth. We have also had trouble in Tayside. We are told that such floods happen once in a hundred years, although historical records show that, in my area, they happen every 25 years. Every year without fail, the flooding of the Kelvin spreads into the gardens of a number of my constituents.
In recognition of that, the Minister introduced into the Bill some late measures giving the SEPA a statutory planning consultation role. That is important, and I welcome it. For the first time, the SEPA will have control over flood warning systems, but the problem of flood prevention is difficult, and I hope that we shall consider it in Committee.
Local authorities currently have only a permissive power; they have no statutory powers to introduce flood prevention measures. The problem with leaving flood 74 prevention to local authorities is that even the River Kelvin, for example, which is just a tributary of the Clyde, runs through three local authorities. We may therefore wish to consider the matter in Committee.
Although I welcome the SEPA, I object to the fact that it is a quango. More than half the Scottish Office budget is disbursed by quangos, and that will happen yet again under the SEPA. I hope that the Minister will consider how we might change the fact that all its members will be appointed, and recognise the need for links with local authorities. Although I do not oppose quangos in principle, there are far too many, and their functions would be greatly enhanced if some of their nominated members came from local authorities by statutory right. In that way, the two areas could work in co-operation rather than in conflict, as has happened in the past.
All hon. Members will have noticed that the Bill does not mention national parks in Scotland. The reason is clear: there are no national parks in Scotland, for good historical reasons. When national parks were set up in England, there was great pressure from the conurbations, with people spreading out into areas of scenic beauty, but that was never a problem in Scotland, where scenic areas were vast and often distant from conurbations.
That has now changed, and areas such as Loch Lomond are bursting at the seams, the environment is being eroded and distant wildernesses like the Cairngorms are undergoing great changes. When I was but a lad, one could climb the north face of Ben Nevis on a summer's day and meet nobody else. Now, in a white-out blizzard and avalanche conditions, one can be run over by other people coming down the hill at a great rate, which shows the significant changes that have occurred.
There has been great pressure to have national parks in Scotland. The Countryside Commission brought forward proposals for the Cairngorms, Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis, Glencoe and Wester Ross. It eliminated Knoydart, on the basis that nobody knows where it is. In keeping with that principle, I shall not say where it is, so that no one goes there. In response to that growing pressure, the Government set up their own committees. The problem is that it is a voluntary scheme, and there is a joint committee for the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond.
The importance of the Bill is that it sets a necessary and important template for Scotland, which we can use and judge when establishing our own legislation, as I am sure my party will enable us to do once we are in government, to set up national parks. I shall watch it with great interest as it develops. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), was wrongly accused of not being interested in conservation. He has a long record of interest in conservation measures in Scotland and the UK, but he was wrong to condemn the English national parks for not having worked or solved all the problems.
I hope that legislation on hedgerows will apply also to Scotland and that, when we introduce an amendment to preserve dry stone walls, they will be called "dykes", as they are in Scotland, so that there can be no confusion. Dry stone dykes are important, as they last a long time and provide necessary protection for sheep, particularly during the lambing season, which has just started.
I welcome the Bill and the principles behind it. There are problems in it for Scotland; some are general to the UK, and others are specific to Scotland. I hope that we can deal with them in Committee.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
Like the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), I welcome the Bill. I was encouraged by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who referred several times to the Bill's holistic approach, which I particularly applaud.
Pollution knows no departmental boundaries or national frontiers. I ask the Government to go further in their holistic approach and encourage greater co-operation between Departments. The Bill raises that matter several times, particularly with regard to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Air pollution, for instance, is an environmental issue that also involves the Department of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry with responsibility for energy, and the Department of Health; and air pollution from cars involves the Department for Education, because of children being driven to school. I recognise the interdepartmental co-operation that exists, but I trust that the approach in the Bill will be taken further, with interdepartmental discussion and joint action.
I am sure that all hon. Members will recall that my maiden speech was on recycling, although I recognise no hon. Member who was there when I made it. I was pleased, therefore, to see that the Bill contains provisions for a national waste strategy.
Producer responsibility is the route to follow, and that can be done without too much disagreement and with a great deal of common sense, and will benefit us all. The saving in landfill is of great benefit and, besides less energy usage, a national waste strategy will- mean less litter and a reduction in the profligate use of our natural resources and in pollution.
I welcomed the landfill tax introduced in the last Budget as an example of interdepartmental co-operation and an holistic approach. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned VAT on fuel, and a carrot-and-stick approach to energy is essential. Paying more for fuel is a stick, while greater encouragement to save fuel, including such schemes as the home energy efficiency scheme funded by the Government, can be a carrot. Through such schemes, we can encourage a change in attitude.
A change in attitude is also required on air pollution from motor vehicles. Almost all of us use cars. I received a letter today from a Leicestershire cycling group concerned at the police's attitude to a sponsored cycle ride that the group wished to do on lanes around my constituency. The letter from the police suggested that the group cancel the ride because it might interfere with car drivers.
Such attitudes need to be changed. If no hon. Member ever used a car when he could walk, cycle or take public transport, that would be a change in attitude. Few of us, I fear, take that attitude—I am guilty along with everybody else. One of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench recently commented that he would not dream of taking public transport with his red boxes. We are in a position of being able to lead by both example and legislation—by carrot and by stick.
Air pollution from motor vehicles could be curbed by further progress on vehicle emission tests. Westminster city council held an exhibition today in the Jubilee Room about its desire to introduce kerbside emission tests. The Government may also examine that matter in the Bill.
76 My right hon. Friend discussed energy—nuclear, wind and coal. The environment agency may be able to influence the use of alternative sources of energy, in which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) and I share an interest. Combined heat and power currently finds little encouragement from the non-fossil fuel obligation. Moreover, the Energy Saving Trust is not receiving the support it should. We need an holistic approach, so that the left hand and right hand of Government work together.
In common with other hon. Members, I welcome the fact that the provisions of the Bill will help to protect hedgerows. I am also pleased that the importance of close co-operation between the environment agency and the Ministry of Agriculture is recognised in the Bill. The agency should also concentrate some of its work on the common agricultural policy, because it is still encouraging intensive agriculture, which is the greatest threat to our hedges and landscape. Many farmers may disagree about that, but, once again, the carrot and the stick is the best approach.
Conservation grants should be paid towards better hedgerow management, hedgerow conservation and hedge laying, and further legislation should be introduced to protect hedges. To combat the effects of some aspects of the CAP, economic conditions should be created that do not encourage hedge destruction. I believe that the CAP is unreformable, but at least the environment agency may influence the development of the countryside and of agriculture. The Bill will go some way towards that goal.
I hope that the Government's examination of rural policy and the future of the countryside will be tied in closely to the work of the new environment protection agency. Undoubtedly, the NRA will already have made representations about rural policy, so the new agency must work hand in hand with such proposals and not in opposition to them when deciding any future rural policy.
I should like to highlight the importance of wildlife conservation, which is referred to specifically in clauses 6 and 7, as well as elsewhere in the Bill. Although the agency will be responsible for the flora and fauna of the aquatic environment and wildlife habitat, it should be possible for it to adopt an holistic approach.
It could consider conducting a research project on the feasibility of eradicating mink, because no one else seems to be responsible for controlling that pest. I recently introduced a Bill to that effect. I have since been told that, in my constituency, which is intensively farmed, one farmer has caught 36 mink in 20 months in one small stream. In the past year, 17 mink have also been caught near the village where I live in a stream over which everyone in the House could jump with ease.
We must further investigate fixed penalties for fishing offences. The organised poaching of salmon and trout is big business, and it may also pose a threat to life and limb, especially for water bailiffs. Such poaching is treated too laxly by some courts. I hope that the introduction of fixed penalties will not reduce such organised major criminal activity to the same status as a parking fine.
I share the concern of some of my constituents at the Government's intention to revoke some mineral extraction permissions. I applaud their decision to consider some provisions that may have been made before the last world war, and I accept that many are wholly inappropriate.
77 As a principle, however, the Government should not consider taking assets without some reasonable compensation. If companies or individuals have bought land with mineral extraction permission and invested money in development, research and inquiry, the Government and the House should be wary of taking away such an asset without considering how those individuals and companies should be compensated.
I commend the trends in the Government's environmental policy of recent years—evident from, for example, policy planning guidance note 13 from the Department of the Environment; the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; the creation of the NFFO; the establishment of the NRA; and the Government's encouragement of cycling. I applaud those steps in the right direction, but we need to go further.
The Bill represents another welcome step. I accept that it could be improved still further, and I hope that it will be in Committee, but it is designed to protect our environment through sustainable development, and to preserve our countryside for the future. I commend the Bill.
§ 7.3 pm
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
This is an important Bill. It disturbs me more than a little to see that neither the Secretary of State for Wales nor either of his Ministers has graced the Chamber during the debate on this fundamental measure, not least because it will have a huge impact on the Welsh environment. I hope that a precedent has not been set when a Bill of such importance does not merit the attention of Ministers of the Welsh Office.
I shall confine my comments to four topics into which the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, of which I am the Chairman, has conducted inquiries—coastal protection, contaminated land, waste disposal and abandoned minewater discharges.
As for the duties and powers that we will invest in the new environment agency for coastal protection, we must concede background information of the past few weeks, which has revealed further supporting evidence of global warming, with a consequent rise in sea levels. To provide the new agency with the flexibility to plan for and cope with that change, I hope that the coastal zone for planning will be extended to 12 miles, as recommended by the Select Committee on the Environment.
The creation of the new agency offers the opportunity to effect that measure, which would enable integrated planning, involving the conflicting interests of land use, flood defences, coastal erosion, fisheries, conservation, aggregate dredging and discharges from ships at sea, which grossly pollute our beaches.
I should like the new agency to have the power to negotiate agreements with local planning authorities for coastal exclusion zones, where no development should take place because of the risk of flooding. Anyone who saw the flooding of Towyn in north Wales will appreciate the need to strengthen existing practices governing coastal development.
I also hope that the agency will be given powers to determine applications for aggregate dredging licences. It seems absolutely ridiculous that the NRA or the new agency could be busy liaising with local authorities to construct flood defences or coastal protection schemes while at the same time Crown Estates can issue licences to dredge sand and gravel, which could cause coastal erosion 78 affecting long stretches of coastline and strip beaches of sand. Now is the time to invest powers in an effective agency to deal with those long-standing problems with which, for too long, no one has come to grips.
Thanks to our industrial heritage, contaminated land has long been recognised as problematic in Wales. I hope that certain problems with the relevant proposals in the Bill can be addressed. For instance, Swansea city council has practically cleared land in the Swansea valley that was originally designated as the most contaminated in Britain. As a result, that local authority has acquired considerable expertise. When the new agency takes over responsibility for defining remediation standards for every site, that expertise will be lost to local authorities, but the authorities will be responsible for supervising the site and the works.
The effect of remediation notices served on landowners is not clear. I know that the Association of British Insurers is concerned at the implications of claiming on insurance policies the cost of carrying out remediation works. I am not clear how a potential threat or significant harm will be defined by the agency.
If the threat is large and imminent, there is no problem with the serving of a statutory notice, but what happens about long-standing contamination? At what point does it become a potential threat, posing significant harm and to what? Will it pose a threat to plants, fish, birds or people? It seems that the Bill creates new liabilities. Statutory nuisance is, by definition, confined to effects on human beings, but, under the Bill, that nuisance will apply in respect to harm to any living organism and interference with ecological systems.
The Bill also introduces another new liability, because it expands the present statutory nuisance provisions to contamination that has not migrated off site. That means that first party liability is created. At present, statutory nuisance liability for first party damage is wholly confined to health issues and is exceptionally rare.
I am uncertain what will happen when a large development scheme contains a pocket of contaminated land. It appears to me that, if a remediation notice is served on one owner, there might be a real hindrance to developing the site, especially if a landowner is a man of straw.
I hope that some of those matters will be clarified in Committee. I certainly hope that the new agency will be required to liaise closely with other interested parties, to ensure the most effective remediation on a site specific basis, taking into account the nature of the site and the relevant contaminants.
It is vital that the Government reconsider the rationale in clause 54 for singling out some types of closed landfill sites, when they duplicate provisions requiring long-term care of landfills already enacted in the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
On waste management, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee recommended that the functions of the regulation of sites and the disposal of waste should be operated separately. It is widely believed by professions such as the Institute of Waste Management that that has resulted in raising standards in the industry.
The development of a national waste plan, to be incorporated into clause 61, is long overdue and is to be welcomed. However, I would say two things.
79 First, I share the anxiety of the Institute of Waste Management and the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors that the advisory committees to the agency have no access to a member with direct expertise in waste management. Indeed, I feel that it has been arrogant of the Government not to include NAWDC on the teams established by the Department of the Environment to help plan the basis for the agency. That field is highly technical, and it is vital that the Secretary of State appoints an experienced professional from the industry to the advisory committees and to the board.
Secondly, a strategic framework for waste management will only be as solid, as effective and as well considered as local waste management plans will allow it to be. Waste management and disposal can have a profound effect on local communities. There is a distinct need, therefore, for local consultation and for the inclusion of local knowledge and experience in waste management plans. I hope that the final version of the Bill will contain a mechanism for ensuring that the regional advisory committees are responsive to local opinions.
On discharges from abandoned mine workings, I have no hesitation in saying that, if various guarantees or commitments made in the other place will be honoured in the near future, the Government have the opportunity to amend the Bill to ensure that, between now and the end of the century, the coal advisory body will be able to take over responsibility and do far more than is being done at present.
If the Government are honest about it, what is happening is that many hundreds of miles of streams contaminated by pollution from abandoned coal mine workings from the past are not being dealt with. In Wales, an experiment is under way regarding reed bed technology on the Pelena and Neath rivers. If the Government are honest, it is only at the very early stages of experimentation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) put his finger on it. The true nature of what is happening is that, because of coal privatisation, the Government did not want to put the onus on British Coal before privatisation to ensure that the policy was in place and the clean-up was occurring on a massive scale.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make those few arguments, and I hope very much that the Bill will be amended in Committee and take on board some—
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)
This welcome Bill has received a great deal of attention outside the House. To judge from my mailbag, those who by and large represent industry feel that certain provisions are too tough whereas, predictably, those who represent environmental concerns tend to feel that the Bill is too weak in certain parts. That suggests that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has a well-earned reputation for being adroit, has got matters just about right.
It is not surprising that the Bill has excited a great deal of interest outside the House, from the Confederation of British Industry to Lloyd's, the Royal Society for the 80 Protection of Birds, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and so on. Many of their arguments will be carefully considered in Committee.
I say that that is not surprising because protection of the environment is the preserve of no special interest group; it affects us all. It affects the quality of the physical world around us, which can have an enormous effect on us as individuals, as well as on the cultural and spiritual well-being of the nation. It affects land and water, on which we all depend for sustenance, the air that we breathe and the integrity of the earth's atmosphere, on which all forms of life ultimately depend. It also involves something that should touch us deeply, and that raises most debate on environmental protection, way beyond party politics. That is the mighty responsibility that we carry in our generation for the world we shall pass on to our children and to future generations.
Not even the most hardened of agnostics in matters such as global warming can fail to recognise that, although the aspiration to pass on to the future a healthy and beautiful world has been with mankind since time immemorial, in our age the stakes are higher, the pressures greater, the degradation more widespread and profound and the time perhaps shorter than in any previous generation. Because of that, although usually I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for deregulation, I believe that the Government have not only a right but a duty to regulate to protect the environment. That is becoming accepted throughout the developed world. Put bluntly, there is no point in having a thriving, deregulated wealth-creating economy if the price is to make the world in which we live at best squalid, at worst unendurable.
We must recognise, however, that every regulation has a cost. The measures required to enhance and preserve the quality of our environment do not come cheap, and it is not the Government who pay, as some people would like to think. Parliament makes the law and sets down the regulations in the interests of the citizen, but it is the citizen who ultimately will be asked to pay. That is obviously the case at the moment with the enormous clean-up in the water industry that is going on. The CBI estimates that about 2.5 per cent. of gross domestic product is being spent on environmental protection.
In order to make that investment—it is an investment that will grow, not least as a result of the Bill, in future years—industry must remain competitive and profitable. It will not do so if it is confronted with unreasonable, excessive demands, the costs of which are subsequently forced on to consumers. I am sure that hon. Members would agree this evening that the last thing that we want to do when trying to make progress in environmental protection is to sew the seeds of consumer resistance. That is why, although it has provoked controversy in some circles and has received some opposition today, clause 37, which requires the new agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before exercising their powers in any individual circumstances, is so important.
It would be unrealistic and irresponsible for the legislation to take account only of the environmental aspects of a specific case without considering the cost of putting matters right. The two are indissolubly joined. After all, no one in his right mind would seriously suggest that the Bill should take account only of the costs and disregard the environmental benefits of a specific measure. However, it will be important for my hon. Friend the Minister to assure the House that clause 37 as 81 drafted will not, as has been suggested by some people, permit a substantial loophole in the legislation and lead to a long series of judicial reviews.
There is much to welcome in the bringing of the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and waste regulators together into a single organisation. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) said about that. That should in itself make for a simpler, less cumbersome, less bureaucratic regime. I particularly welcome the fact that the agencies' principal aim will be to contribute towards attaining the objective of sustainable development.
As a former member of the Select Committee on the Environment, I welcome clause 77, which enables the making of regulations imposing producer responsibility obligations for the promotion of the re-use, recycling and recovery of waste materials on those who, for whatever reason, are not registered under an industry scheme. That is a useful step forward. It is right to pay tribute to the producer responsibility group for the voluntary work that it has carried out towards that important target.
The Government have shown a willingness for action on two matters that are not present in the Bill. I look forward to seeing what is recommended to enact the proposals contained in the policy document "Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge", which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned earlier. As concern about children with asthma is rising, surely the time has come for a new national air quality standard, for stronger powers in that sphere to be given to local authorities and, in particular, for the air quality implications of road transport to be effectively tackled.
In another place, the Government expressed their willingness to review and update the law applying to old minerals development permissions. I part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) over that subject, as I know from a case that is causing concern in Nutfield marsh in my constituency that old permissions can lie dormant for many years, only to emerge unaltered into an environment that has fundamentally changed and moved on. The law could usefully be changed so that, when such revenant consents awake, they can be properly assessed in the light of contemporary circumstances.
Clause 80 deals with hedgerows. My private Member's Bill to safeguard important hedgerows failed for lack of parliamentary time—to use the official euphemism—nearly two years ago. I said then that I still looked forward to a time when effective laws to protect our most important hedgerows would be forthcoming. Clause 80 brings that time nearer. Since the second world war, we have lost nearly half the hedgerows in our countryside. That has happened mainly through neglect, but a large number of them have been deliberately destroyed. That represents an appalling diminution in our landscape heritage and wildlife habitats. The knock-on effect in terms of biodiversity will be felt for many years.
Latest statistics are more encouraging, but, as has already been said, new hedgerow plantings do not provide the quality and biodiversity of ancient hedgerows. There is a clear case for regulation to protect our most important hedgerows—and only the most important. I speak of those which form ancient parish boundaries, those which form 82 a vital part of a local landscape, those which are rich in wildlife and those which date back to medieval or even Roman times.
I know that my right hon. Friend will consult widely on the details of the scheme, which will need to have a light touch on the farming industry, yet be effective in preserving what is best in our national heritage. Here, as elsewhere in the Bill, there is a need for a proper balance of interests to be maintained. Regulation simply will not work if it is felt to be clumsy, burdensome and unnecessarily costly. It is therefore right that proper account be taken of the short-term costs implied by the measures in the Bill. It is important that the interests of environmental protection and sustainable development are promoted and secured. If they are not, in the long term, the cost to all of us may be immeasurable.
The Bill proves once again that the Government are at the forefront of international thinking on environmental protection. I applaud the Bill, which deserves the widespread support that it has received today.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)
I, too, wish to comment on the absence of the Secretary of State for Wales and his Under-Secretaries, but, when we look at the Bill, we see that that is hardly any wonder. Clause 53 relates to interpretation, and the only Ministers mentioned are the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for the Environment or the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Bill does not appear to be particularly relevant to Wales, certainly not to the Welsh Office.
In an earlier intervention, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), said that the Scottish environment protection agency had been established because that was what the people of Scotland wanted. Other than perhaps a few Conservative Members, that is certainly what the people of Wales want. All Opposition parties and environmental organisations support the idea of a separate Welsh environment protection agency. It is supported by the Assembly of Welsh Counties as well as by the Association of Welsh District Councils.
Wales may be a small country, but it has three national parks and 42 per cent. of its long coastline has been designated as heritage coast. There is the problem of clashes between areas of outstanding natural beauty and areas of high industrialisation and high industrial dereliction. Large parts of Wales are now decimated by opencast mining. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) said, there is a problem because of the large number of abandoned mines.
In Wales, responsibility for health, education and transport—excluding railways—lies with the Welsh Office. Responsibility for local government is vested in the Welsh Office. Industrial development and inward investment is, through the Welsh Development Agency, the direct responsibility of the Welsh Office. But environmental protection and pollution control are the responsibility of an England-Wales quango that will be remote from the people of Wales and will be perceived as yet another quango controlled from England. The advisory bodies, which are presumably meant to have some sort of accountability, do not have to meet more than once a year.
83 People in Wales will not have the faith in such an environment protection agency that they should have. That is particularly true of local authorities, which are having their responsibility for waste management and atmospheric pollution taken from them and given to a quango, an agency, that they will undoubtedly say cannot perform as well in terms of small, regular day-to-day problems encountered by every local authority.
Earlier today, I had discussions with representatives from the Association of Welsh District Councils. One of its officers said that, over Easter, members of his staff had been called out because people were complaining about a factory that was emitting black smoke. Can we expect a centralised agency to have the personnel available to deal with such problems on the ground on a day-to-day basis? I have great reservations.
While I want the overall policy and strategy on waste management and atmospheric pollution to be developed by the environment protection agency, I have grave doubts as to whether the quality of service currently provided by local government can be delivered by it. If we accept that we need to take an integrated, holistic approach—there seems to be support for that across the Chamber—and that in Wales the Welsh Office virtually does that, as it covers all aspects except for defence and Treasury functions, why cannot that integrated approach involve the agency? There is an overwhelming case for that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned the problem of designated boundaries between regions and, hopefully, a separate Welsh environment protection agency. Should boundaries be the local authority political boundaries or river catchment area boundaries, which is the strategy followed by the National Rivers Authority? No major problem exists here. The NRA undoubtedly sets itself up on a catchment basis, but let us not forget that, in Europe, countries have joint catchments covering the Rhine, the Meuse and the Maas. If they can come to reasonable agreements, I do not understand how it is beyond the wit of British people to establish a political boundary and joint working arrangements between bordering regions. It is not a particular problem.
It would be wholly unacceptable if large parts of Wales were to be administered on a regional basis from elsewhere. The Severn and the Dee catchments cover a large part of Wales. It would be unacceptable to many people if pollution control and the functions of the NRA were administered from Chester—although I doubt that they would be administered from there—Liverpool or Manchester for north Wales, and Birmingham for east Wales. Those are significant parts of Wales. From a practical point of view, no problem exists in establishing political boundaries that would take account of particular concerns and the need for accountability in Wales.
Virtually all the Pembrokeshire Coast national park is in my constituency. My colleague, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), represents the smaller bit of that national park. I know that he and many other people in Pembrokeshire are concerned about representation. I have had a number of letters, as, I am sure, have many other hon. Members who represent constituencies containing national parks, from community and town councils that fear the problem of not having 84 direct access to the national park board, particularly in relation to planning. One of the things that I shall be looking for in Committee is somehow to involve community and town councils. I see that the Secretary of State is nodding. I hope that we shall be able to come to an agreement on that.
Some of us enjoy the national parks but do not happen to live in them. Unfortunately, some national park committees have a reputation among local people, which I do not believe is richly deserved, for acting in a remote and high-handed way in relation to planning, and for not taking account of the real needs of people in their parks.
It is essential that environmental quality objectives are highlighted and improved in the Bill, and that the phrase "to further conservation" is put into the Bill. The NRA has achieved some excellent work in my constituency, particularly around Solva, where a flood control system was introduced to develop ponds, lagoons, bird hides and otter holts, which have radically improved the habitat. As that phrase appears to be missing from the Bill, my concern is that the environment agency will not be in a position to undertake the excellent work that the NRA has done in the past.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I begin by doing two things. First, I declare my interest in the environment as a farmer and, secondly, I apologise for my absence during the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and of the Opposition spokesman. I am afraid that I made arrangements many weeks ago, not knowing that this business was happening today. I apologise for my late arrival.
Like others who have spoken, I welcome the Bill very much. It continues the creditable saga of measures that the Government have taken in the past 16 years to look after the environment. Reference has been made to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If modesty may get the better of me—or rather, not get the better of me—perhaps I may be allowed to refer to my introduction, when Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of environmentally sensitive areas, and to my decision to bring, for the first time, farm chemicals under statutory control.
My principal concern in this evening's debate involves those clauses that deal with the national parks. You will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, last year, we had before us a Bill that has come to be known as the Norrie Bill. Many of us were utterly opposed to the fact that the Bill, which dealt with the reorganisation of national parks, could have got on the statute book without a single word being said in the House. That would have been intolerable. Now, we have similar clauses in the Bill and we are able properly to debate the matter. That must be the right way of doing it.
As I have parts of two national parks in my constituency, I am especially concerned about national parks. I have the Lake District national park, which is already an independent authority of the sort that the Bill will set up for all other national parks. Over the years, that national park has done a reasonably good job. It has also done rather stupid things that I have made it my business to tell it about, but I shall not go into that now.
85 I also have in my constituency part of the Dales national park, which for a long time was highly disliked by my constituents, who had to put up with it and who lived in its area. It had appallingly bad public relations and, occasionally, it was guilty of extremely arrogant manners. The Dales has got infinitely better. I receive far fewer complaints than I used to. Its public relations are much improved, and I commend it for that.
The Bill proposes a new structure of national parks. Three issues will need to be discussed and examined as the Bill goes through its stages. First, it is necessary for senior officials in the new national park authorities, which will succeed county council committees, to be competent enough to take on the extra responsibilities that will inevitably arise from the independence that the Bill will give them.
It will not be satisfactory for those authorities to have a sort of Buggins' turn arrangement, whereby individuals who perhaps did their job perfectly competently when serving on a county council committee find themselves totally out of their depth in running an independent authority. Therefore, it is crucial that, before the Bill gets on the statute book, we ensure that we have fully competent officials running the new authorities.
The second issue that I hope will be considered is the need for the Government to reconsider the prospect of securing a separate standard spending assessment for county councils that have national parks within their boundaries. At the moment, the arrangements work in a way that is extremely unfairly to county councils—I think of Cumbria—in bundling in national parks with councils' SSAs. That is unreasonable. The Government have gone rather hot and cold on the issue. They have considered it once or twice and they have not yet agreed to set up a separate SSA. I hope that we can look into that.
Finally, I want to draw attention to the implications of the amendment made in another place to introduce the words "quiet enjoyment". We should not encourage extra noisy activities in the national parks, but at the same time, we must remember the historic business and leisure activities of those who live in the parks. We must ensure that the words "quiet enjoyment" do not clobber those perfectly reasonable and often historic and important activities.
It is not enough for us to listen to what is said by Ministers or by those who propose amendments. They will say, "It does not mean that, it means something else." In the end, it will mean what the courts say. My real anxiety is that if we are not careful, over-zealous litigators in the future could make totally unacceptable decisions in the courts. What could be at risk are some of the traditional business and leisure activities of those who live in the parks.
Reference was made in another place to chain saws. Their use is essential for forestry and for many farming activities that take place in national parks. Grouse shooting brings a vast amount of money each year—whether through keepers or hotels—into Swaledale in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). If some over-zealous litigator said that grouse shooting was illegal because the Bill requires "quiet enjoyment", that would be devastating for a place such as Swaledale.
I declare an interest as I have the honour of being president of the Auto-Cycle Union, which is the governing body for motor cycle sport in this country. 86 There are many motor sport activities which do not upset people and which are admirably policed and controlled. For instance, there is the Royal Automobile Club rally which attracts hundreds of thousands of people and which often takes place in national parks. Those people do not do any damage to the environment. The rally lasts a short time and then all the people go away. In the motor cycle world, we have the famous Scott trial in the north of England, which is enjoyed by a huge number of people.
While ensuring that we stop the cowboys—I have no patience with the idiotic cowboys who ride noisy motor cycles over the open land and moors upsetting all the local people—we must be sure that controlled activities which are properly organised and policed are not unnecessarily truncated by the words "quiet enjoyment". I want to see something in the Bill to clarify the meaning of the words "quiet enjoyment".
I hope that the Bill will be successful, but those matters should be looked at.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I am glad to have an opportunity to make a few comments about this important Bill. I am pleased to see the establishment of an environment agency, which will take over all the functions of the National Rivers Authority. I know that there has been some debate about this, but the NRA has the Opposition's strong support and is doing an effective job. It will be the senior partner in the agency, together with Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the local authority waste authorities. I hope that the agency will serve the environment well for decades to come.
For many years, the Opposition have advocated the establishment of an agency. I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Environmental Protection Bill in 1990. We moved amendments to establish the agency. The idea was taken up a year later, and has been promised year after year by the Government: here it is at last.
We should like to see an agency with wider powers to take over responsibility for the drinking water inspectorate and carbon dioxide emissions, energy efficiency, pesticide safety, nuclear waste regulations and perhaps the nuclear installations inspectorate. At least we are now to have an agency on which we can build in the future.
Reference has already been made to clauses 4 and 37. Clause 4 mentions "sustainable development", and I am pleased to see that. The Government have a mixed record on the environment. Whenever I see the phrase "sustainable development" I think of the dash for gas and wonder how we can possibly consider that part of the Government's energy policy as sustainable development. However, at least the principle is in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) drew attention to our concern about clause 37 and the cost-benefit discussion. The clause is waffly and unclear and injects an element of doubt into the agency's role. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we want somebody to fight for environmental protection, not a referee. We want somebody to point out and work for all the benefits that environmental protection could bring. Those benefits are sometimes difficult to quantify and my strong feeling is that we should operate the precautionary principle and always judge in favour of the environment rather than in any other way.
87 I draw attention to clause 6. I understand that an amendment was moved in the other place to introduce a provision dealing with the efficient use of water. Of course we all want the efficient use of water, especially in East Anglia and the south-east, where there have been historic problems with water supply. Too strong an interpretation of that could be seen as a green light to the water regulator—Ofwat—to introduce compulsory metering. The Opposition would oppose that fiercely. In Committee, I hope that the meaning of that term is spelled out. If it means that water authorities should do something about the leaks in the system, which affect about 25 per cent. of the supply, that is fine, but we do not want widespread water metering.
Clauses 11, 12 and 13 are disturbing. The structure involved in setting up the committees gives great powers to the Secretary of State and to the Secretary of State for Wales to decide who sits on them. The committee will become a super-quango with regional mini-quangos. The danger is that there will be no accountability to the local electorate. Today, I met members of district councils in my area and other parts of Wales—I have met them two or three times before—who told me of their concern at the loss of the responsibilities that they now hold once the agency is set up. They are concerned about the loss of accountability. People want to be able to go to their local council or to telephone their local councillor or the relevant officers so that they can make a complaint and have it seen to. I hope that the meaning of those clauses will be examined carefully as the Bill passes through all its stages.
Contaminated land, abandoned mines and national parks are also important topics that require legislation. There will, of course, be differences in emphasis between the parties and between individual Members in Committee but, broadly speaking, we welcome the relevant parts of the Bill.
I welcome clause 80, which deals with hedgerows, but I am puzzled about how one should define "important" hedgerows. All hedgerows are important to wildlife. As the amount of existing hedgerows has halved over the past 10 or 15 years, what remains is even more important.
Clauses 81 and 82, which provide the powers for conservation grants to be made by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, are extremely important, and I should like a whole Bill to develop the content of those two clauses because they contain the future direction for agriculture. I look forward to an agricultural system that supports not production but environmental protection. In any event, we shall need wide-ranging legislation in the future.
I shall confine my remaining remarks to what I regard as the big gap in the Bill—the control of air pollution. It has struck me for decades that we regulate water effluent quite well—we now have the NRA and previously we had the water authority structure. We also regulate solid waste disposal quite well through local authorities and other bodies. However, there is very little regulation or monitoring of what is pumped into the atmosphere and there are now major problems with atmospheric pollution. We have become aware of acid rain, the depletion of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect, which are all major planetary problems caused by air pollution.
88 Increasingly, we have become aware of problems relating to transport. We now face an environmental crisis. Much thought needs to be given in the next few years to the problems caused by the motor car and exhaust emissions and their effects on the environment. The Bill provided an opportunity for the Government to do something; they could have devoted several clauses to the monitoring of air pollution.
I understand that in Britain we have only 19 monitoring stations whereas there are 400 in Germany and 2,000 in Japan. In other words, the extent of our monitoring is feeble and pathetic compared to that of other countries and, indeed, compared to our monitoring of water pollution and solid waste disposal.
I understand that in another place Lords Lewis and Nathan tabled amendments that would have committed the Government to introducing a national strategy to improve air quality. The Secretary of State said earlier today that the Government would table similar amendments or new clauses, and I look forward to that. We need strong legislation not only to monitor but to tackle the serious problem of air pollution.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
There is consensus about the Bill in which I shall join. It is an important and welcome Bill, and the fact that it has achieved such consensus is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government who, once again, are at the forefront of sensible conservation.
It is a weighty Bill, and a weighty Bill containing so much detail is bound to raise a number of concerns, some of which have, quite properly, been mentioned by other hon. Members on behalf of various interest groups, not least farmers, landowners and fishermen. To that list I shall add the quarry operating companies, which fear that their future viability might be affected by the Bill. That is especially true of those operating quarries in or near national parks. I shall say simply that such companies are important employers in remote upland areas and their views should be taken into account. However, the main force of my remarks is directed at those parts of the Bill that deal with national parks.
I have the honour to represent a constituency that contains a large part of the Northumbrian national park and the large military training area at Otterburn. Sadly, I have to report that relations between the people who live and work in the Northumbrian national park and the national park committee have broken down. There is a considerable sense of alienation. I believe that the same is true in other national parks. Indeed, I have spoken to people who live and work in the Brecon Beacons national park who are also concerned about their relationship with their park authority. That authority has acquired 13 per cent. of the land in the park and is endeavouring to alter traditional farming practices.
In the Northumbria national park, the matter came to a head because of plans outlined by the Ministry of Defence which, responding to the end of the cold war and "Options for Change", wanted to develop the Otterburn training area. The plans provoked howls of outrage from a number of environmental groups that are utterly opposed to the training of troops in the area. The locals are very supportive of the military training area at Otterburn, which they regard as an important asset. Like me and, I 89 am sure, all Conservative Members, they believe that military training is vital. Our soldiers need to be properly trained if they are to be sent to areas of conflict. Increasingly, Otterburn will be where that training is undertaken,
As I said, there were howls of outrage from environmental groups and a demonstration was mounted by the Council for National Parks led by Chris Bonington who turned up one day with a placard to protest at the Army's plans. For the first time, the council was greeted by a counter-protest by local people. Local people, especially country people, are not prone to such politics but, when Bonington turned up, he was met with banners saying, "Bonington go home". I have great sympathy with people who believe that outside interests are affecting their ability to earn a living. The Otterburn training area makes an enormous contribution to the local economy in the Rede and Coquet valleys. It helps the hotel trade, local services and craftsmen, and is a vital part of the local community.
Local people believe that there will never be peace in Otterburn until the training area is separated from the national park. They believe that the Secretary of State should alter the boundaries of the park and remove the training area from it. When they asked the Secretary of State if he could do that, they were told that he did not have the power and that it was up to the Countryside Commission to instigate any change in national park boundaries. However, the Countryside Commission's annual report for 1993–94 clearly states in black and white:We have always advocated that military use of land in the National Parks is inconsistent with their purposes.In other words, the organisation responsible for setting the boundaries of national parks is in this case acting as judge and jury in its own court, and local people find that unacceptable.
One solution would be for the Bill to enable the Secretary of State to take powers to change national park boundaries. There is a great deal of strong feeling about this issue. I presented to the House a petition of more than 1,500 signatures, all from local people. The Northumbria national park is the most sparsely populated, with only 1,900 inhabitants, so the fact that so many signatures were collected is proof of the strength of feeling.
The Bill could also help people who live and work in national parks with the question of local representation. The Northumbria national park committee consists of 31 members, of whom three are district councillors. Of those three, two live close to the park and one lives many miles away. Local people feel that they have no representation and no influence on the election of people who play an important part in their lives. I suggest—I was pleased to see the wording of schedule 7—that, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is drawing up the detailed guidance, he ensures that people who represent the national parks are predominantly local district councillors, not county councillors. There is no reason for the county council to have a hand in the national park. We want representation from people who represent wards within or close to the national parks.
Since the national parks committees are to become free-standing authorities, there is no reason why that form of representation cannot take place. If local people disagree with the way in which the national park runs its affairs, they could at least show their displeasure at the ballot box. That 90 would be a considerable improvement and do a great deal to enhance the relationships between local people and the national parks committees. The House wants to see the relationship between those committees and local people restored. In Northumberland's case, a sense of good will can be encouraged by taking the training area out of the national park and by introducing proper local democracy. Those would be two positive moves to help the situation considerably.
I echo very much the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on the phrase "quiet enjoyment". I agree entirely with what he said. When parliamentary draftsmen introduced the words "reasonable" and "reasonably practicable" in legislation, they handed the lawyers a blank cheque. I hope that the phrase "quiet enjoyment" will not do the same. It must be properly defined, so that local interests may be properly represented.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I shall concentrate particularly on the Welsh perspective—Welsh views, Welsh needs, Welsh priorities—and comment on the relevance of the Bill to Wales, as well as saying something on more general issues.
The failure in part I of the Bill to establish an environmental agency for Wales is totally unacceptable. To accord Wales subordinate status in comparison to Scotland is, frankly, insulting. Wales is just as much a nation as Scotland. It is just as distinctive geographically as Scotland. The absence of a separate Welsh agency will be damaging to the efficient execution of the agency's functions because liaison with other spheres of government in Wales, on the basis of power to make decisions, will be more difficult.
In virtually every area of government besides the Home Office, administrative devolution has advanced as far in Wales as it has in Scotland. A Welsh environmental agency would have the authority to deal with those matters without reference to any English masters. When emphasis is on the integration of the environment into all areas of policy, a separate agency is especially important on a practical level. I did not read anything in the House of Lords debates in Hansard to convince me that such a failure was not a step back in the governance of Wales.
The failure in policy is going ahead while we are moving inexorably towards the establishment of a Welsh Parliament, which will have the environment at the centre of its policy development. There is unanimity in Wales on this matter and I hope that the Government will reconsider their decision even at this late stage.
Failing that reconsideration though, let us ensure that the Welsh committees, including especially the advisory committee, will be truly representative of Welsh views and have a degree of autonomy which is sufficient to pursue Welsh priorities, which are in many cases distinct. Crucially, we must ensure that the Welsh region does not merelyconsist wholly or mainly of, or most of, Wales",as the Bill says, but clearly and simply consists of Wales. That is perfectly consistent, of course, with effective cross-border arrangements on river flows and such matters.
91 I mentioned unanimity in Wales, and that includes the opinion of the Council of Welsh Districts, which has argued cogently for the retention of waste regulation as a local government function. Nobody else has mentioned this matter in any detail. The decision to transfer that function to a quango fits in well with the long-term strategy of the Government to weaken local authorities, but the case against the Bill's provisions in that regard is especially strong in Wales, where district councils are the waste regulation authorities and where they also have other important pollution and environmental control responsibilities.
Responsibility for air pollution, noise control, fly tipping, duty of care, contaminated land, water pollution and so on rests with district councils. The CWD argues that integration already exists and that it would be further enhanced when the new unitary authorities come into existence with their comprehensive planning powers.
In Wales, the existing waste regulation regime has worked well. The CWD's proposals for a division of functions between an England and Wales agency, a regional agency for Wales and the new Welsh unitary authorities is pragmatic and well thought out and deserves the Government's careful consideration in Committee. If the transfer of waste regulation goes ahead, the agency—to be perfectly frank—will be hard put to achieve standards as high as those currently delivered by local authorities in Wales.
The CWD suggests five principles, which, if fully applied, would help. First, there should be a strong Welsh identity with a high degree of autonomy for a Welsh region based on the political boundaries. The territorial integrity of Wales should not be negotiable. Secondly, there should be accessibility, with at least 10 local offices, an urgent response service, which Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution currently does not have, and, of course, responsiveness to local communities. Thirdly, there should be transparency of licensing, consents, authorisation and enforcement policies. Fourthly, there should be effectiveness based on adequate resourcing and delegation of responsibility to front-line staff. Fifthly, there should be accountability through representation of elected members on agency committees. I commend those principles to the Government.
To turn briefly to more general issues, the Government's failure to use the Bill to create a mechanism for promoting sustainable development is especially striking. The draft guidance to the agency, which was published on 17 January, contained some admirable sentiments, but there is nothing to show how the Government propose to ensure that sustainability permeates every facet of policy, particularly in the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Transport.
Each Department has a green Minister, but those green Ministers seem to be primarily concerned with promoting environmentally friendly practice within their own estates. The Secretary of State told the House of Lords Select Committee on Sustainable Development that the occasional and infrequent meetings of such green Ministers confined their discussions to just such topics.
Even more significant was the decision of Treasury officials on 6 February not to turn up to give oral evidence to the Lords Select Committee when they were expected 92 to do so. Following that, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give his reasons for that failure to turn up. The reply that I received from the Chancellor said:The Government's strategy for Sustainable Development is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I was therefore not persuaded that it would be appropriate for Treasury officials to give oral evidence on the subject as a whole to the Committee on 7 February.The Accountability of Ministers and the Government to Parliament has always been based on the principle that each Minister answers for subjects within his or her own Departmental responsibilities."—[Official Report, 14 March 1995; Vol. 256, c. 466.]Well, there we have it from the horse's mouth, as it were. That seems to say it all. Sustainable development has nothing to do with the Treasury and the Treasury has nothing to do with sustainable development. The Bill will do nothing to correct that fundamental deficiency.
I return, in conclusion, to Wales, where the deficiencies of this Bill are writ large. A year last February, when the Government published their first sustainable development strategy document, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced the establishment of a Scottish advisory group on sustainable development. No such group was established in Wales at that time. We are now being denied our own environment agency. What does that mean? It means that we in Wales lack a national mechanism or structure to develop a sustainable development strategy for our country which is arguably the most important task facing us as we approach the new millennium.
Such a strategy would encompass areas like transport and telecommunications, energy—particularly renewables—energy conservation, agriculture and rural policy, woodlands and, vitally, the encouragement of new environmental industries, urban planning and so on. That strategy is as relevant to urban areas as to rural areas.
The fact that we in Wales are being prevented from getting on with that job is a serious indictment of Government policy in Wales and of the political system in Wales. I hope that my comments show that an Environment Bill for Wales would be a very different creation from the present Bill. Let us hope that, in the remaining stages, something can be done to correct some of the deficiencies.
§ Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)
I first declare an interest as I am a consultant with Dyson Bell Martin, solicitors and parliamentary agents. Inevitably, some of their clients, to a greater or lesser extent, will have an interest in the Bill. However, to the best of my knowledge, I have received no special briefing or lobbying by virtue of my position. I certainly do not speak at the behest of any client.
The Bill has been a long time in gestation, but its birth has probably been all the better prepared for that. I welcome the introduction of the Bill and I support its passage. I am a great believer in the principle that, if it works, we should not interfere with it. The Government, and politicians of all persuasions, find it difficult to avoid the temptation to tinker and to seek another reorganisation almost for the sake of it. However, I believe that the reforms proposed in this Bill are necessary and desirable. They will do much to encourage the best.
93 The opportunities created by the establishment of the new agency are enormous. An overall view of environmental policies, an integrated approach, the availability of technical expertise and a breaking down of former barriers will provide an opportunity to create a better, cleaner, more diverse, healthier and safer place for all.
However, before referring to the detailed aspects of the Bill, I want to consider the role of local authorities. As a former chairman of the Association of District Councils and currently a vice-president of that body, it is understandable that I approach these matters on the basis of wishing to enhance the role of local authorities, to foster local democracy and to encourage a broadening of local government functions.
My initial reaction to the transfer of waste regulation from local government to the environment agency was disappointment. However, a little reflection changed my mind. Because of the overall advantages that I have already cited, I could see that much was to be gained from a transfer to a single, comprehensive agency. In addition, the current waste regulation advisory committees are involved more with operational than with strategic matters.
Local democracy is all about making decisions for local communities by local communities. Matters relating to waste must be seen primarily in a national context and then applied locally in an administrative rather than a policy sense. Before it is alleged that I have turned my back on local government, let me make it clear that there are echoes of local government throughout the Bill. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will assure me that those echoes will be converted into substance.
Much of the work of the agency and the new national park authorities will require good will from localities. What is sought from those new creatures will be imperilled if local authorities are not involved, consulted and represented. Conflict between councils and the agency will be disastrous. Can I be assured that the agency and the national park authorities will be advised and even instructed to develop local government links beyond those already established on the face of the Bill and that local government, with its own expertise, will be seen as a full partner?
I want now to consider specific aspects of the Bill. In setting out the agency's general aims and objectives, clause 4 refers to the attainment of "sustainable development". I read somewhere that there are 50 definitions of the term "sustainable development". Whether or not so many exist, it is clearly an imprecise term and therefore unfortunately used on the face of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) referred earlier to the Brundtland definition, but that raises nearly as many questions. How can we be sure that something can be used safely now because it will not be required in the future, when we do not know what the requirements of future generations will be? The hon. Member for Truro is not right to think that the issue is as simple as that. What scales and values should be applied to the test of what is or is not sustainable? It is an easy expression to use, but its application is far harder. I assume that the guidelines will give more details about what sustainable development means.
94 I welcome the novel concept that the guidelines in clause 4 are to be laid before each House of Parliament like a statutory instrument. That is an important democratic control over what is at the very heart of the new agency and I am grateful to the Government for giving that potential decision to both Houses.
While dealing with semantics, I want to probe the use of the words "costs and benefits". I can see all sorts of difficulties there. Clause 5(3)(b) states that the agency must advise the Minister of the "costs and benefits" of options for addressing pollution. I assume that that advice will not normally be published, unless it is leaked. Therefore, decisions of the Minister are not capable of challenge on the basis that the advice to him was deficient or his interpretation was wrong. Is that correct?
Much more troublesome is the use of the expression in clause 37. The use of "costs" implies only financial tests, but benefit can be much wider. Does it include environmental and social as well as economic aspects? In case I am misunderstood, let me make it plain that, unlike some Opposition Members, I welcome the approach implicit in clause 37, that the agency must act prudently and the consequences of its actions must be judged by financial realities. However, the problem remains that the expression "costs and benefits" is loose and perhaps capable of judicial challenge. It would be a shame if the agency became shackled by narrow judgments that undermine the flexibility that must be applied to the agency's actions.
Much has been said about the structure of the agency in England and Wales. It is a mistake not to keep operational and regulatory functions strictly apart. On geographic organisation, I started on the basis that local authority boundaries were the best, but I am now forced to admit that river basins are such a vital ingredient in the agency's workings that their existence must be acknowledged in the administrative arrangements. I say that with great reluctance, but I accept that the arguments are conclusive. For that reason, it is quite clear that one agency must cover England and Wales, as is envisaged in the Bill.
The headwaters of the Severn do not change their characteristics suddenly where they cross the Welsh border. What happens upstream has a profound effect on that below. A particle of H2O does not understand when it crosses a boundary from Wales into England.
§ Mr. Thomason
I bow to the knowledge of Opposition Members about the intelligence of particles. Perhaps they are closer to particles than I am.
Clause 6 refers to the agency's duty to promote inland and coastal waters and land associated with them for recreational purposes. My constituency is home to an important section of canal and I am a vice-president of the local society. I am conscious of the very real concern expressed by those who use our rivers and canals for recreational purposes that they will be regarded as the poor relations in the new agency, subjugated to the prior environmental claims of the nature conservationists and the financial claims of pollution control. If that were to occur, it would be a tragedy.
95 A substantial section of the public, estimated at 7 million people, would be prevented from messing about with boats or denied the pleasure of the towpath walk. A vital part of our industrial heritage would be lost.
Part III introduces welcome changes in the administration of our national parks. The Environment Select Committee is currently reviewing the impact of leisure and tourism on the countryside and my remarks today should not be seen as prejudicial to the outcome of that report. I welcome the introduction of the words "quiet enjoyment" in clause 58(1) in the broadest sense, but I have reservations about the precise wording.
In that sense, I echo comments that have already been made today. A national park is a living part of the countryside, not a museum. A quarter of a million people dwell in the parks, and many work there. It would be wrong to prevent legitimate country pursuits from being conducted in a reasonable manner because they interfered with a "quietness" that is not traditional to the area.
In promoting the co-operation of national park authorities with those whose functions include economic and social development, the Government have gone a long way to meeting criticism from people who fear that the local economy in and around national parks might suffer. However, it is necessary to look at the possibility of income generation within national parks not just by virtue of the levy provided in clause 68 and the need to use fund raising as a means of easing pressure on honeypot sites where maximum recreational activity occurs.
The clauses on waste are good news, but I should like to pass on, after emphasising the need to introduce waste reduction as an important part of waste management policy, to the provisions relating to contaminated land. I welcome those, but there are difficulties to which I shall refer.
First, there is the lack of definition of "significant harm" in clause 54. Secondly, the extent of the clean-up costs likewise are not known and are a source of grave anxiety. Thirdly, the definition of "owner" creates a problem for landlords where tenants are the polluters, particularly if those tenants are people of straw. Fourthly, the Bill will replace reasonably foreseeable tests exemplified in the Cambridge Water case with legal tests that may be more difficult.
§ Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)
Like other hon. Members, I think that the fundamental idea behind the Bill is very good, but I have serious concerns about the structure and the powers in particular of the Scottish environment protection agency, which is what I intend to talk about. Those concerns are shared by a large number of organisations in Scotland, including local government bodies and environmental bodies. On structure, for example, there is great concern about the loss of accountability and the loss of the local dimension. At the moment, there are local authority representatives on river purification boards in Scotland. Also, local authorities have great powers in such matters. All that will be lost with the creation of a super-quango in Scotland.
96 Councils in Scotland will lose more powers than English councils. They will lose not only waste management powers but air pollution powers. I know of Edinburgh district council's good work in that respect. It responds to a complaint about air pollution within one hour by sending officials who have detailed local knowledge. Will that still occur under the new set-up? Many people have their doubts. Also, Edinburgh district council has been actively pursuing a company in my constituency about an air pollution matter. Unfortunately, I cannot speak about that because it is sub judice.
That work of the district council will be taken away as a result of the Bill. That seems to many people to be a mockery of local Agenda 21 from Rio. Great emphasis was placed on the work of local bodies and local communities. I hope that something is done in Committee to amend at least the structure of the new body so that there can be more local involvement in the proposed local bodies. Perhaps Ministers could consider the common-sense initiative in America, where local people have been enlisted to take part in environmental protection work.
I hope also that real local bodies are set up. It is proposed to have just four area SEPA boards in Scotland, but it would be much better to have more. Many environmental groups suggest that the existing boundaries of the river purification boards should be used as local boundaries. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board.
Apart from concerns about structure, there are serious concerns about the powers of the new bodies. Clause 29 deals with the general powers for Scotland, and begins by stating:The Secretary of State shall from time to time give guidance to SEPA with respect to aims and objectives which he considers it appropriate for SEPA to pursue in the performance of its functions.That is all we get. In the other place there was an amendment dealing with general powers and duties for England, but no such amendment for Scotland has yet been tabled. It is important that a positive duty is stated for SEPA to effect improvement in a proactive and integrated way. Detailed suggestions have been given by various environmental bodies in Scotland, but I do not have time to relate those proposed duties at the moment.
One reason that the powers for the body are restricted is cost restraint. Clause 37 has already been referred to many times, but more generally the Bill does not state that the polluter should pay. That requirement should run through the Bill, but it does not. As a Scottish Member, I should mention one other cost restraint, and that is the curious discrepancy in clause 45 over the borrowing powers of the agencies. The English agency will be able to borrow £100 million to £160 million, whereas the Scottish agency's borrowing limits will be £2 million to £5 million. There are fewer people in Scotland than in England, but that is not the proportion that exists.
There are many other aspects in which powers are lacking, and one was dealt with fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), who talked about the management of river catchments. The English agency will have many powers that will not be available to SEPA. Examples are water abstraction powers, land drainage powers, flood defence powers and powers over freshwater fisheries. Perhaps we could have an answer to why those powers are not granted to the body in Scotland.
97 There are also concerns about the lack of power in relation to contaminated land. Again, we welcome the principles in clause 54, but the powers are hedged in many different ways. The Bill talks about inspections from time to time instead of regular inspections. It talks about significant harm being necessary before action is taken—I think that there was an amendment on that in the other place—and about matters that are considered to be reasonable having regard to cost. There are many worries about whether the powers in relation to contaminated land will lead to any improvements in pursuing action. There is also a retrograde step in the Bill, because the power in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to have registers of contaminated land is abolished in the Bill.
Abandoned mines are another concern. I am told that they are the second biggest cause of pollution in the Forth river purification board area. The Government have been quite upfront about delaying action, because they want privatisation of the coal mines completed before they hold mine owners responsible. That is quite openly stated in the explanatory notes:Since these proposals are coming forward in parallel with privatisation of the coal industry there could be some adverse effect on proceeds to the Government. Accordingly, the removal of statutory protection is being timed to reduce any possible effect.The Government should get full marks for honesty in admitting that, but not much else. In fact, it is a case of making sure that the horse has bolted before shutting the stable door. By the 21st century, many of those problems will have become worse and it will be too late to take action.
There are other aspects in which more powers would be necessary—for example, waste management. There are no percentage targets for reducing the amount of waste that is produced. That must be built into the Bill, as well as targets for recycling. One could increase the recycling component, but, if three times as much waste was produced in the first place, that would not be a significant effect. That is why we need targets for waste reduction written into the Bill.
There is one thing that has been incorporated in Scotland which I welcome, and that is the extension of nuisance law. Again, I am told that there are various problems with implementation in England. For example, if someone has a consent under part I of the Environmental Protection Act, no action can be taken against that person under the nuisance law in part III. There seem to be problems with that, and I hope that they can be ironed out when nuisance law is introduced into Scotland.
There are other provisions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden referred that we should like extended into Scotland, such as those referring to national parks and hedgerows.
One concern in Scotland is that there has not been great success in pursuing people through the courts who are guilty of pollution. It appears that there has been less success in Scotland than in England. It is important that there should be a legal division in SEPA and an environmental division in the procurator fiscal service in Scotland so that proper action can be taken against those who pollute the environment. Ultimately, we can have as many fine-sounding words as we like in the Bill, but unless action is taken against those who pollute, the Bill will not have the desired effect.
98 Although we welcome the principle of the Bill and the aims behind it, we should like considerable amendments to be made in Committee to the structure and the powers of the agency in Scotland, so that it meets the widespread criticisms of environmental groups and local authority organisations in Scotland.
§ Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)
I begin by reminding the House of my interest in the recycling industry. There is no need for me to remind my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside as he has been of immense help, and I shall pay tribute to him in a few moments.
Environment protection and conservation appear in many forms, not just in preserving wildlife, the countryside, flora and fauna and the footpaths and in making sure that the rivers stay clean. All those activities are important, but I want to emphasise the role of the recycling industry, its current frustration and its fears for the future, despite the Department of the Environment's stated intent of encouraging reuse.
The frustration revolves around regulation and its enforcement. The recycling industry accepts the need for regulation and wants to help, but as the DOE states:As the standards and techniques of waste management become increasingly sophisticated, it is becoming more difficult for individual waste regulation authorities either to provide the necessary expertise or to co-ordinate policies and standards over a wide enough area.One can certainly say that again. The lack of uniformity and the different interpretations of the regulations by 140 different waste regulation authorities in the United Kingdom are causing some concern. There are 140 different interpretations and 140 different classes of WRA inspectors.
I have first-hand experience of WRA inspectors. It is astonishing that they turn up to inspect a metal recycling yard where there is heavy machinery, moving vehicles and considerable danger for anyone on the premises without protective clothing, hard hats, boots or protective glasses. They often turn up in trainers, open-toed sandals and loose jumpers. Furthermore, they do not have a clue what they are inspecting. They seem to be freshly graduated from some college. That adds immensely to the frustration of those who deal with them.
The inspectors then lay down the law as they interpret it, which is often wide of the mark of what the regulations intended. That breeds immense frustration and contempt among those in the industry. Furthermore, the number of visits that the inspectors choose to pay to various recycling establishments is extraordinary. They are themselves in danger of becoming a statutory nuisance. I am glad, however, that the Bill takes the first step towards uniformity.
I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside. He has listened to the recycling industry and he has acted. I congratulate him on not letting the dark forces at the DOE turn his head and get the better of him, thereby making it much harder for those involved in the industry to help him to preserve the countryside, as he is so anxious to do.
99 It is certain that there will be change in future, but we need to take one step at a time. There is much good will in the recycling industry towards environmental legislation, but waste regulators must realise that their wish lists cost a great deal of money.
The recycling industry and waste handling industry realise their obligations and want to honour them. As I have said many times in the House, the recycling industry is the original conservation industry, and without its help the proposals that we are discussing this evening would be going nowhere.
The changes must be worked out in harmony and as a partnership, with both sides recognising each other's strengths as well as their difficulties. The industry would like uniform application of the rules in Guildford, Newcastle, Warwickshire and everywhere else.
Furthermore, the regulations must apply to operators regardless of size. I like the idea of a level playing field, as too often the small operators have given the recycling industry a bad name. There should be no derogation in this legislation. There is a duty of care on legislators as well as operators, and we should show that duty of care by applying the same rules to everyone.
Turning to the future, will the agency be able to give the recycling industry a steer? As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, there is considerable discussion and concern about the future of licensing. Should an enterprise go for exemption? If it does, what will be the future criteria? Will they change or remain the same? What time scales will be set by the regulatory authority with regard to licensing an operation? Currently, the WRAs are very slow to react. Perhaps they are overworked or do not know which way to turn.
Let me turn to costs and quote the awful example of the Meat Hygiene Service, where the inspection costs have rocketed and caused much concern and anger in the industry. I know that the scales of fees and charges for the agency are currently being reviewed, but we must make absolutely certain that the costs are reasonable and can be borne by the industry. It would be a good idea if the industry were consulted beforehand. We do not want bureaucrats to build up too large an empire, taking up time with too frequent inspections. The Government seek to deregulate, despite the insults from the Opposition earlier in the debate. We should make the regulation simple and take pride in deregulating.
Other speakers have referred to contaminated land and here I recognise that I am walking on eggshells. It is reassuring, however, that contaminated land will be classified in the Bill according to its future use, but the Bill also proposes a survey. Who will pay for the survey? The regulations state that the polluter should pay for cleaning up contaminated land, but what will happen if the polluter has already gone bust and there is nobody to foot the bill? The potential impact on many businesses throughout the country is awesome. We should tread very carefully with regard to contaminated land.
There are grants available forconservation and enhancement of the natural beauty or amenity of the countryside or features of archaeological interestor forthe promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public.100 I totally approve of that, but if that is legitimate, why should there not be a grant for recyclers, who are doing so much to live by the Bill and often have to spend vast sums of money to make their contribution to cleaning up the environment?
What if there are appeals under these proposals? They have to be heard before a magistrate, but we have heard how complicated the regulations are and I would ask only whether a magistrate is the right person to interpret them.
Central to the legislation is the definition of waste. The Bill sets out:Waste applies to articles that have been discarded or the holder intends to discard.How does that square with recycled material that is a by-product in a factory and is intended to be resold? Nickel scrap, for example, is worth £4,500 a tonne. Copper cuttings are worth £1,700 a tonne. They cannot be described as waste. Material that has a value to the holder will always be treated in a responsible manner, regardless of who holds it. I hope that that will be remembered when the Bill is considered in Committee.
Finally, my attention has been caught by the names and description of those who will be appointed to the advisory committee to the agency. They include the leader of Kirklees council, the chief executive of Leicester city council, a nominee from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the director of the Institute of Environmental Policy and the chairman of the Green Alliance. Where are the practitioners among those appointed? Where are the representatives of the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, the British Metals Federation, the Reclamation Association and the firms that handle glass, plastic and other materials? I believe that some practitioners should be on the advisory committee.
It was rather chilling to note that the only person still in business who is serving on that advisory committee is Mrs. Shirley Jackson, an insolvency practitioner. I hope that that is not some black humour by the Department of the Environment and that she has not been appointed to pick up the pieces if the regulations become over-burdensome and too expensive on businesses in the recycling industry for them to survive.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
I wish to concentrate on the issue of the problem of minewater pollution from abandoned mines, which is covered by clauses 55 to 57. To a certain extent, many of the problems have been brought about by the destruction of the coal industry in the past decade by the Government. We all know that mines may have to close because of costs or safety, but neither of those is the main reason behind the closures of the past decade. The main reason is the Government's determination to destroy the coal industry.
Recently, the Coalfield Communities Campaign produced a report entitled "Poisoned Legacy" which talked about the problems of water pollution and described how that could affect inward investment to the former mining communities in the future. The report also described the situation as an "environmental timebomb".
The campaign argues that the Bill does not remove the loopholes which have been created by previous legislation. The root of the problem is the existing and 101 expected damage from mines which have already been closed. The legislative changes intend to cover only the 32 mines that are still in operation, but around 936 mines have been closed since nationalisation in 1947 and many more that were closed before then still have significant pollution potential.
Why are the Government choosing to implement the legislative changes only at the end of 1999? Such a delay only makes the existing problem worse. Under the present situation, pollution from closed mines will be allowed to continue to increase for another five years. Mine owners choosing to avoid potentially costly liability may be tempted to close mines prematurely to beat the 1999 deadline. The Coal Authority—the inheritor of the abandoned mines—might be tempted to stop or reduce any costly remedial activities before 1999 if it can avoid liability.
In June last year, the Government promised Parliament that they would set in train a comprehensive review which would look at the specific question of abandoned mines. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states:Where coal mines are leased to the private sector, the effect on expenditure should be neutral. For abandoned mines in the ownership of the coal authority, there could be an increase in public expenditure, since the cost of any action taken, including pumping of minewater, would fall on the authority.Since these proposals are coming forward in parallel with the privatisation of the industry, there could be some adverse effect on proceeds to the Government".The explanation concludes:
Accordingly, the removal of the statutory protection is being timed to reduce any possible effects".If that means that the Government intend to delay any environmental protection provision so as not to eat into the profits gained from selling the industry, it is an outrageous provision. It is an insult to people in the mining communities, whose environment has been damaged and sacrificed on the altar of profit.
I was interested to hear the Secretary of State say this afternoon that, when decisions are made, the core of those decisions is how they will affect the environment. That is something that each and every of one of us would support. I would argue that, in relation to the problem that I am addressing, the environment does not seem to be any concern of the Secretary of State. What seems to be his concern—this does not surprise me—is money, and damn the environment and damn communities such as mine which have contributed so much to the wealth of the nation and have had so little back in return.
This is an urgent problem which will not go away. The Department of Trade and Industry stated last year that £1 billion was raised from the sale of the coal industry. Surely it is reasonable to expect that a proportion of those profits will revert to the former mining communities to help them clear up years of pollution.
I shall give the House an example of the outstanding problem in south Wales. Last year, the Welsh Office and the Welsh region of the NRA published two reports on iron contamination from minewater discharges and remedial options available to deal with the problem in the Welsh coalfields. A survey conducted in 1993 found that nearly 60 km of river had been contaminated by pollution. An area of 220,000 sq m was affected by hydroxide deposits, and some 90 minewater discharges were identified. A high biological impact was shown at 10 of the 33 larger sites.
102 The current issue of Environment Business reports that it is the view of the Welsh office and the NRA in Wales publication that,
because in many areas discharges have been occurring for many years in places where people either do not notice them or have got used to them, a key decision is whether to do anything at all, particularly if the environmental quality standards are partially achieved".The Minister will agree that that is an unacceptably complacent attitude. It is similar to telling people in Cumbria that, because they have got used to the fact that Sellafield makes continuous radioactive discharges into the environment and because British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. has introduced some filtration equipment to reduce the discharges, it is okay for Sellafield to keep dumping nuclear waste from its effluent pipeline and stacks. It is obviously not. If the Bill is really concerned with the environment, it will respond to problems such as that in a positive and urgent way.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
I very much welcome the Bill and the intentions behind it. I wish to address my remarks to two matters, the first of which is national parks. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to help us by being more specific. I had always thought that the Government were trying to make legislation more specific. I was therefore somewhat surprised by schedule 7, which states:A person shall not be appointed as a local authority member of a National Park authority unless he is a member of a principal council the area of which is wholly or partly comprised in the relevant park; and, in appointing local authority members of a National Park authority, a principal council shall have regard to the desirability of appointing members of the council who represent wards, or (in Wales) electoral divisions, situated wholly or partly within the relevant Park.I agree with that. My only question is, if it is desirable, why do we not make it a fact? Why do not we say that people appointed to national parks authorities must either live in the area or represent part of the ward within a national park? That is very important.
My hon. Friend the Minister will have heard many people refer to local representation on national park authorities. I should like to see elected national park authorities, but I realise that some parks are sparsely populated, making it impossible to go down that route. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the matter closely. He has no idea of the animosity felt by local people about appointments to national park boards.
Some slight improvements have been made as a result of our legislation on political balance. Until a few years ago, Derbyshire county council appointed eight people to the national park board, only one of whom lived and represented a ward within the national park. That is not right or fair and it caused great resentment. Like many other hon. Members who have spoken today, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to think carefully about giving greater representation as of right to local elected people.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) mentioned the way in which national parks should be financed. The Government have a responsibility to look carefully at the financing of national parks. The peak district national park covers a large part of my constituency. We have a huge number of visitors each year from Manchester and the Sheffield and west midlands conurbations, bringing extra pressures to 103 the area. They get enjoyment out of the national park. Their visits should be reflected in the standard spending assessment for our area. I go along wholeheartedly with what my right hon. Friend said.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale also echoed our concern about the words "quiet enjoyment". Everyone would applaud the idea of quiet enjoyment within the national parks, but we cannot allow national parks to become fossilised places. They are living areas; people work and live in them and get their enjoyment in them. We must not try to prevent the many recreational activities that have taken place in national parks over a long period. The Bill should not put a stop to those activities.
Local representation is of immense importance. Appointments made by the Secretary of State should bring a national dimension to the national parks—the outside dimension to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) referred. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to examine the schedule carefully as the Bill goes through Committee and seek to improve it so that national park boards include a good proportion of elected local councillors who represent wards within the national parks. If that is desirable, as the Government say in the schedule, why do we not stipulate that representatives must be either local councillors or people living within the national park? Let us move away from the question of desirability. If it is desirable, let us do it. That is what the Government should do.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister will table new clauses on old mineral planning permissions. The Government are to ensure that all active permissions granted from 1948 to 1982 will be reviewed within six years in two phases. Those in designated areas such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty will be reviewed in the first phase, within three years. The Government have also given commitments that they will provide for periodic reviews for all mineral sites every 15 years to ensure that the conditions keep pace with the standards of the day. I welcome those moves in the right direction.
I understand that some of the aggregate companies have expressed concern about the proposals on mineral planning permissions. There is no question about the importance of the aggregate industry in Britain. If my hon. Friend the Minister needs to see the need for the new clauses and for a review of the conditions, he need only come to part of my constituency, Stanton Lees—I visited it last week and met some residents—where old planning permissions have been reactivated, damaging local roads.
The large aggregate companies have made representations to other hon. Members and me on the issue. They seek a fair system, in which everyone has to abide by the same conditions. Companies such as Tarmac have been good in making environmental commitments. They should not be unduly worried about what the Government propose. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be prepared to meet them in due course so that they can express their anxieties to him.
I welcome the proposed review of planning permissions. Once they have been reviewed, authorities must use their powers to ensure that old quarry workings 104 are brought up to the right standards and specifications. There is concern in my constituency that the national park has not fully implemented some of its powers on spoil.
I give this wide-ranging and comprehensive Bill a broad welcome. The changes in the way in which national parks are administered and the review of old mineral planning permissions are welcome. They will make a significant difference to our countryside. I welcome the Bill.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
At last the beards are having a run on the Opposition Benches at the end of the debate.
The number of declarations of interest from Conservative Members shows that there is a great deal of money in environmental protection—a point that I had not appreciated hitherto.
Following the demonstrations by Greenpeace outside the THORP reprocessing plant at Aldermaston, one must realise just how seriously Greenpeace and many other people take issues of environmental pollution and the problems of nuclear pollution.
Everyone else seems vaguely to welcome the Bill, but I feel that it is a huge missed opportunity. I look forward to an incoming Labour Government giving real teeth to an environment agency that can do something to clean up pollution both in policy methods and in the physical surroundings in which we live.
The Secretary of State dealt with Britain's responsibility in the world on environmental protection and other such issues in a couple of sentences. That was a bit thin. We are living in very dangerous times. The effects of global warming are more obvious than they have ever been before. There are cracks in the Antarctic ice cap and huge holes in the ozone layer over the Antarctic, and holes are appearing in the ozone layer over the Arctic.
Environmental protection cannot be dealt with merely nationally or locally; it has to be dealt with internationally. Britain signed the Rio treaty, as did most other countries, but it is not enough merely to sign and to say grandly that we are fulfilling our obligations, when plainly we are not, while at the same time promoting a worldwide economic strategy that promotes pollution and environmental destruction and is hastening, rather than reducing, global warming.
We must consider the issues globally as well as locally and I hope that in future debates on the environment we can start to consider those problems. Having created much pollution, it is no good the western world lecturing the rest of the world on the need not to do so. Pollution comes from industry, lack of planning and a free enterprise economy. We must consider those questions very seriously.
This rather lengthy and complicated Bill has some serious problems. Hon. Members have mentioned clause 37 and the problems with the cost-benefit analysis formula to be used. Conservative Members have said that it will lead to a lawyers' field day. That may be so, but how on earth can one make a cost-benefit analysis without considering long-term environmental problems and trying to put some sort of cost on them?
Those of us who have argued against massive road developments in urban and rural areas have come across that cost-benefit analysis formula many times. It is very 105 good for measuring delays caused to road hauliers by traffic jams, or to business men by driving around in cars. It does not measure the increase in asthma among children because of increased car traffic, the problems for pedestrians when trying to cross major roads and the environmental destruction that goes with such a policy. Clause 37 offers polluters too many potential avenues to challenge the agency's decisions, and threatens to render useless all its other powers.
Amendments are needed to bring Britain into line with the spirit of article 130 of the treaty of European union, which prioritises the precautionary, the preventive and the "polluter pays" principles. We must deal with that issue in Committee. It must be cleared up once and for all because unless we are specific we will end up with short-term economic considerations and avenues to profitability for particular economic interests taking precedence over the long-term environmental damage that is implicit in so many of the planning and industrial decisions taken in this country.
What about waste recycling? The agency has responsibilities for co-ordinating waste recycling policy, but levels of recycling achieved by local authorities are pitiful. If we ask local authorities why they are so low—I talk to mine and I am sure that other hon. Members talk to theirs—they say that there is no one to buy the waste paper, glass, metals and plastics that are collected because there is no market for them. If one leaves it all to a marketplace philosophy, it simply will not happen and, as, I hope, relatively intelligent human beings every one of us realises that it is better to recycle paper, glass and plastics than to throw them away in landfill—perhaps it is better to produce far less in the first place.
The Bill does not deal much with air pollution, but that problem must be dealt with more. I represent one of the most densely populated urban constituencies in this country and it probably has the least open space. The problems caused by air pollution and concern for the environment there are very great indeed. My constituents, like those represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), also have a love of the country and want access to it. They also love and respect the national parks movement and what the parks have achieved. They too have a voice that has to be heard.
For many children growing up in the inner cities in high-rise flats, an opportunity to visit an open space such as a park, or better still a national park, is a huge excitement. They need to be able to gain access to the countryside, enjoy it and understand something of it. They too have a real concern about the environment.
What of the problems faced by people in London? In 1991, between 12 and 15 December, pollution in London soared to a record level. It is reckoned that 160 people died in the four days because of bronchial illnesses occasioned by that astoundingly high pollution. Last winter and last summer there was an epidemic of asthma in London, which caused a great flurry of activity at the casualty units of our hospitals. Indeed, in my constituency it is reckoned that 20 per cent. of all children under the age of 10 suffer from some type of asthma or bronchial illness. Those illnesses are caused by a transport policy that discourages public transport and encourages private car motoring in urban and rural areas. One cannot deal with any one issue in isolation. There has to be a connection.
106 As my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) pointed out in his excellent speech, the Government's unwillingness to fund proper pollution monitoring stations is a sign of their lack of concern for the causes of air and environmental pollution. Those are just some of the important issues faced by the Bill.
My final general point is that we live in a world where environmental crises are happening all the time. Global warming is happening and serious signs of environmental destruction are all around us. The Bill is not enough. This country does not make a big enough contribution internationally and the Bill is not enough to protect our national environment.
We must take a far tougher approach. Friends of the Earth believes that there is a strong case for a new clause that gives the Secretary of State and the Chancellor an overriding duty to integrate environmental protection requirements into the definition and implementation of other domestic policies. Those measures would give us an opportunity to do something to deal with the serious environmental problems that we face. The Bill is simply not strong or powerful enough to do that.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
In the time available to me, I shall tackle three issues. As colleagues have said, the Bill is a missed opportunity. It could have taken green politics to the heart of Government, but because an integrated approach has not been advocated across all Departments, that opportunity has been missed. If the Government are interested in putting environmental protection first, the Bill should contain a mechanism or duty to make all Departments work together.
Despite that criticism, I hope that the environment agency has a good run and takes a strategic view of the way forward. If it is to achieve that, resources must be made available to it. The Secretary of State said that he wanted a lean animal; I hope that we have an animal strong enough to survive the important tasks that lie before it. We must recognise the transitional costs of setting up the agency. There may be savings in the long run, but I doubt it. Those transitional costs must be funded. Over the past three or four years, the National Rivers Authority has lost grant of some £240 million and is shedding 1,200 staff, and the same is happening within Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution.
If we are to be serious about this matter, we must resource the agency properly and allow it to work in partnership with other people. Local authorities are shadows in the Bill; we must realise that they are important tools for sustainable development and that they, too, are going through a period of transition. The move to smaller authorities does not necessarily mean that we shall have a wider view. The problem with small local authorities is that they may take a not-in-my-backyard view. There is certainly scope for arguing in Committee for a clear partnership arrangement with local authorities.
Other hon. Members have discussed the problem of minewater discharge. May I highlight the issues that coalfield communities face with an example from my community, where Annersley colliery has been closed for more than a year on a care and maintenance basis? It costs £1.25 million a year to pump out water from the old Derbyshire coalfields as well as the western part of the Nottinghamshire coalfields, and British Coal is presently picking up the Bill.
107 What will happen to those pumping costs? A new private owner may take the pit on, but it will be a hard task. Who will pick up the cost of pumping if he goes into liquidation? The Government should first make a commitment that the Coal Authority will work in partnership with others to resolve that problem and, secondly, should give it the resources to do so. The resources are not in the Coal Authority's budget at present and coalfield communities have been neglected. The Government want to walk away from them and aspire to better. Having decimated the coalfields' economic base, the least that they can do now is clean up the landscape and give us a brighter future.
I am interested also in the agro-ecological side of the Bill. I welcome hedgerow protection, but there is a strong case for considering dry stone walls and ponds in the countryside. The part of the Bill that relates to national parks is limited. The 11,000 miles of footpaths through national parks are the jewel in the crown of our national parks. The new national park authority does not take responsibility for the rights of way network, but it should. I hope that we can correct that omission in Committee.
We should also consider the countryside stewardship scheme. I should like to commend to the Minister the recent report published by the Ramblers Association, which surveyed the countryside stewardship sites and found that provisions governing access are poor. The scheme may be experimental, but much more needs to be achieved. We plan to spend £8 million over 10 years on access provisions to those countryside stewardship schemes, but the public do not know about those sites. When they find them, they cannot get on to them. The Countryside Commission has accepted that survey, which also reveals that serious problems still persist on 40 per cent. of those sites.
The countryside stewardship scheme is the right approach. We should be raising the importance of the landscape and of environmental enhancement, but I have doubts about paying for access. I am pleased that those schemes are to be transferred to the responsibility of MAFF. I hope that the Ministry will consider the range of agricultural policies, because it is bizarre to be paying landowners and farmers £1.2 billion under the arable areas scheme and £200 million in set-aside while getting so little reward from that. We need to work for change and to ensure that environmental issues are at the heart of our agricultural policy. Families are not prepared to pay £27 a week to get nothing back from the countryside. I hope that we will look closely at the notion of green stewardship schemes.
The Bill is important because we all aspire for better things for our families and our children. We want to have a better standards of living and to see economic growth, but we also want to see the importance of the landscape lifted and the environment enhanced. People say that one cannot do both, but I believe that, with careful work and real commitment, and by seizing every opportunity, the Bill will offer us a real chance to try to resolve that dilemma.
§ Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)
I am grateful to be called to speak on the Second Reading of this important 108 Bill, which covers a considerable number of issues. I believe that the measures proposed demonstrate a commitment to scientifically sound and economically sensible environmental protection. Like the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), I represent a constituency in the east midlands and I agree with him that particular problems and environmental considerations are associated with the region's industrial base.
I should like to highlight three issues. The first is the need for an integrated environment agency. I look forward to its establishment as a strong and independent body because we require an independent voice for the environment; the adoption of better environmental standards and practices and sustainable development—the clause IV, if I can put it that way, of the Bill.
The benefits of integration were clearly highlighted by a programme of the NRA to improve the River Erewash. I have a great respect for the NRA's work, but that programme showed better than anything else the need for integration of our environment agencies, environmental watchdogs and pollution controllers. The River Erewash was once described by D.H. Lawrence as a lovely river, whichtwisted sluggishly through Alder trees, separating Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire.Life has long since changed in the region. The river now passes through several urban districts. It is a river of poor quality, fed largely by the local sewage works. When, in times of flood, one looks into the river, one needs to look away. It is devoid of fish and in many respects is a sad reflection of human neglect as a consequence of industrialisation of the region.
Careful examination of the plan that the National Rivers Authority envisages shows that it encompasses a huge number of other organisations that will be needed to get to grips with the improvement of the area. They include not only the NRA but Severn Trent Water plc, and an industry to improve water quality. British Waterways is responsible for other aspects, such as the diversion that is needed in some of the watercourses. The opencast coal sites, both in use and disused, that are spread throughout the region also feed sludge, sewage and pollution into that river; and the Coal Authority must be involved in that respect. The redevelopments require the local authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution to be involved. They require industry to help to regulate its own pollution. Motorway widening creates other problems for that river.
The NRA has produced an excellent document about ways to improve the River Erewash, but it is difficult for it to formulate a reasonable, achievable, quick solution to the problems without a proper environment agency encompassing all aspects of the control of pollution, from industry through to the effluent from sewage works. Therefore, I emphasise the necessity for that environment agency and welcome the Bill that sets it up.
Another aspect of that integration is pertinent to local industry because, right now, part of industry's effluent is dealt with by HMIP and the other part by local authorities. A large company in my constituency which is in that situation has two, in some respects conflicting, regulators and a confusing and complicated system, under which it is expensive, and in many ways unreasonable, for it to operate.
109 By integrating those matters, one obtains a more coherent framework for industry and for BATNEEC—the best available technology not entailing excessive cost. From what I have heard in the Chamber this evening, it seems that the Opposition parties may question that, but I believe that we must maintain a balance between the cost and the benefit. There is no point in placing some purist environmental regulation on industry only to find that companies shut and there is no employment as a consequence. Best available techniques and reasonable costs—a cost-benefit analysis—are surely an essential for the agency.
In his excellent opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about the difficult judgments associated with environmental questions. I suspect that there is no more difficult judgment than that associated with the contaminated land proposals in the Bill. Some aspects of that were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham).
Contaminated land tends to go with the type of industrial area that I represent, and I want the contaminated land to be made good and made available for new industries or for other uses. The derelict land grant has contributed greatly to a slow improvement of some of those sites, and some of the smaller sites have been cleared up by the Erewash Groundwork Trust.
However, I have a doubt about the way in which the contaminated land proposals will take effect. It seems to me that, whereas local authorities will be required to identify all contaminated land and have a statutory duty to serve a remediation notice on the appropriate person, there is a question mark about who that appropriate person might be. It is perfectly reasonable if the appropriate person is the person or organisation that contaminated the land in the first place, but it is a different matter if the original contaminator is an unknown quantity and notice is served on the individual or business which is now occupying the land.
It is clearly possible for a company to operate on land which, to the best of its belief, is free or reasonably free of contamination, only for it to find at some future date that the local authority tries to make it responsible for clearing up the contamination caused by previous occupants. I question that process and the procedures outlined in the Bill. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside could clear up that point.
The Bill rightly aims to improve and bring back into use much of the contaminated land that is often found in industrial areas, but we must ensure that the financial responsibility is placed on the correct person. We must also ensure that there is a proper definition to cover how much the land has to be cleaned up so that it can be used for its appropriate purpose. When such cleaning up has taken place, a local authority must state publicly that that duty has been done by the occupant and owner of that land, rather than leave the public in a quandary. In terms of land redemption, certainty must be restored to the market.
I represent a Derbyshire constituency and know just how the name of that county conjures up in people's minds the beauty of the Peak park. There have been concerns over many years about that park, which is perhaps one of the most popular national parks in the country. There is concern because not only does the park attract visitors, but many people live and work in it. Any proposed change to the park authority must include 110 assurances, and a written requirement to ensure that the lives, occupations and livelihoods of the residents are not atrophied. There must also be an assurance that people appointed by local authorities to serve on the park authority live in, and represent, the park area.
§ Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Two events in my diary stand out in the next couple of weeks and illustrate the Bill's significance. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) and I are to visit a stream at a place called Sheep House wood—it starts in his constituency and flows into the Upper Don and through my area. Its water is a deep orange and no tadpoles, minnows or other fish can live in it. It comes from a small mine that was abandoned possibly 100 years ago, but only now are the effects being seen and felt in my constituency.
The other event that comes to mind is VE day, when we shall remember events of 50 years ago. Shall we also be thinking about the environmental damage that the war has left? Should we also think of the cancer and disease from bombs dropped on Hiroshima or the pollution of the north Atlantic ocean, which was revealed publicly only last month? According to the Ministry of Defence, 145,000 tonnes of chemical weapons were dumped off Britain and Ireland after the second world war. The success or failure of the agency established by the Bill will be judged, not in a couple of years or by the millennium, but by future generations.
If we are prepared to give the agency the scope and width so that it does not shy away from controversial matters such as traffic, air pollution, energy policy and radioactive waste disposal, if we give it the toughness and teeth to enforce speedily and effectively, if it is independent of the huge, vested interests of waste contractors, water companies, the military and the like, if it is accountable to the public in whose interests it is to act, this might be the best—indeed, the only good—piece of legislation that this Parliament comes up with. But if it falls short, it will be a tragic waste of an opportunity.
The Bill talks about the three basic elements of air, water and earth. I hope that, in dealing with soil pollution, it also manages to control not just the big firms in the waste industry but the local fly tippers who operate without permission, or who apply for planning permission after the damage has been done.
The agency can play a useful role in ensuring that water is recognised for what it is—a natural, essential and public resource—and that clean drinking water provision and the disposal of waste water and sewage are recognised as essential public services. By considering water cycle conservation as a whole, it will help to provide a balance in the debate about water conservation, putting the emphasis on controlling the 30 per cent. of clean drinking water that leaks away through old pipes and infrastructure, rather than try to limit by price essential domestic usage in the home.
I read clause 37, about costs and benefits, carefully. I decided that it was a neat but rather meaningless clause that was better out than in the legislation. It tries to compare apples with potatoes. Costs can be seen on a balance sheet. They fall on a company, an individual or a multinational firm, but benefits are collective, public and cannot be quantified in the same way. It reminds me of 111 the same easy phrase that dominated the debate on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill last year—the "burden" on business compared with the public good. That phrase leaves me profoundly uneasy. The welcome that it has been given by the Confederation of British Industry, commercial interests and private companies only adds to my unease.
Why does the need exist in the Bill to speak up strongly to prop up big industry? Can it not speak for itself? Can it not afford the litigation in which, unfortunately, it might become involved? Does it not have enough friends in high places? Who will speak up for the collective and the public interest in appeals? Who, indeed, will speak for the birds, animals and plants that cannot organise protests at the loss of their countryside and habitat?
I looked to find out how appeals would be managed and dealt with in clause 96. That left me a little more uneasy because the clause assumes that appeals will always involve the polluter appealing against a control or regulation. I am not sure what provision exists in the Bill for the public to appeal against a licence to dispose of material or to pollute. That needs teasing out in Committee. The clause contains no presumption in favour of appeals being held in public. Advice and instruction exist that, on many occasions, appeals will be held in private. How can that be right when the agency is there to protect the public interest?
Democracy without openness is a contradiction in terms. I scoured schedule 1 for guidance on access to information and found nothing but the tried, tested and discredited proposal to set up another quango by this quango-mad Government. We should be told what is involved in terms of property transactions in the course of setting up the agency. Will that involve the transfer of more land and assets out of public ownership? Who will determine the value? How will disputes be determined? Will that information be made available to Members of Parliament and to the public? Schedule 2 does not satisfactorily cover that point.
The implicit closeness about the way in which the agency is to operate reflects a lack of accountability and an over-reliance on "ministerial guidance", whichever Minister we are talking about. The Environment Select Committee held a few preliminary sessions on the Bill before it was considered in the other place. We on the Committee felt that the role of policy maker and strategy developer was confused. It will be no good having a brand new environment agency to protect the environment if the powers and policy guidelines on which it is to act are waiting for a ministerial statement or guidance.
Clause 4 and its subsections leave the objectives, resources and responsibilities open to question and to delay. I welcome the inclusion of parliamentary scrutiny in the process, but I am concerned that the agency will be used as a scapegoat to take the blame for poor policy or the absence of and delays in policy making by the Government or Ministers.
We must ask whether the agency will have the toughness and teeth that it needs to be effective. I mention teeth particularly because I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford), sitting on the Front Bench. Even if there is a hint that the agency will have a reduced or more constricted ability than the existing agencies to 112 take prompt and firm action to forestall pollution incidents and recover in full costs of breaches of regulations, the Bill will do a serious disservice to us and to future generations.
I wondered why it was not to be called the environment protection agency, as it is in Scotland, rather than just the environment agency. Again I return with some unease to the CBI document on environment costs published last November. It is clear that the CBI sees the creation of the single environment agency as a "major deregulatory step". It hopes that it will meet "environmental objectives" rather than obligations in a way that enhances British competitiveness.
I worry about whether the legislation is really a further tranche of deregulation rather than what the Opposition would want it to be, which is a firm statement of how we will care for, control and finance the protection of our environment now and way into the future.
§ Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson), whose interest in and commitment to the environment are well known.
This has been a serious and important debate befitting the significance of the subject. The concept of an environment agency is exciting, but it is also daunting. We are the first generation of politicians to be brought face to face with the knowledge that our man-made world is rapidly destroying our natural world, not just in isolated and remote places but here at home and virtually everywhere.
In an era of global communications, only the profoundly ignorant or irresponsible could choose to deny the overwhelming evidence of environmental degradation. Yet denial is widespread. There are profit-hungry companies which calculate that they will never have to pay for the pollution that they leave behind. There are desperate workers who will argue for jobs at any price. There are Governments who subsidise practices that lead to dangerous resource depletion and there are armies of politicians denying their own responsibility. They trust in a sort of natural selection—future generations, the inventiveness of scientists and the rigours of the marketplace.
The survival of the fittest in an overpopulated and densely polluted planet would be a highly brutal business. We still have a choice, and we in the developed world have a particular responsibility. In the words of the World Commission on Environment and Development—the Brundtland commission—we must embracedevelopment that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.That definition of sustainable development is the one that the Labour party accepts.
In that context, the Environment Bill offers a unique opportunity, but, as drafted, it falls at the first hurdle. Where is the duty across Departments to ensure that all Government policies take account of environmental concerns? The Secretary of State no doubt believes that the environment should be at the heart of Government policies, but he has not included that notion in the Bill. We shall attempt to do so.
113 Where is the overriding duty on the environment agencies to be the champions of the environment? Where is the strategic purpose? Where is transparency and open government? Where are the citizens' environmental rights? Where, as the right hon. Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) asked, is the definition of sustainable development, of which the Secretary of State made so much? Everywhere the agencies' aims are hedged around with constraints, which is proof of the polluters' pressure on the Government and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, the Tory predilection for deregulation.
The local authority associations put it another way. They said:
Government has proposed a clumsy bureaucratic amalgamation of pollution control operations without the strategic and standard-setting role that is indispensable to the future direction and coherence of environmental protection functions".In short, this is not the Environment Bill that we would have chosen but, because we support the setting up of the agencies in principle, we shall do our best to improve their composition, purpose and functions.
In line with Labour's commitment to the devolution of power, we believe that Wales must have its own environment agency. Of course, we understand that rivers are no observers of national boundaries and, clearly, special co-operation would be required in operational matters along river catchments; but we believe that such arrangements are practicable and desirable. However, my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) spoke far more eloquently than I could about the needs of Wales and the Welsh environment—
§ Ms Ruddock
Indeed, I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's contribution.
In other matters of composition, it is clear that the Government have not been able to win the support of local authority associations. We share the associations' concerns about the loss of local knowledge and accountability in the operation of waste regulation functions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) pointed out in relation to Scotland, the additional loss of local air monitoring functions.
We are yet to be convinced that the obvious gains to be made from having a strategic overview of waste functions in the agencies would be matched by gains from the transfer of operational functions. We shall explore those matters further in Committee. We shall also want to consider why other obvious functions, such as those carried out by the drinking water inspectorate, the coastal protection functions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the pesticide monitoring functions of the Health and Safety Executive, are not also to be transferred.
Overall, as many hon. Friends have said, we shall seek to establish environmental agencies that become more than the sum of their parts. Like our colleagues in another place, we shall press for the establishment of a wider remit, a clear purpose and greater public accountability for the agencies. We are conscious of the fact that the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Green Alliance and many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for 114 Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), believe that the agencies' work could be compromised by the emphasis on cost benefits and by the exclusion of pollution control functions from the duty to further conservation.
As the World Wide Fund for Nature points out, the Government believe that it is incompatible for the agencies to issue discharge licences while having a duty to further conservation. However, the NRA has done so very successfully for the past five years. When it suits them, the Government insist on the importance of guidance rather than duties set out in the Bill, but they then insist on placing a statutory obligation on the agencies to take account of costs and benefits before they can exercise their powers.
That cannot be acceptable, as many of my hon. Friends have made clear today. Fears of legal challenge are all too real, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said. Those fears have been given greater force by the independent legal opinions obtained by Greenpeace and the Council for the Protection of Rural England. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds put it particularly well, arguing that the lack of clear purpose may lead to environmental neglect as, in the absence of clear quality targets, the new agencies are forced to focus on financial targets.
The Secretary of State in his opening speech made much of the need to look at the environment in the round and the need to bring together all the various functions, yet the Bill lacks the means of placing a duty on the water undertakers and the Office of Water Services to promote the efficient use of water and other resources. The Bill does little to encourage energy efficiency and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) pointed out, it totally fails to deliver a strategy for dealing with air pollution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and other hon. Friends referred in some detail to our concerns over contaminated land and pollution from abandoned mines. Clearly, the contaminated land proposals are quite inadequate and must be amended in Committee. As my hon. Friends the Members for Gower, for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) and for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) mentioned, the plans for dealing with contaminated mine water refer only to those 32 pits remaining in operation. About 1,000 pits have been closed in the past 50 years, and their legacy is appalling.
By their own admission, the Government still want to give advantage in that area to the polluters and to protect the profits of privatisation. The removal of exemption from prosecution—[Interruption.] It says so in the financial memorandum to the Bill, and I shall point it out to the Minister later if I have to. The removal of the exemption from prosecution should come into effect one year from now, not at the turn of the century, and we shall press that matter again in Committee.
I turn finally to national parks and hedgerows, two areas in which my hon. Friends and I have welcomed many of the Bill's proposals. We applaud the great success of our colleagues in the other place in supporting the all-party amendment to provide for quiet enjoyment. We shall strive to defend that amendment in this House. We shall also strive to protect the national parks further from inappropriate and unnecessary development. We believe in principle that the national park authorities should have powers to manage rights of way. We shall, 115 of course, take the expert advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) in drafting such amendments.
On hedgerows, the House has been given much sound advice from hon. Members of all parties, but I particularly commend the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and for Denton and Reddish and the plea for an extension of hedgerow protection to Scotland, which was made so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith).
In the weeks ahead, we shall be engaged in vigorous debate over the details of the Bill. As I have said, there are whole areas of this legislation with which we cannot possibly agree, although we very much support the spirit behind it. There is much that we shall seek to change, but, in conclusion, I want to remind the House why environmentalists and politicians alike must take the matter seriously.
In Britain today, more than half of all our trees are damaged by acid rain, one fifth of our beaches fail European quality standards, millions of households receive sub-standard drinking water and, perhaps most alarming of all—
§ The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins)
That is not true.
§ Ms Ruddock
It is true.
Most alarming of all, the number of people with asthma triggered and aggravated by air pollution has doubled in a decade—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that that is not true. The facts should condition his attitude to environmental concern as they condition our attitude. If we ask the people of this country whether air pollution, substandard water and dirty beaches are matters of major concern, they say that they are. All the polls confirm that. The people want action, and so do we.
We will respond positively to the Secretary of State's declared search for consensus. Our amendments will be tabled with the widest possible backing. We look forward to the co-operation of the Secretary of State and of his Ministers to improve the Bill.
§ The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins)
I listened to the fine words from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock). To a large extent, they sounded pretty good, until, in the closing stages of her speech, she made remarks about drinking water which were palpable and absolute nonsense. Everyone knows that to be the case. However, as I am grateful for the interest that hon. Members from across the House have shown in the Bill and for the desire to recognise that the Bill commands broad support, I do not want to be any more partisan than I have just been.
I appreciate the concerns of hon. Members that the Bill should be effective legislation. It will come as no surprise that I, along with everybody else, share that concern. Where appropriate, we will table amendments to clarify our intentions for the legislation or to give effect to the development of our policies. My right hon. Friend the 116 Secretary of State has today given an indication of two areas—air quality and minerals planning—in respect of which we are committed to introducing new provisions.
As for the measures already included in the Bill, many hon. Members have referred to important issues with which I will attempt to deal in the short time available to me, which will no doubt be raised in more detail as the Bill progresses through Committee and on the Floor of the House. Perhaps I may deal with some of those details as we reach them.
Before I do that, I compliment my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken with knowledge and expertise. In that regard, I mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow), my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln (Sir K. Carlisle), for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth), my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), whose compliments I particularly appreciated, and my hon. Friends the Members for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) and for Erewash (Mrs. Knight). I am grateful for the contributions that they made and the way in which they made them, as I am for the contributions made by Opposition Members. I will try to address the concerns that have been raised pretty much in the order that they were raised.
The definition of "sustainable development" was raised. The concept of sustainable development goes much wider than the concerns of the Bill and it continues to evolve as a result of discussions within the United Kingdom and internationally. Ministers must be able to take account of that continuing debate in the guidance that they intend to give under clause 4.
Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of achieving economic development and effective environmental protection. Regulators should not therefore be able to proceed without taking into account the likely costs and benefits of their actions wherever it is reasonable for them to do so. However, despite suggestions from Opposition Members, that will not be at the expense of environmental protection—[Interruption.]—or even environmental perfection.
The provision as drafted requires the agencies to consider costs and benefits in the round, including environmental costs. It is drafted so as not to restrict that consideration either to only specified sorts of costs and benefits or to costs and benefits falling only on specified classes of organisations or people.
It is set out clearly on the face of the Bill that costs include the cost to any person and cost to the environment. A great deal of work has already been done and continues to be done on the quantification of environmental costs and benefits, but I accept, as all hon. Members do, that not all costs and benefits can be quantified in financial terms. That is why the clause is not drafted so as to restrict consideration to those costs and benefits that can be quantified or to require the agencies to act only where they can demonstrate an excess of benefit over cost. The agencies must use their judgment, and the clause is intended to enable them to do so. By its nature, it requires judgment of the risks of the harm that might be done and of the reasonableness of the actions necessary to reduce or avoid that.
117 Mention was made of powers and duties. Clauses 7 and 30 are the two that are particularly relevant. Clause 7 represents an important extension to the agency's ability to take proper account of conservation in discharging its functions, which avoids the difficulties, ambiguities and inconsistencies that would otherwise arise.
I have listened carefully to concerns that have been raised about that subject, but I believe, as do my right hon. and hon. Friends, that the duties that we have included in the Bill are the most appropriate ones for the agency, taking into account the breadth of the agency's function and responsibilities, the importance of ensuring that it is able to carry out all those functions, including its conservation duties, effectively, and the likely practical effect of those conservation duties. Clause 7 provides a specific duty on the agency to take account of conservation in exercising its functions under integrated pollution control, for example, and waste management licensing for the very first time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking asked me about water discharge consents and the effect on the NRA. I do not believe that, in practice, the removal from the issuing of water discharge consents of a duty to further conservation represents a weakening. The existing duty under section 16 of the Water Resources Act 1991 is to further conservation so far as it is consistent with the purposes of any enactment relating to the functions of the NRA.
Although the conservation considerations are therefore relevant to the issue of water discharge consents, they do not override all other considerations. The key purpose of establishing an environment agency is to encourage a more integrated approach to pollution control, which would be incompatible with placing its water pollution control functions under a different conservation duty from its other pollution control functions.
The provisions will give the agency all the powers that it needs to protect the interests of nature conservation, and in certain respects it might be able to go further than would have been possible had that water discharge function continued to be subject to a provision along the lines of section 16 of the Water Resources Act. I believe that the Bill will be at least as effective as the current duty in the context of the agency's pollution control functions.
§ Sir Cranley Onslow
Are members of Friends of the Earth wrong in their fear that the recent decision in the House of Lords on a legal case has created a situation in which anything that is not specifically prohibited under a discharge consent can be discharged with impunity?
§ Mr. Atkins
Our understanding is that the recent case to which my right hon. Friend refers did not change the law, although the NRA may previously have adopted a different interpretation of the relevant provisions. The issue arises from the way in which consents have been drafted. There is always a difficult balance between the legitimate interests of the regulator to prevent polluting discharges and the proper concern of those subject to regulation to have certainty over their ability to discharge. In recent years, there have been extensive discussions between my Department, the NRA and the water industry on that balance. Following concerns expressed by my noble Friend in their Lordships' House, we have been in discussions with the NRA about whether the current balance needs to be corrected and, if so, how that could best be achieved.
118 I now refer to contaminated land, in particular in relation to abandoned mines. The new requirement, which has been mentioned by hon. Members, for mine operators to give the agency at least six months' notice of their intention to abandon a mine will allow steps to be taken to prevent minewater pollution in future. For mines abandoned after the end of 1999, the Bill removes, for the owner or operator of a mine, statutory protections in cases where polluted water is permitted to flow from an abandoned mine. That will enable the agency to regulate those discharges.
The removal of the statutory protections for mines abandoned after the end of 1999 is a significant amendment to existing legislation. We sought to strike a balance between strengthening the additional controls and taking account of the additional liabilities that that would create.
I should like to reiterate for the benefit of the House what my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde said during the debate on the Coal Industry Bill on 26 April 1994. There are many comments relating, for example, to Durham in column 541, but specifically in column 542 he says:I can assure the Committee"—as it then was, of the whole House—that it will in due course have a specific budget"—that is, the Coal Authority—earmarked for these purposes—that is, of dealing with serious pollution—
and that this will enable it to carry forward in full the role and activities of British Coal in this area"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 April 1994; Vol. 554, c. 542.]That seems to be pretty specific.
I now turn to contaminated land. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West raised the particular problems of owner liability. We have acknowledged in contaminated land considerations that the new provisions extend the potential liabilities of landowner in cases of water pollution resulting from the migration of contaminants. We intend to table an amendment to restore the status quo.
It is the Government's intention to improve market confidence and certainty. We therefore looked closely at the test of "knowingly permitting", and we do not accept some of the wider constructions being placed on those words. We have agreed to consider the provisions by which liability might pass from the original polluter to the owner or occupier of the land. The intention is to ensure that contractual arrangements to transfer liability are respected. The onus of proof that liability has been transferred should rest with the polluter.
My hon. Friend also referred to the problems of those such as Lloyd's or those involved in insurance to any depth about the super-fund or the so-called "deep pockets" argument in the United States. We are conscious of that. I have had consultations with those in the insurance and banking industries among others, to hear what they have to say and have taken action accordingly.
As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, the provisions are based on the "suitable for use" approach which removes real environmental hazards without imposing unnecessary regulation or costs. That should provide greater legal clarity on what might be required and who might have to pay, but this is clearly a matter which will be discussed at length in Committee.
119 I now turn to the national parks. I missed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, but I know what he was going to say, as he has said it before and others have said the same about the definition of quiet enjoyment.
I know there is much interest in the second national park purpose as amended, to one of promoting opportunity for the quiet enjoyment and the understanding of the special qualities of the park by the public. Much has been said about quite enjoyment today. As a former Minister responsible for sport, and having seen for myself the RAC Lombard rally going through forests and other areas, I know how important the definition of quiet enjoyment is. It does not apply just to motor sport, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) said, but to legitimate sports such as shooting, cyclo-cross and other activities which could be misconstrued if quiet enjoyment is not defined as carefully as he and I and other colleagues believe to be the case.
The parks are living, working landscapes and we intend to ensure that the second national park purpose cannot be used to justify restrictions on activities which are legitimate and in keeping with the traditions of the parks.
I have listened to what has been said today and we intend to give very careful consideration to the wording of the second national park purpose and to table amendments in Committee that will clarify the issue.
I should like to say a brief word about the membership of national parks authorities. I am extremely sympathetic to those hon. Members who have talked about their concerns about the representation of national parks. That will also be discussed in Committee and I hope to be as helpful as I possibly can to the concerns raised.
Finally, in the context of the matters dealt with today I should like to turn to hedgerows, particularly in the context of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East, who made an excellent speech on the back of his particular knowledge of hedgerows and other considerations which, as he said, honour a long-standing commitment to bring forward measures to protect such hedgerows. We are mindful of the need to strike a balance between the demands of conservation and the burdens of regulation, so we aim to introduce a scheme which is fair, reasonable and practical and which focuses protection on the most important hedges for which replanting is no substitute.
I have tried to deal as briefly as possible with a number of issues that have been raised today. Undoubtedly, they will form part of the debate in Committee. I consider the Bill to be an important piece of legislation on a most important subject.
The Bill is wide-ranging, but with a common theme. Put simply, all the measures will help protect and maintain the environment as we are committed to doing. It gives expression to the Government's commitment to sustainable development and the new environment agencies will be leaders in the field of environment protection in Britain. The other measures in the Bill provide a number of important steps along that path.
I have no doubt that we will have some lively discussions on the subjects contained in the Bill and I hope that they will be productive and positive and we will end up as everyone in the House would wish, with an excellent piece of environmental legislation. Judging from today's debate 120 and the context in which remarks have been made, we are not far away from that now. I believe that the Bill deserves to be warmly welcomed, and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).