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Column 1200view of his wish to pursue that constituency matter. I assure him that I will get back to him as soon as I possibly can.
Mr. Boswell : As the Minister has extended his arm three quarters of the way to meet the issues that we have raised, I am prepared to wait one quarter longer for his final decision, in the confident hope that it will be a positive decision taken before the end of the passage of the Bill. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
( ) that person takes all such steps as are reasonably practicable in the circumstances for minimising the extent of the entry or discharge and of its polluting effects ;'.
I do so with confidence, because my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) welcomed the amendment when he saw it on the Amendment Paper and I am sure that it will be welcomed by Opposition Members.
Clause 104(2) provides that a person shall have a defence to a charge of polluting rivers and other controlled waters if he can show that the polluting discharge or entry was made in an emergency to avoid danger to the public.
The Government consider that that defence, which reproduces the existing provision in the Control of Pollution Act 1974, should be subject to an important condition. A person should be able to plead such a defence only if he can demonstrate that he has taken all reasonably practicable steps in the circumstances to minimise the discharge and its polluting effect. That is provided in this tightening-up amendment.
Even in the case of an emergency discharge, dischargers should have a clear obligation to do all they can to minimise the effects of their discharges. It will make a further small, but important and useful, contribution to a more effective system of pollution control, and I commend it to the House.
Ms. Walley : There is some concern that amendment No. 64 could be interpreted as a get-out or let-out provision. It is important that the Minister gives us some idea of what he means by "reasonably practicable". How subjective will that assessment be and who will judge whether something is "reasonably practicable"? Is the Minister concerned about whether the general public will consider something to be "reasonably practicable"? Will an action have to be "reasonably practicable" in the view of the water companies or in the opinion of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution which has been grossly under-resourced in terms of staff and so on?
The amendment appears to be highly subjective. The Minister needs to give the House some assurances on where the principle that the polluter pays fits into the amendment. For those reasons we seek further clarification from the Minister as to the purpose of the amendment.
Mr. Boateng : The uncharitable might believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) was being somewhat carping in her response to the Minister who has come to the Chamber at this time of night to move such an amendment. They would be deeply misguided in that view. The points that my hon. Friend
Column 1201raised have to be taken on board, because, sad to say, experience has shown that the water companies, which are to be regulated and controlled, and are subject to the legislation might seek to use the defence that the Minister has provided in the amendment. Those self -same water companies agree with Mr. Keith Court, who is chairman of South West Water. I note that the Minister for Water and Planning is even more languid than usual. One might think that he is the last Minister who can afford to be languid. He flings himself back on the Bench--were the cameras only present--a smile hovering on his lips, with mute resignation playing around those pearly gates.
Mr. Keith Court said :
"High calibre staff will be needed to outwit the regulators of the water industry after privatisation."
Those high-calibre staff will no doubt be paid the high sums mentioned quite properly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts).
If high-calibre staff are to be employed to outwit the regulators, it is vital that the question that we have asked is answered. There are circumstances in which a defence such as that provided by the amendment should properly exist. There should be a defence in an emergency, but what is meant by an "emergency"? In what circumstances does the Minister foresee that it would be reasonable for the polluter to draw himself or herself within the ambit of the defence? That question becomes more important when one reflects on how existing law is administered and applied by the courts. Widespread concern has been expressed by not only Labour Members but Conservative Members about some interpretations of pollution control law, the fines imposed and the latitude that is sometimes extended to the polluter. We hoped for--I am sure that it is a hope shared by all reasonably minded people--the greening of the magistracy so that it might become more vigilant.
That is not an unreasonable hope, but Labour Members are not prepared to rely on hopes, which dominate the thoughts of Conservative Members. They hope that regulation will be effective and that somebody will purchase shares. We are not content to rest on hope ; we want some certainty, which the Minister has not provided. When we receive that certainty, he may find that Labour Members are prepared to take a reasoned attitude to the amendment.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) omitted to mention the charity that might be offered by the amendment. That might be a let-out for polluters. I hope that it is not, but if one examines the amendment carefully a number of questions arise.
As the hon. Member for Brent, South rightly said, an emergency has not been accurately defined. Will the words "reasonably practicable" be defined? What steps should be taken when an emergency occurs to prevent it getting out of hand? The word "minimising" could also have various interpretations. One would have thought that "preventing" would have been better than "minimising". I trust that my suspicions will be dispelled by the Minister. I hope that he will be able to convince me that the use of those words is specific and that he can explain their meaning in detail so that we can all be reassured.
Mr. Moynihan : It is in the nature of an emergency that it is impossible accurately to define what it will be. It is absurd for Opposition Members to suggest that the Bill could describe in detail a range of possible emergencies to back up the case. If an accident occurred, for example, at a water treatment plant and chemicals used in the treatment process got into the water, the water plc would have to make a decision as to the most important step to be taken in the light of public health. The company might conclude that the best step to take would be to discharge the affected water into the water course rather than allow it to find its way into the system. The company might not need to make that decision, but it is impossible to predict accurately all the factors that would need to be assessed in an emergency.
As the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) so accurately stated, it is important that proper provision is made for an emergency, but it is rich indeed for the hon. Gentleman--a distinguished lawyer in his own right--to wish to define in greater detail the long-standing defence of "reasonably practicable". [Interruption.] There is a certain amount of barracking about whether the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished lawyer--a highly paid lawyer might be a more accurate description.
Mr. Moynihan : Suffice it to say, in the last two minutes of this debate, that it is for the courts to make the judgment in the light of all the circumstances. That is the key point. We seek to tighten the defence available before the courts by bringing forward amendment No. 64.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made : No. 35, in page 127, leave out lines 16 to 24 and insert
(5) The following provisions apply where an order under this section contains a provision authorising a water undertaker to prohibit or limit the use of water, that is to say
(a) the power may be exercised in relation to consumers generally, a class of consumer or a particular consumer ;
(b) the water undertaker shall take such steps as it thinks appropriate for bringing the prohibition or limitation to the attention of the persons to whom the prohibition or limitation will apply and, in particular, shall (as the undertaker thinks appropriate)--
(i) cause notice of the prohibition of limitation to be published in one or more local newspapers circulating within that part of the water undertaker's area which would be affected by the provision of the order ; or
(ii) send notice of the prohibition or limitation to the persons to whom the prohibition or limitation will apply ;
(c) the prohibition or limitation shall not come into operation until the expiration of the period of seventy-two hours beginning with the day on which the notice is published or, as the case may be, sent to the person in question.'.-- [Mr. Moynihan.]
No. 80, in page 139, line 5, at end insert--
and to delegate to them such powers and duties as it may from time to time think fit'.
No. 153, in page 139, line 5, at end insert--
(2) The chairmen of the regional committees shall be appointed by the Minister in consultation with the Authority.'
No. 81, in page 139, line 6, leave out advisory'.
No. 82, in page 139, line 9, leave out advisory'.
No. 83, in page 139, line 13, leave out advisory'.
No. 85, in page 139, line 15, at end, insert--
(2A) There shall be appointed by the Authority for each area, a Chairman who has an interest in the fisheries within the area and members nominated by riparian owners and anglers representative of rivers and still waters within the area. The number of members appointed shall not exceed twenty and will vary according to the extent of the fisheries within the area'.
No. 84, in page 139, line 17, leave out an advisory' and insert a'.
Mr. Onslow : I do not want to delay the House, so I shall be brief as possible. I should first declare an interest. I am a riparian owner, in a small way. I have been a keen fisherman for many years, I have fished in many parts of the British Isles and I sit on a number of bodies that represent anglers collectively such as the Anglers Co-operative Association, the Salmon and Trout Association and the British Field Sports Society. The points that I want to make are not mine alone, but are shared by many anglers. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure them.
The most important amendment of the group is No. 80. I shall concentrate mainly on that, with a few words about amendments Nos. 153 and 85. The others are purely consequential.
I hope that the House will agree that amendment No. 80 has three things to commend it : it would improve the representation of anglers in fishery matters ; it would improve the management of fisheries, and it could, I think, be accepted without damaging a principle that the Government hold dear, which is that the National Rivers Authority should not be undercut by having its powers limited by decision of Parliament. The powers of the NRA will derive from the House, and some hon. Members may feel that it should have more, but my argument will relate to the NRA's use of powers that we know it will have, one of which is the power to levy charges on anglers and owners and occupiers of fisheries through licences or other means.
I invite the Minister to anticipate Government amendment No. 5, which we may or may not get a chance to debate in the later stages of the Bill. He will at least agree that that sets out clearly that the NRA will have considerable powers to levy charges. It does not say how the money is to be spent or who is to spend it, but I am nevertheless attracted by the proposition that those who
Column 1204contribute should have some say in deciding how the money is to be spent. I hope that the Minister will agree that that proposition is basically a democratic one and accept its corollary, which is that they can have such powers only if they are delegated to the regional fisheries committee, on which we hope and believe anglers will be powerfully represented. It is hard to envisage what checks there will be on the NRA's fisheries activities if that does not happen. While I have no quarrel with the choice of Lord Crickhowell as chairman-designate of the NRA and I am glad to discover that Lord Mason is to be at his elbow--and I know both of them to be keen and experienced anglers--we cannot look forward with confidence to keen and experienced anglers always occupying those positions. We must anticipate circumstances in which it might, more than ever, be necessary for anglers to have more say in the management of their fisheries.
A number of anglers are not as confident as one would wish them to be that all will be well under the proposed NRA structure. Broadly speaking, the anglers support the Bill, for very good reasons. They have always been in the forefront of the fight against pollution, and they regard the separation of the powers of the water authority as managers and the NRA as inspectors as an important step forward. It would be wrong, however, for Ministers to suppose that all anglers take an entirely rosy view of the future. In that context, I can do no better than to quote from a letter sent by a keen and experienced angler who has considerable reservations about the circumstances that will prevail once the NRA is established :
"The Regional Organisation at present envisaged is simply a carbon copy of the existing W.A.'s perpetuating most of their faults and even introducing new ones"
He adds :
"it is absolutely certain that the legal obligation of the present W.A.'s and the future N.R.A. to maintain, improve, and develop fisheries has no chance whatever of being fulfilled without River Catchment Fishery Committees with executive powers.
The justification for this categorical statement is simply that the Fishery Organisation of the present W.A.'s has not always proved satisfactory because the Fishery Function was far too small and often considered unimportant in far too large an organisation for anyone of importance to take any interest in it. Officers, at least in some W.A.'s, have therefore been able to ignore Advisory Committees and to take decisions--or fail to take decisions--in situations that they really did not understand. Experts are dangerous unless they are responsible to an informed and confident lay committee. They need to be questioned and forced to justify their case".
Of course, in the House we spend our time questioning and seeking Ministers' justification for their cases. I hope that Ministers would not object to that pressure. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not think that this is too much to ask of the NRA.
The letter goes on :
"Fisheries may be very small compared with most of the other proposed functions of the NRA, but from the point of view of recreation, conservation and the environment they are most important."
I do not believe that any hon. Member would challenge that view. I hope, too, that there is general agreement with the proposition that anglers are entitled to a real opportunity to make constructive contributions and to participate in the management of the fisheries that they value and enjoy.
I said earlier that I realised that the Government were anxious not to devalue the NRA by shackling it. If that is what they fear the amendment will do, I hope that they will
Column 1205think again. I certainly hope that the amendment will be used, but it will be for the NRA to use it. I hope that it would willingly and freely delegate powers. I do not believe that it will be jealous and will want to keep the power to itself. I hope that there are not bureaucrats in water authorities' fishery management who will consider that they will have some cosy billet that they can look forward to enjoying, without anyone having any real control over what they do or how the money is spent. I can see no objection to the proposition that the NRA should be empowered to delegate some of its functions to executive regional fishery committees.
Amendment No. 153 is self-explanatory. I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would like a say in the appointment of officers in the NRA, if only so that he can remain accountable to Parliament.
Amendment No. 85 is simply probing, because I hope that the Minister can indicate how many people and what sort of people he expects will comprise the fishery committees. They should be committees that will be capable of exercising power, even if we do not necessarily feel that they must change their name. Whether we are talking about shooting or matters connected with fishing, we should make it clear that we expect the committees to be noticed. I am afraid that there is some reason to suppose that, when they are given an advisory label--as often happens--they will not be noticed at all.
Mr. Livsey : Being an angler, I welcome the amendments. Anglers have a great interest in the environment and the purity of water, especially of rivers. I believe that after the Committee stage anglers felt that they were under-represented on the NRA. That was the principle of no taxation without representation. Anglers, after all, who are paying considerable sums of money to enjoy their sport, should be recognised. Indeed, in any delegation of powers to regional authorities anglers should have a proper say in fisheries. The feeling is that they have been shut out in the cold. That is unfortunate, because, if anglers were given the opportunity of executive powers to help develop fisheries, that would have great significance. I believe that that is one of the aims of the amendments.
To be effective fisheries management must be proactive, and actions such as stocking the rivers with migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and the like are vital. There is no doubt that our fishing resource is undeveloped and that what exists has substantially deteriorated over the years. There is great work to be done to revive the fisheries in many of our rivers. The expertise that our anglers could provide in that respect could be significant not only in creating a better resource for sport, but in developing tourism and employment opportunities in rural areas.
Not long ago we spent some time discussing the Salmon Bill and we thought that we had improved matters. However, unless the advisory committees to the NRA have executive powers, angling interests will suffer a considerable setback.
We all know that angling is the most popular recreation in the United Kingdom, with about 3 million participants. The Bill provides a great opportunity to develop that resource. After all, angling is a pleasant, quiet occupation which is in tune with the environment. Advisory
Column 1206committees which represented angling interests and had executive powers would bring benefit to the rural areas and the waters that flow through them.
Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : Nothing that I say should be taken as a criticism, direct or by implication, of Lord Crickhowell, the chairman -elect, if that is the right description, of the NRA. There is only one weakness in Lord Crickhowell and that is that he is not immortal. That is why I am concerned about the Bill as presently drafted.
In common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) I declare an interest--not as a riparian owner, but as an angler, particularly as I happen to be president of the National Anglers Council. That council claims to represent the millions of anglers of the United Kingdom and their families, who are extremely concerned. The fundamental reason for that concern is that they believe, as I do, that advisory committees have a limited useful life. What will ensure that the NRA will pay any attention to an advisory committee? All too often, advisory committees become a facade to which less and less attention is paid or, in this instance, needs to be paid.
There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that the NRA must pay any attention to the advisory committees. All the Bill says is that those committees must be consulted. To start with, I suspect that will mean something, but as time goes by, it will mean nothing.
Clause 136(1)(a) imposes a duty on the NRA to
"maintain, improve and develop salmon fisheries, trout fisheries, freshwater fisheries and eel fisheries"
What does that mean, precisely? It may mean a great deal to the chairman- elect, Lord Crickhowell, but to his successor that duty may mean little or nothing, or no more than a statement to demonstrate that he is living up to his duty. If the committees established by clause 136 are to mean anything permanent, it is essential to make them more important and give them greater executive power. This is emphasised by the fact that much of the funding for fisheries will come from the anglers and riparian owners. They should therefore be represented in a more executive role than is envisaged, and the committees should be strengthened in the Bill. Those committees should not be composed of people whom the NRA considers to be interested in the issues involved. They should have a definite interest in those issues, as is made clear in the amendment. The committee chairmen should be appointed by the Minister with responsibility for fisheries, and not by the NRA, which may have a vested interest in having a weak person, or even a placeman, at the helm.
After all, these committees amount to quangos and could be a nice way of pensioning off some good party hack who seems to have done his bit over the years. The chairmen of these committees should be appointed by the responsible Minister, and that would ensure that the chairmen and committee members would not act entirely in accord with, and comfortably alongside, the NRA.
Each committee should be a consistent and continuing gadfly in the side of the NRA, and for that to happen, the NRA should not be responsible for appointing the membership and the chairmen and for consulting them, which, as I say, could mean something or nothing. I hope that the Minister will give this issue further thought, if he cannot accept the amendment.
Column 120711.30 pm
Mr. Allen McKay : In debating an earlier amendment I mentioned my constituent Mr. Crofts, who is chairman of the South Yorkshire anglers association. I quoted from a letter he sent me, but I omitted a part of it that is relevant to the issue we are now discussing. I hope that the Minister has noted that, despite the lateness of the hour, we have a coalition of Back Benchers in favour of the amendment. I agreed with everything that the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said about anglers and, not being an angler, I can stand back and take a dispassionate look at what the angling associations do.
My local authority has approached anglers on many occasions to seek their views about the quality of the rivers and similar matters. We have always found them extremely helpful, and their services are given free. The amendment would not cost anything to implement, so the Government cannot accuse us of demanding large sums of money, an accusation that they have made during our consideration of the Bill. My constituent Mr. Crofts refers in his letter to the whole stretch of the River Don down to below Sheffield. Using his own time and money and by his own efforts, he uses information from the water authority sampling stations to keep a check on that stretch of river. He does that because, as an angler, he is interested in the conservation of the countryside and, in particular, of our waterways. He writes about the wildlife that he comes across and the plant life at the side of the river. He gives a report to Yorkshire Water, exactly as suggested in the amendments. We can give such people a place as of right under the Bill. That is all the amendments are asking for.
Another of my constituents who has written to me has always been a conservationist. He is a farmer and a landowner. He is a lawyer and also a member of the Labour party. He is a very commendable person. He is also an educationist. He is an environmentalist, as are both his sons, who are interested in angling. Someone wants a piece of his land to set up a piggery, so he could make a substantial amount of money by selling the land. He will not sell it, because he does not wish the river to be polluted by the discharge from a piggery ; also, he does not think that a piggery would be a good thing
environmentally. Although he could make a lot of money, for the sake of angling and river quality, he has decided that the land is better left as it is.
British Coal has a lease on part of his land for the next 99 years. Although the board has finished with the land, he refuses to release it, because within the lease it has to keep the river clear and clean. Water has to be pumped from the old workings so that it does not pollute the river.
Those constituents have adopted a commendable attitude. They would be an asset to Yorkshire Water and to the environment if the amendments were accepted. I accept the arguments that have been put from all sides of the House. The Minister should take note of these constructive amendments that would strengthen the National Rivers Authority. Unless it is well funded, it will not have teeth. The amendments would strengthen it, without extra funding, and would make it more acceptable to the great body of conservationists who look after the environment and enjoy their fishing at the same time.
Mr. Boateng : I was concerned at the rather unseemly outbreak of consensus among the parties, but when I saw the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) making his entry I knew that any hope of consensus had gone out of the window. I expect numerous interventions from the hon. Gentleman in his usual, firmly sedentary position, but he may yet surprise us and manage to contain himself. We shall have to see.
I do not want anything that I say to break the consensus that has emerged. I do not have an interest to declare. I am not a riparian owner. My little plot is some half a mile away from the river in Brent. In a borough where much changes, the river seems to be firmly established and is not likely to come my way.
I am very fond of fish, not just for their culinary attributes but because they play an enormously important environmental role. They are environmental barometers. When the fish start to go a little green about the gills or, worst of all, upturn altogether, it is obvious that something is wrong with the water.
My fondness for fish extends to fishermen and all who are connected with angling, of whom there are large numbers in my constituency, which falls within the boundaries of the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council. It is the particular concerns of that council that I am anxious to share with the House this morning.
Mr. Boateng : It is evening now--it will be morning shortly. I do not wish to anticipate how long I shall take to share with the House the concerns of the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council. Needless to say, within the boundaries of the council there falls the middle section of the River Thames, from Cleeve lock to Mosley lock, including the main tributaries--the Rivers Kennet, Lauden, Pang and Wey, and the rivers running into them, the Whitewater, the Blackwater, the Lambourn, and so on. Amongst those, I might add, is the river Brent. It s possible that some 80,000 to 100,000 anglers use those waters in the course of a year. The Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council does a splendid job and is represented on the regional fisheries advisory committee at Thames Water. It is precisely because of the job that that body does--the service and benefit that it provides to anglers--that I wholeheartedly support the amendment.
There are a number of issues that the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council is anxious that we should have at the forefront of our minds in considering the merits of these amendments. Its concern about water obstruction is very real. It is anxious that there should be a review of water obstruction licences and that, wherever possible, they should be withdrawn. If feels, with cause, that within the Thames Water region there are sufficient licences to take out more water than is available. Fortunately, the CEGB does not demand its full capacity, but obstructions are having an adverse effect on the streams. Some have been lost, and rivers have been downgraded in terms of water flow.
It is on precisely this sort of issue that anglers and fisheries interests are well able to bring their particular expertise and concern to bear. As has been said by hon. Members in all parts of the House, one does not want a situation in which those people are relegated to a merely advisory and consultative role. There is a part for them to
Column 1209play in monitoring the environmental quality of our rivers, and they should be encouraged and assisted, as these amendments seek to encourage and assist them, to that end. River quality objectives are also a matter of concern to my angling constituents and their council. They are concerned that, at present, the quality of our rivers is determined against a set of criteria which include both chemical and biological components.
It is believed that, if fisheries are to flourish, with properly structured ecosystems, those criteria ought not to be downgraded. In particular, there is concern about the biological element and about the importance of ensuring that, because the chemical criteria can be met in water conditions incompatible with fish, the biological criteria must be taken on board. Those people want to see the river quality objectives protected and, wherever possible, enhanced. If the amendments are accepted, as I hope that they will be--I hope that the Minister will at least take some steps in that direction--interested bodies would be in a position to ensure that the river quality objectives are protected.
Mr. Nicholas Baker : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept an invitation to come down to Dorset with me, with or without his five children. I will show him the River Allen, which has exactly the problems of over-abstraction that he has described. I was therefore interested to hear what he had to say.
Mr. Boateng : I shall be delighted to come down to Dorset, with my five children whom the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to mention-- [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Minister of State expresses concern that they might be disciplined in a car park. I assure him that that occurs but rarely, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) would not take us anywhere near any car parks. Moreover, I am confident that we shall be able to regulate the children's behaviour in the ordinary way, which does not involve disciplining in car parks--it involves a hard stare, with the promise of discipline to come if they do not respond to the stare. That is how one deals with children. I am sure that that view strikes a chord with a number of Conservative Members-- [ Hon. Members-- : "In the Whips Office."] I do not wish to be sidetracked, least of all down the avenue of the Whips Office.
It is important that we should recognise exactly what is happening in some parts of the River Thames, especially the mid-Thames which affects my constituents in Brent. I will give the House just one example which has been drawn to my attention by the Mid Thames Fisheries Consultative Council. The native cray fish has virtually been destroyed by the disease brought in by the single cray fish--