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It is now a commonplace that environmental issues will play a prominent part in the national and international political debate in the last decade of this century. It is therefore particularly appropriate to begin the decade with this Bill. Whatever the arguments about the Bill--a number may, I suspect, be a little cosmetic--it will surely provide us with the basic framework for much of our pollution control in Britain well into the next century. Before I refer in detail to the provisions of the Bill, I should like to make four brief points.
First, environmental regulation and control have a long legislative pedigree in Britain. It goes back to the industrial revolution. On this side of the House, there have been times when it seemed as though we have talked of little other than Disraeli's interest in sewers. More recently, we can recall the Clean Air Acts, the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and last Session's Water Act. Many of the proposals in the Bill--innovatory though they are, both domestically and internationally--have been discussed for a number of years. The Royal Commission on environmental pollution, for example, first proposed the integration of pollution control, so that harmful industrial emissions come under one regulatory system covering land, air and water, 14 years ago. The measures on waste are very much on lines recommended by the Royal Commission in 1985 and, by and large, welcomed by Select Committees both here and in another place I know about our Select Committee's reservations, and I will refer to them later. Our proposals--long and fully discussed--for regulating genetically modified organisms, received a more recent endorsement with the Royal Commission's report on this subject six months ago. I congratulate the commission on having produced a thorough, well-argued and well-presented survey, which will continue to provide a source of guidance and advice.
I hope that the weight of informed judgment and opinion that lies behind many of the proposals in the Bill, and the extent to which they have already been fully debated, will mean that we can proceed from the basis of a broad measure of agreement on the principal features of this legislation. That is certainly what happened with the last major legislation on this subject in 1973 and 1974. I hope also, therefore, that we shall have a constructive debate today and an equally constructive time in Committee. I cannot for the life of me see why this Bill should produce much acrimony, but I admit that life can be full of surprises.
Secondly, control and regulation are essential to the improvement of environmental quality, just as they are important to the raising of health standards and the securing of safety at work. But they provide only part of the means for enhancing environmental quality. Our unequivocal view is that the best way of securing that objective is a judicious mix of governmental regulation
Column 33and market economics. The market and private enterprise are often challenged by regulation to higher technological standards and better performance. I do not believe that the environmental history of eastern Europe or, for that matter, the history of the water industry in Britain, suggest that leaving everything to the state is the best way of improving the environment.
I am not entirely sure where the Opposition would place the balance. I trust that they will accept that controls are not costless and that incentives other than controls are often the best means of achieving environmental goals in a cost-effective way. Whatever the Opposition's views on that point, they must surely be with us in believing that sensible and sustainable growth is the friend, not the enemy, of a cleaner and greener environment. I find it especially difficult to contemplate a Socialist approach to economics without at least the fiction of growth at its heart.
Thirdly, it is vital that the sophisticated and coherent system of pollution control that we are introducing should be credible. Credibility requires that such a system should be operated by strong and effective institutions and that it should be open to public scrutiny. We are still to some extent in the painful early stages of establishing some of the institutions to monitor and control pollution. For instance, the National Rivers Authority has been in operation for only a few months, and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution was not established until 1987.
We have faced real, though I think understandable, problems in getting the inspectorate set up with the right complement and the right recruitment. I hope that some of our recent recruitment problems will be alleviated by the new and much improved salary scales that are now in place. I should like to pay a special tribute to the late Brian Ponsford, who brought to the difficult task of running the inspectorate high intelligence and great personal dedication.
But these institutional questions will inevitable take some time to get right. We shall naturally be looking at them in the context of the work we are doing on the White Paper that we shall publish later this year. Let me only repeat here once again that there would be little point in having an excellent system of pollution control without the means to implement it. I do not intend that we should find ourselves in that position.
On public access to environmental information, I shall have more to say later. I have no doubt that greater openness and more information are the best way of combating the sort of charlatanry that can give serious environmental causes a bad name.
Fourthly, this Bill, important though it is, is far from being our last word on the environment. It would be ludicrous to try to solve every environmental problem in one Bill--doubly so in the case of environmental issues, where we require both more scientific information and also unparalleled international co-operation in order to do what is both wise and workable. I hope that the House can resist the temptation to try to hang every pet environmental objective on the branches of this particular legislative tree. In addition, we should all of us resist another temptation--of casually fabricating environmental policy as we bowl along.
It is even more dangerous to make environmental policy off the cuff than it is to make policy in other areas--but I do, of course, recognise that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has exceptionally capacious cuffs.
Column 34Let me now turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill. I hope that the House will forgive me if I speak at some length, because it is a long Bill and its detailed provisions need proper attention. Part I establishes two innovatory pollution control systems, integrated pollution control and local authority air pollution control. Simpler, less polluting processes will be designated under part I for local authority air pollution control. Up to now, local authorities have had to rely on cumbersome controls after the event. They are costly to local authorities, to the environment and to industry. The new regime strengthens the local authorities' role and gives them the means of tackling air pollution before it occurs. Their powers will cover a range of processes such as smaller power plants, glass works and municipal and hospital incinerators. Major processes on the other hand will be controlled by the inspectorate of pollution under integrated pollution control or IPC. Some 3,500 sites, such as oil refineries, major iron and steel works and large chemical works, will be subject to the new system. The United Kingdom's existing pollution control system has developed piecemeal over many years. Releases to air, water and land are subject to three distinct sets of controls, with no account taken of the effect of one on the other. IPC changes all that. For the first time, a single authority will control emissions to land, water and air within a single framework. Conditions will be set in the authorisations given to each industrial process which will ensure the greatest protection to the environment as a whole.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : My right hon. Friend is well aware that, for many years in Lancaster, we have had an animal waste processing plant which emits a certain smell. The owner of the plant has been very good and has always done what the city council has asked in installing the latest anti-pollution techniques ; at the moment, he is installing a biological filter. However, my council is particularly anxious about two points relating to the regulations and code of practice under the Bill. First, could the lorries that transport this sort of waste be strictly specified and, secondly, could the waste be collected from the abattoirs within 24 hours to minimise the smell? That would make an enormous difference, but it relies very much on the regulations.
Mr. Patten : On the second point, it is possible for the local authority, under the aspects of the Bill relating to local authority air controls, to agree to the sort of provisions required by the local authority in my hon. Friend's case. The powers now given to local authorities should ensure that the sort of processes to which my hon. Friend referred can be improved, that pollution can be reduced and that the best technology is installed to ensure that the people who live in the vicinity of such a plant have a more reasonable environment.
Authorisations will be based, under the IPC system, on the "best available techniques not entailing excessive cost" to prevent or minimise the release of the most dangerous substances and to render all emissions harmless. Therefore, there will be a built-in mechanism for stronger environmental protection. As techniques improve, higher environmental standards will be required.
The IPC system set out in part I does not apply to Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary
Column 35of State for Scotland has conducted separate consultations on pollution control in Scotland. He intends to table amendments to part I in Committee which will adapt it for implementation in Scotland. This will be the first system of integrated pollution control in Europe. We are ahead of the field. Other countries, particularly in the Community, are turning their attention to this question of the integrated nature of pollution control. They will, I believe, be impressed by the advantages of our approach.
Part I--like other parts of the Bill--contains important new proposals for public access to environmental information. A company's image can all too often be damaged by the activities of less environmentally concerned competitors. Making more information available will change that by identifying inadequate performers and rewarding environmental achievers.
In a consultation paper on public access to information last autumn, I left open the question whether access should be extended to the raw monitoring data supplied by firms to the enforcing authorities. Having considered the responses, I have concluded that all monitoring data required by the enforcing authorities should be made available to the public, save for necessary exemptions--for example, to protect commercial confidentiality.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : People can never get such information because the authorities concerned claim commercial confidentiality. The measures that the Secretary of State has announced are meaningless.
Mr. Patten : I can conceive of few processes where the argument of commercial confidentiality will apply, although I shall not necessarily hold that that is so when we come to discuss the proposals on chemicals and genetically modified organism, because arguments about commercial confidentiality are more likely to apply to those cases. We shall publish regulations, guiding our inspectors and the Secretary of State, about commercial confidentiality, and it is my strong belief that commercial confidentiality will apply in few cases. I cannot honestly believe, although no doubt we shall have an opportunity to discuss this at great length in Committee, that the Opposition seriously think that commercial confidentiality should never be considered in such cases.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I have in my constituency a considerable quantity of a poisonous cocktail, although the substance was not supposed to be contaminated when it arrived from the United States. It came from a firm making fertiliser, and I am told that that company wants to build a similar factory here. When I asked the Department of Trade and Industry whether that was the case, I was told that the information was confidential, and must remain confidential because it is commercial. Some of the rules seem to be preposterous, especially if the Secretary of State's claim that we are at the head of the field is to be justified.
Mr. Patten : First, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased that we are taking greater powers in the Bill to control the movement of waste both into and out of the country. Secondly, if such a factory operated in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and was subject to the sort of controls that we are discussing in the Bill, it would be
Column 36difficult to imagine circumstances in which commercial confidentiality considerations would apply to the provision of the raw material.
Such information is asked for by the enforcing authorities and should be available wherever possible to the public in its town halls, local authority offices and the offices of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. It is important that more rather than less information should be available. The argument about commercial confidentiality will apply from time to time. I am sure that there are factories and firms in the constituencies of Labour Members which could make a strong argument for commercial confidentiality in some cases.
Save for necessary exemptions, for example to protect commercial confidentiality, the rule must be that the public should get what the enforcing authorities get. That should help to ensure that in future public debate on the environment is rather better informed. The public are unlikely to have trust in a system of pollution control unless it is as open as possible and subject to rigorous scrutiny. Part I fully recognises that imperative.
Part II controls waste management. Our review of waste legislation has been under way for some time. This is a broad subject. It has been investigated both inside and outside Parliament. The latest investigation was the Environment Select Committee's report on toxic waste published early last year under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi). I am pleased that there is substantial agreement between the Government and the Committee in this area. The main exception concerns the proposed new regulation authorities, and I will return to these in a moment.
The measures in part II point to a new approach to waste. In the past, economic development and growth have meant an increase in waste. Now is the time to break that connection. Our aim is that all waste disposal should meet the highest standards. That will be the job of the regulation authorities. The enforcement of higher standards will mean that the true costs of disposal will be felt by everyone. These costs must be passed back to the waste producers, forcing them to reappraise the true economics of their production processes. That will be a powerful encouragement to reduce and recycle waste.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : Is the Secretary of State aware of the proliferation of applications from commercial waste disposal companies effectively trying to get in before the terms of the Bill can be executed? Will he take action where those applications are referred to him to ensure that they do not slip through the net before he has instituted a strong regulatory regime? The public are worried that toxic waste sites are being developed now, before stricter regulations apply.
Mr. Patten : I shall follow that up. It is a matter of concern in some areas. We do not want the provisions to be circumvented, perhaps by cowboy operations setting up while we are discussing the Bill. For improved regulation, the site licensing of the 1974 Act will be strengthened. In future, operators will be vetted to keep out convicted offenders, those who are unqualified or incompetent and those who cannot afford to finish the job properly. The licensee will not be able to walk away from his licence ; once licensed, he will have to see the job through to completion.
Column 37The new duty of care puts responsibility on everyone who produces or handles waste. They will have to make sure that the waste is managed safely by whoever takes it off their hands. Through the application of this duty, the waste regulation authorities should find it easier to trace illegal disposal. Waste producers will have every incentive to make sure that they deal with reputable businesses.
The House will know my strong commitment to recycling. This is an area where there is an immense fund of good will.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : It is all very well dealing with the future, but what does the Minister propose to do about the many sites up and down the country where extremely toxic mixtures have been dumped in the past 20 years and more? Methane gas is now escaping from a number of those dumps. Will he ensure that local authorities have the money to clean up the mess left by other people in the past, given that we cannot send the bill to them?
Mr. Patten : There are two particular aspects to that problem. The first is the discussions on which we are embarked with the National Rivers Authority about the leaching from some landfill sites into the water supply. In due course resources will be provided to deal with that problem. Secondly, we must ensure that within the capital provision for local authorities there are adequate funds for dealing with some of the old sites to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. This year we have begun on that process with local authorities and I have no doubt that we shall continue to have to ensure that the capital allocations for local authorities contain adequate funds to undertake that extremely important job.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Will the Secretary of State assure us that, in future, we will not accept all the toxic waste from the rest of the world, as happened with the Karin B? Will this Bill ensure that we will not get any more Karin Bs on our shores?
Mr. Patten : In due course I shall come to the provisions in the Bill that will assist the hon. Gentleman in securing that objective. I do not happen to take the view--it may be an issue on which the hon. Gentleman and I will disagree--that it is possible to ban completely all movement of toxic wastes. We have taken an initiative in the European Community and in the OECD to try to get industrialised countries to agree to deal, as far as possible, with their own waste because we need to reduce the unnecessary movement of toxic waste around the world, even when there are adequate controls on that movement.
Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : Before the Bill becomes law, we on Teesside need more reassurance than the right hon. Gentleman has just given, particularly in reply to the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are now six applications on his desk for incinerators on Teesside. Some of those incinerators will deal with hair spray from West Germany and paint spray from Switzerland. We need some reassurance now that those applications will not go through as they would ruin still further the environment in which many on Teesside must survive.
Column 38surprised. As my former boss, Lord Joseph, might have said in these circumstances, I hear what the hon. Lady says.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) rose --
Mr. Devlin : I believe that four rather than six applications have been submitted at the same time, regarding Teesside. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a need for them to be considered together? Although the House accepts that he cannot give an answer from the Dispatch Box now, we would at least expect that any decisions will be delayed until after the Bill has gone through the House. Does he accept that all applications across the country should be dealt with at the same time, so that we can develop a proper national strategy on how to deal with such problems?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend's final point is rather difficult, but I shall bear it in mind. I shall consider seriously what he said about Teesside, and I understand the concerns he has expressed. To increase recycling, what is needed is local leadership and organisation and an effective industry that can turn the waste to profitable use. The measures in the Bill will increase the effort devoted by local authorities to recycling, particularly the waste collection authorities. They are in the best position to tackle the recycling where it is most effective, at the point of collection. That should lead to real progress towards our target of recycling half of all recyclable waste by the end of the decade.
Improved regulation and the need for better value for money amply justify the measures in the Bill to reform the waste disposal authorities. The separation of disposal from regulation will enormously benefit the water environment, and will also ensure more effective waste management.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) rose --
Mr. Corbyn : In that case, I particularly thank the Secretary of State. Does he not agree that his arguments in favour of recycling, particularly of paper waste, would be far stronger if something was done about reducing the amount of paper used, the size of newspapers and the amount of unnecessary packaging, particularly in supermarkets and other shops?
Mr. Patten : There is certainly a case for reducing the amount of packaging--which causes many people concern--to the minimum necessary. In due course, market pressures will probably bear down on this. We all feel that, if the hon. Gentleman could specify which newspapers should not appear from time to time, we might have more sympathy with the proposal. I sometimes think that we are better off looking at trees than newspapers. However, we live in a plural society, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to suggest that we should reduce the free flow of information. The regulation authorities will be free to concentrate their efforts on improved monitoring. They should make use of their improved powers to demand high standards. I am sorry not to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for
Column 39Hornsey and Wood Green about this. It is right to leave regulation with the local authorities, which are run by elected members. In my judgment they can do the job, and the best of them are already doing it. To ensure that they do all that we want and expect of them, the Bill contains measures to ensure that their performance can be properly judged.
The job of disposal will be put out to tender. Local authority companies will compete with the private sector on even terms. This will ensure that disposal costs are accurately charged in the public as well as the private sector. The companies will be subject to full licensing and will be able to compete for business outside the local authority. The disposal authorities will retain the function of arranging for getting rid of the waste collected by the collection authorities. They will want to set high environmental standards for the tenders for carrying out this work, but these standards will have to apply both to in-house and private sector bids.
I do not shirk the point that higher standards cost money. The Bill makes provision for the regulation authorities to recover the costs of regulation from charging. Moreover, in 1990-91 we shall nearly double permitted capital spending by waste disposal authorities in London and the metropolitan areas. To take up the point under discussion a moment or two ago, we shall also be making a special sum of £33 million available next year for remedial works on landfill gas sites.
Overall, part II of the Bill provides a strong framework for the better management of waste well into the next century.
Part III of the Bill strengthens the powers of local authorities in dealing with nuisances such as noise and smells. By and large, their powers have stood the test of time, but circumstances change, and following consultation, it is clear that their powers need to be streamlined and strengthened. So part III of the Bill enables local authorities in England and Wales to deal more expeditiously with statutory nuisances. As one example, we are proposing to cut out an unnecessary legal stage in the abatement proceedings.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) rose --
When talking of part III of the Bill, my right hon. Friend referred to premises and any trade. I can see nothing in part III which refers to many of the nuisances that are emitted by vehicles, be they lorries or coaches. Is it possible that, for the purposes of the Bill, vehicles could be considered premises on wheels?
Mr. Patten : That would be a legal definition which A. P. Herbert might be able to manage. However, we had better leave further discussion about the way in which a vehicle might be premises or part of premises until we discuss the matter in Committee.
Local authorities will also gain a useful new power, under part III, to deal with transient nuisances--not vehicles--such as dust from demolition. Part III also
Column 40removes doubt concerning the application of nuisance powers to tackle smells. It paves the way for bringing offensive trades--for example, blood boiling--under the new system of air pollution control in part I.
We all know that there is a good deal of public concern about noise from a variety of sources. We have decided to undertake a comprehensive review of noise legislation and controls. I expect our working party to report and bring forward its recommendations by the summer.
Part IV deals with an issue which has rightly risen up the list of national concerns. For many people, care for the environment begins with the condition of their streets and neighbourhood rather than with what is happening to the ozone layer. Litter is an issue which causes mounting public anger, and we are determined to act decisively to deal with litter and filth on our streets.
Our first concern must be to persuade people not to drop litter in the first place. If we cannot do that, we shall always be fighting a losing battle. A concerted programme of education should help convince people of the virtues of keeping their neighbourhoods clean. That is why we have given the Tidy Britain Group £3 million this year. We have promised further substantial funds for next year. For those who ignore their responsibilities as good citizens and good neighbours, we intend to increase dramatically the maximum penalty for littering, from £400 to £1,000. If arguments fail to convince them, perhaps an assault on their wallets will do the job. I have considerable sympathy with those of my correspondents who despair when they read of convicted litterers escaping with derisory fines. I hope that magistrates will take into account the growing public concern when they impose penalties for littering. Paltry fines are unlikely to deter.
However, I fear that litter will continue to be dropped ; once dropped, it must be efficiently cleared up, and it is here that local authorities are in the front line. One aspect that is apparent is the disparity between the standards of cleanliness achieved by different local authorities. Some do their ratepayers proud ; others satisfy themselves with at best indifferent standards and at worst, appalling ones. So we intend to place all local authorities under a new duty to keep their open-air public streets and land free of litter. I will shortly publish a code of practice on litter clearance. It will describe the standards that should be met and advise on the best ways of achieving them.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : One of the reasons why some boroughs are cleaner than others is that the people in those boroughs are cleaner. It gives me no pleasure to say that, in Newham, I have one of the dirtiest populations, as measured by the amount of litter that people throw down on the street. What additional resources will the Secretary of State make available to local authorities so that they can enforce these welcome increased penalties? What will he do about those who litter the streets, as they do in London, by digging them up, leaving behind filth that no one appears to be responsible for clearing up?
Mr. Patten : I imagine that we shall have a good deal of opportunity to discuss resources with the local authority associations in the context of the code of guidance, which we shall certainly publish before we reach these provisions in Committee. Some local authorities with lower rates manage to clean up rather better than others with higher rates. Nevertheless, we are prepared to undertake studies
Column 41of the implications of the code of guidance with the local authority associations, and if there is an argument for more resources, we shall have to face up to it in the revenue support grant negotiations next year.
Those who pay for their neighbourhood to be cleaned should be able to call their local authority to account if it neglects to discharge its duty. We shall therefore give citizens the right to apply to the magistrates court for a litter abatement order compelling a defaulting authority to clear up litter.
A similar duty will also fall on certain statutory undertakers such as British Rail and the owners of other land. In addition we shall give local authorities the power to extend the duty to certain types of land in other ownership, such as supermarket car parks, by designating them litter control areas.
Finally, we look to commercial operators, especially retailers and take- away food shop owners, to take their responsibilities seriously, as a great many already do. As a powerful back-up to moral persuasion we propose--we shall add this to the Bill in Committee--that local authorities should be able to serve on businesses which fall down on the job of litter abatement notice requiring them to keep their frontages clear of litter. I hope that all businesses will behave responsibly ; after all, that is in their own interests--filthy frontages are bad for business.
Mr. Marlow : When this Bill was trailered, there was going to be a measure to deal with that most revolting of all forms of litter : dog mess. I understand that clause 70 provides potential enabling powers to allow my right hon. Friend to bring measures before the House. What is in his mind at the moment? How long does he intend to take to bring those measures forward, and what will they encapsulate?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is right. The Bill also covers the duties of clearing up dog mess. That subject, like others, will be covered in the code of guidance that we shall issue later this year. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have his comments to make on that code, particularly as it relates to dog mess, a subject in which I know he has shown a commendable interest down the years.
I also look to manufacturers and retailers to reduce packaging to what is really needed. That will do a great deal to help--
Mr. Leighton : Is the Secretary of State aware that I have organised a meeting for tomorrow night with the Tidy Britain Group in Newham? One of the issues that will be discussed will be that of fines and the attitude of the police. What discussions has he had with the police? Existing legislation provides for a fine of £400, so what is the point of increasing the fine if the present law is not enforced? How many prosecutions have there been, and what discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with the police to ensure that the law is enforced?
Column 42to the importance of not imposing derisory fines when people are convicted of littering. I do not think that I can add anything to what I said then.
Part V amends the Radioactive Substances Act 1960, which controls the keeping and use of radioactive materials and the accumulation and disposal of radioactive wastes. At the moment, no radioactive material can be kept or used unless a registration is first granted by my Department or the relevant territorial Department. Similarly, no radioactive waste may be accumulated or disposed of unless that is first authorised.
Our view is supported by the results of our public consultation exercise. It is that the Act continues to provide an effective control mechanism. The system of registrations and authorisations will remain, but a number of amendments will be made to this part of the Bill to improve its operation and extend its scope.
Part VI provides new safeguards against risks from genetically modified organisms. It lays the foundation for a comprehensive consent system for the control of the import, keeping or release to the environment of such organisms. Against the background of the increasingly rapid development of technology, the powers that we are seeking are innovatory, apt and timely.
Our approach, which has received wide public support, closely reflects the main recommendations of last July's report by the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. It is also consistent with European Community directives on a harmonised system to regulate genetically modified organisms.
Techniques for artifically altering an organism's genes have been exploited only within the past 20 years ; yet biotechnology based on these techniques is today an established industry. Substances such as insulin could be produced only with great difficulty by other means. Biotechnology has an excellent safety record. Increasingly, however, GMOs may be expected to have a wider environmental impact. Development has already reached the stage at which GMOs are routinely employed in contained factory processes. They may thus reach the wider environment in waste streams, or by accident. Other GMOs are being developed for specific functions such as pest control in the environment at large. Such products offer the prospect of great benefits, but progress depends on their safety being maintained. This part of the Bill is designed to ensure that the environmental risks are properly controlled and that the good safety record continues. At the heart of the proposals is a requirement for any person who intends to import, keep or release a GMO to the environment to carry out a risk assessment. When necessary, my Department must be notified and in prescribed cases our consent must be obtained. I envisage making a comprehensive set of regulations setting out the details of the regime. We shall establish a unified system of control in which the new provisions will interlock with existing health and safety and product controls.
My right hon. Friends and I, and the Health and Safety Commission, will be advised on notifications and consent applications by a committee whose terms of reference will cover all safety and environmental aspects. I am pleased to announce that Professor John Beringer of Bristol university, who has wide relevant experience, has accepted an invitation to chair the committee.
I come now to the Government's proposals to strengthen the protection of the countryside. The Bill
Column 43establishes strong new conservation agencies in England, Scotland and Wales to take on the functions of the Nature Conservancy Council, and, in the Principality, those of the Countryside Commission. These provisions have been carefully designed to build on the experience and knowledge which the NCC and the Countryside Commission have built up over the last 40 years. They will ensure that their inheritance which includes a network of national nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty --is passed on smoothly to the three successor bodies.
Mr. Patten : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to get through most of what I intend to say about the countryside agencies, after which I shall gladly give way to him and other hon. Members. The reforms are essential if we are to establish a more sensitive and accountable framework for conservation. It should be easier to co-ordinate the work of the new agencies rather better with those of Government. There will be clear lines of responsibility to the three Secretaries of State who have the task of integrating conservation with other land use policies. The NCC is a major executive and advisory agency, responsible for protecting more than 7 per cent. of the land surface of Great Britain.
I believe that the House will agree that the reporting lines to Ministers should be as clear as possible. It is Ministers who have to account for the use of those powers, and for the broad framework of policies and priorities for conservation policy. The framework for public regulation must also be sensitive to local needs and concerns. The voluntary approach to conservation in this country depends critically on obtaining the co- operation of individuals, local organisations and communities. We believe that the country agencies will be better placed to achieve this, as conservation continues to rise in importance on the public agenda.
The current arrangements for the NCC--hallowed though they may be by the passage of time--are actually anomalous in comparison with most other executive non-departmental public bodies acting in the environmental arena. In almost every other arena within my Department's ambit--the built heritage, water, rural development, sport, housing associations--there are separate non-departmental public bodies for Scotland, and in some cases for Wales, too. They report to my right hon. Friends. Where co-ordination is necessary--outside or inside Government--the necessary steps are taken.
This is a prosaic but fundamental aspect of the machinery of government and its relationship with non-departmental public bodies, which critics have largely overlooked. They seem to assume that wildlife in Wales and Scotland should be governed from Peterborough and Marsham street, rather than by the people and institutions in those countries. It is a strange and, frankly, patronising argument, which we reject. It is extraordinary for the party that wants a Parliament for Scotland, to argue that the Scottish people cannot be trusted to protect their own environment.
The new country agencies will be able to tailor the delivery of conservation more closely to regional and local
Column 44needs. Nevertheless, the Government's conservation policies remain as strong as before, as we have demonstrated not only by passing the 1981 Act but by financing it to the tune of an increase of over 160 per cent. in real terms in the NCC's grant over the last decade. We shall also ensure that the new agencies receive funding which fully meets the conservation programmes that they will be required to undertake. There will be no return to the dark days experienced by the NCC as a result of the cuts that were forced on it by the last Government.
The Bill provides for the new Countryside Council for Wales to have responsibility for countryside issues as well as nature conservancy. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is to assume direct responsibility for nature conservancy in the Principality, it is only logical that he should assume responsibility for the complementary functions of the Countryside Commission. However, as the commission has only 14 staff in Wales, a separate body would not be viable. The Bill therefore establishes one body in Wales to deal with both the wildlife and countryside functions.
It will be essential for the new agencies to have the right leadership and commitment to their objectives. It is therefore with great pleasure that I am able to tell the House today that Lord Cranbrook has accepted my invitation to serve as the first chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council for England. He is a zoologist with a long track record of achievements in the conservation world, and he was a member of the Natural Environment Research Council from 1982 to 1989. He has always been a clear and independent voice for conservation, and I look forward to working with him. He has kindly agreed to serve in a shadow capacity in the run-up to the reorganisation, and I shall be making a formal announcement about the details shortly. Sir William Wilkinson, who has made a major contribution to the subject, has accepted my invitation to remain as chairman of the NCC until reorganisation.
While on the subject of appointments, I am now in a position to tell the House that we propose to appoint a most distinguished and independent scientist to be the first chairman of the joint committee, on which I will have more to say in a moment. Professor Fred Holliday, who is currently the vice-chancellor of Durham university, has accepted my invitation to serve in that capacity. I am sure that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will welcome this news. Professor Holliday has had a most distinguished career. He is an outstanding zoologist and has already served a period as chairman of the NCC, from 1977 to 1980. I am sure that he will bring this expertise to the joint committee, to the benefit of the three new bodies and to nature conservation as a whole. I also hope to appoint him in a new capacity shortly, so that I can have the benefit of his advice as the detailed arrangements for the work of the joint committee are put in place over the coming months.
Finally, before I leave the subject, I am delighted to say--this point was referred to before we began our debate--that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has separately announced that Mr. Magnus Magnusson has accepted his invitation to serve as the first chairman of the new NCC for Scotland.
The English, Welsh and Scottish agencies will operate within a firm statutory framework which will ensure that Great Britain and international issues are dealt with, and that there are comparable standards and protocols for