Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde) rose--

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose--

Mr. Meacher: I will first give way to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Godman: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the Scottish Parliament has an important role to play in relation to clause 3 of the Bill in the determination of regulations? I think that that holds true for the Welsh Assembly and, eventually, for the Northern Ireland Assembly, presumably. Will my right hon. Friend refer to the covering of offshore installations in his speech? If so, am I right to think that, despite the role of the Scottish Parliament, enforcement in respect of offshore installations and structures will be under the Department of Trade and Industry?

Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend is correct on both points. The Bill's powers will be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. He is right to think that it applies to offshore installations. The Bill will be used to implement Lord Donaldson's recommendations for command and control of operations

8 Jun 1999 : Column 498

in the event of a threat of serious pollution from offshore oil and gas installations. He is right to think that that remains with the DTI.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Meacher: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will harass me until I give way, so it is better that he gets his bile out now.

Mr. Bercow: Far be it from me ever to be accused of harassment. The right hon. Gentleman should know by now that I am a thoroughly genteel and charitable soul. In view of the directive's intended replacement of BATNEEC, best available technology not entailing excessive costs, with BAT, best available techniques, will he confirm that he is satisfied that there will be sufficient consideration of the likely increase in costs to small businesses? Does he accept that that is especially important not only because of his own responsibilities, but because of the position adopted by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the reduction of regulation and costs on small businesses?

Mr. Meacher: Yes. There is a change from BATNEEC to BAT. There is no question of a change in respect of the account taken of cost effectiveness, including in relation to small businesses, which are important. The phrase "available techniques" in no way diminishes the existing regard for cost effectiveness. The directive states that


these are the crucial words--


    "under economically and technically viable conditions, taking into consideration the costs and advantages."

In fact, there is a greater definition of cost-effectiveness under BAT in the Bill than the Environmental Protection Act 1990 gave under BATNEEC, which remains a relatively undefined concept in United Kingdom legislation.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) asked about small businesses. Integrated pollution control is overwhelmingly concerned with large installations. IPC and the local air pollution control regime cover fewer than 20,000 installations. For example, only a very small number of the 130,000 members of the Federation of Small Businesses will be affected by the regulations.

Let us consider the effect across Europe.

Mr. Bercow: Before the Minister continues, he has not answered my question. [Interruption.] Labour Members can cavil from sedentary positions for as long as they like, but I make no apology for speaking up for the interests of small businesses in my constituency. If there is no reason for small businesses to be unduly concerned, why has their national representative organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses, expressed grave concern about the likely costs?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman abuses his position in seeking to intervene twice and make such remarks. I am perfectly prepared to answer his questions directly. I have already told him that the Federation of Small Businesses covers 130,000 small businesses, hardly any

8 Jun 1999 : Column 499

of which will be caught under the directive. Any concern expressed involves very few firms. They are no more affected in terms of cost-effectiveness by the new regulation than by BATNEEC.

The IPPC directive extends those principles across Europe in a manner that is similar to the UK's IPC regime. All member states will now benefit from an effective and efficient system of pollution control, and industry--I repeat--will benefit from a level playing field.

The environment will also benefit. As we always say, pollution does not respect national boundaries. Indeed, the directive requires member states to consult their neighbours about installations that have a significant trans-boundary effect. One important improvement in this post-Kyoto world is the inclusion of energy efficiency among the factors to be considered by the regulator. Climate change was, of course, not one of the big environmental priorities back in 1990 when the current regimes were established. By setting conditions requiring cost-effective energy efficiency measures, the IPPC directive should cut carbon emissions by about 3 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2010; that is about one twelfth of the total needed to achieve our target. It is a no-regrets policy: while benefiting the environment, energy efficiency measures will bring financial benefits to the businesses themselves. Most of industry has welcomed that new aspect.

The IPPC will also take account of noise pollution. I believe that that is a long-neglected issue which seriously affects people's day-to-day quality of life. In addition, the new system will take account of the use of raw materials and apply a holistic approach to waste minimisation. There will be a new requirement for operators to leave a site clean and safe when they move on.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The Minister is proud of the fact that noise pollution is included. Why is light pollution not included?

Mr. Meacher: As I have said, noise pollution is included. One could include all sorts of pollution. I am not making--dare I say it?--a partisan point, but the previous Conservative Government agreed for the UK the ingredients of the IPPC directive that now has to be transposed into our national law. I should like the directive to extend to all forms of pollution. I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. However, if he wants an answer to his question, perhaps he should ask some of those who were Ministers in the previous Conservative Government.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. As he is aware, in clause 1 the Government try to take the legislation further than the directive signed up to by Ministers in the previous Conservative Government. Subsection (1)(b) refers to provisions


Why could the Government not include light?

Mr. Meacher: Under that reading of the provision, that is possible. It was not our direct intention, but I should be

8 Jun 1999 : Column 500

happy to consider the matter in Committee. However, the issue of pollution has been substantially extended in a perfectly proper way. Most people would not consider that light pollution was in the same category as noise pollution or issues such as vibration, waste, use of raw materials and energy efficiency. Those are much more significant matters, but let us explore in Committee whether there are other matters that we agree should be included.

The directive extends integrated pollution control to more installations with a significant potential to pollute. If the hon. Member for Vale of York will attend, she will note that I am drawing attention to the point that she made. Such installations include about 1,000 landfill sites, a similar number of large intensive pig and poultry farms and about 500--perhaps almost 1,000--food and drink factories. The directive will also extend integrated control to about 10 per cent. of installations that are currently regulated only for air emissions. We believe--and I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not appear to agree--that that is a desirable extension to the existing IPC parameters.

Through the Bill, we shall improve the environmental regime offshore--the point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). The IPPC directive applies to large combustion plant on offshore oil and gas installations. We are using the Bill to implement this year the requirements of the Oslo and Paris convention of 1992--Ospar--on the use and discharge of chemicals from offshore installations. The Department of Trade and Industry, which retains responsibility for those matters, has just completed a first round of consultations on implementing those requirements efficiently and coherently, and on making other improvements to the offshore regime.

The measure is good for industry. We are implementing the directive in a manner that will benefit our industry rather than lumber it with a regulatory mess. Had we taken the easy option of imposing the directive using the powers under the European Communities Act 1972, we should have ended up with three regimes: an IPPC regime, covering the 6,000 installations that the directive specifies; an IPC regime, covering about 400 processes that we control through IPC, but which are not covered by the directive; and a local air pollution control regime, covering the remaining 11,000 or so processes. I believe that we made the right decision and, as a result, the Confederation of British Industry and other industry groups have strongly supported the Government's approach.

Some good deregulatory ideas have been thrown up for improving the way in which things are done under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. For example, we shall be able to extend the permit review period if circumstances so warrant, rather than be forced to review an operator's permit every four years--in other words, there will be more flexibility. That will minimise costs by introducing standard application procedures and standard permit conditions where an industry sector is suitably homogenous. Of course, each installation will always have the right to be assessed individually if the operator chooses. Crucially, however, IPPC retains the essential principle that costs should be imposed only where there are commensurate benefits.

When the Bill was debated in another place, some noble Lords doggedly promoted the misconception that replacing the principle of best available technology not

8 Jun 1999 : Column 501

entailing excessive costs--BATNEEC--with the directive version, best available techniques, meant abandoning the consideration of cost when setting conditions for an operator. I repeat a point that I have already made because it is important and there has been a misunderstanding: it is a patent untruth. The directive spells out the principle of cost-effectiveness in its definition of best available techniques much more clearly than the 1990 Act did in its concept of BATNEEC.

The measure is good for local democracy and for local people. We are determined to strengthen the participation of local people in the process of pollution control in their neighbourhood. About 10 per cent. of the installations currently regulated by local authorities will need to move to integrated control--traditionally, the realm of the Environment Agency for England and Wales. However, I propose to keep local authorities responsible for the bulk of those installations in England and Wales. I intend to strengthen the partnership and dialogue between the Environment Agency and local government more generally--a matter to which I give great attention. Under the new system, local authorities will have a strong role to help them in their new responsibilities for local air quality management.

We are also boosting the involvement of local people more directly. The Environment Agency will soon consult on proposals for enhanced public consultation in respect of regulating particularly contentious installations; at the same time, we shall remove unnecessary consultation on routine changes.


Next Section

IndexHome Page