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8.39 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) ended where the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) began--with the regulations, which are an essential part of delivering on the Bill. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford expressed his concerns, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment made it abundantly clear that the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation believed that as all the regulations were subject to the affirmative procedure, adequate parliamentary control would be retained.

That was underlined by an undertaking given by our noble Friend Lord Whitty that any future amendments to the regulations which changed provisions previously included in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 would be put to Parliament for consideration under the affirmative procedure. We therefore believe that the proper safeguards are in place.

In his contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire made the particularly effective point that regulations are so valuable because they allow flexibility to be brought to bear on a developing scene that is immensely detailed. As he said, that approach avoids static, bureaucratic imposition on industries and business.

Another concern was expressed by the hon. Members for West Chelmsford and for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I was somewhat bemused when the hon. Member for North Wiltshire pulled out of the air the figure of 2,000 small businesses, which he claimed would be caught by the Bill. It is clear in the directive that thresholds have been set in annexe 1, below which the directive will not apply. That means that small firms are unlikely to come within the scope of the directive.

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The Federation of Small Businesses has responded constructively to each of the three consultation exercises that we carried out, and it will continue to be consulted. The federation welcomed some of the deregulatory changes that the Government are making in replacing current regimes--for example, the use of standard application forms, which will save manpower costs, and the use of standard permit conditions, which will lead to lower charges. There is scope for less frequent permit reviews for industry, resulting in cost savings, regulators' decision times will be reduced from four months to three months in certain uncontentious cases, and there is the possibility of greater use of standard permit conditions or general binding rules to streamline procedures. I repeat that, as my right hon. Friend said, only a fraction of the Federation of Small Businesses' 130,000 members will be affected.

Mr. Gray: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Jackson: No.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady asked a question.

Ms Jackson: I did not ask a question; I made a statement.

Another concern expressed not only by Conservative Members, but by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), related to the use of best available techniques--BAT. My hon. Friend was worried about costs, as the Bill will bring into its remit the offshore gas and oil installations which, as he said, play such a major part in the economy of his area.

The directive states, with regard to best available techniques:

I trust that I have addressed my hon. Friend's concerns. The site-specific nature of the provisions means that there can be no excessive costs and no bureaucratic regime can be imposed. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) offers the House her apologies for the fact that she is not in her place, as she had a prior engagement in her constituency. She brought to the debate all her expertise, information and her commitment to all matters environmental, which does not stem simply from her membership of the Environmental Audit Committee and the all-party environment group. She has pursued environmental matters with passion and integrity, not only while she has been a Member of the House, but before that.

My hon. Friends the Members for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger), for North-East Derbyshire and for Bristol, North-West (Dr. Naysmith) highlighted the impact that failure to protect our environment has had on their constituencies and on their constituents, and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney told us about the other side of the coin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North pointed out, her constituency suffered for many years from the effects of the industrial revolution and

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environmental protection has assisted her localauthorities and communities in beginning to improve their environment.

The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire has suffered more than once from the impact of disastrous accidents or failure to protect the environment adequately, and he spoke with a direct appreciation of the benefits that will be brought into play by the Bill. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North--indeed, all my hon. Friends--welcomed the holistic approach that is inherent in combining the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the European directive, which will mean that there will be a less bureaucratic regime. It will also be possible for businesses and industries, which must respond to the requirements of the legislation, to know precisely what is being requested of them.

I was much intrigued by the contribution of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), and I regret that she is not in her place. I distinctly remember the first time that she and I exchanged opinions across the Floor of the Chamber, when I was a new Member of the House: she said that, as a scientist, she knew that no damage was being inflicted, there was no hole in the ozone layer and there was no such thing as global warming. I was fascinated to hear tonight that her opinion on those matters has basically not altered.

I was also fascinated by the hon. Lady's ire at what she claimed to be the present Government's introduction of the Bill. She seemed to be entirely ignorant of the fact that the basis of the Bill--the 1990 Act--was introduced by the Conservative Government. The directive, which is being incorporated into that Act through the Bill, was signed by them. However, it is always a pleasure to listen to her because of the delicious frisson caused by disagreeing with virtually everything she has to say.

The contribution of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) was essentially concerned with public information and he said that a comprehensive inventory should be available to the general public. I was somewhat surprised that he cavilled about that because my right hon. Friend and the Government are passionate about developing a comprehensive inventory. As my right hon. Friend said, the Government believe that local people should know what is happening in their own area and information should be available and accessible to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) was keen to welcome that accessibility. The Bill provides a wide-ranging power requiring information on emissions to be included in a pollution inventory, whether a person is the holder of a permit or not. We welcome the launch by the Environment Agency on 12 May of its inventory in which information on emissions from 2,000 integrated pollution prevention and control processes is presented in an easily accessible form on the internet. We are examining the extension of a similar reporting requirement to the 13,000 processes regulated by local authorities and we hope to announce our conclusions shortly.

As I am sure the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington knows, the Environment Agency has plans to require landfill sites and sewage treatment works to make an information report. We shall consider the proposals carefully. We are delivering on our pledges. We expect to

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announce shortly our conclusions on the extension of the reporting requirement to local authorities. It is wrong to say that the Bill needs amendment before landfill sites and sewage treatment works can be required to report. Under the Bill as it stands, information can be required from any operator, whether or not he holds a permit.

Mr. Brake: Will the Minister seek clarification from the Environment Agency on its view that an amendment to the Bill is required?

Ms Jackson: I am somewhat bemused by that. I am sure that those at the Environment Agency have read the Bill, and it will be clear that paragraph 11 of schedule 1 gives the power to require information from anyone, whether or not he is a permit holder.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire seemed either not to be aware or not to care very much that the 1990 Act and the directive came into being under the previous Administration.

Mr. Gray: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Jackson: If I may finish this point. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and I can well remember when, during an examination of the British maritime industry, he boasted that as a maritime lawyer he knew nothing about ships. Clearly, it has been central to his professional life to speak at great length on subjects about which he knows absolutely nothing--a habit that he indulged again this evening. He was much concerned about the timing of the directive.

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