Previous SectionIndexHome Page

'(ii) on energy consumption and on the efficiency with which energy is used;
(iii) on waste within the meaning of the regulations and on the destinations of such waste;'.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

Schedule 2

Consequential Amendments

Amendments made: No. 3, in page 10, line 37, at end insert--

' . In section 77(2) (waste disposal licences: transition from Part I of the Control of Pollution Act 1974), at the beginning insert "Subject to section (Time-limited disposal or waste management licences) of the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999,".'.

14 Jul 1999 : Column 435

No. 4, in page 10, line 39, after first 'I', insert 'of the Act'.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]


Amendment made: No. 5, in title, line 2, after 'pollution;', insert

'to make provision about certain expired or expiring disposal or waste management licences;'.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

Order for Third Reading read.--[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

5.19 pm

Mr. Meale: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We believe that the Bill will bring significant improvements to the system of environmental regulation. When it is approved, we shall have a more comprehensive, coherent and flexible set of regimes, and with the integrated pollution prevention and control directive it will be part of a level European playing field for all our industries and communities.

5.19 pm

Mr. Green: As the Bill reaches its final phase, it is a shame that the Minister could not give a more substantive account of its various phases. It is worth noting how rocky its passage has been. The Government's first attempt to introduce the Bill in another place had to be withdrawn after the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation said that it was a skeleton Bill and inappropriate for the delegation of secondary powers. Their Lordships took the Bill radically to task.

It would be churlish not to admit that, since then, the Bill has improved as it has gone through its various stages. It is worth the House acknowledging that, in large part, that is a tribute to the existence of an independent second Chamber, which provides a range of expertise, knowledge and experience, not least from former Members of this House, who improved the Bill as it went through the other place. We tried to improve it in Committee, but of course the Government used their majority to reject our efforts. As we have just seen, they have continued to use their majority, in some cases to make the Bill marginally worse.

Mr. Gummer: Did my hon. Friend notice that the Government's majority was two down on what it might have been, because two senior Ministers in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions were not present for the Division? Might that be because they, too, did not understand the Minister's explanation of his amendment, which was as opaque as any explanation that I have ever heard?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are on Third Reading, and we would not want to dwell on amendments that have already been disposed of.

Mr. Green: I shall not dwell, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall merely ponder why Ministers in the Department could not turn up to vote for their own Bill.

Mr. Meale: I feel obliged to comment on that. One of the reasons that Ministers were not present for the vote

14 Jul 1999 : Column 436

was that they would have had to travel from Eland house in Victoria. I understand that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was partly responsible for the Department moving there.

Mr. Green: I greatly regret that London's traffic jams have become so bad under this Government that Ministers cannot get from their Department to the House to take part in an unexpected vote. That did not happen when my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was running the Department, because traffic was running better in London then than it is now. I am grateful to the Minister for pointing that out. It is the first honest admission about transport that we have had from those on the Government Front Bench for some time--they have admitted that it has got worse under them.

At no stage have we opposed the principle of the Bill. It was a Conservative Government who signed up to the European directive on which its good parts are based. We recognise that much pollution, particularly air-borne and water-borne pollution, can be tackled only on a supranational level. We were happy to sign up to the directive and supported the Government's intention to put it into effect at national level.

At every stage we have sought to improve the Bill and although we have succeeded to some extent, thanks to their Lordships, we have not done enough for our own satisfaction or, more important, for those who will be most affected by it, including many of the new businesses, particularly farmers, that will be brought under its provisions.

It is appropriate on Third Reading for me to go through our main reservations about the Bill. Perhaps the most fundamental is a constitutional objection. The Bill gives far too much discretionary power to the Secretary of State. Under clause 1, he can regulate

That is an absurdly wide power to give to a Secretary of State.

Of course, we know that most Secretaries of State would not interpret that as widely as the Bill would allow, but it is not a principle of good legislation to write into the Bill such a wide power for a Minister. For example, naturally occurring chemicals such as radon or some dioxins are pollutants. They occur naturally in the atmosphere, but they would fall under the powers given to the Secretary of State. Is he to play God and regulate the natural world? I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has some delusions of grandeur, but I do not believe that even he would go that far. As the Bill is drafted, breathing out could be regulated by the Secretary of State as a polluting activity. I invite the Minister to consider whether this is good legislation.

A secondary point is that too much is left to regulation, and not enough is written into the Bill. Perhaps most dangerous is the fact that, under the Bill, new criminal offences can be created through secondary legislation. That is an extremely dubious constitutional practice.

Most people have a concept of Parliament making law and the citizens obeying the law. They believe that we in Parliament are here to discuss the details of laws and to pass laws. There is a set of law enforcement agencies that enforce them. To allow Parliament to be bypassed in the

14 Jul 1999 : Column 437

creation of criminal offences could have serious consequences, which I hope the Government do not live to regret.

My reservations have been strengthened by the paean to regulation offered by the Minister for the Environment on Second Reading, when he spoke lovingly of

He became almost lyrical about the type of regulation that the Bill would introduce.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is sincerely and passionately devoted to regulating business. I shall quote his exact words, as there was some controversy between us about what he had said. He stated:

That is what he said and I am sure that that is what he meant. That statement clearly has wider implications, but it has particular implications for the Bill.

We all want an integrated pollution control system, but to gain wide acceptance throughout the community such a system must be respected by those being regulated. If they think that it is unfair or arbitrary, they will object and try to get around the rules. People think that laws are fair partly because they think that the laws have been passed properly by Parliament, after discussion. The Bill allows Parliament, and this Chamber in particular, to be bypassed in the discussion of laws. In the long run, that will not contribute to a good system of integrated pollution control.

Our second main objection is the fact that the Bill gold-plates the European directive to an alarming degree. I have already said that we signed the directive and have no objection to its being put into national law. However, we object to the fact that the Government have taken the opportunity to add wide powers to be taken by the Secretary of State through secondary legislation and in other administrative ways. We do not need such wide powers in order to implement the directive. Clause 1(1)(b) and (c) refer specifically to activities other than those listed in the directive. That is straightforward gold-plating, giving the Secretary of State wide discretionary powers.

We have not yet had a convincing explanation why clause 1 is drafted so widely. This is the last chance that we shall have, so we should let the Minister explain to us why the Bill does not do what it purports to do--implement the directive--but goes much further. I should be fascinated to know why the Government think that the Bill needs to be drawn so much more widely than the directive requires.

Many businesses have a reasonable fear that the ground of regulation is shifting in ways that will become increasingly arbitrary. For newcomers to the Bill, that is the great BATNEEC versus BAT debate--the best available technology not entailing excessive costs versus the best available techniques. There is a clear difference. We have had many fairly theological debates about whether there is a difference. Ministers have claimed at various stages that there is no difference, that there is minimal difference, that there is no practical difference, or that there is only a small difference. But the language itself is different.

Not entailing excessive costs is a clear limit on the regulation which business can understand. BAT involves many more weasel words--that the best available

14 Jul 1999 : Column 438

techniques should be used bearing in mind the likely costs and benefits of a measure and the principles of precaution and prevention. I should be delighted if the two meant the same thing but, as they stand, they do not. I should be pleased if the Minister took advantage of his last chance to give a detailed explanation of the practical difference between BATNEEC and BAT. It may sound rarefied, but jokes are already emerging about what that will mean.

A parody of BATNEEC has already appeared called CATNIP--the cheapest available technology not involving prosecution. We all hope that businesses will not go down that route. There is a danger that if people do not think that a regulation is fair, they will try to evade it or bend the rules, and that would not benefit anyone. It would not benefit the law nor the environment. We want people to think that the regulations are fair so that they will obey them implicitly, both in the spirit and the letter. My real worry about the Bill is that people will think that the regulation is unfair and, therefore, seek to evade it rather than to apply it enthusiastically.

We welcome the principles behind the Bill and acknowledge that it has been improved on its rather tortuous route through both Houses, but we still have reservations about how it will work in practice. I assure the Minister that we shall monitor its effects with great care to ensure that businesses are not over-regulated and that it achieves its underlying purpose of improving pollution prevention and control. We want to see the Bill work. We hope that it will, but we are not sure that the Government have given it the best chance of doing so.

Next Section

IndexHome Page