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7.45 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the debate has been fascinating. There have been some remarkable contributions, but there has been some repetition. I should like to dwell upon the legal framework we are setting up in the Bill and the political will that surrounds it. No one in their right minds would carp at discussing an Environment Bill. Instinctively we all welcome an Environment Bill, but we must ask the question: what will it do?

We need to try to learn from experience. The House is probably best suited to bringing the experience of history to our deliberations. I had not meant to speak about national parks, but so many noble Lords have spoken about them that I thought that I would throw in a couple of words. First, we should think about how and why they were set up. I suspect that part of the reason for them was that before they were set up most land was in private ownership and therefore not accessible to the public. National parks were a mechanism through which the public could enjoy the benefits which the landed classes had hitherto enjoyed.

The latest criticism of what goes on in national parks seems to hinge around the use of noisy motorbikes. I wonder how many of the younger Members of your Lordships' House grew up on estates or farms where they were able to racket around on a big old motorbike or in a car and get that out of their system. I wonder how many young people whose parents do not have large estates have that facility. We should perhaps think in terms of providing a facility for today's youth rather than think of stopping that activity in national parks. The Government do not even recognise that that may be their responsibility. If anything, it is the local authorities which might pick up that baton and run with it. A number of local authorities are studying the matter and wondering how they could provide such facilities.

I wish to talk about penalties, democracy, finance, and a technical point. On penalties, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, talked about carrots and sticks. He suggested prison as a stick. It is worth pondering on that. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel also talked about cost benefit analyses not providing the best mechanism to determine the way forward. It struck me that one of the experiences we have is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act which introduced, I believe for the first time, the possibility of employers and managers in industry going to gaol for transgressing the requirements of that Act.

In the mid-1970s I worked in industry. The effect of that Act was salutary on managers because they believed that if they did not do the right thing they would go to goal. Within that political climate the Act was successful but, unfortunately, in 1979 the climate changed. Managers realised that there had been no prosecutions and thought that the penalty would not be imposed. Furthermore, the political climate changed with the election of a Conservative Government. Almost overnight the shutters came down and the managers

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said, "It is our job to manage. We are no longer going to listen to trade union leaders and our workers. We shall make the decisions". That was most significant because previously there had been dialogue between trade union shop stewards and conveners and managers as to the best way forward, in particular as regards problems relating to health and safety. That is a model to consider in terms of pollution of the environment. I hope that in Committee we will consider the best way of implementing it.

I am in curious agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who was the only speaker to suggest that a single agency for the United Kingdom was preferable to a separate agency for Scotland. In addition to recognising that environmental pollution has no borders and must be treated with equitability at national and international levels, we must recognise that in some cases local solutions are most applicable to local problems.

The Greater Manchester Council tried to introduce developments to deal with waste disposal. It is notable that local authorities have been in the forefront of environmental affairs. I refer to the municipalisation of the water industry in the last century and the clean air Acts which were pioneered by the Greater Manchester Council in the 1940s and 1950s. They provided enormous benefits to our society. In the 1970s and early 1980s the Greater Manchester Council funded research into converting waste into oil. The basic research was successful and the next stage was to be a pilot project to discover whether the scheme could be upscaled. Unfortunately, the Government then abolished Greater Manchester Council and no more was heard of the scheme.

I give that example because the problems relating to waste disposal in Manchester were different from those in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire, for instance, had a greater number of holes in the ground and therefore waste disposal through landfill was comparatively cheap. Assets and liabilities should be able to be matched in local areas to meet local circumstances.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the problem of minewater pollution, which has been referred to in a number of debates. I was not familiar with the situation and wondered what was the problem with mines filling up with water and the water running out. It was not until I was provided with information by Councillor Hedley Salt, chairman of the Coalfield Communities Campaign and leader of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, that I realised what the problem was. The Coalfield Communities Campaign represents coalfield authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. I wish to quote from some technical information which I am sure your Lordships will find of great interest. The information reads:

    "Coal and many other minerals have been mined for centuries in the UK. The water table formed a natural barrier to mining development and only by artificially lowering the water table, by pumping, could coal and other minerals continue to be accessible.

    "As mines have been abandoned so associated pumping networks have closed down, with the result that the water table has 'rebounded' to its natural level, thus flooding the old mineworkings. Because of the geology of coalmining areas, rising water is likely

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    to come into contact with pyrites which have been exposed to the air due to mining activities. The subsequent chemical reactions form sulphuric acid in the minewater. This acidity allows the water to carry high concentrations of iron, sulphate, aluminium and a range of heavy metals depending upon the geology and strata through which the water will rise.

    "The water may continue to rise until it reaches the level of a water course such as a river. The highly acidic metal-laden water on running into the river may kill aquatic life for considerable distances. In addition the dilution of the acidity causes sulphates and metals to precipitate out of the water thereby coating the river bed in an orange-red blanket. As well as the devastating effect on wildlife, the polluted river may also become unsuitable for water abstraction and recreation.

    "It is difficult to predict to what level the water table will rebound. This has led to speculation that some previously dry areas could become prone to flooding or waterlogging and that buildings and roads could become unstable. Foundations may also be attacked by the sulphate-rich water. Rising water may also displace dangerous mine gases, such as methane and carbon monoxide".

That is fascinating information and I am not sure whether it was previously in your Lordships' domain. I was not aware of it. It will inform us in our deliberations in Committee when we deal with that aspect of the Bill.

7.58 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I am mindful of the hour. Therefore, in the interests of your Lordships and those who look after our needs, I shall be brief. First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his most cogent elucidation of the Bill. Its establishment of the environment agency and the Scottish environment protection agency is probably long overdue, as implied earlier by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The reality is that pollution and environmental damage infect to varying degrees almost all walks of life. Therefore, the Government's wish to put in place an integrated approach is to be applauded. Thus, like most, if not all, of your Lordships, I welcome the Bill.

That said, I should like to make three general observations. The first is that the issue of the environment and people's perceptions of it is akin to eating oysters or raw eggs. The first question that one must ask oneself is whether the food is digestible at all. There are those who simply cannot eat oysters or raw eggs either because the notion of so doing is offensive or because it makes them gag. There then exists the issue of individual taste. There are those who, on the basis that such foods do not taste of anything, are indifferent as to whether they eat them. Then there are those who, possibly for reasons unrelated to taste, just cannot get enough of them. Herein lies my initial disquiet with the Bill. There is consensus that greater efforts should be made towards protecting, sustaining and conserving the globe's environment and resources. At the same time, it must be recognised that there exist very many shades of opinion as to the methodology of doing so. That is particularly the case in the context of the wider countryside.

My second area of concern--and here I echo the anxiety of many noble Lords--is the absence in the Bill of any workable definitions of a whole raft of key terms. It may be that the Minister will assist me. Will the environment agency operate under the Brundtland

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definition of sustainable development? In formulating and considering the proposal, what definitions will the agency apply to conservation and environmental protection? Should not appropriate definitions of those key concepts be on the face of the Bill?

While I can fully understand a desire to be rather vague in that context in order to avoid placing the agency in a straitjacket against the background of greatly needed discipline, nevertheless, I feel that some guidance in that context is desirable. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating an agency that would be a synthesis of Dr. Dolittle's push-me-pull-you.

My third point pursues the train of thought of my noble friend Lord Hesketh. It is too easy for those in the wider world who seek to count themselves as conservationists in particular in so far as the discipline relates to the countryside to imagine that it is a precise science; that it is a subject composed entirely of black and white. The reality is that conservation is a matter of compromise, which premise, one must note, is at least in part reflected on the face of the Bill.

Lest we forget, our environment is almost entirely man-made and has evolved over the centuries wholly on the back of man's efforts to impose his will upon it. More than that, nature within that environment is red in tooth and claw. Therefore, that begs the question of what it is in fact we are seeking to conserve. The answer--and this should be fundamental to all thinking about conservation--is that we should seek to preserve the vitality and viability of our environment as a living, evolutionary mechanism. Evolutionary is the key word.

I believe sincerely that those matters are fundamental to the construction of the Bill. Today's debate indicates that there is consensus that the environment agency will represent a most welcome mechanism for addressing the problems of pollution and environmental protection. However, unless the precepts under which it operates are adequately and rationally explained and constituted--and that echoes the comments made by many noble Lords today--I fear that we run the risk of, at best, pulling its teeth before they have had a chance to bite and, at worst, strangling it at birth. Bluntly, it is too important a mechanism in this modern age to be subjected to such a fate.

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