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8.58 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, those of us who speak at this stage in a debate customarily say that there is little left to be said. I thought to myself this morning that I would welcome that and the relative cohesion in the approach to the Bill from all sides of the House. I think perhaps I was a little over-confident in my ability to say something interesting and different about the points that have already been made. However, I wish that we were not debating it at this time today. I know that all your Lordships are particularly sorry to have caused such confusion in the arrangements of those who make the affairs of the House run so smoothly.

I say to the Government, as I have said on a previous occasion, that I should like to continue the encouragement to them in this process and I welcome the consultation that took place on the draft of the Bill. It is the right way to approach legislation on which we should all come together and it provides a means, I hope, of getting the best Bill. My welcome to the Bill that we have is--like that of other noble Lords--in some sense measured. I welcome many of its provisions but not all of them. I welcome some of the balance that it encompasses. This is a subject where balance is above all important. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that--like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley--Utopia does feature in my "balance".

With regard to the environment agencies, my noble friend Lord Ezra referred to the regional aspects. I share his concern about the regional dimension. I hope that the structure reflects coterminosity with local authorities. Relationships with local authorities will be very important. I join others who have commented on the lack of a separate agency for Wales--noting, however, the points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The Minister in opening recognised the distinct needs of Wales, but they include the need for more than a separate advisory committee. I have been advised that perhaps I should not comment on my gratitude to those from Wales who are able to brief us in English as well as in Welsh.

I find the question of the accountability of the agencies quite difficult. I am not sure whether to regard the new agency as an arm of government; as a policeman carrying out identified policies and helping to develop those policies, but not itself being a

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law-maker; or whether we should be going down the road of indirectly democratically accountable appointees--which is a contradiction in terms--as representatives. The greater the input of democracy from other parts of the political sectors, perhaps the more we obscure the Government's responsibility for this area. I find this a very difficult issue and I look forward to debating the criteria for the structure of the agency and for those who will take part in its various component parts.

The agency's directives are also immensely important. I share the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the term "sustainable development". It is now being used in a way that is quite difficult and is being moved away from its original definition. To me the environment agency is about sustainability, and development is a separate function: it is largely a planning function, although I would accept that the agency should contribute to underpinning the planning framework.

I am not, I hope, a complete Luddite. I would not say that protection means no development. I believe--and this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel--that new technologies have a very big role to play in protecting our environment. There must be protection, and protection in the role of champion of the environment is what the agency should primarily be about. It should not have to reconcile its objectives and targets.

I welcome the discussion about costs and benefits. I was interested that the CBI, which makes many points that one would want it to make on behalf of the business sector, also identifies obligations on business as well as obligations on government. I think that we shall have an important debate on the wider costs to society as well as the costs to individual businesses.

We shall also talk about the "polluter pays" principle. That is another principle that I find quite difficult. It can be interpreted as meaning that if one can pay, then one can pollute. It should not come anywhere near to that interpretation. The whole area of payment is a difficult one. To turn for a moment to the waste regulation activities, I know that the London local authorities have a real concern that in making waste regulation funding dependent on revenue from the industries the agency will seek to regulate, we shall have a body that will be vulnerable to control by the polluters themselves. In other words, they will become the paymasters in a sense.

I find the Bill a little confusing on the question of what are the duties and what are the powers of the new agency. Perhaps we can undertake to clarify it a little in that respect.

I was, however, pleased to see a word in the Bill that one rarely sees in legislation; namely "must". On so many occasions we see that the Secretary of State "may", and Opposition Members say that it should read, "the Secretary of State shall". In Schedule 11, which deals with objectives for the national waste strategy, the strategy "must" contain particular objectives. As I say, that is a rare term, but it may be that we can build on this precedent. I am sure that some noble Lords will make an attempt to do so.

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Some very high obligations are included in that schedule and in other parts of the Bill: for instance, "ensuring" that there is no danger from certain activities. We know over what a long time-frame environmental damage can make itself felt. I look forward to discussing the level of obligation that we shall seek to impose; and also--again coming back to the question of balance--what cost one should expect to see incurred. That same schedule, Schedule 11, says that cost should not be excessive in this particular context.

Clause 37 refers to taking account of costs unless it is unreasonable to do so. We shall need to see where the weight of the argument goes. The right reverend Prelate referred to recognising the responsibility that is upon all government departments. He may have detected the hand of one department, the Treasury, in weakening some duties and reducing them from being a duty to something that is merely desirable. My noble friend Lord Beaumont muttered to me that it was the Treasury that altered the word at the draft stage.

The areas of responsibility for the agency need to be more extensive. In particular I refer to the question of air pollution. Air quality is as important as water quality. The noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, referred to the quality of the urban environment. Air quality is important outside our cities, but it is increasingly becoming an issue within our cities. There was reference to the fact that how its quality is monitored and how the standards are set is an area of work that is done in conjunction with environmental health officers. That is an area that has to be developed.

There also needs to be work in conjunction with the local authorities, with planners and environmental health officers, in the area of waste. I am concerned that these proposals may lead to further fragmentation in the way in which the waste stream is dealt with. One starts in domestic terms with the householder. Local authorities, as the waste collection agencies, need to work out how they can best collect and whether they can afford--because it is a costly business--to arrange for separate collections of separate materials. If they are further removed from the agencies which deal with the later stages of the process, it will become more difficult to provide cohesive policies.

My noble friend Lord Ezra referred to integrated management. At this stage I shall mention merely one current matter which alerts me a little to the Government's approach; namely, their current draft of waste management licensing with regard to scrap metal. I understand that the Government had stated their intention to bring scrap metal sites within the scope of waste management licensing, insisting on appropriate training and financial resources for licensees. But, possibly as a result of heavy lobbying, the draft regulations on which a consultation is just closing show that much of the industry will be exempt from waste management licensing.

With regard to waste, it seems to me that the Bill deals with increasing the re-use, recovery and recycling of materials. But there is a preliminary issue, to which other noble Lords have referred; namely, the reduction of materials in the first place. The whole issue of

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packaging is ripe for regulation. If the Bill does not already allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for the reduction in the use of materials as well as re-use, it is a matter to which we should give some attention.

We should use the Bill as an opportunity to debate the operation of the market in recycled goods and ensure that individuals are able to make informed choices. But a good deal of the information that is available is extremely confusing and in some cases misleading. We must all be aware of the green claims that are made in conjunction with a number of products that are now on the market. The London Borough of Sutton has identified quite a lot. They range from:

    "This washing-up liquid is formulated and made with care for the environment"--

whatever that means--to:

    "This paper container is made of wood--a re-usable, natural resource"--

well, yes, it is; but if it is a carton which contains liquid, it will have wax on the inside and not be re-usable --and:

    "socks which are 'ozone friendly' because they 'help prevent foot odour which is probably a major cause of the destruction of the ozone layer'".

I feel that there may be scope within the Bill, notwithstanding the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, about using the Long Title, to look at how labelling is approached in this context.

I must say a few words too about waste regulation authorities, including the London Waste Regulation Authority. As I have already indicated, this is a part of the Bill which I do not welcome. The LWRA is relatively new and so far as I can see it has been doing a good job. At the time when the strategic government of our capital city was abolished, it was recognised that there was a need for a strategic function in the area of waste regulation. As I said, the LWRA has been doing a good job and either the Government do not recognise that or they do recognise that it has been doing a good job and want to take it over. It is a part, albeit indirectly, of our democratic local government in London in that its members are currently members of local authorities. So there is an accountability, albeit not a direct one. I should be sad to lose that. I should also be concerned about the transfer of staff from that and other agencies--that is an area to which we shall return--and indeed the transfer of assets. In the case of waste authorities, it is inevitable that those assets will leave local hands and go to central government. But there we are.

Contaminated land is a vital area because, among other things, it bedevils good planning. Registration is not sufficient. Attention must be paid to a strategy both for preventing contamination in the future and cleaning up contamination that has already been caused. Otherwise the argument will always be, "We cannot build here. We have to go on to a greenfield site". I am sure that those connected with the Department of the Environment in whatever context will be well aware of this, having to deal with a building which is built on a gasworks site and which needs major attention.

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My noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley spoke on national parks and I shall not spend long on that subject other than to comment that, given the problems with the term "quiet enjoyment"--which I well understand since it has a clear meaning within landlord and tenant law--the term "tranquil" was used by at least three noble Lords, and I hope that the Government bring forward an amendment using some such terminology to recognise what is a clear call for this area of enjoyment.

I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in being interested to see beforehand what the Government propose with regard to hedgerows. We shall be able to have a much more informed and useful debate against real draft regulations rather than anticipation, though I must confess that I am a "townie" in regard to that matter and perhaps a little Utopian about hedgerows as well as about other things.

Ending where I began, I can say that tomorrow we shall be thanking those who ensure the smooth running of this place and perhaps the best way that I can wish them "Happy Christmas" is to stop talking.

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