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Lord Greenway: While I have every sympathy with the series of amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, I nevertheless have considerable reservations as to whether this is the right way to proceed at this time. As the noble Lord said, Her Majesty's Government are in the process of undertaking
These amendments would involve the setting up of yet another quango, which immediately brings up the question of funding. Where is the money to come from? And even if it were to be set up as a single agency, it would thereafter be very vulnerable to any cost cutting measures that the Treasury might wish to bring forward. It would also be an agency of some complexity. I would be most interested to hear what the noble Viscount the Minister has to say on these questions. I might even go so far as to borrow a phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, earlier on when she referred to a "quangocracy". I shall be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this quangocratic suggestion.
I favour the more measured approach to navigation contained in my later amendments, which do not seek to make fundamental changes to the Bill. Perhaps I may add that this approach is supported by and large by boating interests such as the British Marine Industries Federation, the Royal Yachting Association and the Inland Waterways Association.
Viscount Ullswater: I take Amendment No. 21 first because that goes right to the core of the Bill. It would prevent the transfer of local authority waste regulation functions to the agency and prevent the abolition of the London Waste Regulation Authority. Waste regulation is a fundamental part of the concept and purpose of the environment agency. We will not achieve a more coherent and integrated approach to environmental protectiona multi-media agencyif waste regulation remains with local government. The problem of maintaining consistent standards across 80 separate waste regulation authorities would also remain. The existing voluntary regional groupings of waste regulation authorities have made progress in this direction, but they could never achieve the consistency that a single regulatory body would provide.
The agency will enable expertise and know-how to be pooled much more effectively, but without sacrificing local experience. It will be staffed by the waste regulation officers of local authorities who will bring considerable local knowledge with them and will be able to deal with local concerns at least as effectively as they do now. The agency will be a centre of excellence, combining in one organisation the experience and expertise which the existing bodies have built up over the years.
Amendment No. 21 would also transfer the Secretary of State's inspection and default powers under Sections 68 and 72 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to the agency. That would simply maintain the status quo with the agency, rather than the Secretary of State, having default powers. There would be no integration with the agency's other pollution control functions, no benefit from shared expertise, and no reason why the agency should be any better at ensuring consistency between waste regulation authorities than the Government.
Amendment No. 16 would require the Secretary of State to make regulations transferring responsibility for enforcing relevant statutory provisions from the agency to local authorities, or vice versa. It would also enable the Secretary of State to assign responsibility for enforcement to the agency or local authorities where there is any doubt as to where that responsibility lies. In addition, it would require local authorities to make adequate arrangements for enforcing the relevant statutory provisions for which they are responsible in accordance with any guidance which the agency gives them.
Although it is not clear to me what precisely is meant by the "relevant statutory provisions", I cannot see any benefit in separating the responsibilities for issuing licences, consents and authorisations from the responsibilities for enforcing them. The two go hand-in-hand. Where the agency is the licensing authority, it will have the right staff with the relevant expertise and necessary powers, and we would expect it to take any enforcement action necessary to ensure compliance with the various pollution control regimes for which it is responsible. The split of functions proposed by the amendment would, rather than removing doubt, just increase confusion.
Amendment No. 69A would, to a large extent, if not completely, duplicate the enforcement provisions contained in the various enactments under which the agency has functions. Subsection (6) of the new clause which this amendment would insert into the Bill indicates that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, recognises the issue of overlap, but this is a far more substantial problem than can be dealt with by such a provision. That is because existing legislation already controls the sorts of activities likely to give rise to risks of serious environmental pollution, and in each case those controls include perfectly adequate enforcement measures. Indeed, the control of pollution needs to be tailor made to the type of pollution being covered and includes the checks and safeguards that are appropriate.
I do not consider that a general enforcement provision along the lines of this amendment is therefore needed. In so far as harmonisation might have been desirable, it seems to me that Clause 91 of the Bill achieves this with its general power to seize harmful substances or articles.
Finally, perhaps I may turn to the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord McNair. He has asked us to consider setting up a single authority, perhaps called a national waterways conservancy, which might take on the NRA's present waterways functions and duties together with those navigations currently managed by British Waterways. As a consequence, he has asked us to transfer the NRA's navigation functions and water-related recreation duties to the agency. As the noble Lord pointed out, the Government accepted a recommendation from the Select Committee on the Environment in another place to review the navigation functions of British Waterways and the NRA with a view to establishing a single authority. A consultation exercise in 1991-1992 sought the views of interested parties but no consensus emerged on the way ahead.
Our waterways represent a unique asset. Their special environmental heritage character needs to be protected for future generations. Used nowadays mainly for recreation, they are important for a wide range of different uses including boating, angling, freight, water supply, flood defence and land drainage. We shall shortly issue a consultation paper seeking views from those interested in the future of the waterways. Complex issues are involved and it would not be right to prejudge the outcome of the consultation either as to substance or to timetable in the way in which the amendments demand. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that to do so now would be to prejudge an important issue.
We shall look carefully at all the views that are expressed, including those that have been expressed tonight and including arguments supporting a single navigation authority, when we decide what action is necessary to ensure the best possible stewardship of the waterways for all their different uses and for society at large. Having dealt with that and the other amendments, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Williams of Elvel: The noble Viscount said that he was thinking about the waterways, that he would consult and that he would bring something forward. Is that part of the Bill and, if so, why have not the Government thought about it before?
Viscount Ullswater: I indicated that the Government have thought about it but that no consensus has emerged on the way ahead. That is an important point. As I said, these are complex issues and we need to consult. That is why a consultation paper will be issued in the near future.
Viscount Ullswater: We had a consultation exercise in 1991-92 when we found that a consensus did not emerge. We did not think it right to pursue the point. Since then we have reviewed matters and will issue a further consultation paper.
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I owe an apology to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for having accepted this grouping and the next group of amendments and, in due course, that relating to Amendment No. 22. All those amendments relate to the same topic, which is the attempt to provide a strategic central agency and to have some implementation at local level where it seems more appropriate. In discussing the actual regulations, I strayed into a discussion of the mechanisms. Having looked again at the grouping, I realise that that was because we had accepted a grouping which included the two. The same will apply to the next grouping, which again is on the same topic.
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