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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I rise, first, to give general support, as would be expected from these Benches, to a series of amendments asking for greater transparency and greater publication. Secondly, I want to comment briefly on the three amendments standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.

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Amendment No. 53, which concerns reporting on the causes of pollution—not just on pollution, but imposing a duty to identify the causes—speaks for itself. The other two amendments are Amendments Nos. 63 and 64. Amendment No. 63 asks for consultation in the course of that process. We certainly support all the amendments.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Nathan: I restrict myself to Amendments Nos. 49, 51 and 58. I regarded them as drafting amendments rather than anything else, but in the light of the discussion they have perhaps more importance than I originally thought.

The effect of Amendments Nos. 49 and 51 taken together is merely to enable the agency, on the face of the Bill, to produce its own report at its discretion; it can decide that it will do so. That brings it completely into line with the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution whereby the commission can, and usually does, select the subject upon which it will report. However, it must carry out a report if so required by the Minister. That seems to me to be entirely sensible.

I am reinforced in the view that it is important to put it on the face of the Bill that the agency has the right to issue its report and I thoroughly support the proposition that those reports should be published. I believe it should have the power to do so for two reasons. The first is the emphasis which arose in discussion on the power of guidance of government in relation to what the agency is to do, contained in Clause 4 which we have already discussed. The second point arises under Clause 35 where, under the subsection, there is a provision under which the agency shall produce a report if so required by the Minister. I do not object to that, but the implication of those things taken together could be that the agency shall not have the right to make a survey and to publish a report. That would be unacceptable.

My point in relation to Amendment No. 58 concerns the drafting. If my amendment to the clause is adopted, I think the word "appropriate" would be more suitable than the word "that". However, that is a consequential drafting amendment.

The Earl of Onslow: I rise to support anything which goes to the idea of publishing information. The more that is published the better it is for open government. In that I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley.

However, I have a slight difficulty over Amendment No. 53. With luck it may be assuaged. My difficulty is this. If some criminal negligence has been involved in the cause of pollution or environmental damage, one must be careful when publishing reports and so forth to ensure that an individual's rights—when he is accused of anything against the law—are protected. That is my only worry and I am sure that somebody will set my mind at rest on that point.

Baroness Hamwee: I wonder whether I can do so. I believe that there is a distinction between the cause of a problem and the instigator of it. It will be perfectly possible to deal publicly with a sequence of events

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without necessarily running directly into difficulties as regards criminal law. I take the point which the noble Earl has made, but I am sure, as he said, that a way round can be found.

Viscount Ullswater: Clause 5 contains important provisions about the agency's duty to compile information about environmental pollution. The agency is also to carry out environmental assessments, if so requested by Ministers, and report on its findings, or to report on options for dealing with environmental pollution. The group of amendments seeks to make a number of changes to these provisions.

Amendment No. 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggests that in compiling information about pollution, the agency should collect information about the causes of the pollution. The agency is required to compile information relating to pollution which will help it to carry out its pollution control functions and which will enable it to form an opinion on the general state of the pollution of the environment. In doing so, the causes of pollution may often be a relevant consideration, and the agency will then no doubt collect this information. However, there may be situations where this information is of historical interest only and we would not wish to fetter the agency's discretion by placing it under a duty always to have to research exhaustively the causes of pollution where this would not be particularly helpful. I believe the wording as it stands gives the agency all the powers it needs for carrying out this duty effectively.

Amendment No. 61 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, proposes that the legislation should make clear that in identifying the costs and benefits of the options available for dealing with pollution, the agency should identify environmental, economic and social costs and benefits. I agree that where appropriate these should be taken into account.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: We have not reached that amendment yet. Amendment No. 61 was originally grouped with these amendments, but it is no longer.

Viscount Ullswater: I apologise. I now turn to Amendments Nos. 49 to 52, 54 and 56 to 58 spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Moran, Lord Nathan and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. These amendments all seek to require the agency or to give it the discretion to carry out and report on environmental assessments without being required to do so by Ministers. I understand, I think, and sympathise with the purpose behind these proposals.

But, as I have already explained, the agency is already under a duty to compile certain environmental information. And under its incidental general functions in Clause 35, it has the power to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to the carrying out of its functions. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, drew our attention to Clause 35. In subsection (1) of that clause he will see the agency's wide powers which I have just mentioned.

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If the agency feels it would be useful to carry out an environmental assessment, to undertake research or otherwise to obtain relevant information, it is thus able to do so without the provision of any additional powers in Clause 5. The NRA has produced a whole series of reports on water quality; for example, on water pollution incidents, discharge consents and compliance (the NRA's approach to control of discharges to water), contaminated land and the water environment, the quality of rivers and canals, and its water quality strategy. The agency, like the NRA, is of course also free to send any report to an appropriate Minister if it wishes to draw information to Ministers' attention.

The purpose of Clause 5(3) is to place the agency under a duty to provide to Ministers information about environmental pollution which they specifically request from it. That is a separate question, and is necessary because of the relationship between the agency and the department. I can understand why my noble friend Lord Crickhowell questioned whether it is necessary to put that on the face of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 48, 55, 59, 62 and 64—I hope that I have got those right—propose that any reports produced by the agency under this clause should be made public. Again, I sympathise with this proposal, but the agency will already be free to do this and, like the NRA, will no doubt do so. The reports I mentioned earlier, for example, have all been published, as have many others. In addition, the agency will be subject to the Environmental Information Regulations 1992, which give members of the public rights to a great deal of environmental information held by a variety of bodies. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that in no way are we trying to affect transparency. It is there and through those regulations the information is available.

Amendment No. 63 suggests that the agency should be under a duty to consult industry and others before providing a report to Ministers. Once again I believe that there are many circumstances in which the agency will need to consult others in drawing up its report and in such cases I am confident that it will do so. But I do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to anticipate in the legislation who might need to be consulted in any particular case.

The main thrust of these amendments has been to ensure that the agency has the duty or discretion to produce reports without being required to do so by Ministers and that interested parties should have access to these reports. I hope that I have reassured the noble Lords that I sympathise with their concerns, but see no need to make the amendments that they propose to deal with them.

Finally, I cannot recommend the Committee to accept Amendment No. 68 moved by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, since it would have the effect of making all powers and functions of the agency

    "under or by virtue of"

the Bill pollution control powers and functions. That is, of course, not what the noble Lord intended. I can, however, assure him that Clause 5 is not restricted to the agency's powers and functions under the legislation listed in subsection (5). It also applies to powers and functions under the Bill which the agency has "by virtue

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of" the listed legislation. For example, the agency's research duty under Clause 35(5) of the Bill is caught by Clause 5 to the extent that it is carried out in relation to the agency's pollution control functions. I hope that I have made myself abundantly clear and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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