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Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: The Minister has put a very convincing case. I certainly see the relationship between Scottish and English rivers as being quite different: there is no comparison. However, I do not believe that we should take the matter too easily in that we do not need a greater ability to co-ordinate. The Minister gave the impression that there was more information to be brought out fairly soon about the powers of SEPA to carry out more co-ordination than exists at present. I believe the noble Earl said that a memorandum of understanding will be brought out to clarify some of the points which are put forward in these amendments.

The Earl of Lindsay: It may be useful if I add that the memorandum of understanding was set out in the draft management statement in October 1994. I suggest that I write to the noble Lord and include a copy of that draft management statement concerning the memorandum of understanding. The noble Lord will then know exactly what details have been established.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: If we can have that before we reach Report stage, and with that assurance, I am very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 [Consultation with respect to drainage works]:

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 152ZA:

Page 23, line 30, after ("works") insert (", other than scouring or repairing any existing drain, watercourse or outfall, or carrying out any drainage works for the purpose of improving drainage for agriculture of any land which has at any time been cultivated,").

The noble Earl said: I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, and to the Scottish Landowners' Federation for assisting me with this amendment. From

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a practical point of view, much of the drainage of the best agricultural land in Scotland was put down during the 18th century. Some of it involved amazing feats of engineering. The trouble is that after this length of time in some of the beautiful drainage schemes which were put in with horseshoe tiles, the tiles have collapsed.

The object of this amendment is to allow landowners in normal repair and maintenance, particularly as regards agricultural land, to be able to carry out the necessary repairs without it being necessary to get approval from SEPA or anybody else. In many ways there is a wonderful advance in knowledge today, which simply did not exist a few years ago, of how drains can be cleaned out by scouring them.

Literally, since I entered the Chamber I have received a letter from my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie in which he states,

    "The intention behind Clause 24 is to place on a statutory footing the consultation which is currently required as a condition of the payment of grant for drainage works from the Forestry Commission and the Scottish Office, and to extend the consultation requirement to other significant drainage works".

I am not aware of any Forestry Commission grants. There were some grants for drainage to agricultural land. The letter continues:

    "We [the Government] therefore envisage that the Regulations will prescribe those minor drainage works ... rather than in the Bill".

In drafting the amendment, it was partly to try to reduce the need for SEPA having to deal with every sort of minor repair. To a great extent, the ordinary landowner on an average estate today is very conscious of the effects of pollution and is only too keen to preserve his own interests without again having to go to yet another authority in order to carry out his responsible repairs and maintenance. This amendment is grouped with other amendments to which other noble Lords will no doubt wish to speak; but, for the moment, I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Kintore: Amendment No. 152ZA stands in my name also. I have been briefed by the Scottish Landowners' Federation which generally welcomes the concept of SEPA. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 24(1) appear extremely restrictive and could include everything from cleaning a minor field drain upwards. The amendment seeks to allow normal farm drain maintenance. Clause 24(2) states:

    "The Secretary of State may, by regulations...prescribe types of drainage works in relation to which subsection (1) above shall not apply".

Perhaps I may ask the Minister when the draft regulations will be available.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: I do not know whether the noble Earl is agreeable to the grouping that was put forward—

The Earl of Balfour: Yes, but I thought that the noble Lord might want to speak to his own amendments.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: The noble Earl's amendment, Amendment No. 152ZA, precedes the amendments that have been grouped. I refer to

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Amendments Nos. 152A, 152B, 153, 154, 154A and 154B. I should like to refer particularly to Amendments Nos. 153, 154 and 154B.

I appreciate the efforts that the noble Earl has made; but I have a slight concern about his amendment. In general, the clause has to be welcomed, but it unfortunately takes a limited view of the environmental impact of drainage work. It requires only "consultation" on the precautions that should be taken to prevent pollution. It fails to encompass drainage works which could have highly damaging effects on the environment. There is great anxiety over the piecemeal, site-based approach to land drainage and flood defence in Scotland. Excessive land drainage has resulted in a loss of valuable wetland habitat and buffer strips along water courses which can filter pollutants and sediment. Despite that impact, there is no government body to maintain an overview of the potential environmental impact, be it local or catchment-wide, of such works.

The principal object of land drainage is to carry water away from the land as fast as possible. That process gives rise to many problems, including an increased tendency for rivers to flood in wet weather and a loss of wetlands in dry weather, both of which give rise to secondary problems. Improvements in technology since the 1950s have made it possible to drain almost all lowland farmland so that very little grassland is left. Drainage has also been extended to the uplands. In Tayside, for example, up to 8 per cent. of the land area was hill-drained in the 1970s, increasing the erosive potential of run-off and contributing to losses of soil and nutrients. Not only do the silt and nutrients cause problems for rivers, but farmers have no wish to lose them from the land in the first place. The consequent effect of all the drainage has been a serious decline in the wide variety of wildlife that is dependent on those wetlands.

Amendment No. 154 strengthens what I have described as a "consultation procedure". It requires those carrying out drainage works to "have regard to" rather than simply "take account of" the views of SEPA. That is a fairly important difference which the Minister may find it worth endorsing. That change emphasises the importance of consultation and highlights the significant weight that should be accorded to SEPA's opinion on drainage operations.

Turning to Amendment No. 154B, the clause allows the Secretary of State to prescribe types of drainage works for which consultation shall not be required. That causes us some anxiety because it provides no rationale or clarification as to why, or what, drainage works may be excluded. Again, the Minister should be able to clear up that point fairly quickly. It would be more appropriate for SEPA to determine in the pursuit of its functions the extent and degree to which consultation is necessary for various types of drainage work. Why is it desirable to allow some drainage works to be excluded from the consultation process, and on what basis is that being done? I am sure that there is some rationale to it, but there may be a quicker way of achieving that end.

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Is it possible to specify the categories that could be excluded? I commend my amendments to the Committee.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I have great sympathy with the amendments which stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove; and, with the possible exception of Amendment No. 154B, I would support them.

Amendment No. 154B, and Amendment No. 152ZA (which stands in the names of the noble Earls), provide an important derogation from the main provisions. It is worthwhile having something like that. On the point of whether the derogation is too widely cast and the exceptions too wide, I shall wait to hear what the Government have to say before making up my mind. On the whole, I think that we should be strengthening anti-pollution methods in this area. As I have said, the majority of this group of amendments are worthwhile, and I hope that the Government will accept them.

Lord Elton: I imagine that my noble friend will say that the power in subsection (2) will be used to make any exemption which is necessary, such as that referred to in Amendment No. 152ZA which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfour. On the other side of the coin, however, I hope that my noble friend will take on board a point which I am not quite sure that I understood from the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, although it may have been there. One function of undrained land is to act as a buffer between a rainstorm and a river system. It takes the water in quickly and lets it out slowly. If you drain that land, it takes water in quickly and lets it out quickly. The result is a much greater strain on the river system which has to dispose of it. That may result in floods. Therefore, I see why the noble Lord seeks to establish the way in which there shall be some communication between those who intend to increase the load on the river system and those who are responsible for the river system.

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