Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Lindsay: In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, it is not the quantity of engineers that one has in either Chamber but the quality that is important. This Chamber is lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Howie. He is probably worth 100 engineers put together. Therefore we have no need of others.

As I think the Committee can guess, railwaymen when they get together—even if they are staring across this Chamber—have a rather blurred vision of each other. It is not always accurate but nevertheless it is warm. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howie, for his kind remarks. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the Western Highlands, and indeed the Forth Rail Bridge, which he gave us. As regards the Forth Rail Bridge a period of research and analysis is being undertaken at the moment to assess different systems of maintenance and of painting. I do not want the noble Lord to think there is inactivity with regard to the bridge. This is simply a time for deciding on the best way forward. I am sad that my noble friend Lord McAlpine is not in his seat because I think his grandfather's viaduct on the West Highland Line is indeed one of the finest there is.

I now turn to this group of amendments. I start with Amendment No. 165A, which seeks to set out who my right honourable friend should consult before issuing guidance to SEPA with respect to its aims and objectives. Of course, this guidance must include guidance in relation to the contribution SEPA is to make towards the Government's goal of sustainable development, and my right honourable friend has already announced that he will consult fully on the content of this guidance.

In the light of his commitment, I do not see any need for the specific list of consultees proposed in this amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Balfour and the noble Earl, Lord Kintore. I am happy to assure both noble Earls that all eight specific bodies listed in the amendment will be consulted, as will such industrial and landowning groups as the CBI and the Scottish Landowners' Federation. Indeed, I would expect the consultation to go much wider than that. The Committee may for instance be interested to know that over 160 comments were received on the original SEPA consultation in 1992.

Amendments Nos. 166 to 168 seek to strengthen the Secretary of State's and SEPA's environmental duties. Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 would mean that rather than "having regard to the desirability" of conserving and enhancing the natural heritage of Scotland, they would be required to "further" such matters. Amendment No. 168 would have a similar effect in relation to the protection and conservation of certain buildings and sites.

The Committee will be familiar with this debate, as these issues were raised in relation to the duties on the environment agency for England and Wales in Clause 7. Therefore, I do not wish to dwell at length on Clause

26 Jan 1995 : Column 1228

30 because of the extent to which we aired all those issues on another occasion. However, I wish to make a few points.

The Bill recognises that matters such as nature conservation are important, and SEPA should, where appropriate, take account of them. However, a duty to further nature conservation could distort the exercise of SEPA's pollution control functions, and its pollution prevention and control functions lie at the heart of its very existence. Few pollution control licences could be issued if SEPA were required to ensure that the levels of pollution they permitted furthered nature conservation.

Unlike the provisions for the Environment Agency for England and Wales, there is no need to make a distinction in the Scottish provisions between SEPA's pollution control and other functions. The more limited scope of the Scottish agency means that it will not have functions for which a duty to "further" would be appropriate.

It is for that reason that SEPA's constituent bodies have no such "furtherance" duties. However, SEPA's duties will not be any weaker. Indeed, given that the full range of SEPA's environmental and recreational duties are not currently imposed on all of its constituent bodies, the new duties will be broader in their application.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, also raised in Amendments Nos. 169, 170, 171, 172 and 174 the question of whether engineering structures fall within the scope of SEPA's environmental duties. I can assure the noble Lord that if he withdraws the amendments I will ensure that the further consideration promised by my noble friend Lord Ullswater in relation to the equivalent provisions for the Environment Agency for England and Wales is extended to cover the relevant provisions for SEPA.

Amendment No. 170A seeks to give SEPA much wider general duties in relation to carrying out its functions. SEPA will need to take account of many such matters, all of which could be covered by specific references to duties in the Bill. These are matters which the guidance issued under Clause 29 was designed to address. I therefore do not see the need for the amendment, although I understand what it seeks to achieve.

The noble Earl, Lord Kintore, drew a parallel with Scottish Natural Heritage and the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act and what he saw as the balanced duties imposed on SNH. He quite rightly said that SEPA needs the same balanced duties. Indeed, it does have the same balanced duties. I draw the noble Earl's attention to the guidance which must be issued in the pursuit of its duties. I also draw his attention to the fact that any body seeking to contribute to sustainable development can only do so in a balanced manner. The concept behind sustainable development is that one balances and reconciles different needs and requirements.

I must also point out that SNH legislation is designed for a specific body which has been set up for a specific purpose. The clauses relating to SEPA are designed for a specific body set up for a specific purpose. Therefore, to seek to mirror clauses from one Act in another is not something that the Government would like to consider.

26 Jan 1995 : Column 1229

Amendment No. 186 would remove the requirement on Scottish Natural Heritage to give SEPA reasons for considering that an area of land may be affected by activities or authorisations of SEPA.

Clause 33 requires SNH to notify SEPA of sites of special interest or natural heritage areas which SNH considers may be affected by actions by SEPA. I believe that it is appropriate for SNH to be additionally obliged to make the reasons for its considerations known to SEPA. SEPA must, except in an emergency, consult SNH where it appears likely to SEPA that its actions may affect such land. Knowing why SNH thought that the land might be so affected in the first place would, I suggest, help SEPA meet that obligation.

Amendment No. 187 would restrict the definition of emergency to "danger to life or health". That would limit the circumstances in which the consultation arrangements could be circumvented. I recognise that we should be careful to avoid any unnecessary abuses of that exemption, but I do not believe that this is the best way of doing so as it would fetter SEPA's discretion to an unreasonable extent. For example, it does not seem to cover an emergency which may cause serious environmental harm. Much would depend on how "life" was interpreted. Contamination of soil may not directly threaten life but it could well constitute an emergency. We should be prepared to trust SEPA to discharge its statutory functions to protect the environment when it believes it is imperative to do so urgently.

There is, of course, still a requirement on SEPA, if it takes emergency action, to notify SNH as soon as practicable after the event.

The Government are keen to ensure the correct balance is struck in SEPA's environmental duties. We believe that the provisions as drafted achieve that. On that basis, I hope that Members of the Committee will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour: That is a very satisfactory answer to the points that were raised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [General environmental and recreational duties]:

[Amendments Nos. 166 to 174 not moved.]

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [General duties with respect to pollution control]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 175:

Page 26, line 13, after ("of") insert ("protecting the environment and").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 175 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 176 to 181. These amendments are intended to strengthen the independence of SEPA and to reduce the total power which seems to rest with the Secretary of State, who

26 Jan 1995 : Column 1230

generally speaking has sufficient power in any case. We want a body which will have a certain amount of autonomy. We are not opposed to the establishment of SEPA; we feel that it should be more representative.

The amendments are tabled because under the Bill as currently drafted assessments will be undertaken only at the discretion of the Secretary of State. We believe that SEPA should be free to provide regular assessments of the effects of pollution on the environment on a proactive basis. Otherwise SEPA may be requested to carry out assessments only in response to a crisis rather than using these studies to tackle issues before they become problems. That is the purpose of Amendments Nos. 176, 177 and 178.

The purpose of Amendment No. 179 is to ensure that, unlike other quangos, the working of the agency will not be shrouded in mystery. The Minister has already said that it would be going too far for board meetings and other meetings to be open to the public. I hope that he will come a little way with us and give us a reassurance that there will not be any secrecy which is detrimental to the public.

The purpose of Amendment No. 180 is to ensure that environmental costs and benefits are accounted for in identifying options for pollution prevention. When considering the costs and benefits of options for pollution control it is critically important that the environmental costs and benefits are clearly outlined. Many of SEPA's measurements of success will be the environmental benefits—clean water, clean air and clean land—which accrue from its actions. Therefore, it will assist SEPA to undertake some analysis of both the short and long-term costs and benefits to the environment which result from its action or lack of action. If it is lack of action, that may spur it on to do something more quickly. As the relationship between environmental economics and cost-benefit analysis remains a matter for debate, it should be clear on the face of the Bill that SEPA is expected to consider the environment as well as financial costs and benefits in the clause. Although it may be possible to do a purely financial analysis, in the long run from the ecological point of view that may prove to be disastrous. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance on those points. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page