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Page 40, line 34, leave out ("a local") and insert ("an").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Moran had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 224A:

Page 40, line 37, at end insert:
("( ) Without prejudice as aforesaid the appropriate Minister may cause a local enquiry to be held in any case in which he considers it appropriate for such an inquiry to be held—
(a) with a view to preventing or dealing with pollution of the environment; or
(b) in relation to any other matter relevant to the quality of the environment.").

The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. They were somewhat technical and I should like to study them in Hansard to see whether I too can be satisfied that the situation is all right. Having said that, I do not intend to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 224A not moved.]

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendments Nos. 224B to 224D:

Page 40, line 41, leave out ("local").
Page 41, line 6, leave out ("a local") and insert ("an").
Page 41, line 12, leave out ("local").

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1422

The noble Viscount said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall move Amendments Nos. 224B to 224D en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 51 agreed to.

Clause 52 [Continuity of exercise of functions: the new Agencies]:

Viscount Mills moved Amendment No. 225:

Page 41, line 36, after ("agreement") insert (", scheme of charges").

The noble Viscount said: I shall speak briefly on Amendment No. 225. The amendment seeks to allow any scheme of charges set up by former boards or authorities to be transferred to the new agency. As I understand it, that is not allowed for within the present Bill. The existing NRA charging schemes, such as those for abstraction licences and discharge consents, are not due to expire until after the agency has been set up.

I do not believe that the agency will be in a position to bring in new charging schemes effective from the transfer date. Any lack of continuity would create a hiatus during which no income-charging schemes would be in place. I am sure that that is not a situation that the Government favour, and the amendment seeks to prevent it. I must stress that it would not prevent amendment of charging schemes at a later date or indeed the introduction of new charging schemes. I beg to move.

Lord Moran: I rise briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Viscount. He is an employee of the NRA and knows what he is talking about. If the facts are as he states them to be, then it is highly desirable that the new agency should be given the charging powers he mentions. We should listen carefully to what he says.

Viscount Ullswater: Amendment No. 225 seeks to continue in force the charging schemes made by the agencies' predecessor organisations. I recognise the anxieties that underlie my noble friend's amendment but do not believe that this is the correct way to proceed.

As matters stand, existing charging schemes will cease to apply once the agencies take over their statutory functions. Charges to be made by the agencies will be prescribed in schemes made by them under Clauses 39 and 40. I believe my noble friend is concerned that the agencies' charging schemes may not be in force by vesting day and I agree that we must avoid the situation he described.

However, it would not be sufficient merely to enable the schemes made by the predecessor bodies to continue. The agencies' charging schemes are required to be made under Clauses 39 and 40 instead of under the existing legislation. Therefore, while I believe that Amendment No. 225 is technically deficient and I ask my noble friend to withdraw it, I shall undertake to look

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1423

again at the issue he raises and consider whether we should later bring forward a provision which would satisfactorily meet his anxieties.

Viscount Mills: I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Interpretation of Part I]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 226:

Page 44, line 24, at end insert ("and such date shall not be before 1 April 1997.").

The noble Lord said: Briefly, Amendment No. 226 could help the Minister if he is prepared to accept it. It seeks to say that the timetable given for the implementation of the Bill is unreasonable and unrealistic, particularly in view of the uncertainty and flux already being experienced by local authorities in relation to the implementation of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1994.

It is not the perfect start for a body for which we have great hopes. In fact, I do not know whether the Government have anything else to do, but in relation to Scottish matters they seem to be pulling up the plant every two or three months and looking at the roots to see if it is still growing. I know the programme is well advanced but there will be many problems. Good, hardworking local people are going to be labouring all hours in order to try to set up the organisation. If the Minister cannot say that he accepts the amendment, then we hope that he can give us good reasons why not and that he can assure us that he will meet any difficulties. There is going to be an enormous amount of compulsory overtime for local authority employees. I beg to move.

The Earl of Lindsay: I agree with the sentiment behind the amendment. I especially agree with the reference to the "good, hardworking local people" who will be involved both in the local government reorganisation and in the setting up of SEPA.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, raises concerns about the timetable of SEPA coinciding with the reorganisation of local government in Scotland. That is deliberate, and for very good reasons. There is a great advantage in transferring local authority functions to SEPA at the same time as local government is reorganised. The transfer can be taken into account by the new unitary authorities and they can be given a fresh start with their full new range of responsibilities.

The alternative would be for these new authorities to have functions on a temporary or mark-time basis. I do not believe that that would be the best solution either for the efficient discharge of these functions and therefore for effective pollution prevention and control or for the authorities concerned. We very much wish to avoid those factors. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: Obviously, in a perfect world, one can see the point of having the two changes taken together. However, with the upset caused

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1424

by the new local government areas which will start in April, it will be very complicated. With the warning that I have given the Minister and the reaction that he is bound to get from local authorities in Scotland, I feel that I have done my bit. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment Nos. 226A and 226B:

Page 44, line 34, after ("1996") insert ("—(a)").
Page 44, line 38, at end insert ("; and
(b) in section 22(3) (a) (iv) above the reference to an islands council shall be construed as a reference to a council mentioned in section 3(1) of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.").

The noble Earl said: Amendments Nos. 226A and 226B are technical amendments. They ensure that, when changes in the designations of islands councils brought about by the Local Government Etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 take effect, provisions in the Bill still read correctly. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 53, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 54 [Contaminated land]:

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 226C:

Page 45, line 7, after ("in") insert ("or").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 226C and shall speak also to Amendment No. 226D. I should like to declare a possible interest, in that I have 20 per cent. holding in a private company which owns the freehold of the surface of one of the pits in the Kent coalfield, now closed, which is leased to the coal board. This small amendment raises two issues, the first of which is a drafting matter. Strictly speaking, "in the land" includes "under the land". Since the 13th century common law has defined land as everything up to the sky and down to the centre of the earth. Of course, that common law rule is limited by subsequent statutes, such as the coal nationalisation legislation.

The second purpose of the amendment is to probe what the Government really mean by "in, on or under the land". Is a landowner to be made responsible for whatever goes on under his land, however deep down? How can a landowner know whether a mine gallery is being driven 1,000 feet under his land—because a coal operative has a perfect right to do that under the coal legislation? How can he know if polluted water has come under his land in an aquifer hundreds of feet down? It does not seem to me sensible to place such liabilities on householders and small landowners. I beg to move.

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