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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the noble Lord in moving Amendment No. 63 has raised a number of topics. He asked whether there have been any complaints to date about the role of the local authorities in Scotland in controlling air polluting processes. I can confirm that there have been absolutely no complaints whatsoever about the local authority administration of this policy. Indeed, I believe there have been no complaints about any of the constituent ingredients going into SEPA. Generally it is realised that all these functions can be done much better if they are done on an integrated basis by a central agency rather than on a segregated basis across the country.

Further, the noble Lord asked why it was necessary at all to centralise the duty given that the local authorities have only had this duty for a comparatively short time in Scotland. In Scotland there are, I believe, some 1,100 processes throughout the whole country that qualify as LAAPC processes, whereas in England and Wales I believe there are some 12,000 or 14,000. Therefore in Scotland it makes considerable sense to centralise the management of those 1,000 to 1,200 processes with one group of skilled personnel, whereas in England it would be unrealistic to hope to manage all 14,000 processes from one central unit.

I turn now to the rest of the ground that the noble Lord covered. Under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which the noble Lord mentioned, disposal authorities are responsible for the disposal and regulation of waste. Clause 21(1) (c) therefore seeks to transfer only those functions which cover waste regulation. Waste disposal functions will remain with local authorities.

The functions of disposal authorities under the 1974 Act are being progressively replaced by new provisions in Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There may therefore be no need to transfer the specified functions of disposal authorities to SEPA because there may be no existing functions to transfer. However, I am sure that the House will agree that it would be better to include this provision than to omit it and be left with a possible legislative gap. I do not believe that it would make much organisational sense to leave local authorities with responsibility for licensing one or two waste sites at the most when the overwhelming number of waste sites would be regulated by SEPA.

I hope that the noble Lord understands the explanation I have given. I invite him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I grasped roughly what the Minister meant. He said that

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there had been no complaints about the present system. I thought that we were in an age when if something is not broken you do not repair it. I read out the number of Acts that have been passed on this subject in the past few years, which is quite horrendous.

I accept the point that because England is so much bigger it would be difficult to handle the matter from the centre. That is a factor which is in the Minister's favour. I shall consider his statement with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22 [Transfer of property, rights and liabilities to SEPA]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 64:

Page 23, line 20, at end insert ("but only after consultation with SEPA and, in the case of a scheme which was approved by him (with or without modifications), after consultation with the local authority which submitted the scheme to him for approval.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Transfers of property etc: supplemental provisions]:

[Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 not moved.]

Clause 24 [Consultation with respect to drainage works]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 23, line 38, leave out ("pollution to controlled waters") and insert ("any environmental damage").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 67 it may be convenient to speak also to Amendment No. 68.

The amendment makes certain changes to the provisions of Clause 24 relating to consultation with respect to drainage works to ensure that those who carry out such works properly inform SEPA regarding the effect of the works and carry out SEPA's recommendations to prevent environmental damage.

The provisions regarding the obligation to consult with SEPA in respect of drainage works require to be strengthened. The clause limits the duty to consult to obtaining views about the precautions which should be taken to prevent pollution to controlled waters. The amendment seeks to extend the advice from SEPA to preventing environmental damage. It would have a duty to ensure that its advice was guided towards protecting against environmental damage. So there is no need for the Secretary of State to make regulations exempting certain drainage works from Clause 24(1). It is inappropriate for the Bill to have a circumvention provision of this nature.

I hope that the Minister will agree that again this is a neater way of dealing with the matter than that suggested in the Bill. I beg to move.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I understand the sentiment behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. However, I believe that it would increase SEPA's interest in drainage works considerably beyond its normal span of responsibilities. There is one very clear reason why it would make sense for SEPA to be consulted as to the precautions to prevent pollution

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resulting from drainage works. If pollution was to result from the carrying on of such works, SEPA might have to prepare a case for the procurator fiscal. The agency would have no corresponding role if the drainage works were alleged to have caused other environmental damage.

Behind this amendment seems to lie the noble Lord's ambition to expand the role of SEPA beyond the clearly focused regulatory body charged with the prevention and control of pollution, which the Government believe to be most appropriate. As we have debated at length in Committee the broad principle of the scope of SEPA's functions, I do not believe that your Lordships would wish me to repeat the arguments again.

Amendment No. 68 requires SEPA's views, or "recommendations" as they are styled, to be followed. This would leave no discretion. SEPA's advice would have to be taken and acted upon in each and every case. Whatever the agency says, the person carrying on the works would have to comply.

This would be an extremely onerous requirement. Even the system of integrated pollution control includes an appeals procedure, which would enable an operator to challenge a decision of the agency. Yet, in relation to these consultation arrangements a person would be obliged to accept SEPA's views lock, stock and barrel.

It is right that SEPA's views should be made available and taken into account, but it is for those carrying out drainage works to accept the final responsibility for their actions. To do otherwise would be to distort the meaning of "consultation" as it applies generally in practice and in statute.

What the noble Lord is suggesting in the second amendment is more akin to a system of consent rather than consultation. No case has been made that this level of regulatory burden, which would unduly interfere with the execution of such works, is justified.

The noble Lord did not feel that there was need for exemptions to be issued by the Secretary of State. However, once again I have to point out, as I believe I did at Committee stage, that some drainage works carried out in Scotland would be of a minor nature, involving maintenance or small repairs to farm field drains, and so forth. It would clearly be sensible for the Secretary of State to consider how best to deploy the resources available to SEPA and therefore to focus those resources on that part of the drainage activity which most required attention.

On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the trouble he has taken to explain the Government's view. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

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10.45 p.m.

Clause 25 [Power of SEPA to purchase land compulsorily]:

The Earl of Kintore moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 24, line 2, at end insert ("—but only—
(a) after SEPA has taken all reasonable steps to reach agreement for purchase of the land and has been unable to do so on terms which the Secretary of State considers reasonable; and
(b) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the land be purchased compulsorily.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 69, I speak also to Amendment No. 70.

Clause 25 provides that the Secretary of State may authorise SEPA to purchase land compulsorily. I have no argument with that, but would like to see some mention that the powers will be used only as a very last resort. In his reply to a similar point at Committee stage, the Minister said:

    "The Secretary of State will act as a safety net against any such unreasonable use of such powers. In a sense, he acts to protect against the abuse of such powers".—[Official Report, 26/1/95; col. 1223.]

As the Secretary of State authorises the use of compulsory purchase powers, but must also guard against their abuse, I wonder whether the Secretary of State will have a conflict of interest. This was certainly recognised in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 and a special parliamentary procedure, as in Amendment No. 70, is in place. It is to be hoped that compulsory purchase powers will have to be used only rarely, but when they are, individual landowner's rights must be protected. I beg to move.

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