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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, on his persistence and watchfulness over this Bill. He should be thanked for bringing forward the amendment tonight. I shall not keep the House long, but I find disturbing the fact that the Federation of Small Businesses, which represents 135,000 businesses, was not properly consulted about the Bill and its provisions. As we have seen in previous legislation--for example, that relating to small abattoirs--the failure to consult and to take into account the real problems of small businesses has resulted in many being closed down. I am sure that the FSB is most concerned that that may happen to many of its members as a result of the Bill. I sincerely hope that my noble friend can reassure the House that that will not be so.
I should like the Minister to recount exactly why no response was made to the FSB's representations and to say whether the Government will examine the methods by which they consult on all matters, particularly those related to the European Union, with small businesses and not merely large transnational companies. It is an important point. Small businesses are worried. After all, this country is run on small businesses which are entitled to be treated far better than has been the case over the past 20 years. Their interests are important.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I, too, associate myself with the personal comments made about the Minister. I, too, admire the way in which he carries out a busy portfolio, the expert way in which he does so, and the courtesy he shows to this House. I stood in his shoes when the 1990 Environmental Protection Act went through this House. I look back on the Act as a seminal piece of legislation in terms of the way in which it brought about a substantial improvement in the environment. There was further evidence of that only this week in the reference in the Environmental Protection Agency report to continuing improvement over the past decade. That is largely due, I believe, to the 1990 Act. What is it that was not in the Act that needs to be put into legislation in order to conform with the European directive?
The BATNEEC principle, which I have always supported, is necessary as a protection for small and vulnerable businesses. The whole point was to ensure that firms would not go out of business as a result of improvements deemed necessary by the regulators when the choice was a matter of survival--complying with their obligations under the Act or going out of business and jobs being lost. A perfectly reasonable principle (BATNEEC) was included in the Bill in order to give people time to negotiate a way in which they could improve their industrial and working processes which did not entail such a financial burden that jobs and/or the company were lost to the economy. Why are the Government so reluctant to see that principle in its entirety reintroduced in this Bill?
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. European directives, often well intentioned, are often considered in isolation one from the other by Parliament. Almost without exception, they are considered without early discussion in their formulation. They are born of commissions in the vaults of the European Community and when we become aware of them it is usually too late to do anything. They have been agreed by endless groups of officials of countries and tacitly agreed to by Ministers and the Commissioners, who will have given birth to them in the first place. By the time European directives come before this House, which does a good job in scrutinising European legislation, it is usually too late for Parliament to act.
Dealing with them in isolation, we as a Parliament fail lamentably to consider the impact of all the burdens placed on business and commerce as a result of different directives and the tendency for us to gold-plate almost everything we do. Therefore, I strongly support my noble friend who wishes to import BATNEEC into the Bill. Can the Minister say why we have probably the most unsatisfactorily drafted Bill before the House? It is a poor and dangerous substitute for that part of the
Earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that sometimes the wording of a European directive is not clear or is broad brush. That gives us an opportunity to interpret it in a way that is satisfactory to the country as a whole but, in terms of this amendment, is satisfactory to the wellbeing and health of our small businesses. I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and I certainly wish to support my noble friend. If at any stage of the Bill he wishes to press the matter to a vote, I shall support him in the Lobby.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the debate on the amendment has gone wider than the amendment itself. Perhaps I may deal with two points immediately. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked why we do not stick to the 1990 Act. This Bill incorporates many of the principles of that Act, but we want a coherent system which runs across European national level legislation and local level legislation and regulation. Industry as a whole welcomes that coherent approach. That is why the Front Benches of all parties have welcomed the principle of it. Indeed, I am slightly surprised by the noble Baroness's remarks. I know that she had left her position in the department towards the end of the previous government, but the Secretary of State, Mr. Gummer, promoted the directive within the European Commission. Indeed, he seconded one of his own officials to help draft it; he was a major drafter of the directive. The previous administration completely supported this approach, and most of industry supports the coherence which the directive, and the regulations and directives under the Bill, will bring to industry.
As for small firms, all our consultations involve them. The Federation of Small Businesses was fully consulted. We do not reply by and large to any of the individual consultations, but in three consultations the FSB was fully informed.
The Bill is not about killing off 135,000 small businesses; it will be applied to around 7,000 mainly large businesses. The House is on the wrong track if it attacks the Bill for attacking small businesses. It does quite the opposite. As to the Government's handling of the Bill, we have accepted some of the criticisms--
Lord Whitty: No, my Lords. I am saying that it applies to large installations. Some such installations may be owned by small businesses, but most will be owned by large businesses. The extension to agriculture, for example, applies only to very large pig and poultry installations. It does not apply to the broad range of agricultural enterprises.
"otherwise preventing or controlling emissions capable of causing ... such pollution". It goes on to say that these activities mean,
"industrial or commercial or other activities ... carried on on particular premises or otherwise". So we go on. In the definition of environmental pollution, as my noble friend the Duke of Montrose has indicated, "harm" can mean causing,
"offence to the senses of human beings". Technically, that might cover smoking. It certainly covers the bonfire at the bottom of the garden and anything that a small business might produce if--when--they get going, that is how these famous regulators want to behave.
I also have to deal briefly with the suggestion that we tried to conceal the intention of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, may well say that it was a low-key Second Reading. I am a low-key sort of chap, I suppose; but I did introduce the intention in my second sentence, when I said that it,
However, I have an additional reason, which completely addresses the concern about small firms. The amendment would require the use of BATNEEC in all cases to which the regulations apply for minimising
Our proposals, which are in line with current practice, are that integrated permitting, which is quite burdensome, should apply to the larger installations, including all those subject to the IPPC directive, but that over 11,000 smaller installations should remain regulated by local authorities in respect only of their air emissions. I suspect that that was not the intention of the noble Lord's amendment, but it appears to me that that would be the result. Therefore, if the noble Lord is really concerned about small businesses, he will not press the amendment.
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