Environmental Targets for Sepa

Part of New clause 18 – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 28th June 1995.

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Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 4:39 pm, 28th June 1995

I do, indeed, recall the debate on sustainability. I think that the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) questioned my use of the phrase "sustainable development". I shall adopt not the arguments that he thought I would adopt, but some different ones.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency's functions are different from those of a pollution control agency. For example, it will have more functions in relation to air quality and waste strategy. It will not, of course, have the National Rivers Authority's wider responsibilities for water resources because Scotland's geography and the pressures on Scotland's aquatic environment do not warrant the same approach as in England and Wales.

I do not for a moment accept that SEPA is powerless in relation to acidification. Under part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which provides for integrated pollution control, BATNEEC—best available technology not entailing excessive cost—may take account of the effects of the prescribed processes on the local natural environment, including any upland areas with soil sensitive to acidification.

Most of what the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden is seeking to achieve can be achieved through existing legislation or through provisions already included in the Bill. For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has powers under section 3(4) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to establish any environmental medium-quality objectives or quality standards in relation to any substances that may be released into that or any other medium from any process.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also has specific powers in relation to water under section 30C of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, and he will acquire further powers through the provisions in the Bill. In particular, the provisions in clause 56, which relate to contaminated land, will allow him to issue guidance to authorities on the identification of contaminated land and the standards to which that land is to be remediated. Similarly, under clause 79, my right hon. Friend will have a duty to prepare and publish a national air quality strategy, which must include statements on standards relating to the quality of air and objectives for the restriction of the levels at which particular substances are present in the air.

In addition, clause 30 gives general powers requiring my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give guidance with respect to aims and objectives. Those objectives would include the sort of environmental targets that are probably envisaged by the hon. Gentleman, although targets to secure the favourable conservation status of any flora and fauna appear to be more a matter for Scottish Natural Heritage than for SEPA.

There is, of course, a practical objection to the new clause, which is that it might lead to an unbalanced approach if SEPA is expected to achieve overall targets requiring joint action. An example is urban air quality. In the case of fuel emissions from vehicles, the main responsibility would lie with local authorities. SEPA would have powers to limit only industrial emissions, which, by themselves, could achieve such a target only if disproportionate restrictions were placed on industry. The consequences would be a heavy extra burden on local industries that are already tightly regulated, yet the new clause envisages environmental quality targets that SEPA must achieve by itself. Joint co-operation would be required between local authorities and SEPA.

Amendment No. 260, to which the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke, requires my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to issue guidance to SEPA under clause 30 in respect of its strategic aims and objectives. I have some sympathy with that, but the amendment is unnecessary. We certainly intend that the guidance will be of a general and strategic nature. I am sure that that is clear for the draft guidance that we have issued under clause 30. We would not want to issue guidance to SEPA on individual cases—for example, specific applications for an integrated pollution control authorisation.

The amendment would add little to the present clause and is open to more practical objections, as it leaves unclear what is or is not an aim or objective of a strategic nature. The guidance will, of course, be subject to statutory consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. If it is believed that the guidance that we plan to issue is too specific, I am sure that that will come to light during either of those stages. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Members will not press the new clause and the amendment.