HL Deb 15 October 1981 vol 424 cc518-20

77 Insert the following new Clause:

"Ministerial guidance as respects areas of special scientific interest.

.—(1) The Ministers shall from time to time, after consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council and such persons appearing to them to represent other interests concerned as they consider appropriate—

  1. (a) prepare codes containing such recommendation, advice and information as they consider proper for the guidance of—
  2. 519
    1. (i) persons exercising functions under sections 28 to 31 and (Duties of agriculture Ministers with respect to areas of special scientific interest); and
    2. (ii) persons affected or likely to be affected by the exercise of any of those functions; and
  3. (b) revise any such code by revoking, varying, amending or adding to the provisions of the code in such manner as the Ministers think fit.

(2) A code prepared in pursuance of subsection (1) and any alterations proposed to be made on a revision of such a code shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament forthwith after being prepared; and the code or revised code, as the case may be, shall not be issued until the code or the proposed alterations have been approved by both Houses.

(3) Subject to subsection (2), the Ministers shall cause every code prepared or revised in pursuance of subsection (1) to be printed, and may cause copies of it to be put on sale to the public at such price as the Ministers may determine."

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 77. This amendment provides for a number of changes in the nature of the guidance to be produced since the Bill left this House. As there has been some interest in this aspect in an earlier amendment, perhaps it would be a good idea if I just spoke very briefly to it. In preparing codes of guidance Ministers will now be required to consult the Nature Conservancy Council in addition to the interests provided for when the Bill left this House. The scope of any such code has been extended. It does now simply apply to the arrangements provided for within Clause 28. It also covers the provisions contained in Clauses 29 to 31 as well as the clause "Duties of agricultural Ministers with respect to areas of special scientific interest". The subject matter is not now to be confined to the management of sites of special scientific interest. Guidance is also to be provided on procedural matters. The recipients of the guidance will not now be owners and occupiers only but also public authorities—especially, of course, the NCC. The amendment also reinstates in the Bill the provision for codes of guidance following its displacement from Clause 28 by an earlier amendment. I am sure that these will commend themselves to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(The Earl of Avon.)

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Earl just one question and make one suggestion which I hope his officials and those responsible for drawing up the code will take on board. The question is to ask for an assurance that apart from the Nature Conservancy Council being consulted the code will also be officially published in draft form before it is presented to Parliament. One of the problems that Parliament will always have with the code is that we will not be able to amend it; that we will be given it on a "take it or leave it" basis. I hope there will be some consultation. I know there is a great deal of consultation going on at the moment and that is very welcome, but it would be very nice to have a fairly final draft available for discussion generally before it comes to Parliament.

My suggestion embraces the hope that the noble Earl and his officials will be able to prevail over any legal advisers who may get their hands on this code to do their best to keep the code in simple, straightforward and intelligible language. My impression from what I have heard about the drafting, is that this code started off being in reasonably straightforward English but is rapidly moving into the realm of esoteric legal jargonese. With great respect to the noble and learned Lords sitting opposite, this code will be going through farmers' letter boxes; it is they who will be reading the code and it is not something for a court to interpret, and so it should be written in plain and straightforward language.

9.5 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a further question concerning the new Clause 77(1)? This states that Ministers shall consult the Nature Conservancy Council, and such persons appearing to them to represent other interests concerned as they consider appropriate ". Is the noble Earl in a position to let us know who these other interests are? Who is actually taking part in the working parties which I know are sitting at the moment to prepare these codes? Perhaps that is information which he could give before we finally pass on.

Perhaps it is not wholly irrelevant at this stage, because it relates to this question, to hark back to Amendment No. 76 which dealt with farm capital grants under Section 29 of the Agricultural Act 1970. That leaves out something like half of the Ministry of Agriculture's grants, and it does not of course cover forestry grants. Since forestry grants are not covered under Amendment No. 76, I wonder whether forestry interests are the interests which are being regarded by Ministers at the moment as "other interests concerned" in these discussions on the code of practice.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their interest, although I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will not frighten away the only allies I seem to have on the Front Bench with his thoughts on legal terms. First, with regard to the state in which the draft should come, I believe we discussed this at an earlier stage. Although I cannot remember everything I said, I believe that I did virtually undertake to do what the noble Lord asked, but I will check that it is being done. As far as the use of simple language is concerned, I of course take his point on board as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, asked some rather specific questions to which I do not have the answers at my finger tips. If I may, I will let him have the answers. So far as the consultations are concerned, they are as wide as possible and it will be seen from the documents that we sent out that the consultation was really enormous and I know that we are doing it in this case as well; but, as to the particular questions which the noble Lord asked, I will let him know.

On Question, Motion agreed to.