§ 3.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Ullswater.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Lord Norrie
moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:("Enhancement of environmentIt shall be the duty of all Government Departments, Ministers and agencies, when carrying out their statutory purposes, to do so in a manner which does not damage and, where this is compatible with their statutory purposes, which furthers the conservation and enhancement of the environment and of natural resources.").The noble Lord said: It is certainly a privilege to be the first to move an amendment on this very important and welcome Bill. Characteristically, I seek more from the Bill than the Government have yet provided. However, I have high hopes that they will consider my points in a positive way.
It would be true to say that no Bill with an environmental dimension has gone through this Chamber in the past six years to which I have not proposed an amendment extending environmental duties to the bodies and decision makers affected by the legislation. This has not been an idle pursuit. There is a longstanding tradition—started, I believe, by my noble friend Lord Renton in the 1950s—of assigning environmental duties to Ministers, government departments and public bodies in order to ensure that environmental issues should not be ignored. Such early duties are to be found in the Electricity Act 1957; the 1958 coal Act; and the Countryside Act 1968. More recently, the Government have either introduced or accepted similar duties—in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; its 1985 amendment Act; and the Agriculture Act 1986.
When I became involved in environmental matters in the late 1980s with the support of many Members on all sides of this House, happily I was able to persuade the Government to accept duties on Ministers, and others in the Water Act 1989, whose successor clauses we shall discuss later, the Electricity Act 1989, and the Coal Industry Act 1990. Those duties represent an important, if specific, recognition that every person or body, no matter what they are in business to do, has a responsibility for the environment.
The need for such responsibilities has, since the Rio earth summit in 1992, become clearer. The jargon phrase for it is "environmental integration" but it means no more and no less than bringing the environment to the centre of decision-making. I have frequently regretted the fact that there has not been an opportunity to bring together all those duties into a single simple 538 legislative device capable of ensuring that all Ministers, government departments and public agencies adopt a similar approach.
At last such an opportunity is with us. This Bill is the Government's first general environmental Bill since they accepted the obligations placed on them by the outcome of the earth summit. It provides the perfect opportunity to reinforce in statute the case that they accepted in the 1990 White Paper on the environment; namely, that all government departments should bring the environment into the heart of their decisions.
Therefore, I believe that the Government will welcome what I am trying to achieve in principle. As ever, I am ready to be told that I do not have the drafting of the amendment quite right, in which case I shall be quite happy to discuss alternative forms of words with my noble friend the Minister. But my amendment is practical. It recognises that not every task of every public body or public servant can be made to further the interests of the environment and the conservation of natural resources. But where that is possible, it should be done. At the very least, the environment should not be damaged by the actions of other government departments.
I recognise that some may feel that my amendment goes too far, but I hope that the Committee will understand that I am simply trying to ensure that the environment receives the attention that it deserves. The Government have already introduced an informal system to deliver those objectives; namely, the system of green Ministers, which was established after the 1990 White Paper on the environment. But so far as the public is concerned I am afraid that the green Ministers are invisible. What they do happens behind closed doors. How do we know that it makes any difference? My amendment will bring those responsibilities out into the open. Placing a statutory duty on Ministers along the lines of my amendment would make a genuine difference both to the weight given to environmental concerns and to the public's understanding of what the Government are doing. It would not diminish the importance of economic and social concerns; but, in the manner agreed at Rio, it would ensure that economic and social objectives were pursued in ways that give proper recognition to the environment.
I can make the case for environmental integration at length, but I do not believe that I need to do so. The Government have accepted it and there are eloquent exponents of the concept within their own ranks, with the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr John Gummer, being prominent among them. Therefore, I look forward to the positive response that my noble friend the Minister will give to the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
This amendment is an extremely good one. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for having tabled it. It is very important to write into the Bill at the very beginning the positive things that it seeks to achieve, results which are rather more positive than setting up an agency which will merely do what it is told in particular situations. 539 As the noble Lord said, the Government have accepted the whole principle of the Rio declaration and have been trying ever since to implement it within the ranks of various departments. I must congratulate them on what I understand is the progress that has been made.
Those Members of the Committee who sit on your Lordships' Committee on Sustainable Development—most of whom are upstairs at exactly this moment doing just that while I am delinquent in this Chamber—heard recently from representatives of the Green Alliance who gave evidence tending to show that the initiatives of the Government were working. It is not entirely certain that all areas are working as well as they should do. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned the green Ministers and their committee, which I believe has met only two or possibly three times so far. We are told, obviously rightly, that not all work has to be done in committee but is done by telephone, memoranda and all kinds of other ways. We accept a great deal of that. But in this particular area there is a lack of transparency and nothing but good would result if it were done away with.
Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, I can see no reason why the Government should not accept this amendment. I believe that it would make a very good first clause for the Bill if they were to do so.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
I too support the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Norrie. It is very much a strategic amendment. In a sense, it only puts forward what underlies the whole purpose of the Bill and the new agency. For many reasons it is probably too late for the environment to move centre stage. But that is the way in which governments have operated throughout the ages and across parties. People wake up too late to what is needed. Therefore, stronger environmental legislation and practice are needed. When the dire consequences of not considering the environment are taken on board—consequences which were spelt out at Rio and on other occasions—we must see that in future almost all acts of government must take into account the environmental dimension.
There have been other occasions when governments have woken up relatively late to the need to do things very differently. Perhaps I may take just one example which will, perhaps, be much more familiar to many Members of the Committee than it is to me; namely, the whole system of controlling public spending. The Committee will remember that in the early 1950s the Plowden proposals were put forward for controlling government spending by putting together one year with another and having a consistent long-term plan which was intended to get a more effective pattern of expenditure. That was a big innovation and a great advance. Gradually inflation crept up and what was a good practice became something of a disastrous practice.
Under that practice the other place was asked to vote unlimited sums of money as supplementary estimates, merely to pay for the volume of programmes which had earlier been voted for. Suddenly it was realised that matters could not go on any longer in that way. So cash limits were invented, which was another big advance. 540 To give another example, when it was realised that the number of staff employed in the public sector was having a bad effect on the economy as a whole, Ministers and departments were required to take account of the implications on manpower of the proposals that they brought forward.
My noble friend's amendment seeks to introduce that dimension into government practice in this country. I hope that it would be in government practice at least in other EU countries and gradually take root throughout the world. We know that it is a very hard task but at least it can be there on the agenda, so that when the Government are making decisions about what they will do they take into account the environmental dimension. That must be desirable.
I recognise that the wording of the amendment may not be ideal and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ullswater will be able to make suggestions for a better way to achieve the objective. But I believe that the objective must unite us all because the basic purpose of the Bill unites us all. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Elton
Perhaps I may utter a brief word of caution, which is not weakened at all by what my noble friend Lord Marlesford said. The amendment asks us to enjoin on every Secretary of State, every Minister of State, every Parliamentary Under-Secretary, every Permanent Secretary and so forth a duty to observe a good principle, and that would have effect upon the operation of every other Act of Parliament already on the statute and to follow. I am sure that that is an admirable thing to aspire to. But are there not other equally admirable things to aspire to? I refer to such things as the preservation of law and order, the integrity of the United Kingdom or the avoidance of giving undue offence to religious minorities and so forth.
When I started out on the road of putting my favourite causes into statute I was reminded of the lawyer's tag, inclusio unius, exclusio alterius. That means that if you put in one thing you exclude another. If we put in this good cause, we make every other good cause subordinate to it if it is not already mentioned in statute. If we are to preserve all those good causes they too must be mentioned in statute and the statute book eventually bursts. I hope that the Committee will take care.
§ Lord Bridges
Perhaps I may venture to give an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We are dealing with an environmental Bill. It is therefore appropriate to mention the environmental duties and obligations of all who seek to implement it. The other causes could appropriately be mentioned in other Bills dealing with other subjects.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Perhaps I too may add to that in response to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. Is there not a place for regulation in changing our culture? The noble Lord mentioned sexual and racial discrimination. Perhaps it is now automatic—it certainly should be—in each of us to consider those matters. That was not so a few years ago. We introduced legislation—for instance, we now have legislation dealing with racial 541 discrimination—and our culture and outlook changed. Legislators have an obligation to lead that cultural change.
I believe that it is a good amendment, whatever the merits or demerits of the wording. But, in leading the way, we must ensure that those who frame our laws and take executive action consider the environmental effects of what they do. It may perhaps then become part of the way they automatically do things and in a few years it will not be necessary to remind them quite so specifically.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I have every sympathy with the object that the agency, government departments and Ministers should always take account of the desirability of protecting the environment. But, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, a word of caution is called for.
I am concerned not with the specific job of Ministers elsewhere or other departments; I feel a certain anxiety about the agency, which is being given a wide range of statutory duties. From time to time it may not be strictly possible to carry out another statutory purpose without doing some damage. The proposed clause says, "does not damage". For example, the agency has a flood protection responsibility. I can think of occasions when it would strive manfully to carry out its flood protection duty in the most sympathetic environmental manner possible; but it could still be argued that in order to protect life and property it was necessary to do some damage which may be thought harmful to the environment.
The agency has a difficult task in weighing up the balance of its duties. While I sympathise with the clause which says that it must be a prime consideration of the agency, I have anxieties about a clause which says,It shall be the duty … when carrying out their statutory purposes, to do so in a manner which does not damage".I fear it may prevent the agency from doing other things which this Chamber feels are equally important.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
Perhaps at this point I may express the views of the Opposition. I fully sympathise with the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and, indeed, with the expression in the White Paper that he quoted; that is, that environmental considerations should be at the heart of all government decisions. I also fully sympathised with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, when he said that this was a strategic amendment. I am quite prepared for a strategic amendment to appear at the beginning of the Bill. But I have the same reservations as the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Crickhowell, about the actual wording.
I see several difficulties. First, if it is to be a duty on all government departments, Ministers and agencies when carrying out their statutory purposes, then, as I read it, there can be no public transport; there can be no defence training; and, if the extension of the environment is beyond the United Kingdom, we could not engage in the Gulf War, which is obviously a deterioration of the environment. Ministers would be prohibited from doing all sorts of things if it were a duty, enforceable in law, on Ministers and government 542 departments to do what they do in a manner that "does not damage" the conservation and enhancement of the environment and natural resources.
Secondly, I accept the spirit of the amendment, but it inhibits the public sector. It talks of,Government Departments, Ministers and agencies, when carrying out their statutory purposes, to do so in a manner".It does not say that a private company has a similar duty to do so in the same manner. Therefore, if the amendment is accepted in its present drafting, any organisation—let us take the example of British Rail, which is for the moment in public ownership but, alas, there may come the day when it is in private ownership—in public ownership would simply have to stop; but an organisation in private ownership could continue. Therefore I find the drafting produced by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, somewhat defective.
Nevertheless, I accept that there should be—as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said—a strategic amendment at the start of the Bill. To a certain extent I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, when he says that this matter concerns the environmental agency. This Bill concerns the environment. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was right in saying that we should have a strategic amendment. But please, not this one.
§ Lord Northbourne
If the amendment were to be put on the face of the Bill, would it not also require a definition of "environment"? I understand that at present "environment" is defined in the Environmental Protection Act, Part I, as follows:The 'environment' consists of all, or any, of the following media, namely, the air, water and land".It goes on to say,the medium of air includes the air within buildings and the air within other natural or man-made structures above or below ground".I am not sure, but does not the Bill refer to the environment in a much wider context? For example, do we not include plants or animals in the environment? Do we or do we not include buildings? I suggest that this is an aspect of the amendment which perhaps needs some thought also.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
At the start of this long Bill it is important to have a statement of what the Government feel about the amendment moved by my noble friend. The Government fully recognise that the protection of the environment cannot be left to the sole concern of environment and territorial Ministers. Indeed, one of the central themes of the Government's approach to sustainable development is that it can be achieved only through the involvement of all parts of government and sections of society. The arrangements we established following the Rio conference are designed to reflect that.
My noble friends Lord Norrie and Lord Marlesford and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and I are at one in acknowledging the importance of ensuring that environmental considerations are taken into account by all government Ministers, departments and agencies. It 543 is to help ensure this objective that the Government have appointed a green Minister in each department, which is what my noble friend Lord Norrie alluded to.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the proposed amendment would go much further by placing all government Ministers, departments and agencies under a statutory duty not to damage the environment. My noble friend put his finger on that difficulty. It would additionally place them under a duty to further the conservation enhancement of the environment and of natural resources where that is compatible with their statutory purposes. That would not simply integrate environmental considerations in other government policies but would in many cases override those policies in ways which I believe would clearly be unacceptable. My noble friend Lord Elton pointed out some of the dangers in that method of approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, quoted defence as an example. It is one thing to ensure that defence arrangements avoid unnecessary damage to the environment where that can be done without undermining the successful delivery of defence policy. But it is frankly unacceptable to require that those arrangements must not damage the environment even where that could seriously weaken our defence capabilities or put life at risk. Nor would it be acceptable to require defence Ministers to devote scarce defence resources to furthering the conservation enhancement of the environment, wherever that is not incompatible with their statutory purposes, irrespective of costs and priorities.
Good government involves balancing the need for many different desirable policy objectives and finding ways of delivering those so as to maximise the overall benefit. I believe that the intention behind the amendment—to ensure that environmental considerations are properly integrated throughout government—is in line with government policy and requires no new legislation in the Bill. But by imposing overriding environmental duties on all government Ministers, departments and agencies, the proposed amendment is incompatible with the kinds of judgments which are required for good government.
I hear very carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, says about having some form of strategic amendment, but what I have been at pains to do is to indicate that there is no need for a new form of legislation in the Bill on those lines. I cannot believe that my noble friend is seeking to impose this statutory duty not to damage the environment. I hope therefore that he will consider withdrawing his amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
Is the Minister saying that under no circumstances whatever would the Government and Members of the Committee accept a strategic amendment which we could draft together and which would be along the lines suggested by the White Paper and by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford? Is it the Government's position that they would not accept such an amendment? On the other hand, if at the Report stage 544 there were general agreement among noble Lords that such an amendment was desirable, would the Government even then turn their face against it?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My initial reaction is the one that I gave to the Committee earlier. I do not see the need for such a strategic amendment to be placed on the face of the Bill. I was at pains to underline that the policies of the Government are there in other legislation. I would not turn my face so hard against the very reasonable proposal put forward by the noble Lord, but I have to say that that would be without any commitment to agreeing. The noble Lord was almost asking me whether I would agree that a strategic amendment could be placed on the face of the Bill. I would certainly be pleased to look at it, but with no commitment to agree to put a strategic amendment on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
Before the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, makes up his mind what he is going to do about the amendment, perhaps I may make one point which goes to the heart of the Bill. Although on the face of it the Bill is just about the environment, it is in fact about something much deeper. We all know that it stems from Rio and from the whole question of sustainable development. That means that the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, do not apply. If law and order in this country collapse over the next 50 years, perhaps they can be built up over the next 500 years. The same is true of almost everything he was talking about. It would be a disaster and a tragedy but it would be mendable.
What we are talking about in the realms of sustainable development, and therefore in this Bill, is whether or not this planet is to become uninhabitable. Therefore, there are ways in which it can be right to say that it would take priority over any other duty. I am not deploying my argument at this moment merely to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, should press home the amendment. I entirely see that there are reasons why it might be right to withdraw it today. But the principle that this is an overriding and major problem, probably the most important problem in the civilised world over the past 2,000 years, should not be glossed over.
§ Lord Norrie
I am grateful for the Minister's reply and I am grateful to those who have supported me in the amendment and also to those who have expressed concern. I shall look at Hansard very carefully to see what has been said. I shall then come back to the Minister and decide what to do at the next stage. At the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 [The Environment Agency]:
§ Lord Nathan
moved Amendment No. 2:Page 1, line 12, after ("of") insert ("furthering the protection of the environment and of").The noble Lord said: This amendment arose in my mind in the first instance out of surprise at reading the Bill and finding that there was no objective or purpose for the environment agency, which constitutes the main 545 purpose of the first part of the Bill. It is surprising that the purpose of the exercise should not be explicit on the face of the Bill right at the beginning.
The prime reason for putting forward Amendment No. 2 is to make it clear that the overriding purpose of the environment agency will be the protection of the environment. That becomes much more important when one considers the extraordinary breadth of the responsibilities being imposed upon the agency. It is not appropriate to catalogue them all—we shall no doubt be going through them in the coming hours and days—but they are extremely wide and varied. In support of the point which I am putting before the Committee it is only necessary to refer, for instance, to the extent to which it is prescribed that the agency shall conform to guidance given by Ministers. That is made quite clear in Clause 4(1):The Ministers shall from time to time give guidance to the Agency with respect to aims and objectives which they consider it appropriate for the Agency to pursue in the performance of its functions".More particulars are given later in that clause.
It seems to me invaluable that there should be a statement of the overriding purpose of the environment agency in the terms which I have indicated. That does not mean that there cannot be other purposes which may also be imposed on the agency in carrying out a particular function. There is also the emphasis laid in other parts of the Bill on sustainable development. That is a very important matter which, I believe, is central to the thoughts of the draftsman. I do not in the least object to that, but support it.
One needs something which is quite clear right at the beginning as regards the overriding purpose of the agency which is furthering the protection of the environment. It will not only be helpful to the reader to know what its purpose is, but also to a minor extent, though not in practice, it may place a constraint on Ministers. I do not believe that they will feel it as such because I believe that they accept that that is the main purpose; namely, to protect the environment.
It seems to be more and more frequent with the passing years that there are more questions. The appropriateness of government decisions in particular will be questioned in the courts as to whether the guidance given is in accordance with the terms of the Act. It seems to me extremely helpful that this very brief statement of the overriding purpose shall appear clearly here. For those reasons I commend this amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
When we were discussing the last amendment I quoted the evidence of the Green Alliance to the Sustainable Development Committee. I would like now to quote from that evidence. The spokesman for the Green Alliance said:The main anxiety that myself and many of the other environmental groups have is that the clauses as they stand do not give the Agency as many powers or duties in relation to environmental protection as some of the existing legislation, particularly on the water side, and in particular put a great deal of emphasis on ministerial guidance. I think we have come to the view that it may not be appropriate to give the Agency itself an objective of achieving sustainable development because that is or will be, as 546 we have been discussing, a set of trade-offs between environmental and other goals in the last resort. The Agency's job, in our view, is really quite straightforwardly environmental protection. I think many of us have come to a view that the Agency should have its own clear objective of furthering environmental protection, but at the moment it has no clear objectives of its own".I believe that that evidence is absolutely valid. That is the reason why I support the noble Lord's amendment and I hope that the Government will accept it.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
The Committee will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for moving this amendment. Again, although I like to support amendments moved by the noble Lords, Lord Nathan and Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I find this a rather restrictive amendment. As I said at Second Reading, in our view the object of the agency is enhancement rather than mere protection.
If it is the case that the Committee accepts this amendment then I would regret that the agency's objectives are confined in Clause 1 to the protection of the environment. It is our belief that the agency should go much better and further in promoting the protection of the environment. It should go to restoring pieces of the environment which have been lost. At a later stage we shall be talking about clauses relating to remediation of contaminated land. I believe that the agency will have a role to play in England, Wales and Scotland on those aspects. I believe that it will also have a role to play in ensuring that not only the environment, as it stands at the moment in aspic, is protected but that it is developed and rehabilitated in many aspects.
Therefore, I would be reluctant to assent to the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has moved unless the Government say—and I have to add this caveat—that that is really what the agency is about. I hope very much for a positive reply from the noble Viscount. That is not what the agency is about. It is not about pure protection, but about protection with development, enhancement and furthering the development of the environment and all that comes with it. If the noble Viscount can join with me in that respect then at least we shall be making some progress in the early Committee stage of this Bill.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Milverton
I support this amendment. I was ready to support the first amendment especially if the Government had said that they would consider it and do whatever necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said. As the noble Lord said, if protection is being given in a proper and positive way, rather than in a negative manner, I should have thought that in protecting the environment, nature and creation, one would be involving oneself in restoring and rehabilitating in the work of protection.
As I see it, one is not just protecting negatively in order to stop something, but one is doing it in a positive way where one enables oneself to do restoration work and rehabilitation of the land as much as in anything 547 else to do with life. I believe that there is a place for this amendment especially as the first amendment may not be put into effect.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
As regards what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said, I should like to draw attention to the fact that in the Title of the Bill one agency is known as the "Environment Agency" and another is known as the "Scottish Environment Protection Agency". Does that mean that the environment agency can, so to speak, take a positive role whereas the Scottish one cannot because it is limited to protection? I believe that they should be the same. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, it is much better to leave the word "protection" out.
The Earl of Cranbrook
I believe that within the general consensus of many of those who would identify themselves as being interested and concerned with the environment, the future debates which we shall have on the clauses of this Bill will do a great deal to clarify and reveal precisely what we do mean about the concept of sustainability. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, made a very good point; that is, if we are to achieve through this Bill the high aim of defining and controlling sustainable development, its impact and associated effects on the environment, we shall have to look carefully at the language we use. The concept of enhancement has to be written in as regards sustainability. It is not enough simply to protect what we have in the way of present resources.
§ Lord Ennals
I support the view expressed by the previous two speakers. When we reach Amendment No. 5, we shall be talking about,integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement",about which I hope to say a few words because I think that that is extremely important.
As my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said, although "protection" is an important concept, it is also a negative one. We have to have protection and management together as a policy. If we find ourselves choosing whether to put the emphasis on "protection" or on "management and enhancement", I would certainly be in favour of the second, which is much more ambitious and, as I shall say later, in the spirit of the Rio conference.
§ The Earl of Onslow
We have got into terrible semantic difficulties. We must ask ourselves what we are talking about when we refer to "the environment". Everything that we see around us in this country is man-made—from the Scottish Highlands down to the tip of Cornwall. It will be extremely difficult to freeze the hedges about which Cobbett complained in the enclosure Acts, to give just one example. What we have to do is to manage the countryside properly so that it looks nice.
I suspect that what we are talking about—and groping to find words for—is the attempt to ensure that we are responsible gardeners and gamekeepers, keeping a perpetually moving but civilised countryside or urban landscape. I am trying to avoid using the word "environment". It is rather a modern word and we are 548 not totally sure what it means. It can mean too many things to too many people. Therefore, we have great difficulty in knowing exactly what we are talking about. We can see what we want to do—sometimes. And we can see—sometimes—how we want to do it. But it is difficult to define. I do not think that there have been any constructive contributions to the debate. We have all been slightly negative. I am trying to grope towards something which all of us, I believe, want to achieve.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I hope for once that the Committee will accept the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and that my noble friend the Minister will therefore decide against supporting the amendment. It is a perfectly simple point. The amendment suggests that the duties of the body should be to protect the environment—that is, to maintain the status quo. Surely, the purpose of the Bill, and of the Government in introducing it, is to enhance the condition of the environment—not merely to protect it, but to improve it. That is the short and simple point with which I thought the noble Lord, Lord Williams, blew the amendment out of the water.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The amendment deals with the overall purpose of the agency, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, explained. It would make an explicit provision that the agency is set up for the purpose of furthering the protection of the environment. Environmental protection and enhancement are, indeed, the main purposes for which the agencies are being established. We shall no doubt debate that further when we discuss their specific powers and duties as set out in other parts of the Bill. However, I do not believe that this amendment, or the attempts in other amendments to which we shall come, represent a complete statement of the purposes for which the agencies are being set up. Furthermore, I do not think that any such attempt recognises the risk of attempting to encompass within a few select words the full range of functions of the environment agency, however tempting it may be to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, to include them at this stage.
It is essential that we avoid possible inconsistencies between any such description in this Bill and the provisions of the existing legislation on which the agencies will need to rely. That is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Under the Bill, the agency will inherit a very long list of functions which are painstakingly prescribed in existing statutes. Many of those provisions are set out in Clause 2(1). Any attempt to write overriding statutory functions and purposes on top of those existing provisions risks creating duplication or conflict.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, drew our attention to the different names of the two agencies, one north and one south of the Border. It is true that the remit of the Scottish agency is more limited, so they are two different agencies with different responsibilities, as their names reflect.
As I shall explain when we consider Clause 4, we think it right to give guidance to the agency and the SEPA on their aims and objectives. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will push me to give "further enhancement" a special place in that. We have set out 549 our initial views in the note on the scope of guidance for the environment agency which I have made available to your Lordships. In some ways, the aims and objectives are similar to formulations such as those in Amendment No. 2 and others which noble Lords have proposed as purposes for the agency. Although the agency is required to have regard to such guidance, in doing so it can exercise a degree of judgment. My noble friend Lord Onslow drew attention to the fact that much of this is a matter of judgment, built on decades of so doing. Unlike the effect of the amendment, the guidance does not risk the agency having to deal with rigid legislation which is inconsistent or perhaps unintentionally over-prescriptive. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Nathan
I shall, of course, be happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I am also happy that practically every Member of the Committee has indicated agreement with the view that something should be inserted somewhere in the Bill on the object of the exercise. The problem is precisely that identified by the Minister—that the functions, duties and inheritances of the environment agency are so varied and wide that it needs some focus to enable those responsible for its conduct to determine how they are to formulate policy. At the moment, it would be extremely difficult for them to do so sensibly, except in accordance with guidance.
It is a matter of some concern to quite a number of people that the guidance to be given by the Government under the Bill is not constrained. There is to be regard for sustainable development as an essential element but beyond that the provisions are wide-ranging. Therefore, I would support an amendment along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, which might include "enhancement" if that were thought appropriate. I considered that. It seemed to me that my amendment had the merit of brevity but obviously it does not commend itself to the Committee. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
moved Amendment No. 5:Page 1, line 13, after ("out") insert ("integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement throughout all").The noble Baroness said: In many ways my arguments in favour of Amendment No. 5 have already been made by Members in all parts of the Committee. Nevertheless, I should like to pursue the importance of having the purpose of the environment agency clearly outlined. We are talking here about overriding strategic purposes, not about specific functions. Therefore, I do not think that it would be as restrictive as the Minister suggests if we were to write that into the Bill at this stage.
550 In speaking to Amendment No. 5, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 7, 33, 41, 42, 78 and 130. The amendments seek to impose upon the EA the specific purpose of doing much more than just protecting the environment so that it is frozen in its present state: to manage and to enhance it for the benefit of future generations. It is important that the EA has a clear, strategic and integrated purpose. If that is not spelt out in relation to the agency at this early stage, it is in danger of becoming no more than a cumbersome bureaucratic machine, subject to central regulatory control and the whim of Ministers.
It is also important—this is what Amendment No. 33 seeks to address—to set the strategic purpose clearly within the duties and obligations to the EU. As many Members of the Committee have said, the environment in this country is in serious danger. Things in our countryside are not well. It may look extremely neat and tidy but it is increasingly sterile and devoid of wildlife. In the past 25 years alone many of our birds have suffered a catastrophic decline. For example, 19 common species have declined by over 15 per cent. That includes, for instance, tree sparrows, skylarks, partridges and turtledoves. Other species are also threatened. There has been a 50 per cent. decline in our 18 species of butterflies. Fish are not just diminishing and being affected in rivers and ponds but also in the sea where, for example, 50 per cent. of our stock of cod has vanished in the past 25 years. Amphibia (frogs and toads) are also seriously affected.
Grants are given for drainage. Ponds that we knew as children no longer exist in the countryside. Due to set-aside, we now have a golden opportunity to increase habitats and food sources for many of our wild species. If the agency had as its clear purpose that it was to enhance the environment and not merely to freeze it in its present state, that would go some way towards setting a positive purpose for the agency from the start.
Of the consequential amendments grouped with Amendment No. 25, Amendment No. 41 gives Ministers the power to advise the agency as appropriate; and Amendment No 130 extends the purpose to the Scottish agency.
I urge the Government to insert at this early stage of the Bill a clear purpose for the agency along the lines proposed in the amendment, which has already been supported by Members in all parts of the Committee. It is not sufficient to leave the agency without a clear strategic purpose which will provide high quality, integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement.
At the moment the agency does not appear to have a clear, definitive purpose. It is merely to carry out functions transferred or assigned to it by or under the Bill. That is not the commitment that was heralded by the Government—that the agency would be a guardian of the environment. The legislation establishing the NRA clearly defined its direction and purpose. In the amendment we seek to have a similar clear direction and purpose for the EA. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ennals
Perhaps I may take the opportunity to support my noble friend as energetically as I can. I had 551 the privilege of being at the Rio conference. I was mainly representing NGOs, but the Government kindly invited me to join the delegation. I greatly appreciated that. I came away an enthusiastic environmentalist, but not just in the sense of protection. That is why I appreciate so much the wording of the amendment which deals with management and enhancement.
Protection and enhancement can be done only by effective management. One of our main tasks over the next few years will be to ensure that local authorities and other agencies (national, regional and local) have the facilities to provide effective management. Obviously they will look to the agency for leadership. It must make things better than they are.
My noble friend referred to butterflies, birds and hedgerows, so I need not do that. I want to say just a word about air. There is no doubt that air pollution is worsening rapidly. I am married to a lady who suffers seriously from asthma. She is almost crippled by it. There is no doubt that over recent years her condition, and that of many other asthmatics, has become much worse as air pollution seems—I shall not say that it is in no way controlled because that would not be right—to be inadequately controlled. We shall have a growing problem with air measurement unless we have a national strategic plan for improving air quality.
In each of the fields at which we are looking, we must be interested in improvement and not just protection. I should have said that I speak—I shall not do so much more in Committee—as the chairman of the Round Table on Health and the Environment of the UK Environment and Development Committee. The committee is extremely interested in the work that is being done here in, we hope, strengthening an important Bill.
I want to support my noble friend in a positive way, because these provisions need to be in the Bill early so that it can be seen—in a sense this is a campaign—that there needs to be a strategy that can be carried out. Resources need to be found to enable that strategy to be fulfilled.
§ Lord Crickhowell
We now begin to get into the kind of difficulty that I suspect we shall face continually in Committee of discussing a group of amendments, all of which have different objectives. As a result, it may not always be easy to have a coherent debate.
I do not want to go over the ground covered by the debate on Amendment No. 2 because my noble friend the Minister raised a number of legitimate points of concern, which I share, about not finding ourselves with some contradictory and mutually incompatible objectives. I have a slight anxiety about the way in which these general clauses are added at the beginning of the Bill. We should look back thoroughly at the wording of previous legislation to ensure that we have a Bill that hangs together sensibly.
There is a word in Amendment No. 5 that causes me anxiety because it seems at least to hold out the possibility, perhaps even the threat, that the agency should get into the job of managing the environment. The only occasion upon which the NRA found itself in that unenviable position was when it was faced with the 552 serious discharge of mine water pollution from the Wheal Jane mine in Cornwall, which breached EC regulations. There was no one else to take on the job of tackling that problem. The NRA has had to carry out an extensive research and development programme and the job of managing the water coming out of the mine. If we reach the position of the new agency having to do that often, we shall be on dangerous territory. Before we accept wording that includes "management" we need to ensure that we are not hanging a pretty heavy rock around the new agency's neck.
I come then to Amendment No. 33, which has the support of the CPRE. I have some sympathy with its objectives because it seeks to address them in a way that does not too tightly constrain and restrict the agency. The amendment tries to avoid the kind of conflict to which I have referred. I have not studied with sufficient thoroughness or enthusiasm all the other legislation and therefore I am unable to form a judgment one way or the other, but I believe that the intentions are sensible.
As regards Amendment No. 36, I am in difficulty. I make that comment now before we reach the following group of amendments when the difficulty will become severe. I understand that today my noble friend's department has circulated some kind of guidance on sustainable development and that it was supposed to be placed in the Library of the House. About an hour ago my noble friend Lord Mills made inquiries. Those in the Library could not lay their hands on the document but copies were later to be rushed into the Chamber. I was told that one would be passed to me when it arrived. Our debate on the next group of amendments will be constrained because I shall find difficulty in talking about sustainable development when we do not have the guidance that is circulating. That is not a satisfactory way of treating Members of the Committee who are debating an important subject.
In Amendment No. 42 the noble Baroness may be attempting to pick up a topic that I raised on Second Reading. It is the desirability of having environmental quality objectives. I referred to the fact that the National Rivers Authority expected to have the job of introducing water quality objectives. I expressed disappointment that five years down the road it has not yet received from the department the guidance and regulations that will allow it to do so. It is a good idea to seek to introduce wider quality objectives and therefore I have sympathy with the noble Baroness's attempts.
However, her new clause states:The Secretary of State may make regulations establishing standards, objectives or requirements in relation to environmental protection".That is the wrong way of doing it. I believe that the regulations, if we are to have them, should seek to establish the process and not the standards and objectives. If one is to have objectives one needs to consult widely about them. One needs to discover whether they meet the cost benefit requirement that is introduced in the Bill in a later clause. One needs to be able to propose the objectives and to learn of their consequences on industry, agriculture and a wide range of people who might be affected. One also needs to have 553 a consultation process and to be in a position where the Secretary of State can set the objectives and the agency can enforce them.
I have refreshed my memory about the provisions of the Water Resources Act. Section 82, which introduces the classification of quality of waters, provides that:The Secretary of State may … by regulations prescribe a system of classifying the quality of those waters".If we are to look at the topic at all we should not accept this amendment but return to the issue with an amendment that introduces a system rather than seeks to introduce the particular objectives.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
I wish to address my remarks to Amendment No. 130, which deals with Clause 20 and the Scottish environment protection agency. Perhaps I may add to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Ennals in relation to asthma. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that for the past few years the number of cases of asthma and its related illnesses has been the fastest growing.
Recently I spoke to a gentleman who is involved in running youth football teams. He told me of his astonishment at the number of 14 and 15 year-olds who attend training and Saturday matches carrying the inhaler prescribed for them by their general practitioners. If ever there were an indication that we urgently need to do something about the environment it is the spread of asthmatic conditions, in particular among young people.
As regards Amendment No. 130, in an earlier debate the noble Viscount was kind enough to say that the powers of the English and Welsh authority were wider and greater than those of the Scottish environment protection agency. I wish to make it clear at the outset that I want the Bill to succeed. I do not want us to miss the opportunity that the legislation presents of extending the powers of the new Scottish environment protection agency.
It is an astonishing fact that the environment protection agency for Scotland will take its powers from an Act that is now 44 years old—Section 17 of the 1951 Act. Events have moved on significantly since then. When the Secretary of State published his consultation paper evidence was given by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Forth River Purification Board and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Rightly or wrongly, the impression was gained that the environment protection agency for Scotland would preserve the environment in the round. Indeed, that phrase was used. However, when we examine the powers to be given to the Scottish environment protection agency we see that they relate only to pollution control.
I believe that that approach is misconceived and shows a belief that damage to the environment is caused only by pollution. We all know that that is not the case. Damage to the environment can be caused in many ways. Forestry and farming management practices—indeed, land management practices in general—can damage the environment. Against the background of our recent experiences in Paisley in the west of Scotland and 554 in the Tayside Region during the past two years, I believe that the Scottish environment protection agency should be involved in flood protection. There is some evidence—and I put it no higher—that one of the problems that caused the serious flood damage in the Tayside Region occurred because of the practices of the hydro-electricity companies and the hydro-schemes on the higher land in Tayside as compared with the lower lying city of Perth. It is my view that the Scottish environment protection agency should also have responsibility for flood protection.
We know about the discharge of chemicals and farm and forestry management practices. However, another growing problem in Scotland needs to be addressed and in my view it should be the responsibility of the Scottish environment protection agency; that is, the question of old abandoned mine-workings. When one studies the legislation it will be seen that it is not until 1999 that the owner of an abandoned mine will have to be responsible for ensuring that the water which is discharged from that abandoned mine does not pollute.
I give as an example the Frances Colliery in Kirkcaldy where there has been much debate about whether the Government should sustain the costs of keeping the water pumps operative or whether they should be switched off. The Committee will understand that almost all of the coal seams at that colliery are entirely under the North Sea and the River Forth. If the pumps were switched off, the Forth River Purification Board and Fife Regional Council have indicated that extensive pollution would arise from the waters discharged from the colliery. That will happen one way or another before 1999.
In my view, the opportunity provided by the Bill should be taken to give the Scottish environment protection agency more wide-ranging powers. Indeed, I go further. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and I part company in relation to this matter, but I would involve the Scottish environment protection agency in the planning process also because it seems to me that unless the agency is involved at the planning stage we could easily find ourselves locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
If we are serious about improving the Scottish environment—I am interested in the environment of the United Kingdom as a whole, but Clause 20 and Amendment No. 130 deal only with the Scottish position—the Scottish environment protection agency must be given more wide-ranging powers than is presently envisaged in the Bill. Flood protection and coastal erosion should be aspects with which the Scottish environment protection agency should deal, as are land management, forestry management practices and farming management practices. All those issues should come within the powers of the Scottish environment protection agency. I seriously ask the Minister to take away the whole question of the powers of SEPA, examine it and provide much more wide-ranging powers for what will be a very important agency.
§ Viscount Caldecote
It is extremely difficult to achieve the right balance between, on the one hand, the creation of wealth and improving the infrastructure and, 555 on the other hand, protecting and improving the environment. I believe that many people—the majority of the Members of the Committee—believe that the balance is too far in the direction of damaging and not protecting the environment. The problem with damage to the environment is that it is almost always irreversible, whereas if an unsightly building is constructed through having bad planning regulations, it can be knocked down and started again.
Surely the whole purpose of the Bill is to improve the balance so that we do not damage and do protect the environment. Because I believe that it helps to strike a better balance, I support the amendment.
§ Lord Coleraine
I speak in a limited way to Amendment No. 33, to which the noble Baroness has spoken. I should explain to the Committee that when I intervene in the debates it will generally be with the benefit of advice received from the Law Society.
The Law Society is extremely concerned about Clause 4 because it requires Ministers to give guidance from time to time to the agency with respect to the aims and objectives which they consider it appropriate for it to pursue in the performance of its functions. It is not appropriate for Ministers both to set the aims and objectives of the agency and also to provide guidance on how to achieve them. As the noble Baroness said, the aims and objectives should be set out in the legislation. The functions, powers and duties of the agency may expand or contract according to the aims and objectives of Ministers, but that is not acceptable.
Amendment No. 33 provides for a principal aim of the agency and provides its primary objectives. I am not here to say any more than was said by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell; namely, that those aims and objectives seem to be desirable. I hope that the Minister will take away the thought that the general scheme put forward by the noble Baroness in relation to Amendment No. 33 is correct and, if necessary, the Government will move an amendment to secure that effect.
§ Lord Northbourne
Perhaps I may ask for some clarification with regard to Amendment No. 36. What is meant precisely by "sustainable development" and the "precautionary principle"? It seems to me that it is important to understand that. Perhaps those phrases are defined somewhere.
§ The Earl of Onslow
The speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, underlines the considerable difficulty in which the beginning of the Bill places us. I know what I want to do in relation to the environment. I want to make it look clean and tidy. I want it to be possible for trees to be grown and to have clean air so that the wife of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, no longer has asthma. In other words, it is what I believe can be classed as gardening and gamekeeping and generally looking after things.
It is difficult to achieve that unless it is laid down in the legislation what Ministers must do. If that is not done, those aims and objectives will change not only between governments, if there is a change of government, but between Ministers. That is dangerous.
556 I am trying to help. I am not sure that I am being very helpful but I am seeing the difficulties of which we must be aware and which we should address.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
About five years ago at the time at which the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill was being debated in this Chamber we discussed and argued about the meaning of the words "sustainable development" for days and days and days. We asked continually for a definition and no real explanation was ever forthcoming. I very much doubt whether it will be any easier to achieve a definition this time.
§ Lord Bridges
Perhaps I may return to a somewhat narrower point which arises on Amendment No. 5, which was moved by the noble Baroness and with which I have some sympathy.
I am worried about the word "integrated" which is used in the amendment. It is not clear to me whether it applies to the words which follow—"protection, management and enhancement"—or whether it is intended that the policy should be integrated so as to achieve "protection, management and enhancement".
I observe that "integrated" is an extremely fashionable word these days. For example, it is used frequently in relation to transport policy. I doubt whether it helps in this clause, where it is, I suspect, used in a more general way so as to "Accentuate the positive", in the words of the old song. I suspect that the general purposes aimed at would be achieved better either by an improved version of Amendment No. 1, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, or by concentrating on a later amendment, Amendment No. 33, to which the noble Baroness has already spoken.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
There are at least two major strands to the debate. Perhaps I may try to disentangle them a little. I join other noble Lords in wishing to see on the face of the Bill the objectives which the guidance to be issued by Ministers should then support. I share concerns that too much may be relegated to that guidance.
Amendment No. 36, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, has partly as its aim the intention to separate those two levels; in other words, thereby establishing the hierarchy and seeking to put on the face of the Bill objectives with which the guidance must then be consistent. Having seen only the draft outline of the scope of the guidance within the last few minutes, it seems to me that much of the language used in this and, indeed, in other amendments has found its way into the scope of the guidance. It says:The guidance is intended to:—set the overall aim and objectives of the Environment Agency"—that, in itself, is worrying because it should be the purpose of the Act to set the aims and objectives—in relation to sustainable development and more generallywith an "overall aim" of helping "to promote sustainable development".
The footnote in that respect adds:as defined in this guidance".557 On the quick skim through that I have been able to give the document I believe that, so far, there is a commentary but not a definition of the term. I do not criticise the Government for that fact. It is a matter which, clearly, we must debate through the course of the Bill.
In support of Amendment No. 36, and of the general argument, I must say that I believe the important point is that the Bill establishes the aims and objectives and that they are not subject to ministerial change at the whim of successive governments and, as the noble Earl said, of successive Ministers.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, queried the definition of "sustainable development". It would, perhaps, be skewing the balance of the debate to discuss the details of that argument now. Indeed, later amendments will deal with it. However, it is intended to establish sustainability as an objective. The "precautionary principle" is shorthand, so to speak, for erring on the side of caution for reasons that my noble friend and other speakers have explained so vividly; namely, that mistakes in that area are frequently not rectifiable.
The amendment also seeks to incorporate the principle of the polluter paying. I have said on previous debates in this Chamber that I am concerned that that should not be taken to mean that, if the polluter can pay, the polluter can pollute. Having articulated that concern, I believe that the amendment would ensure that the balance is correct.
Amendment No. 36 also provides for consultation, representing all the relevant interests, before giving guidance. I suspect that we shall spend some time later discussing the guidance. However, as the amendment has been mentioned in this grouping it is only right that I should draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the provisions for consultation.
§ Lord Moran
I should like briefly to express my support for Amendment No. 33 which was so capably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. I have doubts about Amendment No. 36, simply because it contains the phrase "sustainable development" which two of my noble friends have queried and about which I expressed serious reservations on Second Reading. I propose to save what I have to say about that until we reach the next group of amendments.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
I intend to say just a few words on the issue of sustainable development. It is a mute point as to whether we should discuss it in regard to this group of amendments or the next one. However, the issue has been raised. I had proposed to beg for an indulgence from Members of the Committee: namely, that wherever those two words appear in the Bill they are struck out and some other words inserted which we understand; indeed, that the same should apply wherever those words appear in amendments and, further, that we should desist from using such words.
None of us know what sustainable development is. We do not even know whether our existing level of development is sustainable. In those circumstances, I 558 hope that my plea will be listened to and that we can find more precise words to define exactly what we are talking about when we use this catch-all phrase, which is meaningless.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
I must differ from the noble Lord. I know what sustainable development means. Moreover, my noble friend and I have tabled Amendment No. 351 which seeks to write the definition into the Bill. Further, as regards the noble Lord's next statement—namely, that we do not know whether our present development is sustainable—I can only say that we know perfectly well that it is not.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The amendments all deal in various ways with the overall purpose of the agency. I should like to deal first with Amendments Nos. 5, 7 and 130 through which, in their various ways, noble Lords seek to set out some general aims for the agency or for SEPA. Amendment No. 7 gives the agency a specific duty to exercise its functions in order to protect and enhance the environment. Amendments Nos. 5 and 130 provide that, through the exercise of all their functions, the agency and SEPA will carry out integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement.
In passing, perhaps I may observe that Amendment No. 130 to which the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, referred, is misguided in talking about environmental management. Indeed, the noble Lord indicated why. In Scotland, SEPA will not have any of the hands-on management functions, such as flood defence, which the noble Lord identified as being one thing that the environment agency will have. I believe that the noble Lord recognised the fact that local authorities have for a very long time carried out many of the duties that the NRA has carried out in England and Wales. The functions of SEPA are limited in so far as it will not have the wider responsibility of the NRA for water management, as the Scottish river purification boards have never performed those roles.
The Scottish Office believes that the pressures on the water environment in England and Wales which justify the wider functions of the NRA do not exist in the same way in Scotland. Therefore, we believe that it is neither necessary nor desirable to give SEPA such responsibilities. However, I imagine that we shall return to such issues at a later stage of the Bill's proceedings.
With that exception, the three concepts—integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement—are indeed the purposes for which the agencies are being established. But for reasons that I endeavoured to explain during our debates on previous amendments, efforts to write any single prescription of purposes on the face of the Bill are, I believe, doomed to inadequacy and fraught with dangers. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell has reinforced my view that the existing legislation should be looked at very carefully before we place other purposes on the statute book. I believe that there is little I can add. We spoke on the issue during the debate on the previous amendment. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments. 559 Amendment No. 33, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, also seeks to establish aims and objectives for the agency within the legislation, although it does so in rather more detail. It would make the agency's principal aim that of contributing, through the performance of its functions, to the advancement of environmental protection and would further provide that the agency's primary objectives included the implementation of,international and national obligations on environmental protection; [and]the application and promotion of the best practicable environmental option in all its functions".The related amendment, Amendment No. 41, would place a duty on Ministers to give guidance on those aims and objectives after consultation "with interested bodies". I believe that to be an interesting suggestion, but it too runs into similar problems of trying to define a rather complex agency's aims and objectives in a few select words in a statutory provision.
My noble friend Lord Coleraine suggested that it was unacceptable for Ministers to set the aims and objectives of the agency and give guidance on how they are to be achieved. All agencies require clear aims and objectives which are a key input into their corporate planning processes. They are not typically set in legislation in order to ensure sufficient flexibility to reflect changing circumstances. The Bill goes further in providing for statutory guidance. But such guidance cannot overrule the statutory purposes and functions of the agency, many of which are already in existing legislation.
I am glad to know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, now has the guidance in front of her. As I indicated at Second Reading, the guidance is in the form of a draft. As I said then, it is our intention to consult on it. I believe that that is right. I do not want to be faced frequently by suggestions that a particular word may be the wrong one to use in the guidance. That is the purpose of draft guidance. It is an attempt—and I believe that it is a good attempt —to put the management statement into some form of guidance. But that will be considered very carefully, together with everything that is said in debate in this Chamber, so that we can refine it and improve it as we go along.
Amendment No. 36, like Amendment No. 41, seeks to replace Clause 4. It would instead give the agency or SEPA a statutory purpose related to sustainable development. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, sustainable development is a subject which we shall debate under other amendments later this afternoon. Quite apart from any particular difficulties with statutory prescriptions on sustainable development, this attempt also fails in trying further to specify the purposes of the agency and SEPA in the Bill.
Amendment No. 42 seeks to give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations setting standards, objectives or requirements in relation to environmental protection. That would tread ground which is adequately covered by a specific statute. There are already powers, notably under Part I of the Environment Protection Act 1990, which cover integrated pollution control and local authority air pollution control. I take very seriously the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. Obviously we are 560 concerned about the incidence of asthma, not only among children but also among adults. However, I believe that the policies which we are following in the transport field go a long way to mitigating the problems. Scientific evidence is still required to attach the one to the other.
Regarding waste, there are powers in Part II of the same Act to make regulations as to licence conditions and so on.
At this stage I should like to deal also with Amendment No. 78. In that amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, seeks to provide that the agency's conservation duty should be exercised without prejudice to the provisions of Section 1(1). I presume that that is the new section as it would be rewritten by Amendment No. 22. For that reason I believe that we should not take that amendment forward.
I have listened carefully to the points put forward by Members of the Committee. I shall certainly want to examine Hansard very carefully. I have not been able to reply individually to some of the points which were raised, but I believe that one or two covered the same issues. I shall consider very carefully what has been said. In the meantime, I believe that I have given an explanation as to why the Government are unable to accept the amendments. Therefore I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I hope that I may be forgiven for intervening again, but I too now have the benefit of having received the document which has been circulated so recently. We find ourselves in an extraordinary position with the Bill. My noble friend is gallantly doing his best in very difficult circumstances. He has told us that we cannot write into the Bill the proposed words about environmental protection, management and enhancement, yet the guidance document tells us that:The particular role of the Environment Agency is to provide effective environmental protection, management and enhancement within its areas of responsibility".Later the document states that the main objectives of the environment agency are:to provide effective environmental protection, management and enhancement".Therefore we are allowed those words in a secret document which is circulated because one asks for it but not apparently on the face of the Bill.
Turning to the definition of sustainable development, we are told in the document that the Government's understanding of what is meant by sustainable development was set out in the UK strategy document published in January 1994. Therefore, it is clearly a matter which is capable of different interpretations. The Government have a current understanding of it.
Later in the document we are told that the overall aim is to help to promote sustainable development, and find the magic footnote:as defined in this guidance".561 Yet we have no definition but the promise at the very end that:The guidance will therefore list all extant guidance, consider how far it needs to be amended, amplified or consolidated, and set out a timetable for this process".We are debating this and the next group of amendments with no real idea as to what sustainable development is, and we are not allowed to write on to the face of the Bill what the guidance note tells us is the principal objective of the environment agency. It is a very odd situation.
§ Lord Moran
Some of us find ourselves in even greater difficulty than the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in that we have not been favoured with a copy of the secret document. Can it be circulated more widely?
§ Lord Ennals
Is not the quotation from the guidance in opposition to the reasons given by the Minister for not accepting the amendments? It seems that the guidance issued by the department accepts what is proposed in the amendment, but the Minister has asked us not to accept the amendment. Will he please take the matter away and think again?
§ The Earl of Onslow
I was going to ask exactly that question. If the Minister is capable of saying what he wants the environment agency to do, surely he must also be capable of putting it into the Bill without changing it. We are not trying to be beastly. Somebody may be, but on this occasion I am not. We want to be helpful and we want to get this right because it is such an important matter. Our countryside, our townscapes, our air and water must be kept clean and tidy. That is what we are trying to achieve. It must be possible to write something on to the face of the Bill. I beg my noble friend to think further about the matter.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell entertains the Committee by quoting from the guidance. In my earlier remarks I stressed that the guidance which has been issued will be firmed up as a statutory provision under Clause 4 setting out a statutory duty for the agency to take into account. Of course my noble friend can draw from the guidance words with which he may entertain the Committee. However, this is a firm attempt by the Government to establish a statutory provision under Clause 4. I indicated at Second Reading that the guidance would be available for consideration when we came to Committee stage. I understand that it is in the Library of the House, and is therefore available.
We are debating a principle as to whether what is in the guidance should be on the face of the Bill. That is what my noble friend Lord Onslow indicated. I seek to indicate that it should not be, and that what is on the face of the Bill is clear in Clause 4. The guidance is there to be considered. At present it is only draft guidance. The whole purpose is that the guidance should be flexible and so able to deal with situations as they arise. To put words on the face of the Bill would render the guidance inflexible.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
I find the Minister's response deeply disappointing. He stated several times 562 that the purpose of the agency is environmental protection and enhancement. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said about the word "management" being difficult and perhaps too hands-on for a strategic agency. However, there seems a clear consensus in the Committee that an amendment such as Amendment No. 5 would gain common agreement throughout the Chamber. We shall certainly bring back a similar amendment at Report stage. I am sad that the Minister does not feel able to say that the words "environmental protection" and "enhancement" shall be written on the face of the Bill.
Guidance is all very well, but it is not in the public domain even when it is no longer in draft form. It remains guidance. The public do not necessarily have easy access to it. However, if the purpose of the agency were written firmly into Clause 1 of the Bill it would set a strategic framework in which all its functions could be carried out. I urge the Minister to think again before Report stage when we shall certainly bring forward an amendment which I hope will meet with the approval of the House. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)
In calling the next amendment, I should point out to the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 7.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
moved Amendment No. 6:Page 1, line 13, at end insert ("as part of the national sustainable development strategy.(1A) The Agency shall develop the strategy for national sustainable development after consultation with the Ministers and local authorities.").The noble Baroness said: We have talked about the difficulties of defining sustainable development. In this group I support two mutually contradictory amendments. Amendment No. 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, seeks to remove the words "sustainable development" from the Bill whereas Amendment No. 6 inserts them.
I believe that "sustainable development" is a much weaker purpose, or embracing strategic objective, for the agency partly because of the difficulties of definition. However, it is post-Rio, and, because of various published government documents, that definition is part of the current jargon about the environment. Therefore if we cannot achieve a more concrete amendment to this part of the Bill, such a provision is the very least that we can introduce regarding the purposes of the agency.
At Second Reading we discussed the difficulties of the phrase. The weight tends to be on the noun "development" rather than on the adjective "sustainable". It occurs to me that nowhere is it stated that development is economic development. One could define it as being environmental development; sustainability could be the sustainability of the economy. One could reverse the difficulties and consider them from the other direction. To refer to environmental development with a sustainable economy 563 might be a rather stronger purpose for the agency and more appropriate within the Bill. However, because it is part of the current jargon, we are attempting to insert the phrase as a minimum for the agency to consider. Therefore, although with no great enthusiasm, I beg to move the amendment, and speak to the others in the group.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
I support the amendment. It raises the question of sustainable development. We strayed on to the subject slightly early during the last debate. Amendments Nos. 34 and 35, which stand in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and myself, relate to the promotion of sustainable development and the publication of an index of sustainable development. Amendment No. 47 has the objective of achieving sustainable development. Amendment No. 162 refers to the objectives—not the "objections" referred to in the margin note—of the SEPA. Finally, and possibly most importantly, Amendment No. 351 provides a definition of that undefinable term. It states that,'sustainable development' means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly".That is the Brundtland definition. It is now accepted world wide. It was accepted in Rio. It has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. It is far from meaningless. Although no one knows exactly what is meant by anything to do with development in the future because there are many unknowns, as a framework the provision is absolutely clear.
I am not entirely happy with the government guidance notes on the issue. They seem to go further than I would wish in thinking that one can go along a line of economic development. We must remember that we are tackling a global problem. Although we debate a Bill at this moment in this House for this country, nevertheless it is part of a debate on the future of the world. It is important that the third world and the first world (ourselves) are not seen to be in an area of extreme injustice one against the other. In other words, quite clearly in the first world there will not be the quantitative economic development that has occurred in the past although there may be room for quantitative economic development in the third world. At the same time we all want development of some kind. Therefore we must press as much as possible for qualitative development rather than quantitative development. I remember that at one of those international seminars one occasionally attends I had to point out to Robin Day that growth is not always vertical, it could be horizontal, and he was a good example of it. He did not think that that was very funny at the time; most of the meeting did.
However, it is important that we realise that there are different forms of growth. If one states that one will not necessarily grow quantitatively, it does not mean that one will not grow qualitatively with a much better life for a great many people.
564 Having made those remarks about some of the amendments in the group, I support the noble Baroness's proposal rather more wholeheartedly than she seemed to do.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I wish to support what the noble Lord said and to argue with as much enthusiasm as I can muster at this stage of the day for having the concept of sustainable development written into the Bill. I disagree with Members of the Committee about the definition. Sustainable development must exist and must be definable because a Select Committee of this House deals with it. Therefore, by definition, it must exist and must be intelligible to the Committee. Furthermore, we have a major document on the UK strategy on sustainable development. There is the European Union document, Towards Sustainability, the fifth environmental action programme, and, as already mentioned, the whole international context of the Rio Summit and the international Commission on Sustainable Development on which the United Kingdom is represented.
It is important that we should include that in our legal discourse, not just in the guidance but on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I wish to turn to the guidance which states clearly that the environment agency cannot,achieve sustainable development but it is expected to make a significant contribution to it in relation to its functions".I am worried about that because the whole point of sustainable development as a framework, a strategy and a concept is that it must cross departmental functions, it must cross agency functions. It must be a policy which is at once economic and environmental, concerned with the capital resources available in public spending, with human capital, finance capital and also natural capital. All those aspects are part of the whole concept which is part of the difficulty. But it is also part of its excitement because it provides us with an instrument and a concept for policy-making which, as we have already indicated in the Committee, is increasingly used on an international level. It is a concept which enables us to measure the performance of our economic indicators in relation to their impact on the natural environment and, more generally, on the resources of the planet. That is the whole point of the objective.
My worry is that by not putting it on the face of the Bill we shall create not an environment agency but an environmental policy marginalising agency. We have here an organisation composed of the constituent parts involved in waste management, pollution control and the whole subject of prevention and the responsibilities of the NRA being brought together.
Yet that is not really an environmental agency. An environmental agency needs to have regard to what other agencies are doing. In the Welsh context, whether it is the Welsh Development Agency, the land authority or any other agency, those agencies also need to be involved in the strategy of sustainable development. That is why I strongly support the idea that there should be a national and regional strategy for sustainable development, integrated within the whole of the UK and 565 the European international context. It should be placed on the face of the Bill and clearly indicated as a priority for all departments of the Government.
What I have said is not at all controversial for the Government. It more or less paraphrases what is in their own strategy which is endorsed by all government departments. Yet my anxiety is that it may be endorsed in a document which is shown to green organisations or to environmentalists or which might be raised in evidence at international conferences to show that the UK is carrying out its obligations. But in the practical terms of the day-to-day work of government departments, sustainable development in environmental policy tends to have a much lower priority. That is my anxiety. It is only if we can have an agency of government responsible to the various government departments which is charged with environmental activity, which is able to influence the whole range of government policy-making, decision-taking and implementation that we can talk about having an environmental policy.
There is one question in the tail of that. I turn to paragraph 1 of the guidance where reference is made to Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Wales. I am a little worried that not much environmental guidance seems to emanate these days from the Welsh Office. There may be slight ideological differences between the present Secretary of State and other holders of his office in the past or other members of the Cabinet. But it worries me that whereas guidance is sometimes made available by the Department of the Environment in England, for example, on planning procedures, such guidance is not often available from the Welsh Office.
Therefore, I should like an indication—if not immediately then later—that the Secretary of State for Wales is likely to produce guidance for the environment agency which would be of relevance not only to the local authorities and the other national agencies in Wales but also to the activity of the countryside council and such agencies as well as the voluntary environmental sector. In fairness to the Welsh Office, there is the Environment Wales organisation which receives support from the department. It is important that there should be an environmental strategy for sustainable development which operates at the level of activity of the Welsh Office. Therefore, I am pleased to support the amendments.
§ The Earl of Onslow
As the noble Lord was speaking, I was listening and thinking of a place called the Crimea Pass in North Wales. Its stone walls were built, I believe, by Russian prisoners captured at Inkerman and Balaklava. I will bet that had the environment protection agency or the planning authorities been in existence at that time, there would have been the most frightful row about building stone walls in a place of outstanding natural beauty in North Wales. There would now be an even bigger row if it were suggested that they should be bulldozed.
What I am coming to is the difficulty, without becoming blocked in concrete, of defining what our environment is or how it should look. To return to my 566 old friend, cut and laid hedges, Cobbett complained bitterly about them and the land enclosure Acts. Up to about 10 years ago, we gave grants to pull them out; we now give grants to put them back. In June I was in Normandy in the Bocages country, where my late lamented dad managed to get himself captured. They had exactly the same problem in Normandy; people were given grants to take out the bocage hedges and they are now being given grants to put those hedges back.
We must be careful. We cannot freeze the environment; we must be sensitive to it. Sustainable development is extremely difficult to define. The definition by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, did not give me much help. It was quite a nice lot of words, but its actual meaning could be argued over by any gang of first year law students till kingdom come. I believe that we all know what we ought to do, there is no division on it; it is how we do it. We are in quite a muddle. I am sorry not to be able to help in a concrete way except possibly to point out some of the difficulties which I see. I hope that we can examine them and people cleverer than I can try to put something together to make it work.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
Perhaps I may play the part of the first year law student for a few moments and deal with the issue of the words "sustainable development" a little further. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, rightly drew attention to Amendment No. 351, to which I suppose I must now inevitably be speaking. I am quite prepared to agree that it may be an internationally accepted definition of a meaningless phrase. But to me this is an exercise in obfuscation.
In my previous remarks I said that we did not know whether the existing level of development was sustainable. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, pointed out that it was not, and then in response he drew my attention to the amendment and its definition. The problem that I have with it is simple. If the existing level of development is not sustainable, then we cannot meet the needs of present generations without prejudicing the needs of future generations. Therefore, the first part of the definition can—in our state of ignorance—be in conflict with the second. However acceptable it may be in the international sphere, where I am trying to interpret the meaning of the words literally, the phrase is an exercise in obfuscation. Therefore I am afraid that, however acceptable this may be in the international sphere, so far as I am concerned when I try to interpret the meaning of these words literally, this phrase is an exercise in obfuscation. Therefore, I return to my plea on an earlier amendment and say that wherever possible these two words should not be used but that more precise phrases should be found that meet the needs of the situation.
§ Lord Moran
Perhaps I may say a word about Amendment No. 80, which is grouped with these amendments. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, has put her name to it. I agree that it is inconsistent with Amendment No. 6, but I hope to show that it is perhaps preferable to it. The amendment removes sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of 567 Clause 7(1) (a) on page 8 of the Bill. On that page the other two sub-paragraphs, namely, sub-paragraphs (i) and (iv) reflect the qualifications on the agency's duty to further conservation in the existing clause of the Water Resources Act 1991. However, sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of Clause 7(1) (a)—the two sub-paragraphs that I should like to see removed—explicitly subordinate the agency's duty to further conservation to Ministers' views and Ministers' guidance on sustainable development. As has been pointed out many times this afternoon, we do not at present know from the face of the Bill what "sustainable development" is supposed to mean.
At Second Reading I expressed my support for the general reformulation of the conservation duty and the "have regard" duty in respect of conservation actions which is now to be found in Clause 7(1) (b). The voluntary organisations (the NGOs) may have focused rather too much on the sometimes notional difference between a heavily qualified duty to further conservation and an unqualified duty to have regard to it. They may not have focused enough on the very real dangers that are implied by these sub-paragraphs in subjecting all the agency's duties to further conservation to development interests, albeit sustainable ones.
Perhaps I may say a word about the question that has been much discussed this afternoon, the general matter of sustainable development. I expressed strong reservations about the use of the term "sustainable development" in the Bill when I spoke at Second Reading. It is a wonderful Trojan Horse which may be taken by a government that is development orientated as a means of limiting the environmental protection functions of the new agencies. It can also be used in the opposite sense by a government of a different complexion.
We are often told that "sustainable development" means whatever you want it to mean. But if it means anything, it includes development. What is the environment agency to do with development? There are plenty of other agencies concerned with that. Clause 4 builds serious ambiguities into the Bill and invites us to accept an undefined proposition, sight unseen. It might be less objectionable if, for example, it simply referred to the concept of "sustainability" rather than "sustainable development". "Sustainability" features now in our legislation. As my noble friend Lady Saltoun mentioned, the term was included—in spite of many protests in this Chamber and questions from Lord Grimond as to what on earth it meant—in the legislation on the Scottish natural heritage. I believe that that was the first time that it had occurred. The phrase "sustainable development" was not used, merely the word "sustainability".
As I mentioned at Second Reading, it has been suggested by the World Wildlife Fund that it might be much better to refer to "environmental sustainability". If the Government are determined to include "sustainability", it would be much better to refer to it as 568 "environmental sustainability"—and far better than the phrase "sustainable development". I hope that the Government will perhaps think again about this point.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
The Committee will be absolutely delighted to know that I do not intend to refer to sustainable development—if for no better reason than that anything I were to say on that subject would merely confuse the matter even further. I hope that as we examine this Bill we do not allow this issue to cloud all the other important issues therein. For that reason I want to address my remarks to the two amendments in this group which stand in my name on the Marshalled List; namely, Amendments Nos. 163 and 164. Both deal with the Secretary of State's powers to give guidance to the Scottish environment protection agency.
Before I speak briefly on that matter, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for the way in which he moved Amendment No. 162, with which I agree. It does not make an argument any better because someone happens to repeat it, so I will resist that temptation.
Amendment No. 163 lays down that the Secretary of State should issue his guidance no later than 12 months from the date on which this Act is implemented. If we are serious about protecting the environment, then surely it would be wrong if the Act, once it is implemented, were merely allowed to rest on a shelf somewhere in the Scottish Office while month follows month and the guidance that is necessary to allow the agency to get on with its work is simply not given.
Therefore, it is advisable, right at the beginning, to build in a timescale for that guidance to be given. As an aside, perhaps I may say that in many ways I am arguing against something in which I believe myself. When the original document dealing with the environment in Scotland, Improving the Environment in Scotland: The Way Forward, was published in 1992, it stated that the Government wanted an agency "at arm's length" from the Government. But of course what they have, as defined in Clause 29 of this Bill, and even more closely in Clause 38, is an agency that will be under the control of the Secretary of State.
Although we are not discussing Clause 38, it is linked to Clause 29 and the amendments that are in this group. It gives the Secretary of State wide and extensive powers to intervene in the day-to-day operations of the Scottish environment protection agency. So in many ways I am arguing against the principle that I thought the Government had accepted in 1992; namely, that the agency would be at arm's length from the Government and would be in a position to give the Government advice. That is not the case. It is not what we are faced with now. Therefore, we have to try and improve what is in the Bill. For that reason, my amendment suggests that the advice should be made available within 12 months of this Bill becoming an Act.
My second amendment goes on to define a number of matters that I consider to be of great importance to improving the environment in Scotland and which therefore ought to be included in the guidance. It would be easy and tempting to go through each one and explain what I mean by them. But I shall resist that temptation. I know that time is at a premium. I encapsulate it all in 569 the statement that the interests of future generations should be part of the statutory guidance that is given by the Secretary of State. I cannot honestly think of anything more important than the environmental interests of future generations, and that statement brings it all together.
With those few brief remarks, I hope that I have been able to persuade the noble Viscount. We are coming up to the celebration of the birth of Robert Burns. Burns had a great saying:… I backward cast mye'e,On prospects drear!An' forward, tho' I canna see,I guess an' fear!Forward though I cannot see, I have a terrible feeling that the noble Viscount will rise to reject these amendments as well. I hope that I am wrong. I ask him to give them the most serious consideration.
§ Viscount Mills
What never ceases to amaze me is the speed with which some Members of the Committee who have many years in advance of myself manage to get to their feet.
At Second Reading, my noble friend the Minister promised to arrange to have an initial outline of the guidance on sustainable development made available before this Committee stage. Eventually, along with other Members of Committee, I received a copy in this Chamber a short time ago. I have had no opportunity to do other than glance at the document and look over its contents. However, it is very much an initial outline, setting out what the Government intend the guidance to cover. Clearly, much further work is required.
I should be surprised if that guidance met the full aspirations of the Minister himself. At Second Reading, my noble friend said that:the guidance cannot be rushed; we must get it right. We propose to consult widely and to take into account the views of the many organisations which will have views on the matter, in addition to listening to the views of noble Lords and Members of another place".—[Official Report, 15/12194; col. 1463.]I am in full agreement with that approach, although I add that I hope that the agency itself will have a special role in advising and assisting with such guidance. Perhaps in an ideal world such considered guidance would have been provided before the Bill reached the Committee stage in this Chamber. But that was not to be. Indeed, it is unrealistic to think that detailed guidance could now be produced even before the Bill reaches the Committee stage in another place.
The purpose of this amendment, like the previous one, is to set a realistic timetable for the production of at least preliminary guidance. In other words, for it to be produced within 12 months of this part of the Act coming into force.
I turn again to the Second Reading debate, in which my noble friend the Minister also pointed out that this was the first time in English law that there is a duty in relation to sustainable development. That makes it vitally important to debate the key elements of the guidance relating to that duty as soon as possible. It is 570 to be hoped that it will be achieved at least partly by debating the relevant amendments as the Bill passes through this Chamber.
It is certain that such guidance on sustainable development will be central to the manner in which the agency exercises all its functions, as outlined in Clause 4, and also with respect to specific environmental duties, such as the duty to further conservation, as set out in Clause 7. Therefore it is vital that the new agency should be provided with clear guidance on these matters within a reasonable timescale. That is the purpose of the amendment. Perhaps I may add that I hope that in future any guidance will be placed where it can easily be found.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I should like to make two fairly brief points. One is in regard to Amendment No. 6, which suggests that the agency should develop a strategy for national sustainable development.
I shall now turn, in what I am sure my noble friend will be relieved to hear is a helpful way, to the document that has so recently been circulated. It is absolutely correct in setting out the mutual and, in a sense, contradictory components of sustainability and sustainable development. At paragraph 5.3 it states:It therefore embraces the pursuit of both economic development and environmental protection, or improvement. Often these go hand in hand, but many forms of economic development make demands upon the environment and these have to be assessed".I do not believe that it can or should be the role of an environment agency to make economic policy. That is the role of government. Therefore, I object to this proposed amendment. It takes the agency into territory that it should not occupy. Clearly one could elaborate on that proposition at some length but I shall not do so. I simply express my opposition to the concept that the agency should be responsible for economic policy.
I turn to an amendment with which I have a great deal more sympathy; namely, Amendment No. 41. I have sympathy not least because it seeks to ensure that:Any guidance … shall be subject to a period of consultation with interested bodies".I entirely agree about that; but I hope that the "interested bodies" include the agency itself.
At Second Reading I observed that it was extremely curious that the Bill repeatedly talks about Ministers giving advice, guidance and even directions to the agency but does not on one single occasion suggest the possibility that it might be quite a good idea for Ministers just once in a while to listen to the advice of what is likely to be an extremely experienced, knowledgeable and important body.
This amendment is perhaps a first tentative step toward acceptance of the idea—I hope that it can be written in on other occasions during the passage of the Bill—that Ministers must consult the agency before they finally give it directions. If so, the whole exercise may have been worth while.
§ Lord Marlesford
One of the disadvantages of the breathless pace at which we were given the guidance 571 notes is that my copy appears to lack page 5. Therefore, I have not been able to give it the full attention that no doubt it merits.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
Perhaps I may interrupt at this point. Thanks to the office of the noble Viscount, I received a copy of the guidance. I decided, perhaps wrongly, that it would be right to table the guidance in a somewhat filleted form, if I may use that expression, as a schedule.
Members of the Committee will find that schedule at Amendment No. 147. I do not wish to pre-empt the discussion that any Member may wish to raise on this guidance. But if the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, looks at that amendment, he will see that the schedule reproduces more or less ipsissima verba, but with some filleting, the guidance that the Government have produced and published today.
The point of tabling the schedule was to make sure that the Committee had an opportunity to look through it at leisure and to amend the schedule should Members so wish. I do not want to prevent the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, from putting forward any argument, but I wish him to know that there is an amendment which puts that schedule on the Marshalled List.
§ Lord Marlesford
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am afraid that I have not been using his version of the guidance but the one headed "Department of the Environment", in which my copy is defective. I am delighted to hear that his version is more complete.
I want to raise a point about the difficulty that we are all having with the phrase "sustainable development". As was pointed out, this is the first time that it has been in legislation. The problem is that "development" is the mistaken word. I can quite understand why we use the word "development". It comes from Rio, when all that was discussed. We are all considering what is likely to happen in the future in those very large countries where they have been cutting down the rainforest. We know about all those things, but there are also new activities.
The problem for this country, and after all this legislation primarily refers to this country, concerns what is happening now. There are many matters which the agency will have to deal with that are already happening. There is a misleading use of the word "development" which implies new and fresh activities. It would surely be better, at least in the legislation, to use the phrase "sustainable activity", so that it can include things which are happening now which perhaps should not be happening.
§ Lord Northbourne
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said a great deal of what I wanted to say. Fortunately, therefore, I shall not need to say it. However, the phrases "sustainable development" and "use of resources" come to mind. It is true that what we are doing currently is much more likely to affect the environment than the development.
While I am on my feet, perhaps I may say that the definition given by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, of "sustainable development" goes some way towards addressing the problem. The amendment cannot be acceptable in its present form because it is difficult to 572 know what future generations will want. One difficulty is that it would presumably preclude the use of any non-renewable resources—coal, oil or anything of that sort—and we cannot be sure that in an infinite distance forward they will not be needed by future generations.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
In coming into the debate this afternoon on this group of amendments I should like to make two points. First, on 15th December, when your Lordships' House considered the Second Reading of the Bill, I declared my interest in the subject matter. It may be helpful to those Members of the Committee who did not attend on that day for me again to declare my interest in that I am involved with the waste industry. I do not intend to repeat that declaration as we go further and deeper into the Committee stage over the next four or five weeks.
My second point is that your Lordships will see that grouped in this series of amendments is my Amendment No. 39 and its Scottish counterpart, Amendment No. 165. Perhaps the Committee and my noble friend the Minister would indicate to me whether it would be more convenient for me to discuss Amendment No. 39 separately from the others. Clause 4 deals with this somewhat vexed subject of sustainable development, while Amendment No. 39 deals with other aims and objectives. I do not believe that it fits neatly into this kind of discussion. If my noble friend would find it more helpful to discuss a cost element which has nothing to do with sustainable development in the order on the Marshalled List—line 14 of the groupings list—I should be happy to do so. That is entirely up to the Committee.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
I am sorry to intervene. I am sure that the noble Lord is as familiar with Committee procedure as I am. He is perfectly entitled to move his Amendment No. 39 in the place in which it appears on the Marshalled List. All the usual channels can do is to try to fit things in. If the noble Lord, like any other Member of the Committee, decides to move his amendment in its place in the Marshalled List, he is certainly entitled to do so.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I am grateful for that confirmation. I feel that it would be more helpful to the Committee for me to extract an amendment that deals with costs and cost benefits away from those amendments which deal with sustainable development. The two subjects just do not fit. Perhaps my noble friend can tell me whether that is as convenient to him as it is to the rest of us.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I was hoping, after hearing the interchange between my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that my comments on these amendments would satisfy my noble friend and he would not feel the need to draw attention to them when they arise in their normal place. Whether he wishes to 573 address them now or in the order in which they appear on the Marshalled List, I am happy to deal with them either way.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
With the leave of the Committee, I prefer to deal with Amendment No. 39 separately and not in the groupings suggested.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Perhaps I may come back to Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 in the names of my noble friend Lord Beaumont and myself, and in the context of a debate on sustainable development and on behalf of my noble friend I can accept the slightly guarded compliment paid to him on the definition which appears towards the end of this Marshalled List, though any compliments should perhaps go to Mrs. Brundtland and not to my noble friend.
I draw to the attention of the Committee our recognition of the need to keep matters under continuous review. That is an issue with which we dealt quite specifically in Amendment No. 34. I hope that an approach which involves the development of a list of indicators is one which will commend itself to the Government. It is very much the way in which they suggest other agencies should set about assessing their own success. But it is not merely the development of that list and the keeping of indicators; it is also a review of those indicators. As the Committee will recognise, this is a developing and progressing area.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
Before the noble Viscount replies, I apologise for bouncing this point off him. I should make clear that I am merely using him for other ears to hear.
In the guidance published by the Department of the Environment there is a footnote for editors which says,Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, today published draft guidance on sustainable development for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency".It would have been preferable if that guidance had been available at least to Scottish Peers because substantial parts of the Bill deal with Scotland. It would have been helpful if we could have had the same services as all other Members of your Lordships' Committee. To add insult to injury, the only reference to Scotland at point 1.2 has been blanked out and I cannot even read it.
§ Viscount Ullswater
These amendments relate to the role of the agency or SEPA in the achievement of sustainable development and the guidance on aims and objectives for which Clause 4 and Clause 29 for the Scottish agency provide. Many seek to replace or reinforce the Bill's existing provisions by giving the agency or SEPA a statutory objective or duty to promote or achieve sustainable development, including through development of a national sustainable development strategy or indicators.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford is right to point out that the words "sustainable development" originate from the Rio Summit. Therefore we cannot go forward without using them and without keeping that specific phrase; otherwise we shall experience a lot of difficulty. The existing Clauses 4 and 29 place a duty on Ministers to give the agency or SEPA guidance on their aims and 574 objectives, including on the contribution they are to make towards achieving sustainable development. That goes beyond the normal arrangements for a non-departmental public body in which aims and objectives are set simply as part of a management statement.
We recognise that the aims and objectives will properly be a matter of considerable interest and discussion, and in the note on the scope and the guidance which I have already made available to the Committee we set out our initial view that the overall aim of the agency should be to help promote sustainable development through high quality, integrated environmental protection management and enhancement.
In Amendment No. 6, which I notice the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, said she moved without particular enthusiasm, and Amendments Nos. 34 and 162, the noble Baroness and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont and Lord Carmichael, seek in various ways to give the agency or SEPA a statutory purpose related to sustainable development. In addition, Amendment No. 6 requires the agency to develop a national strategy for sustainable development, and Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 would require it to develop and publish indicators of sustainability. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell brought to our attention the correct division of responsibility between the duty of Ministers and the duty of the agency and drew attention to the difficulty he saw in asking the agency to develop the national strategy. Amendment No. 164, from the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, attempts a somewhat shorter definition of the scope of the guidance to be issued to SEPA. Amendment No. 351 seeks to insert a specific definition of sustainable development into the legislation.
These amendments all touch on a key issue. It is indeed vital that the agency should contribute significantly towards the achievement of sustainable development. Sustainable development is the cornerstone of our environmental protection and economic development programmes. And that is what the existing Clauses 4 and 29 will do.
We believe that the amendments are inappropriate. First, they would suffer from the problem, which I have already touched on today, of trying further to specify the purposes of the agency and SEPA in the Bill. This problem is exacerbated by the difficulty, and indeed the danger, of seeking to define in legislation the main principles of sustainable development. For example, Amendment No. 162 appears confused on this point. It refers explicitly to the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. The UK strategy on sustainable development already starts from the premise that it incorporates both concepts. Yet the amendments repeat the first as a principle that needs specific definition as part of sustainable development and the second is added as an additional objective, as if it were somehow separate from sustainable development. Moreover, the amendments are silent on such issues as the need to consider changes in man-made capital and in renewable and non-renewable natural resources and on how to reconcile our aspirations for these two kinds of wealth. 575 Nor do they consider best available scientific information or risk analysis. And if they do not cover existing thinking on the meaning of sustainable development, how can they hope to encompass developing domestic and international ideas?
Amendments Nos. 164 and 351 suffer from the same difficulty. It would be dangerous to seek to overspecify on the face of the Bill the full contents of the guidance. A long list might appear exhaustive but not cover all issues on which, in future, Ministers might need to give guidance to the agency or to SEPA. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, acknowledged that the Scottish Secretary had published in parallel the draft guidance for SEPA today. I can only apologise to him that he somehow was unable to receive a copy of that, which I am sure he would have found interesting. We would be reluctant to see the principles set out in Amendment No. 164 fixed in legislation, for the reasons I have explained.
As for Amendment No. 351, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the definition it proposes is indeed one which is familiar. It is based on the Brundtland definition, but it is not one which has general recognition in international law. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith is quite right to query the validity of this definition and the difficulties that such a definition, if put into legislation, might pose in the long term.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Does the Minister agree that if we are using the term "sustainable development"—there seems to be quite a consensus, with notable exceptions, that it is a term to be used—it ought to be defined for precisely the reason that he has just given?
§ Viscount Ullswater
The draft guidance is making a determined effort to try to draw the various strands together. Whether it will come out with a hard and fast and legal definition may be the difficulty. I am not trying to skate round the difficulty. There is one, and I think everyone recognises that. But it is the duty of Ministers to advise the agency on that basis.
I am saying to the Committee that we should agree therefore that sustainable development requires a complex reconciliation of the pursuit of economic development and environmental protection. It is difficult to express that succinctly in legislation without risking giving undue emphasis to some aspects or implying that others are not normally part of sustainable development and so need to be listed separately. The formulation in Clauses 4 and 29 avoids the problem.
My second difficulty with a number of these amendments is that they assume that the agency and SEPA can on their own achieve sustainable development and decide what it is. The agency and SEPA will make, as I said before, a major contribution towards achieving sustainable development in Britain. But many others must act to achieve sustainable development. Government themselves must take decisions about economic development and environmental protection. It cannot therefore be right for the agency or SEPA to take charge of national policy 576 on sustainable development and how we ensure consistency of interpretation. I believe that to be important.
The same applies to the issue of sustainable development indicators. These will need to cover issues, such as land use planning, resource use and energy efficiency. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, would need to give the agency considerable power if it was to encompass all that he wanted it to. He identified his interest as being that of Wales. There is an advisory committee for Wales and the Secretary of State has appointed one of the members of the advisory committee. So, a good many of the things the noble Lord wishes are being undertaken by the agency. Indicators are, therefore, for the Government to take forward, although in doing so we are consulting extensively with outside bodies. I am pleased to report that we expect to publish a preliminary set of indicators by the end of the year.
I sum up by saying that defining the meaning of sustainable development, and the contribution the agency and SEPA is to make to it, will be a complex but fundamental task for government. We recognise that. That is why we made available the outline of the scope of the guidance under Clause 4 and intend to expand the note in a more detailed draft for wide consultation when the Bill is considered in another place. As I said at Second Reading, it is right to take time and to involve a wide constituency in the preparation of the guidance. I do not feel chastened by my noble friend Lord Mills because I reiterate that the guidance is in draft and will be refined as the parliamentary process takes its course.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked whether the agency will be consulted. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in another place, the Government will wish to seek the views of the environment agency advisory committee and the agency itself, once established, in producing guidance under Clause 4. I would stress that we want to get the guidance right and will consult widely on it.
Amendment No. 39A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Mills, and Amendment No. 163, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, would require guidance to be issued within 12 months of the Act coming into force. I have to tell noble Lords that this is currently our intention but we see no need to specify it on the face of the Bill. As drafted, Amendment No. 163 would also confuse as it does not reflect the intention that the guidance will be revised from time to time.
Amendment No. 40, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, seeks to remove the duty under Clause 4 for the agency to have regard to guidance issued by Ministers. I am bound to say that this appears to make a nonsense of Clause 4. There will be little point in requiring Ministers to give guidance to the agency if it were not in turn required to have regard to that guidance.
Amendment No. 47 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, proposes that one of the purposes for which the agency shall compile information relating to pollution under Clause 5 shall be that of attaining the objective of 577 achieving sustainable development. I am a little unsure exactly how it is envisaged that this provision would work in practice, but I do not believe that its inclusion would result in the collection of any additional information.
Clause 5(2) (b) already gives the agency powers to collect all the information that it needs to be able to form an opinion about the general state of environmental pollution. It is not obvious that more could be collected to take a view on sustainability.
Amendment No. 80 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, removes reference to sustainable development in the existing conservation duty under Clause 7. On the face of it, the amendment suggests that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness consider conservation to be a matter which somehow falls outside the scope of sustainable development. Yet sustainable development underpins the whole of environmental and economic policy. I cannot see how conservation is excluded.
I believe that I have attempted to indicate some of the difficulties that we run into when considering a number of these amendments. To a certain extent I was heartened by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, who said that she moved the amendment without particular enthusiasm. I hope that I have dampened her enthusiasm even more, to the stage where she may feel willing to withdraw it.
§ Lord Northbourne
Before the noble Viscount sits down perhaps I may draw attention to something which he said a moment ago. I believe I am right in saying that he said that sustainable development involves the whole process of environmental protection. Am I correct? That seems to imply a definition of "sustainable development" which is quite outside anything that we have discussed so far this afternoon. Will the noble Viscount accept that we really do need a definition of "sustainable development" and possibly a reference to "sustainable use"?
§ Viscount Ullswater
I shall have to look very carefully at what I did say. I thought I said that sustainable development underpins the whole of environmental and economic policy and that I cannot see how conservation is excluded from that.
§ Lord Marlesford
Further to that point, I simply do not understand why my noble friend should be suggesting that because the phrase "sustainable development" is used quite appropriately in Rio it is the right phrase to use in this piece of British legislation. What we are talking about in Britain is not only the need to have sustainable development but also to make certain adjustments to things which are already happening in this country in order to make them sustainable.
Perhaps I may give two obvious examples. There are many people who would say that there is already too much traffic on the roads. There are many who would say that power stations are already emitting nitrous oxide when they should be stopped from doing so. Would it not be more appropriate in this legislation for 578 the phrase "sustainable activity" to be used even though the phrase "sustainable development" is the current vogue phrase in a worldwide context?
§ Viscount Ullswater
I shall consider carefully what my noble friend said. I believe that the phrase "sustainable activity" suffers from the same difficulty as does the definition of "sustainable development". I believe that development in economic terms has an understanding. That is what we need to do when we look at the definition of "sustainable development". I hasten to say that the definition is not one which will come forward in a flash of blinding light and appear on the statute book. It is something which the guidance will ease its way towards refining during the progress of this Bill through Parliament.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My reservations about this amendment have been well exemplified by the debate which we have had. It is clear that the term "sustainable development" is for many of us not very well defined. We are not clear what it encompasses. Clearly this is a debate which will need careful perusal before we return to this subject.
I now have a copy of the draft guidance. It contains an overall aim for the agency which seems to combine the last two groups of amendments which we have been addressing. The overall aim of the agency shall be,To help to promote sustainable development through high quality, integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement".That is effectively a combination of the two main amendments which we have been discussing this evening.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider putting something along those lines on the face of the Bill. In any case, we certainly intend to return at Report stage with an amendment to that effect which I hope will gain the support of the House as a whole. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
moved Amendment No. 8:Page 2, line 4, at end insert ("and shall take office provided their appointment is agreed by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment").The noble Baroness said: This group of amendments addresses an entirely different principle which is that of democratic involvement in the functioning of the agency at various levels. The amendments that we are taking together in this group, which I shall be addressing, are Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 11, 13 and 15 and those relating to the Scottish agency, which are Amendments Nos. 132, 133 and 135.
Amendment No. 8 is really intended as a probing amendment. It is an attempt to roll back what we are now beginning to call the "quangocracy". It is an attempt to prevent appointments to these very powerful agencies to be solely within the gift of Ministers. It may well not be that this particular suggestion and the 579 amendment is the appropriate one, but it is an attempt to enhance the role of Parliament rather than leaving power totally in the hands of Ministers and quangos.
Amendment No. 9 would make mandatory rather than voluntary the appointment of people with relevant experience to the agency. Amendment No. 11 would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of having people on the agency with relevant experience in the business world, the voluntary sector and local authorities.
Amendment No. 13 is consequential on Amendment No. 8. The other amendments are also consequential on these particular points. They would assist in the scrutiny of the proceedings of this particular agency. They would create stricter criteria for appointment to the agency board and would apply freedom of information provisions to the agency under Amendment No. 15.
It is accepted that the new environment agency will be a quango operating at arm's length from government, but nevertheless quangos have been increasingly criticised in recent years on various grounds; that is, that they take powers away from elected and accountable representatives of the community both in Parliament and in local authorities. The system for the appointment of members is often extremely secret. The posts are often not advertised or subject to open competition. Their proceedings lack transparency. The usual standards of freedom of access to information and meetings which apply to local government do not apply to these appointed bodies. The amendments are therefore an attempt to address some of those abuses of democracy and the issue of freedom of information. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
The noble Baroness has put forward a proposition which I think is without precedent. It is for Ministers (nearly always in statute) to take responsibility for appointments to statutory bodies of one kind or another. To provide that the appointments should be agreed by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment spreads the responsibility. I should have thought that our present system is better because we can question the Minister and challenge any appointment that he makes. To ask a House of Commons Select Committee to share that responsibility seems a constitutional departure about which, to put it mildly, we should think very carefully indeed. Speaking for myself, I see great difficulties in it.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 10 now as it is grouped with Amendment No. 8, and to its consequential amendment which we shall reach later. I heed what my noble friend Lord Renton says, but notwithstanding that I have some sympathy with the thinking behind the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton.
Amendment No. 10 is pretty self-evident. It could be argued that it is special pleading, particularly coming from myself. However, back in 1989 when the Select Committee in another place drew attention to the need for a national agency—a "national commission" as I think it called the body—that idea found favour and culminated in the 1990 Act. The background to this 580 provision is that there must be some regulation on waste. As I see it, that is the "birthing", so to speak, of the Bill that is now before us. Looking at the current nine members of the advisory committee of 15—we have some yet to come—I find that there is nobody, but nobody, with hands-on knowledge of the waste industry, with which the Bill is primarily concerned. That implies no criticism of the chairman, my noble friend Lord de Ramsey, or of the other eight named members who no doubt have splendid qualities to add to the deliberations of the advisory committee, which I suppose will ultimately form the board.
It has been said on a number of occasions—notably by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in her contribution to the debate on the humble Address in November of last year and by others on Second Reading—that the members of the advisory committee as it now is (or of the board ultimately) should have knowledge of the matters with which the Bill is concerned and with which the agencies will have to deal. However, nobody but nobody on that body has hands-on knowledge of the waste industry. That industry represents between £45 billion and £50 billion of business and is probably one of the biggest elements with which the agency will have to deal in terms of pollution, pollution control, landfill, contaminated land and so on, all of which we shall be considering later when I shall have more to say on them. The agency will be setting policies and priorities and allocating resources but, as far as I can identify, nobody at the decision-making level—no current member of that body—has knowledge of the industry or the effects that it may have on society and communities. That will make a lot of difference to the decision-making process.
My amendment specifies one industry in particular, although others could be involved. I suppose that if other members of the Committee were to list their favourite industries or interests and demand membership for them, we should have a board of 40 or 50—or at least one with more than 15 members. Nevertheless, I think that this is an important amendment to set alongside those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. The truth of the matter is that the agency will be operating at arm's length. Notwithstanding the fact that Ministers shall have responsibility to Parliament, it is a pretty long arm, because once the matter reaches Parliament the decisions and actions will have been taken. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will find favour with my noble friend the Minister or that he will at least give the Committee an unequivocal assurance that those industries which have a direct interest in the matters with which the agency will be dealing will have representation.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 132, 133 and 135 on appointments to the Scottish environment protection agency. However, perhaps I should say first with great respect and deep humility to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that in my view if legislation specifies that the Secretary of State shall appoint the members of a board, that is that. In my 25 years in both Houses I have never known a Secretary of State to be challenged on an appointment that he has made to a quango, for that challenge to be sustained and for the person who has been appointed to be removed. 581 If the legislation clearly specifies, as this legislation does, that the Secretary of State shall make the appointment, it is my humble view that Parliament has no further say in the matter. We should not believe that somehow or other there is a further check and balance on the appointments that are made.
As the Committee knows, major changes are taking place in Scotland which are not taking place in England in that local government is being completely reorganised. Indeed, the elections to the shadow authorities will take place in a few weeks. That is significant in relation to the Scottish environment protection agency which, contrary to what the Minister said earlier, is being given powers that are presently in the hands of the democratically elected local authorities.
Let us consider the river purification boards as an example. Until about two years ago, two-thirds of the membership of the river purification boards comprised elected representatives. There were, and still are, reserved places on river purification boards for elected representatives. In my view—I have represented a constituency in which the petro-chemical industry has a centre and where environmental and river pollution have been problems for many years—river purification boards retain public confidence because of the presence of elected representatives. That is the point that I wish to make.
In order for the SEPA to gain the public's confidence, it is essential that the boards' membership should come from as wide a spectrum of interests as possible. We know that the chairman of each of the regional boards will automatically be a member of the SEPA. So there is a strong case for there to be reserved places, at least on the regional boards, for elected members of the new local authorities which will come into being on 1st April 1996.
We say also that members appointed to the SEPA should have knowledge of the work that the agency is expected to carry out. I do not want to give the impression that that is solely the preserve of professional people. There are many good lay councillors on local authorities in Scotland that are being abolished—Central Regional Council is a good example—who make a major contribution to the river purification boards' work and whose knowledge and expertise will be lost unless the Secretary of State takes the advice of the Scottish Consumer Council and the Forth River Purification Board and consults widely and makes appointments according to the knowledge and expertise of the councillors to whom I refer.
I return to the point I made earlier. There must be an undertaking that places will be reserved, at least on regional boards, for locally elected representatives so that local accountability will be continued.
I want to draw the Minister, and gain an assurance from him, on one other aspect of the major changes that are taking place in Scotland. We need an assurance that no one appointed to the three new water quangos that are to be established is appointed also to the SEPA. Scotland is littered with people who are on five, six or seven quangos. It would be the worst of all worlds if, right at the beginning of the work of both authorities— 582 the new water authorities and the SEPA—there was duplication of membership, because there must be a conflict of interest between those two organisations. I hope that, if the Minister cannot go down the road suggested by the three amendments in relation to the authority in Scotland, he can at least give us an assurance that membership will not be duplicated between the water authorities and the SEPA.
§ Baroness Hamwee
It was the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, who said earlier that an argument does not improve for being repeated. So I shall merely say that I associate these Benches with the comments he made about local representation and appointments by the Secretary of State. However, in that connection I hope that Amendment No. 9, which seeks to constrain the Secretary of State a little more than the draft Bill does, will attract the Committee. Rather than the Secretary of State having regard to the desirability of appointing someone who satisfies a particular criteria, he should be required to appoint someone who fulfils those qualifications, which in themselves are wide.
With regard to the freedom of information clause to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, has rightly drawn the Committee's attention, and also tabled an appropriate amendment, it is a pity that one has to remember to put down such amendments. It would be so much better if the provisions applied to all our public bodies.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The amendments are concerned mainly with the appointment of members to the agency's boards. It may assist the Committee if I explain the Government's general approach to such appointments. The Bill requires the Secretary of State and the Minister to have regard to the desirability of appointing a person who has had experience of and shown capacity in some matter relevant to the agencies' functions. It does not require us to assemble boards with one of everything. We do not expect a board to be comprised of a panel of technical experts. The boards will have much more of a policy-setting and strategic decision-making role similar to that undertaken by other boards. Where technical expertise is called for, it will be provided primarily by the agencies' officers. Nor should boards be delegate bodies made up of nominees representing outside interests. The idea expressed in Amendment No. 132 of "a balance of key interests" is alien to the idea of the agencies. Rather, each member will be appointed on his or her individual merits and will be expected to act in the interests of the agency as a whole and in accordance with that agency's functions, aims and objectives.
In making appointments in general, we wish to appoint the best available talents for the task, whoever they are. Indeed, we have followed that approach in appointing the Environment Agency Advisory Committee. The committee members are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, including industry, local authorities, environmental science and finance, each member distinguished in his own right but each equipped to make a distinctive contribution to running a large organisation such as the agency. 583 With that background, I hope that the Committee will understand why I cannot accept any of the amendments in this group.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 13 together raise basic questions about parliamentary accountability. Amendment No. 8 would require the appointment of the agency's members to be agreed by the Select Committee on the Environment. Amendment No. 13 would add to that a requirement for their remuneration, travelling and other allowances to be subject to Select Committee approval.
The amendments risk drawing the appointment of agency members further into the political arena. Such an approach could well inhibit many people from accepting public appointments, with a detrimental effect on the quality of public appointees. Unless the agency were to be a special case, such procedures could not be applied realistically to the numbers of appointments and reappointments made each year.
As my noble friend Lord Renton rightly pointed out, these amendments would be a significant departure from current practice. It would be unwise to legislate in that way at a time well before the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life has reported. Issues relating to public appointments are a major area which that committee will consider.
I should stress that rejecting the amendments would not mean that there was no opportunity for Parliament to question Ministers about the grounds for appointments. Ministers remain accountable to Parliament for their actions, including the appointments they make, and this provides an opportunity to question their decisions.
Amendment No. 9, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seeks to require any person appointed to meet the test of having experience and proven capacity in some matter relevant to the functions of the agency. Amendment No. 132 would limit the membership of the SEPA in a similar way. The amendments also take too narrow a view of what is needed on the boards of the agencies. The agencies will be large organisations with a full range of issues—such as management, personnel and finance—for which the boards must take responsibility. It would be wrong to suppose that all members must necessarily have experience of the agencies' specialist functions if they are to make a useful contribution.
Because the agencies are not to be bodies of delegates, I cannot accept the idea in Amendment No. 135 that the Government should seek "nominations from national organisations" when making appointments to the SEPA. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, asked whether there would be a role for elected councillors on SEPA. The Government will be keen to secure the services of effective board members from all sources. We certainly envisage elected councillors playing a full part on the regional boards. Perhaps we should return at another time to the noble Lord's anxieties. I am not sure that tonight I am able to give the assurances that he seeks on whether the same people will be appointed to the water authorities and to SEPA. I need to take further advice on the matter.
584 Nor should we carve out a list of reserve slots for various fields. Therefore, I cannot accept Amendment No. 10 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. However, I understand the view that he put forward. He seeks to promote the claims of waste management for consideration when appointments are made to the agencies' board. I believe that it would be wrong for me to give him the assurance that he wants, although I am certain that my right honourable friend will consider carefully what he said tonight.
The same applies to Amendments Nos. 11 and 133, which seek to take account specifically of business, the voluntary sector, local authorities and environmental and consumer interests in appointing members to the boards of the two agencies.
Finally, Amendment No. 15 would provide for public access to meetings of the agency and to its papers, agendas, reports, minutes and related background papers subject to the exemptions set out in the Local Government Act 1972. I believe that the amendment is unnecessary. Under the Environmental Information Regulations 1992, the agency will be under a statutory duty to make available environmental information to every person who requests it, subject to the exemptions in those regulations. Generally, the agency will be expected to conduct its affairs fully in accordance with the code of practice on access to government information.
We want neither to impose unnecessary controls on the agency nor to fetter unduly Ministers' discretion to obtain the best boards for both agencies. I hope that those explanations will convince Members of the Committee that the proposed amendments should find no place in the Bill.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
I thank the Minister for that reply and I accept the logic of much of what he said. However, the existence of the Nolan Committee shows that all is not well with appointments to quangos. I reject entirely the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who suggested that because things have not been done previously we should not do them in future. I accept that the suggested remedy may not be appropriate; but, from the widespread anxiety about appointments to quangos, it is clear that things have not been as they should. I was puzzled by the Minister's slightly naive statement that we did not want to bring politics into the appointments to quangos. Surely, the chief anxiety about ministerial appointments has been the introduction of politics to the field. I accept entirely that the amendment might be suggesting the wrong mechanism; but, nevertheless, I believe that there is a wrong that needs addressing.
As regards the representation of local authorities and others, I believe that it is a general principle which should be part of the guidance to Ministers rather than being written into the Act. We shall think further about what the Minister said on that issue and about freedom of information, which may be provided for elsewhere in the Environmental Protection Act. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. 585 Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 not moved.]
§ Lord Prys-Davies
moved Amendment No. 12:Leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new clause:("Establishment of Agencies. There shall be established—
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 12 involves another issue of principle. It would establish a separate Welsh environment protection agency, which is the policy of the Labour Party and all other opposition parties in Wales. The policy is supported by the Council for the Welsh Districts, the Assembly of Welsh Councils and the Wales Association of Community and Town Councils. In addition, I believe that it is supported by voluntary bodies which play an important role in the conservation and enhancement of the environment in Wales. They are bodies such as Friends of the Earth Cymru and, I am advised, the Wales Wildlife and Countryside Link.
- (a) a body corporate to be known as the Environment Agency for England (in this Act referred to as the English Agency), to exercise in relation to England the functions transferred or assigned to it by or under this Act; and
- (b) a body corporate to be known as the Environment Agency for Wales (in this Act referred to as the Welsh Agency), to exercise in relation to Wales the functions transferred or assigned to it by or under this Act.").
That is a broad and significant body of opinion; it is not a minority opinion in Wales. Of course, the case for a separate Welsh agency has been much enhanced by the Government's decision to set up in Clause 20 a separate Scottish environment protection agency. To an extent, I was heartened to hear the Minister acknowledge on Second Reading the distinct needs of Wales. That, essentially, is the basis of our case. Of course, the Minister did not say what he meant by the distinctiveness of Wales.
We submit that, in the context of this Bill, it arises out of the fact that within its narrow boundaries Wales, a small country, is a singularly beautiful country of mountains, barren uplands, lakes, rivers and a long coastline of which 42 per cent. is defined as heritage coast. It is studded, more so than England, with conservation areas. The high quality of the environment in much of Wales is of enormous importance to the people of Wales. That is in addition to being a major factor in the annual —1.3 billion Welsh tourist industry.
The distinctiveness of Wales also arises from the fact that it has a proud, historic identity. It is recognised by the existence of the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State for Wales. It is, therefore, a natural and appropriate level for the decentralisation of executive power.
That leads me to the third main argument for a Welsh agency. It is true to say that, generally speaking, the bodies involved in the care and control of the environment in Wales are able to liaise with one another on the basis that the buck stops in Wales. Agriculture and forestry, trunk roads and planning and public health and economic development come under the Welsh Office control. Indeed, that applies to almost every service which the environment protection agency must 586 co-ordinate. Our local authorities also refer to the Welsh Office but I take note of the point made earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas.
During the past decade in particular, the voluntary and private sectors, the political parties and the media have more and more aligned themselves in such a way as to create a vibrant Welsh policy. We need a separate environment protection agency which is fully attuned to the distinctive scene and which has the status and authority to take decisions without sending them up the line to an England and Wales body.
There are sound reasons for setting up a Welsh environment protection agency under the terms of this Bill. But instead of setting up a separate agency for Wales, the Bill resorts to an advisory committee to the Secretary of State, in addition to the type of advisory committees to be set up to advise the England and Wales agency. From these Benches we say that that is inadequate.
When the noble Viscount summed up the Second Reading debate he revealed that, initially, the Government considered setting up a separate agency for Wales but had concluded that it was not the most effective means of proceeding, whatever those words may mean.
He then went on to make three criticisms. First, the Minister alleged that a separate agency would involve the reorganisation of the NRA and the HMIP, which would be disruptive. Of course it would be disruptive but, in any event, there will be upheaval and problems of redeployment under Part I of the Bill, as a number of noble Lords pointed out on Second Reading. Therefore, I am not so sure that the setting up of a Welsh agency would make a substantial difference.
Surely the relevant question is whether a separate Welsh agency would facilitate a more effective environmental service for Wales. We answer that question in the affirmative.
The Minister's second criticism was that a separate Welsh agency would be "likely to reduce effectiveness". That is a cautiously expressed conclusion. Perhaps we may be told by the Minister this evening how his Ministerial colleagues arrived at that decision. Did they by chance resort to independent—I stress the word "independent"—expert advice? If they did, we should know about that. Will the Minister place a copy of the report in the Library? If Ministers did not resort to such advice, perhaps I may ask whether it is too late to do so before the Bill reaches another place.
On this side of the Committee we are extremely concerned with the ability to deliver effective protection services. The test of effectiveness must be assessed in relation to the whole range of activity, irrespective of the environmental resources of air, land, water and wild life, and the co-ordination of those services. To our way of thinking, one of the separate agency's prime concerns should be to ensure that services are co-ordinated at Welsh level and that the most cost effective use is made of public funds under its control. Have those considerations been brought fully into the calculation? 587 I thought that the Minister's third criticism revealed a contradiction. As I understand his words, he argued that in Wales the waste authorities are the district councils and that they lack what he described as a national structure. He then concluded that the functions should be removed from democratically elected control and handed over to an England and Wales nominated agency. Surely that would be far too remote from the Welsh scene. The district councils cannot see any sense in that conclusion.
I ask the Minister also how that conclusion is to be reconciled with the need for local accountability which the noble Viscount considered to be so important in his opening speech on Second Reading.
In so far as there might be a case for the centralisation of some of the waste regulation and disposal functions, their transfer from local democratic control to a Welsh agency rather than to an England and Wales agency would be some amelioration—I put it no higher than that—as at least a Welsh agency would be considerably more accessible. Therefore, for all those reasons, we say that a Welsh environment agency is needed urgently to protect and enhance our environmental resources.
I wish to touch very briefly on the other two amendments. Amendment No. 126 is not grouped with Amendment No. 12 but it should be because it follows, in a sense, from Amendment No. 12, and I see that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, agrees with that. The purpose of that amendment is to provide in the Bill a joint machinery to safeguard the common interests which affect the main river basins on the border with England. That amendment reflects clearly an analogous provision in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and I am advised that it reflects also arrangements which are in force in respect of major river basins within unitary states such as Belgium, Germany and France.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 128 and 129 extend the remit of the Welsh agency to include the functions now undertaken by the Welsh Countryside Council. We owe this amendment to the advice of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel who is president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and who will develop the argument in support of that amendment.
In view of the exchanges at Question Time today, I make it abundantly clear, in case of any misunderstanding, that on this side of the Committee we are not critical of the Countryside Council for Wales. We are fully supportive of it, but it is our submission that the Bill provides an opportunity to merge it with an environment agency in order to give us a comprehensive environment agency without adding to the network of nominated bodies in Wales. I beg to move.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for tabling this amendment and for his thoughtful speech, which I hope will influence the Government to think again about what we regard as a serious flaw in the Bill.
Before I turn to the substance of the amendment, perhaps I may say that two developments have caused concern and anxiety in Wales over the past 15 years or so: the first is the growth in the number of non-elected 588 bodies—that is, quangos—and the other is the steady diminution in the powers and functions of the local authorities in Wales.
The Council of Welsh Districts, in a constructive memorandum on the Bill states:In recent years the thrust towards centralisation and the removal of local democratic control over local services has been viewed with dismay and despondency by all those involved in the administration of local government".I have called attention to that in many speeches in recent years although not in a party-political context. I know from experience that there are times and reasons why governments of all parties must set up non-elected bodies to perform essential tasks. But the growth of quangos has developed beyond all reason and it is not only the number of quangos but also the substantial powers vested in non-elected members which causes alarm.
The people of Wales have been tolerant but they have had more than enough experience of dealing with remote central agencies. I regret that the Prime Minister seems to have become a champion of centralisation. I did not think that it was in his nature, but it must be of interest to the Committee today that the Secretary of State for Wales has now produced a report which deals with the evidence of incompetence and worse in the work of some of the quangos. He concedes that something is radically wrong, but unfortunately we are not, apparently, to see the review conducted by civil servants and accountants and the evidence which was produced. I believe that we should be told the whole story. Nevertheless, I hope that some good will come from that report.
I must now turn to the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. He may recall that during his speech on the fourth day of the debate on the gracious Address I asked him to explain to the House why there is to be a separate agency for Scotland and not for Wales. The noble Viscount answered that the agency would be taking over the work done by HMIP and the NRA saying,and that is how it is based at the moment".The noble Viscount added that there is a,different legal system in Scotland".—[Official Report, 23/11/94; col. 284.]Speaking as a Welshman and as a former Secretary of State for Wales, I am bound to say that that reply is unacceptable to the Welsh people. I believe, as does my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, that Wales should be given its own environment agency, accountable initially to the Welsh Office which has the potential to co-ordinate at the Welsh level the work of all the bodies serving Welsh interests. I believe that the case for it is overwhelming.
The joint England and Wales agency will be a brand new agency controlling "bread and butter policies" over an important field. It will have far-reaching influence on the environment of Wales. Once again, the power will reside in a head office somewhere in England.
The debate about the need for Wales to have its own institutions with the necessary executive authority to take decisions in Wales has been resolved since the Second World War in favour, wherever possible, of 589 setting up separate Welsh institutions so that decisions affecting Wales can be taken in Wales. I am sorry that that principle has now been disregarded by the Welsh Office administration.
It is my experience, over a period of nearly 45 years, that we on this side have worked hard in both Houses to secure new institutions to serve the Welsh people. I recall that when we were making the case for the establishment of a Welsh Office, giving us parity with Scotland, there was a great deal of criticism from the party opposite, as, indeed, there is now, about establishing a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. However, at the end of the day, we succeeded and the Welsh Office was set up in 1964. In the period since then it has grown into a great department of state and has performed splendid work for the Principality. Is there anyone in Wales today or, indeed, anyone in the party opposite who would vote for abolishing the Welsh Office? The answer to that question must be no, simply because of the contribution it has made to the life of Wales and because it represents the Welsh nation in Cabinet and government.
Therefore, the debate about the need for Wales to have its own institutions with the necessary executive authority has been resolved. The Bill concedes that there is a need to satisfy the "distinctive needs of Wales". It proposes to meet those needs by empowering the Secretary of State for Wales to appoint an advisory committee for Wales and for the agency to appoint specialist committees for Wales. But, as my noble friend made clear, that is a totally inadequate compromise.
We accept in our second amendment that two separate agencies for England and Wales will almost certainly require the setting up of a joint co-ordinating committee for the management of the three border rivers—the Severn, the Wye and the Dee—as the policies of the separate agencies could affect the border counties. But it should not be beyond the wit of the draftsman to design a clause to provide for such a committee. Given the comparable provision in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, such a committee would not be a dramatic novelty as some people may think.
The protection of the environment and the beauty of Wales is the duty and the privilege of the Welsh people and, therefore, of a Welsh agency such as we propose. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 did recognise the distinctiveness of Wales as regards the need to care for and preserve its countryside. It would be utterly inconsistent not to recognise and cater for it in a similar way in the Bill. Further, to bring together the work of the countryside council and the work of the environmental agency—as proposed in the third amendment—makes sense in a Welsh connection, as all those who have any connection with Wales will agree. Reform along those lines would be workable and would meet the distinctive needs of Wales. I wonder if the proposal can be reconsidered?
Finally, perhaps I may repeat for the benefit of the Front Bench opposite the fact that there is a hardening concern and a growing impatience in Wales about the reaction to our reasonable proposals. If Ministers doubt that, let them make inquiries. Let the Secretary of State 590 show that he is making progress and learning something about Wales. Let him make contact with the Churches, with local authorities, with local organisations and with the Council of Welsh Districts. They must consult properly with the Welsh people and listen to them. Otherwise, they will go into a wilderness that they will have deserved.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
It is always a privilege and a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. I hate to have to disagree with him on any proposition he puts forward. The noble Lord was a very distinguished Secretary of State for Wales. I served as Secretary of State for Wales for nearly eight years. However, I followed that particular responsibility with the chairmanship for some five years of the National Rivers Authority. Therefore, perhaps I may be permitted to say that, in this debate at least, I can bring some additional, practical experience of the management of the environment to the discussion which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, cannot.
I always seek to find something on which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, although sometimes that is extremely difficult. I am glad I can at least agree with him in saying that it is most unfortunate that Amendment No. 216 had not been included in the group now being discussed. Clearly, it is directly consequential on the other amendments; indeed, it is almost impossible to debate the other amendments without reference to it. Therefore, I shall certainly refer to it.
I can also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, about the historic heritage of Wales and about its beauty. It is the country in which I live and the country I love. However, I have a profound disagreement with the proposal that has been advanced. It must be understood that my observations are not the idiosyncratic ideas of one individual or the eccentricities of a former Secretary of State driven demented by the responsibilities of that office or by some of the very peculiar responsibilities in which I seem to be engaged at present in connection with opera houses and other matters—which would be enough to drive almost anyone insane.
The form of the Bill and its contents are a result of very considerable consultation and discussion between the National Rivers Authority and the Secretary of State, based on our practical experience in the NRA. A picture has been conjured up today of some remote body; that is, some organisation managed in a centralist way from England. I suppose, with the head office of the NRA about five miles across the River Severn at Aztec West where the motorways M.4 and M.5 meet, a case could be made out that, at least in that sense, the head office organisation of the NRA is detached, if not remote, from the Principality.
However, 95 per cent. of the work of the NRA is actually carried out in its regional offices by local people on the spot. Overwhelmingly, the work of the NRA has been carried out, directed and organised from its office at St. Mellons and its other offices around Wales. It has been admirably advised by its advisory 591 committees. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in his place. He chaired with great distinction our fisheries advisory committee in Wales for a number of years.
The NRA has had the benefit of the advice of the special Welsh committee set up under the Water Act, which has been chaired throughout by Professor Ron Edwards, who has made a singular contribution to another part of this Bill. As Members of the Committee will be aware, he chaired a committee which advised on national parks. His advice, and that of his committee, has formed the basis of the section of the Bill which we shall debate subsequently. I am delighted that Professor Edwards has now moved to the committee which is advising on the setting up of the new agency.
I can tell the Committee without any doubt whatever that the view that it would be a mistake to have separate agencies is shared by those who work in the NRA in Wales, by its management, by its advisory committees and by its Welsh advisory committee. They take that view not because of some perverse desire to centralise. Most of them are Welsh—as Welsh as anyone taking part in this debate. They know and love the country and its environment as much as anyone. They have the advantage in respect of this debate of having been responsible for looking after Wales and doing their best to enhance and protect it for the past five years—and some of them for very much longer in their previous organisations. After much discussion and debate—because we do discuss and debate matters in Wales—they came firmly to the conclusion that it would be extremely damaging for the environment in Wales to have a separate agency.
They have equally come to the view that it is right and proper that the organisation should be structured in such a way that the agency can answer for its responsibilities in Wales to the Secretary of State for Wales. As a former Secretary of State I shall certainly not deny that proposition. A great deal of care has been taken in formulating the arrangements to ensure that that will happen.
There is no difficulty about having an agency which is responsible to more than one Secretary of State. Indeed, the NRA and the new environment agency will be answerable not only to the Secretary of State for the Environment but to the Minister of Agriculture for their flood defence and fisheries functions as well as to the Secretary of State for Wales. There is a perfectly logical and reasonable chain of command from the NRA to the Secretary of State for Wales for what it does in Wales, just as it answers to the Secretary of State for the Environment for what it does in England. It has the special advantage of its committee for Wales, chaired in Wales by a Welshman, and consisting of Welshmen who will give particular attention to the needs of Wales. I believe that over the past five years that arrangement has worked extremely well. I do not believe that it has caused any difficulty.
Why do we think it necessary to have such an arrangement, at least for the protection of the water environment, for that part of the environment agency concerned with water, fisheries and such matters? It is partly because of what the Almighty decided when he 592 created this planet on which we live. It is slightly inconvenient for those who take a totally separatist view that the rivers of Wales do not, as they do on the whole rather conveniently in the Scottish context, flow along and apart from the national boundary. They happen to cross the boundary. It happens that all, or perhaps I should say three, of the great rivers in Wales—to say "all" may be offensive to those who think that the Towy or the Teifi, or any others which Members of the Committee care to mention, are the great rivers—rise in Wales and flow to England. The Welsh Dee and the Severn cross the frontier in that way.
I mention those two rivers particularly because of the complexity of the arrangements for managing them. It is true that the Welsh Dee is perhaps one of the most closely managed rivers in the world. It is closely managed because it rises in the hills of Wales and flows through an industrial complex where there are great risks of pollution. It provides the water supply for the population of the Wirral and a considerable part of the north west. It is necessary to manage it very precisely and accurately to ensure that the water supply at the lower end is adequately protected.
Similarly, the Severn is a closely managed river system. It has a controlling reservoir in its headwaters which exists essentially not to store water which is piped to provide drinking water but to control the flow of water down the river. Water is also extracted from a groundwater system in Shropshire. The level and flow of the river is closely managed. Even with those resources and management, from time to time there are difficulties. Over the Christmas holiday there was flooding because of those difficulties.
The management of those rivers is not concerned only with flooding. Recently there was an incident in which a pollution slug flowed down the River Severn from the tributary River Wem. It had to be traced up the river by the staff of the NRA in the middle of the night for some 85 miles to its source. That was a remarkable piece of detection work.
That brings one to the nub of the issue. Any sensible arrangements for the protection of the environment of those rivers must mean that they are carried out within a single organisation. Even within that organisation, and with the separate structure which I described in relation to the existing arrangements for the NRA and proposed in the Bill for the agency, we think it right to delegate the management responsibilities to one single region of the NRA so that on an agency basis it controls the system from top to bottom.
Those who propose the amendments have tried in Amendment No. 216 to meet that point with an advisory committee. However, that misses the point. We are not concerned with general policy issues. We are concerned with the day-to-day management of an integrated and complex system in which people have to respond to emergencies and the unexpected. I do not believe that that is done wisely by means of seeking to integrate wholly separate organisations with separate managements, separate boards and separate chains of command. That is a solution fraught with danger and difficulty. 593 There are other arguments. Increasingly we find that within an organisation like the NRA—and that will be even more true of the environment agency—there is a need to set up specialist organisations to provide a service for the whole country with skills and expertise brought together in centres. To duplicate that expertise, or expertise of any kind, between two organisations—would be profoundly wasteful and an extraordinary misapplication of resources which should be devoted to protecting the environment. That was brought home to me when I first took up my responsibilities and visited the 10 water authorities. Each one showed me with pride its latest tool. It may have been an automated monitoring system or a computer system for managing some aspect of the business. The authorities had simultaneously set about inventing the wheel, not sharing their expertise or knowledge but separately taking pride in, and producing, their own solutions. It has taken five years to break down such separatism. I wish I thought that we had totally broken it down. Even today there is a tendency for people to hang on to the instruments, inventions and devices they have produced.
I believe that it would be a shocking waste of resources to establish two agencies to do the job. One can continue the argument into other aspects of the agency's affairs. I wish to refer to the work of the HMIP. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, in the past has debated the subject of orimulsion and Pembroke power station with some vigour. He has referred to the provisions needed to protect not only the environment in Wales but also the consequences of what may go wrong in a power station which may affect England and indeed Scandinavia and other countries.
It would be extraordinary to attempt to duplicate the specialist skills available in an organisation such as HMIP now being transferred into the agency, or to operate on some complex agency arrangement by which experts from one would help the Welsh to deal with specific problems. It seems a profoundly unsatisfactory way to deal with matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, listed a group of people whom the Welsh Office should have consulted. As a churchwarden at my local church, I am interested in the idea that the Welsh Office should have consulted the Church on this topic. I am a member of a PCC. I am not sure what advice the Church would have given. However, I believe that on this issue the advice firmly given by the NRA and its advisory committees, so widely representative of Welsh opinion, and by its Welsh committee under Professor Ron Edwards, is rather more valuable than the advice that it might have received from many of those sources.
The structure provided ensures that those functions which are rightly carried out in Wales—I refer to the functions of local government concerned with waste—are rightly the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. They will be dealt with by the Secretary of State for Wales. The new agency will be answerable to the Secretary of State for Wales. But those functions will be undertaken in an efficient and competent manner rather than in a wasteful manner put together for nothing more than a nationalist sentiment.
594 I find the other proposal bizarre. I can hardly credit that thinking people could suggest that it is sensible and wise to do away with the Countryside Council for Wales, so recently created, seek to merge it with an agency which has a huge range of complex responsibilities, and consider that that body is likely to do the job better. One may have other concerns about the Countryside Council for Wales. Perhaps it is wrong for me to express some anxiety as to whether it is right to have cut the budget of the Countryside Council for Wales by 17 per cent. I look forward to hearing the Government's answer to that question. I believe that the work which the Countryside Council for Wales does is important. I hope that it will be a strong and effective body.
I do not envy my noble friend Lord de Ramsey and those who will be responsible for this large and complex organisation. Not only will a totally different set of responsibilities make the job more difficult and complex for the new agency; it will cause a great deal of confusion and difficulty. There are moments when I and my colleagues in the NRA have differences of opinion with the judgments and views of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook—I am glad to see him in his place—and his organisation. We debate those issues freely and vigorously; and that is right. He and his organisation have one set of responsibilities—to advise on specific matters. There are particular skills and expertise concentrated in that organisation. My noble friend can give his advice freely and independently to government. If government accept that advice, or if the law decrees it, then the NRA, and in future the environment agency, will have to work on the decisions that have been taken on SSSIs or whatever the issue may be. But when an agency has a large number of possibly conflicting responsibilities on which people have to make difficult choices and has added to them the responsibilities of the Countryside Council for Wales, that seems a totally impossible burden if the agency is sensibly to carry out an already difficult task.
Therefore, while there are other matters we shall debate in the Bill about which I may feel moderately strongly, and upon which I may intervene from time to time, I do not believe that there is another issue on which I feel quite so strongly. Such a transfer of functions would be totally wrong in the interests of the protection of the environment which is our objective. There has been an extraordinary range of agreement around the Chamber about what we attempt to achieve. We have had differences of opinion about the exact terminology, or the interpretation of complex matters such as sustainability. But we have all had the same objective. I reject the proposal because I believe that it will damage the attainment of that objective. I therefore urge the Committee to reject the proposal.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am in the unenviable position of following two distinguished Secretaries of State for Wales, one a churchwarden and the other a Presbyterian deacon. As someone who was a Presbyterian, now a member of the Church of Wales, I fall between the two. 595 First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the proposal that the Countryside Council for Wales shall be amalgamated with the new environmental agency. It would be a serious mistake to interfere in any way in its work or structure, in particular at this stage of the council's future when it has recently been the subject of a review by the present Secretary of State for Wales and his department. Those of us who are concerned about the Welsh environment and the integration between environmental policies and agricultural policies probably have our work cut out to defend the present work of that organisation. I look forward to hearing a clear response from the Government regarding the future of the Countryside Council for Wales, in particular the future of its funding and the extremely important agri-environment of the Tir Cymen scheme which has substantially benefited both the environment and farming in large parts of rural Wales.
While disagreeing with that proposal, I wish to agree with the general proposal in the Bill that there should be a similar structure for Wales as for Scotland. I disagree theologically with my churchwarden. It would be unfair to blame Almighty God for the national border between Wales and England. I am sure that it is theologically true to say that the rivers are the result of creation. But national borders are all artificial and invented and the Welsh border is no exception. All administrative areas are invented. All the great rivers of Europe on the mainland flow across many national boundaries. That is not a problem for administration in that area. It should not be so in this country. We are now all aiming for similar environmental standards throughout the mainland of Europe within and without the European Union. Therefore we should operate the border between England and Wales in the same way.
We want the most efficient structure for caring for the environment in Wales and the impact of those activities in areas outside Wales.
I wish to emphasise the fact that we have rehearsed this argument before. I remember the arguments that were adduced in the 1960s in favour of retaining a countryside commission for England and Wales. I believe that it was the Labour government which deployed those arguments against my then colleague, Gwynfor Evans, the Member of Parliament for Carmarthen. Some Conservatives then spoke in favour of having a countryside council for Wales. We came to a stage where we had the structure of a countryside commission for England and Wales with a Welsh advisory committee. We have now reached a position where the advisory committee has been replaced by a countryside council. Very few people in the environmental movement, either within Wales or outside, would see that as a step back.
I also remember the same argument about scientific knowledge, the sharing of expertise, being applied to the amalgamation of the NCC arm in Wales, ably led by my present colleague in the private sector in an environmental capacity, Tom Pritchard, who was then a director of the NCC in Wales. That organisation was amalgamated with the Welsh arm of the countryside commission and it was felt that that would be a loss of 596 expertise, a duplication, and there would be conflict with English Nature. Of course there have been debates and arguments between various organisations but there has not been a disaster. A comprehensive countryside and conservation agency has been created.
I believe that the same process would apply if, under the Bill, we were to set up an environmental protection agency for Wales on the same basis as Scotland. The arguments for that are not those of sentiment or sentimental nationalism. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, would ever accuse me of being a sentimental nationalist; I may be a nationalist, but not a sentimental one.
My arguments on the structure are entirely to do with the present structure of Welsh government. I am a strong supporter of the present Government's devolution policy. Let me spell out what I mean by that. The present Government have devolved more institutions administratively to Wales than even the previous Labour government. We have the funding councils for higher and further education and there is the countryside council. All the structures have been created. The exception is the National Rivers Authority—the water industry. In most other areas a separate Welsh body has been set up, directly accountable to the Welsh Office.
I appreciate the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that the agency can be accountable to more than one Secretary of State. However, my anxiety is that because of the present structure of the agency the advisory committee for Wales will not be a sufficiently powerful body to deal in a positive way with all the environmental issues that we shall cover.
I have complete confidence in the present personnel of the NRA and HMIP as they operate. I have seen them all in action in different contexts with river pollution, industrial pollution, and so on. I regard Ron Edwards as a good friend and someone in whom I have complete confidence, both as a committee person and a policy adviser.
That is not the issue. The issue is whether it would be more effective to have the clear structure of an agency than to have this present structure of an England and Wales agency with yet another advisory committee. There are other relevant amendments later, I hope we will not reach them this evening but they will come in our next debate. We shall then look at proposals to rename and strengthen the committee and that is something to which we shall return.
Perhaps we may look at the structure of whether or not there should be a separate Welsh agency. The arguments are to do with the structure of present government in Wales, the structure of the Welsh Office itself, the nature of the semi-autonomous environmental movements there and the fact that it would enable us to work within the quasi-federal system with which Welsh higher and further education and the countryside in Wales are already working.
In a sense the Government are taking a step backwards. I read between the lines of the Second Reading debate. Unfortunately, I missed it because of a particularly virulent bout of 'flu—it was not just a Welsh virus but a cross-border one from which other people have suffered. I read between the lines of the 597 debate that at one stage the Government considered the possibility of establishing a Welsh agency. I do not know whether it was the decision of the present Secretary of State or his officials that that should not happen. We shall not know that for some time. I suspect that it may have something to do with the argument that has been adduced quite strongly in Wales recently about the proliferation of nominated bodies.
I wish to end by being slightly critical of the Labour Party. My view is that the Labour Party's incessant campaign—not so much here but in another place—against nominated bodies in Wales has played into the hands of the Government. It has meant that the Government can now say with their hand on their heart, "We're not going to create any more nominated bodies, Welsh quangos; we're going to create an England and Wales agency with a Welsh advisory committee". My advice to the Labour Party is: remember what these bodies are. The nominated bodies have come into existence because of the transitional nature of the relationship between Wales and Westminster. I am not and never have been a separatist; I am a European federalist. I believe that sooner rather than later there will be an elected assembly for Wales where all these nominated bodies can be brought to greater account.
In the meantime, I think that it is in the interests of Wales to create as many nominated bodies as we can within the present structure, so that those bodies will be able to develop policies and a positive administrative structure to run the existing level of government in the Principality. That will be anathema to some Conservative and Labour people and even some members of my own party. I believe that the present state and nature of government in Wales is such that the only way in which we can make progress is by creating a series of nominated bodies which work within the current system. Beyond that, we can look for democracy. Meanwhile, I argue strongly for a separate environmental agency for Wales, for reasons of practical government, and against any agency which takes over the responsibilities of or interferes with the already beleaguered countryside council.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
Perhaps I may bring us back from jargon and whether the Labour Party has encouraged Conservatism in Wales to the realities of the amendments. I should like for a moment to speak as the president of the CPRW. I have the highest regard for the Countryside Council for Wales and I wish that to go on the record because it is under serious attack from the Welsh Office. As Members of the Committee have mentioned, morale in the CCW is not good. Although originally I opposed the creation of the CCW, I believe it has performed an excellent task and done extremely well.
Nevertheless, we must consider—not just with national sentiment, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said—what is best for Wales. Our position is that we join the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in wishing there to be a separate agency for Wales under the Bill. But we do not believe—and I say this in all seriousness— 598 that that agency will have the critical mass that is required to be a proper environmental agency for the whole of Wales unless the activities of CCW are brought into it.
It is simple. I accept that the cultures may be rather different, that CCW has a different origin. There are the NRA, the HMIP, the local authorities, waste management, and so on. I believe—and I am supported in the view strongly by the executives of CCW—that a full-scale environmental agency for Wales is required and is what the Welsh would like. I hope that the denigratory remarks that have been made about CCW will be modified to the extent that if CCW were brought into a Welsh agency, within the remit of the Bill, it would provide for Wales a full-scale environmental agency such as we need.
I am disappointed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, say that the Welsh district councils do not wish it, the NRA in Wales does not wish it and the regional NRA does not wish it. That may well be the case. But the NRA is only one of the three elements that will make up the agency as set out in the Bill.
So far as the HMIP is concerned, there are serious reservations from the Association of District Councils in Wales about the investigations and delays that stem from the HMIP. I have to say that we are not at all happy that the HMIP is performing in a way that responds to the requirement of the people of Wales. It may well be that the regional NRA is efficient in Wales—indeed, I have my own experience in regard to the activities of the NRA on the Wye, the Ithon, the Irfon and the Severn. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will nevertheless accept that there is no reason why some of the expertise that is in the NRA in Wales should not be shared with others. There is no reason why the co-operation between the NRA in Wales and that in England should not be shared with Scotland and vice versa. Technology does not necessarily mean frontiers that cannot be—
§ Lord Crickhowell
There is no reason, except human nature and human experience. I can only tell the noble Lord that it is difficult enough sometimes, even within an own organisation, to get regions to co-operate. To have separate bodies involved and with the degree of co-operation that he urges is, I have to say sadly, against all my experience in dealing with these matters.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
The noble Lord may say that, but as the chairman of a quango myself in the past, I can say that it is possible to break through these barriers if you have the right type of management. It is just a question perhaps of having the right chairman or chief executive.
It seems to me odd that the argument for a separate organisation for Wales should rest on the grounds of legality. It seems odd that the argument that the Government adduce—namely, that they need an advisory committee for Wales rather than a body which is of itself Welsh—should be based purely on the fact that the Scots have a different legal system.
My noble friend, Lord Cledwyn has put very succinctly the arguments for a Welsh agency. My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies will respond after the noble 599 Viscount, Lord Ullswater, has given the government view. I wish to intervene only in order to make sure that Members of this Committee are in no doubt at all that we rebut the argument that there can be no separate agency for Wales and the argument of the NRA, as represented by its present chairman, that there can be no separate agency in Wales.
§ The Earl of Selborne
Perhaps I may intervene. I shall be very brief. I specifically want to say a word in addressing Amendments Nos. 128 and 129 on the Countryside Council for Wales. I declare an interest as chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which, as Members of the Committee will know, is partially funded by the Countryside Council for Wales.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in which he explained to us why it was in the interests of nature conservation in Wales to abolish the Countryside Council for Wales and make it effectively a subset of the proposed Welsh agency. Members from all sides of the Committee—as indeed they were at Question Time—have been highly supportive of the Countryside Council for Wales, and rightly so. That body has fulfilled all that Parliament expected of it when it was set up under the Environmental Protection Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said that he was fully supportive of the Countryside Council for Wales. Therefore the word used by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell understated the issue. If this quango—which it clearly is—nevertheless fulfils precisely the role, and is held in such high regard not only in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom, and is recognised to have carried through many initiatives which have an application elsewhere, it seems unfortunate that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel—perhaps I may just make this point and the noble Lord will have something to grasp on.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
I would be grateful, if the noble Lord would allow me to intervene. It is because it is doing such a good job, and because the Welsh agency needs a critical mass. It is for that reason that we wish to put CCW into the new agency. It is not to abolish it.
§ The Earl of Selborne
I understood precisely what the noble Lord said the first time: he wanted to achieve critical mass in the new Welsh agency by putting the Countryside Council for Wales inside it. That seems to me to suggest that the interests of nature conservation in Wales—which are being extremely efficiently fulfilled at the moment by the quango called the Countryside Council for Wales—are to be put at risk by that organisation being subsumed into the Welsh agency which will otherwise lack critical mass. I use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams. He may not like the phrase "critical mass" but he has now used it twice. I urge the noble Lord to look at the record of the Countryside Council for Wales and judge the issue that is propounded in Amendments Nos. 128 and 129 on one very simple criterion: which body will best look after 600 nature conservation and countryside policy in Wales? I believe that that means that the Committee could not possibly support those two amendments.
§ Lord Moran
I, too, shall be very brief. I was a little surprised that both the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas should have said that they were looking forward to the reply from the Government about the funding of the Countryside Council for Wales, because the Government gave an interim reply at Question Time today. Having myself then gone into bat for the Countryside Council for Wales—and I entirely share the views of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne about the excellence of the work that it does—I was, I must confess, surprised and disconcerted to see the wording of Amendment No. 129 on the Marshalled List beginning with the schedule:Dissolution of Countryside Council for Wales: Consequential Amendments".It is a profound mistake constantly to tinker with organisations. One must think of the staff in them who are trying to do an important job. It is essential to leave them alone for a period of years and give them adequate funding so that they can work out their priorities and do their job effectively. The Countryside Council for Wales has existed for only a few years. It would be disastrous to dissolve it now and merge it with another organisation. There would be tremendous upheaval and great anxiety; and the work that it does would be seriously put back.
I should like to make just one other point. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, I was associated with the Welsh region of the NRA in an advisory capacity for five years. I was a member of the Welsh Secretary's advisory committee. Therefore I had a very good opportunity to see how that organisation worked. In my judgment it worked extremely effectively. We felt very Welsh. We were very proud of what the staff were doing in the Welsh region. We very often felt that we were ahead of what was being done by the other regions (I expect that they felt the same). It worked well. I can think of no problems that arose during that five years from the fact that there was a single organisation. We felt in no sense that we were subject merely to blind direction from London or Bristol.
In conclusion, I should like to re-emphasise what I said at Second Reading. I said that it was essential in any reorganisation that we preserve the integrity of the river catchments and that the arrangements under which the Wye is run by the Welsh region and the Severn is run by Severn Trent have worked extremely well and give rise to no difficulties at all. To tinker with that, to try to alter it and, moreover, to try to divide those rivers and the Dee somewhere along their length in line with a political boundary would, I believe, be a profound mistake. I hope that we shall not for a moment contemplate doing that.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
In the decade or so since I ceased to be chairman of the Wales Tourist Board, I have had the opportunity and privilege of working very closely in environmental matters nationally and internationally 601 with the Keep Britain Tidy organisation. I do not cite either the Wales Tourist Board or the Tidy Britain organisation. It is a tradition in this Chamber and one that we have always observed that when a noble Lord rose to speak, if there might be an implication that the speaker spoke authoritatively for an organisation of which he was a member, the Addison Rules were cited and the speaker made it perfectly clear that he did not so speak.
It is a fact that there are organisations set up nationally which work very effectively within Wales with their counterparts—for example, the Wales Tourist Board. I served under the former Secretary of State for Wales, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The Wales Tourist Board found it very easy indeed to work within its own borders and with its own people, creating its own ethos and emphasis and at the same time representing Wales strongly within the British Tourist Authority.
Others have served even longer than I in the interests of Wales. They will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that it is true that the creation of the Wales Tourist Board unexpectedly took place as the result of an afterthought on a Friday afternoon in the other place. Yet that organisation has stood the test of time. It has been examined by Conservative Governments' investigating committees. It has been found to be effective and cost-effective and to work within the borders of Wales. Since I left the organisation, it has also extended its activities by winning the right to represent itself overseas. It does so individually and directly. At the same time it co-operates in the interests of Britain with the British Tourist Authority.
When my noble friend moved this amendment he said nothing that criticised or in any way suggested that the servants, executives or serving members on boards of existing organisations were incompetent. That is an unfortunate aspect introduced by accident into the debate. We know the competence of the people who serve those bodies within Wales—Welsh and English immigrants. I sympathise with the noble Lord opposite who as an Englishman found himself baffled by some of the nuances of the debate. I have never lived anywhere other than in Wales and in the past hour or so have found myself baffled by some of the didactic views that have been taken.
But that cannot be separated from the unease within Wales about the fact that local government structures which have been long in place, are long respected and contribute so much to the evolution not only of Wales but of Great Britain have been misrepresented, have been insulted and have seen their powers taken away from them. It is also a fact that over the past 15 years an inordinate number of people have found their way into certain positions and have represented interests without having declared their own position. I have served on quangos and never thought that it was something that I should be ashamed of doing. I chaired the Wales Tourist Board with immense pride and joy. I did it because I believed that, as evolution occurs in a democracy, it is essential to create organisations which serve in a different way.
602 If it is possible to represent and develop a new and vital part of the Welsh economy—and tourism is that—with a body chosen deliberately to be properly able to represent Wales, what on earth is wrong with doing the same here? I know the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and know that it did not cross his mind that he was urging his case as chairman of the National Rivers Authority. That thought did not occur for a moment. But there is a group of National Rivers Authority people who work under his general guidance but most particularly in the interests of Wales.
I live on the River Cleddau. So did the noble Lord. It does not empty anywhere other than into the Irish Sea. I have no need to be emotional about the beauties of Wales, as though they were opposed to or contrary to the beauties of England. But I feel passionately—at my age, which is now entering the last decade of the seven that I was promised—that the people who represent their own nation should be understood when they express their unease.
The present Secretary of State for Wales is an Englishman. He is a highly intellectual and intelligent Englishman. But he has to learn about the nation over which he presides. He has to learn some of those things that are part of the blood. I support this amendment not because of any of the points that have been made but because I believe that at this time this Government should make a gesture toward Wales. They should say that, if there is unease about the way in which appointments are made, we will create here a body that will win the respect of Wales and be able to carry out the work without in any way contradicting the value of work done elsewhere.
§ Viscount Ullswater
Amendment No. 12, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, seeks to establish separate environment agencies in England and in Wales. A separate Welsh agency, which would be set up under this amendment, would operate completely independently of the English agency.
The option of separate agencies was considered in 1991 when the initial proposals to set up an environment agency were made. Following a wide-ranging consultation exercise, the Government decided that a joint agency would be most effective in improving environmental protection across England and Wales. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell indicated the amount and depth of that consultation process.
A joint agency has a number of benefits, including cost-effectiveness through avoiding the need for the maintenance of two separate boards, committee structures, headquarters and so on. A separate Welsh agency would necessarily be relatively small compared with the proposed environment agency. That is already well understood by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. It would not have access to the equivalent depth of expertise, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out. So far from being more effective, there is a real risk that a separate agency would in practice be weaker.
However, the main reason for the Government's decision was that the problems that the environment agency will need to address are common to both England and Wales and the agency will need to apply 603 common solutions. A joint agency for England and Wales will operate to consistent standards of regulation throughout England and Wales, which has not been the case in the past under separate systems; for example, in the regulation of waste management by local authorities across England and Wales.
This evening we heard from two distinguished former Secretaries of State for Wales with very different views. My right honourable friend the present Secretary of State for Wales will be responsible for setting the policy framework within which the environment agency will discharge its functions in Wales and the agency will report to him on its operations in Wales. There will also be arrangements for Welsh Office Ministers to have an input into the policy and the corporate planning processes of the agency, and those will be defined in a memorandum of understanding between the agency and the Welsh Office.
My noble friend will be responsible also for the appointment of one member to the agency board and the Welsh interests will be further protected by the existence of the Advisory Committee for Wales. That committee will advise my right honourable friend on the issues relating to the agency's activities in the Principality and inform his input into the agency's corporate planning process.
There will be an environment protection advisory committee for the Welsh region which will advise the agency itself on the specific needs of Wales and matters of particular relevance to its operations in Wales. The chairman of that committee will be appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales; he will also approve the membership scheme prepared by the agency for its Welsh region and in doing so will ensure that its composition reflects a representative balance of interests. The National Rivers Authority was set up on an England and Wales basis and the arrangements for the authority to take the needs of Wales fully into account has been very successful.
I feel that the Committee should listen most carefully to the words of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. His experience in the working of the NRA is most valuable and I do not intend to comment further on it except to say that he put my case most eloquently. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, nevertheless finds the situation to be unacceptable to Wales. I am sorry about that and should like to point out that one of the difficulties that arises is immediately apparent from the suggestion in Amendment No. 216. Immediately one thinks of setting up an agency dealing with Wales one realises that an arrangement must be made for some of the river catchment areas across the borders. In relation to Amendment No. 216, if there were two agencies in England and Wales there would need to be co-ordination between them. That amendment identifies some of the difficulties inherent in having two agencies and what should be done about river catchments crossing the border. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell spelt out carefully some of the difficulties that may arise.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne that the concept of having to table Amendments Nos. 128 and 129, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, did, to seek to dissolve the Countryside Council for Wales (on the basis 604 that the agency would not have a critical mass unless it absorbed the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales and transferred them to the Welsh agency) reinforces in my mind that he is aware that the agency would be a weak agency and would need to deal with other matters in order to give it critical mass.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
I am not sure that the noble Viscount understood the argument. I shall put it for the third time. Wales needs a proper environment agency. An environment agency consists of people who deal with rivers and people who deal with river banks. It is absurd to suggest that we can have an agency which goes six inches beyond the river and another which starts at that point and then goes on to the river bank. That is the situation which would persist if we had a separate agency for Wales without the Countryside Council for Wales coming in. That is my point.
§ Viscount Ullswater
The noble Lord makes that point now; he made a different point in his original statement to the Committee.
§ Viscount Ullswater
I believe that the body that will be created by the transfer of these functions would have too wide a remit to operate effectively. While I appreciate the reasons for the amendments, a combined body is unnecessary as there is a clear divide between water and pollution aspects of the environment and the nature conservation and countryside elements. Such a major upheaval would not be in the interests of nature conservation in Wales. It would also create problems in the relationship with the distinct countryside bodies in England and Scotland. However, my right honourable friend is currently examining whether there is scope for a better focus of the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales by considering whether some might more appropriately be undertaken by local authorities. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that that consideration is going on at present.
We also had the benefit of hearing the views of my noble friend Lord Selborne on this matter, as chairman of the JNCC and the views of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Taken together with the distinct view of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I believe that the amendments would create an unwieldy and unfocused body in Wales which would not enhance pollution control or nature conservation in Wales. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who took part in this important debate on the three amendments. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, said in relation to two of them. We take note of that. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn—a former Secretary of State and Minister for Agriculture—for coming to the Committee this afternoon, staying here for almost five hours and giving us the benefit of his wisdom. 605 I listened, with interest, as always, to what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, had to say. I shall reflect upon it. But I respectfully suggest that we should not be overwhelmed by his contribution to the debate this evening. I, as a mere Pontypridd solicitor, with no specialist knowledge of the field, suggest that his ideas as expressed this evening to the Committee are too sweeping and possibly too coloured by his experience as a chairman of the NRA— indeed, a notable chairman of the NRA. My noble friend Lord Williams made the point that water is only one of the environmental resources of Wales.
I was disappointed but not entirely surprised by the Minister's response. He did not depart an inch from his position at Second Reading. But, having listened to him this evening, it seems to me that there is a difference in treatment between Scotland and Wales which arises in the main because of the important river basins on the border. I felt that we acknowledged that there was a problem with the three river basins—the Wye, the Dee and the Severn. But we also believe that Amendment No. 216 meets that difficulty. There is a precedent for that amendment in the arrangements which one finds in the unitary states of Europe and, in particular, in Germany, Belgium and France.
I hope that the debate will give the Government food for thought and that they will take the advice of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and think again—though I confess that I see no glimmer of hope that they will do so. It must be said from this side of the House that if the principle of a separate environment agency is not acceptable to Conservative Ministers in 1995, the whole question will be reopened when the next Labour Government are in office in the not too distant future. Therefore, I am confident that the England and Wales agency as proposed by the Bill will not endure into the future. I am also confident that that function, sooner or later, will be discharged by an elected Welsh Assembly. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed to.
The Earl of Lindsay
I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage resumes again not before 8.50 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.