§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Relevant authorities to define requirements of environmental
.—(1) It shall be the duty of each relevant authority to integrate requirements for environmental protection into the definition of its policies and plans and into the performance of its functions under any enactment.
(2) For the purpose of this section "relevant authority" means—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment introduces a key issue which is currently missing from this otherwise welcome Bill: a commitment to advance the cause of the environment across the activities of Government as a whole. It does so by requiring Ministers and government departments, public bodies, office holders and statutory undertakers to integrate the environment into their decision making.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for intervening at this stage. Many Members of this House were walking between the noble Lord who spoke and the Woolsack. That is not the convention of this House. I was therefore unable to hear the noble Lord's original introduction. I should be most grateful if he could start again.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention for which I am grateful. I shall start again.
The amendment introduces a key issue which is currently missing from this otherwise welcome Bill: a commitment to advance the cause of the environment across the activities of government as a whole. It does so by requiring Ministers, government departments, public bodies, office holders and statutory undertakers to integrate the environment into their decision making.
The amendment stems from an earlier amendment which I introduced at Committee stage. It triggered a useful debate. I readily concede that my earlier amendment as drafted did not command universal support although its objective was widely welcomed. It was felt—I believe that I read the mood of the House correctly—to be too ambitious. Perhaps I was too optimistic in requiring Ministers and others to further the protection of the environment wherever possible while they carry out their statutory purposes.
I have therefore brought back for consideration by the House a more modest and realistic amendment based on the well established and accepted principle of environmental integration. In layman's language, it simply means making sure that the environment is properly dealt with in all decisions.
The effect of my amendment would be to raise the profile of the environment across Whitehall, local authorities and public bodies, and to ensure that it was taken fully into account in all decisions and implementations. It would not result in the environment overriding all other factors. Rather it would ensure that the environmental implications of decisions were assessed, considered and taken into account before a decision was made. There can be little disagreement with this. I believe that it is a good thing and one which should not be unduly controversial since the Government have already said that they would do precisely that in their 1990 White Paper on the environment and again in the 1994 national sustainability strategy.
Integration is a rather ugly buzz word which is fashionable at the moment. I make no apologies for using it because the Government themselves are keen on the concept. It is even included in the Treaty on European Union in wording which my amendment reflects. The amendment would have widespread and obvious application where there are environmental conflicts or difficult issues to be addressed; for example, in the fields of transport, energy or agriculture. It would also be useful in policy areas where the environmental impacts are not immediate or obvious but are still important; for example, the environmental impacts of changes in health or education service provision. Effective environmental integration reduces conflict and can save time and money; it is worth doing.
Responding to my earlier amendment, the Minister said that,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".—[Official Report, 17/1/95; col. 542.]1588 Moreover, he did not rule out the possibility of a positive response if I were able to come up with an amendment which more accurately reflected the Government's existing policy commitments in the field. It is with the hope of such a positive reaction in mind that I beg to move my amendment.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, ever since Rio and their signature to the treaty the Government have been pursuing a policy of trying to integrate sustainable development and protection of the environment across the board. Your Lordships' Committee on Sustainable Development heard last week from the Secretary of State for the Environment very heartening evidence of the progress of the work of green Ministers, of reports and of developments right across departments of state.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will carry on and reinforce the message of what the Government are doing. I am sure that they will feel they can accept it. We on these Benches support the amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I hope very much that the Government will feel that the amendment is not controversial. It is the Government's stated aim which has now been translated into parliamentary language, as I understand it, by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. The amendment is in keeping with the Rio Declaration; it simply states the view which the noble Viscount set out and I, for my party, set out on Second Reading a long timeago, before Christmas. It is that we must make the environment central to all government policy-making.
Later in the Bill we shall see how the proposal can be translated into terms applying to the private sector, but the amendment deals with the public sector. We believe that it is for the public sector to set a proper example to the private sector. We therefore have great pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, at Second Reading I argued that the environment agency should perhaps be given clearer duties to improve environmental protection. The amendment goes some way to achieving that. Consequently, I hope that it can be accepted. I support it.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I have two reasons for being broadly sympathetic towards the amendment. The first is that, like other noble Lords, I am a keen conservationist. The second reason is that I am one of those who believes that guidance should be given in Acts of Parliament stating as a matter of broad principle the purpose of the Act and the objectives it should attain. That is another way of expressing the purpose.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the new clause aims at something which is neglected by other clauses of the Bill. It overlaps to a considerable extent Clauses 4 to 10 and Clause 12. Those clauses are, however, limited to the functions of the agency and the effect of the work which the agency does in relation to specific named matters. The provisions do not express, as the new clause would, a broad environmental purpose.
1589 I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Ullswater says. I shall not commit myself to voting one way or another, or to abstaining. I believe that such a broad statement of purpose can be valuable and I hope that it will receive a sympathetic reception from the Government.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am reluctant to join the debate; I shall do so briefly. If we were in Committee I should be happier because I ask for clarification and I doubt whether I shall receive it. While I appreciate the merits of what my noble friend proposes and understand what he intends, I am not sure that the process of integrating a requirement into a function can be analysed in legal terms. I do not know what it would mean in law. Therefore, I hope that if my noble friend were tempted to accept the amendment, he would be careful to tell noble Lords what it would mean because I suspect that it is flawed.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment for almost the reason my noble friend Lord Elton has just given. As I read the amendment, it puts into the Bill what is already in the Long Title. I draw your Lordships' attention to the part of the title which states,to make further provision for … the conservation or enhancement of the environment".As I see it, that is what the amendment is intended to ensure. It is to enable this excellent Bill to take a major step forward and to bring the environmental dimension into a whole range of government decisions.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Norrie said, we discussed a similar amendment in Committee. He has come back with a slightly different approach. I appreciate that he has tried to meet some of the objections I put forward to his original amendment, but I still do not believe that his proposal would work.
The Government appreciate that environmental protection should not be a concern or a responsibility only of environment and territorial Ministers. One of the central themes of our approach to sustainable development and the arrangements we have made to implement our policies and take forward our strategy is that it involves everybody—all parts of government, all sections of society. I am more than happy to agree that environmental considerations should generally be taken into account by Ministers, other public office-holders, public bodies and statutory undertakers in the course of their normal work. But my noble friend's amendment seeks to place a duty on those people and organisations to integrate requirements for environmental protection into definition of their policies and plans and into the performance of their functions. I do not believe that that is either appropriate or workable.
Good government and good policy-making and implementation in the public sector generally require the balancing of needs for many different desirable policy objectives and finding ways of delivering those which provide the optimum advantage. To single out one 1590 particular policy objective and place the entire public sector under a statutory requirement to integrate this into the definition of all its policies, plans and functions risks upsetting that balance. It is difficult to see how a statutory requirement such as is proposed here cannot have a knock-on effect on the need for bodies also to integrate the requirements of equally important policy objectives such as those relating to health and safety, economic and social well-being, national security and so on. It would also seem to take away some of the necessary discretion which bodies must be able to exercise in the way they make and carry out their decisions. It is surely for them to decide which policy objectives need to be taken into account and with what weight in any particular case.
Moreover, the proposal is too wide and, in its attempt to cover everything, draws into the net many decisions where integration of environmental protection would be simply irrelevant. To take a simple example, which I believe would explain the concern of my noble friend Lord Elton, a local authority, in drawing up the staffing structure for its education department, would seem to be put under a duty to integrate requirements for environmental protection into the definition of that staffing policy. That would not seem to make much sense.
I believe that my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and I are not in disagreement about the basic principle of the benefits of ensuring that environmental considerations are properly taken into account throughout government and the public sector more widely where appropriate. But I cannot agree that anything practical will be achieved by imposing an overall duty to integrate requirements for environmental protection into the policy and performance of every aspect of government.
I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, can he confirm for his noble friend Lord Elton that the wording of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Nome, is in fact the wording of Article 130r of the revised Treaty of Rome?
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I have to remain disappointed. I hope that he will take into account also what my noble friend Lord Marlesford said—basically, that the Bill does not yet live up to its Long Title.
This is clearly not the time to press the case. I believe that constructive dialogue on this issue is the best way forward. Therefore, if I may, I shall seek to discuss the purpose behind my amendment again with the Minister and explore further exactly what difficulties he sees and whether we can find a way round them. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 143.1592
|Division No. 1|
|Acton, L.||Judd, L.|
|Addington, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Lester of Herne Hill, L.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Avebury, L.||Longford, E.|
|Barnett, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L [Teller.]||Mar and Kellie, E|
|Blackstone, B.||Mayhew, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Mclntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bridges, L.||McNair, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Methuen, L|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Monkswell, L|
|Cranbrook, E.||Moran, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L. [Teller.]|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Denham, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Desai, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Diamond, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Peston, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Rea, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Richard, L|
|Ezra, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Roskill L.|
|Foot, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Simon, V.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Greene of Harrow Weald, L.||Strafford, E|
|Gregson, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Hamwee, B.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Tope, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Walpole, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||White, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Borth wick, L.|
|Addison, V.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Brougham and Vaux, L|
|Alexander of Tunis, E||Burnham, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Butterworth, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Astor, V.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L||Chalker of Wallasey, B.|
|Blaker, L.||Chelmsford, V.|
|Blatch, B.||Chesham, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Clanwilliam, E|
|Boardman, L.||Clark of Kempston, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Courtown, E.||McConnell, L.|
|Cox, B.||Merrivale, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Mersey, V.|
|Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Mills, V.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Monk Bretton, L|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monson, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Davidson, V.||Morris, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Effingham, E||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Elles, B.||Munster, E|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Murton of lindisfarne, L.|
|Elton, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Faithfull. B.||Northbourne, L.|
|Flather, B.||Northesk, E|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Orkney, E|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L||Oxfuird, V.|
|Gainford, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Gisborough, L||Pender, L|
|Greenway, L||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Plummer of St Marylebone, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Halsbury, E||Rawlings, B.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Rees, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Renwick, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Hood, V.||Rodney, L|
|Hooper, B.||Romney, E|
|Howe, E.||Saint Albans, D.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Salisbury, M.|
|Ilchester, E||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Inglewood, L. [Teller.]||Sandford, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Kintore, E.||Shannon, E|
|Kitchener, E||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Knollys, V.||St Davids, V.|
|Lane of Horsell, L.||St. John of Fawsley, L|
|Lauderdale, E||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Stockton, E|
|Lindsay, E||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Long, V.||Sudeley, L|
|Lucas, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Lytton, E||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]||Ullswater, V.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|May, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 1 [The Environment Agency]:
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 2, I should say that it should read:
§ "Page 1, line 12, after ("first Agency") insert"—
§ and the words which follow.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Page 1, line 12, after ("first Agency") insert ("or, in Welsh, Asiantaeth yr Amgylchedd").1593
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whom I know to be an excellent Gaelic speaker, for his correction of the amendment.
§ The intention of the amendment is very simple. It is to provide for the England and Wales agency as a public body a name which has a Welsh language version. That is in accordance with the Welsh Language Act passed by this House. I state my interest as chairman of the statutory board charged with implementing that piece of legislation.
§ The issue was raised earlier at Committee stage (Official Report, 31/1/95; cols. 1418–20), when the noble Viscount responded. He indicated that full consideration will be given to the position of the agency under Section 6 of the Welsh Language Act and its designation as a public body.
§ However, I move this amendment to raise the specific question, and indeed the general principle, of how the Government intend to treat public bodies which are now being created following the establishment of the new principle of treating Welsh and English on the basis of equality, as set out in the Welsh Language Act; to deal with the subsequent requirement for all public bodies in Wales to implement that principle where reasonable and practicable in the circumstances, taking into account the guidance and advice given by the board in its recent draft guidelines—which it is to be hoped will come before this House later this year—that public bodies should have a distinctive corporate image in Wales where they provide a service which is bilingual for the people in Wales. That is particularly important in the case of this agency. Having turned down one of the original possibilities of establishing an environment agency for Wales on the basis of SEPA in Scotland, there is a danger that this agency may not be seen to be fulfilling its obligation to the public in Wales if from the start it does not adopt policies in tune with both the culture and the environment of the Principality.
§ The further principle applies to all public bodies which will come into existence from now on to serve the people of Wales. There are a number of ways in which the Government can bring about conformity with the Welsh Language Act. One way is to use Section 25 of the Welsh Language Act 1993. However, it seems to me that, rather than having to make orders to include public bodies under the terms of that Act, a much simpler exercise would be to ensure that every new body created that could come under the terms of that Act is so designated from the start as a bilingual organisation in terms of name. That could be done through miscellaneous provisions in the legislation, or alternatively in the way that I suggest in this amendment; namely, that the name of the body corporate is included in the legislation.
§ There is a precedent for that in the Welsh Language Act itself which established both the English language name and the Welsh language name in legislation; and 1594 also precedent in the Local Government (Wales) Act, which established names in Welsh and English for the new unitary authorities. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I have a good deal of sympathy with what has been said. I shall be interested to hear the Government's guidance on the matter. I had not given much thought to the point, but I had assumed that the whole arrangement was satisfactorily covered by the Welsh Language Act and there would be a set of arrangements in place. But the noble Lord reminded the House that the Welsh name has been included in previous legislation and therefore I can see no grounds in principle for it not to be done on this occasion.
I rise at this moment partly to say that I hope that we shall not become too fixed on this particular name. I could have tabled an amendment in this House but I hope that in another place someone will put down an amendment to change the name to "Authority". I know that that is wished and desired by my noble friend Lord De Ramsey who has discussed the matter with me and shares my view that that would be a much more effective name for this organisation. I am simply taking this opportunity to signal that, in my view, the Authority would be a better name. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will tell us in due course what the appropriate Welsh version of that would be.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, I am a little puzzled by the amendment. I sympathise enormously with the noble Lord. Welsh is a very beautiful language which should be extensively supported. However, I feel that the amendment goes a little too far in asking that certain sections of Bills should also be printed in the Welsh language. We could have every Bill with a Welsh alternative.
It may well be that when the Bill becomes an Act it might be printed in the Welsh language. But why stop at the Welsh language? Why not in the Gaelic language and so on? An all-embracing Bill should be in the "British" tongue. I should not like to set a precedent but perhaps in a Bill specially relevant to Wales it would carry a more valid point.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, is to confer a Welsh name on the England and Wales agency which the agency could use as appropriate to its Welsh region. I agree fully that the agency should be given a Welsh name. However, as the noble Lord himself admitted, powers exist under Section 25 of the Welsh Language Act 1993 to confer Welsh names on public bodies by order. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will confer a Welsh name on the agency in that way. There is no need for that to be done through primary legislation and I ask the noble Lord, therefore, to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, before I accede to that request I should like to respond briefly and to put on record the point of principle that in my view it is acceptable in this House that we produce legislation in English as the working language. However, there should be no objection to the inclusion of proper names for 1595 bodies or organisations on the face of Bills, as we have done in other cases, particularly in relation to the Local Government (Wales) Act.
It is not the intention of this amendment or any other to change the language of this House or of Parliament and certainly not the intention to effect any specific change on the face of legislation. The amendment seeks to conform with what will be the legal case once the order is made by the Secretary of State in terms of the Welsh Language Act. I do not see why that cannot be done as a proper name for a public body on the face of primary legislation. The amendment relates to that point of principle.
It seems to me that it is much simpler, either at this stage of the Bill or later under miscellaneous provisions when reference is made to all other kinds of legislation, that reference should be made in primary legislation to the Welsh language title. That is particularly appropriate for a public body which functions for England and Wales as a unit and which has a Welsh advisory committee. Therefore at a later stage, when we discuss miscellaneous provisions at the end of the Bill, at Report stage, at Third Reading, or in another place, perhaps the Government will consider whether it is appropriate, as a matter of principle where an agency is an England and Wales agency, to provide a bilingual name from the start rather than to follow this process whereby the Secretary of State will be continually making orders in reference to public bodies.
I also have much sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, regarding the names "Awdurdod yr Amgylchedd" or "yr Awdurdod Amgylchedd". Both sound fine to me. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 3:
§ Page 1, line 12, leave out ("for the purpose of carrying") and insert ("whose objective shall be to conserve and regenerate the environment, and which shall carry").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I regret that I can only move this amendment in English. Amendment No. 3 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 4, 20 and, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, Amendment No. 22. At this point I shall deal only with Amendment No. 3. The purpose of Amendment No. 22 can best be dealt with when we debate the proposed new Clause 4.
§ I hesitated over the word "purpose" because I felt it was necessary to come to today's debate armed with definitions of the terms "objective", "aim", "purpose" and "functions". We had some difficulty in distinguishing between them at the last stage of the Bill. However, there was a large degree of consensus that, whether one described it as an "objective", an "aim" or a "purpose", certainly the underlying thrust, the fundamental objective of the agency should be spelt out early on in the Bill. It is for that reason that I tabled Amendment No. 3.
§ I am not seeking to impose additional responsibilities or additional functions on the agency over and above those provided by the Bill, but merely to set the proper context for the work that the agency is to do; in other words, to spell out the purpose underlying its functions.
§ I am not wedded to the term "conserve and regenerate"; equally it could be "protect and enhance". I chose a term which suggests more than simply accepting the status quo in order to reflect anxieties expressed by many noble Lords at the Committee stage that the agency should set its sights higher than merely trying to ensure that matters do not get worse environmentally speaking and, if necessary, slowly, but I hope surely, to achieve improvement.
At the Committee stage, in responding to an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, which had a similar purpose, the Minister said that he was concerned about,
the risk of attempting to encompass within a few select words the full range of functions of the environment agency".
I have not sought to do that; I have not attempted to describe the range of functions. I am seeking to spell out the purpose underlying those functions. The Minister also said that,
Any attempt to write overriding statutory functions and purposes on top of those existing provision:: risks creating duplication or conflict".—[Official Report, 17/1/95; col. 548.]
§ Again, I assure your Lordships that that is not the thrust of Amendment No. 3. The Minister may say that the provisions of the proposed new Clause 4 effectively deal with the point. I believe that they do not. That is the reason I have not spoken to Amendment No. 22. The new clause, to which we shall come in due course, makes the aim of the agency subordinate to its functions. I believe that that is the wrong way round. I beg to move.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, bearing in mind the way in which the amendments are grouped, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 20 and 24, which I regard as being largely subsumed by Amendment No. 28 which has been tabled by the Government and relates to the new Clause 4. My primary objective was to ensure that the agency had an overall duty to exercise its powers to protect and enhance the environment. However, the Government have gone a good deal of the way—in fact nearly all the way—that I sought to go with my amendment, which I tabled before my noble friend tabled his. I had hoped that they would be grouped together but unfortunately they were not.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, while accepting that the government amendments relating to Clause 4—which arrived rather late—cover many of the points that we wished to be covered under Clause 1, my reason for supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the other amendments in the group, is that without a clear purpose for the agency in Clause 1, there is a certain hollowness about it; that 1597 is, we appear to be setting up an agency to do a collection of functions, but we are not giving the agency a clear purpose.
Although the government amendments to Clause 4, under the guidance provisions, may cover the functions that we wish to see the agency carrying out, there is something lacking in Clause 4. There is a certain lack of definition regarding the purpose of the agency. It would provide a bold introduction to the Bill if the agency's purpose was clearly laid out in Clause 1. Therefore on balance I continue to prefer that the purpose of the agency should be contained in Clause 1 rather than in Clause 4, to which we will revert at a later stage when we discuss Amendment No. 28.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, this issue turns on words. There are several critical words to be considered. First, there is the difference between the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and that of my noble friend Lord Marlesford as tabled, which he may or may not move in due course. Of the two I prefer the term, "protect and enhance". They are familiar words in the environmental world and we understand their meaning. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, introduced unnecessary complications in using terms that are not familiar to us and to legislation in general.
The Long Title of the Bill and the draft management statement clearly indicate that the agency will be set up to provide high quality environmental protection. I believe that the wording that is to be introduced by my noble friend on the Front Bench that,It shall be the principal aim of the Agency … to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole, as to make the contribution towards",may offer some hostages to fortune and complicate the system. I put it to my noble friend that it is and would be very much simpler to have a straightforward, precise and concise statement of duty in the fewest possible words right at the beginning of the Bill. I should very much like to see my noble friend the Minister consider the approach of my noble friend Lord Marlesford and thereby somewhat reduce the hazards and complications of the wording that he is about to propose in Amendment No. 28.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, my position is very close to that of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook. We shall run into some difficulties when we get to the Government's amendment and I sympathise with the idea that we should have a simple statement at the start of the Bill. The difficulty here is that we have two amendments which are flawed. My noble friend has spelt out—and I need not repeat what he said—the flaw in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It is much more satisfactory to stick to the wording we have in the memorandum and in the Long Title. The trouble with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Marlesford is that he drops the words "whose objective shall be" and tells us that the agency,shall, in exercising any of its powers under any enactment, protect and enhance the environment".1598 That may be impossible. When we are dealing with flood defences I can envisage circumstances where it might be absolutely essential to take some measure for the protection of life and property that does not actually enhance the environment. It is the kind of dilemma with which the NRA has had to deal over the years. What one needs is duties that are reconcilable. What needs to be done is to take the idea away and come back, as would be perfectly possible, with an amendment which combines the virtues of the more gentle introduction of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, with my noble friend's objectives. Then we would be getting very close to what we want.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Until Clause 4 and the Government's amendment are sorted out, Amendment No. 3 is extremely confusing. It uses the word "objective". I am not quite sure how that would relate to what is meant by "aim" in subsection (1) of the proposed new clause or "objectives" in subsection (2). I do not know which is subordinate to the other and so I end up being thoroughly confused. It would be better to get Clause 4 out of the way and come back to the point at a later stage, if necessary.
§ Lord Moyne
My Lords, I am confused by the use of the word "enhance". To me, "enhance" means to enhance a quality. Why "enhance" seems to be used in this Bill to mean what I would call "improve" I do not quite see.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, put his finger on the problem. Trying to introduce an amendment such as this into Clause 1 of the Bill suffers from the difficulties to which he referred. I understand quite sincerely the desire of noble Lords to put up front what at Committee stage we called the strategic purpose. The attempt to put it in Clause 1 is quite legitimate. However, we have considered this carefully and I have brought forward the government amendment to Clause 4. I apologise to the House that it was at a rather later date than I would have wanted.
The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford would place the agency under a duty, in exercising any power, to protect and enhance the environment and would empower Ministers to give guidance with respect to its new duties. The first of the amendments is in many respects similar to that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, in Committee, but with the purpose extended from that of protecting the environment to protecting and enhancing the environment and limited to governing the exercise by the agency of its powers rather than its powers and duties.
When we debated that earlier amendment a number of noble Lords from all sides of the Chamber emphasised the need for some statement of the purposes of the agency on the face of the Bill, rather than leaving this solely as a matter for guidance. I listened carefully to those arguments and noted the broad acceptance of the idea even among those whose views differed as to what those purposes should be. That is why I have brought forward an amendment to include within the Bill a statement of the principal aims of the agency.
1599 As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, I drew attention to the dangers of attempting to encapsulate within a few words a complete statement of the purposes of the agency and the need to avoid possible inconsistencies between any such description in this Bill and the provisions of the existing legislation on which the agency will need to rely. I believe that the amendments which we are now considering illustrate those risks particularly well. Their effect would be to place the agency under a duty in every case to exercise its powers so as to protect and enhance the environment irrespective of the purposes for which the powers were originally enacted, the costs to itself and others that might result and the practicability of so doing.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell gave us an example of the difficulties. I shall give another example. The agency has powers in relation to navigation. In exercising those powers it is undoubtedly right that it should seek to avoid doing so in ways which are environmentally damaging. But that is very different from saying that powers which were there to promote the interests of navigation should be capable of being exercised only where they protect and enhance the environment, which would be highly restrictive. Similarly, the agency will have numerous powers designed to ensure that it can function effectively as a body but which are not directly concerned with protecting and enhancing the environment; for example, powers to levy charges. To limit the use of such powers to cases where they protected and enhanced the environment would in practice be highly damaging to the effective operation of the agency.
More generally, all the amendments suffer from seeking to require the agency to pursue environmental purposes divorced from consideration of the wider needs of society and the need to ensure that environmental protection is not pursued where the benefits would not justify the costs. I know that there is a siren argument which says that the agency should be given a purely environmental role, and the need for difficult decisions about how that might need to be constrained where action would be disproportionate or incompatible with the pursuit of sustainable development should be left as a matter for Ministers. But in practice an agency with such a remit would be largely incapable of independent and effective operation since under such an arrangement Ministers would necessarily become involved in the agency's day-to-day operations. The need to pursue environmental protection in the context of sustainable development, taking proper account of costs and benefits, is central to the Government's approach to ensuring responsible and effective environmental protection in which all parts of society can become involved.
I hope I have made plain that these amendments would in practice restrict the agency in unreasonable ways. I trust therefore that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for 1600 adding their analysis of what is not an easy matter. I continue to distinguish my proposal from what is contained in new Clause 4, under which the agency is to aim,in discharging its functions … to protect or enhance the environment".I do not fully go along with the Minister in the example which he gave. I believe that my argument can be applied to examples which the noble Viscount may not have given. He said that the objective should not be part of the exercise of every power, if I understand him correctly. The noble Viscount used the example of charging. I believe that, taken together, the powers must work towards the thrust and the objective of the agency. For instance, as regards charging there would be enormous disappointment if all the agency did was to levy fees. The point of its charging is to enable it to implement the reason that it is being set up. In other words, the powers are separate but minor. They cannot be read as headline objectives of themselves: they are powers and not objectives and they facilitate.
As I said, I found the analysis extremely helpful. I accept that the amendment can stand improvement or even enhancement, if I may dare say that. It is still important and a pity that we have to address this matter before we get to the new Clause 4. We have to establish whether the objective which many noble Lords wish to see is spelt out at the head of the Bill. I propose to seek the opinion of the House. In doing so, I assure your Lordships that should this amendment be successful, I shall seek to improve it in conjunction with other noble Lords who have spoken and bring back another amendment at Third Reading. I hope that the new amendment will reflect the points which have been made. Nevertheless, I wish to see at this point whether we can achieve the inclusion of the objective in the very first clause of the Bill.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 139.1602
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Dubs, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Eatwell, L.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Elis-Thomas, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Ennals, L|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Ezra, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Falkender, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Foot, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Gallacher, L.|
|Carter, L.||Gladwin of Clee, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]|
|David, B.||Greene of Harrow Weald, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Gregson, L.|
|Desai, L.||Hamwee, B. [Teller.]|
|Diamond, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Haskel, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Peston, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L||Rea, L.|
|Judd, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Richard, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Kirkhill L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L||Sainsbury, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Longford, E||Shepherd, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Simon, V.|
|Mallallieu, B.||Stallard, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Mayhew, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Strafford, E|
|Mclntosh of Haringey, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|McNair, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Tope, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L||Tordoff, L.|
|Molloy, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Monkswell, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Moran, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Morris of Castle Morris, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Nathan, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Aberdare, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Addison, V.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Elton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E||Faithfull, B.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Flather, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Gainsborough, E|
|Astor, V.||Gisborough, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Goschen, V.|
|Bethell, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Blaker, L.||Hambro, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L|
|Blyth, L.||Harding of Petherton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Harrowby, E|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Henley, L.|
|Braine of Wheatley, L.||Hogg, B.|
|Brentford, V.||HolmPatrick, L|
|Brigstocke, B.||Hooper, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hothfield, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Howe, E|
|Butterworth, L.||Inglewood, L. [Teller.]|
|Cadman, L.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Caithness, E||Killearn, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Kinnoull, E|
|Campbell of Croy, L||Kintore, E|
|Carnock, L.||Kitchener, E|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Knollys, V.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Lauderdale, E|
|Chesham, L.||Lindsay, E|
|Charley, L.||Long, V.|
|Clanwilliam, E||Lucas, L.|
|Clark of Kempston, L.||Lyell, L|
|Coleridge, L.||Lytton, E|
|Courtown, E||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal]||Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor]|
|Crawshaw, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Cross, V.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cumberlege, B.||May, L.|
|Davidson, V.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Denham, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Derwent, L.||Mills, V.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Effingham, E||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Renwick, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Mountgarret, V.||Romney, E|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Saint Albans, D.|
|Moyne, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Munster, E||Seccombe, B.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Newall, L.||St Davids, V.|
|Norrie, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Northbrook, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Northesk, E||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Orfuird, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Pender, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Platt of Writtle, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Plummer of St Marylebone, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Quinton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Rawlings, B.||Wise, L.|
|Renton, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 13, at end insert:
("(1A) The Agency shall, in exercising any of its powers under any enactment, protect and enhance the environment.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am still persuaded, particularly by what my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said, that it would be nice to have something at the beginning of the Bill on this point but, as I said earlier, in view of the considerable changes that are to be made to Clause 4 under Amendment No. 28, I am happy not to move this or my later amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ Schedule 1 [The Environment Agency]:
§ Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 5:
§ Page 115, line 2, leave out from ("may") to ("appoint") in line 3.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 5 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 62. The amendments would remove the requirement for the relevant Secretary of State to approve the terms and conditions of service of staff appointed by the agency or by SEPA.
§ We have been reviewing the need for this control. It will be important for the Government to exercise a strategic control over pay, terms and conditions in view of the substantial funding the agencies will receive from chargepayers and the public purse. But the Bill as it stands would require approval of every detail, which would not be a worthwhile use of resources. The strategic controls required can be exercised under the general power to impose conditions on award of grant to the agencies and would be implemented through their management statements and financial memoranda. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for moving this amendment, which is a real step forward in removing unnecessary bureaucracy. Among the problems which have tended to handicap the 1603 efficient running of the NRA and similar organisations are interference and the second-guessing of points of detail. My noble friend is absolutely right that there are adequate broad powers for the Government to lay down the general rules, but it must be right that the agency should be able to settle such details without continually having to seek approval. This is a welcome step.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. From the breadth of his experience, he has put his finger very much on the point with which we have tried to deal in the amendment. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Lord Bridges
My Lords, before the Minister moves the amendment, will he please clarify that the amendment as drafted is correct? Should it not be—
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I believe that on Report the procedure is that once the Minister has spoken, only the noble Lord moving the amendment can speak thereafter.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 6:
§ Page 115, line 7, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 6, I should like to speak initially also to Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9. They seek to transfer the pension rights of those members of the NRA and other organisations which will become part of the new environment agency. The amendments seek to place a statutory duty on the agency to adopt the local government superannuation schemes for both the existing employees of the NRA and other future employees of the agency. They also seek to make arrangements for the separation of the funds of the National Rivers Authority staff and the remnant water authorities' superannuation fund so that the Secretary of State has power to place the administration of the remnant water authorities' superannuation fund with an appropriate body. That will prevent the raiding of one pension fund by another and will ensure the continuance of pensions paid to pensioners and their widows under the water authorities' superannuation fund.
§ The amendments also place an obligation on the agency to establish a joint pensions advisory committee by agreement with the recognised trade unions. There are analogies with other existing transfers of pensions—for example, the existing London Pensions Fund Authority which looks after former GLC employees. In relation to the advisory committee, I understand that the National Rivers Authority currently has such an advisory committee. The amendments will therefore place the new staff of the agency on all fours with staff of other such agencies in the past.
§ Amendment No. 10 is rather different although it is grouped with Amendment No. 6. It seeks to ensure that health and safety provisions are promoted within the 1604 agency. Despite repeated requests from the recognised trade unions and the intervention of the Health and Safety Commission, the National Rivers Authority has refused to establish a national joint health and safety committee. It is hoped that the new environment agency will set up such a national committee to ensure that the same standards are applied in its workplaces throughout the country. The present situation with the NRA has brought to light weaknesses in the current health and safety legislation which, although it makes provision for committees to be established at individual workplaces, does not make a similar provision at a national or corporate level. Therefore, it is intended under Amendment No. 10 that there should be a possibility of setting up such a national umbrella committee to ensure similar standards throughout the country. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest in that I am currently the chairman of the NRA's pensions committee and therefore have responsibility for the management of some of the funds referred to in the amendment. I could not support the amendment as it stands because I do not agree with certain aspects of it. However, it raises some important points which I do support.
In my view, it is right in principle that all the employees of the agency should be members of one scheme. It is correct to say that at the moment the NRA's scheme comes under the local government superannuation arrangements. I think that it would be a mistake to commit the Government for ever to including the agencies' pensions under the local government superannuation scheme. I believe that that is appropriate at present, but I do not see why it should necessarily apply for all time.
However, I do not know the Government's view about HMIP employees who are in a different pension scheme. I do not know what the Government intend to do about those employees when they join the new agency. I can well understand that those employees might wish to hang on to their existing pension arrangements. On the other hand, from the point of view of managing an agency, it would be unsatisfactory to have two totally separate sets of pension arrangements. It would be useful to have the Government's intentions on that matter set out—if not today, then before the Bill leaves Parliament.
If other employees are to join the existing scheme, it is important to ensure that adequate provision is made for transfers into the fund—in other words, that the surplus on the NRA's active fund does not end up subsidising transferees into that fund.
The issue identified in Amendment No. 9 relating to the maintenance of separate funds is extremely important. Suggestions have been made that they may be merged. In my view, that would be a wholly unsatisfactory situation. The closed fund has placed on the NRA the responsibility in very difficult circumstances of looking after the pensions of people who have never been its employees. They have been employees of the water industry prior to the setting up of the agency. It is most unfortunate that the time and resources of the NRA and potentially in the future of 1605 the new agency should be diverted to looking after those for whom it should have no responsibility. It would be much better if those responsibilities were transferred to some other appropriate administering authority. I suspect that the situation arises elsewhere as a result of privatisation. There is much to be said for bringing together remnant funds under a single management where specialists can look after them.
The closed fund was transferred at a particularly awkward moment and in particularly awkward circumstances. It was transferred just before the market reached an all-time high. As a consequence of what happened then, it has a deficit. There are problems in running a closed fund. As one reaches expiry one has to continue to fund pensions with no income coming in. The investments have to be sold in more and more difficult circumstances. A moment will come when the Government and the Treasury have to decide what to do about picking up this responsibility. It would be intolerable—here I warmly support the amendment—if an attempt were made to solve the problem by merging the funds so that any surplus properly created on the active fund was used to subsidise, or part-subsidise, the deficit on the closed fund.
I cannot pretend that I am happy about the need to establish what is called a joint advisory committee. It seems to me to be an attempt to impose an unnecessary strict set of rules. There is a pensions committee in the NRA which includes employee representatives. It has worked well and enjoys the support of the trade unions. I would have thought that something similar would be wholly appropriate for the new agency.
The move to a national committee to deal with health, safety and welfare is, I believe, an unnecessary imposition of rules and bureaucracy. There is much to be said for pushing such responsibilities down to regional and local committees which can deal with the situation on the ground. That is not to say that the agency itself will not have a responsibility to maintain the highest standards of health and safety. In that respect I believe that the NRA's record has been rather good. It is a proper management responsibility. Probably the best place to negotiate these matters in a way that deals with the problems is at local level rather than by imposing by statute the requirement for a second tier on top.
Some important points are raised by the amendments. This is a good opportunity for the Government to clarify their intentions. I hope, however, that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment; I believe it to be seriously flawed in some of its details.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I well understand concerns about pensions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, tabled very similar amendments in Committee. I wish to confirm the points I made at that time. First, I confirm that the agency will, through secondary legislation, be designated as an administering authority for the local government superannuation scheme. We do not need primary legislation for that purpose. Moreover, Amendment No. 8 appears to require the agency to offer pensions only under the LGSS. That would be an unnecessary restriction on the agency's ability to develop appropriate alternative arrangements 1606 for its staff. Nor can I accept the provisions of Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 which would require the agency to offer all staff the right to a pension under the LGSS. The agency must have freedom in appropriate cases to offer non-pensionable jobs. I reiterate, however, that existing staff who transfer to the agency and whose employment is pensionable must be offered comparable pensions. Staff who are members of LGSS will be offered continued membership of that scheme.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked about those from HMIP and their schemes. We are still considering the future pension arrangements for HMIP staff who will transfer and who are presently on the principal Civil Service pension scheme. Those are ongoing considerations.
As I explained in Committee, there is no need for the Bill to provide for the pension funds of the NRA to vest in the agency as they will automatically transfer. Nor do we think it appropriate to require the agency to establish a joint advisory committee to oversee the management of the scheme. I am supported in that view by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. LGSS regulations already require administering authorities to act prudently in the management of their funds, and the statutory limits which apply to LGSS administering authorities ensure this requirement.
Amendment No. 9 refers to the closed fund for ex-water authority pensioners for which the NRA is currently responsible. In Committee I said that we were considering the future of that fund. I regret that so far I am unable to report an outcome to those deliberations. We intend to report before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament. For now, I can assure your Lordships that the pension entitlements under the LGSS, which staff in both the closed and active funds currently enjoy, will continue to be honoured. I believe that my noble friend has indicated some of the problems still to be resolved.
Amendment No. 10 deals with health and safety. The amendment is unnecessary. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and regulations made thereunder already provide for the appointment by recognised trade unions of safety representatives and for an employer to establish a safety committee if requested to do so by two or more safety representatives. With those words, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, I am by no means an expert on pensions. Clearly, some of the detail of the amendments is not mine. The anxieties are not mine but of the staff who are being transferred to the new agency. They are concerned that their conditions and pension contributions should not be lost as a result of the amalgamation of funds. I shall take back what the Minister said about the amendments and consider whether there is need to pursue the matter at Third Reading.
1607 In relation to health and safety committees, do I understand the Minister to say that if the trade union representatives request it there can be a national committee? Or is he merely saying that such a committee can be set up at individual work places?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, as I understand it, safety committees will be set up at individual places of work.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, I understand that there is no provision in current legislation for the setting up of an overriding committee to establish national standards. In that case, the matter will have to be looked at again and considered before Third Reading. In the circumstances, I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 7 to 10 not moved.]
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 11:
§ Page 115, line 23, after ("this") insert ("paragraph and").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to address the issues relating to public access to information arising from the transfer to the new agency of the functions of the waste regulation authorities. As the House will be aware, Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 established waste regulation authorities, recasting the institutional local framework for waste regulation disposal which had been operating under the 1974 control of pollution legislation. Those waste regulation authorities and waste disposal authorities are generally local authorities. The 1990 Act placed obligations on waste disposal and waste regulation authorities.
§ My concern is that the transfer of the function to an agency (a non-governmental public body—a quango) from local authorities will result in a restriction on the access to information and the rights of the public to follow the activities of that function. When that function was part of local government, subject to the activities, as controlled by the Local Government Act 1972, the local authorities (district councils in the case of Wales) themselves operated openly. Members of the public were able to attend meetings where waste regulation was discussed. They were able to see the background papers, the agendas and the reports at least three days in advance as set out in that local government legislation. They could also see the minutes.
§ The concern referred to in the two amendments, is that the transfer of the function of waste regulation from waste regulation authorities to the Environment Agency will, in effect, abolish those environmental rights, since the Local Government Act does not apply to quangos. The purpose of my amendments is to make provision so that the agency will operate in a way similar to the present waste regulation authorities which are local authorities.
§ That argument must be placed in the context of the Environmental Information Regulations 1992. I suspect that the Minister will tell the House that there are certain 1608 rights in those regulations and in the European Community directive to access of information on the environment. But these are different rights from the rights that are being abolished by the transfer of functions in Schedule 1.
§ The EU legislation and the accompanying regulations do not provide rights to attend meetings, and it is not always clear whether relevant documents dealing with waste regulation would be regarded as information relating to the environment. For all those reasons, and because the European Commission has taken enforcement procedures against the UK Government for failing to implement that EC directive, I am worried that the waste regulation function information may not be available.
§ As drafted, my amendments would extend the rights held in respect of waste regulation by waste regulation authorities as local authorities to the agency's other functions—functions currently held by the NRA and the HMIP—which means that there would be an extension of environmental information rights rather than a restriction of those rights.
§ This is a serious issue in that it moves away from a more open kind of government in relation to the environment, and that is something which should concern not just the environmental movement and Earth Rights, the environmental advice centre that has drawn the issue to my attention, but the Government themselves. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
Mr Lords, the amendment goes far further than dealing merely with information. The noble Lord acknowledged only at the end of his speech that it would apply not just to waste but to all the other functions of the agency. It is an amendment which would alter totally the organisational structure and mode of operation of the component parts of the agency from what is envisaged in the Bill. It is a major structural change to the Bill. It is not just a question of information, it is asking that the committee should have the job of accepting responsibility and effectively managing the operation. It is a profound and extensive change, and it should be considered extremely carefully.
The NRA has operated with advisory committees which receive an immense amount of information, and play a central role in the agency's operation. I hope that the new environment agency will behave in the same way. I hope that the advisory committees will be involved fully and will be provided with virtually all the information relating to the carrying on of the function, and that they are consulted fully.
To move in the way suggested would make it almost impossible for the board to accept responsibility, and for the management of the agency effectively to carry out the operation in an organisation such as it has been envisaged and is being set up in the Bill. We should be careful therefore before we accept such an amendment. I should need a great deal of convincing that this was a sensible way in which to move.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I warmly support the amendments. I well understand the concerns of those who have been used to operating in a regime which is not so immediately in the public eye as are local 1609 authorities. I suspect that it is a concern felt more by officials than by those who take decisions; in other words, comparing the board with, say, local authority members. But there is not so much to be frightened of in the proposal. Local authorities, which are complex organisations, have succeeded in working under those provisions, as is self-evident, for 20 years, and it is not a bad discipline. Apart from that, and most fundamentally, public bodies should be prepared to have what they do available for inspection and scrutiny so that they can answer directly to members of the public.
Were quangos more easily open to scrutiny, there might not be such public concern about what goes on, as is popularly said, in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors. In saying that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will not think that I am suggesting that that is how the NRA has been operating.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the amendments are concerned with the procedures under which the agency arranges for the exercise of its functions. We should consider carefully the amendment, because, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, it seeks to require the agency to exercise all its functions through committees and sub-committees. I have to tell your Lordships that I cannot support such a requirement. I understand the genesis of the requirement, because the waste regulation authorities are part of local authorities and, therefore, subject to those regulations.
However, as it stands, the Bill gives the agency freedom, reflecting that for the NRA, to regulate its procedures largely as it sees fit. It already has power to establish committees or sub-committees, but I do not consider it appropriate to fetter the agency by requiring that it should exercise its functions through such committees. Of course, the exception to that may be the flood defence committees; but, with that exception, it regulates its own procedures.
The noble Lord's amendment goes further. It seeks to impose a number of provisions relating to rights of access to meetings and to information. As I said in Committee, the agency will in any case be subject to a duty under the Environmental Information Regulations 1992 to make available environmental information to every person who requests it, subject to exemptions in those regulations. In general, the agency will be expected to conduct its affairs fully in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and the Code of Best Practice for Board Members of Public Bodies. Within those constraints, it will be up to the agency to consider how to put into practice principles of openness and transparency. Therefore, I have to tell the noble Lord that I cannot accept his amendments. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I welcome the support from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the proposals on open government. It is also appropriate, I believe, that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and I should disagree on occasion. It means that, when we agree, it is even more powerful, as indeed it was in the case of the earlier amendment which I withdrew and to which I shall return.
1610 There is a very important issue involved; namely, the transfer of functions to a central agency and its effect in relation to the public, especially regarding information. I shall look again at the what the noble Viscount has said, along with what was said on the issue in Committee regarding the relevance of the environmental information regulations, the EC directive on access to information and the code of practice that was mentioned.
However, I suspect that what we are seeing here is a step backwards, at least in one area, from more open government to more closed government. That highlights the whole issue to which the noble Baroness referred, of the transfer of functions to non-departmental public bodies, non-elected bodies, and away from a forum of accountable debate.
Clearly, those of us who are charged with the responsibility for public bodies, including the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and myself in different ways, always try to ensure that we operate in an open way. However, that is not the same as ensuring access by members of the public directly whenever they need it to the information that they require in a general way. This is happening at a time when there is greater interest in environmental law and its implications and greater activity on the part of citizens in the whole area.
I turn now to the advisory committee structure of the NRA. Although I am well aware of the value of flood defence committees and so on—indeed, I have seen them operating very effectively in my parliamentary constituency when I was in another place, when we had various crises with flooding over the years—that structure does not seem to be necessarily the appropriate model for the operation of the new agency. It worries me that we are setting up what will be seen as a strong lead agency in the area of the environment in Europe because the functions brought together within it seem, at the same time, to be undermining the rights of citizens to have access to information. Therefore, while I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, I give notice that the issue of information relating to the activity of the agency will either be returned to at Third Reading in this Chamber or dealt with in another place if the Bill progresses.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 12 not moved.]
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Clause 2 [Transfer of functions to the Agency]:
§ Lord McNair: moved Amendment No. 13:
§ Page 2, leave out from beginning of line 44 to end of line 3 on page 3.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 86, which is grouped with Amendment No. 13. In Committee, I looked forward welcomingly to the appearance of the consultation document on the future of our inland waterways. Therefore, it is logical that, now it has appeared, I should welcome it; indeed, I do so.
§ However, before I come to that, the effect of Amendment No. 13 would be to leave the navigation responsibilities of the NRA with the NRA and the effect 1611 of Amendment No. 86 would be to create a new body which I have called "the National Waterways Conservancy". The name does not matter, but what is important is that the recreational and navigational functions of both the NRA and at least the present British Waterways should be brought together into a single body that would regulate and promote the use of our inland waterways, which are now separately controlled.
§ It is a sad fact that boat traffic on the Thames has decreased steadily since the early 1980s. There is much that could be done to promote nationally and internationally the recreational use of our inland waterways. Holidays taken at home save the country foreign currency and holidays taken by visitors to the country obviously earn foreign currency. That is something that we should seek to exploit.
§ In addition, the increasing revenue would or should mean that more would be spent on the upkeep of our waterways. That can only be to the good. I feel that a separate body charged with that responsibility would do the job better and would in fact offer savings compared with the existing hotchpotch of authorities.
§ Perhaps I may dwell a little on the consultation document, which contains six options for future management of the waterways. I must say that I am delighted to see that the options include Option F, which establishes a statutory navigation body as suggested by Amendment No. 86. As your Lordships may imagine, it is Option F which has the most attraction for me and it is the one to which my amendments are designed to draw attention. It is stated government policy to increase private and voluntary sector involvement. The Government are also concerned to rationalise outdated regulations. Recreational interests have expressed the fear that the department intends that users should have to pay a higher proportion of costs.
§ The criteria adopted by the Government for consideration of the six options are: management and operational efficiency; cost; potential for local and national promotion; development of economic and environmental benefits; more effective customer representation; and improvement of co-operation and collaboration between different waterway authorities.
§ In my view, the key challenges are fragmented management, the standards used for charging, attitudes to users on the part of the managing authority and its approach to its navigational responsibilities. I also feel that it is most important that there should be a single centre of excellence with regard to maintenance of the physical structure and integrity and to the commercial evolution of the waterway environment. Navigation has a very low profile in the NRA, in the environment agency and nationally. That is an issue which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, will address when moving his amendments. Of course, I wholeheartedly support him.
§ It appears that the government grant for essential work will continue but that they are committed to reducing it. The defence of the budget for all of the waterways is of prime importance to all concerned, as are increasing resources and broadening the base on 1612 which charges can be levied. New sources of funding are needed, and I am sure that they would be more easily obtained by a single navigation authority.
§ There is great potential for building upon the existing vigorous restoration movement, but, to develop, we need a wider public understanding of the value of waterways and their benefits which should in turn attract local authority funding. That is also more likely if waterways are represented by a single voice.
§ A single national navigation authority would also provide the forum for debates and discussions at national level with government bodies to promote a better future for waterways and to deal with directives emanating from Brussels. It would also be easier to create a national consumer body for waterways users.
§ A single national waterways authority would set out the overall framework within which all other navigation bodies could function independently but with greater co-ordination and collaboration. It would be centrally funded, locally managed but answerable to national government. It would aim to involve and encourage local authority support on behalf of the local community, and it would promote and defend navigation interests.
§ The Government have conceded that change is in the air but have not moved as far as I am suggesting they should. They were able to claim with some justification that there was no consensus among waterways interests at the time of the 1991–92 review, but I do feel that there is increasing convergence of Views and I feel sure this will be demonstrated as the consultation process continues.
§ I do not wish to push too far ahead of the present majority view, and so I am simply raising this so that we can see what the Government's present thinking on the matter is. But it is something which will need to be looked at as the review process proceeds. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I was relieved to hear the noble Lord's concluding words, as I think they will enable me to shorten my remarks. It seemed to me that he was welcoming the publication of the consultation document and then urging that we should jump ahead of the consultation and take some action which might be detrimental and damaging. I would have had to argue against that. I am all for co-ordination. We in the NRA will be holding a meeting with a number of the interested parties on 10th March because we think that co-operation and co-ordination are of great importance. But the fact is that there are some important issues here.
The navigations have all been established under different statutes over long periods of time. There are some good reasons for transferring navigations to the environment agency where they are held by the NRA. The Thames is one of the most closely managed river systems in the world and the navigations are part of an integrated approach to that management. I am sure that when my noble friend the Minister replies he will say that the proper way to deal with this is to complete the consultation, and that the matter would require separate legislation rather than to proceed by way of an amendment at this stage. In that confident expectation I shall not pursue the matter further.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, both noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned the navigation review. In my speech on Second Reading I said I looked forward to the Department of the Environment's review on navigation and hoped it would get under way without delay. I also mentioned the need to address the possibility of day-to-day management of navigation resting in the hands of an agency other than the NRA or the environment agency. I join with the noble Lord, Lord McNair, in welcoming the prompt issue of the consultation paper some two weeks ago because it provides a significant opportunity to clarify the concerns of all waterway interests and fully explore other options, including the issues which I have been raising and will be raising again later this afternoon concerning representation and the balance to be accorded to the needs of navigation. Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that before embarking on a fairly major change such as the one proposed in Amendment No. 86, we should wait until the Government have had time to gather and properly assess the responses of the various boating and waterway interests to the consultation document.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, perhaps I should mention within the hotchpotch of authorities referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, my experience as a member of the Broads Authority, which is a navigation authority as well as one with environmental concerns, and my experience, through English Nature, of the Basingstoke Canal, which again has an independent authority. I emphasise that next to the control of damaging discharges, navigation is probably the one area which presents perhaps the greatest potential for conflict with environmental concerns, and is an area where compatibility between environmental concerns and the proper desire to fulfil the navigation function needs to be considered most carefully.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has again drawn the attention of the House to his proposals for the establishment of a new national waterways conservancy. His Amendments Nos. 13 and 86 envisage the conservancy assuming all the responsibilities for the management of navigations currently operated by the National Rivers Authority and the British Waterways Board. A body of this kind is, as he has mentioned, one of the options described in the Government's recent consultation paper seeking views on the future management of navigations by these two public bodies. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Lord McNair, for their congratulations on promoting the review.
As my noble friend Lord Cranbrook has indicated, our waterways must serve many different interests. Therefore the Government consider it is only right that, before any decisions are taken, those concerned should be given an adequate opportunity to make their views known on what they see as the best way of securing the future of our waterways. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for indicating how that is being taken forward. I can assure the noble Lord that we will be looking seriously at the responses, but to amend this Bill as the noble Lord suggests would pre-judge the 1614 proper consideration of the responses to the consultation exercise. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said. I am glad of another opportunity to have been able to air this possibility. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 3, leave out lines 7 to 15 and insert:
("( ) the functions of the Secretary of State under section 68 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
( ) the powers of the Secretary of State under section 72 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
( ) the functions of disposal authorities under section 1 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974;").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment we turn to the subject of waste regulation. The amendment is grouped with a number of others in my name, but on reflection (I apologise to the House for this) I think it might be preferable to concentrate on Amendment No. 14, listen to what the Minister has to say in response to that proposed way of dealing with the matter, and then perhaps I may return to the more fundamental proposals at Third Reading—which seek to remove the references to the transfer of waste regulation—when I have had an opportunity to consider what the Minister has to say. I tabled the other amendments because this is a matter which we dealt with late at night and I, for one, did not feel that we had given it the airing I should have liked.
§ Amendment No. 14 seeks to remove Clause 2(1) (b) which concerns the transfer of the functions of waste regulation authorities—as spelt out in Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and in the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989—and in their place to insert certain other restricted duties. Waste regulation responds to a localised form of pollution. In many ways it is quite different from the other forms of pollution which will be the subject of the agency's work. I fear that, as drafted, the wholesale transfer of the functions of the current authorities may have a number of unhappy consequences, in particular the loss of local political accountability. The question of accountability and local representation is one to which we shall return later, in particular in the context of an amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. But waste regulation is currently undertaken by local authorities or, in the case of London, by councillors indirectly elected to the London Waste Regulation Authority.
§ A further consequence of the transfer of the functions would be the difficulty of establishing external liaison, particularly if the boundaries are those of river catchment areas, or any other boundary that is not a political boundary. Those who deal with a number of areas of public life suffer from the lack of coterminosity of so many of our public sector functions. I should be sorry to see a further problem of this sort arising. Waste regulation has to relate to planning, to environmental health and to emergency planning. No doubt there are other functions which I have not listed. My amendment would make matters far more convenient and would 1615 result in a more productive use of the time of the professionals involved, as well as a better liaison at a political level, and therefore, if you like, a strategic level.
§ In addition, it is unlikely that the committees established under the Bill will be sufficiently local to replace in the public mind the local accountability of the current regime. It has been suggested to me that on losing this area of work local authorities may tend to address waste licensing issues in particular through conditions attached to planning consents. That would be less appropriate than dealing with the matter through waste regulation.
§ Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the possible return to what has been described as the poacher and gamekeeper approach, combining regulation and the work of waste management. The concerns of practitioners in that regard should not be dismissed lightly. The Waste Management Forum has written to the Minister. I am aware of his reply but I believe that the matter is sufficiently important to raise it in your Lordships' House. The Waste Management Forum commented on the separation of the operational and regulatory functions and the potential conflicts of interest which it believes will occur if the agency provides a service as well as enforcing the standards to which that service is delivered.
§ The Waste Management Forum has also commented on a matter which I find interesting. It is one which may well be difficult to tackle and does not lend itself to inclusion in legislation. That issue is the differences in organisational cultures in the potential parts of the agency. One cannot legislate to introduce a change of culture overnight.
§ The Waste Management Forum points out that the waste regulatory authorities are constituted on a local community basis, with strong community representation and the involvement of waste producers and carriers. The NRA, on the other hand, is constituted on a regional basis, with monitoring of end-of-pipe processes, and the HMIP places emphasis on adopting a holistic approach and encouraging processes which minimise environmental impact.
§ The Minister may argue that marrying those approaches would be a good thing. I would not necessarily disagree with him if he were to say that, but one should not minimise the difficulties that may be encountered in doing so. Therefore, one should be careful before imposing on authorities such a change and a need to address the way in which they go about their work.
§ This is not merely a question of the fears of local authorities about losing yet more functions. I have spoken to London First, which as your Lordships may know is an organisation which involves representatives of the business community in London. I should declare an interest as a member of its board. It also involves representatives from various parts of the public sector.
§ It is the view of London First that if the current arrangement is not broken don't fix it. London First considers that the London Waste Regulation Authority is competent and is not likely to be improved by being 1616 taken over by the environment agency. The organisation is also concerned about accountability and considers that there should be a regional arm of the agency accountable to Londoners. I have been asked to make that point.
§ Lastly, I am concerned as to how one should split the work of dealing with the waste stream and at which point in the process it should be split from local operation to a national agency. Your Lordships are largely agreed that it is increasingly important to minimise waste at source. I fear that this measure will make it more difficult for the waste disposal authorities which deal with the collection of waste to continue the work that many are doing in, for instance, the separation of items in household waste and separate collection, in particular for recycling, and dealing with that waste in the best way. If the process is not a seamless one from the householder right through the disposal operation, and if part of the operation is separated from the local process, it may not continue to develop as many of your Lordships would wish.
§ I should like briefly to explain the implications of the amendments, which are a little opaque in referring only to sections in other legislation. In the amendment I propose that, in place of the wholesale transfer of functions, the functions which are referred to in Amendment No. 14 should be inserted. The function covered by Section 68 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is the supervision of the performance of the duties of waste regulation authorities and the appointment of inspectors. to ensure that performance. The functions covered by Section 72 of the same Act are the default powers of the Secretary of State, who can make an order requiring a defaulting authority to comply and, if necessary, take over the relevant functions. Section 1 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 relates to ensuring adequate arrangements for the control of waste. I beg to move.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in her Amendment No. 14. It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also, as she did, to Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 17, 18, 65 and 66.
We have had a number of discussions about the relationship between local authorities and the new agency in England and Wales. Those discussions have either taken place late at night and have therefore been somewhat unsatisfactory or have not gone into the matter in sufficient detail. The noble Baroness has done the House a favour by moving the amendment and speaking to the others, and explaining with great clarity what seems to us to be a more sensible and reasonable division of responsibilities between local authorities and the agency.
There can be no doubt that local authorities will continue to be involved with waste in some way or another. Their environmental health duties, for example, ensure that they cannot avoid having a role. They also have a role in clearing dangerous substances. There are various provisions which will ensure that local authorities will still be in the business of waste. The 1617 problem is at what point the activity of a local authority stops and the authority of the agency begins. My own view is that that should be as set out in the local authority associations' document Protecting the Future, which I have no doubt the noble Viscount has read. The document sets out a model whereby the agency, quite rightly, undertakes strategic functions, sets standards, enforces standards and has default powers, but the regulatory functions at local level are undertaken at local level and the operations are undertaken at local level.
Perhaps I may illustrate the way in which that works. If any resident of any local authority finds some violation of waste regulation—perhaps some waste at the back of the garden, or whatever it might be, which is not properly there—whatever the process of education may be, there is no doubt that the first authority to which he or she will go is the local authority. However many placards or television advertisements one puts out about the duties of the agency, that cannot be avoided: someone will ring up the local councillor. In a sense that is what local councillors are for; that is what they are accountable for.
In that case, what does the local councillor do? Does he say, "It's not my job. It's now the job of an agency to look after it"? Alternatively, does he say, "In one way or another, I'll look after it"? The answer is that he says, "In one way or another, I'll look after it". That is the natural, human reaction. He may say, "It's unsafe material and therefore the local authority has a duty to remove it". He may seek to take action against those who left the stuff lying around. However, that is waste regulation by default because the local authority has a duty in a different direction from waste regulation.
Therefore, I argue that in her amendment the noble Baroness has the matter more or less right: the agency should have the power to enforce standards, but local authorities should have the power of local regulation. I believe that that is the right way round. I hope that the noble Viscount recognises that the relationship between the local authority and the agency is an extremely serious problem. I believe that the amendment is the right way to tackle the issue. I very much hope that the noble Viscount agrees.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, similar amendments were tabled at Committee stage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. I am glad of the opportunity to debate them now because the amendments raise important issues which are fundamental to the Bill. I therefore welcome the chance to explain to the House why we are giving the agency responsibility for waste regulation.
Amendment No. 14 is the principal amendment in this group and would remove waste regulation from the list of functions to be transferred to the agency under Clause 2. I shall address Amendment No. 14, as I believe the noble Baroness intended that I should.
Waste regulation is an integral part of the concept behind the environment agency and we cannot agree to its omission. We believe that it would be impossible to move to a more coherent and integrated approach to environmental protection—a multi-media agency—if waste regulation remains with local government.
1618 The Government are not alone in believing that the transfer of waste regulation to the agency is necessary. The waste regulation profession in general, as well as the waste industry, and industry at large, see merit in the principle of an integrated approach to environmental protection. The Select Committee on the Environment in another place has recommended that waste regulation should become the responsibility of a single national body. Environmental regulation is an increasingly complex field and the continued delivery of waste regulation by local authorities would limit the use and development of vital expertise.
I appreciate that the concerns expressed about the proposed transfer of waste regulation to the agency spring from fears that the agency will be insufficiently accountable at a local level. As I have said before, the Government intend that it should be responsible and responsive to individuals' concerns; we do not accept that accountability can be achieved only through control by local authorities.
We have made clear through the objectives set out in the agency's draft management statement, and through the provision in this Bill for the setting up of regional environment protection advisory committees, that we attach great importance to the agency building effective and responsive relationships with local communities and local authorities. The regional committees will represent those with a significant interest in the way the environment agency carries out its functions. They will have an important role in ensuring that a wide range of local opinion feeds into the agency and its operations on the ground.
It has been suggested that under the agency there would be no scope for consideration of the concerns of local people regarding the potential impact on local amenity and possible pollution from a proposed waste management facility. This conviction is puzzling. The local planning authorities will continue to determine whether and where waste facilities are sited. They will be able to include appropriate conditions relating to local amenity in any relevant planning permission. The agency's consideration of any waste management licence application, and decisions on appropriate conditions to be set in such a licence, must comply with the same waste management licensing regulations and statutory guidance as the decisions of local waste regulation authorities at present. Existing waste regulation staff who transfer to the agency will bring with them their local knowledge and will be able to apply this to the consideration of licence applications, and to their proper and effective regulation.
I hope that I have been able to convince the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and your Lordships, of the merits and desirability of giving responsibility for waste regulation to the new agencies, and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, one reaction must be that it would not be necessary to set up the liaison 1619 arrangements which the Minister advocates if the steps of separation and removal did not take effect in the first place.
I am not surprised at the Minister's response. However, his comments about the widespread support for the proposals from the industry surprise me. I quoted from the Waste Management Forum. I do not suggest that every last word stated by an umbrella body is analysed to every dot and comma by its members. However, perhaps I may put on record the membership of that forum according to its letterhead: the Confederation of British Industry; the Department of the Environment (I do not suggest that in this instance it will agree with this point); the Environmental Council; the Health and Safety Executive; HMIP; the Institute of Waste Management; the Institution of Civil Engineers; the Institution of Environmental Health Officers; the Institution of Water and Environmental Management; the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; the Road Haulage Association; the Royal Town Planning Institute; the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; and the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association. The Institute of Waste Management has specifically written to me and, I believe, to other noble Lords urging that the regulatory function remains separate from any operational role. It states that experience of separating the regulation and disposal functions within the waste management industry has had a positive effect in raising standards. It is that philosophy which it applies in commenting on the provisions of the Bill.
Again I shall consider what the Minister said. However, in seeking leave to withdraw the amendment, I express a fairly considerable degree of disappointment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
§ Clause 3 [Transfer of property, rights and liabilities to the Agency]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]
§ Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 19:
§ Page 5, line 25, at end insert ("but only after consultation with the Agency and, in the case of a scheme which was approved by him (with or without modifications), after consultation with the body which submitted the scheme to him for approval.").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 64. Amendments Nos. 19 and 64 correct an anomaly in the Bill to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, drew the Committee's attention. They provide for consultation by the relevant Secretary of State before exercising his power to modify a transfer scheme which he has previously made or approved. This reflects provisions already in the Bill covering other circumstances where a scheme may be modified. I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the matter to our attention. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, I wish to express my appreciation to the Minister for moving the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Guidance on sustainable development and other aims and objectives]:
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
§ Baroness Hamwee had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 21:
§ Page 5, line 33, leave out ("give") and insert ("lay before Parliament an order containing").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I think it may be more convenient if we were to save discussion on the amendment until we have heard about the Government's new clause in detail. I shall therefore not move this amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 21 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 22 to 24 not moved.]
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 25:
§ Page 5, line 40, at end insert (", and must include guidance on energy conservation and on systems for producing energy which contribute to the objective of sustainable development").
§ The noble Lord said: Again, my Lords, I prefer that we should debate the matter after new Clause 4 has been considered. I shall therefore not move this amendment.
§ [Amendment No. 25 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]
§ Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 28:
Leave out Clause 4 and insert the following new clause:
§ General aims and objectives of the Agency
§ (" .—(1) It shall be the principal aim of the Agency (subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other enactment and taking into account any likely costs) in discharging its functions so to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole, as to make the contribution towards attaining the objective of achieving sustainable development mentioned in subsection (3) below.
§ (2) The Ministers shall from time to time give guidance to the Agency with respect to objectives which they consider it appropriate for the Agency to pursue in the discharge of its functions.
§ (3) The guidance given under subsection (2) above must include guidance with respect to the contribution which, having regard to the Agency's responsibilities and resources, the Ministers consider it appropriate for the Agency to make, by the discharge of its functions, towards attaining the objective of achieving sustainable development.
§ (4) In discharging its functions, the Agency shall have regard to guidance given under this section.
§ (5) The power to give guidance to the Agency under this section shall only be exercisable after consultation with the Agency and such other bodies or persons as the Ministers consider it appropriate to consult in relation to the guidance in question.
§ (6) The Ministers shall arrange for any guidance given under this section to be published in such manner as they consider appropriate.").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, with this amendment I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 96, 100 and 124. I am grateful to noble Lords for not moving their amendments to Clause 4 so that we may have a proper debate and for giving me the opportunity to open for the Government.
§ Amendment No. 28 seeks to meet the desire expressed by a number of noble Lords in Committee for a strategic purpose for the agency to be included on the face of the Bill. It incorporates within Clause 4 a new 1621 principal aim designed to make clear that the agency is to discharge its functions so to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole, as to make its contribution towards achieving sustainable development. In so doing it is to take account of likely costs, both financial and to the environment. The principal aim is not to overrule the specific purpose of the various enactments under which the agency operates.
§ During the debate in Committee a number of noble Lords also stressed the need for consultation prior to the issuing of guidance under this clause and for publication of such guidance, not merely at the outset but for any subsequent guidance. Amendment No. 28 incorporates provisions to require such consultation and publication.
§ Amendment No. 100 is consequential to the revised clause. Clause 37 as originally drafted excluded consideration of costs and benefits in relation to an aim since the aims were to arise through statutory guidance, in the drawing up of which Ministers would themselves have taken account of costs and benefits. Now that the principal aim is to be on the face of the Bill and is to be subject to the requirements of any enactment, that exclusion is no longer appropriate.
§ Amendment No. 124 seeks to ensure that the reference to costs in the new Clause 4 and elsewhere in Part I includes costs to any person and to the environment. Taken together with Amendment No. 96, it also makes clear that, as I stressed in Committee, references to both costs and benefits in Clause 37 are to be interpreted broadly to include environmental costs. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 28, Amendment No. 29:
§ Line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert:
("(1) It shall be the principal aim of the Agency in discharging its functions (subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other enactment) to protect or enhance the environment, taken as a whole, in such manner as to make the contribution towards achieving sustainable development mentioned in subsection (3) below.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 29 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 30. Both amendments are in the names of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley and myself.
§ I am happy to be the first to welcome the new clause that the Government have proposed. It makes for a more rewarding process than some of us feared. At Committee stage when the Minister, understandably, said that he had noted what was suggested, he really had noted it. That is not always the case. Having welcomed that movement, I hope it is not churlish to suggest that perhaps there may be a little more movement.
I shall explain the two amendments. In Amendment No. 29 I propose that the words in parenthesis,
subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this Act or any other enactment",
should govern the functions of the agency and not its aim. That is probably self-evident, and to some extent we have already debated it this afternoon. However, it is important that the aims and functions should be in the right order.
§ I have omitted the reference to "likely costs" because I am not persuaded that the aim of the agency should be governed by the consideration of costs. In the real world, of course, costs must be taken into account and I shall welcome a further amendment later in the context of Clause 37. However, costs should not be elevated to quite the status they are given in the new clause. I wonder how the provision would be interpreted if the agency is to take into account "any likely costs". Costs to whom? That is a genuine question, not a posturing point. I read the provision as meaning costs to the agency. Perhaps in responding the Minister can say whose costs are meant by "any likely costs".
Amendment No. 30 proposes that:
The Ministers shall from time to time give to the agency such guidance as they consider appropriate with respect to how to achieve its aim".
That follows the debate at Committee stage, and the words are repeated in Amendment No. 28 that,
The Ministers shall … give guidance to the Agency with respect to objectives".
§ I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit to take the objectives out of the remit of their own guidance. I believe that as the agency is to be set up, it is appropriate that guidance shall be given as to how the agency achieves its objectives but not what they should be. In other words, it is fair for the Government to say: "This is how you should set about it", but they do not give the overall objectives. Many of us feared at Committee stage that the work of the agency would be skewed by the Government's "interference", if I may use the word, in its objectives. We thought it would be better to separate the objectives and the functions in the guidance. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, I echo the welcome given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to the Government's amendment. It goes a long way towards meeting many of the observations we made at earlier stages of the discussion on the Bill. I also warmly welcome Amendment No. 124 in the group which includes environmental as well as financial costs.
However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am still concerned that costs have been written into what is in some ways a purpose for the agency. It lays emphasis on costs rather than an enthusiastic and positive function and purpose for the agency. I should be grateful to the Minister if he could explain what the expression "taken as a whole" means. It seems to be a piece of parliamentary draftsmanship which has no clear meaning in ordinary English, although it is echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in her amendment. I would be grateful for an explanation.
As we received the Government's amendment rather late, at this stage I should say that we shall bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to subsection (6) which will suggest that any guidance given under the clause shall be laid before Parliament, as well as being published in such other manner as Ministers consider appropriate. That will be a further amendment to the clause which we shall bring before the House in due course. But overall it represents a very welcome advance by the Government in their position, and we 1623 are grateful, although it does not go as far as writing a purpose into Clause 1, about which I am sure we shall continue to argue.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I also echo the warm welcome for the Government's response to this series of amendments. It means that we are moving gradually towards the objectives of proper environmental costing; that is, real costs in both economic terms (financial terms) and environmental resource terms. That moves us a long way towards the other objective of "sustainable development", which some Members of this House believe does not exist. It is clear to me from these amendments that the Government believe that it exists more and more.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I welcome the Government's amendment. But it still does not address the definition of "sustainable development". It is certainly not addressed in this Bill; and so far as I know, there is no definition elsewhere. I suspect that this phrase arose out of the Helsinki Conference, which was mainly concerned with the use of resources in under-developed countries, and therefore with the way in which they would be brought into use as development took place.
Does the phrase really cover what we are trying to talk about in our own industrialised, and already resource-extravagant economy? Would it not be better—as I suggested in Amendment No. 24, which I did not move—to use the phrase "sustainable use"; or "sustainable use of resources"; or possibly, "sustainable use and development"?—although I suggest that "use" probably includes development. I urge the Government to consider either using a phrase that would be much more easily understood by people—that is to say, "sustainable use"—or else to define "sustainable development".
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, following immediately on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, we have a difficulty in relation to the phrase "sustainable development". As I believe I pointed out at an earlier stage, the phrase attempts to embrace a balance between environmental protection and development, and in a sense economic development. In a sense therefore there is a conflict. In a curious way it is therefore rather odd that we should attempt to make an environment agency responsible for judgments about economic development. Hence the difficulty.
As I understand it, we have here an attempt to put the aim into statutory form, and then provide an interpretation by way of ministerial guidance. We shall therefore get a form of statutory ministerial guidance, and everything will crucially depend upon the guidance. It is for that reason that I very much welcome my noble friend's undertaking—or commitment as it is now—in this clause both to consult the agency and to publish that guidance. There is another amendment which seeks to make sure that that guidance is published in good time.
1624 I am grateful to my noble friend for meeting my request at an earlier stage and making it possible for me not to move my Amendment No. 27, which takes up this point about publishing the guidance and consulting the agency.
I think that we have here a laudable attempt by the Government to meet the demands of this House, and in a sense the concerns expressed in this House about our legislating about a phrase that has not been properly defined and which probably cannot be properly defined. Therefore there is no alternative but to rely on interpretation. And it must be for the Government to give an interpretation—that seems to me to be an appropriate role for government—on which the agency will act. It cannot be for an agency to make judgments about what is the appropriate economic role. Therefore we are still in the position of having to wait for the Government's publication of that guidance before we really know where we are. But at least we are now having it presented in a reasonably sensible way, and for that I am grateful.
§ Viscount Mills
My Lords, I agreed with my noble friend the Minister not to move Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 in order to save the complications that would arise given that the Government have re-written Clause 4. Anyway, there is no need to move Amendment No. 27 as the Government's Amendment No. 28 now provides Ministers with a statutory obligation, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has already said, both to consult the agency and to. publish the guidance. I very much welcome that.
However, I should still like to refer to the point raised in what was my Amendment No. 26; namely, the need to provide preliminary guidance on sustainable development by 12 months after the Act comes into force. I stress the word "preliminary", because I fully accept that guidance may need to be revised and indeed added to.
The guidance on sustainable development will be central to the manner in which the new agency carries out all its functions. I was heartened in Committee when my noble friend the Minister said that it is indeed the Government's intention to publish guidance within a 12-month period. But I was slightly less heartened when he stated that he saw no need to state that on the face of the Bill. I can only ask the Minister perhaps to reconsider, and suggest that it would be helpful to set an appropriate time limit for delivery of the preliminary guidance.
It must surely be the Government's intention to provide such guidance at the earliest suitable opportunity. I ask simply: why cannot the Government commit themselves to a deadline on the face of the Bill? If they cannot, will my noble friend the Minister at least consider a timetable for the production of this guidance, albeit that it does not occur on the face of the Bill?
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is, for once, completely in error when he says that there is no a definition of "sustainable development". There is a definition of the phrase which is widely understood both nationally and internationally; namely, the Brundtland definition. I 1625 paraphrase it slightly, and no doubt the Minister will correct me when he answers this point; it is: to meet the needs of the present without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Or it could be expressed in the words of the Secretary of State for the Environment when he addressed the Select Committee of this House on sustainable development. (I am sure that this House must be understood to have known what it was doing when it set up such a Committee). In giving evidence, he said that he preferred to call it, "Don't cheat the children". That may be a slight over-simplification, but "sustainable development" is well understood both nationally and internationally, and I am sure that it should be on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the question of the meaning of "sustainable development". Obviously, in the context of this Bill it must mean "environmentally sustainable". If development is to take place and there is an argument about whether or not it should take place, then surely those who have to decide the matter will consider whether it is environmentally sustainable. If it is not environmentally sustainable, then it should not take place. With that in mind, I would have thought that any further definition would be impossible.
The word "sustainable" and the combination with "environmentally" must vary with the circumstances of every case. What might be environmentally sustainable in, for example, the Thames estuary, might well be considered not to be environmentally sustainable, let us say, at the mouth of one of the Highland rivers.
Having said that, one of the great virtues of the Government's new clause is that it implements—as one of my noble friends earlier said that it should—the phrase in the Long Title of the Bill,the conservation or enhancement of the environment".It does just that. This is what was suggested when we discussed the first amendment today. This new clause should go a long way towards meeting the requirements of my noble friend Lord Nome and others who wanted a further definition at the beginning of the Bill attached to Clause 1.
Amendments Nos. 29 and 30, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and supported by the Labour Front Bench, have the virtue of simple drafting and greater brevity than the wording in the new clause. But to my mind the points about them are so rarefied and so fine as to be not worth making. I should not be inclined to persuade my noble friend Lord Ullswater to accept either Amendment No. 29 or Amendment No. 30; but I would say to him that he would not be doing much harm if he were to do so.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I am very glad that the Minister has brought forward this new clause. I warmly welcome it, and particularly the reference to protecting and enhancing the environment, which is of central importance, the reference to consultation, which was a point argued by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and myself during the Committee stage, and to having on the face of the Bill a commitment to publication of the guidance. All those points are very important.
1626 The only point of importance that is missing is the one that I argued for strongly at Committee stage; namely, to have some parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance. That was proposed in Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which I certainly supported. It is a significant omission from the new clause.
With regard to the "sustainable development" mentioned in the first subsection of the new clause, I support the case put forward by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. A few days ago I wrote to the Minister about various matters in the Bill and suggested to him that it might be preferable to have a phrase such as "environmental sustainability" instead of "sustainable development". In that letter I said that:I think that fashionable buzz words, meaning nothing to most people and interpreted quite differently by developers and environmentalists, should not be accorded prominence, or indeed used at all, in an Act of Parliament … I do not think that the word `development' should have any place in the duties of an environmental agency".I still adhere to that view.
§ 6.15 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, I might be able to help by bringing this debate into the realm of practicality. I agree that my noble friend the Minister has taken an extremely constructive step in bringing forward this clause. We discussed it briefly earlier this afternoon when my noble friend Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 4 and we tried to assess the extent to which the two amendments overlapped in their intentions. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, interpretation is the key issue. My test would be: does this amendment contain within it the strengths of the general conservation duty that is held at present by the NRA?
With the permission of my noble friend the Minister, I have circulated to as many noble Lords as appear interested in this topic and to relevant non-governmental organisations correspondence between us on the issues that concern English Nature. As a consequence, I can be brief. As I made clear, English Nature recently carried out a review of SSSI lakes. There are some 37 such lakes which are currently subject to eutrophication, as are some 13 river SSSIs, where for nature conservation reasons there is particular concern over elevated phosphate levels. Those are all on the lists that have been made public today. I can assure your Lordships that English Nature and the NRA have been engaged in active discussion on them.
On the lists that have been circulated there are 18 SSSIs where the NRA's existing conservation duty has already been important, in the eyes of English Nature, in protecting those sites. As I said, they are included in the briefing. But I shall mention in particular the River Nar, where the phosphate consent was set to ensure that the character of a chalk stream and trout fishery was maintained, and Rosstherne Mere, where the NRA undertook remedial works to tackle the marked enrichment of the lake, which was suffering from algal blooms.
1627 I appreciate the difficulties of my noble friend in answering questions relating to particular instances; but the key question at which I shall wish to look very carefully in respect of these amendments is whether action of this nature would be covered by this new clause. Would the concerns that I have aired be within the embrace of the term "environment … as a whole", as appears in this amendment? Will the duty of sustainable development give the protection required to those very sensitive and delicate aquatic SSSIs, about which we must be concerned?
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
My Lords, in welcoming and supporting new Clause 4 I should like to make reference to an amendment which I withdrew and which was intended to be in the original Clause 4. It was designed to draw the attention of my noble friend to the fact that it is the Government's committed view that in order to achieve sustainable development—I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell that that should be as defined by the Minister in the guidance—there is a necessity to be aware of the cost and use of energy and have an awareness of how important it is to have energy systems which are efficient and use the best technology to achieve those objectives. I therefore put down an amendment, which I later withdrew but to which I may perhaps refer. It inserted the words:and must include guidance on energy conservation and on systems for producing energy which contribute to the objective of sustainable development".I hope that my noble friend will give us some assurance, in referring to subsection (4) of the new clause, that in the guidance there will be some reference to the fact that it would be the intention of the agency to support the development of new technology in the use of energy and to encourage any developments in that direction.
I should say that I have an interest to declare in that I am president of the Combined Heat and Power Association which represents one of the leading areas within that development. We hope to see the Government, through the agency, give a little more support to that very important new technology.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, I should like to offer my thanks to the Minister for the new clause. It seems to me that almost every point made at Committee stage has been quite cleverly taken up in the new clause. However, I suspect that we have a problem with "sustainable development". It is a problem raised by many noble Lords on all sides of the House.
Some years ago I read a book on environmental economics. In an appendix it listed at least 50 definitions; and it is still going strong, as it were. On the whole, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, the Government seem to be rather attached—as most people are—to the Brundtland definition. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, gave rather a good summary of it. In fact, it is a rather difficult definition to use in the shape of legislation because it ends up, in my phrase (which is not quite the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont) with the words, "without compromising the needs of future generations".
1628 How on earth do we, in all our wisdom, know what the needs of future generations will be? It is all right as a nice term of art in a book or something like that; but when it comes to legislation we have to be rather more careful. Maybe the answer lies along the lines of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that we mean "environmentally sustainable". I suspect that we need to think about that; I am not too sure. Maybe it lies within the guidance, which can obviously expand on concepts. Even then, if the Government are attached to Mrs. Brundtland's definition, they have to foresee what our children are going to need. With the greatest respect to the Government, they may find it difficult.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given to this new clause. Practically every noble Lord who spoke welcomed it.
In establishing the agency the Government have repeatedly emphasised that its creation is intended both to improve protection of the environment and to help regulated organisations through the adoption of more integrated approaches considering impacts on the environment as a whole, through a reduction in the number of different regulators and through improved consistency of regulation. It has an important role in taking forward the Government's policy on sustainable development. The proposed principal aim builds on the proposal in the previously published draft outline guidance and seeks to encapsulate this in a way which reflects the broad range of the agency's functions and minimises the difficulties to which I referred in Committee over incompatibilities with other enactments and in defining sustainable development.
In Amendment No. 29 the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seeks to remove the reference to taking into account any likely costs. The noble Baroness pointed out that the principal aim previously published by the Government in the document on scope guidance under Clause 4 contained no such reference. The reason for the addition arises from the giving of statutory status to the aim. Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of the environment with the needs of economic development. As such it necessarily involves consideration of costs as well as of the needs of the environment in terms of protection or enhancement. But the concept is not one on which the courts in England and Wales have previously needed to take a view; and, for reasons which we discussed in Committee, it is undesirable to seek to define it in this Bill. The inclusion of the reference to costs is therefore intended to ensure that the principal aim includes explicit recognition of both sides of the equation to reduce the risk of challenge in the courts from anyone who might seek to argue that sustainable development is to be interpreted exclusively in environmental terms.
In Amendment No. 30 the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seeks to replace the duty on Ministers to give guidance to the agency with respect to objectives by one in which they must give guidance on how the agency is to achieve its aim. Clause 4(3) makes clear that the guidance given under subsection (2) must include guidance with respect to the contribution which the Ministers consider it appropriate for the agency to make towards achieving sustainable development. The 1629 guidance must therefore indeed include guidance on the aim. But Ministers will also need to go beyond that and give guidance to the agency on specific objectives. That is to say, the guidance should not be limited to how the aim is to be pursued, which is of course through the exercise of the agency's functions, but should also cover specific objectives within that aim.
In his Amendment No. 24 the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is proposing to replace the universally recognised phrase "sustainable development" by the unfamiliar term "sustainable use of resources". As the Prime Minister acknowledged in his foreword to the sustainable development strategy we published in January 1994, and as a number of noble Lords stated during Committee stage of this Bill, the phrase "sustainable development" is indeed difficult to define. But that does not mean that the international community and UK practitioners do not understand what issues are involved and recognise the areas where action needs to be taken.
Our 250-page strategy document set out the principles of sustainable development, reviewed the state of the UK environment and identified key trends and pressure points and the key sectors of the economy where new policy developments were needed and where market opportunities and growth points existed. It concluded with a discussion of what action could be taken to help achieve sustainable development.
Changing the term "sustainable development" would not help determine what needs to be done. Rather it would serve to confuse. Nationally and internationally we are moving nearer to a consensus on the action we need to take to preserve our fragile planet. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, when he suggested that one route—I am not sure that it was his preferred route—would be to put it into the guidance which we shall be issuing under Clause 4, which will help to progress that consensus yet further. I believe that changing the terminology now will not aid that process.
My noble friend Lord Wade, in speaking to Amendment No. 25, raised issues which are of key importance to sustainable development. The Government attach great importance to the efficient use of energy. It saves money which could be used to develop businesses, improve homes and living standards and boost the economy. It helps to protect the environment by reducing the threat of climate change. It helps us to carry forward our sustainable development policy, changing people's culture by promoting realistic ways of achieving development at lower cost to the environment.
But I cannot agree that energy conservation is of such overriding importance to sustainable development that advice on it must be included in all the guidance Ministers will wish to give to the agency on its objectives. Yet that would be the effect of my noble friend's amendment. When we need to give guidance on energy conservation, systems for producing energy and indeed energy efficiency generally, the Bill gives us the power to do so and requires the agency to take account of it. I agree that it will be necessary from time to time to consider what advice to give the agency on these matters; but not all the time.
1630 My noble friends Lord Mills and Lord Crickhowell spoke to Amendments Nos. 26 and 27. They indicated that the amendments were tabled before they were able to see the amendment to Clause 4 that I tabled on Tuesday. I am delighted that I have been able, in that government amendment, to respond to the main points in Amendment No. 27 made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell during the Committee stage debate on this clause. I promised to look again at the proposal to make clear on the face of the Bill that the agency would be consulted on the guidance and that the guidance would be published; I am pleased that we have been able to achieve that in the government amendment. Indeed, our amendment goes further in requiring wide consultation, not just with the agency but with other appropriate bodies or persons. Our amendment does not mirror completely the amendments tabled by my noble friends; but I do not consider that the Bill needs, for example, to require a notice about availability of the guidance to be placed in the London Gazette or to specify that, as well as being published, copies of the guidance should be made available to the public. I hope however that your Lordships' House will agree that we have met the main intention behind the amendment.
I consider Amendment No. 26 to be unnecessary. I have already made available at Committee stage copies of our draft of the outline guidance to be issued under Clause 4. It declares our intention to make a draft of the full text available in time for consideration of the Bill in another place. In producing a final text, we shall wish to take full account of comments made on the draft in that place and from those others with an interest in the contribution the environment agency is to make towards achieving sustainable development. There can be no doubting our determination to make progress on the production of the guidance and therefore no need to seek to require the Government to issue the first set of guidance within 12 months of the coming into force of the Act. I ask my noble friend therefore to consider carefully what I have said and not to push me further on the matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, in giving a warm welcome to the depositing of the new clause, also gave notice that at a further stage of the Bill she will be tabling an amendment to bring the guidance under approval by Parliament. Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would make it subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I take note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, has said. I shall consider very carefully whether that is the route that the Government should be taking. I certainly take note that we shall be faced with that at Third Reading.
The noble Baroness asked me what "taken as a whole" means. I hope that my answer is not too Delphic. We mean by that an integrated analysis of all the environmental media of air, land and water and that judgments should be taken in the round and be based on overall factors and should not be preoccupied by the minutiae of the detail. I am not sure that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook will be entirely happy with that 1631 explanation. I think it would be better to separate the overall aim of the agency in Clause 4 and to leave Clause 7 as it seeks to achieve the conservation duties.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about costs. Amendment No. 124 inserts a definition into Clause 53 of costs as costs to any person and costs to the environment. That is probably the right way to leave it.
During the debate in Committee a number of noble Lords made clear their concerns over the extent to which Clause 4 as originally drafted could give Ministers the ability fundamentally to change the aims and objectives of the agency after the Bill had been enacted and thereby in effect change its central purpose. There was broad pressure for a strategic purpose to be included on the face of the Bill. In moving his Amendment No. 147, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he was content with the principal aim of the agency which the Government had proposed, but believed that it was essential that it was incorporated in some way within the Bill. The government amendments are designed to respond to the noble Lord's concerns. With the explanation I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment and that the House will feel able to support the Government's new clause and amendments.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he be so good as to comment on the suggestion which I made and which two other noble Lords, as I understood it, supported that whatever else "sustainable" means it must in the context of this Bill include environmentally sustainable.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I was trying to point out that the concept of sustainable development should be left to the guidance produced by Ministers which will be subject to review. I do not believe it would be right for me to indicate what I believe sustainable development to be. Especially after Pepper v. Hart, it would be better left to the guidance which will be issued by Ministers.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, it would be inappropriate for me to seek to sum up all the points that have been made and there is much that will bear consideration when we come to read the report of this debate. I am not sure whether the Minister's proposal for sustainable development to be dealt with by guidance tempts noble Lords towards the amendments about parliamentary scrutiny which I put down but did not move or whether, having highlighted this issue, when we come to it at Third Reading they will feel that they cannot face debating sustainable development in that context. However, it is clearly a matter to which we shall return.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for complimenting me on my drafting. It was intended to be more than just mere form. He described it as rarefied. Perhaps I may say to him that it was because of his careful analysis at the previous stage that I pursued the 1632 matter, having been given the confidence to do so. I thank the Minister for taking so many points on board. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment No. 29, as an amendment to Amendment No. 28, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 30 not moved.]
§ On Question, Amendment No. 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [General provisions with respect to water]:
§ Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 31:
§ Page 6, line 45, at end insert ("by day and by night").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, introduced an amendment about light pollution which relates to the destruction of the beauty of the landscape at dusk and at night by powerful artificial lighting. This issue has been taken up by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, of which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is the distinguished president. It is an important issue. To date it has tended to be the case that planning authorities and others have not regarded pollution of the night landscape as an important issue.
§ In Committee there was considerable support for the idea behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I am therefore pressing it again in a different form. The amendments offer a route by which we can make it absolutely clear that this is an important issue and that the agency should be concerned about it.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, in Committee I strongly supported the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and spoke at length about it. I shall not repeat now what I said then. I should like very much to support the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. It is extremely important. We are considering conservation. Any night when one drives through the countryside and sees the orange glow of sodium light in every village in every part of the country one sees the appalling effect of this environmental degradation. Something needs to be done about it. It is quite right that the environment agency should concern itself with these matters. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I am looking very closely at the wording of paragraph (a) of Clause 6(1) as it stands which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, wishes to amend and amplify.
One must bear in mind that as the clause stands at the moment the words "natural beauty and amenity" are followed by the words "of inland and coastal waters". That would seem to cover the word "water" in the noble Lord's amendment. The words "land associated with such waters" would seem to cover "landscape". The noble Lord has in his favour the fact that the Bill says nothing about the sky, but his amendment does.
I agree that the beauty of the landscape can vary very much by day and by night and in different atmospheric conditions. The amendment makes that clear. I sometimes believe that it is a little dangerous to impose words of limitation. These words do that in that they seek to define the expression "natural beauty". From the 1633 drafting point of view it is not an altogether easy matter, but I believe that what the noble Lord has proposed about the beauty of the sky should not be overlooked.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to the fact that I believe I made a mistake in not saying that I was also speaking to the three other amendments which stand in my name on this subject. I apologise for that.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I strongly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Notwithstanding the point made by my noble friend Lord Renton, I believe that the noble Lord's amendments are a much neater way of putting forward the need to control pollution by excessive light than my amendment at Committee stage. Noble Lords may remember that my amendment referred merely to light pollution which was not wholly understood.
The key is that what we are talking about now is something relatively new. Just as 20 years ago relatively few of us spoke about the environment as such—or certainly not in the way we do now. Today relatively few people have taken on board the very undesirable effect which excessive light can have on the night sky and on the beauty of the countryside. It is for that reason that, as we have this excellent and important Bill in front of us, this seems the moment that this new, and what I believe will become an increasingly important dimension, should be included for the first time in statute. I am not saying that the noble Lord necessarily has the wording precisely right. But I hope that my noble friend will respond positively to it. Perhaps he will come back either before Third Reading or in the other place with some means of introducing what I am quite certain is going to be a significant factor in the coming years and decades.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, I was the person who misunderstood the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, at the previous stage of the Bill. As I now understand the amendments, I am an enthusiastic supporter of them in their current form.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, whether my noble friend accepts this amendment or not, I hope that he will take the opportunity to look at the growing problem of light pollution. There are steadily growing ribbons of horrible phosphorescent, orange light along our motorways. It was first at the junctions and now it is spreading out. I realise that there are safety factors involved, but there must be better ways of lighting our major roads than suddenly making them offensive not just for the one or two miles by daylight but for 15 or 20 miles if they are in a valley below downland and so forth. I hope that my noble friend will do that.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, we on these Benches certainly support the tone of these amendments and hope that the Minister will find some way of meeting the point involved.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I risk being a spoilsport. Amendments Nos. 31, 39, 41 and 44 in the 1634 name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, seek to ensure that the agency's conservation and recreation duties under Clauses 6 and 7 are to apply both to day and to night. I think I understand the concerns prompting these amendments, reiterated by many noble Lords, but I am not convinced that they are necessary. Amendment No. 31 in particular is extremely wide and would have among its effects a duty on the agency to promote the amenity by night of coastal and inland waters and associated land.
The agency's duty under Clause 6(1) (a), and the agency's and Ministers' duties under Clause 7(1) (a), (b) and (c) (ii) are not time limited: in other words, they do not cease to have these duties in the hours of darkness. This is not spelt out on the face of the Bill simply because it does not need to be. However, I suspect that the noble Lord's concern is perhaps a little more specific.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, spoke in the discussion at Committee stage on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Marlesford on what has been described as light pollution and his concern to maintain the rural countryside by night as well as by day. Should the noble Lord's intention be to bring increased controls to bear in respect of light pollution, I can assure him that the Government have for some time been aware of the potential problems which can be caused by the inappropriate design and use of some lighting schemes.
We believe that the most appropriate way to tackle these problems is by education and guidance: for example, DoE Circular 5/94, Planning Out Crime, sets out the planning aspects of security lighting.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that at night, with low light levels, the driver's visibility is reduced, resulting in a disproportionately high number of accidents when compared to daytime accident numbers. Road lighting is provided to improve visibility and therefore to reduce the number of night-time accidents. Research indicates an effective reduction in the number of accidents of up to 30 per cent. with the provision of road lighting. These are important statistics. We should regard those factors as being on one side of the balance when we are concerned about the environmental side of light pollution.
The Department of Transport's booklet, Road Lighting and the Environment, published in 1993, shows how well-designed street lighting can achieve its main objective of road safety with minimum environmental impact. I can assure noble Lords that we shall look for appropriate opportunities to press home the importance of the sensitive location and use of lighting and will continue to keep under review whether other measures might usefully be taken to minimise its excessive use.
I would reiterate, however, that the agency's duties already apply so as to have effect both by night and during the day, and that these amendments would not add anything to the Bill which is not already implicit in it. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendments.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, will the Minister consider asking the Department of Transport, when it rightly considers aspects of road safety and reducing the 1635 number of road accidents—which I am sure we all support—to use white lighting rather than yellow, sodium lighting?
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I shall certainly bring the noble Lord's words to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I have read the research to which the noble Viscount refers. The figure of 30 per cent. savings in accidents has some justification. However, what is not at all well researched is the possibility of alternative solutions such as putting barriers down the centre of roads so that drivers are not subjected to the glare of oncoming lights. There has been only one rather inadequate piece of research on that.
However, leaving that aside, I am most grateful to the Minister for the assurances which he has given that the agency will be responsible for the beauty of the landscape, for water and, I hope, the sky, by day and by night. This is an important commitment by the Government for which I am grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Greenway moved Amendment No. 32:
§ Page 7, line 3, after ("recreational") insert ("and navigational").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Second Reading, I voiced the concern of those who used the navigations and the waterways that their interests might well be squeezed between the larger, and admittedly more important, building blocks that will go towards making up the new agency. To try to diminish that, I have endeavoured to raise the profile of navigation in a number of amendments, including one in Committee which would have provided a duty to maintain, improve and develop the navigations on a similar basis to fisheries. The Minister did not think fit to accept that amendment, and I am mindful of his advice that the basic intention of the Bill is to transfer the existing NRA powers and duties to the new agency. I should like to make it quite clear that I do not wish to increase any financial commitment for the new agency or for users.
§ With that in mind, I am proposing a new amendment which would specifically define navigational interests as well as recreation in order to highlight the promotion of navigation as a recreation. I recognise that my drafting is open to question and that the amendment may well go rather further than I am intending, but I am open to considering any form of wording at a later stage which might achieve the required objective.
§ I have previously paid tribute to the National Rivers Authority, and I should like now to compliment the regional managers who are involved with navigation on the way in which they have tackled their responsibilities. I also welcome the identification of an NRA board member to have specific responsibility for navigation, and the national meeting of user groups which I believe is due to take place next week.
§ I suggest that the promotion of navigation would be in line with those initiatives and would not place an undue financial commitment on the new agency. As it would 1636 be the agency's management that decides priorities, it would not seek to give navigation a priority over other activities, including fishing. I feel that the recent moves by NBA's head office, to which I have just referred, indicate an increased awareness of the importance of navigation and I believe that the new promotional duty would build upon that awareness. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I very much support the amendment. It is important that navigation on inland waterways should receive its proper due. From all that the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said about the NRA, it is obviously working in the right direction. However, it seems to me that so many other activities are encompassed within the clause that it is only reasonable that navigation, which is increasingly important to our inland waterways, should receive its mention in the statute. Therefore, even if my noble friend the Minister wants to alter the wording of the amendment, I hope that he will accept the principle of it.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I very much support the amendment. In terms of the number of people who are involved as suppliers and customers, and in terms of the geographical area of our inland waterways, it seems unfortunate that the legislation seems to leave the waterways as the Cinderella of the family of responsibilities. If the Government cannot accept the wording of this amendment, I very much hope that they will suggest something similar.
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, I too support the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in his amendment. The emphasis of the Bill is placed so heavily on recreation that "navigation" in this sense probably has a more professional air than is intended in the context of "recreation".
As the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, as governor of the Isle of Wight is only too well aware, in many coastal areas there is permanently a very difficult and edgy confrontation between professional and amateur users of the waters. That relationship is working extremely well in the Solent with a good deal of common sense being used on both sides. Perhaps it is a little less successful in terms of fishing and the recreational users of the waters.
If the environment is to be protected properly, the different interests of those two groups—the professional users, who may be said to use it for navigation; and the recreational users, who may not mind so much where they go provided that they go somewhere—must both be recognised and should be included in the Bill.
§ Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
My Lords, in supporting the amendment, I should like to ask the Minister a question which perhaps goes a little further. If we do not include in the Bill some words such as those suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, are we not in danger of leaving those who wish to promote navigation completely at a disadvantage as against the environmentalists who wish to stop it? Surely that is not what we are trying to achieve.
1637 I have a further point. In the case of canals, it is frequently the users for navigational purposes who ensure that the canals are kept navigable by keeping down weeds and other forms of pollution.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I have no quarrel at all with the amendment which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Greenway in an extremely moderate and persuasive manner. It is important that the new agency should balance carefully the conflicting interests in some areas between navigation and fisheries, and navigation and conservation. The NRA has been doing that. We should at all times be careful not to push that balance in one direction or another. The NRA has been excellent in that regard. It has been both conscientious and careful. I am sure that the environment agency will be equally careful.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and other noble Lords in asking the House to consider amending Clause 6 to draw attention to the agency's duty to promote our inland and coastal waters for navigation for recreational purposes, although, I am advised that technically, as worded, the amendment would apply to navigation for all purposes. That presents a problem when we are talking about coastal waters.
I have to say that I see no reason to expect that the agency would not promote water recreation any less efficiently than the National Rivers Authority. Clearly, leisure boating is a recreational use of water and the duty to promote such uses where desirable is already included in Clause 6(1) (c), and is a duty which we expect the agency to take seriously. I believe that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, are already being taken care of by that duty.
As I have said, although we have considered the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, carefully, the word "navigational" presents difficulties. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is right. We need to have a balance between the desires of the various sides who use our waterways.
More widely, noble Lords will be aware that the Government have recently published a consultation paper, as I have mentioned, seeking views on the future arrangements for the management of the navigations which are currently operated by British Waterways and the NRA. We are looking to the responses to that consultation to advise us on what changes, if any, should be made in respect of those navigations. Prior to that, we are not looking to make any changes to present responsibilities.
Having said that, although I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the House who have supported me in the amendment. I must advise my noble friend Lord Moran that it has never been the aim of the boating interests to try to achieve more than what the fishing interests have already. My noble friend mentioned a balance. That is what we are anxious to achieve. It is to 1638 that end that I have been endeavouring to raise the profile of navigation—not perhaps to the level that fisheries already enjoy, but to somewhat nearer that.
I am slightly disappointed by what the Minister has said. I take his point about the consultation document, but my concern is how long it will take to get the replies and for the Government to assess them and decide which way they will go. In the meantime, we may well have the new agency. I am concerned about bridging the gap before we can move forward perhaps to an ultimate solution as a result of the review document. I should like to consider what all noble Lords have said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again no earlier than a quarter to eight.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.