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Surely the whole purpose of the Bill is to improve the balance so that we do not damage and do protect the environment. Because I believe that it helps to strike a better balance, I support the amendment.
Lord Coleraine: I speak in a limited way to Amendment No. 33, to which the noble Baroness has spoken. I should explain to the Committee that when I intervene in the debates it will generally be with the benefit of advice received from the Law Society.
The Law Society is extremely concerned about Clause 4 because it requires Ministers to give guidance from time to time to the agency with respect to the aims and objectives which they consider it appropriate for it to pursue in the performance of its functions. It is not appropriate for Ministers both to set the aims and objectives of the agency and also to provide guidance on how to achieve them. As the noble Baroness said, the aims and objectives should be set out in the legislation. The functions, powers and duties of the agency may expand or contract according to the aims and objectives of Ministers, but that is not acceptable.
Amendment No. 33 provides for a principal aim of the agency and provides its primary objectives. I am not here to say any more than was said by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell; namely, that those aims and objectives seem to be desirable. I hope that the Minister will take away the thought that the general scheme put forward by the noble Baroness in relation to Amendment No. 33 is correct and, if necessary, the Government will move an amendment to secure that effect.
Lord Northbourne: Perhaps I may ask for some clarification with regard to Amendment No. 36. What is meant precisely by "sustainable development" and the "precautionary principle"? It seems to me that it is important to understand that. Perhaps those phrases are defined somewhere.
The Earl of Onslow: The speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, underlines the considerable difficulty in which the beginning of the Bill places us. I know what I want to do in relation to the environment. I want to make it look clean and tidy. I want it to be possible for trees to be grown and to have clean air so that the wife of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, no longer has asthma. In other words, it is what I believe can be classed as gardening and gamekeeping and generally looking after things.
It is difficult to achieve that unless it is laid down in the legislation what Ministers must do. If that is not done, those aims and objectives will change not only between governments, if there is a change of government, but between Ministers. That is dangerous.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: About five years ago at the time at which the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill was being debated in this Chamber we discussed and argued about the meaning of the words "sustainable development" for days and days and days. We asked continually for a definition and no real explanation was ever forthcoming. I very much doubt whether it will be any easier to achieve a definition this time.
I am worried about the word "integrated" which is used in the amendment. It is not clear to me whether it applies to the words which follow"protection, management and enhancement"or whether it is intended that the policy should be integrated so as to achieve "protection, management and enhancement".
I observe that "integrated" is an extremely fashionable word these days. For example, it is used frequently in relation to transport policy. I doubt whether it helps in this clause, where it is, I suspect, used in a more general way so as to "Accentuate the positive", in the words of the old song. I suspect that the general purposes aimed at would be achieved better either by an improved version of Amendment No. 1, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, or by concentrating on a later amendment, Amendment No. 33, to which the noble Baroness has already spoken.
Baroness Hamwee: There are at least two major strands to the debate. Perhaps I may try to disentangle them a little. I join other noble Lords in wishing to see on the face of the Bill the objectives which the guidance to be issued by Ministers should then support. I share concerns that too much may be relegated to that guidance.
Amendment No. 36, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley and the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, has partly as its aim the intention to separate those two levels; in other words, thereby establishing the hierarchy and seeking to put on the face of the Bill objectives with which the guidance must then be consistent. Having seen only the draft outline of the scope of the guidance within the last few minutes, it seems to me that much of the language used in this and, indeed, in other amendments has found its way into the scope of the guidance. It says:
On the quick skim through that I have been able to give the document I believe that, so far, there is a commentary but not a definition of the term. I do not criticise the Government for that fact. It is a matter which, clearly, we must debate through the course of the Bill.
In support of Amendment No. 36, and of the general argument, I must say that I believe the important point is that the Bill establishes the aims and objectives and that they are not subject to ministerial change at the whim of successive governments and, as the noble Earl said, of successive Ministers.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, queried the definition of "sustainable development". It would, perhaps, be skewing the balance of the debate to discuss the details of that argument now. Indeed, later amendments will deal with it. However, it is intended to establish sustainability as an objective. The "precautionary principle" is shorthand, so to speak, for erring on the side of caution for reasons that my noble friend and other speakers have explained so vividly; namely, that mistakes in that area are frequently not rectifiable.
The amendment also seeks to incorporate the principle of the polluter paying. I have said on previous debates in this Chamber that I am concerned that that should not be taken to mean that, if the polluter can pay, the polluter can pollute. Having articulated that concern, I believe that the amendment would ensure that the balance is correct.
Amendment No. 36 also provides for consultation, representing all the relevant interests, before giving guidance. I suspect that we shall spend some time later discussing the guidance. However, as the amendment has been mentioned in this grouping it is only right that I should draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the provisions for consultation.
Lord Moran: I should like briefly to express my support for Amendment No. 33 which was so capably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. I have doubts about Amendment No. 36, simply because it contains the phrase "sustainable development" which two of my noble friends have queried and about which I expressed serious reservations on Second Reading. I propose to save what I have to say about that until we reach the next group of amendments.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I intend to say just a few words on the issue of sustainable development. It is a mute point as to whether we should discuss it in regard to this group of amendments or the next one. However, the issue has been raised. I had proposed to beg for an indulgence from Members of the Committee: namely, that wherever those two words appear in the Bill they are struck out and some other words inserted which we understand; indeed, that the same should apply wherever those words appear in amendments and, further, that we should desist from using such words.
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