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The Earl of Onslow: As the noble Lord was speaking, I was listening and thinking of a place called the Crimea Pass in North Wales. Its stone walls were built, I believe, by Russian prisoners captured at Inkerman and Balaklava. I will bet that had the environment protection agency or the planning authorities been in existence at that time, there would have been the most frightful row about building stone walls in a place of outstanding natural beauty in North Wales. There would now be an even bigger row if it were suggested that they should be bulldozed.

What I am coming to is the difficulty, without becoming blocked in concrete, of defining what our environment is or how it should look. To return to my

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old friend, cut and laid hedges, Cobbett complained bitterly about them and the land enclosure Acts. Up to about 10 years ago, we gave grants to pull them out; we now give grants to put them back. In June I was in Normandy in the Bocages country, where my late lamented dad managed to get himself captured. They had exactly the same problem in Normandy; people were given grants to take out the bocage hedges and they are now being given grants to put those hedges back.

We must be careful. We cannot freeze the environment; we must be sensitive to it. Sustainable development is extremely difficult to define. The definition by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, did not give me much help. It was quite a nice lot of words, but its actual meaning could be argued over by any gang of first year law students till kingdom come. I believe that we all know what we ought to do, there is no division on it; it is how we do it. We are in quite a muddle. I am sorry not to be able to help in a concrete way except possibly to point out some of the difficulties which I see. I hope that we can examine them and people cleverer than I can try to put something together to make it work.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Perhaps I may play the part of the first year law student for a few moments and deal with the issue of the words "sustainable development" a little further. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, rightly drew attention to Amendment No. 351, to which I suppose I must now inevitably be speaking. I am quite prepared to agree that it may be an internationally accepted definition of a meaningless phrase. But to me this is an exercise in obfuscation.

In my previous remarks I said that we did not know whether the existing level of development was sustainable. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, pointed out that it was not, and then in response he drew my attention to the amendment and its definition. The problem that I have with it is simple. If the existing level of development is not sustainable, then we cannot meet the needs of present generations without prejudicing the needs of future generations. Therefore, the first part of the definition can—in our state of ignorance—be in conflict with the second. However acceptable it may be in the international sphere, where I am trying to interpret the meaning of the words literally, the phrase is an exercise in obfuscation. Therefore I am afraid that, however acceptable this may be in the international sphere, so far as I am concerned when I try to interpret the meaning of these words literally, this phrase is an exercise in obfuscation. Therefore, I return to my plea on an earlier amendment and say that wherever possible these two words should not be used but that more precise phrases should be found that meet the needs of the situation.

Lord Moran: Perhaps I may say a word about Amendment No. 80, which is grouped with these amendments. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, has put her name to it. I agree that it is inconsistent with Amendment No. 6, but I hope to show that it is perhaps preferable to it. The amendment removes sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of

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Clause 7(1) (a) on page 8 of the Bill. On that page the other two sub-paragraphs, namely, sub-paragraphs (i) and (iv) reflect the qualifications on the agency's duty to further conservation in the existing clause of the Water Resources Act 1991. However, sub-paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of Clause 7(1) (a)—the two sub-paragraphs that I should like to see removed—explicitly subordinate the agency's duty to further conservation to Ministers' views and Ministers' guidance on sustainable development. As has been pointed out many times this afternoon, we do not at present know from the face of the Bill what "sustainable development" is supposed to mean.

At Second Reading I expressed my support for the general reformulation of the conservation duty and the "have regard" duty in respect of conservation actions which is now to be found in Clause 7(1) (b). The voluntary organisations (the NGOs) may have focused rather too much on the sometimes notional difference between a heavily qualified duty to further conservation and an unqualified duty to have regard to it. They may not have focused enough on the very real dangers that are implied by these sub-paragraphs in subjecting all the agency's duties to further conservation to development interests, albeit sustainable ones.

Perhaps I may say a word about the question that has been much discussed this afternoon, the general matter of sustainable development. I expressed strong reservations about the use of the term "sustainable development" in the Bill when I spoke at Second Reading. It is a wonderful Trojan Horse which may be taken by a government that is development orientated as a means of limiting the environmental protection functions of the new agencies. It can also be used in the opposite sense by a government of a different complexion.

We are often told that "sustainable development" means whatever you want it to mean. But if it means anything, it includes development. What is the environment agency to do with development? There are plenty of other agencies concerned with that. Clause 4 builds serious ambiguities into the Bill and invites us to accept an undefined proposition, sight unseen. It might be less objectionable if, for example, it simply referred to the concept of "sustainability" rather than "sustainable development". "Sustainability" features now in our legislation. As my noble friend Lady Saltoun mentioned, the term was included —in spite of many protests in this Chamber and questions from Lord Grimond as to what on earth it meant—in the legislation on the Scottish natural heritage. I believe that that was the first time that it had occurred. The phrase "sustainable development" was not used, merely the word "sustainability".

As I mentioned at Second Reading, it has been suggested by the World Wildlife Fund that it might be much better to refer to "environmental sustainability". If the Government are determined to include "sustainability", it would be much better to refer to it as

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"environmental sustainability"—and far better than the phrase "sustainable development". I hope that the Government will perhaps think again about this point.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: The Committee will be absolutely delighted to know that I do not intend to refer to sustainable development—if for no better reason than that anything I were to say on that subject would merely confuse the matter even further. I hope that as we examine this Bill we do not allow this issue to cloud all the other important issues therein. For that reason I want to address my remarks to the two amendments in this group which stand in my name on the Marshalled List; namely, Amendments Nos. 163 and 164. Both deal with the Secretary of State's powers to give guidance to the Scottish environment protection agency.

Before I speak briefly on that matter, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for the way in which he moved Amendment No. 162, with which I agree. It does not make an argument any better because someone happens to repeat it, so I will resist that temptation.

Amendment No. 163 lays down that the Secretary of State should issue his guidance no later than 12 months from the date on which this Act is implemented. If we are serious about protecting the environment, then surely it would be wrong if the Act, once it is implemented, were merely allowed to rest on a shelf somewhere in the Scottish Office while month follows month and the guidance that is necessary to allow the agency to get on with its work is simply not given.

Therefore, it is advisable, right at the beginning, to build in a timescale for that guidance to be given. As an aside, perhaps I may say that in many ways I am arguing against something in which I believe myself. When the original document dealing with the environment in Scotland, Improving the Environment in Scotland: The Way Forward, was published in 1992, it stated that the Government wanted an agency "at arm's length" from the Government. But of course what they have, as defined in Clause 29 of this Bill, and even more closely in Clause 38, is an agency that will be under the control of the Secretary of State.

Although we are not discussing Clause 38, it is linked to Clause 29 and the amendments that are in this group. It gives the Secretary of State wide and extensive powers to intervene in the day-to-day operations of the Scottish environment protection agency. So in many ways I am arguing against the principle that I thought the Government had accepted in 1992; namely, that the agency would be at arm's length from the Government and would be in a position to give the Government advice. That is not the case. It is not what we are faced with now. Therefore, we have to try and improve what is in the Bill. For that reason, my amendment suggests that the advice should be made available within 12 months of this Bill becoming an Act.

My second amendment goes on to define a number of matters that I consider to be of great importance to improving the environment in Scotland and which therefore ought to be included in the guidance. It would be easy and tempting to go through each one and explain what I mean by them. But I shall resist that temptation. I know that time is at a premium. I encapsulate it all in

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the statement that the interests of future generations should be part of the statutory guidance that is given by the Secretary of State. I cannot honestly think of anything more important than the environmental interests of future generations, and that statement brings it all together.

With those few brief remarks, I hope that I have been able to persuade the noble Viscount. We are coming up to the celebration of the birth of Robert Burns. Burns had a great saying:


    " ... I backward cast mye'e,


    On prospects drear!


    An' forward, tho' I canna see,


    I guess an' fear!"

Forward though I cannot see, I have a terrible feeling that the noble Viscount will rise to reject these amendments as well. I hope that I am wrong. I ask him to give them the most serious consideration.


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