Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 5, line 40, at end insert:
(", and shall follow the principles outlined in Schedule (Sustainable development: aims and objectives) to this Act").

The noble Lord said: I remind the Committee that Clause 4 of the Bill requires Ministers to give guidance to the agency with respect to the aims and objectives which they—that is, the Ministers—consider appropriate for the agency to pursue in the performance of its functions.

As I argued on Second Reading, I do not believe it is good enough to leave it to Ministers to give guidance on how the agency should perform its functions from time to time. Parliament should have a role in deciding what the agency should do; after all, Parliament is being asked to pass a Bill which gives the agency important powers.

In moving Amendment No. 38, for the convenience of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 147. Indeed, Amendment No. 38 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 147. Therefore, if the Committee accepts Amendment No. 38, Amendment No. 147 becomes consequential in the strict sense of the term.

The Government have been kind enough to give us the draft guidance that Ministers propose for the agency. Indeed, there was discussion last Tuesday on the press release issued by the Government entitled, Draft Outline of Scope of Guidance to the Environment Agency Under Clause 4 of the Environment Bill. It is all very well for the Government to say that from time to time Ministers will decide what the agency will do. I suppose that if I were in the unhappy position of a Minister I would say that I should like to reserve my position from day to day on what the agency should be doing. But, as I said at Second Reading, I do not believe that that is adequate for Parliament. It is up to Parliament to decide what the agency should be doing. I have therefore taken the liberty of using the draft guidance provided by the Minister as a basis for the schedule contained in Amendment No. 147. It is really to that amendment that I wish to address my rather detailed remarks.

Amendment No. 147 cuts across—in many respects it wisely cuts across—the arguments we have had in the past day or so in relation to the aims and objectives of the agency. These are government aims and objectives and I see no reason therefore why the Government should not accept them being put into the schedule. Amendment No. 147 says,

I agree absolutely with those words. Paragraph 2 of the proposed schedule goes on to the main objectives, with all of which I agree. I do not want to bore the Committee by going through the list, but it includes,

    "operate to high professional standards ... provide clear and readily available advice",

and so forth. They are all desirable aims and objectives.

19 Jan 1995 : Column 760

When we come to pollution control I am again in agreement with paragraph 3, apart from one small caveat which occurs in sub-paragraph 3(b), at the end of which the extract reads,

    "to follow relevant developments in technology and techniques".

If the Government accept my new schedule, I should prefer to use the word "promote". But that is something we can consider at a later stage of the Bill if the Government accept the new schedule, perhaps as amended by them in certain matters of draftsmanship. Paragraph 4 is, in all respects, sensible, as is paragraph 5 on page 20 of the Marshalled List.

I come to paragraph 7 of the proposed new schedule; namely,

    "Contribution to Conservation of Nature and the Heritage".

I believe that that is reasonable. I would like to go a little further along the lines taken by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, at Second Reading when he spoke about windfarms. That is a particular concern of mine as I know it is of his, he being the chairman of CPRE and myself being president of CPRW.

Paragraph 8 of the schedule allows Ministers to review existing guidance and to,

    "consolidate, revise and update that guidance as they consider necessary".

I am not saying that the proposed schedule should be set in stone. I accept that from time to time Ministers may wish to update their guidance. Nevertheless, I believe that this schedule deserves the attention of the Committee and government support because it is not my wording, but that of the Government. It is a wording which I support bar one or two amendments to which I may wish to return at a later stage of the Bill if the Committee accepts this schedule.

The fundamental principle of Amendments Nos. 38 and 147 is that Parliament, not Ministers from time to time, should set the basic, strategic terms and objectives of this agency. Since I have "stolen" the Government's words in compiling the schedule, I very much hope that the Government and the Committee will accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I have a great deal of sympathy with the main purpose which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has in mind although I do not agree with the way in which he attempts to achieve it. As I shall show, I believe that it may cause real confusion. Surely, the aims and objectives to be pursued by the agency in performing its functions are fundamental to the whole of the Bill and they should be clearly and emphatically stated by Parliament in a clause of the Bill. These matters should not be left to be decided by any Minister, with various contingent responsibilities as regards the Bill, and conveyed to the agency merely by issuing guidance. We do not even know whether the guidance is to be written or oral.

Such guidance could be rather vague, hedged about with conditions and reservations and varied from time to time and from Minister to Minister. There might even be minor conflicts behind the scenes as to the guidance given by one Minister and another. I have not given notice to my noble friend, but I have to say with great

19 Jan 1995 : Column 761

respect and apologies to him that Clause 4 will not do. The Government should replace it with another clause which clearly expresses the intentions of Parliament.

I come to what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, proposes. Strangely enough, he intends to keep Clause 4, but to add to it the contents of his long schedule about which I shall speak in a moment.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for conceding an intervention. I am sure that the noble Lord was present at our discussion of proposed Amendment No. 1 on Tuesday when the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, quite rightly described it as a "strategic amendment". The noble Lord and I have been involved in strategic amendments. In Clause 1 we have the central purpose of what the Bill is about.

I personally could not support the drafting of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, to Clause 1. The Committee did not accept it, but nevertheless, as I indicated, I was quite happy to accept the principle of a strategic amendment. We have had no comfort from the Government on that principle. In response to the noble Lord, that is why I seek to introduce the aims and objectives in the way I have because I believe that the Government have turned their face against a strategic amendment which I believe the noble Lord has in mind.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Renton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his clarification. Perhaps I may say in passing that I regret that I could not be here on the first day of the Committee stage in order to support my noble friend Lord Norrie. I had a transport problem and that is why I could not get here. I was very sorry. I was here later that day.

I shall have to repeat slightly what I was explaining. The method chosen as regards these amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is not suitable partly because it retains Clause 4 and merely adds to it a reference to his new schedule which contains very important matters. They might very well overlap with the new Clause 1, if we ever have one.

The way in which the matter is expressed in Amendment No. 147 is not something with which I can entirely agree. Although I do not agree with the drafting I agree with the substance of paragraph 1 and paragraph 2(a). Those deal with matters of principle which should somehow go into the Bill.

As regards paragraph 2(b) I am puzzled by the expression,

    "developing single points of contact".

That could mean all kinds of things and we do not know what they are. Sub-paragraphs (c), (d), (e) and (f) are provisions which one would take for granted in administering a Bill of this kind. It would be good governmental practice to do those things and I believe that it is generally accepted at present as such. But those are matters of detail on which I do not wish to spend a great deal of time.

I find matters very difficult when we come to paragraphs 3 and 4 of the schedule because they overlap with what is in Clause 5 of the Bill already. As regards paragraphs 5 and 6, they overlap with what is in Clause

19 Jan 1995 : Column 762

6 of the Bill. Paragraph 7 partly overlaps with Clauses 7 and 8. Therefore, as a matter of drafting and of getting the Bill as a cohesive and sensible document, and although I have much sympathy with the noble Lord's motive, I would not be prepared to agree his method of doing it. If it comes to a vote I could not support the noble Lord in the Division Lobby.

I conclude by saying to my noble friend Lord Ullswater, whose handling of this Bill has been impeccable so far, that I hope that we shall not leave such important matters as the aims and objectives to be pursued by the agency merely to ministerial guidance of some vague kind.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page