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Baroness Hamwee: I very much agree with the point of view that has just been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. As we discussed on Tuesday, we on these Benches also take the view that Clause 4 simply will not do. To my mind, aims and objectives are rather different from guidelines and guidance. The latter have a place in fleshing out what should be agreed by Parliament as to the primary purpose and objectives of the agency. I find Clause 4 confusing in that the guidance can be changed from time to time. Furthermore, the agency is not required to do any more than "have regard" to the guidance. It is not even required to follow it. My conclusion is a little different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, because, feeling as strongly as I and my colleagues on these Benches feel, if it comes to a vote we shall support the amendment because we believe that it is important to establish the principle.

However, I too have some trouble with the draft schedule. It is not surprising that there is trouble with the draft schedule because it replicates draft guidance on which the Government are currently consulting and which, because it is guidance, is better directed at initial priority-setting rather than at the fundamental aims and objectives. The provisions on pollution control refer to "industrial emissions". We know that the issue of industrial emissions requires major consideration and a great deal of work, but so too does that of traffic pollution. Indeed, I believe that the Government have said the same thing only today. Therefore, it is perhaps striking the wrong balance to include in a schedule to the Bill the provision that the agency shall deal in particular with industrial emissions.

I should add that I find certain provisions a little odd in this place. I refer to those dealing with maintaining and developing salmon, trout, freshwater and eel fisheries. No doubt those are areas to which regard should be had—not that I know a great deal about them—but the economic considerations which that maintenance and improvement must involve will need to be set in the context of the economic considerations which we shall address later in our consideration of the Bill.

A number of semantic points could be made. I do not want to put it any higher than that, but I think that it is inappropriate to use words such as "particularly" and "including" in a Bill because that leaves the reader a little confused about the priorities.

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To summarise, we feel that Clause 4 is not merely an inadequate clause; it is a dangerous clause and for that reason we support the principle of what is proposed although not the detail.

Lord Marlesford: I, too, feel considerable sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has put forward, but I accept the modifications suggested by my noble friend Lord Renton. It is a question of striking a balance between what is included in the Bill in order to make the purpose and scope of primary legislation clear, while leaving sufficient flexibility for sensible application of that legislation in due course. I do not think that the balance is right at the moment and I hope that the Government will look at it again. Some of us will want to change the balance in relation to later provisions in the Bill. Although I do not want to debate this now, perhaps I may give one example. I believe that when we come to consider hedgerows many of us will feel that it would be desirable for the scheme to be spelt out in a good deal more detail than at present. Equally, however, when we reach Clause 37, which relates to costs and benefits, some of us may well feel that it is inappropriate to spell out that aspect in the Bill and that such provisions might be better left to guidance.

I recognise the difficulty on this question of balance. As I have said, I do not think that the Government have got it quite right yet. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is not intending that his present formula should be inserted in the Bill at this stage, but I hope that the Government will be able to return with provisions that strike a better balance.

Lord Elton: Somewhat to my surprise, I am not entirely persuaded by my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Marlesford and those who have spoken in support of the proposals, if with some modification. The two questions that we must ask about the amendment are: is it necessary and is it apt? On the question of whether it is necessary, it is claimed that it is necessary in order to show what the primary purpose and functions of the agency shall be. It may be convenient to focus those provisions in a separate place, but they already appear in the Bill.

Clause 1(1) states that the body is to have,

    "the purpose of carrying out the functions transferred or assigned to it by or under this Act".

We discover what they are later because Clause 2(1) (a) states that they are the functions of the National Rivers Authority while paragraph (b) refers to the functions of the waste regulation authorities. Those matters are already spelt out in existing statutes. There is no question about the functions or purposes of the agency. The only question is whether they should be spelt out separately and clearly in a different place. That may be attractive, but it does not seem necessary.

Clause 6 states:

    "It shall be the duty of the Agency ... to promote ... the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty",

of the waterways. Clause 7 states that Ministers shall have a contributory duty, with paragraph (a) specifying that a Minister shall perform his functions,

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    "so to exercise any power conferred on him or it with respect to the proposals as to further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest".

If your Lordships read the Bill in the way in which it will be necessary for those who will have to operate it to read it, those aims and objectives will become clear.

Therefore, on the first question of whether the provisions are necessary, I for one am not entirely convinced that they are. On the question of whether the provisions are apt, whatever the origins of the passage, the language does not seem to be the appropriate language of statute because it is too general and aspirational to be subject to judicial review. It seems to be too much a question of judgment. I shall not go down the list, but although that language is clearly understood in the boardroom or across the dinner table, it is very difficult to adjudicate on it. Therefore, I do not think that the language is appropriate.

If there is a difficulty to be resolved, I think it is that Clause 4(1) is very sweeping and general although subsection (2) is very necessary. The question that we must ask—it may be the fear that lies behind what noble Lords have been saying—is whether the Minister is being given the power totally to change the direction of the agency and what it is seeking to achieve—to nullify the intentions of Parliament or to subvert them in some way. The answer to that is to make the Minister's proposals subject to some parliamentary process. If the noble Viscount intends to return to this point at a later stage—it may or may not be necessary and I hope that it is not—I hope that among the alternatives that he will consider is a provision to ensure that if a Minister wanted to make some direction to the agency, he should not be able to do so in secret, as it were, but should have to do so under the eye of Parliament.

4 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I believe that the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, suffer from the problem we identified on Tuesday when we discussed a group of amendments on sustainable development. Much of that debate served only to reaffirm our belief that it would indeed be dangerous to seek to set out on the face of the Bill detailed guidance on the agency's aims and objectives, and on the way it is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. We need a much more flexible means of guiding the agency, over time, as to its aims and objectives and the contribution it is to make towards achieving sustainable development.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton who described how the Bill sets in place the objectives for the new agency. As many Members of the Committee have confirmed, the concept of sustainable development is complex and one upon which international understanding continues to develop. It requires effective reconciliation of the pursuit of economic development and of environmental protection. It is difficult to express that succinctly in legislation without the risk of giving undue emphasis to some aspects or implying that other aspects are not normally part of sustainable development and so need to be listed separately.

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While general international acceptance of the Brundtland definition is offered by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in their Amendment No. 351, which we discussed on a previous occasion, as time goes by we and others see more clearly the extent of the implications of trying to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Our scientific knowledge increases as we seek to understand the impact of specific pollutants and the way they interrelate and impact on the environment, and how we can mitigate those effects.

We believe therefore that it would be wrong to try to define inflexibly on the face of the Bill—as the proposed schedule would do—the aims and objectives of the agency and the way it is to seek sustainable development. Clause 4 requires Ministers to give such guidance which allows the flexibility for this to be developed from time to time as our increasing awareness of the impact of our activities on the environment show us better ways of ensuring that development is sustainable.

I accept that Amendment No. 147 reflects the issues and principles that at this stage we have in mind to incorporate in the guidance to be issued to the agency, and which we made widely available on Tuesday by means of a press notice. But that is not the final version; that will be issued only after a process of wide consultation. Indeed, on Tuesday there was discussion as to the meaning of the overall aim of the agency to help to promote sustainable development through high quality, integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement, and whether the overall aim should include management.

We would want to consider this carefully, taking account of a number of views—not least those expressed during this debate—and in further consideration of the issues here and in another place. I believe that we need to take time and to involve a wide group of experts in the development of the guidance. It is vital that we get it right and that we can develop it in the light of new awareness of environmental risks.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, says that his proposed schedule (Amendment No. 147) would not set the sustainable development guidance in stone. It would, however, set the aims and objectives of the agency in stone. Paragraph (2) of the schedule would also require the guidance—however revised—to accord with the previously published sustainable development strategy, Cm. 2426, identified in the paragraph. There may be need in the future to amend the details of the strategy, a very long document which sets out the best understanding as at January 1994.

I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Renton. I could not agree with his approach, although he did indicate that the words in the proposed schedule were not entirely those that he would want to see if the schedule were to be put onto the statute book. My noble friend recognises, I believe, some of the difficulties I am trying to explain and also the fact that the guidance is at the moment in draft. I have emphasised that during our debates because it is important that we should be

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able to revise the guidance and bring it up to date. I am anxious that we should not be tied down to particular words on the printed page at this stage.

I also believe that the agency itself cannot achieve sustainable development or decide what it is. The agency will make a major contribution towards achieving sustainable development in Britain but it cannot control activity in areas such as land use planning, resource use and energy efficiency because those are outside the scope of its functions. As the sustainable development strategy made clear, the achievement of sustainable development must involve the whole country and not just particular sections, however important their contributions will be. It needs to involve local government, business, the voluntary sector, Churches and, not least, the public.

As to the overall co-ordination of the national effort, it is for government itself to take decisions about economic development and environmental protection. It cannot, therefore, be right for the agency to take charge of national policy on sustainable development.

I sum up by saying that defining the contribution that the agency is to make towards sustainable development will be a complex but fundamental task for government. We recognise that. That is why we made available the outline of the scope of the guidance under Clause 4, and we intend to expand the note into a more detailed draft for wide consultation when the Bill is considered in another place. It is right to take time and to involve a wide constituency in the preparation of the guidance. I therefore call on the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to withdraw his amendment.

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