Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Renton: I too hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, will withdraw his amendment. I respect his motives. The matters that he has mentioned in the four amendments which he has on the Marshalled List are important matters. But I think that, if we wish this new environment agency to succeed, we must not turn it into too great a mammoth. It is going to have

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1351

vast responsibilities as it is, as a combination of several public bodies already exercising various responsibilities. If we try to shove on to it everything we can think of, then I am afraid that the whole administration will break down.

We have to have a sense of proportion over all this. It is a fact, as my noble friend Lord Ullswater has pointed out, that with regard to energy we have other statutory requirements, as we have with regard to drinking water, and in Scotland there are the special arrangements which my noble friend has mentioned.

I really think it is best to leave things as the Government propose.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I should like just to comment on the noble Viscount's reply to Amendment No. 195A, to which my name is attached. If I understood the noble Viscount rightly, he is in sympathy with the general thrust of it, but thinks that it is all dealt with under other arrangements.

I have sympathy with the idea that we should not overload the Bill with extra bits which are not needed, but the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is a slightly different one, surely: it is whether or not the environment agencies should actually perform this function that we have put down as an amendment, and which we say should be written into the Bill. One cannot at the same time say that they should not be loaded with these functions, and that they will in fact be carrying them out.

I should be most grateful if, before we come back to the Report stage, the noble Viscount would rather fill out his reply to this amendment by showing why there is no need for this particular amendment and why it is totally covered by other legislation and other arrangements. I think that would help us all a great deal.

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: I indicated in my reply that I believe the new agencies are set up with very specific tasks which are related to environmental regulation. What the noble Lord proposes is that they should have a requirement to promote energy efficiency. I indicated that I thought this was the duty of other regulators, the regulators for the gas and the electricity industries, and that there were separate bodies of legislation which dealt with the operation of those two regulators. I felt that it was covered in legislation, and that, bearing in mind that other legislation, this would be a confusing duty for the agency to have, and I did not really believe that it should have it in the first place.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in this short but important debate. It brings out the difference in opinion between these Benches and, I think, the Benches to my right, and certain noble Lords opposite, on the real function of these two agencies.

As I said on Second Reading, I regard the Government as adopting a minimalist approach. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, accuses me of putting everything we can think of into the agency. There we have the difference of opinion. It is not everything that

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1352

we can think of: if I sat down with a blank sheet of paper, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that I could think of an awful lot of other things that I might wish to put into the agency. It seemed to me that these were the fundamental things that should go into these two agencies in so far as they could do so. I accept that the drafting may not be right, and that the Scottish matter is different. But these are essential things to put into the agency if it is to be an environment agency rather than a simple merger of three existing bodies. Here, the Government and we have a very clear difference of opinion. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is on the side of the Government in this matter.

I emphasise that, because this is going to be a recurring theme, not only during the Committee stage, where we are at the moment, but also at the next stage of the Bill—and also, I can assure the noble Viscount that when this Bill goes down to another place it will be a recurring theme, because there is a difference of philosophy between ourselves and the Government as to how we see this agency working.

The noble Viscount says that the agency would not have contact with many companies. I was rather surprised by that comment, I must say, because I should have thought that an agency which comprises the National Rivers Authority, HMIP and local waste regulation authorities, would have contact with a great many companies. Indeed, if an agency of this nature wanted to get into touch with any company, whether privately or publicly owned, I am absolutely certain they would have no difficulty in doing so.

I was also rather surprised that the theme lying behind his criticism of Amendment No. 198 was that this would be laying too many burdens on industry. As I tried to point out, the CBI itself believes that the environment and environmental considerations should be built into the centre of economic company operations. All I am doing is echoing something—not what trade unions say—that the CBI is saying, and I believe the agency should have an important function in that.

I am told by the noble Viscount that I should not insist on Amendment No. 199, because it is too wide ranging. I do not mind wide-ranging amendments for an agency such as this. Indeed, we had a debate in the course of this Committee about a possible amendment of a strategic nature, right at the beginning of the Bill, pointing out what this agency was about. That would have been a wide-ranging amendment. I am not bothered about that. I believe that the agency, if it is going to be the sort of agency we want as opposed to the sort of agency that the Government is proposing, should have wide-ranging powers and wide-ranging functions of this nature.

Lord Renton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I ask him to bear in mind that, in asking in Amendment No. 199 that each new agency should encourage the export of technology, he is placing upon the agencies a very wide and highly technical responsibility. It is something for which I would not have expected them to have the quite large numbers of staff which would be required, and which in any event

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1353

is the responsibility to a great extent of private agencies like the CBI and of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. But that again demonstrates the difference of opinion between him and me. All Amendment No. 199 seeks to do is to "encourage" the export. If I were to table an amendment saying that the agency should discourage the export, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, would say that that just is not on.

Lord Renton: I would not agree.

Lord Williams of Elvel: The noble Lord would not agree with me; that is absolutely right. I am saying that the agency should have a function which recognises the importance of the export if this country is to be in the forefront of clean technology.

Lord Marlesford: I have great sympathy with what the amendment seeks to achieve. But I question whether one wants to write into the statute those specific requirements. For many years I was a member of the Countryside Commission and for fewer years the Royal Development Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Vinson. Many things were done by those two agencies which were desirable but not in the statute.

If we put in the statute a duty to promote exports we are asking for the setting up of a great bureaucracy. Therefore, though I sympathise greatly with the noble Lord in terms of what he would like to see happen in this country in terms of energy conservation and so forth, one needs to focus the function of the agency rather closely in order that it performs as well as possible. I do not believe there is a difference in philosophy between the noble Lord and myself in relation to the agency's functions; it is a matter of how one sees the style of the agency.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I know that he and I are in sympathy as regards the aims of the agency. I do not want to persist in this matter. This is a House of Parliament. The only opportunity the Opposition has to affect what is done in smoke-filled rooms in quangos operated by whoever it may be of the noble Lords opposite, is to put something in the Bill. That is the object of the exercise. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Greenway moved Amendment No. 196:


Page 29, line 23, at end insert:
("( ) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, the Agency may make and carry into effect agreements with any other person, on such terms and conditions (including as to payment) as it thinks fit, with respect to the carrying out by any other person of any of the management functions of the Agency in relation to any waterway in respect of which the Agency exercises functions as a navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority.").

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1354

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 196 is by nature a probing amendment. As I mentioned earlier in Committee, all navigation and boating interests are awaiting a consultation document from the Department of the Environment. That follows the recommendation of the environment Select Committee of another place that a review be carried out of the navigation functions of the NRA and British Waterways. I understand that that document is due fairly soon. In view of that it is difficult to comment on policy issues in relation to where navigation should sit within the Government structure.

Those bodies who look after the interests of the navigators do not at this stage want to propose any radical change. They would rather wait and see the consultation document and respond to it in a constructive way. In the meantime—this is the reasoning behind the amendment—I am seeking confirmation from the Minister that the powers contained in Clause 35 as drafted, or an equivalent power at the end of the Bill, would allow the new environment agency to delegate the management of its navigations to a third party. That would not involve the transfer of parliamentary powers or authorities for the navigations as was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McNair. They could remain with the environment agency. Rather it would be the day-to-day management of the agency's navigations that may be subcontracted in the future to a third party.

I stress that I am not advocating such a change now. I just want to be comfortable that the legislative provisions are in place should all parties find a unanimous alternative as part of the DoE's consultation process. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page