Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Moran: My Lords, I venture to say a brief word about the amendments because I was for some years a member of the Advisory Committee for Wales under the NRA, so I have some experience of it. What concerns me a little is the fact that Amendment No. 55 would be inclined to make the committee too large and unwieldy.

I realise that waste disposal matters will be part of the remit of the environment agency and, therefore, that the composition of the advisory committee may need to change. However, at present, it is quite a small committee. When I was a member of the committee, it consisted of the NRA board member for the Welsh region, who was the chairman, the chairmen of the three advisory committees—that is, the fisheries, the rivers and flood defence committees—one representative of local government, one representative of industry, one conservationist and the regional general manager. That made a total of eight. In practice, it was useful to have just those eight people sitting down with the Ministers or the officials from the Welsh Office. We were able to make good progress.

If half the advisory committee had to come from local government, it would unbalance the committee and make it more difficult to include a proper representation of those who were either running the advisory committees under the agency—and I think that they should be members and contribute a great deal—and of outside interests like industry. I certainly believe that

2 Mar 2002 : Column 1671

the advisory committee should contain a conservationist. Whether, as at present, it should be an outside conservationist or whether it should be a member of the Countryside Council for Wales is not something that matters too much. However, there certainly should be one on the committee.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the remarks just made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. My reason for intervening is to make a brief reference to Amendment No. 54 and the suggestion that at least one member of the committee should be a member of the Countryside Council for Wales. It has only very recently been drawn to my attention that Clause 81 of the Bill (which provides that consultation should take place before certain subordinate legislation is made in England) for some curious reason for which I have not yet heard an explanation excludes Wales.

While in England advice has to be sought from the Countryside Commission and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission before certain quite important statutory instruments dealing with habitats and so on can be amended, there is no such reference here to Wales, to the Countryside Council for Wales or to Cadw. If they are to be left out—and I am not at all sure why they have been—it might at least be useful to have a member of the Countryside Council for Wales on the Secretary of State's Welsh committee.

Baroness White: My Lords, I have stayed here very quietly and, indeed, have not said a single word as yet. However, I feel that I should express my support on this occasion for Amendment No. 54. I believe that it is an essential step to take. I am not quite so sure as regards Amendment No. 55 as to whether we really need,

    "half of the members of the Committee",

to be nominated as proposed. That seems to me to be rather excessive. Certainly there should be some. But I would hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will press the amendment if he feels so disposed. It is essential that in the Welsh scene we have adequate representation on the committee, and that both local authority and environmental experience should be catered for in some sensible arrangement. I would not necessarily want to go with every word of both these amendments, but I think they are very much on the right lines.

9.30 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the purpose of these amendments is to ensure that at least half of the membership of the advisory committee for Wales comprises nominees of the local authorities in the Principality, and that a member of the Countryside Council for Wales is also included. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that the advisory committee will need to include locally elected members. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has already committed himself to including locally elected members within the committee, which he feels is important to facilitate responsiveness to local needs.

2 Mar 2002 : Column 1672

Under the existing Clause 11, the agency advisory committee for Wales would be set up in just the same way as was the National Rivers Authority Advisory Committee for the Welsh region. It was not felt necessary to dictate in the legislation which established the latter committee any specific numbers of representatives from local government, nor indeed of other interests, and no rights of nomination were given to any body.

The National Rivers Authority Advisory Committee for Wales comprises a good balance of interests, including local authority representation. It has been very effective in bringing to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's attention issues of particular local concern. A recent example has been the serious pollution of the Neath Canal caused by mineral discharges. The committee was able to visit the site to examine the problem at first hand and has urged that the various parties involved should work together to bring forward a solution as quickly as possible. Following this involvement, a study has been set up to identify long-term remedial measures and an action plan put forward by the local authority has been given financial support by my right honourable friend under the strategic development scheme. The advisory committee has contributed to the development of a strong Welsh identify for the region and good links with the people of Wales—for example, by publishing in England and Welsh an annual report of the agency's activities in the Principality.

Welsh Office Ministers have already stated their intention that the advisory committee will include more than one locally elected member. I do not see that there is a need to constrain my right honourable friend's ability to choose an effective membership by specifying on the face of the Bill a precise minimum number of local authority members. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be responsible for approving the agency's membership scheme for its Environment Protection Advisory Committee for the Welsh region, which he will also wish to see include local authority representation.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will consult the local authorities in Wales, through the local authority associations, before selecting members for the advisory committee for Wales. I do not think, however, that the legislation should restrict my right honourable friend to appointing from local government only local authority nominees. I think it is important that my right honourable friend is given the flexibility to make appointments, not just at the outset but in the future, which reflect the particular needs of Wales at the time and which produce the best balance of interests on the committee as a whole. I can assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend intends to ensure that the advisory committee does encompass a representative range of views and wide-ranging expertise. Indeed, this will be vital if, as we intend, the committee is to provide effective advice to assist my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales as the Minister responsible for setting the policy framework within which the agency will operate in the Principality.

2 Mar 2002 : Column 1673

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, encouraged by the noble Baroness, Lady White, suggests that the Countryside Council for Wales should have a member on the body. The Countryside Council for Wales is one example of the kind of body which could usefully contribute to the committee's consideration of conservation issues. There are others, however. For example, the senior conservation officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds serves on the existing NRA committee. I think it unnecessary, therefore, for the Countryside Council for Wales to be singled out on the face of the Bill.

To answer the question of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I understand that the Countryside Council for Wales is a statutory adviser to the Secretary of State and therefore its advice would be considered.

The advisory committee for Wales will need to advise on a wider range of activities than the current NRA committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, perceived. For example, it will need to have experience and knowledge of waste management, conservation, rivers, flood defence, fisheries and integrated pollution control. It will need to reflect the views of both industry and environmental organisations. I have to agree with the noble Lord that the requirement for half its members to be local government nominees could result in a very cumbersome and potentially less effective committee. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his response, and I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate.

The Minister has gone some of the way in reinforcing the declared intention of the Secretary of State for Wales to select elected members of local authorities. I do not see why he should not go a little further and accept members of local authorities who have been nominated by those local authorities. That would simply reinforce the accountability chain. I do not worry particularly about whether the membership is half, a third or an eighth. The numbers do not really matter. However, there should be a sizeable number of those who have their roots in local communities and are accountable democratically to those who elected them. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Concerning the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ellis-Thomas, there is considerable doubt about how the Secretary of State for Wales will deal with the Countryside Council for Wales. Any mention of the Countryside Council for Wales on the face of any Bill would have my support because it would guarantee the future of that body, which is now under great threat.

I have noted the point of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about Clause 81. I have already formulated an amendment, which is included on the Marshalled List, but I shall formulate a rather more elaborate amendment designed to ensure that similar consultation takes place in Wales as the Bill provides to take place in England. We shall deal with that when we come to Clause 81.

2 Mar 2002 : Column 1674

I am grateful to the noble Viscount. The Government's position is not entirely satisfactory. I shall consult with my advisers to see what we do next or whether we leave it to another place to thrash the matter out. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Environment protection advisory committees]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page