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In establishing the agency the Government have repeatedly emphasised that its creation is intended both to improve protection of the environment and to help regulated organisations through the adoption of more integrated approaches considering impacts on the environment as a whole, through a reduction in the number of different regulators and through improved consistency of regulation. It has an important role in taking forward the Government's policy on sustainable development. The proposed principal aim builds on the proposal in the previously published draft outline guidance and seeks to encapsulate this in a way which reflects the broad range of the agency's functions and minimises the difficulties to which I referred in Committee over incompatibilities with other enactments and in defining sustainable development.
In Amendment No. 29 the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seeks to remove the reference to taking into account any likely costs. The noble Baroness pointed out that the principal aim previously published by the Government in the document on scope guidance under Clause 4 contained no such reference. The reason for the addition arises from the giving of statutory status to the aim. Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of the environment with the needs of economic development. As such it necessarily involves consideration of costs as well as of the needs of the environment in terms of protection or enhancement. But the concept is not one on which the courts in England and Wales have previously needed to take a view; and, for reasons which we discussed in Committee, it is undesirable to seek to define it in this Bill. The inclusion of the reference to costs is therefore intended to ensure that the principal aim includes explicit recognition of both sides of the equation to reduce the risk of challenge in the courts from anyone who might seek to argue that sustainable development is to be interpreted exclusively in environmental terms.
In Amendment No. 30 the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seeks to replace the duty on Ministers to give guidance to the agency with respect to objectives by one in which they must give guidance on how the agency is to achieve its aim. Clause 4(3) makes clear that the guidance given under subsection (2) must include guidance with respect to the contribution which the Ministers consider it appropriate for the agency to make towards achieving sustainable development. The
In his Amendment No. 24 the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is proposing to replace the universally recognised phrase "sustainable development" by the unfamiliar term "sustainable use of resources". As the Prime Minister acknowledged in his foreword to the sustainable development strategy we published in January 1994, and as a number of noble Lords stated during Committee stage of this Bill, the phrase "sustainable development" is indeed difficult to define. But that does not mean that the international community and UK practitioners do not understand what issues are involved and recognise the areas where action needs to be taken.
Our 250-page strategy document set out the principles of sustainable development, reviewed the state of the UK environment and identified key trends and pressure points and the key sectors of the economy where new policy developments were needed and where market opportunities and growth points existed. It concluded with a discussion of what action could be taken to help achieve sustainable development.
Changing the term "sustainable development" would not help determine what needs to be done. Rather it would serve to confuse. Nationally and internationally we are moving nearer to a consensus on the action we need to take to preserve our fragile planet. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, when he suggested that one routeI am not sure that it was his preferred routewould be to put it into the guidance which we shall be issuing under Clause 4, which will help to progress that consensus yet further. I believe that changing the terminology now will not aid that process.
My noble friend Lord Wade, in speaking to Amendment No. 25, raised issues which are of key importance to sustainable development. The Government attach great importance to the efficient use of energy. It saves money which could be used to develop businesses, improve homes and living standards and boost the economy. It helps to protect the environment by reducing the threat of climate change. It helps us to carry forward our sustainable development policy, changing people's culture by promoting realistic ways of achieving development at lower cost to the environment.
But I cannot agree that energy conservation is of such overriding importance to sustainable development that advice on it must be included in all the guidance Ministers will wish to give to the agency on its objectives. Yet that would be the effect of my noble friend's amendment. When we need to give guidance on energy conservation, systems for producing energy and indeed energy efficiency generally, the Bill gives us the power to do so and requires the agency to take account of it. I agree that it will be necessary from time to time to consider what advice to give the agency on these matters; but not all the time.
My noble friends Lord Mills and Lord Crickhowell spoke to Amendments Nos. 26 and 27. They indicated that the amendments were tabled before they were able to see the amendment to Clause 4 that I tabled on Tuesday. I am delighted that I have been able, in that government amendment, to respond to the main points in Amendment No. 27 made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell during the Committee stage debate on this clause. I promised to look again at the proposal to make clear on the face of the Bill that the agency would be consulted on the guidance and that the guidance would be published; I am pleased that we have been able to achieve that in the government amendment. Indeed, our amendment goes further in requiring wide consultation, not just with the agency but with other appropriate bodies or persons. Our amendment does not mirror completely the amendments tabled by my noble friends; but I do not consider that the Bill needs, for example, to require a notice about availability of the guidance to be placed in the London Gazette or to specify that, as well as being published, copies of the guidance should be made available to the public. I hope however that your Lordships' House will agree that we have met the main intention behind the amendment.
I consider Amendment No. 26 to be unnecessary. I have already made available at Committee stage copies of our draft of the outline guidance to be issued under Clause 4. It declares our intention to make a draft of the full text available in time for consideration of the Bill in another place. In producing a final text, we shall wish to take full account of comments made on the draft in that place and from those others with an interest in the contribution the environment agency is to make towards achieving sustainable development. There can be no doubting our determination to make progress on the production of the guidance and therefore no need to seek to require the Government to issue the first set of guidance within 12 months of the coming into force of the Act. I ask my noble friend therefore to consider carefully what I have said and not to push me further on the matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, in giving a warm welcome to the depositing of the new clause, also gave notice that at a further stage of the Bill she will be tabling an amendment to bring the guidance under approval by Parliament. Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would make it subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I take note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, has said. I shall consider very carefully whether that is the route that the Government should be taking. I certainly take note that we shall be faced with that at Third Reading.
The noble Baroness asked me what "taken as a whole" means. I hope that my answer is not too Delphic. We mean by that an integrated analysis of all the environmental media of air, land and water and that judgments should be taken in the round and be based on overall factors and should not be preoccupied by the minutiae of the detail. I am not sure that my noble friend Lord Cranbrook will be entirely happy with that
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about costs. Amendment No. 124 inserts a definition into Clause 53 of costs as costs to any person and costs to the environment. That is probably the right way to leave it.
During the debate in Committee a number of noble Lords made clear their concerns over the extent to which Clause 4 as originally drafted could give Ministers the ability fundamentally to change the aims and objectives of the agency after the Bill had been enacted and thereby in effect change its central purpose. There was broad pressure for a strategic purpose to be included on the face of the Bill. In moving his Amendment No. 147, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he was content with the principal aim of the agency which the Government had proposed, but believed that it was essential that it was incorporated in some way within the Bill. The government amendments are designed to respond to the noble Lord's concerns. With the explanation I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment and that the House will feel able to support the Government's new clause and amendments.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he be so good as to comment on the suggestion which I made and which two other noble Lords, as I understood it, supported that whatever else "sustainable" means it must in the context of this Bill include environmentally sustainable.
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