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Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 56:


Page 13, line 15, at end insert:
("( ) Without prejudice to paragraph (b) of subsection (4) above, not less than one third of the members of any advisory committee appointed by virtue of subsection (2) (b) above shall be local authority members.
( ) A person shall not be appointed a local authority member of an advisory committee for any region unless he is a member of a principal council the area of which is wholly or partly comprised in that region.
( ) Before appointing any person to be a local authority member of an advisory committee for any region the Agency shall consult with every principal council the area of which is wholly or partly comprised in that region.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 56 follows the debate during the Committee stage and the welcome pledge from my noble friend the Minister at that stage that local government members would be included on the regional advisory committees of the environment agency. The amendment attempts to give form to that pledge and establish a consultation process so that local government is widely involved in the selection of its representatives.

The need for a close and intimate relationship between local government as the planning authorities and the environmental agencies as the regulatory authorities is illustrated simply by relating the kinds of terms and conditions that would go into a waste disposal planning permission. That has nothing to do with a waste disposal licence, but the terms are almost identical. Obvious factors such as suitability of site, impact on neighbours and long term future of the land are understood. Mode of transport, access and hours of work are understood. However, included in consideration of a planning permission today—they would not have been 25 or 30 years ago—will be the geology and hydrology of the site because movement of any waste under the ground is a matter of which planners now believe account has to be taken in the light of bitter experience over past years. Any emissions, and control of emissions, will also be subject to conditions of a planning consent. The method of working, standards and quality of cover, which could also be judged to be part of the licence, are also subjects of planning permission.

For planning permission to be given for a waste disposal facility, there has inevitably to be the closest and most intimate working relationship between the professional staff of local government and the professional staff of the appropriate regulatory body, soon to be the environment agency. At that level, I do not doubt that there will be the closest possible liaison. It is equally important that in parallel with that liaison,

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the political level of local government finds its involvement satisfactory. However good the professional working relationships might be, we would have a disastrous situation if a political separation between local government and the regulatory bodies ever developed.

It is in that sense that I move the amendment. I hope that the Minister might consider, if I may say this without being provocative, that the English provision is slightly more reasonable than the Welsh.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, my name appears also to the amendment. I begin by expressing my thanks to my noble friend on the Front Bench for the time he gave when I took the chairman of the south-east waste regulation advisory committee to see him to argue the case for a more structured system of representation of local authorities on the advisory committees. I stress that they are advisory committees. They are not part of the executive chain of accountability. The members are there to advise the executive arm, which in this case is the agency; and, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said, who better to offer advice from a wide range of local concerns than those who are elected members of local authorities?

We had a very curtailed debate at the end of the proceedings on 19th January. We moved a more ambitious serious of amendments which envisaged—as in the recent amendment, and as was the point of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel—that the agency should accept nominations, and accept nominated members. I understand the point my noble friend made to me, and to Mrs. Hawker (who came with me) that the Government are anxious to avoid representative members of these advisory committees. I refer to people who, in a sense, have not been chosen for their expertise in the field but somehow see themselves as accountable to the body from which they have come. It is a familiar argument. That dichotomy, that conflict, has been apparent in many different fields of Government activity. I understand that the Government are firmly committed to the idea that people shall not be representatives but shall be appointed for their merit and their value to the committee.

My noble friend's amendment moves away from that concept. All we ask is that the agency should consult with all the local authorities in the area to be covered by the advisory committee. No doubt it will receive suggestions for people who might be put forward and who will presumably be acceptable to the local authorities. From that body, the agency can select the people who it believes will make the best contribution to the work of the advisory committee.

The amendment suggests that no fewer than a third of the members of the advisory committee should be such people. I consider that that is the minimum for which we can reasonably ask on the face of the Bill in order to ensure that all the considerations are dealt with which my noble friend, with his great experience of local government, has outlined. Those considerations must be in the Bill, even after the extremely sincere

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assertion from the Front Bench that of course local authority elected members will be appointed. I wish to see that in the Bill, and the first paragraph of the amendment will give the Government what they want, while at the same time giving reassurance to the local authorities that they will have a say and that their members will be elected in sufficient numbers to have an influence on the work of the advisory committee. I strongly support the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I too support the amendment. In our debate on the transfer of the functions of the waste regulation authorities, one of the threads running through the resistance to my attempts to avoid that transfer was the relationship that there would be with the committees. To include the provision proposed in the amendment on the face of the Bill would flesh out that assurance. It would make the transfer of the functions a little more palatable.

It is to the credit of those in local government that they continue to argue for such a provision. The temptation must be to say, "Well, if you want it, you get on with it", but in fact, they are keen to ensure that the new system works well, even if they do not necessarily support the whole of it.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I have no particular objection to the amendment except that if we are to write something on the face of the Bill for England, I see no reason why we should not do so for Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, may be less ambitious than the Welsh, but I would say that perhaps the English do not know how to play poker as well as the Welsh because you do not declare your hand at the outset of the game.

I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on nominations versus selection. However, we have had that argument on many occasions and I do not intend to elaborate on it now. I hope that we can agree on a middle way so that if the Secretary of State wishes to retain something called "flexibility", those selected at least have the endorsement of the authorities from which they come. There must be some degree of confidence between the authorities from which they come and the fact that they are members of an advisory committee for the agency. Otherwise the chain which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seeks to establish will break down.

There is a good deal of residual suspicion about appointments made by Secretaries of State to unelected bodies. We are learning to work through it by various constructions that have been set up by the Government, but there is still a good deal of residual suspicion. I am sure that by adopting the kind of formula which I have suggested the Minister could go at least some way towards alleviating the suspicion. I go halfway with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in supporting the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, I have known very awkward members of local authorities who have

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worked on quangos and who have not been au fait with the work. Therefore, I prefer a cross-section of people to one set of "yes men".

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, has at least managed to contribute to this debate. In a way, he has indicated that he is on my side. I did not seem to have many friends in the House until he decided to speak.

As I explained on the previous amendment, I would indeed expect a number of local authority members to be included on the agency's regional environment protection advisory committees. There is no doubt that such individuals will bring significant experience of local authorities and local issues. I am sure that their advice will be of great value to the agency in developing its relationships with local authorities in general.

I therefore have some sympathy with the intention behind my noble friend's amendment. Nevertheless, I do not believe it would be right for the legislation to specify the proportion of local authority members on these committees. The Bill already provides a mechanism for the agency to propose schemes for the appointment of members in each region, for consultation on those schemes, and for the Secretary of State to approve, reject or modify proposals in the light of representations made. This is designed to enable individual schemes to take account of the particular circumstances of each region. I do not believe that the legislation should pre-empt that process by providing that local authority members should comprise at least one-third of the membership of these committees. There are many organisations with a claim to a place. We should allow the agency to propose what the balance should be, and not seek to fix all or part of it in statute.

I should also explain that the committees are not intended to be the only, or indeed the primary, means by which the agency interacts with local authorities. It will be important for the agency to develop working-level arrangements with authorities in areas such as planning and development control—as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said—local air pollution control and environmental health, and emergency planning. The committees should not be seen as a substitute for such arrangements.

My noble friend's amendment would also require the agency to consult every principal council in a region before appointing a person as a local authority member. I would submit that his concern is already covered elsewhere in the Bill, particularly in Schedule 3. Before appointing a member to a committee, the agency must consult appropriate bodies or persons identified in the membership scheme. In the case of individuals who are local authority members, I would indeed expect the agency to consult, under this provision, the principal councils in the relevant region.

I know that I shall not have satisfied my noble friend. But I hope I have indicated where, I believe, the right balance should lie. I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.


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