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Lord Moran: My Lords, I too am not happy about this amendment. I have some experience of committees. For five years I was chairman of the regional fisheries advisory committee in the Welsh region. I believe that the effect of this amendment would be to dilute the fisheries committees in a way which would unbalance them and which would greatly upset fishery and angling interests. They are already very concerned about the possibility that fisheries are going to be downgraded. There are so many new and important aspects of the environment agency's functions that fisheries, which on the whole have been very well dealt with by the NRA, will become less important. As I pointed out at Second Reading, fisheries have suffered a drastic reduction in funding. There is real anxiety and I beg the Government to take account of it.

The formulation in Clause 13 of the Bill is right. It preserves the fisheries advisory committees as they are, but allows the new agency, if it wants to, to permit those committees to take on responsibilities for navigation, conservation and recreation. I believe that they can do that. But, if it is laid down in the Bill that the committees are to include all these functions, it would mean that fisheries would be one of four functions and presumably representation would go accordingly. That means that, instead of having committees of people who know and care about fisheries, there would be committees in which only about one-quarter of the members would be so qualified. I think that that would be worrying and a mistake. Therefore, I hope that the Government will stick to their guns and to the current wording of Clause 13.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, although what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggests looks reasonable on the surface, we must bear in mind that the new environment agency will have enormous responsibilities. It will be one of the biggest quangos ever. It will have to accept guidance from more than one Minister and will need quite a large organisation. If, in addition to all that, it is going to have the responsibility for finding, choosing and providing opportunities for information to be given to a number of separate committees dealing with each subject, we may well be asking too much of it. Therefore, I must join those noble Lords who have expressed doubts about the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I apologise briefly to the House. I had thought that by not moving my two amendments and allowing a debate to take place on the

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amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, I might shorten proceedings a little. I am sorry if I have confused your Lordships.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I wish to make the briefest possible point in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said. Although there is a case over time for making some changes, I think that that should be done locally. The truth of the matter is that the situation varies enormously from region to region. In some regions the NRA at present (and the agency in the future) will have no navigation responsibilities; in others, the river may be an important fishery and the balance may be different. This is a case where it would be sensible for the agency to be able to move over time to a balance which represents the interests on its advisory committees. If we rush into this in legislation, I believe that the concerns which undoubtedly exist among fishing and angling interests will be magnified and we shall be getting off to a very bad start. If, however, flexibility is maintained, there is a possibility of moving over time to arrangements which suit each region.

Lord McNair: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. I do not want to go into a great deal of technical detail, but it is clear that there is a great deal of anxiety among many different quarters and many different interests. I wonder whether it would be a good idea to have some consultation between those different interests and the department before the Bill goes to the other place.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, Amendment No. 60, which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, would amend or replace Clause 13. This clause requires the agency to establish fisheries advisory committees and to consult them as to the manner in which it performs its fisheries duties. It also provides that the agency may, with the consent of Ministers, additionally consult those committees as to the way in which it performs its duties in respect of recreation, conservation or navigation, and may expand the membership of the committees accordingly. The amendment would instead require the agency to establish committees which would from the outset be consulted not only on matters relating to fisheries, but also on those relating to recreation and navigation.

Although fisheries will by no means be the largest of the agency's functions, it will nevertheless be a very important one. There are some 3 million coarse and game anglers in England and Wales around whom a valuable industry has developed. The future of the sport and of the businesses it supports is largely dependent on the health of our salmon and freshwater fisheries. Salmon and freshwater fish are also an important indicator of water quality and of the general status of our inland waters. The importance of the role of the fisheries function within the agency is recognised by the existing clause, which provides for the establishment of separate fisheries committees, as is presently the case under the NRA.

That is not to say that we consider the agency's duties with regard to recreation, conservation and navigation to be unimportant. At present those activities are dealt

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with by the NRA's regional rivers advisory committees. Under the agency, they would come within the scope of the environment protection advisory committees provided for in Clause 12 of the Bill which, in the sense that they would be responsible for all of the functions of the agency, could be regarded as the successors to the regional rivers advisory committees. It is the Government's view that recreation, navigation and inland waterway navigation interests should be properly served by the environment protection advisory committees. The chairmen of environment protection committees will be appointed by the Secretary of State and their members appointed under membership schemes prepared by the agency and approved, with or without modifications, by the Secretary of State in accordance with Schedule 3 to the Bill.

I can assure noble Lords that in appointing the chairmen and considering the membership scheme the Secretary of State will ensure that account is taken of the desirability of securing the representation of recreation, navigation and conservation interests. Schedule 3 also places a number of obligations on the agency to ensure that those likely to be interested are given the opportunity to make representations or objections as regards the schemes for appointment of members to each of the regional advisory committees.

These provisions should ensure that recreation and navigation interests are properly represented. However, we recognise that because the responsibilities of the agency will be wider than those of the NRA it is possible that the environment protection advisory committees would not be able to do full justice to recreation and navigation issues. It is for that reason we have provided that the agency may, with the consent of Ministers, consult additionally the fisheries committees as to the way in which it performs its duties in respect of recreation, navigation, or indeed conservation, and may expand their membership accordingly. The provision is there to meet the concerns that have been raised, and it can be used if need be. This may not be necessary, in which case the provision need not be used. In view of this, we consider that there is no need for combined fisheries, recreation and navigation advisory committees to be established by the Bill.

This particular amendment has attracted a good deal of interest from noble Lords around the House. Therefore, I have sought to explain rather carefully the Government's thinking. With that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his new clause.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having explained his reasons in some detail. I will go away and look at them carefully. I am not surprised at the siren voices ranged against me. In fairness to my noble friend Lord Moran who speaks of the dilution of the fishing lobby's interests, I too am very concerned about the dilution of the navigation interests. But the Minister has given me slight comfort by saying that he feels the matter will be suitably covered. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for his support. However, in the light of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 [The Scottish Environment Protection Agency]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 61:


Page 20, line 19, at end insert:
("(3) SEPA shall, in exercising any of its powers under any enactment, protect and enhance the environment.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 61 has been linked with Amendment No. 74 in my name and also with Amendment No. 75 in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

The Minister will be aware that during the Committee stage of the Bill the general consensus after considerable debate was that both the environmental agency and SEPA required clearly defined purposes centring about environmental protection and enhancement. As described by the Government on a number of occasions, the purpose of the establishment of the agencies is exactly that: the protection and enhancement of the environment. During the debate in Committee the Minister made it clear that


    "Environmental protection and enhancement are, indeed, the main purposes for which the agencies are being established." —[Official Report, 17/1/95; col. 548.]

Such a purpose is also quoted in the draft sustainable development guidance. When asked why the purpose quoted in the guidance could not be used on the face of the Bill, the Minister replied that the Government were concerned that it would render the guidance inflexible.

It is our concern that those new large quangos will have a flexible purpose and be open to modification at the whim of Ministers, and without recourse. That is worrying. A further argument advanced by the Government against giving the agencies a clearly defined purpose on the face of the Bill was that they are due to inherit a long list of functions already prescribed in legislation, and an attempt to give them an overriding statutory purpose might create duplication or conflict. That surely must be a good reason why the agency requires such a clearly defined role.

The new agencies are effectively merging a large number of independent organisations, each with different areas of work and emphasis. In the light of that, it would appear that they have a greater need than ever for a single overall clearly defined role, and that they are given directions by which they can organise themselves and function in a holistic fashion. I hope that the Minister will look on the amendment favourably. I beg to move.


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