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Lord Whitty: At this stage, it may be helpful if I indicate generally the Government's approach to this matter. It may be helpful also for me to spread my remarks rather wider than merely speaking to my amendments in the group because I believe that the Government have responded both to the feelings expressed originally in Committee and to the report of the Delegated Powers Committee. There have also been various informal discussions in the interim with which noble Lords will be familiar.
The Delegated Powers Committee gave its opinion on the Bill, which was fairly robust. It concluded that the powers which were being delegated were too wide; were not clearly enough defined; and were not subject to an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny. We debated those points with some vigour and we have considered them.
We have gone further than the Select Committee's recommendations. Later today I shall move amendments to meet some of the other points raised in the debate in February. They will provide greater clarification of the definition of "environmental pollution"; modify the provision relating to the regulator's powers; and include a provision for the protection of commercially confidential information. That is a substantial move and one which has been acknowledged by the Select Committee.
"We recognise that the Bill must allow for powers to change the law by regulations in certain areas to retain flexibility ... We believe the amendments you have put down ... create safeguards for business in providing for consultation and allowing for the scrutiny of Regulations in key areas by the affirmative resolution procedure".
Indeed, the amendments go much further than the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. Therefore, I believe that the Government have met the anxieties which were expressed previously in Committee and by the Delegated Powers Committee. In doing so, I acknowledge that there have been drafting difficulties with the Bill. However, we have now addressed them and I hope that the Committee will accept that.
In view of the fact that I have agreed to a recommitment stage, I hope that the Committee will not object if I take advantage of the flexibility provided by that to come back on the specific amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, so that I may deal also with other points which noble Lords are anxious to raise. However, I ask Members of the Committee to understand the wide-ranging scope of the government amendments. I thought it helpful to explain the position at this stage.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The Minister should be congratulated on his miracle of understatement when he said that there have been drafting difficulties in relation to the Bill. We can all go along with that without any difficulty.
I wondered why the Minister rose to his feet so early in what is likely to be a brief discussion. I was impressed by what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the need for a purpose clause and by what my noble friend Lord Renton said. In rising to his feet so early, I thought that the Minister wished to add to the welcome, friendly atmosphere which has prevailed so far by saying that, of course, he will accept the amendment. However, he did not. He plunged into the deeper waters of the later stages of the Bill. I should have thought that his immediate acceptance of this reasonable amendment would be a further gesture of good intentions.
I do not want to underrate the importance of my noble friend's amendment but, as I understand it, he is giving the Government free, gratis, for nothing and without any charge a decent quantity of face powder which the Government can use to cover their obvious embarrassment about the way in which they have handled the Bill up to now. I hope that nothing that the Minister has said so far indicates his intention to advise the House to reject the amendment.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: As my name stands to this amendment, perhaps I may speak now. If at any stage I am inaudible or incoherent that will be because this morning I had a wisdom tooth extracted and I am still suffering the effects.
I want to make one or two points arising out of the earlier discussion. First, this is the first Bill of which I have had experience where we have operated a new procedure; namely, the Marshalled List is produced not on the day of consideration, but on the previous Sitting day. That happened to be last Thursday. However, we did not receive the groupings until this morning when, as I have said, I was otherwise engaged.
Although it is helpful to have the amendments relisted in the order in which they will be taken and doubly helpful to have numbers allocated to them--the primary purpose--we should like to have even a tentative list of groupings at the same time, particularly when a weekend intervenes. I attempted to get hold of a draft groupings list over the weekend and I was told by the Printed Paper Office that that would be impossible. However, we received one this morning.
My second point is that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is right. He has moved a long way towards meeting the complaints of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and the points made in an earlier Committee stage from all parts of the House. I am grateful to see noble Lords who took part in those debates in their places. I hope that I am not out of order in saying that if anybody imagines that that would have happened in another place, in the present circumstances, they have a bigger imagination than I have. This is the House of Lords at its best. I refer both to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and to our earlier debates in Committee.
I believe that my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, whom I support, made a strong case for wanting at the outset of the Bill a clear statement of its purpose. I share the disappointment of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil that so far the Government have not indicated any readiness to agree. Legislation has to be interpreted by the courts. One cannot imagine a more useful way of indicating to the courts the purpose of the Bill, so that when they interpret the clauses and the regulations under the clauses, they will have the purpose on the face of the Bill.
I understand that it is open to the courts to look at what was said in the course of the debates, particularly from the Government Front Bench. However, I would rather see that on the face of the Bill in the form of Amendment No. 1. If the amendment is not worded correctly, perhaps there may be another opportunity to correct that.
I too have read the letter from the chairman of the Environment Agency, although I did not receive my copy until after five o'clock on Thursday when it was no longer possible to table fresh amendments. I am afraid that the agency did not understand the new procedure. I have replied to the chairman, stating that we shall have to return to his points at a later stage because it was too late to take account of what he had said, notwithstanding the fact that my noble friend's amendment had been tabled for some time.
Perhaps that is not right, but, in the meantime, it embodies an enormously important principle that, when legislating for substantial delegated powers, in pursuance of a directive from the European Union, it is very important to have a clear purpose clause at the front of a Bill. I hope that, on reflection and having heard the debate, the Minister will feel able to accept that--if not now, perhaps at a later stage. I regard this amendment as extremely important and I hope that it will be pressed.
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