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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: This amendment is an extremely good one. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for having tabled it. It is very important to write into the Bill at the very beginning the positive things that it seeks to achieve, results which are rather more positive than setting up an agency which will merely do what it is told in particular situations.
As the noble Lord said, the Government have accepted the whole principle of the Rio declaration and have been trying ever since to implement it within the ranks of various departments. I must congratulate them on what I understand is the progress that has been made.
Those Members of the Committee who sit on your Lordships' Committee on Sustainable Developmentmost of whom are upstairs at exactly this moment doing just that while I am delinquent in this Chamberheard recently from representatives of the Green Alliance who gave evidence tending to show that the initiatives of the Government were working. It is not entirely certain that all areas are working as well as they should do. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned the green Ministers and their committee, which I believe has met only two or possibly three times so far. We are told, obviously rightly, that not all work has to be done in committee but is done by telephone, memoranda and all kinds of other ways. We accept a great deal of that. But in this particular area there is a lack of transparency and nothing but good would result if it were done away with.
Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, I can see no reason why the Government should not accept this amendment. I believe that it would make a very good first clause for the Bill if they were to do so.
Lord Marlesford: I too support the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Norrie. It is very much a strategic amendment. In a sense, it only puts forward what underlies the whole purpose of the Bill and the new agency. For many reasons it is probably too late for the environment to move centre stage. But that is the way in which governments have operated throughout the ages and across parties. People wake up too late to what is needed. Therefore, stronger environmental legislation and practice are needed. When the dire consequences of not considering the environment are taken on boardconsequences which were spelt out at Rio and on other occasionswe must see that in future almost all acts of government must take into account the environmental dimension.
There have been other occasions when governments have woken up relatively late to the need to do things very differently. Perhaps I may take just one example which will, perhaps, be much more familiar to many Members of the Committee than it is to me; namely, the whole system of controlling public spending. The Committee will remember that in the early 1950s the Plowden proposals were put forward for controlling government spending by putting together one year with another and having a consistent long-term plan which was intended to get a more effective pattern of expenditure. That was a big innovation and a great advance. Gradually inflation crept up and what was a good practice became something of a disastrous practice.
Under that practice the other place was asked to vote unlimited sums of money as supplementary estimates, merely to pay for the volume of programmes which had earlier been voted for. Suddenly it was realised that matters could not go on any longer in that way. So cash limits were invented, which was another big advance.
My noble friend's amendment seeks to introduce that dimension into government practice in this country. I hope that it would be in government practice at least in other EU countries and gradually take root throughout the world. We know that it is a very hard task but at least it can be there on the agenda, so that when the Government are making decisions about what they will do they take into account the environmental dimension. That must be desirable.
I recognise that the wording of the amendment may not be ideal and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ullswater will be able to make suggestions for a better way to achieve the objective. But I believe that the objective must unite us all because the basic purpose of the Bill unites us all. I support the amendment.
Lord Elton: Perhaps I may utter a brief word of caution, which is not weakened at all by what my noble friend Lord Marlesford said. The amendment asks us to enjoin on every Secretary of State, every Minister of State, every Parliamentary Under-Secretary, every Permanent Secretary and so forth a duty to observe a good principle, and that would have effect upon the operation of every other Act of Parliament already on the statute and to follow. I am sure that that is an admirable thing to aspire to. But are there not other equally admirable things to aspire to? I refer to such things as the preservation of law and order, the integrity of the United Kingdom or the avoidance of giving undue offence to religious minorities and so forth.
When I started out on the road of putting my favourite causes into statute I was reminded of the lawyer's tag, inclusio unius, exclusio alterius. That means that if you put in one thing you exclude another. If we put in this good cause, we make every other good cause subordinate to it if it is not already mentioned in statute. If we are to preserve all those good causes they too must be mentioned in statute and the statute book eventually bursts. I hope that the Committee will take care.
Lord Bridges: Perhaps I may venture to give an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We are dealing with an environmental Bill. It is therefore appropriate to mention the environmental duties and obligations of all who seek to implement it. The other causes could appropriately be mentioned in other Bills dealing with other subjects.
Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I too may add to that in response to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. Is there not a place for regulation in changing our culture? The noble Lord mentioned sexual and racial discrimination. Perhaps it is now automaticit certainly should bein each of us to consider those matters. That was not so a few years ago. We introduced legislationfor instance, we now have legislation dealing with racial
I believe that it is a good amendment, whatever the merits or demerits of the wording. But, in leading the way, we must ensure that those who frame our laws and take executive action consider the environmental effects of what they do. It may perhaps then become part of the way they automatically do things and in a few years it will not be necessary to remind them quite so specifically.
Lord Crickhowell: I have every sympathy with the object that the agency, government departments and Ministers should always take account of the desirability of protecting the environment. But, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, a word of caution is called for.
I am concerned not with the specific job of Ministers elsewhere or other departments; I feel a certain anxiety about the agency, which is being given a wide range of statutory duties. From time to time it may not be strictly possible to carry out another statutory purpose without doing some damage. The proposed clause says, "does not damage". For example, the agency has a flood protection responsibility. I can think of occasions when it would strive manfully to carry out its flood protection duty in the most sympathetic environmental manner possible; but it could still be argued that in order to protect life and property it was necessary to do some damage which may be thought harmful to the environment.
The agency has a difficult task in weighing up the balance of its duties. While I sympathise with the clause which says that it must be a prime consideration of the agency, I have anxieties about a clause which says,
Lord Williams of Elvel: Perhaps at this point I may express the views of the Opposition. I fully sympathise with the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, and, indeed, with the expression in the White Paper that he quoted; that is, that environmental considerations should be at the heart of all government decisions. I also fully sympathised with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, when he said that this was a strategic amendment. I am quite prepared for a strategic amendment to appear at the beginning of the Bill. But I have the same reservations as the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Crickhowell, about the actual wording.
I see several difficulties. First, if it is to be a duty on all government departments, Ministers and agencies when carrying out their statutory purposes, then, as I read it, there can be no public transport; there can be no defence training; and, if the extension of the environment is beyond the United Kingdom, we could not engage in the Gulf War, which is obviously a deterioration of the environment. Ministers would be prohibited from doing all sorts of things if it were a duty, enforceable in law, on Ministers and government
It does not say that a private company has a similar duty to do so in the same manner. Therefore, if the amendment is accepted in its present drafting, any organisationlet us take the example of British Rail, which is for the moment in public ownership but, alas, there may come the day when it is in private ownershipin public ownership would simply have to stop; but an organisation in private ownership could continue. Therefore I find the drafting produced by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, somewhat defective.
Nevertheless, I accept that there should beas the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, saida strategic amendment at the start of the Bill. To a certain extent I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, when he says that this matter concerns the environmental agency. This Bill concerns the environment. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was right in saying that we should have a strategic amendment. But please, not this one.
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