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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I must differ from the noble Lord. I know what sustainable development means. Moreover, my noble friend and I have tabled Amendment No. 351 which seeks to write the definition into the Bill. Further, as regards the noble Lord's next statementnamely, that we do not know whether our present development is sustainableI can only say that we know perfectly well that it is not.
Viscount Ullswater: The amendments all deal in various ways with the overall purpose of the agency. I should like to deal first with Amendments Nos. 5, 7 and 130 through which, in their various ways, noble Lords seek to set out some general aims for the agency or for SEPA. Amendment No. 7 gives the agency a specific duty to exercise its functions in order to protect and enhance the environment. Amendments Nos. 5 and 130 provide that, through the exercise of all their functions, the agency and SEPA will carry out integrated environmental protection, management and enhancement.
In passing, perhaps I may observe that Amendment No. 130 to which the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, referred, is misguided in talking about environmental management. Indeed, the noble Lord indicated why. In Scotland, SEPA will not have any of the hands-on management functions, such as flood defence, which the noble Lord identified as being one thing that the environment agency will have. I believe that the noble Lord recognised the fact that local authorities have for a very long time carried out many of the duties that the NRA has carried out in England and Wales. The functions of SEPA are limited in so far as it will not have the wider responsibility of the NRA for water management, as the Scottish river purification boards have never performed those roles.
The Scottish Office believes that the pressures on the water environment in England and Wales which justify the wider functions of the NRA do not exist in the same way in Scotland. Therefore, we believe that it is neither necessary nor desirable to give SEPA such responsibilities. However, I imagine that we shall return to such issues at a later stage of the Bill's proceedings.
With that exception, the three conceptsintegrated environmental protection, management and enhancementare indeed the purposes for which the agencies are being established. But for reasons that I endeavoured to explain during our debates on previous amendments, efforts to write any single prescription of purposes on the face of the Bill are, I believe, doomed to inadequacy and fraught with dangers. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell has reinforced my view that the existing legislation should be looked at very carefully before we place other purposes on the statute book. I believe that there is little I can add. We spoke on the issue during the debate on the previous amendment. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.
Amendment No. 33, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, also seeks to establish aims and objectives for the agency within the legislation, although it does so in rather more detail. It would make the agency's principal aim that of contributing, through the performance of its functions, to the advancement of environmental protection and would further provide that the agency's primary objectives included the implementation of,
The related amendment, Amendment No. 41, would place a duty on Ministers to give guidance on those aims and objectives after consultation "with interested bodies". I believe that to be an interesting suggestion, but it too runs into similar problems of trying to define a rather complex agency's aims and objectives in a few select words in a statutory provision.
My noble friend Lord Coleraine suggested that it was unacceptable for Ministers to set the aims and objectives of the agency and give guidance on how they are to be achieved. All agencies require clear aims and objectives which are a key input into their corporate planning processes. They are not typically set in legislation in order to ensure sufficient flexibility to reflect changing circumstances. The Bill goes further in providing for statutory guidance. But such guidance cannot overrule the statutory purposes and functions of the agency, many of which are already in existing legislation.
I am glad to know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, now has the guidance in front of her. As I indicated at Second Reading, the guidance is in the form of a draft. As I said then, it is our intention to consult on it. I believe that that is right. I do not want to be faced frequently by suggestions that a particular word may be the wrong one to use in the guidance. That is the purpose of draft guidance. It is an attemptand I believe that it is a good attempt to put the management statement into some form of guidance. But that will be considered very carefully, together with everything that is said in debate in this Chamber, so that we can refine it and improve it as we go along.
Amendment No. 36, like Amendment No. 41, seeks to replace Clause 4. It would instead give the agency or SEPA a statutory purpose related to sustainable development. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, sustainable development is a subject which we shall debate under other amendments later this afternoon. Quite apart from any particular difficulties with statutory prescriptions on sustainable development, this attempt also fails in trying further to specify the purposes of the agency and SEPA in the Bill.
Amendment No. 42 seeks to give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations setting standards, objectives or requirements in relation to environmental protection. That would tread ground which is adequately covered by a specific statute. There are already powers, notably under Part I of the Environment Protection Act 1990, which cover integrated pollution control and local authority air pollution control. I take very seriously the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. Obviously we are
At this stage I should like to deal also with Amendment No. 78. In that amendment the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, seeks to provide that the agency's conservation duty should be exercised without prejudice to the provisions of Section 1(1). I presume that that is the new section as it would be rewritten by Amendment No. 22. For that reason I believe that we should not take that amendment forward.
I have listened carefully to the points put forward by Members of the Committee. I shall certainly want to examine Hansard very carefully. I have not been able to reply individually to some of the points which were raised, but I believe that one or two covered the same issues. I shall consider very carefully what has been said. In the meantime, I believe that I have given an explanation as to why the Government are unable to accept the amendments. Therefore I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Crickhowell: I hope that I may be forgiven for intervening again, but I too now have the benefit of having received the document which has been circulated so recently. We find ourselves in an extraordinary position with the Bill. My noble friend is gallantly doing his best in very difficult circumstances. He has told us that we cannot write into the Bill the proposed words about environmental protection, management and enhancement, yet the guidance document tells us that:
Turning to the definition of sustainable development, we are told in the document that the Government's understanding of what is meant by sustainable development was set out in the UK strategy document published in January 1994. Therefore, it is clearly a matter which is capable of different interpretations. The Government have a current understanding of it.
We are debating this and the next group of amendments with no real idea as to what sustainable development is, and we are not allowed to write on to the face of the Bill what the guidance note tells us is the principal objective of the environment agency. It is a very odd situation.
Lord Moran: Some of us find ourselves in even greater difficulty than the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in that we have not been favoured with a copy of the secret document. Can it be circulated more widely?
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