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Viscount Ullswater: Amendment No. 12, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, seeks to establish separate environment agencies in England and in Wales. A separate Welsh agency, which would be set up under this amendment, would operate completely independently of the English agency.
The option of separate agencies was considered in 1991 when the initial proposals to set up an environment agency were made. Following a wide-ranging consultation exercise, the Government decided that a joint agency would be most effective in improving environmental protection across England and Wales. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell indicated the amount and depth of that consultation process.
A joint agency has a number of benefits, including cost-effectiveness through avoiding the need for the maintenance of two separate boards, committee structures, headquarters and so on. A separate Welsh agency would necessarily be relatively small compared with the proposed environment agency. That is already well understood by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. It would not have access to the equivalent depth of expertise, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out. So far from being more effective, there is a real risk that a separate agency would in practice be weaker.
This evening we heard from two distinguished former Secretaries of State for Wales with very different views. My right honourable friend the present Secretary of State for Wales will be responsible for setting the policy framework within which the environment agency will discharge its functions in Wales and the agency will report to him on its operations in Wales. There will also be arrangements for Welsh Office Ministers to have an input into the policy and the corporate planning processes of the agency, and those will be defined in a memorandum of understanding between the agency and the Welsh Office.
My noble friend will be responsible also for the appointment of one member to the agency board and the Welsh interests will be further protected by the existence of the Advisory Committee for Wales. That committee will advise my right honourable friend on the issues relating to the agency's activities in the Principality and inform his input into the agency's corporate planning process.
There will be an environment protection advisory committee for the Welsh region which will advise the agency itself on the specific needs of Wales and matters of particular relevance to its operations in Wales. The chairman of that committee will be appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales; he will also approve the membership scheme prepared by the agency for its Welsh region and in doing so will ensure that its composition reflects a representative balance of interests. The National Rivers Authority was set up on an England and Wales basis and the arrangements for the authority to take the needs of Wales fully into account has been very successful.
I feel that the Committee should listen most carefully to the words of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. His experience in the working of the NRA is most valuable and I do not intend to comment further on it except to say that he put my case most eloquently. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, nevertheless finds the situation to be unacceptable to Wales. I am sorry about that and should like to point out that one of the difficulties that arises is immediately apparent from the suggestion in Amendment No. 216. Immediately one thinks of setting up an agency dealing with Wales one realises that an arrangement must be made for some of the river catchment areas across the borders. In relation to Amendment No. 216, if there were two agencies in England and Wales there would need to be co-ordination between them. That amendment identifies some of the difficulties inherent in having two agencies and what should be done about river catchments crossing the border. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell spelt out carefully some of the difficulties that may arise.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne that the concept of having to table Amendments Nos. 128 and 129, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, did, to seek to dissolve the Countryside Council for Wales (on the basis
Lord Williams of Elvel: I am not sure that the noble Viscount understood the argument. I shall put it for the third time. Wales needs a proper environment agency. An environment agency consists of people who deal with rivers and people who deal with river banks. It is absurd to suggest that we can have an agency which goes six inches beyond the river and another which starts at that point and then goes on to the river bank. That is the situation which would persist if we had a separate agency for Wales without the Countryside Council for Wales coming in. That is my point.
Viscount Ullswater: I believe that the body that will be created by the transfer of these functions would have too wide a remit to operate effectively. While I appreciate the reasons for the amendments, a combined body is unnecessary as there is a clear divide between water and pollution aspects of the environment and the nature conservation and countryside elements. Such a major upheaval would not be in the interests of nature conservation in Wales. It would also create problems in the relationship with the distinct countryside bodies in England and Scotland. However, my right honourable friend is currently examining whether there is scope for a better focus of the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales by considering whether some might more appropriately be undertaken by local authorities. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that that consideration is going on at present.
We also had the benefit of hearing the views of my noble friend Lord Selborne on this matter, as chairman of the JNCC and the views of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Taken together with the distinct view of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I believe that the amendments would create an unwieldy and unfocused body in Wales which would not enhance pollution control or nature conservation in Wales. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Prys-Davies: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who took part in this important debate on the three amendments. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, said in relation to two of them. We take note of that. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Cledwyna former Secretary of State and Minister for Agriculturefor coming to the Committee this afternoon, staying here for almost five hours and giving us the benefit of his wisdom.
I listened, with interest, as always, to what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, had to say. I shall reflect upon it. But I respectfully suggest that we should not be overwhelmed by his contribution to the debate this evening. I, as a mere Pontypridd solicitor, with no specialist knowledge of the field, suggest that his ideas as expressed this evening to the Committee are too sweeping and possibly too coloured by his experience as a chairman of the NRAindeed, a notable chairman of the NRA. My noble friend Lord Williams made the point that water is only one of the environmental resources of Wales.
I was disappointed but not entirely surprised by the Minister's response. He did not depart an inch from his position at Second Reading. But, having listened to him this evening, it seems to me that there is a difference in treatment between Scotland and Wales which arises in the main because of the important river basins on the border. I felt that we acknowledged that there was a problem with the three river basinsthe Wye, the Dee and the Severn. But we also believe that Amendment No. 216 meets that difficulty. There is a precedent for that amendment in the arrangements which one finds in the unitary states of Europe and, in particular, in Germany, Belgium and France.
I hope that the debate will give the Government food for thought and that they will take the advice of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and think againthough I confess that I see no glimmer of hope that they will do so. It must be said from this side of the House that if the principle of a separate environment agency is not acceptable to Conservative Ministers in 1995, the whole question will be reopened when the next Labour Government are in office in the not too distant future. Therefore, I am confident that the England and Wales agency as proposed by the Bill will not endure into the future. I am also confident that that function, sooner or later, will be discharged by an elected Welsh Assembly. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.