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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, ever since Rio and their signature to the treaty the Government have been pursuing a policy of trying to integrate sustainable development and protection of the environment across the board. Your Lordships' Committee on Sustainable Development heard last week from the Secretary of State for the Environment very heartening evidence of the progress of the work of green Ministers, of reports and of developments right across departments of state.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, will carry on and reinforce the message of what the Government are doing. I am sure that they will feel they can accept it. We on these Benches support the amendment.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I hope very much that the Government will feel that the amendment is not controversial. It is the Government's stated aim which has now been translated into parliamentary language, as I understand it, by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. The amendment is in keeping with the Rio Declaration; it simply states the view which the noble Viscount set out and I, for my party, set out on Second Reading a long time ago, before Christmas. It is that we must make the environment central to all government policy-making.
Later in the Bill we shall see how the proposal can be translated into terms applying to the private sector, but the amendment deals with the public sector. We believe that it is for the public sector to set a proper example to the private sector. We therefore have great pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie.
Lord Moran: My Lords, at Second Reading I argued that the environment agency should perhaps be given clearer duties to improve environmental protection. The amendment goes some way to achieving that. Consequently, I hope that it can be accepted. I support it.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I have two reasons for being broadly sympathetic towards the amendment. The first is that, like other noble Lords, I am a keen conservationist. The second reason is that I am one of those who believes that guidance should be given in Acts of Parliament stating as a matter of broad principle the purpose of the Act and the objectives it should attain. That is another way of expressing the purpose.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the new clause aims at something which is neglected by other clauses of the Bill. It overlaps to a considerable extent Clauses 4 to 10 and Clause 12. Those clauses are, however, limited to the functions of the agency and the effect of the work which the agency does in relation to specific named matters. The provisions do not express, as the new clause would, a broad environmental purpose.
I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Ullswater says. I shall not commit myself to voting one way or another, or to abstaining. I believe that such a broad statement of purpose can be valuable and I hope that it will receive a sympathetic reception from the Government.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am reluctant to join the debate; I shall do so briefly. If we were in Committee I should be happier because I ask for clarification and I doubt whether I shall receive it. While I appreciate the merits of what my noble friend proposes and understand what he intends, I am not sure that the process of integrating a requirement into a function can be analysed in legal terms. I do not know what it would mean in law. Therefore, I hope that if my noble friend were tempted to accept the amendment, he would be careful to tell noble Lords what it would mean because I suspect that it is flawed.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment for almost the reason my noble friend Lord Elton has just given. As I read the amendment, it puts into the Bill what is already in the Long Title. I draw your Lordships' attention to the part of the title which states,
As I see it, that is what the amendment is intended to ensure. It is to enable this excellent Bill to take a major step forward and to bring the environmental dimension into a whole range of government decisions.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Norrie said, we discussed a similar amendment in Committee. He has come back with a slightly different approach. I appreciate that he has tried to meet some of the objections I put forward to his original amendment, but I still do not believe that his proposal would work.
The Government appreciate that environmental protection should not be a concern or a responsibility only of environment and territorial Ministers. One of the central themes of our approach to sustainable development and the arrangements we have made to implement our policies and take forward our strategy is that it involves everybodyall parts of government, all sections of society. I am more than happy to agree that environmental considerations should generally be taken into account by Ministers, other public office-holders, public bodies and statutory undertakers in the course of their normal work. But my noble friend's amendment seeks to place a duty on those people and organisations to integrate requirements for environmental protection into definition of their policies and plans and into the performance of their functions. I do not believe that that is either appropriate or workable.
Good government and good policy-making and implementation in the public sector generally require the balancing of needs for many different desirable policy objectives and finding ways of delivering those which provide the optimum advantage. To single out one
Moreover, the proposal is too wide and, in its attempt to cover everything, draws into the net many decisions where integration of environmental protection would be simply irrelevant. To take a simple example, which I believe would explain the concern of my noble friend Lord Elton, a local authority, in drawing up the staffing structure for its education department, would seem to be put under a duty to integrate requirements for environmental protection into the definition of that staffing policy. That would not seem to make much sense.
I believe that my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and I are not in disagreement about the basic principle of the benefits of ensuring that environmental considerations are properly taken into account throughout government and the public sector more widely where appropriate. But I cannot agree that anything practical will be achieved by imposing an overall duty to integrate requirements for environmental protection into the policy and performance of every aspect of government.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, can he confirm for his noble friend Lord Elton that the wording of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, is in fact the wording of Article 130r of the revised Treaty of Rome?
Lord Norrie: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I have to remain disappointed. I hope that he will take into account also what my noble friend Lord Marlesford saidbasically, that the Bill does not yet live up to its Long Title.
This is clearly not the time to press the case. I believe that constructive dialogue on this issue is the best way forward. Therefore, if I may, I shall seek to discuss the purpose behind my amendment again with the Minister and explore further exactly what difficulties he sees and whether we can find a way round them. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.