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Lord Lucas: My Lords, no. There is no question of comparison. My right honourable friend is looking at the Countryside Council for Wales as a Welsh entity and not by reference to its national equivalents.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the answer he gave about some work being considered no longer necessary will cause great anxiety? For example, work continues at present on rights of way and improving access in parts of Wales. Is that one of the casualties that we may expect? A joint programme is being undertaken with the RSPB monitoring bird species; it is important work. Will that be one of the casualties?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I should like to be helpful to the noble Baroness but I am not in a position to be so today. As I said, the detailed matters are still under discussion. An announcement can be expected within the next few weeks. Until then I do not believe that it would be helpful for me to speculate on exactly what will occur.
Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, bearing in mind that your Lordships' House commended the Tir Cymen programme, do I understand the Minister to say that the department is guaranteeing the ring-fencing of funding of Tir Cymen so that schemes can remain open to new applicants for the full five years of the scheme?
Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate that the period does not include the fifth year of the Tir Cymen scheme? The scheme was approved in glowing terms in the 14th report of the European Communities Select Committee. Will the noble Lord
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am happy to give the noble Lord at least part of the comfort he seeks. He can be certain that the Government have not made this announcement in relation to Tir Cymen believing that it is just another programme. It is one of the most successful programmes to come from the Countryside Council for Wales. It enjoys full support within the Government. However, I shall read Hansard to see whether I can add anything to what I have said today to assist the noble Lord.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the Minister has explained that part of the reason for the reduction in expenditure is that the Countryside Council for Wales no longer needs to do some things which it did in the past. Noble Lords have asked whether particular programmes come into that category. Can the noble Lord advise the House what the Countryside Council for Wales will no longer do or what the Government believe it needs no longer do which contributes to the savings of which the Minister spoke?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the proposed Scottish environment protection agency, which is also known by the acronym SEPA, has not been chosen as a subject for inquiry by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I add that it is not for the Government to determine the issues to be examined by Select Committees.
Lord Hughes: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that replyunsatisfactory though it may be. If there is a change and the Government are invited to give evidence to the Select Committee, would it be made clear what the responsibilities of the Secretary of State are? Would they be for the whole operation of the agency or would it be claimed that he is responsible only for broad policy and that devolution of everything else should be left to the agency?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, if my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is invited to attend and give evidence about SEPA, he will certainly do so. Contained in that evidence would be references to accountability. The Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for the policy framework in which the agency operates and that includes any guidance or directions that he issues to it. It includes its
Lord Hughes: My Lords, perhaps I may correct an omission. I should have congratulated the noble Earl because I understand that this is the first time on which he has answered a Question. It is appropriate because I gather that his appointment increases the number of Scots on the Front Bench by 20 per cent.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I believe that the Scots are carrying out ethnic cleansing on the Front Bench at the moment and we shall soon have 100 per cent. Scots there!
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I also wish to congratulate the noble Earl, although he took part in our debate last week when I had the pleasure of hearing him. We shall discuss the whole matter of SEPA and its composition today and on Thursday. This is a point on which it would perhaps have been wiser if the Secretary of State had arranged a meeting and spoken to the Scottish Select Committee before the Bill had gone as far as it has.
One point which is worrying the Scots and, I am sure, people in other parts of the country is the gradual diminution of direct control and direct representation on the boards. The tendency is for the Secretary of State to appoint the board, unless in the broadest way he washes his hands of responsibility and that is a reduction of democracy which is, in some ways, going too far.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord on the issue. As he knows, there is provision for SEPA to establish regional boards and Schedule 6 to the Environment Bill contains the details. The Government will, however, be keen to secure the services of effective board members from all sources. We envisage elected councillors playing a full part on regional boards.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I am sure that the Government will agree that the work of the Select Committees, particularly the Scottish Select Committee, enhances the operation of Parliament as a whole. Will the Minister ensure that arrangements are made so that if the Select Committee does not meet in the Palace of Westminster, parliamentarians who wish to witness the work of the Select Committee are able to do so without financial loss?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I think that that is beyond the scope of the Question. However, the changes in the way in which the Grand Committee operates are being brought forward in this Session of Parliament.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, the purpose of the reception which I gave in Edinburgh on 25th November was to thank general practice fundholders in Scotland for the significant contribution they make towards achieving a patient-centred health service; and to make an announcement about important changes to the fundholding scheme. One hundred-and-twenty people were invited and around 70 attended, at a total cost of just over £1,000.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. Can he inform the House why the reception was held in Edinburgh Castle? Does the total cost indicated by the Minister include the cost for extra heating at this time of year? The castle tends to be draughty. Will the noble and learned Lord further explain to the House why, at a time of increasing stringency in government expenditure going right down to the nooks and crannies of government, it was decided to give this form of entertainment to a restricted class of doctors in the medical profession?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I should explain to the noble Lord that we regularly use Edinburgh Castle for receptions attended by all types of domestic groups and in particular when we have foreign visitors. The gatherings can be very large or of the size I indicated. The figure I gave represents, so far as I can ascertain, the total cost of holding the event. I hoped that I had explained in my original Answer to the noble Lord why I held the reception. Not least, my purpose was to thank those people; but also, importantly, it was to indicate that changes were to be introduced which would be attractive to those wishing to expand their service in the best interests of their patients.
On expenditure, the noble Lord may recall that in November last year the Mail on Sunday reviewed hospitality expenditure by government across Whitehall. I am sure that he is as pleased as I am to see that the Scottish Office achieved a reduction of some 2 per cent., compared with other departments.
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