Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Ennals: Is not the quotation from the guidance in opposition to the reasons given by the Minister for not accepting the amendments? It seems that the guidance issued by the department accepts what is proposed in the amendment, but the Minister has asked us not to accept the amendment. Will he please take the matter away and think again?

The Earl of Onslow: I was going to ask exactly that question. If the Minister is capable of saying what he wants the environment agency to do, surely he must also be capable of putting it into the Bill without changing it. We are not trying to be beastly. Somebody may be, but on this occasion I am not. We want to be helpful and we want to get this right because it is such an important matter. Our countryside, our townscapes, our air and water must be kept clean and tidy. That is what we are trying to achieve. It must be possible to write something on to the face of the Bill. I beg my noble friend to think further about the matter.

Viscount Ullswater: My noble friend Lord Crickhowell entertains the Committee by quoting from the guidance. In my earlier remarks I stressed that the guidance which has been issued will be firmed up as a statutory provision under Clause 4 setting out a statutory duty for the agency to take into account. Of course my noble friend can draw from the guidance words with which he may entertain the Committee. However, this is a firm attempt by the Government to establish a statutory provision under Clause 4. I indicated at Second Reading that the guidance would be available for consideration when we came to Committee stage. I understand that it is in the Library of the House, and is therefore available.

We are debating a principle as to whether what is in the guidance should be on the face of the Bill. That is what my noble friend Lord Onslow indicated. I seek to indicate that it should not be, and that what is on the face of the Bill is clear in Clause 4. The guidance is there to be considered. At present it is only draft guidance. The whole purpose is that the guidance should be flexible and so able to deal with situations as they arise. To put words on the face of the Bill would render the guidance inflexible.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I find the Minister's response deeply disappointing. He stated several times

17 Jan 1995 : Column 562

that the purpose of the agency is environmental protection and enhancement. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said about the word "management" being difficult and perhaps too hands-on for a strategic agency. However, there seems a clear consensus in the Committee that an amendment such as Amendment No. 5 would gain common agreement throughout the Chamber. We shall certainly bring back a similar amendment at Report stage. I am sad that the Minister does not feel able to say that the words "environmental protection" and "enhancement" shall be written on the face of the Bill.

Guidance is all very well, but it is not in the public domain even when it is no longer in draft form. It remains guidance. The public do not necessarily have easy access to it. However, if the purpose of the agency were written firmly into Clause 1 of the Bill it would set a strategic framework in which all its functions could be carried out. I urge the Minister to think again before Report stage when we shall certainly bring forward an amendment which I hope will meet with the approval of the House. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota): In calling the next amendment, I should point out to the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 7.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 13, at end insert ("as part of the national sustainable development strategy.
(1A) The Agency shall develop the strategy for national sustainable development after consultation with the Ministers and local authorities.").

The noble Baroness said: We have talked about the difficulties of defining sustainable development. In this group I support two mutually contradictory amendments. Amendment No. 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, seeks to remove the words "sustainable development" from the Bill whereas Amendment No. 6 inserts them.

I believe that "sustainable development" is a much weaker purpose, or embracing strategic objective, for the agency partly because of the difficulties of definition. However, it is post-Rio, and, because of various published government documents, that definition is part of the current jargon about the environment. Therefore if we cannot achieve a more concrete amendment to this part of the Bill, such a provision is the very least that we can introduce regarding the purposes of the agency.

At Second Reading we discussed the difficulties of the phrase. The weight tends to be on the noun "development" rather than on the adjective "sustainable". It occurs to me that nowhere is it stated that development is economic development. One could define it as being environmental development; sustainability could be the sustainability of the economy. One could reverse the difficulties and consider them from the other direction. To refer to environmental development with a sustainable economy

17 Jan 1995 : Column 563

might be a rather stronger purpose for the agency and more appropriate within the Bill. However, because it is part of the current jargon, we are attempting to insert the phrase as a minimum for the agency to consider. Therefore, although with no great enthusiasm, I beg to move the amendment, and speak to the others in the group.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I support the amendment. It raises the question of sustainable development. We strayed on to the subject slightly early during the last debate. Amendments Nos. 34 and 35, which stand in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and myself, relate to the promotion of sustainable development and the publication of an index of sustainable development. Amendment No. 47 has the objective of achieving sustainable development. Amendment No. 162 refers to the objectives—not the "objections" referred to in the margin note—of the SEPA. Finally, and possibly most importantly, Amendment No. 351 provides a definition of that undefinable term. It states that,

    "'sustainable development' means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly".

That is the Brundtland definition. It is now accepted world wide. It was accepted in Rio. It has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. It is far from meaningless. Although no one knows exactly what is meant by anything to do with development in the future because there are many unknowns, as a framework the provision is absolutely clear.

I am not entirely happy with the government guidance notes on the issue. They seem to go further than I would wish in thinking that one can go along a line of economic development. We must remember that we are tackling a global problem. Although we debate a Bill at this moment in this House for this country, nevertheless it is part of a debate on the future of the world. It is important that the third world and the first world (ourselves) are not seen to be in an area of extreme injustice one against the other. In other words, quite clearly in the first world there will not be the quantitative economic development that has occurred in the past although there may be room for quantitative economic development in the third world. At the same time we all want development of some kind. Therefore we must press as much as possible for qualitative development rather than quantitative development. I remember that at one of those international seminars one occasionally attends I had to point out to Robin Day that growth is not always vertical, it could be horizontal, and he was a good example of it. He did not think that that was very funny at the time; most of the meeting did.

However, it is important that we realise that there are different forms of growth. If one states that one will not necessarily grow quantitatively, it does not mean that one will not grow qualitatively with a much better life for a great many people.

17 Jan 1995 : Column 564

Having made those remarks about some of the amendments in the group, I support the noble Baroness's proposal rather more wholeheartedly than she seemed to do.

5 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I wish to support what the noble Lord said and to argue with as much enthusiasm as I can muster at this stage of the day for having the concept of sustainable development written into the Bill. I disagree with Members of the Committee about the definition. Sustainable development must exist and must be definable because a Select Committee of this House deals with it. Therefore, by definition, it must exist and must be intelligible to the Committee. Furthermore, we have a major document on the UK strategy on sustainable development. There is the European Union document, Towards Sustainability, the fifth environmental action programme, and, as already mentioned, the whole international context of the Rio Summit and the international Commission on Sustainable Development on which the United Kingdom is represented.

It is important that we should include that in our legal discourse, not just in the guidance but on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I wish to turn to the guidance which states clearly that the environment agency cannot,

    "achieve sustainable development but it is expected to make a significant contribution to it in relation to its functions".

I am worried about that because the whole point of sustainable development as a framework, a strategy and a concept is that it must cross departmental functions, it must cross agency functions. It must be a policy which is at once economic and environmental, concerned with the capital resources available in public spending, with human capital, finance capital and also natural capital. All those aspects are part of the whole concept which is part of the difficulty. But it is also part of its excitement because it provides us with an instrument and a concept for policy-making which, as we have already indicated in the Committee, is increasingly used on an international level. It is a concept which enables us to measure the performance of our economic indicators in relation to their impact on the natural environment and, more generally, on the resources of the planet. That is the whole point of the objective.

My worry is that by not putting it on the face of the Bill we shall create not an environment agency but an environmental policy marginalising agency. We have here an organisation composed of the constituent parts involved in waste management, pollution control and the whole subject of prevention and the responsibilities of the NRA being brought together.

Yet that is not really an environmental agency. An environmental agency needs to have regard to what other agencies are doing. In the Welsh context, whether it is the Welsh Development Agency, the land authority or any other agency, those agencies also need to be involved in the strategy of sustainable development. That is why I strongly support the idea that there should be a national and regional strategy for sustainable development, integrated within the whole of the UK and

17 Jan 1995 : Column 565

the European international context. It should be placed on the face of the Bill and clearly indicated as a priority for all departments of the Government.

What I have said is not at all controversial for the Government. It more or less paraphrases what is in their own strategy which is endorsed by all government departments. Yet my anxiety is that it may be endorsed in a document which is shown to green organisations or to environmentalists or which might be raised in evidence at international conferences to show that the UK is carrying out its obligations. But in the practical terms of the day-to-day work of government departments, sustainable development in environmental policy tends to have a much lower priority. That is my anxiety. It is only if we can have an agency of government responsible to the various government departments which is charged with environmental activity, which is able to influence the whole range of government policy-making, decision-taking and implementation that we can talk about having an environmental policy.

There is one question in the tail of that. I turn to paragraph 1 of the guidance where reference is made to Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Wales. I am a little worried that not much environmental guidance seems to emanate these days from the Welsh Office. There may be slight ideological differences between the present Secretary of State and other holders of his office in the past or other members of the Cabinet. But it worries me that whereas guidance is sometimes made available by the Department of the Environment in England, for example, on planning procedures, such guidance is not often available from the Welsh Office.

Therefore, I should like an indication—if not immediately then later—that the Secretary of State for Wales is likely to produce guidance for the environment agency which would be of relevance not only to the local authorities and the other national agencies in Wales but also to the activity of the countryside council and such agencies as well as the voluntary environmental sector. In fairness to the Welsh Office, there is the Environment Wales organisation which receives support from the department. It is important that there should be an environmental strategy for sustainable development which operates at the level of activity of the Welsh Office. Therefore, I am pleased to support the amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page