Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Mills: What never ceases to amaze me is the speed with which some Members of the Committee who have many years in advance of myself manage to get to their feet.

At Second Reading, my noble friend the Minister promised to arrange to have an initial outline of the guidance on sustainable development made available before this Committee stage. Eventually, along with other Members of Committee, I received a copy in this Chamber a short time ago. I have had no opportunity to do other than glance at the document and look over its contents. However, it is very much an initial outline, setting out what the Government intend the guidance to cover. Clearly, much further work is required.

I should be surprised if that guidance met the full aspirations of the Minister himself. At Second Reading, my noble friend said that:

I am in full agreement with that approach, although I add that I hope that the agency itself will have a special role in advising and assisting with such guidance. Perhaps in an ideal world such considered guidance would have been provided before the Bill reached the Committee stage in this Chamber. But that was not to be. Indeed, it is unrealistic to think that detailed guidance could now be produced even before the Bill reaches the Committee stage in another place.

The purpose of this amendment, like the previous one, is to set a realistic timetable for the production of at least preliminary guidance. In other words, for it to be produced within 12 months of this part of the Act coming into force.

I turn again to the Second Reading debate, in which my noble friend the Minister also pointed out that this was the first time in English law that there is a duty in relation to sustainable development. That makes it vitally important to debate the key elements of the guidance relating to that duty as soon as possible. It is

17 Jan 1995 : Column 570

to be hoped that it will be achieved at least partly by debating the relevant amendments as the Bill passes through this Chamber.

It is certain that such guidance on sustainable development will be central to the manner in which the agency exercises all its functions, as outlined in Clause 4, and also with respect to specific environmental duties, such as the duty to further conservation, as set out in Clause 7. Therefore it is vital that the new agency should be provided with clear guidance on these matters within a reasonable timescale. That is the purpose of the amendment. Perhaps I may add that I hope that in future any guidance will be placed where it can easily be found.

Lord Crickhowell: I should like to make two fairly brief points. One is in regard to Amendment No. 6, which suggests that the agency should develop a strategy for national sustainable development.

I shall now turn, in what I am sure my noble friend will be relieved to hear is a helpful way, to the document that has so recently been circulated. It is absolutely correct in setting out the mutual and, in a sense, contradictory components of sustainability and sustainable development. At paragraph 5.3 it states:

    "It therefore embraces the pursuit of both economic development and environmental protection, or improvement. Often these go hand in hand, but many forms of economic development make demands upon the environment and these have to be assessed".

I do not believe that it can or should be the role of an environment agency to make economic policy. That is the role of government. Therefore, I object to this proposed amendment. It takes the agency into territory that it should not occupy. Clearly one could elaborate on that proposition at some length but I shall not do so. I simply express my opposition to the concept that the agency should be responsible for economic policy.

I turn to an amendment with which I have a great deal more sympathy; namely, Amendment No. 41. I have sympathy not least because it seeks to ensure that:

    "Any guidance ... shall be subject to a period of consultation with interested bodies".

I entirely agree about that; but I hope that the "interested bodies" include the agency itself.

At Second Reading I observed that it was extremely curious that the Bill repeatedly talks about Ministers giving advice, guidance and even directions to the agency but does not on one single occasion suggest the possibility that it might be quite a good idea for Ministers just once in a while to listen to the advice of what is likely to be an extremely experienced, knowledgeable and important body.

This amendment is perhaps a first tentative step toward acceptance of the idea—I hope that it can be written in on other occasions during the passage of the Bill—that Ministers must consult the agency before they finally give it directions. If so, the whole exercise may have been worth while.

Lord Marlesford: One of the disadvantages of the breathless pace at which we were given the guidance

17 Jan 1995 : Column 571

notes is that my copy appears to lack page 5. Therefore, I have not been able to give it the full attention that no doubt it merits.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Perhaps I may interrupt at this point. Thanks to the office of the noble Viscount, I received a copy of the guidance. I decided, perhaps wrongly, that it would be right to table the guidance in a somewhat filleted form, if I may use that expression, as a schedule.

Members of the Committee will find that schedule at Amendment No. 147. I do not wish to pre-empt the discussion that any Member may wish to raise on this guidance. But if the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, looks at that amendment, he will see that the schedule reproduces more or less ipsissima verba, but with some filleting, the guidance that the Government have produced and published today.

The point of tabling the schedule was to make sure that the Committee had an opportunity to look through it at leisure and to amend the schedule should Members so wish. I do not want to prevent the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, from putting forward any argument, but I wish him to know that there is an amendment which puts that schedule on the Marshalled List.

Lord Marlesford: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am afraid that I have not been using his version of the guidance but the one headed "Department of the Environment", in which my copy is defective. I am delighted to hear that his version is more complete.

I want to raise a point about the difficulty that we are all having with the phrase "sustainable development". As was pointed out, this is the first time that it has been in legislation. The problem is that "development" is the mistaken word. I can quite understand why we use the word "development". It comes from Rio, when all that was discussed. We are all considering what is likely to happen in the future in those very large countries where they have been cutting down the rainforest. We know about all those things, but there are also new activities.

The problem for this country, and after all this legislation primarily refers to this country, concerns what is happening now. There are many matters which the agency will have to deal with that are already happening. There is a misleading use of the word "development" which implies new and fresh activities. It would surely be better, at least in the legislation, to use the phrase "sustainable activity", so that it can include things which are happening now which perhaps should not be happening.

Lord Northbourne: The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said a great deal of what I wanted to say. Fortunately, therefore, I shall not need to say it. However, the phrases "sustainable development" and "use of resources" come to mind. It is true that what we are doing currently is much more likely to affect the environment than the development.

While I am on my feet, perhaps I may say that the definition given by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, of "sustainable development" goes some way towards addressing the problem. The amendment cannot be acceptable in its present form because it is difficult to

17 Jan 1995 : Column 572

know what future generations will want. One difficulty is that it would presumably preclude the use of any non-renewable resources—coal, oil or anything of that sort—and we cannot be sure that in an infinite distance forward they will not be needed by future generations.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: In coming into the debate this afternoon on this group of amendments I should like to make two points. First, on 15th December, when your Lordships' House considered the Second Reading of the Bill, I declared my interest in the subject matter. It may be helpful to those Members of the Committee who did not attend on that day for me again to declare my interest in that I am involved with the waste industry. I do not intend to repeat that declaration as we go further and deeper into the Committee stage over the next four or five weeks.

My second point is that your Lordships will see that grouped in this series of amendments is my Amendment No. 39 and its Scottish counterpart, Amendment No. 165. Perhaps the Committee and my noble friend the Minister would indicate to me whether it would be more convenient for me to discuss Amendment No. 39 separately from the others. Clause 4 deals with this somewhat vexed subject of sustainable development, while Amendment No. 39 deals with other aims and objectives. I do not believe that it fits neatly into this kind of discussion. If my noble friend would find it more helpful to discuss a cost element which has nothing to do with sustainable development in the order on the Marshalled List—line 14 of the groupings list—I should be happy to do so. That is entirely up to the Committee.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page