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Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for tabling this amendment and for his thoughtful speech, which I hope will influence the Government to think again about what we regard as a serious flaw in the Bill.
Before I turn to the substance of the amendment, perhaps I may say that two developments have caused concern and anxiety in Wales over the past 15 years or so: the first is the growth in the number of non-elected
I have called attention to that in many speeches in recent years although not in a party-political context. I know from experience that there are times and reasons why governments of all parties must set up non-elected bodies to perform essential tasks. But the growth of quangos has developed beyond all reason and it is not only the number of quangos but also the substantial powers vested in non-elected members which causes alarm.
The people of Wales have been tolerant but they have had more than enough experience of dealing with remote central agencies. I regret that the Prime Minister seems to have become a champion of centralisation. I did not think that it was in his nature, but it must be of interest to the Committee today that the Secretary of State for Wales has now produced a report which deals with the evidence of incompetence and worse in the work of some of the quangos. He concedes that something is radically wrong, but unfortunately we are not, apparently, to see the review conducted by civil servants and accountants and the evidence which was produced. I believe that we should be told the whole story. Nevertheless, I hope that some good will come from that report.
I must now turn to the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. He may recall that during his speech on the fourth day of the debate on the gracious Address I asked him to explain to the House why there is to be a separate agency for Scotland and not for Wales. The noble Viscount answered that the agency would be taking over the work done by HMIP and the NRA saying,
Speaking as a Welshman and as a former Secretary of State for Wales, I am bound to say that that reply is unacceptable to the Welsh people. I believe, as does my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, that Wales should be given its own environment agency, accountable initially to the Welsh Office which has the potential to co-ordinate at the Welsh level the work of all the bodies serving Welsh interests. I believe that the case for it is overwhelming.
The joint England and Wales agency will be a brand new agency controlling "bread and butter policies" over an important field. It will have far-reaching influence on the environment of Wales. Once again, the power will reside in a head office somewhere in England.
The debate about the need for Wales to have its own institutions with the necessary executive authority to take decisions in Wales has been resolved since the Second World War in favour, wherever possible, of
It is my experience, over a period of nearly 45 years, that we on this side have worked hard in both Houses to secure new institutions to serve the Welsh people. I recall that when we were making the case for the establishment of a Welsh Office, giving us parity with Scotland, there was a great deal of criticism from the party opposite, as, indeed, there is now, about establishing a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. However, at the end of the day, we succeeded and the Welsh Office was set up in 1964. In the period since then it has grown into a great department of state and has performed splendid work for the Principality. Is there anyone in Wales today or, indeed, anyone in the party opposite who would vote for abolishing the Welsh Office? The answer to that question must be no, simply because of the contribution it has made to the life of Wales and because it represents the Welsh nation in Cabinet and government.
Therefore, the debate about the need for Wales to have its own institutions with the necessary executive authority has been resolved. The Bill concedes that there is a need to satisfy the "distinctive needs of Wales". It proposes to meet those needs by empowering the Secretary of State for Wales to appoint an advisory committee for Wales and for the agency to appoint specialist committees for Wales. But, as my noble friend made clear, that is a totally inadequate compromise.
We accept in our second amendment that two separate agencies for England and Wales will almost certainly require the setting up of a joint co-ordinating committee for the management of the three border riversthe Severn, the Wye and the Deeas the policies of the separate agencies could affect the border counties. But it should not be beyond the wit of the draftsman to design a clause to provide for such a committee. Given the comparable provision in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, such a committee would not be a dramatic novelty as some people may think.
The protection of the environment and the beauty of Wales is the duty and the privilege of the Welsh people and, therefore, of a Welsh agency such as we propose. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 did recognise the distinctiveness of Wales as regards the need to care for and preserve its countryside. It would be utterly inconsistent not to recognise and cater for it in a similar way in the Bill. Further, to bring together the work of the countryside council and the work of the environmental agency as proposed in the third amendmentmakes sense in a Welsh connection, as all those who have any connection with Wales will agree. Reform along those lines would be workable and would meet the distinctive needs of Wales. I wonder if the proposal can be reconsidered?
Finally, perhaps I may repeat for the benefit of the Front Bench opposite the fact that there is a hardening concern and a growing impatience in Wales about the reaction to our reasonable proposals. If Ministers doubt that, let them make inquiries. Let the Secretary of State
Lord Crickhowell: It is always a privilege and a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. I hate to have to disagree with him on any proposition he puts forward. The noble Lord was a very distinguished Secretary of State for Wales. I served as Secretary of State for Wales for nearly eight years. However, I followed that particular responsibility with the chairmanship for some five years of the National Rivers Authority. Therefore, perhaps I may be permitted to say that, in this debate at least, I can bring some additional, practical experience of the management of the environment to the discussion which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, cannot.
I always seek to find something on which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, although sometimes that is extremely difficult. I am glad I can at least agree with him in saying that it is most unfortunate that Amendment No. 216 had not been included in the group now being discussed. Clearly, it is directly consequential on the other amendments; indeed, it is almost impossible to debate the other amendments without reference to it. Therefore, I shall certainly refer to it.
I can also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, about the historic heritage of Wales and about its beauty. It is the country in which I live and the country I love. However, I have a profound disagreement with the proposal that has been advanced. It must be understood that my observations are not the idiosyncratic ideas of one individual or the eccentricities of a former Secretary of State driven demented by the responsibilities of that office or by some of the very peculiar responsibilities in which I seem to be engaged at present in connection with opera houses and other matterswhich would be enough to drive almost anyone insane.
The form of the Bill and its contents are a result of very considerable consultation and discussion between the National Rivers Authority and the Secretary of State, based on our practical experience in the NRA. A picture has been conjured up today of some remote body; that is, some organisation managed in a centralist way from England. I suppose, with the head office of the NRA about five miles across the River Severn at Aztec West where the motorways M.4 and M.5 meet, a case could be made out that, at least in that sense, the head office organisation of the NRA is detached, if not remote, from the Principality.
However, 95 per cent. of the work of the NRA is actually carried out in its regional offices by local people on the spot. Overwhelmingly, the work of the NRA has been carried out, directed and organised from its office at St. Mellons and its other offices around Wales. It has been admirably advised by its advisory
The NRA has had the benefit of the advice of the special Welsh committee set up under the Water Act, which has been chaired throughout by Professor Ron Edwards, who has made a singular contribution to another part of this Bill. As Members of the Committee will be aware, he chaired a committee which advised on national parks. His advice, and that of his committee, has formed the basis of the section of the Bill which we shall debate subsequently. I am delighted that Professor Edwards has now moved to the committee which is advising on the setting up of the new agency.
I can tell the Committee without any doubt whatever that the view that it would be a mistake to have separate agencies is shared by those who work in the NRA in Wales, by its management, by its advisory committees and by its Welsh advisory committee. They take that view not because of some perverse desire to centralise. Most of them are Welshas Welsh as anyone taking part in this debate. They know and love the country and its environment as much as anyone. They have the advantage in respect of this debate of having been responsible for looking after Wales and doing their best to enhance and protect it for the past five yearsand some of them for very much longer in their previous organisations. After much discussion and debatebecause we do discuss and debate matters in Walesthey came firmly to the conclusion that it would be extremely damaging for the environment in Wales to have a separate agency.
They have equally come to the view that it is right and proper that the organisation should be structured in such a way that the agency can answer for its responsibilities in Wales to the Secretary of State for Wales. As a former Secretary of State I shall certainly not deny that proposition. A great deal of care has been taken in formulating the arrangements to ensure that that will happen.
There is no difficulty about having an agency which is responsible to more than one Secretary of State. Indeed, the NRA and the new environment agency will be answerable not only to the Secretary of State for the Environment but to the Minister of Agriculture for their flood defence and fisheries functions as well as to the Secretary of State for Wales. There is a perfectly logical and reasonable chain of command from the NRA to the Secretary of State for Wales for what it does in Wales, just as it answers to the Secretary of State for the Environment for what it does in England. It has the special advantage of its committee for Wales, chaired in Wales by a Welshman, and consisting of Welshmen who will give particular attention to the needs of Wales. I believe that over the past five years that arrangement has worked extremely well. I do not believe that it has caused any difficulty.
Why do we think it necessary to have such an arrangement, at least for the protection of the water environment, for that part of the environment agency concerned with water, fisheries and such matters? It is partly because of what the Almighty decided when he
I mention those two rivers particularly because of the complexity of the arrangements for managing them. It is true that the Welsh Dee is perhaps one of the most closely managed rivers in the world. It is closely managed because it rises in the hills of Wales and flows through an industrial complex where there are great risks of pollution. It provides the water supply for the population of the Wirral and a considerable part of the north west. It is necessary to manage it very precisely and accurately to ensure that the water supply at the lower end is adequately protected.
Similarly, the Severn is a closely managed river system. It has a controlling reservoir in its headwaters which exists essentially not to store water which is piped to provide drinking water but to control the flow of water down the river. Water is also extracted from a groundwater system in Shropshire. The level and flow of the river is closely managed. Even with those resources and management, from time to time there are difficulties. Over the Christmas holiday there was flooding because of those difficulties.
The management of those rivers is not concerned only with flooding. Recently there was an incident in which a pollution slug flowed down the River Severn from the tributary River Wem. It had to be traced up the river by the staff of the NRA in the middle of the night for some 85 miles to its source. That was a remarkable piece of detection work.
That brings one to the nub of the issue. Any sensible arrangements for the protection of the environment of those rivers must mean that they are carried out within a single organisation. Even within that organisation, and with the separate structure which I described in relation to the existing arrangements for the NRA and proposed in the Bill for the agency, we think it right to delegate the management responsibilities to one single region of the NRA so that on an agency basis it controls the system from top to bottom.
Those who propose the amendments have tried in Amendment No. 216 to meet that point with an advisory committee. However, that misses the point. We are not concerned with general policy issues. We are concerned with the day-to-day management of an integrated and complex system in which people have to respond to emergencies and the unexpected. I do not believe that that is done wisely by means of seeking to integrate wholly separate organisations with separate managements, separate boards and separate chains of command. That is a solution fraught with danger and difficulty.
There are other arguments. Increasingly we find that within an organisation like the NRAand that will be even more true of the environment agencythere is a need to set up specialist organisations to provide a service for the whole country with skills and expertise brought together in centres. To duplicate that expertise, or expertise of any kind, between two organisationswould be profoundly wasteful and an extraordinary misapplication of resources which should be devoted to protecting the environment. That was brought home to me when I first took up my responsibilities and visited the 10 water authorities. Each one showed me with pride its latest tool. It may have been an automated monitoring system or a computer system for managing some aspect of the business. The authorities had simultaneously set about inventing the wheel, not sharing their expertise or knowledge but separately taking pride in, and producing, their own solutions. It has taken five years to break down such separatism. I wish I thought that we had totally broken it down. Even today there is a tendency for people to hang on to the instruments, inventions and devices they have produced.
I believe that it would be a shocking waste of resources to establish two agencies to do the job. One can continue the argument into other aspects of the agency's affairs. I wish to refer to the work of the HMIP. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, in the past has debated the subject of orimulsion and Pembroke power station with some vigour. He has referred to the provisions needed to protect not only the environment in Wales but also the consequences of what may go wrong in a power station which may affect England and indeed Scandinavia and other countries.
It would be extraordinary to attempt to duplicate the specialist skills available in an organisation such as HMIP now being transferred into the agency, or to operate on some complex agency arrangement by which experts from one would help the Welsh to deal with specific problems. It seems a profoundly unsatisfactory way to deal with matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, listed a group of people whom the Welsh Office should have consulted. As a churchwarden at my local church, I am interested in the idea that the Welsh Office should have consulted the Church on this topic. I am a member of a PCC. I am not sure what advice the Church would have given. However, I believe that on this issue the advice firmly given by the NRA and its advisory committees, so widely representative of Welsh opinion, and by its Welsh committee under Professor Ron Edwards, is rather more valuable than the advice that it might have received from many of those sources.
The structure provided ensures that those functions which are rightly carried out in WalesI refer to the functions of local government concerned with wasteare rightly the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. They will be dealt with by the Secretary of State for Wales. The new agency will be answerable to the Secretary of State for Wales. But those functions will be undertaken in an efficient and competent manner rather than in a wasteful manner put together for nothing more than a nationalist sentiment.
I find the other proposal bizarre. I can hardly credit that thinking people could suggest that it is sensible and wise to do away with the Countryside Council for Wales, so recently created, seek to merge it with an agency which has a huge range of complex responsibilities, and consider that that body is likely to do the job better. One may have other concerns about the Countryside Council for Wales. Perhaps it is wrong for me to express some anxiety as to whether it is right to have cut the budget of the Countryside Council for Wales by 17 per cent. I look forward to hearing the Government's answer to that question. I believe that the work which the Countryside Council for Wales does is important. I hope that it will be a strong and effective body.
I do not envy my noble friend Lord de Ramsey and those who will be responsible for this large and complex organisation. Not only will a totally different set of responsibilities make the job more difficult and complex for the new agency; it will cause a great deal of confusion and difficulty. There are moments when I and my colleagues in the NRA have differences of opinion with the judgments and views of my noble friend Lord CranbrookI am glad to see him in his placeand his organisation. We debate those issues freely and vigorously; and that is right. He and his organisation have one set of responsibilitiesto advise on specific matters. There are particular skills and expertise concentrated in that organisation. My noble friend can give his advice freely and independently to government. If government accept that advice, or if the law decrees it, then the NRA, and in future the environment agency, will have to work on the decisions that have been taken on SSSIs or whatever the issue may be. But when an agency has a large number of possibly conflicting responsibilities on which people have to make difficult choices and has added to them the responsibilities of the Countryside Council for Wales, that seems a totally impossible burden if the agency is sensibly to carry out an already difficult task.
Therefore, while there are other matters we shall debate in the Bill about which I may feel moderately strongly, and upon which I may intervene from time to time, I do not believe that there is another issue on which I feel quite so strongly. Such a transfer of functions would be totally wrong in the interests of the protection of the environment which is our objective. There has been an extraordinary range of agreement around the Chamber about what we attempt to achieve. We have had differences of opinion about the exact terminology, or the interpretation of complex matters such as sustainability. But we have all had the same objective. I reject the proposal because I believe that it will damage the attainment of that objective. I therefore urge the Committee to reject the proposal.
Lord Elis-Thomas: I am in the unenviable position of following two distinguished Secretaries of State for Wales, one a churchwarden and the other a Presbyterian deacon. As someone who was a Presbyterian, now a member of the Church of Wales, I fall between the two.
First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the proposal that the Countryside Council for Wales shall be amalgamated with the new environmental agency. It would be a serious mistake to interfere in any way in its work or structure, in particular at this stage of the council's future when it has recently been the subject of a review by the present Secretary of State for Wales and his department. Those of us who are concerned about the Welsh environment and the integration between environmental policies and agricultural policies probably have our work cut out to defend the present work of that organisation. I look forward to hearing a clear response from the Government regarding the future of the Countryside Council for Wales, in particular the future of its funding and the extremely important agri-environment of the Tir Cymen scheme which has substantially benefited both the environment and farming in large parts of rural Wales.
While disagreeing with that proposal, I wish to agree with the general proposal in the Bill that there should be a similar structure for Wales as for Scotland. I disagree theologically with my churchwarden. It would be unfair to blame Almighty God for the national border between Wales and England. I am sure that it is theologically true to say that the rivers are the result of creation. But national borders are all artificial and invented and the Welsh border is no exception. All administrative areas are invented. All the great rivers of Europe on the mainland flow across many national boundaries. That is not a problem for administration in that area. It should not be so in this country. We are now all aiming for similar environmental standards throughout the mainland of Europe within and without the European Union. Therefore we should operate the border between England and Wales in the same way.
I wish to emphasise the fact that we have rehearsed this argument before. I remember the arguments that were adduced in the 1960s in favour of retaining a countryside commission for England and Wales. I believe that it was the Labour government which deployed those arguments against my then colleague, Gwynfor Evans, the Member of Parliament for Carmarthen. Some Conservatives then spoke in favour of having a countryside council for Wales. We came to a stage where we had the structure of a countryside commission for England and Wales with a Welsh advisory committee. We have now reached a position where the advisory committee has been replaced by a countryside council. Very few people in the environmental movement, either within Wales or outside, would see that as a step back.
I also remember the same argument about scientific knowledge, the sharing of expertise, being applied to the amalgamation of the NCC arm in Wales, ably led by my present colleague in the private sector in an environmental capacity, Tom Pritchard, who was then a director of the NCC in Wales. That organisation was amalgamated with the Welsh arm of the countryside commission and it was felt that that would be a loss of
I believe that the same process would apply if, under the Bill, we were to set up an environmental protection agency for Wales on the same basis as Scotland. The arguments for that are not those of sentiment or sentimental nationalism. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, would ever accuse me of being a sentimental nationalist; I may be a nationalist, but not a sentimental one.
My arguments on the structure are entirely to do with the present structure of Welsh government. I am a strong supporter of the present Government's devolution policy. Let me spell out what I mean by that. The present Government have devolved more institutions administratively to Wales than even the previous Labour government. We have the funding councils for higher and further education and there is the countryside council. All the structures have been created. The exception is the National Rivers Authoritythe water industry. In most other areas a separate Welsh body has been set up, directly accountable to the Welsh Office.
I appreciate the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that the agency can be accountable to more than one Secretary of State. However, my anxiety is that because of the present structure of the agency the advisory committee for Wales will not be a sufficiently powerful body to deal in a positive way with all the environmental issues that we shall cover.
I have complete confidence in the present personnel of the NRA and HMIP as they operate. I have seen them all in action in different contexts with river pollution, industrial pollution, and so on. I regard Ron Edwards as a good friend and someone in whom I have complete confidence, both as a committee person and a policy adviser.
That is not the issue. The issue is whether it would be more effective to have the clear structure of an agency than to have this present structure of an England and Wales agency with yet another advisory committee. There are other relevant amendments later, I hope we will not reach them this evening but they will come in our next debate. We shall then look at proposals to rename and strengthen the committee and that is something to which we shall return.
Perhaps we may look at the structure of whether or not there should be a separate Welsh agency. The arguments are to do with the structure of present government in Wales, the structure of the Welsh Office itself, the nature of the semi-autonomous environmental movements there and the fact that it would enable us to work within the quasi-federal system with which Welsh higher and further education and the countryside in Wales are already working.
In a sense the Government are taking a step backwards. I read between the lines of the Second Reading debate. Unfortunately, I missed it because of a particularly virulent bout of 'fluit was not just a Welsh virus but a cross-border one from which other people have suffered. I read between the lines of the
I wish to end by being slightly critical of the Labour Party. My view is that the Labour Party's incessant campaignnot so much here but in another placeagainst nominated bodies in Wales has played into the hands of the Government. It has meant that the Government can now say with their hand on their heart, "We're not going to create any more nominated bodies, Welsh quangos; we're going to create an England and Wales agency with a Welsh advisory committee". My advice to the Labour Party is: remember what these bodies are. The nominated bodies have come into existence because of the transitional nature of the relationship between Wales and Westminster. I am not and never have been a separatist; I am a European federalist. I believe that sooner rather than later there will be an elected assembly for Wales where all these nominated bodies can be brought to greater account.
In the meantime, I think that it is in the interests of Wales to create as many nominated bodies as we can within the present structure, so that those bodies will be able to develop policies and a positive administrative structure to run the existing level of government in the Principality. That will be anathema to some Conservative and Labour people and even some members of my own party. I believe that the present state and nature of government in Wales is such that the only way in which we can make progress is by creating a series of nominated bodies which work within the current system. Beyond that, we can look for democracy. Meanwhile, I argue strongly for a separate environmental agency for Wales, for reasons of practical government, and against any agency which takes over the responsibilities of or interferes with the already beleaguered countryside council.
Lord Williams of Elvel: Perhaps I may bring us back from jargon and whether the Labour Party has encouraged Conservatism in Wales to the realities of the amendments. I should like for a moment to speak as the president of the CPRW. I have the highest regard for the Countryside Council for Wales and I wish that to go on the record because it is under serious attack from the Welsh Office. As Members of the Committee have mentioned, morale in the CCW is not good. Although originally I opposed the creation of the CCW, I believe it has performed an excellent task and done extremely well.
Nevertheless, we must considernot just with national sentiment, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, saidwhat is best for Wales. Our position is that we join the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in wishing there to be a separate agency for Wales under the Bill. But we do not believeand I say this in all seriousness
It is simple. I accept that the cultures may be rather different, that CCW has a different origin. There are the NRA, the HMIP, the local authorities, waste management, and so on. I believeand I am supported in the view strongly by the executives of CCWthat a full-scale environmental agency for Wales is required and is what the Welsh would like. I hope that the denigratory remarks that have been made about CCW will be modified to the extent that if CCW were brought into a Welsh agency, within the remit of the Bill, it would provide for Wales a full-scale environmental agency such as we need.
I am disappointed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, say that the Welsh district councils do not wish it, the NRA in Wales does not wish it and the regional NRA does not wish it. That may well be the case. But the NRA is only one of the three elements that will make up the agency as set out in the Bill.
So far as the HMIP is concerned, there are serious reservations from the Association of District Councils in Wales about the investigations and delays that stem from the HMIP. I have to say that we are not at all happy that the HMIP is performing in a way that responds to the requirement of the people of Wales. It may well be that the regional NRA is efficient in Walesindeed, I have my own experience in regard to the activities of the NRA on the Wye, the Ithon, the Irfon and the Severn. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will nevertheless accept that there is no reason why some of the expertise that is in the NRA in Wales should not be shared with others. There is no reason why the co-operation between the NRA in Wales and that in England should not be shared with Scotland and vice versa. Technology does not necessarily mean frontiers that cannot be
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