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Lord Stanley of Alderley: I support this group of amendments and wish to speak to those standing in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lord Peel. They are Amendments Nos. 320A, 322, 323, 325 and 326. I hope that I shall not muddle my noble friend on the Front Bench but, with the permission of the Committee, I would prefer to deal separately with Amendments Nos. 318 and 321.

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The amendments support the line taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. As the Bill is drafted, the Minister of Agriculture in England is required to consult his statutory advisers on conservation matters before formulating or modifying environmental land management schemes. There is no similar duty on the Secretaries of State for Wales or Scotland. I appreciate that both are Ministers of Agriculture in their area. However, it is odd that those two Secretaries of State should not have a duty to consult their statutory conservation advisers about land management schemes. I hope that my noble friend will see the sense of the amendments.

4 p.m.

Baroness White: I should like to comment on Amendment No. 320. Needless to say, I am looking at it from the point of view of Wales. Some of us were informed by the Countryside Council for Wales that it had not been consulted and that it had been left out against its will. That is astonishing. Surely somebody somewhere should have realised that there would be strong indignation and complaint about the fact that the Countryside Council for Wales and our heritage body, Cadw, were left out without any consultation whatever. I hope that that is not significant but merely an error of administration or judgment to which, I am afraid, we are all too accustomed in relation to legislation coming before us these days. I could not allow the situation to pass without drawing attention to it. Those of us who are concerned about the environmental problems of Wales were very much put out by the omission.

Lord Walpole: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 316A, 321A and 324A standing in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. The amendments aim to widen and deepen the consultation process. However well informed the Minister's advisers may be, there is a wealth of experience outside that magic circle. When strategies are developed and changes are made, it is essential to seek the benefit of the experience of those at the sharp end.

I am sure that the Minister has been briefed by his department and has also received the briefing from the Countryside Commission which was, after all, set up to advise the Minister. I understand from the Countryside Commission that it is broadly in sympathy with the type of amendments which are put forward but that it does not support them as such because they are unnecessary. I am sure that that is what the Minister is about to tell us.

I have looked back several years to Volume 520 of Hansard when, at col. 2188, I was arguing with the Minister's predecessors on the Environmental Protection Bill. At that time also I was fighting for greater co-operation and information concerning what was being done. And that is what today's amendments are about. On the previous occasion the problem was overcome by letters of intent. In replying to this group of amendments, perhaps the Minister will make a ministerial announcement on letters of intent or the intention of Ministers to co-operate with one another. I am referring, of course, to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment.

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Indeed, I hope that the Minister will go further—I suspect that he would like to—and say that the letters of intent should go beyond the Department of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and the statutory bodies. Perhaps the Minister will be willing to discuss that with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and myself before Report stage.

I feel very strongly that wider consultation is needed. There have been no complaints about the 1990 letters of intent, so obviously they have worked. I hope that the Minister will think seriously about better communication.

Earl Howe: All of these amendments would, in one way or another, extend the scope of the consultation arrangements set out in Clause 81. The clause requires the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England to consult the specified environmental agencies, as well as the Secretary of State for the Environment, before making or significantly amending legislation which aims to conserve or enhance the countryside or to promote public enjoyment of the countryside.

Amendments Nos. 316, 320, 320A, 322, 323, 325 and 326 seek to require similar consultation of environment bodies in Scotland and Wales by the relevant Secretaries of State. The Government do not consider that that extension is either necessary or appropriate because in Scotland and Wales the institutional arrangements and powers of existing bodies are different from those in England. For example, Historic Scotland and Cadw are not separate statutory agencies, unlike English Heritage, but are executive agencies of the Scottish and Welsh Offices. The amendment, if agreed, would require the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales to consult themselves on issues affecting the built heritage and clearly that would not be sensible. In addition, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales already have statutory power to provide advice to their respective Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 316A, 317, 324, 324A would widen substantially the scope of Clause 81 in three ways. First, they would require the Minister of Agriculture to consult the Secretary of State for the Environment and the three countryside agencies before making any amendment to the specified statutory instruments, regardless of whether or not he considers it material. Secondly, they would require the Minister to consult those persons and bodies before making or in any way modifying any land management legislation which has a subsidiary environmental objective, even though its primary purpose is not related to conservation or public enjoyment of the countryside. Thirdly, they would require that the scope of the consultation should cover the objectives, delivery and performance of schemes at national and, where appropriate, local level.

The purpose of Clause 81 is to draw in the full range of environmental expertise available within all the relevant government agencies to ensure that we are getting the most out of schemes with specific environmental objectives. We consider that such formal statutory consultation as is proposed would be out of all

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proportion in relation to other policy developments where environmental purposes are not the primary objective. It could, for example, require the Minister to consult the specified bodies on minor amendments to the Crop Residues (Burning) Regulations.

We consider also that it would be undesirable to provide for formal statutory consultation where proposed modifications to statutory instruments are of a purely technical nature. That would be bound to create unnecessary additional bureaucracy and delays in operating schemes. It would, for example, mean that the Minister would be obliged to consult on every routine adjustment made to payment rates and grant ceilings in environmentally sensitive areas.

We believe that the extension of the clause to refer specifically to consultation on the objectives, delivery and performance of schemes is unnecessary because the requirement in the present text for Ministers to consult before making or significantly modifying legislation will, where necessary, encompass these elements as well as other aspects. The idea that consultation should, where appropriate, take place at local as well as national level is one which we support but we believe that it is already catered for in the current wording. By consulting the statutory countryside agencies, all of which have locally based staff, and through the Ministry of Agriculture's own local consultation arrangements, local views will be fully taken into account.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 321A and 321B is, first, to extend the list of statutory organisations which the Minister of Agriculture is required to consult to include the Forestry Commission and local government representatives; and, secondly, to add to that list non-statutory bodies representing the interests of land managers as well as wider environmental, business and community bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, asked about letters of intent. The consultation arrangements set out in Clause 81 are, as I said, designed to extend the approach which already operates successfully in setting up new environmentally sensitive areas. The Department of the Environment and the three countryside agencies have specific expertise with regard to conservation on agricultural land which is uniquely valuable in developing schemes of this type and it is right that their advice should be sought on a statutory basis. Since those schemes are not directed principally at woodland or afforestation, in our view it would not be appropriate to extend such statutory consultation procedures to the Forestry Commission. However, the Forestry Commission, local authorities and other statutory bodies are, in practice, consulted as appropriate on specific issues affecting their interests.

In introducing and developing conservation schemes we also recognise the importance of seeking advice and comments from non-statutory organisations outside government, representing both agricultural and environmental interests. However, whereas it is appropriate to provide a legal basis for the consultation of statutory bodies under certain conditions, more general consultation with non-statutory bodies is carried

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out on an ad hoc basis as the need arises. Those arrangements work very effectively and we do not consider it necessary to alter them.

I trust that the fact that the arrangements are working as well as we all hoped will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, to the extent that, perhaps, letters of intent may assume a lesser degree of importance. However, I would be more than happy to talk to the noble Lord about the issue between now and Report stage. With that somewhat lengthy explanation of the purposes of Clause 81, I hope that Members of the Committee will feel comfortable in withdrawing the amendments.

With the leave of the Committee and before I sit down, perhaps I may respond to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady White. I apologise for not so doing earlier. The noble Baroness mentioned the upset felt by the Countryside Council for Wales. The review of the functions of the council, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is currently undertaking, will not affect the fact that he would continue to consult the council on such matters. The council's statutory functions will not be changed, even if local authorities become more involved in some aspects of its present activities. I should stress that no decisions have yet been made in that respect. The council will remain the Secretary of State's adviser on nature conservation and on countryside and access issues. Therefore, there is no need for the Secretary of State for Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales to be included in the clause.

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