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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is, for once, completely in error when he says that there is no a definition of "sustainable development". There is a definition of the phrase which is widely understood both nationally and internationally; namely, the Brundtland definition. I

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paraphrase it slightly, and no doubt the Minister will correct me when he answers this point; it is: to meet the needs of the present without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Or it could be expressed in the words of the Secretary of State for the Environment when he addressed the Select Committee of this House on sustainable development. (I am sure that this House must be understood to have known what it was doing when it set up such a Committee). In giving evidence, he said that he preferred to call it, "Don't cheat the children". That may be a slight over-simplification, but "sustainable development" is well understood both nationally and internationally, and I am sure that it should be on the face of the Bill.

Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the question of the meaning of "sustainable development". Obviously, in the context of this Bill it must mean "environmentally sustainable". If development is to take place and there is an argument about whether or not it should take place, then surely those who have to decide the matter will consider whether it is environmentally sustainable. If it is not environmentally sustainable, then it should not take place. With that in mind, I would have thought that any further definition would be impossible.

The word "sustainable" and the combination with "environmentally" must vary with the circumstances of every case. What might be environmentally sustainable in, for example, the Thames estuary, might well be considered not to be environmentally sustainable, let us say, at the mouth of one of the Highland rivers.

Having said that, one of the great virtues of the Government's new clause is that it implements—as one of my noble friends earlier said that it should—the phrase in the Long Title of the Bill,

    "the conservation or enhancement of the environment".

It does just that. This is what was suggested when we discussed the first amendment today. This new clause should go a long way towards meeting the requirements of my noble friend Lord Norrie and others who wanted a further definition at the beginning of the Bill attached to Clause 1.

Amendments Nos. 29 and 30, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and supported by the Labour Front Bench, have the virtue of simple drafting and greater brevity than the wording in the new clause. But to my mind the points about them are so rarefied and so fine as to be not worth making. I should not be inclined to persuade my noble friend Lord Ullswater to accept either Amendment No. 29 or Amendment No. 30; but I would say to him that he would not be doing much harm if he were to do so.

Lord Moran: My Lords, I am very glad that the Minister has brought forward this new clause. I warmly welcome it, and particularly the reference to protecting and enhancing the environment, which is of central importance, the reference to consultation, which was a point argued by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and myself during the Committee stage, and to having on the face of the Bill a commitment to publication of the guidance. All those points are very important.

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The only point of importance that is missing is the one that I argued for strongly at Committee stage; namely, to have some parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance. That was proposed in Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which I certainly supported. It is a significant omission from the new clause.

With regard to the "sustainable development" mentioned in the first subsection of the new clause, I support the case put forward by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. A few days ago I wrote to the Minister about various matters in the Bill and suggested to him that it might be preferable to have a phrase such as "environmental sustainability" instead of "sustainable development". In that letter I said that:

    "I think that fashionable buzz words, meaning nothing to most people and interpreted quite differently by developers and environmentalists, should not be accorded prominence, or indeed used at all, in an Act of Parliament ... I do not think that the word 'development' should have any place in the duties of an environmental agency".

I still adhere to that view.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook: My Lords, I might be able to help by bringing this debate into the realm of practicality. I agree that my noble friend the Minister has taken an extremely constructive step in bringing forward this clause. We discussed it briefly earlier this afternoon when my noble friend Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 4 and we tried to assess the extent to which the two amendments overlapped in their intentions. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, interpretation is the key issue. My test would be: does this amendment contain within it the strengths of the general conservation duty that is held at present by the NRA?

With the permission of my noble friend the Minister, I have circulated to as many noble Lords as appear interested in this topic and to relevant non-governmental organisations correspondence between us on the issues that concern English Nature. As a consequence, I can be brief. As I made clear, English Nature recently carried out a review of SSSI lakes. There are some 37 such lakes which are currently subject to eutrophication, as are some 13 river SSSIs, where for nature conservation reasons there is particular concern over elevated phosphate levels. Those are all on the lists that have been made public today. I can assure your Lordships that English Nature and the NRA have been engaged in active discussion on them.

On the lists that have been circulated there are 18 SSSIs where the NRA's existing conservation duty has already been important, in the eyes of English Nature, in protecting those sites. As I said, they are included in the briefing. But I shall mention in particular the River Nar, where the phosphate consent was set to ensure that the character of a chalk stream and trout fishery was maintained, and Rosstherne Mere, where the NRA undertook remedial works to tackle the marked enrichment of the lake, which was suffering from algal blooms.

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I appreciate the difficulties of my noble friend in answering questions relating to particular instances; but the key question at which I shall wish to look very carefully in respect of these amendments is whether action of this nature would be covered by this new clause. Would the concerns that I have aired be within the embrace of the term "environment ... as a whole", as appears in this amendment? Will the duty of sustainable development give the protection required to those very sensitive and delicate aquatic SSSIs, about which we must be concerned?

Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, in welcoming and supporting new Clause 4 I should like to make reference to an amendment which I withdrew and which was intended to be in the original Clause 4. It was designed to draw the attention of my noble friend to the fact that it is the Government's committed view that in order to achieve sustainable development—I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell that that should be as defined by the Minister in the guidance—there is a necessity to be aware of the cost and use of energy and have an awareness of how important it is to have energy systems which are efficient and use the best technology to achieve those objectives. I therefore put down an amendment, which I later withdrew but to which I may perhaps refer. It inserted the words:

    "and must include guidance on energy conservation and on systems for producing energy which contribute to the objective of sustainable development".

I hope that my noble friend will give us some assurance, in referring to subsection (4) of the new clause, that in the guidance there will be some reference to the fact that it would be the intention of the agency to support the development of new technology in the use of energy and to encourage any developments in that direction.

I should say that I have an interest to declare in that I am president of the Combined Heat and Power Association which represents one of the leading areas within that development. We hope to see the Government, through the agency, give a little more support to that very important new technology.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, I should like to offer my thanks to the Minister for the new clause. It seems to me that almost every point made at Committee stage has been quite cleverly taken up in the new clause. However, I suspect that we have a problem with "sustainable development". It is a problem raised by many noble Lords on all sides of the House.

Some years ago I read a book on environmental economics. In an appendix it listed at least 50 definitions; and it is still going strong, as it were. On the whole, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, the Government seem to be rather attached—as most people are—to the Brundtland definition. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, gave rather a good summary of it. In fact, it is a rather difficult definition to use in the shape of legislation because it ends up, in my phrase (which is not quite the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont) with the words, "without compromising the needs of future generations".

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How on earth do we, in all our wisdom, know what the needs of future generations will be? It is all right as a nice term of art in a book or something like that; but when it comes to legislation we have to be rather more careful. Maybe the answer lies along the lines of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that we mean "environmentally sustainable". I suspect that we need to think about that; I am not too sure. Maybe it lies within the guidance, which can obviously expand on concepts. Even then, if the Government are attached to Mrs. Brundtland's definition, they have to foresee what our children are going to need. With the greatest respect to the Government, they may find it difficult.

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