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Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I am greatly encouraged by the Minister's reply. I appreciate the constraints that are on a lot of government action. But if one is convinced that the spirit is fair within our own agricultural policies, then I think one can feel more hopeful about the future. I thank the Minister for his full reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 81 [Consultation before making or modifying certain subordinate legislation for England]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 244:

Page 88, leave out from beginning of line 32 to ("or") in line 33.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment arises from a matter that I mentioned very briefly at the last stage. Subsection (1) (b) of Clause 81 provides for a consultation when the Minister is about to do certain things, including what is set out in paragraph (b). Paragraph (b) refers to his,

It occurred to me rather late at Committee stage what a curious notion this was. It is perhaps not as extensive as at first sight it appeared, but I felt that it was necessary

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to understand what the Government have in mind. Opportunity for the Minister to change the purpose of legislation is slipped in, and I am sure that the Government do not intend it to be as extensive as the wording might suggest. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, as currently drafted Clause 81 includes a requirement for the Minister of Agriculture to consult the specified persons and bodies when modifying any environmental land management legislation in a way which changes its purpose.

It might be helpful to the noble Baroness if I illustrate the kind of situations in which that might apply. For example, it might happen where we proposed to add a new option to an existing conservation scheme. That could change the purpose of the scheme in the sense of adding a new purpose to the existing ones. An example occurred last year when we added a new public access tier to all English environmentally sensitive areas, thereby widening the objectives of the scheme.

Many of the schemes covered by this clause have been launched only in the past year. Therefore, we have no plans to alter their purposes at the moment. However, they will all have to be evaluated in due course and we may wish to add new objectives in the light of that evaluation.

We believe it right that the advice of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the three countryside agencies should be sought on a statutory basis under such circumstances. Clause 81(1) (b) provides for that.

I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured by the explanation of the kinds of circumstances in which we might seek to change the purposes of the relevant legislation. I am sure she is aware that the practical effect of the amendment as it stands would be to restrict significantly the scope of the consultation arrangements, which clearly is not her wish. I hope that what I have said will be sufficiently reassuring to enable her to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, clearly, I shall do so. I thank the Minister for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 245 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 246:

Page 88, line 41, at end insert ("for England").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this a technical amendment to correct an error in Clause 81. The amendment will add "for England" to the reference to,

    "the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission".

It will give the body, which is more popularly known as English Heritage, its correct title. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Walpole moved Amendment No. 246A:

Page 88, line 41, at end insert:
(" (e) the Forestry Commission;

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(f) such bodies or persons appearing to the Minister to be representative of the interests of local authorities;
(g) such non-statutory bodies or persons appearing to the Minister to be representative of environmental interests;
(h) such bodies or persons appearing to the Minister to be representative of the interests of owners or occupiers of land.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, I should like to thank the Minister for seeing us the other day and for being incredibly helpful.

This amendment is similar in content to the one put forward at Committee stage. It puts a duty on the Minister to develop schemes with expert advice not only from his statutory agencies but also from the relevant non-statutory organisations, such as environmental and farming groups. Those organisations have a wealth of knowledge. They know about schemes that have worked in the past and how schemes could work in the future. In fact, the Minister consults those bodies at the present time on an ad hoc basis. This amendment puts into statute what the Minister in fact does anyway.

The amendment also includes local authorities in the formal consultation process. An increasing number of county and district councils now run countryside management schemes. I believe that it makes them bodies which should be consulted in this particular case.

With regard to the Forestry Commission, I accept that it is not particularly relevant in this case as it comes under either the Scottish Office or the Ministry of Agriculture and therefore would be consulted. But I can assure the Minister that should the Forestry Commission be privatised, quango-ised or restructurised at any time in the near future, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and I, who will be watching the legislation like hawks, will make sure that the Forestry Commission is one of the bodies that is consulted under Clause 81 of the Bill.

We had been promised a ministerial Statement on consultation. Perhaps that will appear now. If the DoE is prepared to be so consultative under Amendment No. 239, which we have just agreed to, will the Ministry of Agriculture also become equally consultative? I wait with interest to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I wish to support the amendment. I believe that consultation, however time consuming it may be, is the basis for good legislation and for legislation which it is to be hoped will receive a much smoother passage as a result of it. I wish to ask one question. I am sorry to spring it on the Minister but I do so as a result of information I received only today from the Countryside Council for Wales. The council is very concerned that in the consultation parts of the Bill it seems to have been left out. The council quotes at length from the Minister's reply at the Committee stage explaining the purposes of Clause 81 and the consultation process. The council states:

    "The Countryside Council for Wales believes that all of these arguments are equally valid for Wales (and Scotland). Experience of recent agri-environment legislation, particularly the Habitat Scheme, has clearly shown the importance of expert conservation advice which is specific to Wales".

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I wonder whether the Countryside Council for Wales has been left out for a particular reason or whether it was an omission. Perhaps the noble Earl can find an answer to that question.

Viscount Mills: My Lords, is there a need for the agency to be specified as a statutory consultee under Clause 81? The reason I ask that question is that I believe that the agency might well need to have an input into some of the statutory instruments outlined in subsection (4); namely, the Habitat (Water Fringe) Regulations and also the Nitrate Sensitive Areas Regulations.

Lord Moran: My Lords, I support very strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said about Wales. The same applies to Scotland. This point was mentioned at an earlier stage by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He could not understand why Wales had been left out. I do not think any of us can understand why it has been left out. If the Minister in England has a responsibility to consult, there should surely be an equal responsibility for the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland. I hope that the Minister will take steps to correct that.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said about consultation making for good legislation. As it has been put to me, it is important that the Government should make use of the advice of those who are at the sharp end of countryside management.

Earl Howe: My Lords, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, the purpose of the amendment is, first, to extend the list of statutory organisations which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is required to consult to include the Forestry Commission and representatives of local authority interests; and, secondly, to add to that list non-statutory representatives of environmental interests and the interests of land managers.

The consultation arrangements set out in Clause 81 are designed to build on and extend the approach which already operates well in setting up new environmentally sensitive areas. In that case the advice of the Department of the Environment and the countryside agencies must be sought on any plans to designate a new ESA. However, that is not to say that the views of a wide range of other bodies are not sought on proposals for new ESAs. They are. But that is a different order of consultation from seeking the advice of bodies specifically set up by statute to advise the Government on their environmental policies. It is because of that statutory role that it is appropriate to put their advice to us on the development of our environmental schemes on a statutory footing.

The Forestry Commission and local authorities certainly have environmental responsibilities, but those are not their only role, or even their principal role. Not all the schemes covered by Clause 81 are relevant to forestry, and it would not be appropriate to include a statutory requirement to consult the Forestry Commission on all the schemes. There is also a wealth

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of knowledge and experience about the management of land and the countryside among land managers and the voluntary conservation bodies.

I should like to pay tribute to the quality of the advice which the Ministry receives from bodies representing those interests. We consult all of those interests because we value their views and their help. However, we remain of the opinion that public consultation with the large number of bodies with an interest in the environmental schemes which are the subject of this clause is best left on an ad hoc basis so that the level of consultation can be matched to the nature of the proposal in each case rather than being written into the primary legislation.

The Government's view is therefore not in any way opposed to the principle of wide consultation which lies behind this amendment, but only to what seems to us a rather heavy-handed mechanism for triggering it. Indeed, I am anxious to reassure the noble Lord, the noble Baroness, and others with an interest, that we will continue to consult both land managers and voluntary conservation bodies as well as the many other business, professional and local authority bodies whose views we seek. We shall continue to listen carefully to what they say to us and take full account of their views.

In addition to that, I give the noble Lord and the noble Baroness the further assurance that it is our intention that less formal channels of communication will remain open at working level and that the Ministry will continue to work with farming and conservation interests, including local authorities where appropriate, as well as with statutory bodies as we developed our environmental schemes.

The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, asked when the Government will be making their promised statement on consultation arrangements for environmental land management schemes. During the debate on 14th February, in reply to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, I said that the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of the Environment and the countryside agencies were considering how existing informal contacts and consultations on non-legislative aspects of our conservation schemes might be developed further. I promised a further statement on that from the Government during the passage of the Bill. The discussions I referred to then are continuing so I cannot make that further statement today. It may be that it will not be made until the Bill reaches another place. However, I can confirm that the Government will make a statement on this matter as soon as possible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked about the situation as it pertains to Wales. I am aware that a group of amendments which has been tabled, and Amendment No. 246B specifically, covers Wales. I am not sure whether the intention is to move them. I understand from sign language from the Benches opposite that that is the case. If the noble Baroness will allow, I shall defer comment until we reach that group of amendments. In

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the light of the reassurances that I have given, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

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