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Lord Moran: I should like to say a few words about Amendment No. 71 which stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Chorley, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver. Essentially, it is a probing amendment. We are anxious that there should continue to be in the United Kingdom a common approach to nature conservation. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister precisely how that will be achieved under the Bill. We should also like to be reassured that the present arrangements, worked out with such care eight years ago, cannot be upset without the full consent of Parliament.
Nine years ago we began considering in this House the implications of the previous government's decision, announced on 11th July 1989, to break up the Nature Conservancy Council into three autonomous country agencies. Four months later the government, in the face of strong criticism at the apparent lack of thought given to the scientific base of nature conservation, announced that these bodies would be required to form a joint committee to provide advice about nature conservation with a Great Britain or international dimension and to establish common standards on these matters.
The Environmental Protection Bill had started its progress through Parliament. The Select Committee on Science and Technology established a sub-committee to look into this matter. Its chairman was my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver who has put his name to this amendment but who, unfortunately, cannot be here tonight as he has to be in Strasbourg. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and I were members of that sub-committee. I was co-opted as someone who lived in Wales. The Carver Committee reported in March 1990. I wish to quote three brief sections from the sub-committee's opinion. First, in paragraph 3.5 we said:
We set out in our report how we thought that the joint committee should operate and advised on its functions, membership and staffing. Most of our recommendations were accepted and were reflected in Section 7 of the Environmental Protection Act which received Royal Assent on 1st November 1990.
The special functions of the country agencies discharge through the JNCC and defined in Section 137 of the Environmental Protection Act are: the quinquennial review of the schedules of specially protected plants and animals other than birds; advice to Ministers on policies for or affecting nature conservation in Great Britain or elsewhere; dissemination of information to any person about nature conservation in Great Britain or elsewhere; the establishment of common standards throughout Great Britain for the monitoring of nature conservation for research into nature conservation, and the analysis of resulting information; and the undertaking or commissioning of research to support the above function.
The JNCC was established in 1991. It has worked well, indeed better than was expected, under the distinguished and skilful chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, whom I am glad to see in his place, and its present chairman Sir Angus Stirling. It is supported by the chairmen of the three constituent councils which of course are now English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Countryside Council for Wales.
One provision of the Environmental Protection Act (Section 131(5)) is that the Secretary of State is able to give the JNCC directions of a general or specific character with regard to the discharge of the committee's main functions. That is an important provision, although intended as a last resort, as it ensures that the JNCC duly carries out its functions in the way, and for the purpose, that the Act intended.
The present Bill has the potential to change matters in relation to the conduct of nature conservation by the JNCC. Clause 22 provides for the transfer to the national assembly for Wales of any of the functions exercisable by a Minister of the Crown in relation to Wales. The effect of such a transfer, were it to relate to the Secretary of State's powers of direction to the JNCC, could undermine the committee's role in giving advice in relation to nature conservation in Great Britain as a whole or internationally, or for the setting of common standards for research or monitoring or for the handling of the resultant information. In short, it could begin the unravelling of the procedure which this House was so instrumental in establishing in 1990--a procedure which was established with great thought and care. It is difficult to see how such a power of direction, if applied to the JNCC, would not impact on Great Britain as a whole and not just Wales. At the very least, it could create distortions and difficulties with which it would be difficult to work.
The purpose of the amendment is to safeguard the future operation of nature conservation in the UK at the national and international level, by exempting the functions carried out by Ministers of the Crown, in relation to the work of the JNCC, from the possibility of transfer to the assembly.
I recognise that that may be a theoretical risk only. In the seven years of the JNCC's existence, the Secretary of State has not used the power given to him in Section 131(5) of the Environmental Protection Act. We want to know how the present arrangements can be preserved and secured under devolution. I am, incidentally, puzzled about the interaction of Clauses 22 and 23. Clause 22 provides for an Order in Council to direct a Crown Minister to exercise his functions in relation to Wales to be exercisable concurrently by the assembly, or exercisable subject to the consent or approval of, or after consultation with, the assembly.
Clause 23(6)(c) provides that any function exercisable by a Minister of the Crown in relation to a cross-border area--that is, an area which includes a part of but not the whole of England as well as the whole or a part of Wales, shall be regarded for the purposes of Clause 22 as exercisable by the Minister in relation to Wales. It appears that the scope of Clause 22 is not confined to
If the words "in relation to Wales" were to be defined by the matters listed in Clause 23(6) then the functions of the Minister as regards the JNCC could be implicated by reason that some of the JNCC's functions--for example, advice to Ministers--could relate to only part of England as well as Wales, and therefore come within the definition of a "cross-border area". The JNCC's functions relate also to the sea both within and outside territorial limits, and that is included by Clause 23(6)(b).
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am happy to support my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, especially in his plea for the devolution to the new assembly in Wales of all those matters which quite properly would appear to the general public to come within its area of responsibility, because if that is not done, and certain vital powers affecting Wales only are withheld from the assembly, the general public, if they are anything like the general public of Northern Ireland--Northern Ireland testified recently to this--will blame their own elected representatives for the sins of commission or omission by the sovereign Parliament.
My noble friend has a strong case in advocating that where it is safe within the integrity of the UK to devolve to the new assembly in Wales all those matters which are, after all, of real concern to the people who will elect the new assembly, even if that assembly is going to have only about half the membership of the Northern Ireland assembly, given that its population is probably more than twice ours in Northern Ireland, it should do so.
I have no option but to support Amendment No. 70. My authority for so doing is to be found in what has become known as the Belfast Agreement, which we are now told has the status of the law of the Medes and the Persians--unalterable and all the rest of it. The precise reference is to be found under strand three of that document. Paragraph 2 provides for membership of the council of the isles for devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, in Wales, and, if appropriate, I suppose, in London. One can hardly imagine that London would leave the UK, but one never knows in these days of rapid change and mass hysteria what lies ahead of us. We should not forget the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and, I suppose, if Atlantis were to resurface that might come into it too.
Amendment No. 70 is, in a way, a necessary act of reciprocity, because without it there could be an element of doubt in the minds of the 71 per cent. of the Northern Ireland electorate who voted recently, as to whether the people of Wales really wished to be associated with the people of Ireland. We have the opportunity tonight to provide that reassurance.
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