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Lord Cameron of Dillington: It is very important that the JNCC should have its own employees and budget. That was stated in a recent review. Prior to that it was subbed by the Great Britain conservation bodies such
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as English Nature, SNH and the CCW. The JNCC is a body that must represent biodiversity and conservation interests on behalf of Britain internationally. It is important that it is an independent body and can take a different line because it has a slightly different remit from the other British conservation bodies that I mentioned. It is important that it has its own budget and staff, and can carry out its role independently.
Lord Bach: I shall deal with both Amendments Nos. 268 and 270. There is a historical background to Amendment No. 268. The provision relates to employment of staff by the joint committee and the requirement for the Secretary of State's approval for the employment of staff. The joint committee was unable to employ its own staff until 1 April 2005 when a regulatory reform order gave it that power. Schedule 4 as drafted consolidates the provisions of the order into the Bill, using its wording. As I said, the provision is taken from the regulatory reform order.
However, the JNCC already employs staff, albeit through its company limited by guarantee, which noble Lords will know enables staff to be employed without members of the joint committee being exposed to unlimited personal liability, and any necessary approval has been given. The provision as drafted is not there to enable the Secretary of State to stop the JNCC employing staff or changing the numbers of staff employed.
The JNCC delivers two specific areas of work. First, it co-ordinates at a UK level certain functions of the conservation agencies. It is appropriate to combine those tasks. Secondly, it advises government on international matters, and again, it is appropriate that government should meet those costs. Approval has been given for the JNCC to employ its own staff.
Amendment No. 270 is another Regulatory Reform (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) Order 2005 issue. The rationale for this provision in the original order was that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 required all funding to be made via the country conservation agencies. The JNCC could not seek direct funding for work that it undertakes on a UK-wide basis or on matters where there is no specific individual or collective responsibility. There are a number of strategic nature conservation services that the JNCC undertakes on behalf of the Government on UK-wide matters of that sort. It is generally recognised that the JNCC is best placed to advise on those and take them forward.
The provision of an enabling power for the Secretary of State to fund the JNCC directly allows for greater transparency in its funding, reduces administration as payments are not routed via the country agencies, and is supported by the JNCC itself and our colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who look to us to bear the costs of the JNCC's work on reserved matters. That is why paragraph 15(1) of Schedule 4 is worded as it is.
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister and also to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his
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comments. Clearly, events have overtaken what I had not read into the Bill, as explained by the Minister. I will look at what he has said. At this stage, I beg leave to withdrawn the amendment.
Amendment No. 272 follows on from earlier amendments where I drew attention to the first of English Nature's duties under the general purpose clauseit seems a long time since we were talking about that. The first duty couples promoting nature conservation and protecting biodiversity. On page 11, Natural England, as one of the UK conservation bodies, is charged with exercising its conservation functions through the JNCC wherever those functions raise issues, or touch on the interests, of the rest of the UK or overseas. If Natural England has a duty that couples conservation with protecting biodiversity, we wonder why the JNCC does not also have a responsibility to use its cross-border influences in promoting biodiversity alongside conserving nature.
In Amendment No. 273 we seek to strengthen what is already in the Bill. The use of the word "understanding" in this context is interesting. It may represent something deep, possibly lasting and affective, as in "John and Mary have an understanding". It can, however, represent something quite vague and wishy-washy, as in "it is my understanding that", which is open toindeed, invitescriticism and contradiction.
In the context of the responsibilities of the JNCC, fostering the "understanding" of nature conservation is not capable of assessment, evaluation or even monitoring. How does one prove or demonstrate that the level of understanding has deepened, or that the amount of it has widened? If, however, one has to foster the practice, then one will show solid results, or lack thereof. The JNCC should be more than a talking shop, or even a communication node. It should be a body working to ensure progress across a number of fronts. It can only be judged if the standards it has set are capable of oversight and a degree of measurement. This is an important amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Amendment No. 272 refers to "conversation", which is slightly confusing and why we are all falling over it so much. It also refers to "increasing biodiversity". We certainly support this amendment. It takes us back to the debate
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that we had on the general purposes of Natural England, when some of us felt that nature conservation is a perhaps even passive activity. We spent a lot of time on the meaning of conservation and so on. I heard the Minister's helpful definition, but it still seems to us that increasing biodiversity is a more active role and would therefore be more helpful.
I shall listen to the Minister's reply on Amendment No. 273 with careful attention. Does Clause 33(1)(b) refer only to the JNCCin which case I would understand why it refers only to the "understanding of nature conservation", as that is more the JNCC's role? However, it also refers to the UK conservation bodies which include bodies charged with far wider purposes. There is a difficulty because those bodies should be fostering exactly the sort of things that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has spoken about. My understanding is that the JNCC would have the one role and the conservation bodies would have the more practical role of fostering the "practice" role, as the noble Baroness's amendment puts it. Two different roles are being talked about in Clause 33 and that leads to confusion.
Lord Bach: I have to admit that initially we found that Amendment No. 272 had some merits, but on further reflection we felt that it was a reformulation of Clause 33(1)(a) using a different form of words. The form of words that has been included within the Bill in Clause 33 is there to provide consistency and continuity with the existing framework in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which first established the joint committee. It is implicit within Clause 33(1)(a) that the JNCC is about biodiversity and that it will be promoting biodiversity as part of its core work. Therefore, we do not believe that the amendment would add significantly something that would otherwise be lacking.
Amendment No. 273 would restrict the JNCC's role in the area of increasing understanding of nature conservation to circumstances where there was a practical, hands-on application to what it was doing. We believe that our phrasing has a wider remit and should be retained because the JNCC should be able to provide advice which has a more general application. For example, that has been beneficial in work in our overseas territories to increase understanding of endangered species.
I should explain a little further the fit between Natural England's functions as set out in Part 1precisely the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, madeand those that it must deliver jointly with its sister bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That fit is not precise. The noble Baroness's question is whether Clause 33 should not better reflect Natural England's functions. We agree with the sentiment that we should endeavour to make the functions of the various bodies match as closely as we can. However, we have to have regard to the interfaces that the JNCC will have with bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While this Bill could, with the prior consent of the Welsh Assembly, be used to amend the remit of the Countryside Council
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for Wales, it cannot make any changes to the general remits of Scottish National Heritage and the Council for Nature Conservation in Northern Ireland. All four bodies can only discharge functions through the JNCC that they already have as part of their own general remits.
I emphasise that this does not mean that the JNCC is king and can dictate what the others are able to do; it just means that we must look at the wider picture and the complex web of relationships, of which the JNCC is a part. My view is that, by sticking to the 1990 Act's terminology, which is how I started this reply, in Clause 33 we are minimising the potential for problems in the future. It will be implicit that the relationship that Natural England has with the JNCC will mirror exactly that which English Nature currently has with the JNCC on a day-to-day basis. That is the explanation of why we think that, while this may not be perfect, it is important to remember that Natural England is one of four institutions that make up that UK-wide body, the JNCC.
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