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Earl Peel: I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with me that there is another dimension to this. Whereas the role of the JNCC is to try to establish standards that are helpful to the various countryside agencies in coming to terms with their responsibilities, there are clearly times when one of the countryside agencies will be the lead agency on a particular subject because it has more expertise on it than the JNCC does. I think that the point is well made that, whereas the JNCC has an important role to play, it is not always the dominant partner, because other agencies will sometimes have more experience in a particular field than it does.

Lord Bach: I agree with the point that the noble Earl makes.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Of course it will be for the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to decide what to do with her Amendment No. 272. The Minister referred to the fact that the wording was drawn from the 1990 Act. I was wondering whether some of the resistance to increasing the biodiversity terminology, which, as he admits, the Government were initially attracted to, comes from the fact that in 1990 nobody really talked of biodiversity—it was an unknown term. However, that is no reason why now in 2006 we should not include it.

Lord Bach: That is a very fair point. The real point behind what I had to say was that the four bodies that make up the JNCC have to work on a common basis. While we could get the Welsh Assembly, perhaps, to change the remit of its organisation, that is not possible apparently as far as Scottish Natural Heritage is concerned, which is why we resist the suggestion in Amendment No. 272.

Baroness Byford: The Minister's last response has made my resolve even firmer. This is a slightly
 
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unsatisfactory position to be in. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and I accept the comments made by my noble friend Lord Peel. Obviously we want to increase biodiversity, or to have an awareness of it—and the noble Baroness is right to suggest that back in 1990 it was not something that was talked about.

Do I take it from the Minister that he is content that England and Wales can do something, or try to improve things, but that Scotland can go its own sweet way anyway? It seems extraordinary that in one part of this UK-wide conservation body you cannot tighten up or improve on what you are trying to get the four parts to do. If that is so, I think that it is very sad and, I would have thought, slightly unsatisfactory.

On my second point, I will look at Amendment No. 273 again carefully. I think that noble Lords have suggested that the issue might be more relevant to Natural England itself rather than to where it is in this particular part of the Bill. I hope that I interpret what the Minister said correctly. I know that it is just after supper, but Amendment No. 272 has been laid for some time—the typo of using the word "conversation" instead of "conservation" was in the amendment before dinner, not just after. I looked at the amendment earlier this morning and said, "Whoops! This is not very good".

I thank the Minister for his response. I suspect that we may want to consider the issue a little further but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 273 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 274:

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 275, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, so I shall speak to Amendment No. 274 and then listen to what she has to say on her amendment.

My amendment would make a small but, we believe, important alteration to the functions of the UK conservation bodies and to the JNCC. The Bill states that, "in discharging their functions", UK conservation bodies must have,

That is a very loose incentive; it is slightly casual. Our amendment would ensure that the conservation bodies have to have regard to their commitment to sustainable development. That would be in line with the promises made by Her Majesty's Government about sustainable development and it would resonate with the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. I am sure that the Committee is aware of the directive, which was adopted back in 1992. It states that,


 
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If the Government are committed to contributing to sustainable development, they must demonstrate that in the clearest terms. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Ullswater): I must advise the Committee that, if this amendment is agreed to, I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 275 because of pre-emption.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We referred in passing to Amendment No. 275 when discussing the general purposes of Natural England. The Minister then explained that there was a difference between that and the role of the JNCC, which should have the primary scientific and environmental role, so that in this context "desirability" was a more reasonable word than "necessity". Having taken that to heart, I shall not move my amendment.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: I, too, think that the sustainable development clause for the JNCC needs strengthening. I do not really mind which wording the Minister takes. I once sat as a member of the JNCC, which was quite strange because I was a lay person among all the scientists. I listened to a lot of the scientific talk but did not understand a lot of it. I considered my role entirely as being to put the sustainable development argument. If I had not been there, I do not think that the JNCC as a body would ever have considered anything outside the straight biodiversity conservation remit that it felt that it had. So it is important in this day and age that it has a pretty strong push to take account of the sustainable development agenda. I do not think that the current wording of the Bill provides that.

9.15 pm

Lord Carter: I, too, am puzzled by the use of the word "desirability", because the unspoken two words after it are "or otherwise". If one considers the desirability of something, it must be possible to decide that something is undesirable. I cannot believe that the JNCC would regard it as undesirable to contribute to sustainable development, so I wonder if that word is the right one.

Lord Bach: I shall try to explain. It is important to understand the primary role of the JNCC. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned, it has an advisory role on nature conservation. Of course, as with all our sponsored bodies, we want the JNCC to have a reference to sustainable development in its remit, but that reference must be consistent with the wider role of the body itself. We want the JNCC to give advice within the context of sustainable development rather than to be constrained by it or to have to moderate it to take account of wider issues. Many of those issues include balances that might need to be struck between conservation and other objectives, and will fall to the recipients of the advice from the body, including Ministers and, in some cases, Natural England itself.

It is worth emphasising that the JNCC is not an operational delivery body and thus has limited ability to contribute to the delivery of sustainable
 
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development at first hand. It is important that the JNCC can give objective advice based on good science, but it is also important to show how that advice might help to take sustainable development forward. We believe that that is what the current wording does.

We are asked whether this provision is, in effect, simply window dressing. No, it is not. At the risk of repeating myself, let me say that we are keen that all our sponsored bodies should have a clear sustainable development remit, but that that must be consistent with each body's wider role. Frankly, each body has little scope to take forward sustainable development through its own activities, apart from managing the green footprint of the organisation itself, but it can put advice to others in the context of sustainable development.

I shall give an example. The JNCC may be called on to advise on the potential nature conservation impacts of offshore wind farms. It is not for that organisation to form a view on the balance to be struck between activities that might harm wildlife on the one hand, but that might also have environmental and economic benefits on the other. It is right that the organisation can flag up those issues for those who need to decide which way to go. That is why we think that to give this body too up-front a role in the sustainable development field is out of kilter. We meant it when we referred to sustainable development in the clause, but that is as far as we take it.


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