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Baroness Byford: I am very disappointed with that response. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Carter, for intervening. The contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, reflects how important it is that a lay person should serve on such committees in order to put forward the practical side. It is easy to be carried away by what science can or cannot do and by where we might or might not be going. I have listened carefully to the Minister's words, but I am not satisfied. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
The noble Baroness said: This short amendment seeks clarification from the Government. Clause 34 is headed, "Functions of national or international significance". That should imply that the directions given by the Secretary of State to a body operating at arm's length from government will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and that is the reason for the amendment. I beg to move.
There is no doubt that the Secretary of State is gradually accruing more and more functions. This point is being examined by the committee of your Lordships' House that considers regulations. The more powers the Secretary of State has to amend Bills or carry out functions that are not scrutinised thereafter diminishes the democratic and scrutinising powers of this House. Although, as the noble Baroness says, this is a small amendment about a small matter, it is a very important point of principle which has been
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made before from both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches. I am sure that this will not be the last time it is made.
Lord Carter: I do not know whether the noble Baroness has looked at the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which is not slow to make proposals if a Bill contains inappropriate powers. It has not recommended any need for a statutory instrument in this part of the Bill.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Powers of direction are very much reserved powers, and we hope never to have to use them. But they are part and parcel of the safeguards that are built into the framework when setting up an NDPB. We referred earlier to the circumstances in which this power could be used.
The amendment challenges the concept that NDPBs are accountable to Ministers and, through them, to Parliament. It would allow Parliament to countermand instructions that the Secretary of State had issued. That cannot be right and would leave the joint committee not knowing what to do if a Prayer to Annul were tabled.
A more practical consideration is the delay that may be involved. If a direction is to have value in the circumstances we discussed earlier today, the joint committee must be given the direction as soon as the Secretary of State has decided to make it. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to international conventions. The Secretary of State is bound by those conventions to which we are a signatory and would not be able to act in any manner that would otherwise be deemed illegal. In addition, given the JNCC's status as a cross-border body, any statutory instrument would doubtless need to be considered by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that this proposal could lead to very damaging delay in a case where there was a need for urgent action.
Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for her response. I rather assumedalthough I may be assuming wrongly and she will probably correct methat if such an emergency needed to be dealt with in a hurry there would be powers within the Government to deal with it. I had not seen my amendment as delaying anything or making it difficult if urgent action were needed. Certainly, as far as other areas of the Bill are concerned, we are increasingly worried about the powers being gained by the Secretary of State and that is why we tabled the amendment. However, there is clearly a difference of opinion and the hour is getting late. I will think about the matter further and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: We have had a preliminary canter around the course on an early amendment on an earlier evening, moved by my noble friend Lord Peel in connection with the UN convention. To mix the metaphor, that rolled the wicket for this amendment, but I should still do justice to the issue. This amendment is actively supported by the Wildlife and Countryside Link, a nature and conservation consortium which will be well known to many in your Lordships' House. It consists of 15 national organisations whose names I shall not read into the record in their entirety but which include the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the Council for National Parks as well as societies devoted to the conservation of individual species. They have 7 million members in all and manage 398,000 hectares of land.
One of the member organisations, which also specifically supports this amendment, is the Wildlife Trusts, the headquarters of the country wildlife trusts, with which I declared various interests at Second Reading. Both the umbrella organisations welcomed Clause 40, but wish it to go further and use the words "to further" to that end. Many public authorities take significant steps to conserve and enhance biodiversity, but the Bill limits their statutory duty towards conserving biodiversity to that familiar amulet against judicial review of "having regard to". I am engaged with similar amendments on the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill, but there the essential purpose of the Bill is directed elsewhere. Here, we are dealing with Natural England and thus need to send a stronger message than that of an amulet.
Much more could be done than that, in conserving biodiversityand I mean actively conserving, enhancing and restoring biodiversity. We are looking for real achievement and not lip service. I offer a number of examples at national level. Public bodies own and manage a significant amount of land that can further biodiversity. For example, the Prison Service recognises the importance of biodiversity on its estate and has conducted surveys and produced its own biodiversity action plan with different partners including English Nature and the Wildlife Trusts. In Northern Ireland, in my direct experience although outside this Bill, prisons have rabbits in profusion within the grounds, although I acknowledge that the Maze lived up to its reputation by keeping them out.
I have alluded to the 2012 Olympic development in London, which has enormous potential to provide benefits for biodiversity with the regeneration of the land in that part of the capital. It is important that the Olympic Development Authority takes biodiversity seriously, not only in the run-up to 2012 but when looking to the future legacy. Regional development agencies can take significant account of biodiversity alongside economic development in planning for regeneration. In the Idle Valley in Nottinghamshire, the regional development agency sponsored feasibility work on a major rural regeneration project which involved significant gains for biodiversity.
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A good example of the introduction of planning conditions by local authorities to create appropriate biodiversity habitats is the Section 106 agreement introduced by Newbury District Council on the redevelopment of Greenham Common airbase. That resulted in a significant increase in the extent of lowland heathland, a priority habitat under the UK biodiversity action plan. Local authorities and other bodies can play a fuller part in furthering biodiversity conservation through the management of land holdings. For example, managing roadside verges for road safety and biodiversity or amenity grassland for recreation and biodiversity, by changing cutting regimes, can be cost-neutral or even save money while helping to enhance biodiversity.
in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. But biodiversity does not recognise national boundaries, and there are populations of the same UK biodiversity action plan species and areas of the same UK biodiversity action plan priority habitats in Scotland and England.
Some government departments and agencies, such as the Ministry of Defence, have reserved responsibilities; however, we understand that the MoD's land management in Scotland will come under the Scottish duty. The difference between the duty in the Scottish and English legislation could therefore result in inconsistent treatment of biodiversity. The MoD in England would be required to "have regard to" the conservation of an area of priority habitat, such as upland heathland, within its ownership, but it would have a duty to "further the conservation" of the same habitat in Scotland. Pressures on diversity in England are as intense, if not more so, than in Scotland. England's biodiversity therefore merits at least the same level of consideration and input from public authorities as it receives already in Scotland.
Finally, in terms of examples, in my own county of Wiltshire, local authorities could be working with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to identify land that could be protected and where it could be restored and enhanced to create interconnected areas of habitat. The wildlife trusts in the south-west have developed a robust methodology for identifying those key areas, called Rebuilding Biodiversity. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has played a central role in its development and adoption by other environmental bodies, including English Nature.
Local authorities could also look at land in its stewardshipI am thinking of local nature reserves, country parks, council estates and county farmsto see how they might improve their biodiversity. Local authorities could also work with nature conservation organisations to devise and fund monitoring on indicators for local development documents. That is a requirement of the new planning system for annual monitoring reports. Much of that information is not
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already recorded. Local authorities could also be contributing to biodiversity in their area by investing in the voluntary sector and working in partnership with it. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust receives money from Wiltshire County Council and Salisbury District Council for various activities. Both local authorities, for example, invest in the Biological Records Centre run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. The records are vital for local authorities to know where the rich wildlife sites areand, indeed, used to be. I am not saying that there are no financial contributions to this work; both Salisbury District Council and Wiltshire County Council give money, and I admire those contributions. But the conservation of biodiversity could be furthered if the amendment were to be added to the Bill.
In conclusion, Working with the grain of nature: A biodiversity strategy for England acknowledged that if the Government are to meet their international biodiversity targets, including halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU by 2010, biodiversity must be mainstreamed into all their activities. The strategy recognised that if biodiversity is to be conserved effectively, the Government will need to go beyond site protection and implementation of action plans by the nature conservation agencies. Biodiversity conservation is something that all public authorities can and should play a part in. I beg to move.
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