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It is appropriate that I pay tribute to the work being done by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and indeed by other noble friends, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Maclennan, who in the early days pointed out a number of deficiencies that he felt needed to be addressed. I am grateful to join in the tributes paid by my noble friend Lord Lester to the Bill team, which has worked extremely hard in trying to find a way through on this matter. I hope that my noble friend Lord Boswell can feel content that we are achieving what we would seek to do in reforming this institution without changing its independence from government. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to accept the inclusion of the EHRC in each of these schedules as a necessary measure. It is properly safeguarded and narrowed in scope by the removal of Schedule 7. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thornton: I thank the Minister for that reply and thank the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Boswell, and my noble sister. It is actually International Women's Day now-we are 21 minutes into it-so I thank my noble friend Lady Royall for her remarks.

We are now at the point when there is nothing much more that we can say in this Chamber, so we now need to continue our discussions. I accept the invitation to continue talking to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 71 withdrawn.

Amendment 72

Moved by Lord Maclennan of Rogart

72: Schedule 3, page 18, line 24, leave out "Internal drainage boards."

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I beg to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves, who for reasons of health is unable to move it himself and has asked me to do so. Amendment 72 and others related are concerned with the internal drainage boards, which operate principally under the Land Drainage Act 1991 and are independent operating authorities. They form a specialist but important part of the systems of local governance in their areas. There are 154 of these bodies in England and they

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have an important role in managing water level and flood risk. Their activities include action in emergencies, maintenance of pumping stations where necessary and providing planning advice to local authorities.

The Association of Drainage Authorities, which is the national body that represents the IDBs, is unhappy about the inclusion of these bodies in the Bill and has suggested that primary legislation would be more appropriate. There are at least two opportunities for considering this matter in this parliamentary Session. The first is through the Localism Bill, which it has been suggested by the association would be a better way in which to make specific modifications to the legislation, including amalgamation of the boards. The association has also drawn attention to the fact that the Government are proposing to produce a water White Paper in June and believes that that would be likely to be followed by a water Bill, which would provide another appropriate route through primary legislation, allowing full scrutiny to take place and extensive parliamentary debate if necessary. I rise simply to ask the Government why they feel it appropriate to include the IDBs in this Bill and why they have not preferred to wait for the primary legislation intended to be produced relatively soon.

Some concern has been expressed by these bodies-particularly by the chief executive of the ADA-that local people, including volunteers, with considerable local knowledge, freely offer advice to help to reduce the risk of flooding to people, property and land. These concerns are worthy of being addressed in the debate. I have no doubt that the Minister will be able to explain the Government's position. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester): I must advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment 72A for reasons of pre-emption.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I support these amendments. When I spoke at various stages of the Flood and Water Management Bill, it was mainly about the importance of the integrity of catchment management plans and of the local knowledge and understanding of water management in each and every catchment. A crucial part of that knowledge and understanding can be found in the IDBs. There are more than 130 IDBs, covering nearly 1.3 million hectares of England and Wales, and I happen to know that whenever they were looked at by MAFF-and, I dare say, by Defra, although I am unaware of any analysis or report in the past 10 years-they have been shown to be exceptional value for money, because the work they do would cost the state millions of pounds more if they were not there.

The IDBs are managed largely by volunteers with professional, historical and local knowledge and expertise that is unequalled on their patch. They are really good examples of how the big society should work and remain a major delivery partner in flood management. While they continue to protect agricultural, commercial and domestic property, they are also reinventing themselves to protect habitats, SSSIs, and environmental issues such as lichen, insects, wildflowers and barn owls, to name but a few.

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I accept that their purposes and procedures, organisation and membership should always be reviewed in the light of modern practice but the value, knowledge and local expertise they represent should not be undermined or wasted-at least, not on our watch. I also accept that their membership may need broadening in the light of new financial arrangements. I understand that that is beginning to happen and that there are already broader interests in the environment and the like, which should be represented in their membership. However, I worry a little about the Environment Agency being responsible for their amalgamations and boundary changes in "non-contentious cases". Does that mean that the IDBs involved have to agree with the proposed changes? I would worry if the Environment Agency had the power to take over any IDB responsibilities without their consent because that would be a waste of local expertise and, probably, of money. It would be unlikely to lead to any greater efficiency. Can the Minister address the definition of "non-contentious cases"?

Finally-I repeat this every time I stand up on this Bill-while this Government may have indicated their immediate intention is not necessarily to undermine or dramatically alter the functions of IDBs, I always worry about the long-term issue of leaving them in Schedules 3 and 5 in case some future Government threaten those highly important bodies. Once again, it seems that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is moving slightly closer to sunset clauses in the Bill. I heartily endorse that he moves even closer.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, a number of important questions have been raised in this short debate and I am grateful for that. Indeed, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for moving the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who I very much supported in initially tabling these amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, I also pay tribute to the work of the internal drainage boards. The more that I have read about them, the more valuable they seem. Certainly I have received some letters about them from members of the public, seeming to value the work that they do in particular localities. I was amazed to read somewhere that these have a long history, going back to 1252. However, I understand that the more immediate legislative base of the work of the organisations actually dates from the Land Drainage Act 1930.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said that he understood that no revision of the organisations had taken place in the past 10 years. I had understood that in 2004 there was some revision of the rules and procedures of the internal drainage boards. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that and tell us whether or not that revision of rules and procedures was successful or, indeed, whether there is some aspect of them that the Government feel that they want to make further changes to. Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, I am not really clear what the Government want to do by including these bodies in the Bill.

I endorse the comments that have been made that the bodies seem to be very flexible. They operate in ways that suit the different areas, and in that sense

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they are something of a success story-it is a case of local management responding to local situations, which seems to be in line with the Government's thinking on localism. I also note, though, that the Government's own paper explaining their attitude to the Public Bodies Bill says that one of the changes they want to make is to make the bodies more responsive to local needs and more reflective of local interests. My understanding is that they already operate in such a manner and involve local communities in the way that the Government seem to want them to. Perhaps the Government can explain that aspect of their policy.

The drainage boards play an important role in reducing flood risk, a tremendously important issue at present. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned, they also have an important role regarding the natural environment, even on such issues as vegetation clearance works, which they seem to do in a sensitive way. Indeed, when crises occur, many of them provide a 24-hour contact number and extended office hours. They seem to be organisations that work flexibly and well in all circumstances. One of the letters that I received mentioned the fact that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries in another place said:

"From a personal point of view I see IDBs as a good example of what the Prime Minister wants to see happen around the big society. All the IDB members give their time, their local know-how and their skill, free of charge all for the benefit of wider society".

Again, these are strong endorsements, so we need an explanation before Report of why exactly these bodies have been put into the Bill.

I echo the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, about the Environment Agency making decisions about these bodies in the circumstances that seem to be outlined. The agency itself is mentioned in the Bill and indeed in this group of amendments. Given the late hour and the complexity of the agency's operations, I cannot do anything other than skirt over its role, but again it would be good if the Government divulged some of their thinking about the future role of the Environment Agency. Have they had discussions with the agency about its role or any suggested changes that the Government want to make?

Is it the Government's aim to move forward with the consent and the agreement of the agency and its staff? That is also an important point. The agency has staff who are worried that somehow or other their status or their independent stance might be penalised if it is not felt to be totally in accordance with government priorities. They want reassurance about their role, their independence and their status in future.

I shall not say anything more at this stage but I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information, if not entirely in the course of this debate then in writing so that we have good information on which we can base our attitude when these matters come up again on Report.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I might have to spend a few minutes on this but I hope I can satisfy most of the points that have been raised by noble Lords. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Maclennan for moving this amendment on behalf of his noble friend Lord Greaves.

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As noble Lords will know, IDBs manage flood risk and the drainage of agricultural land. In doing so, they also seek to conserve and enhance the environment in those areas of special drainage need where they operate. They play an important role, which is recognised by their inclusion as flood risk management authorities in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Like my honourable friend Mr Benyon, I pay tribute to what the IDBs did in the manner that was cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. She also made it clear that the Land Drainage Act 1991 sets out the IDBs' functions and the arrangements under which they operate, but reminded us that those are based on considerably earlier legislation. She took us back to the 13th century. I do not know whether there was legislation at that stage but she is certainly right in saying that one can go back a long way.

The main issues that arise are restrictive arrangements on governance, limits on the functions of the IDBs and burdensome procedures for changing boundaries and other arrangements. In respect of governance, dealt with under Clause 3 and Schedule 3, the law currently means that, even where most of the funding is from local authorities, an authority can have no more than one member more than half the total membership of a board-the so-called bare majority. This weakens the incentives for efficiency, which would be present with a stronger relationship between sources of funding and levels of representation. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that point. In addition, despite the wider environmental function of IDBs, there is no provision for specialist members to represent those functions, or other wider interests, on the boards. Experience has shown that specialists can add greatly to the effectiveness of boards.

In respect of the functions of IDBs, in terms of Clause 5 and Schedule 5, it is not proposed to transfer those functions to any other body-I give that assurance-or to take away any functions. However, simplification of some of the burdensome procedural requirements so that, for example, IDBs can formalise their rules or procedure with Environment Agency consent, rather than ministerial consent, requires modification of the functions of IDBs. In addition, as the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 imposes a sustainable development duty in relation to IDBs' flood risk functions, and as their flood risk and drainage roles are hard to separate, it is important to align these duties to improve clarity and certainty. For example, where certain works have a bearing on soil carbon, this would be a relevant consideration whether the aim of the work was flood risk management or land drainage.

For the sake of flexibility and efficiency, we are also exploring the possibility of IDBs having the power to carry out other related water management functions in their areas. The Government will keep this under review and will propose a transfer of functions to the IDBs if and when that is appropriate. It is for these reasons that we have included IDBs in Schedule 5. This will mean a more flexible framework for IDBs, which will allow them to adapt to change and therefore put them on a stronger footing. I repeat the assurances that my honourable friend has given and his phrase about IDBs being part of the big society.

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As I have explained, at present the procedure for IDB boundary changes, amalgamations and reconstitutions -that is, changes to board memberships and other matters relating to IDBs-is very lengthy and cumbersome, involving advertising and consideration of objections by the Environment Agency and Defra. We would like to simplify this process by giving the Environment Agency the power to approve these changes other than, for example, in the dispute cases. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, referred to. I make it clear to the noble Lord that cases described as "non-contentious" are those where there is no dispute. Therefore, in the non-disputed cases there would be no need to have ministerial involvement. I hope that that assurance will be sufficient to satisfy the noble Lord. The aim of that is to reduce the bureaucratic controls and to allow IDBs to be more responsive to change. For this reason the Environment Agency is also listed in Schedule 5.

There is also a lengthy procedure involving Defra and the Environment Agency in respect of varying maps that show the extent of watercourses deemed to be "main river". The Environment Agency is responsible for those watercourses. Hence some changes can be significant but others relate simply to alterations in the course of a river. We propose to give the agency the power to make these changes in respect of uncontested, non-contentious changes. That again would reduce unnecessary administrative costs.

The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked about the legislative timetable and whether there were other more appropriate Bills in which to tackle this issue. There is no guarantee that a water Bill will be brought forward. From my own experience over the years-no doubt this is the experience also of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin-I know that there is uncertainty about the legislative timetable and about obtaining the agreement of colleagues. The noble Baroness gives a wry grin but it is sometimes difficult to agree on relatively minor changes. Therefore, we think that it is prudent to provide for these relatively minor changes in the Bill rather than to delay them further. However, I give an assurance that the Bill requires consultation to take place before any order is made. I guarantee that that will take place.

Government Amendments 72A and 94A in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor restrict the order-making power of government Ministers to IDBs that are wholly or mainly in England. This is a result of reaching agreement with the Welsh Assembly that it is more appropriate for Welsh Ministers to have this power for those IDBs which are wholly or mainly in Wales.

Lord Wigley: Hear, hear!

Lord Henley: I am very grateful for that "Hear, hear" from the Cross Benches. For the reasons I have explained, I hope that the Committee will agree to the Government's amendments and that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his full response to the debate which has given us the information that we sought. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 72 withdrawn.

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Amendment 72A

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

72A: Schedule 3, page 18, line 24, at end insert "for areas wholly or mainly in England"

Amendment 72A agreed.

Amendment 73

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

73: Schedule 3, page 18, line 25, leave out "Joint Nature Conservation Committee."

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 73 in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty and speak to his Amendment 79, which refers to the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water, my Amendment 80, which relates to the Marine Management Organisation, to which Amendment 155 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also refers, and to Amendment 81 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which relates to Natural England. All these bodies have a very significant responsibility in terms of sustaining and protecting the environment. Will the Minister explain why these bodies are covered in the Bill? The noble Lord has sat very patiently through much of our deliberations on the Bill. He will know that part of the concern felt about the Bill is that the independence of organisations listed in a number of the schedules is called into question, given the ability of Ministers to intervene, change their governance structure and finance and merge or abolish them simply through an order-making power. There is therefore a general concern about the architecture of the Bill, and one is concerned when one sees these organisations listed, because in terms of protecting the environment it is important that they can discharge their responsibilities independently, without undue interference or influence from a government body.

12.45 am

I particularly want to ask the Minister about the Marine Management Organisation. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will remember our lengthy debates on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. He will also recall that when I sat on the government Benches, I was constantly harassed by noble Lords from all around the House for the lack of progress in establishing the Marine Management Organisation, on whether it would have enough powers, be sufficiently independent from Defra, and be able to do its job effectively. I must say that having finally established the MMO, I am surprised that it is listed in this Bill, and it presumably faces further review, possible reduction in resources and changes to its governance.

This is an opportunity to ask the noble Lord who is to reply why these bodies are listed. What is the purpose? I am sure that that will help us to understand whether this move is necessary or whether we need to come back to consider these bodies on Report. I beg to move.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. I first declare an interest as a past member

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of the JNCC. I am sure that the role it performs could be done better. In my time there, there was a view-not perhaps mine, because I was not necessarily involved-that the staff seconded to the JNCC by the various constituent bodies were not always the best that could be found. I do not know whether that remains the case, but I do not dispute the possibility of potential reform within the JNCC.

However, the JNCC is an important body. Nature does not necessarily conform to man's boundaries, whether administrative or national. Furthermore, there are bits in between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, such as firths, seas and skies, which are in a sort of no-man's land where the JNCC plays an important role. Nature conservation in the UK has to be managed, researched, protected and even enhanced on an international basis. This could not happen in the absence of the JNCC.

Just as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has done, I ask the Minister: what is the long-term intention here? I am sorry to be boring about this, but, once again, can we please have a sunset clause in case a future Government come up with a different answer to that question?

Baroness Quin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for moving or speaking to the amendments that highlight the situation of a number of important organisations listed in the Bill. It is useful to highlight these issues in Committee and then evaluate how to take the debate forward at Report.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, I refer first to the JNCC. It was good to hear the knowledge that he acquired as a former member of that organisation. My understanding is that the JNCC acts as an adviser to Her Majesty's Government and the devolved Governments. I ask the Minister what discussion there has been with the devolved Governments about the structure of the committee, its work and what changes are envisaged. I stress, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that the committee does a lot of important work: it has an important European role; it carries out important work on biodiversity, which is a priority for the Government and for most Members of this House; and it disseminates a lot of information to ensure, for example, that details of EU policy decisions in this area are disseminated to conservation bodies throughout the country and to other key stakeholders. Therefore, it has a lot of important functions.

Am I right in understanding that the changes that the Government are proposing to the JNCC are rather minor? It would be useful to know that. According to the information provided by the Government, the aim is apparently to improve the cost-effectiveness of the committee and reduce the environmental costs of its operations. I do not know what assessment has been made of its environmental costs, so perhaps the Minister can give us further information about that.

My noble friend Lord Hunt also mentioned the Marine Management Organisation, and I shared his surprise that it should figure in the Bill. It is a new organisation and was set up very much with cross-party support, which was very welcome. In a recent debate that we had in Grand Committee on a statutory instrument that made a minor change to the work of

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the organisation, I know that the Minister gave a strong endorsement of the MMO's work. Therefore, I reiterate the questions asked by my noble friend. Why is the organisation in the Bill, and what changes, if any, are envisaged to its operation?

In this group of amendments there is also reference to the Drinking Water Inspectorate. Again, this has an important role in providing information on research, regulations and water testing products and in providing independent reassurance that water supplies in England are safe and that drinking water is acceptable to consumers. That independent scrutiny of water company activities is very important and we want to be assured that it is not going to be in any way jeopardised. Having looked at the DWI's website, I can see that it provides a lot of information to the public in its list of events and in its general climate of openness. Again, I hope that that will not be jeopardised in any future changes.

Finally, another vital organisation is Natural England, which also figures in these amendments. Some considerations similar to those that apply to the MMO are relevant here. Although not as new as the MMO, Natural England is a fairly recent organisation. It was set up in 2006 with, I understand, all-party support. It establishes and cares for England's main wildlife and geological sites, nature reserves, SSSIs and so on. It is also important in designating areas of outstanding natural beauty and so forth. It is probably best known to Members of the House as the body responsible for administering the agri-environment schemes-environmental stewardship schemes and others-amounting to some £400 million a year. That is obviously a vital role which will need to continue in the future.

Can the Minister clarify in what areas the Government envisage Natural England charging fees for its activities? I understand that that has been mentioned. Perhaps the Government can also give us an indication of future funding changes relating to Natural England. Our view is that we do not want to undermine the effectiveness of what seems to us to be a very effective organisation. Again, therefore, as with the other bodies in this group of amendments, we would like some reassurances that will help us to decide how to examine these issues as we proceed towards Report.

Lord Henley: The noble Baroness suggested that what we are dealing with are rather minor changes. I can assure her that they are not rather minor but very minor. The amendments would remove these four Defra bodies from the Bill, which would be unfortunate as the very minor changes that we are proposing are not only modest but help to improve the efficiency of these bodies. They remove a financial burden from the taxpayer, which is something that we should all seek to do.

I shall deal with the four bodies in turn, starting with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. As the noble Baroness says, it advises the Government and the devolved Administrations on behalf of United Kingdom conservation bodies on UK-wide and international nature conservation. Its core role is to co-ordinate biodiversity surveillance and information management across the United Kingdom in support of better policy implementation and decision-making to help to meet the UK's EU and international obligations.

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In consultation with the devolved Administrations, which jointly fund and sponsor the JNCC and the United Kingdom conservation bodies, the Government seek to ensure that it is operating as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. I wish to make it clear that the JNCC fully supports those aims and the committee has discussed a number of measures such as reducing the number of board and committee meetings and reducing the number of committee representatives. The committee has also discussed a proposal to amend its corporate status to allow it to operate as a conventional non-departmental public body, rather than through a company limited by guarantee, as at present. All those changes will enable the JNCC to streamline certain administrative procedures and to reduce its running costs. Some of these proposals-for example, reducing the number of committee representatives-would require changes to primary legislation. That could be the subject of an order made using powers in this Bill. That is why it is listed in Schedule 3.

Other bodies are listed in Schedule 4 in order to modify their charging powers. The reason is not to increase the funding of these bodies but to ensure that those who create the costs of carrying out functions bear that cost. At present, those costs are not fully recoverable and, as a result, the burden falls on taxpayers. I should like to set out the proposals in respect of each body. Starting with the Drinking Water Inspectorate, the Government propose to enable the DWI to implement a charging scheme to enable the inspectorate to recover the cost of much of its regulatory work undertaken on behalf of the water industry. At present the DWI is funded entirely by Defra and, therefore, its costs of operation fall to taxpayers. Allowing the inspectorate to charge the industry for its regulatory work will result in a saving to taxpayers of around £1.9 million a year. On the introduction of a charging scheme, water companies will be able to pass on the costs to consumers, which we reckon will increase the average annual water bill by some 15p, not a very large sum.

The MMO, as the noble Baroness rightly reminded us, is a very new body. It was created under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who sadly is not here today, will remember with much fondness the passage of the Bill through this House. There are charging provisions relating to marine licensing in that 2009 Act. I understand why the Committee might wonder why we need to modify those so soon after the Act was adopted. We are proposing the inclusion of the MMO for specific purposes which would avoid taxpayers subsidising marine licence applicants. The main purpose is to allow us to remedy a shortcoming in the 2009 Act, although I fail to understand why there should be a shortcoming in an Act passed by the previous Government. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will remember its passage. The shortcoming prevents the MMO from fully recovering the costs that it will incur in relation to marine licences, once the new marine licensing system comes into force in April this year. I stress that without that power there would be costs that would have to be met by taxpayers.

Natural England is also included in Schedule 4 to modify its charging powers. This is solely to remove an ambiguity under existing law. Natural England already

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has powers to make charges in relation to its licensing functions under a variety of enactments. These powers are all worded in a way which gives rise to doubts over their scope. For example, although it can create a charge for issuing licences, it is unclear whether the existing powers allow Natural England to make a charge where it receives an application for a licence which is subsequently withdrawn or refused. Natural England is therefore included in Schedule 4 so that the Secretary of State can amend and clarify existing legislation and thereby make the extent of the existing charging powers clearer.

Finally, I turn to the government amendment, Amendment 79A. As noble Lords will understand from debate on previous amendments, it restricts the order-making power of Ministers to the Drinking Water Inspectorate in England. Welsh Ministers will be given corresponding order-making powers for the DWI in Wales through the appropriate provisions in the Bill.

I hope that the Committee will be prepared to accept Amendment 79A and that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and not press the others in the group.

1 am

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his comprehensive response to the amendments in the group. He explained very clearly that these are minor changes which should help to improve efficiency: the JNCC fully supports the aim; the amendment for the Drinking Water Inspectorate is to improve the charging regime. I cannot accept that there is a shortcoming in the 2009 Act. It took six months to go through your Lordships' House; it cannot possibly have a shortcoming.

The Minister explained that the amendment on Natural England was to remove ambiguity; and that government Amendment 79A was to respect the wishes of the Welsh Assembly Government. This is a good opportunity to acknowledge the referendum success last week, which I am glad to do. The answers of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, seem entirely reasonable. The problem is that a new Minister could come on the scene and use the Bill to make draconian changes to those bodies because they are listed in the schedules. That is why, in the end, we come back to the architecture of the Bill.

My worry is that, for instance, Natural England is not always the most favoured of organisations sponsored by the department. The very fact that it appears in one of the schedules is a kind of sword of Damocles, which the department and the Minister's officials can hold over Natural England. Although his response tonight has been entirely reasonable, I remain concerned about the fundamental architecture of the Bill. Of course, in the light of his response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 73 withdrawn.

Amendment 74 not moved.

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Amendment 74A

Moved by Lord Henley

74A: Schedule 3, page 18, line 26, at end insert "in England"

Amendment 74A agreed.

Amendments 74B and 75 not moved.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.

Clause 4: Power to modify funding arrangements

Amendment 76

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

76: Clause 4, page 2, line 39, at beginning insert "Subject to section (Restrictions on ministerial powers),"

Amendment 76 agreed.

Amendments 77 and 77A not moved.

Debate on whether Clause 4, as amended, should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, responded to the question that we raised about Clause 4 when we debated Clause 3 stand part. I appreciated his response. We look forward to further debate on Wednesday on this matter, but the response he made very much applies to this part of the Bill as well.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed.

Schedule 4 : Power to modify funding arrangements: bodies and offices

Amendments 77A to 79 not moved.

Amendment 79A

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

79A: Schedule 4, page 19, line 4, leave out from beginning to "under" and insert "Inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State"

Amendment 79A agreed.

Amendments 80 and 81 not moved.

Amendment 82

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

82: Schedule 4, page 19, line 8, leave out "Office of Communications ("Ofcom")."

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this amendment is on the Marshalled List in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty. We listened carefully to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, earlier this evening

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concerning the protections that will be in place for the economic regulators listed in this Bill. The changes proposed to Ofcom obviously fall into this category. I was very much persuaded by the arguments made earlier by my noble friend Lord Whitty that, by allowing these changes to remain part of the Bill, Parliament is giving up the right to revisit their wider strategic and ongoing role through the medium of primary legislation. There are some concerns about the detailed changes proposed for Ofcom under the powers of this Bill but, more importantly, we are keen to secure a powerful and meaningful role for Ofcom as an independent regulator in the future.

Last week, this House had what can only be described as a spirited debate about the Government's proposal to allow Mr Murdoch to take over the remaining shares in BSkyB. It is fair to say that considerable concerns were expressed about this from around the Chamber. If anything, the mood of that debate would have supported a stronger and more interventionist role for Ofcom in ensuring media plurality in the future. In this final debate tonight, can the Minister reassure me that the overarching responsibility for Ofcom to maintain a diverse media and prevent a narrowing and damaging spread of ownership will be maintained if the proposals in this Bill go ahead? What guarantees is she able to give that Ofcom's independence will not be compromised by an overreliance on being asked to report only at the discretion of the Secretary of State?

These are important issues, which have already been touched on during earlier debates, but I take this opportunity to say that it is important that we are satisfied that the proposals in the Bill do not weaken Ofcom's independent status. I beg to move.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, Ofcom is a highly respected organisation that, since its creation by the Office of Communications Act 2002, has successfully regulated one of the most dynamic and diverse sectors. The media and communications market has developed significantly since Ofcom was created and it is only appropriate that eight years later we take the opportunity to make some small changes to how it operates.

Amendment 82 would prevent changes to Ofcom's funding arrangements. We believe that in the current environment it is only right that Ofcom should have the ability to charge for certain services to alleviate the effect of cuts. Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is not currently permitted to charge operators for this work and, at present, meets the £400,000 per annum cost of the work out of a grant in aid from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Most

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other countries currently charge for this work, so we would be bringing Ofcom into line with international practice by allowing it to charge for this service.

Amendment 96 would mean that we could not change the way in which Ofcom carries out its functions. In the Communications Act 2003, the structure of Ofcom's committees was set out in a disproportionately prescriptive and detailed manner. It makes sense to allow Ofcom the flexibility to streamline the structure to meet the requirement and to reflect the diverse needs of the people involved as it best sees fit. This should not compromise its independence. The ability to reshape the structure of the various advisory committees, panels and boards should also lead to a reduction in bureaucracy and could save Ofcom around £100,000 a year.

Following the Government's decision to table an amendment to remove Clause 11 and Schedule 7 from the Bill, Ofcom will not appear as previously tabled, so Amendment 158 has been withdrawn from the Marshalled List. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment 96.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness and of course I shall not press my amendment to a vote. I would say only that the arguments about Ofcom are very similar to the arguments put forward in our debate on the previous group of amendments. The problem is the very appearance of such a body in this Bill, notwithstanding the commitments given at the Dispatch Box by Ministers. This also relates to whether we will reach some sort of agreement on sunset clauses and on the extent to which a body lives on in this Bill for a long time. A time limit would provide great reassurance.

The noble Baroness has said that Ofcom is in the Bill for eminently sensible reasons. Our problem is that, in a couple of years' time, Ministers might take against Ofcom and use their powers to make much more radical changes. The context is what we have described as the architecture of the Bill. I am hopeful that in the next few weeks we will be able to decide a sensible way forward that enables the Government to undertake reviews of these bodies. I fully accept that they have every right to do so, but they should do so in a way that secures their independence as far as that is appropriate and with proper parliamentary scrutiny. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 82 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 1.13 am.

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