HL Deb 01 February 1988 vol 492 cc899-928

7.36 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee (on recommitment) on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee (on recommitment).—(Lord Hesketh.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [The Broads Authority.]:

Baroness Nicol moved Amendments No. 1 Page 2, line 7, leave out ("one") and insert ("two").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendments Nos. 1 and 2—it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to both at the same time—is to increase the number of appointments made by the Nature Conservancy Council from one, as is currently provided in the Bill, to two. This would put the Nature Conservancy Council's representation on the same footing as that of the Countryside Commission in that it can appoint two members. By reducing the number of appointees made by the Secretary of State from nine to eight, the size of the authority with 35 members—which many believe is already very large—will remain unchanged. The local authorities will retain a majority of 18 representatives.

The balance of membership proposed for the authority is, as it should be, in favour of democratically elected representatives. The Nature Conservancy Council is the statutory body with specific duties to provide advice on conservation matters. Given the high scientific and conservation element in the Broads Authority's responsibilities, it seems essential that the Nature Conservancy Council should be properly represented. I am aware that on the existing Broads authority there was no representative of the Nature Conservancy Council. However, we are now talking about a body with much wider powers and with a wider representation than the old authority. It seems proper that the Nature Conservancy Council should increase its representation to equal that of the Countryside Commission. The Nature Conservancy Council in its submission to the Select Committee said that it would welcome any further membership facility, though it did say that that should not be at the expense of the Countryside Commission. We do not propose that it will be at the expense of the Countryside Commission. I beg to move.

Lord Harvington

I rise to oppose the noble Baroness. I do not like doing so because I agree with her on so many issues. In proposing the amendment, however, she has the whole thing wrong. If she reads the Second Reading debate, she will see that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—I shall not worry the Committee with the exact quotation but it is at col. 27 if anyone is interested—made it clear that she supported the Bill as it was and that it could not be improved in the way I believe the noble Baroness had in mind. The words used by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, form a very good reason for not accepting the amendment.

At the time my noble friend Lord Ferrers made a very important speech on this matter. He was quite firm in saying that it was much better to leave the Bill as it stood and not to try to amend it, as the noble Baroness now seeks to do. Later, the Lord Privy Seal, then speaking as the Minister in charge of the Bill for the Government, made matters abundantly clear by saying that it had taken 40 years to achieve the amount of agreement which had been reached on the Bill as it stood with all the interests, of which there are so many, which come under the wing of the local authorities and with the boating interests and so on. They have at last come to an agreement. If we accept an amendment such as this, we throw the whole matter into the boiling pot again. Perhaps it becomes a hybrid Bill, in which case the Examiners will have to look at it to decide whether it should go to a Committee of the House again. An interminable time would be wasted by accepting an amendment such as the noble Baroness suggests.

I do beg the noble Baroness not to press my noble friend to accept the amendment. I hope that she is looking for some further clarification. I am quite sure that the questions of conservation that she and I share will be adequately looked after by the new body which the Bill seeks to set up. I hope that the mere fact that all the interests concerned have agreed that this indeed is the case will weigh with her; and I hope that she will not press her amendment.

Lord Hunt

I should like to support the noble Baroness's amendment. I support all four of her amendments, but we are talking about Amendment No. 1.

In response to the noble Earl who has just spoken, I for one do not yet know what the noble Baroness's intentions are about dividing the House on this matter. I think it should at least be discussed.

I am in favour of Amendment No. 1 because it is self-evident that there must be adequate representation. There must be adequate voices who will make themselves heard on the Broads Authority and who are knowledgeable about and have experience in the particular characteristics in regard to conservation and nature conservancy in that authority. This tends to redress the imbalance and the insufficiency of those voices, bearing in mind that that authority is heavily represented by local land-owning interests no doubt in the local government representation and commercial interests. Even if, as I hope, the Government were to see fit to accept the noble Baroness's amendment (No. 4) I still feel that it is most important in the case of the Broads, which has very particular and fragile conservation characteristics, that there should be adequate representation of what I regard as the priority of setting up the Broads Authority.

Lord Renton

At first sight, I was tempted to think that a body of such importance as the Nature Conservancy Council should have two members rather than one, if only for the reason that if one member is ill they will not be represented in the discussion at all. That could be a misfortune. On the other hand, the Nature Conservancy Council has many demands upon its membership. If it is to be an established principle that they are to have two representatives on every important conservation body, then their resources so far as concerns the members of the council would be somewhat strained.

I missed the first two minutes, I am sorry to say, of the noble Baroness's speech when moving the amendment; but I wonder whether I may ask if the Nature Conservancy Council have expressed views about this or not. I should like also to seek clarification from my noble friend Lord Harvington. He said that all the interests concerned have agreed the composition of the Boards Authority, as set out here. May I ask whether the Nature Conservancy Council was one of the interested parties which took part in that discussion?

Lord Harvington

I am not absolutely sure whether the conservancy council took part itself, but its interests were definitely very much represented. The whole idea was to have everybody on a level so that no one could veto a common decision and say, "That is not the decision we want; we want this". I think we can safely say that those with, for example, navigational interests, whose livelihood depends on keeping everything beautiful and as we would like to see it, will take great care to see that for their part the things which the noble Baroness wishes to see done will indeed be done.

Baroness Nicol

I think I should have spoken to Amendment No. 3 with these two amendments, because one cannot divide them. If I may, I will say just a little more.

As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the Nature Conservancy Council said that they would welcome additional membership provided it was not at the expense of the Countryside Commission. The question of alternates was one which I intended putting to the Minister. I too was concerned that if one member of the Nature Conservancy Council should fall ill, there would not be a representative there. Although I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about their strained resources, the fact that they have two members appointed to it does not necessarily mean that those two members need to be there every time. It does mean that they have a better chance of seeing that one of their members is there. That is a another reason for doing it.

Amendment No. 3 would not alter the size of the authority. It still remains at 35 members. It would be on a par with provisions contained in Clauses 1(5) and (6) which provide for consultation with voting and land-owning interests. My feeling is that the membership as presently constituted and the requirements of the Secretary of State in regard to voting and land-owning interests does in fact tip the scales in favour of those interests at the moment, leaving conservation interests a little light.

The Minister, Mr. Moynihan, said in the Standing Committee in another place on 16th July 1987, (col. 56): The composition of the Authority is the key. It should allow conservation issues to be well aired by specialists from a wide range of conservation bodies. How true that is! It is obviously the intention of the Minister that this should be so. It has been repeated by other Ministers on other occasions. The Bill as drafted does not provide for this. Unless the present and future Secretaries of State are required to consult with voluntary conservation bodies and amenity bodies on a proportion of the appointments of the Secretary of State, it is difficult to see how the Minister's very worthy aims will be fulfilled.

As we know all too well, Secretaries of State can change. We have had quite a number of Secretaries of State and Ministers for the Environment in the past few years. Members of the authority will also change. There is a kind of euphoria at the moment and everybody wants to make it work, but that could change. I think it is much safer to make sure that all interests are properly represented in the membership as shown on the Bill.

I apologise for taking up so much time. I think I have now filled all the gaps.

Lord Melchett

I very strongly support my noble friend's three amendments. I think it is worth bearing in mind that this Bill was introduced because of widespread and long-standing concern about the deterioration in the conservation and amenity interests of the Norfolk Broads. It was not introduced because of concern about navigation or concern for some other interest such as agriculture in that area. It was introduced because of concern at the appalling loss of wildlife and loss of the natural beauty of the area. For that reason, the setting up of the Broads Authority has been welcomed by amenity and wildlife conservation interests.

It is hard to conceive of any other major national interests in this country which would accept a body, set up for those reasons, having such a small representation directly from it of three people. It seems to me that the extraordinarily complex ecology of the Norfolk Broads is still very poorly understood. Certainly measures to reverse the damage that had been done are still in the experimental stage. It would be extremely useful to have two people with the scientific and ecological knowledge which Nature Conservancy Council appointees would bring. I do not accept for one moment the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that this might stretch the Nature Conservancy Council. It is a major national organisation with representatives and regional offices all over the country, including one with a number of senior staff in Norwich.

As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will know, there are many national parks with representatives from many interests. The Norfolk Broads will be the only equivalent of a national park to have been established because of the ecological deterioration being suffered by that area. It is unique and it is absurd that there should be only two representatives of the NCC on its managing committee, let alone one.

I should like to respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harvington. For the life of me, I cannot see how my noble friend's amendment could possibly introduce into the Bill any question of hybridity. That may be claimed to arise—wrongly, in my view—in respect of a later amendment but certainly not in relation to these amendments. For the noble Lord to suggest that the Bill is incapable of improvement by Parliament is a novel constitutional doctrine and would make the Bill unique in the annals of parliamentary democracy. I am quite sure that it is not that—

Lord Harvington

I apologise to the noble Lord for interrupting him. I did not mean that Parliament could not try to intervene. I meant that it would be impossible to obtain agreement between the many parties concerned, from which agreement has been obtained, if we do not accept it as it is now.

Lord Melchett

If I may say so, the noble Lord is wrong for a third time. There is no agreement among all the parties involved as regards the composition of the Broads Authority. As far as I am aware, widespread concern has been expressed by all the voluntary wildlife and amenity organisations both about the composition of the Broads Authority as proposed in the Bill and the way in which the Broads Authority's duties are set out. If it were not for the grave problems that have existed for many years in the Broads I daresay that some organisations would be opposing the Bill for those reasons. There is no agreement.

The Norfolk Naturalists' Trust, of which I am a member, is horrified by the lack of representation of nature conservation interests on the Broads Authority. That trust owns a large area of the Broads; probably the largest area owned by any single landowner. It is very concerned about this matter. As it stands, it is not a consensus measure. I believe that my noble friend's amendments will help to move it in that direction and I support them.

Baroness Blatch

I believe that the Committee is in danger of assuming that the appointees from, for example, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission are the only people on the newly appointed Broads Authority with conservation interests. When I first became involved with the Bill I was particularly impressed with the interests of Norfolk County Council as regards the problems set out by the noble Lord. It was concerned about the loss of wildlife and it was particularly concerned about the state of the Broads. Because of that it initiated the former Bill and that is why it is anxious to see this Bill through. Rather than being concerned specifically with the Nature Conservancy Council or the Countryside Commission, we should be concerned about the conservation of the Broads. When the Bill passes through this House we must make sure that the issue of conservation is well and truly recognised in this document.

We have debated at length the difficulty of giving conservation primacy, because there is a balance of interests which must be recognised in the Bill when it is passed. Therefore I do not join with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in her concern—probably her suspicion—that the interests of conservation are not properly protected. I believe that they will be properly protected and that we shall find ourselves with a body of people which has a vested interest in seeing that the Broads flourish as a most beautiful and protected part of our country. I believe that the Bill will provide that.

We could spend a great deal of time thwarting the progress of the Bill by arguing about composition. I believe that there has been a high degree of consensus, although I am not sure whether it has been absolute. However, speaking with representatives who have visited the House during the course of the Bill, with the exception of the Sandford principle which we shall discuss later, I have been impressed with the degree of consensus that there has been about the way in which the Bill has been put together.

Lord Hesketh

When my noble friend introduced this Bill at Second Reading in your Lordships' House he particularly stressed the balance that we had sought to strike in the Bill between the various interests that have been so vividly described this evening and which have a part to play in the future conservation of the Broads for all to enjoy. He said to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol: the balance struck in Clause 1 is as near to a very good balance as one can hope to achieve."—[Official Report, 16/11/87; col. 34.] Nothing that the noble Baroness has said in moving these amendments—which have already been extensively considered and rejected in another place—leads me to take a different view from that of my noble friend.

I believe that my noble friend Lady Blatch made a telling remark, which was that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, tended to indicate that only the voluntary conservationists were interested in conservation in the Broads. That is patently untrue. In every part of this country one meets landowners, farmers and people with boating interests who are equally keen on the preservation of the great and beautiful things in this land of ours.

The effect of these amendments, which the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Melchett, urged strongly on the Committee, would be to alter radically and drastically the balance which the Government have sought to strike between the various legitimate interests in the membership of the proposed new authority. These amendments would double the representation of conservation and amenity interests; and they would, moreover, leave my right honourable friend with only one, single, un-earmarked appointment to represent other interests which are given no assured representation in the Bill—angling, tourism and land drainage, for example.

The question was raised as regards what would happen if one member of the NCC was ill and unable to attend. I have mentioned people who have no guarantee of a single seat. For those reasons alone I urge Members of the Committee not to listen to the siren voice of the noble Baroness. But I must also draw the Committee's attention to the recent decision of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House which considered, but declined to make, an amendment to Clause 2 which would have unreasonably tipped the balance struck in the Bill as now drafted in favour of nature conservation at the expense of the other equally important interests which the authority will have a general duty to consider.

I put it to the Committee that amending Clause 1 of the Bill in the way proposed by these amendments is no more and no less than another way of achieving the result which the Select Committee has ruled against.

I should like to explain briefly to the Committee the reasons why we believe that Clause 1 strikes as near a perfect balance as can be struck. Briefly, Clause 1 provides that the authority will have 35 members in all, giving the eight local authorities a bare majority of 18 and leaving 17 places to be filled by others. On national parks authorities two-thirds of members are appointed by the local authorities and one third by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. No appointments are made by other bodies. We decided that we should follow the national parks precedent in relation to appointments by my right honourable friend, and the Bill therefore provides for him to appoint nine members; one-half the number appointed by the local authorities.

We decided that the remaining eight places should represent interests that are vitally involved in the Broads. Six of these places are therefore allocated to statutory bodies having special interests in the functions to be performed by the new authority. The remaining two are to be appointed by the authority itself from the outside members of its navigation committee—one of whom, and probably (but not certainly) the other, will represent boating interests.

Clause 1 makes two further provisions to ensure that the membership adequately reflects the various interests. First, Clause 1(5) provides that at least three of the members appointed by my right honourable friend will be appointed after consultation with boating interests.

Secondly, Clause 1(6) provides that a further two of the appointments made by my right honourable friend are made after consulation with farming and landowning interests.

Lord Melchett

I should like to ask the noble Lord a question in relation to that matter. Earlier in his speech he said that one of the interests which would not be represented along with angling was land management. How can that be if the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association are to be asked to recommend two people to the authority?

Lord Hesketh

I did not say "land management"; I said "land drainage".

This is not a provision that the Government made. We have always recognised that farming and landowning interests would need to be represented, but would have preferred that this—like the representation of other interests I have already mentioned—should be left to my right honourable friend's discretion.

This provision was one made by the Select Committee in another place which carefully considered all the arguments put to it over nine sittings. The Government have therefore accepted its judgment. That Select Committee also considered the case for making the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, but declined to make them.

I remind the Committee of the Select Committee's final verdict: We believe that the Bill as we have amended it represents a fair balance between the many conflicting interests". Provision is already made in the Bill for three members to be appointed to represent conservation and amenity interests—two appointed by the Countryside Commission, and, as my noble friend Lord Renton mentioned, one by the Nature Conservancy Council.

The Committee should perhaps be aware that the NCC is not directly represented on the existing non statutory Broads authority. In framing our Bill we decided that the NCC ought to have direct representation, but we could only make room for this appointment by taking away one of the three appointments that had originally been proposed for the commission in Norfolk's Private Bill. The commission accepted this reduction because it recognised that allocating an additional appointment to represent nature conservation interests would unbalance the overall membership arrangements and would destroy the two-thirds to one-third ratio between local and national appointments.

Those remain insuperable objections to the first two of the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness. Moreover, I cannot in any way accept the argument she has urged that the NCC must have parity with the Countryside Commission. The role of the NCC, though very important, is relatively narrow. It cannot be equated with that of the Countryside Commission, which we expect to perform the same wide-ranging sponsorship role in relation to the Broads as it does in relation to all the national parks.

The third amendment would go even further than the first two in favouring nature conservation and amenity interests at the expense of others, and thus destroy the careful balance now struck in the Bill. The combined effect of these amendments would be to double the assured representation of these interests, weighting these interests above those of any other interest. It would deny my right honourable friend any scope for appointing members to represent other legitimate interests.

I suggest to the noble Baroness that the result she seeks to achieve by her amendments could not provide the proper basis for co-operation and mutual understanding between the many interests which must work together for the future of the Broads—an objective which I am certain we both share. I hope therefore that she will not press her amendments. But, if she does, I must ask the Committee most earnestly to reject them.

Lord Renton

I am sorry to have to trouble my noble friend, but he has continually talked about a fair balance and he has told the Committee that there will be 35 members of the authority altogether. He has also told the Committee that there will be three representatives of conservation interest; namely, two from the Countryside Commission and one from the Nature Conservancy Council. That is three out of 35. If he looks at Clause 2(1)(a), he will find there that the first named (and I should have thought the principal) general duty of the authority is conservation—conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Broads.

If noble Lord uses his great mind and his concept of a fair balance, is he really going to say that by having two members of the Nature Conservancy Council plus two out of what will become eight members appointed by the Secretary of State, he is upsetting the fair balance between conservation and other interests? The arithmetic of the matter simply does not support him. I am sorry—he is a noble friend and I have always been happy to support all Members of my Front Bench whenever possible—but on this occasion I think he has been, if I may say so, wrongly advised.

Lord Melchett

I am sorry that I misheard the noble Lord earlier, but his reference to land drainage not being represented does not help me very much because some land drainage interests will be represented by the person appointed by the Anglian Water Authority, which has statutory responsibility for most aspects of land drainage in this area as in others.

I should like to add one point to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It seems to me that the special expertise which will be brought to the Broads Authority by the Nature Conservancy Council representative is not just a concern for wildlife or concern for the conservation of the Broads. As the noble Baroness opposite said, that is a concern that is going to be shared by, one hopes, all the representatives of the local authorities in the area which have in recent years, after a great deal of prompting by voluntary conservation organisations, not to say a long-running militant campaign by voluntary conservation organisations, taken this cause to their hearts and are supporting the Bill.

However, the particular expertise which local authority members are unlikely to have is the scientific expertise to deal with some of the very serious ecological problems from which this area suffers. Those are difficult, technical questions to which we do not yet know all the answers. Various experiments are under way but none of them has proved wholly successful. It seems to me that there is an argument for saying that that scientific expertise should be adequately represented on the authority. I do not believe one person will do that, even if he manages to turn up at every single meeting.

Lord Trafford

It seems to me that this Bill has been brought before this Committee with a long history of negotiation between a large number of authorities, all of whom for different reasons have generally the same objective in mind; namely, to produce an authority that could cover the variety of functions laid out under Clause 2(1)(a), (b) and (c), which are the three main agreed functions of this Bill.

I am always uncomfortable in disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, a large number of the members of the county council who have themselves, as he well knows, promoted the previous Bill and are interested and very concerned about this Bill, will be interested in this aspect. For that reason, I suggest that the noble Lord's mathematics may not be absolutely right.

Lord Renton

They certainly are.

Lord Trafford

If the noble Lord is suggesting that only three out of 35 will be interested in conservation, then he is almost certainly wrong because it is most unlikely that, for example, the 18 members appointed by the local authorities or indeed the nine, under the present Bill, appointed by the Secretary of State, would also be totally uninterested in this.

One of the features of the Bill is that to obtain agreement, a balance always has to be kept. Throughout the arguments both in another place and here, a great deal of effort was devoted—mainly by the conservationists' lobby—to try to obtain a primacy for conservation in this particular Bill which would have led to the others probably withdrawing from this situation. It is for that reason that the best balance that we can achieve may have been achieved, where everybody can go forward and make this a great success. I share entirely the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and the noble Baroness that it is desperately important that conservation is carried out properly and scientifically and that the Broads, which have seen such a desperate decline over recent years, are restored to their previous state. Because of those points, I personally could not support this amendment.

Lord Renton

Very briefly, as the noble Lord has challenged what I have said, I wonder whether I may point out two matters. First, my noble friend Lady Blatch—I have never disagreed with her before, and I have known her many years—is quite right, I am sure, in thinking that the present members of Norfolk County Council are conservation minded. I am not disputing that. However, the composition of county councils changes.

We find that in Clause 2(1)(b) among the general duties of the authority is, promoting the enjoyment of the Broads by the public". We may very well find, through a local government shift, the strong feeling that the public's enjoyment has not been adequately catered for, leading to a change of approach. We must have a degree of certainty here. The certainty under the Bill as it stands is that only three out of 35 will be specifically involved with conservation interests; others may or may not be. We must keep a sense of proportion. If the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness are accepted, instead of three out of 35 there will be six out of 35. It does not seem to me that that is going to upset the balance very much.

Baroness Blatch

It is with great trepidation that I rise possibly to counter a most respected friend, my noble friend Lord Renton. However, may I first say that there is no difference between any of us in the Committee about the importance of protecting this beautiful area of our land. Conservation is a very real issue.

If one assumes, for the hypothesis I am about to put, that all named authorities—the local government representatives and those who are not specifically mentioned as conservation organisations —are "other interests", then the unfairness is not on the side of conservation. The unfairness, if it exists—I do not argue that it does—is on the part of boating interests. Of those members who are not local authority members, we come down to two from the Countryside Commission, one from the Nature Conservancy Council, which gives three, and only two for boating interests and one for water. Then there are the Secretary of State's appointments.

I would need to possess the highest degree of suspicion to discount the fact that responsibility even where there is a change of local authority members, will be on the board of governors or management authority to abide by this Bill. They are required by Clause 2 to give equal weight to conservation of the natural beauty of the Broads, promoting enjoyment and access by the public, which is also very important, and protecting the interests of navigation. We had a long debate about the balance of those interests and the fact that not one of those interests could be considered greater than the other. I believe that it will be a requirement of the body that its objective is to strike a balance and to conserve the beauty of the Broads along with full access for the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is concerned about expertise. I have sat on enough committees to know that it is not committees that necessarily bring the kind of technical expertise that is required. What is important is that the board has access to the technical and expert information that is required—with, of course, practical help. With the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council represented and also the conservation interests that some of the 18 members of local authorities inevitably will have, plus the Secretary of State's appointments, I believe that, in the end, conservation will probably win rather than merely have a balance.

Lord Melchett

Can the noble Baroness tell me why it is necessary to have three boating experts? Boating is a fairly technical subject, but not as technical as the ecology of the invertebrates and the fauna of some of the Broads. If her arguments were accepted there would be no interests represented on the authority at all.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I said boating, but I used the word loosely because the two people who will represent the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners will not necessarily be concerned only with boating. The condition of the waters, too, is a factor. Again, that is an aspect which has deteriorated over the years and about which there needs to be a management plan and a management concern. Therefore, I simply say that there are two specifically with water interests and port and haven interests and three with conservation interests.

Lord Melchett

I do not want to prolong the debate, but the noble Baroness has not looked at Clause 1(5) where the Secretary of State appoints three people from the boating interests.

Lord Hesketh

I feel that my noble friend Lord Trafford put his finger on the point because, to be perfectly honest, 1 am rather depressed by the discussion that has taken place. For 45 years we have been trying to get an Act on the statute book and the arguments I have heard in the past 10 minutes illustrate one of the reasons why we have not yet been able to do that.

Lord Renton

We are going to get this one.

Lord Hesketh

I am not sure that we are going to get it tonight, which we had hoped. The fact is that not only is the ecology a delicate balance. There is also a very delicate managerial balance representing the local authorities, the Secretary of State, scientific input, navigation, commercial, the pleasure of hundreds of thousands of people in this country who go to the Broads and many other interests besides.

I could seek to argue with my noble friend Lord Renton on whether there should be three, as I believe to be correct, or more, as he believes, representing conservationists. I believe that what we have in the Bill is an acceptable balance that is agreeable, perhaps not 100 per cent. to all parties but agreeable enough to achieve the aim of the Bill.

Baroness Nicol

Before I decide what to do with the amendment, can the Minister answer two questions? His noble friend sitting behind him indicated that there was a danger of hybridisation of the Bill if the amendment were to be accepted. Can the noble Lord confirm that? Secondly, can the noble Lord answer my question on alternates as regards the one member of the Nature Conservancy Council? I specifically asked that question earlier.

Lord Hesketh

As regards the point concerning the member of the Nature Conservancy Council being ill, if we applied that to any of the other bodies which have only one representative we would be back at square one. As regards hybridisation, I shall be coming to that later.

Baroness Nicol

I need to know about hybridisation in relation to this amendment.

Lord Harvington

Perhaps I may interrupt here. I should apologise to the noble Baroness. I believe I made the mistake. On reflection, and I should know from my long memory, I do not think hybridisation is involved.

Baroness Nicol

We are taking rather longer over this amendment than I expected. May I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that, yes, I am sure that many people who come from local authorities will be interested in conservation. I do not doubt that. However, that is not the point at issue. The point concerns what is actually written into the Bill now and for the possible future changes in local authorities. That is a danger we should guard against.

We are all aware that the real difficulty is a balance of interests and a possible clash of interests rather than finding a formula. We could all find a formula which would work if everyone was prepared to accept it. I have to say again that Minister after Minister says that the whole purpose of the Bill is to secure the long-term conservation of the Broads. Indeed, some Ministers have said that it is also to restore the Broads to what they were in the past, which is something a little more than simply conserving them as they are now. I do not feel that the composition which is being proposed will achieve that. I do not believe there is sufficient weight in favour of conservation interests. However, I do not wish to press the amendment to a Division this evening and rather regretfully I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

("Conflict of interests.

.—(1) Without prejudice to the generality of section 2(1) of this Act, where it appears to the Authority that there is, or is likely to arise, in connection with the discharge of the functions under section 2(1), irreconcilable conflict between the interests of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Broads, and either promoting the enjoyment of the Broads by the public, or protecting the interests of navigation, it shall give priority to the interests of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Broads.

(2) The Secretary of State shall prepare and issue (in such form and in such manner as he considers appropriate) guidance to the Authority for the purposes of subsection (1) above.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would introduce the Sandford principle, which is a recommendation of the National Park Policies Review Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. I am glad to see the noble Lord in his place and I am sure that he will put me right if I say anything about it which is incorrect.

That committee reported in 1974 and the Secretaries of State in their reply to the report said: NPAs can do much to reconcile public enjoyment with the preservation of natural beauty by good planning and management and the main emphasis must continue to be on this approach wherever possible. But even so, there will be situations where the two purposes are irreconcilable. The Secretaries of State accept the Committee's view that where this happens priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty and they will issue guidance to this effect to the NPAs. The Secretaries of State will consider further whether and if so, how, this guidance might be given statutory force".

It seems to me that in the discussions on the new Broads Authority there has been a great deal of comparison made with the national parks. Everyone says that it is a national park but with a difference. That difference seems to be the existence of a third force, if I may put it that way, and that is the navigation interests on the Broads.

The existence of this third force adds to the danger that one day there may be an irreconcilable conflict. I do not believe that these conflicts are inevitable and I do not think that, if they happen, they will happen often. In fact I am glad to be able to quote from the report of the Select Committee to this House. The representative of the Norfolk Naturalists' Trust said at page 27: I think it is actually important to say that the Norfolk Naturalists' Trust or any other conservation body and boating interests are not at each other's throats in the Broads the whole of the time which is what you are suggesting". It was said in reply to a question. The representative went on to say: We do actually work quite closely together. I am sure that this is true and I am sure that in the majority of cases any differences will be sorted out before the point of irreconcilable conflict is reached. But that day might come and if it does then I believe we need something like the Sandford solution. The very existence of the principle would itself reduce the possibility of conflict since there would be an understanding of the background to the Bill.

I have said before this evening and I say it again, that various Ministers have said over and over again that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure the long-term conservation of the Broads. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whom I am glad to see with us, said at Second Reading in this House at the very beginning of his speech: The basic purpose of this Bill is to establish new statutory arrangements whereby the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads can be conserved for all who value and treasure this unique area."—[Official Report, 16/11/87; col. 10.] On the same occasion at col. 12 the noble Lord said: It is conservation problems that have dictated the need for this Bill, and conservation of the Broads for all to enjoy must surely be our ultimate objective. He went on to say that we must do justice to all the other legitimate interests and so we must.

What we are saying is that these statements made by the Minister and by Ministers in another place and also by the Secretary of State himself have no power. Ministers change, authority members change and even governments change. Today's sweetness and light may not last. The inclusion of this clause would leave the stated intentions of the Government in no doubt and it would be there for future years when all the personalities now involved have gone.

The enjoyment of the Broads will be as important to future generations as it is today and we must find a way to ensure their long-term survival. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees

The Committee raised the question of hybridity on the first three amendments where it did not arise, but on this amendment I am afraid that it does. It may be convenient if I explain to the Committee the procedure that will be followed if this amendment is agreed to. In my opinion this amendment raises a prima facie question of hybridity because it singles out for preferential treatment one of the three members of the class affected by Clause 2(1) of the Bill. If it is agreed to, in due course I shall have to table a Motion to refer the Bill to the Examiners.

Lord Renton

I hope that the noble Baroness will not to take too much time on this amendment. I was glad to support her on her previous amendments but I believe that she has a tremendous difficulty here in addition to the hybridity point, which could delay the passage of the Bill very much. Her difficulty is that if you have a relatively minor point of conservation, but a major point involving a major decision on (shall we say?) navigation, it would perhaps be an exercise of bad judgment for the Broads Authority to say "Oh no, we must have priority for conservation therefore the major navigation point must give way." That is why I think the amendment is quite unacceptable.

Lord Hunt

I shall not detain the Committee very long. I understand and appreciate what the Chairman of Committees has said. I appreciate entirely the hope and wish of the Government that there should be a balance of interests between the three purposes in Clause 2. I am very much aware of the generally happy and constructive way in which the voluntary Broads authority has carried on its business hitherto. But we are not in a static situation; we are in a situation in which increasing pressures are going to arise. They are going to arise from the increasing demands, particularly from boating interests and the tourist industry associated with that, and from the navigational interests associated with boating. There will be increasing pressure from that side bearing adversely on the interest of conservation.

With respect, I slightly disagree here with the noble Baroness, but when conflicts arise in the future—even if they have not already arisen—the balance of interests will go by the board. There will be increasing pressure from the commercial and associated navigational interests.

The intention of the Bill is to give statutory authority to the voluntary nature of the authority which exists, and I shall regret it if we can get no further than placing on record the fact mentioned by the noble Baroness. That is, that there would not be this Bill and the intention behind it if it were not to create an authority whose purposes are analogous to those of the other national parks. If we forget that, and the Sandford principle attached to it, we are making a grave error for the future.

Lord Sandford

It is always gratifying to hear one's name mentioned in a debate like this, particularly when it is linked to a principle. When the noble Baroness opposite looks at me in that inviting way, I cannot but respond. She was perfectly correct in the first part of what she said because she was quoting from Circular 476, which gave the views of the Minister on the review which I undertook for the national parks. What she did not do was to go on to the next paragraph, which reads: Several of the comments on the report suggested that a third statutory purpose should be introduced; namely, the promotion of the social and economic wellbeing of the national park areas". The comments on the report were quite extensive on that point. We did not go into them because it was not within the national park authority's terms of reference to pursue the social and economic well-being of national park areas. After we reported there was a strong body of opinion to the effect that it should have this role, but the Secretaries of State took another view. Since then, everyone has seen much more clearly that if the national park authority does not take a hand in promoting the social and economic well-being of the national park areas, there will not be the necessary economic pressures to promote any policy. That is why we have seen developments such as the uplands farm land experiment which was a way of promoting the economy of the uplands so that some of the purposes of conservation could be pursued.

There has been no statutory change but anyone who studies the present national park plans and compares them with the first generation of plans, which arose as a direct result of my report, and the administrative changes made at the same time, will see that conservation comes well to the fore. It cannot be a criticism of what is contained in the Bill that the Sandford principle—choosing between two functions of the national park; namely, conservation and access—did not pay any regard to the economic and well-being of the areas concerned. It did not do so because it was not in the terms of reference. It is firmly in the Bill's terms of reference and it is right that it should be given some primacy. In my view, the Government have the balance right.

8.30 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

I fear that I must to some extent disagree with my noble colleague Lord Hunt. I pay tribute to what environmentalists have achieved over the years. I have some sympathy with what the amendment seeks to achieve. There is however a grave danger of enthusiasm getting out of hand. Almost every major project has some unfortunate environmental aspects which must be balanced against the advantages or necessity of the project. To hand over, as the amendment does, and to weight the decision in favour of the environmentalists, I fear might lead to disaster. It is only too easy for enthusiasts to put forward an issue and push it to the ultimate. In that case, what happens? Priority would have to be given to them.

There is the further point that if we do this we are creating a precedent which would be highly unfortunate in a large number of other areas. Therefore, despite the sympathy that I have for the amendment, it must not go ahead.

Baroness Blatch

I rise to mention one point. I believe that by re-hybridising the Bill the real risk is that we shall lose it altogether. The chances of the Bill coming back through Parliament again are slim indeed, certainly in the foreseeable future. I should like, given that all things in the end are compromise, to plead with the noble Baroness not to press her amendment. I was sympathetic at the beginning because I hoped that outside the Bill a form of words could be found that would give people the impression that conservation was at least a real objective of the Government in passing the Bill. But I understand that once a Bill is enacted what counts is what is inside it and not what is outside it.

I believe that the risk is too great to press the amendment. I have two reasons for opposing the suggestion that the Sandford principle be built into the Bill. The first is that the irreconcilable conflict may not necessarily be between a conservation interest and another interest; it may be two different interests. What would happen in that case? Secondly, should the Sandford principle form part of the Bill, there is always the tendency not to agree because one knows that at the end of the line the Sandford principle at least guarantees a solution. I am in favour of people finding solutions themselves and of the board sitting down until a solution is found.

Given that the Bill's requirement is to balance interests and to ensure that no one issue has primacy over another, I hope that that will at least be some assurance and some guarantee that conservation will receive fair and equal consideration.

Lord Melchett

I shall say a brief word in support of my noble friend and ask the Government one question. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that to some extent we are having a debate about concepts, and about words which are rather dated given the enormous changes that have taken place, for example, in agricultural policy.

There was seen to be a clear conflict of interests between the economic well-being of farmers and conservation in an area such as the Norfolk Broads. The Norfolk Broads were of course a forerunner of the environmentally sensitive areas. Most of the farmers in the area covered by the new authority are now making money by farming for conservation. Their economic interests are the same, at least in theory, and almost always in practice as the interests of conservationists.

Trying to set up social and economic interests on the one hand and conservation on the other does not work very well on the Broads. The same should apply and on the whole, as my noble friend pointed out, does apply on the ground when we consider the interests of navigation and conservation. After all, the reason so many people visit the Norfolk Broads is that it is an attractive and wild area with many wild birds, beautiful reed beds and so forth.

The economic interest in the long run, not, unfortunately, in the short run, of the boating interests on the Broads will be to conserve the area so that people will want to continue to go there. An entirely sterile and dead area with no reeds, no wild birds and no fish, which is what some of the Broads have already turned into, and most of the rest are in danger of turning into, would not be in the economic or general interests of navigation. To that extent, there is a false argument, but unfortunately it is one which the Government have forced upon us because in drafting the Bill they have set out three interests as if they were separate and were liable to be in conflict. Everyone talks about one not having primacy over another.

The Bill should have been drafted to give the Broads Authority a duty to conserve the Broads to promote enjoyment and the economic and social well-being of the area and to protect the interests of navigation. In that way, the Bill would have recognised what I believe is the reality; namely, that all these interests depend in the long run on the proper conservation of the landscape and wildlife of the Broads.

But the Government have messed that up and missed that opportunity. We are now faced with the threat of hybridity and the loss of the Bill. My noble friend might be well advised not to press the amendment in view of what has been said in this place. That does not prevent the Government from doing something and that is what I ask them to do. I hope that they will repeat the assurances that have been given in the past: that the purposes of this Bill are to conserve the wildlife and the landscape of the Broads; that is why the legislation has been brought forward; and that is what the Government will expect to happen once the Bill becomes enacted.

Baroness Nicol

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may put one more question to him. If I were not to press the amendment, and I am conscious of the need to preserve the Bill, can the Minister say whether the Government are likely to issue guidelines, which would not be on the face of the Bill but would have some power to advise the Broads Authority? Is he willing to issue guidelines on the Sandford principle?

Lord Hesketh

Before I say anything, perhaps I may answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. We do lay out and have clearly laid out the general duties of the authority to manage the Broads. There are three primary considerations: the conserving and enhancing of the natural beauty of the Broads; the promotion of enjoyment of the Broads by the public and the protection of the interests of navigation. Those three hold equal weight. All I can say to the noble Lord is that at the end of the day politics are about the art of the possible.

I regret very much that the noble Baroness has seen fit to table this amendment and at so late a stage. I am in no doubt, and Members of the Committee should be in no doubt, that this new clause, if it were to be included in the Bill, would wreck the balance that we have so carefully sought to strike between the various legitimate interests; and that it would destroy the basis for co-operation on which the future of the Broads depends.

I am in no doubt whatever that this new clause would be violently opposed by all the other interested parties: the local authorities, the farmers, the boating and navigation interests, other recreational interests, and all those who depend for their livelihood upon the economic life which is centred on the Broads. It has been tabled so late in the day that many of these interests will have had no chance to realise that a further, last minute, assault is being launched upon the Bill in the name of conservation, and are thus unable to express their views. I must therefore speak for them.

The noble Baroness has said that this amendment does not seek primacy for nature conservation. She argues that it does no more than enshrine in the Bill the Sandford principle—that is, the guidance that was given to the National Park Authorities in Circular 4/76 in response to the recommendations of a committee chaired by my noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, whom I am pleased to see here this evening. I disagree most strongly.

First, the new clause goes further in saying not only that actual conflicts, but all conflicts that are likely to arise, are to be decided in favour of nature conservation whenever the conflict is judged irreconcilable. If that is not a recipe for ensuring that the nature conservation interest will always insist on its interest prevailing, and thus for artificially creating irreconcilable conflict, then I do not know what it is. The purpose of this Bill is to provide a mechanism for resolving conflicts, not creating them as this new clause would. I have a rather poor speaking note on the Sandford principle; but I am sure that we are all equally grateful this evening that we were able to hear—for his name has been much bandied about—the actual words which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford himself used. I shall certainly not debase them by using my speaking note.

That is why I say that this new clause seeks to give primacy to nature conservation. This is an issue which has already been exhaustively examined and discussed in Select Committees both in another place and in your Lordships' House. It has also been debated and rejected in Standing Committee in another place. A time comes when one must accept the judge's (or the umpire's) verdict graciously and without dissent. If I may say so, the case pleaded by the noble Baroness has already been heard and lost in a court of first instance, in a court of appeal, and by the highest court, your Lordships' House.

I do not think it right to detain the Committee with a recital of all the objections to what this amendment seeks to achieve. They have already been recorded at length in the reports of two Select Committees, which have rejected the arguments put to them for making changes to the Bill which would favour one interest at the expense of others.

In another place the House authorities advised that any amendment giving priority over any of the others to any one of the three equal purposes in Clause 2(1) would rehybridise the Bill. If such an amendment were to be made by the Committee this Bill would be stopped in its tracks. It would be the ultimate irony if a Bill that has been designed to ensure the future conservation of the Broads were wrecked by those claiming that conservation of this area was their sole interest. I cannot say definitely that this amendment would be ruled to rehybridise the Bill—although I think it very likely, since in my view there is no doubt at all that it is intended to give primacy or priority to nature conservation. The noble Baroness will have noted what the Chairman of Committees said on this matter. I can only recommend to the Committee what my noble friend Lord Renton said. We were possibly going too far on this front. Also, my noble friend Lady Blatch pointed out that it would be a disaster if we lost the Bill.

I have no doubt whatever that both Select Committees were right in their verdicts. May I remind the Committee of the actual words of the verdict of the Select Committee in another place? The Bill now before the House is the outcome of more than 40 years of discussion and proposals aimed at improving the management of the Broads. It is framed in the belief that the problems caused by the conflicting interests are not irreconcilable. We believe that the Bill as we have amended it represents a fair balance between the many conflicting interests, and we hope that this measure will encourage co-operation and goodwill—the only way in which the Broads will flourish. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, spoke sympathetically of the aims and ambitions of the amendment; but he also pointed out that at the end of the day practicality would have to triumph.

May I also remind the Committee of the verdict of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House which declined to make an amendment to Clause 2 which would have tipped the scales towards nature conservation? The Committee … recognise the unique character of the Broads, and share the concern of the Petitioners … [these were the voluntary conservation/amenity bodies.] … For the vital importance of maintaining—indeed of restoring—its value as natural habitat … They consider that the Bill already requires the new Authority to give weight to such considerations, while pursuing the wider aims of effective handling of the Broads' resources. That is the view of the Government, and of all the interested bodies except the nature conservationists.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment. It would, in our view, wreck the Bill and the future prospects of the Broads. If she does, I must urge you most strongly to reject it, and reject it decisively.

8.45 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon

Before the noble Baroness replies, I wonder whether the Minister can answer the final question the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, put to him about guidelines. I served on the Select Committee and perhaps I may briefly refer to one answer given by Mr. David Walley, the chief witness from the Department of the Environment—and a very good witness, if I may say so. Answering on Question 636, referring to the Sandford Report, he said: It is a note of general guidance and philosophy to national parks authorities, if you like, about how they should approach their planning and management of the parks. What I was saying was that the Government had some sympathy with the view that similar kinds of philosophical guidance, if I can put it that way, might be given to the Broads Authority. He then said: But it is not something that the Government feels can, or should, be written into the Bill. I hope the Government can give some general philosophical guidance, partly based on that, since Mr. Walley referred to it, when this Bill is launched.

Lord Hesketh

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Craigavon for his intervention since I know that he served us on the Select Committee. He summed the situation up very well. The Government are philosophically very much attuned both to the Broads and to the Bill; but we shall not be able to provide guidelines, for instance, based on the lines of the proposed clause following Clause 4.

Lord Melchett

Will the Government provide some general guidelines of the sort that were discussed in Committee and which the noble Lord has been asked about? That is the question.

Lord Hesketh

I have no doubt that we shall be able to consider the matter.

Lord Melchett

Would it be possible for the Government to consider the matter before the Bill leaves this House? It is a significant point. The noble Lord has said very strongly that this should not be pressed because of the danger of hybridising the Bill. That puts a considerable constraint on your Lordships' House. Would the noble Lord be prepared to consider the matter before the Report stage?

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend replies I hope he will not let it be thought that this is a fit subject for legislation for a department to be asked to give guidelines.

Lord Hesketh

I shall have to bring the matter to the attention of my noble friend the Minister.

Baroness Nicol

I am a little taken aback at the fierceness of the Minister's reply. After all, this is the first opportunity which we in this House have had to put down amendments. He reproaches me for being late in the day. This is the first opportunity, at the Committee stage, where one could put forward amendments. Although I am aware of the long history of the Bill, it has not been in your Lordships' House. We have only had the Second Reading, plus two days upstairs.

I think that in spite of all that has been said there is no doubt that the Bill as it stands does not give sufficient weight to conservation matters. In earlier amendments we did not even touch on the navigation committee which will be an extremely powerful body, and which will be doing a lot of the day to day navigation matters which will not even need to come before the authority. There is every reason why we should be seeking more safeguards on the authority itself for conservation matters. As regards the guidelines, I know that what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has said is correct. It is not a matter for legislation in this place. But to ask for an undertaking from the Minister is surely not out of place? I intend to find some way of asking for that at a later stage, so I hope that some thought will be given to it. It has never been my intention to hold up this Bill, and certainly not to have it sent back in the way that has been described. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 27 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The Broads Authority]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 5: Page 25, line 16, at end insert—

("Authority's chief officer

The Authority shall not—

  1. (a) appoint a person to the office (by whatever name it is known) of chief officer of the Authority; or
  2. (b) determine, or vary, any of the terms and conditions on which he is employed by the Authority;
without first consulting the Countryside Commission.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol

I am aware that the Committee wishes to get on, but we have to deal with these amendments. On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the question of a chief officer. I am glad to see that some facility is made for a definition of how he should be appointed. However, there is no mention in this amendment about a decision on a chief officer. Is that not a matter for the Bill?

Lord Hesketh

On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, speaking on behalf of the Countryside Commission, urged the case for amending the Bill to say something about a chief officer for the new authority. She suggested, as is the case with all national park authorities, that there should be a requirement for the Countryside Commission to be consulted about the appointment of the chief officer and the nature of that appointment which the Countryside Commission believes should be a full-time post. That suggestion made by the noble Baroness was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and by my noble friend Lord Belstead, who was then the Minister responsible for the Bill. He gave noble Lords an assurance that the Government would look as favourably as they possibly could at the suggestion made with the aim of bringing forward a suitable amendment for the purpose.

That amendment is now before the Committee. The form of the legislative requirement as it applies to the national parks is not appropriate to this Bill, but the amendment we have tabled achieves the same purpose. It requires the Countryside Commission to be consulted by the new authority before it appoints a chief officer and enables the Commission to proffer its advice on the person to be appointed and the terms and conditions of the appointment. I commend it to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Functions of Authority]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 6: Page 30, line 26, after ("II") insert ("and section 45(2) and (3)").

The noble Lord said: This amendment rectifies a slight oversight. Paragraph 30 of Schedule 3 makes the authority a local authority for the purposes of Parts I and II of the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Areas Act 1979. But we overlooked a section in Part III, Section 45, which empowers local authorities to incur expenditure on archeological investigations. This amendment will give the authority that power as well. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 7: Page 31, line 32, leave out ("Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,") and insert ("Ministers").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 7, I also wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 8 and 9.

This group of amendments provides for the statutory drainage code to be agreed jointly by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture. It also provides that any dispute arising from the implementation of the code shall be determined jointly by the two Ministers. The term Ministers is defined in Clause 25 of the Bill to mean the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture acting jointly.

These amendments seek to follow the precedent which exists in relation to the Government's own code in respect of land drainage in England and Wales which has the rather long title of Land Drainage and Conservation—Guidance Notes on Procedures for Water Authorities, Internal Drainage Boards, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission on the Operation of Section 22 of the Water Act 1973 as amended by Section 48 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

That code was issued jointly by the Department of the Environment, MAFF and the Welsh Office and provides for objections to drainage schemes to be referred to the Ministers for decision. Our concern in relation to the Broads is not that Ministers should necessarily be refusing drainage grants, but rather it is important that in view of the wetland characteristics of the area, and the effect that drainage activities can have on our environment and wildlife which it supports, the Secretary of State for the Environment should have a role to play in agreeing on the guidelines to be issued in respect of the day to day procedures and operations of drainage authorities.

Similarly, he should have a role in determining any disputes that may arise between the Broads Authority and drainage authorities in implementing the code. Since the Government's conservation and landscape advisers, the NCC and the Countryside Commission, are responsible not to MAFF but to the Department of the Environment, so the environment Minister should be consulted over the formulation of any guidance material that may have a bearing on conservation. I beg to move.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the purpose of these three amendments is to remove from my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his sole power of approval over the issue of the drainage code of practice and arbitrations and disputes relating to the code. It also requires him to exercise these functions jointly with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I would remind the Committee that these changes sought by the noble Baroness have already been fully considered but rejected in another place. I suggest therefore that we would need to have very good reasons for taking a different view in relation to a matter that has already been exhaustively considered.

I do not believe that the reasons put forward by the noble Baroness in moving these amendments are good ones, or indeed that any good reasons exist. I believe that the provisions of the Bill as drafted are the right ones. In providing for a code of practice to be drawn up to regulate the carrying out of land drainage works by drainage authorities, and for the authorities to have ultimate responsibility for the code, I believe that we have properly reflected the nature conservation interests. However, because there are genuine land drainage interests, it is right that the issue of the code should be agreed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who in doing so will also be aware of his responsibility under Section 48 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to further the interests of nature conservation wherever it is practical to do so.

It follows that he should also arbitrate in any dispute between the authority and a drainage authority in relation to the application of a code. The contents of the code and the form in which it is published are clearly matters for the Minister responsible for land drainage, and it is wholly inappropriate to involve my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in these aspects.

However, the noble Baroness pointed out that she felt that the Secretary of State had a role to play. We do believe that he should be involved in the resolution of important disputes under the code, and assurances have already been given in another place that he will be, which I am happy to repeat here. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendments. If she does, I urge the Committee to reject them.

Lord Melchett

I hope that the noble Lord will not mind me saying that his constant repetition that we are bringing things up late in a Bill's passage when we are in Committee is getting a little wearing. If the noble Lord was saying that at Third Reading, it might be reasonable; but as my noble friend has already said, this is the first opportunity we have had to debate any of these detailed points on the Floor of the Chamber. The fact that this is a hybrid Bill and that private interests have had the opportunity, through an entirely different procedure, to have their interests debated, is really of no relevance whatever. I hope that the noble Lord will not keep repeating for the rest of the time that we spend on this Bill the point that we are coming to it very late in the day. We are in Committee regarding the public aspects of this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will not mind me making that point.

I have two questions to ask the noble Lord. First, why is the code of practice issued under this Bill different from the other land drainage codes which my noble friend mentioned where the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture play a joint role in drawing up and issuing the code? I do not understand that. The noble Lord said that it is very late in the day and it has all been considered in other places. But he did not say why there was a difference between the procedures under this Bill, where only the Minister of Agriculture is involved, and procedures in other matters.

Secondly, if the noble Lord accepts that the Secretary of State for the Environment should play a part (as clearly he must and will do) in practice under any government in resolving any serious disputes in this kind of field, why could that not be put in the Bill?

9 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

In response to the last question, perhaps I may say that I have made a commitment to the Committee this evening. In answer to the second question, I shall write to the noble Lord. With regard to his comments concerning my remarks on lateness, I remind the noble Lord that, as he is well aware, the most important amendment—Amendment No. 4—was put down last Friday.

Baroness Nicol

I was not aware that the Minister was referring to lateness in that respect. I understood him to criticise the fact that we are discussing the matter at all. In support of my noble friend's comments, perhaps I may say that to tell us that something was fully discussed in another place is not an answer. The Committee is not a rubber stamp. We are entitled to discuss matters at length if we wish to do so. However, I can see that I shall get no further with the amendment this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Schedules 4 and 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Application to Authority of certain enactments applying to local authorities etc.]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 10: Page 49, line 15, leave out from ("Authority") to end of line 17 and insert ("and any member of its Navigation Committee").

The noble Lord said: The amendment simply rectifies another small error in the Bill as now drafted. Paragraph 10(7) of Schedule 6 will enable the authority to pay special responsibility allowances to any of its local authority members, but not to its other members or to non-local authority members of its navigation committee. The amendment will enable all to be treated equally. I commend it to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 11: Page 51, line 23, at end insert—

("The Housing Act 1985 (c. 68)

. In the definition of "local authority" in section 4 of the Housing Act 1985

  1. (a) the words ", in sections 43, 44 and 232 includes the Broads Authority" shall be inserted after the word "Scilly"; and
  2. (b) the words "the Broads Authority" shall be inserted after the words "Education Authority".

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (c. 70)

. In the definition of "local authority" in section 38 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the words "the Broads Authority" shall be inserted after the words "Education Authority".").

The noble Lord said: These are technical amendments designed to make the Broads Authority a local authority for the purpose of legislation relating to security of tenure and right to buy. There is no particular reason to expect the new authority to become a landlord for housing purposes. However, we have to envisage that it may at some stage have to provide some residential accommodation for caretakers, wardens, and suchlike. By virtue of these amendments any such tenants would be put in the same position as equivalent tenants of any local authority. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 12: Page 51, line 28, at end insert—

("The Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (c.31)

. In section 58 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (exempt bodies), the following paragraph shall be inserted after paragraph (d)—

""(dd) the Broads Authority;"").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Transitional provisions]:

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 13: Page 51, line 35, leave out sub-paragraph (2) and insert— ("(2) When the Secretary of State is satisfied that all of those members have been duly appointed, he shall, if he has not already exercised his powers under sub-paragraph (2A) below, do so. (2A)If the Secretary of State is satisfied that at least 27 of those members have been duly appointed, he may by order specify a date for the purposes of this paragraph. (2B)The Authority shall he deemed to have been duly constituted as from the specified date, notwithstanding the absence of some of its members.").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 together, The two amendments are designed to facilitate the earliest possible establishment of the authority after enactment of the Bill to enable it to put in hand all the necessary preparatory work and take all the planning decisions that will be needed before it assumes all its executive functions on the operative date.

The first amendment will enable my right honourable friend to make a commencement order, prescribing the date on which the new authority is to be established as soon as 27 members—just over three-quarters of the full membership—have been appointed, instead of all 33 of the members to be appointed by the local authorities and other appointing authorities, including my right honourable friend. It seems to us a wise precautionary measure to guard against the possibility of delay in making even one single appointment—for whatever reason—preventing the establishment of the authority.

The second amendment is designed to reduce to the minimum any possible delay in making appointments about which my right honourable friend is required to consult outside bodies. The amendment provides that if my right honourable friend starts his consultations before Royal Assent those consultations can satisfy the requirement which would otherwise only start to apply after Royal Assent.

I should take this opportunity to say something about timing. When the Bill was first introduced in another place in November 1986 it was hoped that it could be enacted by the summer of last year. That Bill accordingly provided for the new authority to assume its executive functions on an operative date of 1st April this year. The intervention of a general election rendered that timetable impossible. The Bill was accordingly amended to provide, as it now does, that the operative date should be specified in an order made by my right honourable friend.

Until recently we had hoped that a date of 1st October this year would be achievable. However, because of the various preparatory steps that have to be taken between enactment and the operational date if transfer of responsibilities is to be effected in an orderly and sensible way, that October target date was dependent upon achieving enactment of the Bill by the end of last year. Sadly, therefore, I have to advise the Committee that October is no longer achievable, and that our target must now be 1st April 1989, coinciding with the start of that financial year.

This further delay that has been forced upon us makes it all the more vital that there should be no more delay if we can possibly avoid it. I invite the Committee to agree to the amendments as sensible precautions to minimise delay in establishing the new authority.

Baroness Nicol

Perhaps the Minister can answer two brief questions. The amendment represents a considerable reduction in numbers, from 35 to 27. I am anxious that the authority should not go on too long with such a reduced membership. Perhaps the Minister can give me an idea of a timescale over which the appointments will be made. He will appreciate, in view of the arguments which we had earlier this evening, that the balance could be tipped one way or the other by a delay in some appointments.

My second question concerns how the quorum will apply in the interval before the full body is appointed. Will it be one-quarter of 27 or one-quarter of 35? Neither of those is possible, but there it is.

Lord Renton

In a very long experience of legislation—I first entered Parliament 40-odd years ago—I have never seen a precedent for this type of provision. I have never known a provision to be enacted by Parliament which stipulated that, if a Minister could not appoint the proper number of members on a public authority as laid down by Parliament in a Bill, the department could get cracking with fewer members. In this case, we are speaking of a fairly large proportion.

I listened as fast as I could to what my noble friend said, but I cannot pretend to have taken it all in. However, this matter will become a precedent. As it is an unusual and important precedent, we should be sure that we shall be doing the right thing. I should have thought that perhaps my noble friend does not have to press the amendment. It would not hold up the Bill if he did not press it tonight. It would make me much happier if more thought were given to the matter.

Lord Hesketh

I shall deal first with the numbers on the authority, and, secondly, with the point made by the noble Baroness about the quorum. My noble friend Lord Renton raised the same point about the numbers on the authority. Acceptance of this amendment need not mean that there will be fewer than 33 members at the authority's first meeting.

Baroness Nicol

I hope that the Minister will forgive me, but the number is 35, not 33.

Lord Hesketh

I am sorry—35. The amendment is designed to allow my right honourable friend to take the initial step of making the order prescribing a date for the establishment of the authority before all 35 appointments have been made. The date of the authority's first meeting is bound to be some time after the order itself, as may also be the date of establishment. Therefore, by the time that the authority meets all 35 members may well be in place. This is only a precautionary provision. I very much hope that it will be possible to make all 35 appointments promptly so that they are all in place when the authority is established.

Should that prove impossible, I do not believe that any real damage will be caused if briefly the authority is missing one or two members. The most immediate decisions that the authority will have to take will not commit it on matters where the contributions of those missing members could be seen as vital. They will largely be preliminary enabling decisions—for example, to initiate consultations about membership of its navigation committee. However, unless action is started promptly on these issues the authority will be delayed in starting its real work.

In conclusion, perhaps I should point out that the existence of a provision enabling the authority to be established before all appointments have been made will provide an incentive to all appointing authorities, including my right honourable friend, to press ahead with making their appointments and for those consulted to respond quickly to consultation, so as to ensure that their interests are not left unrepresented even for the shortest period.

So far as concerns the quorum for meetings, paragraph 3(6) of Schedule 1 provides that: No business shall be transacted at any meeting of the Authority unless more than one quarter of its members are present". This is the normal provision which applies to local authority meetings generally. I am advised that this provision will mean at least one-quarter of the full membership of 35 under Clause 1—namely, nine—even if the actual membership is fewer than 35 at any time, for whatever reason.

Lord Renton

I have listened carefully to my noble friend but he has not told us whether this provision is breaking new ground or whether there is a precedent for it. If this is a precedent I hope that it will not be used at random by a less well-intentioned government at some time in the future.

Lord Melchett

For the first time this evening I should like to give some support to the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench. I think it would be a good idea. I hope that I have not entirely put him off his dinner. I think that it would be a good idea to get moving on setting up the authority and the transfer of functions. As he said, a provision of this kind will encourage everyone to make appointments quickly to the new authority. Given the assurances that the noble Lord has mentioned about a quorum, I personally should be happy for this amendment to form part of the Bill.

Baroness Nicol

I must make just one point. We have spent 40-odd minutes at the beginning of this evening arguing about the importance of one extra body for the Nature Conservancy Council. The Minister is now telling us that it does not really matter too much if two or three of them are missing when the authority starts. Either one person is important or he is not. I hope that a date will be set for the appointment of the full authority.

Lord Hesketh

With regard to the noble Baroness's last points I can only draw her attention to the remarks of her noble friend Lord Melchett. Certainly I shall take note of what my noble and learned friend Lord Renton has drawn to our attention this evening and bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Renton

My noble friend is much too generous. I am not learned in your Lordships' Chamber.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 14: Page 53, line 15, leave out from beginning to end of line 19 and insert—


6—(1) Consultations carried out by the Secretary of State before the coming into force of subsections (5) and (6) of section 1 of this Act shall be treated as satisfying the requirements in those subsections if they would have done so had those subsections been in force at the time in question.

(2) Consultations carried out by the Authority before the coming into force of subsection (3) of section 13 of this Act shall be treated as satisfying the requirements of that subsection if they would have done so had that subsection been in force at the time in question.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to,

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.