Clause 33 - Purpose of functions under this Part

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 23 Mehefin 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:00, 23 Mehefin 2005

I beg to move amendment

No. 114, in clause 33, page 11, line 25, leave out ‘desirability’ and insert ‘commitment’.

The Bill refers in several places to sustainable development. Now is not the time to debate what that may be, or precisely how the various aspects of it—social, economic, environmental—fit together.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We can debate it if my hon. Friend really wants to, but I suspect that he would give me short shrift if I started to do so.

How committed are we to sustainable development? We debated earlier whether Natural England was to be promoting or contributing, and in this clause the JNCC is to

“have regard to ... the desirability of contributing to sustainable development”,

which is extremely vague. The words “have regard to” are vague and “the desirability of contributing” is pretty vague, so when, as in this subsection (2)(b), the two are put in train, we end up with a serious lack of commitment.

The JNCC’s responsibilities are fairly narrow and we will support them, but if it is going to have any relationship with sustainable development, surely it ought to be as committed to the principle as everybody else. That is not to suggest that it should abandon its principles about being primarily a conservation body with the responsibilities set out in clause 33(1), but it should be committed. I am concerned that the double phrasing of “have regard to” with “the desirability of” is too vague to be meaningful.

Article 2(3) of the habitats directive, which we are signed up to, refers to the commitment to sustainable development. The Government are committed to that concept, as are the Opposition. If the habitats directive can refer to the commitment to sustainable development, it would be odd if the JNCC—the very body that has to report to the Government about the habitats directive—were not committed to sustainable development.

This is another short, sharp, self-explanatory amendment and I hope that the Minister will not say that it is unnecessary, because it slightly firms up what we are trying to achieve. We want to ensure that the JNCC, like other bodies, is committed to the overall objective of sustainable development.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity) 2:30, 23 Mehefin 2005

The original wording of the clause requires the United Kingdom conservation agencies and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to have regard to the desirability of contributing to sustainable development when exercising their functions. We must remember that the primary role of the JNCC is that of an adviser on nature conservation. The phrasing in the clause was chosen carefully, so that the JNCC could set its advice in the context of sustainable development, without having to moderate it to take into account socio-economic factors.

The amendment would require the JNCC to take account of the commitment to sustainable development and to have to take into account socio-economic issues, by implication. I do not believe that that would be appropriate. It is for those whom the JNCC advise, including Ministers, to weigh the considerations of the other pillars of sustainable development when making decisions. We want the JNCC to provide objective and sound scientific advice on nature conservation issues.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the European Union’s habitats directive. Socio- economic, cultural and regional considerations are delivered through other provisions in the directive, such as in article 6, rather than providing a sustainable thread throughout the directive as a whole. I ask him to reflect on the argument that, as a closely defined body advising on nature conservation, it is appropriate for it to

“have regard to...the desirability of contributing to sustainable development”,

but such a function is so closely defined that it is then up to Ministers when they receive such advice to have stronger regard for sustainable development than he is after.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

When I go back to the organisation that suggested the last three amendments that I have introduced, I shall tell them that the Minister was not able to accede to them and that I shall not accept any more of its suggested amendments. The record is beginning to become monotonous.

It is the role of the Opposition to put forward suggestions from outside bodies and—to be serious—I am happy to do so. I understand the Minister’s argument. At the end of the day, it is for advisers to advise and for Ministers to decide, which is as it should be. We should all be committed to the principle of sustainable development. To me, it is not sustainable development if the interests of the environment are not taken into account seriously and put at the forefront, as I implied in an earlier debate. However, I am happy to accept the Minister’s assurances and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 34 to 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Tony Cunningham.]

Adjourned accordingly at thirty-four minutes past Two o’clock till Tuesday 28 June at half-past Ten o’clock.