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Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 21st June 2005.

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[Mr. Eric Forth in the Chair]

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 10:30 am, 21st June 2005

I commence by welcoming everyone to this Standing Committee, which, along with the one next door, is the first of this Parliament. In welcoming all, I particularly welcome the Minister. It is his debut in taking a Bill through Committee, and we all wish him well. I also welcome new Members, for whom this will be their first Standing Committee. I hope that they find our proceedings enjoyable and productive.

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)

I beg to move,

That—

(1)during proceedings on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill the Standing Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 21st June at 10.30 a.m.) meet—

(a)at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 21st June;

(b)at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 23rd June;

(c)at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 28th June;

(d)at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 30th June;

(e)at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 5th July;

(2)the proceedings shall be taken in the following order, namely, Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 17, Schedule 2, Clauses 18 to 28, Schedule 3, Clauses 29 to 31, Schedule 4, Clauses 32 to 51, Schedule 5, Clause 52, Schedule 6, Clauses 53 to 70, Schedule 7, Clauses 71 to 78, Schedule 8, Clauses 79 and 80, Schedule 9, Clause 81, Schedule 10, Clauses 82 to 95, Schedules 11 and 12, Clauses 96 to 99, new Clauses, new Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3)the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday 5th July.

I begin by warmly welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Forth, and I look forward to serving under your guidance. Having observed you in my first four years as a Member of Parliament, I have consistently admired the rigour with which you seek to apply the rules of the House. I am sure that you will apply them with equal rigour in this Committee, and I look forward to that. You also are my mother’s Member of Parliament and I know that you represent her very well. I was brought up in Bromley and Chislehurst and much of my appreciation of natural England came from the woods around Chislehurst, Petts Wood and the other areas that you represent. It seems particularly appropriate on my first outing as Minister that I am here under your guidance, though not quite parenthood.

You were right to mention the fact that it is my first outing as a Minister, and I am looking forward to it. It is also the first outing for my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), who is guiding us through this process, and for many of my officials in managing a Bill. We shall all be learning as   we go along. It is also the first Standing Committee for my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) and for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), and for the hon. Members for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Herbert) and for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill). I wish them well, and I trust that we all enjoy our learning experience.

We have provided a generous 10 sittings to debate the Bill. When we met in the Programming Sub-Committee, the Opposition were pleased that we did not seek to impose any knives on the debate so we are hopeful that we will cover everything in the Bill with the due amount of diligence and care. We must scrutinise it properly for Parliament during the 10 sittings without trying to restrict debate in any way.

The Bill has already undergone a period of constructive pre-legislative scrutiny, in the light of which we have made some improvements and amendments to it. In passing, I would like to pay tribute to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee during the last Parliament for managing the process of pre-legislative scrutiny, and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who chaired the Sub-Committee that undertook that task. The process will make the job of this Committee much easier.

I have also met the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), as well as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) who leads for the Liberal Democrats on the work of my Department, to run through the measures in the Bill. That gave them an opportunity to talk to officials about them. I am grateful to those hon. Gentlemen and my officials for having that meeting.

During the meeting, I promised to supply Committee members with Keeling schedules that show how we are amending existing legislation, which, with the leave of the Committee, we would like to distribute to them today to make it easier for them to understand the changes that we will make. We were advised that we could not distribute them in advance of this sitting because it would be out of order in respect of parliamentary protocol.

We recognise that many provisions in the Bill are of interest and we shall debate some points on which we might disagree, but I am confident that the debate will be constructive and that we shall co-operate as a Committee to ensure that we cover all the necessary points in the time allowed.

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

I simply wish to respond to your introduction, Mr. Forth, and to the Minister’s opening remarks. First, I would like to welcome you to the Chair, and secondly I endorse your comments of welcome to the Minister. I express my appreciation of the fact that we held the meeting to which he referred a moment ago and at which he and his officials gave me an introduction to the issues relating to the Committee. I also join him in welcoming new Members from all parties, and the hon. Member for Sherwood, whose work in chairing the Sub-Committee of scrutiny has been recognised throughout the House. I look forward to his contributions, which leads me to my first point.

Although the Minister rightly says that the Government have made some changes since the scrutiny, the Select Committee proposed a number of things that the Government have not gone along with, those aspects are the subject of a number of our amendments. I look forward to the support of the hon. Member for Sherwood on them.

We made clear our overall view of the Bill on Second Reading. We have big reservations about Natural England, on which we have tabled amendments to address the major concerns, and about the Commission for Rural Communities. We largely support the rest of the Bill in principle, although there are issues of detail on which we have tabled many amendments. I hope that the Minister understands that all our amendments are designed to be constructive. I and my hon. Friends have great personal interest, involvement and experience in many of the issues dealt with by the Bill, besides our political role as Opposition Members.

Our approach will be constructive and, from earlier conversations with the Minister, I am sure that he will be constructive in response. Even if he feels, as is quite likely, that he cannot accept the precise wording of amendments, I hope that he realises that the gist of them has been put across seriously and that he will take away the points made wherever possible to consider our remarks further.

Finally, I would like to place on record—not that I am required to do so by any rules of the House—that I am a trustee of the Game Conservancy Trust and there will be times during the proceedings when I shall refer to advice and scientific research carried out by that body. It is an honorary position, but I would like to place it on the record for avoidance of doubt. Otherwise, I am happy with the motion.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I also welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Forth. I hope that our deliberations will produce a Bill that is worthy and will address some of the many issues that people in rural communities feel have not been adequately addressed by the Government so far. As a member of the Select Committee that undertook the pre-legislative scrutiny, I am pleased that the Government have taken on board some of our recommendations and suggestions, but, as has already been said, some remain that I am sure will be discussed during our proceedings.

There is much agreement, which I welcome, and I hope that our deliberations will be constructive—they certainly will be from this quarter. I hope that we will end up with a very important Bill. It deals with the major issues of the environment and rural affairs, and I am pleased that it will be the first Bill to be passed in this Parliament.

I hope that 10 sittings will be sufficient; they should be, but that will depend as much on the Government as on the Opposition and on the Government recognising that there are strongly held views on some aspects of the Bill. I hope that the Government will reflect on some of those views and perhaps even accept the odd amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

May I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution and Ways and Means resolution relating to the Bill, copies of which are available on the Table as usual? I also remind Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairmen do not intend to call starred amendments, including those that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.