I wanted to say a few words about the clause, because clauses 15 and 16 were the subject of some comment and debate on Second Reading, so I thought that it would be helpful to say a little more rather than simply allowing them to go through on the nod.
The clause gives the Secretary of State powers to give guidance to Natural England. That will help to ensure that Natural England continues to focus on achieving Government outcomes, and allow the Secretary of State to give guidance as to how its purposes are to be achieved. That is a necessary provision for a body that will deliver many of the Government’s policies and be the source of the Government’s expertise in key areas.
The requirement to publish any guidance given will ensure transparency. I remind the Committee that, following pre-legislative scrutiny by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, subsections (3) and (5) were inserted to make the clause clearer. Subsection (1) was introduced following the Select Committee’s recommendation that Natural England should have a duty to contribute to regional spatial strategies. We thought about that carefully.
I am quite clear that Natural England will, like English Nature and the Countryside Agency before it, be a statutory consultee in the process. However, there are several other important regional-level processes to which it is equally clear that Natural England will contribute—regional sustainable development frameworks, regional environment strategies, regional economic strategies and so on. I do not want to suggest inadvertently that any of these are more important than the others; also, a long list in the Bill might render it out of date more quickly than I would want. Therefore, subsection (1) places a duty on the Secretary of State to give Natural England guidance on the exercise of its functions in relation to regional planning and associated matters without specifying them all. I hope that that is helpful.