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Clause 25 - Directions

Part of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 23rd June 2005.

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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) 1:45 pm, 23rd June 2005

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and it is appropriate that I should clarify it. On one level, we are doing no more than what is done with all non-departmental public bodies. I can rehearse all the arguments from before about Natural England and accountability, but the bottom-line assurance is that, ultimately, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament. Therefore, the clause is necessary.

The commission is an advisory, not a delivery, body, so it is unlikely that the power would ever be used. There is a similar power in relation to the Countryside Agency, and I can confirm that no directions have been issued to that body either. I can also clarify that we would not be in a position to direct the commission on what its findings should be or on what to advise Government, although we could ask it to look at something for us.

To give the hon. Gentleman an example, we are in the process of negotiating with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for the establishment of a task and finish group, as a commission to look at affordable rural housing, which we all know is a concern in rural England. I could have asked the fledgling Commission for Rural Communities to do that work for us. However, I have made the judgment that, while we are in the middle of organisational change for the commission, the formation of Natural England and everything else that is taking place in the context of the Bill, it would be more appropriate for a separate body to have completed the work by the time that the commission is formally established, so that the commission can then take the matter up for us.