Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Schedule 4 - Joint Nature Conservation Committee

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 23rd June 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That this schedule be the fourth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I beg to move amendment No. 87, in schedule 4, page 50, line 29, at end insert

‘after consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment

No. 88, in schedule 4, page 50, line 30, at end insert

‘after consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales’.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

On Second Reading, I reminded the Minister that this was, to a large extent, an England and Wales Bill, although the previous parts of it that we have been discussing have referred mainly, if not entirely, to England. Sometimes we MPs with constituencies in Wales are extolled by Ministers at the Wales Office; although we complain that there is not enough Wales-only legislation, they point out the number of Bills that affect Wales and England.

However, I find it disappointing that there is not a Wales Office Minister on this Committee to deal with Welsh business. We deal with a lot of legislation that affects England and Wales, and it is important that the primary legislation that comes from Westminster and affects the devolution settlement is appropriate for—and, more importantly, sympathetic to—that settlement, the progress that it makes and the evolution that takes place.

Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 are only minor. They are just a reminder to the Minister that it would be legislatively polite if the Secretary of State, in appointing the chairman of the Joint Committee and its five members, consulted the devolved National Assembly for Wales and Scottish Ministers.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reflect on that and understand that it would strengthen the relationship between Westminster and the devolved Governments. It would be an advantage in making sure that the committee worked better and that the relationships between Westminster, Wales and Scotland were enhanced. I urge the Minister to reflect on that and agree to these minor amendments, which would mean so much to the devolved Administrations.

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)

The clause defines the UK conservation bodies and the Great Britain conservation bodies that are used in later clauses when the functions that they deliver through the Joint Committee are defined. For the benefit of this Committee, I should say that the UK   conservation bodies are Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside. The Great Britain conservation agencies are Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage.

I have no objection to the principle behind these “legislatively polite”—as the hon. Gentleman puts it—amendments. However, the Scotland Act 1998 already requires the Secretary of State to consult Scottish Ministers

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

Order. I remind the Minister that we are on schedule 4 at the moment.

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 apologise, Mrs. Anderson. I was coming to address schedule 4, but I seem to have just given you the justification for clause 32, which was a flaw in my juggling. Occasionally I drop the ball.

Schedule 4 covers the funding arrangements for the Joint Committee. The main change is to provide for the participation of Northern Ireland, in the form of funding arrangements. As I began to say before you so rightly corrected me, Mrs. Anderson, I have no objection to the principle. However, in respect of Scotland it is unnecessary because the Scotland Act already requires the Secretary of State to consult Scottish Ministers on appointments to cross-border bodies. While there is no equivalent provision relating to Wales, the Secretary of State routinely consults Welsh Assembly Ministers on exactly the same basis as Scottish Ministers, and would continue to do so, as we have on this and every other part of the Bill.

The amendment, as drafted, does not cover Northern Ireland, and would therefore create a differential approach. I therefore ask the Committee to resist the amendment on that basis. The extension of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s remit to Northern Ireland through this legislation means that Ministers there—and, should the Assembly be restored, Ministers of any devolved administration—should be treated on the same basis as their counterparts in Scotland and Wales. I will reflect on what he says but, given this, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for that, and for clarifying the difference in the legislation between Scotland and Wales and, indeed, Northern Ireland. I hope that he will reflect upon the matter, because these things may seem small but they are important. Given his assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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 amendment

No. 108, in schedule 4, page 52, line 40, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) to (5) and insert—

‘()The funding bodies must provide the joint committee with such financial resources as the appropriate authorities consider are needed for the proper discharge of the functions conferred by Part 2.

()When determining what financial resources should be provided, the appropriate authorities must take into account—

(a)any grant being made under paragraph 15, and

(b)the views of the joint committee and the funding bodies.

()The contributions of each of the funding bodies are to be such as are agreed by the appropriate authorities, having taken into account the views of those bodies.

I hope that I am using the right piece of paper. Paragraph 14 of schedule 4 covers the funding arrangements for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. As drafted, the Bill would follow the approach set out in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, by leaving decisions on the budget, and the share of costs to be borne by its body, to the bodies that contribute funding—that is, Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage and, as a result of the extension of the JNCC’s remit, the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.

This amendment would not change the requirement for the so-called funding bodies to contribute towards the budget of the JNCC, but it would leave decisions on the budget level, and the proportion that each body should pay, in the hands of the Government. In effect, it would reflect what happens in reality, and the belief is that it is better to reflect reality than some other process that may go on.

The appropriate authorities—that is, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland as JNCC sponsors in Government—in reaching their decisions would be obliged to have regard to the views of the funding bodies and, in the case of the budget level, the views of the Joint Committee as well. As I have said, this reflects the recommendations of the last financial management and policy review of the JNCC, which were endorsed in the Government’s response issued in November 2002.

Additionally, the changed wording omits references in the original text to budgets being set with reference to a particular financial year, in order to be consistent with the wording in schedules 1 and 2, for Natural England and the Commission for Rural Communities. This wording might also work against our desire to provide the JNCC with three-yearly budget settlements, as we do for our other sponsored bodies. I would like to apologise to the Committee for our not getting this situation reflected in the original text of the Bill, but we were busy consulting our friends in Wales and Scotland when the Bill was introduced and we have therefore had to include this provision as a Government amendment in Committee.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Whip, Whips

I should have intervened in the Minister’s speech, but I was not quick enough. There seems to be a rather intriguing change of phraseology about this because there has apparently been a change of emphasis. In the original document the funding bodies

“must pay to the Joint Committee such sums as these bodies, with the approval of the appropriate authorities, may agree.”

The new version, however, says:

“must provide the Joint Committee with such financial resources that the appropriate authorities consider are needed for the proper discharge of the functions conferred on part 2.”

It seems that the stealthy hand of the Treasury is getting in the way.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.