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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 78, in clause 42, page 15, line 5, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.
No. 79, in clause 42, page 15, line 7, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.
No. 80, in clause 42, page 15, line 12, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.
On Second Reading, I suggested that we should examine the Bill to see whether it gave due recognition to the fact that the Assembly is a national Government for Wales and should be given the same recognition as other devolved Governments in Great Britain. We consider such things carefully, because those of us who are committed to devolution, and even to making progress with the devolution settlement, would like the relationship between Westminster and the devolved Governments to act as a positive influence for all that we believe in.
The Government of Wales Act 1998 in particular put in statute the idea that the National Assembly for Wales should be committed to, and give due recognition to, sustainability. It is probably one of very few national Governments in the world—probably two or three others can be found—with that statutory duty. Therefore, it seems particularly inappropriate that the word “must” should be used in the clause. It seems beyond belief that the National Assembly for Wales would not want to play its part in promoting, conserving and enhancing biodiversity.
Perhaps the amendment is not absolutely right and the word “may” is not quite the right choice. The word “should” might be preferable. Perhaps the clause should use a form of words such as “The Secretary of State should encourage”. However, I consider the word “must” to be particularly inappropriate. I should like the Minister’s assurance that he will consult the National Assembly for Wales on this aspect of the Bill, and perhaps one or two others, to ensure that the wording is conducive to the formation of that constructive partnership that will serve not only the devolved nations but the whole of the United Kingdom.
In debating earlier clauses, I have sketched out what clause 42 is designed to do. Amendments Nos. 77 to 80 would significantly weaken the duties in Wales by changing “must” to “may” in four instances, although I accept that the hon. Gentleman said he is not sure it would be right to use “may”. The amendments would effectively change the duty to a power, and we want to continue with the existing position as introduced in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
The Welsh Assembly Government already have the duty in question under the 2000 Act, and any change would be detrimental to biodiversity conservation. The listing process ensures that species and habitats of particular importance are highlighted so that their protection will be prioritised. I am sure that it is not the hon. Gentleman’s intention to weaken the activity of the Welsh Assembly Government in that regard. The presence of these lists will be even more important in future, because all public bodies will have a duty to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity. The list will be an important source of information and help them to prioritise.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have consulted our devolved colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government who are happy that they must consult the Countryside Council for Wales on the list and take such steps as appear to the Assembly to be reasonably practicable for the conservation of living organisms and habitat types on the list. On the basis that we have consulted and will continue to consult colleagues in Wales on all aspects of the Bill, I trust that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.