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Clause 72 - Agreement between designated body

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 5th July 2005.

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Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 11:00 am, 5th July 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 135, in clause 72, page 29, line 16, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

In rejecting my desire in a previous amendment to remove the word ''unconditionally'', the Minister sought refuge, to a degree, in the fact that the Bill   provides that the Secretary of State ''may'' rather than ''must'' enter into an agreement. I now propose precisely the reverse. I am concerned that the Minister's approval ''may'' be given in relation to a particular agreement or in relation to a description of agreements—in other words, unconditionally or subject to specified conditions.

One of the 17 designated bodies listed in schedule 7—as the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) pointed out, it could be a longer list—could make an agreement. It is right, given the channel of accountability, that the Minister should be required to give his approval. That is why I challenge the use of the word ''may'' in subsection (2). I suggest that the Minister ''must'' give approval for any such agreement because of the consequences for the Government.

Although the Government could terminate an agreement under clauses 70 or 71, there does not seem to be an equivalent provision in clause 72 whereby a designated body could instantaneously sever an agreement with a non-designated body. In other words, if the Forestry Commission contracted out some sort of benchmarking scheme or forestry stewardship scheme, there would be no provision for the contract to be terminated; but the Government could terminate the agreement under clause 70. In that example, the Forestry Commission, a Government-owned body, would be stuck with an agreement even if the Government's agreement with it was terminated. That is why the Secretary of State's or Minister's approval should be given before such an agreement is made.

I hope that I have made my case clearly. When considering second-tier agreements, I believe that ministerial approval should be given—and certainly so if it is to be unconditional. I accept that the Minister has to go away and consider DEFRA's functions, but in that context I hope that the Minister will at least agree to reconsider whether ministerial approval should be necessary in such second-tier agreements.

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 amendment would change clause 72 to require that the Minister's approval ''must'' be given in relation to a particular agreement or in relation to a description of agreements between a designated body and another body, and that that agreement must be subject to specified conditions.

The purpose of subsection (2) is to give further flexibility in order to allow the Minister to give approval for generic agency agreements. Subsection (1) states that a designated body

''may, with the approval of the relevant Minister, enter into an agreement with a designated or non-designated body''.

The agreements themselves have to be approved by the Minister. Subsection (2) deals with generic agency agreements, so that it will not be necessary subsequently to seek approval for similar types of arrangement. In particular, it would avoid agencies having to ask the Minister to agree separately to almost identical, commonplace arrangements between various bodies.  

I hope that I have clarified the matter for the Committee, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

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

I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 72 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.