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Regulatory Reform (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) Order 2005

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2005

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9.54 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 24 January be approved. [8th report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order will amend the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to enable the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to operate more effectively, mainly by allowing it to employ its own staff, remunerate its own chair and independent members and receive some funding directly from the Government.

The JNCC was established under the Act as a forum through which the three country nature conservation bodies set up to replace the former Nature Conservancy Council discharged their special statutory responsibilities for nature conservation across Great Britain as a whole and internationally. That Act requires the country bodies to provide the JNCC with staff, accommodation and other facilities, that the JNCC's grant funding must be routed through the country bodies and that its three independent members must be paid by them.

These arrangements are pretty indirect and needlessly bureaucratic. They are not a great help to the staff or the efficiency of the organisation. When we had the last review of the JNCC, the Government agreed that it was highly desirable to eliminate these unnecessary statutory complications and to go through a regulatory reform order. Because the JNCC is a cross-border body, this order is being made in agreement with the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive. The main element of the proposals which were set out in a consultation paper in December 2003 is to give the JNCC the ability to employ staff.

In many cases, staff have been specifically recruited for their current JNCC roles but they have never worked other than on assignment to the JNCC via the country bodies. As a consequence, we have staff working next to each other who are doing similar work but are engaged on three different sets of terms and conditions. The resultant anomalies cause problems with staff dissatisfaction and the risk of legal challenge. By removing the statutory requirement for the country bodies to provide staff and enabling the JNCC to employ all staff, we can have a consistent set of terms and conditions.

The order also allows for the setting up of a company limited by guarantee to facilitate the employment of staff, as JNCC is an unincorporated public body. That would avoid problems of unlimited liability for joint committee members.

The order will also enable the committee to delegate functions to any staff employed either directly or through the company or the company itself. This is incidental to the proposal to allow the JNCC to employ staff and just allows delegations to be made to the equivalents of staff working for the country bodies to whom delegation is currently possible.

Enabling the JNCC to pay its chair and members directly will also avoid unnecessary administration. At the moment, liaison between the country bodies and the JNCC is complex and inefficient. Similarly, allowing the Government to fund the JNCC directly for the work it undertakes will avoid complications and make funding more flexible and transparent.

The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform concluded that these proposals were an appropriate use of the powers under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 and would reduce burdens on the JNCC. I thank members of the committee for that opinion. The committee in another place also considered that the proposals were within the vires of the 2001 Act and that a convincing case had been made for them. The order has been unanimously approved in the other place, and I commend it to this House.

Moved, That the draft regulatory reform order laid before the House on 24 January be approved. [8th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for going through the explanation so fully. We support the order. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee expressed concern about the continuity of employment. I presume from what the Minister has said that he is happy that those concerns have been addressed. As he said, it is undesirable to have different terms and conditions of employment for people who work alongside each other. When Defra was formed, employees from the DETR and Defra experienced difficulties in that respect. If the Minister feels that those concerns have been addressed—I think I see him nodding—then I am more than willing to support the draft order.

My Lords, we on these Benches support the order and thank the Minister for his comments.

I thank both Front-Bench Members for their support.

On Question, Motion agreed to.