Considered in Grand Committee
This order was laid before the House on 3 June 2013. First, I apologise to noble Lords for an error that appeared in paragraph 3.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The memorandum omitted to note that Part 7 of the draft order will apply retrospectively from 1 April 2013. Part 7 concerns transitional and savings provisions. This is in line with the provisions for Parts 1 to 5, and Articles 29 to 31. This administrative error has been amended, and corrected versions are now available.
The order is made under Section 150 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which allows for consequential amendments to primary and secondary legislation in consequence of provisions made by an Assembly Act or subordinate legislation. The order is made as a consequence of the Natural Resources Body for Wales (Functions) Order 2013, brought forward by the Welsh Ministers, which was approved by the National Assembly on 19 March 2013. I shall refer to this as the functions order. The order transferred functions in relation to Wales from the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission to the new body, Natural Resources Wales. It also abolished the Countryside Council for Wales and transferred its functions to the new Natural Resources Body for Wales.
This consequential order provides for the completion of legal arrangements for the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and Natural Resources Wales to operate together in their respective areas in the most effective and efficient manner. For example, it makes provision to remove Welsh Ministers from the appointment and funding of the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission. It also amends the Environment Act 1995 to ensure that the new Natural Resources Body for Wales can make appropriate charging schemes in relation to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and that the Environment Agency and the Natural Resources Body for Wales can make cross-border arrangements for cost recovery and charging for water abstracting licences.
In preparing this consequential order, the Wales Office worked closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other key UK government departments, as well as the Welsh Government. We are all agreed that the provisions in this order are necessary to ensure that Natural Resources Wales can exercise its functions to fulfil its remit and co-operate effectively with its counterpart organisations across the UK.
This order is also important to the UK. Without it, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission in England will be unable to delegate their functions to the Natural Resources Body for Wales and similar bodies across the border, and would therefore be unable to fulfil their remit efficiently and cost-effectively. For example, in the event of a pollution incident in Wales that impacted on England, the Environment Agency in England would not be able to delegate the clean-up to the Natural Resources Body for Wales. This could result in unnecessary duplication of decision-making and deployment of staff, and a waste of Environment Agency resources. That is just one example of the importance of this order to both the UK and Welsh Governments.
This order demonstrates the UK Government’s continued commitment to working with the Welsh Government to make the devolution settlement work. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this order is a sensible use of the powers in the Government of Wales Act 2006 and that the practical result is something to be welcomed. I commend this order to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the order so clearly. She will perhaps be relieved to know that I have not suddenly taken on shadow Welsh Office responsibilities but that in the comradely spirit of the Front Bench I am helping out and using my experience in shadowing Defra to have a look at the order and make sure that everything is as it should be from our point of view.
I can say from the outset that we are supportive of the order. From my reading of the Explanatory Notes and the other documentation, it appears that all the consultations have been carried out well by the Welsh Office and the Government. Obviously, the order brings forward measures that have come from the Welsh Assembly Government and we would not want to get in the way of their fine work.
Therefore, my only question to the Minister—and not wanting to delay the Committee—is that the merging of the devolved functions of the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission with the Natural Resources Body for Wales will produce some interesting learning for the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of joined-up working in this area. Does the Minister know of any mechanisms that the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission or indeed Defra will be putting in place to ensure that we can learn those lessons and see whether or not there are aspects of joint working that we could do better here as this new body proceeds in Wales? It is not always fashionable, I know, for us in England to learn from Wales—sometimes it is more likely for Ministers to be sent to New Zealand than across the Severn Bridge—but there are things that we could learn from our friends in the devolved Assembly and I would be interested in the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for his positive words in support of this order. Referring specifically to the noble Lord’s question, it is very much the case that close and co-operative working will continue between the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and the new Natural Resources Body for Wales. It is essential that that close co-operation will continue, from the perspective of both England and Wales.
First, there will be training co-operation, which will greatly benefit the new body in Wales because it will be able to call upon training opportunities in England, where the numbers undertaking training are very much larger and therefore there is a wider range of opportunities. Close working is also very important because, of course, rivers do not follow national boundaries. The organisations concerned—the predecessor organisation in Wales and the continuing organisations in England—are used to working together and co-operatively in order to reduce costs. They work across border when there is agreement and it is essential that that kind of co-operation continue. I think that so long as there is co-operation, both in operational working and in training, there will be ample opportunities for the organisations which continue to exist in England to learn and to observe what is taking place in Wales.
Perhaps I may also briefly mention to the noble Lords that there was recently a triennial review of the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission in England which looked at whether those bodies should continue in their current form, should be reformed or should be merged. That triennial review concluded that the bodies should continue but that there should be reforms. I think it is important that the lessons from that review be taken. By the time of the next triennial review, which will be in 2016, there will of course be ample opportunity to have learnt from the experience in Wales. With those comments, I commend the order to the House.