HC Deb 21 July 1961 vol 644 cc1695-724

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

2.40 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I think that many hon. Members will welcome the opportunity at long last to have a look at the research work of the Nature Conservancy, particularly now that we have a Minister who is responsible for the activities of the Conservancy. For the six years that I have been a Member of the House we have been prohibited from raising matters concerning the Nature Conservancy and have only been able to put Questions to the Minister of Agriculture in so far as the Conservancy's work affects agriculture. Many of us are very perturbed that a Council of the Privy Council is responsible for the control of the Nature Conservancy. I do not think that the Council has met since the Conservancy was set up in 1949 by the party opposite.

I should add how very welcome it is, when one threatens any Government Department with an Adjournment debate on a Friday afternoon, to receive the help and co-operation that one receives from the Parliamentary Secretary's office in preparing material for this debate. It is most encouraging, and I think it reflects the very helpful attitude which the Parliamentary Secretary has so far shown to all the problems which he has tackled.

Hon. Members will be aware that it was not so long ago that the Nature Conservancy was looked at by the Select Committee on Estimates regarding its estate management and the reserves which it held and that it came away with a clean sheet at that time. That can hardly be said of the Estimates Committee's Report for this Session to which I propose to refer in a few minutes.

In any discussion of the Nature Conservancy and its research work one must mention in particular the Nature Conservation Corps and the success of this movement. All of us interested in the Nature Conservancy would like to see this activity extended. It is a helpful, and beneficial way for many young people to make use of the Conservancy's reserves and the facilities it offers and to help in its research work. I hope that we are going to see a large expansion of this particularly successful movement.

The Conservancy as a whole is a very considerable landlord in the Kingdom. It has an estate of 138,000 acres. One has only too look at its Annual Report to realise the restrictions on access to that estate. The restrictions on access are of such a nature that no private individual, be he farmer or landowner, or anyone else, would be allowed to apply to any estate in the country. Yes, despite all this restriction and very large acreage, it is hard to say that the estate is well maintained, well run and dedicated to the work of research.

Of the forty-two major nature research reserves in England and Wales alone there is only a five-year management plan for under half of them, and this is in the twelfth year of the Conservancy's existence. That does not reflect a very businesslike approach to the management of the reserves.

I should like to compare two examples of the activities of research that have been carried out by the Conservancy in two other reserves. I wish to refer, first, to the Hampshire County Council's example over the Old Winchester Hill reserve, which is very near my hon. Friend's constituency. There we have the case where public access had to be limited to a certain degree to a very famous beauty spot and one which many people wanted to visit in the normal course of a weekend outing.

In the first instance, the Conservancy felt that it should restrict access because of danger to important botanical species on this hill. But the Hampshire County Council approached the problem realistically and was determined that the Conservancy's area on Old Winchester Hill should be an outdoor biological laboratory for the whole county, somewhere where the work which the Conservancy was doing would be available for all the school children to see and not only for the enthusiasts, the people who were already boffins and who were already interested in them. In that way, people interested could benefit from the research being carried on.

Compare this with the Conservancy's acquisition of Strathy Bog on the borders of Caithness and Sutherland, a reserve of 122 acres and practically the same size as Old Winchester Hill, and one very important in the development of the past history and research on peat and moss. But what local liaison is there there? How many school children from Caithness and Sutherland have been to the Strathy Bog? How many members of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, which is doing a lot of work on the rehabilitation of peat and the reseeding of land, have been there or have benefited one iota from the research being carried on there?

There is a reserve in a very isolated part of the country, but, far worse—one cannot argue about the position of these reserves—there is a reserve which is not backed by a sub-committee of the county council or by a recreational committee and where there is not even a staff of voluntary wardens. There is no one there to explain what is going on. There is a piece of land owned by the Conservancy group—the Conservancy has the idea that it must grab anything of interest—on which no research is being carried on and no use is being made of the land. It is very different from the good work done at Old Winchester Hill.

In anything like the scientific body of the Nature Conservancy we in this House have to take great care that we do not get one man's very strong personality or one man's particularly interest in research succeeding in persuading the Conservancy to take over a bit of land or a point of scientific interest and that, when that person's interest comes to an end, that section of the Conservancy lapses and no further use is made of it.

I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he will look at every single bit of land which the Conservancy holds and will give a very firm directive in the matter. We must do this because land is a very scarce commodity in this country. Unless there is a minimum of county naturalists trusts, unless we have more than the eleven at present and three in formation, or the potential of forming a proper corps of voluntary wardens—and I do not insist on expenditure on full-time wardens; it is perfectly possible to run them with voluntary wardens—and unless the reserve has the backing of local interest, it should be given up.

These nature reserves must be made laboratories for the county councils. If we are to spend public money on them, we must use them for teaching purposes. I do not want them to be, as so many are at the moment, places where anyone who is interested in the subject goes simply because he is already a converted enthusiast. We all want to see the Nature Conservancy bringing the doctrine of conserving nature to everyone in the country and making a proper use of its resources.

Surely the ridiculous provision that we have over the coypu would never have arisen had the research work carried out by the Conservancy been properly done in collaboration with the local farming interests. No one says that the coypu was one of the natural fauna of the British Isles. We can look up any book on British mammals and shall not find the coypu in it, so that the Conservancy was not even keeping within its terms of reference when it decided to preserve and look after the coypu which only escaped from a fur farm at the beginning of the war. That has happened as a result of the encouragement that the Conservancy gave to the establishment of these colonies of coypu.

The Sixth Report of the Estimates Committee, which came out the other day, had a look in particular at the effect of the Nature Conservancy's attitude over the coypu. We find evidence given to that Committee by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which clearly stated that the establishment of the coypu has been a real threat to wild life and natural history interests in that part of East Anglia. It goes on further to say: From the botanical aspect the coypu is a disaster and anybody not aware of this should immediately investigate and study the situation in Broadland". This is a ridiculous situation. We have the Ministry of Agriculture deciding to start a campaign in East Anglia and Lincolnshire to eradicate, control and try to remove the coypu, an animal which the Nature Conservancy has been carrying out research on and trying to establish in this country for thirty years. It is a pathetic waste of Government resources and a terrible reflection on the co-ordination between the Ministry of Agriculture, which should be responsible for agricultural research, and the Nature Conservancy that this should have been allowed to happen in the last twenty years.

While on the question of the value that the Ministry has had from research done by the Nature Conservancy, I should like to follow up a Question I asked the Minister a few years ago about the protection of crops by bird scarers and the investigation into bird vocalisation. I asked what benefits the manufacturers of bird scarers have had from this research or the research into trying to persuade pied fly catchers to nest higher in trees than they have done before. It is impossible to say that this is of any practical benefit whatsoever to the United Kingdom at the moment.

At the other extreme one wants to look at the case of the research carried on into the eradication of bracken. An American company is interested in discovering a chemical which would kill bracken. It did not go to the Nature Conservancy or to the Agricultural Research Council, but to a university. It went to the West of Scotland College of Agriculture and gave that college a grant to carry cm certain experiments realising that as a result of the research done it would get a commercial advantage. From that the firm developed a reasonable bracken sprayer, but a Government grant cannot be given towards it.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

This is exactly what the Labour Party was trying to do to me on Monday. I get pushed from branch to branch further from Socialism. If a Government subsidy is arranged for this it seems that my life will become almost impossible to live.

Mr. Kimball

The last thing I should want is the life of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to become impossible.

A successful chemical having been produced and research not having been done either by the Agricultural Research Council or the Nature Conservancy, we find that the Treasury and all Government Departments say, "This may be success- ful, but we were not asked to do the research". Therefore we have to wait for three years while more experiments are carried out to find a chemical for bracken eradication.

I nearly got into some trouble with you, Mr. Speaker, earlier for studying this massive document, Country Life for 8th June. In it there is an important article on the problem of spraying roadside verges. I do not think for a moment that divisional road engineers of county councils realise that the Nature Conservancy has carried out considerable research on the question of spraying roadside verges. I believe a circular on the subject was issued by the Ministry of Transport, but that Ministry issues an enormous number of circulars.

In the article in Country Life, Lindsey County Council is criticised for having sprayed roadside verges in a particularly important area of Tetford Hill near Louth, in Lincolnshire. The council was not aware of the damage being done by that spraying. If the research on spraying of roadside verges had been carried out and the results made available to the National Agricultural Advisory Service officers throughout the area, a very different pattern would have emerged.

All of us with country constituencies are familiar with the very important part that the N.A.A.S. officers now play in our country life. One cannot go to the smallest show without finding them there. One cannot embark on any new agricultural measure or produce any new spray today without the N.A.A.S. officer taking an interest, advising and helping. I am certain that if the research into spraying of roadside verges and the work done on it had been available to the National Agricultural Advisory Service, divisional road engineers—who see these people every day of their lives—would have been aware of the damage which would be done and far greater use would have been made of the original work done by the Conservancy.

The trouble with the Nature Conservancy is that when it does anything such as producing a report on spraying of verges there is no way of passing it on to people who actually do the work of spraying. There is a sad lack of contact between those responsible for the conservation of nature and those who are likely to damage or destroy it.

I wish to draw attention to the duplication of research in forestry. We see from the Report of the Nature Conservancy that at long last the Conservancy has appointed an adviser in woodlands with a salary of £1,200 a year, plus travelling allowance. There is quite a considerable acreage of woodland in the Conservancy reserves. How much better it would have been if all the woodland had been handed over to the Forestry Commission in the first place. The Commission already has an extensive programme of research into planting trees on upland areas and growing all sorts of different species of trees. That research would have been very much wider because the Commission research is not limited to growing trees indigenous to this country. How much better it would have been, instead of trying to build up another little empire and a rival competitive scientific research, if these woodlands had been given to the Forestry Commission.

Private woodland owners interested in forestry have the benefit of Forestry Commission research. Before one starts planting, the divisional officer of the Commission visits the ground and advises on what should be planted. But that does not apply to the work of the Conservancy. I dare say that the information may be available from learned scientific documents, but it is not available to ordinary people who want to plant on upland ground. The results of the Nature Conservancy's research is not as freely available to them as is the work of the Forestry Commission.

This is the way in which many of us feel that the Conservancy has failed in dealing with the question of toxic chemicals and wild life. This is a subject on which we are all very worried, because much damage is being done to wild life in the countryside. Surely that is an opportunity for the Conservancy to establish itself, after the Agricultural Advisory Service and after the Forestry Commission, as the third great advisory body in the countryside on everything to do with wild life.

What has the Conservancy done? In its Annual Report, referring to toxic chemicals, it says that in order to achieve anything there must be a service which would enable it to carry out post-mortem diagnosis on large samples which are available. The Conservancy strongly recommends that such a service which, it says, it cannot itself economically undertake should be provided by appropriate laboratories as soon as possible. I do not advocate that more money should be given to the Conservancy to set up these laboratories; it could raise the money easily.

Everyone is worried about this problem, and if the Conservancy had organised the situation so that every county was covered by a naturalists' trust it would get the money to establish the laboratories and would have the wholehearted support of everyone in the countryside to enable it to carry on this research work. Because these laboratories had been set up by local money and supported by a local naturalists' trust, there would be great interest in the work being done in the laboratories. It is a sad reflection that the Conservancy has failed in this respect.

When the matter was considered by the Public Accounts Committee it was a member, Major Buxton, giving evidence, as reported on page 187, who said that the real work in dealing with toxic chemicals in agriculture has been done by the Animal Health Trust and other interested bodies and that very little, if any, action in research has been carried out by the Nature Conservancy.

It is very important that the Minister of Agriculture and my hon. Friend should decide what the respective rôles of the Nature Conservancy and the Ministry will be in this research about wild life. The Estimates Committee recommended that the Conservancy should be able to carry out this research particularly on the indirect effect of the use of all toxic sprays and all such complex problems as the effect of sub-lethal doses of poisonous substances on the fertility of birds. If the Conservancy were to concentrate on this research it would have the wholehearted support of everybody in the country.

I say this not without careful thought and with some knowledge of the Nature Conservancy and its staff, and I direct my remarks only to the Nature Conservancy in England and Wales and not to that in Scotland, where I believe there is better direction and policy: I do not believe that the present directors of the Conservancy in England and Wales are all of a mood or of a mind to take this opportunity.

It is open to the Conservancy for it to be built into the third important advisory service in the country. But I have looked at the speeches made by the Director-General of the Conservancy last year, only one which I can see in the list of speeches made publicly in which he showed any attempt to spread the doctrine to other people in this country of what the Conservancy was doing. That was the speech to the chief education officers of the United Kingdom on biological education. The rest were obtuse lectures to even more obtuse scientific bodies.

I want the directors of the Nature Conservancy to establish demonstrations at all county shows. I want to see a vast extension of the lectures given in schools, and I want the scientists of the Nature Conservancy to be the most popular and regular speakers at N.F.U. dinners and other functions for the next few years. I want a very different attitude on the part of the Conservancy. I want it to publicise the work of its research rather than try to build up a nice little niche for some scientists to carry on some very pleasant research but with a general attitude, "We do not want the general public to come in on this because in the interests of science it is not possible at this moment to propagate the results of all our work". I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will, amongst his other duties, take a look at the Nature Conservancy against this background.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I do not want to delay the reply from the Parliamentary Secretary for Science on this very important subject, but I think that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has overstated his case. I think that there is an argument that we should look carefully at this important scientific organisation, which was formerly associated with the Ministry of Agriculture, but now comes in the Office of the Minister for Science.

I was sorry that we had not time, in our major science debate recently, to discuss—

Mr. Hale

There is plenty of time. There is still an hour and a half to go.

Mr. Peart

Perhaps my hon. Friend will be patient. He may wish to make a speech himself.

Mr. Hale

I intend to do so. My hon. Friend said that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) had overstated his case. I thought that he made an extremely important, very interesting and very careful speech, and if my hon. Friend will tell us why he thinks he overstated his case, I should be grateful.

Mr. Peart

I think that, the hon. Member for Gainsborough made a very important speech, but that his criticism of those who run the Nature Conservancy has been overstated. We all want to expand the work of this important body, but, again, if the hon. Gentleman reads the Select Committee's Report, which he has quoted, he will see it stated there that the staff is very small. In fact, it states that the staff of the Ministry in England and Wales numbers 16,000—that is, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—whereas the Nature Conservancy has a staff of only 234, stationed in England, Scotland and Wales, and has a budget of less than £500,000.

I have always argued that a body of this kind should have more resources, physical and financial, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will demand from the Government expenditure in this direction. I am certain that if we wish it to do much more work in various fields of scientific research which have been mentioned—toxic sprays, work affecting forestry, uplands, etc., the conflict between natural vegetation and animal fauna, all of them exceptionally important—much more money will have to be spent.

If we had that information service, which I think is right, information on the preservation of wild life could be demonstrated at agricultural shows and to branches of the National Farmers' Union and other people who live in the countryside. It would be a good thing if we could have this extension, but more money will have to be allocated to this very important body.

Mr. Kimball

I am sorry, but probably I did not make the point clear. More money could be got by the greater use of the local naturalists' clubs. There is insufficient support coming from the counties, and if the money came in that way, there would be local interest in what is being done, rather than by means of a Government grant.

Mr. Peart

It may well be, and it is important to have the body which has been mentioned doing local work and to get voluntary co-operation with all the various societies which are concerned. I accept that, but I still argue that if this body is to do much more effective work, Parliament and the Treasury will have to give it much more money than now.

A budget of £500,000 a year is exceedingly small, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Gainsborough has read the Report of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, which deals with this very important subject of the conservation of our natural resources and also with the preservation of wild life. There are other fields, such as the science of taxonomy, the classification of plants and fauna, and we need to develop these much more. This is something which I hope the Government will take seriously.

Although the hon. Member for Gains-borough overstated his case, I congratulate him on raising this very important subject, even though it is Friday afternoon. Before I was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) I was saying that I am sorry that we did not discuss this topic in more detail during our main scientific debate. That is why I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gainsborough for raising the subject. It is related to many other activities. He mentioned biological research. There again, I accept that there should be a better link with our educational system.

I hope that the work of the Nature Conservancy will be more publicised and that education authorities, staff and pupils—not merely those who intend to specialise in biology at graduate level at universities—will take an interest in this subject. The preservation of wild life is important to the country.

I agree with every word that the hon. Member said. We must do this. To do it, much more money must be spent and Parliament must be more generous in allocating money to the Nature Conservancy. If hon. Members on this side pleaded for more money many hon. Members opposite would say that we could not afford it. They say that not only about nature conservancy, but also about other worthy educational research organisations.

I have asked the Minister of Education what he intends to do about improving the quality of the teaching of biology in schools. I have stressed the need for more research. Not enough is being done. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has noted what the Advisory Council has said about the teaching of biology. We should have some indication of what the Government are doing.

Whilst we are prodding the Government on the work of the Nature Conservancy we should not discourage a group of people who have done excellent work. The Director-General and his staff have been criticised. The criticism was unfair. I do not say that just because I happened, by chance, to be at the Nature Conservancy headquarters the other day. The hon. Member's criticisms could do harm. I am all for constructive criticism. I am not pleading the case for the Government today, but I hope that the hon. Member's criticisms will not discourage many of the distinguished scientists who have done excellent work for the Nature Conservancy.

We must examine the set-up carefully and ensure that there is no duplication or possible conflict between the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Science. I agree that we should probe the Government to ensure that there is no overlapping of responsibility. That is one of the methods of approach which we on this side have adopted for a long time. We have sought to probe the Government to discover who is responsible for the administration of scientific research and scientific effort. We have suggested ways of streamlining and improving it. In that sense, the hon. Member is right to ask what the Government's policy is, but I sincerely hope that by doing so he will not discourage the distinguished group of scientists and administrators who, working within a limited budget, have much to offer.

I want to see much more done about water conservation, a subject which we discussed on the Land Drainage Bill. Earlier today we dealt with the Lords Amendment to that Bill. The Bill emphasises that we need to go much more fully into water conservation, because it has a very important effect on farms and agricultural life. The Report of the Heneage Committee recommends that much work should be done in this matter. I should like to see the work of the Nature Conservancy extended.

I should like to see a close link with the Forestry Commission, but I do not think that the hon. Member's argument for giving up some of the Nature Conservancy's estates to the Commission is the solution. The research work of the two organisations is quite different. The work of silviculture done by the Forestry Commission is entirely different from what the Conservancy does for the preservation of wild life, so I would not like to see the Conservancy handing over land to the Commission. On the other hand, there should be co-operative efforts, and this is where the Minister of Agriculture might well consult with the Minister for Science on the best ways of avoiding duplication.

I trust that the hon. Member for Gains-borough will get a very constructive reply from the Parliamentary Secretary, but, in making our criticisms, let us not discourage good scientific effort, but seek, rather, to expand and improve it. We must seek to avoid duplication of effort, because we are short of scientific personnel, and that personnel must be used wisely and economically. Let us say that the Nature Conservancy shall continue and expand its activities, for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman, and because of some of the recommendations contained in the rather interesting Report of one of our Select Committees on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

3.16 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

It is rare on an occasion like this that an example of wild life can speak for himself. I came in here quite by chance, but I am threatened on Monday with expulsion from the Labour Party as an example of wild life, so I must asy—

Mr. Peart

How does my hon. Friend know that?

Mr. Hale

Well, I am told that I must be there to explain myself, and, believe me, I could explain myself at great length, and would seek to do so.

As an example of wild life, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's speech. I would say that on the whole he was doing something for us all. This morning, when I got up to cook the missus's breakfast—scrambled eggs—I saw a squirrel wandering along a concrete path opposite to my house, which is six miles from Westminster. It is not usual to see brown squirrels—the grey ones are being exterminated, anyhow—wandering along the concrete path of a house that is now advertised for sale at £21,000, plus a ground rent of £150 a year, and I thought that the squirrel added a certain dignity by its presence.

It is only a fortnight since, at the ground floor of my house, which is now sublet—I cannot sublet it at a rent because of an inherited leasehold, but I sublet it to someone who is there by occupation—a duck arrived with six ducklings at three o'clock in the afternoon. That was in Dulwich, six miles from Westminster. One can say that it had flown over pregnant from that lovely pond that Pissaro painted when he was here at the time of the Franco-German war—that lovely picture of Dulwich College. It had certainly flown over and taken refuge in the rather derelict ground round about during its period of maternity.

This was Bergson; this was the life force. I call myself, in a curious way, a reluctant agnostic, but I was greatly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). This is the life force and, this morning, all disconsolate because of the letters from the Labour Party, I went to the greenhouse and looked at the cucumbers and tomatoes, and wondered whether I would ever grow melons. I have hopes and think that it might happen. This is something that really matters, and that is why, although I am here by chance, I felt bound to interrupt the early part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), whose words will no doubt be recorded somehow in the way that a tape machine would record them.

For the first few minutes of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough I was a bit inclined to wonder What he was talking about, but with the last few minutes of his remarks I was deeply impressed. The hon. Gentleman was then speaking about some of the things that really matter. How nice that was, and how nice it is to realise that in this curious place that spends so much of its time talking about destruction, the continuance of life has its place, but not politically speaking. No doubt if these wretched birds become Socialists or something like that, then, I suppose, they will have to be exterminated. [Laughter.] But as long as they maintain their life as birds they will be safe enough.

I am wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Gainsborough and thought that his speech was extraordinarily good. I will not add to it at length. I do not feel that there were moments when the hon. Gentleman seemed to be going too far, and I appreciate very much what he had to say. His remarks were extremely important, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, will give them serious, thoughtful and considered attention.

3.23 p.m.

Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

I was entranced by the reminiscences of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), whose political demonology and zoology appear to be related to that archway at the entrance to the tube station leading into New Palace Yard on which there is a large number of animals one of which is a bird with a beak through the middle of its body.

I should like to know to what extent the Nature Conservancy and its organisation utilise and co-operate with the resources of the universities. When, with great pleasure, I spent a little time in September with the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)—who is in his place—in the high Tatra Mountains in Czechoslovakia, we found that the National Park there was in the charge of a professor of zoology from Bratislav University who was writing a thesis on red deer.

I have not yet been to Rum and can make no comparisons, but I got the impression that there was very great expertise in that Czech gentleman and in his approach to the red deer and their life, and I am wondering whether, in Scotland and other parts where the Nature Conservancy is making similar researches, it is drawing on the highest scientific resources available in this country. The Nature Conservancy can, I imagine, only do its job properly if it collaborates closely with those in the universities who have field experience and it will only be as a result of the scientists in the laboratories co-operating with those in the field, and vice versa, in their laboratories that the best results can be obtained.

I would also like to know whether enough facilities are being given to enable people to visit places? I made a request to go to the Isle of Rum, which is in the charge of the Nature Conservancy, and I look forward with the deepest pleasure and expectation to visiting an island which I have only seen from a distance but to which I have always, longed to go. I asked if I could go there with my daughter and a relation, but I was told that only hon. Members of this House were allowed to go and I understood that it would be unseemly to be accompanied by a friend or relation. That did not seem to me to be a very proper approach. I thought that probably my daughter would have a great, deal more out of it than I should and that there was no reason why, as an hon. Member, I should have the privilege of going there.

Many people should have equal facilities to go, and I mention this only, because, happily, the situation has now been cleared up and we are all going. Nevertheless, I thought that it was a rather curious reaction that hon. Members only should at that time be able to go.

Mr. Hale

The hon. and learned Member will remember that Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: Mull was a-stern, Rum on the port, Eigg on the starboard bow; Glory of youth glowed in his soul, Where is that glory now? If the hon. and learned Member wants to go to Rum and would like to pay, I will go with him.

Mr. Hobson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and I serve on a Royal Commission relating to criminals, and I shall cast a semi-professional eye on the Island of Rum to see if it may be possible to set up a penal establishment there to deal with some of our recalcitrant criminals who can be dealt with in no other way, but my instinct would be against any such solution.

I ask my hon. Friend to say whether every facility is being given to all members of the public who are interested to visit all the stations which are under the charge of the Nature Conservancy.

3.28 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The House will be indebted to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) for initiating this discussion. Where he went wrong was in basing his argument on the proposition that this very necessary work should be developed and encouraged by a local trust or by committees dependent upon the charity of local people. I can understand that there may be in various parts of the country quite a number of people who are prepared to put their hands into their pockets for the purpose of preserving the wild life in their immediate neighbourhood or county, but to expect that this very interesting and important work can be based on having a whip-round in various localities from time to time is, I think, playing with the problem.

The Government, it is true, make a grant. According to the last Report of the Nature Conservancy, the grant in aid was £336,000. Can it really be argued that a country like ours, with so much worth preserving, can do it on a shoestring like this? In the appendix to the Report is a list of the various places where the nature reserves are to be found, and it is extraordinary that large numbers of people simply do not know that these nature reserves even exist. I am sure that more could be done by the British Holidays and Travel Association and organisations of that kind to let the public know that these very interesting places exist, and that within certain limitations the public are encouraged to go and have a look.

Local education authorities ought to be encouraged to take parties of children to these nature reserves. I am sure that nothing like as much is done as could be done to bring our urbanised population in contact with the natural life of our countryside. The menace to our civilisation is noises, motor cars, congestion and so on. These nature reserves are sanctuaries not only for the animals and birds but also for human beings, and they ought to be encouraged for that purpose.

To my amazement, when I look at this list of nature reserves I find, by accident, a quite extraordinary entry at the top of page 115 of the 1960 Report. There is the entry relating to 140 acres of Old Winchester Hill in Hampshire, declared a nature reserve in 1954. When I turn to the other column where particulars are given of access and restrictions, I find this: "Danger from unexploded bombs." I do not know how those bombs came to be there, but I do think that by now, sixteen years after the war, something might have been done to remove the unexploded bombs from those 140 acres. It is a little ridiculous to advertise that we have a nature reserve and then, side by side with that announcement, say that there is danger from unexploded bombs. Perhaps the presence of unexploded bombs gives additional protection to such wild life as is to be found on Old Winchester Hill, in Hampshire. I should like very much to go there with the Parliamentary Secretary, taking our chance of encountering unexploded bombs. We could go with a detector or one of the devices which indicate where bombs are to be found.

Seriously, the action which is required can come only from the Government. I admit that, after ten years of Conservative freedom which has not worked quite so well as some people expected, this is not, perhaps, the best moment to suggest to the Government that a little more than £336,000 should be devoted to this praiseworthy object. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary's principal enemy in this is not anyone present in the House today but the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not know what notice the Chancellor will take of our little discussion today. Nevertheless, if we attach any value at all to the preservation of this very interesting, attractive and valuable phase of natural life in this country, the Government ought to be able to find a little more money for the preservation and extension of nature reserves. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary was not too browbeaten by the Treasury before he came here today to reply to the debate. I hope that he will be able to hold out the prospect of an increased allocation of public money for this very desirable purpose.

3.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Science (Mr. Denzil Freeth)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) for raising this subject on the Adjournment today. He has been somewhat luckier than originally appeared likely from the business first set down for today. Instead of having a scant half-hour for our discussion, we shall, as a result of the change in business, have about two hours in all if the House so desires. In the circumstances, I hope to show my hon. Friend at greater length than otherwise would have been possible my reasons for believing that some of his strictures of the Nature Conservancy are not fully deserved.

I thank other hon. Members who have joined in the debate. I am sorry that one example of wild life has already left the Chamber. We shall always enjoy seeing and studying the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and regard him as a valuable element in our national ecology.

I understand that we have not had a debate on the Nature Conservancy in the House for seven years, although the Seventh Report of the Select Committee on Estimates dealt with the Nature Conservancy and was published in the summer of 1958.

The Nature Conservancy was never associated with the Ministry of Agriculture. It was founded by Royal Charter in 1949 with two main aims in view. The first was to establish nature reserves and, thereby, stimulate, as well as itself conduct, research on conservation. The second main purpose, as I see it, was to study our natural fauna and flora in a scientific manner. It has, therefore, only been in existence for about twelve years, and its expenditure, over the period of about ten years for which the present Government have been responsible, has risen from just over £80,000 to about £500,000 a year. This is a fairly steady rate of growth, although, of course, the Nature Conservancy is still far and away the smallest of the four research councils.

These two main objectives fuse into one. The nature reserves themselves provide, as it were, open air laboratories in which scientific research can take place, although, of course, this also takes place in other parts of the country, both indoors and out, and in universities as well as in Government establishments.

We all agree that many things have gone wrong in man's own habitat through ignorance and mistakes. Water and air have become polluted; soil has been washed or blown away or its fertility has been lost; floods and water shortages have grown more serious; in many places opportunities have been created for the spread of weeds and pests; shelter has been destroyed through cutting down woods and uprooting hedgerows. It will be seen, therefore, that the general scheme of the Nature Conservancy is not only one of increasing our scientific knowledge—which is always an important thing to do—but is also one which, in the long run, can be of great benefit to the nation.

It is often easy to say that pure scientific research is a waste of money or men, or of both. A lot of it, admittedly, can produce no immediate benefit to mankind. On the other hand, occasionally, new breakthroughs occur, such as the discoveries of electricity and atomic energy, which can be developed for enormous benefit to mankind. I am not saying that the discoveries of pure research made by the Nature Conservancy need necessarily have as dramatic results as this, but I believe that the research programme is, as it was described by the Director-General recently, a comprehensive strategic attack on a range of ecological problems which are regarded as of fundamental significance for the advance of conservation. My hon. Friend referred to a matter, about which he asked a Question in the House about three years ago, concerning the benefits that may be expected from a grant which the Nature Conservancy made for research into the subject of bird vocalisation. This grant ended in 1957, but I understand that the work under Dr. Thorpe, who is President of the British Ornithologists' Union, is still continuing, although the money is coming from a different source. This research is thought by scientists to play an important part in the general programme of fundamental research into animal behaviour and methods of communication. But, of course, the results may prove, as was said three years ago in the House, capable of eventual application in the protection of crops by the use of mechanically recorded warning notes.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of the research of the Nature Conservancy overlapping that done by other Government research bodies. I have looked very carefully into this, and I do not believe it to be the case. There is, to begin with, a considerable interlocking of personnel at a very high level. The Professor of Agriculture at Cambridge is a member of the Conservancy; a member of the Hill Farming Research Organisation is a member of the Scottish Committee; Professor Ellison, of the Institute of Rural Science, is a member of the Committee for Wales.

Further down the scale, as my hon. Friend will see from the Agricultural Research Council's memorandum, quoted on page 301 of the Sixth Report of the Estimates Committee published this week, that As regards the relations between Nature Conservancy and the A.R.C. there is exchange of committee papers, and representatives of the A.R.C. have sat on certain Nature Conservancy committees—such as the one concerned with the effects of the spraying of roadside verges. The other respect in which my hon. Friend said that there was overlapping was in relation to the Forestry Commission and whether the related question of forestry and woodland research should be done by the Nature Conservancy at all. This question was explored fully by the Select Committee on Estimates which reported in July, 1958. I should like to read to the House paragraph 20 of that Committee's Report: Some of the work of the Conservancy appeared of value to the Forestry Commission and certainly closely akin to research work carried out by them. The risk of overlapping was admitted and details given of the liaison established to prevent it. It was stated by the Conservancy that the terms of reference of the Forestry Commission might have to be changed if some of the fundamental research now undertaken by the Conservancy were to be transferred to the Commission. Your Committee have not received sufficient evidence to justify them in making a recommendation on this matter. Of course, the Forestry Commission does a certain amount of research and it has power to make experiments and to do research in relation to forestry at places like Alice Holt, but its research is directed at the improvement of timber growing, particularly with the idea of timber growing on a profitable basis and for use by the nation.

There is, however, close liaison between the Forestry Commission and the Nature Conservancy at all levels. A former Director-General of the Forestry Commission is a member of the Conservancy's scientific policy committee and a member of the Conservancy is also a member of the Forestry Commission's National Committee for England. There is also a Forestry Commission-Nature Conservancy research liaison committee composed of senior scientists of both bodies. They meet once a year to discuss in detail the research programmes of both organisations.

If my hon. Friend re-reads the Report published in 1958, he will see from the answers given by the Director General of the Conservancy at pages 12 and 13 a fuller description of the steps taken to avoid overlapping and on page 35 of the Report he will see the same from the viewpoint of the Forestry Commission.

Apart from describing, once again, the liaison between these two bodies, I should like to quote from the answer of the Forestry Commission's representative, Mr. Macdonald, to Question 250 in that Report, when he said: We make a certain amount of use of the work they"— that is, the Nature Conservancy— are carrying out, but most of it is in still an early stage of development, and some of what has been described as the academic work is, of course, of very great importance, or will be in the long run, to our endeavours. A lot of the research done by the Nature Conservancy is of a basic kind. Therefore, it is primarily not suitable for dissemination by members of the N.A.A.S. in the sense that the work of the Agricultural Research Council can be suitable for such dissemination.

We are grateful to my hon. Friend for his praise of the Nature Conservation Corps. The Conservancy believes that it is important to get young people interested in nature and its conservation. But the Nature Conservancy is a small body—it may be too small; that is a matter for individual judgment—and, unfortunately, does not have the money or the manpower to do a large amount of publicity work on its own.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of woodlands. The Nature Conservancy has approximately 8,000 acres. We believe that woodland research is essential, first, to provide representative examples of the more important ecological types in their earlier stages of development. Secondly, it provides adequate areas of managed woodland, which would otherwise be threatened by more profit making systems of management. Thirdly, it provides specialised facilities for research and long-term field trials safe from disturbance.

Of course, we would expect that some of the results of these fundamental biological experiments, while not primarily directed at timber production, may help to increase the production of timber in the long run, and the results of the Nature Conservancy's researches will, of course, be handed to the Forestry Commission and the Minister of Agriculture at a suitable stage.

My hon. Friend will see on pages 42 and 43 of the 1958 Report of the Select Committee on Estimates the Director-General's evidence on the subject of woodlands and the long-term nature of the research carried on, including that research which is carried on at a very high altitude where it would not with the present state of knowledge be profitable to attempt to grow trees. My hon. Friend will see, on page 61 of the Report, the evidence of Mr. Duncan, who was then Chairman of the Nature Conservancy, on this same theme.

I cannot answer his point this afternoon about protection because the giving of grants for pesticides, and so on, is not a matter for my noble Friend; but doubtless he will be on to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture on this point.

I take very seriously what my hon. Friend said about the control of coypu, particularly in view of the evidence given to the Select Committee on Estimates. The fact remains that the Nature Conservancy has a very good record on this. It has stressed the need, from the very beginning of the time that these animals became fairly prevalent, for a full scienti- fic appraisal of what they did, the harm they caused, their rate of breeding, and so on. It is untrue, I am informed, to say that the Nature Conservancy ever established, so to speak, the breed of coypu.

It is, I am informed, untrue to say that it is protecting coypu on any land it owns, leases or manages. I am told the Conservancy fully supports the campaign to reduce coypus, as was stated on page 54 of its Annual Report, and that it has taken measures on one at least of its Norfolk reserves to exterminate these animals. Doubtless my hon. Friend has seen in the Report of the Estimates Committee the submission issued by the Nature Conservancy on this point.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of roadside verges, quoting from an article in Country Life of 8th June. We fully agree with him that this type of spraying has had the effect of destroying roadside flowers and shrubs as well as reducing the amount of grass, thereby causing a great deal of natural life to be destroyed. Doubtless my hon. Friend has read the section on page 50 of the Nature Conservancy's last Report.

It has, in fact, done a great deal of research on this matter, and by the summer of 1955, as stated in the article in Country Life, it was thought that a particular weed killer caused withering and destruction of most flowering plants and increases in the amount of grass which subsequently would grow. Therefore, the economic reason for spraying is not as strong as it might be since often manual labour has to be used afterwards.

My hon. Friend said that the Nature Conservancy could have done very much more to get across to county surveyors and people like that the need not to use this particular weed killer, but the Nature Conservancy is a research council. It is not a regulation making body. It is not a body with the organisation or the resources to conduct publicity campaigns or educational campaigns such as are conducted by the Ministry of Transport or the Ministry of Agriculture.

If my hon. Friend will look at the answer to Question 2,674 of the 1961 Report of the Select Committee on Estimates he will see that for the enforcement of some matters the Nature Conservancy has to look to the Ministry of Agriculture. In this case, it looked to the Ministry of Transport which issued in August, 1955, Circular 718. Following the Tetford Hill incident, to which my hon. Friend referred, representations were made immediately to the county council by the Secretary for the Lincolnshire Naturalists Trust, who is also a member of the Conservancy Committee for England. I understand that steps have now been taken by the Council to prevent the recurrence of this sort of thing. The essential point is that regulations must be made by one or other of my right hon Friends and it is a matter for them whether or not these regulations should be advisory or should have obligatory effect.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of toxic chemicals. He quoted from page 49 of the Nature Conservancy Report which stated that there should be laboratory surveys to enable them to look into the carcases of animals killed. Since the Report came out the Conservancy has been using the services of the Government Chemist. My hon. Friend seemed to think that the Nature Conservancy should have a regional organisation parallel with that of the Ministry of Agriculture, particularly in the sense of having pests officers. This seems to me to be duplicating what the pests officers are able to do. At present, the Nature Conservancy has built up a very good liaison system with the pests officers for getting the carcases evalulated, and so on.

It is, of course, always arguable whether or not research on any matter where several research councils and organisations are concerned is as ideally organised as one would like it to be. Here, the Government Chemist comes in through the D.S.I.R., and the medical aspect through the Medical Research Council. The Agricultural Research Council and the Ministry of Agriculture have also their parts to play. As my hon. Friend knows, there is a research study group, under the chairmanship of Professor Saunders, which is looking into the research that is being done on this subject. It may well be that it will make certain recommendations. I assure my hon. Friend that both my noble Friend and the Director-General of Conservancy will pay particular attention to any recommendations which the Saunders Committee is able to make.

Then there is the question of nature reserves and the liaison and co-operation which should exist between the Nature Conservancy and county naturalist trusts and other bodies of naturalists on this matter. One has to go back to the beginning, to the reason why the Nature Conservancy set up nature reserves. My hon. Friend will recall that in the 1947 Reports of the Wild Life Committees for England and Wales and for Scotland, lists of recommended nature reserves are set out. The Nature Conservancy began in 1949 and when it was set up it started to carry out the recommendations of these committees. This programme has been reviewed since then.

The 1958 Select Committee Report stated that the total programme envisaged was about 250,000 acres. The present acreage enclosed by 88 reserves is just over 177,000 acres. Therefore, the major part of the nature reserve programme has been already attained. The Select Committee stated in paragraph 10 of its Report that it saw no good reason to disagree with the intention to complete the programme. In paragraph 9 it stated that the Committee was impressed by the argument that unique opportunities for research would be lost if the remaining areas were not acquired as soon as possible, particularly as it would be regrettable if reserves had to be acquired by compulsory purchase and opportunities for leasing or acquiring land under satisfactory voluntary arrangements were lost. Therefore, I think it is important that as and when the Nature Conservancy can reach a satisfactory agreement for voluntarily acquiring the use of the land it should be permitted to do so, particularly in view of the very small amount of money which it spends on this activity.

While the Conservancy does all it can to support and encourage county naturalist trusts, I do not think it reasonable to suggest that work on obtaining reserves should be held up merely because a particular area has not formed an organisation. Indeed, it may well be that the establishment of a reserve, as the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) suggested, will have the effect of stimulating the interest of naturalists and thereby cause further trusts or societies to be set up.

Two nature reserves were mentioned—the one at Old Winchester Hill, just south of my constituency, in Hampshire, and Strathey Bog, in Scotland. First, there is the problem of unexploded bombs. If the hon. Member for Brixton will look at page 8 of the Report of the Nature Conservancy he will see that the unexploded bomb areas are very small in relation to the total areas. They arise owing to the fact that Old Winchester Hill was a wartime range.

The Nature Conservancy very much hopes that all bombs have been removed. The military have been over the land twice to see whether there are traces of any unexploded bombs left. It is, however, always difficult to be absolutely certain. I am told that the density of explosives on the site during the war was a record, but I think that the hon. Member and I can wander hand in hand without any very great fear of an explosion of high explosives, though verbal explosions may well take place.

Mr. Lipton

There is also Kingley Vale, an area of 230 acres, in Sussex, a nature reserve, where there is a danger of unexploded bombs. While on the subject, will the hon. Gentleman have a word about that?

Mr. Freeth

I think that the same applies, namely, that one cannot always be 100 per cent. certain whether every single unexploded bomb has been removed. I think that it is right that the Nature Conservancy should put these facts in its Report so that no one can ever say that he has not been warned.

The Nature Conservancy is very pleased indeed at the local interest which has been evolved in the Winchester area. My hon. Friend compared the general management of the Old Winchester Hill reserve unfavourably with that of the Strathey Bog reserve, which is referred to on page 30 of the Conservancy's last Report. I think the essential difference is that there are very few bogs which have not been disturbed for a very long time. As the Report says, most peat hogs have suffered from erosion or undergone changes in species composition as a result of burning, grazing and drainage.

Strathey Bog, however, is largely in a natural state and is one of the best examples of this type of vegetation left in the country. The whole point about Strathey Bog is, therefore, that it should be left alone, without detriment, I think, to any other interest in the country, so that, like the slow movement of a glacier, the development of a hog series may be studied over a long period of years.

I fully admit that at this area of bog, which, I am told, is extremely wet, with standing water in the pools throughout the year—it sounds to me most unpleasant—the problem is chiefly of interest to specialists, but if my hon. Friend wants to visit it I shall be most happy to make arrangements. But there is this point about some of the nature reserves. The hon. Member for Brixton said that we should let the people go in, that we should let them in for organised picnics and have them in to enjoy their leisure. It is very difficult when one allows one set of people in, at the same time to stop others from coming in. One has to remember that these reserves—

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. G. Campbell.]

Mr. Freeth

One has to remember that these reserves were set up in many cases to be sanctuaries for wild life and that civilisation might not have the most encouraging effect on that wild lif

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) raised the question of the Island of Rum. I rejoice that he is going there and am only sorry that I have not yet been able to visit it myself. My hon. and learned Friend raised two points. The first was his own difficulty of getting there. He wondered whether that was a common difficulty. Secondly, he wondered whether or not there was accommodation on the island, and so on. I would point out that until the Nature Conservancy bought the island it was private property and no one was allowed on it at all. Therefore, more people are going on it today than went on it before. In fact, picnickers and visitors are welcome to come whenever they like and to settle, if that is the right word, in the area around Loch Scresort.

There is a further area on the island in the south-east where parties may be authorised by the warden naturalist to climb. As to the remainder of the island, what one might call the open laboratory part of the island, the Nature Conservancy assures me that it gives every facility possible to naturalists and scientists if they write to the Conservation Officer at Edinburgh and fix up when they want to go and the type of work they are going to do.

I understand that since 1958 the Conservancy has received no complaints about access to the island. On the question of my hon. and learned Friend, I think that there must be some misunderstanding since it was understood by the Conservancy, obviously quite wrongly, that my hon. and learned Friend wanted to take his wife and family to stay in the castle at public expense. Those, of course, who know my hon. and learned Friend, which all those in the Conservancy do not have the pleasure of doing, know this to be quite impossible. The fact remains that there is not a lot of accommodation on the island. There is nothing like a hotel there; there is a castle which it would be grossly uneconomic to staff, and the vast majority of the people who go there have to depend on the warden naturalist and his wife to try to cope with regard to dry clothes and hot food.

I am pleased that my hon. and learned Friend is to stay there during the Summer Recess and I understand that two other hon. Members are also going so to do. The Nature Conservancy welcomes at all its reserves scientists and university workers who have research to do and which would be of value. My hon. Friend will see on pages 84 and 85 of the last Report the very large number of research grants which are being made at the present time.

I wish to close on this note. The Nature Conservancy is a research council. It is not a body primarily concerned with getting school children more interested in nature, although it does its best to encourage interest in nature and in nature conservation. It only has a staff of 250, and no less than 100 of these are scientists. I think that the importance to science of the Conservancy as a scientific body is strongly demonstrated by the heavy ratio of four scientists to six non-scientists. Of course, the residue has to cover the administrative, clerical and typing staff. In addition, the Conservancy finds the whole cost of maintaining forty post-graduate students working for doctorates in ecology and related subjects. We believe that the scientific work of the Conservancy is of great value.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes past Four o'clock.