§ 10.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the better protection of areas of special scientific interest; and for purposes connected therewith.In asking leave to introduce this Bill I am asking for a Bill which makes special provision for the better protection of areas of special scientific interest in the countryside. The House will realise that these are areas which the Nature Conservancy has designated with its powers under Section 23 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949.
In that process the Nature Conservancy has a duty to notify the local planning authority that these particular areas, which are known for easy reference as S.S.S.I.'s, are areas of special scientific interest from the botanical point of view or of special interest to naturalists. We have about 2,080 such sites in the British Isles. My Bill, which I seek leave to introduce, has the wholehearted support of the County Naturalists Trust, and I think that those Members of the House who take an interest in these matters will be aware that the Lincolnshire Branch of the County Naturalists Trust is one of the most active and successful.
The spirit behind the Bill is in no way restrictionist. It is to give better powers of protection, so that a greater use can be made of S.S.S.I.s once a site has been designated. If it is to be used for educational purposes, then one must have the proper powers to protect it if one shows more people what is the merit of the site and what is so rare and important. The example in the county of Lincolnshire is where the S.S.S.I.s are used as outside laboratories for the education of 550 school children. This is something which should be followed throughout the country. If we get this Bill, and I trust that we shall, then we will be able to build upon the powers given to protect valuable assets of the countryside, and to create a far better understanding of it among town people, who have no knowledge.
In asking leave to introduce this Bill I am conscious of doing so at a late stage. On the other hand, we have a rather unique situation. We all know that the Government have bags of time on their hands. I hope that all outside bodies which have useful Measures like this that they want to get on the Statute Book will approach the Government at once to see that our morning sittings are used for such valuable Measures as these.
Even if there is not time for my Bill to go through all of its stages, I would suggest that a very important precedent has already been created by which a full Second Reading debate on one whole morning is given to a Bill which gets the right to a Second Reading without opposition. I hope that at least we will have a full day's debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, as has already been done on a previous occasion.
There are three very important reasons why it is vital that this should be done during the month of June. First of all, we have seen a complete failure by the Government to deal with the problem of sites of special scientific interest in the Countryside (Scotland) Bill, now going through the House. We know that the odds are good that the Government will come forward in November with a Bill to deal with the problem of the English countryside. I would argue that there is a very good case for the inclusion, after we have debated them in this House, of many of the provisions of my Bill into the Countryside Bill for England, because the provisions which have been found inadequate to protect S.S.S.I.s were included in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill, 1949.
Thirdly, the Bill is urgent because of the recommendation of the Legislative Committee of the Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference on the Countryside in 1970 that more priority should be gvien to the protection of sites of special scientific interest. I asked leave to introduce a similar Bill about 18 months ago. 551 At about that time most naturalists were prepared to give this Government the benefit of the doubt. They felt that the Government had some interest in the scientific preservation of the countryside. However, once the Tees Valley Water Bill was launched on its course, all illusions about the Government's sympathy in this matter were shattered and we now see what is the underlying trend of Government inaction towards these issues.
In asking leave to introduce the Bill I should declare an interest. I am the owner of an S.S.S.I. It is a botanical one, amounting to an area of about two acres. When the area first came to be scheduled by the Nature Conservancy it sent me a copy and said that it would advise the local planning authority that it would be forced to schedule an area of about 150 acres. We finally settled for a scheduled area of 30 acres.
The House should realise the reasons for this devious procedure. If an area of simply one acre is scheduled, everybody knows where the site of special scientific interest is. There is a very good case for security in these matters. It is the visiting public or the visiting naturalist who wants to take a particular plant or sedge against whom protection is needed. People may be keen to take things home and establish them elsewhere without full knowledge of the problem or realising that such things are not likely to grow elsewhere. Under the existing provision, one is also forced to designate much larger areas to protect them for agricultural operations such as spraying and the making of muirburn.
We have also the extraordinary situation, which the Bill would rectify, whereby one Government Department gives a grant for something which another Government Department wishes to preserve. This is one of the shortcomings of the present procedure. As the House knows, we have got rid of the ploughing grants, the merits of which it would not be appropriate to discuss at this stage, but we are still faced with the land reclamation grants. The Minister of Agriculture has no power to refuse a reclamation grant for an area which may be a site of special scientific interest if it would be good agricultural practice to plough up and destroy the area. My Bill would make provision for 552 a standstill until a proper arrangement could be made.
On the other hand, one has to realise that if we take away from an owner of land the right to cultivate it—if we tell a person that he can only graze an area and cannot plough it up, and that he cannot chop down scrub trees to carry out the proper practices of forestry—some form of compensation must be paid to the owners of sites of special scientific interest. I do not think that the House has ever considered whether somebody who operates his woodlands under a dedication scheme is entitled to retain an area in unproductive timber production simply because it is a site of special scientific interest.
We are fortunate that the Forestry Commission takes such a sensible and tolerant attitude on this matter. That is reflected in the Commission's appointment only the other day of a special conservator for all wild life in the private and State woodlands of the United Kingdom.
The final problem with which the Bill would deal is that many owners do not even know that they have a site of special scientific interest until a naturalist comes along and tells them, "You cannot do that to this area". There is no existing procedure for notifying owners. All that the Nature Conservancy has to do is to notify the county planning officer.
I trust that in these brief ten minutes I have made the case why such a Bill is urgently necessary. I look forward to the Leader of the House granting me the opportunity of a full morning sitting during the month so that I may develop all the arguments on the Bill and have the opportunity to explain to the House the reason and need behind all its seven Clauses.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Kimball, Mr. Costain, Mr. Ramsden, Sir J. Gilmour, Mr. Longden, Mr. Eldon Griffiths, Sir G. Sinclair and Sir J. Eden.