HC Deb 19 October 1972 vol 843 cc429-31
7. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many Nature Conservancy establishments she has visited officially during the recess.

Mrs. Thatcher

None, Sir.

Mr. Dalyell

Is not this a bit of a pity when such radical alterations are being made to the Nature Conservancy? More constructively, what institutional arrangements will be made to ensure co-operation on a scientific basis between the Nature Conservancy and the National Environment Research Council?

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe the hon. Gentleman is well aware that Mr. Heaton has been appointed to advise upon the changes that will take place. We expect his report next month or the month after. When we have received it, we shall look at the institutional arrangements to ensure the kind of co-operation which I know the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Government's statement of policy on the Nature Conservancy as contained in the White Paper commenting on the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology is a great departure from the attitude when this matter was looked at by the Select Committee investigating the National Environment Research Council? Will my right hon. Friend consider issuing a White Paper separately setting out the real arguments why the change was thought wise?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think that all possible changes in responsibility for the Nature Conservancy had some drawbacks to them, and some opponents. It was therefore thought, for reasons which have been set out, that it was best to keep the research functions with the National Environment Research Council—which I think my hon. Friend will support—and to put the Nature Conservancy element with the Department of the Environment. I think that that will work well provided we get full co-operation between those at the conservancy end and those responsible for research both in former Nature Conservancy laboratories and environmental matters in general in NERC itself.

Mr. Lawson

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that to a large extent the high standing of the Nature Conservancy is due to the high personal quality of the management and research workers who have been attracted to it over the years? Does not the right hon. Lady fear that if this research work is taken away from the Nature Conservancy its credibility will he severely damaged and it may become not much more than a glorified organisation concerned with the keeping of parks?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. I should not wholly agree with that. If we get the degree of co-operation that we want, all will be well. I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there would be quite severe consequences if we were to separate the Nature Conservancy research from NERC itself. That, too, would meet with a good deal of opposition from many quarters.