HC Deb 23 July 1973 vol 860 cc1364-8
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 5, line 43, at end insert: 'Badgers Act 1973 12. In the following provisions of the Badgers Act 1973, namely— (a) section 6(1) (special protection for badgers); (b) section 9(2)(a) (licences); and (c) paragraph (d) of the definition of "authorised person" in section 11 (interpretation), for the words Natural Environment Research Council "there shall be substituted the words" "Nature Conservancy Council".

Medway Ports Authority Act 1973 13. In section 93 of the Medway Ports Authority Act 1973 (protection of Nature Conservancy), after the words "Nature Conservancy" there shall be added the word "Council".'. As this is a new subject, perhaps I had better put on record what it is about. The Badgers Bill is a Private Member's measure which I think will receive Royal Assent in a day or so—at least, before the recess—and it is right that we should make the necessary amendments here.

The effect of the alteration of Clause 6(1) of that Bill is that the Nature Conservancy Council will have to be consulted before an order is made declaring an area as one of special protection for badgers. The effect of the alteration of Clause 9(2)(a) is to give the council the licensing authority for purposes such as the taking or killing of badgers for scientific and educational reasons. The effect of the alteration of Clause 11(d) is that the council will be a body which may name persons who may take or kill badgers without being guilty of an offence.

The Medway Ports Authority Act was a Private Member's Bill which received Royal Assent on the 18th of this month. Section 93 of the Act requires that authority to consult the Nature Conservancy before beginning any development which is permitted by a town and country planning general development order and which is likely to have an adverse effect on any flora or fauna. This carries out broadly the intention of new Clause 3 but in another sphere.

The effect of the new paragraph 13 is simply to change the reference from "Nature Conservancy" to "Nature Conservancy Council".

Amendment agreed to.

2.0 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I want to express gratitude to all those who have made very constructive proposals, suggestions and contributions during the debates on the Bill. We have discussed the purposes for which the new council is to be set up, and the definition of those purposes has been improved during the Bill's passage.

The Nature Conservancy Committee, as a committee of the NERC, has made great progress over the past few years, both in long-term matters such as the nature conservation review and in many short-term and management projects. But it has been straining at the leash, and as a committee of a research council it has not been able to achieve all that it would wish and all that we now wish it to achieve in the future. The Bill tries to give it the power of such achievement by creating a separate body with a degree of independence, the proposed Nature Conservancy Council, which will be a new body with a different emphasis from that of the present Conservancy Committee.

It is of course appropriate for arrangements to he made to transfer the staff but perhaps this is the moment at which to seek new administrative leadership of the council, without any reflection upon the success of the past few years—the limited success, through no fault of its own, of the Nature Conservancy as a committee of the NERC. Therefore, we are making it possible for the council to have a wide choice for its administrative leadership. Therefore, we are making it possible for the council to have a wide choice for its administrative leadership, and we shall be putting this out to open competition.

Our concern has been to ensure that we provide in the Bill the right framework to enable the relationship between the NERC and the Nature Conservancy Council to flourish. That framework still needs completion. The Bill will enable a number of necessary preparatory steps to be taken before the new council can discharge its functions. My right hon. and learned Friend proposes to appoint the members of the council as soon as practicable after Royal Assent and then to proceed with the necessary orders transferring property and property rights to the council, dealing, so far as may be necessary, with any staff matters, and making an appointed day on which the council will start its work. I hope that that will be 1st November next, if all the arrangements go well.

All right hon. and hon. Members will wish to join me in wishing success to the new council and its staff in their work. In the years ahead the problems of safeguarding the environment will become greater, and the council have an important rôle to play in ensuring that we take proper account of the importance of nature conservation.

2.4 a.m.

Mr. Oakes

I endorse what the Minister said, particularly in relation to the good will which has existed on both sides of the House and the Committee during the passage of the Bill. When the Bill first saw the light of day in another place it was thought that the Nature Conservancy Council would be little more than a management body for nature reserves. Useful work has been done in another place, in this House and in Committee in improving the Bill stage by stage. That improvement has continued until tonight when the Government introduced amendments in accordance with undertakings given in Committee.

I endorse what the Minister said about the importance of the council's work. 1 am delighted that the council is to be under the Department of the Environment. That is the proper place for it. Back in 1949, had there been a Department of the Environment, that would have been the natural home of the Nature Conservancy instead of the Lord President who was responsible for the work at that time.

The importance of conservation and the amount of work involved have increased a hundredfold since 1949 and considerably even since 1965. I am delighted that the importance of nature conservancy and the dissemination of knowledge of ecology and conservation and about our limited resources is far more appreciated than it has ever been before.

I am sure that all hon. Members wish the new Nature Conservancy Council well in the enormous task ahead of it.

2.7 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I intervene briefly to say that I entirely share the welcome which has been expressed for the Bill and the changes that have been made in another place and in this House. It was not such a bad arrangement in the old days when the Lord President was responsible. The Nature Conservancy had a real feeling of independence and a knowledge of its resources and how it could plan its work ahead. I hope that feeling will be retained in the future.

We all hope that the Nature Conservancy Council will be independent and that it will be able to exercise its judgment in a proper manner and continue the exciting work which has led to public education and the stimulation of understanding in ecological processes. I hope that the coming of the council into the rational home of the Department of the Environment will not mean a limitation of its ability to express its independence.

The value of money is falling and resources are being devalued. This makes it difficult for the council to plan its work coherently. Even the continuation of its existing work will require greater resources than were thought to be required a year ago, so rapidly are money values falling. I hope that very great care will be taken in this matter. The sums of money we are talking about are relatively very small. I hope that the new council will be able to make a real contribution, as it can do if its resources are adequately assured over a period ahead and if its independence is assured at the same time.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.