HC Deb 18 April 1975 vol 890 cc859-62
Mr, John Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 6, line 1, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

"(2) The Secretary of State shall not make any order under section 7 of this Act except after consultation with such bodies appearing to him to be representative of local authorities as he considers appropriate and such other bodies or persons as he thinks fit".
Mr. Speaker

With this we are to take the following amendments:

No. 22, in page 6, line 4, after "authorities", insert "landowners and occupiers".

No. 23, in line 8, after "authorities", insert "landowners and occupiers".

Mr. Silkin

This amendment, which, as you have said, Mr. Speaker, is to be considered with Amendments Nos. 22 and 23, makes for a simplification of the requirement on the part of the Secretary of State to consult local authorities and other persons, and it removes some redundancy in the clause. I hope the House will take on board the fact that the requirement to consult remains but that the amendment simplifies the matter somewhat.

As drafted, the effect of the clause would be to oblige the Secretary of State, in the case of an order covering the whole country, to consult every local authority at county, district and parish levels. The amendment, on the other hand, would allow the consultations to be arranged through the local authority associations. The wording is similar to that used in the Local Government Act 1972. I believe that the new form of words will be adequate for orders covering parts of the country as well as the whole country.

In addition, the amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult such other persons and bodies as he sees fit. It might be appropriate to consult natural history societies which have detailed knowledge of the whereabouts of rare plants and animals, or in the case of species with a limited distribution, it might be appropriate to consult the landowners concerned. Where the distribution was more widespread, it would be impracticable to consult all landowners. The word "consult" implies that the body consulted must be given a reasonable time to comment.

I hope that with that assurance the House will accept that this is a sensible amendment and agree to its insertion in the Bill.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I tabled Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 in my name because I take the view that if it is proposed to make a protected area order the owners of the land concerned or the occupiers, who might be different if it is a landlord-tenant situation, should be consulted. I am not quite convinced that what is proposed is all that is necessary. although I accept from the Minister that the phrase "such other bodies" in his amendment covers the situation. It seems to me right that even if people are opposed to an order they should be consulted before it is made.

I agree with the Minister's comments about consulting local natural history societies. I have a good one in my constituency and it has been writing to me quite frequently about the Bill. People who have special knowledge of these matters are the obvious ones to consult, but surely the owner or occupier of land also has a right to be consulted.

Mr. Hardy

I support Government Amendment No. 21. I do so because the conditions which apply under the clause as drafted will present the Secretary of State with an appalling task, particularly if a general order of protection is under consideration. It could be possible for the postage bill in respect of consultation of a general nature to be absolutely colossal. It could present the Department with an intolerable workload, and a lot of it might be utterly unnecessary.

11.45 a.m.

It is wise to ensure that there is an adequate degree of flexibility within the arrangements for consultation. The amendment will ensure that there is that degree of flexibility and that it will be accompanied by reasonable clarity. I am happy to endorse the Minister's comments and to commend the amendment to the House. I think that it will provide the flexibility and clarity that is required and will allow the Secretary of State to carry out such consultations as appear wise.

If one accepts that view, it will go a long way towards meeting the desire of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) who, quite properly, thinks that there should be a capacity to consult the landowner or occupier of the land in question. Nothing in the Government's amendment will prevent reasonable and responsible consultation of that kind, but it will mean that unnecessary approaches are avoided. Farmers and landowners frequently tell me that they are overburdened with paperwork. I do not know whether that comment is justified, but it is desirable to avoid unnecessary burdens. Farmers and landowners will no doubt welcome the opportunity to give their views but they will I am sure welcome the avoidance of unnecessary correspondence, and that may not be possible if the amendments proposed by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight are accepted. I therefore support the Government amendment and hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree not to move the amendments that he has tabled.

Mr. Mather

I think that the difference between the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), on the one hand, and the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and the Government, on the other hand, lies in the wording which in the Bill as it stands says that the Secretary of State "shall consult" whereas the Government's amendment says "as he thinks fit". Perhaps the Minister will try to narrow the gap which seems to exist between those two phrases.

The right hon. Gentleman seemed to say that the amendment includes consultation with occupiers or landowners, and no doubt farmers too, if the need arose. I presume that it would be possible for the landowner or occupier to consult the Secretary of State in the first place, and that the Secretary of State would feel bound to take notice of his views. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position a little more so that we can be more satisfied about the whole matter.

Mr. John Silkin

The effect of the two amendments in the name of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) would be to oblige the Secretary of State to consult landowners and occupiers before making an order and to give them an opportunity to submit objections or make representations. I presume it is intended that the consultations shall be limited to owners and occupiers on whose land the creatures or plants are to be found, otherwise the provision would be too wide. The amendments as drafted do not meet the case, but I merely inform the hon. Gentleman of that and take no great point on it.

On the substantive point, I have no doubt that it would be right to consult landowners and occupiers, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will be done. A statutory requirement that the Secretary of State must consult all such persons before making an order would, however, make the working of the arrangements far too rigid. Incidentally, I am advised that the information about the whereabouts of rare animals and plants is very good indeed. I do not, however, believe that it is so perfect, particularly about the more mobile animals, that we can be sure of locating every owner who has them on his land.

It may help the hon. Gentleman if I say that the Nature Conservancy Council intends to write to landowners and occupiers who are known to have a protected species on a site of special scientific interest. The value and importance of the role they play in conserving our native flora and fauna are fully appreciated. I am sure that active co-operation will continue in the future. The basic point is that it would be far too rigid and far too impracticable to consult every landowner and every occupier.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the principle of my amendment is very much the same as his, namely, that all those who should be consulted will be consulted. I hope that he will give the Secretary of State, who clearly cares as much as does the hon. Gentleman on this point, sufficient flexibility rather than tying his hands and making the scheme unworkable.

Amendment agreed to.

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