HC Deb 13 July 1981 vol 8 cc896-937

Amendments made: No. 198, in page 65, leave out lines 14 to 16 and insert—

'The Ground Game Act 1880

(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 6 of the Ground Game Act 1880. it shall not be unlawful for the occupier of any land himself, or one other person authorised by him under section 1 of that Act, to use firearms for the purpose of killing ground game thereon between the expiration of the first hour after sunset and the commencement of the last hour before sunrise if (except where he has the exclusive right) the occupier has the written authority of the other person or one of the other persons entitled to kill and take the ground game on the land.

(2) In this paragraph "ground game" means hares and rabbits.

The Agriculture (Scotland) Act 1948

./(1) Notwithstanding the provision of section 50(1)(a) of the Agriculture (Scotland) (Scotland) Act 1948, it shall not be unlawful for the owner of the shooting rights on any land or any person holding those rights from him, or the occupier of any land (who may in writing nominate one other person), to use a firearm for the purpose of killing ground game thereon between the expiration of the first hour after sunset and the commencement of the last hour before sunrise, if (except where he has the exclusive right) he has the written authority of the other person or one of the other persons entitled to kill and take the ground game on the land.

(2) In this paragraph "ground game" means hares and rabbits.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953

./1 At the end of subsection (2) of section (1) of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 (penalty where dog worries livestock on agricultural land) there shall be inserted the words


  1. (c) being at large (that is to say not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep".

(2) After that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsection— (2A) Subsection (2)(c) of this section shall not apply in relation to—

  1. (a) a dog owned by, or in the charge of, the occupier of the field or enclosure or the owner of the sheep or a person authorised by either of those persons; or
  2. (b) a police dog, a guide dog, a trained sheep dog, a working gun dog or a pack of hounds."

The Deer Act 1963'

No. 199, in page 65, line17, leave out '1963 Act' and insert 'Deer Act 1963'.

No. 200, in page 65, line 36, leave out 'the 1963' and insert 'that'.

No. 201, in page 67, line 11, leave out 'the 1963' and insert 'that'.

No. 202, in page 67, in line 14, leave out 'the 1963' and insert 'that'.

No. 203, in page 67, in line 25, leave out 'the 1963' and insert 'that'.

No. 204, in page 67, leave out lines 30 and 31 and insert—

'The Conservation of Seals Act 1970'.

No. 205, in page 67, line 32, leave out '1970 Act' and insert 'Conservation of Seals Act 1970'.—[Mr. King.]

Mr. King

I beg to move amendment No. 284, in page 67, line 44, leave out '(a) which' and insert 'which—(a)'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 285, Government new clause 31—Duties of agriculture Ministers with respect to areas of special scientific interest— '(1) Where an application for a grant under a scheme made under section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 (farm capital grants) is made as respects expenditure incurred or to be incurred for the purpose of activities on land notified under section 28(1) or land to which section 29(3) applies, the appropriate Minister—

  1. (a) shall, so far as may be consistent with the purposes of the scheme and section 29 of the said Act of 1970, so exercise his functions thereunder as to further the conservation of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which the land is of special interest; and
  2. (b) where the Nature Conservancy Council have objected to the making of the grant on the ground that the activities in question have destroyed or damaged or will destroy or damage that flora or fauna or those features, shall not make the grant except after considering the objection and, in the case of land in England, after consulting with the Secretary of State.
(2) Where, in consequence of an objection by the Council, an application for a grant as respects expenditure to be incurred is refused on the ground that the activities in question will have such an effect as is mentioned in subsection (1)(b), the Council shall, within three months of their receiving notice of the appropriate Minister's decision, offer to enter into, in the terms of a draft submitted to the applicant, an agreement under section 16 of the 1949 Act or section 15 of the 1968 Act—
  1. (a) imposing restrictions as respects those activities; and
  2. (b) providing for the making by them of payments to the applicant.
(3) In this section "the appropriate Minister" has the same meaning as in section 29 of the said Act of 1970.'. and amendment (a) thereto, in subsection (2), line 17, leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.

Government new clauses 32 and 33.

New clause 12—Duty to provide local authorities with lists of areas of special scientific interest.

New clause 13—Application under section 29 of Agriculture Act 1970.

New clause 29—Use of weedkillers.

Amendment No. 232, in clause 28, page 26, line 5, at end insert— 'and (c) to the Secretary of State D.O.E.' Government amendment No. 214, in page 26, line 5, at end insert— '(1A) Before giving a notification under subsection (1), the Council shall give notice to the persons mentioned in that subsection—

  1. (a) setting out the proposed notification; and
  2. (b) specifying the time (not being less than three months from the date of the giving of the notice) within which, and the manner in which, representations or objections with respect thereto may be made,
and shall consider any representations or objections duly made. (1B) If, after reasonable inquiry has been made, the Council are satisfied that it is not practicable to ascertain the name or address of an owner or occupier of any land a notification or notice required to be served on him may be served by addressing it to him by the description "owner" or "occupier" of the land (describing it) and by affixing it to some conspicuous object or objects on the land.' Amendment (b) thereto, at the end of paragraph (b) insert, 'subsection (1A) shall not apply to sites notified to Local Authorities prior to the passing of this Act'. Amendment (c) thereto, at the end of paragraph (b) insert— 'A notification under subsection (1A) shall be deemed to have been a notification made under subsection (1) unless amended or revoked following representations or objections made to the council.'. Amendment (d) thereto, at the end of paragraph (b) insert— '(1AA) Objections under subsection (1A)(b) cannot be made relating to sites designated before the commencement of this Act.'.

Amendment No. 233, in page 26, line 10, at end insert 'or any activity that would disturb or harm any fauna listed under schedule 5 or flora listed under schedule 8.'. Amendment No. 68, in page 26, line 10, at end insert— '(c) A notification made under subsection (1) above, if not withdrawn before the expiration of a period of six months after the date upon which it was made, shall be registrable as a local land charge (in England and Wales) and shall be recorded in the registry of sasines (in Scotland).'. Amendment No. 69, in page 26, line 10, at end insert— '(A) The owner or occupier of any land notified under subsection (1)(b) shall not carry out on it any operation specified in the notification as being likely to destroy or damage its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features or cause or permit the carrying out of such an operation, unless—

  1. (a) one of them has given notice to the Council of a proposal to carry out the operation, specifying its nature and the land on which it is proposed to carry it out; and
  2. (b) one of the conditions specified in subsection (2B) is fulfilled.
(2B) The said conditions are—
  1. (a) that the operation is carried out with the council's written consent.
  2. (b) that three months have expired from the giving of the notice under subsection (2A)(a).
Amendment No. 70, in page 26, line 10, at end insert— '(3) The owner or occupier of any land notified under subsection (1)(b) shall not carry out on it any operation specified in the notfication as being likely to destroy or damage its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features or cause or permit the carrying out of such an operation, unless
  1. (a) one of them has given notice to the Council of a proposal to carry out the operation, specifying its nature and the land on which it is proposed to carry it out; and
  2. (b) one of the conditions specified in subsection (4) is fulfilled.
(4) The said conditions are—
  1. (a) that the operation is carried out with the Council's written consent;
  2. (b) that three months have expired from the giving of the notice under subsection (3)(a);
  3. (c) that the operation is carried out in accordance with the terms of an agreement under section 16 of the 1949 Act or section 15 of the 1968 Act.
(5) A person who, without reasonable excuse, contravenes subsection (3) shall be liable—on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500. (6) It is a reasonable excuse in any event for a person to carry out an operation if—
  1. (a) the operation was authorised by a planning permission granted on an application under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 or Part III of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972; or
  2. (b) the operation was an emergency operation particulars of which (including details of the emergency) were notified to the Council as soon as practicable after the commencement of the operation.'.
Government amendment No. 215, in page 26, leave out lines 11 to 34 and insert— '(3) The owner or occupier of any land notified under subsection (1)(b) shall not carry out, or cause or permit to be carried out, on that land any operation specified in the notification unless—
  1. (a) one of them has, after the commencement date, given the Council notice of a proposal to carry out the operation specifying its nature and the land on which it is proposed to carry it out; and
  2. (b) one of the conditions specified in subsection (4) is fulfilled.
(4) The said conditions are—
  1. (a) that the operation is carried out with the Council's written consent;
  2. (b) that the operation is carried out in accordance with the terms of an agreement under section 16 of the 1949 Act or section 15 of the 1968 Act; and
  3. (c) that three months have expired from the giving of the notice under subsection (3).
(5) A person who, without reasonable excuse, contravenes subsection (3) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500. (6) It is a reasonable excuse in any event for a person to carry out an operation if—
  1. (a) the operation was authorised by a planning permission granted on an application under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 or Part III of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972; or
  2. (b) the operation was an emergency operation particulars of which (including details of the emergency) were notified to the Council as soon as practicable after the commencement of the operation.
(7) The Council shall have power to enforce the provisions of this section; but nothing in this subsection shall be construed as authorising the Council to institute proceedings in Scotland for an offence. (8) Proceedings in England and Wales for an offence under subsection (5) shall not, without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, be taken by a person other than the Council. (9) A notification under subsection (1)(b)of land in England and Wales shall be a local land charge. (10) A notification under subsection (1)(b) of land in Scotland shall be registered either—
  1. (a) in a case where the land is registered in that Register, in the Land Register of Scotland;
  2. (b) in any other case, in the appropriate Division of the General Register of Sasines;
(11) Section 23 of the 1949 Act (which is superseded by this section) shall cease to have effect; but any notification given under that section shall have effect as if given under subsection (1) (a) (12) Subsection (1A) shall not apply in relation to a notification of any land under subsection (1)(b) where a notification of that land under the said section 23 has effect as if given under subsection (1)(a).'. Amendment (a) thereto, at the end of subsection (6)(b) after 'operation', insert

'or. (c) the operation did not materially damage the special interest of the area for which it was notified under subsection (1); or'. Amendment (6) thereto, at the end of subsection (6)(b) after 'operation', insert— (c) the operation did not materially damage the special interest of the area for which it was notified under subsection (1); or (d) the area was not, or was no longer, of such special interest as to warrant notification under sub-section (1) '. Amendment (c) thereto, at the end of subsection (10)(b) insert, A notification made under subsection (1) shall be deemed to have been made for the purposes of this section unless amended or revoked following representations or objections made to the council under subsection (1A).'. Amendment No. 234, in clause 29, page 27, line 15, after 'operation', insert 'or bloodsport'.

Government amendments Nos. 217 to 219.

Amendment No. 73, in clause 39, page 37, line 25, after 'Park', insert 'Site of Special Scientific Interest'. Amendment No. 74, in page 38, line 2, after 'authority', insert 'as respects land being a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Nature Conservancy Council or the County Planning Authority'.

Mr. King

We now come to a group of new clauses, Government amendments and other associated amendments which cover what many see as one of the central issues of the Bill. They deal with the status and arrangements surrounding the sites of special scientific interest and introduce certain proposals which the Government feel form the right balance for protection, with the notification of any improvement or work or change in such SSSIs, while seeking to recognise the proper and legitimate interests of the landowners and occupiers of those sites.

This is an area of habitat protection and conservation that has lain neglected for a considerable time. During the proceedings on the Bill in Committee it became clear that there was increasing concern over the disappearance of much of the wildlife habitat. There was concern that there was no proper system that could be justified on the balances that had existed, and the Government thought that it was appropriate to tackle the issue in the way that I shall now set before the House.

I shall be as be brief as I can, but, as every hon. Member knows, there are a large number of amendments. I shall try briefly to link them together and to explain their force. These amendments are central to those concerns. Many hon. Members and people outside the House attach the greatest importance to them. The first two amendments can be disposed of as being essentially technical. Amendments Nos. 284 and 285, to schedule 7 refer to the 1970 Act and are technical inclusions.

New clause 31 relates to the application of what we call the Sandford amendment—clause 39—to SSSIs. This is a matter that I undertook in Committee to consider, and this is the amendment that we have brought forward. We believe that it fulfils that undertaking. We hope that the House will think that it is helpful.

New clause 32 is the restatement of the requirement for the preparation of the codes by Ministers, in consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council, for the management of SSSIs. It might have been thought that if we were to have reciprocal notification it would be no longer necessary to have codes of that form, but we believe that the codes still have a useful role to play in a wider area than specific reciprocal notification. We therefore thought it appropriate, in accordance with the amendment, to include that proposal for the code.

I then come to new clause 33. We seek a balanced approach in this matter. It is recognised that if there is to be the power for the NCC, in the case of national parks and SSSIs, to object to grants being paid, farmers who are disadvantaged in their agricultural operations to that extent are entitled to a management agreement. It is also recognised that proper arrangements should be made under those management agreements.

Concern was voiced by a number of agricultural interests that there should be some provision for arbitration in such management agreements. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) will know from his familiarity with the issue on Exmoor that there is concern over how one strikes this balance—one has the power to prevent things from happening, yet at the same time one is seeking to negotiate with landowners or occupiers what would be reasonable recompense for such prohibition. Some independent arbitration is necessary in that respect.

Hon. Members will see that that introduces the concept of arbitration, and the amendment is carefully worded to ensure that the arbitration is effective on what we feel is the fairest basis. I particularly draw attention to subsection (3), which shows the balance that we seek to strike. We believe that it is an important balance to introduce into the requirement.

11 pm

Amendment No. 214 is the precursor to the essential amendment, No. 215. It introduces for the first time the requirement that prior notification be given to an owner or occupier that the NCC is considering designating part of his property as a site of special scientific interest. I declared an interest in Committee. A criticism of the Bill was that the first intimation that the owner of an SSSI may have that he is in that hallowed position is when he receives a note from the NCC to tell him that that is what has just happened to him.

There is no prior notification. There is no procedure of application and no opportunity for circumstances or evidence that may be advanced by the owner or occupier to be considered. Therefore, we believe that there should be advanced notification, so that, if there are matters that an owner or occupier wishes to raise—without fettering the scientific judgment of the NCC as adviser to the Secretary of State—there should be an opportunity for him to make representations or objections before a decision is reached by the NCC.

Amendment No. 215 provides for what we call reciprocal notification. In another place the requirement was introduced that the NCC should for the first time be required to inform not merely the local planning authority but the owner or occupier of the land of the existence of the SSSI and also to prepare codes and give guidance on the operations and the ways in which such an SSSI should be managed for the proper protection of the habitat.

It was cogently argued by a number of hon. Members that there was no reciprocal obligation on the owner if he decided to take action that might damage a habitat to notify the NCC and give it an opportunity to make representations, suggest how the improvements might be made without damage to the habitat or enter into a suitable management agreement to prevent what might in certain cases be permanent damage to the habitat.

We considered those arguments and decided that it was not an unreasonable obligation to place on landowners or occupiers that within three months they should notify the NCC so that discussions could take place. It is a minimal requirement, because at the end of the three months there is no prohibition on a landowner or occupier against managing his land in the way that he sees fit. The minimum notification requirement's a reasonable and justifiable extension of the essential voluntary principle that we have espoused throughout the passage of the Bill.

It would be appalling if we allowed the disappearance of considerable areas of precious and rare habitat through neglect, inadvertence and ignorance on the part of owners and occupiers of such property. We feel that this is the minimal requirement, and we have therefore proposed this duty, subject to the agreement of the House and to confirmation in another place.

One cannot, of course, impose a duty without a sanction to support it, and hon. Members will see that it then becomes an offence.. It is subject to a fine of a maximum figure in a magistrates' court. It is not raising the maximum. The definition in the Bill is below the maximum that otherwise the magistrates' court could impose. It is, of course, for the offence of non-notification.

We were particularly anxious to avoid a situation in which it might become the activity of certain people to seek to pursue their own personal private prosecutions in this matter. Hon. Members will have noticed that amendment No. 215 states: Proceedings in England and Wales for an offence under subsection (5) shall not, without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, be taken by a person other than the Council". So it will be for the council to consider and use its discretion about whether it is a minor offence or whether it is a major or serious offence.

I hope that the background makes it clear that while we wish not to damage the essential balance of good will between the land owning and the agricultural community and the causes of conservation, we attach such importance to the preservation of habitat—which in certain areas has been declining at a serious rate—that we think the protection is an important one that should be introduced.

Mr. Dalyell

Might it not be for the convenience of the House if the Government were to outline their attitude to the important and, in my view, dangerous amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd)—(a) and (b) to Government amendment No. 215? What is the Government's attitude to them?

Mr. King

It is quite a tortuous path that I have to follow in trying to string together this group of amendments. I have spoken without any notes, except for having the amendments before me. Indeed, I set myself the challenge of replying to the amendments after I had heard hon. Members speak to them. I shall listen to them with close attention and seek to reply to them.

The remaining amendments, Nos. 217 to 219, are technical, and I shall seek to move them formally.

I am grateful for the indulgence of the House in allowing me to deal with what is arguably the most important group of amendments to the Bill. I am proud to have had the opportunity to present the group of amendments to the House tonight.

Mr. Denis Howell

These various clauses are now a matter of much greater satisfaction to us than they were when they came to this House and when they went into Committee. They do not go anything like as far as the Opposition would wish them to go, as I shall explain shortly. Nevertheless, the Government have listened to us in Committee and have accorded the minimum requirements that we believe to be necessary for the protection of the sites of special scientific interests. It would therefore be churlish not to acknowledge what the Government have done and what the Minister has achieved, I suspect with his colleagues, in introducing these new principles into legislation for the first time.

Why are they of such supreme importance? As we have gone through the Bill we have appreciated that there has been a dramatic change in the appreciation by people interested in conservation and the public at large of how that objective is achieved.

It is no secret that the Bill started out to protect birds and other rare species of flora and fauna as a result of a requirement in an EEC directive. Without that, I suspect that the Bill would never have seen the light of day. We know that under EEC law the directive should have been operative long before now. When the Government and other interested parties applied their minds to the problem of protecting species it was thought that this could be done by listing them and having lengthy debates here and in another place. Any plant, bird or animal likely to be endangered was added to a schedule to the Bill and given a protected status, and people were enjoined against destroying it.

There is now a new awareness that one cannot protect a species unless one protects the habitat in which it flourishes. That is the dramatic change in thinking that has taken place in this country. There is a new appreciation of that fact of life. That is why, in Committee and at other stages, we fought tooth and nail for the minimum protection of sites of special scientific interest. I hope that the Minister will not mind my saying that just as we pay some tribute to him for having listened and responded to what we said, had it not been for the tenacity of some of my hon. Friends at various stages we should never have achieved this provision or given the protection that I judge from the attitude on both sides the whole House now appreciates is necessary.

There are 3,800 sites of special scientific interest around the country. The NCC recently told us that those sites had been damaged or destroyed at an alarming rate, and that between 10 per cent. and 13 per cent. of them had been lost or damaged in recent times. That brings us to the first question that we must ask ourselves and the misgivings that the Opposition still have, namely, whether the voluntary system will be adequate to stop the rot and to prevent the damage and destruction of these sites, which we now all agree to be of supreme importance.

Of one thing we can be sure. The notification of the establishment of such a site, or the three months' reciprocal notification by a landowner if he intends to do anything that might damage or harm it, will alone be of considerable importance. That is why we are happy at the moment to accept this method of dealing with the problem. It will allow public information to be obtained and will increase the amount of public knowledge about these sites, and it will specifically draw the matter to the attention of bodies such as the Nature Conservancy Council and all the voluntary bodies that have been of such enormous help to us during the passage of the Bill, so that they have the opportunity, which is the most important thing of all in a democracy, to raise the issue and to have a public discussion with informed public opinion, in the hope that that public opinion will have an effect upon the interested parties.

11.15 pm

We regard the reciprocal notification in amendment No. 215 as the minimum requirement in our approach to the problem. I accept readily that the NCC should give three months' notice to a landowner, but I have to enter one important caveat. Amendment No. 214 proposes that notification should be given to a landowner of the establishment of an SSSI. We must remember that we are dealing with sites of supreme importance for nature conservation, and although 95 per cent. of landowners will behave properly and fairly and will respect the consultation procedures, irresponsible rogue landowners may plough up fields or fell woods and damage a site before the notice comes into effect. I am advised that the NCC and other interested parties have had examples of that happening under the existing arrangements. That loophole should be closed, and that is the purpose of our sub-amendment (c) to amendment No. 214.

I also express our appreciation to the Minister for new clause 31. In our bargaining sessions late into the night, in order that we could facilitate the passage of the Bill we asked the Minister to provide that the Sandford principle should be applied to national parks. The right hon. Gentleman has responded to that in the new clause.

But the big gain is the Government's acceptance of the principle of reciprocal notification—a phrase that I coined and that has passed into the language. We regard that principle as enormously important.

I shall not read out the 45 SSSIs in England alone that have been lost or seriously damaged in recent years. I had intended to refer to some in detail if time had permitted, but I am sure that the House has access to the information. I am sorry that it is not possible to circulate one's speeches to prevent their having to be made, which is a practice followed by some other Assemblies. If it were possible, I would read this material into the record—the expression, I believe, that is used in the Senate.

It is important that these examples should be well known. In the 45 locations where bogs have been drained, land cultivated for agricultural purposes, and deciduous woodlands chopped down and replaced, sometimes by fir, there has occurred a marked deterioration, damage or obliteration of sites of special scientific interest. This information, readily obtainable from the amenity organisations or the NCC, should be noted. It makes the case that the Opposition wish to state.

The clause will not prevent vandalism or destruction. At the end of the day the voluntary agreement has to work properly. As a result of the reciprocal notification, there will be constant monitoring of the situation. If the loss or damaging of sites is not stopped, it is inevitable that sooner or later a future Parliament will have to legislate. Those who wanted the voluntary system have been given what they want. Now they have to deliver the goods. They have to show that the voluntary system, the management agreements and the ability to compensate amount to a reasonable provision for the landowner to protect the national heritage.

Two other proposals deal with the Agriculture Act 1970 and the application of section 29 of that Act. Time and again, in Committee and in the other place, attention was drawn to the fact that most of the difficulties and misgivings follow from the belief, possibly mistaken but widely held, with substantial supporting evidence, that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in making grants under the Act to assist greater efficiency in agriculture, paid insufficient attention to conservation interests. The two proposals attempt to rectify that situation.

New clause 13 proposes that where an SSI site is affected by an application for grant under the Agriculture Act, the Ministry must provide full financial information about the scheme to the Nature Conservancy Council, which may then make representations for the alternative use of such funds to better integrate the aims of conservation and agriculture. I hope that the Government are able to accept the new clause. It writes into the statute, in plain language, the provision that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and. Food, when considering the grants, pay as much regard to the needs of conservation as to the needs of agriculture and decide where the national interest lies, That seems a reasonable request.

Amendment No. 73 applies the principle of SS's to national parks, again in cases where application is made for grants under secion 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970. It refers to a relevant authority making an objection that must be considered. If the relevant authority's objection in the case of national parks must be considered, surely it is right that the objection of the relevant authority should be considered in the case of a site of special scientific interest. That is another amendment that we should like made. It would go a long way to satisfying many of the doubters.

We are showing for the first time a national realisation of the supreme importance of sites of special scientific interest to the future life of the country. On both sides of the House there has been evidence of a determination to maintain those sites. We disagree about the reserve powers, but I detect an all-party determination to protect these 3,800 sites, to extend them as and when evidence arises that they should be extended, and to tell the landowners that we hope that they will work the new procedure honestly. We trust that it will work and that we shall not have to come back for further enforcement powers. If that proves necessary, however, we shall do so.

Mr. Peter Mills

I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I do not like the element of threat that he is putting in the background. The farming community and agriculture generally must be allowed to work the arrangement in a spirit of good will. I do not think that an implied threat will help in that direction.

Mr. Howell

I understand that point, because it has been put to me about Exmoor and moorlands elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman must understand the other side of the coin. I pay tribute to such bodies as the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which are anxious that the voluntary system shall work, but if we make it clear that we intend to rely only upon a voluntary system, and that if it proves not to work we shall do nothing about it, it provides an incentive to the 5 or 6 per cent. of rogue landlords or farmers.

That is one of our misgivings. In supporting the Bill on Third Reading, as we shall, we say that we are prepared to accept the voluntary system, that we want it to work, and that we shall do our best to see that it does. But we shall keep it under constant observation, and if our hopes and aspirations are not realised—here I use a mild phrase—we shall have to return to the matter. We hope that that will not be necessary, but if it is we shall certainly do so.

Mr. Delwyn Williams (Montgomery)

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that his new clause 13 backs the voluntary agreement? Does it not smack of blackmail?

Mr. Howell

Nothing that I do ever smacks of blackmail. The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman is "No". That clause asks for financial information lo be made available. I can understand that some people may not wish to provide it, but if we are to have an informed discussion the financial consequences, which can be considerable for the farming community, should be made known to the relevant authorities such as the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, the national parks, or whatever body might be concerned.

We have reached a remarkable agreement, having regard to the state of the Bill when it first reached this House. I do not want to be churlish. I thank the Government for responding to our questions to them. Many people will be grateful. We all hope that the new voluntary system, with management agreements and fair compensation, will work. We look to our friends in the organisations that I have mentioned and elsewhere to help to ensure that it does, so that we do not have to return again to the subject. The annual reports, the reciprocal notifications and the opportunities for public discussion and comment may well ensure that the voluntary system works. At any rate, let us all hope so.

11.30 pm
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

I am grateful to the Government for having accepted, by their amendment No. 215, amendment No. 70 standing in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Cadbury) and for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell).

The Government have done especially well, because they have understood that the protection of the habitat is at the heart of conservation and that our network of sites of special scientific interest is the minimum that we need to protect those habitats.

Amendment No. 215, which involves notification and a three-month delay, will at least give the NCC the opportunity to encourage a satisfactory solution with the farmers. In particular, I congratulate the Government on having the courage to back their aim here with a provision for penalties. Without such a provision the amendment would have little authority.

As a farmer and a member of the National Farmers Union, I must say that I do not believe that the NFU fully understands the real needs of conservation. It is too complacent in its refusal to realise the damage that modern farming methods and machinery can do to habitat.

With conservation in mind, we must look carefully at amendments (a) and (b) to amendment No. 215. requiring proof of material damage. Those amendments must be resisted. The reasons are simple. First, they will encourage owners and occupiers to take a risk that their operations will not damage SSSIs, with the result that some sites will be damaged.

Secondly, amendment No. 215 requires only three months' prior notice of an operation. In farming terms, that is a very short time. We want to encourage owners and managers of SSSIs to consult the NCC in good time. As I said, three months is a very short time in farming terms, but it will provide a reasonable opportunity for a good arrangement to be reached to preserve sites by some means or other. In my view, if the Government accept amendments (a) and (b), much of the heart will go out of their excellent amendment No. 215.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government were to accept amendments (a) and (b) they would provide a lawyers' paradise?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman has made a very good point. We should avoid a welter of litigation.

So far the Government have shown themselves to be enlightened in this respect, and I congratulate them. However, I want to mention two further matters. First, it is important to stress that when the economy improves more money will have to be made available for conservation. I want the NCC to have money available to be able to reach fair management agreements with the owners of sites of special scientific interest.

It is important to see that sites of special scientific interest are specifically mentioned in the Sandford clause 39. I note that the Minister added his name to amendments Nos. 73 and 74 before the weekend, but that he has now removed it. I realise that new clause 31, by implication, involves the SSSIs in Sandford. That is a hopeful sign. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would confirm whether that is so.

It would be much more satisfactory if SSSIs could be specifically mentioned in clause 39, which is something to which at one stage the Minister agreed. In Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State agreed to look very carefully at this point and hinted that he accepted the sense of including SSSIs.

Mr. King

What my hon. Friend wants included in clause 39 is included in new clause 31, which does precisely what he wants.

Mr. Carlisle

I am glad to hear that. It only remains for me to repeat that the Government deserve credit for their great foresight in moving so far to meet the case of the conservationists. As a farmer and conservationist, I fully recognise what they have done.

Mr. Ennals

I welcome the compromise that has been reached between the two sides of the House. It shows Parliament at its best. There were deep feelings of concern on both sides of the House about parts of the country that are not only loved by those who live there but are recognised as areas of great importance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) referred to the 10 to 13 per cent. of SSSIs lost or damaged and said he would not read out the list. On that list is Hickling Broad and Horsey Mere. I shall not say more about them, but they were both lakes of importance for their aquatic plants and animals, and Hickling Broad for its bird life. Much has been destroyed, and I hope that as a result of the agreement that has been reached we shall see the end of the massive destruction that has been going on largely because people have not really been aware of what has been happening.

The Bill and the compromise are well-timed, and I hope that the reciprocal notification system will work. I was doubtful, as I said on Second Reading, about whether a voluntary system would afford effective protection to SSSIs, and I must admit that I still have that element of uncertainty. My right hon. Friend was right to say that we must watch and be wary. But having spent part of the weekend tramping over the Halvergate marshes on the Norfolk Broads and talking to the farmers as well as other conservationists, one increasingly recognises that there is growing recognition by farmers as well as conservationists that their joint interests lie in co-operation.

I add my congratulations to both sides. Had it not been for the voluntary organisations and the Opposition Front Bench, with pressures both in another place and here, consistent and determined, together with a willingness by the Minister to see the power of the arguments, we should have been in deadlock now.

It is a source of great satisfaction to me that we have been able to reach an agreement, but I agree that we have to watch carefully to see that the rogues, as my right hon. Friend called them—the rogue farmers who ignore advice or might deliberately avoid consulting the NCC—do not get away with it. I believe that there will be sufficient good will by the farming community, with the backing of the NFU, together with the conservationist organisations, to see that that does not happen.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

I want to address my remarks in the main to amendments Nos. 214 and 215, with specific reference to amendments (a) and (b)—amendments that I tabled—to amendment No. 215.

First, however, I express my general agreement with the way in which the Bill has developed in terms of SSSIs, and report the enormous amount of good will that exists amongst members of all the organisations to which I have been talking during the passage of the Bill. In particular, the CLA and the NFU wish to accede to the spirit of the Bill and to Parliament's wishes regarding the sustenance of SSSIs. I applaud that.

One thing that has been evident all along is what I shall call the "awful powers" of the NCC. The power of the NCC to designate an area as being one of special scientific interest without any power of appeal causes concern among land-owning and land-occupying interests.

Amendment No. 214 is helpful, and I welcome it. It has gone a long way towards resolving that fear, but it does not get down to the nub of the matter because designation is arbitrary, not seriously challengeable, and not ratifiable by any appeal procedure other than to the NCC which made the designation in the first place. The NCC is both judge and jury in what it considers to be an area of special scientific interest.

A classic example is one that is current at the moment and was the subject of an exchange at Question Time in another place on 30 June. It relates to the Berwyns, which were mentioned in Committee. It illustrates the power of the NCC to notify an area as an SSSI without, first, explaining the significance of the area in conservation terms or, secondly, having regard to other land use interests. The prime reason for the NCC's wish to notify 53,000 acres as an SSSI rests upon the presence of a number of pairs of merlins and hen harriers, neither of which, I am given to understand, is an endangered species. In fact, hen harriers have been extending their range in recent years.

I understand that the Berwyns contain about 65 per cent. of the Welsh population of hen harriers and between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the merlin population. There are, therefore, significant numbers of both species elsewhere in Wales and Britain. The NCC points out that the importance of the site was identified in a publication "A Nature Conservation Review" of the Nature Conservancy Council in 1977. However, the area of the site selected in that review was 9,600 acres. The NCC has so far failed to explain to anyone why it needs to notify the site when the bird species are not endangered, and are present elsewhere in Wales and Britain, or why it covers an area five times as large as that described in its own publication.

No one would mind that the NCC case for notifying the Berwyns was so ephemeral if the effect of notification was as minimal as was intended under the 1949 Act. However, the NCC now says that within the 53,000 acres of the proposed site there will be a presumption against forestry. That is a major presumption. It threatens the development of forestry on the Berwyns and on large areas elsewhere in upland Wales. The rural community is fragile enough for the Secretary of State to refer to the need to create employment in rural area and to issue circular 22/80 to encourage employment. If the suppression of forestry and agricultural development is allowed to happen it will jeopardise employment in the immediate area and, more important, the development of timber processing industries, which could offer substantial opportunities for employment in Wales.

11.45 pm
Mr. Deiwyn Williams

Will my hon. Friend take it from me that tomorrow the Welsh council of the Nature Conservancy Council will present its full report to the full national NCC, which will contain a recommendation of designation for the Berwyns? Is it not morally right for the Nature Conservancy Council to postpone any designation of the Berwyns until the Bill has been implemented?

Mr. Shepherd

The Nature Conservancy Council should give the matter careful consideration before making any recommendations. It should at least wait until the Bill has been enacted, so that we know where we stand.

I gave the example of the Berwyns to illustrate the NCC's ability to act in an arbitrary way. However, that possibility cannot be explored. Any representations made to the NCC can be interpreted and judged only by the NCC on its own criteria. What guidance will my right hon. Friend the Minister give to the NCC when considering representations from owners? It would help the landowning and land-occupying interests to know when they consider what representations to make to the NCC.

Amendment No. 215 replaces the voluntary code in the Bill as it came from the other place. The land-owning and land-occupying interests were disappointed that the voluntary code was not given a chance to succeed. There was an immense amount of good will towards that end. They are disappointed that they will not have an opportunity to put their good faith on the line. The Government have seen fit to bring forward amendment No. 215. So be it.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, it contains a sanction and creates a new criminal offence as a result of operations on SSSIs. It is essential that the owner or occupier should know exactly where he stands. It would be helpful to know where he stands if he should deliberately or accidentally take a wrong step. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that the primary offence would be failure to notify. The clause does not make it clear whether the offence is a failure to notify, the carrying out of the operation, or a mixture of the two. It is good to have the confirmation that it is failure to notify that constitutes the offence.

Mr. Dalyell

In Committee we learnt to take the hon. Gentleman's contributions extremely seriously. However, he spoke about the possibility of an accident. Might it not be easy for a rogue farmer to give an excuse? If a rogue farmer destroys a site he may plead that since it is no longer a site of special scientific interest he is not guilty of an offence. That bothers us.

Mr. Shepherd

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. I wish to make it possible for the industry to know exactly where it stands. Everything that I have said and will say is aimed at that. If there are such loopholes, it is as well to explore them now and to let my right hon. Friend's views be made known. The industry will then know where it stands.

If a prosecution is in order, the land-owning and land-occupying interests would be interested to know who is to bring the action. The proposed new subsection (8) says that it must be the NCC, with the agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Does that mean that the NCC brings a private prosecution, or will it hand the whole matter over to the police and itself appear as a witness for the prosecution?

The matter is important, because there is a financial implication. In the first case there is a cost to the NCC, whereas if the matter is handed over to the police there is no cost implication and no strain on the NCC's finances.

If there are no cost considerations, what is the threshold of triviality? At what point does the NCC decide whether to prosecute? Is the small infraction considered more important than the larger one, or is there an element of discretion, whereby the NCC would ignore an infraction, merely giving a warning, or is the call to the NCC to take action whenever there is any damage to an SSI? What exactly is the NCC's role?

Amendments (a) and (b) to amendment No. 215 are designed to highlight the absence of an appeal outside the NCC. I, together with the agricultural and land-owning interests, would welcome my right hon. Friend's views on the absence of an appeal procedure. Amendment (a) suggests that it should be a defence for there to have been no material damage to the special interest of an area. Vast acreages can be and have been set aside as SSSIs, although only a relatively small area is of special scientific interest. If the Berwyns area is confirmed as an SSSI there is a factor of five. It is important to know whether a tree being felled on the corner, which in now way affects the SSSI, constitutes an offence.

Amendment (b) calls on the NCC to justify its designation of an area as one of special scientific interest. As it has not had to justify it to anyone so far, it might not be unreasonable to ask it to justify the existence of an area of special scientific interest on the point concerned when it brings a prosecution.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

My hon. Friend has raised a fundamental point in planning law. If any authority wishes to designate an SSSI. a tree preservation order or a listed building, there should he a right of objection. People should be able to appeal to the Secretary of State and to give reasons why the NCC's designation of an SSSI should not be upheld. Is not that an important planning principle?

Mr. Shepherd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I am not interested in going clown the line of planning permission in terms of agricultural land use. Agriculture is perturbed at the absence of a final arbiter outside the NCC when an SSSI is disputed. That is the nub of the matter.

There is one other important point. It is not possible for an area to be undesignated as an SSSI. I take as an example the comma butterfly, which is very rare, being located only in parts of Hertfordshire and Worcestershire. I am not certain that it is not extinct. I hope that it is not. I use it as an example because, should it live in an area that is protected as an SSSI and then become extinct, it is not unreasonable to expect that area to be undesignated. The Bill does not take that point on board. I should be grateful for the observations of my hon. Friend the Minister on those points.

I have spoken rather longer than I had intended. I hope that the House will forgive me. The points that I have raised are of concern within the agriculture industry and among land-owning interests. At the end of the day they have the responsibility of operating the land and, I hope, not falling foul of the law. I await with great interest my hon. Friend's comments on those points.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

This is a difficult debate, because a number of amendments are grouped together. We must debate them tonight, but vote on them on the next occasion that the House debates the Bill. It is a complicated procedure.

I welcome the broad outline of the Government's proposals. They represent a substantial move by the Government. I wish to emphasise the comment made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), that the voluntary system is being given its last chance to prove that it can deliver the goods. If the voluntary system does not deliver the goods, we expect legislation to introduce a compulsory system within the next three or four years.

One or two of the interventions by Conservative Members have implied that the Opposition question the good faith of the farming community when they question the voluntary system. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way question the good faith of most of the farming community. If we were legislating for 85 or 90 per cent. of the population, there would be no need to pass a law. Most people behave in a sensible and civilised way. The problem is persuading the remainder to conform. that is the major weakness of the voluntary approach. The good landowner would be perfectly happy to conform to a voluntary code, but it would not catch the rogue or the agricultural vandal. In many instances SSSIs are destroyed, not by farmers but by those from urban areas looking for a piece of land on which to dump rubbish or to carry out speculative development.

If there is scepticism about the voluntary system, it is not because of most of the agricultural community, but because we know—and Conservative Members should admit this—that within that community there are those who, sadly, will not respect the voluntary system. I hope that the voluntary system will work. There will be problems and we may need to introduce legislation in the not-too-distant future to deal with the few people who will not take notice of it.

Unfortunately, I did not hear the Minister's opening remarks. He did not spend much time talking about the financial implications of the proposals. They place considerable additional duties on the NCC. That will mean additional manpower, which will cost money. The management agreement will also cost money. I hope that the Minister will give a clear undertaking that the NCC will be given the resources to carry out the job. Much of the criticism about the lack of information about SSSIs—espcially from landowners—has arisen because the NCC has not had the resources to carry out the job. It would be sad if the House were to give it additional duties which it could not carry out because of lack of resources. I hope that the Government will give a clear commitment that sufficient resources will be made available.

I hope that the Minister will deal with the detailed amendments, and especially new clauses 12 and 13, which raise the issues of ensuring that local authorities are given adequate information about the SSSIs in their areas and the costing of proposals for agricultural development or any other activity on site. There should be a careful analysis to ascertain whether it is the best use of the country's resources to have the land developed for agricultural purposes or for some other purpose.

It has been stressed on many occasions that one of the problems is not the lack of money in favour of conservation, but the money that the Government make available through agricultural grants that damages conservation. We are asking for a careful analysis to ensure that Government expenditure is used in the best interests of the nation and not merely in the best interests of an individual landowner.

12 midnight

We hope that the Government will show sympathy to new clause 29, which deals with the use of weedkiller, which is used far too indiscriminately and damages far too many habitats and creatures, apart from the plants that the farmer wants to damage.

Interwoven into the group are amendments Nos. 232 to 234, which relate to issues other than those to be found in the main series. Amendment No. 233 seeks to ensure that the owner of an SSSI is aware of the flora and fauna which are protected on his site and which should be given the full protection that the Bill envisages. Amendment No. 234 is a small amendment relating to bloodsports and the super SSSIs. I hope that the Government will respond to the amendments.

I welcome the proposals contained in Government amendment No. 214. The person who has his land designated as a site should have the right to appeal against the designation. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the right of appeal will apply only to future designations and will not involve all the existing sites. If over 3,000 sites had to pass through the procedure set out in the amendment, a massive work load would be produced. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that the existing sites will not be subject to the new appeal procedure. If they are to be so subject, I hope that he will make it clear that the NCC will have the resources to deal adequately with the matter.

What will happen during the period in which someone has the right to appeal against designation? Will the designation come into force as soon as the site is notified, when there will be three months to appeal against it? Will it come into operation only at the end of the three months? If the site is designated because, for example, it has hen barriers on it, will three months be available to shoot them so that it is possible to appeal and say that there are none on the site. or does the designation come into effect at the time of notification? I hope that the Minister will clarify that issue.

I welcome the provision that in the reciprocal notification there will be a land charge that is clear not only to existing owners but to future ones.

I oppose the amendments to amendment No. 215. The main amendment is a flexible compromise. It will enable the House to complete its business at not too late an hour. If we saw the amendments to the amendment carried, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would feel that it would not be worth while to complete our proceedings at an early hour.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to these issues and to emphasise from where the money will come to turn what I think is a helpful advance into a reality.

Mr. Farr

I join my colleagues and Opposition Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Minister on a remarkable achievement. He has dealt with a group of complicated new clauses and amendments. On reflection, I believe that he has the balance just about right, not only for the mood of the House but for many others. Some people believe that he has gone too far, and some not far enough, but I congratulate him on working out a meaningful interpretation of the situation, which I believe meets the demand of the public.

I shall touch on my small new clause 12, which is being discussed with this group. The purpose of the clause is simply to ask the NCC periodically to notify local authorities of the existence of an SSSI or a group of SSSIs in their areas. Its purpose is to give a little more authority and standing to SSSIs. There is a valuable chain of SSSIs throughout the countryside. It would not be appropriate if local authorities were kept entirely ignorant. All that I ask is that, in some way or other, they are notified of the outcome.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said that there were some rogue farmers. Of course there are, but often the destruction or irreparable damage of SSSIs is carried out not so much by farmers as by developers. Often, a farmer might have an enforced sale. Due to death, the widow might sell the land and it gets into the hands of a developer. Often he can see a potential for developing land, including an SSSI, which the farmer and his family could not see. In those circumstances, although I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Minister has done in amendment No. 215, I believe that a £500 fine, although it is perhaps the beginning, is negligable compared with the profits which can be made by turning, for example, a swamp or a pond area into a prime building site.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) in saying that there should be a form of unscrambling or undesignating SSSIs. Often they are irreperably damaged and they vanish. There must be a sensible way of registering their demise, so that the regulations do not continue to apply to them.

Mr. Hardy

In tonight's debate I am in the unusual position of being entirely in agreement with the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Fan). I share his hope that the Government will ensure that local authorities are properly informed of the establishment of SSSIs in their areas. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that, but I am hesitant about agreeing with the point that he made about amendment No. 215. I accept that his right hon. Friend the Minister made a significant and effective speech, to which the House listened with great attention.

I agree that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) is genuinely and rightly concerned to promote rural employment. The fact may have escaped him and other hon. Members that agriculture is labour-intensive, usually. It may be that designation for conservation purposes could be so helpful in terms of tourism that there would be greater employment opportunities and encouragement for developers and small businesses as a consequence. Therefore, I do not believe that the designation of an area is, in any case, likely to disadvantage employment.

I take the point about consideration for delisting, but the problem is that it may assist the irresponsible. For example, if there are a few rare butterflies on a bog or in a little wilderness area, a person may rapidly conclude that, by eradicating them, he can justify delisting the area and perhaps make a great deal of money out of it, and the country would be substantially the poorer. We must not help the irresponsible.

I therefore share the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and others about the period of three months in amendment No. 214, although, basically, it is a good amendment. We are justly anxious about what happens to the area during the three months before a decision is made. The Secretary of State should consider freezing the position, so that the irresponsible farmer is not led to believe that he has three months to effect the damage necessary to ensure that designation does not follow.

I felt it necessary to speak because of the comment of the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Williams) about new clause 13 and blackmail. I fail to see how a new clause that seeks to provide more open government can be regarded as blackmail. We are aiming to achieve greater public awareness and a broader base for decisions. For example, at present we tend to use cost-benefit analysis, which produces a solution based on the cheapest or most profitable scheme. That approach is widely applied. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food requires regional water authorities to submit land drainage and sea defence schemes to that analysis, and, unless they do so, they do not get grant-aid for such schemes. Cost-benefit analysis is used in cases where, in total, hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent.

I do not suggest that it is not useful—we should encourage people to be forward looking—but it cannot assess conservation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) perhaps will not mind if I illustrate departmental attitudes by mentioning a slight disagreement that we might have had a few years ago, when I pressed vigorously for the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation. I paid tribute to him when the arguments were over. I suggested that the Department of the Environment should base its assessment largely on economic advantage instead of on the environmental enhancement that would accrue and that no figure was included for the enormous improvement that the project would make to the South Yorkshire environment. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), is well aware of the argument, because he took part in the debate.

Just as the Department of the Environment was reluctant to put a figure on the environmental advantages of the scheme, so no figure is put on environmental advantage in these areas. Cost-benefit analysis is entirely factual. It may be realistic, but it does not take account of the environment, its attraction and, perhaps, the tourist potential that can be generated. I therefore believe that reliance on such analysis is deficient. I do not suggest that it has no place, but it is too restricted to immediate and hard facts.

The other weakness in cost-benefit analysis is this. I hope that the hon. Member for Montgomery will agree that there is no justification for the term "blackmail" when we say that the fault of the present system is that it is secret. The basis of calculation is never available, either to the Nature Conservancy Council, or for public discussion. I believe that we have reached the stage when conservationist organisations and those concerned about the future of an attractive and important area in their own locality should be able to analyse the basis of fact upon which decisions are made.

In the Amberley Wildbrooks and Gedney Drove End public inquiries, which caused so much public concern, particularly in their own localities, the people concerned were not given the basis of the decision, when it would have been entirely proper for them to have it. I find that regrettable, and that is the reason for the amendment.

12.15 am

I do not believe that any farmer, forester, landowner or water authority, or any enlightened individual, could be critical of the amendment. Every farmer and forester that I know has continually stressed that public money should be wisely spent. We are asking that it be demonstrated to be wisely spent. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Member for Montgomery as well as the Minister will find the amendment rather less unattractive than they appeared to assume at the commencement of their consideration of it.

Mr. William Waldegrave (Bristol, West)

I wish to make three brief points.

First, I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the reciprocal reporting arrangements that he has made. I also thank him and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who is also present, for their courtesy over the past weeks in answering our letters urging this or similar courses. Indeed, some of us were able to bring pressure to bear in families in this and another place.

Secondly, I disagree, sadly, with the impressive speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) on amendments (a) and (b). I believe that if they were accepted there would be a grave danger that farmers would be encouragd to seek a fait accompli and then argue about it. That would take the heart out of the progress that has been made.

Thirdly, we are now trying to establish a much improved voluntary system. This may meet one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford. This voluntary system could be endangered by the NCC if it did not behave in such a way as to achieve consensus and assent from concerned interests. It is important that that should be established. Good will must come from both sides.

On the other hand, armed with the much improved flow of information that this legislation will provide for Ministers, we must monitor the situation and see how things go. This is in no sense a threat, or blackmail; it is a matter of realism. We shall have to see whether the information that now flows in is satisfactory. If the number of SSSIs continues to decline we may have to seek even further powers. It should be understood that some Conservative Members would be willing to support such action if—and it would be with great regret—it turned out to be necessary.

I end this benign little debate by congratulating and thanking my right hon. Friend once again for the very wise movements that he has made on the Bill.

Mr. Chapman

I wish briefly to join in the thanks to my right hon. Friend for the compromise—to use the word in its wisest sense—that has been achieved.

I wish to draw together two opposing but not, I believe, conflicting strands that have emerged in the debate. I wish to refer particularly to amendment No. 214 and the amendments relating to it, and to amendment No. 215—particularly amendment (c) which relates to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) raised a very good and soundly based planning legislation point when he complained, to put his eloquent words into shorthand, that the NCC had the arbitrary right to designate an SSSI. Although under the Bill it would have to allow three months for any representations to be made, it would nevertheless still be the judge and jury in terms of the potential designation of the SSSI. In other words, there would be no appeal to the Secretary of State.

I have a great regard for the expertise of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) on these matters. He has had the unique experience of being the Minister responsible for these matters under four Governments, covering a period of 10 years. He is also the next-door neighbour to a seat that I passingly held. I have come to respect his expertise. He made an extremely telling point. It was that, unlike the designation of trees or listed buildings, there was no temporary instantaneous designation that would apply to the SSSIs once they were provisionally designated by the NCC. Therefore, it would be possible, to take an extreme case, for a farmer or owner deliberately to plough up the land or shoot the birds so that the area would be effectively destroyed.

Surely the answer is that from now on the Nature Conservancy Council should be able to designate an SSSI, but there ought to be a right for an interested party to appeal against it to the Secretary of State. The period of appeal might be three months, which would not upset the timetable presently laid down. On the other hand, once an SSSI has been provisionally designated there should be a provisional and instantaneous freezing, as there is at present for listed buildings and for trees. That should be from now on, so that the existing 3,800 or so SSSIs would stand as being designated and confirmed. If the NCC wished from now on to designate further areas, there should be an instant provisional designation, on the one hand, but on the other a three months' right of appeal to the Secretary of State either to confirm or reject the designation.

That would be in line with existing planning law and, above all, it would be a sensible compromise.

Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)

Amendment No. 215 in many ways goes to the heart of the Bill in achieving the right balance between the needs of the farming community and the need to conserve wildlife habitat. I congratulate my hon. Friends on getting that balance broadly right after a great many representations from many people who have not had the good fortune to be members of the Committee.

The obligation on the NCC to notify farmers and the reciprocal obligation on farmers to notify the NCC of what they may be thinking of doing is likely to rule out all the damage to the environment that can come from ignorance or lack of thought, and that is the overwhelming cause of the destruction of wildlife habitat. It leaves a good deal still to good will and good sense, and I believe that the National Farmers Union, in its representations, has made the point often enough that the farmer shows good will and good sense, so that there can be a reasonable balance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) said, if that turned out not to be the case both sides of the House would regard wildlife habitat as important enough to require further measures.

I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), who referred to a number of problems, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping; Barnet (Mr. Chapman) that there may be an opportunity to work out a more detailed balance in the next few days by giving farmers and landowners whose land is potentially affected by an SSSI the opportunity not merely to make representations to the NCC but to take them to a third party—perhaps the Secretary of State—if the council does not give them the sympathetic consideration that they deserve.

Mr. Dalyell

It may be worth considering the line pursued by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), but may I ask a factual question? The NCC has considerable technical expertise, and I understand that the Secretary of State for the Environment does not have comparable expertise—nor should he—in his Department. It may look attractive to have an appeal system and to say that the NCC: should not be judge and jury in its own case, but a difficult situation could be created.

Mr. Lyell

If we were in Committee I could go into the matter in more detail, but it is not the holding of technical expertise that enables one to balance the arguments; it is the standing aside as a third party. Those with great expertise have been known to get the bit between their teeth, and one would seek to go to an arbitrator on such occasions.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford in that direction has more force than the amendments that he and some of my other hon. Friends have tabled to mitigate what they see as the potential adverse effects of amendment No. 215. Therefore, I hope that they will press the arbitration line rather than the line of their amendments, and that amendment No. 215 will be approved unamended.

I welcome the enormous improvements made to the Bill and the sensible balance achieved by the package of measures proposed by the Department.

Mr. Delwyn Williams

Hon. Members have pointed out that there is no redress for anyone offended by the designation of an SSSI. That is certainly true in 53,000 acres of the Berwyns.

Everyone has been full of congratulations in the debate. There have been self-congratulations, mutual congratulations and congratulations of the other side. But no one has considered the nub of the problem—where will the money come from, and what will happen when it is not forthcoming?

For example, 15,000 acres of the designated land in the Berwyns could be altered for the better. Compensating the Berwyn farmers, even at £14 per acre, would cost about £200,000. And what will happen if the farmers are not willing to enter into a management agreement? I suggest that if clause 13 is adopted the NCC will make certain representations to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I mentioned blackmail earlier. I wonder what representations the NCC would make. If a farmer turned down a management agreement and applied for a grant there would be consultation between the NCC and the Ministry. Human nature being what it is, I cannot believe that the NCC would bend over backwards to help him. That is what I meant by blackmail.

Deforestation has been a sad feature of the uplands of Wales. The development in the Berwyns will slop afforestation of several thousand acres, which will have an adverse effect on the rural economy of the area. Tomorrow, the Conservancy Council will formally recommend the designation of the Berwyns to the NCC.

12.30 am

I ask, in the name of conscience, that the council should postpone the designation at least until the Bill is implemented. This duty is owed to the 106 families in the Berwyns who depend for their livelihood on that beautiful countryside. A duty is also owed to the people of Wales. This is a large slice of the 'Welsh nation. For the Nature Conservancy Council so irresponsibly to designate such a large amount of Welsh land is not on. I ask the council to reconsider the matter.

If the spirit of the Bill is to be implemented and if the farming community in the rest of the United Kingdom is to respond to the Bill, which I welcome, the Nature Conservancy Council should show that it has good will, that it intends to be responsible, and that it means business by postponing the designation of the Berwyns.

Mr. Dalyell

I understand that there have been two and a half years of consultation in relation to the Berwyns and that tomorrow's events will be the culmination of a great deal of discussion. I am reluctant to be full of congratulations. There is a fly in the ointment. It is the question of money.

One of the matters on which there has been insufficient discussion is the financing of the NCC. Unless the NCC receives much stronger financial backing, many of the good things achieved in Committee and on the Floor of the House in changes to the Bill will be difficult to implement. Ministers have not been able to say much about the financing of the NCC, which I shall not describe as operating on a shoe-string. It is, however, pretty powerless. Unless the NCC has a good deal of financial muscle, many of the best intentions of the House will. not be implemented.

We learnt in Committee to pay considerable attention to any amendments moved by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). Because the hon. Gentleman represents a substantial and important group of opinion, we should examine carefully what he proposes. Our hope is that the Minister will resist the hon. Gentleman's amendments. They raise considerable doubts about what happens should anyone contravene the requirement to notify the NCC under amendment No. 215. The hon. Gentleman's amendments provide excuses for not contacting the NCC should operations on SSSIs be planned by an owner-occupier.

The second part of amendment (b) to amendment No. 215 is clearly unacceptable, as it permits someone to destroy the area's interests and to claim that because it is no longer of interest he is not guilty of an offence. It would be a lawyers' paradise should court proceedings result. Once the matter got into the court, the task of interpretation would be a nightmare.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment (a) to amendment No. 215 is not needed because, in court, the fact that no damage was done is a mitigating circumstance that can be used by a defendant to defend the consequence of his actions. If this were contained in the Bill it might encourage owner-occupiers to take a risk, to do the works and destroy the SSSI, albeit by accident, without consulting the NCC. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Hereford about accidents. However, farmers and others are not always able to judge properly whether their operations will be damaging. To avoid any doubt, the NCC should always be consulted. The amendments would provide alarming loopholes and excuses that could not be contested after the event. I wonder whether the NFU is over-reacting, as this part of the Bill requires only three-months' prior notification. Rightly or wrongly there is no stop order, and if the operation is not damaging the NCC will proceed immediately.

On the issue of the Berwyns, certain animal species, notably the larger birds of prey, require large hunting territories over which to feed, and to survive. For example a pair of golden eagles require a minimum of 12,000 acres of territory. Therefore, if we are to protect the birds of prey in Britain and their habitats, and to fulfil our obligations under the EEC directive and to the international conservation community, large areas somewhere will need active conservation.

A lot more could be said about this matter. I have discussed it fully with Lady White in the other place. She has taken an extreme interest in the Berwyns issue. As a Scot, I shall not go on and on about a Welsh subject, but I hope that the Minister will give a full reply. If he does not resist these amendments, some of the rest of us, even at this hour, will hope to do so.

Mr. King

Let me begin by replying to the contributions to this important debate and to the wide range of new clauses and amendments to the new clauses that have been tabled. I propose to move quickly through a number of what I shall describe without disrespect as the peripheral amendments that have been tabled.

I start with the amendment that proposes that the Nature Conservancy Council should have discretion on whether it enters into a management agreement. This revolves around the substitution of "may" for "shall". We do not believe that it would be proper to accept the amendment. It cuts across the whole principle of Sandford, which is that if the farmer does not receive grant, or if the grant is objected to, he is entitled to receive a management agreement in its place.

I come next to new clause 29. It provides that before any person applies weedkiller to an area of land in an SSSI he must consult the NCC. That point would be clearly covered under the heading of actions that are unlikely to improve the habitat concerned. It would therefore come within the notification arrangements and, therefore, our proposals.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has tabled amendment No. 232, which would require the NCC to notify the Secretary of State of the existence of areas of special scientific interest. It is an interesting amendment. Although my brief says "resist", I am prepared to recommend the House to accept it. There is a lack of adequate data in the House and in the Department on the existence of SSSIs.

I move next to new clause 12, which provides the reverse. It states: The Secretary of State shall provide each local authority with a list of all areas of special scientific interest in that authority's area". That is back to front, because the only duty that has heretofore existed has been upon the NCC to inform the local authority of the SSSI. The Secretary of State has been the last person to find out, so he is not the person to notify every local authority. However, we feel that it would be sensible that the NCC, rather than the Secretary of State, should in future give each local planning authority a complete list of the SSSIs in its area and make such lists available to the public on request. I hope that with that assurance the hon. Gentleman will feel able to ask leave to withdraw his new clause.

New clause 13, in the names of the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), for Stockport, North and for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), suggests that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Secretary of State for Scotland shall be required to provide the Nature Conservancy Council with all relevant financial information" concerning an application for a farm capital grant. We recommend that the new clause be rejected, because it is no part of the NCC's job to consider the financial implications in any decision involving an SSSI. It is at liberty, having considered a farmer's proposals, to suggest changes to make a scheme more acceptable. The question of involving grant-aid or the scale of a project in the assessment of the calibre of habitat seems an undesirable concept to introduce.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The Minister objected to our changing "shall" to "may", and now he is objecting to new clause 13. This makes a firm presumption that the NCC will have the money to do it. If it has not got the money, it will be in an impossible position. In a way, I am pleased that these proposals are to be rejected, as long as the right hon. Gentleman can guarantee that the NCC will have the money to meet these commitments.

Mr. King

I shall come to the question of resources. Amendment No. 233 would require the NCC to advise owners and occupiers of any activity that would disturb or harm protected animals or plants. I hope that the hon. Member for Stockport, North will feel that clause 28, as drafted, has that effect and that that point is met. I recognise that a number of these amendments and new clauses were tabled before the Government's amendments and new clauses, which incorporate a number of the concepts.

Amendment No. 234 does not deal with conservation, which is the prime concern of the Government. It seeks to insert "or bloodsport". That is not the purpose of the Bill. Its purpose is to concentrate on conservation. Therefore, I cannot recommend that that amendment be accepted.

Amendments Nos. 73 and 74 seek to extend the scope of the clause to SSSIs. The Government have already accepted that principle. New clause 31 covers that point.

Amendment No. 142 seeks to extend the principle of what we call the Sandford amendment to areas of outstanding natural beauty. I did not envisage this point. The amendment seeks to extend a principle that we have not incorporated in previous discussions. Therefore, I cannot recommend that that matter be encompassed in the Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

According to my copy of the selection list amendment No. 142 is grouped with later amendments. I should want to persuade the Minister to think differently on another day.

Mr. King

I think that the hon. Gentleman will probably get the same answer when we get to it. I apologise for that error.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) for making it clear that the Opposition propose to support the Third Reading of the Bill. That is important from the point of view not only of the handling of business in the House but of the issue of conservation throughout the country. As the debate has shown in microcosm, we are dealing with active lobbies and interest groups pressing different views and with those who may not necessarily accept that the approach that we recommend to the House is the best and may feel that the voluntary principle, albeit supported in the ways that we have sought to support it in the amendments and new clauses, will not command the necessary support. If that principle is to succeed it will need leadership, and the first leadership has come from the House. If that leadership can be a united voice it will be extremely helpful to the cause of conservation. Therefore, I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Small Heath for what he said.

I deal next with resources. Several hon. Members have made this point, including the hon. Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and for Stockport, North and the right hon. Member for Small Heath both here and in Committee. No one will expect me tonight to give a categorical pledge about specific items of finance in relation to the Bill. I repeat what I said in Committee.

12.45 am

The house can at least judge our record in these matters. Against the background of the most difficult public expenditure situation that the country has faced since the war, we have shown our determination to do all that we can to protect the funds available for conservation. We realise that, in many of these areas, if that protection is not given now, habitat, wildlife protection and much of what is best in the country will be lost for ever. It is important, therefore, even in these difficult times, to see what we can do to protect such resources. We recognise that commitments are involved in the Bill. We shall seek to ensure that, as far as possible, within such resources as are available we shall meet those commitments.

I come now to amendments Nos. 214 and 215. Amendment No. 68 sought to introduce the principle of a land charge. That has been covered in amendment No. 215. Amendments Nos. 69 and 70 have been superseded by amendment No. 215. I am grateful for the generous welcome for what my colleagues and I have sought to do in this respect.

Amendments (b) and (d) relate to prior notifications in respect of sites already designated. There is no question of that situation applying. Amendment No. 215 covers the point in subsection (12), and there is no question of introducing some new prior notification of sites already designated.

Amendment (a) to amendment No. 214 and amendment (c) to amendment No. 215 seek to prevent a situation whereby the moment the NCC even hints that it is thinking of having an SSSI, out come the bulldozers and the drainage equipment and away we go. What we propose in amendment No. 214 is the practice of the NCC at the moment on a voluntary basis. The NCC seeks to discuss. There is no evidence that immediately any farmer or landowner is approached his worst instincts are aroused. In the main, it will approach this matter in a responsible way.

This is not as draconian a power as some might have wished. The more disruptive or the less responsible landowner is still able, after three months, having given his notice, to take action if he wishes to do so. This proposition was not overlooked, but there is a limit to what one can do in these matters. If one endlessly ties up such proposals with small or legal complications of one sort or another, the clarity and what we hope are the simplicity and the fairness of the objective can be lost. While we considered this point, we did not feel that it should be pursued.

Mr. Denis Howell

We attach great importance to this matter, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I am informed that there is some evidence, and if the right hon. Gentleman would like to see it I will obtain it for him. If such evidence exists, the matter should be dealt with. I was attracted by what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) said, namely, that there may be another way to deal with it that we had not thought about in Committee, whereby the moment that a site is designated it is designated ipso facto, but that if anyone wishes to object he should have a reasonable period in which to do it. I am not sure whether such an amendment can be inserted in another place, but if the hon. Gentleman's amendment is possible it probably succeeds in getting us off the hook, or at any rate in giving better guarantees than we have at present.

Mr. King

I want to return to the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). It is the other side of the problem. Some of my hon. Friends were good enough to say that I had tried to strike the right balance. The complications that one could make are endless. There is also a case, as was instanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), for saying that there should be a right of appeal.

The justification in the past for not having a right of appeal—or of even having a right of notification, as happened previously—was that there was no loss of rights in any case. The tradition, whether in the case of a listed building or of a planning control, is that the individual citizen has lost some right of free action in this respect. In the case of SSSIs and our proposal in that respect there is the minimal loss of control. It is a three-month period during which notification must take place, and then a three-month interval before any action can take place. Nothing has been lost in terms of the ultimate loss of rights over property.

If we were to go further we should inevitably he involved in the whole panoply of an appeal system, and natural justice would require a much more complicated exercise over the whole structure of SSSIs. In our proposal we feel that we can justify the absence of the ultimate resort. There is a complication, which the hon. Member for West Lothian put very clearly, in that the NCC is the advisor to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If the appeal is to be to the Secretary of State, who is to advise him on the appeal? We are back in the judge, jury and plaintiff situation. The situation is complicated, but I believe that the balance is right.

I turn to amendments (a) and (b), which propose that two defences should be available: first, that not much or no damage had been caused; and, secondly, that the area no longer justified being regarded as a SSSI. Both those defences have nothing to do with the alleged offence, because the alleged offence is the failure to notify. It is not the action that is then carried out, but the failure to notify. The fact that no damage has been done has nothing to do with the failure of notification. Serious problems would arise which would have to be resolved in a magistrates' court. It would be a lawyers' paradise, as the hon. Member for for West Lothian said, for those concerned in arguing in the magistrates' court whether the site was one of special scientific interest. That would involve real problems.

It will, of course, be essential for the NCC to use its discretion whether to pursue action over a particular case. That is why we have left the issue of any prosecution for a suspected or considered offence in the hands of the NCC. It will have to use its judgment. If a minor incident takes place, I expect the NCC to show considerable good sense and not prosecute. Obviously, if the offence or the act is much more serious, the NCC will wish to prosecute. I say that because I agree with the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave).

This provision will not work unless the NCC shows good sense at all stages. I shall be honest and say that some of the reactions that my right hon. Friend and I get from different parts of the country are much affected by the tact and good sense that has been shown by members of the NCC in the course of their normal duties. Some members have shown considerable diplomacy, understanding and co-operation. Others have shown a less helpful approach, and unfortunately that often stirs up irritation among farmers.

The problem is difficult and will probably always exist. However, it is important that the NCC should—as it is anxious to do—recognise its role in education and public relations in order to ensure that its necessary work is carried out with the minimum friction and the maximum of good will.

The approach of consent and consensus is enormously important. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked whether a £500 fine was enough. Of course, it is not. An offence might lead to an improvement in land values that could be calculated in terms of thousands of pounds. That is not the point. The point is that we are putting publicly on record the fact that there is a duty to notify and that that duty will be backed by a penalty, which will be the subject of publicity and public criticism. The important point is not the level of the fine but that for the first time Parliament will have made it clear that we judge this to be a proper duty£in accordance with the national interest—to lay on owners and occupiers of sites of special scientific interest. That duty is backed by a penalty for non-observation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford asked about guidance to the NCC and about how people should make their representations to it. We shall consider that, and consider whether it can be incorporated in the code, which we shall produce with the NCC's co-operation.

My hon. Friend mentioned denotification. There is a procedure for denotification. Sadly, several SSSIs have been denotified because they are no longer of scientific interest. In that respect, we have some record of the damage done in certain SSSIs.

My hon. Friends the Members for Montgomery (Mr. Williams) and for Hereford, and the hon. Member for West Lothian referred to the Berwyn mountains. Wide consultations have taken place on the proposal. Its scale has given rise to concern about the future pattern of designations. I was concerned by the implication that the NCC might seek to evade the Bill's procedures in terms of the designation of the Berwyn mountains. The NCC will in any case comply with all consultation and notification requirements arising from the Bill in connection with any designation of the Berwyn mountains. I hope that that assurance will be helpful.

1 am

In this world in which we seek to build more trust and understanding, it would be wrong if there were an implication that we were trying to get in before a certain deadline and were not honouring to the full the spirit of the arrangements that we are putting before the House.

This has been a long but valuable debate. We do not often reach the degree of consensus that I think there has been between the two sides of the House tonight. It has been in a cause that a united House can be that much more effective in achieving—the better preservation of the habitats.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 285, in page 68, line 1, leave out from beginning to 'applies' in line 5 and insert— (b) has been notified under section 28(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (areas of special scientific interest); (c) is an area to which section 29(3) of that Act (special protection for certain areas of special scientific interest)' —[Mr. King.]

Mr. King

I beg to move amendment No. 286, in page 68, line 5, at end insert

'or (d) has been designated as a marine nature reserve under section (Marine nature reserves) of that Act.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

With this we may take the following: Government new clause 34—Marine nature reserves—

  1. '(1) Where, in the case of any land covered (continuously or intermittently) by tidal waters or parts of the sea in or adjacent to Great Britain up to the seaward limits of territorial waters, it appears to the Secretary of State expedient, on an application made by the Nature Conservancy Council, that the land and waters covering it should be managed by the Council for the purpose of—
    1. (a) conserving marine flora or fauna or geological or physiographical features of special interest in the area; or
    2. (b) providing, under suitable conditions and control, special opportunities for the study of, and research into, matters relating to marine flora and fauna and the physical conditions in which they live, or for the study of geological and physiographical features of special interest in the area, 925 he may by order designate the area comprising that land and those waters as a marine nature reserve; and the Council shall manage any area so designated for either or both of those purposes.
  2. (2) An application for an order under this section shall be accompanied by—
    1. (a) a copy of the byelaws which, if an order is made, the Council propose making under section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves) for the protection of the area specified in the application; and
    2. (b) a copy of any byelaws made or proposed to be made for the protection of that area by a relevant authority,
    and an order made on the application shall authorise the making under that section of such of the byelaws proposed to be made by the Council as may be set out in the order with or without modifications.
  3. (3) Byelaws the making of which is so authorized—
    1. (a) shall not require the Secretary of State's consent under subsection (1) of section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves); and
    2. (b) notwithstanding anything in the provisions applied by subsection (4) of that section, shall take effect on their being made.
  4. (4) The provisions of Schedule (Procedure in connection with orders under section (Marine nature reserves)) shall have effect as to the making, validity and date of coming into operation of orders under this section; and an order made under this section may be amended or revoked by a subsequent order so made.
  5. (5) The powers exercisable by the Council for the purpose of managing an area designated as a marine nature reserve under this section shall include power to install markers indicating the existence and extent of the reserve.
  6. (6) Nothing in this section or in byelaws made under section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves) shall interfere with the exercise of any right of passage by a vessel other than a pleasure boat, any functions of a relevant authority, any functions conferred by or under an enactment (whenever passed) or any right of any person (whenever vested).

(7) In this section and section (Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves)

Amendment (a) thereto, in subsection (1) after first `council', insert 'and after consultation with such persons as appear to him to represent interests of sea angling and other relevant sporting or recreational activities,'. Amendment (b) thereto, in subsection (2), at end insert— '(2A) No order made under this section shall prohibit or restrict the sport of angling, the taking or killing of fish or the collection of bait in connection with a sport, nor any entry into an area designated under subsection (1) for the purposes of angling or activities ancilliary thereto.' Amendment (c) thereto, in subsection (6), leave out 'other than a pleasure boat'. Amendment (d) thereto, in subsection (6), at end insert 'or the catching of any commercially exploited fish or shellfish by any method which is otherwise lawful'.

Government new clause 35—Byelaws for protection of marine nature reserves— '(1) The Nature Conservancy Council may, with the consent of the Secretary of State, make byelaws for the protection of any area designated as a marine nature reserve under section (Marine nature reserves). (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), byelaws made under this section as respects a marine nature reserve—

  1. (a) may provide for prohibiting or restricting, either absolutely or subject to any exceptions—
    1. (i) the entry into, or movement within, the reserve of persons and vessels;
    2. (ii) the killing, taking, destruction, molestation or disturbance of animals or plants of any description in the reserve, or the doing of anything therein which will interfere with the sea bed or damage or disturb any object in the reserve; or
    3. (iii) the depositing of rubbish in the reserve;
  2. (b) may provide for the issue, on such terms and subject to such conditions as may be specified in the byelaws, of permits authorising entry into the reserve or the doing of anything which would otherwise be unlawful under the byelaws; and
  3. (c) may be so made as to apply either generally or with respect to particular parts of the reserve or particular times of the year.
(3) Nothing in byelaws made under this section shall make unlawful
  1. (a) anything done for the purpose of securing the safety of any vessel, or of preventing damage to any vessel or cargo, or of saving life;
  2. (b) the discharge of any substance from a vessel other than a pleasure boat; or
  3. (c) anything done more than 30 metres below the sea bed.
(4) Sections 236 to 238 of the Local Government Act 1972 or sections 202 to 204 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (which relate to the procedure for making byelaws, authorise byelaws to impose fines not exceeding the amount there specified and provide for the proof of byelaws in legal proceedings) shall apply to byelaws under this section as if the Council were a local authority within the meaning of the said Act of 1972 or the said Act of 1973, so however that in relation to such byelaws the said sections shall apply subject to such modifications (including modifications increasing the maximum fines which the byelaws may impose) as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Regulations under this subsection shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. (5) In relation to byelaws under this section the confirming authority for the purposes of the said section 236 or the said section 202 shall be the Secretary of State. (6) The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Council, direct them—

  1. (a) to revoke any byelaws previously made under this section; or
  2. (b) to make any such amendments of any byelaws so made as may be specified in the direction.
(7) The Council shall have power to enforce byelaws made under this section; but nothing in this subsection shall be construed as authorising the Council to institute proceedings in Scotland for an offence. (8) Proceedings in England and Wales for an offence under byelaws made under this section shall not, without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, be taken by a person other than the Council. (9) References in this section to animals or plants of any description include references to eggs, seeds, spores, larvae or other immature stages of animals or plants of that description.'. Amendment (a) thereto, in subsection (2), leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment (b) thereto, in subsection (3) al end insert— '(d) the prohibition or restriction of the sport of angling and the taking or killing of fish other than fish which it is unlawful to take or kill and the collection of bait in connection with the sport by individuals using such bait for their personal use'. New clause 9—Study and preservation of marine flora and fauna.

New clause 10—Marine reserves.

Amendment No. 288, in schedule 11, page 91, line 43,

after '32', insert 'or 34'.

Amendment No. 289, in page 92, line 25, after '32', insert

'or 34'.

Government amendments Nos. 225, 229 and 226.

Mr. King

The Government amendments and new clauses relate to our proposals for marine nature reserves. The proposals originated in a report to the Government, to which the Government reacted by issuing a consultation paper, with the closing date of 5 August. The other place decided that enough was known about the problems for progress to be made without waiting for the outcome of the consultation, and their Lordships inserted a new clause covering marine nature reserves.

We believed that there were certain deficiencies in the clause and introduced our own new clause in Committee, where there were about six hours of debate. A number of important points emerged, and as a result we have tabled new clauses 34 and 35, which I hope meet points of particular concern to right hon. and hon. Members.

There is now no distance limit, except the territorial water limit, where previously there was mention of 1,000 metres. Our consultation paper indicates that only in exceptional circumstances would reserves exceed 500 metres seaward, and it is unlikely that they would stretch along more than 10 kilometres of shoreline. There are as yet no firm proposals for any reserves anywhere. Arbitrary dimensions have been subject to more criticisms from respondents to our papers than anything else has been.

Understandable fears have also been expressed by fishermen that the absence of any limits could pose a serious threat to their livelihoods, when they face unprecedented difficulties. This explains one puzzle. I was wondering why the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) was here, and now all is explained.

In the event, we propose no statutory restriction on the Secretary of State's powers to declare a reserve of whatever size is found to be acceptable to all concerned. In considering a marine nature reserve, those concerned will take account of any views expressed on the consultation paper.

The other area that gave rise to considerable concern was what might be called the inter-tidal zone. The previous clause appeared to refer to the low water mark. There was no sinister reason. The NCC already has byelaw-making powers reaching to the low water mark, and it was thought undesirable, in drafting and legal terms, to complicate the issue. That gave rise to misunderstandings. It will now be seen that the first line of new clause 34 reads Where, in the case of any land covered (continuously or intermittently) That is the draftsman's neat way of describing the distance between the low and high water marks.

There is a slight slip, however. The draftsman was so correct that he forgot the problem of flooding, which could stretch beyond the conventional high water mark. Therefore, the provision could cover flooded areas. I wish to make it clear that there is absolutely no intention of having a marine nature reserve above the high water mark.

Although the drafting technically makes that possible, the Secretary of State has no intention of confirming any marine nature reserve that stretches above the high water mark. That will relieve a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

New clause 34(a) includes conservation. The conserving of marine flora and fauna, which was previously a secondary purpose, has now been made the primary purpose.

Hon. Members who are not familiar with the subject may find the amendments difficult to read at first sight. The procedure for a marine nature reserve involves the creation of a number of byelaws. The premise is that marine nature reserves can be created only by the consent of all concerned. I put that on the record for the anglers and the sea fisheries committees. Their byelaw-making powers will be important. The NCC will be empowered to make byelaws for all those matters for which other bodies are not already the byelaw-making authorities. That will be the principle on which the marine nature reserves will be constructed.

The package that will be put forward by the NCC for a proposed reserve and the text of all the relevant byelaws must be presented as a coherent whole, so that any person or organisation that may be affected by the creation of a reserve is able to see right from the start what restrictions are likely to be applied. The Secretary of State must be persuaded that there is a good case for establishing a reserve and a good chance that it will be successful.

The House is familiar with the philosophy behind the marine nature reserves. Another place decided that the enabling power should be initiated in the Bill. We agreed in Committee to support that, and sought to improve the drafting in the light of the legal problems that exist, with complications for the law of the sea and other issues. We were able to take advantage of the responses to the consultation paper. I hope that the House will feel that what we have now put forward reflects the consideration in Committee and represents a workable proposition at the start of an important new step in conservation.

Mr. Dalyell

Throughout your parliamentary life, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have been a protagonist of no unreasonable time limits in parliamentary procedure. If ever you were justified, along with some others—uncomfortable though it may be for Executives and Governments—the history of the discussion on marine nature reserves bears out the rightness of that cause. The Opposition were prepared to talk and talk. The Minister referred to six hours. It is no news to him that I alone, without my colleagues, had ready at the drop of a hat a six-hour speech. I was superbly briefed by Fred Holiday and Ron Currie of the Oban Laboratory, by Bob Earll of the Underwater Conservation Society, by Professor Nichols of Exeter, by Roger Mitchell of the NCC Huntingdon, by Chris Tydeman of the Wildlife Fund, by Morton Boyd and David Goode of the NCC, and by many others.

We would have used the time to overturn what I suspect was a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food-inspired daft new clause, which was different from that which had emerged from the other place. How pleased Ministers must be that the Opposition helped them so greatly to come to a sensible and constructive conclusion. Had we not been committed to oppose and oppose by my hon. Friends making long and well-informed speeches, heaven knows what we would have been landed with on Report. This is a justification for Committee procedures, which may seem clumsy and awkward but at the end of the day often come up with the right answer.

Having said that this is the right answer, I think that I know why such a daft new clause appeared on the Amendment Paper in Committee in the Government's name. It was MAFF-inspired. They succumbed, in an ill-informed way, to pressure from sea fisheries representatives, who thought that marine reserves would be against their interests. It is for us to try to persuade those who had doubts about the interests of the marine fisheries that MNRs, far from being a disadvantage, are a positive advantage to sea fisheries' interests, that they will help stocks that are under pressure and will help both sea fisheries and MAFF in their own applied studies. They fit the remit of the old blue zone concept. They form a control yardstick, so that we may see what is happening with man's activities. The conservation of the marine environment and commercial fishing and fish farming are by no means incompatible.

The Opposition have no objection to pleasure boats entering the marine nature reserves. We have put down a marker. We are concerned about reefs and sub-tidal issues that are raised, for instance, in what may be designated as the Monach Isles off the Western Isles. There is an issue to be determined on wrecks. The study of the encrustation of wrecks, like the encrustation of North Sea oil rigs, is important. We ask whether the NCC has the staff and the resources to oversee the MNRs. We must return to the serious question of resources for the NCC.

Someone will have to do a good deal of study on the differences between Scottish and English law. These issues will have to be fully researched. I do not want to go further into that tonight. It is an arcane subject and one that cannot merely be left.

One of the reasons why some of us for a long time have been passionately urging others, especially those in another place, to tackle this subject is that we are appalled, above everything else, by the effect of scallop dredging, which is exactly like damaging the most important SSSIs on land. It constitutes a definable threat. Without MNRs, one can do little about the damage that is done to the fragile habitat by scallop dredging. It is equivalent to ploughing up some of our most valuable fields of ancient grassland.

I am glad that we have been able to sort out the question of distances. The question of longitudinal distance may not be as important as the question of depth. Longitude—1,000 metres or 3,000 metres—can give a false impression, because what matters are the differences in the sea bed, which is a combination of longtitude and depth.

That can be illustrated by the importance, for example, of protection, in certain areas, for the sea urchin. Professor Nichols has outlined the great dangers to the sea urchin off the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, where they are used for commercial exploitation—for export to Japan, California and all round the world. We shall have to be careful that in many areas the sea urchin does not go the way of the dodo.

1.15 am

MNRs have a valuable contribution to make as a control area. They can be used to research the natural population fluctuations of littoral and shallow sub-littoral organisms and the impact of man-made influences on them. These reserve areas would be nursery grounds for fish and for shellfish. That is why we have to protect them against the ravages of a scallop dredger, which can do more damage in half an hour than 1,000 divers in 20 years. The damage is enormous in relation to other potential threats. That is why we are glad that the amendment has more teeth.

I do not know whether this is the time to do it, but some of us would like to express a few personal preferences not for the establishment of MNRs right round the coast—that was never the proposition in the first place but in certain areas. In a previous incarnation, one of us used to he active at St. Abb's Head. I hope that St. Abb's will be considered, along with Lundy, on which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) is keen, Bardsey, Linne Mhuirich and the Loch Sween complex.

In my capacity as a council member for five years of the National Trust for Scotland, I should like to put in a particular plea for the establishment of a marine nature reserve around St. Kilda. First, the argument for St. Kilda is that it is already a terrestrial MNR and a grade 1 site. Secondly, it is an area of exceptional wildlife interest. MNR status would afford greater protection to the seabird and mammal life in the waters around St. Kilda.

Thirdly, man's impacts are few, and it is a site remote from many types of coastal pollution, and, as such, it provides a valuable scientific study area. Fourthly, there are unlikely to be any conflicts with commercial destructive fishing practices, because the ground is so rocky offshore. Fifthly, underwater the site is of considerable interest for the wide variety of rocky habitats and the many marine species that are found at their northern and western limits of distribution. Sixthly, the site is a geological SSSI and the most accessible westerly outlier in the United Kingdom.

As one who, on three occasions, in various capacities, partly on the ship "Dunera" and partly under the auspices of the National Trust, has gone to St. Kilda, and really cares about it, I hope that if the House establishes MNRs, at least St. Kilda will be seriously considered as one of the first venues for the new type of MNRs, because it has a sound, urgent and good case.

Mr. Delwyn Williams

I note with pleasure that the Secretary of State will have a discretionary power to confirm the designation of marine reserves. However, it is strange that the power does not exist for inland areas.

I commend to the House the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay), which seeks to allow pleasure boats to come into marine reserves. "Morning Cloud" would do less harm in a marine reserve than is done when the skipper is, on occasions, in deep water in the House. I can see no reason for excluding sailing yachts.

Mr. Denis Howell

"Morning Cloud" is not a pleasure boat.

Mr. Williams

Well, I am sure that people take pleasure in sailing these big yachts, and I cannot see what harm they would do to the marine environment.

The Royal Yachting Association is concerned about its activities and hon. Members from rural areas are concerned about the effect of such a restriction on the tourist industry. I urge the Minister to reconsider.

It is difficult to see why fish farms should be excluded from marine reserves. For instance, it is in the interests of fish farming to have pure, clear water. Farming salmon, trout, turbot, shellfish, oysters, mussels, and so on, requires clear water, away from coastal pollution. There does not appear to be any evidence that commercial fish farming pollutes a marine environment. It is an important growth industry around our coasts, with great job potential. With the plight of rural areas there is much to commend it.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I welcome the new clause. I understand the arguments for restricting it, but I hope that the Minister will resist all enticements.

As the Minister made clear, the idea is to get agreement from all interested bodies before the byelaws are made, so the powers to make them should be as wide as possible, in order that in any one area every possible eventuality is covered.

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

What safeguard is there that all interests will 'agree before a byelaw is made?

Mr. Bennett

Apart from the Minister's statement, it is clear from the way that the Bill is drafted that it must be through consultation and consent. If the system is to work, that is the way in which it must be carried out.

I can see why the various groups want a veto so that there cannot possibly be a byelaw that covers them. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) gave an example. He mentioned St. Kilda, and he is interested in sea angling. I am sure that sea anglers will not be the slightest bit interested in the example given. If one considers all the possible areas it is clear that most of the groups likely to be concerned with an area will not be concerned with that particular area. It is therefore important that the power should be as wide as possible.

I should like to press the Minister on one of the restrictions that he has built in. New clause 35(3) states: Nothing in byelaws … shall make unlawful. … the discharge of any substance from a vessel other than a pleasure boat into the sea. Why is it necessary to make that distinction? There should be powers in byelaws to restrict discharge in particular instances.

Equally there should be power to regulate fish farming in certain circumstances. It could alter the marine environment. If an area is of value and agreement is reached by consent to establish a reserve it would be foolish to allow a fish farm to be set up that might distort its purpose.

I therefore hope that the Minister will ensure that he preserves in the Bill the widest possible byelaw-making powers. I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) to amendment No. 229, in which the procedure for going through the byelaws and putting in the objections is set out. I think that that gives most groups fairly good powers to object to the provisions if they think them unfair. There are quite extensive powers—to object to the byelaws. I hope that in any case the setting out of reserves will be done by consent.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian gave some examples. New clause 9, in my name, suggests that at least three reserves should be created within the next two years. I do not wish to press the new clause, but I firmly ask the Minister to give some declaration of intent that he does not simply wish to have the legislation on the statute book, but intends to have some reserves in operation within the lifetime of this Parliament.

Mr. David Myles (Banff)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) for clarifying a little what the byelaws are about. I did not have the pleasure—the doubtful pleasure, perhaps—of being a member of the Committee on the Bill, but I feel strongly about a number of matters.

I shall confine myself, however, to amendment (d) to new clause 34. May I be assured that commercial catchers of fish will be covered as parties who should or indeed must be consulted before byelaws are laid? Throughout the Bill there is a great need to consider those who must make their living in those areas, often in difficult economic circumstances. I therefore believe that the interests of commercial fishermen catching fish that is commercially exploited quite lawfully otherwise should be allowed in the marine reserves.

Mr. Farr

I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about new clauses 34 and 35. I, too, welcome the assurances that he gave, especially in relation to consultation.

I refer to my amendments (a) and (b) to new clause 34, concerning sea angling and other relevant sporting or recreational activities. I should add that on this my views are fully shared by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), who unfortunately cannot be with us tonight. He has assured me of his full support in speaking to those amendments.

Amendment (a) provides that proper consultation shall take place with bodies such as the National Federation of Sea Anglers and the National Anglers Council. They are concerned that the establishment of marine nature reserves may be so worded as to prohibit or restrict sea angling. The same applies to yachtsmen and other sportsmen who are also concerned with their sports.

Similarly, amendment (b) particularly emphasises the strong feeling of sea anglers and others that no orders should be made that would in any way prohibit or restrict the sport of angling or the collection of bait in connection with that sport. I remind the House that the National Federation of Sea Anglers represents nearly 2 million persons; in fact, the number of sea fishermen or sea anglers at the moment is 1,700,000. They spend over £200 million annually on their pastime and they, like myself, are looking to the Government to give them the necessary assurances.

1.30 am
Mr. Golding

It was at precisely 1.30 am last Monday that I was called to speak in the debate. Let me say to the Liberal Chief Whip that I am here not because the filibuster is not yet over but because of a concern for angling, as the Minister will realise. I have not been satisfied with what has been said from both Front Benches on the matter in question.

The Minister said, in defence of the position, that the Secretary of State must be persuaded. I was referred to the procedures in connection with marine nature reserves. The reason why I am not content is that provision is made for groups to object, and they include not only sea anglers but those who enjoy boating. The right is there to object, but there is no obligation, as far as I can see, for those objections to be upheld. It becomes a matter for the Secretary of State to determine.

It is traditional to say that the present Secretary of State would take note of such objections. I do not know whether he would or would not, but I know individuals in this House who, if they became Secretary of State, would have very little sympathy with the angling interests and who, if anglers put forward objections, would take very little notice of them. That is why it is important that the case for the anglers should be put strongly.

The case is very simple, and it is based on a longstanding precedent. The anglers have had freedom to collect bait by digging or other means, and they have had the freedom in some places to fish. They are important freedoms. If we are to deny anglers the right to obtain bait under the provisions relating to a marine nature reserve we shall deny them their hobby, or make it much more difficult for them to pursue it. If we deny them access to particular stretches it will be much more difficult for them to fish.

I do not think that the creation of marine nature reserves should make it more difficult for people to pursue the hobby of sea angling. I do not know whether the numbers are those quoted by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). What I know is that angling becomes more and more popular year by year.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

My hon. Friend is explaining the traditional freedom, the right to dig for bait, but is he not aware that the Nature Conservancy Council already has the power to restrict it if it believes that in the area concerned it will damage the habitat between low and high tide? It is thus only a re-enactment of existing legislation, which has been used with considerable discretion, and not in such a manner so far as to cause any upset to the sea anglers whom, I realise, he wants to represent on this occasion.

Mr. Golding

I am not sure whether what my hon. Friend says is true, but I know that the creation of marine nature reserves will draw the attention of officialdom to the power to restrict the activities of fishermen. Anglers see that as a danger; they see outsiders passing legislation that will do anglers considerable harm.

Angling is one of the most popular and least offensive sports in this country. Working people get upset when they think that parliamentarians who do not know what the sport is about make life difficult for them. We should be encouraging angling, not discouraging it. I do not want to make party points about the advisability of people fishing on the sea shore, rivers, lakes and ponds rather than feeling frustrated in our inner cities, but angling is a peaceful sport, which should be encouraged. For the city dweller, angling is often his only contact with the countryside and nature. It is desirable that we should encourage it.

It is important that the Government should state specifically thane, the creation of marine nature reserves will not prevent anglers from pursuing their traditional right of digging for bait and will not put new barriers in the way of fishing. It is not good enough for hon. Members merely to make soothing noises or for Ministers to say that they do not intend to create any difficulty for anglers.

We cannot rust all hon. Members to be as sympathetic to field sports and angling as some are. Future Secretaries of State could ignore sport, particularly angling, when using the powers provided by the measure. Present Ministers will have to share the responsibility if those powers are misused.

Mr. Denis Howell

I shall be brief but sincere in saying that I regard the clause as yet another considerable advance achieved in the Bill. We can all be grateful to those in another place for pressing the concept of marine nature reserves on an initially reluctant Government. An exciting prospect is opened up, and conservationists and those who care about these matters will be grateful that we have got it right. There is little in the clause to which I take exception.

However, I share the concern expressed on both sides of the House about the protection needed for sea anglers and yachtsmen. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Daly ell) that the protection of the sea bed from scooping, particularly for scallops, is especially important in a marine nature reserve. I am glad that the Government have recognised that fact.

One suspects that there will be very few marine nature reserves. They will nevertheless be located in critically important places. It is important to make clear the healthy recreational pursuits that should be provided in the reserves. One pursuit is clearly angling, which I differentiate from commercial fishing operations. I cannot see any objection to the wish of thousands of people to pursue angling by rod and line.

The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) tabled amendments and the Opposition also tabled amendment (b) following consultation with the National Anglers Council and with the sea anglers.

Mr. Farr

I believe that amendment (b) is mine.

Mr. Howell

There are two amendment (b)s. The hon. Gentleman refers, I think, to his amendment (b) to new clause 34. I refer to the amendment (b) of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), who is within sight, if not sound, of new clause 35. We attempted to put in legislative form reasonable protection. I hope that the amendment commends itself to the Government. It proposes that there should be no prohibition of sea angling in marine nature reserves except a prohibition on taking those fish that it is already unlawful to take.

The second point concerns the collection of bait. I hope that the hon. Member for Harborough will not object if I say that our amendment is preferable to his because there are real fears among conservationists that wholesale digging for bait in a marine nature reserve could have a detrimental effect upon the reserve. It seems to the Opposition a reasonable balance to restrict commercial digging for bait by all and sundry while allowing the angler to dig for worms for his own purposes. The angling interests have helped to draw up this amendment. If it is not technically correct it can be put right in the other place. It is important that the principle should be included in the Bill.

Mr. Farr

Both of the amendments (b) to which reference has been made refer to bait collection. The amendments (a) and (b) in my name were provided Last Friday by the National Anglers Council. I imagine that they represent its final word on the matter.

Mr. Howell

I encouraged the National Anglers Council to take that course. I believed that it would be better to achieve some all-party agreement. The amendments are a permutation on a theme. In his amendment the hon. Gentleman proposes to allow any digging for bait in a marine nature reserve. That will cause concern. We propose that the angler who will use the bait should be allowed to dig for bait. That seems a sensible proposition.

My final point concerns yachting. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the traditional rights of navigation will apply to boats in a marine nature reserve. That will satisfy the Royal Yachting Association and the country's yachtsmen, and we shall not have specifically to put anything into the Bill. I hope that we can assume that people engaging in the healthy and sensible pursuit of yachtng will not be restricted in a marine nature reserve, since they cannot possibly be doing any harm. We would all wish to protect their interests and to encourage that sport.

1.45 am
Mr. King

I hope that it will now be felt that the Government amendment has superseded new clauses 9 and 10, because it carries out the thoughts of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) in his reasonable approach to this issue in Committee. I ought to comment on new clause 9(6), which provides that the NCC shall propose at least three orders under this clause within two years of the Act's coming into force. We could not accept that. In saying that, I am not commenting on whether that is feasible progress. We do not think it realistic to put that commitment into an Act. That would not be the normal expectation. I hope that the hon. Member will understand that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has tabled two technical amendments—Nos. 288 and 289. If the House agrees no to proceed with new clause 34, those amendments will fall with it and will be replaced by the consequential amendment No. 229.

Let me deal with the point of discharges. This problem is linked with the law of the sea. There is the problem of pleasure boats and the problem of rights of passage. Discharge standards for vessels are normally laid down by international agreements. It is much more desirable that there should be clear international agreement than various national requirements. Substances discharged from ships are already covered by offences with prescribed penalties.

The legislation on this subject includes the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971, the Dumping at Sea Act 1974 and section 20 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979. We feel in this respect that the MNR byelaws would duplicate existing legislation. Further, it is not appropriate for byelaws to supersede primary legislation. We are not ducking the question of discharges. Without control they could do enormous damage to the marine environment. We are no more willing to accept that in marine nature reserves than anywhere else.

We then come to the question of pleasure boats. This relates to the power to make byelaws, as opposed to the rights of passage of larger vessels. The point was raised of a yacht passing through a marine nature reserve without causing any lasting impact. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales said that if the passage of a yacht did no harm there would be no byelaw to prevent that passage. There is the point of what damage yachts might do, and what, on the other hand, a concentration of motor boats would do. It will be vital to have the powers to protect marine nature reserves from the kind of damage that might be threatened.

I should like to cheer up the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). He will be pleased to know that the Department of the Environment has a research contract with Professor Nichols on sea urchins. The hon. Gentleman probably knows about it already. At any rate, we seem to be supporting the angels in that respect. We must ensure that any byelaws that we make, even within our own territorial waters, do not conflict with our international obligations, including any that may arise from our membership of the European Community.

The most controversial amendments deal with the sporting and recreational interests, about which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough expressed concern. It is clear that a balance must be struck here. We must pay regard to the overlapping concerns of sea angling, commercial fishing and conservation and see how they can best be reconciled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough, in amendment (a) to new clause 34, seeks to insert and after consultation with such persons as appear to him to represent interests of sea angling and other relevant sporting or recreational activities". We do not wish to write into the Bill all the bodies that should be consulted, but I undertake that there will be such consultation. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that assurance.

In amendment (b) my hon. Friend seeks to insert: No order made uner this section shall prohibit or restrict the sport of angling, the taking or killing of fish or the collection of bait". The right hon. Member for Small Heath was also concerned about that aspect. That is to prevent any byelaw from being made in any marine nature reserve to restrict angling or any ancillary activity.

I shall come to other points on this matter, but, first, I want to make some general points. My observation, after discussions with my advisers, is that probably it will not be necessary to restrict ordinary sporting fishing, angling, the collection of bait and the other matters that have been mentioned by hon. Members. However, one cannot rule out the possibility of some restraint. I think that it would be wrong to establish marine nature reserves and to start with a positive prohibition that in no circumstances can angling be interfered with.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North wants three marine nature reserves in the first two years. I do not know whether that object will be achieved. I can think of half a dozen places for marine nature reserves, but they will take time to set up. There will be much discussion and consultation. The distances that they might cover are difficult to know, although there has been talk possibly of 10 kilometres. We have 9,000 miles of coastline. It is not impossible for angling and marine nature reserves to co-exist. On that basis, it is reasonable to reserve the power, if necessary, to make byelaws for these areas. I think that it would be a mistake to restrict ourselves in the way suggested in amendment (b).

I have already dealt with amendment (c), which relates to pleasure boats.

Amendment (d) relates to commercial fishing. I cannot recommend the House to accept the amendment, because it could in certain circumstances defeat the object of the exercise. I have sought to address my remarks also to amendment (b) to new clause 35, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham).

We are anxious to see that such a marine nature reserve goes forward with the widest possible support. It will not work if it does not. For all the byelaws there may be, if people are determined to defeat and frustrate such a scheme it will not work. It will depend upon the agreement of all the bodies concerned. There will not be any fishing byelaws unless the sea fisheries committee decides to make them. That is what we mean by the consent of all the bodies concerned.

There will be the opportunity to make representations, and it would be a foolish Minister who did not listen to them all. If this provision is to succeed it will need a large measure of good will. I understand the concern and the feeling that the whole coastline is to be declared a marine nature reserve, but I ask the House to realise that it is a limited experiment in the cause of conservation in an important sector. I hope that the House will feel, therefore, that the right balance has been struck. I am grateful for the general welcome given to our proposals.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made:

No. 206, in page 68, leave out lines 6 to 8 and insert—

'The Badgers Act 1973'

No. 207. in page 68, line 9, leave out '1973 Act' and insert 'Badgers Act 1973'.

No. 172, in page 68, line 11, leave out 'subsection' and insert 'subsections'.

No. 173, in page 68, line 14, leave out from beginning to 'he' in line 16 and insert 'any part of, or anything derived from, a dead badger'.

No. 174, in page 68, line 16, at end insert— '(3) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under subsection (2) above if he shows that—

  1. (a) the badger had not been killed, or had been killed otherwise than in contravention of the provisions of this Act; or
  2. (b) the badger or other thing in his possession or control had been sold (whether to him or any other person) and, at the time of the purchase, the purchaser had had no reason to believe that the badger had been killed in contravention of those provisions.'.

No. 208, in page 68, line 18, leave out 'the 1973' and insert 'that'.

No. 209, in page 68, line 32, leave out 'the 1973' and insert 'that'.

No. 175, in page 69, leave out lines 3 to 7 and insert 'it had become apparent, before that time, that that action would prove necessary for the purpose mentioned in that subsection and either—

  1. (a) a licence under section 9 of this Act authorising that action had not been applied for as soon as reasonably practicable after that fact had become apparent; or
  2. (b) an application for such a licence had been determined"

No. 210, in page 69, line 26, leave out 'the 1973' and insert 'that'.

No. 211, in page 69, line 34, leave out 'the 1973' and insert 'that' —[Mr. King.]

Forward to