HC Deb 04 April 1984 vol 57 cc953-5
10. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the operation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Mr. Waldegrave

Yes, Sir, in general. We are, however, keeping its operation under review.

Mr. Ross

While I recognise that the Wildlife and Countryside Act was a major step forward in environmental conservation, does the Minister agree that there is a need now to take a much tougher approach with those who plough up sites of special scientific interest, such as the Halvergate marsh in Norfolk or the Alverstone marsh in my constituency, to grow grain, which we do not need? Will he take on board the recommendations of the Nature Conservancy Council and others and take steps to ensure we can prevent what is now happening and costing the nation too much money?

Mr. Waldegrave

We always consider seriously the views of the Nature Conservancy Council. The chairman of the NCC said recently that he thought that the damage to SSSIs had diminished since the passage of the Act. We have only had a year of the full working of the Act.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Wildlife and Countryside Act must only be a start in our campaign to protect our countryside? Is he aware that habitats are still being destroyed, with the help of public subsidies, to add to agricultural surpluses? Is not that nonsense in the light of recent events in Europe?

Mr. Waldegrave

We shall certainly keep the relationship between agriculture and conservation under close review.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister accept that in recent weeks and months substantial evidence has reached the Department about damage done to important sites as a result of the three-month loophole, which was unwittingly left within the Act? Does he accept that there is now a growing and widespread view that that loophole must be closed? Can we soon expect a favourable response to the requests that he received some weeks ago?

Mr. Waldegrave

As I told the hon. Member when we discussed this previously, the Government are considering the matter, but I have no news for him as yet.

Mr. Rowe

While I welcome my hon. Friend's assurance that he is keeping the Act under review, is it not true that the need to cut agricultural production, to some extent, gives an opportunity in the short term to encourage farmers — by changing the subsidy arrangements — to make better provision for conservation as many of them would like to do but find extremely difficult under present grant arrangements?

Mr. Waldegrave

I rather agree with my hon. Friend that, as we go into a period when surpluses are bound to be cut, farmers may be more interested in the kind of approach that he mentioned.

Mr. Dalyell

Is Halvergate now safe?

Mr. Waldegrave

I can assure the hon. Member that Halvergate is safe for a year. We are in the process of discussions with my noble Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to see whether we can ensure its long-term security, which is of great importance.

Dr. David Clark

Having heard opinions from both sides of the House, does the Minister appreciate that many people feel that certain provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act have failed? May I make the Minister a serious offer? Is he prepared to meet the Opposition and reach a consensus on necessary and urgent remedial legislation?

Mr. Waldegrave

I hear from both sides of the House that many hon. Members believe that the basis provided by the Wildlife and Countryside Act may need further provisions. I shall be delighted to talk to hon. Members about their proposals.