HC Deb 01 March 1984 vol 55 cc382-3
14. Mr. Andrew F Bennett

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with the Nature Conservancy Council about agriculture and the protection of sites of special scientific interest.

Mrs. Fenner

My colleagues and I maintain regular contact with the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council on matters of mutual concern.

Mr. Bennett

What are we doing to plug the three-month loophole?

Mrs. Fenner

I am sorry, but I should need notice of that question, as I am not sure what is meant by the term "the three-month loophole".

Sir Hector Monro

Does my hon. Friend agree that the relationship between farming and the Nature Conservancy Council has never been better, and will she do all that she can to encourage that harmony so that each will understand the other's problems?

Mrs. Fenner

Yes, indeed. I suspect that my hon. Friend has as deep a knowledge as anyone, having piloted the relevant legislation through the House.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend agree that a simple step that she could take to further conservation would be to make cost-benefit analyses in drainage schemes available for public scrutiny?

Mrs. Fenner

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about that. He will know that there has been an important review of drainage schemes and I shall raise the subject of his concern before the review is completed.

Mr. Mark Hughes

May I assist the hon. Lady by saying that the three-month loophole referred to by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is the time allowed while matters are being considered? There are three months during which farmers can do terrible mischief to wildlife and conservation efforts. Will the hon. Lady answer my hon. Friend's question, now that she understands what the gap is?

Mrs. Fenner

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I do not have details of the so-called "terrible damage" that farmers are claimed to do between the declaration and finalisation of SSSI status. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member wishes to bring particular cases to the Department's attention, we may be able to pursue them with the NCC.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the Minister aware that the view of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) of the relationship between farmers and the Nature Conservancy Council is not a reflection of the views of farmers in my constituency, who feel that the council is being starved of the resources necessary to enable it to give compensation for land that has been designated? As a result of that lack of funds, the council cannot do its job. The matter is urgent, and will the Minister give it her full attention?

Mrs. Fenner

The funding of the NCC is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. So far as I am aware, the NCC has experienced no difficulty to date in funding its management agreement.

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