HC Deb 27 November 1984 vol 68 cc784-831 3.47 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I beg to move, That this House recognises the widespread concern about the alarming deterioration of the natural environment; supports the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, together with numerous voluntary organisations, which call for urgent legislation, greater government involvement and funding in order to protect the natural environment and national heritage; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to respond immediately with action and legislation. The motion is based not simply on the views and conclusions of the Labour party but on a wide-ranging collection of views and conclusions of statutory bodies, Select Committees of this House and of another place, non-governmental organisations and interest groups which reflect and represent the views of millions of people in Britain. Their conclusions, like ours, are based on a massive burden of well-documented evidence which has been accumulated in some cases in spite of official commercial and industrial attempts to prevent its disclosure.

We have provided time for the debate because of the seriousness of the many threats to our environment and heritage and because of the continued feet-dragging reluctance of the Government to respond adequately to the scale and nature of those threats.

The Government are failing at national and international level to match up to the challenge. While it is clear and agreed that only co-ordinated international action can succeed in tackling, for example, questions of world poverty, acid rain and the law of the sea, the Conservative Government display mean-minded narrowness of vision in the face of mounting criticism and pressure for action.

In 1983 alone, 15 million children died in the developing world as a consequence of hunger and malnutrition. It was as if the combined under-five populations of Britain, France, Italy, Spain and the Federal Republic of Germany had been wiped out in a single year. Yet, faced with a crisis in Ethiopia, likely to be repeated in Chad and elsewhere, the Government cut overseas aid.

After years of negotiation, discussion and debate on the law of the sea at the United Nations, Britain displays a dog-in-the-manger attitude to overwhelming international opinion, and hangs on to the coat-tails of President Reagan and American industrial lobbies. Will the Minister tell the House of the Government's intentions with respect to the convention? We believe that Britain should sign for a variety of well documented and very important reasons. The closing date is 9 December 1984, and the House is entitled to know what the Governmen intend to do.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

What has this to do with the motion?

Dr. Cunningham

We in the Labour party want action on national and international levels: that is what it has to do with the motion, if the hon. Gentleman is interested. We want policy initiatives and action to be taken through five general areas. National and international intervention in development is essential. A free market economy does not work to protect the environment. We must tackle the institutions, Government Departments and public bodies and establish a freedom of information Act. A major review of the operations and environmental impact of all energy industries, particularly the nuclear industry, is essential. We must act with more urgency and vigour to protect the countryside from the increasingly malign impact of agriculture. The Government should review the industrial opportunities arising from environmental protection policies and devise a strategy to protect British industry and create jobs.

Of course, action to protect, sustain and enhance the environment poses a fundamental dilemma for Conservatives, particularly those who have nailed their reputations to a market forces view of the world. Environmental protection, conservation and pollution prevention and control demand intervention. This is a major difference between the Conservative Government and the Labour party. We believe that without intervention in economic and industrial development, without proper systematic planning and control over the use of resources, land, water, energy and the marine environment, the problems of environmental and ecological damage are unlikely to be arrested, let alone eliminated.

For us in the Labour party, that argument has always been a tenet of our approach at national and international level. It is nowhere more apposite than in dealing with environmental policy. The very history of industrialisation should be the only lesson from which we need to learn, that market forces are no respecters of resource use or the environment. Surely it is ironic, particularly for Conservative Members, that the common agricultural policy, responsible as it is for such major threats to the countryside, should benefit from massive intervention while the pan-European problems of acidification do not apparently qualify for such an approach.

The development of ecology as a science of man and nature has done and will continue to do us all a massive service if we heed the lessons and note the warnings. However, I do not agree, nor does the Labour party accept, that we can or should abandon development either for ourselves or for the developing world. Improved economic performance is, on the contrary, a prerequisite to the solution of the problems that we face. To argue otherwise is simply to betray millions of people, to condemn them to squalor, poverty, disease, malnutrition, ignorance, illiteracy and death.

The Labour party in government would bring new urgency to the problems of urban renewal, especially in the inner cities and conurbations, new housing, refurbishment programmes, clearance of dereliction and, most important, the freedom for local authorities to get on with the job. That would ease pressures on land and help to protect the green belt. We are committed to greater support for public transport, the development of which would make a significant contribution to reducing pollution and congestion.

Energy conservation policy should be upgraded and given a new sense of purpose. The energy industries are massive consumers of land, financial resources and raw materials. On taking office, the Government abandoned energy conservation policy, and energy supply industries continue to dominate thinking about energy policy and its pollution consequences. Energy consumption must be systematically examined and, where possible, reduced so as to conserve resources and to improve energy productivity in order to reduce consumer costs.

I believe that opposition to a new environment policy is institutionalised in this country in Government Departments, public bodies, business and commerce. We must tackle the institutions and public bodies. Every aspect of public policy should have a planned environmental conservation input from the outset. In conjunction with this, we require a freedom of information Act in the public interest so that the fullest possible debate on the facts can take place.

The Department of the Environment should be strengthened. I take this opportunity to express our great regret at the Secretary of State's unfortunate accident and to wish him a speedy and complete recovery. The Department should be strengthened in terms of personnel and upgraded in terms of governmental influence. The damage caused by staff cuts in the Department must be reversed. The Department of the Environment seems to have become entirely defensive about its role and responsibilities in environmental protection and is being driven by EEC legislation. We want Britain to take initiatives and to lead the case for improved environment policies, but the Department of the Environment seems singularly unable to deal with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on anything like equal terms. The closing of the National Water Council and the exclusion of the public and press from the meetings of regional water authorities were retrograde and regrettable actions by the Conservative Administration. There is also scope for major improvements in the operations of the National Coal Board, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the oil and nuclear industries.

The Government have been laggard in their approach to the problems of acid rain so seriously spotlighted by the tenth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. It is not good enough to hide behind research and the need for concentrated international action, important though that is. It is estimated that 80 per cent. of acid precipitation in Britain is generated here, so it is a self-inflicted wound. We support the commissioning of a full national survey of the impact of this, more promotion of fluidised bed combustion systems, more action on the scrubbing of flue gases and a target date for significant real reductions in emissions rather than reductions resulting from the decline of our industrial economy.

In the civil nuclear industry we call for the abandonment of the operation of the Official Secrets Acts so as to facilitate more open debate. We also require a target date for an end to nuclear discharges into the marine environment with a step-by-step reduction in discharge authorisation until that target is reached. I have asked Ministers about this before, but it is clear that they cannot define in any sensible terms what the principle of ALARA is supposed to be. The Department has declined to give me a definition in the House. In reality, the principle is meaningless.

We also want a restriction of the personnel involved in NIREX and in the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee and the inclusion of more representation of trade unions, elected local authority members and environmental organisations. We seek a complete review of their proposals and a reconsideration of the financing of major national public inquiries on this and other issues of contention. In addition, the boards of all public bodies involved in civil nuclear power should be strengthened by the inclusion of a director with specific responsibilities for environmental policy matters.

I represent an area in which the nuclear industry operates and I well understand the public concern about that industry. I believe that our proposals are the minimum required to ensure that the development of nuclear power does not outstrip public acceptance and understanding of what is involved.

In addition, the Government should abandon the NIREX proposals to store waste at Billingham and Elston, and institute a complete review of waste disposal policy, including dumping at sea, about which I understand the Holliday committee is shortly to report. We should return to the policy of the Labour Government's 1977 White Paper on nuclear power and the environment, and ensure that the creation of wastes from nuclear activity is minimised— great pressure should be brought on the industry to bring that about—that waste management problems are resolved before any major expansion of nuclear power is undertaken, and that the handling and treatment of waste should be carried out with due regard to environmental circumstances. However, I have no doubt, nor does the Labour party conference, that the nuclear generation of electricity is here to stay and will always form part of any national energy policy.

The Government suffered an embarrasing defeat on their green belt proposals and are now trying to circumvent their promises to the House and to many of their own supporters. That is evident from the approach to the county of Avon's structure plan, where the Secretary of State proposes housing expansion in areas expressly rejected by the council, in its planning strategy. That is a serious example of an attempt by the Government to get out of their promises to the House.

By comparison with the energy industries, and historically, agriculture has always been presented environmentally as a benign industry. That is not true in the modern world. We must take action to halt the overuse and abuse of pesticides and fetilisers. Damage being done to flora and fauna, topsoil and water courses is serious and increasing.

The physical destruction of heaths, moorland, marshes, meadows, wetlands, deciduous woods, hedgerows and sites of special scientific interest should simply be halted. To quote the 1983 annual report of the Nature Conservancy Council again: There is just about enough habitat left to ensure continuity of Britain's wild plants and animals—if it is conserved. The danger is that, if it is not wholeheartedly protected now, in ten years time it will be too late. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has failed and cannot combat the massive and often malign impact of the common agricultural policy of the British countryside. We regret and condemn the Government's failure to take advantage of our repeated offers to facilitate a Bill to amend that Act, and to provide Government time to do so. A private Member's Bill is simply not an adequate substitute for proper Government action.

On the protection of the landscape, the Wildlife and Countryside Act never really got off the ground, because it was grafted on to a system of Government policies and financial instruments working in the opposite direction —against conservation rather than for it. The Government's proposed conservation amendment to the EEC's agriculture structures regulations would cover, at most, only 4 per cent. of the countryside. It is an insufficient response to the call of environmentalists of all parties for integration of environmental considerations into agriculture policy across the board.

First, the Act cannot succeed unless it forms part of a wider reform of agriculture policy, as well as being fundamentally amended itself. In the latter respect, the Government's intention to close the three-month loophole is not sufficient.

Secondly, another serious weakness in the arrangements to protect landscapes and the wider countryside is the absence of any requirement for farmers outside national parks and sites of special scientific interest to get prior approval for operations subsidised by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Act should be amended now so that the pre-notification arrangements currently applying in national parks should be extended to cover the country as a whole, and especially areas designated as areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Thirdly, if conservation policies are to have any effect in the countryside, there must be a realistic system of reserve back-up controls and order-making powers to be operated by local authorities. The most damning indictment of the Act's failure is that at least 245 SSIs have been damaged or destroyed since the Act was passed. Although the Government have offered to close the loopholes in sections 28 and 29, the fact remains that a maximum of 15 SSIs and proposed sites have been damaged or destroyed because of those loopholes. In other words, 230 sites have had their conservation interest damaged, diminished or wiped out because of other weaknesses in the Act. Similar losses will be prevented only if the emphasis on voluntary restraint is replaced by effective control. The Nature Conservancy Council and the national park authorities must have some effective stop order allowing them to prevent damaging developments from occurring on nationally important sites.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

On what information does the hon. Gentleman base the charge about the number of SSSIs being destroyed? The figure is questioned strongly in certain quarters, where it is believed that it is totally inaccurate.

Dr. Cunningham

My figure is based on published information.

The compensation system on which the Act's protective mechanisms are based has rightly come in for a great deal of criticism from many quarters, including the Back Benches on both sides of the House. While some form of compensation is necessary, and the idea is supported by most parties, it cannot be right that there is no discretionary element in payment, that agricultural subsidies are included in the payments for profits lost, and that landowners can get compensation simply by threatening to destroy a site. It would be perfectly possible to make compensation payments discretionary in the same way as agricultural capital grants are discretionary now, and for the agricultural subsidy element to be removed from compensation calculations.

For effective conservation in the countryside, it is essential to encourage farmers to look after the natural features of their land. We therefore advocate the changes in the compensation system that I have outlined. Money should go to farmers who need it rather than to those who are in a position to demand it, and the Ministry of Agriculture capital grant aid rules should be changed so that payments are available for farmers who carry out positive conservation work such as coppicing broadleaved woodlands, clearing bracken and scrub, managing water courses with conservation in mind, dry stone walling—all these are matters with which I am familiar in Copeland— maintaining hedgerows with conservation in mind, and fencing in order to allow natural regeneration.

The land drainage activities undertaken by water authorities and internal drainage boards have been among the most controversial conservation issues of the past five years, for four reasons. Land drainage operations threaten some of England's finest remaining wetland landscapes, including Halvergate marshes and other marshes throughout the Norfolk broads and the Somerset levels. The principal justification for the operations is agricultural production— usually of cereals, which are in surplus anyway.

The economic justifications used in support of these schemes for obtaining grant aid from the Ministry of up to 50 per cent. of the cost have never been disclosed, despite repeated requests by conservationists and hon. Members to see any cost-benefit analyses supporting the schemes. The water authorities and the Ministry have always refused to publish the information.

The new duty laid on water authorities and internal drainage boards by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to further conservation of landscapes and wildlife in their drainage operations has made no noticeable difference in the number and type of schemes being brought forward. What precisely did the Government mean or intend when they referred in the Act to "further conservation"?

These are specific criticisms of the Government's record on these issues and two further points are worth making. The Government announced in 1982 their intention to undertake a review of land drainage. The interdepartmental review was referred to extensively in the House of Lords debate on 8 March 1983 which is reported in Hansard from column 131. At column 139 Lord Skelmersdale said on behalf of the Government that the discussion paper would be published "shortly." That was 20 months ago and we are still waiting. In June 1984, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave assurances that the review would be published in the summer of 1984. That was recorded in Hansard for 7 June at column 429. The review has still not appeared. The delay in its publication has not been explained and meanwhile precious wetland landscapes and wildlife sites are being threatened.

The Government's Food and Environment Protection Bill has been strongly criticised as avoiding key issues such as the disclosure of information, control of spray drift in aerial spraying and warning labels on food. Again the proposals lack bite and determination to control the abuse of pesticides which is crucial to wildlife and plant life.

At most, sites of special scientific interest will protect less than 10 per cent. of the British countryside. Much wildlife lives outside them and, even in the latter, maintenance of populations of many birds depends on there being healthy populations elsewhere. For most people, contact with wildlife and enjoyment of the countryside depend not on designated sites but on ordinary countryside areas. Agriculture and forestry occupy 89 per cent. of Britain and are the two most significant activities that affect the countryside and its wildlife. Their postwar impact has been enormous and, for some habitats and species, simply catastrophic. "Nature Conservation in Britain", which is published, by the Nature Conservancy Council, quantifies the losses—95 per cent. of lowland herb-rich hay meadows, 80 per cent. of chalk and limestone grassland, 40 per cent. of lowland heath, 30 to 50 per cent. of ancient woods and about 50 per cent. of marshland. Unquantified but equally tragic has been the loss of wildlife from farms and woodland due not to the destruction of habitat but to the use of pesticides and cropping systems that are inimical to their survival.

There are many other important issues. The Royal Commission was right to have doubts about the Government's intentions about implementation by 1986 of part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. As I have said before, the Minister should make a clear statement of intent on this matter. The cost of acting to control pollution is often raised, but such investment frequently results in economic gain, market opportunities and creation of jobs, as NEI Engineering has recently made clear in a note which was sent to hon. Members. The dumping of waste at sea, the slow-down in public investment in sewage treatment and the transport across national boundaries of toxic wastes all need urgent attention. A new working relationship between the Government, local government and voluntary bodies should be established to develop momentum on environmental protection. Ironically, in this as in other matters, abolition of the metropolitan counties will be a backward step because they have taken a lead on issues such as green belt policy, land reclamation and archaeology, to name but three important topics in the conservation debate.

The impact of people on their environment is increasing and will continue to increase as mobility and demand for sport, recreation and leisure increase. They will continue to grow, as will pressure on the countryside in and outside national parks. Government funding of the development of sport and leisure facilities must be increased to take account of that and to prevent the over-use and damage that result from too many people having too little access to the areas and facilities that they require.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

No., I am coming to the end of my speech.

I should like to quote from the Nature Conservancy Council's 1980 annual report. It says: The next 18 months could well determine the future for nature conservation in many parts of the country. There are at least some glimmers of hope in the greater public awareness and an Act of Parliament which with minor amendment must bring great benefits. The greatest imponderable of all, however, remains whether the financial structures of agriculture can be reformed in a way that befriends nature conservation. Until this happens we remain gravely concerned and there is little time to set matters right. There is no evidence that the Government have the will, the sense of urgency or the determination to tackle, let alone resolve, these problems. That is why we shall be voting on these issues tonight.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: recognises the care and attention paid by Her Majesty's Government to the natural environment and the national heritage; pays tribute to the good progress made by the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and the National Heritage Memorial Fund; approves of the encouragement given to the many voluntary agencies in these areas; and notes the increased resources Her Majesty's Government propose to devote to protecting the environment and the heritage in 1985–86.

We wholeheartedly welcome the debate. The Opposition have rather helpfully allowed us half of one of their days to focus on two areas of policy on which the Government's record is excellent and to which the Labour party's contribution, with, of course, some honourable exceptions in the case of a handful of Back Benchers, is rather pitiful. It was the late Anthony Crosland who said that Labour was: glaringly weak on the environment, in which the National Executive Committee appears to take no interest". Nothing has changed and I can only sympathise with the view of the poor old Bury, North constituency Labour party that Conference views with concern the public ignorance of the ecological commitment of the Labour Party".

I am afraid that, in spite of the eloquent speech made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the public will be none the wiser. All we have heard today is an ancient and familiar political sound—the noise of a skilful politician climbing on a bandwagon. The Opposition motion is one of the worst drafted that I have ever seen put before the House.

Dr. Cunningham


Mr. Waldegrave

You have had your speech, Jack.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I associate Christian names with friendliness.

Dr. Cunningham


Mr. Waldegrave

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as he has reduced the debate to a personal level and says that we are trying to climb on a bandwagon. Perhaps I might refer him to a letter that is being circulated by two Conservative Members and which was sent to Opposition Members today. It concerns a bypass in Devon and says: We believe this attempt to gag environmental organisations could do damage to our future relations with such groups and could certainly affect our attempt to strengthen the green image which our Party has been at pains to develop. Who is jumping on bandwagons?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman's intervention explains why I shall not give way to him again—it was rather feeble. The motion is badly drafted. There is nothing in common between the various reports that have been produced by all of these bodies. The motion is simply a list of everyone the Labour party could think of.

None the less, it would be churlish not to welcome the hon. Gentleman aboard. I am grateful for what he said about my right hon. Friend, who I am sure would have been happy to welcome the hon. Gentleman on board in person. I extend that welcome to the small number of his colleagues who are present. The hon. Gentleman has reasonably good support on the Opposition Front Bench—the rival Front Bench has since departed—but the Government have attracted twice as many of their Back Benchers as the Labour party. That should not obscure the different approaches that our two parties adopt to this area of policy, as to others.

The hon. Member for Copeland was perfectly fair when he said that the Labour party has a completely different approach. Our approach, both to the natural environment and to our artistic and cultural heritage—of which the hon. Gentleman said not a word— starts from the assumption that the role of the state, vital though it is, is in the end ancillary to that of the private citizen.

Our beautiful countryside was the product not of state planners in the first place but of the million-fold decisions of private owners. The state certainly has a vital role as a moderator of change, conciliator and sometimes arbitrator of conflicting interests, and sometimes, in critical situations, as the deployer of long-stop powers. This is so in the two huge areas of the nation's life which we are now discussing. As much in the arts and the manmade heritage as in the natural environment, it is not state committees and bureaucracies that create things, but recalcitrant artists and individuals. The state must tread warily if it is not to extinguish the very pluralism and diversity that a healthy artistic culture needs.

Labour is bound to start from the opposite position. Even from so moderate a spokesman as the hon. Member for Copeland, we cannot miss the wishful hankerings for even more state planning, state control, ministeries of culture, and all the rest. Therefore, the debate is timely if it reminds us that a Conservative Government are not, and should not be, simply in the business of an endless competition with the Opposition to see who can create the biggest and best state bureaucracies. Where the state should act, it should do so efficiently. It should deploy the right resources and listen to the best advice. These things we have done and will continue to do, but all that will be as nothing if the basic framework within which farmers and landowners in the countryside, and artists, architects, patrons and owners in our cultural life, go about their business is wrong.

That is why our fundamental approach to countryside matters is based on a twofold reform of the framework within which farmers and conservationists live together. In fact, they are often the same people, as the huge growth of the fanning and wildlife advisory groups show.

First, the Wildlife and Countryside Act establishes for the first time a system whereby we can show farmers and others that we are willing to put resources into conservation in the countryside and to accept that in certain important areas conservation is a valid objective of public policy alongside farming. Those who do not believe that any policy is sufficiently virile unless it deploys compulsion in all directions hope that the approach embodied in the Act will fail. Unfortunately, events have proved them wrong.

Since the Act was passed we have seen the growth of a new consensus among farmers and conservationists, issuing in welcome policy statements from the National Farmers Union, and the Country Landowners Association as well as from the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission and others. The atmosphere has been transformed, and no one involved in conservation doubts it. The reason is crucially to do with the way in which it has been shown that, under the Act, conflicts can be resolved and agreement sought. It is absurd to hail the newly-emerging consensus on countryside matters and then deny that the most important Act for decades on the subject has not played a crucial role in the growth of that consensus. Of course it has.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), as well as some of the Minister's hon. Friends such as the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), spent 100 hours or more in Committee on the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Many of those on hours were spent discussing MAFF money in relation to conservation. After the time which has elapsed, will the Minister identify the amount of MAFF money that has gone into conservation, or is no such figure available?

Mr. Waldegrave

The principal budgetary burden remains with my Department. It is right that it should do so. I shall shortly come on to ways in which we should seek to divert and direct CAP money into conservation objectives. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is an important objective.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)


Mr. Waldegrave

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is an expert in these matters, but I must continue. The hon. Member for Copeland made quite a long speech and I do not want to take as long.

Our critics said that we would not provide the resources or that they would be absurdly large or impossible to provide. To their irritation we have provided the money. There has been £7 million more this year for the Nature Conservancy Council, an increase of 45 per cent., and a 75 per cent. real increase since 1979. There will be a further £2 million for the Countryside Commission next year, a 23 per cent. increase since 1982–83. Here I pay tribute to William Wilkinson of the NCC and Sir Derek Barber of the Countryside Commission and their staffs who are making a reality of the policy we all want. I do not believe that sums such as this—£38 million between the two bodies— are absurdly large, given that they represent the commitment of this House and the Government to the conservation of the countryside and our natural habitats.

I said that the Government's approach to the reconciliation of interests in the countryside had two aspects. The first is the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The second is the explicit attempt for the first time to put into EC law, with the agricultural structure directive amendment, powers to use CAP money for conservation objectives. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has taken this initiative in Brussels, and it has been widely welcomed by conservationists and farmers.

The House might like to know that in support of this initiative I have raised the subject of the interaction of agriculture and the environment with Commissioner Narjes of the Environment Council, and I shall be tabling a memorandum at the next Council of Ministers meeting on 6 December to follow this through.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)


Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate my wishing to continue. The danger of such wide-ranging debates is that Ministers speak for far too long. My Department has so many relevant programmmes, domestic and international, about which I would be delighted to tell the House, but the patience of the House might not necessarily match my enthusiasm. I shall, for example, leave the general subject of water pollution to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, who has the whole matter well under control.

Before I turn to the other great subject of the debate, which unfortunately slipped the attention of the hon. Member for Copeland, I should like to answer some of the specific points he raised. He asked about the law of the sea convention and rightly said that we must come to a decision by 9 December. That is so. We shall come to a decision, but I cannot announce it today. He was right to say that the deadline has not yet been reached.

I was glad to hear his important reaffirmation of bipartisan support for nuclear power generation. This is another area of good sense in which the hon. Gentleman is increasingly a lone figure in his party. We shall study the Holliday report carefully. At first glance it is an interesting and useful report, and we shall come back to the House in due course.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about immediate prospects of amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He rightly referred to the Nature Conservancy Council, which considers that only minor amendment is needed. I believe that there is a consensus in the House for a limited change—principally to block the three-month loophole— but for no more at present. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are considering whether the original route proposed—a private Member's Bill—can meet this need.

Air pollution and endangered species also come within my responsibility. On air pollution, acid deposition and motor car exhaust pollution dominate the current debate. But this debate is not timely for setting out the Government's position. It would be discourteous to the Select Committee if we tried to pre-empt our response to it. That should be given in a very few days, most likely next week. There is no secret in the fact that the Government see great problems for Britain in any further dramatic diminution of the 40 per cent. drop in sulphur emissions that has already been achieved. We are studying carefully the European Community Commission's two stage approach to car exhausts, and see some hope for progress. We must not allow any slippage in the recently agreed date for the removal of lead from petrol. We shall, therefore, seek to keep progress on lead separate from that on other vehicle pollutants. That will minimise the danger of slippage.

However, I take this opportunity to say that the Government's concern about endangered species, which is represented by our vigorous action when we had the presidency of the European Council, has not diminished. On the contrary, where we think there is illegal trade, 'we shall pursue it rigorously. My Department is convening an action seminar of international enforcement officers in Bristol in two weeks' time to devise ways of making enforcement even more effective.

I am especially worried about the illegal trade in birds of prey, through which large profits can be made and which has possible connections with the international drug trade. I have already placed a moratorium on imports and exports of gyr falcons and peregrines. We are imposing a moratorium on all movements of all diurnal birds of prey between the United Kingdom and Germany on the advice of our enforcement team.

Many hon. Members will have received letters urging more action regarding swans, which die from the ingestion of fishermen's lead weights. Swans are not an endangered species, but we take the matter exceedingly seriously and have made it clear that if an effective voluntary agreement cannot be reached we shall consider legislation.

Our fundamental approach to the arts and built heritage is not philosophically dissimilar from our approach to the natural environment. There is a proper role for the state, but state domination would be death. That is why the independence of the Arts Council in specious arguments over accountability is so vital, and why the independence, made real by the method of its funding, of the National Heritage Memorial Fund is so important.

As usual, critics call for more compulsion, for example to ban the export of pictures, which in most cases would not be here except for the existence of free trade in the past. It is interesting to see what the NHMF says in its annual report. It states: This country had never benefited from trade protectionism … our export control system is an enlightened one which steers a careful course between the desire to retain in this country what we most cherish and unwillingness to interfere with the rights of owners. That is exactly the balance that we seek.

Earlier this year we established two further arm's length agencies, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission under Lord Montagu, and the Trustees of the Tower of London Armouries under Lord De L'Isle, to reinvigorate our management and presentation of some of the best monuments, historic houses and some of the world's oldest collection of arms and armour. They have started well and we have made the necessary money available— more than £50 million next year for the HBMC.

The last word on the provision of resources for the conservation of our cultural heritage should lie with the independent NHMF's annual report. It states: We have good reason for confidence, not only in this Government's commitment to the objectives of conservation, but in their willingness to provide adequate funds to achieve these objectives. We are grateful for that tribute, which is certainly the truth.

I am aware that in the past there has been some disappointment about the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, some of which is relevant to the debate. During our last debate on this subject, some Select Committee members underestimated their effect on policy-making. It is certainly true that the recommendation about revised ministerial responsibility was not accepted. However, an important step was taken in the direction urged by the Committee through the return of the Arts Minister to the Cabinet. I am sure that that is right.

I will not list all the items where we accepted the Select Committee's advice, for example, business sponsorship, information, trading activities of museums and galleries. However, on one important matter where the Government have not immediately accepted the recommendations— tax changes—it does not mean that the subject is dead and buried. Work will continue to see whether present measures can be further improved.

The Government have a fine record and will work hard to improve it further. We have passed Acts, set up institutions and provided money to back them, where necessary. Plenty more remains to be done in future, and, as our record shows, we shall do it.

4.33 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The Minister welcomed the debate but provided little evidence to justify the claim that the Conservative party deserves respect from those interested in conservation and related subjects. He seemed to excuse the Government's pathetic record by suggesting that they must tread warily to avoid reducing the advantage which may accrue from individual endeavour. That sort of advantage has brought some of our rural areas in the past 30 years near to desolation. If there is desolation as a result of the people whom the Minister wishes to protect, in future many individuals will never get the inspiration which past generations of Britons have enjoyed.

The Minister prayed in aid the developing consensus between the forester, the farmer and the conservationist. I welcome that consensus, and I may have made a small contribution to achieving it. The Minister must realise that those who do not approve and are not part of the consensus do not care for their colleagues' views and wreak havoc. While the Government fail to take action, those havoc wreakers continue to destroy our countryside and the heritage which we have an obligation to treasure. Those havoc wreakers will applaud the Government. They are imbued with the Government's monetarist policies and may continue to be protected by them.

It is no good the Minister paying well-deserved tribute to Mr. Wilkinson and his colleagues in public agencies with responsibility. The Minister did not respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who said that the Nature Conservancy Council's report clearly stated that the next 18 months would be critical for many areas of British conservation. There has been no firm commitment from the Government; merely a gesture and a welcome ban on exports of diurnal birds. That is welcome, but the position is far more critical than the Government's complacency seems to suggest.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

How does the hon. Gentleman square the circle when he considers that the Government have given an additional £7 million to the Nature Conservancy Council just for those purposes?

Mr. Hardy

For some years, the hon. Gentleman has claimed a commitment to and interest in conservation. If he believes that the £7 million screwed from the Government as a contribution to conservation will allow people to respect the Conservative party's commitment to the cause, he is greatly mistaken.

My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland was right to start the debate with a broad approach. Conservation must be based not on a local, ecological evaluation, but on the planet as a whole. We see the topsoil of the globe, which is its principal resource, being destroyed, deserts extending by millions of acres a year, the world's fresh water polluted and the seas overfished. Quite rightly, Opposition Members and hon. Members to the Left of the Conservative party are beginning to marvel at the way that the Conservative party is sticking its head into the increasing areas of sand.

The topsoil is being removed in Africa. That has enormous implications for western Europe. We are determined to ensure that the Government, in serving a proper international commitment, recognise the need for action in this country. At the moment, it is fair to describe the Conservative party's position as niggardly in provision and lethargic in response. It is no good the Minister saying that there will be one amendment to the three-month loophole. He could have closed it last year. He will recall that in the spring I presented a Bill which was found to be technically deficient only two days before I hoped it would be passed on the nod in July. It would have closed that loophole, and important areas which have been destroyed and disfigured since then would have continued to benefit future generations.

Too many areas of great importance have been destroyed or disfigured. Too many areas which are not classified as sites of special scientific interest, but which are of enormous local importance and which have given pleasure to many people throughout the length and breadth of our island, are being destroyed. That is especially true of hedgerows.

The Minister will recall that the Government blocked a Bill that I introduced designed to protect important and significant hedgerows in Great Britain, despite the fact that it was supported by the consensus to which the Minister has referred. We then discovered that thousands of miles of hedgerows had been uprooted and destroyed with public support by the use of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. That money was devoted to destroying the hedgerows which the law said should remain in perpetuity. But the Government's response then showed some slight imagination. They decided to cancel the remaining grants for the destruction of hedgerows and to give people grants to establish new ones.

There are many farmers on the Conservative Benches. A few of them, who are in the House at the moment, will recognise that a newly-planted hedgerow, whilst welcome, is of far less ecological benefit than one which may have taken 2,000 years to develop. Thousands of miles of hedgerow, some of which is 2,000 years old, have been destroyed and the taxpayer has funded that destruction, and this imaginative, conservation-caring Government blocked an initiative supported by Members of all parties to resolve the problem.

I want to make a brief plea for hardwoods. The Forestry Commission seems to be suggesting that we have just as much hardwood in this country as we had 30 or 40 years ago, but the Minister will recall that the definition of hardwood being used today is different from that which was used in the 1940s.

I believe that the Forestry Commission is inaccurate and that the NCC's assessment, as quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, that since the war we have lost between 30 and 50 per cent. of our traditional woodland is more accurate. It is essential that something be done. For example, we must ensure the proper management of our woodlands. We need to ensure that small woodlands, which are increasingly vulnerable, are protected. At present, people can take 30 cu m of timber from a wood every quarter. That is all right in a large wood, but it could destroy a small copse within a relatively short time. We need to see a greater degree of imagination used in the management of our woodland resources than the Minister and his colleagues currently show.

There is the issue of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I am glad that the hor.. Member for Dumfries (Sir Hector Monro) is in the Chamber, because he was present in Berne when the Berne convention was signed I was present as chairman of the relevant Council of Europe Sub-Committee. I welcomed his comments at Berne when he said that the Government would be first and foremost in their response to and implementation of this convention of wildlife and the habitat. They were not the first, and they may be the most niggardly in western Europe.

Part I is admirable, although I want to see some improvement in the protection of the badger. The conservation world has demonstrated that that is necessary. On the whole, part I is good because it does not cost the Government anything, but when we come to protect not the wild creatures but the habitat upon which they depend, we are far more parsimonious. The Government seem to want to take the credit for that which they can do without spending money. They are rot prepared, even with the gesture of the extra £7 million referred to by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), to spend more. The Minister cannot claim that that is a satisfactory way to protect the habitat which the Government are committed to preserve.

We do not trust the Government far. I hope that within the next few months the Council of Europe— I still maintain the chairmanship of the necessary committee—will monitor the position. It will study every member state to see how each one has implemented the commitment into which it entered under the Berne convention.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was supposed to enshrine and embody that commitment. We are disappointed with it. If the Minister wishes to see some credit accrue to the United Kingdom, I trust that he will ensure that when my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) presents his Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill, he will be allowed to embody within it those matters which will be reasonable and consistent with achieving what the hon. Member for Dumfries claimed.

The Government are inflicting large-scale unemployment on the country. At the same time as creating enforced leisure, they must provide for that leisure which will otherwise accrue. They will fail dismally unless they recognise that a major part of the meaning and wealth of leisure for our country lies in the countryside. The millions of people who are unemployed and the millions who are retired or work shorter hours are entitled to demand that the countryside which they wish to enjoy should remain worth enjoying.

The Government's record is deplorable. I hope that the Minister's commitment, and his claim that the Conservative party deserves a green mantle, will be fulfilled. At the moment, the claim is preposterous.

4.45 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I welcome the debate. I should declare an interest as a member of the Nature Conservancy Council, the council of the National Trust for Scotland and a number of other conservation bodies. I am somewhat involved at the sharp end but I speak for myself. I am astonished by the motion. We all have a common objective and it is out of place to cause acrimony when conservation cries out for harmony.

We need a constructive approach to evolution in the countryside and to the whole of the heritage. We have an excellent record, and I support my hon. Friend the Minister. The Opposition must have had a few twinges of conscience when they put down this motion. I have been 20 years in the House and I have the record of the legislation relating to conservation. The Opposition have produced only one significant piece of legislation other than a private Member's Bill, which was presented by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). The legislation set up the Countryside Commission in 1969. I speak about Scotland as well as England and Wales, and the Countryside Commission has been the most splendid organisation with an especially gifted chairman. He has the feel of the countryside and the experience to understand economic problems. He will need all his skills as the demand for leisure space places more and more pressure upon the countryside.

The Countryside Commission publication, "A Better Future for the Uplands", was a notable contribution to conservation. The only other piece of Government legislation tabled by the Labour party during those 20 years was the ill-fated Countryside Bill of January 1979. We were mercifully saved from its provisions by the 1979 general election. The Bill had it all wrong, and I am delighted that our policy of voluntary agreement has successfully overtaken the Labour idea of compulsion for Exmoor which is what the Bill dealt with. That is all that the Labour party did in the period of maximum destruction of the countryside during the 1970s, with the corn explosion and its repercussions on hedgerows, trees and wetlands. During all that time the Labour party did nothing and yet here it is putting forward a singularly inappropriate motion.

The Government have had a different approach. To touch for a moment on the heritage, when I was in the Department of the Environment I was involved with the setting up of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which has been a great success. The Government have made fiscal changes. There have been changes in capital taxation, income tax concessions, zero-rated VAT. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission has been set up and, of course, the National Heritage (Scotland) Bill is presently going through the House.

Our policies are going well. Of course, all historic houses are expensive to maintain and one should never underestimate owners' problems and we should give them the help that they need. I pay tribute to the Government and to the National Trust for the part that they play in maintaining the heritage of our great country houses that mean so much to the people of this country and the tourists who visit it.

The hon. Member for Wentworth referred to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We started from scratch in 1979 with a major environmental Bill, bringing in, as he mentioned, part I, dealing with wildlife, of the important European directive. The Bill's proceedings were long and contentious and if we had had a little more time, we might have been able to pick up the incorrect emphasis, or even an omission in sections 28 and 29 in part II, dealing with management agreements and SSSIs. I should be happier if we were rectifying these important points through a Government Bill, because so much can happen to a private Member's Bill, even if there is good will on both sides of the House to see it through to enactment.

It would have been easy today to have got the measure through the House with the corrections to which I have referred, because opinion has changed so dramatically during the past few years, partly, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, because of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. There has been a notable swing towards conservation, not only through the National Farmers Union and the farmers themselves but through bodies such as the Country Landowners Association, and the Scottish Landowners Federation and because of the distinct change in the attitude of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food towards conservation. It now has an adviser, and one can see in the recent press release on capital grants how it is thinking all the time in terms of conservation. That is a major step forward and one that is most important.

It is a basic argument in dealing with conservation and the countryside that agriculture is profitable, and consequently the rural economy comes into consideration when we are dealing with conservation. We must look after the things that matter in the countryside, such as the rural schools, the village halls, the buses and so on. They should all be developed within a proper economic attitude to the countryside, as this helps conservation. I am glad that the Ministry is now looking towards supporting conservation and helping with the farm and wildlife advisory groups and through assistance from the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service which now has a distinctive conservation role.

Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy Council has pressed on with its notification and renotification procedures for SSSIs and with making management agreements. It is learning all the time through experience and welcomes the addition of million announced by the Government. That must not be underestimated by Labour Members. It is specifically to help with the SSSIs and management agreements, and comes on top of the significant budget that the NCC has in the first place. All organisations such as the NCC would welcome more money, but, within the constraints of public expenditure, the Government's recent response was most significant.

The relationship between the NCC, the farmers and the landowners is getting closer, although there is some way to go. The farmers now see management agreements not as negative but as positive arrangements that give them advice and assistance and can produce something valuable for conservation. There is no wish in the NCC to see SSSIs as areas of sterilised land. Far from it. There is a great deal that can be done in the SSSIs about which agricultural interests need have no fear.

We have a common purpose, and thousands of SSSIs are under no threat. We need some give and take in the countryside, and an acceptance that sometimes country folk see things a little differently from those who come from the town. It is no more so than in the world of country sports. We have to give credit to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Game Conservancy and the British Field Sports Society for what they do for habitat and wildlife conservation. They have a right to pursue their interests without interference. We must watch out for EEC directives that may not necessarily be in the best interests of the country.

Many conservation groups do an excellent job, while others sometimes leave me in despair. Some appear to judge their success by outrageous headlines and sometimes, sadly, by illegal action. As the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said, one often sees headlines saying things like, "Failure of the Wildlife and Countryside Act." That is an inaccurate and foolish statement. The Act has not failed, but all Acts on the scale of this one need time to show their full results. For instance, we have made singularly little progress over marine nature reserves. It will take time to bring to fruition all the things that we set out to do a few years ago.

The countryside is what it is largely because man made it that way. Man provided the frame and the gilding for a beautiful picture, and although we may lose a few SSSIs, new areas of conservation are developing every day. I sometimes wish that those who criticise what is happening in the countryside so much would get into a light aeroplane and fly around England, Scotland and Wales at about 1,000 feet, and look down at the ground to see what lovely countryside we have. It is far from being the desolate area described by the hon. Member for Wentworth and his friends.

I sometimes have a wry smile about bulls on footpaths. I was heavily criticised about that at the time the Bill was being debated but the results that were predicted have not materialised.

I stress again the importance of the NCC. It has published its policy in "Nature Conservation in Great Britain". That contains an analysis of the problems and a statement for action, plus plans for its development under the new corporate plan. The Government have made money available and I know of no case where lack of funds has been a limiting factor in dealing with conservation. That does not mean to say that those who have land that is possibly under threat should think that they can pull wool over the eyes of the NCC and get money from a soft touch. They will not.

The Act was a catalyst for action. It made people think about conservation, and much that has happened in conservation has happened since the Act's arrival. There is no doubt that attitudes have changed. Of course the Act's provisions can be improved, but so can the NCC, the Countryside Commission, and organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which can improve and develop their policies year by year.

The countryside has taken a millenium to evolve. Change cannot take place overnight. It takes time and constructive discussion, but we should never be complacent. Nevertheless, we are going the right way. The pace towards conservation is accelerating every day. There is room for everybody to enjoy the countryside, its facilities and its beauties in happiness, but let us all work together and not in the disharmony proposed by the Opposition.

4.58 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the opportunity to debate these important subjects. Earlier, there was some discussion about who was climbing on to whose bandwagon. It will no doubt be recognised that many of the issues raised in a debate such as this have been campaigned for by my right hon. and hon. Friends for many years, particularly when it was much less fashionable to do so. We have recognised that over many years, national success can be measured not only by quantifying terms such as the GNP, but by the increasing importance of the quality of our lives, of the air, of the purity of the waterways and the way in which we exercise the stewardship of our national resources and heritage.

We welcome a wide-ranging debate which allows us to discuss issues as wide as the delays experienced in protecting and establishing rights of way and the transport of radioactive waste by land and sea. I endorse what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said about the law of the sea convention. He said that in the remaining time available to us we should sign that convention as an act of faith towards those in the developing nations, with particular reference to the mineral resources referred to in that convention.

If the hallmark of the motion is breadth, the feature of the Government's amendment is complacency. There are some signs that the Government are becoming a little more responsive to environmental issues— slightly green at the edges—but they have a long way to go before they merit the self-congratulatory plaudits of the amendment.

Let me give the Government a practical suggestion. They may take advice from the Royal Commission if they wish. If adopted, it would show that the Government had some willingness to take environmental matters seriously. I see no reason why, when Bills are published, there should not be an environmental impact statement attached to it, if it is appropriate:. For example, the Local Government Bill has a statement on its financial consequences and its effect on public service manpower. The Government should give guidance to highlight those issues of significance to our heritage and environment.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Local government legislation may not appear to have environmental consequences, but I hope that hon. Members will accept that t proposed abolition of the GLC, with its historic buildings department which has an enormously good reputation, and its replacement by a quango will have such consequences. We should ensure that such Bills take into account the consequences to the environment, of which people may not otherwise be aware.

Mr. Wallace

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is not immediately apparent from the Local Government Bill that there are such consequences. For example, the body which puts up blue plaques around London may lose the coherent approach which enables it to identify worthwhile items of heritage in London.

The amendment omits any reference to the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. That is regrettable when one has regard to the complex volume of work which the Royal Commission has undertaken during the 13 years that it has been in existence.

To some reports of the Royal Commission the Government have given a speedy response, hut, regrettably, to others, such as the fifth report, the Government took seven years to respond. Although it is nine months since the most recent report of the Royal Commission, which reviews much of its previous activity and looks towards the future, we have not yet had any response from the Government. I hope that the Minister will say when we can expect a response to that tenth report.

The Royal Commission is omitted, but the Countryside Commission is mentioned in the amendment. Unfortunately, it does not appear to have fared better in achieving a Government response. The recent report "A Better Future for the Uplands" and the related report by the RSPB, "Hill Farming and Birds", are both important and serious contributions to current discussions on agriculture and conservation. One may not necessarily agree with all the recommendations and views; none the less they merit a serious Government response. It would be welcome if the Government would say when they intend to publish a full response to those two major reports.

In his speech the Minister referred to the draft regulations which have been submitted to the EC on efficiency in agricultural structures. He said that they have friends in the farming community and in the environmental lobby. However, he did not say whether they have friends in the EC. One or two bodies have expressed some concern about the Government's position if they do not succeed in persuading our European colleagues about the merits of the draft regulations. Again, it would be helpful if the Minister would say something about the Government's fallback position.

Much has been said about the Wildlife and Countryside Act. That legislation came under attack from all sides before it found its feet. There is widespread agreement in the House that it has some serious shortcomings, such as the three-month gap between the notification and confirmation of SSSIs when, if the owner chooses to be irresponsible, he can easily destroy the special site. Section 29 contains the problem of the possible gap between the end of the three-month period for negotiation of a management agreement if no such agreement is forthcoming and the time that it takes to make a conservation order.

I think that all hon. Members recognise that the measure introduced in the previous Session by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) commanded widespread support. It is the view of the House that such a measure should be on the statute book. But it would appear that the Government are not now disposed to introduce legislation and would rather leave it to a private Member. Perhaps the situation is worse than that. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has a great interest in the matter, but if the contents of his Bill were such that they did not entirely meet with the Government's approval, I fear that the Bill might not necessarily be given the fair wind that it would require to reach the statute book. We shall not be impressed, and I do not think that many outside the Chamber will be impressed, if parliamentary games and tactics stop worthwhile legislation getting on to the statute book.

If there are to be differences of opinion—as there are—on what is needed to improve and amend the Act, surely the proper place to debate that is on the Floor of the House or in Committee in the context of a Bill. We need a Bill, preferably sponsored by the Government in Government time, so that the issue can have the full airing that it deserves.

In that context I would have constituency viewpoints to put forward. I can safely say that the Act has not been the most welcome legislation in my constituency. The farmers and crofters in Orkney and Shetland are not particularly anti-conservation. The fact that birds, such as the hen harrier and the whimbrel, which are rare in the United Kingdom, remain there evidences the conservationist attitude of my constituents over many years.

The key to the Act is clearly the co-operation and trust between farmers and conservationists. I regret that that cooperation has been put under considerable strain in Orkney and Shetland. There have been considerable feelings of bureaucratic imposition on the traditional sturdy independence of the crofters and farmers. At times it is felt that too large an area has been designated and that the appeal procedure is limited. Indeed, it is felt that the NCC is judge and jury in its own cause.

When the farmer receives his list of notifiable operations, too often he assumes them to be prohibitions. That has led to a breakdown in trust and confidence. That highlights a slightly wider problem. If we are to notify and re-notify the many thousands of owner-occupiers whose land is covered by SSSIs, that must clearly be done properly so that trust and confidence can be built up. To do that, the NCC requires far more staff than it has. The staff must not only possess the necessary nature conservation expertise but understand the farming way of life, particularly of farmers living in marginal areas. The NCC clearly lacks staff. When the House passed the Wildlife and Countryside Act it imposed duties on the NCC, and we have an equal duty to provide the NCC with the resources to carry out those duties.

Reference has also been made to the level of compensation. Clearly, the Act is open to abuse. People have threatened to develop land on which they previously had no intention of undertaking development. One reads of the possibility of between £50,000 and £100,000 per annum being given not to drain Elmley marshes. Everyone recognises that there should be a tightening up on such abuses and that we should not be paying out vast sums to prospective speculators or maverick farmers. But at the same time the regulations should ensure adequate finance to compensate the marginal farmer who has to forgo some expanded production in the interests of conservation.

It is possible to accommodate both agricultural and conservation interests. But we need to find ways in which management agreements are seen not solely in restricted and negative terms, but as containing a strong and very positive component. They should be sensitive to the particular needs of rural communities. For example, I think of my constituency and of islands, such as Fetlar and Eday, where almost all of the economic activity relates to agriculture. To adopt a negative, restrictive approach to conservation in such areas threatens one species, in particular—man himself.

There is, therefore, a need for positive management. We must always keep before us the thought that the countryside should not be turned into a museum or a place to which only tourists or weekenders go. Moreover, it should not be turned into a place to which only botanists or ornithologists go to do their research. The countryside should be a living place in which people have their homes and work in harmony with their environment.

In recent months two major environmental issues have illustrated the close connection between the environment and energy. I refer to the major issues of acid rain and radioactive waste. It is clear that hon. Members cannot do justice to a subject like acid rain during such a wide-ranging debate as this. It deserves a debate of its own. I think that the Government were once disposed to hold such a debate, but they have had a change of heart. That fuels the suspicion that they are not taking the problem seriously enough and are bowing to some pressure from the Central Electricity Generating Board.

The figure of how much sulphur dioxide is put into the atmosphere has already been given. We believe that the time has come for a more positive response to be made, involving programmes of desulphurisation. Such programmes would help to clean up the environment and go a long way towards stimulating jobs in many parts of the country. I endorse what the hon. Member for Copeland said about radioactive waste. As I said during our debate in March on the tenth report, I agree that there is a need to reconstitute NIREX and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee to include a wider range of people, such as those from interested environmental bodies.

The fears about Sellafield have not gone away. Indeed, they are extending up the west coast of Scotland. Notwithstanding the Black report, we believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland should undertake independent monitoring and establish an inquiry into the position of the Scottish coastline. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, shakes his head. I can understand him thinking that there is no need to raise unnecessary fears. Unfortunately, those fears already exist. I receive letters in my postbag on the subject, as, no doubt, he does. Indeed, if the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) were present, I am sure that he would tell us that he receives similar letters. Those fears exist. There should be an inquiry into the matter.

I wrote, I believe, to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, on a matter relating to proposals by a company called ENSEC to place radioactive waste under the seabed. As far as I know, those proposals have received little support from the radioactive waste industry. Indeed, I believe that any attempt to dump it—as has been suggested—under Stormy Bank in the Pentland firth would meet with downright opposition from my constituents. However, I have written to the Minister on that subject, and perhaps he will write to me telling me what the present status of those proposals is.

There is clearly an inter-relationship between energy policy and the environment. Energy conservation has obvious consequences for the environment. The Severn barrage and even windmills have consequences for the environment. That is why we believe that there is a need to resuscitate the commission on energy and the environment and to give it wider terms of reference, as recommended by the tenth report of the Royal Commission. Although the Government put the commission into suspended animation, they did not kill it off. In February 1983, a Government spokesman said that it would and should be revived if there was a pressing need.

We can clearly identify issues such as radioactive waste and acid rain as providing urgent need to take social and environmental factors into account when deciding on an energy strategy. At the end of the debate I hope that the Minister will let us know what the Government's intentions are with regard to the commission on energy and the environment. If he cannot do so, then perhaps he will write to me and let me know the situation.

I now wish to draw my remarks to a close—[Hots. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Those hon. Members who say that should realise that, if more alliance Members were called, I would not need to deal with every subject. I have tried to cover a wide spectrum.

It is clear that the environment is important to our wellbeing. Sometimes decisions have to be taken at international level if they are to be effective, but often our environment is best shaped by those who live locally and can respond best to-what is going on. That is why I believe that many decisions may well be taken wrongly if they are taken by a remote Secretary of State or quango. We believe that local involvement, sensitivity to local needs, and, wherever possible, local decision-making are the keys to a successful environmental policy.

5.15 pm
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I too welcome this debate on environmental matters. However, I do not accept the terms of the motion and deplore the tenor of some of the speeches made by Opposition Members. I have a particular regard for the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and applaud the initiative that he has taken on so many environmental issues, but the strictures that he showered on the Government and on Conservative Members were not only unfair but counterproductive. Those who care about the environment—and they exist in all parts of the House—know perfectly well that if we can obtain a consensus about the sensible and practical policies that should be undertaken, we are far more likely to be effective with Governments of whatever hue.

Mr. Hardy

Although I recognise that there are Conservative Members who share the view that there should be a consensus, they seem to be very thinly represented on the Treasury Bench. Indeed, when they have made a clear case, the Government have rejected it.

Mr. Chapman

I am sorry, but I do not accept that. In the past decade, Conservative Governments have clone many good things. One thinks, for example, of the setting up of the Department of the Environment by the drawing together of some of the chief Ministries that had a great influence on environmental matters. I think also of the Control of Pollution Bill, which was introduced in the dying days of the Conservative Government of 1970 to 1974. There is also the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the planned elimination of lead in petrol. Moreover, 2.5 million acres of interim green belt land have been added to the millions of acres of established green belt land, and there have been recent initiatives to promote and maintain our architectural heritage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) is Chairman of the Environment Committee, but is away attending an important international conference on the environment. He asked me, as acting Chairman of that Committee, to say that it would be unwise to comment on the Wildlife and Countryside Act, or at least on part II of it, which relates to sites of special scientific interest. The reason for that is that the Committee is shortly to make some recommen.dalions to the Government.

It would also be wrong of me to talk about the recently published report on acid rain. It represented a most comprehensive examination of the problems, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has promised a debate upon publication of the Government's response to that report. However, I shall say one thing about part II of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It mainly concerns itself with more than 4,000 sites of special scientific interest, covering about 1.5 million acres. But that represents less than 5 per cent. of the total countryside. Therefore, I shall address a few remarks to the wider countryside issues that have been raised.

It is estimated that in the past 35 years over half our lowland heaths have been lost, half our fenlands drained, over one third of our ancient woodlands felled and over one quarter of our upland heaths and grasslands destroyed. A dramatic change has taken place in our countryside. I use the word "fenlands" because it might be imprudent for an aspiring Tory Back Bencher to use the word "wetlands".

The dramatic change is principally the result of the intensification of agriculture but that is not the farmer's fault. It is the fault of successive Governments who have wished for and willed— for good reasons or bad—maximum food production. That has been achieved by a system of agriculture subsidies.

The loss of and damage to our natural habitat is not principally the farmers' fault. They have acted quite properly by taking the opportunities offered. In any case, the countryside should not be preserved in aspic. The worrying factor is the scale of the change. At the least, we must supplement financial support for agriculture with a more coherent and comprehensive structure of grants for conservation.

I take particularly to heart what the hon. Member for Wentworth said about the grubbing up of so many hedgerows— the seedbeds of much of our rural tree stock. The scale of the loss of hedgerows has been reduced, but the problem is still worrying. I declare an interest as the president of the Aboricultural Association.

In England alone there are over 5,000 conservation areas and over 300,000 buildings listed as being of architectural or historical interest. Yet, year after year, hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings— our architectural inheritance— are either damaged or demolished. I suggest it might now be time to give organisations and planning authorities another two years to decide which further buildings should be listed, and then impose a moratorium for at least five years, or possibly 10 years, when no further buildings could be listed. Then we could concentrate modestly increasing resources on trying to prop up, repair and truly preserve buildings already listed. We should concentrate on the conservation of excellence rather than the preservation of mediocrity.

I hope that I am not complacent, but I believe that this Government's record deserves commendation, not condemnation. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile the nation's economic needs and the conservation of the environment. We have to ensure a balance between commerce and conservation. This Government can take some credit for elevating the environment to the higher political status that it now justifiably enjoys. I ask the House to reject the motion and to vote for the amendment.

5.25 pm
Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

People living in urban areas have environmental rights. My constituents have suffered severe hardship. The Clifton valley in my constituency has suffered total degradation. It has been spoilt by industrial abuse. The Greater Manchester council decided to sump waste at Lumn's lane in the valley. Local people were prepared to accept that further degradation, because they hoped that the land could be converted to a recreation area. That possibility gave the people great joy. That was the great hope—the dream. Then along came the vandals from the Department of the Environment. After all their suffering, the Department decided to worry my constituents even further by suggesting that the area be used as a dump for low-level radioactive waste. We protested, but failed.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) was right when he said that an environmental impact statement should be made in such circumstances. He also said that local authorities should be consulted. That makes sense. The people who live in an area should have a say about what happens there. That is reasonable and fair. The local authority, which is responsible for the disposal of rubbish, should also have a say.

The Greater Manchester council said, "We will not place low-level radioactive waste in the area." The Salford city council said that it did not want the waste in its area, but the wise boys in London said "Yes, you will have it." What an example of democracy. I am reminded of the line in the song, Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everyone says that low-level radioactive waste is safe, but nobody wants it. The final test is whether the inspectors would accept it in their back yards. They ensure that it is transported in metal containers, but then it is dumped in plastic bags. I am not exaggerating. It is causing fear and terror among my constituents. Anyone can organise a petition, but hundreds upon hundreds of people in the area are organising petitions. They are deeply concerned and affronted.

The Minister must reconsider. Low-level radioactive waste disperses quickly, but it must be guarded. To dump such waste in plastic bags 1.5 m below ground is madness. I do not see why my constituents should have to put up with it.

The Manchester ship canal has served this country well. It is not a canal in the accepted sense of the word; it is a canalised river—a river turned into a canal. It was used from Salford to the sea when it was prosperous. The canal is not as prosperous now. Its prosperity seems to have stopped half way down. The Manchester Ship Canal Company is anxious to cease its obligations on the landward side. The canal has become part of the water table. It is a natural environment in the area, even though it is man—made. I urge the Minister, in deciding the future of the Ship Canal Company, to take account not only of environmental but of commercial interests.

5.30 pm
Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I shall not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) who spoke with passion.

I welcome the debate, but I resent some of the attacks on farmers and landowners that we heard at the beginning. In my experience, numbered among them are the best conservers and preservers of the environment that I have come across. We should be careful before accepting the figures given by pressure groups, albeit important, respectable and responsible ones such as the Nature Conservancy Council. I believe that the figures cited for the loss of SSSIs and traditional woodlands have been shown to be inaccurate. It was, therefore, unwise of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to rely upon them in presenting the motion. The Government's conservation record is good.

In my first speech in the House I expressed my concern and, I believe, the concern of many for the environment. I advised the House of the dangers from mass tourism. I compared the effect of mass tourism upon the centre of London with the effect on Badbury rings near my Dorset home. Today, we read of the effects of mass tourism on Hadrian's wall. If anything, that small example should show us the threat to our heritage and environment.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Is not the answer to give access to far more of our countryside so that tourists are spread more thinly and particular honey spots are not damaged in that way? It is important to have more access.

Mr. Baker

It might be the answer, if that were the result. Unfortunately, I do not believe that it is. What must be done is much more complicated. We certainly should not encourage the development of mass tourism.

I want to make four points. First, I hope that, in the spirit of co-operation to which many hon. Members have referred, there will no longer be a debate about the place of the private landowner and private owner of heritage assets. Undoubtedly, the National Trust does a good job, but the trust and the Government can only be a weapon of last resort. Inevitably, we will depend upon individual owners of heritage houses and assets. The individuals who own beautiful houses work harder, invest and care more for their houses and possessions than any statutory or public body could ever do. In my experience, those individuals are just as prepared to share those houses and possessions with the public as any public body.

I look to those who are becoming, have become and will become—if our economy succeeds in the way we hope—the newly rich. It is shocking to mention the newly rich, but I hope that they will see that one way of applying their wealth for the benefit of the general public is to acquire those heritage houses and assets so that they can look after them and share them with the rest of us. If we accept that idea, we must look at ways of encouraging individuals. I believe that there are ways in the taxation system— in capital and income taxes— to encourage individuals to apply their wealth in that way.

Secondly, I would like the Government to play a more positive part in encouraging museums and galleries to charge those who wish to see the beautiful exhibits. Undoubtedly, that is a good way of improving the facilities of museums and galleries and of making them more attractive. It is a way also of financing the purchase of the heritage assets that the museums and galleries wish to acquire. There are easy ways of making exceptions for those who are out of work and for schoolchildren who cannot afford to pay the charges.

My third point concerns the environment. When I was being lobbied by a helicopter company I had the opportunity of doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) suggested—flying at 1,000 ft over the south of England. I was struck by the disappearance of wild countryside and the way in which the country had been neatly parcelled out. I noted also the pressure of development in the south of England. We all talk about what farmers do in the course of earning their living. Of course, farmers must earn their living, and we should support that. We do not, however, mention the pressures applied to those who live and work in the countryside. The pressure from development in the south of England is greater today than it has ever been.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Particularly in Dorset.

Mr. Baker

I heard my hon. Friend say, "Particularly in Dorset". He has anticipated my next remark.

Dorset's population and:ate of development are well above its structure plan level and greater than the levels in many other parts of the country. I believe for environmental reasons, apart from any others, that the development of planning in that part of the south of England must be restricted. I hope that Ministers in the Department of the Environment will do much more than they have done in past years to uphold local planning decisions. The way in which those decisions are overturned is giving cause for great concern.

I want more development in our inner cities. The people of Liverpool who may wish to enjoy the environment in Dorset and the people of Dorset are concerned that the centre of Liverpool should remain a place in which people want to live and work so that the environment in Dorset, which is different, can be maintained.

I decided to mention my fourth point after noting the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. I hope that he will comment on any encouragement he may give to the private rented sector. This aspect is not irrelevant to the subject we are discussing, and my hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that. If we intend to develop the inner urban areas and at the same time to provide for job mobility, while riot allowing areas such as Dorset to provide the bulk of new houses, we must look much harder at developing the private rented sector. There is a great opportunity for my hon. Friend to undertake the radical and, ultimately, successful reforms to which I believe he is sympathetic.

I hope that this spirit of co-operation in discussing our heritage and the environment will continue, because that is the right attitude for preserving what we value.

5.39 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On 14 January there will be a trial of two men, one from Solihull and one from Ashby-de-la-Zouche, who are accused of uprooting a water soldier—stratiotes alo ides—at Ludham marshes.

As far as we can gather, that will be the first time that there has been any prosecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. After all the many hours some of us spent in Committee, deciding what was to be notified and the various categories to be included in the Bill, we have to wonder whether that is a sensible way for Parliament to proceed. If we are only now to have the first prosecution, what were we doing, spending all that time on the Bill? That is a genuine question.

Is it a surprise to the Ministers that this should be the first prosecution? Are they worried that the legal authorities have little detailed knowledge of this type of Act and therefore find it difficult to prosecute?

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)

The hon. Gentleman, with his long experience in the House, will know that although we may describe the principles, I cannot get involved—and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would not want to get involved—in the details of a case in which he says a prosecution has been brought.

Mr. Dalyell

I leave the matter by saying that this is the first time that a prosecution will have been brought. My general question is whether it is sensible for us to proceed by supposing that the authorities can prosecute in such detailed and possibly arcane matters.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

We also spent a long time in Committee dealing with marine nature reserves. They are clearly the Government's responsibility, but the Government have done even less about them.

Mr. Dalyell

I was intending to ask about that, but the question has been properly asked for me, so we can save time.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee spent a long time arguing about whether Ministry of Agriculture money should be used for conservation purposes. The Sandford amendments are relevant here. Is it possible to identify the amount of Ministry money devoted to conservation purposes since the passing of the Act? The answer may be zero.

We spent a long time in Committee on pre-notification arrangements. Why have the arrangements for prenotification by farmers been curtailed? Is it because of the shortage of personnel or is it a matter of policy? Some of us thought that the pre-notification obligation on farmers was a civilised way of getting their co-operation and a sensible way to proceed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) mentioned the serious weakness in the arrangements to protect landscapes and the wider countryside in the absence of any requirement for farmers, outside national parks and SSSIs, to get prior approval for operations subsidised by the Ministry of Agriculture. My hon. Friend said that the Act should be amended so that the pre-notification arrangements that apply in national parks were extended to cover the whole countryside. That is an important and reasonable request. Will the Minister who is to reply at least comment on it?

Lord Belstead wrote to me on 21 November about Halvergate, saying that some of the legal arrangements had been sorted out. I suspect that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is familiar with the letter that raised the question of European money. What have the Government learnt from the Halvergate experience? In the cooler light of day, with winter coming on, what will be done to stop such situations arising in the future?

We could talk for hours about the resources available to the Nature Conservancy Council and the Natural Environmental Research Council, but we have only minutes available. The broad question is whether the Government are satisfied with the resources made available to the NCC for its day-to-day work and to the NERC for making grants, particularly to universities. Should the NERC be given more money? Is it as desperately short of money as it claims?

The chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Lord Charteris, has asked for more Government funds. I do not think that any response has been made. I do not ask that much more money should be given to the fund, because I am not sure that it is a top priority. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) made clear, the urban environment has many pressing problems.

I ask a different question. In giving money to the fund, is any account taken of the employment opportunities provided by labour-intensive work? Some of us think that heritage funds should be given more willingly if that money can be used, particularly in repair work, to create jobs, especially in areas where there is a desperate shortage of employment. Is account taken of the number of skilled jobs, albeit in crafts and possibly old-fashioned work, such as lead-working or stonemasonry, that can be provided through money given to the National Heritage Memorial Fund?

5.46 pm
Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)

To talk about the failures of Government policies to safeguard the natural environment and national heritage of Britain is to be, in the current phrase, gratuitously offensive. The emphasis laid on those matters by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and by the National Heritage Act is surely evidence of the falseness of that claim. Many of my hon. Friends have shown that clearly.

However, that is not to say that further action is not urgently needed in some respects. I should like to direct the attention of the House not so much to the wide scope of the debate as to the "scape" of the land and to consider not so much areas "beyond the fringe" as the fringe itself. In land use terms, there are three "scapes"—townscape, farmscape and wildscape. Between those "scapes" are the fringes—"rurban" fringe and marginal fringe.

The consequence of the derelict inner city has been the invasion of the green field site by urban dwellers and urban companies alike, thus turning farmscape into the "rurban" fringe. Some measure of that can be seen from the fact that recent surveys estimate that "rurban" fringe now occupies twice the area of townscape, and consists of a chaotic mixture of rural and urban land uses in mutual conflict. There is an inevitable knock-on effect of such a change to the farmscape, resulting from the diminution of properly utilised townscape. The effect is on the wildscape, often heath or moorland.

Now there is a marginal fringe, where the farmscape is encroaching on the wildscape, thus creating an uneasy mixture of farmland and woods or rough grazings. Therefore, no longer do we have the traditional benefit of a compact, busy, well-functioning, built environment, with well-used parks making up the townscape, and uninterrupted, food-producing land with scenic attractions, giving us the farmscape. Instead, we are diminishing those assets in favour of uncomfortable fringes that are less appropriate for our requirements, both economic and pleasurable.

Government action has rightly been concentrated, during the life of the last Parliament, and continuing into this one, on overcoming urban deprivation by utilising innovations such as the urban development corporations and enterprise zones, and has correctly laid emphasis on the private sector. Now is the time to be considering the ways of tackling most successfully the rehabilitation of land in the "rurban" fringe, and then, for the future, to ensure that the adverse consequences of the marginal fringe are overcome.

I am especially conscious of the growth of the "rurban" fringe, and its effect on the farmscape, representing as I do a constituency in Hertfordshire which almost borders Greater London. In addition, having two new towns on what were green field sites enhances one's appreciation of the importance of successful land use.

To overcome such problems, it is necessary to seek a well-founded and operational conservation partnership. Government, both national and local, is one partner which sets the economic and social conditions in which nature conservation must operate. Farmers and land owners are another, as custodians of much of the national heritage. Conservationists, together with interested scientists and concerned members of the public, provide a further element of that partnership. The future success of Government policies to safeguard the natural environment and national heritage of Britain will be greatly enhanced if such a triumvirate of partners can be bound together, both in conservation decisions and in conservation actions.

5.51 pm
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I am privileged to follow the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), who made an interesting and intriguing speech.

The offence that the hon. Gentleman seems to have taken when Opposition Members criticised the Government because of their policy towards the environment should be taken at face value, because he supports a Government who support the common agricultural policy, which in turn supports an economic system which places a higher value on profit than on anything else. It is those pressures which require farmers and food producers to act in a way that is detrimental to the environment.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) recognised that Government economic and agricultural policy have been forcing farmers, in pursuance of profit, to do things which are damaging to the environment. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield should not take offence when Opposition Members criticise the Government for adopting those policies.

I am prepared to accept that Conservative Members are genuinely concerned about the environment and are sincere in their expressions of concern for it, but if they are to be meaningful in their expressions of concern they must recognise the economic systems which are causing the problems.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)


Mr. Davies

I shall not give way, because I have not yet had time to develop my speech. If the opportunity arises, I shall be prepared to give way later to the hon. Gentleman, although I recall that when I last did so there was some disagreement between us.

I am concerned with the problem of the operations of the Forestry Commission, and particularly its impact on the environment in my native country, Wales. In July this year the commission announced that it would be closing the conservancy office in Cardiff, with a loss of 45 jobs. It also meant that the commission had lost an opportunity. The commission has as its primary purpose the production of timber. It does not at present have a responsibility for wider conservation issues. Following a reorganisation, the commission lost an opportunity to branch out and to use its resources, staff and expertise, in a much more constructive way to enhance our natural environment. Unfortunately, instead of taking that opportunity the commission ignored it, and decided that it would merely follow the requirement placed on it by the Government, in pursuance of its charter, for timber production, and to be efficient in economic terms. It closed down the office without any thought of the consequences for the local community. That is an example of the way in which the commission is failing to adapt to changed circumstances.

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House understand why the Forestry Commission was established. We understand the strategic argument for timber production and the need to be self-sufficient in times of war, although I do not know what we shall be able to do with 1 million hectares of coniferous timber when the next war breaks out. We are aware of the economic argument and the need, for economic reasons, to be as self-sufficient as possible in timber production, although, despite all the efforts of the Government and the support given to the Forestry Commission and the private sector, we are still producing only 9 per cent. of our national timber needs, and 10 per cent. of that timber is of such little value that it has to be exported for pulp purposes.

We have not realised that the responsibility that was placed on the Forestry Commission no longer exists; at least, successive Governments appear not to have noticed it. In 1972 the Treasury did a cost-benefit analysis of the operations of the commission, and said that it could find no reason for increasing the area under timber arid even had difficulty in justifying investment in maintaining the existing area and stock. The analysis went on to say: There are no strategic considerations— defence or commercial—relevant to new afforestation. That was 12 years ago. Since then the Forestry Commission has done very little other than to follow the well-trodden path of allowing mature, historic, ancient woodlands to be destroyed, and to allow or encourage the march of coniferous plantations across some of the most attractive and valuable parts of our natural landscape, at an increasing cost to the public. That is what has happened over the past 12 years since the Treasury report 'was published. It shows, to say the least, a considerable lack of imagination on the part of the Forestry Commission. It has not realised that there are changed circumstances, and now has no strategy for dealing with the problems of the environment and of conservation which are increasingly coming to the fore in the 1980s.

I should like to mention two consequences of the operations of the Forestry Commission. First, there is the loss of our upland areas. They are the areas which maps now designate as the less favoured areas— broadly above 500 metres. The Royal. Society for the Protection of Birds, in a survey, calculated that since 1946 about 197,000 hectares of moorland have been lost. In my native south Wales, about 50 per cent. of the total upland areas has been lost since 1946. Between 1976 and 1983, we have lost 11,300 hectares of upland area to afforestation. That is worrying, because it means that we have lost a valuable and precious habitat in terms of flora and fauna. In particular, we have lost the bird life which can flourish on upland areas. The Forestry Commission has at least been party to destroying employment in agriculture and associated industries. The employment that the commission itself has provided has proved to be transient, to say the least.

A report in The Guardian of 24 September 1984 mentions present Government policies towards the Forestry Commission, requiring it to dispose of assets. The report says: Communities are also threatened. Probably the most extreme example is the recent sale of the 1,500-acre Brycheniog Forest in Brecon, South Wales, for more than £2.5 million to a private forestry group. Ten workers were made redundant and Llaneglwys, the hamlet dependent on the forest, is threatened. Its houses were built by the commission in the 1930s and the local agricultural workers' district secretary, Mr. Stuart Neale, fears that the community could die. Therefore, in addition to the destruction of the employment that existed before the Forestry Commission's operations, we now find that because of its operations the employment that it generated is also being destroyed. We know the cost to the Exchequer and to the environment. Studies have shown the contributory effect of afforestation to acid rain. No benefit is accruing to the Treasury or the environment as a result of the commission's operations.

Secondly, there has been the loss of broadleaved woodland habitat. That ancient woodland is valuable as a resource in economic terms and in terms of its habitat and landscape value, and its use to the people for recreation and associated purposes. A report by the Council for the Protection of Rural England, endorsed by the Nature Conservancy Council, showed that since 1947 between 30 and 50 per cent. of that ancient and semi-natural woodland has been destroyed. Since the war about 60,000 hectares of mature oak woodland in England alone have been destroyed by the operations of the Forestry Commission. In my own county of Gwent, since the turn of the century, we have lost about 67 per cent. of our ancient woodland. The commission is sanguine, to say the least, in its treatment of those figures. Its report entitled "Broadleaves in Britain" states: Contrary to popular belief there has been no appreciable change in the total area of broadleaved woodland over the past 30 years. That view is challenged by almost everyone who is concerned with the countryside. It is challenged by the NCC, the Countryside Commission, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We all understand the way in which the censuses have been done. We understand the way in which the Forestry Commission has been interpreting the figures that have been produced. We know that the commission is conning the British public when it says that there is no loss in the total standing area of native woodland.

A new approach is needed. New policies are needed. My colleagues on the Front Bench have made it clear that if the Government are prepared to introduce policies that will provide protection to existing SSSIs they will receive support from the Opposition. The Government know that if they introduce policies requiring the Forestry Commission to have a broader remit and to look at the demands of other users, they will receive support from the Opposition. If the Government develop new policies for environmental conservation and impose them on the Forestry Commission, they will receive support from the Opposition. Above all, if the Government require the commission to achieve greater co-operation and more meaningful consultation with other public bodies such as the water authorities, local authorities and conservation organisations, they will have greater support from the Opposition.

The Government may argue that legislation will be needed. If so, they will find that there is broad agreement. Agreement now stretches even as far as the National Farmers Union. In its recent publications the union has said that it understands and accepts the nature of the problem. There is now a clear responsibility on the Government to recognise that consensus and to act upon it.

6.4 pm

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

I welcome this debate on the countryside. The very fact that we are holding it is not the result of a mere esoteric interest within this Parliament, but a reflection of the public's growing interest in our natural heritage and its demand that we do more to protect it.

The Opposition attack the Government on their record. They cannot be blamed for doing so, for that is their role. We heard the attack by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). o However, I believe that the more dispassionate observer looking back at this time in years to come will see that it was this Government who presided over the most significant change of attitudes to the countryside this century. How much more effective it is to engineer a change of attitudes than to produce a plethora of words, as Opposition Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), do.

Whatever the minor failing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act— the Government are committed to seeing that those loopholes are plugged— we must accept it as a landmark for conservation and the protection of special sites. The Government can take much credit for it. However, as with many such advances, the Act has also helped to illuminate the path ahead. Above all, it has made us aware that conservation in the wider countryside, not just in the special sites, is also crucial, and we must do more about that.

Bodies normally in controversy agree on moves needed to protect the wider countryside. For example, we might expect the voluntary bodies and their 3 million members to spring to the defence of our natural heritage in the wider countryside. We might even understand that the Countryside Commission should support them. However, in addition, the Country Landowners Association and even the National Farmers Union have said that we must seek a better balance between farming and conservation in the countryside. One is amazed and delighted that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food admits that the goal of agricultural production is not the only one to be pursued, but that conservation is also important. That is a bandwagon indeed, partly created by Government action and partly a reaction to what the public want. We are witnessing a significant change in attitude.

However, it is clear that the Government must respond even more than they have responded so far. The countryside needs greater protection; the public want action; and the time is ripe and correct to do that. I welcome several signs that more is to be done, particularly the substantial extra resources going to the Nature Conservancy Council, but more action is needed. In pursuit of progress, I should like to recommend action in four areas.

First, the Government must enshrine as a principle the reality that no more habitat should be destroyed to increase agricultural production. It is one thing to farm existing land well—we must do that—but it is quite another to destroy valuable habitat with taxpayers' money simply to add to farming surpluses. All grants for that purpose must cease, and the money saved must be put back into conservation—into the countryside. In that respect I also welcomed the decision by the Ministry not to give grants for drainage on the Derwent Ings. I await with anticipation the paper on the future of drainage.

Secondly, we must draw a distinction between the prosperous farming areas in the east and the tougher conditions in the west. We must sustain the fabric of agricultural and rustic life in the most difficult farming regions. Recently the Countryside Commission called for an integrated approach to farming in the uplands. Why should not a 60-acre farm in Wales, for example, have 10 acres or more as productive woodland and be sustained as a viable farming unit using grants saved from other parts of the agriculture budget? We must welcome the Ministry's initiative to get Common Market funds and an integrated and balanced approach to farming in the less favoured areas.

Thirdly, I should like to refer to agricultural sprays. As a farmer, I now spray my wheat crop four or five times, or more, per year. I have to do that if I am to have an economic yield. Yet, as a naturalist, I am absolutely convinced that spraying causes the destruction of much insect life and is having a profound and damaging effect on wildlife on my farm. If we could make sprays with a specific effect and precise application, we would do more for wildlife than almost any other measure would achieve. Therefore, I urge more research on the use of sprays in agriculture.

Fourthly, I must mention acid rain. One has only to visit Scandinavia to recognise the calamity that haunts those countries. There are dead rivers and dead forests, becoming ever larger in extent. It is beyond doubt that sulphur dioxide emissions from this country are partly to blame. I support the Select Committee's call for direct action now. We must join the 30 per cent. club and start a programme of emission control. To do that would not just be to accept our responsibility and to regain much good will. To ignore the crisis now will lead not just to further damage to the environment but to an ignominious U-turn in the future. In general, I support the Government's action in encouraging the right trends to protect our environment, but I cannot do so on acid rain.

I have spoken specifically about the protection of our remaining habitats, the need to support an integrated approach to farming, to find a solution to the damage caused by agricultural sprays and to act rather than bluster on acid rain. Nevertheless, I believe that in general the Government understand the steps that need to be taken to protect our natural heritage. They must now spell out their programme. Indeed, they must go further in the education of the public and of farmers. After all, the best protection of all for the wider countryside to which I have mainly referred is for the farmers themselves, who are the custodians of the land, to understand how best to manage their hedgerows, look after their woodlands, dig out and protect their ponds and encourage their marshes. Ultimately it is the farmer who, with understanding, can do all those things for the benefit and health of our natural heritage.

6.11 pm
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I support the Opposition motion. I do so as an unashamed advocate of the care of our natural heritage and countryside not just as an especially precious part of our national heritage but as an aspect of our life and culture which is a solace for the hearts, the eyes and imagination not just of those who live and work in the countryside but of people like my constituents who are encased in the inner cities in areas of high unemployment and deprivation. Those people need and desire the escape and solace provided by the natural environment, and it behoves this House to remember that and to cherish our heritage.

Press reports suggest that the Government wish to be seen as a Government who care for the environment and for green issues. Like their sister party in West Germany, they wish to outgreen the greens. They are constantly telling us of their concern about these issues. The Under-Secretary of State claimed today that the Government had a fine record on the issues involved in this debate, but I wish to look behind the words at what the Government have actually achieved, because the reality is very different.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) dealt excellently with the subject of acid rain. So far, the Government have refused to endorse the 30 per cent. reduction declaration made in Ottawa by most European nations. The Government have expressed sympathy and concern about the problem, but they have accepted the line constantly peddled by the Central Electricity Generating Board that more time and research are needed before action can be taken. That is not good enough. The damage is not confined to Scandinavia and Germany. In Galloway, in Wales and in the Lake District, this country is beginning to see the effects of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution. Emissions from our power stations and motor vehicles are a prime cause of that pollution. If the Government do not take immediate action, they will be storing up a great deal of trouble for the future. I hope that the Minister, when winding up the debate, will give us a great deal more hope than we have been given so far about the Government's determination to reduce the emissions of pollutants, especially from power stations, and to ensure that our air is cleaner, clearer and safer for the benefit of the environment and all of us.

Again, in their attempts to handle the difficult balance between agricultural and conservation interests the Government have so far failed to appreciate the problems now besetting us. Some aspects of the Wildlife and Countryside Act have rightly been applauded, but it has failed to deal with other problems. Both sides now agree that the three-month loophole on designation of SSSIs must be plugged. The Act is defective in other ways. I hope that the forthcoming report of the Select Coimnittee on the Environment, of which I have honour to be a member, will show clearly the areas requiring amendment. So far, the Government have not introduced their own legislation to improve the Act, but they have made it widely known that they would welcome a private Member's Bill to do their work for them. I believe that in taking that attitude they are shirking their responsibilities in relation to the Act, but, if they decide to persevere with that course, I hope that they will give a warm welcome to the Bill likely to be proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark).

Many Conservative Members have pointed out that a major problem of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is that it relies purely on the voluntary principle in relation to conservation in areas other than SSSIs. I do not believe that that principle is sufficient. However great or welcome the change of attitude of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association in the past two years, that does not mean that in each and every instance farmers and developers of agricultural land will concern themselves, as they rightly should, with the conservation interest.

Looking beyond the operation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Government's pathetic record on acid rain, there are other aspects of environmental concern. Selling off Forestry Commission sites to private commercial interests involves untold potential dangers for the way in which those sites are used and developed. The Government have consistently refused to make available the information about pollution by private enterprise. The proceedings of water authorities take place entirely in secret. Grants are available from central Government to enable national park authorities to enter into management agreements. Central Government provide 90 per cent. for Dartmoor. Why do not other national parks benefit to the same extent? The Government's record on the environment, across the board, is very disappointing.

We should remind ourselves again of the overall picture. We should remember the losses that the country has experienced since the second world war—losses of lowland heaths, limestone pavements, ancient woodlands, lowland fens, uplands, grasslands and heath. We should remember that a quarter of the moorland on Dartmoor has been ploughed up for agricultural development since the second world war, and that in the Northumberland national park vast areas are still reserved for the use of the Ministry of Defence and are not open for the public to wander over.

We should remember that there are many faults in our countryside and in the way in which the Government fail to protect and preserve that countryside. That should not surprise us very much. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary, who has primary responsibility for these matters, made a revealing comment in his speech. He said that the countryside as we know it today is the product of a millionfold decision by private citizens. That may well have been true in the past. However, it is not private citizens who proposed to plant forests across the lower slopes of Creag Meaghaidh; who are buying up the land being sold by the Forestry Commission; and who are engaged on the agri-business development of farmland and prairie around the country. It is not private citizens who sit in the CEGB and refuse to acknowledge that they are the largest producers of sulphur dioxide in western Europe. Such matters are determined by the operation of large-scale commercial enterprises which have no concern whatsoever for the countryside and the environment.

We must demand of the Government— as the representative of our community—to be concerned, to take an interest and to take action before it is too late to preserve those items of our environment which are so precious a part of our heritage and which are far too valuable for us to lose.

6.23 pm
Mr. Esmond Bulmer (Wyre Forest)

I declare an interest as a member of the executive committee of the National Trust, a position that I share with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), which suggests that some of the divisions between us are more apparent than real. I propose to speak briefly, drawing on that experience. The trust is responsible for some of our greatest houses and gardens, miles of our most beautiful and vulnerable coastline, large areas of the Lake District and many acres of farmland, moorland and woodland.

Many people from overseas visit the houses, which are increasingly centres for a wide variety of recreational activities. They are also, thanks to co-operation with the Manpower Services Commission, providing much useful work for those who have left school and not yet found a job.

The House will realise that a great house is not simply a museum. The house is a living entity and, with its surrounding park, provides scope for a great deal of leisure activity.

The Government's first great contribution is in reducing inflation to tolerable levels. In the 1970s, as hon. Members will remember, labour, building and energy costs rose so steeply that it was impossible for the National Trust to accept houses with confidence that any endowment would be sufficient.

The House will understand that preserving such houses cost effectively demands that, so far as possible, the original family should stay there. The Government have therefore made a further contribution by reducing rates of taxation and, through the maintenance fund, in trading tax concessions for access for the public. We can begin to feel that the prevention which is so much better than the cure has been advanced.

We must still expect casualties, and there was one recently with Caulke. The Conservatives pledged themselves to drawing the teeth of capital transfer tax, but that tax still has teeth, and the sums involved were so large that the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund were not able to provide all that was necessary. The Minister has shown some expertise in getting the Treasury to change its mind, and I believe appreciate that greater flexibility is desirable. The fact that the Treasury would not accept the Hardwick route, allowing land not of heritage quality to be accepted as an endowment, was a retrograde step.

Those who served on the Committee which considered the National Heritage Bill know that the claims made on the trustees of the fund are very great, are increasing, and are likely to be more than the Treasury will give. When three great houses are all concerned at the same time—Caulke, Belton and perhaps Keddlestone— the sums involved are greater than the resources currently available to the National Heritage Memorial Fund. It would also be sensible for the Government to consider whether they could reduce one area of demand by moving towards the American system of providing tax incentives to people prepared to buy pictures and give them to galleries after their time. The potential call on the fund is enormous, given the increasing value of pictures in private hands.

I turn my hon. Friend's mind to two other factors. First, there is an opportunity which has already been mentioned today. As it has become clear that farm productivity has reached the point when subsidy must be cut, some of the money which previously was devoted to the subsidies should be directed towards conservation in one form or another. The Achilles heal of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is lack of funds.

I hope, too, that more research can be undertaken into the technology of low-input, low-output farming. Any hon. Member who visits the Lake District will understand that small is beautiful and that the pattern of that landscape demands that it should be economically possible for people to stay there.

I hope that my hon. Friend will also address himself—if not today, then later on—to a problem created by the phasing out of the metropolitan counties. Speke hall in Liverpool and Lyme park in Manchester are both, under the proposals which are currently in hand, to pass to district councils. There is every reason to fear that those councils will not have the resources to meet the financial demands of the full repairing leases under which those properties are held from the National Trust at the moment.

I believe that we all share a dedication towards the idea of preserving for future generations the best of what exists in the country today. It is difficult to recreate the confidence which characterised those who laid out the parks in the 18th century, but we can at least ensure that the landscapes which came to fruition years after they were planned are preserved, and that all the opportunities for recreation are developed in a constructive way. We can ensure that our children value all that is good in our past because it is in their determination and that of all of us to preserve what is best that the hope lies. It is an issue which I believe is above party.

6.29 pm
Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

I understand that I have three minutes—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your guidance about what an hon. Member has to do to get called? I was in for the opening speeches and unavoidably had to go to chair a Statutory Instruments Committee, providing a quorum for that Committee so that at least one Conservative Member could be in here trying to catch your eye. I returned as soon as that Committee's proceedings had finished. I have sat here and listened to rather more of the debate than many hon. Members who were called earlier and left almost as soon as they had finished their speeches.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet) has been here throughout the debate. I was not aware of the reason why the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) left the Chamber, but I knew that he was not present for part of the debate. I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand me if I say that he is a Front Bench spokesman and has other opportunities to speak in the Chamber. It is part of my responsibilities to look after the interests of Back Benchers who have rather fewer chances.

Mr. Skeet

I now have two minutes.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that conservation and the integrity of the environment is probably one of the most important aspects of life. However, I recollect the groundnuts scheme being formulated for east Africa in 1948. The British Government threw away £36 million in a great project that, unfortunately, did not conserve the countryside. I use that as an illustration in only one respect.

I have read from cover to cover the report of the Select Committee which considered the question of acid rain. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has not made any observations in response to that report. Perhaps I may make a few observations. First, there are multiple causes of the problem. There is not just one component—sulphur dioxide. Power stations are not solely responsible for the devastation of the forests in Germany. Ozone and aluminium leached from the soil may also be responsible. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who spoke to me outside the House a moment ago, is aware that only 2 per cent. of the sulphur dioxide produced in the United Kingdom travels to Norway. Secondly, there is little to be gained from throwing money at the problem as the solution is likely to be extremely expensive and may not result in the blessings that we all seek.

Unfortunately, my time is now up and I cannot make the remarks that I intended to make.

6.32 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

The short speech of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. Skeet)—I should have liked to have heard it develop, and perhaps he will have another opportunity to do that—and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) highlight the difference between the two sides of the House.

Today's debate clearly illustrates the general disquiet at the Government's policy and their handling of environmental matters. Such matters affect the quality of life of millions of people and the surroundings in which they live. I do not need to declare my views on the environment. Since I came here in 1970 with my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and some Conservative Members, some people have been prepared to declare their faith in environmental issues, even when it was not fashionable to do so. That is part and parcel of our Socialist philosophy and why we are prepared at times to say unfashionable things.

It has been a great disappointment to the Opposition for the past 12 months—I do not wish to dwell on the point but it must be put on the record again—that, while we have offered to participate with the Government in taking remedial action on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, they have not been prepared to respond. After all, we have delivered. Last year we delivered on the Crown land legislation and would have done so again. I hope that we can remedy this and other matters in other ways. We are prepared, even at this late stage, to make common issue with the Government to apply cosmetic improvements to their policy as long as the result is less damaging to our countryside and environment. However, we disagree fundamentally with the Government's basic approach.

I was also disappointed with the presentation of the Minister's speech. His speech did not do him justice. It was thin and he failed to address himself to the key areas of conservation. However, I am prepared to give him full marks for honesty because his speech reflected the Government's environmental policy: it is one of thinness and irrelevance.

There are several reasons for our tabling the motion. The first, which my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) dealt with, has not been stated widely enough. I refer to the international effect of the environmental movement. I was especially anxious to learn that the Minister for Overseas Development has abolished the full-time post of environmental scrutineer in our Third world aid programme. Is that the case? If so, may we have an assurance that Environment Ministers will try to get a replacement for that vital role? We have only to see the terrifying pictures on television of Ethiopia and perhaps even the Sudan to realise that, while we pump aid into those countries, it is only an intermediate solution and that we need to do something about the environment.

Acid rain is another international problem. I do not want to go into detail because I hope that the Government will stand by their word and initiate a full-scale debate on the issue. The Government's stance is isolated and untenable. They should immediately sign the 30 per cent. declaration which was drawn up at Ottawa and support the EEC in the 60 per cent. reduction of sulphur dioxide and the 40 per cent. reduction of nitrous oxide.

In regard to the North sea, the Minister managed to salvage something out of the Bremen conference at the end of October. However, the British Government were again seen as the laggards of Europe. The Minister got together a face-saving formula about there being another conference in two years, but during the next two years much damage will be done to the North sea. Nothing has been done about waste dumping and nothing has been done about protection of the North sea. If the Minister talked to fishermen and seamen who ply from the north-east coast to Scandinavian countries he would hear evidence of the need for action. We believe that the Government have failed in their international obligations. That is morally wrong and to the disadvantage of British industry.

On the domestic scene, my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) pungently made the point that the environment concerns the urban as well as the rural scene. Part of my Socialist philosophy rests on that. People from towns want to go out and enjoy the beauties of the countryside, but they also have a right to live in a pleasant environment. There is no need for urbanisation to be ugly. I should have thought that the advances of technology and planning made that unnecessary. However, there is still much work to be done to clean up our older industrial areas. Today I checked on the top four unemployment areas in England—1 had better not mention Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. They are south Tyneside with 25.5 per cent. unemployment, Hartlepool with 24.9 per cent. unemployment, Middlesbrough with 24.5 per cent. unemployment and Sunderland with 22.4 per cent. unemployment. They are all potentially attractive areas. Each has a coastline, and with a little help and a considerable amount of public investment the environment could be greatly enhanced. But the Government's policy on the clearance of derelict land is ineffective, especially in such areas, because the partnership scheme between the private and public sectors simply does not work in areas such as the north-east, where there is no private presence. I ask the Government to look seriously at this point. I know that they will shortly receive an approach from the Tyne and Wear county council, which wishes to discuss this matter, and I hope that they will respond positively to that request.

In its report in June this year, the Nature Conservancy Council said of farming: Of all human activities that are damaging to nature, agriculture is overwhelmingly the most important because of the sheer scale of its impact". As someone who tried to eke out a living on the land in the north-west, I can vouch for the veracity of that statement. I also recognise the scale of technological change and the impact of EEC policies on agriculture since I worked on the land more than 20 years ago. We now have over-production and despoliation, and the time has come for a change in policy.

Many times, farmers have said that Tom Williams, who I think came from Wentworth, was the best thing that ever happened to British agriculture. They never voted Labour, but that is what they said.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Some have done.

Dr. Clark

I apologise to my hon. Friend. The Agriculture Act 1947, which has served this country well, was based on self-sufficiency. The time has now come when the basic tenet of that Act is no longer strictly applicable. We are not now concerned with self-sufficiency so much as with over-production. I would not mind that over-production if we had the capability of transposing it to Third world countries, but we have not. Therefore, we need a definite statement that the Government are prepared to subjugate some of their MAFF policies to the interests of the wider environment. There is potential within"— the Wildlife and Countryside Actfor setting farmers against conservationists, in a manner which we feel to be expensive, undesirable and unnecessary, in an unequal struggle in which the conservation of our countryside and wildlife can only lose in the long run. Those are not the words of the Labour party. They were contained in this year's annual report of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Conservative Members have said that there is not much wrong with that Act, but it contains some basic flaws, as the Bow group paper repeatedly states. We want to try to rectify them.

I associate myself with everything that has been said about the disappearing SSSIs. I was amazed to hear the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) refer to the NCC as a pressure group and to doubt and question its scientific findings. That was unworthy.

We believe that the Forestry Commission and MAFF should be subjected to the same constraints as the water boards. We should like to see prenotification extended. We desperately want to see the creation of marine nature reserves, and action is needed on drainage. Those aspects of the Wildlife and Countryside Act have been widely explored, and I support most of the criticisms that have been made.

I had the pleasure of leading for the Opposition on the National Heritage Act. We supported it because it adopted a less elitist approach to the conservation of our national heritage, which is a heritage of working people just as much as of the grandees of the past. Many of us have complained that our approach to the built environment has been far too elitist. Because of that, many people who would have wished to benefit from our cultural heritage have missed out.

Today, the Hadrian's wall advisory panel produced a report drawing the Government's attention to the problem of mass tourism. That part of Northumberland needs mass tourism simply because no jobs are available. However, may we have a Government asssurance of a major initiative towards a new approach? The Northumberland county council has bought a worn-out used quarry on the border between Northumberland and Cumbria. Will the Government give immediate assistance to develop it into an archaeological and historical park? I ask that because today there has emerged an adventurous scheme in South Shields to rebuild the eastern guard post at Hadrian's wall, the best preserved urban fort in the country. The county council has put forward an imaginative scheme, but must now go through the process of a long and expensive public inquiry.

That area is in desperate need of jobs, because 25 per cent. of the people there are out of work. Such a scheme will attract 250,000 visitors, and in no way will that harm the archaeological interpretation of that site.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Before the hon. Gentleman pleads for mass tourism, will he consider the impact on the environment, about which he cares, as is manifest from his remarks? I understand the need for jobs, but jobs in mass tourism as opposed to more selective tourism could have a devastating impact on the environment.

Dr. Clark

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. The answer to the problem is that put forward by my hon. friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). If people are congregating at the same narrow spot, we must try to get them to visit other places. Hadrian's wall is a good example. People visit one or two specific sites, yet there are many others which they should be encouraged to visit. However, given the restrictive access policy that is often adopted by private ownership, that is not possible. I hope that the Government will also consider the suggestion of the Hadrian's wall advisory panel that there should be a footpath along the length of the wall.

There have been declarations of surprise from Conservative Members at the ferocity of the views expressed by my hon. Friends. They should not be surprised. We feel particularly strongly that Government policies do not fully match the environmental challenges with which we are faced, and on occasions those policies are irretrievably damaging our countryside and environment.

Most of us represent areas which have suffered from the industrial ravages of the past, which has resulted in a legacy of unbridled free enterprise. Consequently, many generations have suffered immensely, and the quality of their lives has been permanently impaired. Most of us thought that we would never see such unbridled industrialisation again, but we now have a Government who are the declared proponent of the free enterprise system—the enemy of conservation and the environment. The Government's environmental policy is the most reactionary in western Europe. Compared with the Prime Minister, President Reagan appears to be a paid-up member of Greenpeace. As least he had the decency to sack his Secretary of State for the Environment when he proved to be a failure.

We tabled the motion, not because we are tired of the Government's crocodile tears on environment matters, but because the Government are damaging the environment and reducing the quality of life of many British people.

6.50 pm
The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Ian Gow)

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) started and ended his speech in a way which he will live to regret. He started with the implication, which I find especially unattractive, that only Socialists can be concerned about our natural environment and the national heritage of Britain. Conservative Members indignantly resent that charge. I believe that possessions which are owned, whether by a public body or by a private individual, are held by hon. Members, who are elected as temporary custodians and trustees for future generations whom we shall not see.

The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) made a long and rambling speech. Whatever may be said about my speech, it will not be long, because I have been left only 10 minutes. It is a tribute to the House that so many hon. Members have been able to speak during a debate which has lasted only just over three hours. We will have had 16 speeches in all.

Conservative Members have been puzzled by the choice of topic. We are greatly surprised that the Labour party chose for one of its precious Supply days a matter on which we believe the Government have an outstanding record and on which the Labour Government's record was not one of which they could be proud.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State reminded the House of the keen interest which he and I take in motions for the Labour party conference. I studied the motions which were before the comrades when they were in Blackpool last month. [Interruption.] The former Patronage Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), seems to make a habit of coming in and from a sedentary position interrupting Conservative Members. If he wishes to make an intervention now, I shall gladly give way. It appears that he does not.

A motion before the Labour party conference, which was submitted by the Buckingham constituency Labour party, urged the Labour party to develop its policies on the environment and to communicate them more effectively to the electorate. I expect that a similar motion will be submitted to the comrades when they meet in 11 months' time.

The hon. Member for Copeland asked about the Control of Pollution Act 1974. It was left to this Government—the announcement was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) in February 1981—to embark on a four-year programme to bring the Control of Pollution Act into effect. We have decided that the major provisions of the Act will come into force by July 1985 and that part II of the Act will be entirely in force by July 1986. As a result, water authorities will have full powers of control over all inland waters, estuaries, underground water and the sea along the coast. They will have the means to tackle pollution of water, the careless handling of transport and the storage of chemicals. From the end of January proposals for major discharges of water must be advertised and be open to public objection and inquiry before a decision is taken. At the same time, water authorities will institute registers showing the performance of discharges. These will be open to public inspection from next summer.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) raised a constituency point which with characteristic tenacity he has pursued with my hon. Fritend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. He spoke with deep sincerity. When my hon. Friend met the hon. Gentleman recently, he told him that he would submit all of the papers to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. That was done. As a result, all the hon. Gentleman's representations about Lumn's lane have received the most careful consideration by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by me separately. We have all reached the conclusion that, on the basis of the best and most objective scientific advice that we have received, what is proposed will be safe and will present no danger to the health of the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised some specific points. I explained to him why I did not want to comment on the prosecution which he mentioned. He asked what would happen next to Halvergate. We are still considering the recommendations of the joint working group. We are aware that further steps are needed if we are to avoid next year the problems which we have faced this year. I shall write to him about the other points that he raised.

The hon. Member for Copeland spoke about the effect of farming methods on the landscape and habitat. Incredibly, he seems to have forgotten that, although the Labour Government, which he adorned for some time, had the opportunity to introduce legislation of that sort, this Government introduced the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The House knows that the operation of that Act is being examined by the Select Committee on the Environment. I do not wish to anticipate its findings. However, there is wide agreement that the Act has done a great deal to change attitudes to conservation in the countryside. That point was made in a powerful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who used to be a distinguished Minister in the Department of the Environment.

The Government's decision to provide further resources for the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission is positive proof of our commitment to making the Act work.

Regarding our built heritage, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England has made an excellent start. I endorse the tributes paid earlier to my noble Friend Lord Montagu. We have protected the parts of the heritage which Parliament decided should remain directly in the Government's care. The tower of London and Hampton court have seen further improvements with greater public access and an increased number of visitors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) referred to an accelerated survey of listed buildings which we initiated in 1981. That is proceeding rapidly and on time. The number of listed buildings has risen from 280,000 in 1981 to 328,000 last month. By 1987 we shall have the most comprehensive, scholarly and detailed listings of historic buildings in the world.

Decisions taken now will profoundly affect the quality of the built and the natural heritage for future generations. We need to look beyond the individual cases, important though they are, which have been raised in the debate. We need to put them in the wider context of what should be our joint purpose—to preserve the built and the natural environment.

The nation has inherited a marvellous legacy of historic buildings and a wide variety of landscapes and habitats. The majority of those are looked after by private individuals or bodies such as the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The Government's purpose is to create conditions in which responsible and concerned attitudes can flourish. The measures that we have taken to enable the owners of historic houses to continue their stewardship and to encourage farmers to manage and conserve their lands are proving effective.

The Government understand that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is not perfect. The voluntary bodies do a great deal to protect our heritage. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has nearly 500,000 members. The National Trust has 1 million members. The Government are determined to build upon the successful initiatives that we have taken. The Government and the people are joint trustees for the next generation. The Government will discharge that trusteeship.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 190, Noes 276.

Division No. 21] [7.00 pm
Abse, Leo Dobson, Frank
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Dormand, Jack
Alton, David Douglas, Dick
Anderson, Donald Dubs, Alfred
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Duffy, A. E. P.
Ashdown, Paddy Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Eadie, Alex
Ashton, Joe Eastham, Ken
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Ewing, Harry
Barnett, Guy Fatchett, Derek
Barron, Kevin Faulds, Andrew
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Benn, Tony Fisher, Mark
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Flannery, Martin
Bermingham, Gerald Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bidwell, Sydney Forrester, John
Blair, Anthony Foulkes, George
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Boyes, Roland Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Bray, Dr Jeremy Garrett, W. E.
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) George, Bruce
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Gould, Bryan
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Gourlay, Harry
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Bruce, Malcolm Hardy, Peter
Buchan, Norman Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Haynes, Frank
Campbell, Ian Heffer, Eric S.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Canavan, Dennis Home Robertson, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Cartwright, John Howells, Geraint
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hoyle, Douglas
Clay, Robert Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Janner, Hon Greville
Conlan, Bernard Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) John, Brynmor
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Johnston, Russell
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cowans, Harry Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kennedy, Charles
Crowther, Stan Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cunningham, Dr John Kirkwood, Archy
Dalyell, Tam Lambie, David
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Leadbitter, Ted
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Deakins, Eric Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Dewar, Donald Litherland, Robert
Dixon, Donald Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rogers, Allan
Loyden, Edward Rooker, J. W.
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Rowlands, Ted
McKelvey, William Ryman, John
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
McWilliam, John Sheerman, Barry
Madden, Max Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Marek, Dr John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Maxton, John Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Maynard, Miss Joan Skinner, Dennis
Meacher, Michael Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Meadowcroft, Michael Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Michie, William Snape, Peter
Mikardo, Ian Soley, Clive
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Spearing, Nigel
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Nellist, David Straw, Jack
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
O'Brien, William Thorne, Stan (Preston)
O'Neill, Martin Tinn, James
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Torney, Tom
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wainwright, R.
Park, George Wallace, James
Parry, Robert Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Patchett, Terry Wareing, Robert
Pendry, Tom Weetch, Ken
Penhaligon, David Welsh, Michael
Pike, Peter White, James
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Prescott, John Wilson, Gordon
Radice, Giles Winnick, David
Randall, Stuart Woodall, Alec
Redmond, M. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Rees, Rt Hon M. ('Leeds S)
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Robertson, George Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe and
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Mr. James Hamilton.
Adley, Robert Bulmer, Esmond
Aitken, Jonathan Burt, Alistair
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Butcher, John
Ancram, Michael Butler, Hon Adam
Arnold, Tom Butterfill, John
Ashby, David Carlisle, John (N Luton)
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Carttiss, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Baldry, Tony Chapman, Sydney
Batiste, Spencer Chope, Christopher
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Churchill, W. S.
Bellingham, Henry Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bendall, Vivian Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Benyon, William Cockeram, Eric
Bevan, David Gilroy Colvin, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Conway, Derek
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Coombs, Simon
Blackburn, John Cope, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Cormack, Patrick
Body, Richard Corrie, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Cranborne, Viscount
Boscawen, Hon Robert Critchley, Julian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dickens, Geoffrey
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dicks, Terry
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Dorrell, Stephen
Braine, Sir Bernard Dover, Den
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dunn, Robert
Bright, Graham Durant, Tony
Brinton, Tim Dykes, Hugh
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bruinvels, Peter Emery, Sir Peter
Bryan, Sir Paul Evennett, David
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Eyre, Sir Reginald
Fallon, Michael Major, John
Farr, Sir John Malins, Humfrey
Favell, Anthony Malone, Gerald
Fletcher, Alexander Maples, John
Fookes, Miss Janet Marland, Paul
Forman, Nigel Marlow, Antony
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Mather, Carol
Fox, Marcus Maude, Hon Francis
Franks, Cecil Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gale, Roger Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Garel-Jones, Tristan Merchant, Piers
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Meyer, Sir Anthony
Glyn, Dr Alan Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Goodlad, Alastair Miscampbell, Norman
Gorst, John Moate, Roger
Gow, Ian Monro, Sir Hector
Gower, Sir Raymond Montgomery, Fergus
Grant, Sir Anthony Moore, John
Greenway, Harry Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Grist, Ian Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Grylls, Michael Moynihan, Hon C.
Gummer, John Selwyn Mudd, David
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Murphy, Christopher
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Neale, Gerrard
Hampson, Dr Keith Needham, Richard
Hanley, Jeremy Nelson, Anthony
Hannam, John Newton, Tony
Hargreaves, Kenneth Nicholls, Patrick
Harris, David Onslow, Cranley
Haselhurst, Alan Oppenheim, Phillip
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hayhoe, Barney Ottaway, Richard
Heddle, John Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hickmet, Richard Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Parris, Matthew
Hind, Kenneth Patten, John (Oxford)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Pawsey, James
Holt, Richard Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Howard, Michael Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Pollock, Alexander
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'Idford) Powley, John
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Price, Sir David
Hunt, David (Wirral) Prior, Rt Hon James
Hunter, Andrew Proctor, K. Harvey
Irving, Charles Raffan, Keith
Jessel, Toby Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Roe, Mrs Marion
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rost, Peter
Key, Robert Ryder, Richard
King, Rt Hon Tom Sackville, Hon Thomas
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Knox, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Lang, Ian Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Latham, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lawrence, Ivan Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Silvester, Fred
Lightbown, David Sims, Roger
Lilley, Peter Skeet, T. H. H.
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, Michael Speller, Tony
Luce, Richard Spence, John
McCrindle, Robert Spencer, Derek
Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
MacGregor, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Squire, Robin
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Stan brook, Ivor
Maclean, David John Stanley, John
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Steen, Anthony
McQuarrie, Albert Stern, Michael
Madel, David Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Walden, George
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stradling Thomas, J. Waller, Gary
Sumberg, David Walters, Dennis
Tapsell, Peter Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Taylor, Rt Hon John David Warren, Kenneth
Taylor, John (Solihull) Watson, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Watts, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Whitfield, John
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Whitney, Raymond
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Wiggin, Jerry
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thornton, Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas
Thurnham, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wood, Timothy
Tracey, Richard Woodcock, Michael
Trippier, David Yeo, Tim
Trotter, Neville Young, Sir George (Acton)
Twinn, Dr Ian Younger, Rt Hon George
van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Tellers for the Noes:
Waddington, David Mr. Tim Sainsbury and
Waldegrave, Hon William Mr. Michael Neubert.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House recognises the care and attention paid by Her Majesty's Government to the natural environment and the national heritage; pays tribute to the good progress made by the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and the National Heritage Memorial Fund; approves of the encouragement given to the many voluntary agencies in these areas; and notes the increased resources Her Majesty's Government propose to devote to protecting the environment and the heritage in 1985–86.

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