§ 6. Mr. Dalyell
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what figures he has available on the cost to date of his proposals to reorganise the Nature Conservancy Council and for the establishment of new posts to cover work previously undertaken by Nature Conservancy Council headquarters in Peterborough.
§ Mr. Trippier
The Government have allocated £1.4 million in the current financial year to cover costs arising directly from the proposal to reorganise the Nature Conservancy Council and the other conservation agencies. To date, just over £95,000 has been spent. Work on the staffing and organisational structures of the new bodies continues, and we hope to make an announcement shortly.
§ Mr. Trippier
It is incorrect. Some rather wild estimates have been published in the national newspapers, but they have no basis in fact and are, at best, pure speculation. There is genuine confusion between what could be earmarked as reorganisation costs and the real costs of the new organisations that will be set up as a result of the green Bill currently going through Parliament. There is no basis for those estimates and I believe that the figure will be much more modest.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Does the Minister accept that the exaggerations expressed in those figures are of a piece with the chairman's propensity to exaggerate? Does he further accept that the reorganisation of the structure on which the Government have embarked is widely welcomed in Scotland because it will lead to a more sensitive handling of environmental issues there?
§ Mr. Trippier
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his latter comments, which I believe are realistic and present to the House a true and fair picture of precisely what will happen. The proposals in the Environmental Protection Bill will deliver improved conservation. There is no change in the Government's policy. We are simply changing the machinery.
§ Mr. Gould
But is not it the case that the slur that we have just heard cast on the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council can be removed only when the figure produced by independent consultants is released for public information? Is not that figure in the area of £30 million? If the Minister does not accept that figure, why not, and what is his estimate? Why will not he guarantee that any extra administrative costs, whether £30 million or something like that, that are the result of the Government's unnecessary reorganisation, will be met by new money, not from the existing Nature Conservancy Council budget? If he will not do that, will not his refusal further undermine the Government's already and justifiably fading green pretensions as well as the vital nature conservancy effort?
§ Mr. Trippier
The hon. Gentleman will have taken note of the fact that I carefully did not join in the remonstration by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in the earlier part of his question, nor should I wish to. I am sure that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) would not wish to be associated with that. I met Sir William Wilkinson last week and we discussed the figure that has just been mentioned. There was a clear conflict between his understanding and the understanding of Mr. Timothy Hornsby, who also attended the meeting. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a much more realistic figure was agreed between Mr. Timothy Hornsby and my officials at the Department of the Environment. I have never sought to deny in any way, shape or form that reorganisation will cost more money. If we are to deliver the policy to which I referred earlier, it will cost more money. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are clear about the matter. We are under the microscope. We know that we have to deliver improved conservation. That we have already shown in the 11 years that we have been in office. During that period we have increased expenditure on nature conservation by 160 per cent. in real terms. The previous Labour Government cut it. Labour Members just talk about conservation; they do absolutely nothing about it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's answer, I give notice that I hope to raise the matter on the Adjournment.