§ '( )—(1) The Committee established under section 103(2) below shall exercise the functions specified below in liaison with the Councils established under section 98.
§ (2) The functions of the Committee shall include—
- (a) the collection of data and information for the purposes of monitoring nature conservation;
- (b) the undertaking of research at a national level relevant to its functions;
- (c) the establishment of common standards and criteria relating to natural and wildlife conservation;
- (d) the establishment of common standards and criteria relating to access to and enjoyment of the countryside.
§ (3) For the purposes of the exercise of its functions, the Committee may appoint such staff as it considers appropriate, and may require the councils to carry out decisions on matters falling within its functions.'.—[Mr. Gould.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.3.58 pm
New clause 10—Countryside Council in Wales—
`( ) (1) If the Chairman or any member of the Countryside Council for Wales is found to have a substantial interest in any land in Wales over which a public right of way runs and which is ploughed up and not reinstated contrary to section 134 Highways Act 1980 and section 61 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 or is otherwise unlawfully obstructed or unlawfully interfered with, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of inviting him to resign his position on the Council
(2) In addition to section 106(1) above and to the generality of the contents of schedule 6 and in accordance with section 106(2), the Countryside Council for Wales shall have the following duties, namely—
(3) The Countryside Council for Wales and the Countryside Commission shall be empowered to advise the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of any farmer or landowner who unlawfully obstructs or otherwise unlawfully interferes with any public right of way and the Ministry shall suspend any payments, grants or subsidies to such a farmer or landowner and shall not resume suspended payments until such unlawful obstructions or unlawful interferences have been removed or ceased as the case may be.'.
New clause 42—New Authorities for England, Scotland and Wales—
`( ).—(1) There shall be five new statutory Authorities, to be called the Nature Conservancy Council for England, the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, the Nature Conservancy Council for Wales (in this Part referred to as "the Councils"), the Countryside Commission for England and the Countryside Commission for Wales (in this Part referred to as "the Commissions").
(2) The Authorities shall have the following membership, that is to say:
(3) The Secretary of State may by order amend paragraph (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e) of subsection (2) above so as to substitute for the number for the time being specified as the maximum membership of an Authority such other number as he thinks appropriate.
(4) Schedule 5 to this Act shall have effect with respect to the constitution and proceedings of the Authorities and other matters relating to the discharge of their functions.'.
New clause 43—Grants to Authorities—
`( ).—(1) The Secretary of State may with the approval of the Treasury make to the Authorities grants of such amounts as the Secretary of State thinks fit.
(2) A grant under this section may be made subject to such considerations as the Secretary of State may with the approval of the Treasury think fit.'.
New clause 44—Landscape conservation and informal countryside recreation in England and Wales—
`( ).—(1) For the purposes of landscape conservation or the promotion of informal countryside recreation, and fostering the understanding thereof, the Commissions shall, in place of the Countryside Commission established under the Countryside Act 1968, have (so far as pertains to the countries to which they relate) the functions conferred by sections ( ), ( ) and ( ) below.
(2) It shall be the duty of the Commissions in discharging their functions to take appropriate account of actual or possible landscape or recreational changes.
(3) The Commissions shall discharge their respective functions under those enactments (as amended by Schedule 5) on and after a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State.
(4) The Secretary of State may give the Commissions, or any of them, directions of a general or specific character with regard to the discharge of any of their functions other than those conferred on them by section ( )(a) below.
(5) In this part the definition "landscape conservation" includes the conservation of flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features.'.
New clause 45—Further functions of Commissions—
'( ).—(1) The Commissions shall have the following functions in addition to those specified in section ( ) above, namely:
(2) Nothing in this section shall be taken as preventing either of the Commissions, if consulted by the other about a matter relating to the functions of that other Commission, from giving that other Commission any advice or information which they are able to give.'.
New clause 46—Nature conservation in Great Britain—
'( ).—(1) For the purposes of nature conservation, and fostering the understanding thereof the Councils shall, in place of the Nature Conservancy Council established under the Nature Conservancy Act 1973, have (so far as pertains to the countries to which they relate) the functions conferred by sections ( ) to ( ) below.
(2) It shall be the duty of the Councils in discharging their nature conservation functions to take appropriate account of actual or possible ecological changes.
(3) The Councils shall discharge their nature conservation functions on and after a day to be appointed by an order made by the Secretary of State.
(4) The Secretary of State may give the Councils, or any of them, directions of a general or specific character with regard to the discharge of any of their nature conservation functions other than those conferred on them by section (109) below.
(5) In this part "nature conservation" means the conservation of flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features.'.
New clause 47—Nature Conservancy Councils' functions—
`( ).—(1) The Councils shall each have the following functions, namely—
(2) The Councils shall each have power—
(3) Nothing in this section shall be taken as preventing any of the Councils, if consulted by another of the Councils about a matter relating to the functions of that other Council, from giving that other Council any advice or information which they are able to give.'.
New clause 48—Joint Committee for Great Britain—
'( ) (1) Subject to subsection (3) below, the Councils shall each have the following functions, in addition to those specified in section 109 above, namely—
(2) Subject to subsection (3) below, and in addition to the functions specified in section ( ) above, the Commissions (including here the Countryside Commission for Scotland) shall have the following functions, namely—
and subsection 101(2) above shall apply to the functions conferred by this subsection as they apply to the functions conferred by subsection (1) of that section.
(3) No function falling within subsection (1) or (2) above shall be exercisable except—
(4) The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Environment Department Countryside and Wildlife Advisory Committee shall be a non-voting member of the Joint Committee.
(5) The expenses of the Joint Committee shall be defrayed by all the Authorities (including the Countryside Commission for Scotland) in such proportions as the Authorities may agree or in default of agreement in such proportions as the Secretary of State may determine.'.
New clause 49—Power to make grants or loans—
`( ).—(1) The Authorities may each, with the consent of or in accordance with a general authorisation given by the Secretary of State, give financial assistance by way of a grant or loan (or partly in one way and partly in the other) to any person in respect of expenditure incurred or to be incurred by him in doing anything which—
(2) No consent or general authorisation shall be given by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) above without the approval of the Treasury.
(3) On making a grant or loan an Authority may impose such conditions as they think fit, including (in the case of a grant) conditions for repayment in specified circumstances.
(4) The Authorities shall exercise their powers under subsection (3) above so as to ensure that any person receiving a grant or loan under this section in respect of premises to which the public are to be admitted (on payment or otherwise) shall, in the means of access both to and within the premises, and in the parking facilities and sanitary conveniences to be available (if any), make provision, so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable, for the needs of members of the public visiting the premises who are disabled.'
New clause 50—Transfer of property, rights and liabilities to new councils—
`( ).—(1) The Nature Conservancy Council shall make one or more schemes ("transfer schemes") for the division of all their property, rights and liabilities (other than rights and liabilities under contracts of employment for their staff) between the Councils.
(2) On the date appointed by a transfer scheme, the property, rights and liabilities of the Nature Conservancy Council which are the subject of the scheme shall, by virtue of this subsection, become property, rights and liabilities of the Councils to which they are allocated by the scheme.
(3) Part I of Schedule 7 to this Act shall have effect in relation to transfer schemes under this section.'.
New clause 51—Transfer of property, rights and liabilities to new commissions—
`( ).—(1) The Countryside Commission shall make one or more schemes ("transfer schemes") for the division of all their
property, rights and liabilities (other rights and liabilities under the contracts of employment of their staff) between the Commissions (as defined in section 98(1) above.
(2) On the date appointed by a transfer scheme, the property, rights and liabilities of the Contryside Commission which are the subject of the scheme shall, by virtue of this subsection, become property, rights and liabilities of the Commissions to which they are allocated by the scheme).
(3) Part II of Schedule 8 to this Act shall have effect in relation to transfer schemes under this section.'.
New clause 52—Employment by new Authorities of staff of existing bodies—
`( ).—(1) Any person who immediately before the date appointed under section 108(3) above is employed by the Nature Conservancy Council shall be entitled to receive an offer of employment from one of the Council (to be determined in accordance with proposals made by the Nature Conservancy Council).
(2) Any person who immediately before the date appointed under section 106(3) above is employed by the Countryside Commission shall be entitled to receive an offer of employment from one of the Commissions (to be determined in accordance with proposals made by the Countryside Commissions).
(3) Part III of Schedule 7 of this Act shall have effect with respect to the making of offers under subsection (1) and (2) above.'
New clause 53—Dissolution of Nature Conservancy Council—
`( ).—(l) On the date appointed under section ( ) above the chairman and other members of the Nature Conservancy Council shall cease to hold office and after that date—
(2) The Secretary of State may by order, after consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council and the Councils, dissolve the Nature Conservancy Council on a day specified in the order as soon as he is satisfied that nothing remains to be done by that Council.
(3) The Secretary of State may pay to persons who cease to hold office by virtue of subsection (1) above such sums by way of compensation for loss of office, loss or diminution of pension rights, as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine.'
New clause 54—Dissolution of Countryside Commission—
'( ).—(1) On the date appointed under section ( ) above the chairman and other members of the Countryside Commission shall cease to hold office and after that date—
(2) The Secretary of State may by order, after consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council and the Councils, dissolve the Nature Conservancy Council on a day specified in the order as soon as he is satisfied that nothing remains to be done by that Commission.
(3) The Secretary of State may pay to persons who cease to hold office by virtue of subsection (1) above such sums by way of compensation for loss of office, loss or diminution of pension rights, as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine.'
Amendment No. 137, in clause 109, page 110, line 32, at end insert
(f) the development with relevant local authorities of opportunities for public access to the countryside for the purposes of recreation and education, and of joint cooperation for the conservation and enhancement of the countryside, wildlife, and flora and fauna.'.
No. 150, in page 111, line 21, after 'of, insert
`a chairman (not being the chairman or a member of the Councils) appointed by the Secretary of State together with'.
No. 107, in line 23, after 'non-voting members' insert
`including two representing nature conservation interests in Northern Ireland'.
No. 108, in line 26, at end insert—
'( ) Without prejudice to subsection (2) above the joint committee shall have the following functions, namely-
§ Mr. Gould
In March 1989, the Government exploded a bombshell on the conservation world. It announced that the Nature Conservancy Council was to be dissolved—some would say dismembered—and that its functions would be shared out between a number of new country councils. The announcement was made without consultation and without any visible preparation, although it must be said that preparations had, apparently, been made behind the scenes, given the rather unusual number and nature of appointments to the NCC that preceded the announcement.
The announcement aroused great anxiety. First, it raised a suspicion about the genesis of the proposal. Many saw it as having emanated from a deal struck between the Scottish Office and the powerful commercial interests that 1048 wanted to pursue their forestry proposals, especially in the flow country. Secondly, it aroused great anxiety because there were well-founded fears among the voluntary conservation movement that the consequences of such a dismemberment would be a serious body blow to the conservation movement in Britain. Since then there has been a great deal of discussion and debate; indeed, literally thousands of words have been spoken and written on the subject.
I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his intervention and influence in these matters. It is only fair to say that, in many respects, he has recognised the weight of the case against the Government's proposals. He did what he could to meet the legitimate demands of the conservation movement. The Carver committee reported on the nature of the joint committee that would be required to preserve the science base that the NCC had so carefully built up. There have been expressions of opinion from virtually every body and every person involved in conservation. What has been remarkable, however, about the whole debate—which has now been taking place for the best part of a year—is how little of the essentials have actually changed. They remain constant, and they are the suspicions and the fears that remain unallayed and the concern for the future of nature conservation in this country which remains at the heart of the anxiety that people continue to feel.
The Opposition claim no particular originality in their stance on these issues. We have deliberately sought to align ourselves with the overwhelming expression of opinion from the conservation movement. We have consciously embraced its arguments because we believe that they are at the heart of the matter. They are essentially to do with the preservation of the excellent conservation effort that the NCC has laboured so long to produce, and for which it can claim—as I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree—a great deal of the credit.
The concerns of the NCC, the voluntary conservation movement and the Labour party are about the gap that will be left by the dismemberment of the NCC and about the inadequacy of the Government's proposals to fill that gap. Our concerns are essentially about conservation, and especially the need to preserve the science base; to provide a United Kingdom dimension to the advice tendered to the Government; to establish, maintain and monitor common standards throughout the United Kingdom, irrespective of the artificiality of politically drawn boundaries; to ensure that the representation of the United Kingdom in international bodies should be properly undertaken; and to gain recognition of the growing extent to which environmental issues are recognised as having to be dealt with on a transnational rather than a local, regional or national basis. Those concerns continue to be expressed by the bulk of those who have consistently commented on these issues.
In case there remained any doubt on the subject, I recounted at some length in Committee—I shall not do so again—the width and extent of opinion expressed by so many bodies in Scotland, England and Wales which had, in varying ways and on varying grounds, expressed their concern and opposition to the Government's proposals. It is no exaggeration to say that the whole of the conservation world has expressed its concern.
Despite the many hours that we spent on the subject in Committee and the efforts that Ministers have made to allay concerns, it is remarkable that, as far as I am aware, 1049 not a single voluntary body has changed its essential opposition to part VII of the Bill. The voluntary conservation movement has listened to what the Government have had to say, it has looked at the arguments and considered the counter proposals, but it remains unshaken in its concern about what is proposed and its view that part VII would be better abandoned altogether.
As evidence for that continuing view, I cite not a comprehensive list but, for example, the document recently issued by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation which, in its introduction, saysThe Royal Society for Nature Conservation, in common with the voluntary nature conservation sector, remains convinced that the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council are flawed; they will weaken a United Kingdom approach to nature conservation and in particular the arrangements proposed for the co-ordination, development and enforcement of a United Kingdom policy for nature conservation are at best unworkable and at worst non-existent.That is pretty strong stuff and it is supported by many comments that I have seen from other voluntary bodies. I cite at random the Council for the Protection of Rural England which has been prominent on the matter. In its recently produced document it highlights what it believes isthe illogical and ill-conceived proposals for the reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions".In Committee, the Minister for the Environment and Countryside and I crossed swords on the view of the NCC and, in particular, its chairman, Sir William Wilkinson. It was common ground that the chairman's position in such circumstances is naturally difficult. He must continue to operate his organisation within the framework laid down by the Government and he cannot easily simply contradict what he is told by the Government, but if he is unhappy he must find ways of expressing that.
Therefore, it is relevant at this stage of our considerations to draw attention to a letter written by Sir William Wilkinson to many Members of both Houses of Parliament dated 27 April which lays to rest any continuing doubt that there may be about Sir William's position and that of his council. I hope that I shall be forgiven for quoting two or three paragraphs from it.
After an introductory paragraph, Sir William says:My Council welcomed the positive opportunities for conservation which could be afforded by country agencies, but questioned the logic of the proposal. It pointed out that NCC was already moving towards a federal structure, giving greater autonomy to the countries within a GB framework. Since then, NCC has made several representations to the current Secretary of State, and to his Department.While recognising the contribution strong Country Councils could make I remain concerned that a new set of conservation bodies answering to different Government Departments might not be able properly to maintain a sufficient 'GB overview' of science and policy issues in Britain so essential to the continued conservation of our natural heritage. It is important too that the UK should put forward a coherent view on international issues affecting nature conservation and the environment.The Environmental Protection Bill has now been considered by the House of Commons in Committee. However, many of the concerns about the Bill as it affects NCC, which we set out in our commentary distributed earlier this year, remain unresolved, especially over questions of resources, clarity of legislation, and the work of the proposed Joint Committee.That is the testimony of someone who is closely involved in the issue and who has an excellent record of 1050 service to the Nature Conservancy Council and the conservation movement. It is also fair to say—I imagine that this will not be contested—that within the Nature Conservancy Council in its various forms a substantial majority of the work force remains hostile to what is proposed and is worried about the implications.
I was fortunate enough to spend part of yesterday at a nature reserve at Thursley just over the border in Hampshire. I was able to see the excellent work done by nature conservancy staff there and to talk to some of those involved. While they exercised proper constraint and caution about what they said about a highly contentious issue, nevertheless they made it clear that they remain concerned. I did not ask them, but they said, as I expected them to, that they would welcome some decentralisation and devolution in nature conservancy. They were prepared to say that in the past the Nature Conservancy Council was too centralised and that they were prepared for arid wanted the proposed amount of decentralisation. Almost all the people who have commented on the issue have made a similar point.
Whenever the issue has been debated, we have made it clear that we would welcome decentralisation arid devolution of certain functions, but when people make that concession they also say that it is not necessary to establish more decentralisation and devolution and to do damage and violence to the conservation effort made throughout Great Britain by the Nature Conservancy Council.
We want a conservation effort that is effective at national, international, local and regional levels. However, nothing that we have heard in the debate leads us to conclude that the Government, having made an unwise arrangement in the first place—on the basis of which this proposal is now brought forward—have yet resolved the problem of how to meet the demands for devolution in Scotland and Wales and preserve a Great Britain dimension to the science base, the setting of standards and the other important matters for which the NCC has been responsible.
Our concerns about that central issue remain, but we also have other anxieties. One of the remarkable things about the proposal is the extent to which it is now apparent that, on the best evidence that we can find, it will be an expensive exercise to dismember and reallocate those functions. It is remarkable because the Government have made something of a fetish of reining back public spending and yet the best estimate we have, from the NCC, is that the reorganisation could well add £20 million to its current budget. Other estimates show that that is a substantial underestimate of the true cost. For example, the study undertaken by the World Wide Fund for Nature in Scotland, which produced a convincing piece of work, concludes that in Scotland an increase in funds of £19 million—from £9 million to £28 million—will be required, as will an increase in the number of permanent staff from 184 to 557. On the same basis, it concludes that the figure for Great Britain could be around £80 million compared with the current budget of £45 million. Those are substantial amounts and I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on those estimates and tell us how much he thinks that his proposals will cost.
Another range of anxieties takes us back to the genesis of the issue—the nature of the deal and the motivation of the people who unwisely agreed to this ill-considered measure. We stated in Committee and on other occasions 1051 our well-founded suspicion that commercial forestry interests in Scotland were irked by the NCC's intervention which inhibited them from proceeding with forestry projects, especially in the flow country. A leading article published by Forestry and British Timber virtually—to use admittedly colourful language—danced on the grave of conservation and celebrated the victory, as the magazine saw it, of commercial and forestry interests.
In recent weeks, Lord Sanderson addressed the National Farmers Union of Scotland and, perhaps unwisely, gave the game away. Discussing the issue before his audience, he said:You will also know that a Bill is going through Parliament as I've said to give us control, and the Secretary of State control, over conservation matters in Scotland.There is little evidence in those comments of any real concern for conservation in Scotland. Lord Sanderson was clearly admitting to an attempt to wrest control over conservation matters from those whose true concern they were in order to place it in the hands of politicians who wished to meet the needs of commercial interests. I should be glad to pass the transcript of Lord Sanderson's remarks to the Secretary of State if he would like to see them. Lord Sanderson has honestly and frankly conceded that that is exactly what he said, although he has, of course, argued the toss about the meaning of "control".
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Chris Patten)
I am a little confused at this point in the hon. Gentleman's otherwise pellucid speech. Is he making the point that nature conservancy, however it is organised, should not be responsible to Secretaries of State in England, Scotland and Wales? I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point.
§ Mr. Gould
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his kind remarks about my speech so far, but he is introducing an unnecessary difficulty. Most people understand perfectly well that there is a great distinction between the current position, where a body such as the Nature Conservancy Council is responsible to a Secretary of State, and a situation where control is to be exercised as the objective of the Bill. In explaining the purpose of part VII, Lord Sanderson made that point explicit. He was not merely continuing the current arrangements whereby the NCC in its new guise was to be responsible to the Secretary of State. He said:You will … know that a Bill is going through Parliament … to give us control".That was the change announced by Lord Sanderson and that is why it is so difficult for him to own up to it.
It is interesting to see that the Secretary of State for Scotland has joined the Secretary of State for the Environment on the Front Bench. I suspect that the Secretary of State for the Environment was nearly as alarmed and unhappy about this deal as many of us and many of those in the conservation world were when we discovered it. I pay the right hon. Gentleman full tribute. He has done his best. I get the feeling that the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of State have well understood the need to move to meet the justified concerns of conservation bodies.
The Secretary of State for the Environment found himself lumbered with a deal that was unwisely concluded 1052 by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has been unable to shake his right hon. and learned Friend and his Cabinet colleagues and to move from that deal. I regret that the evidence so far—I hope that the Secretary of State can set me right—is that, as on other issues, the Secretary of State appears to have lost out. Well-intentioned though he is, he has not carried the day in political terms. The Government, the country and the conservation movement are therefore lumbered with this deal, and I am sorry that that has happened.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House how the Labour party, which claims to believe in home rule for Scotland and the devolution of conservation issues to Scotland, would organise a conservation agency based in Scotland which was not accountable to the Secretary of State for Scotland?
§ Mr. Gould
The hon. Gentleman has been, perhaps uncharacteristically, obtuse. We are not talking about accountability or responsibility. We are not even choosing the language: I am talking about Lord Sanderson's language. It was he who chose to use the word "control". It was he who pushed that to the forefront of his remarks when he tried to explain the central purpose of the Bill. He does not dispute the use of the word. I am surprised to see the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) coming to his aid. In correspondence with the Ramblers Association and others, Lord Sanderson has tried to reinterpret the meaning of what he said. The words are clear. I see that the Secretary of State for Scotland wants to make yet a further attempt to redefine the word "control".
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
The hon. Gentleman owes it to the House to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) about Opposition policy. Is he aware that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Scottish spokesman, has said that the Labour party is committed, in the context of its support for devolution, to the creation of a Scottish natural heritage agency, including the present functions of the NCC in Scotland, which would be answerable in Scotland and not to the Department of the Environment? If the hon. Gentleman is aware of that how does he reconcile it with his criticism of the proposals before the House?
§ Mr. Gould
The Secretary of State did not take the opportunity which I thought he was claiming to comment upon the remarks of his noble Friend, so that issue at least remains firmly established.
On the second issue, I intend to move immediately to the effect of the proposals, because that issue was unnecessarily left in great doubt for a very long time in Committee. I intend to invite the hon. Member for Gordon, the Liberal Democrats' representative in Committee, to comment on it. We are very clear on the matter. [Laughter.] I can see that it is a relief to right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches to be able to laugh about something; they cannot comment seriously upon it. Let us be clear that no one in the Opposition or in the conservation movement has ever argued against the devolution that would be required to meet Scottish interests. I cannot believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not grasp that what is at issue is whether, in providing that greater devolution, it is necessary to 1053 dismantle, dismember, dissolve or destroy the Nature Conservancy Council which operates on a Great Britain basis.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Will my hon. Friend spend a few minutes emphasising the difference between "accountable to" and "control"? The conservation bodies are worried that "accountable to" should be the approach on which the NCC puts forward the best scientific advice on the basis of the scientific evidence. What is worrying about "control" is that the controlling body would selectively put forward the advice which the Secretary of State wants to hear. That is where the difference is between the approaches.
§ Mr. Gould
My hon. Friend could hardly have put it better. For the purposes of the debate it is significant that the Secretary of State for Scotland and, perhaps more surprisingly, the hon. Member for Gordon do not want to talk about control; they would much prefer to talk about accountability. Yet, on the admission of Lord Sanderson, control is at the heart of the issue and is put forward by him as the major purpose of the Bill.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
Earlier the hon. Gentleman quoted some grossly inflated figures about the cost of the Government's proposals for reorganisation. As he has told the House that he is clear about his party's proposals, perhaps he would also tell the House what those proposals would cost.
§ Mr. Gould
I am interested to hear not so much from the hon. Gentleman as from the Secretary of State, because it is his proposals which we are debating. As they are enshrined in legislation which is about to leave the House and go to another place, we are entitled to know what the Government say the proposals will cost and whether the Nature Conservancy Council is right or wrong in its estimate of an additional £20 million.
The issue of what would take the place of the Nature Conservancy Council and of what would meet its Great Britain-wide functions was clouded by the three or four hours that we were constrained to spend on that matter in Committee because of the obfuscations of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) of which we were the victims. The hon. Gentleman was unable to answer a simple question relating to the replacement of the Nature Conservancy Council and the establishment of the country councils and the joint committee. We asked whose view would prevail in the event of a dispute between the joint committee and the conservancy councils. I do not think that the Minister will dispute the fact that we spent three or four hours constructively trying to get an answer and some elucidation on that point.
In the end, it became clear why it was so difficult for the Minister to answer that question. It was not because he did not know the answer or was unable to understand it. It was simply because he was unwilling to give that answer because it was embarrassing not only to himself and to the Government's case, but a good deal more embarrassing for the hon. Members for Gordon and for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh).
The answer that we received was that the joint committee would have no power to resolve such a dispute. In other words, despite all the claims and posturing, there would not be a Great Britain or United Kingdom body 1054 that could decide an issue that was of nationwide importance rather than of Scottish, English or Welsh importance. In the event of a difficult dispute that could not be resolved because there is no provision for its resolution, the matter would be resolved by the intervention not, as I understand it, of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but of the Secretary of State for the Environment. Is that right or wrong? Is the resolution of such disputes to rest with the Secretary of State for Scotland or not? [Interruption.] I notice that the Secretary of State for Scotland is intervening from a sedentary position, but he seems unwilling to come to the Dispatch Box to give us the reassurance that we need.
If this is to be regarded as a genuine issue of devolution, what on earth are the Government doing in setting up a framework that provides that a dispute that might involve Scottish, English and Welsh interests will be resolved by the Secretary of State for the Environment? It was exactly on that point that the hon. Members for Gordon and for Angus, East revealed themselves as having been taken for an embarrassing ride. They supported the provision on the grounds that at least something could be salvaged from the conservation wreckage and that that would be made more acceptable by the fact that they would gain something on devolution grounds. However, we can now see that there is nothing to be gained on either devolution or conservation grounds and that the sole purpose of the provision remains, as Lord Sanderson pointed out, the "control" of conservation in Scotland because the intervention of the Nature Conservancy Council had frustrated commercial interests in Scotland.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I am anxious to assist the hon. Gentleman on this point. One of the main purposes of the structure that we have suggested is to avoid and prevent such disputes. That is why we have made it perfectly clear that the councils will be discharging a number of their functions through the joint committee. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is very much our view that to establish a new quango, which is the hon. Gentleman's position, is more, rather than less, likely to lead to disputes. Although we believe that our proposals would avoid disputes, in the event of a dispute, it would have to be resolved by the Government, which includes both my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself.
§ Mr. Gould
I do not mean to be unfair to the Secretary of State and I hope that he will take this comment in the spirit in which it is meant, but he was not present for the bulk of our debates in Committee and perhaps does not fully understand the weight of the argument that caused his hon. Friend the Member for Wells such a great deal of difficulty.
The Secretary of State has taken a very optimistic view of the way these arrangements might work, but what he has perhaps not fully understood is the very real question, which was raised continuously by my hon. Friends, about what would happen if a country council had decided that a particular research project, let us say, was entirely a matter for it and was one that it did not wish to support, whereas the joint committee, looking at the matter from a United Kingdom or Great Britain viewpoint, had decided that, on the assumption that it covered the whole of the North sea, for example, it was a matter of legitimate nationwide concern and that it wished to pursue that 1055 research. That is not a wholly unlikely eventuality, and there is nothing in the arrangements which offers us any clue—certainly nothing in what the Under-Secretary could tell the Committee, so no clue was offered there either—about how that problem will be resolved.
It is not unreasonable to ask why—after months of preparation, we are told, have gone into this—the Government have not foreseen that sort of problem and why they have been unable to solve it. The only answer that they can give is that, for the time being, not only is conservation off the agenda, because no conservation body will be able to take a United Kingdom or Great Britain wide view of the matter, but so is devolution, because, despite the bobbing and weaving of the Secretaries of State, the matter will be resolved by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The arrangements so far put forward are rudimentary and fail to answer many of the questions that arise on the staffing, financing and powers of the joint committee. We do not believe that that is a good enough situation for the House to commend and to endorse. That is why we put forward our new clause, not because we think it the last or the best word on the subject but because it gives at least some indication of the minimum requirements necessary for the joint committee to go even part of the way towards fulfilling its true role and filling the gap left by the unnecessary dissolution of the Nature Conservancy Council.
I hope that during the debate the Secretary of State will be able to tell us a little more about his plans for the joint committee. We were told in Committee that the Government could not enlighten us on these matters because they were busy contemplating the Carver report; we were unhappy about that and hoped that by the time we got to Report the House as a whole would have before it some proper proposals from Government on which we could take a view.
That, again, is not the case. I think it regrettable. I assume, and I hope that the Secretary of State will assure us, that the other place will be rather better treated and will know more precisely what is in the Government's mind. In the meantime, we regard the current position as wholly unsatisfactory. We doubt whether any proposals made by the Government in line with the disreputable deal that was originally struck could be either acceptable or satisfactory, but in the absence of any detail on the matter we believe that are entitled to make the strongest possible protest, because a destructive act has been undertaken with no attempt to describe what remedial action will be put in its place.
It is on the ground of our concern for conservation in these British isles, which has always been the central ground, that I commend the new clause to the House.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
This is a more decorous occasion than some in which the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and I are obliged to take part. I shall attempt to avoid provoking any great excitement and to avoid traversing some ground with which both the hon. Gentleman and I, and indeed the whole House, are perhaps excessively familiar. I shall not go on a bus tour of a number of controversies, some real, some imaginary, 1056 which have provoked so much interest and debate in Committee, on other occasions in the House and outside the House.
I shall begin by restating the central objectives of part VII of the Bill. As the House will know, they are to achieve a more effective delivery of nature conservation in each country, and in Wales and subsequently Scotland to create integrated agencies, embracing both wildlife and countryside functions. We have made it crystal clear in the past few months that we fully recognise that we shall need special arrangements to deal with nature conservation issues that have a Great Britain, United Kingdom or international dimension. Such issues will include the effects of climate change on wildlife or of acid rain on wildlife. We believe that that should be achieved by appointing a joint committee of the three country agencies under an independent chairman appointed by me.
As I said on Second Reading, the first chairman will be Professor Holliday, who is respected by hon. Members on both sides of the House for his experience, independence and scientific distinction. He began work in a shadow capacity on the first of last month. He is already playing a vital role in helping to plan the programme, staffing and resources of the joint committee. He is also advising me on the composition of the committee. The Government expect to announce several further appointments this month.
Work is also proceeding steadily on planning the organisation of each of the new country agencies and announcements will be made next week about the recruitment of their shadow chief executives. The hyperbole of the Opposition cannot disguise—let me be euphemistic; I do not wish to provoke excitement—the fact that they are in some confusion on the issue. The appearance of Lord Carver's report has added somewhat to their discomfort. That report does not find our proposals unworkable as the Opposition had hoped, nor does it seek to transform the joint committee into a fourth quango, as some Opposition Members propose. Instead, it makes a series of helpful recommendations designed to clarify the relationship between the country agencies and the joint committee.
§ Mr. Patten
The hon. Gentleman will not be kept in suspense for more than a moment or two.
I had orginally hoped that we might be able to respond to the Carver report in detail during this debate. However, I am keen, particularly in view of past criticisms that we have not always consulted or discussed matters sufficiently widely, to ensure that we give some of the more detailed recommendations of the Carver report, including on the composition and staffing of the joint committee, the most extensive consideration possible. Therefore, I cannot set out our definitive position today. However, without reservation I can say that my colleagues and I have been most impressed by the balanced approach taken by the Carver committee and the practical thrust of its recommendations. It is an admirable report, which will be of considerable help to us.
I assure the House that the Government will respond positively and comprehensively, certainly in time for the Second Reading debate in another place to which the hon. Member for Dagenham referred tangentially in his 1057 remarks. I also hope to assure the House that we shall bring forward an amendment in Committee in another place to carry that response into law. Naturally there will be an opportunity for the House to consider the Government's response when the Bill returns here for consideration of any amendments made in another place.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Will the Secretary of State tell the House the truth? He is praying for a defeat in another place. With that in mind he is trying to do as little preparation as possible, which will be counter productive, so that he can wait until he is defeated in the other place and then sort the whole mess out.
§ Mr. Patten
The hon. Gentleman may have guessed that there are many things for which I pray in life, but among their number I do not include defeats anywhere, including in the other place. It is not one of my ambitions to stimulate constitutional arguments. I believe that our legislative proposals will earn the enthusiastic support of their Lordships, particularly after we have responded in terms to the useful recommendations in the Carver report. In the meantime, before we are able to respond in detail to that admirable report, I do not regard the amendments tabled by the Opposition as acceptable. I do not believe that that will come as an overwhelming surprise to the hon. Member for Dagenham.
New clause 6 would extend the joint commitee's remit to cover countryside matters. That echoes one of the recommendations of the Carver report, which we are currently considering. Otherwise the new clause largely repeats what is already in clause 109, which gives the joint committee powers to undertake research and establish common standards relating to its nature conservation functions. Much of the data and information that the joint committee will need to carry out its functions will be supplied by the country councils. Some data and information may need to be obtained directly from other bodies, for example, the Natural Environment Research Council. There is no need for the legislation to be specific on that point as the powers in clause 109(1), paragraphs (a) to (d), are sufficient. They echo the country councils' powers for their own areas and those of the existing Nature Conservancy Council. No one has questioned the power of the NCC to assemble the data that it needs to carry out its functions and there is no reason to believe that matters will be any different after the reorganisation.
I assure the House that the joint committee will be provided with the resources, including manpower, required for its statutory purposes. The hon. Member for Dagenham will be aware that, this year, we have increased conservation spending through the NCC by almost 10 per cent. in real terms, and, in addition, an extra £1.4 million was earmarked for reorganisation costs in the coming year.
We made it clear in our evidence to Lord Carver's committee that a small secretarial and technical unit would be required to support the joint commitee. In turn, the Select Committee has recommended that the joint committee should have up to 20 professional staff, with some supporting staff. The Select Committee also made it clear that the joint committee should not be an independent quango, but should derive its funds through the country councils. The ability to employ staff directly is one of the hallmarks of full quango status, so we shall not want to do that. We had accepted, however, even before 1058 the Carver report, that some clarification should be given in the legislation to cover the country councils' ability to provide staff on secondment to support the joint committee. We intend to provide that clarification through an amendment in the other place.
§ Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that issues change from time to time, so it is extremely important that the joint committee should be able to draw on different members of staff of the various country councils rather than have a permanent staff who may be unable to respond to such different issues?
§ Mr. Patten
That is correct and my hon. Friend has put his finger on the nub of the argument. At the moment Professor Holliday is discussing with those concerned what sort of staff and expertise he will need straight away to discharge the initial responsibilities of the joint committee. My hon. Friend has perceptively pointed out that those needs will change from time to time.
As I said in my second intervention in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham, with regard to directions from the joint committee to the country councils, I confess to some puzzlement. The councils each provide members of the joint committee—and, indeed, it is the councils acting collectively through the committee that are charged with carrying out the Great Britain, United Kingdom, international and scientific functions set out in clause 109. The need for "directions" does not, in my view, arise. The committee will provide advice under clause 109(1)(a) and (b) and not the individual councils. The committee and not the individual councils will establish common standards under clause 109(1)(c). The committee and not the individual councils will commission, support or if necessary undertake research under clause 109(1)(d.). The councils would be acting ultra vires if they tried to carry out the functions in clause 109 individually, except in circumstances which would, I guess, be wholly exceptional—where a Minister had invoked the reserve powers in clause 109(2)(b) to require that a clause 109 function be carried out by an individual council. It would therefore undermine the purpose of the Bill to accept the Opposition's new clause. There is the separate issue—to which the new clause may be addressed, although, if so, it does not really fulfil its purpose—of possible overlap between activities undertaken by the individual councils under clause 108. Lord Carver has suggested that we need to take action on that point, and we are considering that question seriously.
Amendment No. 108 contains further suggestions for expanding the joint committee's remit. One of them, paragraph (e), is that the joint committee should submit its own annual report, which is similar to a recommendation in the Carver report. We shall address that in our response to the report. The other proposal, in paragraph (b), is already accepted in principle by the Government. The Bill already states that the quinquennial review of nationally endangered species, and advice about those species, will be undertaken jointly by the country councils. We intend to bring forward an amendment elsewhere to make it clear that that will be a function to be carried out through the joint committee. In general, however, I must emphasise that it is not our intention that the joint committee should usurp the country agencies' role in designating sites, or in 1059 making site-specific recommendations to Ministers. The committee is to have a much broader role than that, and we shall not accept amendments that blur the distinction between its advisory role and the executive responsibilities of the country agencies.
The Government's proposals have certainly aroused strong emotions—the hon. Member for Dagenham was perfectly reasonable in making that point. However, we do not believe that they have been matched by equally strong arguments for maintaining the status quo. Certainly no one, least of all the Opposition, has been able to convince me that it is inherently wrong to have separate public sector agencies for nature conservation in each country, provided that there are satisfactory arrangements to deal with the wider dimensions of wildlife, as we are providing through the statutory joint committee under Professor Holliday.
I said at the outset that I was anxious to avoid too much argument, but I believe that there is almost as much confusion about the Opposition's policy on this issue as there is perhaps about their policy on local government finance—that was borne out by some of the interventions on the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham. The Opposition appear to have one policy in Scotland and another in Wales, which has the enthusiastic endorsement of the Leader of the Opposition, whose views on such issues we must presume are of some account. The Opposition have another policy, which, from time to time, is advocated in the House, and which is reflected in much of their dialogue with outside nature conservation bodies. Whatever the Opposition's policy—however, it changes from time to time—I hope that they will come to see the benefits and good sense of our proposals and appreciate the intellectual inadequacy, confusion and lack of logic in their being in favour of a Parliament in Scotland, but against a nature conservancy agency for Scotland. There is a deal of constitutional confusion in their position; perhaps it will be cleared up when the Opposition spokesman replies to the debate on new clause 6.
A new beginning is needed and that is what the Bill will achieve. The conservation credentials of the new agencies cannot be doubted seriously in view of the appointments of shadow chairmen that my colleagues and I have already announced: Lord Cranbrook, Magnus Magnusson, Michael Griffith, as well as Professor Holliday. Each of those appointees has links with the voluntary movement, and I am sure that they will want to build on them in the coming months as they prepare for the changeover next year.
Many hon. Members may have seen the article in The Scotsman last month about Magnus Magnusson. I commend it to the House and quote with considerable approval his final words:We are at the start of something hugely exhilarating and constructive.I look forward to the new agencies living up to the high hopes and expectations that we all have of them. Whatever debates there may have been in the House over the past few months, I trust that the new agencies can carry with them the good wishes of the House.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I have some sympathy for the Secretary of State for the Environment. He took up his new role and was immediately asked to perform a series of 1060 Houdini tricks to escape from all sorts of situations. He has two major shows going on at the same time—the problem of escaping from the poll tax and escaping from the proposals we are talking about today. No doubt, in relation to the poll tax, he is a bit like Captain Webb heading for the top of Niagara falls in a barrel. His only problem is whether he will be in the barrel when it goes over, or whether it will be one of his predecessors or the Prime Minister.
It is a much simpler task to get out of the straitjacket of this measure. His strategy is quite clearly designed; he will be defeated on the Bill. He cannot be defeated in the Commons, because the Government have too large a payroll. Although he will not admit it, he is looking forward to being defeated in the House of Lords. That is why the Government have done so little work to flesh in the details. They do not want to do work that will be counter-productive. The Secretary of State is looking forward to the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords and the following Committee stage in the hope that they will get him off the hook of the difficulties related to the Nature Conservancy Council.
There is a further little advantage for the Secretary of State. He is well aware that, from time to time, the House of Lords has turned over various bits of the Government's legislative programme. There is a feeling in the House of Lords that it can upset the Government once, or possibly twice, on a Bill, but it must not cause too much upset. Therefore, the big advantage for the Secretary of State is that, if he is upset over this little bit of the Bill in the House of Lords and it provides a solution that he would privately welcome, it probably means that, in the way in which things work, the House of Lords will spend less time causing the Government difficulty on one or two of the other crucial parts of this large Bill. Therefore, that has attractions for the Government.
I wish to stress, particularly to those in the House of Lords, that in the amendment that they finally persuade the Government to accept, we must clearly set out the importance of conservation in this country. What is sad and worrying is that, in Scotland, the Nature Conservancy Council started to give awkward advice to the Secretary of State and is now being punished for that.
§ Mr. Bennett
The worrying fact is not that the Government did not accept the advice, but that they blamed the Nature Conservancy Council for bringing the awkward advice. The political role must be examined. I accept that Ministers must take decisions, but the decision should be to listen to the advice. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) said that the council did not know what it was talking about. That is a decision for the Minister to make, having weighed the evidence. However, sadly, the Government turned on the messenger and attacked him. The Government now say that, because the Nature Conservancy Council brought advice that Ministers did not like, they want to hamstring and stop the council from bringing forward that advice, which was based on perfectly good scientific evidence.
I want to stress that it is important that we equip the Nature Conservancy Council with the resources to carry out the scientific examination and bring forward the scientific evidence, and then Ministers must make the 1061 political decisions. Sometimes they will come down on the side of conservation, and sometimes on the side of development. They have to carry the responsibility for that political decision. It is wrong to try to influence and bias the evidence put forward to them to make it easy for them to make a soft political decision because they can say that all the evidence points in that direction. It worries me that in future the Natural Conservancy Council will be worried about giving its advice.
I understand all the arguments about devolution to Scotland and Wales, but we must firmly have in mind on what basis the Nature Conservancy Council should be considered. I am talking in terms not of small bits of the United Kingdom, but of the whole of our planet. Within those terms, we must look at what sort of ecosystem we have in the United Kingdom that unites it. It is largely our maritime climate that gives much of the United Kingdom a unique ecology that is not found in most of western Europe.
When allocating resources, we must take that into account and look right across the whole of the United Kingdom. The scientific effort—the effort to conserve—should take into account Britain's role in the world in terms of what we are trying to protect and conserve, rather than considering it merely in terms of what is suitable in a small area of the United Kingdom.
It is important that we get that right. The amendment moves us towards a federal structure, which is clearly the way for the Government to proceed. I hope that that decision will be put forward in the House of Lords.
When will the Government make their announcement about commons? There have been two parliamentary answers stating that the Government are carefully considering making a statement about their proposals. I hope that we can be told exactly when that statement will come, and hear why, sadly, the Government did not put that into this legislation. I should have thought that we could have sorted out that commons legislation and the access problems. I commend the Minister of State's statements about footpaths and the need for all our public footpaths to be open to access by the year 2000. The Government have not given us much evidence that they will put in the resources.
I am concerned about, and want some clear statements from the Government on, new clause 10 and the Countryside Council for Wales. I do not want to push new clause 10 to a vote, but I hope that the Government will say exactly what will happen in Wales. Due to the lack of resources proposed in Wales, it was impossible to set up the Nature Conservancy Council committee for Wales as a separate body, and it had to be rolled into the countryside organisation in Wales. Therefore, there is merely the Countryside Council for Wales, one organisation with three separate functions. It is difficult for it to perform those three functions with sufficient balance.
First, the council has a conservation role, in putting to Ministers and other people in Wales the need for conservation. Secondly, there is the question of use and the difficulty of balancing the different competing elements for the use of the countryside between the farming community, the people who live in the area, those who want industrial development and the jobs that go with it, and those who want to go out and enjoy some of the most beautiful country in the United Kingdom. It will be hard for one organisation to hold the ring and to be seen to hold it fairly between those elements.
1062 It was a little unfortunate that the Government announced the appointment of Michael Griffith as the chairman of the new organisation without taking more care to check up on his background. I do not want to criticise Mr. Griffith, but I firmly criticise the Government in Wales. If one is going to appoint someone chairman, it is only reasonable to check on his background. As far as I can tell, all the Government did was to check that he was sympathetic to the Government and was a member of the Conservative party. They did not check how good a landowner he was or whether all the footpaths on his estate were well looked after.
The Ramblers Association did some checking as soon as the appointment was announced and found that many of the footpaths on Mr. Griflith's property were blocked. To be fair to the man, he has immediately set out to remove the obstructions on his footpaths, but I am worried that it will not be particularly easy for the new body vigorously to pursue prosecutions to do with footpath matters in Wales when everyone in Wales will be able to say that, until he was appointed, Mr. Griffith's own record was not especially good.
§ 5 pm
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts)
I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman attacking M r. Michael Griffith, because he is a friend of the ramblers. His estate in Wales is more open than any other that I know. I could reel off to the hon. Gentleman the extent to which it is accessible. It is true that one footpath had been blocked by one of his tenants, but he immediately restored it. He has also invited the Ramblers Association to discuss its problems with him with a view to resolving any further difficulties. He has been pressing the local county council to erect signposts where rights of way on his land are joined by a metalled road. His credentials in terms of access are first rate.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am glad to hear that, but I am a little surprised. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister asking for that information, and he told me that he could not give it. I then wrote to the county council, and received a prompt reply telling me that it was making inquiries into the obstructions on the footpaths that I had listed. But I have not had a definitive reply from the county council. It appears that tabling this new clause has suddenly persuaded the Secretary of State to make some inquiries, but we could have avoided this whole procedure if he had answered my orignial question.
I found it amazing that the Minister said that he did riot have the information I sought. Presumably he made some inquiries to discover whether Michael Griffith had a good record on footpaths, but when we discussed the matter in Committee, and when I tabled parliamentary questions before Easter, the Minister could give us no answer. I am glad that he has started to sort out this problem and that Mr. Griffith is now saying that he will attempt to improve on what was not a very good record—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] It is all very well people telling me to get on with it, but the law of the land says that one should not obstruct footpaths on one's land. The Minister said that Mr. Griffith had committed only one crime—that only one path was obstructed—but when the Ramblers Association went down to the estate to have a look, more than one path 1063 was obstructed. Since then, Mr. Griffith has removed the obstructions, but we all have a duty to ensure that footpaths crossing people's land are free from obstruction.
I find Conservative Members' attitude deplorable. The Minister also found it deplorable, because he has said that it was unsatisfactory that the Countryside Commission's survey found that 75 per cent. of footpaths were obstructed somewhere in a two-mile stretch, and he said that he was determined to have those obstructions cleared by the year 2000.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to do an injustice to Mr. Michael Griffith, who was conscious that some of the footpaths on his land were of little value for recreational walking, so he has established a new footpath that he considers would be of more use to walkers.
I can let the hon. Gentleman have a complete list of the many bodies that use Mr. Griffith's estate: they include Riding for the Disabled, the Pony Club, Denbigh angling club, Colwyn Bay pigeon club, the British Horse Society, and the North Wales Harness Association; and many charitable events, including the Denbigh and Flint agricultural show, take place there.
§ Mr. Bennett
That is all very commendable, but let us take up one of those points. Mr. Griffith decided that one of the footpaths was not much used and that he could provide a more valuable one. I seem to remember that the previous Secretary of State for the Environment took the same view once. There happened to be a little footpath in the Lake district that came down past one of his properties. Perhaps the path took away some of the privacy of the property, and he just assumed that he could get rid of it.
Certainly it is not very nice if a footpath brings people down past someone's property so that they can look through the window and see what he is having for breakfast, but the footpaths are an historical record of the ways in which people used to move about this country, and we should protect that record, using the procedures laid down for diversion orders. I am fairly certain that Mr. Griffith did not use that procedure on his land.
I do not want to continue the argument any further; I accept the Minister's promise that Mr. Griffith will campaign in Wales to ensure that footpaths are free from obstructions—that is the important thing. My impression is that large numbers of footpaths in Wales are still difficult to go along because of barbed wire, fallen trees and undergrowth—and the other obstructions found by the Countryside Commission's survey.
I want a guarantee that the new body in Wales will pursue just as vigorously the aim of ensuring that all footpaths in Wales are clear of obstruction by the year 2000 as we hope the Countryside Commission will in England.
I also want an assurance from the Minister that more vigour will be deployed in securing access agreements in Wales. The Peak district national park has a good record of granting such agreements and we now have access to most of the high ground in the Peak district, but that is not so in Wales. I do not want to go into all the detail of the evidence that I put forward about the Arans, but there is a sorry history there: for most of this century people had 1064 free access to them on what they thought were public footpaths, but a small group of farmers, the Aran society, began to object—I understand why—and there is now a limited number of access routes on to the Arans.
I hope that the Minister will assure us that that will not happen in other parts of Snowdonia. Sad to say, large numbers of routes over the mountains of Snowdonia are not recorded as public rights of way on the definitive map, but they are such in custom and practice. In recent years, one farmer has started to press to be paid money for an access agreement, and I would not object to that. Many hill farmers should be receiving money from the Department of the Environment for encouraging access, instead of receiving it from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to produce surpluses—
§ Mr. Bennett
I accept that; the money should come from the environmental body in the Welsh Office, not from MAFF.
I press the Government for a clear statement on what will happen to access in Wales. We must ensure that there is some justice for the different groups of farmers. Some farmers have been able to use their land for caravan and camping sites, thereby earning a good deal of income, but often the next-door farmers suffer the disadvantage of having people spill over on to their land from these sites, without deriving any income from them.
I hope we can be told that the Government are looking with some enthusiasm at establishing access agreements so that farmers will receive some income in that way. I hope that the Government will urge that agriculture grants should not be paid to people who block footpaths. They should say that a condition of grants is that farmers ensure that all public footpaths are open to the public.
It is important for farmers and others living in the countryside to see that people are encouraged to go into the countryside, to enjoy it and to appreciate how carefully farmers look after it. They should be willing to support the farmer's efforts. The Government should declare that they have a policy for encouraging access in Wales which will ensure that footpaths are not obstructed. They should look more and more at giving free access to high moorland, especially in Wales, without the necessity to follow footpaths, many of which are not useful to either the farmer or the walker because they suffer from erosion.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I should like to redress the balance following the speech by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). He founded his comments on the letter from the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, Sir William Wilkinson. Sir William has been a fine chairman and we have all appreciated his exceptional work and are pleased that he is to continue for another year. He was writing in his personal capacity because in the extract read by the hon. Gentleman, Sir William said, "I am concerned", and not that the council was concerned. Since July Sir William has taken up his position with some council members who are on his side, but the majority of the members have been in favour of the proposals. The present Scots members on the council are unanimous about that.
§ Mr. Morley
Does the hon. Gentleman think that Sir William's view expressed the opinion of the majority of the NCC staff? Has the NCC ever voted on the matter?
§ Sir Hector Monro
The hon. Gentleman should not jump in so quickly. I have just started my speech and I shall shortly deal with the matter of staff. Of course Sir William is speaking on behalf of the staff.
§ Sir Hector Monro
I am speaking on behalf of nobody but myself as the longest serving member of the Nature Conservancy Council. I have not been asked to speak on behalf of anybody and am merely stating the facts as I see them. Of course the staff have been concerned from the beginning, as any staff would be when they realise that there may be reallocations of jobs. However, the Minister has said from the start that their jobs are assured.
§ Mr. Morley
It is not just jobs that the staff are concerned about. They are concerned about the principle and quality of nature conservancy in Britain.
§ Sir Hector Monro
I can hardly utter a word without the hon. Gentleman intervening. I am coming to that matter. Some staff may also have the personal problems of moving house. I agree that they are worried about the future attitude of the council towards nature conservation. However, I do not think that all the members of staff are worried about that.
We work in great harmony in the NCC. We do not operate under contention and in all the years that I have served on the council I do not recall having to vote on any issue. It is plain that the majority of the appointed members of the NCC are in favour of the legislation. It is right that that should be made clear.
It is important to bring home to the House and especially to the Opposition that all members of the NCC were anxious from the start about the overall scientific view. However, that was in July and subsequent meetings, changes in attitudes and pronouncements from the Government meant that by Second Reading it was clear that the Government had made a firm decision about how the scientific council would operate. Everyone was pleased to see that Professor Fred Holliday, a man of exceptional ability, was prepared to take on the work.
It is wrong for the hon. Member for Dagenham to try to find difficulties in every solution. Under the legislation, I do not foresee any difficulty about coming to a satisfactory working arrangement between the councils and the scientific council about how advice is to be given to the Government, who may have to take that advice to Europe or to international forums.
The hon. Member for Dagenham should try to extend his vision and look separately at Scotland, England and Wales. I do not have the slightest doubt that when the natural heritage agency is in place in Scotland its immense power will enable it to look after scenic beauty, nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest, footpaths such as the Border way and other splendid new routes that the Countryside Commission has developed. When all those powers are controlled by one body, we can look forward to seeing conservation and heritage in Scotland in firm hands. That control will he coupled with the effective 1066 voluntary bodies such as the National Trust for Scotland, organisations with an interest in flora and fauna, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other distinguished Scottish organisations.
The hon. Member for Dagenham does not seem to realise that many people in Scotland were worried that when contentious matters were raised they were not raised from our headquarters in Edinburgh or from the Countryside Commission headquarters at Battleby but from Peterborough. There was a feeling that we Scots who are much nearer the ground in Scotland should have an opportunity to look after nature conservation in the highlands and islands and the west and, indeed, all over Scotland. We wanted a stronger regional set-up and a stronger Scottish headquarters which would run its own scientific operation.
Throughout the discussions since July, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made it clear that resources would be available. I am confident that that is so and that we will have a strong scientific base in Scotland, which is what we have wanted for many years. The appointment of Magnus Magnusson, then president of the RSPB, as chairman of the Scottish NCC was an exceptional choice. He is a man of immense capability and, as the Secretary of State for the Environment has said, he has great talent and knowledge. He will lead the Scottish NCC with tremendous skill. He would not have taken on the job if he had not been clear in his mind that this was the right way forward.
The appointment of Lord Cranbrook to look after the NCC in England was an indication by the Government of how strongly they felt about having a man of great experience as chairman of that body. I may be out on a limb, but I would not be in the least surprised if, within a decade, we see the NCC amalgamate with the Countryside Commission, as will happen in Scotland in the coming year.
The figures for staff given by the hon. Member for Dagenham were inaccurate. It is difficult to imagine that Scotland would need about two thirds of the present staffing complement in England. That is an exaggeration. Of course the staffing levels will be substantially higher than they are now and there will also be scientists. I accept that this will cost money, but it is worth spending money to develop in Scotland nature conservation, the scenic beauty, the heritage and all that that stands for. If that is not worth spending money on, I do not know what is. I am prepared to accept that extra millions will have to be spent to do this.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was wrong to say that all this has taken place because the Government were annoyed by the attitude taken by the NCC to forestry in the flow country. There were discussions, and the NCC was right to put forward its view, but many matters have to be talked about around tables, and compromises have to be made. We were satisfied with the conclusions that were reached about the areas that could and could not be planted in the flow country and the highlands generally.
We are setting out on a course that offers tremendous possibilities. It has shown that the Government are keen to have the highest possible standards of conservation throughout the United Kingdom and to devolve them into the three countries of Scotland, Wales and England, separately. Each will have councillors who are closely 1067 concerned with their country and with conservation in it. That is the best way to keep a close check on what is happening at the ground level.
I want to see more regional offices, so that the general public can be closer to the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland. At the moment, offices are widely spread. One sees a regional officer from the NCC only rarely, and that is purely for geographical reasons. We want the country more involved in what we have been trying to do for a long time. This is a splendid opportunity to do that and it is wrong for the Opposition to throw cold water on an exciting and exhilarating idea. I hope that the House will reject the new clause.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce
I do not agree with the new clause, for a number of reasons that are consistent with the position I took in Committee and which my party has supported. My party has a relatively small percentage of the membership of the House, but our Members of Parliament represent large constituencies. We represent about 20 per cent. of the land area of Great Britain, and nearly half the land area of Scotland and Wales. [Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh, but we represent areas in which nature conservation is extremely important and we are very aware of the interaction between the local community and conservationists—certainly more so than the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), as he has shown.
Given the implications of the debate for Scotland, it is interesting that no Labour Member representing a Scottish constituency is present, despite the fact that such Members constitute about 20 per cent. of the Labour party. I do not blame them for being absent, because the new clause is somewhat embarrassing for them. In its enthusiasm for its policy review to seduce and woo the yuppie vote in the south of England, the Labour party has put forward an argument that has betrayed its heartland in Wales and Scotland and the real interest of people there.
§ Mr. Gould
Although we had the pleasure of the hon. Gentleman's company in Committee, he was replaced as the environment spokesman for his party. However, his successor is not present. Is that because his successor might be unhappy with the position taken by the Liberal Democrats of backing major land-owning interests in Scotland against nature conservation throughout the country?
§ Mr. Bruce
It is not just a cheap point but shows a complete lack of understanding of what goes in in rural areas in Scotland and Wales and of the interaction between parts of the community. If the hon. Member were a little more knowledgeable, he would understand why we have taken a vigorous line on this matter and why nature conservation is about the recognition that all land, throughout Great Britain, is managed and has to be conserved. The argument is about how it is managed. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and if he listens, he will hear my case.
The new clause is an attempt to subvert and frustrate the whole thrust of the Bill, which is to devolve 1068 conservation to Scotland and Wales. As I said in an intervention, the Labour party claims to be in favour of a Scottish conservation agency but is opposing a Bill that would provide such a framework.
Secondly, the new clause would ensure that the joint committee could commission and organise its own research and employ as many people as it wanted. Therefore, it would be a phoenix arising from the ashes of re-establishment of the NCC, but that body has failed to serve the interests of the Scottish people and is being changed. That is why I do not support the new clause.
Many people involved in conservation activities and research in Scotland are looking forward to the opportunity that the new body will present to enable them to take a larger share of the research programme that will be commissioned in Scotland than they have been able to secure from the English-based NCC. They are people with commitment, knowledge and expertise in Scotland, in our universities and well-established research institutions, who have not been given the opportunities that they deserve. They will play a constructive role in the future when the new agency has been established.
One or two questions still arise, and I hope that the Government will be able to give us answers to them. One is how the new body will be funded and structured. That will be the critical test of how the new proposals meet the needs of Scotland. As the hon. Member for Dagenham said—most members of the Committee received a report of this—the World Wide Fund for Nature has made its own calculations of what it thinks would be necessary. It suggested that Scotland would need a budget of £28 million and that the total for the United Kingdom would be about £80 million compared to the current £45 million that is spent through the NCC.
Nobody expects the Minister to agree to those figures or to accept that they are anything other than the judgment of one body. However, before the Bill leaves the House—certainly before it leaves Parliament—we should have some idea of what funding the Government have in mind. The level of funding will be a criterion on which conservationists can judge whether the Government's language about commitment to conservation is based in truth. The sooner that the Government put a figure on funding, the sooner they will be able to demonstrate whether they are serious about the commitment to long-term conservation that they claim lies behind this reorganisation.
The Labour party says that the change will be a landowners' charter and simply hands control over to them. We have to resist that possibility. I know that Ministers in the Scottish Office are at least mindful of the danger and recognise that Scottish-based conservationists will want to be part of the organisation. It would be difficult even for this Government to set up a body that excluded a representative group of Scottish-based conservationists.
The Labour party has to explain why it wishes to deny us the chance to have a Scottish-based body with Scottish conservationists determining our main priorities for how conservation in Scotland should be managed. The same applies for Wales. I resent the patronising implication that somehow the people based in England have a greater knowledge and understanding of how conservation in Scotland should be managed. That completely negates the 1069 idea of allowing not only devolution of administration but local communities to be involved in the discussions affecting their livelihoods and communities.
§ Mr. Morley
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Scottish Wildlife and Countryside Link, which represents Scottish nature conservation bodies, is entirely opposed to the Bill in its present form? Is he saying that its position is patronising?
§ Mr. Bruce
I am aware that it is opposed to the Bill in its present form. I am aware, however, that it will accept at the end of the day—[Interruption.] I ask hon. Members to let me finish my sentence. It will accept that there are gaps in conservation and research within the NCC that will now be able to be put right. We are talking of bodies that have complained about the NCC's insensitivity in areas such as marine research and issues related to the marine environment. They have complained that the NCC has not given the priority that is so important to Scotland in its research commissioning. It is a matter of judgment whether the devolved body will take that into account.
It seems that it is the united view of conservationists that, because the proposal that we are discussing came from the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), whose motives were suspicious, they are not prepared to support it. When the present Secretary of State spoke after the hon. Member for Dagenham he said that he felt that the argument that had been advanced behind the emotion was unconvincing. I believe that as the debate progresses the argument becomes less and less convincing. As I said in Committee, it will be welcome when the conservation agencies recognise that change will take place and that they should play a constructive role in making the new system work in the best interests of the people of Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Robert B. Jones
A moment ago the hon. Gentleman was citing some of the conservation bodies that are worried about the level of marine research that is being carried out. Is it not an ideal opportunity, with the university of St. Andrews having one of the finest departments specialising in marine research, to place some research contracts in Scotland that are connected with some of the problems that are of concern to the people of Scotland?
§ Mr. Bruce
The hon. Gentleman advances an argument that is relevant to his connection with the university of St. Andrews. The department to which he refers is not the only department in Scotland that could benefit by being more involved in research in conservation throughout Scotland. Indeed, many people who are involved in conservation feel that in the existing regime their expertise has been undervalued or ignored, and not built into the process.
There is no virtue in rehearsing the arguments that we had in Committee and the examples that were used then. One of the reasons why the change is necessary and generally popular within Scotland—given the Labour party's strength in Scotland, this is compromising and embarrassing for it—is that people in our communities are fed up with being told by people with no knowledge and understanding how their affairs should be managed. I have quoted the examples of the Islay mosses and the flow 1070 country, where even now agreements are not being honoured. Also, the NCC agreed areas that could be accepted for forestry and areas that should be conserved, but then lodged objections when proposals were put forward involving areas that it had previously agreed should be planted. That obviously creates a great deal of frustration. People feel that they are not being involved in a proper decision-making process. A great deal of anguish and hardship could have been avoided if there had been more consultation and involvement with the local community.
It is interesting that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) commented favourably about the way that farmers manage the landscape. Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen seem to imply that farmers are landowners who are the enemies of conservation. By definition, it is farmers who are most involved in the management of the landscape. Farmers need to be involved in the entire process of designating sites of special scientific interest, which affects their day-to-day activity and livelihood. There is no doubt that the NCC has, on occasions, been insensitive about the way that SSSIs have been designated. As I said in Committee, it has taken the Scottish National Farmers Union to take up the argument with the NCC and to persuade farmers of the merits of what the NCC has tried to do. That has been necessary because of the NCC's insensitivity.
If we have a Scottish agency that involves the Scottish wildlife agencies, conservation agencies, farmers and local communities, we shall have a far better chance of achieving a balanced programme of conservation which meets the needs of conservation generally and proper land management, as well as the needs of local communities, which are often operating in extremely fragile economic circumstances. It is absurd to suggest that the individuals concerned do not appreciate the quality of their environment. The quality of our food products is a major component of their market attraction, and tourism in Scotland is popular because of the scenic beauty of the countryside and the way in which it is managed and conserved.
The Labour party may have reasonable grounds for criticising certain aspects of what the Government are proposing and for the lack of information about funding and staffing, and the Government should be more forthcoming on those grounds. However, the Labour party is not convincing when it tries to demolish the devolved process and expects to believe that its commitment to devolving nature conservation matters to a Scottish Parliament must be accepted as sincere. After all, the framework that the Government will set up could easily be taken over by a Labour Government. The Labour party is so confident that it will win the next general election; it could ensure that the structure is converted to meet that Labour Government's requirements. There will be a ready-made structure which will be much closer to the needs of the Scottish people than the existing mechanism that the Opposition want to keep. In those circumstances, it seems that the Opposition have taken a cowardly and unambitious position and have failed to recognise what can be achieved.
Effectively, the new clause is a Trojan horse. It has been designed deliberately to ensure that the devolved country bodies do not have the source of power that is the intention behind the Bill. It is unacceptable that the joint commission should become big brother and tell the 1071 national groups what to do. The people of Scotland will not put up with that, and nor will the people of Wales. I do not think the people of England will either.
§ Mr. Robert B. Jones
First, I wish to refer briefly to the comments that have been made about the character and references of Mr. Michael Griffith. It is deplorable that, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, there have been constant personal attacks on the chairman designate. This reached an absurd level when it was claimed in Committee that Mr. Griffith's background was in the National Trust. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) had the temerity to say that the National Trust knew virtually nothing of, or had virtually no experience in, landscape.
That so hurt and upset the National Trust that it had cause to write to every member of the Committee to draw attention to its distinguished record in the preservation of the landscape and natural heritage of the United Kingdom. I hope that we can start to talk about the issues and not ad hominem politics. It was regrettable that ad hominem politics reared its ugly head again during the speech of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), when it was suggested that he was a spokesman for landowning interests because he took a different view of the issue. That was preposterous.
There are hon. Members on both side of the House who are genuine and sincere in their commitment to conservation. I know of Opposition Members who have that commitment, and there are those on the Government Benches, among whom I count myself, who share it. The debate is not about goodies and baddies—people being for or against conservation—but about how conservation is best delivered. The record of the NCC suggests that it is better to have conservation in the community that goes with the grain rather than to have it imposed from on high.
Once conservationists have the image of an elite group who force their views on others, the battle is lost. It would not be possible then, no matter how well staffed the NCC or any other body was, to ensure that conservation was carried out in practice. It must be the consideration of each and every person in the country that we must ensure that we preserve our natural environment. That is best done in a devolved framework.
I confess that when the proposals first surfaced, I was rather worried. Indeed, I went to the trouble of letting my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary know that I was not prepared to support them. But a great deal has changed since then. The three issues about which I was most concerned were, first, the preservation of the science base; secondly, the avoidance of parochialism by the councils; and, thirdly, the prevention of the formation of a bureaucracy that would lead to an inferior delivery of conservation at the grass roots.
Since that time, a joint committee has been established and three distinguished people have been appointed to head the councils for England, Scotland and Wales. The Opposition are trying to pretend, as they did in Committee, that none of that has happened, and that we are where we were 12 months ago. The truth is that the whole framework has shifted dramatically. I am sure that, under the distinguished leadership of Professor Holliday and others, the science base will be enhanced. As the hon. 1072 Member for Gordon rightly said, there are a number of distinguished academics in England, Scotland and Wales who can help in that work.
Knowing the generosity of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish and Welsh Offices compared with what happens in England, I do not doubt that more money will be spent on conservation and that there will be more staff—
§ Mr. Jones
My hon. Friend is right. I no longer have any worry about the science base and I am sure that access to it will be maintained in the Scottish and Welsh councils and that they will supplement it with their own science bases. It flies in the face of all experience to pretend that scientists are best utilised in central headquarters rather than out in the field. What happens at grass-roots level is much more effective than what happens at the centre.
I was also concerned about the possible emergence of bureaucracy. I make that point in particular because of my interest in the British Trust for Ornithology, which is located in my constituency. Indeed, I raised the matter several times in Committee. I wish to take this opportunity publicly to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for having set in train a solution to the problem that I raised with him, which is quite acceptable to the trust. I have raised one or two additional technical points with him through correspondence, but rather than delay the House today I simply ask him to treat them equally seriously and sympathetically when the Bill is debated in another place.
It is right and proper to consider the recommendations of the Carver committee. Select Committees, both of this House and of another place, do a great deal of valuable work. They have the time to sift the evidence and to reach practical conclusions. It would be unfair if their serious recommendations were to be accepted or dismissed at the drop of a hat, rather than considered over a reasonable period and subject to consultation. I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said today about responding to the recommendations in another place once there has been time to go through the processes.
§ Mr. Gould
I do not think that the record will bear out that uncharitable remark.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Carver committee's report deserves considerable consideration. Does he support the view of so many that the obvious place to give that consideration and to provide the time necessary is in the forthcoming White Paper, rather than in the Bill?
§ Mr. Jones
I do not agree. There has already been too much delay in trying to improve conservation. It would be far better to take this opportunity to legislate because there will be further opportunities, both in another place and when the Bill returns to this House, to decide whether the Government have it right in respect of the Carver committee's recommendations.
One of the difficulties with conservation during the past few years, since environmental issues became so important, has been the tendency to go against the grain 1073 and to impose actions on people that they then resent, but which they might have agreed to work with had there been proper consultation. That is true in the farming community and in many other areas. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald)—who, sadly, is not here today—gave a good example of that in Committee, as did the hon. Member for Gordon when he referred to Islay.
The Bill is a framework. My right hon. Friend has responded sympathetically to the concerns expressed. I do not want the new clause to be carried, and I recommend the House to reject it.
§ Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)
The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) expressed his concern about comments made about the chairman designate of the Countryside Council for Wales. I assure him that no personal slight was intended. It is important that he and other hon. Members realise that there is a deep resentment in many parts of the Principality about landowners, usually wealthy landowners, heading non-elected quangos, whether in England, Scotland or Wales.
I am sure that the Minister of State, Welsh Office is aware of the resentment in the Principality that a number of people hold down one or more jobs—bringing themselves a great deal of money—including the gentleman to whom the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West referred, and who is also the chairman of Clwyd health authority. It is not right that all those jobs should be concentrated in the hands of certain individuals. They should be spread out. However, I do not intend to concentrate on that issue because my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) at least managed to bring the Minister to the Chamber to deal with it. We expressed our concern in Committee, when many Welsh matters were discussed, including the NCC and its break-up.
I must tell the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) that the Opposition do not believe that the break-up of the NCC is necessarily devolution. In any event, it had intended to sort itself out in a federal structure only days before the Government publicly issued their order to break up that organisation. We believe in devolution but not in the break-up of the NCC. Of course, the last people to whom we should look for devolution are the Government. They refused our request to devolve the National Rivers Authority to Wales and create a separate authority.
I wish to speak to the new clauses that have been tabled in my name, although I do not intend to press any of them to a Division. They are intended to probe. There is considerable concern in the Principality about the lack of consultation in the setting up of the new Countryside Council for Wales. People compare the Welsh position with that of Scotland where, whatever the rights and wrongs, there has been a two-state approach with proper consultation. The Secretary of State for Scotland said:The two-stage approach we have adopted gives us time to collect ideas, consult informed opinion and to develop a practical and effective agency.Hon. Members have referred to the Carver committee. Its report said:To move in one step to the appointment of a Countryside Council for Wales is a major change, when Wales has neither an NCC nor a Countryside Commission of its own at present.1074Great care should be taken to agree the mandate of the new Council in consultation with interested parties, including voluntary bodies.There has been no consultation with voluntary bodies in Wales. The Welsh Minister is aware that many of the voluntary bodies concerned with the environment and with conservation are deeply opposed to the proposals. They include the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, the Association of Welsh Wildlife Trusts, the Welsh National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Friends of the Earth (Cymru), the Open Spaces Society, the Welsh Ramblers Association, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (Wales), and many others. They are all deeply concerned about what is happening, yet they have not been consulted.
I sincerely hope that when the Minister returns to the Welsh Office he will be able to find a means of proper and meaningful consultation before the new organisation is set up. We are to have a White Paper on the environment. If it were left to many hon. Members, we would abandon part VII until we had that White Paper. Since that is unlikely, let there be more consultation. The Government should listen to those who know, not necessarily to those whom they want to hear.
§ Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones
I find myelf in the remarkable and perhaps unreal position of failing to understand why the Labour party is taking the position that it is on this issue. I was not privileged to be a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, but I have carefully read the debate on Second Reading and the Committee's deliberations on the setting up of the new Countryside Council for Wales, and I still do not understand why the Labour party has adopted its current position.
I would have been able to take the Labour party's arguments a little more seriously if it had tabled a constructive new clause that sought a better council and better consultation. However, I am not convinced, since all that we have is a wrecking new clause.
I am worried to find myself agreeing with many of the sentiments expressed by Conservative Members. I have always been led to believe that in Wales the Conservative party was the unionist party and the Labour party was the party of devolution.
I was persuaded by the convincing arguments of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). He said that the people of Scotland should have the opportunity, through their own body and their own organisations, to make decisions that affect conservation matters in Scotland. That is an argument that I should like to advance on behalf of the people of Wales.
I accept that there are dangers in the breaking up of any body involved in conservation. Conservation cannot be considered in simple geographical terms because nature conservation transcends boundaries. But nobody here is seriously suggesting that we should have a European conservancy council despite the fact that many of the. problems affecting conservation in England, Scotland and Wales have a European dimension.
It is necessary to discuss some matters across boundaries because there are common interests in conservation matters but, ultimately, decisions affecting the lives of people within the countryside must be made at the closest possible point to the place where those people live. That is a fundamental principle. I would subscribe to 1075 the belief set out in the Bill that decisions affecting conservation matters in Wales should be decided by an all-Wales body.
I accept that there are difficulties, that we are not entirely satisfied about the structure and whether the body will be properly and decently funded, but those are matters of detail. The real argument of principle is about the setting up of a body that would be responsible for conservation matters in Wales.
§ Mr. Jones
I shall be brief. I understand that other matters have to be discussed.
I have great respect for the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who argues his points well. He has said that some bodies in Wales are unhappy about the Government's proposals. But at the end of the day what convinces me is that those who will be responsible for conservation in Wales are in favour of the plans. The Welsh committee of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Welsh committee of the Countryside Commission in Wales support the plans wholeheartedly and it is important that that should be placed on the record.
The Labour party is generally in support of devolution and greater transfer of control to the historic nations of Britain. Therefore, it is with no pleasure that I say that on this occasion it has got it wrong in a massive way. The Labour party has also got it wrong in the drafting of new clause 6. It is a small but revealing point that it refers tothe undertaking of research at a national level".I assume from the way in which the new clause is drawn that that refers to a British or a United Kingdom level. I hope that, as a result of the debate, the Labour party will acknowledge that there is more than one historic nation in the counties of Britain.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
This is the second time that I have intervened in debates on the Bill which, unfortunately, does not cover the whole of the United Kingdom, only Great Britain. I make a plea that I made only the other evening in the House, not for the first time and this will not be the last time, that the House should do away with limited jurisdiction on matters of national importance and produce Bills which cover the whole of the United Kingdom. The sooner that that is done, the better for us all.
Amendment No. 107, to which I and the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) have put our names, was debated in Committee on 13 March, when the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) addressed the Committee. It asks for clarification of the representation that is to come from Northern Ireland.
In Committee, the Minister said that the amendment was unnecessary. That may be so, but I should like him to tell me why. Is it that, whenever the term Secretary of State is mentioned, it includes all Secretaries of State, so that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can appoint Members to the Committee?
The amendment asks for two representatives of nature conservation interests in Northern Ireland. I believe that I have read somewhere that those peopole would attend as 1076 assessors. I would have been much happier if those who advise me had asked for voting Members from Northern Ireland, which does not appear to be the case.
Northern Ireland has a number of extremely important winter sites for wildfowl. Strangford Lough is internationally famous and important, as is Lough Foyle. There are also a number of other smaller sites of interest. I take but little interest in birds, but I like to see them around and I took pleasure in hearing the first cuckoo for the first time in several years only the other morning. I hope that that is a sign of better things to come. Cuckoos and corncrakes used to be common in my part of the world. I hope that I hear one again before the year is done.
I hope that the Minister will give us more detail than he did in Committee in March. He said that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would nominate two members to the co-ordinating committee. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House how they will be chosen and what groups of people and bodies in Northern Ireland they will represent. In Committee, he also said:I hope that the amendment will not be pressed to a Division, because it is completely unnecessary."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 13 March 1990; c. 1190.]I hope that he will explain why it is unnecessary, because people in Northern Ireland would like to know.
I could say much more, but I assume that the legislation will be carried forward to Northern Ireland within the next year or two through the Order-in-Council procedure. I hope that it will be among the last Orders in Council to proceed because it would involve what we in the Unionist party describe as a theft clause, simply asking to extend the Bill to Northern Ireland, and the House could have been spared another late night and perhaps one or two sittings in Committee. Sadly, this is the last time I shall speak on the matter during debates on the Bill.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Roberts
I welcome this opportunity to inject a Welsh element into the Government's winding-up speech for this evening's important and interesting debate, particularly as Wales is to be the first country in the United Kingdom to have a unitary body combining the functions of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. Whatever else may be said about the issue, I can assure the House that the decision had nothing to do with the flow country. I am ashamed to confess that I am still not sure where the flow country is.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, when he announced the proposed changes last July, summed up the significance of the proposed new council for Wales when he said:It also means that decisions affecting Wales will in future be taken in Wales. A single body attuned to the needs of the Principality will be of undoubted benefit to Wales."—[Official Report, 11 July 1989; Vol. 156, c. 435.]A Welsh body answerable to the Welsh Office must be in the best position to reflect Welsh needs. Judging by the debate this evening, that feeling is reciprocated by Scottish Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). I understand that the Labour Scottish environment spokesman, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), has described it as "a sensible rationalisation" in The Scotsman. Therefore, the stance of the Opposition spokesman is inexplicable.
§ Mr. Gould
Since the Minister believes that our policy is inexplicable, perhaps I may make a further attempt to explain it to him. As we have said many times, there is a fundamental distinction between devolution and what is proposed in the Bill—the destruction of a Great Britain or United Kingdom basis for conservation efforts. I agree with the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) on that subject. Why does the former necessarily involve the latter?
§ Mr. Roberts
Whenever the hon. Gentleman speaks, he seems to use the word "dismemberment" to describe Government proposals and "devolution" to hint at his own. During the debate it has become absolutely clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House what the Government have in mind and why.
As the hon. Members for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) implied, there has been much play on the fact that there was no public consultation before the announcement was made. It seems strange that the Government should be criticised for first announcing their decisions to Parliament. Consultation on the broad principles involved was not necessary because the Government already had sufficient information to come to a conclusion about the structural reorganisation proposed.
The hon. Member for Torfaen repeated the comparison made with the consultations undertaken in Scotland. As I understand it, Scotland has not consulted on the proposals in the Bill any more than England and Wales. It has consulted on a second stage—on whether to amalgamate the present Countryside Commission for Scotland with the new Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, since both bodies are large enough to be separate. In Wales that was not an option, since the Countryside Council employs only some 14 staff in Wales and even allowing for some strengthening on independence it would not be large enough to be a viable proposition. A joint body was desirable and inevitable for Wales.
Conservation and the wider countryside issues are essentially complementary. The NCC and the Countryside Commission already work very closely together in Wales and did so before the present proposals were ever suggested. As there was no viable alternative to amalgamation in Wales, consultation on the point of principle was unnecessary. Of course, we have invited comments on the implementation of our proposals.
Last October, I delivered a speech on the occasion of the launch of the annual review of the Countryside Commission's committee for Wales. Representatives of most of the relevant voluntary organisations in Wales were present, and I devoted a substantial part of my speech to the reorganisation and invited comments on the proposals.
I have also seen every organisation that has asked to see me. Those have included the chairman and chief officers of the national parks, the Ramblers Association and the Open Spaces Society, the Sports Council for Wales, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Countryside Commission and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales. I mention the latter organisation in particular as it has been somewhat vociferous in its comments. In fact, the differences between us are not all that great. As the CPRW has clearly shown, it supports the proposed changes in principle, but is concerned about the timing and method of implementation.
I accept that, while some of the voluntary bodies are not in favour of the changes, we have had—as has been 1078 pointed out—strong support from the chairmen arid members of the committees for Wales of the NCC and the Countryside Commission. All the political parties in Wales have generally welcomed the proposals, not excluding the Leader of the Opposition.
I am sure that all those who have reservations will see the advantages of the new arrangements once the Countryside Council for Wales is up and running and has had a chance to make its mark on the Welsh scene.
§ Mr. Morley
I have two questions for the Minister. First, if we agree with the thrust of his arguments, why did he argue against a Welsh National Rivers Authority being set up for the people of Wales? Secondly, he will recognise that Welsh bodies will have international obligations. As a member of the Government, will he give an assurance to the House that international obligations will be applied consistently throughout the countryside bodies in the three countries?
§ Mr. Roberts
The hon. Member for Torfaen, who raised that question in Committee, also answered it. He said that the remit of the National Rivers Authority was different, and, as it is a regulatory body, it is clearly different. I shall not explain what my right hon. Friend has said about the role of the joint committee but it is clear that the Countryside Council for Wales will contribute to any international obligations that we might have.
The Welsh dimension has clearly been exercising the mind of the hon. Member for Torfaen, who has tabled 13 new clauses—amounting to his version of this part of the Bill. He said that they were probing new clauses, so I assume that this is not really the Opposition's version of our part VII. If it is, the policy seems to be to increase the number of quangos all round, so we would end up with two separate bodies in each country—one for nature conservation and one for landscape and recreation. That is to be preceded by a wholly unnecessary abolition of the existing Countryside Commission, which means of course that there has to be an extra residuary body. On top of that, we would have a much enhanced joint committee. That looks like seven quangos in all, compared with the four proposed by the Government. I need hardly say that I do not think that that proposition is acceptable.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (M r. Bennett) spoke to his new clause 10. The Government and I share his desire that all obstructions should be removed from public rights of way. The Countryside Commission's campaign to clear all rights of way by the year 2000 is, of course, to be applauded. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for walking in the countryside and the ingenious devices that he has suggested in new clause 10 to bring the subject within the ambit of the Bill. However, the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for tackling what the hon. Gentleman sees as the deficiencies of present legislation. I am confident that the Countryside Council for Wales will give due weight to all access matters without the need for the organisational straitjacket proposed in the new clause.
The composition of the joint committee is addressed by amendments Nos. 107 and 150. On the latter, the Government have given an assurance that we shall introduce an amendment to achieve this purpose—so that the chairman of the joint committee will be appointed directly by the Secretary of State. The representation of Northern Ireland on the joint committee, to which the 1079 hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred again, is yet another issue covered by Lord Carver's report. That point is covered by amendment No. 107. I cannot give a formal assurance that we shall amend the Bill as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but we are sympathetic to Lord Carver's views on the subject and I very much hope that there will be a Government amendment in another place to meet that objective.
Amendment No. 137 would make co-operation and joint working with local authorities a principal function of the new agencies. There is no doubt that that will be highly desirable and, indeed, much is done at present with the local authorities by the NCC and the Countryside Commission, particularly the latter, whose programmes are frequently entirely reliant on the efforts of local councils in the countryside. As there is no difficulty in working in that fashion, I see no need to supplement the law as suggested by the amendment; nor would it be right to make that a principal objective when there are other partnerships—such as those with voluntary bodies, farmers, landowners and industry—which are equally important.
In Standing Committee, my hon. Friends gave several undertakings to consider items raised by hon. Members, and I should like to deal with them now. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who made an excellent supportive speech today, referred to licences for the ringing and nest recording scheme operated by the British Trust for Ornithology. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) expressed similar concern about possible administrative problems if the licences were to be issued separately by the three new councils.
This is an important point. The BTO's work provides essential data and, although we are not willing to compromise on the basic principle that territorial matters should fall to the council concerned, we are keen to keep the bureaucracy to a minimum. BTO ringers operate mainly under a general licence, but some individual licences are necessary. At present, applications for both types of licence are made by the BTO and it is difficult to imagine that the new councils will not continue with that arrangement. However, we believe that it would be sensible for them to co-ordinate their action on that work. We are therefore writing to the shadow chairmen asking, first, that they agree to continue using the good offices of the BTO and, secondly, that they nominate one of the councils to act as a co-ordinator for both the general and individual licences. Decisions on the licences would be taken by the appropriate council—that is an important point of principle—but they would liaise closely and applications would have to be made to only one body. We shall also ask that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has a similar arrangement with the NCC to that of the BTO, should also have the benefit of this one-stop shopping facility.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish raised a number of points. He suggested that community service orders should be used to enhance and conserve the countryside. I confirm that that matter has been raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home 1080 Secretary. I confirm that the resource implications of access agreements for national parks will be considered at the appropriate point in their budgetary process.
The hon. Member for Gordon raised the important matter of marine conservation. I accept that this is a difficult subject, not because, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, there is a hiatus in the legislation but because of the inherent difficulties in protecting marine areas. To cut a long story short, I accept that the designation process is rather laborious, but it reflects not only the voluntary principle enshrined in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but the different uses of, and rights that are held over, marine areas. One cannot simply put a fence around a marine nature reserve to protect it, so one has to negotiate with users and so on to come to a solution that will be respected by all. That inevitably takes time, but at the end of the day will ensure that the site is properly protected.
I echo the sentiments expressed earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I ask the House to reject the new clause.
§ Mr. Gould
We have had a useful and interesting debate, but I do not think that we can claim to have covered much, if any, new territory. The Opposition had hoped that the presence and interventions of, first, the Secretary of State for the Environment and, then, the Minister of State, Welsh Office and the remarks of other hon. Members who were not on the Standing Committee would have carried us a little further forward by disclosing some of the Government's plans for the joint committee. I am afraid that our expectations have been dashed, because we are still very much where we were when the Committee concluded its deliberations. That is unfortunate, and it is a sad way to treat the House of Commons.
I very much take the point made by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) when he made the case for giving proper consideration to some of these matters, especially to giving proper weight to the Carver committee's recommendations. I have no quarrel with that argument, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that it points firmly in the direction of not rushing forward, as the Government did, to dismember the NCC without consultation.
I suspect that the Secretary of State would have preferred, in his heart of hearts, to deal with the question of how best to organise nature conservancy throughout the country within the context of the White Paper which he is preparing. The fact that that is not now his preferred option is further evidence of the low expectations of the White Paper.
The disappointing aspect of the debate was that we did not hear anything more about the joint committee and the response to the Carver committee. We heard no comment about the increased costs that the new arrangements would necessarily produce. We heard no constructive comment on the central question which bedevilled the committee's deliberations—the real question of who would prevail in the event of a dispute. Those who were not members of the committee professed to think that that was of no importance, but I suspect that, if they were to consult the Under-Secretary, he would give them a different answer, with good reason. A lack of understanding of that crucial point marked the contribution of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro).
I was astonished at the cavalier way in which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) appeared to dismiss the 1081 virtually unanimous view of Scottish voluntary conservation bodies who were worried about what was proposed. He accused some of us of being patronising, but I have not heard anything as patronising as that.
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) was equally confused. He raised his long-term assumption, which he felt had somehow been displaced by the debate, that the Conservative party was the party of unionism. He may or may not be right, although I have my own view on it, but he overlooked the fact that the Conservative party is the party of major landowners and commercial interests; certainly it is not the party of nature conservation. The authority we have for that is no less than the Prime Minister herself, who dismissed all the people who were concerned about such issues as airy-fairy environmentalists.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I just want to comment on that not entirely well informed prejudice. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to tell the House about how the Labour Government expressed their concern for nature conservancy by referring us to the amount of money which they put into nature conservancy and how it compares with the record of this Administration.
§ Mr. Gould
I note that the Secretary of State did not dispute the remarks which I attributed to the Prime Minister, nor did he take the opportunity of commenting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—on the far more important point, which is the actual cost of his proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] We have yet to hear from him, or from those who are yelling and barracking in their traditional fashion, whether the estimate of a £20 million increase in the budget is accurate. We have heard not a word on that.
Our purpose is to offer the Secretary of State yet one more chance. We are a forgiving and optimistic party, and we still hope that the Secretary of State will live to fight the battle. We have no great expectation, I am sorry to say, that he will win. I judge by the glimmer of appreciation on his face that he may still harbour some hope. We think tht he is still engaged in the battle. We hope that he is engaged in it on behalf of conservation to ensure that the Carver recommendations are brought forward in legislative form.
So far, he has lost, because his Cabinet colleagues have insisted that the grubby deal between the Scottish Office and Scottish landowners should be maintained; but, because we hope that he will fight the battle on behalf of nature conservation, we want to give him the chance to bring forward proposals in another place. For that reason alone, I seek the leave of the House to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.