HC Deb 30 October 1990 vol 178 cc904-31

Lords amendment: No. 254, in page 123, line 31, at end insert—

("(3A) The Councils shall establish a committee to be called the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (in this Part referred to as "the joint committee)".")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Trippier.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 254; Lords amendments Nos. 255 to 258, 264, 268 to 270; Lords amendment No. 271 and amendments (a) and (b) thereto; Lords amendments Nos. 272, 274 to 280; Lords amendment No. 353 and amendment (a) thereto; Lords amendments Nos. 382, 383, 402, 403; Lords amendment No. 404 and Government amendment (a) thereto and 405.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, in line 2, after 'shall' insert 'within one month of the date of the Order coming into effect on or after 1st April 1992 made by the Secretary of State under Section 147(3) below in respect of this section'.

Mr. Gould

It is 15 months or thereabouts since the decision to dismember the Nature Conservancy Council was taken or announced. Few would defend the way in which the matter was handled. Baroness Blatch virtually conceded as much in another place. It was clearly done without consultation, it was a hole-in-the-corner exercise and was a virtual bombshell, which exploded to the great consternation of the NCC, its staff and the entire conservation world.

I suppose that one could say that the decision was another of those poisoned chalices that the current Secretary of State's predecessor bequeathed to him. The list extends from opposition to dog registration, to the poll tax, to dismemberment of the NCC. I find it surprising that the Secretary of State somehow manages to convey that he has no sympathy with so much that is central to the Department's policy, including those issues, as well as targets on carbon dioxide emissions. Nor can it be said that the passage of 15 months has done much to improve the welcome that those proposals have received.

The Government's decision is still condemned by the overwhelming majority of conservation organisations. I shall select one example—not entirely at random—but simply because it is a representative voice of the conservation world. In a briefing issued this morning, the Council for the Protection of Rural England said that it remains of the opinion that these proposals for reform have been mismanaged from start to finish. It reiterated its view that the best way forward would have been for Part VII to have been deleted from the Bill and reorganisation addressed as a central part of the White Paper". We understand that, unfortunately, that option is no longer open to us. We regret that, but it is worth noting that that remains the view of the CPRE, and of so many of the other major conservation organisations.

The concern expressed by the staff of the Nature Conservancy Council has not diminished during those 15 months. If anything, it has increased. Earlier this year a ballot of NCC staff revealed that only one person supported the Government's proposals for every 10 people who were opposed to them. In a recent ballot this month we discovered that that ratio has moved substantially against the Government. It is now 17:1.

That is not because, as Ministers have on occasion offensively suggested, the staff have voted solely in their self-interest. As the staff pointed out, they are well acquainted with the fact, and welcome it, that their jobs are not threatened. No job is threatened and few members of the staff will have to move. Furthermore, it is expected that the number of jobs will increase. When, however, they were asked whether they believed that the proposals would benefit nature conservation, only 39 of the 1,332 staff employed by the Nature Conservancy Council could bring themselves to say yes. The Government ought to accept that that was a principled statement by the staff, entirely divorced from their own self-interest, as to how they see nature conservancy being served by the Government's policies.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my hon. Friend allow me to give him the figures for Scotland? The Scots were supposed to be in favour of this nonsense. The fact is that 21 people were in favour of it, whereas 112 were against it. From my personal knowledge I know that the 112 include many of those who care most and know most. There were 26 "don't knows". Those are the Scottish figures.

Mr. Gould

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has removed a sedulously fostered myth. While the ratio of opposition is not quite so high in Scotland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, it is still—at 5:1—absolutely overwhelming.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

It is strange to extrapolate from the figures produced by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) the belief that the Scots are enthusiastic about the proposition that the hon. Gentleman advocates. No part of the country has been rendered more desolate than Caithness and Sutherland by the malign influence of the Nature Conservancy Council. I believe, therefore, that the Government have got this absolutely right and that the Scots are behind them. I hope that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) will make it absolutely clear from the Opposition Front Bench that if the Labour party wins the next election it will not seek to reverse the Government's sensible decision.

Mr. Gould

The hon. Gentleman's somewhat intemperate attitude and language are pointed up by his total failure to understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that my hon. Friend advanced evidence in support of some proposition. It is the Government who have advanced a proposition. My hon. Friend advanced evidence to show to what extent that proposition is opposed by those who are most directly and expertly informed about the matter.

Far from the Labour party believing that the Government have got it right, I want to say straight away that although we well understand the need to devolve and decentralise many of the Nature Conservancy Council's functions, which the NCC also recognises, we have also made it clear that it is neither a necessary nor an acceptable part of that exercise to do unnecessary and violent damage to the cause of nature conservation throughout the country.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Since the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) may unwittingly be interpreted as having criticised the work of the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland, may I point out that I visited his constituency earlier this year and discussed with one of his constituents the splendid work that the NCC has carried out on a friend's farm in the Caithness area? Its record of service in protecting that farm, in co-operation with a highly responsible farmer, does not suggest that the hon. Gentleman's criticisms should be quite so bitter as they may appear in the Official Report.

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend may have been misled into thinking that the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the NCC was unwitting. I understand that, because so often what the hon. Gentleman says does sound unwitting. On this occasion, however, I feel that one has to concede that it was witting, whatever that may mean.

The Government do not carry public opinion with them because they have failed to satisfy the concern about the gap that has been left by the demise of the Nature Conservancy Council, a point that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland obtusely refuses to acknowledge. We have repeatedly made it clear that we accept the case for decentralisation, but we do not accept that it is right to carve that great hole in the nature conservation effort throughout the United Kingdom.

It is also clear that many functions of both a national and an international character can be carried out only by a national body. There is no dispute between the Government and ourselves on the point. The Government recognise it. Why else would they have recognised the need to create, by amendments even at this late stage and by means, I imagine, of more provisions still to come, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee? Why else would they have gone to such great lengths to create that body if if were not designed to fulfil those national and international functions that are left unfulfilled after the demise of the NCC?

Although there will be a dispute, in which I intend to participate, about the precise functions of the JNCC and its staffing, relations with other bodies, funding and location, it is impossible to say—except as between the rest of the House and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland—that there is any dispute about the fact that there is a gap to be filled. The JNCC is the Government's response to the need to fill that gap. Having acknowledged that such a gap must be filled, the Government have failed to use the time at their disposal to prepare the JNNC properly for its new responsibilities. It is that which is now giving cause for concern.

The question is no longer—-perhaps regrettably from our viewpoint—whether the Government were right or wrong in principle. The question now is whether they were competent in practice in preparing that body for its new role. It is in that area that the real concerns persist. It is for that precise reason that there was such uproar in another place when Lady Blatch mishandled—one has to say, with all kindness—the explanation to their Lordships of the Government's proposal. It is because those concerns persist that we have tabled the amendment and wish to press it.

The competence of the new body is a cause for concern. It was that question that caused such embarrassment to the Minister of State's junior ministerial colleague. I cannot recall any other Committee in which a Minister has wriggled for so long on a hook of his own creation and found it so difficult to get off it. Fair-minded Members on both sides of the House who sat on the Committee will recognise that that is a fair description of what happened.

If we take the nub of the matter—who decides what is and what is not a Great Britain responsibility—the problem is that the JNCC does not have the power to resolve it. That is one reason why very great and fundamental concerns persist about the JNCC's role. I do not want to be too critical of Professor Holliday, but the confusion was not helped by an exchange that took place at a meeting on 26 September.

I have a verbatim record of what was said. It was put to him in the following terms: It doesn't seem very likely to me in view of this that the Committee"— that is, the JNCC— is going to survive for very long at all. It will simply wither away to a core which will consist of international matters because everything else in say five years will be drawn back by the country agencies. That is a reference to this precise jurisdictional point. Professor Holliday responded to the suggestion that the JNCC might wither away by saying: Yes. Well, you may be right. I hope you're not. We all know the difficulty of responding to points such as that in a meeting and I should not wish to hold Professor Holliday to that response. It did not help. It left the well-founded worry about the control of the JNCC over its own functions and the apparent endorsement—/ put it no higher than that—of the suggestion that it might wither away because the country bodies would draw back from it the powers claimed. That apparent endorsement was unhelpful to the concerns expressed on that point.

Mr. Trippier

I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech closely and I do not think that he will have any difficulty in answering the question that I wish to put to him. It is an extension of what was said by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). The House must understand what the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) is saying. Is he saying that, in the unlikely event of a Labour Government taking power, the JNCC would become a quango and have authoritative power, or would he leave it with the scientific responsibility that is proposed in the United Kingdom or what? I think that that requires only a couple of sentences.

6 pm

Mr. Gould

Let me preface what I say by acknowledging the Minister's recognition of the possibility of a Labour Government. That is a welcome advance.

The choice offered by the Minister is misleading and that is why the Government have got into trouble. Before the JNCC can exercise what the Minister described as its "scientific responsibility", it has to know over what areas and over what issues it has the power to exercise those functions. That is where the problem arises It has no power to make that decision. If for any reason the country bodies decide that a particular issue, however much it may seem common sense, is not a Great Britain issue, the JNCC is left powerless.

Mr. Dalyell

Professor Holliday has been a friend of mine ever since his Stirling days. He is an extremely candid, frank and realistic man. He has stated the facts. I understand that the Government have not given him a chief officer in the JNCC. Heaven knows how it expects to be ready by April.

Mr. Gould

As always, the problem is that points come thick and fast. My hon. Friend is right on all that he said. In the exchange from which I quoted, Professor Holliday described what had been perpetrated as a "camel", and one understands what he meant by that analogy.

In answer to the Minister's question, there should be rules to resolve this point. My view is that the JNCC should be able to decide what is and what is not a Great Britain issue. It is plainly unsatisfactory to leave the JNCC in its present circumstances without any such power and with the possibility always that its budget and the definitions of what it can do are not within its control and can be retrieved. That is why Professor Holliday was tempted, if I may put it that way, to make the concession that he did in the passage that I have just read out.

The next concern is the dispute that has arisen about whether the JNCC should also be able to deal with countryside matters. The answer seems to be that it should not. However, the waters have been muddied by the Government's equivocation in their White Paper and on other occasions over the possible need for further legislation—I cannot imagine why we should have to wait for further legislation—to amalgamate the functions of the JNCC and the Countryside Commission in England. If it is a good idea—apparently it has been decided that it is in Scotland and Wales—why not in England? Why cannot the Government make up their mind? It is hard to follow the Government's logic.

There are also the more fundamental disputes about the costs of reorganisation and the increase in the budget that will be needed to fund adequately the new arrangements, bearing it in mind that the JNCC has no control over its budget. Sir William Wilkinson, the chairman of the NCC, has been repeatedly—and I believe unfairly—criticisecl by Ministers for claims that he has made about the costs involved. It is now clear that Sir William Wilkinson was right. He could not defend himself because he was relying on the Inbucon report, commissioned by the Department of the Environment, to which he had access. He knew that the figures that he was quoting were offered and confirmed by that report. Because at that time Ministers had decided that the report was not available for publication, Sir William Wilkinson was left defenceless against the charge made by Ministers that he was inventing the figures.

Mr. Maclennan

Sir William Wilkinson has admitted to me and stated publicly that he exaggerated the figures by a factor of three. He spoke about £30 million when the reality of the Government's proposals was £10 million.

Mr. Gould

I do not know whether it is fair to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has read the Inbucon report. Before he again expresses himself so intemperately, particularly against somebody who is not here to defend himself, he should read that report. He will see why Sir William Wilkinson used the figure of £30 million. It is not his figure, but is contained in the Inbucon report. We now have the advantage of knowing what is in the report. In an amazing volte face in another place, Baroness Blatch suddenly announced that it was the Department's view that the report was now the property of the NCC and that it was up the NCC to decide whether to publish it. It has now done so. Therefore, for the first time, we and everybody else are able to decide whether Sir William Wilkinson was justified in basing his arguments on those figures. There they are in the report.

Because it became clear that the report would be published, the Government have now confirmed that the direct administrative costs of the reorganisation that they have proposed will be £9.18 million and that an additional 254 staff will be required. I observe—as has been observed in another place and on other occasions—that if the Labour party had been in Government and had brought forward proposals costing that amount and requiring such a large number of additional staff for no advantage but purely as an administrative rearrangement, we should have been criticised and there would have been a tremendous outcry.

Mr. Trippier

I am trying desperately to be fair and patient with the hon. Gentleman. Surely he is not asking the House to stretch its credulity to such an extent as to believe that there will be no advantage when so many hon. Members, including some of his hon. Friends, have acknowledged that the purpose of the Government's legislation is to bring about nature conservation and make it more effective at community level.

Mr. Gould

No doubt the Minister has been saying that for the past 15 months. I simply refer him to the point that I made earlier, which is that he has failed to convince anyone of any reputation in the conservation world. I thought that I was being kind to him when I said that there was no obvious advantage to be gained from the expenditure. The truth is, as everybody interested in nature conservation agrees, that there is considerable disadvantage.

It is clear from perusal of the Inbucon report why Sir William Wilkinson constantly referred to a figure of £10 million as the administrative cost and a total cost of between £20 million and £30 million. The Inbucon report says that £20 million is the minimum necessary to ensure that the new agencies can carry out their statutory obligations. It goes on to say that £30 million is required to deliver the enhanced conservation believed essential to tackle issues in the decade to come. I have already had a hasty and ill-thought-out reply from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), but I want to know from the Minister whether he accepts the assessments and the figures produced by the Inbucon report. We need to know whether, if they are accepted, the Government now commit themselves to funding those increased sums.

The most urgent concern is about the preparedness of the new agencies. That is the issue to which our amendment is directed. We are concerned particularly about staffing. The latest figures on vacancies are extremely worrying. I have been provided with the most up-to-date table. The figures show, for example, that the percentage of posts filled at the headquarters of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland is only 44 per cent.—56 per cent. vacancies. We have heard that only 46 per cent. of posts at the headquarters of the Countryside Council for Wales have been filled—54 per cent. vacancies. Only at the Nature Conservancy Council headquarters in England is the percentage of posts filled more than 70 per cent. That is desperate. We simply cannot expect those bodies to be ready by 1 April when they are still suffering such immense staff shortages.

Naturally, we should like to press the Government to give us an assurance that those vacancies will be filled. I fear that that is now a forlorn hope; that there is no prospect of filling all those vacancies in time for 2 April 1991. Let us again be kind to the Minister: can he give an assurance that in every case where the target is not met, at least 70 per cent.—that is a pretty limited target—of vacancies will have been filled by 2 April 1991? If he cannot give that assurance—I shall listen carefully to his reply to see whether he can—how does he expect the new agencies to operate?

Is it not the case that total confusion reigns in the preparations that have been made; that the Countryside Council for Wales is so short staffed that its finances will continue to be run from Peterborough for at least the first year; that the two Scottish bodies, the NCC and the Countryside Commission, will remain in their separate offices in Edinburgh and Perth for at least the foreseeable future; that Mr. Ian Mercer has still not accepted the job of chief executive of the Countryside Commission of Wales, although that offer was made some months ago; and that no decision has been taken on where the JNCC will be located and no chief officer has yet been appointed?

The charge is not so much that the Government have got it wrong—that they have damaged nature conservation unnecessarily—but that they cannot even retrieve the position that they have created because of hopeless confusion and unpreparedness. As Melanie Griffiths said in The Guardian recently, Malice has now been superseded by incompetence. In protest against that incompetence and the cavalier disregard of nature conservation, we shall press our amendment.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

It is astonishing to listen to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) trying to find a difficulty for every solution and moaning and carping about the excellent progress that has been made towards the implementation of the Bill on 1 April 1991.

I was at an NCC meeting this morning, where there was no panic or long drawn faces that the target that has been set for Scotland and Wales cannot be achieved. Nobody appreciates more than the council that its staff must be helped into the right places at the right time. The vast majority of the staff at Peterborough and at the NCC in England will be staying in post. Some are volunteering to go to Wales, some are volunteering to go to Scotland, some are volunteering to return to another civil service post and others are taking early retirement.

There is not the difficulty with staff that the hon. Gentleman suggested. Until it has resolved who should go to which post, the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave for shortages in Wales and Scotland will be true, but there is no question but that we shall have adequate staff in place in Wales and Scotland by next spring.

Mr. Gould

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If I understand him correctly, he may be taking it on himself to offer an assurance that staff will be available and that the vacancies that I mentioned will be filled. Would he care to put a figure on it, and should we accept his assurance as being as valuable as that of the Government?

Sir Hector Monro

I cannot give an assurance that is more important than the Government's; I am only a member of the council. I said that there is no panic in Peterborough about resolving problems. After all, there is still a considerable number of months to go until 1 April. Much work is being done and, there is confidence that it will be carried out for 1 April.

Mr. Dalyell

As the hon. Gentleman is responsible, possibly more than anybody else, for bringing the tartan curtain down, why did 184 of his staff at Peterborough vote, against him and only three vote for him? How could that be?

6.15 pm
Sir Hector Monro

When one has been a member of the council for as long as I have, one realises that there is much advantage in the devolution proposed. For heaven's sake, if I thought that nature conservation in Scotland was 100 per cent., I would not support the Bill, but I do not think it is. There is much to do in Scotland, England and Wales. It is very much better that each country looks after its own responsibility. The hon. Gentleman is flogging a horse that was never even a runner.

Two or three years ago, I thought, "Goodness me, couldn't we look after the problems of Caithness much better from Edinburgh than we do from Peterborough? Would it not be much better if our chief scientist was in Edinburgh instead of Peterborough? Would it not be better if we were able to look after our own affairs?" It is important that nature conservation problems are tackled locally. It is much easier to do that in Scotland if one is based in Edinburgh and has staff in regional offices throughout Scotland.

I accept that that will cost more money, but I want it to cost more money, because that is the only way that we shall achieve better results. The NCC for Scotland must have additional regional offices and sub-offices so that more of its officials are spread across Scotland, and that can be equated to Wales and England. We are spread far too thinly on the ground; we are losing the community touch, which is so important. Local thought must go into nature conservation.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has been so strongly in favour of nature conservation over the years and was very much to the forefront during proceedings on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. I cannot understand why he cannot see the advantages of running this operation from Edinburgh or from wherever we decide to run it. I accept the possibility of an alternative location, but Edinburgh is more likely to be the office that will deal with our national heritage.

The hon. Member for Dagenham did not begin to make a case for splitting the NCC again. I accept his comments about our proposal costing money, but it is unreasonable for the Opposition to press the Government, before the Bill is passed, on how much money will be available. Ministers for Scotland, England and Wales have always said that sufficient money will be available to fulfil the responsibilities that we are asking the devolved councils to carry out.

Lords amendment No. 254 establishes the JNCC and states what its responsibilities and composition will be. Over the past six months, we have known that Sir Frederick Holiday would be chairman and we know that Lord Cranbrook, Magnus Magnusson and Mr. Michael Griffiths from Wales will run the respective councils. One cannot accept that those four gentlemen, who are of the highest calibre in conservation in the United Kingdom, would put their names to the whole operation if they did not think that it would be successful.

Mr. Trippier

I am hugely enjoying my hon. Friend's words, and I am grateful for his support for this legislation. I want to continue with his point. Could anyone seriously expect the four individuals whom my hon. Friend has catalogued for the benefit of the House to fail to ensure that the number of staff required were in place at the appropriate moment?

Sir Hector Monro

I should be very surprised if those four men were not determined to have the staff in place. The chief officials, the designated chief officials and the current permanent staff are also determined on that. Everything is working smoothly. Of course, no one says that it will be easy to get the calibre of staff that we require, but there is a determination to achieve that and to have everything running by next summer.

I see no reason why we should fall down on any of our statutory duties, such as the notification and renotification of sites of special scientific interest or the implementation of management agreements. As the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said, the new bodies will be able to keep a closer eye on the problems of the flow country, which he has so rightly highlighted in the House for many years.

We should welcome this group of Lords amendments. I know that we shall keep an eye on the common standards of designation of SSSIs, and it will be the overall duty of the joint committee to keep standards in each country as high as they are at present. All that is good for the establishment of the joint committee, which will have functions in Great Britain and internationally. The Government are right to accept the Lords amendments, and I give them my full support.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

I will address my remarks to amendment (b) to Lords amendment No. 271, which is also supported by Liberal Democrat Members. The amendment is a probing amendment, as we want the Government to explain their attitude to the dumping of nuclear waste. The amendment would allow the Nature Conservancy Council to make recommendations to local authorities about the effects of the dumping of nuclear waste on nature conservation in their areas. I should like the Government to explain their attitude to the important question of nuclear dumping, and especially its effects on nature conservancy. How will nuclear dumping relate to the work of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland or of the Joint Nature Conservancy Committee, if the Lords amendment is agreed to? During the passage of the Bill, the Government have said nothing about this important issue.

It seems incredible that a Bill concerned with the environment does not mention nuclear dumping, which is the major issue in Scotland. The Government may have thought that they were in trouble over the poll tax, in view of the reaction of the Scottish people, but I assure them that that will be as nothing compared with the massive outcry and anger throughout Scotland if a decision is taken to carry out nuclear dumping in our country.

What is the relationship between the Nature Conservancy Council and local government? Amendment (b) allows for contact with local government, which means contact with democracy in Scotland, through democratically elected councils which can speak on behalf of local people. In northern Scotland, the councils have already spoken out strongly against nuclear dumping. They have held plebiscites and have taken soundings of opinion.

Local authorities also have responsibility for industry. Nuclear dumping would strongly affect employment and industry, especially tourism, farming and fishing. Surely any nature conservancy body should have something to say on this and should be in contact with local government to describe the problems, difficulties and consequences of plans to dump nuclear waste.

Dumping sites are being proposed for Dounreay, but they could appear elsewhere. The problem affects the whole of Scotland, especially with the transportation of nuclear waste, which will affect land, sea and, possibly, air. Any nature conservancy body worth its salt should be able to be in contact with local authorities, which will be left with many of the practical problems.

It is hard to envisage that any conservation body would have recommended that Nirex be given planning permission to test bore at Dounreay or anywhere else in Scotland. The consequences of waste dumping for nature conservation could be serious, given the danger and problems associated with deep level storage and the transportation of nuclear waste.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Would the hon. Gentleman suggest that nuclear waste from Chapelcross near Annan in Scotland should be dumped in England?

Mr. Welsh

If the hon. Gentleman cares to study my party's policy, he will find the answer to that question and to others affecting nuclear dumping. The important point is that any Government worth their salt would ensure that nuclear garbage was not created because it exacerbates the problems. The hon. Gentleman's own party should look carefully at its policies, which would create extra waste to be disposed of. We have to take care of the problem that has already been created, and my party has answers to that. We are especially concerned not to increase the problem, because one should never accelerate into a position where there could be an accident.

Nuclear waste affects the environment of the whole country due to the transportation of such environmentally dangerous products by land, by sea and, perhaps, by air. I have heard of bad neighbours but, in planning terms, the combination of nuclear waste and environmental protection is ridiculous.

Amendment (b) would offer the opportunity for a dialogue between the new conservancy body and the local authorities. That is especially relevant when one considers the economic impact of nuclear dumping on the economy of the rural areas, whose basic industries of fishing, farming and tourism depend on the public perception of a clean environment. That is very much to the fore in the work of the Nature Conservancy Council.

The new conservation body should have the power to investigate the impact of nuclear dumping on all the possible sites in Scotland. Nirex has 12 sites in reserve, although it has so far declined to disclose them. Wherever the problem occurs, contact should be possible so that the effects are clearly made known to the local authorities. The Nature Conservancy Council cannot ignore the effect of nuclear dumping, although the Bill tries to do so. What is the point of cleaning up the environment in Scotland only to have Scotland turned into the world's nuclear dustbin? That must not happen. We do not need or want this stuff. Scotland must not be treated in this fashion.

Will the Minister tell us what is the role of the Nature Conservancy Council in the nuclear dumping debate? How can it intervene and what is its relationship with the local authorities which are the planning and economic authorities in Scotland? What advice can the council give on these important issues? We have tabled the amendment to elicit comment from the Government about the role and powers of the Nature Conservancy Council when faced with one of the most important environmental issues.

Mr. Trippier

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to sit down without getting it off his chest that he was a strong supporter of part VII of the Bill, notwithstanding his questions, which I hope to address later.

Mr. Welsh

The Minister knows that I favour maximum devolved power to Scotland and that I want to see a vastly increased and better resourced nature conservancy body in Scotland, because the Scottish environment deserves that. The Minister is well aware of that, because I made it clear in Committee.

The amendment has been tabled to enable us to ask the Minister about the relationship between the Nature Conservancy Council and the local authorities on the important question of nuclear dumping. That issue will be very much to the fore in Scottish politics—it will be the hottest issue around. The Scottish people will rise up in anger against any plans for nuclear dumping in our country. If the Government do not know that already, they will certainly find it out. Will the Minister explain the relationship and explain what powers the body will have and what it will do on this, the most important of issues in Scotland?

6.30 pm
Mr. Hardy

On Second Reading, I kept my promise to make a reasonably short speech. My speech today will be even shorter. On Second Reading, I had to devote most of the time available to me to the pernicious and continuing problem of toxic waste in my constituency. I do not propose to refer to that matter now, but on that occasion it meant that I could say only one or two words about the future of the Nature Conservancy Council. Had I had the opportunity then, I should have liked to support the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)—a relevant aspiration on this occasion—and to ask the House to consider the following proposition. It is only three or four years since the NCC's headquarters in Peterborough were officially opened—it is not as though, before the Government's proposal, the NCC had been languishing in incompetent idleness for decades. The people there, who are dedicated and competent people, had been operating in Peterborough for only a short time.

I had the privilege to speak at the opening ceremony. I recall that the three people on the platform then were the then Secretary of State for the Environment, now Lord Jenkin, Sir William Wilkinson, and myself. I remember vividly that the then Secretary of State made the sort of preposterous claim that some of the Minister's colleagues may shortly be making as we approach the general election—indeed, the Minister may not be able to resist the temptation to make them himself. Lord Jenkin suggested at that gathering that only the Conservative party and the Conservative Government were interested in the environment. He actually claimed that every environmental Bill that had gone through Parliament in the previous 40 years had come from a Conservative Government. That claim was regarded as preposterous by most of the distinguished members of the gathering. I suspect that if that distinguished gathering were asked now whether it approved of the Government's approach on this matter, a response similar to that presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham would be forthcoming.

I fear that this whole development is an exercise in the divide-and-rule principle. In my view, there is an urgent need for an increase in the resources available for nature conservation. Instead we are to have, at the very least a hiccup in the council's commitment and activities. Only last year, the conservation bodies of Britain, led by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, published a document called "Losing Ground". I hope that the Minister has read it. It is a stark and serious representation of the damage being done to our environment, not least to our SSSIs sites of special scientific interest. It seems to me to be singularly unfortunate that the Government should be inflicting major changes on our official conservation structures at a time when the environment is in retreat.

I shall not criticise people such as the chairman of the English conservancy council. Lord Cranbrook, like his father, has a substantial record and that body will undoubtedly seek to make the best of a bad job. The Minister should bear in mind, however, that it is not all that long since Lord Rayner was set upon the Nature Conservancy Council as part of the Marks and Spencer exercise to detect inefficiency in the public service. Lord Rayner may have been able to detect inefficiencies in certain parts of the Government, but I think that the Minister will confirm that the principal conclusion reached in respect of the NCC was that it did not have sufficient resources.

The most sensible approach that the Government could have adopted would have been to ensure that the resources were available and certainly not to take part in an exercise that will delay the defence of our environmental and ecological inheritance, which is under continuing threat and has not been helped by the Government's proposals.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) seems to assume that I come unwitting and unprepared to this debate. I must disabuse him of that assumption. Unlike him, I have seen the depredations of the Nature Conservancy Council in my constituency. It has planned to extend the area covered by sites of special scientific interest to 230,000 hectares of Caithness and Sutherland. I presume that the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who argued by anecdote, was speaking of Mr. Sam Sinclair—a farmer for whom I have great admiration. The hon. Gentleman should extrapolate from that modest experience an understanding of the blight that the NCC is casting not only on my constituency but on large tracts of the highlands of Scotland, which he is kind enough to grace with his presence on holiday from time to time, and get more closely to grips with the problems of the highlands.

The one species that is at risk now is the human species. Sir William Wilkinson, whose praises have been sung on a number of occasions by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), has had the effrontery to suggest that the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland, which he proposes to protect by means of SSSIs, is one of the wonders of the world—comparable with the Taj Mahal. Would that that were so—would that we had one tithe of the visitors to the Taj Mahal to boost the flagging economy of Caithness and Sutherland, which is being attacked by environmentalists with no knowledge of the country, who know nothing about it and have never even visited the place.

Mr. Morley

I have visited Caithness and Sutherland on many occasions and I have spent some of my own money supporting research programmes for the benefit of the community in that area. I presume that the blight to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the restriction on forestry in the area, but will he confirm that forestry in the area is very heavily subsidised? Before the 1988 tax changes, every job in forestry in that area cost the taxpayer £200,000 or more. Would the hon. Gentleman put internationally agreed nature conservancy obligations, under the agreed definition of SSSIs, before the interests of totally uneconomic forestry?

Mr. Maclennan

I did not necessarily have in mind the interests of forestry. The interests of hill farming and crofting are much longer established in my constituency. Over the years, those activities have provided many more jobs than forestry. Forestry may have prospects for the future——

Mr. Hardy

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

No, I must deal with one intervention at a time.

I quote from a letter that I received yesterday from the Highland regional council's director of law and administration: Notwithstanding the claim by the Nature Conservancy Council that the SSSI designation carries no presumption against development nor imposes material restrictions, the hill farming community in particular maintain profound reservations. There is continuing concern that the designation imposes the threat of restriction on hitherto normal agricultural and other land use operations. Affected parties are bound to obtain the NCC's agreement before proceeding with so-called potentially damaging operations.….The Regional Council would instance the concern and objection against designation voiced by the Caithness branch of the National Farmers Union and riparian owners in respect of the river Feshie where threat to normal and historic operations arises. Provision for appeal in such cases would provide a forum for proper exchange and reconciliation of conflicting views. Of course, that is the fundamental objection that Highland regional council would wish to express: as a result of section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, there is no forum in which disputes on land use can be settled—either with regard to equity or, for that matter, with regard to conflicting views about what is in the interests of the environment.

What is most disturbing about the views expressed earlier by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) is that he seems to have it in mind, when or if a Labour Government are returned to office, to give the committee whose functions which we are discussing authoritative—perhaps even authoritarian—powers that would go considerably beyond those intended by the Government. I believe that the Government's approach is wholly right, and that the committee should have a more limited role than the role that appears to be advocated by the hon. Member for Dagenham.

I see that the impatient hon. Member for Wentworth wishes to intervene.

Mr. Hardy

It is a natural impatience. The hon. Gentleman has already referred to my earlier intervention.

As the hon. Gentleman is, I believe, currently a member of the Liberal party—or whatever its present name is—in the interests of the political record, will he recognise that his party has for a considerable time donned the green mantle? On many occasions, Liberal spokesmen have called for the defence of the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland because of its enormous international importance. From the hon. Gentleman's speech, I discern that he would be happy to see the important ecological character of the flow country sacrificed in the interests of forestry or food production for a small number of people, but in complete defiance of our international commitments—commitments which other members of his party have enthusiastically supported.

Mr. Maclennan

Probably no Member of Parliament has a greater knowledge of the flow country than I have, as it lies squarely within my constituency. With the greatest respect, I must tell the hon. Member for Wentworth that the flow country amounts to a relatively small area of ground—as it was originally understood in Caithness—which is unsuitable for afforestation and which no one has ever proposed should be afforested.

The flow country was redefined by various acolytes of Sir William Wilkinson to cover what he called the peak lands. The peak lands of Caithness and Sutherland are in no way unique; they are contiguous with those in Ross-shire, Inverness-shire and Argyll, and stretch across half the land mass of Scotland. The idea that, by a process of creeping designation, half of Scotland should be rendered subject to the jurisdiction of the Nature Conservancy Council, and to the restraints on activity that will be in place as a result of the council's designation, is preposterous and shows no sensitivity to the needs of the resident community or, indeed, the desirability of an environment that people from other communities might conceivably wish to visit.

I am delighted that the Government have taken the handling of the difficult and sensitive task of resolving conflicts of interest concerning land use—which have bedevilled the highland question not just for decades but almost for centuries—away from that insensitive body in Peterborough.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

What is wrong with Peterborough?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman obviously regards the Peterborough lot as a sensitive crowd.

Mr. Douglas

I speak as a former member of the Scottish committee of the Nature Conservancy Council. In my day—with Morton Boyd and others—these issues were handled with great sensitivity; however, I am not up to date with some of the current factors. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, but he should not think that these things were dealt with insensitively in the past. I hope that what the Government propose for the future will mean that the issue will again be treated sensitively.

Mr. Maclennan

The so-called flow country is an invention which did not exist 20 years ago. When I was elected as a Member of Parliament almost a quarter of a century ago, no hon. Member would have known what was meant by the flow country of Caithness. Far from being one of the wonders of the world, it was an impenetrable bog. One or two people wandered up there and looked at some of the rarer mosses, and enthusiasts recently out of college discovered some interesting variants. Of course they were enthusiastic about it and of course, having been given jobs by the Nature Conservancy Council, they sought to persuade people that the rare birds, which are not that rare in Scandinavia, and the grasses and mosses in the bogs of Caithness were of great importance.

I do not quarrel with that view, but I quarrel with the idea that one must have hundreds of thousands of acres to demonstrate their rarity. That is a preposterous suggestion; however, that it should enjoy the support of the Labour party does not come to me as any surprise, because Labour Members have shown no knowledge or understanding of rural matters. I had great problems when I was in the Labour party for just that reason.

6.45 pm

The Government seem to have got a difficult balance just about right. I am delighted with the appointment of Magnus Magnusson to run the Scottish Nature Conservancy Council. I am a strong supporter of nature conservation, and of the conservation of the flow country. Last summer, I went to open up the Spittal centre, in the middle of the flow country, which is designed to inform visitors. It will help them to understand the millions of circulars put out by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The flow country is certainly interesting and worth seeing, and if I can encourage others to go there my contribution to the debate will not have been in vain.

We cannot accept the idea that this body—against which there is no appeal—should continue to exercise such functions from Peterborough, and be run by a gentleman who is prepared to exaggerate the costs of doing so by a factor of three. It is wrong for the hon. Member for Dagenham to suggest that I have not given some thought to this matter. I have had a long exchange of letters with Sir William Wilkinson on the subject of the cost of these proposals. He has made it abundantly clear that I was right, and that the reorganisation itself is costing less than £10 million. He has constantly stated that it is costing £30 million. It is disreputable for a public employee to seek to mislead Parliament as he has done for so many months. His distortion of the position has soured the debate.

Mr. Gould

As the hon. Gentleman has chosen to repeat those unfortunate charges against a worthy public servant, I think that he should answer a simple question. Has he read the report on the basis of which Sir William Wilkinson made those points?

Mr. Maclennan

In his correspondence with me, Sir William himself has drawn precise attention to the points that the hon. Member for Dagenham has made. I am not at issue with him on the facts. Sir William has admitted that the reorganisation will cost a third of what he originally claimed. That kind of exaggeration is on a par with the suggestion that the flow lands of Caithness are the equivalent of the Taj Mahal.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Maclennan

I do not wish to take up the time of the House, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will have other opportunities to intervene.

I hope that the new committee, which has an important job to do in drawing together the scientific information that we might wish to use in international forums, will be allowed to get on with that job and will not be seen by some over-enthusiastic advocates of environmental empire-building as the repository of the powers that they would wish to be exercised. It must not be a vehicle for a new quango. It must be what the Government have provided. This is one of the very few areas in which we can say that the Government have got it right in terms of public opinion in the areas most affected by the operations of the NCC—the highlands and islands of Scotland.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and I had particular sympathy with much of what he said. In strengthening the Nature Conservancy Council, as the Government intend, there must nevertheless be a word of warning. For all too many people, a conservationist today is a young man or woman who appears on the scene inappropriately dressed, probably wearing a woolly hat and a dayglo anorak, who proceeds to tell people what they should and should not do with their property.

I believe that the proposals will strengthen the NCC and that is right. Nevertheless, there must be more responsibility with that strengthening. That in turn means that the people who represent the NCC, particularly in Scotland and in Wales, must know what they are talking about. They must know the area.

In the past, people from Peterborough arrived in the highlands of Scotland or on the west coast to tell a farmer whose land was being destroyed, perhaps by the Greenland white-fronted goose, that he must do nothing to stop the geese eating his grass, destroying the field and thus ensuring that the fanner's stock had nothing left to eat. Those farmers make their livelihood from the land. In future, I hope that the people who arrive from the Scottish branch, understand something about the topography of the highlands, and about the way of life and farming in that area. Together with the conservationist ethic, I hope that they will also bring responsibility and a full knowledge of the way of life of those people, so that conservation and knowledge can walk side by side.

Mr. Dalyell

I think that it is time to unsour this debate. I recall that in 1965, like many of my colleagues, I was sweating my guts out in Caithness and Sutherland trying to get the present hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) elected as a Labour Member of Parliament for the constituency. I just cannot remember him telling the electors that they were living in an impenetrable bog. I do not think that he said that. The truth of the matter is that the flow country is nationally important. Bluntly, I can speak only for myself. If the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland is concerned, as he should be, about the future of his constituents, he should look to the future of the fast reactor and the work at Dounreay. However, that is a different subject from the flow country.

I know that other hon. Members want to vote on this issue, so I will cut my speech to the minimum, on condition that we get some clarification from the Secretary of State for the Environment about a point that has been bothering us. He is familiar with the problem: what exactly do the figures amount to? As we understand it, the £9.78 million is just enough to stand still. In order to bring about the necessary improvements or enhancements, at least £20 million to £30 million will be needed.

I promise to shut up if the Secretary of State will come to the Dispatch Box and give us his interpretation of the figures. This is a perfectly serious question. My hon. Friends the Members for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and For Dagenham (Mr. Gould) have made all the major points. Will the Secretary of State clarify the financial position in relation to the £9.78 million and the chairman's figure of £20 million to £30 million? Will the Secretary of State curtail my speech?

Mr. Trippier

I will reply in a moment.

Mr. Dalyell

Well, it would be more satisfactory if the Secretary of State would reply. I have a long speech with me.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Chris Patten)

I learned many years ago that it is fatal to enter this Chamber while the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is waiting to speak, because on several earlier occasions he has lured me to the Dispatch Box to deliver myself of observations which I would otherwise have kept to myself.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside will shortly reply to the debate. He will reply in terms to the point advanced by the hon. Member for Linlithgow on this occasion as on others about the costs of reorganisation. We have returned to that matter several times in the Chamber, and also in Committee.

Over the past decade, we have substantially increased the funds available to the Nature Conservancy Council, to the tune of about 140 per cent. That record contrasts substantially with the record of our predecessors. The amount of money that we make available for reorganisation and for future enhancement of the work of the NCC will ensure that it manages to go from stength to strength, carrying out important for nature conservation within the reorganised framework which we have quite properly put before the House. My hon. Friend the Minister will, I hope, have a chance to address the House on the detailed figures, provided that the hon. Member for Linlithgow allows him to do so within the next two or three hours.

Mr. Dalyell

I will keep to my part of the bargain and resume my seat.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

I seek clarification about Lords amendment No. 271. I am slightly suspicious about the reference to functions which may … be discharged only through the joint committee; I want some reassurance in particular about the designation of sites of special scientific interest.

The Minister is aware that we very much welcome the creation of separate Nature Conservancy Council bodies for the three nations. I firmly believe that a separate Scottish body will make a significant contribution to better managed conservation and to caring for the whole countryside when it joins with the Countryside Commission.

My party and many other bodies in Scotland welcome the proposal because of the perception, and in many instances the reality, that the NCC was indeed run by a group of faceless scientists in Peterborough who failed to recognise that nature conservation and designation would work only if they took local opinion with them. The absence of that was an arrogance that we could well have done without.

Indeed, there was a time—matters have since improved, I think—when the public image of the NCC in Scotland was at an all-time low. Many people in the field were figures of fun and subjected to ridicule. It must have been difficult for them to operate. I do not want that ridicule to continue. The wildlife habitats in Scotland are as good as they are because of the way in which the land has been managed by the past and present rural population. There would be nothing to designate if crofters and farmers had not looked after their areas.

7 pm

My worry is the imposition of blanket SSSIs occupying large tracts of country. That has happened all too often, and it makes life difficult for crofters and farmers because the owner of the land may do nothing without first obtaining the approval of the NCC. That is when ridicule occurs. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) said, young NCC personnel wear woolly hats and dayglo coats and have accents similar to the hon. Gentleman's. It is not accepted happily by crofters and farmers in my part of the country when they are told that they must do this, that and the other to preserve the corncrake, the pine marten or whatever.

Before SSSIs are imposed, the NCC is supposed to carry out a broad scientific survey of an area followed by detailed field investigations. How many sites have been imposed on the basis of superficial surveys? How much indiscriminate conservation has taken place? Thirty-two square miles of land on the island of Isla in my constituency has been designated, but to what purpose? All the concern about which we have heard is rightly for conservation and for habitats, but what about the people? If they are pushed out because of declining land values and an inability to farm or to croft as before, we shall see clearances. I do not say that that will happen. I am confident that, when we in Scotland have our own body, designation will be done with much greater sensitivity.

Mention has been made of Caithness and Sutherland. I too received a letter from the Highland regional council. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) did not give the important figures. The regional council's letter states that the designation extends to over 70,000 hectares already and the intentions of the NCC in the whole area of Caithness and Sutherland will extend designation to about 230,000 hectares Also we have evidence of proposals to designate individual areas of vast dimension, one extending to over 400,000 hectares". We must examine that blanket designation much more carefully in future. Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was never intended to mean that vast tracts of land would be designated. Rather, it was intended to mean that unique places of scientific interest would be preserved.

The other great worry to people in Scotland, and to my constituents in particular—I hope that it will be rectified when the new body is set up—is that the NCC has been judge and jury and there has been no right of appeal. People are upset that that has happened. I have had many letters from constituents. One constituent says that he recently received notification of the designation of 180 acres of his farm as an SSSI. He said: The offending article is a rare … (weed) which flowers under a loch on his farm. That loch covers 70 acres. He said: To protect this they have not only notified the loch but also over 100 acres of ground round about it. The agricultural value of this land is small but as it is surrounded by fences and trees and also has a road through the area it is a very valuable site for planting broadleaved trees— one of the main things I am prohibited from. In effect they have wiped about £25–30,000 of asset from my farm, plus any potential purchaser of the farm is going to be greatly put off". A potential purchaser will be put off because of the designation.

He went on to state: They inform me I will be entitled to no compensation! I hope that there will be a big improvement in what goes on in Scotland. I too welcome the appointment of Magnus Magnusson. It was a master stroke on the part of the Secretary of State to have chosen that gentleman, for all sorts of reasons. I hope that the Minister will assure me that, in future, designation will be in the hands of the Scottish body.

Mr. Morley

The Opposition have tabled amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 271, in respect of sites of special scientific interest. The crux of the debate is whether the NCC is being reorganised on the basis of malice or of providing a better delivery of nature conservation services. The way to judge that is based on the scientific delivery of that service.

The same amendment was supported by Lord Carver, who chaired the committee which inquired into the joint co-ordinating committee and the role of the part VII amendment, which was praised by the Government, and also by Lord Buxton. He is not a Labour supporter, but he resigned from the council of the NCC because he was a man of principle and did not like the destruction of the world's oldest nature conservation body and one of the world's best nature concervation bodies.

Anybody who genuinely care about nature conservation would recognise that, if we are to designate and monitor sites of special scientific interest, exactly the same criteria and the same scientific bases for designation must apply in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We cannot have different bases for designation of countryside areas. Apart from anything else, how can we meet our international obligations if we do not have agreed criteria for designation?

Mr. Maclennan

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's point. It is some long years since I suggested that there should be an attempt to come up with the categories of scientific definition that the hon. Gentleman describes. Does he really believe that we can have such categories across the United Kingdom in respect of places such as the flow country, which is peat bog, in Caithness? There is absolutely no parallel in England.

Mr. Morley

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman accepts that there should be agreed criteria, but he does not understand how the designations work. It is simple to agree a criterion for designation in terms of, for example, what species are in the data book and what percentage of species are of national or international importance. All those criteria exist at the moment and are well known to scientists.

There is therefore no difficulty about having agreed criteria so that such sites in Scotland, England or Wales are designated on exactly the same basis, so that decisions are not influenced by vested interests or by those people in dayglo coats and woolly hats who may exist in Walthamstow, although I have not come across those mythical creatures either out in the countryside or in the scientific community.

We need to have that basis and those criteria. As Lord Buxton said in the debate in the Lords, if we do not have agreed criteria for designation, it can only mean that the reasons behind it are political, bureaucratic, nationalistic or something of that kind, which should have no relation to the standards which are applied to sites of scientific interest."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 1990; Vol. 522, c. 1306–7.] It is significant that not a single national nature conservation body in either England or Scotland has been convinced by the Government's argument. There is no doubt that there is an argument for local delivery of nature conservation. Opposition Members believe in that, as do the nature conservation organisations. We believe that we could have a system which delivers nature conservation on a local basis and which involves local people and local decision-making. However, there must be some national criteria for designating sites of scientific importance and for meeting our international obligations, which we do not have at the moment.

The Government must accept the amendment. I ask all reasonable and thinking Members to consider how we can have important sites of scientific interest if decisions on them are to be influenced by vested interests, as has happened in Caithness and Sutherland, be They landowners, foresters or farmers. Sites of special scientific interest involve management agreements. From the point of view of the crofters, who were mentioned by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), it is better to have a management agreement that encourages them to stay on the land and to croft in traditional, environmentally friendly ways than to have income support, which is based on packing more and more sheep on to their land, with all the environmental degradation that that involves.

We want a change in support—and I believe that we can achieve it—but we want it on the basis of science, not with the involvement of vested interests. If the Government do not accept the amendment on scientific grounds, they should hang their heads in shame, as should all those who support them, for what is no less than environmental vandalism.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

This is probably the first time that it is an advantage in this House for this hon. Member to have Welsh, Scots and English ancestry. I shall be brief, because hon. Members are gathering in the expectation of a vote.

The debate has been passionate and has aroused strong feelings. That in itself says something about the degree of dissatisfaction with the centralised character of the Nature Conservancy Council. My colleagues and I have always believed that there was a strong argument for the NCC to be devolved to powers in Scotland, England and Wales.

On that principle, we have therefore taken what has at times been an unpopular line and have supported the Government. We have also not argued against—indeed, we have argued in favour of—a co-ordinating role. Time will tell whether the proposed new structure is the right one and whether it is adequately funded. The money that has been allocated may not be sufficient, but we shall see.

7.15 pm

We welcome the scientific advice that it is proposed that the joint committee will offer to the national councils in England, Scotland and Wales because such advice should be given impartially. I agree with the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) that it should be given by a body a step away from the local pressures, so that each nation's decisions can be made by locally well-informed people and, most importantly, to ensure that the decisions that are ultimately reached are made after the proper balance has been struck between environmental and economic considerations as part of a proper debate.

We must ensure that we have the best scientific advice and the best and most appropriately informed local decision making. That is why my hon. Friends and I are signatories to both the amendments. I do not know whether they will be pushed to a vote, but I hope that the Government accept them because I hope that they accept that there is a need for adequate scientific advice relating to the SSSIs.

In answer to the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), it is equally important to ensure that the environmental arguments against nuclear waste dumping should be heard loudly and clearly. It is very clear, especially in Scotland, that people do not want nuclear waste on their land. Proper Government policy would ensure that they do not have it.

I hope that the Minister will accede to the request that the Government should accept the amendment. I hope that he will listen to the voices that are sceptical about the new arrangements.. I hope that he will give the House an undertaking that, whatever the difficulties of their birth, the new arrangements will enjoy the Government's watchful concern, so that, as and when more resources are needed by conservation bodies, either locally in each of the three nations or across Great Britain, the Government will not be reluctant to produce either the resources or the support for the conservation of what are often among the most important scientific and environmental sites in the world.

Mr. Trippier

I find myself in a unique position. I have never experienced or participated in a debate in which the Government have had the support of three Liberal Members. It is incredibly unnerving but, because of something that I shall reveal to the House in a few moments, I am comforted by the fact that the Liberal peers down the Corridor did not take the same view as the Liberal Members of this House. That is another superb example of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. Nevertheless, I welcome the support that I have received from those hon. Members today.

The Government's case for reorganising the countryside agencies has been fully spelt out in both Houses on seven separate occasions. We also gave detailed written and oral evidence to the Carver committee and then responded positively to the Carver recommendations. The majority of these substantive amendments translate that positive response into the Bill. So everyone knows where the Government stand.

The same could not really be said for the Labour party—or indeed, as I shall seek to illustrate, for the Liberal Democrats. However, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) for at last ensuring that we have some insight into the Labour party's thinking, even if there is not an "Earthly Chance" that he will have to worry about how to translate this into action.

I must, however, be fair to the hon. Gentleman—he knows that I often am. In fact, some of what the document has to say is surprisingly good. Let me run through a few of its main prescriptions. It states: there does need to be devolution of the management of the countryside … and nature conservation so that decisions taken are responsive to the needs of local people and their economic well-being. That is exactly what part VII is all about and what it is seeking to achieve from next April.

The Labour party document also states: We need a body which can take a strategic view of threats to the ecology of Britain and can ensure that the UK meets its international obligations under EC directives, the Ramsar Agreement and other similar agreements and treaties". That is exactly what I shall be expecting the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to cover. That body is notable by its absence from the Labour party's document, in which it did not get even a single mention.

Finally, the Labour party states: we want to see an integration of nature conservation and the functions of the Countryside Commission". At first sight, that seems to mark a major difference, but the document says later that Labour would proceed with a merger only once a consensus had been achieved after extensive consultations. Obtaining consensus from the many interests involved may not be as easy as Labour Members imagine, but even so, I cannot see that there is much daylight between this and the assurance which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State already gave in the Government's White Paper that we would review the case for merging the Countryside Commission and the NCC for England after the new agencies had settled down.

For once, therefore, I must congratulate the Labour Party. It has wrestled with the obvious divisions in its ranks between the nature devolutionist tendency and the nature centralisation tendency.

Mr. Morley

There are no such divisions.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) says that there are no such divisions—as if there were not Conservative Members present who served on the Standing Committee and watched with interest the great divisions on the other side of the Committee. In the same way, we saw divisions in the House on Second Reading. Arm wrestling, not only in the House but in Committee, went on between those groups. It made interesting diversions for all of us.

Mr. Gould

The Minister is living in a fantasy world.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman is hardly qualified to speak: he hardly attended the Standing Committee. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State probably paired for the majority of the time, but I estimate that he attended about five times as many sittings as the hon. Member for Dagenham. After the arm wrestling, the devolutionists came out on top. That is hardly surprising, because the Leader of the Opposition issued a ringing endorsement of the Countryside Council for Wales as long ago as November last year.

The supreme prize for the earliest endorsement of the Government's proposal must go to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who welcomed what he described as a sensible rationalisation. He said that within a few hours of the original announcement.

The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) spoke to amendment (b) to amendment No. 271. The amendment is completely unnecessary. The existing NCC has never lacked the power to give advice to all the relevant authorities on matters which relate to nature conservation. The new bodies will be in exactly the same position. There will be no change.

Any proposal for the disposal of low-level waste will be treated as a development proposal under the planning system and the NCC will be consulted as appropriate.

As I said, it was entertaining to see the divisions in the Labour party when we examined part VII of the Bill. As ever, the Liberal Democrats opted for a more subtle form of disarray. They supported the proposals in this House, and castigated them in another place. I have no wish to embarrass the hon. Members who have spoken today, but their noble Friend Lord Ross voted against the Government in every Division on part VII. He voted to extend the remit of the JNCC to cover the countryside. He voted for amendments that would have put the JNCC on the road to being an independent quango—something which I recall the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) rightly deprecated when we considered similar amendments in the House——

Mrs. Ray Michie

I am surprised that the Minister chooses to refer to what Lord Ross did in the other place. He should know that here in the House we are dealing with what the Bill does and how it will affect our constituencies. I am surprised that he is not prepared graciously to accept our support. Regardless of what was said in the other place, in my maiden speech in the House in 1987 I called for a separate Scottish NCC. There is nothing new in that.

Mr. Trippier

I respected and admired the hon. Lady for calling for it. I was impressed by her foresight. I was simply saying that there seems to be a great deal of difference between the Liberal party in this House and the Liberal party stance in the upper House. I have already taken the opportunity to compliment the three Liberal Democrat Members on the speeches that they have made in this debate.

Resources and staffing have been raised on three occasions. On resources, I reaffirm the commitment that we have given throughout, that the new agencies will have resources fully adequate to fulfil their functions. I cannot anticipate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say in the statement on public expenditure next month, but I remind Opposition Members of the Government's record in raising the budget of the NCC by 150 per cent. in real terms since 1979, and that of the Countryside Commission by 112 per cent. over the same period. So the Government have every right to be believed when they say that they will provide sufficient funding for the new agencies.

Since the Inbucon report was prepared for the NCC, detailed government studies about the staffing of the country agencies, the needs of the JNCC, the scope for common services and information technology requirements have come to fruition. That matter was fully covered by Lady Blatch in the upper House. I do not propose to rehearse the arguments again. I am confident that the agencies will have sufficient staff to take over from the NCC and the Countryside Commission next April and that, once established, they will rapidly prove how unfounded are the Opposition's fears that the agencies will not be worthy successors of the existing agencies.

Mr. Dalyell

When is the chief officer likely to be appointed to the JNCC? Without a chief officer, how can it possibly be in place by April? Does the Minister accept that it takes £9.78 million even to stand still, and that extra money will be needed in the statement for any enhancement?

Mr. Trippier

That latter point may well turn out to be right. I am happy to confirm that it will take approximately £10 million to deal with the reorganisation. I have said that publicly in the past. The figure has been confirmed by Sir William Wilkinson. I do not demur from anything that I have said in the past. It is a substantial figure, but the principal part of the reorganisation costs will deliver better conservation at local level. That is the purpose of this part of the Bill.

The whole House should take this opportunity of sending our best wishes to the new chairman Lord Cranbrook, Mr. Magnus Magnusson, Mr. Michael Griffith and Professor Holliday. The Government do riot have to prove their commitment to nature conservation. When the Opposition were last in office, they cut the budget of the NCC in real terms. The truth is that they do not care. They are the environmental vandals. I ask the House to support the Government.

Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 186; Noes 307.

Division No. 345] [7.28 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Foulkes, George
Anderson, Donald Fraser, John
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fyfe, Maria
Armstrong, Hilary Galloway, George
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Ashton, Joe Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) George, Bruce
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Gordon, Mildred
Barron, Kevin Gould, Bryan
Battle, John Graham, Thomas
Beckett, Margaret Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bell, Stuart Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bellotti, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hardy, Peter
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bermingham, Gerald Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Bidwell, Sydney Henderson, Doug
Blair, Tony Hinchliffe, David
Blunkett, David Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Boateng, Paul Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Boyes, Roland Home Robertson, John
Bradley, Keith Hood, Jimmy
Bray, Dr Jeremy Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buckley, George J. Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Caborn, Richard Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Callaghan, Jim Illsley, Eric
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Ingram, Adam
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cartwright, John Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clay, Bob Lambie, David
Clelland, David Lamond, James
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Leighton, Ron
Cohen, Harry Lewis, Terry
Coleman, Donald Litherland, Robert
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Livingstone, Ken
Corbett, Robin Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cousins, Jim Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cox, Tom McAllion, John
Crowther, Stan McAvoy, Thomas
Cryer, Bob McFall, John
Cummings, John McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cunliffe, Lawrence McKelvey, William
Cunningham, Dr John McLeish, Henry
Dalyell, Tam McWilliam, John
Darling, Alistair Madden, Max
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Marek, Dr John
Dewar, Donald Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dobson, Frank Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Martin, Michael J. (Springbum)
Eastham, Ken Martlew, Eric
Evans, John (St Helens N) Meacher, Michael
Faulds, Andrew Meale, Alan
Fearn, Ronald Michael, Alun
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Hoeley)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fisher, Mark Moonie, Dr Lewis
Flannery, Martin Morgan, Rhodri
Flynn, Paul Morley, Elliot
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Foster, Derek Mowlam, Marjorie
Mullin, Chris Skinner, Dennis
Murphy, Paul Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Nellist, Dave Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
O'Brien, William Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
O'Hara, Edward Snape, Peter
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Soley, Clive
Patchett, Terry Spearing, Nigel
Pendry, Tom Steinberg, Gerry
Pike, Peter L. Stott, Roger
Prescott, John Strang, Gavin
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Quin, Ms Joyce Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Radice, Giles Turner, Dennis
Randall, Stuart Vaz, Keith
Redmond, Martin Walley, Joan
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Wareing, Robert N.
Reid, Dr John Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Richardson, Jo Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Robertson, George Wilson, Brian
Robinson, Geoffrey Winnick, David
Rogers, Allan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rooker, Jeff Worthington, Tony
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wray, Jimmy
Ruddock, Joan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Ayes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mrs. Llin Golding and Mr. Ray Powell.
Short, Clare
Adley, Robert Carrington, Matthew
Aitken, Jonathan Carttiss, Michael
Alexander, Richard Cash, William
Amess, David Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Arbuthnot, James Chapman, Sydney
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Churchill, Mr
Arnold, Sir Thomas Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Ashby, David Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Aspinwall, Jack Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Atkins, Robert Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Colvin, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Conway, Derek
Baldry, Tony Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Cormack, Patrick
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Couchman, James
Beggs, Roy Cran, James
Bellingham, Henry Critchley, Julian
Bendall, Vivian Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Curry, David
Benyon, W. Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bevan, David Gilroy Davis, David (Boothferry)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Day, Stephen
Blackburn, Dr John G. Devlin, Tim
Body, Sir Richard Dickens, Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dorrell, Stephen
Boscawen, Hon Robert Douglas, Dick
Boswell, Tim Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bottomley, Peter Dover, Den
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Dunn, Bob
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Durant, Tony
Bowis, John Dykes, Hugh
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Emery, Sir Peter
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Evennett, David
Brazier, Julian Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bright, Graham Fallon, Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Favell, Tony
Browne, John (Winchester) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Fishburn, John Dudley
Buck, Sir Antony Fookes, Dame Janet
Budgen, Nicholas Forman, Nigel
Burns, Simon Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Burt, Alistair Forth, Eric
Butcher, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Butler, Chris Fox, Sir Marcus
Butterfill, John Franks, Cecil
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Fry, Peter
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gale, Roger
Gardiner, George McLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, Tristan McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gill, Christopher Madel, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Malins, Humfrey
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Mans, Keith
Goodhart, Sir Philip Maples, John
Goodlad, Alastair Marland, Paul
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marlow, Tony
Gorst, John Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, Harry (Eating N) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gregory, Conal Mates, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Maude, Hon Francis
Grist, Ian Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grylls, Michael Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Miller, Sir Hal
Hague, William Mills, Iain
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Miscampbell, Norman
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hampson, Dr Keith Mitchell, Sir David
Hanley, Jeremy Moate, Roger
Hannam, John Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Monro, Sir Hector
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Harris, David Morrison, Sir Charles
Haselhurst, Alan Moss, Malcolm
Hawkins, Christopher Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hayes, Jerry Mudd, David
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Neale, Gerrard
Hayward, Robert Nelson, Anthony
Heathcoat-Amory, David Neubert, Michael
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Nicholls, Patrick
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hill, James Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hind, Kenneth Norris, Steve
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Holt, Richard Oppenheim, Phillip
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Paice, James
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Pawsey, James
Hunter, Andrew Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Irvine, Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jack, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Jackson, Robert Portillo, Michael
Janman, Tim Price, Sir David
Jessel, Toby Rathbone, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Redwood, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Rhodes James, Robert
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Riddick, Graham
Key, Robert Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kilfedder, James Ridsdale, Sir Julian
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Roe, Mrs Marion
Kirkhope, Timothy Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knapman, Roger Rowe, Andrew
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Ryder, Richard
Knowles, Michael Sackville, Hon Tom
Knox, David Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Sayeed, Jonathan
Latham, Michael Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, David (Dover)
Lee, John (Pendle) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shelton, Sir William
Lilley, Peter Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lord, Michael Shersby, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Skeet, Sir Trevor
McCrindle, Robert Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maclean, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Trotter, Neville
Squire, Robin Twinn, Dr Ian
Stanbrook, Ivor Viggers, Peter
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Waddington, Rt Hon David
Steen, Anthony Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Stern, Michael Walden, George
Stevens, Lewis Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Walters, Sir Dennis
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Watts, John
Sumberg, David Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Summerson, Hugo Wheeler, Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Whitney, Ray
Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford) Widdecombe, Ann
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wiggin, Jerry
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wigley, Dafydd
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Wilkinson, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wilshire, David
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wolfson, Mark
Thorne, Neil Wood, Timothy
Thornton, Malcolm Young, Sir George (Acton)
Thurnham, Peter
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Tellers for the Noes:
Tracey, Richard Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Irvine Patrick.
Tredinnick, David
Trippier, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Forward to