HC Deb 25 April 1991 vol 189 cc1292-311

Amendment made: No. 23, in page 49, line 29, column 3, at end insert'In section 98, subsection (6).'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

9.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am sure that the House is by now very familiar with the main purpose behind the Bill: to establish Scottish Natural Heritage by merging the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland. To that end, the Bill provides SNH with general aims and purposes, sets out its various functions and responsibilities and updates particular powers which it will inherit from its predecessor bodies under existing legislation. The House will know that we consider that the Bill offers SNH a positive and flexible framework within which to operate in pursuit of its goal of the improved management and conservation of our precious natural heritage throughout Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell

Having listened patiently, does the Secretary of State agree that, when he talks of goals, the first goal that he and his colleagues will have to consider is the difficult question of the Mar Lodge estate? It is legitimate to ask the Secretary of State, who has heard the exchange, whether he accepts that he has a special responsibility in that matter.

Mr. Lang

I heard the hon. Gentleman's interventions earlier on the matter. I think that it would be inappropriate for me to seek to add anything to what my hon. Friend has already said in reply. Apart from anything else, the matter is not covered by the Bill, which is what we are debating on Third Reading.

There have, of course, been valuable and constructive debates on a number of points at each of the various stages of the Bill, and I am grateful to all hon. Members who contributed to them. We have made a number of important changes to the Bill as a result. We have introduced clause 6, which provides for the opportunity for the establishment of natural heritage areas. We have removed the former clause 11, which would have required SNH to review all existing sites of special scientific interest, with subsequent appeals against continued designation. We have also amended the balancing duty of clause 3 to require SNH to take appropriate account of the conservation of archaeological and historical sites.

We also made some rather technical but nevertheless significant changes to clause 4 to make sure that SNH's relationship to the Joint Nature Conservancy Council will be exactly the same as the NCCS's. A new clause, clause 12, was added to extend to SNH the provisions of part II of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967. It will allow the new body, as well as planning authorities, to enter into access agreements or promote access orders designed to allow the public access to open country.

Even more importantly, perhaps, the Bill has given us the chance to discuss the major issues facing Scotland's natural heritage. These include the national parks debate, the principles of the SSSI system, fish farming and forestry. We have also had informed discussions about the importance of a Gaelic name for SNH and, of course, the question of the possible reintroduction of wolves and wild boars.

Hon. Members will also know that parts II and III make important provision for dealing with water resources with regard to irrigation and drought in Scotland. Further provisions on the management of water resources have been introduced during the passage of the Bill—for example, the raising of penalties for certain offences under the Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968.

I am confident, and have been throughout my involvement with the Bill, that it is a necessary and important step towards the better understanding and use of our natural heritage. With the dedication and commitment of its staff and the co-operation of all those concerned in land use and management,. I believe that SNH will be successful in its aims. I thank hon. Members for the efficient way in which they have dealt with consideration of the Bill, both in Committee and in the Chamber.

I believe that the important amendments which we have made to the Bill in this House are crucial to the proper working of SNH, and I trust that all concerned, including those in another place, will see the wisdom and value of what we are doing by means of the Bill. I commend it to the House.

9.7 pm

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his remarks about the work of the Committee. The Committee's and tonight's proceedings—with a brief blemish from the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who has now mercifully departed—were amicable and constructive. We share the aim of improving a Bill to create an agency that will work effectively to achieve the ends for which it is being set up. I have enjoyed the Committee's work and tonight's proceedings and believe that we have a better Bill now than we had at the start. In that spirit, we shall send a message to Scottish Natural Heritage that it is the profound hope of Labour Members that, when it comes into operation, it will do its work well for all the people and the natural inheritance of Scotland which is entrusted to it and to all of us.

I wish to press the Secretary of State once more on the question of Mar Lodge. Clearly, it is at the forefront of the debate in environmental terms. There seems to be wide support for the idea that it should be transferred to some form of public or community ownership. When we can unite an American billionaire, Prince Charles and every environmental organisation in the country, it would be a pity if the Secretary of State were to prove the impediment out of pure apathy. I do not suggest that, of the cast that I have mentioned, I am the most influential, but the Secretary of State would have the full support of the Labour party if he took steps to ensure that the aim of bringing Mar Lodge estate into public ownership was pursued. In deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I should have included the editorial writers of The Daily Telegraph in the list of personalities who support that aim.

Will the Secretary of State make a positive statement on Mar Lodge? There seems to be unanimity in the view that it is very special. It should not return to the vagaries of the marketplace once again, because over the past decade——

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. All right hon. and hon. Members present are considerable parliamentarians. They know that Third Reading is a difficult debate, because it concerns only what is now in the legislation. I have been tolerant of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who moved far from the amendments, but he cannot press that point now. I should be grateful if he would return to Third Reading.

Mr. Wilson

I mentioned Mar Lodge in the context of Scottish Natural Heritage, which the Bill is creating and in the context of national parks. If Mar Lodge were brought into public ownership, it would immediately become a question——

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have given my ruling. The hon. Gentleman will oblige the House and not abuse our procedures.

Mr. Wilson

On the issue of national parks, it is no secret that the Opposition were sympathetic to the idea, and the Government have come forward with a compromise. It is still our view that the Government should have allowed maximum flexibility in each of the areas under pressure. In Committee we had a debate about Loch Lomond, where there is clearly a strong body of opinion that national park status is desirable. Equally, parts of Scotland have been mentioned in the context of the national parks, where there is a general view that what the Government propose to set up and achieve under the Bill may be adequate for their management.

I hope that there will be the maximum possible flexibility within the terms of what has been created. I particularly hope, in deference to to the excellent case made in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) for national park status for Loch Lomond, that resources will be provided to meet the needs of that district. Even if the name "national park" is not used, some of the advantages that would have flown from it being a national park should be available to that part of Scotland which, even now, is under so much pressure.

On the issue of SSSIs, it is worth recalling, because it is now quite a long time ago, that we removed something from the Bill that the other place had introduced. We certainly regarded it—I think that the Government's decision to withdraw it would suggest that they shared our view—as a wrecking amendment, whereby the new agency would have to spend several of its first few years of existence trotting around every existing SSSI to re-designate it. That would have created a high hurdle in terms of an appeals procedure.

The Minister and the hon. Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) showed that they sympathised with the idea of an appeals procedure, even where they accepted that the procedure suggested by the Lords was not workable. In Committee, everyone concluded that the proposal introduced in the Lords should be removed, on the understanding that there would be a far healthier process of consultation than some people have experienced under the existing set-up. I am sure that the message could not have gone out any more strongly to Scottish Natural Heritage that, although there is no appeals procedure, there must be maximum sensitivity to the needs and interests of the people who live in regions affected by the designation of SSSIs.

I hope that the Minister will activate the valuable concession that he gave us over forestry, as it affects communities close to districts to be afforested—that a gazette or some other publication will list proposed forestry developments. That will prevent any mystery and ensure that no private forests appear from nowhere without the local community knowing about them. I hope that information will be circulated to organisations such as public libraries, community councils and local authorities. I was grateful for that assurance in Committee, and I hope that the Minister will communicate to me exactly how it will be implemented.

We had a wide range of debates in Committee on the powers that we suggested should be given to the new agency. Those exploratory debates gave us an opportunity to raise the issues of environmental concern in Scotland—fish farming, the movement of shipping in the Minch, the possibility of an oil spillage, forestry and a range of environmental issues. We have concluded that process tonight with our debate on the nuclear possibilities at Dounreay. In every one of those cases, we are happy to take at face value the assurances of the Minister that there is no need to write into the legislation the duty to make representations to the Secretary of State on such matters, because the right to do so is assumed.

I hope that Scottish Natural Heritage will be emboldened by the repeated statements of the Minister that it is expected to make representations on all those contentious issues. We want an environmental organisation with teeth and courage that is prepared to speak on issues, even if it treads on the toes of its political masters or mistresses, irrespective of the party from which they come. It is there to serve not political masters but Scotland's environmental interests. I hope that it will be encouraged by the Minister's clear message that it is expected to do so.

In fairness, I ought to say that, if the Government had wanted to establish a compliant and silent agency, they would not have appointed so high profile a chairman as Magnus Magnusson. That is turning out to be a good appointment, and we wish him well.

We have had a constructive and largely non-political debate. Anything to do with land use and land ownership in Scotland gives rise to debate. For all sorts of reasons, land use and land ownership matter deeply to a wide range of people. There are those who believe that they should not impinge upon the rights of private ownership. Some people would go to very great and arrogant lengths to defend those rights. There are others who will never accept the validity of those rights. Between those two positions, we have to work out a modus vivendi. The Bill lays the foundations for the creation of an agency that will be able to work well in the interests of Scotland and its natural heritage.

In that spirit, I thank in particular the Minister for the courteous way in which he has conducted all the proceedings on the Bill. When it comes into being, we wish the new agency well. We shall work with it, and we hope that it will be a great success.

9.15 pm
Sir Hector Monro

I am delighted that the Bill has completed its proceedings in the House, subject to anything that may happen later. It is a Bill of great vision. I am excited about the future of Scotland's natural heritage. Having been connected with the drafting of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1979 and with taking it through the House, with the help of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and others, and having served on the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland for nine years, I find it slightly paradoxical that I am no longer involved in any official capacity with our natural heritage and that I am very much on the touchline.

The provisions of the Bill will improve and enhance Scotland's heritage. The very best of the Nature Conservancy Council, now in its own Scottish right, coupled with the expertise of the Countryside Commission and the two chairmen, running in harness this year and working closely together to set up Scottish Natural Heritage on 1 April 1992, can do nothing but good. The Secretary of State for Scotland has chosen a man of exceptional calibre to head it. The personnel and resources of the two committees are equally strong. Both organisations will have the back-up of an excellent permanent staff. I have great hope that what we are all so keen on in Scotland—the preservation of our natural heritage—will come about.

The amendments that were debated both in Committee and on Report have demonstrated the great enthusiasm in all parts of the House for preserving Scotland's natural heritage. They have highlighted the fact that, in future, emphasis must be placed upon improving what is already a very good record. We tend to play down our scenery and landscape and our good record on nature conservation and the preservation of wildlife habitats. We are starting from a very sound base. I wish the Secretary of State, the two chairmen and, subsequently, Magnus Magnusson, every good fortune. I am sure that we can look forward to immeasurably improved facilities in Scotland, and I am confident that the Government will provide sufficient resources to ensure that our heritage is maintained and enhanced.

9.19 pm
Mr. Maclennan

The Bill did not attract universal acclamation from the environment lobby, and the Government have displayed some political courage in bringing it to the House against the critical view that the Scots should not look after their environment. That was an insulting view which, from the beginning, most Scots rejected.

Most of the main environmental issues have been canvassed during the passage of the Bill, and the concerns that gave rise to a demand for a new Scottish agency were properly ventilated. The Secretary of State responded with some imagination, which I found encouraging, to the concerns in my constituency about the way in which the predecessor organisation had handled the issue of the flow country. The establishment of natural heritage areas under the provisions of clause 6 could provide a way to reconcile the various land interests.

I did not have the good fortune to be a member of the Standing Committee, so I did not have the opportunity to deploy certain arguments. It is right to recognise that the expertise of Scottish Natural Heritage in scientific matters will be the best available, and that there would be no point in having an appeal system. However, as designation will result in the transformation of the status of the land, with consequences of great importance to those who own or occupy the land, and the community that uses it, there should be a requirement for the Secretary of State to confirm the new status. I regret that that is not included in the Bill, but this is not an occasion on which we should linger overlong on what is not included.

My argument was somewhat misrepresented by the Minister at an earlier stage, when it was suggested that my hon. Friends and I wanted an appeal system. We wanted no such thing—we wanted to establish the right of the Secretary of State to intervene when designation could have adverse consequences. I think that that was a legitimate objective. If clause 6 is to be the way ahead, it is possible that conflict will not arise. That will depend on how Scottish Natural Heritage uses the power of designation of sites of special scientific interest. If it goes full steam ahead and designates large tracts of Scotland, rather than using the proposals in clause 6, I predict that there will be conflict.

We should have a clear statement, not about consultation—we have already had that from Magnus Magnusson and his colleagues—but about the policy intention on widespread designation. The Secretary of State has admitted that that power was used in the absence of any other power, for purposes that the House did not envisage when the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was enacted. I think that that is the view of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who has a closer knowledge of, and involvement in, the matter than any other hon. Member. No one wants to see a continuation of past conflicts.

Clause 6 provides for sites of special scientific interest that have already been designated in pursuance of the objectives that the clause would cover. I do not accept the view of some that for the next few years, the agency should reconsider all designations because that would be damaging to its role. However, there may be a case for it reconsidering designations in some sectors that would be better covered by the procedures set out in clause 6. It would be extremely sensible for the agency to place a moratorium on the designation of sites of special scientific interest in the flow countries, especially while it contemplates the use of powers that allow representations to be made about the economic impact of what is proposed and, ultimately, for the Secretary of State to decide what is the best way to proceed. I appeal to Magnus Magnusson to issue a clear statement that there will be a moratorium pending consideration of the powers that are set out in clause 6.

In other respects, I welcome the Bill as a strengthening of the protection of our environment in Scotland. I believe that the interest of the Scottish people in seeing that environment improved and protected is one that everyone in the House who has participated in debates on the Bill has sought to reflect, and that that approach is reflected in the shape of the Bill as it has emerged following consideration on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. The Bill has been improved because the Government have responded to suggestions and listened to criticisms. We can take some pride and satisfaction in the fact that the House has agreed to the setting up of a new institution that will bring together the work of two former agencies. The redefining of the roles of those agencies will give a sharper cutting edge to the work that is so important to our country.

9.28 pm
Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to what can be described as the in-house matters of dealing with those who wish to appeal against decisions that will be made under clause 6. The clause does not provide for a particularly happy system. I spoke at some length on the issue in Committee, but I shall not do so this evening. If the matter is not taken up in the other place, I believe that we shall return to it in future.

I shall be astonished if Scottish Natural Heritage does not behave in an understanding and sympathetic way. I am sure that it will engage in consultations that will be different from those that have taken place in the past. I hope that that will happen, but all my experience is that bureaucratic bodies, despite all the good wishes of Parliament, have a tendency to develop what I call god-like postures after they have been in existence for some time. With that fear in mind, I tabled an amendment, as did other hon. Members.

I shall be surprised if the matter is not canvassed when the Bill is considered in another place. I am fairly sure that those in the other place will debate it. Whatever happens finally to the Bill, I believe that the system that is set out in clause 6 will constantly be considered.

However, this is an important and substantial Bill for Scotland. It will change things in many ways and for the better. We all hope that we will care for, use properly, look after and make use of our natural heritage. By "we", I mean the Scots and all those who visit Scotland. We can certainly say that we have given our children and our children's children a basis on which they can look forward to enjoying the delights and beauty of beautiful Scotland.

9.29 pm
Mr. McFall

Some hon. Members have said that the Bill has received universal acclamation, but it certainly does not have it from me. The mountain areas of Scotland and consultation management have not been addressed, and in the years to come the problems will pile up, particularly in my area.

Clause 2 deals with the functions of Scottish Natural Heritage. People in my area are crying out for legislative proposals so that the issues affecting the Loch Lomond area can be addressed. It is manifest that the present arrangements whereby local authorities come together are not working effectively and will not work in the long term. I plead with the Minister and with Magnus Magnusson the chairman-designate, to take into consideration, with the working party which the Minister kindly offered me, that legislative aspect and the crucial aspect of funding.

The Bill does not address funding. As I said in Committee, we have national parks for England and Wales and Government funding of 80 per cent. In a current White Paper, the Department of the Environment calls the national parks of England and Wales the jewels in the crown. We do not have that. The comparison with England and Wales is bad enough, but in a European and international context we are the odd man out. We are very much the poor relation.

The Minister has done nothing to enhance the environment of my area. The Scottish Council for National Parkas has recently been re-established. It mentions in a communication sent to us that natural heritage areas are intended to be substitutes for national parks, and I agree. That is based on the voluntary principle. But the voluntary principle has to date failed to take care of the environment. If the Minister comes to Loch Lomond with me this summer, he will see the effects and inadequacies of the voluntary principle, and the need for a solution for Loch Lomond. That is not on offer from the Government at the moment.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that bureaucracies have a way of their own and become godlike. I fear that the NHA has been set in concrete and that there will be nothing good on offer for my area. That is the worry in my area.

I said in Committee that there was a manifest agreement among community groups in my area about the desirability of national park status. Rural community councils like Callender, which is not in my constituency but in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), voted strongly to be included in the national park area. I have received no adverse comments on the issue of the national park status and I would like the Minister to tell us about any comments he has had from people on that subject.

A letter dated 3 December 1990 from Magnus Magnusson, the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, to the Countryside Commission says: The status of the designation and its protective powers should be commensurate with the relative importance of the areas in Europe or wider international term.. How can natural heritage areas come within the European or international context when they are not established along the lines of national parks, when they do not have independent planning or adequate funding? That is the first issue that Magnus Magnusson and his colleagues will have to address. In the same letter, Magnus Magnusson said: The budget allocated to the area must be adequate for reasonable attainment of priorities determined for the overall management of the area. That is not happening.

In my letter to the Minister on 5 April 1991—which I am sure he has received—I said that the constituent local authorities for Loch Lomond regional park are dismayed at the latest exercise with regard to a working party. I have reason to believe that we shall not get far with that. A communication from Dumbarton district council tells me that it has been informed that in correspondence with the Scottish Office the working party's remit is to consider how improvements may be achieved within the existing statutory and administrative framework; and that there is a current school of thought which believes that the working party would be at officer level only.

One important aspect of any working party is that it should represent local interest and involve local authority and community representatives. It is local authority, community and voluntary representatives who know their own areas. It is no use leaving it to those at officer level. There must be input from the local community or the problems of the area will not be considered in their entirety.

Natural heritage areas are inadequate for Loch Lomond, as are the voluntary principle, the lack of funding and the lack of planning powers. I tell the Minister that tonight and I will tell him that for years to come. There is a huge body of Scottish environmental opinion behind me, because the need for enhancement and conservation for a strategy for land management for the mountain areas of Scotland is important. The Bill does not deal with those issues. I welcome it as a little step forward, but it has had almost fatal flaws from the beginning. Even at this stage, I ask the Minister to reconsider the Bill when it returns from another place and to listen to the people in Scotland because I am speaking for many of them. I ask the Minister to respond to local feelings and, when the Bill returns to the House, to give us some of the tools with which properly to manage our land and our heritage.

9.36 pm
Mr. Andrew Welsh

There was an enormous contrast between the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and that of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who believes the Bill to be perfect in every way. It is not perfect, but it has been improved since it arrived in the House by, for example, the fateful disappearance of the notorious clause 11.

However, there are still massive gaps in the Bill, for example, on the dumping of nuclear and toxic waste and on the concept or clear definition of sustainability. I hope that the Minister's promise about community involvement will be fulfilled in practice. I notice that there is a major gap in the Bill on the question of land use in Scotland. I hope that the House will deal with such topics in the future.

The Bill is at least a step towards a co-ordinated view of the Scottish environment and has at least attempted to create an integrated approach to Scottish environmental needs. If Mr. Magnusson's promises are fulfilled, I hope that we shall see a decentralised approach in which, as far as possible, there will be a decentralisation of decision taking and contact with local communities.

I am disappointed that, although there has been an improvement in the Bill, that improvement is partial and under-powered compared to the Scottish environmental protection agency that I should like to see in an ideal and independent Scotland. At least the Bill is a small step in the right direction. I should like to wish Magnus Magnusson and the staff of the Scottish Natural Heritage well in their work. Their task will not be easy, but it will be of massive importance to the future of Scotland.

9.38 pm
Mr. Kennedy

I do not propose to interrupt the running order, and I shall be brief.

Mr. Galbraith


Mr. Kennedy

It is typical of the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) to shatter the all-party consensus which was emerging in the closing stages. I want to make a contribution now, as I was not a member of the Committee. As Wester Ross featured heavily in the discussions of national parks, I should like to say a couple of words, almost in contrast to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).

I shall begin with an opening principle. The beauty of the legislation—if it works—is that stated by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). It has within it a degree of flexibility which, if it is to succeed and to perform well in the years ahead, means that it can come up with a variety of different solutions based on the realities of different communities and different parts of Scotland. That must be a strength.

The weakness of the argument for the level of community responsiveness and the different working blueprint for different areas is that if one is not careful one ends up with anarchy. No one has angled seriously for that for our natural heritage and conservation. I want to go back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). We must recognise that the argument of the hon. Member for Dumbarton for a national park, independent planning and proper resourcing may be the blueprint for Loch Lomond, given its proximity to the conurbation of west central Scotland and to Glasgow in particular, but it would not fit easily or acceptably in the context of Wester Ross, which is a rather different environment.

Mr. McFall

In Committee, I tabled various new clauses with specific reference to Loch Lomond. I made the point then that different solutions are required for different areas. I said that the sensitivities of people in the area had to be upheld. I was speaking about my own area.

Mr. Kennedy

I was aware of that point, and that is why I am only too pleased to be able to speak in the hon. Gentleman's support. He obviously speaks with more local working knowledge of Loch Lomond than I can and he makes a powerful case. However, the same case may not apply to other areas, whether the Cairngorms or Wester Ross.

My next point is for the Minister, although it might now be made more appropriately to Magnus Magnusson. Highland regional council is very much encouraged by Mr. Magnusson's approach and by his attitude to the post. He has visited various parts of the Highland region, and he has had some contact with the regional authority and with people at local level. He is sensitive to the anxieties involved.

In the whole saga of sites of special scientific interest, as other hon. Members know only too well, there has been anxiety about an imposed national park in part of the highlands. The tremendous anxiety that has followed from that is that people from outside the area will call the shots. It is feared that there may even be no shots to be called because an iron curtain will be drawn around the area and no development in the local interest will be allowed. That is a genuine anxiety, which Mr. Magnusson appreciates. The Bill sets out a framework that will allow him sufficient flexibility, subject to the guidance of the Scottish Office, to produce an environmental policy that can square that difficult circle—to protect and promote the indigenous natural beauty while not stifling it. The aim should be to enable future generations to make a livelihood from the area as the present generation can.

One of the most encouraging features of the constituency postbag—I am sure that hon. Members of all parties find the same—is the tremendous increase in the number of schoolchildren who now write to Members of Parliament. Hon. Members who have served in the House for decades longer than I have have also registered that. I find that, apart from the broad global issues such as the third world, schoolchildren increasingly write to Members of Parliament about environmental issues.

In the highland context, I hope that that demonstrates an awareness of the importance of the natural environment. It also shows that those who are being born, brought up and educated within that environment have a sensible sensitivity to the need to enhance it and at the same time to the need to be able to promote development in the area which will be for their future well-being as regards job opportunities. That means that one does not want to turn the highlands into a natural history museum with the presumption that people will not be able to live and make a livelihood there, but wants to ensure that the livelihood conforms as much as possible to the natural environment.

Given all the slings and arrows of fortune that have on occasion been fired against highlanders, they have done a pretty good job of being responsible about the environment while exploiting it, in the proper sense of the word, for their future well-being.

I hope that the Minister, the Scottish Office and Magnus Magnusson will be extremely careful in any moves that they might make to designate natural heritage areas. We do not want to end up with the sort of national park blueprint that might well suit Loch Lomond but would not be the right solution to achieve a balance between conservation and development in Wester Ross and other parts of the highlands.

9.46 pm
Mr. Dalyell

An 11-year-old wrote to me inquiring: How come a person in Mr. Magnus Magnusson's position could possibly be in favour of whaling. Answer that. I am still contemplating the reply, because I am not sure that there is one.

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Dalyell

Pass. During the recess, I heard you say, Mr. Speaker, on "The Week in Westminster" that the best Members of Parliament were the most unreasonable.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, but I said "not too unreasonable".

Mr. Dalyell

I am being reasonably unreasonable, when I say that I think that Third Reading is certainly a time for politenesses, but also a time to talk to the House of Lords if one wants to. because they will have to consider the Bill further.

As regards politeness, the Minister has certainly been a model of courtesy and decency in Committee, and I must couple that with the courtesy that I have received from his office and from other officials of the Scottish Office on the many occasions that I have had dealings with them. I have no doubts of the seriousness of purpose of both the Minister and his officials. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) who was Chairman of the Committee.

I am deeply discontented by what we have done. There are geological flaws in the Bill. During the recess, I reflected carefully on exactly what we have been up to. As I see it, the position is this. The Government have enacted legislation to create an independent Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland. To be fair, there is merit in placing in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland a clear responsibility for the conservation of Scotland's wildlife and for ensuring that nature conservation has a full place in the debate about land use in Scotland.

However the cost of that change has been high in disruption of the scientific conservation effort, in the alienation of much informed opinion on conservation and in the loss of morale among concerned and involved staff.

Perhaps the first geological fault is that landscape and wildlife conservation simply are not compatible bedmates: they do not go together. The Government's proposals for mergers postulate that landscape and wildlife conservation are natural partners for merger. We need to ask whether that proposition is appropriate for functions of different origins, approaches and ethics. Those differences are important.

The roots of landscape conservation lie in planning for the built environment and concern to conserve the designed and man-made landscape structure of much of our countryside. That is an aesthetic approach. Nature conservation has its origins in study of natural history and its practice is underpinned by scientific survey and assessment. That is an ecological approach. Each has a different ethos, and different training, skills and legislation. Those fundamentals simply cannot be set aside in a shifting around of our administrative arrangements for delivery of conservation advice.

There is no right or wrong way in which to arrange these matters. Other countries do things differently. But it is facile to set aside the experience and structures which have evolved over a long period without any debate about whether they are right. We all know the genesis of the Bill. It was thought up by the former Environment Secretary and dispatched to the House of Commons.

A case could be made for a close alliance between landscape conservation and protection systems for historic landscapes and the built heritage. Here might lie an alternative alliance of interest in the way in which man has fashioned and continues to fashion the appearance of our land.

The Minister might ask his advisers on the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland for its views on that proposition. It has concluded that a convincing case for the linking of landscape and nature conservation functions has not been made. Far less do the proposals address the mechanics of integration. A merger, in the full sense of that word, is not realistic. The best that can be done is to staple functions together.

In my opinion, for the most part we have created elaborate window dressing. Scottish Natural Heritage is not either more powerful or more effective than its predecessor.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. We may not be creating a body which is any more powerful, but at least we are creating a body in which the two interests that he rightly described as rather different can be reconciled. Is not that a way of producing a coherent approach to the land?

Mr. Dalyell

I am not sure about that. My candid response to the hon. Gentleman is that I have to recognise that he had an unfortunate experience in his constituency with nature conservancy in the flow country. A good deal of tactlessness was involved, and Sir William Wilkinson and his colleagues regretted what happened. For reasons of time, I would rather not be drawn into discussing that interesting and important point. In all honesty, I could not tell the hon. Gentleman that he is wrong. That is not the position that I wish to take.

In the Government's earlier consultative paper about merger, "The Way Ahead", little attention was paid to the commission's recreation function. This is dismaying, because recreation is at the centre in the commission's business and it commands a significant portion of the grant that the commission disburses to its client groups in the public and private sectors. The lack of attention to recreation is alarming on several grounds.

First, for too long we have under-invested in recreation in the countryside and extra new resources are required to manage the impacts of the public use of land and to promote higher quality facilities, all of which underpin the recreation and tourism industries. This is one of the essential arguments in the commission's mountain areas report, as the Minister will concede.

Secondly, the commission promotes its recreation functions through investment and working with others, operating almost as a development agency, and funds for this approach will be less secure after merger, given the wide prospectus of new conservation initiatives proposed for the new agency.

Thirdly, the Government's consultation paper identifies recreation as a potential threat to conservation. Indeed, recreation is seen as a problem, not an opportunity—a perception that is likely to lead to recreation becoming subordinate to conservation, if carried forward.

I hope even at this stage that the Lords will reflect on these points.

Enjoyment by the public extends across the whole of our heritage, be it scenery, wildlife, the built and historic, or cultural matters. The assessment and care of heritage involve many organisations concerned with land use, planning and management. The Commission's functions for enjoyment and care of fine scenery are well balanced, because scenery is the prime attraction for most visitors to the countryside and is central to tourism. The countryside is also the resource and the backdrop for many sporting activities.

A time when the tempo of interest in leisure use of the countryside is on the increase is not the time to be playing down recreation. Nor is the time to be placing this function in a new agency where it will inevitably be in a more subordinate role because of the dominance of staff and legislation concerned with nature conservation. Any underplaying of recreation will be regarded as controversial by recreation interests and will be likely to lead to new controversy and conflict.

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Gentleman is making a very important speech and certainly many of us would have wished that we could have heard some of it earlier. That is not a criticism; it is just a comment.

On the very point of recreation bodies that have an interest in the use of a our Scottish land, does the hon. Gentleman join me in deploring the absence of proper appeals procedure, which is the point I tried to make in Committee, he will remember?

Mr. Dalyell

I was, as my hon. Friends know, very tempted when the hon. Gentleman approached me to support him on appeals. I did not do so. I took a lot of trouble about it. I asked around, and a number of those with whom I was in close contact were against the appeals procedure precisely because they thought that it might be abused. It did not help his case that Lord Pearson and others in the Lords had conducted this ambush. This is my personal opinion—I cannot speak for my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and they may take a different view—but had it not been for what happened in the Lords, the hon. Gentleman would have got his amendment through. But great resentment was caused by what happened in the Lords on this issue.

Mr. Walker

What about the Committee?

Mr. Dalyell

I think that the Minister will agree that, with the exception of himself, I probably occupied more of the Committee's time than anybody.

During the recess, I reflected on this matter with colleagues, who have been very helpful, with a view to making a submission to the House of Lords to think again. I make no bones about what I should like to see happening. I should like to see a general election in June, so that we could go back to the drawing board on this whole matter. In fact, I should like to see the Bill fall.

We have to reflect on the whole question of sustainable development and whether it can be delivered. By far the most interesting element of the new proposals is the emphasis on sustainable development. The Government's desire to move in this direction is to be welcomed, but the realism of laying this task on the new agency needs examination.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Dalyell

First, there is the question whether the new agency is centrally enough placed to handle this major challenge. The central conservation issues of today pivot on the consumption—particularly by the developed nations—of increasing amounts of the world's natural resources, and on all the consequent effects on pollution, population increase, health, hunger and the social cohesion of increasingly urbanised societies.

This is a heady agenda, on which a local agency with a limited remit might make progress. It can be argued that the scale of these issues places them at governmental or transnational level, although there is an important challenge here for a body to act in a missionary role. But this will be a provocative task, if only in defining, in a practical way, what sustainable development means. This will not necessarily lead to the kind of harmony that the Government seek in the debate about conservation and development.

The concept of sustainable development is, on the one hand, simple and, because of this, attractive. But it is also difficult to define and difficult to apply to the kind of marginal land that makes up much of upland Scotland. Let me give some examples.

We cannot easily assess whether present approaches to the management of rural land are sustainable, because of the long time scale involved in understanding the effects of present practice, and because of the complexity of the systems—for example, the debate on whether conifer afforestation of poor, acidic upland soils leads to enhanced acidification. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) knows exactly what I am getting at, as it is highly pertinent to the kind of area that he represents.

In the assessment of gains and losses in the use of land, we cannot easily measure, or give monetary value to, the intangible benefits or values that we attach to, say, well-being and pride in our heritage, or to the enjoyment of recreation in fine countryside. It is unlikely that there is any methodology to do this with precision.

At this stage I want to pay tribute to a man I admire very much. I refer to George Lawson, a former Member of Parliament for Motherwell, and a Scottish Whip. He gave a great deal of his time to the question of land use, and published a report. I do not say that I have read the entire report, but during the recess I went back to it. I thought extremely highly of the work that George Lawson did.

It is likely that we have already passed the limits of sustainable use in the way in which we exploit land of the lowest productivity—say, in the afforestation of the very poorest land, or in the carrying capacity of some upland habitats for recreation.

So, while the sustainable development remit is attractive, it is not an easy route forward for any agency whose remit does not extend into a wide arena, and vigorous pursuit if this theme is likely to sharpen the conservation-development debate, not ease it.

The Government have made it clear that the proposed new agency must temper its functions with economic developments in rural areas. That is not quite in accord with the definition of sustainable development in which human activities should be in balance with the capacity of the natural resources being used. The dilemma here is that the Government's approach to balancing duties places undue burdens on the lightweight and lowly funded conservation bodies as against the heavily resourced mechanisms for the support of the development.

Yet evidence is lacking that conservation is a major constraint on development in Scotland. No such accusation can be made against the way in which the conservation of landscape has been delivered. For wildlife conservation, there has been a small number of high-profile cases of conflict, but that should not obscure the fact that most SSSI consultations, most management agreements and most other consultation arrangements for conservation are working smoothly. Any snags in the system should be eased through improvements in its administration rather than in its wholesale reorganisation.

My ferocious defence of the NCC staff against accusations in the debate in the other place by people who should have known better was partly due to the fact that the NCC staff as a whole, with certain exceptions—the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to some unfortunate exceptions—had been very successful. It should be on the record that the NCC staff as a whole were deeply hurt by what was said in the debate in the other place. I say that having attended the estuary and other NCC presentations given by Sir William Wilkinson and Tim Hornsby.

Mr. McFall

I suggest to my hon. Friend that the people who have been betrayed are the members of the Countryside Commission, with their mountain areas report. My hon. Friend is making important points about development and conservation. In the Loch Lomond area, there is £120 million-worth of development, but we do not have the necessary statutory laws for conservation and enhancement. The result is that, on the see-saw, the balance is very much on the side of development. Interest in conservation and the enhancement of the environment is negligible compared with the pressure for development.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not exaggerate when I say that, of the 30 to 40 mostly knowledgeable people I have met who read the Official Report of the debates that took place in Committee, and in particular who read the remarks of my hon. Friend, most said, in effect, "John McFall is absolutely right, and you people in Parliament had better understand that." I refer not only to Frank Bracewell, the planning officer of Central regional council, but many others who strongly agree with the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend, who is the constituency Member involved.

I leave out the rest of the argument. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) may be right in what he said about his area, and we do not quarrel with that, but some of us in the Central region desperately want a natural park. The whole tenor of the Government's proposals is to undermine the role of nature conservation and to give encouragement to the prejudiced view that the nature conservation movement must be brought to heel. That is nothing less than a major surrender of values. Adding to the commission's functions may be seen by some as one way of shifting the balance against nature conservation, but it is no way to create a workable merger. The early signs are that the merger is not working happily. The planning stage and the rest of what is going on are riddled with difficulties.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths> >(Edinburgh, South)

We all acknowledge my hon. Friend's expertise in the matter, but is it not the case that one of the tragedies of the Government's approach is that the vested interests—landowners, and worse, those people who have only a financial interest in lands in Scotland, who may not be based in Scotland and who may not have any concern for the conservation of land in Scotland—seem to be listened to in the corridors of power rather than the hill walkers, the bird watchers and the other conservation groups who for over a century have had the real interest of Scotland at heart? Does my hon. Friend agree that, by his approach, the Minister is prejudicing the interests of people who enjoy, relish and have a great commitment to land and conservation in Scotland in favour of the interests of those who have only a financial interest? That is the nub of the difference between us and the Minister.

Mr. Dalyell

I shall not stretch Mr. Speaker's patience by wandering to the question of Mar Lodge. The earlier discussion of Mar lodge completely encapsulated the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) had made. That is why we will talk about Mar Lodge on other occasions, but I undertook not to stray back to that.

There are organisational imbalances to address in the merger. Those imbalances might be catalogued. There is a major imbalance in staff numbers, with the NCCS at the time of merger being at least six times larger. The organisation will be starting life essentially in the old offices of the NCCS, but with a new nameplate, so there will be an image issue which will run against the interests of the Countryside Commission for Scotland. The NCCS has complex and well focused legislation on designation, control licensing, land management, and so on, and those functions will still have to be delivered, while the commission's functions under statute are relatively open, and will be overshadowed by the need to achieve these key wildlife tasks. There is a very vigorous voluntary sector lobby on behalf of nature conservation, which will be pushing hard for no relaxation in the way in which nature conservation is delivered. Far from being a true merger of equals, the prospect is that the CCS functions will become overshadowed in the new arrangement.

We have a complex system for administering and overseeing land use matters. Some people think that there should be an all-embracing land use department, but there are good arguments against whole scale amalgamation of functions. Principally, the key sectoral interests should be seen to be separate and visible, without the concealment of debate that would exist in an all-purpose land-use department where controversy was balanced internally. The all-purpose approach would be bureaucratic and less efficient.

Maintaining two Government agencies would allow those functions that may be subordinated to have their place and to be visible—as in the case of recreation—to the large constituency with an interest in it. Objectives would be more focused: indeed, divergence of views on matters like conservation is to be encouraged, as fostering debate and providing the widest spectrum of views to Government. The risk of subordinating key functions is the key argument in the White Paper "This Common Inheritance" against an equivalent merger in England, and one has to ask why that argument does not apply in Scotland.

The new agency, SNH, already promises to be a small bureaucracy, with complex systems of political control and oversight. The Minister may interrupt if he thinks that I am being unfair, but there are those dangers.

Less dramatic but more cost effective, more efficient and saving of confusion and morale would be to address any need for change through administrative action. To do that, the Government should endorse the present structures as the basis for change, and encourage administrative fine-tuning of existing mechanisms where snagging points occur, such as the need for a route of appeal when promoting new designated areas.

They should provide some of the extra resources required for the merger with the relatively underfunded Countryside Commission for Scotland and should direct that its two agencies collaborate closely on those topics where joint working makes good sense. They should promote and strengthen the commission's work in the countryside around towns where it has already made an impact and, with major dereliction now tackled by the Scottish Development Agency, direct the commission to a new role in leading smaller scale landscape improvement work in collaboration with the local enterprise companies to create a richer and more accessible landscape close to where most Scots live.

The Government should also encourage the commission to continue to develop a stronger design-based approach in its work, particulary to promote higher standards of built development in the countryside. They should release more funding to the commission to strengthen its work to promote recreation and facilitate harmony between visitors and those who own and work the land.

Finally, the Government should encourage stronger working between the conservation agencies and those agencies and Departments responsible for primary land uses. They should begin a debate about sustainable use as a collaborative venture in that way rather than through a single agency approach as proposed.

Underfunding of the Countryside Commission in recent years has left it in a weaker position than the Nature Conservancy Council because the commission's mode of working through others has led to it spend little of its resources on building up its own staff and internal activities. Although small in size, the commission has operated efficiently and prudently and chosen partnership as its main working theme. The extent of duplication of effort between the commission and the NCC is limited, and that could be eased by more collaboration.

There is a role for an agency to link caring for the countryside and its use for recreation. That is not always an appreciated role because it involves bridge-building and compromise as well as avoidance of confrontation. Recently, however, the commission has been leading lively debates on issues like caring better for mountain areas, and has been reviewing arrangements for access to the countryside.

Given a modest increase in staff and funding, the commission could play a more vigorous role and develop a distinctive approach to enjoyment and conservation of Scotland's scenery, which is the crucial resource underpinning tourism and outdoor recreation.

There has been little general debate about the technical merits of the proposed merger of the CCS and the NCC in Scotland. In part, some people may see the merger as simply a good way to simplify public administration. Some may see it as providing a new face to conservation, while others undoubtedly see the merger as a means of blunting what is perceived to be a sharp edge to conservation. But there must be a serious review of fundamentals and practicability.

I hope that the House of Lords will reconsider the Bill thoroughly, as it is entitled to do. Having read the Official Report of the Standing Committee, I hope that, saved by the gong in the form of a general election, the Labour party will put forward different proposals from the ill-thought-out, ill-conceived and exceedingly expensive Conservative party proposals, which will cause a great deal of hassle.

Mr. Galbraith

I shall put everyone's mind at rest by reassuring them that I have no intention of following that tour de force, but shall simply make a few closing remarks.

I have spent the last part of my life in the mountains, and I have a love affair with the mountains and the countryside—in other words, Scottish Natural Heritage, which is what the Bill is about. Therefore, I was pleased to be part of the process of taking the Bill through its stages, along with the courteous Under-Secretary of State.

The merger between the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council is a natural one. On that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). There are conflicting functions within the organisations, but both establishments are concerned with the good use, management and preservation of the countryside. The conflicts are best dealt with when taken together in a committee rather than being set apart, which often generates false conflicts.

My first contact with the Nature Conservancy Council was during my visits to the Isle of Rhum, which I have already mentioned. The council has always been a delight to me and others, and looks after that island very well; access to it is free and easy, and I have never had any problems. Its management of that island is an excellent example of just what the Nature Conservancy Council can do. Therefore, all in the House can trust in an organisation constituted, in part, by the Nature Conservancy Council to provide good management and ensure the preservation of the countryside in the mountain regions of Scotland. Therefore, I wish the new organisation well. It has the full-hearted support of Opposition Members.

10.22 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that the Bill enjoyed a good Committee stage, and that Magnus Magnusson will be a dedicated, conscientious and determined chairman of the new organisation and willl make a complete success of it.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has participated as he started this theme with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. As he said, the Bill provides great hope and possibilities.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has a particular interest in environmental matters. I have been unable to convince him on the justification of merging the two organisations, but I think it is fair to say that the House as a whole welcomes that proposal—most Scottish Members of Parliament do. I certainly agreed with what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said on that issue. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow well knows, we amended the Bill with regard to the built heritage.

I believe that we have created a stronger environmental agency in practice that will make more use of existing mechanisms. To the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) I say that the working party will be established before long. As a first step, we have commissioned review papers from the relevant interested parties on the issues facing the management of the region and what should be done.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) I say that the new organisation will have to operate with much more sensitivity in relation to future non-statutory appeals.

The protection and conservation of landscape and wildlife are closely linked and cannot be separated from access and enjoyment of the countryside. We believe that an integrated approach by one agency will provide a more effective means of stimulating the sustainable use of Scotland's natural heritage. The new agency will maintain and extend the work of both organisations, building on their existing strengths and staff expertise. We expect Scottish Natural Heritage to bring about changes in attitude towards conservation and the enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage. With its network of offices throughout Scotland and its regional structure, it will be well placed to play a responsive and sensitive role.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised a number of issues, including recreation. I shall be happy to respond to him in detail later. I think that that is probably the best way to proceed because he raised a large number of issues relating to structure.

The agency will be a much stronger environmental organisation and will be greatly in Scotland's interests. I thank hon. Members for participating in our debates on the Bill.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not expect any answers tonight, but I would ask for a letter to reflect the careful consideration that will be given to the matter.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman will most certainly receive the answers, but I again stress that this will be a much stronger environmental agency for Scotland.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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