§ Order fin. Second Reading read.3.56 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill has three quite distinct parts. First and foremost, it provides for the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage by merging the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland. The Bill also contains provisions to enable river purification authorities to control the abstraction of water within their areas for irrigation purposes, and provisions to enable the Secretary of State to make drought orders on application by water authortities and water development boards. Both these parts of the Bill replace existing legislation.
The Government's one overriding purpose in the Bill is to provide a framework within which Scotland's natural heritage can be managed in a sustainable way to secure its inheritance by future generations. Our proposals for the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage were first announced by the then Secretary of State in the House in July 1989. Since then, we have consulted widely by publishing two consultation papers, and copies are lodged in the Library.
Our second consultation paper "Scotland's Natural Heritage: The Way Ahead" set out our aims and aspirations for the future managment of our natural heritage in Scotland and the role that we expect Scottish Natural Hedritage to play. The majority of those responding to this consultation paper supported our proposals to merge the newly created nature Conservancy Council for Scotland with the existing Countryside Commission for Scotland. This support was confirmed by an independent poll undertaken last autumn, which shows a 3:1 majority in favour of our reorganisation proposals.
Our proposals are founded on the value of the work carried out by the two predecessor organisations. As hon. Members will see from the Bill, all the functions and responsibilities of the predecessor bodies will be continued by Scottish Natural Heritage. I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the two organisations. The dedicated efforts of Nature Conservancy Council officials have resulted in the conservation of a wide range of habitats and the protection of a great diversity of species, as well as the protection of features of geological and physiographical interest.
Let me also pay no less a tribute to the work of the Countryside Commission over its two decades of existence. There is a great deal of evidence in the Scottish countryside of the Commission's efforts. I single out the work that it has done in improving the environment around our towns and cities, its initiatives in major projects in the central belt of Scotland and, more recently, its reflection on, and prescriptions for, the longer-term management of our mountain areas. We fully intend to build on all this work in the new partnership of interests that Scottish Natural Heritage represents.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
During the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords, an amendment was 625 agreed to. The House of Lords is entitled to make amendments, but does the Secretary of State think that certain Peers were entitled to say the downright nasty things that they did about the very people to whom the Secretary of State is paying tribute? He cannot be responsible for what was said, but he can be responsible for what the Minister does and does not say in the other place. Why did not the Minister there come to the defence of those officials and scientists who could not speak out for themselves?
§ Mr. Lang
When an organisation such as the Nature Conservancy Council is carrying out its work, such as designating sites of special scientific interest, feelings are inevitably raised about particular incidents, on particular occasions and at particular locations. It is a difficult job, and it is understandable that some people may have been upset by some of the things that the NCC has done.
§ Mr. Lang
I shall just finish my response to the hon. Gentleman's earlier intervention; then I shall happily give way.
What my noble Friend said fully stated the Government's position and made clear our anxieties about, and ambitions for, the Bill. We are not seeking to replace the two existing bodies, because they have failed to do their job properly, but rather to merge them in a new body in which the two component parts will form one new integrated body that will carry the work forward in a more comprehensive and sensitive way.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am dealing with a narrow point of personal behaviour. Is the Secretary of State, with the authority of a Cabinet Minister, prepared to refute some of the more wounding things that were said about staff who work for the Government but who cannot defend themselves? Is it not up to him to say, as the Minister in the House of Lords did not, that the Government do not think that these criticism were justified? We are asking for clarification of the Secretary of State's position in all this in relation to Government employees who, in the opinion of many of us, work extremely hard.
§ Mr. Lang
I see no need to refute anything that my noble Friend said in the other place. However, I shall repeat what I have already said and pay tribute to the work of the staff of both bodies, who will form the staff of the new Scottish Natural Heritage.
The combination of those bodies will bring about an integrated approach to the management of our natural heritage and a more efficient and effective organisational structure to achieve this. The protection of species and habitats on the one hand and the protection of landscape on the other have many characteristics in common. Perhaps not surprisingly, in Scotland, those areas of greatest nature conservation significance are usually those with landscapes of the highest aesthetic and amenity value. Rather than a clash between nature and landscape conservation, there is a strong concurrence of interest on the ground.
I should not want to give the House the impression that the new body is concerned only with conservation. Far from it—we also want it to improve appreciation of the natural heritage by residents and visitors alike. It will, for 626 example, develop opportunities for greater understanding. It will seek to negotiate improved access and therefore increased enjoyment of our natural heritage. Some have argued that recreational access and enjoyment of the countryside are not compatible with conservation. For example, the Scottish Sports Council has suggested that it should take over the recreational access and enjoyment functions of the Countryside Commission for Scotland.
Such fragmentation would, however, undermine the objective of an integrated approach to the management of our natural heritage. We intend, however, at least for the present, to give SNH no additional responsibilities. It will have a formidable task without widening our scope to include all environmental protection functions. An aspect of our reorganisation proposals by which we set great store is the development of positive partnerships between SNH and other interests, local communities, local authorities, owners and occupiers of land, business, industry and voluntary bodies. Magnus Magnusson, the chairman-designate, has already built many bridges. I know that he will continue with his vital role with vigour, commitment and success.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
The Secretary of State has said that it would be his wish that the new organisation has close liaison with local bodies, organisations and communities. How does he envisage that powers will be given to it to protect communities which do not wish to see nuclear dumping on their doorstep?
§ Mr. Lang
Scottish Natural Heritage will not be involved in planning matters. Those are essentially matters for the Secretary of State. Nor will it be responsible directly for structure plans, which I suspect is one of the elements behind the hon. Lady's question. It might, however, expect to be consulted by local authorities in drawing up their structure plans.
We are intent on partnerships being developed by having a highly dispersed organisations for SNH. To bring that to fruition, we intend that SNH will build on the regional and area office network of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland. I fully expect that the great majority of staff in SNH will be based in regional and local offices.
There are a number of other ingredients that are required for the success of the operation at ground level. Undoubtedly, one of them is the support of practical research and development to increase our understanding of sustainable management and to help in the provision of practical demonstration schemes and initiatives. That is why there will be a centrally managed cadre of specialists.
Additionally, no organisation with powers of delegation of responsibility and dispersal of staff can operate successfully without a coherent set of policies and decision-making frameworks. This is properly the role of the main board, which will be advised by staff in the agency's headquarters.
The agency will have another vital role, and that is to advise the Government or any other party on any aspect of policy or activity which it considers has an effect on Scotland's natural heritage. We expect this task to be carried out with objectivity, rigour and integrity, but most of all, effectively. I assure the House that I shall look to SNH as my adviser on the conservation, understanding and enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage, and on the means of bringing this to fruition in a sustainable manner.
627 There were those who at the outset criticised our proposals as unduly parochial. I hope that the House will set aside any doubts on that front from what has been said since we announced our proposals. Scottish Natural Heritage cannot operate without proper regard to national and international considerations. After all, it will be the responsible body for the identification, notification and protection of sites of special scientific interest, including those sites which might in addition be designated under European directives, such as the birds directive, and, in the longer term, the species and habitat directive.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about clause 11? It fears that the clause will completely tie up SNH for the first five years of its existence and effectively prevent it from taking a more active and positive role in the countryside, which is so needed? The society has said that there are about 1,300 sites of special scientific interest in Scotland, and that there is a serious prospect of several hundred public inquiries taking place at enormous public and private expense. Against that background, will the Secretary of State seriously consider dropping clause 11?
§ Mr. Lang
I propose to say something about clause 11 shortly. I understand the anxiety of the RSPB and of others. As the clause stands, it is virtually unworkable. The hon. Gentleman referred to about 1,300 SSSIs. If they were to be reviewed within the five years that is required by the clause, one SSSI would have to be reviewed on every working day for the first five years. The House will appreciate that such a prospect makes the clause unworkable in its present form.
The organisation will undertake its wider nature conservation responsibilities with its sister agencies in England and Wales through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and it will work within the standards, procedures, and protocols agreed by the JNCC.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In the light of the Secretary of State's earlier comment about the organisation not being responsible for structure plans and for planning generally, how does he view designation —which is being conducted on a massive scale in parts of the highlands—as fitting in with local authority planning? There is no doubt that the two have clashed, particularly in respect of afforestation in the north.
§ Mr. Lang
I expect Scottish Natural Heritage to work much closer to the ground because of the dispersal of its offices. It will have 18 area offices and four regional offices, whose staff will work much more closely on a consultative and co-operative basis with local authorities, landowners and others. I anticipate that the organisation's whole tone will be very different from that sometimes perceived in the handling of such matters in the past.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Although Dr. O'Connor's appointment is welcome, can the Secretary of State say something about the location of the JNCC and its work programme?
§ Mr. Lang
I cannot do so, because the work of the JNCC does not fall within my area of responsibility. However, I emphasise that the committee will have an important role to play, and its overview will be of considerable benefit to Scottish Natural Heritage. It is my intention, and that of Magnus Magnusson, that Scottish 628 Natural Heritage will operate in a wider context, and that it will be in tune with broader national and international consideration of conservation matters.
As to landscape protection, the Government are committed to continuing conservation of the finest Scottish landscapes. How that will be achieved in the longer term is a matter of debate in Scotland at present. The Countryside Commission for Scotland produced a report on the conservation and management of our mountain areas, and it contains many valuable ideas aimed at securing sustainable uses of the land. It makes particular suggestions for ways of building partnerships at local level, through the establishment of land management forums.
I listened with interest to the debate on the Commission's proposals to establish four national parks. No clear consensus is emerging. In Wester Ross, there is strong antipathy to such a designation. There is no enthusiasm in the Ben Nevis/Glencoe area, considerable ambivalence concerning a national park for the Cairngorms, and only apparent support for a Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park. Given those responses and in the absence of the commission's response to consultation, I cannot yet make any decisions on the proposals for special areas and for the mountain areas more generally. However, I shall be interested to hear the outcome of the consultation process undertaken by the Countryside Commission for Scotland.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
As the Secretary of State knows, I have a great interest in Loch Lomond, but he mentioned that there is only "apparent" support for a national park there. That does not agree with the information that I have been given. If I convey that information to the Secretary of State, will it influence his deliberations?
§ Mr. Lang
If the hon. Gentleman has information of that kind, I hope that he has already passed it to the Countryside Commission for Scotland, as part of its consultation process. I would certainly be interested to receive a copy of that information. It is worth emphasising that the interests of Loch Lomond are considerably different from those of Wester Ross, the Cairngorms, or other parts of Scotland.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing
Given the uncertainty of Scottish national opinion on national parks, when does the Secretary of State expect to reach a conclusion on that issue? Those who have been involved in the consultation process deserve an early answer.
§ Mr. Lang
I agree, and I hope to reach a conclusion soon. However, I am slightly in the hands of the Countryside Commission, which is assessing the outcome of its consultation process. I am Sure that it will note the hon. Lady's comments, and mine.
It is essential that Scottish Natural Heritage has all the tools for the job that we are giving it to do. Existing designations are confined either to landscape or to nature conservation. At present, there is no integrated designation. Therefore, we intend to table an amendment to the Bill in Committee to enable natural heritage areas to be established. A single designation for the benefit of areas of the highest natural heritage interest will be an essential tool if the new body is to approach the management of 629 such areas in a positive and integrated manner, in partnership with all the relevant interests of owners, occupiers and communities.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
There is a great deal of confusion, in my experience, when one talks to interested bodies about how a natural heritage area will fit into the general pattern, and how it relates to the consideration—I put it no higher than that—of the national parks' proposition. Could the Secretary of State say a word or two more specifically about the remit of a natural heritage area? For example, will there be a body to implement the integrated planning, to which he has referred, in these schemes? Does he think that the scheme will preclude national parks?
§ Mr. Lang
That is an interesting question, which can perhaps be developed in Committee, but the hon. Gentleman is right to focus attention on it, because it is a new concept. I certainly agree with the implied comment in his question that there are so many different forms of designation that it is difficult for the layman to find his way around them.
Essentially, the building blocks are sites of special scientific interest in the case of the Nature Conservancy Council and national scenic areas in the case of the Countryside Commission. The natural heritage will be one form of designation which will combine the two. It will not replace an SSSI, but an NHA might easily be a substantial area, in which resources and other forms of designation might be focused.
A natural heritage area might be of a size and nature that meant that it covered an area which might otherwise be considered for designation as a national park. If I were to pronounce any more on that, I would prejudge the outcome of my decision on national parks. These matters might be more fully explored in Committee.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What is the Secretary of State and the Government's attitude towards appeal against SSSI designation?
§ Mr. Speaker
Actually, I called Mr. Andrew Welsh, but would the Secretary of State care to answer that question first?
§ Mr. Lang
I hope that I shall be able to answer both questions, but I have not heard the one from the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh).
As regards SSSIs and the right of appeal, their Lordships in another place gave close attention to that matter and have amended the Bill. We shall express our views on that matter in Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I shall have something more to say about it later in my speech.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
Does the Minister agree that the people most affected, who have to live in national heritage areas or parks, should be heard? Can he guarantee that there will be maximum local input from people in such areas about when and how such decisions are taken? He mentioned sustainable growth: would he define exactly what he means by that? Also will he insert 630 a definition of that concept—which we all support—in the Bill so that we have on record what the Government mean when they talk about encouraging the agency to support sustainable growth?
§ Mr. Lang
I was not quite clear about the nature of the hon. Gentleman's concern in the first part of his question. However, I expect consultation to be a strong and recurring feature of all the activities of Scottish Natural Heritage. I believe that it is central to carrying out its remit properly that there is consultation with interested parties and local bodies when it fulfils its responsibility for conserving and developing the natural heritage.
Sustainability is a concept which has been developed for a number of years, and is at the centre of the Government's environmental policy. The concept is that the environment should be so regarded and maintained that it does not erode or degrade, and is handed on to future generations in the same condition or possibly enhanced and developed. Therefore, no operation should be allowed to take place which would damage the environment without restoring or replenishing the damage.
As I have said, I have dwelt at some length on the principles and expected practice which should result from the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage; but I should explain how we expect the Bill to achieve its purposes. Part I provides for the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage, which will have the full range of powers currently given to the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, but, with the wider definition of the natural heritage and the abolition of the concept of countryside, it will operate throughout Scotland.
Let me underline the general aims and purposes set out in clause 1. The first is to secure the conservation of the natural heritage—that is, species and habitat, areas of geological and physiographical significance and areas of natural beauty and amenity. The second is to secure the enhancement of our natural heritage; the third is to foster understanding of that heritage by increasing the degree of interest and the level of knowledge of everyone who currently has an interest. Fourthly, the new body will be able to provide—either by its own hand or through supporting, others—facilities and access for the enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage.
Finally—this is of overriding importance—we have a duty to ensure that, in its own actions and in influencing the actions of others, Scottish Natural Heritage seeks to secure the sustainablility of activities affecting the natural heritage, and hence that of the natural heritage itself. Schedule 1 makes provision for the constitution and proceedings of the body.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing
The Bill states that expenditure on the body will be roughly equivalent to the amount spent on its predecessors. Can the Secretary of State specify the amount that the Government are prepared to put into it if it is to be really effective, and can he tell us whether he envisages an annual review of the amount to be made available to it? As we progress, additional money may be required.
§ Mr. Lang
It is certainly important that the body should be fully and adequately funded. This year, the combined 631 budgets of the two existing bodies will exceed £26 million: I think that that has been generally recognised as a substantial and fully adequate budget.
I can also confirm that the budget for the new body will be reviewed annually, under the public expenditure round. For that reason, I cannot give the hon. Lady a specific figure for 1992–93; clearly, however, the figure that we have established in the opening year—which is very important for the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland —lends credence to our commitment.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Secretary of State said, understandably, that his fifth point was of "overriding importance", but is it really compatible with the Lords amendment? I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us the Government's attitude to that amendment; some of us think that it wrecks the Bill completely.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
It is important to clarify the position here and now: this is the kernel of the debate. I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that it would be utterly irresponsible to bring the body into being while in any way accepting the wrecking amendments tabled in the House of Lords. Will he assure us that not only the letter, but the substance and the spirit, of the amendments in clause 11 will be rejected? There is no point in bringing Scottish Natural Heritage into existence if the right hon. Gentleman is going to lie down in front of the landowning lobby at the first hurdle and give anything approaching the powers suggested in clause 11.
§ Mr. Lang
I can assure the House that there is no question of our "lying down" in front of the landowning lobby. We are trying to achieve a proper balance in a new body that is fully committed and fully empowered to carry out its remit to preserve and enhance Scotland's natural heritage.
I have already explained that clause 11 is at present flawed and unworkable. I could give a number of precise details, but those are essentially Committee points. We shall have an opportunity to debate our proposed amendments in Committee; I can tell the House no more than that at this stage.
§ Mr. Dewar
I note that the Secretary of State is reluctant to be more forthcoming, but I hope that I can tempt him to be a little more helpful.
When I hear a Minister say that an amendment is flawed, I assume that technical amendments, adjustments and perhaps shifts of emphasis might make it acceptable. If I interpret correctly the views of my hon. Friends, the feeling on this side of the House is that it is not a question of the amendment's being flawed but of its being, in principle, unacceptable. It is regarded as a wrecking 632 amendment. That is an important distinction. We want the kernel of the amendment to be rejected, since, as the Secretary of State argued, it would make the work of Scottish Natural Heritage almost impossible.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
Before my right hon. Friend replies, I hope that he will permit me to say that it is absolutely essential that any site of special scientific interest should be designated as such for purely scientific reasons. Therefore, one cannot reach a layman's decision —yes or no. Due to the new regional structure, with very much closer management of the areas concerned, I believe that there will be much more discussion between the owners of SSSIs and Scottish Natural Heritage so that questions can be resolved amicably without the need to go to appeal.
§ Mr. Lang
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I tried to make that point earlier, when I said that, in future, there should not be the same problems as have been encountered in the past. I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) by saying that, apart from the clause being technically flawed, it runs counter to the Government's declared and long-established policy since 1981. It would be a fairly substantial matter if the Government were to contemplate changing that policy. We should not enter lightly into such discussions. That is why we are giving close consideration to the matter now. However, I assure the House that, well ahead of the appropriate moment in Committee, we shall make our position absolutely clear.
§ Mr. Maclennan
When the Secretary of State reviews the clause, I hope the he will not overlook the overriding concern that was manifested in another place: that this is a question not of landlords versus crofters, or any such primitive instinct, but of lack of accountability in designation which has led to large tracts of the north of Scotland being designated as sites of special scientific interest, to the detriment of any form of development. Those decisions have been regarded as highly controversial. The provisions of the new clause seem to be widely welcomed, at least throughout the highlands and islands of Scotland.
§ Mr. Lang
I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. His intervention underlines the fact that these are not black and white issues, but are complex and diverse. That makes it all the more important, therefore, to consider the matter again.
Clause 2 sets out the general functions of Scottish Natural Heritage. I draw the attention of the House to the advisory functions of SNH. The new body will have a significant role in advising me and any other Minister on policies concerning Scotland's natural heritage. It will also have a more general advisory role on the natural heritage which should result in greater appreciation and understanding of its use and management.
In support of these advisory roles, Scottish Natural Heritage will have an important research function. We expect it to be carried out, as the subsection suggests, largely through an externally commissioned programme. Much of SNH's work will be with others. Our intention is that there should be close working with the private and voluntary sectors, which have a vital role to play in the protection, conservation, enjoyment and understanding of the natural heritage.
633 Clause 3 sets out what is commonly known as the balancing duty—in other words, the matters that SNH should take into account, where appropriate, when it is fulfilling its general aims and purposes. SNH cannot work in a vacuum from those whose activities affect the natural heritage in various ways, or from those who are affected by the need to protect and conserve the natural heritage. The essence of the balancing clause, therefore, is that SNH should take account of the needs of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, the need for social and economic development and the interests of local communities. We are committed, following consideration in another place, to reviewing the precise wording of the clause. Again, that can usefully be done in Committee.
Clause 4 and schedule 2 provide for amendment of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and other nature conservation legislation to allow for the responsibilities of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland to be undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage. They allow the SNH to perform its nature conservation functions on exactly the same basis as the Nature Conservancy Council for England and the Countryside Council for Wales.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
Presumably there will still be a co-ordinating committee to link with bodies in England and Wales. Will the Committee meet at Peterborough or north of the border and elsewhere in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend may not have been able to be present when the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised that point. It is not a matter on which I am able to pronounce at the moment. The joint committee is not my direct responsibility, but my hon. Friend's anxiety on that point will have been noted.
Clause 5 widens the scope of powers already available to the Countryside Commission for development projects or schemes. That has proved to be a very worthwhile power to establish demonstration projects and experiments aimed at enhancing the environment. A right of appeal was inserted in another place against development projects or schemes, but we consider that that reflects a misunderstanding of the fact that SNH will not be able to undertake development projects or schemes without the consent of the landowner. We shall wish to return to that matter in Committee.
Clause 6 deals with powers of entry for the purpose of surveying land and provides various safeguards for landowners and occupiers, including compensation for any damage caused. Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State power to pay grant to Scottish Natural Heritage. Clause 8 empowers Scottish Natural Heritage to give grants or loans for projects that will benefit the natural heritage and to set down appropriate conditions.
Clauses 9 to 13 provide various miscellaneous provisions to support the functions of Scottish Natural Heritage and the dissolution of the predecessor bodies.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Clauses 8 to 13 raise a substantial question. What are the Government doing to improve the designation of marine nature reserves? Only two have been developed. To one who considered the 1981 legislation in Committee, that is profoundly disappointing—one point at least on which the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. 634 Monro) might agree. Can nothing be done under those clauses or anywhere else in the Bill to improve the MN R procedure?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman is on to a fair point. On the designation of marine nature reserves or other appropriate protection areas—for example, marine conservation areas or preferred coastal conservation zones —perhaps less attention has been given to such matters in the past than is appropriate. I believe that the merging of the Countryside Commission with the Nature Conservancy Council into Scottish Natural Heritage will create a body that will more effectively be able to take a proper overview of those matters.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that consideration is currently being given to the possible designation of Loch Sween in Argyll as a possible marine SSSI under the marine nature reserve provisions. Designation is by the Secretary of State, obviously on advice. That is a matter on which I cannot pronounce any further at present, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman will understand.
In addition to all the provisions that I have mentioned, and as previously indicated, we intend to bring forward amendments in Committee for two purposes. First, we intend to seek amendment to the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 to allow the Red Deer Commission, where there is damage to the natural heritage, to exercise the same powers that it already has in relation to deer causing damage to farming and forestry. Secondly, we shall also seek approval, as I have already said, for a power to the Secretary of State to designate natural heritage areas.
I now refer briefly to part II of the Bill which contains the provisions on irrigation. Those provisions are designed to ensure that there is effective control over those abstractions which can severely damage the quality or quantity of water in our rivers and lochs and underground waters. They are modest measures designed to improve the effectiveness and widen the scope of the present legislation contained in the Spray Irrigation Act 1964. We have wanted to enact those measures for some time.
The thrust of the changes is to meet a long-standing commitment to replace with workable legislation an Act which has been on the statute book for 26 years but has, in practice, proved virtually inoperable. It is vital to maintain the quality and quantity of our water. We must ensure that rivers and streams do not dry up or become so reduced that there is a severe adverse effect on aquatic life and on the ability of a river to dilute and absorb pollution.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
When he referred to the designation of natural heritage areas, the Secretary of State said that he could probably say more to enlighten us on just exactly what they should be.
§ Mr. Lang
In answer to a supplementary question, I explained some of our thinking. I also said that we intended to table an amendment in Committee on natural heritage areas. Until we do so, it would be best to keep my powder dry, but I welcome the hon. Gentleman's close interest and look forward to further expanding on our thinking in Committee.
The measures in part III deal with the supply of water during times of drought. They will replace existing provisions in the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 with provisions already available in England and Wales under 635 the Water Act 1989. The central change is that the new provisions will allow authorities more flexibility in meeting any deficiencies in supply due to exceptional shortage of rain.
Contrary to popular belief, Scotland sometimes suffers from just such a problem. In the particularly dry year of 1984 which affected much of the country, rainfall was only 40 per cent. of the average between April and August. This shortage had a marked detrimental effect on rivers and the flora and fauna which they sustain. Flows were seriously affected and reservoir levels dropped.
There are also more localised drought problems from time to time. Last year, for example, drought orders were made in both the Fife and the Borders regions.
While it is true to say that authorities have coped well in the past, the lessons learned have brought widespread agreement that a more flexible regime for those who have to deal with the problem is needed. These new provisions will also make water management in such situations consistent throughout Great Britain.
We are also taking the opportunity of the Bill to make several minor amendments to existing water legislation. They are, first, to make specific provision on control of water pollution to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations giving effect to international and EC obligations; secondly, we shall amend the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 to ensure that river purification boards are consulted by water authorities in pursuance of some of their responsibilities under the Act; thirdly, the Bill will supplement powers to make regulations under the Water (Scotland) Act 1980; lastly, we intend to modify the membership arrangements for river purification boards.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the Secretary of State accept that what he calls fairly minor regulations raise questions of staffing? At first sight, these so-called minor regulations require a good deal of staff, as do many of the other proposed measures. What is the position on chronic understaffing? In many of the briefings and discussions that we have had, it has been stressed that staffing is a real problem when implementing the measures. Before the Secretary of State finishes his speech, will he say something about the shortage of staff?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman will know from the front of the Bill the effect that it will have on public service manpower. Some additional staff will be required by the new body to ensure that it can address the Government's priorities for Scotland's natural heritage. We anticipate a staff of 450 in total. That will be an increase on the previous number of staff. Indeed, an increase of 140 staff is already in train as a result of the transfer from Peterborough to Scotland of Nature Conservancy Council responsibilities. We do not envisage any substantial direct increases in staff to arise from water considerations.
The establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage illustrates both our commitment to the work of the predecessor bodies and the need for an integrated approach in future. More importantly, it clearly signals our commitment to the unique and priceless natural heritage of Scotland, which is the envy of all who visit Scotland and the pride of all of us who live there. It truly represents our inheritance from the past—the land and landscape and the flora and fauna bequeathed by nature, and all the changes which have occured to them as a result of the activities or our predecessors.
636 We must not be complacent, if we are to bequeath our inheritance to future generations in a way which will sustain their well-being. That can be achieved only if we manage our resources, both natural and human, with great care. We cannot afford to allow activities which undermine the natural resource base so that it is not usable in the longer term. However, that does not mean putting a stop to all economic activity in the countryside. Far from it: our policy is based on the encouragement of environmentally sensitive and sustainable use of our natural heritage arid the encouragement of economic activity which sustains and even strengthens and enhances its environment.
Scottish Natural Heritage has a focal role to play in achieving those aims. That is why we brought together nature and landscape conservation and recreational access and enjoyment functions. That will make possible the integrated approach to which I referred. As I have already said, SNH cannot carry out the task on its own. It must seek out and cultivate a range of partners to achieve our wider objectives. It will seek to develop initiatives with local communities, landowners and other local interests. It will work jointly with Government Departments and public bodies and seek to stimulate the work of the voluntary sector. We have given it all the powers in the Bill that it requires to undertake this task. Later this year, I shall make decisions about the funding of the new body and the appointment of board members to support Magnus Magnusson. I shall consider proposals for the location, organisational structure and staffing of the new body.
We are the custodians of our heritage. We hold it in trust. We have a tremendous opportunity now to build a positive partnership which will sustain our heritage for future generations. I hope that both sides of the House will support this approach and welcome the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
In a narrow sense, this is a Bill which we should cherish. It is the one and only Bill produced by the Scottish Office this parliamentary Session. It is a modest return for, presumably, a great deal of thought and effort. We should perhaps be grateful for that, considering the damage done in previous years by the current Scottish Office team.
This is an important Bill and we shall take it seriously in Committee. It deals with an area of policy which, unfortunately, may lend itself to rhetoric. Inevitably, sometimes the rhetoric sounds a little empty in the abstract. I take as an example of that the introduction by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rificind) to "Scotland's Natural Heritage" in which he said:We must improve understanding, increase awareness, promote co-operation and find ways of allowing our rural communities to grow and prosper by managing natural resources wisely and well.We are also against sin and in favour of better weather. There is something unexceptionable about those sentiments, but I am not sure that they advance the cause of conservation greatly. Passages of the Secretary of State's speech, when reread at leisure by anyone who has the temerity to do so, might fall into the same category.
We are being offered a new framework—Scottish Natural Heritage. According to the Secretary of State, it 637 will translate into more effective action. We want more effective action and a better, more enduring framework than has been possible in the past. There have been arguments about whether this is the right starting point. We have had our complaints, particularly that the early proposals were ill digested and lacked specification. That is still partly true.
For some splendid generalisations, I can do no better than go back to the original discussion document, "Scotland's Natural Heritage", which is a rather pleasant, moss green colour and has a stag at bay on its front cover. It told us about the end of the ice age and the demise of the wolf, and a great deal aboutthe mountain plateaux with a ptarmigan and other arctic-alpine fauna and flora, the native woodlands with capercaillie, Scottish crossbill, pine marten and wild cat, the peatland 'flows' with their concentration of rare waders … golden eagles, the machair grasslands … the last haven in Britain of the corncrake".That took up a great deal of the five pages which were to be the blueprint for the future. I say with no sarcasm that I got the impression that they might have been written by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). At least we have advanced some way since then.
There has not been much consultation, although some of the claims about that have been fanciful. A written answer on 11 July 1989 to a question from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) gave a list of the various voluntary conservation bodies and groups which supported the Government's proposals. I was astonished when I read their representations to discover that many were not in favour. Some specifically did not comment because they had been told that the essential scheme was not open for consultation; only how it was to be implemented. Therefore, they passed no words on it. There were great difficulties in those early stages.
Since then we have had the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and we are now at stage two. I want to make it clear on behalf of Labour Members that we have no intention of dividing the House against the Bill. We have not even tabled an amendment in our name. We are interested in clearing up a large number of ambiguities and focusing on the essentials in Committee. Our interest is in making a success of Scottish Natural Heritage when it comes into being. I am sure that the whole House will be united on that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend said that we have no intention of dividing the House. Indeed, that was agreed by everybody before the debate began, but the Secretary of State's attitude to the fundamental Lords amendments has put a rather different complexion on that. Some of us, naturally in consultation with our colleagues, would like to leave open the question of a Division, because the goods put forward are different from what we thought we were being offered.
§ Mr. Dewar
I certainly intend to return to the Lords amendments and I hear what my hon. Friend said. I hasten to assure him that anything I may say does not necessarily bind him. I have long recognised that as a fact, even if it is not necessarily the theory. No doubt we can discuss this during the debate, but I take his serious point about what the Secretary of State said.
638 The Bill is concise, with only 13 clauses, but because of that it sketches the situation only briefly and inevitably raises many questions which I should like to draw to the attention of the House. Perhaps I may do so with the promise, not the threat, that we shall want to return to those issues in Committee.
There has been a great deal of comment about the word "sustainable" in clause 1(1). I think that every hon. Member has received representations about it. I welcome the concept, but it is difficult to define. In another place Lord Strathclyde—I notice that these days we are being invited on television to get to know and love that gentleman as "Tom Strathclyde"—said that "sustainable" meant securing the inheritance of future generations, but his attempts to define it beyond that were not helpful. It is easy to comprehend what sustainable means for forestry or fishing policy, but beyond those rather obvious examples it becomes less clear.
We shall try to return to that in Committee, although I am assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) that anyone who comes up with something approaching a definition would have to be a latter-day Wittgenstein, so we shall see what emerges. Even if we cannot define the term, we should get a rather better view from the Government than has been possible so far of their intention. That is a matter of some importance.
My second point will come as no surprise to those who have been following the debate. It relates to the remit of SNH. There is an absence of any duty to encourage access to recreation in the countryside. Several bodies whose views I respect have put that to us. I recognise that there is always a possibility of saying that that is encompassed in the purpose of the SNHto foster understanding and facilitate the enjoyment of the natural heritage of Scotland".It is a matter not only of emphasis, but of symbolic importance, and certainly it has caused some concern.
There have been suggestions, for example, that there is a difference of approach built on the different remits of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission for Scotland on this matter. That may be worthy of consideration. As the House will not be surprised to hear, we have also been approached by the Scottish Sports Council. It takes the view, as does the Countryside Commission for Scotland, that a reference specifically to access and recreation should be included. The Scottish Sports Council news release states:
?However, the Council believes that the access and recreation role currently carried out by the Commission will not be as effective after a merger with the Nature Conservancy Council.I hope that that is not so. It would be an argument against the merger altogether. It is important in giving reassurance against those fears for a specific remit on access and recreation to be included. Again, we shall return to that in Committee.
Other balancing considerations must be taken up by Scottish Natural Heritage, one of which is the lack of reference to archaeological heritage. That consideration may not arise often and I mention it only in passing, but it is worth further thought. Perhaps the Minister—I presume that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West will be in charge of the Committee on a day-to-day basis—will bear that in mind when considering the amendments.
I shall now deal with the Lords amendments, which are becoming increasingly contentious. As I understand it, 639 there are two, not just one. The first relates to the general power that has been given to SNH in clause 5. In another place they added subsections (4) and (5) to clause 5. They did so, it seems, due to a somewhat excitable—I hope that not one will resent the term—view of the way in which the new body might operate and of the likely relevance of the powers defined in clause 5. They permit the SNH toprepare proposals with respect to any area for a development project or scheme which is designed to achieve the conservation or enhancement of or which fosters understanding or enjoyment of the natural heritage of Scotland.That was seen by a number of their Lordships as a new and threatening departure from the legal framework with which we are familiar. Perhaps my colleagues noticed some of the more racy international metaphors used to describe that threat. I am thinking in particular of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, who went a mile on the issue during the debates. I was also interested in the views of the Baroness Strange, a lady with whom I am not familiar. She concluded that clause 5 was, as drafted, of all the horrific prospects, a breach of the declaration of Arbroath. That suggestion seemed to be taken surprisingly seriously by the Minister, but perhaps it gives a flavour of the exchanges.
I undertook some in-depth research and looked up Baroness Strange in "Dod's Parliamentary Companion". I found that she is the author of the important works "Lalage in Love", "Love from Belinda" and "Creatures Great and Small", which is perhaps more relevant. I asked the Library to produce those seminal texts for my consideration, but, unfortunately, I am left to imagine what delights must be included. In any event, the House should join me in assuring Baroness Strange that the declaration of Arbroath—or the declaration of independence in Arbroath, which is how she referred to it—would not be affected by the Bill.
The Lords amendments are intended to make clause 5 unworkable. In effect, the Secretary of State acknowledged that. I have considered the legal forms in the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 and other legislation and the phrases contained in clause 5 are very familiar and have been used before. I do not believe that the fears expressed can be defended. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to excise the amendments, which were added under a misapprehension.
The situation resulting from clause 11 is even more serious. There have already been exchanges on this issue. There is no doubt that, if the clause remains as drafted and inserted by another place, it will tie up resources, as the Minister agreed. It will undermine the credibility of SNH in its early and formative period.
I am told that there are more than 1,200 sites of special scientific interest in Scotland—one colleague says that there are 1,300 and I am prepared to come and go on the odd 100. Annexe D of the Government paper, "Scotland's Natural Heritage: The Way Ahead", implies the formidable task of a review of every one of those SSSIs in the first five years of SNH. There have been representations against that by every body that has bothered to comment on the Bill, whether it be the Countryside Commission for Scotland, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Rural Forum or the Scottish Wildlife Trust. They have written to me to implore wholeheartedly that the clause be removed from the Bill.
In any event the clause is based on a misunderstanding. Clearly, an SSSI is a notification of the scientific value of 640 a particular area. It is not in itself the imposition of a prohibition order. It is an obligation on a landlord to consult the present Nature Conservancy Council and, in future, SNH during consideration of potentially damaging operations. The process goes on to produce the possibility of a voluntary management agreement to preserve the scientific interest of the area.
I am told—I unashamedly admit that these figures came from the World Wide Fund for Nature—that, in the NCC's north-west Scotland area, there are some 330 SSSIs, involving about 2,500 landholders. Many SSSIs cross different areas of ownership. There are about 60 current management agreements and about 25 under negotiation. In other words, the vast majority do not reach the point where there is a need to think in terms of a current management agreement. A landowner has the right to refuse to sign a management agreement if he is dissatisfied with the compensation offered, but, given the number of SSSIs in that area, that has not happened once in the past 10 years.
The clause, as drafted, would create considerable difficulties. I recognise that the Secretary of State wishes, rather quaintly, to keep his powder dry, but I should have thought that, by this stage, we should have been given a clear suggestion of the Government's intention. The difficulty is that he has agreed, by implication at least, and sometimes explicitly, with all the criticisms. He has conceded that the Bill will be practically unworkable, especially if clause 11 survives, but, oddly, he holds back from saying that it should go and that the Government will not accept the spirit of the amendments.
At the end of the debate, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be a little more forthcoming and explain the situation. After all, in another place the amendments were passed rather quickly. It was unusual, because the Labour party voted with Ministers yet still managed to lose. The payroll vote bit the dust in no uncertain fashion. I presume that Ministers knew what they were doing when they stood against the wrath of the landowning interests on the basis of the merits of the proposition. The Minister should have the courage of Tom Strathclyde and, in this rather gentler climate, fall in with the worries and anxieties that have been expressed not just here but throughout the conservation world and to me. I hope that we shall hear more from the Minister before the end of the debate. I give way to the voice of dissent.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The process of designation, which has been the subject of amendment to clause 11, may concern designation of a scientific nature alone, but it is challenged not only on scientific grounds by people who have no means of carrying the debate further as the law stands, but on the grounds of the economic consequences of designation. The absence of accountability in existing law is unacceptable and it is that with which the other place tried to deal. The hon. Gentleman tried to press the Secretary of State to be more forthcoming about his view of that problem. The hon. Gentleman might choose this opportunity to be forthcoming about the Labour party's awareness of the problem that the other place was facing up to.
Perhaps their Lordships did not have the right answer, but I should like to know what view the Labour party takes. The law as it stands is not working to the 641 satisfaction of those people—crofters, farmers, landowners, foresters and many others—who have a much greater interest then do some of the bodies to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ Mr. Dewar
I understand the vehemence with which the hon. Gentleman makes his point. It is not clear to me how the Liberal peers voted. Perhaps they voted in favour of clause 11. No doubt the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), who speaks for her party on these issues, will make it clear whether she is in favour of retaining clause 11. I shall be very surprised if it turns out to be so, but no doubt we shall have the matter clarified shortly. I have explained that an SSSI, as I understand it, implies scientific value.
If one of the potentially damaging operations is proposed, the landholder has an obligation to consult. However, even at that stage, the operation can be stopped only by management agreement with the landlord. In such cases it is always necessary to strike a balance. No doubt the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), by virtue of his constituency interest, is aware of the report "Management Agreements for Nature Conservation in Scotland", issued by Aberdeen university in 1990. That document certainly drew attention to the need for better consultation.
We are setting up a new devolved structure, involving regional and area provision, which is being pioneered by the NCC in its interregnum Scottish year. On the basis of advice that I received recently, I am of the opinion that the problems are not as insurmountable or as jagged as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The representations that have been made to me, from a remarkable range of people, have certainly persuaded me that clause 11 is wrong. I am sorry if the Liberal party intends to vote in support of the clause, but that seems to be the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I await clarification.
§ Sir Hector Monro
I do not know all the Liberal Democratic peers intimately, but it seems to me that three of them voted in favour of clause 11, and one against.
§ Mr. Dewar
That does not surprise me. The intervention that we just heard clearly shows a great deal of support for the clause. Many Scottish peers—Lord Thurso in particular—were prominent in the debate.
Having taken some time to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point, as it is important, I want to move on and probe for a few minutes another very important matter. The Secretary of State referred to it, but I found his attitude unsatisfactory. I refer to the natural heritage areas —a very substantial issue and a matter of some mystery to many of us. I understand that amendments are to be tabled. I have made earnest inquiries among interested parties and I have been told repeatedly that no one knows what a natural heritage area is, or how it fits into the great scheme of things. It is with no sarcasm that I say that it seems to have been spirited up, as there was not even the suspicion of its appearance during the consultative process. It comes at a very odd time.
The Scottish Countryside Commission's document "The Mountain Areas of Scotland" proposes the creation of four national parks. One of these is in the Cairngorms. I believe that we are in danger of ending up with a hopelessly cluttered situation that no reasonable person 642 could be expected to understand. I am told—perhaps it is only rumour, or I may be under a misapprehension—that the flow country, which is certainly of interest to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, and the Cairngorms are likely early candidates for natural heritage status.
Indeed, Cairngorm is almost certainly an early candidate. The Government, for reasons of prestige, are attempting to have that area designated as a world heritage site. We know that it is also potentially a national park and, on top of all that, Mr. Magnus Magnusson's working party is examining future strategies for the management of the Cairngorms under what appear to be very comprehensive terms of reference. We now have layer upon layer upon layer, and it beggars the imagination to discover where definition and authority lie.
There are some questions to which we shall expect answers in Committee and in this regard we shall no doubt be joined by Conservative Members. How do natural heritage agencies relate to national parks? Does the one preclude the other? What will be the remit of a natural heritage agency? Is there a management body at all, or is it merely a question of designation, which will be implemented by some other, as yet unknown, body? If so, will that be a national park? If not, who?
If the natural heritage area is going to set out a programme of management, that programme will have to be implemented either by the area itself—in which case, the national park is precluded—or by some competitor for the responsibility. If there is to be a body, who will be represented on it? What will be its relationship to SNH? What powers of last resort, if any, will it have? It should be clear to the Minister that a large number of legitimate questions must be answered. It is proper that those questions be raised in this debate and in Committee.
"Scottish Environment News" in November 1990 quotes the Under-Secretary of State as having said:A common theme in the CCS's recent report on mountain areas is the need for an integrated strategy. The Cairngorm Working party might serve as a prototype for bringing together relevant interested parties to create similar strategies for other parts of Scotland.I am not clear about the meaning of that. It seems to suggest that there will be working parties in other areas. But it suggests also that this working party will operate very much on the themes set out in the Countryside Commission's document on mountain areas. That simply adds to the general confusion and the pattern of overlapping responsibilities that we appear to be facing. It is an unsatisfactory situation, which the Minister will have to try to clear up, so that the layman may have some chance of understanding not only the Government's intentions but likely developments on the ground over the next year or two.
The debate on national parks still has some way to go. I realise that the results of the consultations have not yet been published. The Countryside Commission hope that they will be available to the Secretary of State some time in March and I hope that they will be made available to a wider audience very shortly thereafter. It seems that there is a case for considering together the Scottish heritage area concept and the national park concept. I have some sympathy with a point that has been put to me forcefully; that, to use a cliche of the Government, unless they are considered together, we shall not have a level playing field. 643 There is a danger that implementation of the natural heritage area will prejudice further debate on the national park proposal.
I welcome the Scottish Countryside Commission's proposals. Here is a case that has strength and that must be examined very closely. The idea that there should be an over-arching body looking at the problems of sensitive areas, where several local authorities and many conservation bodies and groups have an interest, is sensible. It is, of course, important that there be strong links with the communities concerned. It is important that the creation of a national park should not be seen as a means of sealing off an area, choking development and leaving communities in a state of suspended animation.
The Secretary of State made it clear that that was not his intention. If we go further down this road, we must make it very clear to the people who live in these areas. Many of them live in large communities, such as Fort William, which is included in the Ben Nevis/Glencoe/ Black Mount area and is part of the community zoned within that proposed national park. It is the main centre of population in Lochaber.
If we are to have national parks, we must take the opportunity of balancing conservation and development, forestry and agriculture, and tourism and recreation more successfully than in the past. I welcome the fact that the Countryside Commission is proposing that two thirds of the board should come from local authority members and one third should be appointed by the Secretary of State. The emphasis on locally elected members is probably wise and would reassure those who fear a rigidly imposed structure from outside the area.
I firmly believe that consultation is a key issue. I was interested that the reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) contained a reference to marine reserves. Judging by the correspondence that I have received, it is clear that, however good the Loch Sween proposal may be—perhaps it has captured the imagination of those who live on the shores of Loch Sween, but not in the way that the proposers would wish—there are lessons to be learnt. I am sure that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute will want to raise that matter later.
The debate on the national parks should be joined. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) may wish to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to put forcefully the case for the Loch Lomond area. That is a special case, for which there are strong arguments because two district—two regional—councils are involved. The area is under particular pressure because of its geography and its ease of access from heavily populated districts. I know that many of the local authorities are particularly attracted by grant structures that might meet 85 per cent. of expenditure—there is nothing dishonourable about that. As a countryside park, it does much worse than that, and I see that the grant structure is a pressing incentive.
There are many views on the subject. The World Wild Fund for Nature is cautious and has doubts, the World Conservation Union is enthusiastic, and there is a range of opinions in between. We want a constructive debate held in a flexible, sensible spirit, that recognises the sensitivities which arise. We must look carefully at the results of the consultation which may not be as hostile as the Secretary of State hinted when he gave his summary of local reaction. I promise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that my colleagues will return to the subject in Committee.
644 I shall wrap up my argument by quickly covering one or two important issues. Such debates always contain issues that should be, but are not, on the agenda. I do not know whether we shall manage to include everything we want in Committee. It would be a pity if there were no debate on the Crown Estate commissioners and their role, particularly in connection with fish farming. The 1990 report of the Select Committee on Agriculture said that the Crown Estates commissioners had at least 709 sites for salmon and shellfish farms, of which 698 were in Scotland. Clearly, the commissioners' power is considerable. There are problems with the dominance of large companies, the tying-up of good sites on long leases and how to get local people and capital involved. There have undoubtedly been great problems with consultation.
We believe that there should be planning control over fish farm sites. That subject may arise during further discussion on the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and others involved will anticipate my saying that forestry is another matter of great concern in terms of achieving the right balance in conservation. Planting has declined considerably since the change in tax concessions. I am told—I do not know whether the figures are accurate—that planting has declined from 27,000 to 12,000 hectares annually, but the Government target, which has not changed, remains at 3,000 hectares per annum. The theory is that unfortunate planting can be controlled by witholding grants, and that power is open to the Forestry Commission. However, I am advised that there is still significant planting without grants and there remains the question of whether the Forestry Commission is the right organisation to impose controls. An extension of the present planning control system should be studied closely and my hon. Friends will want to put forward arguments on that subject.
The Secretary of State said that Scottish National Heritage will have a major task, and for once I believe him. It is an important organisation. I should declare that I have had the opportunity of talking to some of the staff recently. Change is always unsettling, even if it brings new challenges. Magnus Magnusson's appointment will be widely welcomed, although I am not sure whether he is as big in bridge-building as the Secretary of State would have us believe. It is important that the board is appointed quickly and that a chief executive is in post, so that decisions can be taken reasonably rapidly. The basic principles of integration must be thought out. For example, it is not for me to express a personal preference on the siting of the headquarters, but following my occasional visits to Battleby I feel that it could be a persuasive contender because of its geography and facilities. I recognise that there are plenty of other places that I have not seen, and there must be considerations unknown to me, but I have always been impressed by what Battleby has to offer.
I recognise, too, that guarantees have been given to the staff about job security and about protection from predators, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. The Secretary of State may be able to confirm that the Ernst and Young report on the "Analysis of the Operational Options" in connection with SNH is now available in the Library. It contains much important information that we shall wish to assess in Committee.
I am afraid that resources are inevitably a key factor. The current budget for the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland is £19.6 million, and for the Countryside 645 Commission for Scotland, £6.5 million, which squares roughly with the global total mentioned by the Secretary of State.
I am not happy that the Bill's explanatory memorandum states that we are to have a combined budget
only slightly more than the sum of expenditure on the predecessor bodies.I hope that it is in real terms, because if it is only slightly more in cash terms, it may not take account of inflation. Undoubtedly, there will be the additional expenses of setting up the devolved machinery and the inevitable costs of integration and amalgamation. I hope that we shall not undergo the sort of disappointing experiences that we had with the setting up of a different organisation, Scottish Enterprise, where, in real terms, we are not even receiving the standstill budget that we were promised on many occasions.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
Does the hon. Gentleman propose that more money should be spent on those two organisations in future?
§ Mr. Dewar
I am saying that, if we give them increased responsibility and substantially increased costs of amalgamation that will eat into the money that they have for their central purposes, we must consider their position sympathetically. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), who has sat through the debate with great patience, would be the first to agree. I suspect that it may be noticed that he has been drafted on to the Committee, on which I commiserate with him, but I look forward to his contributions in this debate.
I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Dumfries will undoubtedly be on the Committee—he cannot escape and I know that he has a great deal of expertise to offer as a member of the national Nature Conservancy Council in recent years. The hon. Member for Wyre will be one of the —to use an ugly term—"outlanders" serving on the Committee. I hope that, for all that, he will take a constructive part, not simply as the chorus in unison as the Whips instruct when there are Divisions.
§ Mr. Dewar
I am delighted to accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance that he would be incapable of such a spineless approach.
I have detained the House long enough. There are undoubtedly sensitive issues at stake. Subtle and often conflicting pressures arise. The Opposition's only wish is to get the Bill right and try to ensure that Scottish Natural Heritage gets off to a sound start and provides an effective framework for the future.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I am full of enthusiasm for the Bill and warmly thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for introducing it, and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) for his comments. I shall pick up the hon. Gentleman's two major criticisms of clauses 5 and 11, but I was pleased by his overall approach to what looks like being a constructive and interesting Committee stage.
646 Those who read, and the luckier ones who listened, to the speech by Magnus Magnusson to a forum on Skye on 2 February will have been uplifted by what he said. He brilliantly set out an agenda for Scottish Natural Heritage, and his hopes, aspirations and determination to carry through a wide remit.
Magnus Magnusson was full of positive thinking on how the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland would be welded together in a year's time, and how each had much to give each other. The future holds no bounds. I should like to quote the distinguished director of the NCC for Scotland, Dr. John Francis, who has been supportive in the consultative and legislative period. He said:Conservation will ride on the crest of a wave.That is true, and although few hon. Members are present, we are laying down legislation of which all of us will be proud in the future.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to my involvement in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and since then as a member of the Nature Conservancy Council. I am confident that we are taking an important step forward, because we have the will, the resources and the vision. It is up to us in Scotland to prepare the rightful destiny for our conservation, wildlife and heritage.
That contrasts with the rather negative thinking of the NCC in Peterborough when this original concept was introduced. It found difficulty with many solutions, but the majority of council members welcomed the devolution of the NCC to England, Wales and Scotland.
Two important steps were taken that removed many of the original doubts, the first of which was the introduction of the Joint Nature Conservancy Committee under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Frederick Holliday; nobody could have been more involved in conservation than him, besides being a distinguished scientist. The second step was to overcome the criticism that there would be inadequate resources.
We should consider the Government's response to that criticism. For England, Wales and Scotland in 1990–91, £45 million was given to the Nature Conservancy Council, whereas, for 1991–92, the Government have announced that England will receive £32.4 million, Scotland £19 million, Wales £14.5 million and the residuary body, which is tying up the loose ends, £1 million, making a total of £67 million, and £1 million for the pension fund. In real terms, £22 million extra will be spent on nature conservation, which is far more than most of the voluntary organisations, and certainly the Nature Conservancy Council, thought that the Government would give in this financial year, bearing in mind the fact that the economic situation is not as easy as we should like.
During the passage of the Environmental Protection Bill, I was surprised that the Opposition were so opposed to the devolution of the three nature conservancy councils. I am glad that they have been converted to common sense and see the way forward. Rightly, the issue of staff was frequently raised in debates on the devolution of the three NCCs. However, they were reassured by Ministers, and rightly so, because we need more staff. I acknowledge that some staff might experience inconvenience in moving from one area to another, but I am sure that they will feel part of a significant whole.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is the hon. Gentleman confident that he can persuade his Government of the need to give money to pay the new staff whom he says are needed?
§ Sir Hector Monro
As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are civil servants, and their pay is agreed between the Government and the civil service. They are on the payroll of the Government. The staff are in place, are enjoying their work and are looking forward with confidence.
I have been a long-term advocate of devolving the three NCCs, and I welcomed the publication of "Scotland's Natural Heritage: The Way Ahead" in 1989. I have always felt that, if anything needs a local touch, it is nature conservation, but that that was not being achieved when the NCC was based in Peterborough. It lacked credibility as one saw when one spoke to people in Caithness and Sutherland. Scotland will have its own scientific team, which will have the opportunity of using the immense resources of the Scottish universities to help with conservation and research. Whether it be based in Edinburgh, Battleby or wherever—I should hate to lose Battleby or our offices in Edinburgh—it will be a first-class step forward.
I must emphasise the quality of the chairmen of the three NCCs. Magnus Magnusson, the Earl of Cranbrook, who is one of the greatest authorities on the environment and the habitat, Michael Griffiths of the NCC of Wales and Fred Holliday of the JNCC would not have come forward if they were not confident that they would have the resources, teamwork and vision to proceed with the Government's proposals. I am glad that the rearguard action is now tailing off and that the new councils are settling down under their new chairmen and believe that the way ahead is all clear for conservation and the habitat.
The opponents, or the last ditch, one might say, were in the other place. We have already heard about its debates on clause 11 and clause 5. The debate on clause 11 was on a procedural issue, because it had got into a bit of nonsense over it all and had to debate the wrong amendment in order to debate something at all. It then passed it without understanding the consequences.
It would be nonsense to re-notify all the sites of special scientific interest in Scotland. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow knows, that was one of the early tasks of the NCC after the 1981 Act, and it has only just been completed after eight years of work. One's mind boggles at the thought of what the other place could impose on Scotland's natural heritage.
I see the point, made clearly by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), that an SSSI is the subject of a scientific judgment and that, under the legislation, that judgment is not open to appeal. Many people would, of course, like to object. There are three matters to be considered. First, the judgment has to be scientific. Secondly, under our new regional structure we shall have four regions and many district offices. Thirdly, there will be new regional boards with local chairmen and local members and they will be able to explain to the owners of SSSIs exactly what they are trying to do arid set out the scientific reasons. Such reasons must always be the test. Local consultations conducted by distinguished people will take the sting out of the matter. I am pleased at the membership of the new north-west region.
There will be deep argument in Committee about whether to have some sort of appeals body. It could well be on the lines of a regional advisory committee which 648 deals with forestry. Such a committee consists of nine people, some of whom are appointed, and contains foresters, people from local authorities and those with an interest in the environment, and decides whether a planting grant is appropriate. Something along those lines, but not a judicial or statutory appeal body, could advise an owner on whether he had a case.
We need to deal with the officialdom of what is known in the SSSI world as the PDO, the potentially damaging operation. There are 25 or perhaps 50 things that one cannot do with one's own SSSI. People who look at that list tend to go into orbit and say, "This will ruin my estate for ever." However, when the prohibitions are looked at one by one, it will be seen that the NCC would allow about 99 per cent. of them. I appreciate Magnus Magnusson's view that the PDO system should be changed to a more friendly nomenclature—for example, "operations requiring consultation". That would go some way towards removing some of the present objections.
An area structure of four main regions with many regional offices is important. At the moment, the NCC in the west of Scotland is based on Loch Lomond. That covers the whole of Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and is rather remote, even though there is an area office in Dalbeattie. To strengthen the NCC in Scotland, we will need more officers in Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Argyllshire. We must also keep a close watch on the island of Rhum, which is the jewel in the crown of the Nature Conservancy Council.
There is much to be pleased about. The Research and Development Board for Science will be based in Scotland, either in Edinburgh or Battleby. It will be under the chairmanship of Professor Dunnett and should do a great deal, especially to educate Scottish children about the importance of the Scottish environment.
The Countryside Commission for Scotland is under the excellent chairmanship of Roger Carr. One cannot speak about that commission without mentioning Jean Balfour who was chairman for 10 years and did a great deal to bring the Commission to life. The commission is only half the age of the NCC and could not be expected to have as much experience. However, it has completed much good work, including work on the southern upland way, which is known to me and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and has produced a book entitled "The Mountain Areas of Scotland" which will be one of our bibles in Committee. The book and its photographs of the magnificent landscape that we are setting out to protect show what the Bill is all about.
The arguments about national parks are interesting, but I have the feeling that the wrong conclusion has been reached. When I was a Minister in the Department of the Environment one of my responsibilities was looking after the national parks and I do not think that a bureaucratic set-up on top of Scotland's own structure will sit comfortably in our land. That is worth a great deal of consideration in Committee.
The Committee will have much to discuss about marine nature reserves, a subject that is close to the heart of the hon. Member for Linlithgow. There is extreme difficulty in getting agreement among the many organisations involved in marine reserves. That is why there are only two—one in England and one in Wales. The Loch Sween project has been shuffling along for a long time. I sail on that loch and sometimes anchor my boat near where I think I might get 649 a bottle of Drambuie. It is a beautiful place, except for the caravan sites on its shore, which are an eyesore. The problem is not on or under the water.
The Committee will discuss country traditions and, I hope, the importance to rural economies of country sports that bring so much money to them. We could look at the many problems such as the geese on Isla, a subject which is of interest to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). There are increasing stocks of barnacle and whitefront geese, but we never seem to find long-term answers to the problems.
There were lengthy debates in the other place about red deer. The Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 and the one that I put through the House in 1982 deal with that subject. We must strengthen the Red Deer Commission. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Garscadden does not seem to agree. We must insist that Scottish Natural Heritage consults formally and statutorily with the Red Deer Commission. There must be some joint policy for red deer in Scotland. The Red Deer Commission has a great fund of knowledge, but it has had no way of getting its policies implemented in Scotland. That is the key point. We should not leave the matter to the NCC for Scotland. I am not at all happy about the policies on red deer followed by the NCC for Scotland, and I formally opposed them.
§ Sir Hector Monro
In that context, the composition of SNH is important. One needs people who have a feel for deer and who know something about them. Managing deer forests in Scotland to the best advantage has a long tradition. As the hon. Gentleman says, there are too many hinds and far too few stags. We must have a massive hind cull. That is not easy, because the day is short in the highlands, especially in the western highlands, and there is little time to go out and shoot hinds in January or thereabouts when the stalkers are doing their best. We must work on that.
The record of the NCC on red deer has not been good and that may be due to the lack of practical knowledge. Rhum has the finest deer herd in Scotland; a policy of no culling, which was about to be started, would have destroyed the quality of the herd. The exception is the sanctuary area, where Professor Clutton-Brock runs so much good research with Fiona Guinness. Fortunately, we have changed the no cull policy.
I have not been the least bit happy with the issue of Craig Meagaidh, where we have wrongly made the habitat and the establishment of trees and vegetation of far greater importance than the deer, the herd of which has been dramatically reduced in number—I might even say that it had been slaughtered. That has immediate repercussions on the deer forests round about. We must look at them collectively, and that is why we must give much more importance to the Red Deer Commission and the formal relationship between it and SNH. We must get deer herd 650 management in Scotland right, bringing in the owners and those who know something about the management of deer forests.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the Red Deer Commission and its role. Does not that example show that part of the difficulty that we face in bringing together all these different interests is that there is no ultimately truthful scientific view about what is the right thing to do? We are seeking to reconcile different interests, and if decision making is left in the hands of one body, instead of having a scientific answer, one has a value judgment.
§ Sir Hector Monro
The hon. Gentleman is probably right. It is a value judgment, and there are not scientific arguments. There are so many problems such as fencing, the Forestry Commission and even the price of venison, which varies significantly, depending on the price in the continental market and the development of farmed deer in Scotland. Despite this host of problems, as red deer mean so much to Scotland, we must make management of the herds a high priority.
In Committee, we shall be looking at the marine nature reserves, nature conservation SSSIs and the Cairngorms, and all the problems that we have had there with tourist development. As the hon. Member for Garscadden said, we shall want to look into the defintion and practical application of the proposed world heritage designation, of the Cairngorms. If we have too many different designations, we shall devalue them all. Nobody will know where we are.
The key issue is maintenance and development of the magnificent quality of our landscape. We must think in terms of environmentally sensitive areas, which are funded by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland rather than the environment side of the Scottish Office. This is an important way forward, and we should look towards developing environmentally sensitive areas in more parts of Scotland, so that those areas can receive management agreements, which are helpful when farming is going through such a difficult economic period, particularly in the hills. I cannot thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State enough for his announcement today of the significant increase in the hill livestock compensatory allowance for the current year.
The other place was right to highlight the importance of economic development. Scotland's scenic beauty is also its workshop, and we must not forget those who live there all the year round in favour of concentrating on the tourists. This will inevitably mean that we shall deal with planning in Committee—a complicated issue in itself. I may raise parochial matters about the River Esk and the River Liddel, which pass through my constituency and which, for some incongruous reason, are managed through England because the mouth is in England, although 90 per cent. of the rivers are in Scotland. I hope that it will be in order for me to table an amendment to reverse this impossible situation.
The Bill has been framed with first-class intentions. We must keep in our hands during our debates, if we are strong enough to hold it up, the large White Paper "This Common Inheritance", which sets out the Government's overall objectives for the next decade, and it was published in the autumn. Together with the Bill, it makes Scotland's 651 future look bright. Those of us who serve on the Committee will feel it a privilege to play a part in Scotland's future.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
I take exception to the title of the Bill. We are setting up not a natural heritage but an organisation to protect our natural heritage. That may be a grammatical point, but we should get things right in the first instance. The Bill is about conservation.
I regret that the Bill has no provision for national parks. A brief general enabling clause giving Scottish Natural Heritage permissive powers to make recommendations for national parks, subject to regulations, should be included in the Bill. This follows from the Countryside Commission report of December 1990 entitled "The mountain areas of Scotland". As the Secretary of State said, the report recommends the establishment of four national parks in Scotland—the Cairngorms, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area, Ben Nevis and Glencoe, and Black Mount and Wester Ross. England has seven national parks and Wales has three, all or which have done well over the past 40 years. Sadly, Scotland has no national parks, and after 40 years, it is time for us to catch up. The English and Welsh authorities refer to their national parks as jewels in their crowns, and the same would be true of any Scottish national park.
I know that the Government intend to seek world heritage listing for the Cairngorms and that a working party has been set up under Magnus Magnusson to advise the Secretary of State on the longer-term management of that area. In the other place, Lord Strathclyde said that it was not the Government's desire to pre-empt the possibility of the area becoming a national park. Those to whom I have spoken who have been associated in my area are suspicious about this move. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
The House of Lords did not debate the concept of national parks, but a major debate is developing in Scotland. Three of the four areas that the Countryside Commission for Scotland recommended should become national parks are much bigger and more remote than English national parks. However, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area has more in common with the Lake district and Snowdonia. I realise that the debate on the national parks is not homogenous, so I shall make the case for the Loch Lomond area.
We need national parks because many more people come to the mountain areas. That certainly applies to the Loch Lomond area. We are only a stone's throw from Glasgow and many tourists come from there. It is a delicate area of outstanding beauty with wonderful landscapes and wildlife and recreational facilities, but sadly, we do not have the infrastructure and resources to cope with it. As long ago as 1945, the Government set up a committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Douglas Ramsay, to consider the establishment of national parks. The committee recommended that five national parks should be established in Scotland, including one at Loch Lomond. The case for the establishment of national parks in Scotland has thus been urged on Governments of all complexions for almost 50 years.
The pressures on the area that I represent in part are intense. For example, the pressure created by visitors is greater there than anywhere else in Scotland, while the 652 facilities and services are largely inadequate or substandard. It is estimated that more than £100 million worth of development is under way, or at the planning stage. That must be recognised by the Government generally and by the Secretary of State for Scotland specifically. The uniqueness of Loch Lomond must also be recognised.
Fundamental changes are taking place in agricultural and forestry policies in the Loch Lomond area which could have far-reaching implications for local communities as well as for landscape, wildlife and recreational resources. We need a mechanism capable of focusing on such issues which is both comprehensive and co-ordinated and which would prepare and implement policies leading to the sound use and development of the area in the long term. At present, there is a fragmented approach. For example, four local authorities are involved in the planning and management of the present Loch Lomond regional park area, and there would be five such authorities under the proposed arrangement. Single interest agencies, such as those responsible for agriculture, forestry, tourism, wildlife and conservation, work within limited remits, although they are assuming increasingly overlapping responsibilities.
The authority responsible for regional parks attempts to adopt a comprehensive approach to the conservation and use of the Loch Lomond area, but its powers and resources are limited. Its ability to provide a lead in the co-ordination of policies is weak. For example, the authority is dependent on a minute of agreement which was entered into voluntarily by the four constituent authorities and could be disbanded at any moment.
There are minimum requirements if the area is to be adequately protected and if its recreational and economic potential sensibly realised in the local and national interests. First, there should be a clear statutory remit to guide planning and management policies which would recognise the need to realise recreational opportunities and to promote the economic and social interests of local communities while giving priority to conservation interests if significant conflicts arise between the desired objectives.
Secondly, there should be a statutorily based mechanism—a park authority—with responsibility for developing comprehensive planning and management policies for the conservation and recreational use of the area and to promote the interests of local communities. Clearly, local communities suffer if their considerations are not adequately taken into account.
Thirdly, there should be a statutory requirement that the majority of members of the managing authority be composed of locally elected representatives. The Secretary of State has said that he will devolve powers; let us therefore devolve powers in the most meaningful way by having elected representatives from the area so that the voice of the local community is heard and heeded and its wishes implemented. There is room, however, for the Secretary of State to reflect the national interest and to appoint members accordingly. That would ensure that a wide range of relevant experience, expertise and interest is represented on the authority.
There is no doubt that all that we are discussing requires money. If I remember rightly, the report of the Countryside Commission for Scotland estimated that the cost of four national parks would be £7.1 million, and that the Loch Lomond park would cost £2.1 million. The cost of the four parks would be well below the existing levels of 653 grant that are made available to the English and Welsh national parks. It seems to me and to many others who have considered these matters that we are talking of quite a bargain.
Concern has been expressed about the different levels of support and warmth for the proposals before us. I realise that in some areas there is a divergence of view, but the principle of national park designation for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs has the strong support of the four constituent authorities which would be responsible for setting up the Loch Lomond park authority—Strathclyde and Central regional councils and Dumbarton and Stirling district councils. The two regional councils and the districts are ready to accept a national park. Dumbarton district council strongly supports the principle of delegation but has expressed reservations about the transfer of local planning powers to a new national park authority. The great issue has been resolved, however, and I submit that there is widespread support in my constituency for a Loch Lomond national park. I shall be happy to provide the Secretary of State with more evidence and information on that support. The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that he would welcome any information that I was able to give him.
The circumstances in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area are different in many material respects from those which apply in the other national park areas—the Cairngorms, Ben Nevis and Wester Ross. It is to be hoped that decisions taken in those areas will not be permitted to frustrate the long-held ambitions to establish a national park in the area that I represent in part. There was a case for a national park in the area 50 years ago, and I do not think that that case has diminished over the years. The requirement for a mechanism with a specific remit to focus on and seek to resolve the problems and opportunities to be found in a special part of Scotland is far more urgent today than it was in 1945. The proposals of the Countryside Commission for Scotland for national park designation would satisfy that requirement.
The proposals of the Countryside Commission for Scotland are based on a thorough scientific and social study. The commission has identified the Scottish mountain areas which are not most urgently in need of protection. The urgency that protection be afforded to them is as great in the area that I represent in part as it is elsewhere. The chairman of the Loch Lomond park authority, Councillor Duncan Mills, has said:It is ironic—in terms of funding—that the national parks in England and Wales attract 75 per cent. grant aid from central government funds for all approved expenditure, while our expected contribution … represents 30 per cent. of our commitments. I find this situation unsatisfactory knowing the quality of the landscape and the wild life resource of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and also the urgent need for sound management.In a letter to the Secretary of State of 15 January, Councillor Mills reminded the right hon. Gentleman of the concern expressed by members of the park authority that the opportunity may be lost to take early action to establish a Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park if decisions are not taken now. He said:No doubt you will be aware of the longstanding desire by the local authorities concerned with Loch Lomond to see the area designated a National Park. The public consultation exercise which has followed publication of the Mountain 654 Areas Report … has reflected wide support for a National Park … In these circumstances it would be particularly frustrating if the opportunity presented by the powers of the present Bill to provide enabling powers were lost.Along with Councillor Mills and the other members of the Loch Lomond park authority, as well as the regional and district councils in the area, I hope that the Government will be prepared to support proposals to incorporate an enabling clause to give the area national park status in terms approved of and recommended by the Government.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
The public usually assume that debates on the Floor of the House are conducted to score political points—and most of us would confess to playing our part in giving that impression. However, it was obvious from at least the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) that important matters can be debated with sincerity and with a cross-party flow. The speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and of the hon. Member for Dumbarton showed also their concern for, and knowledge of, what is happening in their constituencies, and an awareness of their constituents' preferences.
My qualifications for speaking in this debate may seem obtuse, but I am part Scot, and if it were suggested that I was just an English Member of Parliament wanting to participate in the debate, my relatives in Paisley would be deeply upset and would no doubt take out their displeasure on their two Labour Members of Parliament. I am not sure of the relationship, but I know that my grandmother was a good friend of Will Crooks—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] Luckily, she did not share his politics. It appears that some Opposition Members have never heard either of Will Crooks, but no doubt they have never heard of other Labour leaders in times past.
§ Mr. McKelvey
I am much interested in the hon. Gentleman's Scottish connections—so much so, that I will drop him a note asking if he is prepared to sit on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
§ Mr. Hughes
Nothing would give me greater pleasure, and I would normally look forward to doing so. Unfortunately, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary for another Department, I am forbidden to accept such an invitation. I hope that my Whip, the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), will have noted that comment, in case I am not a PPS much longer.
The Government are to be congratulated on producing the Bill at such speed, following the introduction of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, because it is only right that things should be put right for Scotland. The only political comment that I want to make concerns Labour's attitude. There is some confusion as to whether or not Labour supports the Bill. From the speeches of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), it seemed that the Opposition opposed the Bill. I am glad that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) broadly supported it today, and I will be pleased if he reflects Labour party policy.
§ Mr. Hughes
My brief did not tell me which, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman with that information. I understand that he spoke in terms that opposed the new body and the Countryside Commission for Scotland. Certainly, many people are of the opinion that he takes that view.
§ Mr. Hughes
The last time that the hon. Gentleman made such a comment was when I criticised Glasgow city council in this Chamber. He went storming out afterwards, no doubt to check whether my remarks were untrue—only to discover that they were not. I presume that that was true, because the hon. Gentleman never came back to me on that point, and nor did anyone from Glasgow city council. As my remarks would have been highly actionable outside this Chamber had they been untrue, I have no doubt that I would have heard again from the hon. Gentleman or from the city council if my remarks had been inaccurate. Nevertheless, if I have misrepresented the hon. Gentleman on this occasion, I apologise-and no doubt he will take the opportunity to correct me.
§ Mr. Wilson
I ask the hon. Gentleman to contemplate the possibility that no one responded to his remarks because no one is in the least interested in what he has to say about Glasgow city council, the Bill, or anything else.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is the kind of remark that has made the hon. Gentleman less beloved of right hon. and hon. Members of both sides of the House than might be justified by the talent that he normally displays. The hon. Gentleman is quick to make such remarks, but right hon. and hon. Members know that he does not usually mean what he says, so we are prepared to tolerate such remarks.
The question of devolved management was one of great concern in another place. On Second Reading and in Committee, their Lordships recounted personal experiences of how a lack of understanding of local conditions had created severe difficulties in the aftermath of the designation of sites of special scientific interest. They expressed the hope that Scottish Natural Heritage would operate with greater regard for local needs. That point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries.
The English example that I want to cite in that respect is Peak national park in Derbyshire. In theory, local people are appointed to its board by Derbyshire county council, but in practice, none of them comes from the area that the park covers. Those members are appointed by a political party whose representation comes from outside the park's area. Therefore, the theory of local representation is not implemented in practice.
I hope that, when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland winds up, he will give an assurance that local representation will mean just that in the case of Scottish Natural Heritage. I appreciate that a political party will want its political friends to Jill the posts that are in its gift, but it is not good enough for all such offices to be filled only for political reasons, by people who live outside the area concerned.
What are the arguments for having only one body in future? One reason is that the lines of responsibility have become tangled, and the respective roles of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and of the Countryside Commission for Scotland were becoming unclear. I refer, 656 for example, to the roles of different Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment takes no decisions in respect of Scotland. He acts only for England in respect of the environment, housing, local government, water, and other matters. In Scotland, they fall to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Scottish Office.
The Nature Conservancy Council has functions in England, Scotland and Wales, but is sponsored by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, to which it reports. When controversial or difficult issues have arisen in Scotland, that paradox in respect of responsibilities made matters worse. Also, conservation matters often need to be discussed with local people and be handled with great sensitivity. I hope that both will be done with the formation of Scottish Natural Heritage.
I refer also to the conflict between access to the countryside and the need to protect it—to which the hon. Member for Garscadden also drew attention. It is not being unfair to point up two differences between the two bodies that are to be merged. Whereas the Countryside Commission for Scotland has, like its English counterpart, favoured access, the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland has tried to restrict it. That conflict must be resolved, and I hope that SNH will be successful in that.
There are high hopes that the new agency will enjoy the best of both worlds. Because it will be an independent and non-departmental public body, it will be able to offer impartial advice to the Government, and to work closely with scientists, conservation experts, local communities, landowners, and farmers. SNH will also liaise with the business community, to promote the renewal of rundown and damaged areas. The expertise and experience of the two bodies will enhance and complement each other, to provide a more comprehensive approach to managing Scotland's natural heritage.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) said at a news conference to launch the proposed new body:its watchwords will be partnership, positive action, decentralised decision making and sound management advice.I hope that that will be precisely how it turns out in practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries referred to caravans, but he did not do so in a manner which I would endorse. He said that caravan sites are ugly. Of course some sites are, but that is not always the case. There is a tendency to overlook the needs of caravanners and the good work done by the Caravan Club. I speak as a member of the council of the Caravan Club-a non-paid position. I was honoured that the executive committee of the club asked me to become one of the nominated members of the council, to supplement the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oates), who has been a member of the council of the Caravan Club for some years. Indeed, he has hosted a number of events for them here in the House, which have been attended by Members from both sides of the House.
The Caravan Club would have preferred the Countryside Commission to carry on as it was, because it has had a good relationship with the Countryside Commission for Scotland and believes that the work that 657 it has done in collaboration with the Commission has enabled it to improve the environment, as I hope I shall be able to demonstrate.
The Caravan Club believes that the Nature Conservancy Council represents the other side of the coin —the wrong-headed thinking that, if one stops people going into the countryside to enjoy it, one is somehow protecting it. I do not believe that that is the case. My hope and that of the Caravan Club is that that view about keeping people out of the countryside will not hold sway with Scottish Natural Heritage, but that the views held by the Countryside Commission for Scotland will.
Of some 278,000 members of the Caravan Club, about 16,000 live in Scotland, and 23 out of its 181 sites are in Scotland. During 1991, three more sites will open in Scotland. In addition, there are 4,000 certificated locations —small sites for five caravans or less—of which 279 are in Scotland.
In 1990 161,949 outfit nights—car, caravan and passengers—were spent on club sites in Scotland. In addition, the Caravan Club has seven centres in Scotland which run weekend and holiday rallies throughout the year at locations additional to sites and certificated locations.
The Caravan Club makes ample use of its ability to enjoy beautiful Scottish scenery, and in doing so is governed by a code of conduct which ensures respect for the environment and the landscape. The Caravan Club does not wish the freedom to enjoy the countryside to be limited by restrictions imposed by the new Scottish heritage body.
In recent years, much has been said and written about land reclamation. The Caravan Club has been active in that area since the early days, before it became fashionable. The club has used leading landscape architects and has transformed old railway stations, ex-military esatablishments, worked-out quarries and even old rubbish tips into lovely havens, bringing joy to those who use them and economic benefit to the locality.
Into that category fall 24 sites which are in the club's ownership or management. The National Trust and the Forestry Commission are also involved in site development with the club, by providing land for the purpose. Eight Caravan Club sites have been developed on land leased to it by the National Trust, and five sites have been created on land leased to the club by the Forestry Commission.
A number of awards have been made to the Caravan Club for the quality of the sites that it has created. Many thousands of trees have been planted by the club, not merely to shield caravans from people and to ensure they are not an eyesore, but because it believes that planting trees beautifies the countryside; it is important that we recognise that.
There is more scope for such work by the club, and I hope that the new body will consider that it is part of its role to liaise with the Caravan Club and other organisations and thus ensure that it uses them to help beautify the countryside. The kernel of the Caravan Club's concern is that there has been an increase in the activity of pressure groups which seek to influence international, national and local authorities towards greater protection.
The CPRE, in a recent pamphlet, said:In the 21st century the environment—globally, nationally and locally—will occupy an increasingly prominent place in 658 the public and political mind. The Council … one of the most respected and long-established environmental organisations in the country, intends to remain at the forefront of those working to safeguard our countryside and secure a sustainable future for the wider environment.That is of great importance to the caravaning fraternity. People in the club are aware of the situation and their need to react to it if they are to preserve our essential freedom to roam the countryside. As regards the CPRE's agenda—
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall give way in a moment.
The club does not wish to suffer from a radical change of practice.
§ Mr. Hughes
It is the Council for the Protection of Rural England, but I am making the point that its policies are the same as those that some people are urging on this new body. I am speaking on behalf of caravanners, whether they are from Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom and trying to point out that there are always those who seek to limit the freedom of people with caravans to enjoy the holiday or sport of their choice. Therefore, it is relevant to the debate, although I accept that the CPRE is English.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman also speaking on behalf of travelling people, who use caravans quite a lot?
§ Mr. Hughes
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) will seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker and will want to speak about that issue. Members of the Caravan Club believe that they have a much more responsible attitude to the localities in which they stop than the people that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Indeed, I had a conversation the other night with one of the hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Dundee, East, who spoke in the most picturesque and colourful terms about such people—terms that some people would call racist, but that will be a matter for them.
Caravan Club members have been environmentally conscious since before it became the vogue. All members of the club sign the caravan, country and coastline codes which state:sites sustain a pleasant natural environment … remain unspoiled and capable of reverting to their original purpose.Therefore, it is important that Scottish Natural Heritage takes fully into account the Caravan Club's responsible attitude towards caravan sites, and does not merely take the attitude that it does not want to encourage it in its area.
I urge Scottish Natural Heritage to consider one example. In Holland, on drained land in polders, I saw new forests, country areas and caravan and camping sites, which exist together in a way that can be more easily planned when one is creating land from scratch. I hope, however, that—especially when the central Scotland woodlands initiative goes ahead, as I trust that it will—bodies concerned with sport and recreation, including the Caravan Club, will be consulted.
Let me sum up—I am sure that that will please Opposition Members. I think it important to achieve a balance between the need for access to the countryside and the need to protect it, and also to ensure that any 659 development undertaken is sustainable and in tune with the wider needs of conservation. I have every confidence in that possibility, and I very much hope that Scottish Natural Heritage will consider it part of its business.
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
Few people will remember that in my maiden speech I called for the setting up of a separate Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, although I think that the Minister remembers. I welcome the Bill because I consider it eminently sensible to merge the Countryside Commission and the NCC in Scotland. I, too, pay tribute to the dedicated work of both bodies, but we must not gloss over the reality: one of the many factors that prompted me to call for a separate NCC was the unfortunate truth that in many areas of Scotland the organisation had got off on the wrong foot. That was sad, because its aims were ambitious and commendable, but it became increasingly obvious that something was very wrong and, in particular, that farmers and crofters deeply resented being told what to do and what not to do by what appeared to be art alien body.
Over the years, I have been inundated with complaints from people who have been sent letters by the NCC. I mention that partly to explain some of my later remarks to Labour Members. The complaints have related not only to the letters themselves, but to the designation of thousands of acres—often apparently far in excess of what was required to protect a weed growing in the bottom of a loch.
The letters from the NCC took the form of instructions or demands. They were often accompanied by a list of 27 operations that werelikely to damage the special interest".Most frightening of all to many people was the final, peremptory sentence, which read:As this notification may restrict the way you wish to use this land you are advised to consult a solicitor.Not many crofters, for example, could afford to consult a solicitor. I am grateful to the Minister, who told me in 1988 that he would ask his officials to suggest to the NCC that it consider an improved form of words. I do not know whether that was done, but I take heart from what Magnus Magnusson said in his letter of 18 January to Lord Strathclyde:we shall be considering whether to alter the use of the words `Potentially Damaging Operations'".I think that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) mentioned that.
Not a word has been said about the name of the new agency, although it was debated at some length in the other place. While I hesitate to disagree with Lord Grimond about his preferred alternatives—like him, I wonder whether "Scottish Natural Heritage" is the right title; I cannot think of a better alternative, but many people already call it "Scottish National Heritage"—I am glad that his suggestion, "Scottish Nature Conservancy", was not adopted. We should, I think, avoid a name that has provoked such strong emotions in the past.
It may surprise some that I do not favour a Gaelic name. I am well aware that "Scottish Natural Heritage" applies to the whole of Scotland, not just the highlands; that, however, does not rule out the possibility of a Gaelic title for the regional board that will represent the highland area.
§ Mrs. Michie
Yes. In fact, I have not yet dealt with SSSIs, but I intend to do so later.
We in Scotland care about the environment—not just in our country, but throughout the world—and we want to co-operate and share responsibility for the natural world far into the future. There seems to be a widely held misconception that it is impossible to be both a farmer and an environmentalist. I received a letter from a local farmer who was deeply distressed by such an implication. He described the way in which his family had beencustodians of this little piece of earth for generations",and explained:anybody farming in Argyll has to have an affinity with nature—there is little financial reward!".He was right, of course: for many people, the reward is not financial, but consists in the very act of working the land.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
The farmers in my constituency who care about conservation—as many do —have put up signs saying, "Farmers Do Care".
§ Mrs. Michie
I am sure that that will contribute to a greater understanding of the position.
We should not doubt that Scottish Natural Heritage faces a monumental task. So many different interests and organisations are concerning themselves with the Scottish countryside. To meet the legitimate interests of those organisations, SNH will have to have the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. I have already commended the former Secretary of State on his perspicacity in choosing as chairman someone of Magnus Magnusson's stature; I am sure that, like all of us, he has received representations from many different organisations.
Let me spend a few moments on the aspects of the Bill which concern us most. There has been considerable debate about SSSIs, for instance. Whatever the merits or otherwise of a review of the existing designations—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness arid Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that clause 11 is unworkable in its present form—I believe that an appeal procedure must be included in the Bill. It is undemocratic for a Government body to be powerful enough to influence people's lives radically—let no one doubt that it can—when there is no effective or meaningful right of appeal. In the eyes of those affected, the Nature Conservancy Council is both judge and jury. Account must be taken both of the scientific merits of notification and of the economic arid social impact on the individual or community.
Magnus Magnusson's letter to Lord Strathclyde makes a statement of good intent and argues that there is no need for a statutory appeals procedure. There were, no doubt, good intentions during the proceedings on the Bill that became the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, there were, and are, enormous problems over implementing that Act. Why not make "good intent" part of this legislation? What is there to be afraid of?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am a little confused about the position adopted by the hon. Lady's party. We hear now that the amendment in the other place, which was vigorously supported by Liberal Democrat peers, particularly from the Highlands, is not supported by the Liberal Democrats 661 in this House. The hon. Lady made a case for an appeals system. It is hardly encouraging that members of her party in another place voted for a device to wreck the Bill rather than for an appeals system.
§ Mrs. Michie
I regard it not as a wrecking procedure but, as the hon. Member for Dumfries and the Secretary of State spelt it out, as a clause whose intentions are not clear and which would be unworkable. However, the principle embodied in the clause is an appeals procedure, which I support. I have been asked to say a few words about the goose problem on Islay. There are far too many geese on that island. Barnacle and white-fronted geese are listed in annex 1 of the directive on the conservation of wild birds. The Wildlife and Countryside Act implements its provisions.
However, the geese pose an enormous problem and something must be done to manage the numbers, which now exceed 33,000. The sanctuary on that island is able to care for no more than 10,000 geese. That is a large number, but 23,000 additional and uninvited guests for dinner create a serious problem. Goose scaring has not worked. Something, therefore, must be done. In the meantime, farmers and crofters who are losing their best grass and livelihoods should be paid compensation.
§ Sir Hector Monro
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. I hope that she will bear in mind the approach adopted by Sir Arthur Duncan. The chairman of the Nature Conservancy before it became the Nature Conservancy Council. When Brent geese were placed on the protected list, he said that, as soon as the numbers rose sufficiently, they would be taken off the list. Exactly the same procedure ought to be adopted with barnacle and white-fronted geese. Barnacle geese should be taken off the protected list for the sake of Islay and the Solway, where the numbers are also very large. Shooting geese does not have a huge impact on numbers. Something else, therefore, must be done to control numbers.
§ Mrs. Michie
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the Minister heard what he said.
It is intended to establish a marine nature reserve in my constituency. Hon. Members may be familiar with the Loch Sween proposals. The Wildlife and Countryside Act made it a duty for the Nature Conservancy Council to establish marine nature reserves where that was considered to be environmentally necessary. Evaluation procedures were used. An initial list of seven marine nature reserve sites was drawn up, including Loch Sween. Only two have been established—one in the Bristol channel and the other in Wales. It seems that the Nature Conservancy Council has come up against the problem of finding suitable sites and then putting its proposals into effect. A large question mark therefore hangs over the perceivable benefits and the need for marine nature reserves.
The consultation document for Loch Sween refers to 12 proposals to regulate activities that are considered potentially to be environmentally damaging. Little reference is made to actual damage that is now taking place, which would necessitate the kind of controls that the NCC is proposing. The NCC does not appear to be convinced about its own arguments and evaluations. There has been overwhelming opposition to the proposal. I am sure that the chairman-designate, Magnus 662 Magnusson, will not mind my saying that he has listened carefully to what has been said by those who oppose the proposals.
The principles involved are consultation and discussion, the right of appeal and democracy. Those principles apply to the people of Loch Sween just as they apply to people who live in areas that may or may not be designated national parks. I am not convinced about their value. However, I concede that Loch Lomond is perhaps a special case. I was born and brought up on the banks of that beautiful loch. Even then, I was aware of the pressures. Local authorities with responsibilities for the area want it to be designated as a national park. I am willing, therefore, to listen to their arguments. Earlier, the Secretary of State referred to integration and the need for a better tone. I hope that the new agency will encourage such a development.
The hon. Member for Dumfries referred to the island of Rhum as the jewel in the crown. We cannot and must not divorce people from the need to conserve the beauty of the countryside. I refer particularly to the highlands and islands, although the whole of Scotland is of the greatest value to all its people. A nightmare scenario was painted 25 years ago: the powers-that-be wanted the highlands of Scotland to be turned into a recreational playground, with farming estates de-stocked and used exclusively for game sports. There would have been hundreds of holiday chalet developments; crofts would have been sold as holiday homes, some keeping a few goats. National parks with signposts, heritage centres and craft shops would have sprouted up all over the place, and we should have seen yachts in every inlet. The only people left would be those working in the tourist industry. That scenario appeared in many newspaper articles approximately 25 years ago.
Tourism is vital. However, I have repeatedly warned about putting all one's eggs in the tourist basket. At this precise moment we have clear evidence of how ephemeral tourism is, with rumours of war, real wars, terrorist attacks and bad weather. [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but that is the case in rural areas of Scotland. People on the family farm, crofters and fishermen underpin the rural economy and are the essential custodians of the countryside. They currently face unprecedented bad times.
We must add to that the rural housing crisis, which still exists, despite the advent of Scottish Homes. Local people are priced out of the housing market because of the lack of good quality, low-cost affordable houses. Those are the people—not the developers, the absentee landlords or the land speculators—who have cared for and husbanded the areas that are worth designating as SSSIs. If we want such areas to be conserved, we shall have to pay for it. It is quite clear that reform of the agricultural policy, in whatever forum, must support farmers and crofters, to allow them to conserve the countryside, if they are not to be allowed to produce the same quantities of food as they have in the past.
§ Mr. Wilson
I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says, but how on earth does payment through local management agreements under SSSIs benefit the people who work and live on the land and who I strongly agree should benefit? How much of the £400,000 that was paid to Lord Thurso in the first of those infamous management agreements—to encourage him not to plant trees where he 663 never wanted to plant trees when there was not that £400,000—went to the people who live and work on the land and how much went to Lord Thurso?
§ Mrs. Michie
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I want money to go to the crofters and farmers whose land is not in a designated area and whose land is being ruined by geese—for example, on Islay.
Too often, Government policies do not complement each other. Instead, they seem to pull in opposite directions. For example, the Government recently made available a welcome sum of money to enable the extension of Gaelic television and broadcasting. They did that to support and develop the Gaelic language. That was very commendable, but if people are not there to continue to speak that language the Government would rightly be accused of wasting money. Where is the legislation giving people the same consideration as the corncrake, the pine marten or the rare orchid?
The hon. Member for Dumfries talked about the island of Rhum as the jewel in the conservancy crown. Great—we saw the return of the white-tailed sea eagle. Anybody who cares to go north sees miles and miles of empty land in the straths of Kildonan, where once there was laughter and, indeed, tears, but no one is creating the conditions in which people can return. People used to live on the island of Rhum. Now, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is full of deer, and that is a tragedy. People, conservation, beauty and the countryside are inextricably intertwined.
Every inch of Scotland is worth caring about—every lovely part of it, with its history, its traditions, its culture and its potential. The people's affinity with the land is demonstrated so often in the language—be it Scots or Gaelic—in poetry, song and music. We cannot have the one without the other. I look forward to the examination of the Bill in Committee.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I apologise that I did not come to the House as early as I wished—there were problems. I hope that the House will understand.
I must declare an interest. The Countryside Commission has its headquarters in Battleby in my constituency. Also, I advise the British Holiday and Home Parks Association.
Those of us who care about our beautiful rural Scotland, in particular beautiful rural highland Scotland, recognise that conservation is about balancing the needs and the wishes of those who live there and must make a living out of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Balance is required also so that the natural development of the species that are endemic to the area are not put at risk. Probably more important in modern times is that balance in conservation is about the use of the countryside and the people who wish to use it for leisure and recreation.
That is particularly pertinent at the moment, because thousands of people have spent the weekend skiing at Glen Shee in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is always very welcome in my constituency, with or without his skis. Some still argue that skiing is an infringement or impingement upon their use of the countryside. There can be no better example of that point than some of the debates that we have had in my constituency about the impact of skiing.
664 The NCC became involved in what can only be described as lengthy, acrimonious correspondence with the chairlift company at Glen Shee. I am pleased to say that the matter has been resolved, with the NCC admitting that it was wrong. I agree with the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) that delicacy is required when handling the powers that Parliament gives statutory bodies. I agree that the wording that was sent to the people in the countryside was indelicate, to say the least. Those of us who were involved with the problems concerning the chairlift company felt horror that a body that was established by an Act of Parliament and has statutory rights to lay down certain conditions could have been so insensitive, particularly when, after the protracted correspondence, it had to admit that it was wrong.
One clause that is causing much interest and concern is clause 11. My position is unambiguous. A statutory appeals procedure must be laid down. I shall make that clear in Committee—I am bound to be chosen to serve on the Committee. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows., I do not sit silently in Committee. When I feel strongly about something, I shall speak about it.
I shall certainly say that I accept that clause 11 as it is drafted could cause problems. That is not to say that it could not be amended satisfactorily to meet the hopes, aspirations and wishes of both those who represent the conservation platform and those affected by conservation measures—the people whose livelihood, land and interests may well be affected.
§ Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that is one of the crucial issues in the Bill. It has already been raised by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). Could the hon. Gentleman help us, even at this stage, by telling us about the appeals procedure? On what basis would the appeal be made—scientific, sociological or economic? At what stage in the procedure would it be made?
§ Mr. Walker
I do not intend to go into the detail today. This is not the time to do so. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall table amendments and speak to them Committee. Certainly I shall not be satisfied if the Bill emerges from Committee without a proper appeals procedure which is recognised as just that.
I have in my hand a letter from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which I imagine every Scottish Member has received. The third paragraph says:We consider that the system of SSSIs is a fundamental and essential element of successful nature conservation in Great Britain. Sites are designated as being 'of Special Scientific Interest' by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) using scientific criteria which they have developed to ensure that the most valuable examples of Britain's biological and geological heritage are recognised as such and receive appropriate protection".I do not argue with that, but if the NCC can produce the evidence, the appeals procedure will show whether the evidence bears close examination.
I have always been cautious about giving statutory bodies powers which allow them to claim that they are the experts. I remind the House of the battle that I had with the experts of the Civil Aviation Authority over six years. I draw the attention of the House to the matter purely to illustrate the principle, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The CAA experts said that they were the only people who knew where an airway should be. That airway happened to impinge on gliding, an activity in which I have 665 an interest. I and almost everyone else who involved in leisure and recreation aviation and military aviation judged, first, that the airway was not required, and secondly, that it was in the wrong place. It took me six years to have it moved, but I succeeded in doing so, because the experts were wrong. We must always keep in mind when passing legislation the possibility that the experts are wrong. As I said, I support the paragraph which I read out, but if the scientific criteria are so good, the NCC will not have any difficulty with an appeals procedure.
I have declared one interest. Another matter in which I have a considerable interest is caravanning. I have spent much of my adult life caravanning. I began as a young man, because it was the only way in which I could afford to take my young children off on the type of holiday they thought they should have. We grew to love caravanning. It has a particular appeal because of the freedom it gives.
Anyone who began caravanning 40 years ago, as I did, and has compared it with caravanning today will recognise and acknowledge the tremendous improvements that have taken place in caravan sites and parks throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, and certainly in north America and Australia, where I have camped in caravans. Many of the improvements have been brought about by the demands of the customers and the commercial pressures applied by them.
The people who live in the countryside—the landowners, farmers, crofters and those who are involved in supplying leisure and recreational facilities—have an interest in maintaining the quality of their environment. They do not wish to destroy it, because if they did so no one would visit it. It is as simple as that. They have a vested interest in maintaining the quality and value of the environment, whether for skiing, sailing or any of the other many lovely recreational activities of which we have an abundance in Scotland.
We should recognise that one thing that we have in substantial quantity in Scotland is land. We still have huge areas of what could best be described as wilderness. There are advantages in developing the wilderness into recreational areas. There are those who argue that we should leave the wilderness as it is, but on that basis we would not have a chairlift in Glen Shee or the lovely sailing facilities which we have on so many of our lochs. We would not have walks and hill climbs and all the other facilities, such as hang gliding, which did not exist a few years ago.
Yet all those facilities provide opportunities for the leisure and recreational use of the countryside. When one is putting on the statute book legislation which deals with conservation, I repeat that there must be a balance. Conservation does not mean leaving things as they were from the beginning of time. That could well mean that we should be legislating to do nothing. At the end of the day, we would restrict various activities.
I often think of the facilities which were provided in my constituency by the Victorians. They planted trees so that pheasants could be bred. Dry stone walls were built for obvious reasons—to maintain the livestock and keep them in. The walls were put there not by God but by man. If man is required to change things which man has put there, there must be a logical debate about it and a balance. We 666 cannot simply fossilise things as they are now. We must recognise and acknowledge that change is not necessarily all bad, any more than it is necessarily all good.
No one argues that merging the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland is not a good step. We may debate some of the detail but we welcome it. I wish to put in a bid for the new headquarters to be located at Battleby, in my constituency, where the facilities are superb. I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is not listening. There cannot be better facilities anywhere. I hope that the new body will be established at Battleby. The new body can be assured of the support of the local Member of Parliament. Indeed, it will have the support of two local Members.
The powers in the Bill to allow the abstraction of water for irrigation purposes and to control it under a simplified procedure are long overdue. Often, an area suffering from drought is almost cheek by jowl with another suffering from floods, so there must be something wrong with mankind's management of the environmental processes. Therefore, I welcome the measure.
I also welcome the powers to bring the water authorities' handling of deficiencies in supply in times of drought into line with that for England and Wales. I am fortunate to live in an area where the bulk of domestic and commercial water comes from splendid reservoirs built before the second world war. Those reservoirs supply the bulk of the needs of Tayside, and we are grateful that that is so. Other parts of Scotland are not so well provided for, and we must recognise that.
On 20 July 1990, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), when launching the proposals for Scottish Natural Heritage in Edinburgh, said:its watchwords will be partnership, positive action, decentalised decision making and sound management advice.I hope that, when we have finished with the Bill, it will lead to just that. As hon. Members have pointed out, there were problems with the early proposals, and it would be unwise not to recognise that.
The new agency's aims will be to achieve a balance between the need for access to the countryside and the need to protect it. We must look carefully at planning, particularly for housing. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the weekend about rural housing. I hope that Scottish Homes, which has been looking into this matter, will bear in mind the need for low-cost housing to be developed in rural areas. We do not want to prevent people, whoever they may be, from coming. We want everyone to come, and we welcome them. We must ensure that, if someone can afford an inflated price for a property, the local community and its children who want to work and live there should not lose the opportunity to have a home. Certainly in Aberfeldy, there is plenty of work, but not nearly enough houses. We can look into that.
The new body must play a major role in determining policies on land use and land management. What matters is the use of land and how it is managed, not who owns it. I do not care if the laird from the Labour party owns a substantial part of Scotland. It worries me not, because this particular laird is a good land user and manages it effectively. It does not matter who he is, where he is or what his background is. We must not include in the Bill doctrinaire impediments to the use or management of 667 land. In my experience, it is dangerous to theorise too much about matters which are better dealt with by practical people.
We must ensure that the development that takes place is sustainable; we should not get involved in any development that is not. The development must also be in tune with the wider needs of conservation. Some hon. Members may think from what I have said so far that I am not keen on conservation. I am, but I am even keener on ensuring that my constituents do not have their livelihoods and futures put at risk because some individuals believe that they know best how land should be used.
There will be a great deal of agreement across the Committee on that. Plenty of Members who represent rural constituencies will probably serve on the Committee, which is no bad thing. Just as I recognise that I may not be the best person to talk about the needs of an inner-city area, so I sometimes think that I listen to people who do not know much about the needs of the more remote parts of my constituency.
The Government's record on spending money on environmental services is good. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said that money was being given to one of Scotland's better known lairds. I do not care if money goes to lairds, provided that it is used effectively. It is not who is getting money, but the use to which money is put which matters. The Government's recent spending on conservation and water schemes has been commendable. That is not to say that future demands will not be still greater. There will always be a need to improve water services.
I mentioned an SSSI which affects my constituency. There are different pressures and demands in my constituency. For example, there is the need to extract barytes, which are the essential mineral for drilling oil in the North sea. We are fortunate in north Tayside in having huge deposits of the mineral. I say "fortunate", because it is good for the United Kingdom's economy that it happens to be strategically placed and relatively close to the oil drilling in the North sea.
On the other hand, that extraction creates problems locally. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be aware of my long-standing interest in this. Huge articulated vehicles, loaded up with logs and barytes, undoubtedly cause problems on our narrow country roads. We must look carefully at the impact that that has on the local community, as well as the economic needs of the nation. Attitudes to major roads, for example the A9, need to be substantially changed in the light of the extraction of barytes and the carriage of timber, so that my constituents and I are satisfied, the needs of economic activity in the North sea are met and the views of Her Majesty's Government are accommodated..
I welcome the farm woodland proposals. They have gone well, certainly in my constituency. I am not opposed to tree planting. I find it disturbing when trees are planted without consideration of the needs of the local area, such as natural views. As a large part of my constituency was covered by the Caledonian forest, if it was as it used to be, it would be largely trees. When conservationists come to me, as they do, I ask them what period of the land's history they wish to conserve. It is important that conservationists should tell us that.
We must balance the needs and economic demands of today with opportunities for people who live in the country to make a viable living, with opportunities for 668 those who wish to use it for leisure and recreational purposes. My earlier comments will show that I am fully in favour of that. The new body will have huge responsibilities and will have to balance all those conflicting demands.
In Committee, I hope that those of us who represent rural constituencies and who are constantly trying to balance the demands and pressures will be listened to and that our views will be those that emerge from the Committee.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
I shall begin by correcting the false impression that may have been given by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). He suggested that the Labour party was opposed to the principle of devolution in environmental matters. Clearly, that is not so. If it were, we should be opposing the Bill, but we are not. The hon. Gentleman referred to our position last year on the Environmental Protection Bill. I served on the Committee considering that Bill and during its passage we made it clear that we did not oppose devolution of the Nature Conservancy Council. However, we were concerned that any future body set up to cover Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom should properly take into account its wider responsibilities in the European Community. That was our emphasis throughout the passage of the Bill and our concern was shared by many other bodies and groups.
The new agency will not relate only to the United Kingdom or to the wider environmental picture in Europe but downwards, so to speak, to the local communities and regions of Scotland. It is natural that much of today's debate has concentrated on the set of relationships which the new agency must develop with local communities on whose lifestyles and means of earning a living, the agency's decisions will have a profound effect. It is natural that many of the comments of hon. Members of all parties have focused on that set of relationships.
There has been much discussion about the fate of clause 11, the existence of SSSIs, the reaction that they have caused in local communities, especially over the past decade, and the Government's proposal for a new designation, which they referred to as a natural heritage area. This is not a simple issue. It can be argued that clause 1 I is a wrecking clause and must therefore be removed. It would be a mistake, however, to think that everyone who voted for clause 11 in another place or that everyone here who has sought to find some merit in the principles that they perceive to be behind it approaches it with the same point of view.
Some of those in another place wished to wreck the Bill. Others wished merely to retain their private landowning interests, privileges and powers without having those powers intruded upon in any way by the wider public interest. Others—I include the Liberal Democrats—expressed reservations about the SSSIs and the way in which the NCC has designated them. Many people have genuine concerns which are echoed throughout the highlands and islands and, certainly, in my constituency.
Although clause 11 must be removed, because the idea of a complete review of SSSIs is absurd and unworkable—especially within a specific time scale—we need to reconsider the role of SSSIs in conservation in Scotland. I hope that the new agency will do that. There is a need to 669 review the use and designation of SSSIs. I hope that my use of the word "review" is not taken to suggest that I am in favour of clause 11; I am not.
It has been said that there are about 1,300 SSSIs. One must wonder whether the designation and selection of specific sites in such profusion is the correct way in which to approach conservation in Scotland. I argue not that SSSIs are too stringent or strict in their application but that they may be too narrow or restricted.
In 1984 the NCC issued a statement entitled "Nature Conservation in Great Britain". It said that the value of conservation was not just scientific but educational, recreational, aesthetic and inspirational. I fear that concentrating purely on countless hundreds of SSIs has led even the NCC to neglect all those other elements. It has focused too narrowly on the scientific side of conservation and neglected the educational, recreational, aesthetic and inspirational aspects which it had said were equally important.
We must reconsider the role of SSSIs, not according to a timetable or to wreck the Bill, and certainly not to placate landowning interests, but to discover whether they are the best way to advance conservation in Scotland. To some extent, the very name "SSSI" is undesirable. One of the merits of the Bill, as claimed by the Government and supported by the Liberal Democrats' spokesperson, is that we could start with a clean slate—that it would be a good idea to start with a new name for the agency. It might be a good idea to start with a new name for SSSIs.
I fear that the name is guaranteed to alienate the ordinary public, especially those who live in the local community. They naturally dislike the image conjured up of their culture, society and villages being put under the microscope of a white-coated scientist. It would be appropriate to take the opportunity offered by this fresh start to consider renaming SSSIs "natural heritage sites" to fit in with natural heritage areas about which the Government have been talking. That term would perhaps carry wider connotations than the SSSIs previously focused upon.
We must find a name that will begin to embrace a wider philosophy of conservation—a name that will not focus simply on the scientific value of preserving the sites, but will take into account various other elements, which, in the context of Scotland's natural heritage, are of equal importance. The agency could usefully undertake that job.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that there seems to be a growth of overlapping designations concerning conservation in Scotland. The agency might usefully look at the whole spread of designations with a view to rationalising or co-ordinating them. For example, they might be strengthened for the national scenic areas and expanded for environmentally sensitive areas. Indeed, environmentally sensitive areas were not mentioned by my hon. Friend. As the Minister will acknowledge, those areas are handled by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. None the less, they obviously impinge on environmental matters. The very fact that environmentally sensitive areas come under another department shows how complex and baroque the system of environmental designation has become.
670 I hope that, in reviewing the current set of designations and the purely scientific focus of SSSIs, the agency will begin to develop a strategy that sees conservation not just as relating to designated sites—little islands of natural purity, almost cut off from the rest of the rural world—but as an integral part of the approach to the discharge of our responsibilities for the entire Scottish countryside. Our understanding of conservation and of heritage must become deeper and wider. We must develop a heritage philosophy that embraces not just natural heritage but language, such as Gaelic, the music and culture of the highlands and islands, and so on.
My second point relates to another matter that has come up in this debate—the use of the phrase "sustainable development". There is a lack of clarity about the meaning of "sustainable development". It is not clear how it might be applied in the Scottish countryside. I hope that, however the Government eventually define the phrase, it will not be mere tokenism. I hope that the concept will not be used just to embrace the individual SSSIs, nature reserves and scenic areas that the new agency inherits. I hope that the philosophy of sustainable development will signal a new attitude towards the whole of our natural heritage throughout rural Scotland.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken of the difficulty of balancing conservation with other interests—development and leisure. Skiing and caravanning have been mentioned. Clause 3 makes provision for the new agency to take into account the needs of those involved in agriculture, fishing and so on. To my mind, instead of trying to balance development and conservation, we should try to find ways of integrating the two, so that they might work hand in hand to a greater extent. We need a serious and concentrated effort to address current practices in agriculture, crofting, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture—all with the aim of achieving sustainable development. The case should be obvious to anyone who has looked at what has happened in the fisheries industry in recent years. The crisis in the industry is due precisely to the failure to apply a philosophy of sustainable development in that area of economic activity. There will be a revival of the fisheries only when development and conservation are seen to be working hand in hand.
The same is true of every other economic activity undertaken in rural areas—whether in fishing, aquaculture, tourism, oil, or in the mineral extraction in the Minches off the west coast of Scotland which is envisaged in the very near future. Before even embarking on the development of any of these economic activities, we must try to match them with the philosophy of sustainable development. That is a huge and absolutely critical task that must be undertaken if we are genuinely to move away from the narrow, scientifically focused approach to conservation that has been adopted in recent years.
A new agency, almost, is needed to carry out the task. Indeed, in a paper submitted to the Scottish Office by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Simon Pepper recommends setting up a new rural resources commission, which would try to undertake the task of integrating conservation and development in Scottish rural areas. So far as I know, the Government have not responded to that submission. I doubt whether there is much prospect of our getting such a new commission, but I hope that, if we cannot have a new agency to carry out this central task, the new natural 671 heritage agency will set up a committee to examine the issue and to apply rigorously the approach of sustainable development throughout the Scottish countryside.
My final point follows naturally from the two previous ones. It is one that has been mentioned by several Conservative Members. Behind this entire debate is the land question. We cannot talk about sustainable development or about conservation without talking also about the use and abuse of Scotland's fundamental rural resource—land. When we talk about land, we must inevitably consider land ownership. All I want to do at this stage is to flag the issue as being still important and to make two specific proposals, which I hope will be pursued at the later stages of the Bill.
The first is that there should be an end to all secret management agreements between public agencies, including the new heritage agencies, and private landowning interests, regarding SSSIs, nature reserves or any other designated sites. The World Wide Fund for Nature has also said that the last publicly available management plan in respect of the Cairngorms nature reserve expired in 1969 and that, since then, there has been no public access to management agreements between the public agencies and the private landowning interests. That is absolutely intolerable and it should not be allowed to continue. That is a simple but worthwhile change that the Bill could be used to pursue.
My second specific suggestion is that all land sales and purchases over a minimum size in the highlands and islands should, in future, be subject to an environmental order and a review by the natural heritage agency before they are allowed to proceed. Conservative Members may not take to that suggestion initially, but I ask them to keep an open mind and to consider it as we deliberate the Bill—after all, the principle is not new. Industrial takeovers and purchases are monitored by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to ensure that they do not diminish competition in industry, but rather enhance it.
Therefore, why not monitor large transfers and takeovers of estate lands in the highlands and islands to assess whether they contribute to, or detract from, conservation and the enhancement of our natural heritage? Such a move would cost the taxpayer very little and would be worth while for the new agency, or a committee of the agency specifically set up for that purpose, to undertake. It would provide great gains to the public and the national interest, not least in helping to puncture some of the feverish and speculative activity in land sales in the Scottish highlands and islands.
Finally, a thread that has been running through the debate has been the issue of the new site for the headquarters of natural heritage agency. I have no interest in the matter—I am certainly not about to propose my constituency as a suitable site. However, I acknowledge the Minister's comments about the wish to devolve to the affected regions as much as possible of the administration of the agency's activities. I am sure that the Minister is already aware that the region of Scotland that will be by far the most affected by conservation groups and the new agency is the highlands and islands. Therefore, I strongly urge him to consider a site there. To my mind, the most appropriate place would be the fastest-growing town in Scotland in the past decade—Inverness. We must begin to devolve administrative structures to regional level. Let us 672 not stop at devolution from Peterborough to Edinburgh, but continue it further and take it right into the highlands and islands.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Western Isles (M r. Macdonald). We had many happy moments in Standing Committee of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and, during that time, many of us were impressed by the hon. Gentleman's arguments, his logic and, above all, his common sense.
I particularly agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks on SSSIs—or "triple SIs", as the hon. Gentleman calls them. There are roughly 1 million hectares designated as SSSIs which is about 10 per cent. of the total land surface. There has been considerable controversy over the designation of some of those SSSIs. I shall not repeat some of the examples given in another place by a number of our noble Friends who spoke on Second Reading, but there have obviously been examples in which SSSIs have been imposed with too little sensitivity, too hurriedly, and without enough consultation.
The Secretary of State said that he would consider the way in which SSSIs are implemented in the future, but did not say whether he would look at existing SSSIs and whether there was any possibility of reviewing their terms and conditions. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will deal with that matter when he winds up.
Although I support the Bill, many people will agree that it is long overdue. It is important to bring nature conservation down to a grass-roots level. It is only sad that we are not introducing a similar Bill for England. I support the idea of making such a logical move, which is apparently widely supported. Indeed, I have looked long and hard for people with arguments against it or ill words to say about it, and I have found very few.
I particularly approve of the approach taken by various local authorities, which recognise that they have a role to play under the new structure and appear to be looking forward to it. Certainly, the old system, whereby the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland delivered nature conservation from its headquarters in Peterborough—a location not far from my constituency, but very remote from the constituencies of many hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members—meant that it could not do a proper job. The idea of an integrated approach to bring together the two main organisations makes a lot of sense. I welcome the appointment of Magnus Magnusson as chairman. I hope that his appointment will be bolstered by the appointments of many other able council members. Will the Minister consider that?
Having read carefully some of the speeches made in another place, and having listened to much of the debate this evening, I am concerned about a document that has been published recently entitled "The Mountain Areas of Scotland," on conservation and management. The Secretary of State and the Shadow Secretary of State both mentioned that document, as did several hon. Members. It may be a worthy document in some respects, but I am worried about some of the statements in it, which appear to be pretty hostile to the farming community and the way in which it has managed its affairs over the years.
The document states: 673A sense of injury about land tenure continues in the Highlands today.The document also suggests draconian new powers when it says:To manage land and co-ordinate other land-controlling organisations; to impose their management orders as a last resort; to purchase land, compulsorily where necessary; to introduce byelaws to control nuisances; and to enter into management agreement to secure access.
§ Mr. Wilson
I should like some clarification before we proceed further. The hon. Gentleman quotes the document as saying that a sense of injury persists in the highlands about land tenure today. Is he saying that that is an inaccurate statement of the position?
§ Mr. Bellingham
I did not say that the statement was inaccurate, but I do not like its tone. It implies that the farmers, crofters and landowners have not done their stuff in terms of managing the local environment. I believe that they have, and that there is no need for draconian powers.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the statement. I am sure that the sense of injury referred to derives not from the activities of farmers or crofters, but from those of people who are rather better known to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Bellingham
We shall debate those matters further in Committee. The general tone of the document and the way in which it suggests a form of interventionism would not appeal to the Minister.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
My hon. Friend should not pay too much attention to the comments of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), because he has a pathological hatred of landowners. I speak on behalf of the landowners in my constituency. They are good landowners, who practice good husbandry of the land and have good relations with the people who work for and with them.
§ Mr. Bellingham
I am grateful for that intervention. There is no doubt that the vast majority of Scottish landowners manage their estates with considerable ability and ingenuity. Furthermore, they look after the people who work for them and ensure that the rural economy is maintained better than it would be if they did not take such an approach.
Criticism is made in "The Mountain Areas of Scotland" of the way in which landowners have constructed tracks and roads across properties and have managed their forestry, red deer population and public access. I have been fortunate enough to spend much time holidaying and travelling around Scotland, particularly the Western Isles and the west coast of Scotland. I agree with those criticisms to some extent, but in the main they are not justified. The way in which the majority of farmers and landowners have managed the uplands compares favourably with the way in which the uplands of England have been managed.
§ Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
The hon. Gentleman is saying, and few people will disagree with him, that the majority of landowners and estate owners are responsible and sensitive. Nevertheless, he must accept that a minority have built roads across the landscape, particularly in the Cairngorms, and absentee 674 landlords have not entered into management agreements on sensitive and important habitats. Those people represent a small minority, but there must be power to deal with them. How can the hon. Gentleman criticise that?
§ Mr. Bellingham
I appreciate that it is a small minority, but the suggestion is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The majority of wayward landowners who have abnegated their responsibilities are slowly being brought to heel, and many existing powers are being enhanced without the new suggested structure, which will be extremely bureaucratic.
The hon. Member for Garscadden spoke in detail about the problems facing the red deer population in Scotland. I am not an expert, but a possible way forward would be to repeal the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 to allow the reintroduction in the highlands of the wolf and wild boar. I know that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has been critical of the landed community, but if he is prepared to assist in repealing that Act, it would bring in much-needed extra revenue by increasing sporting activities, and every year an average of 10 lairds would be eaten. I am sure that he would go along with that.
We have problems with the suburban fox. One of the disadvantages of my scheme might be the emergence of the suburban wolf, or packs of them. The advantage is that it would inject new urgency into the Government's rough sleeping initiative, which many feel is long overdue.
The wild boar could easily be reintroduced in the highlands. Scottish Natural Heritage could make a priority of a study into the reintroduction of the wild boar—I see the hon. Member for Western Isles nodding—and the feasibility of reintroducing the wolf. The main reason why both animals have become extinct is the removal of natural forestry and woodland in Britain. Since 1919, there has been a considerable increase in afforestation north and south of the border. I do not see why those two animals could not be reintroduced into their natural environment, bringing back important revenue to upland areas and adding to the natural heritage.
§ Mr. Wilson
On an experimental basis, will the hon. Gentleman consider the reintroduction of the wolf to north-west Norfolk before its reintroduction to the highlands?
§ Mr. Bellingham
I must be fair to the hon. Gentleman. Norfolk is not a well-wooded area, and it is heavily populated. I can envisage some landowners in Norfolk welcoming the return of the wolf and wild boar. One landowner who farms not far from King's Lynn and who owns the biggest estate in my constituency—I cannot mention her name in the House—would welcome the return of the wild boar because it would add to the list of animals that can be hunted. However, the obvious place to make these reintroductions would be the highlands. I am pleased that it appears that I have the support of the hon. Member for Western Isles.
The farming and landowning community in Scotland has been criticised for insensitive afforestation, particularly of certain straths and glens, which has damaged the environment and river catchment areas. It is only fair to examine the role of the Forestry Commission, which has sometimes set a bad example. Until recently, its grant regime militated against the planting of hard woods. I join the hon. Member for Garscadden in looking forward to a much more responsible planting regime and more 675 emphasis being placed on hardwoods, oaks, poplars, birches and other woods more in keeping with Scotland's natural heritage.
The afforestation of glens had damaged fisheries. Fisheries on the River Oykell and River Brora have been adversely affected by afforestation carried out by the Forestry Commission. The run-off has been greatly enhanced, so in heavy rain the river rises more quickly and bursts its banks, but it goes down quickly. Migratory fish come too fast up the river when it is in spate, with the result that fisheries are adversely affected, which in turn has a damaging effect on rural economies.
I know that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North will agree with that, because he is aware of the importance of fisheries to the local economy and of the fact that a rod-caught salmon is worth probably £150 to the rural economy, whereas a salmon caught in a net is probably worth the going rate in Aberdeen fish market. I know that, up to a point, poaching is acceptable in Scotland, but what is not acceptable any more is the degree of commercial netting of estuaries. It goes without saying that some of the worst offenders are the owners of riparian fisheries.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am obliged for the opportunity to dissociate myself from what I was assumed to agree with. The netting of salmon is an ancient and honourable rural occupation in Scotland. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman added the caveat that much of the most ruthless commercial netting is done by riparian owners, who will hound and persecute a local person who is netting a few salmon but at the same time net salmon illegally and in huge quantities to make large profits for themselves. We both know of an estate on the island of Lewis that is more guilty perhaps than any.
§ Mr. Bellingham
I shall not comment on that estate, in case I am not asked back there to fish.
Riparian owners have carried out excessive netting in some Scottish rivers. Some fishery owners rightly protect their fishing and will do what they can to prevent poaching. However, there are exceptions because some riparian landowners engage in commercial netting. The worst possible example is to be found on the Tay, where the riparian owners of two major salmon fisheries, both of them lucrative and sought after, are among the biggest commercial netters on the Tay. That is totally unacceptable.
We must address the problem of the Northumberland drift net fishery. Drift net fishing is illegal in Scotland, and if we are to combat it, especially off the west coast of Scotland, we must tackle the wanton destruction of fish stocks by large commercial poachers. Poaching for the pot for local people may be acceptable, but totally unacceptable is the increase of poaching using long monofilament drift nets. Last summer, a couple of trawlers were apprehended which between them had 10 miles of monofilament drift net. It is difficult for us to criticise that while we condone the Northumberland drift net fishery. I shall not go into too much detail on that, but we know that it takes many fish every year. Livelihoods depend on it, but many more depend on wild salmon running up Scottish rivers.
I wish the new body well and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that it takes an urgent look at the relationship between fisheries, the rural economy and the part played by wild migratory fish in the natural heritage. 676 I also urge him to ensure that such a study encompasses fish farms and the demise of sea trout off the west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing to appalling reductions in the runs of sea trout. Two examples are Loch Maree and the River Gruinard where large runs of sea trout have dropped to virtually zero. That has had an appalling effect on local hotels, the local economy and tourism. One possible explanation is the big increase in salmon farming and the placing of salmon cages in the mouths of rivers that are used by migratory sea trout. No one seems to know the exact cause of the demise. However, we do know that salmon farms have the potential for creating disease and for distorting local marine ecosystems. There is plenty of evidence showing the extent to which that has happened in Norway. I urge the Minister to look carefully at this matter and to persuade the new body to include it in a report on fishing. Migratory fish do not just contribute to the economy but are a part of the natural heritage.
That is enough about fishing. I welcome the Bill's provisions about irrigation. There is a need for wider control of the use of water for irrigation throughout this country. Arguably, there is less need for such control in Scotland, and the structure that the Bill seeks to introduce would fit happily into East Anglia, parts of which have excessive irrigation from small watercourses. That irrigation continues even after drought orders, when most rivers are running low.
Last summer in my constituency, the National Rivers Authority applied to abstract water from the greensand layer—that is, from below groundwater level, to try to ensure a greater flow in the River Nar at West Acre. One way to solve such a problem is to reduce irrigation. I urge the water plcs and the NRA to consider pressing for England and Wales to have the legislative structure of this Scottish Bill. I welcome the Bill, but it is a pity that we will not have a similar one for England and Wales.
Some hon. Members have said that people who own and farm and play a part in Scotland's environment are but temporary custodians of that part of our national heritage. Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I have been fortunate enough to travel around most countries in Europe, and for outstanding natural beauty, Scotland is way ahead of all of them. It is fitting that we should play a part in a Bill that will help to protect that natural heritage and will ,make it easier for the temporary tenants and custodians better to manage the environment. I am pleased to support the Bill.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
It is grotesque for the House to be discussing this subject, important though it is to us all, when we should have an opportunity to discuss the Gulf and the bombing of Basra. I have been lucky enough to secure an Adjournment debate on the Gulf tomorrow night. When one thinks of the issues that are involved, one asks how we can spend six hours on this measure and make do with an Adjournment debate on the Gulf. I do not understand the priorities. However, I shall leave the matter there.
I express genuine concern about the opening speech. I had imagined that, as soon as the matter of the Lords amendment was raised, the Minister would give an easy and unequivocal undertaking to try to reverse it. That 677 would have had the support of the Opposition. When two of us on the Back Benchers and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) pressed the Secretary of State for Scotland, his answer was very different. He said that something would come forward but not "in that form". I invite the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to tell me whether I have misunderstood in any way. Is he prepared to say exactly what the Government think about the Lords amendment? He does not seem very happy about it.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
My right hon. Friend made it clear that the clause is unacceptable and technically defective. I shall speak about that in my winding-up speech.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is exactly what troubles me. The Minister speaks of "some technical flaw" and says that it is not technically all right, but this is a matter of principle —it is central to the Bill. I shall have to talk to my hon. Friends, but I am tempted to vote against the Bill, because it is not what we were presented with or what we thought we were coming to discuss when we arrived here at 3.30.
I shall briefly go over the facts as I understand them. On the evening of 22 January, a group of Peers consisting of mainly of Scots succeeded in forcing through an amendment to the Bill that would effectively undo all the work on sites of special scientific interest in Scotland undertaken since the enactment of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There is no doubt about that. I served on the Committee which examined the Bill which became that Act, and this change is a torpedo amidships. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) who knows a lot about these matters and the legislation pertaining to them, is nodding his head in agreement.
The changes to the Bill will make any new nature conservation work in Scotland subject to a veto by local landed interests. Do the Government deny that? I do not think that they do.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) who is a lawyer, and who could take a different point of view, does not dispute it. Such work would be subject to a veto.
The change would open up the prospect of the boundaries of SSSIs in Scotland being redrawn at the behest of large landowners. That is precisely what conservationists feared when the abolition of the NCC was announced in July 1989.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. Gentleman gave the misleading impression that I accepted his interpretation of clause 9. However, I see no way in which the unravelling of the designations that have already been made would flow from it. "Review" does not necessarily mean withdrawal of SSSI status. Nor does the proposal that there should be a local inquiry mean that the other place or any other landed interest would have a right of veto. The hon. Gentleman is giving a tendentious and rather dubious interpretation of the effect of clause 9.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I should like the Minister to comment on the hon. Gentleman's view. It is quite possible that he is right and my interpretation is wrong, but it is a view held by the trade union side of the NCC. Other people have 678 interpreted it in the same way as I have, including Dr. Derek Ratcliffe, who was the chief scientist at Peterborough.
But Government, both then and during the whole of 1990, constantly denied any intention to water down the NCC's powers when the new country agencies were established, saying that the changes were purely administrative. The amendments to the Bill however are very radical indeed and actually undermine the whole basis of the 1981 act in its application to Scotland. Their significance can hardly be overstated.That is the trade union view and, I gather, one taken on legal advice.
The Government opposed both the crucial amendments, but although the Government spokesman condemned them in strong terms—such as "idiotic", "wasteful", "inefficient", "costly" and "technically flawed"—they were agreed to. The question asked by many of the staff is therefore this: was it a conspiracy or just a cock-up? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question.
The second issue is the extraordinary personal nature of the abuse heaped on the NCC staff by various peers in the debate. I read the debate and I was shocked by what was said.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend agrees with me. The staff in Scotland were caricatured as powerless puppets of the evil string-pullers in Peterborough. That was the view of Lord Dundee and Lord Taylor. Lord Grimond said that they were blindly "obstinate", mistaken and "pig-headed". Lord Burton spoke as though they were little better than clueless morons who had designated sites without knowing why and without even having visited them. That is bad. I could go through quotes from other peers, but suffice it to say that the facts were contorted. My concern is not so much that the peers made these statements: it is that the Minister did not refute them. When I invited the Secretary of State to do so, while he praised the staff, he did not refute those statements. The Government should stick up for their employees.
I have a specific question, for which I take responsibility. May we have the clear, categorical, unambiguous, uneconomical with the truth assurance that no one in the Scottish Office, either Minister or civil servant, had anything to do with the Pearson amendment? There was not, was there, any discussion with Lord Pearson about the amendment?
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but in this matter of attitudes to civil servants, he is expressing views which are not consistent with his earlier expression of opinion. For example, in the case of the former head of the civil service, Lord Armstrong, the hon. Gentleman never called on the former Prime Minister to support Lord Armstrong when the hon. Gentleman considered that he was wrong. Similarly, he never called on the former Prime Minister to support Mr. Bernard Ingham when he thought that Mr. Ingham was wrong. Many people feel that some of the civil servants employed by the NCC have been extremely insensitive and, although the language used by Members in another place is sometimes colourful, as it was in that debate, there is at least as much feeling behind those remarks as there has been behind remarks that the hon. Gentleman has made about other civil servants on other occasions.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I had an Adjournment debate on the role of the former Prime Minister's press secretary. I had better not be diverted.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Nobody could have had a conversation along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because it would have been contrary to Government policy.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In that case, is that an assurance that no such discussions with Lord Pearson took place? If it is, I will accept it.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Lord Pearson sent me the amendments shortly before the debate, but I had no discussions with him about them.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Then I shall continue with Lord Pearson, who appeared to invite any member of the Nature Conservancy Council staff in Scotland who intended to work for Scottish Natural Heritage, and who was committed to the principles embodied in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, either to abandon that commitment or to resign. Lord Dundee and Lord Taylor of Gryfe both represented NCC staff in Scotland as mere pawns in a game controlled by political grandmasters in Peterborough, a distortion of reality—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman quoting from the Official Report?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am quoting from a letter written to the Secretary of State for Scotland by the staff side of the NCC on 31 January 1991.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is permissible, but I should be obliged if the hon. Gentleman would paraphrase to some extent and not quote quite so much from the letter.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Certainly, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to detain the House by quoting at length. I think that the general point has been made.
§ Mr. Morley
Apart from the insults that were levelled at members of the NCC by those in another place, some of their Lordships' comments were extremely inaccurate. It was alleged that the NCC had declared that certain sites were sites of special scientific interest for no reason, or for reasons of which it was not aware. Such assertions were complete and utter nonsense. One Member of another place talked about a site being declared an SSSI because of mysterious circles in a field. That and many other assertions were rubbish. We should understand that some people pick up these statements and take them to be true when they are merely allegations without foundation. They merely represent the blind prejudice that is directed towards a public body that is doing its job.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend's intervention reflects the fact that some decent people who work for the Government service and who have given their lives to that service are extremely angry about the way in which they have been treated. I, too, am angry because I know some of the people concerned. I shall use just one more quotation. It comes from the letter of 28 January from Dr. Derek Ratcliffe, which was addressed to the Secretary of State. The third paragraph ends as follows: 680Some of the remarks about scientists and staff at the NCC, made under the protection of parliamentary privilege, are openly insulting to people who cannot reply. They deserve an apology.Will that apology be forthcoming?
I concede that in a sense it is not for Ministers to make the apology, other than in one respect. Would they have preferred their colleague, who is a Minister in the other place, to be a little more robust in defence of the staff of the NCC? I hope that that issue will be settled today as I would not want it to pervade, in rather bad blood, discussion on the Bill. It is something that had better be ironed out soon. It is a potential cancer. The Under-Secretary of State, who is a sensitive man and one who is concerned about people, had better give his attention to what has happened and try to iron out the real difficulties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe and others have referred.
I have time for just one other point. During the passage of the 1981 Act, there was considerable discussion of marine nature reserves. Some of us have been concerned that it has taken so long to establish what we believe is a worthwhile aspect of their work. I give the Minister warning that, if I am a member of the Committee which considers the Bill, I shall wish to pursue the proposal for a United Kingdom coastal zone management plan, which Dr. Gubbay and others have put forward. They and I regard such a plan as extremely important.
I am aware that there are others who wish to contribute to the debate, but I make no apology for trying to get out of the way the ambiguity—to use a generalised term—about what has happened. I should have made a different speech if the Secretary of State had replied differently to my original question.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
I shall be brief, as I have only a few remarks to make on the Bill, which follows on naturally from the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I was fortunate to be a member of the Committee which considered that measure and it examined the Nature Conservancy Councils and the Countryside Commission at some length. It is good that there seems to be more agreement about this Bill than there was in the debates on the Environmental Protection Bill, which led to the splitting up of the NCC among the three countries of the United Kingdom.
One objective of the 1990 Act which I welcomed especially was the introduction of better regulation to encourage the protection of the environment. More specifically, it was designed to ensure that that regulation was at the right level. On the one hand, we had the strengthening of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the introduction of integrated pollution control. On the other, the Bill considerably increased powers for local authorities to deal with the better clearing up of litter, for example. A regulation under the 1990 Act to that effect is coming into force this week and I am sure that that measure will be welcomed by everyone.
The provisions in the 1990 measure that were designed to protect the countryside were probably the most controversial parts of it. There were lively debates on whether the work done by the NCC at Peterborough was right. Hon. Members debated whether the NCC was too remote from what was taking place at ground level, or whether, as a result of a centralised, bureaucratic 681 structure, a more overall view could be taken of the protection of the environment throughout the British isles. The result of those debates was the splitting up of the NCC.
We now see the second phase of that discussion and the ensuing decision, the coming together of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland. I believe that it is clearly the way in which we should proceed. The level of regulation is about right, but it is always difficult to reconcile the needs of the professionals when it comes to protecting the environment with those of the people who live in the regions, especially when they are remote from the centre.
We see plenty of examples of that elsewhere, most notably in planning. For example, the Council for the Protection of Rural England rightly wants to ensure that measures associated with new housing estates, new roads and new infrastructure projects do not destroy the countryside. Local people see the need for certain measures to be implemented, only to find that their wishes are thwarted by national or even Europewide bodies, which override their wishes. It is important that we involve people locally as much as possible. The structure that is being created by the Bill will work in the right way. If we are to secure the proper protection and improvement of our environment, we must involve those who live in the areas concerned.
I read with interest some of the remarks in the debate in another place. As the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said, some of the language was most colourful. That showed the tremendous interest of those in another place in matters associated with the environment. Their Lordships may not always agree with various people's points of view, but their language shows—
§ Mr. Morley
I do not necessarily disagree with the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does he agree with me, however, that some of their Lordships, and especially Lord Burton, who is a landowner, were acting in a way which in local government would be considered corrupt? Lord Burton was tabling amendments to benefit himself—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman should be careful with his language, as he well knows, when referring to Members in another place.
§ Mr. Morley
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am choosing my words very carefully in making the point that, in local government, such behaviour would be considered totally corrupt. The peers in question took that action in their own interests—not for the sake of nature conservation or the wider community, which includes those like myself who do not live in Scotland, but respect and appreciate its heritage. The hon. Gentleman must share my concern about the future.
§ Mr. Mans
The hon. Gentleman makes his own point. I prefer not to comment on any speech made in another place, but at least the debate showed that interest in, and concern about, the environment exists at all levels. Although some right hon. and hon. Members may not 682 hold the same view as some of their Lordships, the fact that the environment can be the subject of lively debate in another place must be a good thing.
I appreciate that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) feels strongly about some issues and I respect him for that. I know that he did not favour the original proposals, but I am uncertain of his views on the Bill now before us. Perhaps it moves more in the direction he wants, but I shall not comment further on what was said in another place.
Regulation and the involvement of the community is vital in protecting the environment, and alienation of local people from regulating organisations can only have an unsatisfactory outcome, with some distance being created between those responsible for enforcing the regulations and those who will, in many cases, suffer as a consequence.
The Bill encourages greater involvement between the voluntary and private sectors, local communities and academic and research institutes which will be of great benefit in developing a better environment. It should also help to create among the staff themselves a better understanding and awareness of the wide range of local needs and attitudes. The Bill builds effectively on the results already achieved by the Environmental Protection Act 1990, by bringing together two important institutions and making them more effective in tackling matters of concern to not only people in Scotland but those, like myself, who live in England but often visit Scotland.
In that regard, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), who has detailed knowledge of the fishing industry and of the position in Scotland—
§ Mr. Wilson
For the hon. Gentleman to claim that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) has detailed knowledge of the Scottish fishing industry is curious. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West has detailed knowledge only of the sporting estates of the western isles and highlands. I am sure that he would claim no more. The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) is confused if he imagines that Conservative Members who hold forth on the sporting estates of Scotland are authorities on that country and its people.
§ Mr. Mans
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I should have used the words "sport fishing." I made that mistake because, as I have a port in my constituency, I often speak about the relationship between the English and Scottish fishing industries. However, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, my hon. Friend was speaking only about sport fishing.
I believe that we have reached the stage at which we have got environmental protection in Scotland just about right. The Bill goes in a direction that I would like to be followed in respect of Wales and England. Much attention has been paid to the Scottish environment, and rightly so, but I hope that the measures that will flow from the Bill will progressively be adopted for England and Wales as well.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)
The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), in a thoughtful speech, pointed up the consensus that has been reached in respect of the Bill. I welcome the creation of an overall Scottish body that will bring greater integration to the task of environmental 683 protection in Scotland. However, I am disappointed with the Bill's powers and remits. A great opportunity has been lost to create a fully financed and empowered Scottish environmental protection agency instead of the natural heritage agency for which the Bill provides. The two are not the same.
One of the Bill's glaring flaws is clause 11, which concerns sites of special scientific interest. The Minister admitted that clause 11 is flawed and said that it will be revised. He should go further and remove it altogether. Sites of special scientific interest are a key element in the United Kingdom's conservation strategy, providing the primary mechanism for protecting species and maintaining biodiversity. SSSI status serves as notification of scientific value, but it is not a designation conferring prohibition powers. The only obligation on the landholder is to consult if certain operations listed as potentially damaging are being considered. Thereafter, it provides an opportunity to influence the landholder by means of a voluntary management agreement, supported by compensation based on profit forgone.
The system has its weaknesses. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and other hon. Members referred to them—but clause 11 is a blunderbuss that will create more problems than it seeks to solve. The costs and bureaucracy involved in the series of reviews and public inquiries for which clause 11 provides would be enormous, and would undoubtedly hogtie the new agency in its formative years.
If Scottish Natural Heritage is to operate properly, it must be given every resource and opportunity to consider the wider issues of protecting and improving the Scottish environment. The Minister's promise to reconsider clause 11 must he backed with genuine alterations—although I should prefer it to be deleted altogether, given that the existing system could be improved by making minor alterations, rather than by major surgery.
1 welcome the Government's commitment to the concept of sustainable resources. It has a considerable pedigree and is aimed at establishing a broader base for Scottish conservation—beyond the narrow protection provided by specialist interests and aesthetic values. That concept is designed to meet present needs, without jeopardising the interests of future generations. The concept of sustainable resources embraces the view that conservation is the basis of sound development, by using resources that can be replaced and restocked.
Bearing in mind the global importance of that concept, its central position in the Government's approach to the Bill and the immense value of legislation in improving awareness and altering attitudes, why is it that sustainable resources are not included as a definition in the Bill? The Government should produce definitions that reflect the practical implications of sustainability, the preservation of biological diversity, the protection of natural ecosystems and the sustainable use of resources. I want the Government to lay down that definition because the Bill will be an immense influence on the way that Scottish Natural Heritage nurtures and improves the Scottish environment.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the long heritage of the word "sustainable". Does he agree that that does not always resolve difficulties where there are genuine conflicts of interest? For example, in the case of extractive industries such as marble—which is 684 about to be quarried in my constituency—I cannot see how they can be described as sustainable. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that marble should not be quarried in Scotland?
§ Mr. Welsh
I am quite clear in my mind what I mean by sustainable resources—those resources capable of being sustained. However, when I consider the overview of the environment in Scotland, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. No Government have produced a proper overview taking into account how to subdivide or allocate resources between such competing interests. The Government's approach is bitty. There are too many individual clashes here and there and they do not fit into a scheme which would allow such competition to be properly resolved within an overall plan for the Scottish economy, once these decisions are taken.
Will the collective insight and brains of the Scottish Office reconsider this issue, because a clear definition of sustainable resources would be massively important for directing the efforts of everyone involved towards producing the sort of Scottish environment described by the Government in the document "The Way Ahead"?
Will the Government consider balancing duties? It has been normal practice to give conservation agencies advisory powers only and to require Ministers, Departments and executive agencies to operate under the balancing duties contained in the relevant legislation. The wording of existing legislation refers only to aesthetic qualities, yet a prime function of the Bill is to introduce new aspects of conservation to deal with the sustainable use of natural resources, as a primary duty of SNH.
The Government have chosen the phrase "sustainable resources"; the wording of the present balancing duties will have to be updated so that that new obligation is also imposed on Departments and agencies directly responsible for the use of resources in forestry, agriculture, fisheries, red deer and tourism. Why cannot the Bill be more specific about the Government's duties with regard to conservation? Why is no positive obligation placed on specific Ministries connected with land use? In his winding up speech, will the Under-Secretary say whether the Government will introduce a clear definition?
I am disappointed that the Government seem to want to restrict and predetermine Scottish Natural Heritage's attitude to land access and usage. It would be a mistake to imagine that there is only one solution to every problem throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, and it would be a mistake not to tailor solutions to suit different needs in different parts of the country. There are areas where there should be absolutely no development whatsoever, areas where there should be limited development and areas where development should be positively encouraged to help their economy and society. Scottish Natural Heritage should be sufficiently flexible and sensitive to local needs to allow for such diversity. Indeed, no environmental agency worthy of the name would seek to duck issues such as nuclear dumping, or the need to balance the requirement of people who earn a living from the land and the need to conserve the beauty of the countryside.
SNH must take full account of the views of all local communities involved when it takes decisions. An environmental agency should take account not merely of land but, by definition, of people and their cultural and other needs.
685 The problem is that SNH will be a quango—it is a Government creature. It is nominated by the Secretary of State and, because it is a quango, it is essential that accountability for decision-making links it with the wishes of the local community. I should like a more democratic structure for SNH than the Government are prepared to allow. Because it is a quango, its decisions must be sensitive to the wishes of local populations and take them fully into account.
No hon. Member has mentioned the Bill's impact on European directives on the environment. I wonder whether a clause should be added to the Bill to develop expertise in European Community law as it affects the environment. There is nothing of that nature in the Bill at present. In future, SNH will be more and more affected by developments in Europe, as we all shall be. Has the Minister thought of that? Will some means be provided to consider developments in European law and directives from the European Community?
A major weakness in the Government's approach to the environment is that it seems to have no overall direction. The current approach towards a large, but definitely finite, national asset is bitty. There has never been a national land use survey, but that should be the first step towards intelligent and national policies for the environment. That failure has led to a host of problems over local conflicts between conservationists and developers because no overall strategy exists. For example, there is no national skiing policy for Scotland; there are merely skiing guidelines. Yet there is massive and continuing development of skiing, mountaineering, hill walking and associated activities. The problem will not go away and the only way to tackle these issues in a logical and sensible fashion is through an overall land use strategy combining commercial, leisure and conservation needs.
The Bill is disappointing, but it is probably all that we are likely to get, and it is to be hoped that it will be much improved in Committee.
§ Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)
One of the most interesting aspects of the Bill and of tonight's debate is that, considering the anger and annoyance portrayed by many organisations and individuals, including many Opposition Members, about the Government's original proposals, the fact that we are discussing the Bill in such a spirit of near-unanimity—except on matters of detail—does credit to the way in which we have progressed. Hon. Members have recognised that the Government's position was right. While we can debate many issues for long hours in the House, and most hon. Members would agree that if the Government get it wrong it can be put right at a later date, that does not necessarily apply to the environment. Once we get a decision wrong, it may be wrong for ever and a day afterwards. Consensus is more important for environmental issues than for others.
It is essential that the Under-Secretary should make it clear that the Government will resist any attempt by Scottish Natural Heritage to become the poodle of any special interest. The Government's reaction to clause 11 will be indicative of their intent. If the Bill and SNH are to fulfil the role that we hope, it must be totally even-handed 686 in its approach to all the organisations, individuals and problems with which it will have to deal. It will have to recognise that the landscape of Scotland, like all landscapes, is constantly changing.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), and I slightly resent his insinuation that one has to live in Scotland to care about it. The hon. Gentleman suggests that that was not the impression that he wished to give. That was my impression, but I accept his withdrawal. Perhaps I am too sensitive, but, as one who spends a vast amount of time in Scotland and has a family there, I am second to none in my love and concern for the landscape of that country.
SNH will have to recognise that not only landscapes but rural communities change. A sad aspect of many members of the conservation movement is that they want to freeze-frame communities or landscapes. That simply is not possible: it has never happened in the history of the world, and it never will happen. Communities are a dynamic, constantly evolving organism, which lives, declines, expands and contracts; and such changes will continue for ever.
SNH will also have to resist the more starry-eyed conservationists—resist, that is, not only any attempt to freeze-frame the environment, but what may superficially appear to be wonderful environmental care. In theory, it may be an excellent idea to stop killing red deer because it is wrong; in practice, however, that leads to a superfluous population and an attendant weakening of the stock, with many animals dying of starvation and other ailments. I therefore welcome the extension of the powers of the Red Deer Commission.
I have spoken in the House before about forestry. I agree with many hon. Members on both sides of the House that what has happened in Scotland has been to the detriment of both the landscape and the image of the forestry industry; we should recognise, however, that modern forestry practice has ways of tailoring forestry much more closely to the landscape, using contours in the planning of forests, and soil types in deciding which trees to plant in various areas. It has ways of ameliorating the worst effects of forestry planting.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) pointed out,much of Scotland was once afforested, albeit in an entirely different way and with a different species of tree from the one that is now so common in that country. We must recognise that there is a role for forestry in Scotland, and SNH will play an important role in judging the suitability of terrains for planting. I share the concerns of the Select Committee on Agriculture: I hope that we shall look more carefully at how we can improve our forestry planting. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) rightly referred to the tremendous drop in planting, which bodes ill for the long-term future.
I do not wish to detain the House; I know that other hon. Members wish to comment on this important Bill—an essential Bill, which will mean a great deal to the heritage, landscape and conservation of Scotland. All hon. Members, whatever part of the United Kingdom they represent, should be proud to be associated with it.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
I found the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) sympathetic, and I certainly do not quarrel wth his right to comment on the Bill. He mentioned the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture. Let me simply say that we have a constitutional problem in Scotland; we have no Select Committee on Scottish affairs, and we have therefore been unable to consider the issues in the necessary detail. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will concede that there should be such a Committee—and, indeed, that it would be far better for legislation such as this, which applies exclusively to Scotland, to be dealt with in a directly elected Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
No; there is not much time left.
The debate, rightly, has concentrated heavily on clause 11 and their Lordships' debate on it, I must say that. the House of Lords has not shown itself in a particularly positive light on this occasion. We have heard the old chestnut that Members of the House of Lords represent no one but themselves, and represent their constituents very well; they appear to have tried to do that on this occasion.
I accept what the Liberal Democrats have said about the need for consultation, and perhaps an appeals procedure, to deal with the designation of new SSSIs. There is, however, a world of difference between that and wiping the map clean of SSSIs and starting all over again, which would be the crazy effect of the Lords amendment. It is rather alarming to reflect that, such is the power of highlands landowners in the House of Lords, that they can out-vote the combined whipping efforts of Government and official Opposition, which is what happened in this instance.
I do not quite understand how these people can think that they are addressing a genuine fear about a genuine problem—a malign imposition on crofters, farmers and landowners anywhere in Scotland. I have represented a largely rural Scottish constituency for 12 years. For five years, I was Member of Parliament for the two counties of Berwickshire and East Lothian; for the past seven years I have represented East Lothian—again, a largely rural area covering much of the south side of the firth of Forth and, now, only the north face of the Lammermuir hills. I have never heard a single complaint from a farmer or landowner about difficulties arising from the designation of an SSSI, and I do not know what all the fuss is about.
Perhaps I should have declared an interest. I am a farmer myself, and the only SSSI adjacent to the land that I farm is the River Tweed. I wish that it were a rather higher grade of SSSI, because it would then be possible to control water skiing activities and water scooters, which are making a lot of noise and stirring up the river. I do not want to downgrade that SSSI; I think that it should be upgraded. I hope that the amendment tabled rather maliciously in the other place will be treated with the contempt that it deserves.
I welcome the amalgamation of the Scottish Nature Conservancy Council with the Countryside Commission for Scotland—not least because I do not think that many people knew the difference between them anyway. The 688 amalgamation will clarify the issue, and, I hope, draw together the various strands of policy about management of the countryside.
I do not know whether I shall be fortunate enough to be a member of the Standing Committee; no doubt the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East will be—[HON. MEMBERS: "South-East."] I am sorry—South-East. Everyone who influences anything in the House nowadays seems to represent the south-east. He will probably be a member of the Committee, but a good many mere Scots on the Opposition Benches, such as myself, will not have that opportunity. Nevertheless, I hope that the Committee will produce some thoughtful guidelines for SNH, under its totally independent Icelandic chairmanship.
I have considerable doubts about the principle of national parks, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). I take very seriously the fears that have been expressed about the risk of overloading the so-called honeypot areas with visitors: I feel that all rural Scotland should be treated as a national asset and should be safeguarded—primarily for the benefit of those who live and work there, but also for that of the rest of Scotland's population and, indeed, the tourist industry, which is so important to us.
There must be a radical review of the whole theme of agricultural support policy, and I think that it should be part of this debate. The time has come to incorporate in the system of agricultural support ways of encouraging farmers to look after their land that are not only good for food production, but good for the landscape and for other rural industries, including tourism. We have begun to do that in environmentally sensitive areas that have already been designated. The theme could usefully be expanded.
I wish Scottish Natural Heritage well. We need to establish a partnership between it and local authorities in Scotland. Conservation must be balanced with sensitive development in rural areas. I cannot resist taking this opportunity to refer to a highly controversial issue in my constituency. I realise that the Minister cannot comment on what I am about to say, for reasons that both he and I know.
It is proposed that there should be a major development in the countryside of East Lothian. My constituents and strongly support the redevelopment and the preservation of the listed building on the Archerfield estate. We would support a change of use from farmland to recreation. However, it must be sensitive. We need to attract more visitors to the area and to improve the local economy. The controversy is over whether the package should be financed by means of a substantial private housing development. Both local and national debate is needed on how best sensitively to promote economic development in rural areas.
Part II deals with irrigation and part III with drought. The two are related. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) referred to the problems on the Tay. There is no Scottish legislation to control the abstraction of water from rivers. We have a problem with the River Tyne in my constituency. It runs almost dry in the summer because so much water is taken out of it to irrigate farmland. That causes problems for anglers and others. I welcome the fact that the Bill will make it possible to control river flows in areas subject to such a risk.
I hope that the Bill will provide a basis for sound legislation to protect Scotland's natural environment. It 689 would have been better if it could have been considered in a Scottish Parliament rather than here, but, I hope that this Parliament will make a good job of it.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
I am happy to associate myself with the Labour party's view: that the Bill presents an important opportunity to contribute positively to the framing of laws that will make the conservation of Scotland's natural heritage as effective as possible. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, it would have been much nicer to have discussed the Bill at home in Scotland, in a directly elected Scottish Assembly.
I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) but I am disappointed that he omitted to say anything about Scotch whisky. That is part of our heritage. He is the chairperson of the all-party Scotch whisky group. I noticed that he managed to mention covertly that he had anchored in Loch Sween in order to buy a bottle of Drambuie. In doing so, he mentioned the Isle of Rhum and Fiona Guinness. He therefore managed to get Drambuie, rum and Guinness into his speech, which I suppose was helpful.
The work of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs was invaluable, in that it gave Members of Parliament the opportunity to travel throughout Scotland. I saw many rural areas that I would not otherwise have visited. I hope that the Select Committee will be reconstituted as soon as possible. Its work on Scottish affairs was invaluable.
I vividly recall standing on the Isle of Eigg watching the sun shine on the Isle of Rhum. It brought out its vivid colours. It was the finest view I had ever seen in Scotland. I cannot describe in words what the Isle of Rhum looks like, but it is an incredible part of Scotland. I want it preserved, but not simply for people to stand on the Isle of Eigg and view it. I want people to be able to live on the Isle of Rhum, because there is work there for them to do. People must go to live there, not just for conservation purposes. I want crofters to return to the island and make a living for themselves. Other work must also be available for people on the Isle of Rhum and on other Scottish islands.
Opposition Members are rightly concerned about clause II. I do not understand the Minister's coyness and hesitancy. He said that the clause was technically incorrect. Technical questions ought not to concern us. What concerns us is the morality of the clause. I hope that the Minister will say unequivocally that the Government intend to remove it from the Bill. We do not want it tampered or tinkered with. It must be removed.
Our briefings make it clear that the review of the SSSI appeals procedure is inappropriate. Between 1,000 and 1,300 sites have already been designated. To review the designation of those sites would take five years. I should be horrified if I were to be told that that was the reason for the inclusion of the clause in the other place. I hope that the Government will do their duty to the people of Scotland and remove the clause.
No one has told the House how the natural heritage areas will fit into the overall plan. We do not know whether they will be part of or excluded from the national parks. I am concerned about the concepts of national 690 parks. National parks should be protected, but, at the same time, should be developed for people to live in and work the land; we should not have simply a protected wilderness. There may be parts of Scotland that we wish to retain as protected wildernesses, but we shall certainly not retain the whole north-west of Scotland as a protected wilderness. We want people to live in those areas and to have a decent life there.
Time is short and many hon. Members wish to speak. We will have a much more earnest discussion of the matter in Committee.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am grateful to intervene briefly at the end of the debate, to which I have listened with great interest because of the extent to which there has been agreement at least about some of the purposes of the Bill and the recognition that the Bill is an attempt to resolve a difficult problem. The promotion of the appreciation of our national heritage in Scotland has been tackled with effectiveness by the Government. I welcome the Bill. It marks a possible new beginning in Scotland. Therefore, my comments about a possible improvement should be seen against that background.
Throughout the debates on these subjects since 1981 there has been a failure to recognise that there cannot be an absolute scientific criterion for assessing what piece of land should be protected from all development. The scientific criteria that are advanced from time to time are the product of the judgment of individuals who have no doubt carefully considered such matters and who bring to their judgment good faith and a background of knowledge. They have examined other countries and they mostly have training in the natural sciences but, in the last analysis, they bring to that judgment a subjective view of what is important. People should pay attention to that view, but they should not treat it as absolute.
I draw an analogy from another sphere which involves our important heritage—the way in which the Government deal with the possible export of cultural artefacts, paintings and so on. A committee reviews their importance and considers whether to recommend to the Government that there should be a ban on their export. Those who make that judgment are very skilled, they have a great knowledge, and their advice is certainly worth listening to, but they do not take the decision not to lose to our heritage those great works of art—it is taken by a Minister of the Crown, who can ban export to give others the opportunity to seek to acquire the works. The analogy is not exact, but it is relevant that there is a democratic procedure for dealing with works of art that are part of our heritage but that such a procedure is missing in consideration of our natural heritage. That is a defect.
It was to remedy that defect that the House of Lords introduced clause 11. However badly constructed the clause was, it sought to introduce a democratic procedure. That was not initiated by the fact that it came from the other place. As it happens, we do not have in the House of Lords many representatives of the crofting community who could speak on such issues, but if there were elected crofters in the upper House I do not think that their voices would have been very different.
Crofters have complained to me about the insensitivity of officials of the Nature Conservancy Council. Crofters 691 have come to me and said, "Do you know that we have had people telling us that the grazings committee has already approved this measure and that we, as members of the grazings committee, should withdraw our objection to allow the proposed designation of an SSSI to go through unchallenged?" I have had representations from small farmers, smallholders, large landowners, and from people of all condition about the absence of a democratic stop to allow the consideration of whether something is appropriate. Sometimes that has worked.
There was a case in west Halladale in Sutherland in my constituency, when the crofters objected. The common grazings committee objected. It was interesting that, when it reached a compromise solution and accepted part of the crofters' case, the Nature Conservancy Council did not concede the point because the ground was not scientifically important or that potentially it could not be designated as an SSSI.
§ Mr. Maclennan
As the hon. Gentleman says, it was a tiny adjustment. If the NCC was considering the matter simply according to scientific criteria and not on the basis of the impact, the size is irrelevant. I believe that often the judgments reached are not made on the basis of scientific criteria. At least in my constituency, there is no doubt that the NCC has, perhaps understandably, designated areas where there are proposals to afforest.
§ Mr. Dewar
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that the closing speeches will start shortly. I would understand his point more completely if I were satisfied that, once an area had been designated an SSSI, an outside body, whether the NCC or any other, had the power to tell landowners that they could not do something. Such bodies can say that they do not want a landowner to do something and if the landowner agrees to abide by their suggestions they can pay compensation for his forbearance, but if the landowner simply says, "To hell with that—I am going to go ahead," the existence of the SSSI will not stop him. That seems to be the weakness in the indignation about the right of appeal.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am glad to have the opportunity to explain why there is such indignation. The practical consequence of designation is that it becomes impossible to go ahead and afforest if the afforestation depends upon the payment of grant. To crofters and smallholders, afforestation is simply impossible to contemplate without the payment of grant. In my constituency, a practice is developing whereby anyone who is interested in afforestation applies to the Forestry Commission, which then asks the NCC whether it has any interest in the piece of land. If the NCC says yes, the Forestry Commission will tell the landowner that it is not prepared to make a payment. The NCC does not even need to designate the area. It does not matter, for example, that the regional advisory committee of the Forestry Commission has advised that the area is suitable for afforestation. The last word lies with the NCC.
That is not the right way to approach the matter. There should be a balancing of interests. We already have several bodies. We have the Red Deer Commission, the Crofters Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and now we shall have Scottish Natural Heritage in its place. If all land use interests are 692 subordinated to the view of Scottish Natural Heritage and its decisions are not appellable, it will be viewed with as much disfavour as the NCC was viewed in Scotland. I hope that that will not be so.
The letter which Magnus Magnusson wrote to Lord Strathclyde, a copy of which is available to hon. Members, does not convince me that Magnus Magnusson proposes a system which would allow an appeal against a proposed designation. He certainly intends to set up some sub-committees and a scientific committee to consider proposals, but in the last analysis the decision will remain with the new body, Scottish Natural Heritage.
However widely the community interest may be affected, I fear that there will be no stop in the way of SNH. That would indeed be a pity. It is a difficult problem for the Government, the Opposition and, indeed, the whole House to resolve how we are to bring into the deliberations some democratic mechanism for checking the final designation. We need to resolve that problem, because otherwise that body will not enjoy the confidence which I hope that it will have.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
In some ways I feel as though we should be beginning the debate rather than drawing it to a close. The speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was extremely interesting. He raised a detailed difficulty which is well known to those of us who have dealt with highlands and islands affairs. I regret that he will not be a member of the Standing Committee to carry on these discussions. Nevertheless, I hope and expect the Committee to address the matter in as much detail and with as much careful analysis as he did. At the end of the day, his conclusion on clause 11 is wrong, but the spirit of what he said was interesting.
I welcome the creation of this agency and I endorse much of what the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said. I, too, approach this with a fair degree of enthusiasm. This is a new chapter and it provides a tremendous chance for the slate to be wiped clean and for attitudes to develop afresh in areas of Scotland where the relationship between conservationists and land users has not always been particularly happy. It is a real opportunity for a fresh start. Like the hon. Gentleman, I thought that the speech that Magnus Magnusson made on Skye in which he set out his vision for Scottish Natural Heritage was encouraging and stimulating. I have no doubt that, as the script continues to be written, the new body will develop and flourish within the framework that we shall lay down in this legislation.
It is essential to clarify clauses 5 and 11 early on. I do not want to make too much of this. If we have been slightly misled by an omission from the Secretary of State's opening speech and if at an early stage in Committee the Government say that this is much ado about nothing and that they will maintain the position taken by Lord Strathclyde when the amendments were first moved, that is fine by me. I do not want to set hares running unnecessarily. Nevertheless, it is necessary for that to be said more unequivocally than it has been said tonight. I rather suspect that the Government are beginning to hedge their bets and that some sort of bogus compromise will be produced in the next few weeks.
693 Many hon. Members have referred to what the amendments would do, but it is important to note what they say. I shall deal first with the amendment moved by Lady Saltoun of Abernethy in respect of clause 5. She successfully proposed that any proposal for a site of special scientific interest by Scottish Natural Heritage should have to be given in writing to owners and occupiers of the land concerned and to the local planning authority, and then there would be an appeals procedure to the Secretary of State, the details of which would be brought to the House. In what I regard as an additional piece of cheek, or the icing on the cake, subsection (3B) of the amendment states:Any statutory instrument made under subsection (3A) above shall be subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.That is a nice little circular ploy. The House of Lords tables an amendment to create an appeals procedure, motivated, as was made clear in the voting lists, by landowners' dislike—I put it no more strongly—of the Nature Conservancy Council and SSSIs. The procedure provides that, every time an SSSI is designated, it must go to the Secretary of State. Then, if they do not like the result, there is a further stage in the proceedings in that the matter would have to return not only to this House, but to the House of Lords, where precisely the people who put the procedure in place, for the motivation that we all understand, would have the power of veto. I do not see for one moment how anyone can take such a proposition seriously.
I was interested to note from Lady Saltoun's remarks the horror with which she viewed the proposals. I could not do her justice if I did not quote—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. It is not in order to quote a Member of the House of Lords other than a Minister.
§ Mr. Wilson
I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall paraphrase what she said. She said that to create a body such as Scottish Natural Heritage without there being a right of appeal against its diktats was unacceptable, undemocratic and worthy only of regimes such as Saddam Hussein's. As a flight of rhetorical fancy, that takes a bit of beating.
The Bill has been discussed in another place by charabanc-loads of highland landowners who came down to push through their vested interests, but they then complain that the legislation that they are considering is undemocratic and unacceptable and that such practice is comparable to Saddam Hussein. I do not know how he elects the members of his Parliament, but I know a little about how Lady Saltoun of Abernethy comes to be here. In 1445 one of her forebears, Sir Laurence Abernethy, was created Lord Saltoun. Anyone who has not stood for election between 1445 and 1990 and still has a season ticket to what, in absurd theory, is the upper legislative Chamber in the land, has a bit of a brass neck to talk about democracy.
For the interest of the House, during my important researches, I found that the arms of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy include an ostrich holding in its beak a horseshoe proper, doubtless protected under the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill.
694 Lord Pearson of Rannoch is an altogether more modern creature. In fact, I could not find him in "Debrett's Peerage" because he was invented only in 1990. Lord Pearson of Rannoch—
§ Mr. Wilson
Yes, as in Tummel and Loch Rannoch. He lives in Rannoch barracks, presumably under detention. He is up to his oxters in vested interests, as all those people are. He is responsible for the present clause 11 about which we have heard so much tonight.
It is important to state what clause 1I would do. It would cripple the new agency which the Government, no doubt with good and constructive intent, are setting up and which is supported, by and large, by the Opposition with good and constructive intent. The clause would bring the agency into being and then ensure that, for the first X number of years, it must do precisely what the old agency has been doing for eight years—go around the same SSSIs to designate them all over again.
I have not the slightest doubt that these are, and are intended to be, wrecking amendments to undermine the powers and potential of Scottish Natural Heritage from the day it is born. It is worth noting that those people in another place who supported the amendments own literally millions of Scottish acres. They include Lord Margadale, a well-known figure in Islay and well known to the NCC and other bodies as the owner of an estate notorious for decades for the ruthless killing of wild birds. They also include Lord Burton, the brewer's boy, of whom we have heard something.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to stand here making outrageous accusations against those in another place, to which they have no chance to respond and which are wholly untrue, defamatory and wrong?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is contrary to our conventions to criticise Members of another place in that manner. The hon. Gentleman should temper his remarks.
§ Mr. Wilson
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, those in another place are not blate in criticising Members of this House and the civil servants who are doing—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not seek to debate my ruling; he must observe it.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall simply name them: Lord Margadale, Lord Burton, Lord Vestey—the Vestey peerage was bought in the days of Lloyd-George, which is how he can go to the other place and represent his interests—Lord Dulverton and Lord Kimball, a noted Sutherland landowner. The whole lot of them lined up to vote for clause 11. What surprises me is that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland should associate himself in any way with these wrecking amendments.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said about land users, but that is a different question altogether. I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman's views on such matters, but the House of Lords Members who put forward these wrecking amendments think that they are on to a populist cause that will attract support from people whose motives are different from and better than, the ones by which they are guided. That is the trap that is being set. By all means let 695 us, in Committee, table amendments and new clauses of our own with a view to achieving a better solution in the interests of land users. But I am not prepared to build a good and well-motivated solution on the basis of badly motivated wrecking amendments made in the other place. The Liberal Democratic party would do well to follow that example and not get mixed up with some of the landowning interests in the highlands, especially in Caithness and Sutherland.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that there is not in the upper House a voice, other than the voices of those who have been appointed or have inherited their titles, to take care of the point about which I am concerned—the lack of a democratic mechanism. What mechanism does the hon. Gentleman propose? I think that we are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman has twice said that there are no crofters in the upper House. That is precisely why this is such a mockery. These people are representative of no one and nothing. Labour Members are not prepared to be guided by amendments that were inserted to serve different interests. We shall table our own amendments in Committee and in the House. Our solutions will be motivated by concern for the interests of land users—concern that the hon. Gentleman expressed, and that I share. That is a very different matter.
We hope to use this Bill in the most constructive possible way as a kind of "Rural Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill"—if that does not strike too much terror into the hearts of those who dealt with the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill 1985. A wide range of issues could usefully be debated during the passage of the Bill. There will be no attempt to delay its passage, but there are matters in respect of which there is plenty of room for constructive debate.
For instance, there is the whole question of the use of land management grants in relation to environmental issues. This was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). Despite what the hon. Member for Dumfries said about a welcome increase in hill livestock compensatory allowances, clearly there is a trend towards a general policy of moving agricultural subsidy away from headage payments and towards direct support for the people who live on and work the land. We could usefully give Scottish Natural Heritage the option of introducing a pilot scheme in that direction.
As has been said, Scottish Natural Heritage should certainly have a duty to make comments to the Secretary of State on forestry proposals outside, as well as within, sites of special scientific interest. Such applications should go to local authority planning committees and the new agency should then have a duty to comment on them, with a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. Similarly, we believe that marine developments are suitable for the attention of the new agency. The principles of local authority planning should be extended to inshore waters, and Scottish Natural Heritage should have a duty to comment on them, with a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. One consequence would be to move control of fish farming developments away from the Crown Estate commissioners.
On another marine theme, it is widely felt in environmental circles in Scotland that the new agency must have a duty to advise the Secretary of State on 696 shipping movements. I am thinking particularly of the difficult issue of the passage of oil tankers through the Minch, where the biggest environmental disaster in Scotland is possibly waiting to happen. It would, to say the least, be an anomaly if the new environmental agency operating in Scotland had no right to comment on that. In Committee, we shall suggest that it should have a duty to comment on such matters.
It would be a sensible and non-political initiative if the functions and duties of Scottish Natural Heritage were to include the promotion of environmental education in co-operation with local authorities. The purpose of that proposal would be to enhance the status of the new agency's educational remit, which the Opposition see as crucial to the aim of enhancing environmental awareness in Scotland.
I hope that the Committee will have an opportunity to discuss the traditional right to roam over Scottish hills and mountains. We may propose that the new agency alone should have the power to restrict access, and then only on environmental grounds, thus removing the ability of landowners to deny public access. That would give a sound basis for a debate on that controversial issue, which commands a great deal of interest. We intend to ensure that, in Committee, there is a debate on the concept of national parks, unless the Government bring forward a clause or amendment of their own, which we would welcome.
It is obvious from the speeches tonight that there is no broad agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) gave strong support to the concept of national parks, particularly in the context of Loch Lomond. In other parts of Scotland there is support for national parks. The debate has already been bedevilled by the term "national parks", which we must discuss nn Committee. The opposition view is that there are regions of Scotland that require special management arrangements, particularly where a number of local authorities is involved. Certainly there is no blanket solution, and different districts will require different arrangements. The guiding principles should be the promotion of increased access, democratic local involvement and the promotion of conservation and sustainable development.
We shall table amendments in relation to Nirex, as did Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove in the other place. He introduced amendments on importing nuclear waste into Scotland and the creation of a repository for—
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to amendments moved by one of his noble Friends in another place. Did he think that the amendments of the Lord to whom he referred were all right? If so, it seems that the hon. Gentleman is showing his prejudices.
§ Mr. Wilson
As any democrat will understand, we do not apply subjective judgments about whether things are right or wrong: we measure whether the people moving the amendments represent a public interest or a vested interest and whether they are there as a result of something approximating a democratic process or through hereditary rights and birth. Any democrat will recognise those distinctions; Opposition Members, and some Conservative Members, have no difficulty in doing so.
We shall certainly table amendments on nuclear waste, and various aspects of land ownership and use. There is 697 much to be discussed in the context of the Bill. There are many ways in which the new agency can be strengthened. It has our good wishes, and we approach its Committee stage in that spirit.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) welcomed the Bill with a fair degree of enthusiasm and said that it represented a fresh start.
The theme of the debate was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who said that conservation would ride on the crest of a wave—words that he attributed to Dr. John Francis, an exceptionally able official who gives the strongest support to Mr. Magnus Magnusson. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said that there was the will, the resources and the vision. He particularly spoke about a greater responsiveness. In their maiden speeches, the hon. Members for Argyle and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) made remarkably similar comments. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries that it would be nonsense to renotify all SSSIs in Scotland. I will deal with clause 11 in a moment.
I much enjoyed the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) and for Wyre (Mr. Mans), especially the argument that they advanced in favour of research. Scottish Natural Heritage will certainly carry out research. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West mentioned the problem of trees causing acidification. The Government are spending many millions of pounds on research into that subject, and that research will continue. His comments on the reintroduction of wolves were not so far-fetched as they might have sounded. That possibility was investigated but rejected before it reached me. Ministers certainly would not have approved it. It is a serious point, because species reintroduced by the NCC have played a key role.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East said, the Government will not act as a poodle—neither Mr. Balfour's nor anybody else's. The role of changing communities must be recognised by Scottish Natural Heritage, and I am sure that it will be.
There is much misunderstanding about the subject of SSSIs and the procedures for notification and for consent for change of use, which has led for calls for review and a right of appeal. An amendment was successfully moved in another place, contrary to the Government's wishes, and now forms clause 11. The current SSSI system was established under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries introduced. That allows Great Britain to meet its obligation on habitat protection and to strengthen protection of regional and nationally important sites. It has operated consistently throughout Great Britain, notwithstanding the creation of the three separate nature conservation bodies under part VII of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The House should be aware, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said, that an SSSI is identified on 698 the basis of its scientific interest. The NCC recognises that the decision on the scientific interest of an area is a matter of opinion. As such, therefore, it is not a suitable matter for the Secretary of State to arbitrate on. The practice is that he undertakes such a role where there is a conflict between different interests, rather than where there is a need to arbitrate between two scientific opinions. Once the NCC has identified the scientific interest in an area, it has a duty to notify that interest to owners and occupiers, local authorities and the Secretary of State. Any of those notified can object to the scientific reasons for notification, so there is already a right of appeal to the NCC.
I should stress that SSSI notification simply highlights the scientific interest of the site to ensure that full consideration is given when any change of use is proposed by owners, occupiers or third parties. Development proposals for SSSIs under the general development order are dealt with through the planning system which, as the House will appreciate, has standard procedures for appeals and arbitration. Other proposals to change activity on an SSSI are dealt with through the listing of potentially damaging operations by the NCC. The procedures, as set out in the 1981 Act, allow full compensation and arbitration where a section 29 conservation order applies, and for an appeal to the Secretary of State.
Therefore, notification does not impose restrictions on land use; rather, it triggers procedures, including appeals, for dealing with proposed changes in use. The system does not give the NCC an absolute veto over land use, but provides merely a means of ensuring that due regard is given to the scientific interest of the site when any change of use is proposed.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I said that the Civil Aviation Authority was a statutory body with a system similar to that set out in the Bill, but without clause 11—which I support. One appeals to the CAA against its own decisions. It took me six years to get an airway moved that should never have been there in the first place. The CAA thought that it knew best but it did not.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I note the case that my hon. Friend mentions, but the NCC is not in a comparable position. Much more user-friendly procedures should be adopted, and that is generally recognised. In future, the NCC will talk about "operations requiring consultation" rather than "potentially damaging operations".
In a letter dated 18 January, Magnus Magnusson makes it clear that the regional boards being established by the NCC will be the first level of decision-making. The letter states:They are to be established in order to improve local accountability and sensitivity of administration on a whole range of environmental initiatives and case work including, of course, SSSI designation. The members of these boards will be expected to work closely with staff members visiting potential SSSIs to help iron out problems, giving friendly advice where required and applying their personal knowledge of the area.
§ Mr. Dewar
It would be indiscreet to press the Under-Secretary of State when his senior colleague has remained silent. Clause 11 as drafted falls into two parts. No hon. Member has referred to clause 11(1), which refers to the five-year review period of all SSSIs. The second half of the clause refers to a right of appeal. The Minister has said that he does not see any reason for a right of appeal to be written in and thinks that it should be done by 699 voluntary good practice. He quoted Mr. Magnusson's letter as evidence that that is now in train. The Secretary of State has said that there is to be some sort of replacement for clause 11, some area of compromise. I shall not embarrass the Minister by asking for details, but can he tell us in what area that compromise will be placed?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
My right hon. Friend did not go as far as that: the hon. Gentleman is reading into my right hon. Friend's speech a statement that he did not make.
I have been asked about review procedures and the right of appeal. The Government are not against Scottish Natural Heritage reviewing sites of special scientific interest. It has been the practice of NCC periodically to review sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West mentioned this matter. In the past 10 years the NCC has had to consider all sites notified under the 1949 Act in the light of the provisions set out in section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It has therefore reviewed all sites and decided whether a site should be renotified in its original or amended form, both in terms of the area covered and therefore the site boundaries, and the activities that would be permitted within the site if the scientific interest were to be maintained.
This substantial renotification process is now virtually complete. In Scotland, 97 per cent. of the sites notified under the 1949 Act have been renotified. To undertake the review process all over again would be totally impractical. It would be a misuse of the resources that we provide to the NCC and would divert staff effort away from the positive tasks that we intend for Scottish Natural Heritage.
Clause 11(1) is also impractical, as it would require Scottish Natural Heritage staff to divert the majority of its resources to the review of sites because clause 11 provides that a review has to be completed within five years. It would be much more practical for such a review to be carried out as a rolling programme and on a non-statutory basis, as already occurs.
Clause 11(1) and (2) contain some technical flaws. First, it is implied that no sites designated after the appointed date in clause 13 will be subject to the review procedures. Those procedures will apply only to those sites that have been notified up until that date. Furthermore, the subsection implies that the review would be undertaken on only one occasion. Are we to take it that, once the review is complete and decisions have been made, there will be no further reviews of the SSSIs by the SNH? That would be a far less practical procedure than the present review process.
A further technical flaw is that the subsection tries to give statutory force to the non-statutory code of guidance that the NCC has drawn up in consultation with the Secretary of State. Subsection (2) could also be read to imply that, following the review, the SNH would recommend either continuation or withdrawal of the notification. On that basis, it would not give scope for amendment of the SSSIs to take into account the changed circumstances such as reinterpretation of the scientific interest or a development that had taken place in the notified area. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East that changing circumstances have properly to be taken into account.
I shall deal now with the appeals procedure.
Lord James Douglas Hamilton
If the hon. Gentleman asks me a question, I shall answer him. He asked earlier whether there had been a cock-up or a conspiracy on the part of the Government in relation to the right of appeal on SSSIs. The answer is neither. My noble Friend the Minister in the other place made it clear that the Government did not support the amendment either in principle or in the detailed drafting. I can give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance that the Government had no involvement in the drafting of the amendment.
I shall deal now with the right of appeal, about which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) wanted to know. This right is set out in subsections (3), (4) and (5). The proposal for a right of appeal appears to misunderstand the statutory procedures laid down in the 1981 Act. These are fundamental to the way that the system operates, and I have already outlined the system.
In effect, the Secretary of State would have to decide on every case after obtaining advice from an independent scientific advisory committee. This could fetter or compromise his role in other relevant decisions, particularly in his quasi-judicial role as planning Minister for Scotland. For example, in planning cases the NCC has a formal right of objection to the Secretary of State in respect of a subsequent planning application within an SSSI. The decision to approve the notification of an SSSI following an appeal might be seen as prejudicing his discretion in determining whether any subsequent planning application should go ahead. In effect, his agreement to the SSSI notification would be perceived by some as confirming that nature conservation has primacy within that site.
There are also considerable practical problems with the subsections. The right of appeal procedures proposed by the amendment would be costly and would require a new level of bureaucracy to make judgments on a body that had been set up by Parliament with a specific statutory duty. There is no sign of what would happen between a recommendation by the SNH and the Secretary of State deciding whether the site should continue to be notified or whether the notification should be amended or revoked. During this period of uncertainty, one assumes that the previous notification and all other relevant arrangements such as consented activities and management agreements, as well as compensation arrangements would be processed or ignored.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) as I have already given way several times to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).
§ Mr. Maclennan
The remarks that the Minister has made in the past few minutes will be read with consummate care by those of us who are concerned about these matters. Can he square what he said about the finding of the SNH being merely a matter of opinion with his treatment of it as though it were a judgment that the Secretary of State had to incorporate in his subsequent 701 thinking about planning matters? Surely the Secretary of State can take account of new factors in a planning matter that may arise, and which should override an earlier decision that he has reached.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The House must appreciate that notifications are made primarily on scientific grounds. It must be borne in mind that at present the NCC has few sanctions against potentially damaging operations. Indeed, its only sanction is to take court action, and if successful that would be followed by a fine.
We shall take into account what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) have said. They commented on a major issue that is raised in the Bill and it will require careful consideration in Committee. Clause 11, as drafted, is technically defective, impracticable and unacceptable.
§ Mr. Dewar
The Minister has made what I think could fairly be described as a comprehensive condemnation of clause 11. He has buried it and then danced on its grave. If he rules out the statutory review procedure suggested in the clause and the attendant appeal, has he any sympathy with the argument that, whatever may be the fate of the right of appeal that the clause provides, there is a need for some right of appeal, and that that should be introduced into the machinery?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we discuss these matters in Committee. When we do so, I shall develop any further thoughts that I can put before the Committee. More user-friendly procedures must be involved.
The hon. Member for Garscadden referred to archaeological needs. Scottish Natural Heritage will work closely with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Directorate, as the NCC has in the past. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) asked me about local representation. Regional boards will be appointed by the chairman and main board of the SNH and will fully represent the wide range of local interests that will have to be taken on board. Clause 3 states that the interests of local communities will be taken into account. That matter was raised by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute.
The hon. Member for Garscadden asked me to apply the logic of Wittgenstein in defining sustainability. Wittgenstein came to the famous conclusion:Whereof one cannot speak, thereon one must remain silent.I shall, however, attempt to respond to the hon. Gentleman. Some doubts have been expressed about the meaning of the concept of sustainability in clause 1, which will be vital to the activities of the SNH. I shall emphasise the importance of the concept. We believe that we are the guardians of the heritage of our successors and that we must seek to manage that heritage extremely well. In the words of the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher),We do not hold the freehold on our world but only the full repairing lease.As the consultation paper says, we should not be sacrificing tomorrow's prospects for marginal and illusory gains today. We have a moral duty to look after our planet 702 and hand it on in good order. Those concepts are fundamental to our understanding of sustainability. I think that that is clear.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Sustainability means that natural resources must be managed in such a way that they can be handed on to our children and to our childrens' children in a form in which they are undiminished and, if possible, enhanced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North asked about the headquarters of the SNH. The two existing headquarters at Hope terrace, Edinburgh and Battleby, Perthshire are candidates. I noted everything that my hon. Friend said. Management consultants are taking up the issue. They will advise and their final report will be lodged in the Library. We take seriously what my hon. Friend has said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West asked about the relations of the Caravan Club with the Countryside Commission. I have no doubt that the club is sensitive when it comes to the siting and appearance of caravan sites. We expect that it will continue to adopt that approach and that it will have good relations in future with the SNH.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North talked about skiing. We are considering the format of revised planning guidelines which will reflect and take account of the need for developments to act in harmony with the environment. If the hon. Member for East Lothian visits some of the ski centres in Scotland, he will find that that has been effectively achieved.
As to access provisions, a major review is being undertaken by the countryside commission, and we look forward to the detailed report that it will submit in due course. We will consider any proposals for legislative change in the light of its findings.
I will take into account the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries. He is a former Minister for Sport, and I assure him that we believe that Scottish Natural Heritage should be the strategic body to advise not only on access but recreational use. We believe also that tourism will increase substantially in the future.
As to national parks, the commission is currently analysing the comments made on its report, and its members are meeting tomorrow to discuss the results of the consultation exercise and to reach a viewpoint. We expect that the commission will advise us of the outcome by mid-March. Once we have that information, we will consider its proposals and will, in the light of the many submissions that we have received, make a response speedily thereafter.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing
As the Under-Secretary of State expects the commission to report by mid-March, will right hon. and hon. Members have an opportunity to discuss that report, not only in Committee but on the Floor of the House? That matter is one that seriously concerns many people throughout Scotland.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
It will be competent for the report to be discussed under the terms of the Bill, not least because the Government intend to table an amendment to create a new designation of natural heritage 703 areas. A new one is needed because existing designations are limited either to nature conservation purposes or to landscape purposes only. Natural heritage areas will be designed to bring about the conservation and enhancement of landscape and nature, together with greater understanding and enjoyment of them. That integrated designation is entirely in keeping with the purposes of SNH. However, that does not pre-empt a decision on national parks.
§ Mr. Dewar
As a natural heritage area will be a designation, presumably it will embrace a strategic plan that must be implemented. Will a body be established to implement that plan, or will that responsibility fall to some other body already in existence or to be created, such as in the case of a national park?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
We intend to wait until we receive the countryside commission's representations before reaching our final conclusions. That does not pre-empt a decision being reached on national parks, but all designations must be taken into account if amendments to the Bill are to be made. I am aware from the responses that we received that the proposal for a national park in the Ben Nevis/Glencoe area has generated little or no interest. In the case of Wester Ross, there is strong and united opposition, and a strong dichotomy of opinion exists in respect of a national park for the Cairngorms. However, there appears to be considerable support for the commission's proposals for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The new body that we are creating is Scottish Natural Heritage, which will be very powerful. The hon. Gentleman is rushing ahead. A man must learn to walk before he can run.
In respect of the Cairngorms, we have recommended to UNESCO that they be listed as a world heritage site.
§ Mr. Dewar
Perhaps I am giving the Minister the credit when I say that he woefully misunderstood my question. I will repeat it. If recommendations are made as to the way in which a natural heritage area's resources and environment should he managed, who will be responsible for implementing them? Will a new body be created for that purpose, or could the area become a national park?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
It is unlikely that there will be a creation in the form that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but he must wait for the details when the amendment is tabled and is fully discussed. I hope that he will come on to the Standing Committee to discuss it.
The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we have not consulted on this matter is incorrect. In the consultation paper, on page 14, it was made absolutely clear thatthere is a case for a more positive, less prohibitive, approach especially in areas which are of the highest natural heritage interest and are subject to change or conflicting usage.The hon. Member for Garscadden must read the whole of paragraph 9 on page 14, and he will get the entire meaning.
Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned red deer and new conservation powers for the Red Deer Commission. It is undoubtedly the case that we now have some 300,000 deer in Scotland—they have increased enormously over the years—and the Red Deer Commission says that there are 50,000 too many. Obviously each area has its own numbers and its own 704 problems. It has been suggested that the Bill be amended so that environmental interests can be taken into account. At present the Red Deer Commission can only consider damage to agriculture and forestry. We intend to put that right by tabling an amendment which would allow the commission to take action to reduce damage to the natural heritage interest, in the same way that it can when there is damage to agriculture and forestry.
The hon. Member for Garscadden asked me whether there was any case for amalgamating the Red Deer Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage. The remit of both bodies are quite different. The commission is responsible for the management of all species of deer, whereas Scottish Natural Heritage has the responsibility to advise on any activity that affects the natural heritage. In addition there are some activities which could not suitably be incorporated in a body concerned generally with conservation, such as the licensing of venison dealers. Therefore, we believe that we have adopted the appropriate course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West and the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) touched upon the impact of forest planting. Both the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council have undertaken a great deal of analysis and assessment of forestry and have made many valuable proposals for helping to achieve the Government's objective of multi-purpose forestry. We expect Scottish Natural Heritage to build upon that work, and it will have an important role in that connection.
The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) asked me about the legal expertise of the body to be created. I confirm that it will have legal expertise and it will be for it to decide what that expertise should cover and how to acquire it. He also asked about the balancing duty.
§ Mr. James Douglas-Hamilton
No, I must finish answering the hon. Gentleman's point.
Where the activities of any public body affect land, the balancing duty will be the responsibility of the SNH, but that duty is being amended by the Bill so that it takes account of the concept of natural heritage, as defined in clause 1 of the Bill.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said about the difficulties about marine consultation areas. Indeed, Loch Sween marine nature reserve is being considered by the NCC, which is consulting on proposals. As the hon. Gentleman knows there has been considerable opposition in that case. We are aware of that, but it is for the NCC to respond to the opposition. At this stage there is no Government involvement. We believe that protection of the marine ecosystem will grow in importance and the SNH will have a leading role to play.
As regards the reasons for merger, the overwhelming majority of responses that we received were strongly in favour of the merger taking place in the form of a much more powerful environmental body in the future. Responses to the consultation paper are available for public scrutiny, and I should like the opportunity to put on record some of the points made. There were a large number of representations in favour of the merger.
705 This is an admirable Bill, I believe that it has wide support, and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61(Committal of Bills).