HC Deb 12 June 1991 vol 192 cc896-7
7. Mr. Morgan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent consultations he has had with the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council concerning the designation of the Severn estuary mudflats as a special protection area under the European Community wild birds directive.

Mr. Trippier

None. My right hon. Friend is considering the case for the designation of the Severn estuary as a special protection area.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Minister agree that it is nothing short of a scandal that, as a result of the Government's dithering, the proposed special protection area for the Severn estuary mudflats, along with another 160 proposed special protection areas, has been sitting in the Minister's pending tray for more than a year at vast expense in Ministers' and civil servants' time and in time spent in consultation with landowners? Yet still the Minister will not take the decision to designate the mudflats under a directive which is now 10 years old. Does he agree that if he does not do something soon, the Government's name in Europe will be "mudflats"?

Mr. Trippier

I totally reject all that the hon. Gentleman has suggested—it cannot be dithering or time wasting. The hon. Gentleman has, probably unintentionally, misled the House, because the papers for the designation were submitted to us by the NCC only a few months ago.

Mr. Soames

With regard to that designation, and to others from Europe, will my hon. Friend confirm that he and his colleagues in the European Community will be taking a good deal of interest in ensuring that it is understood that not every estuary in Britain is the same, and that great care and attention needs to be given on an individual basis and not just on a blanket one? Will he assure the House that he is using his best endeavours to ensure that the European departments involved are aware of those differences?

Mr. Trippier

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree with every word that he said. In the past, I have had the opportunity to raise this very matter with other Ministers at the European Environment Council. It is a matter of record that I share my hon. Friend's views on this. No two estuaries are the same, and they cannot be treated in the same way for nature protection purposes.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern that the time it takes to make a designation that protects an estuary is so much longer than the time it takes for developers to work up an advanced plan that will ruin the estuary? Conservation interests do not appear to be properly upheld by the Government. Is it true that when Ministers met the representatives of wildlife organisations a few weeks ago, Ministers made it clear that they were not interested in a common estuaries policy, which was a great disappointment to those whom they met.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman's latter point is totally wrong. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I attended the meeting to which he referred. My right hon. Friend asked the non-governmental organisations to submit in finer detail precisely what they expect from Ministers in the Department of the Environment. At no time did the Secretary of State suggest that we were prepared to go for a full-blown review of coastal policy. The matter now lies in the hands of the NGOs, which I am sure will respond positively.