HC Deb 20 October 1994 vol 248 cc409-10
2. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what account he takes in the exercise of his responsibilities for land drainage of protecting the environment and the habitat of birds and other wild animals.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack)

The powers that MAFF exercises in the relationship between land drainage and environmental protection are fully detailed in the publication "Water Level Management Plans", a copy of which is in the Library.

Mr. Mackinlay

Is the Minister aware of the widespread anxiety among conservation groups and interests that the announcement of a new environmental agency may mean that that agency would have fewer powers than those now residing with the National Rivers Authority? Will he give the House an undertaking that the new agency will have equally robust powers and a duty to promote conservation in water management, rather than merely having "regard to" it, as was spelt out in the publicity?

Mr. Jack

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that it is not directly in my province to comment on the Environmental Protection Agency. That is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, I am aware that concern has been expressed about the word "conservation" in the context of that agency, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the information, such as water level management plans and the other guidance given to all authorities with an interest in land drainage, will not change. Their obligations and requirements—as regards the new Land Drainage Act 1994, for example—will remain unaltered under the new arrangements.

Sir Donald Thompson

Will my hon. Friend take an early opportunity to congratulate our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, whose Bill last night will go a long way towards protecting the environment and habitat of birds and other wild animals, and will curtail the activities of people whose sole intent is to destroy that habitat and to destroy country life?

Mr. Jack

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the novelty of his question. I will certainly pass on his greetings to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It is always important in countryside and conservation matters to get an appropriate balance between the intrusion of human beings and wildlife.