HL Deb 12 April 1973 vol 341 cc862-83

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This very morning there was a memorial service to the late Lord Howick, who was for the last 10 years the Chairman of the Nature Conservancy, and this is an occasion when we particularly miss his presence and his contribution to our discussions. I am sure that your Lordships will want me to begin the debate by expressing our appreciation of his many achievements in the Nature Conservancy.

While our noble friend was the Chairman of the Nature Conservancy there were relatively few periods when the question of their organisation was not under active discussion or review. When the Conservancy began life in 1949 it was set up as an independent body. It was a comprehensive body with functions that embraced both conservation and research. Ministerial responsibility for the Conservancy lay with the Lord President of the Council. In the early 1960s, the Conservancy's future was considered in the context of the review of the whole organisation of civil science. A Committee on Research into Natural Resources—ithe Slater Committee—was appointed by the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy in 1961. That Committee recommended a new council for research on natural resources and the environment. It also recommended, though not unanimously, a division of the work of the Nature Conservancy with the research work being transferred to the proposed Research Council. The precise way in which the Conservancy work was to have been handled did not come within the Committee's purview.

The Advisory Council on Scientific Policy and the Trend Committee of Inquiry into the Organisation of Civil Science in 1963 also recommended that a new natural resources research council should be established. Both of those bodies thought that the whole of the work of the Nature Conservancy should be embraced within the new Research Council. Following this, ministerial responsibility for science passed from the Lord President of the Council to the Secretary of State for Education and Science—that was in 1964. In 1965, the Science and Technology Act provided for the establishment of the Natural Environment Research Council and for that body to take over the activities of the Nature Conservancy. Since 1965 the Nature Conservancy has been a committee of NERC. The Conservancy's functions remained, in essence, the same as they had always been, continuing to embrace both conservation and research.

This placing of a formerly independent body within and under another independent body led to stresses which proved difficult to resolve within that framework, and in July, 1971, a majority of the Nature Conservancy Committee passed a resolution seeking the re-establishment of the Conservancy as an independent body with its own direct access to a Minister. I should add that the late Lord Howick's view was that the Conservancy should remain within NERC. At the end of 1971 an internal factual inquiry was set up by NERC—the Lucas Committee—to report on the work of the Conservancy and its relationship with NERC. The view of this Committee, which was endorsed by NERC, was that the conservation and research functions of the Conservancy should not be separated and should remain within NERC.

So the Government were faced with a number of conflicting views. It had been strongly argued that the Nature Conservancy should remain with NERC; it had been argued that it should become independent again; and it had been argued that it should not be divided. What was clear was that no solution could be found to satisfy all these views and there were two factors in the situation which had not been present when the organisation of the Conservancy had been examined in the early 1960s. One was the principle of the customer/ contractor relationship for research which had been proposed by Lord Rothschild and which had been endorsed by the Government in their Green Paper on a Framework for Government Research and Development, in 1971. The other factor, and of particular significance, was the creation of the Department of the Environment in November, 1970. The wide range of responsibility in one Department both requires us and enables us to adopt and to take a total approach to the environment to ensure that priorities are regularly reviewed and that problems which interact are not treated in isolation from each other. We already have responsibilities within the Department on conservation over a wide variety of fields. But the Natural Environment Research Council is also required to adopt a comprehensive approach and is concerned with research in a wide range of earth sciences and ecology and we did not think that it would be right to divorce research in relation to nature conservation from them.

It was against that entirely new background that the Government decided that the conservation functions of the Nature Conservancy should be exercised under the ægis of the Department of the Environment where it could be related to other aspects of conservation, and that the research capability of the Conservancy should remain with NERC where it could be related to other aspects of environmental research. That decision was announced in a White Paper on the Framework of Government Research and Development, in July, 1972.

Concern has been expressed in some quarters about the effect of this split between the conservation and the research sides of the Conservancy. I can assure noble Lords that we have given, and will continue to give, very careful consideration to the way in which this decision should be implemented, because, of course, this issue is a crucial one. Mr. Heaton, formerly Deputy Secretary both in the Department of the Environment and in the Department of Education and Science was appointed to advise both Departments on the practical arrangements which were needed, and we have had the benefit of his views. We have now set out, in consultation papers which have been sent to NERC, the Conservancy and the staff interests, the Government's proposals on the detailed arrangements for implementing the decision. We shall consider very carefully the comments made to us on the papers and in your Lordships' House. The initial reaction from all sides so far has been encouraging, and we shall know more before we reach the Committee stage of the Bill.

While it would not be appropriate to discuss all the details on this particular occasion, there are several features I would mention, as they demonstrate the Government's resolve, and the practicability of our resolve, to establish an effective Council with a proper relationship with NERC. While the new Council will not have its own research capability, it must, of course, have an appropriate scientific competence. This will be needed at the operational level for the management of the nature reserves and for performing the important advisory function in relation to local planning authorities and others. The Council will also need to be able to assess what research it should commission. When it is set up we expect that the Council will have about 100 scientific posts, and we propose that there should be a new post of chief scientist, assisted by a supporting team of modest size. Although the Council will not have its own research capability we are confident that it will be able to attract the right kind of scientists.

The Conservancy's stations and properties will be divided between the new Council and NERC in the light of the particular functions carried on in them. Thus, for example, the nature reserves themselves will pass to the new Council, and the research stations, such as Merle-wood, Monks Wood, Banchory and Bangor will remain with NERC. Where there is a dual interest, careful arrangement will be needed to ensure proper co-ordination and sharing of facilities. One of the consultation papers which have been already issued concentrates on the relationship between the two bodies, both at headquarters level and at the operational level. Further study is needed of the actual arrangements which should be made. But we have proposed that at the headquarters level there should be representation of the Council and of NERC on each other's governing bodies, and that there should be links at officer level. Among the proposals that have been made for ensuring a proper working relationship at the operational level is one that there should be formal arrangements for consultation between the Coun- cil's regional staff and research workers from NERC institutes.

The only restriction on the use of nature reserves by research staff would be where proposed research would damage the scientific value of a reserve. At the present time, research in relation to nature conservation represents about a third of the research which is undertaken by NERC on terrestrial ecology. Most of the research which the Council commission will be from NERC and this will in itself foster a close working relationship between the two bodies. I have mentioned some of the features of our detailed proposals because these illustrate the Government's determination to establish a good system within which work on nature conservation can continue to develop in a close and effective relationship with associated research.

I turn briefly to the present Bill. I should explain that it is concerned solely with the implementation of the decision which I have announced, to establish the new Council. It makes no changes in existing legislation other than those which are consequential on the setting up of the new body. The functions of the Council are set out in Clause 1. The Council will be concerned with the establishment, maintenance and management of nature reserves in Great Britain, the provision of advice and the dissemination of knowledge about nature conservation and the commissioning and support of research. These functions are in effect the same as those of the present Conservancy, except that the Council itself will not have a function of carrying out research. But I should make it clear that, while the Council itself will not be doing research, it will be able to carry out surveying and monitoring which is appropriate to its functions; and that is covered in subsection (4) of Clause 1.

The other functions which the Council will have are those which are already contained in a variety of enactments concerned with nature conservation. Under these enactments at present these functions are placed on NERC, though in practice they have been discharged by the Nature Conservancy. These cover such matters as powers relating to nature reserves, the notification of areas of special scientific interest and the protection of birds. Details of the enactments under which the Council will have these functions are set out in Schedule 1. The power which was originally given to the Nature Conservancy in 1949 by the National Parks Act of that year to enable them to acquire land compulsorily for a nature reserve will pass to the Council. Clause 1 also deals with the appointment of members, enables directions to be given to the Council, and provides for the Council to commence to discharge its functions from a date to be appointed by Order. The appointments will in practice be made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in consultation with other Ministers concerned.

The Council will be able, under Clause 2, to appoint such advisory committees as it thinks fit. But it will be obliged to have separate committees for Scotland and for Wales. By not continuing the present requirement on the Conservancy to have an advisory committee for England, the Bill gives the Council greater flexibility in deciding how to organise its affairs, and it may wish to have more than one committee for England. That is a matter to which we can return, if necessary. I am sure that there will be a general welcome for the brand new power which is given to the Council by Clause 3, to pay grants, and I should explain that the "persons" to whom grants may be paid embrace bodies, including local authorities, and the voluntary bodies, such as the county naturalist trusts. This will enable the Council to pay grants towards the same type of project that it can carry on. There have been powers for several years now under the Countryside Act for grants towards the cost of informal countryside recreation projects, and we thought it right to have comparable provisions for nature conservation projects.

The financing of the Council itself will be by grant-in-aid from the Department of the Environment, under Clause 4. At this stage it is too early to say what level of resources we shall be able to make available to the Council, but I can assure your Lordships that when we come to consider the Council's proposals for its programme of work and its order of priorities we shall have well in mind the important place which nature conserva tion has within the context of environmental policies generally. Other provisions in the Bill are concerned largely with constitutional, staffing and procedural matters and we shall be able to look at those more closely at a later stage. I should make it clear that the Council will have an independent voice. We intend to continue, and if necessary to improve, the present arrangements for consultations with the Conservancy. In this way the Council's views will be taken fully into account in considering various issues which arise and in reconciling any conflicting interests. The Council will be free to express its views on issues affecting nature conservation, even where those views might differ from those of the Government. My Lords, I look forward with great interest to hearing the views of your Lordships on this Bill, and, if I can, after the debate, to answering any queries and points which your Lordships may wish to raise. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Sandford.)

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House are inclined to find this a rather sorry measure. It is difficult to be enthusiastic about the reform proposed here, but equally we think it would be wrong to oppose it outright because the Nature Conservancy has been shifted around a good deal since it was set up and the time has come for it to settle down somewhere, even if not in the best possible way, and to grow some roots and get on with the job; and if the Government think this is the best way we do not think it would be responsible to seek to upset the broad lines of their settlement. The Nature Conservancy as it was originally set up in 1949 was a very interesting hybrid between the land owning functions, the conservation functions and the research functions. As a free-standing body carrying out these three roles it was unusual and rather successful. Then in 1965, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has reminded the House, the Labour Government put it under the Natural Environment Research Council which was only then being set up and I think it is fair to assume that it was more in the first flush of enthusiasm for a new research council that we gave it as much as we could to do to get it away to a good start, rather than from an entirely unhampered consideration of the best interests of the Nature Conservancy itself. There have been difficulties—the motions mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, from the commissioners themselves; there was the purge of commissioners and general unhappiness and ructions and upheavals, and there comes before us this new proposal.

It is not very logical. The judgment of Solomon himself becomes a wonder of logic compared with the arguments contained in one of the papers which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was good enough to send me. I refer to the Joint Paper by the two Departments of Education and Science and of the Environment, of last July, where at paragraph 5 is set out the argument with quite extraordinary clarity. It says: It has been strongly argued that the Nature Conservancy should remain with the NERC, that it should become independent again and that it should not be divided. These conflicting aspirations"— it says, with blinding insight— cannot all be fully met. Indeed, my Lords, this is so and the course that has been taken is the most advisable one, clearly, since those who believe that the Nature Conservancy should remain with the NERC will see it removed; those who believe that it should become independent again will not see it become independent again, and those who believe that it should not be divided will see it divided. Thus all factions are fully disappointed and the Nature Conservancy can start again with a clean slate.

I saw in the Press a day or two ago something about a body called the National Ecological Institute. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, could tell us a little about this in winding up. The impression I got was that this was going to be simply the research establishment which is left with NERC after the division of the Conservancy. Is this so, and if so, is there any precedent for calling three or four or five separate research establishments a National something-or-other institute? Does NERC itself control any other national institutes? I am not saying it is wrong, but the grandiosity of the title is somewhat startling. Perhaps we can be told more about it.

If we turn to another document which the noble Lord has been good enough to make available, the great "Bill of Divorcement" itself, in other words the Consultation Document, we find in it all those rough edges which one would expect from such a rough division. We find that the Government have not been able to decide what is to happen to the library. That matter has been left over; a Working Party is to be set up to decide whether it should stay with the Research Council or go to the New Nature Conservancy Council. We find that the Government have not been able to decide what is to happen to the international work. The Department of the Environment is to review that matter and decide later, presumably after the Bill goes through. We find the most ingenious solution to the question of premises. Some will go one way and some will go another, but there remain a certain number of premises which the Government have not been able to decide what to do about and they will therefore have to be shared, but that will be quite all right because a distinctive style will be adopted in separate rooms within a single building so that the Consultancy Council room will have a blue armchair and a whisky decanter and the Research Council room will have a red armchair and a gin bottle, so everybody will know exactly where they are without looking at the notice on the door.

We also find in the consultation document a great many joint bodies—cross postings, common memberships. I get the impression that after this division the two sides will spend half their lives consulting each other and sitting on joint bodies which, in a certain ghostly way, will perpetuate the marriage which we are hereby dissolving. However, having said all that, I repeat that we think it is time to allow the Nature Conservancy to settle down in its new form. I would end with a plea to the Government to treat them handsomely. It is a pity in a way that they are not going to be allowed to do any research themselves in house, but, even if they are not, we hope that the Government will give them plenty of money to contract out of research according to sound Rothschild principles whether with NERC or elsewhere. That I think will be the measure of the Government's good intention towards the unit they are creating. In conclusion, I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in the sadness he expressed at Me death of the noble Lord, Lord Howick, and his not being able to be with us to-day; and, last of all, to wish both parts of the former Nature Conservancy prosperity in their new separate life.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, in general I welcome the objectives of this Bill in so far as it separates the Conservancy from NERC, and as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said, gives us the opportunity to get the Conservancy settled instead of being pushed about—I almost used a stronger word—as it has been for a very long time. I do not want to repeat the historical account which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, gave, but one cannot help looking back to the days when the Conservancy was first founded just after the war and the tremendous enthusiasm with which all those of us who were keen on the conservation of our countryside and the preservation of the animals and plants who live there and their proper study received that appointment, that Royal Charter, and how much we hoped from it, and how indeed we were not disappointed. The Conservancy had a very comparable combination of research and field workers which immediately attracted the enthusiasm and support and trust of those of us who lived in the country and saw the day-to-day work of the field officers, dealing as they did with very much the same sort of people as the agricultural service had when set up at the beginning of the war, which again was a science based service with trained scientists, many of them acting as field officers in agriculture. Again, we trusted them because they were science based and had research closely connected to them.

It is a sorry history really that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, outlined, of continuing chopping and changing by Governments of the day, of the Conservancy and of various committees. In the 1960s we had committees—I cannot remember how many—discussing civil science, and the Conservancy among them. Some people suggested that the research work should go to one of the science councils, but that, very fortunately, was seen to be wrong and the Conservancy was placed by the Government of the noble Lords opposite into the N.E.R.C. I must confess that I was a little touched by the slight signs of a white sheet which the noble Lord opposite started to put on, realising, I think, as most of us have since then, that the N.E.R.C. was so big and so amorphous, dealing with everything from Antarctic research and the research vessel "Discovery" to the culture of algae and protozoa, that it gave those responsible for it an almost impossible task. It is that impossible task which brings about the position with which we are faced to-day.


My Lords, the white sheet was for candour, really; not for penitence.


My Lords, there were various discussions—and I was involved in them, because I was for a short time, until quite recently, a member of the Conservancy—about its future and whether or not it should continue with the N.E.R.C. I do not think it entered the head of anybody in the discussions and representations that any Government could think it reasonable to separate research from the regional staff and the field officers. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to the Lucas Committee, which was expressly set up to investigate the relationship between the Conservancy and the N.E.R.C., and, in passing, he said that that Committee recommended that research and the rest should not be separated.

The exact words which the Committee used are so much better than anything that I could produce, that I venture to quote them to your Lordships. This is an extract from the Report: We were also most impressed with the conviction held throughout the Nature Conservancy that research and conservation were inseparable. Those of us who had had doubts were won over by the facts and the opinions that we received. The scientific backgrounds of conservation officers made them welcome specialist help from research workers, and the latter gained a practical orientation from the regional officers and could see their research being put to useful purpose. The Committee went on to say in their recommendation: Effective conservation in the present state of knowledge of the management of plant and animal communities demands increased knowledge, so that conservation and research functions should be closely associated and these two Nature Conservancy functions should not be in different organisations. That is the opinion of an independent committee of scientists set up to advise; it is the opinion of the Nature Conservancy itself; and it is the opinion of everybody I know who is sincerely and knowledgeably concerned about the future of nature conservation in this country.

This Bill—and any similar Bill that has to deal with conservation—is intended to provide the best machinery for the conservation and study of the countryside, giving advice to people who need it. The only clear reason for this decision, which the noble Lord set out just now, was the fact that the customer/contractor principle has now been established and everything must be related to that. This is far too big a problem to be tied to some shibboleth of that sort. The whole experience of the Conservancy, whenever the relationships between research and field work have been considered, has come down on the side of keeping them together. If the Government want to make a change the burden of proof lies with them and, to my mind, they have not yet discharged that burden. The only real reason is the customer/contractor principle, which is supposed to govern the whole of civil science to-day, but I do not think it can govern the management of our nature reserves and of our countryside. So I hope that the Government will very seriously consider not a minor amendment to this Bill, but the major one of going back to the principle of keeping conservation and research together. I propose putting down an Amendment to that effect, and I hope that the Government will give it serious consideration and be ready to accept it.

The Minister has been kind enough to send me the paper to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred, about the allocation between the N.E.R.C. and the Conservancy which is still under discussion. I must confess that I was a little disturbed by that, primarily because I do not approve of the fundamental basis upon which the people were asked to work, but also because, almost inevitably, once having taken a decision which tends to go one way, the consequential deci- sions tend to go the same way without a proper investigation of the problems involved. This is neither a Second Reading point nor a Committee stage point; it is really an administrative problem which we must leave to the Minister and to the Department concerned.

On the other hand, I feel that the Biological Records Centre, which obtains and records information about the distribution of wild life generally, is one of those bodies which those of us who are working on problems of this sort in our own parts of the world—and there are many in innumerable societies, and the like—associate most strongly with the Conservancy. So I am quite sure that we should all feel that the Government had reached the entirely wrong decision if they followed the advice which was given in that paper, that it should remain with the NERC and not go with the Conservancy. This is one of those administrative difficulties which Departments are always up against. They have to make a decision of this sort, and it is impossible to discuss it with all the people in the field. But I suggest that if they discuss some of these problems with representatives of the conservation movement generally, we shall get a Bill which will establish the Nature Conservancy on a proper basis and, I hope, for the next generation at least, instead of being altered every ten years or so.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, I congratulate the Government and the Minister for bringing in this Bill. With a few exceptions and a few doubts, some of which I will raise in a moment, this measure has been welcomed by the majority of those voluntary bodies, both large and small, throughout Great Britain who are interested in the aspects of conservation that will be affected by this Bill. I welcome particularly the provision in Clause 3(1) enabling the new National Nature Conservancy Council to make grants for nature conservation purposes. This will be of enormous help in promoting local authority, voluntary bodies and private landowner activity in this field.

The first, and perhaps the most important, is the need to provide the new Council with resources adequate to the functions which this Bill defines. These functions are of growing importance to the nation. As pressures on land and wild life increase, nature reserves are becoming increasingly valuable, both for conservation, research, education and the enjoyment of nature. As a result of a comprehensive review of areas of natural interest recently undertaken by the Nature Conservancy, we can now prepare a programme for a really comprehensive series of nature reserves whilst there is still time. The acquisition of more reserves would be a splendid investment for the nation. I hope that special financial resources will be made available for this over the next few years, but of course reserves need proper maintenance and management. The new Council will need adequate funds and manpower at various levels to cope with both existing and prospective management commitments.

Talking about reserves, we cannot minimise the contribution made by the voluntary conservation movement. There are 750 nature reserves now safeguarded by county conservation trusts alone. The voluntary movement has always worked in close partnership with the Nature Conservancy and looks forward to an equally close relationship with the new Council. Even more demanding perhaps—certainly in the longer term—is the provision of advice and the dissemination of knowledge about nature conservation. Already the advice and services of the Nature Conservancy are in heavy demand from local authorities, from voluntary bodies and from private landowners and users. With the restructuring of local government and the growth of popular interest and concern, this demand will grow. It is essential that it should be adequately met by the new Council because their role in influencing land use and management may be even more important for conservation than what they do themselves.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned the Natural Environment Research Council—a new name. I am concerned because I read in The Times on Tuesday, October 10, that the National Environment Research Council is proposing to set up an Institute of Terrestrial Ecology to provide among other sources: A research and advisory service in conservation and wild life management to other organisations, such as Government Departments, local authorities and planning bodies. I sincerely hope that this is incorrect, for if NERC do this they will seriously undermine the authority of the new N.C.C. as the principal advisory body, and this would destroy the goodwill which has been engendered by this Bill.

I now come to the obviously difficult dividing line between N.E.R.C. and the new Council on the question of research. I know that this has been a matter of which the Government are fully aware. The nature reserves, the advisory and education functions, all need research. Since this will no longer be carried out within the new Council, except, presumably, for straightforward monitoring and survey which the N.C.C. must be able to do itself, they will have to commission research, mainly, it is assumed, from the NERC—that is, from the research stations at present within the Nature Conservancy. The importance of liaison between the NERC and the N.C.C. has been sufficiently emphasised, and the Government seem to be well aware of its importance. However, the new N.C.C. will have initially, according to the Government White Paper, only about £300,000 to spend on commissioned research, whereas the Nature Conservancy now spend over £1 million a year. Only a proportion of this—I am advised it is not more than 20 per cent.—is spent on basic research; the rest is all necessary for application to management and advisory functions. Whilst the NERC, it is to be hoped, will continue to do some of the applied research—for example, on toxic chemicals—from its own resources, it is earnestly to be hoped that the Government will provide the Nature Conservancy Council with a more generous amount than is now proposed for the commissioned research necessary for the proper fulfilment of its own functions.

So the functions given to the N.C.C. will require adequate financial resources and staff, from estate workers and wardens to regional and headquarters scientists and administrators. In consequence of the separation from the N.E.R.C., the new Council will need a strong scientific (including the commissioning of research) competence of its own if it is to discharge management and advisory functions credibly and effectively, and if it is to be a satisfactory customer for commissioned research from the N.E.R.C. and elsewhere. I was glad to have the assurances given me by my noble friend. It will also be necessary to build up its own establishments, finance and administration complement, since many of these functions have been discharged by the N.E.R.C. which took over some of the staff in these fields after it assumed overall responsibility in 1965.

To me, the most worrying part of this Bill, which I am sure will be put right, concerns the arrangement for England. The establishment of the new Council seems to be adequate and satisfactory, with the exception of the strange omission of the provision in Clause 2(2) for a committee for England. I hope it will be possible to secure an amendment to this clause to put England on exactly the same basis in this respect as Scotland and Wales. There will be no difficulty for the N.C.C. in being obliged to have a committee for England. It could still appoint provincial committees or sub-committees if it wished. Indeed, I believe there would still be an important, if more limited, rôle than at present for an England committee. There are, I am sure, policy issues concerning external relationships, deployment of resources, et cetera, which must be considered in an all-England context—just as much as they will be considered for Scotland and Wales. I should be interested to know the views of the Nature Conservancy on this question.

On a minor but very important point, it is to be hoped that this new Bill will permit the new Council to deal with one conservation aspect which had been almost ignored by the present organisation: I refer to nearly 3,000 S.S.S.I.s (sites of Special Scientific Interest) in this country, of which only two or three have been the subject of a Section 15 agreement under the Countryside Act 1968 or have received through the N.E.R.C. any refund of the owner's costs in protecting and managing the site. Since 1968, when the Bill was passed, we have been constantly losing irreplaceable natural resources, and this must surely now stop. I hope also that the new Nature Conservancy Council will be able to play a more important part in implementing wild life protection measures, because the time seems to me to have come now for a more comprehend- sive approach to nature conservation and wild life.

Finally, my Lords, may I say, as the noble Lord has already said, that the Nature Conservancy has suffered several years of difficulty and uncertainty. While many people deplore the split now being made between research and conservation, the early introduction of this Bill is much to be welcomed. The important thing now is to launch the new Council with all possible speed, and to enable it to set about its task with adequate resources and a clearly defined mandate. The Nature Conservancy staff in both research and conservation branches deserve the most sympathetic treatment when the division in the present organisation is made, and I hope (and I am sure it will be so) that wherever possible they will be given an option to serve either with the N.E.R.C. or the N.C.C.

I conclude with a mention of Lord Howick. I regret so much his untimely death; and this has added to our uncertainties. It is to be hoped that the Government will appoint a new chairman as quickly as possible. It is also important that the senior officer posts of the new Council should be filled at the earliest possible moment, so that firm plans for the structure of the new organisations can be made.

8.1 p.m.


My Lords, I should first of all like to associate myself very much indeed with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in regard to the late chairman of the Nature Conservancy, the late Lord Howick. I knew him very well, and as one who served for two terms on the Nature Conservancy I know what a wonderful job he did in putting together what the scientists told us and what the laymen probably did not know from a technical point of view but knew more practically on the ground. No one could have done that job better. He was never happier than when he was studying wild birds and beasts and vegetation on the high hills.

My only excuse for saying a word or two in this debate is that, as I have said, I served on the Nature Conservancy for two periods. When the first Nature Conservancy came into being, the Royal Charter laid down that it should have not more than 18 and not less than 12 members. In those days I was in another place, and there was always one Member of Parliament from each side of the House serving on the Nature Conservancy. I do not think we talked too much—I hope not—but I do think that we were able to provide a little practical information on the political side, from both sides of the House, in helping to get into legislation what was practical and necessary from material put forward by the Nature Conservancy; and I hope that the Government will consider returning to that set-up.

Having listened to the speakers so far this evening, I do not want to take up more than a moment or two's time. I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, said, in that it seems odd that there is no conservancy council for England provided for in the Bill. I should have thought that if there were, and then a main one, it would work on a more general and fairer basis for better production by way of conservancy as a whole. Again, I support and agree very much indeed with what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who has also been on the Nature Conservancy, about the complete divorce of research from the practical people who are doing the conserving. I believe it will make it much more difficult for it to be a smooth-running concern. I appreciate that the Government of the day have a difficult task in deciding exactly where the dividing line shall be, but unless there are included at any rate some research people who are practical people and who can help those on the ground in the nature conservancy areas, it will prove much more difficult to work; and I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, say that he proposed to put down Amendments on that basis.

8.4 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not having my name down on the list of speakers—I shall take only one minute—but as one who had the privilege to represent, in the English section, the Manifold Valley and the Dove-dale area for about 26 years, one of the things that I think enhances the idea that there should be a particular committee for England as such is that at holiday periods, in glorious country like that, flora and fauna are sometimes swept away by pedestrians and cars; hedgerows and plants are damaged; and even the geological formation in the limestone caves can be destroyed by vandalism. Consequently, I should like to support all the speakers who put that view forward. In view of the fact that I did not put my name down, that is the only constructive point I should like to make to-night in passing, but I shall watch the Committee stage.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am immensely grateful for the views, suggestions and opinions which noble Lords have put forward in this short debate and which we can now consider as we work out the details of implementing this legislation. I think we knew all along that we could never find a solution—and I was quite frank about this in my opening remarks—that would please everyone, but whatever reservations those who have spoken and others concerned may have about it, we are all agreed (and this was the line that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, took right from the beginning) that she Conservancy must be given a chance to settle and to put down roots, and that is one of the main intentions behind this Bill. It is true that there had been a preponderance of view that the conservation and the research functions should stay together, but we are confident that the fears which have been expressed, notably by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and my noble friend Lord Margadale, on the effects of the Government's decision to split the Conservancy can be allayed, and I look forward to the opportunity my noble friend's Amendment will provide at the Committee stage to do just exactly that.

If I may say so, what these fears do not fully take into account are the ways in which the necessary links between the two will be maintained. I would say, in answer to my noble friend Lord Margadale, that we envisage anything but a complete divorce between these two sides. What we shall be striving to do in a whole range of practical and administrative ways, into the detail of which I shall go, is to see that there is a close and effective working relationship between the two parts. But the other factor, I think, is that it is important not to underestimate the benefits which will accrue from bringing nature conservation and all the work that goes with it under the ægis of the Department of the Environment, and accordingly into touch with all the other kinds of conservation for which we are responsible; and I would certainly say to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook that the customer/contractor principle is not by any means the only reason for the changes which we are now discussing.

Fears were expressed about a committee for England, and I would hasten to say that the mere omission from the Bill of a reference to one does not mean that there should not be a committee for England. We have quite an open mind about it. By not putting it into the Bill, what we are seeking to do is to provide the maximum scope for the Council itself to make whatever they consider to be the best arrangements for England. They may come to the conclusion that just a simple committee for England is right. On the other hand, they may find that two committees, or some sort of regional structure for England, would be appropriate, perhaps to correspond with the regional offices of the Department of the Environment. I am just hazarding a guess right off the cuff. That is the only reason for the omission, not any positive decision there should not be an English committee. We can return to that subject at Committee stage. We are well aware of the importance, stressed by my noble friend Lord Craigton, of appointing the chairman and director of the new Council. An announcement about that will be made as soon as possible.

I was asked several questions about the retention in the NERC of various aspects of research and how they will be organised in the future. I agree that at first blush the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology sounds a grand title, if not a little presumptuous. But it will exist in the NERC together with the Institute of Tree Biology, the National Institute of Oceanography and the Institute of Geological Sciences. Put beside those august bodies it does not seem altogether inappropriate. In the context of this Bill, it is accurate to think of it as what is left of the old Nature Conservancy when the new Nature Conservancy Council is taken out. There is no disrespect to those concerned in it to describe them in that way in this context. I should like to respond to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Craigton in his comment on the account which appeared for the first time in The Times of April 10. I am sorry to say that the science correspondent there has got it wrong.


Thank heavens!


My Lords, this is really based on a misunderstanding. The function of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology is to undertake research commissioned by Government Departments, the Nature Conservancy Council and other bodies. The giving of advice about nature conservancy and wild life will be the function of the Nature Conservancy Council. I hope that gets that point clear.


My Lords, could the noble Lord make it clear whether the word "terrestrial" is used here in apposition to the word "astronomical" or "spatial" or whether on the other hand, it is in apposition to the word "aerial" or "aqueous"? Is it soil ecology or is it of the whole globe?


My Lords, the noble Lord will see from the catalogue that I have given that it exists side by side with the National Institute of Oceanography and the Institute of Geological Sciences. It cannot claim a complete monopoly even of the solid stuff.

Another achievement of this particular solution is the bringing of the Nature Conservancy Council more directly into touch with Departments, and my own Department in particular, and avoiding the appearance of remoteness which was one of the criticisms made by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I would say in conclusion that in the last few years there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of conservation, and we stressed it only yesterday in a different context. Public opinion rightly looks to the Government to ensure that the whole field of conservation—and conservation for instance of natural resources, one of the most sensitive areas—is accorded a proper place in national policies and priorities for the environment. We now have a Department of the Environment which must have regard to conservancy in a whole variety of fields as an integral part of its responsibility. This would seem to be a conclusive argument for finding a place for nature conservation within the context of environmental policies generally.

Equally, research into terrestrial ecology, to use the phrase they have themselves chosen, is an important element of the research which is needed into the whole field of natural environment. It is right that this should remain as an integral part of the Natural Environment Research Council by the same argument as is applied for the movement of the N.C.C. within the ægis of my own Department. This poses the problem of ensuring that there is a close, effective relationship and not a divorce between the conservation and the research side. I welcome the concern that my noble friends feel that we should spell this out, and I can assure everybody that this is a feasible proposition. We are satisfied that it can be achieved and have placed particular emphasis in our proposals on the detailed arrangements that will be needed. But there are practical problems such as those mentioned in the debate and we must address ourselves to them.

Since the Government decision was announced both NERC and the Conservancy have been concerned to ensure that effective arrangements are made to implement the decision. Both the NERC and the Conservancy are confident that that can be done. I am sure that the proposals which have been formulated will ensure a proper relationship in which the objectives for which we are all striving can flourish. For those reasons I commend this Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.