HL Deb 05 June 1973 vol 343 cc22-44

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 1 [The Nature Conservancy Council]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 19, leave out ("carrying out, commissioning and") and insert ("commissioning or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and myself. I think it would be for the convenience of the House (and I understand it would he for the convenience of my noble friend) if at the same time I spoke to Amendment No. 2. Your Lordships will recall that at the Committee stage we had a comprehensive and valuable debate on the future role of the new Nature Conservancy Council. Many noble Lords gave us the benefit of their expert opinions on that particular subject. The great majority of your Lordships were in favour of a more flexible arrangement than had been proposed in the Bill as originally presented and were in favour of power being given to the new Nature Conservancy Council to carry out some research of their own. May I quote some examples of that view? The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on May 8, at column 274 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, asked that I should say that the Government had it in mind to introduce at Report stage some Amendment giving the new Conservancy Council the power to conduct some research of their own. I shall be claiming shortly that that is exactly what Amendment No. 2 does.

The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, asked that there should be words in the Bill to provide that the Nature Conservancy Council were not debarred from undertaking whatever was the right description of the research which was immediately relevant to their executive functions. That is what Amendment No. 2 in fact does. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked that there should he a form of words indicating that there was some research capacity there for the Nature Conservancy Council itself. Finally, in my noble friend's concluding words on that stage of our debate he asked that I should find some means of ensuring that the new Nature Conservancy Council had power to undertake some research. It is because I believe that we have been able to meet that point of view that I am commending these two Amendments to your Lordships' House.

I promised at the Committee stage to consider all those points and several others like them, and I have done so. I have discussed them extensively with my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Education and Science; with noble Lords opposite—notably the noble Lords Lord Kennet and Lord Shackleton; with noble Lords on the Cross-Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb and the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman; with Professor Stewart, the head of the Nature Environmental Research Council, and with Sir David Serpell, the Chairman Designate of the new Nature Conservancy Council; and I have discussed the whole matter more than once with my noble friend himself. The happy result is that we are able to present Amendments on which we are both agreed and on which I believe we can assure your Lordships that all the interested parties we have consulted are also agreed and which I firmly believe meet fully the great majority of views expressed at the Committee stage.

The second Amendment substitutes for the Amendment made in Committtee another which gives the new Council a further power to initiate and carry out research which is directly related to their functions and which it is appropriate that they should carry out instead of commissioning. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook has asked me for an assurance that the Nature Conservancy Council will have discretion within the Bill to decide how much of their research should be commissioned and how much they should undertake themselves. I can certainly give him such an assurance which I hope he and other noble Lords will find acceptable; but first I should like to explain how the Government see it working out in practice.

In the White Paper the Government indicated that funds for the conservation functions and related research would be transferred from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of the Environment from the beginning of 1973–74 and this has been reflected in Estimates. The total funds concerned—which correspond with the £1.4 million at 1971–72 figures of which the White Paper spoke—amount to £1.74 million and this money is thus currently financing the present Conservancy's programme so far as the conservation functions and related research are concerned.

As my noble friend knows, the consultation papers which were sent to both the Conservancy and NERC proposed an allocation of properties and staff complements between the two bodies. They also made clear that the wishes of individual members of the staff of the present Conservancy, as to which body they should serve would, so far as compatible with the needs of either body, be given effect to. These proposals were well received by both bodies—and by the Staff Side. Much goodwill has been expressed on both sides and much effort devoted to developing fruitful channels of liaison. The Government would therefore envisage carrying them into effect on the lines proposed, and that, in so doing, it should be possible to meet the interests of both bodies and of the staff. When the Council is established they will, of course, at the outset inherit the on-going conservation programme of the present Conservancy. So far as research is concerned, the allocation of properties and of staff envisaged would presumably mean that, initially at any rate, the great bulk of the research work the new Council needed done would continue to be carried out as at present, but commissioned by the new Nature Conservancy Council from the Natural Environment Research Council.

The change in the Bill which my noble friend and I are now proposing would imply a real change from what was originally proposed. It would for the future be possible for the new Council to initiate research work and to decide that they would themselves undertake a proportion of the research programme by the use of their own resources as distinct from commissioning it from others. My Lords, I must make a number of points in addition. First the Government's basic intention, as the White Paper made plain, is to make a fresh start in a situation in which the basic purposes both of the new Nature Conservancy Council and the Natural Environmental Research Council can be better fulfilled. We believe that this aim can best be achieved by having two separate bodies with separate functions, each with a measure of independence but working in close partnership.

My Lords, there has now been well over a year of uncertainty and of marking time for us all, not least for the staff concerned. The Government's proposals on the allocation of properties and staff complements between the two bodies have provided an element of certainty and an element of choice which have been generally welcomed. It is important that we here should do nothing to generate further uncertainty but rather to extend the certainty. The main need now is for the new Council to be established and for them and NERC to get down to the task of developing their respective policies and roles and working out their future together. When they come to do so I believe they will start from a situation in which the great bulk of the new Council's on-going research requirements will be met by commissioning from NERC.

The new Council, when they are established and have gained some experience, will certainly wish to take stock of their position. They will develop their own policies and this may lead to changes in their research requirements. Under the terms of Amendment No. 2 they may decide that it would be right that some of their research work directly related to their executive conservation functions should be carried out by their own staff. But—and I think it is worth repeating this yet again—they will be working closely with NERC at all levels. While the main research capability will remain with NERC, the N.C.C. will need to develop their own policy for commissioning research and this will create a strong bond of interdependence between the Council and NERC. Both bodies will have a common interest in the outcome of the research. The natural consequence of all this will be to encourage—indeed to require—close and effective liaison. The Government have no doubts, therefore, that mutually acceptable arrangements for the effective conduct of research can and will be worked out between the two bodies.

There are two factors of importance which emerge from what I have been saying. First of all, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, when discussing with the Council the amount of the grants to be made to them, will look at their proposals in the hope and expectation that they will attach major importance to the value of the resources, both of manpower and expertise in research relevant to the conservation field, and of capital equipment and buildings within the existing establishments, and will be concerned to see these resources well utilised. The new Council, for their part, in deciding what would be a wise use of resources, may well conclude that the great part of their research work should he commissioned from the establishments which would, under the Government's proposals, remain with NERC. They will doubtless be concerned that any changes in their programme of commissioned research should not damage NERC's research capability or the stations and scientific teams required by them. But where research required is of a kind whose planning and execution should be so close to the point of application to the executive work of conservation that it would be appropriate for it to be done by the Council's staff rather than to be commissioned, the Council will have power under Amendment No. 2 to arrange accordingly.

It is on this basis, therefore, that I can give to my noble friend and to the House as a whole the assurance which he and so many other of your Lordships were seeking at the earlier Committee stage. The new Council will certainly have a real discretion—subject, of course, to the terms of the Bill and to normal control relating to grants in aid—to make their own decisions on how they should spend the funds allocated to them. We all hope that they will do so in close co-operation and consultation with NERC, since each institution can only gain from the interlocking arrangements and close partnership that is now envisaged. My right honourable friend will, of course, need to be satisfied from the point of view of the use of public funds. But, subject to this, it will be for the new Council to decide how much research of the kind described in the Amendment it is appropriate that they should carry out themselves and how much they should commission.

My Lords, to conclude this rather long speech on a subject which I think your Lordships wanted to be covered thoroughly, may I say that in considering this question we must recognise that views could well change as the new Council—which, as we have explained in our consultation papers, will have an independent voice—become established and develop their own identity and their special relationship with NERC. I do not think that any of us to-day can claim that we have the knowledge and experience in all the varied fields of work of the new Council to dictate what the right solution should be. I know that my noble friend feels strongly on the matter. but I understand that he accepts that it is essentially a matter for resolution between the two bodies. They should be given time, free of any pressures, to work things out for themselves in the light of their respective responsibilities. The main point which we have secured by our earlier debate and the Amendments which have been put down in my noble friend's name and in mine, is that the new Council will have the power—as most of your Lordships wished they should have—themselves to undertake research directly related to their new functions. I apologise for that rather extensive explanation of these two Amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 1.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I thought it might be convenient for your Lordships if I were to speak now. but I should rather like, in speaking, to cross-examine the noble Lord on what he said about the administrative details which were to follow this Amendment or my Amendment. However, I will deal first with the reasons why I find myself perfectly satisfied with this Amendment instead of the one to which your Lordships agreed at the Report stage. Indeed, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having devised a form of words which more clearly expresses certainly what was in my mind and I believe was in the minds of most noble Lords who supported that Amendment, in more closely defining the type of research which we feel that the new Nature Conservancy Council should be empowered to undertake.

During the course of that debate a number of noble Lords made the point that the original Nature Conservancy, when it was first set up, was the only Government body which was dealing with ecology, and although its major research function was inevitably to deal with the acquisition and the management of reserves and to give advice on conservation to other people, it was inevitably forced into a certain amount of what we now call basic research because there was no other body responsible for long continued basic research in that particular field. I would stress those two words, "long continued", because of course in a number of universities research of that nature was going on, but it is the long continued research which inevitably has to be done by a Research Council or, as it was then, the Nature Conservancy.

When the Nature Conservancy became a constituent part of NERC it was quite clear that this basic research would go on, and indeed properly go on, because that was an essential function of NERC with the Conservancy added to it. But a number of noble Lords, including myself, expressed the opinion that that type of research was not directly related to the functions as set out in this Bill; indeed, some of us looked upon it as dead wood. I believe that this Amendment will direct the attention of the new Nature Conservancy Council to the type of research which it should undertake; clear its mind about the sort of research it intends to undertake, and make it think quite clearly as to whether or not it falls within the scope of this Bill. To that extent it is an improvement on the Amendment to which we agreed at the Committee stage. For that reason 1 support the Amendment as it stands.

I listened to the noble Lord], Lord Sandford, as he was speaking, but it is difficult to pick up points as a speech is made and I should like to cross-examine him and ask for some amplification. He referred to the agreements which have been already reached about the allocation of staff and the like between the Conservancy, or the future Conservancy Council, and NERC. I understood him to say that the agreements already reached are to stand. If that is so—and I can scarcely believe that it can be so—it surely must mean that the new Nature Conservancy Council when it is set up is going to be presented with a fait accompli: it is going to find that an agreement reached when there was no question whatsoever of its having any research powers is to be implemented. Under the Bill as it now stands is it going to have the research powers? It seems to me that that puts the new Council, and indeed the staff at the moment, in an almost impossible position.

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will interrupt me if I am wrong in my induction, but it seems to me that we are now going to be faced with having arrangements made under the Bill as it was introduced continued as if nothing had happened and as if the Bill had never been amended. If the new Council, when it is set up, feels that some of the research which it is now suggested should be carried out by NERC would more properly be done by the new Nature Conservancy Council—and I must confess that I cannot conceive it possible that the new Nature Conservancy Council will not think that some of that research would be more properly carried out by its own staff—the staff will not know until the new Council is set up and has a chance to review the whole position, and it may then find itself being put into new pigeonholes all over again. With all the difficulties to which this is likely to lead, I should have thought that if this Bill is likely to get through Parliament in the near future it would be much better to leave the matter standing still until the new Conservancy Council is set up and had a chance to decide for itself what sort of research fell within the scope of the Bill as amended.

That has nothing to do with this Amendment; it is merely the administrative machinery which is now being set up. But the administrative machinery which is now being set up has been mentioned, and I must confess that that side of it, although 1 am satisfied with the Amendment, fills me with rather gloomy forebodings for the unfortunate staff who are going to be under the same sort of Sword of Damocles that many have been under for some considerable time.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, the House will want to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in his posthumous appearance as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment and to wish him personal good fortune in his new duties at Education and Science. The last time we considered this matter the Committee voted the Government down on their original proposal. It is always nice when a sound argument, well put, convinces a House of Parliament and when the Government then do what the House wants; and this is what has happened this time. We on this side now think, having listened to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who has confirmed our belief, that the Bill as it now stands is all right.

I note that the permission for the new Nature Conservancy Council to do research is limited only to the purposes of sub-paragraph (i) of Clause (1)(a); that is the first of the three functions on page 1 of the Bill. The Council is not allowed to do any research concerned with sub-paragraph (ii), the second of the three functions; that is to say, research in connection with: the provision of advice and dissemination of knowledge about nature conservation". I hope that this is a clean fronitier. It seems to me to draw it rather tight around research which can be done only on matters directly arising out of, the establishment, maintenance and management of nature reserves". I hope that this is a clean frontier. It be allowed to do reserach into how one conserves nature in general, which might be a little wider than how one maintains and manages a nature reserve. Perhaps Lord Sandford would give us a word of comfort about that.

I was taken aback to hear Lord Cranbrook's account of his understanding of what the Minister just said about the arrangements. I must say that I did not follow that part of Lord Sandford's speech. Would the noble Lord tell us again? I hope it is not the case that the arrangements which had been made before the unamended Bill was taken through Committee are now to stand, because in that Bill the Nature Conservancy Council was debarred from doing any research whatever. Arrangements were therefore presumably made for NERC to do all the research in this field. If those arrangements are to stand now, it would be a nonsense and would make the Bill of no effect, which cannot be the intention of the House. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has told us about this, and if so I apologise. But can he tell us how much money the Nature Conservancy Council is now going to receive to do its research? If the answer to that question is satisfactory, then we are very much in favour of this Amendment.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, went to what is the major point behind these various changes. Lord Sandford has gone a long way to meet the objections of principle which at any rate I had in mind when I spoke on this matter. I believe, with him, that a solution can be found if the Nature Conservancy side and the NERC side, which is more directly researchers, work together properly and come to amicable and sensible arrangements as brother scientific men. In the past, contrary to my own expectations and those of most other people, a great deal of overlapping and interlocking between the two Boards did not make the work run smoothly to begin with. The late Lord Howick was a member of NERC; Professor Clapham and, I think, Professor Wynn-Edwards afterwards, the Chairman of NERC, were all members of the Nature Conservancy also, and yet it did not really click as we all hoped and expected it would and which I think it can still do. The Minister in the background, and the right Department, now the Department of the Environment, ought to be able to work out a satisfactory scheme. But it will not work satisfactorily at once, and I hope that the Government are not tying their hands too tightly at this stage by legislation.

There are two kinds of workers concerned with the natural environment. First there are what might be called pure or basic researchers. Secondly, there are the people who study plants and animals in the field and who get to know a great deal about them, which some of the pure scientists never find out, or at least are very slow to find out. By these Amendments have the Government really solved the difficulty? I think they may have, but for a moment I should like to look rather more closely at the wording.

The hands of the Nature Conservancy and the Conservators are largely untied by the wording which the noble Lord has now produced, but I think it needs to be looked into a little more closely. It says that they may do research in matters directly related to their functions under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above...". In what exact respect will limits be imposed upon the scientific staff of the Nature Conservancy Council in all its grades, and in what respect will they be limited, or held to be limited, by this definition? Paragraph (a)(i) talks about, "the establishment, maintenance and management of nature reserves", and that, of course, does not go far enough. That takes in estate management and that kind of thing, but it does not take us very far in studying the natural life, and still less research into it. The dissemination of knowledge could perfectly well be said to be the duty of a public information officer, and it probably will be deemed to be just that.

The provision of advice goes a little further. What would satisfy me would be the assurance that the phrase will be interpreted not as being limited to answering questions when asked, but as a positive role for the scientific officers of the conservancy side, and the Nature Conservancy itself. requiring proper scientific equipment with facilities and resources for research so far as necessary. Will they keep themselves engaged in fulfilling a positive role and keep themselves qualified to call attention to all matters affecting the position of the flora and the fauna in any ecological change. They are not of course expected to roam extremely widely over a wide range of basic or fundamental research. For that they could and should go to NERC. It is these ecological changes that are all-important and which they are the best able arid the best qualified to observe. They are most alive to changes which are going on and which are changing our countryside before our eyes. It is surely their duty to note those changes, to call attention to them and not to have to wait for some advice from a Fellow of the Royal Society or some high expert to tell them what and how to observe.

I agree—and I think I said this in the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill—that many, and perhaps most, detailed investigations and pieces of research should and could be farmed out to the organs of NERC, to the universities, to special societies like the R.S.P.B. or the Botanical Society, or perhaps to the Meteorological Office. The Nature Conservancy should not attempt—and in fact it never did attempt—to do all these things itself. But much of this kind of inquiry, which naturally falls under the heading of research, is a natural and indeed a suitable activity and function of scientific naturalists who need not themselves be very highly specialised experts but who must keep their eyes on their main job, which is close observation and daily care of the living environment of which they are the custodians on behalf of the public.

I wish to ask the noble Lord whether that is the sort of research with which the scientific staff of the Nature Conservancy Council will be allowed and encouraged to indulge in, if it be an indulgence. I personally think it is their main job. Without proper resources and facilities, but on a limited and strictly controlled scale, they will not be able to do their job. They are neither customer nor contractor in the new jargon in any ordinary sense; they are indeed both, and in our national nature reserves it is they who are very largely the researchers.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say straightaway that when I read the terms of the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, had put down in his name and that of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, I found that everything I had asked for in the previous debate at Committee stage had been met: that is to say, I asked that the Nature Conservancy Council should not be debarred from undertaking—and here I agree totally with my noble friend Lord Hurcomb in his difficulties about defining research—research which is immediately relevant to its executive functions, and to the responsibility which it is discharging on behalf of the D.O.E. The words of this Amendment satisfy me completely. At the same time, I must confess to a certain anxiety generated by the observations of both the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, because if there is a difficulty, if NERC and the new Nature Conservancy body are going to disagree about where the borderline of research is to be, who is going to decide? The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, suggested that it may be some Fellow of the Royal Society. I see one Fellow of the Royal Society sitting on the opposite Benches. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is a Fellow of the Royal Society. But I do not think that either the noble Lord, Lord Blackett, or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or myself would like to rule in any case of this kind.

I am wondering, indeed, whether the emphasis should not be on those cordial relations to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred, which had to be developed between the two bodies. I can think of a worse case than the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, referred. A week ago I was in the Nature Conservancy reserve and was looking at three groups of terns. A fourth species,— or sub-species; I am no taxonomist when it comes to terns—was not there and I asked myself, "Supposing those sandwich terns do not arrive this season; somebody would have to inquire what had happened. Supposing it was some environmental change which had affected their migratory habits or some seasonal change which had affected their reproductive habits. Here is a piece of research that could well be undertaken." Here I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that that task would have to be undertaken by the person who had made the primary observation, and he would need to be competent to make subsequent inquiries, whether of an experimental nature or by further field observation. I do not believe that at a moment like that somebody in the Nature Conservancy—say a local warden or one of his staff—would stand back and say, "Here is a problem. Now I must go and find somebody in NERC who can undertake to solve this particular issue and say what should be done." It might be a very long, continuous piece of work relating to the effect of light acting on the eye, or to the reproduction of terns in general, and I do not see how that kind of work could be handed over. I do not want to labour this particular point. but there is a question here; namely, who is to judge in cases where NERC says that the new Nature Conservancy Council has gone too far?

I read in this week's issue of Nature that the way the contractor-customer principle is working. at any rate so far as the Agricultural Research Council is concerned. is such as not to generate any alarm about these new principles whereby Government research is controlled and organised. The case was put in Nature, and I imagine that they were reporting accurately, that whatever number of millions of pounds had been agreed should be handed over by the Agricultural Research Council to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was in fact handed over, but that then the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, not having any projects on which to use these resources, handed it all back to the A.R.C. But then Nature went on to say that VAT had to be charged in this particular transfer. I trust that that was a lighthearted addition on the part of the Editor of Nature and that it is not true. But I strongly suspect that as proper relations are worked out by NERC and the new Nature Conservancy Council we shall find that men will continue to work in the places where they are working now. I do not believe that we shall find that a lot of people who are at the present moment employed by the outgoing Nature Conservancy body are uprooted and thrown out, nor shall we see a lot of new men brought in under NERC to undertake work of a totally new kind. I strongly suspect that the picture will go on as before. But I should hope that the anxiety which has been generated by the observations to which we have listened with such interest can be settled by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and that he will tell us by whom any disputes will be settled.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for what I believe, in practice, will be found to be a very satisfactory arrangement. In the original proposals it was particularly the problems of research connected with the Conservancy's nature reserves that gave rise to doubts. Even with the best good will it was difficult to see how separately controlled research would bring better results in an area which in any case would have to remain under direct Nature Conservancy management. In so far as I can understand the learned observations of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, I do not entirely follow him. I believe that by this addition to the new Council's powers all concerned can, and will, arrive at the best possible decisions in any nature reserve case where the merits to divide control are in doubt. I think that the new power will bring harmony where there might, and probably would, have been conflict, and I and my friends willingly accept the change.


My Lords, I must apologise first of all for intervening at this stage in the debate because, regrettably, I was unable to attend the Committee stage when I should have liked to have stood up and been counted as one of the Members of your Lordships' House who supported the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, in his Amendment. I came here this afternoon, having read the Amendment we are discussing, perfectly prepared to accept it as the solution we all wanted to see to this problem. But having heard what has been said, I must confess that I have some reservations.

First of all, I should like to clear up one thing which was said, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the functions to which this Amendment refers. I am sure that it relates to the whole of those functions listed in subsection (1)(a) and (b), and therefore it is not as restrictive as was feared. One of my interests in this matter, which I must confess, is that I am Chairman of the Red Deer Commission which in a sense commissions research from the Nature Conservancy. I suppose that at the moment we commission it from the Natural Environment Research Council, but I should not want to find that that work was now, as it were, divorced from the Nature Conservancy as I knew it and understood it. That is something which is going to cause considerable concern to many other people who look to the Conservancy for advice based on their management work and their research, as they have understood it in the past, if, as I understood to be the case, the decision on the research establishment has already been taken. A good deal of play has been made upon the words "research competence" and "research capability", and it seems to me that if this decision on where these establishments will go has already been taken, much of the capability has been removed from the new Nature Conservancy Council before it ever existed.

The other point that I want to make also concerns this matter of research capability and how far the new Conservancy Council can be given any credibility for its work if it has to spend so much time in the intervening years in building up these cordial relations. I think it is extremely easy for NERC to expect the Conservancy to come forward and ask for cordial relations when they have all the cards in their own hands, if, as I say again, this decision on the establishment of the research stations and who will be running them has already been taken. I agree that this Amendment meets most of the objections that were expressed the last time this matter was debated, but I am afraid that now, having heard what the Minister had to say, and the worries expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, I now have considerable reservations about its being an effective way of answering the problem at the back of everybody's mind.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to answer those points and give those assurances. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his kind remarks to me personally. I must say if one is a Minister moving from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Education and Science, one could not have a more appropriate Bill to be handling.

Most of the questions raised fall, I think, under one of three headings. First of all, I was asked about the limits of the discretion that the new Council will have in exercise of the powers provided by Amendment No. 2, particularly in the allocation of resources. Their discretion, of course, does cover the way in which those resources allocated to them should be divided in the discharge of their functions and in the exercise of this new power. I did say that the figure given in the White Paper, which related to 1971–72, was £1.4 million. That now amounts to £1.74 million, and, of course, it is a figure which will be adjusted year by year in the course of general considerations of public expenditure and the allocation of funds for this particular body. That is the figure over which the Council will be able to exercise their own discretion, both as to the way in which the money is disbursed in the discharge of their functions as set out in Clause 1(1)(a), and in the exercise of the power conferred on them by Amendment No. 2.

The next set of questions were to do with what limits there were, if any, to the exercise of the discretion to conduct research, and whether this research related to all the Council's functions or only to some. I am glad to be able to confirm that it relates to all of the functions set out in Clause 1(1)(a)—that is to say, all the functions listed in lines 12 to 23 on Page 1 of the Bill, which is perhaps wider than I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, feared. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who asked whether the kind of research we had in mind was that which he described in his speech, I would say that broadly it is: what he was describing was the kind of thing we have in mind. We believe that in Amendment No. 2 we have given good legislative expression to what he wishes.

The third set of anxieties and questions concerned the limit, if any, to the discretion available to the new Council in modifying the present allocation of resources and staff complements. I would agree with he noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that perhaps it was rather difficult to follow, in a speech which was long, and which I therefore read rather quickly, to take in all the points which I said related to this. Perhaps it would help the House if I were to repeat those particular parts of my speech which bore on this. I did say that, so far as research was concerned, the allocation of properties and staff envisaged would presumably mean that initially, at any rate, the great bulk of the research the new Council needed done would continue to be carried out as set out at present. I did use the word "initially". That is the point from which we start; that is not a point which is now frozen for all time; it is the starting point. I then went on to say that it would for the future be possible for the new Council to initiate further research work, and at the same time to decide whether they themselves would undertake a proportion of the new research and a proportion of the existing research by the use of their own resources, as distinct from commissioning from others. That is another expression of the way in which the current position which is inherited will be capable of being modified.

I also went on to say, later in my speech, that as the Council gained experience they would develop their own distinct, policies. This may lead to changes in their research requirements under the terms of Amendment No. 2. They may decide that it would be right for some of their research work directly related to their executive conservation functions to be carried out by their own staff.

I think the main point that I made came right at the end of my speech, and I will amplify it in answer to what I think is really the main anxiety: whether they will really have discretion in the exercise of this power. It is the Nature Conservancy Council who will have the discretion. It is a discretion about how they discharge their own functions as set out in the Bill. It is their discretion and it is for them to exercise it. They will exercise it within the terms set out in the Bill, within the resources available to them, and I have said what the resources are at the moment, but of course they can be modified. The final point I would make is that the exercise of that discretion—and here I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman—will be within the close working relationships between the two bodies which we all recognise as being cardinal to this new dispensation.

I hope that that explanation of the way in which this discretion will work, and the assurance that it is a real discretion and that it is the N.C.C. who will be exercising it, will commend these two Amendments to your Lordships.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like, with the permission of the House, to ask him what will inevitably be a long question, because I think he failed to take the point which I was trying to make. Under the Bill as it was introduced, the staff and the research work done at the various stations was to be divided between NERC and the future Conservancy Council, on the supposition that the new Council would have no research functions whatsoever. It now has research functions, and it seems to me that it is almost inevitable that some of the work now being done by some of the staff is such that the new Nature Conservancy Council would think it imperative for them to be carrying it out with their own staff. That is to say, some of the work which under the Bill as it was introduced would have been commissioned, the new Council will wish to carry out itself when it is set up. What I want the noble Lord to say is whether the staff are now going to be allocated between the two bodies without any consideration of what the new Council is likely to want to do when it is set up, or are they going to be allocated as they would have been if the new Council had no research functions whatsoever. I understood the noble Lord to say that it was the latter. That seems to me to be living in Cloud Cuckoo-land.


My Lords, I shall be glad to try to reassure my noble friend. The position we have been trying to secure in the course of the discussions we have been having since the last stage of this Bill is that, in place of adding a research function to the Nature Conservancy Council (which is what my noble friend's original Amendment sought to do), we have been seeking to find a form of words which would give the new Nature Conservancy Council a research power while leaving the functions as they were originally proposed. This introduces the element of flexibility, giving the Nature Conservancy Council discretion as to how to exercise that research power in support of their functions, which do not include research but the commissioning of research. This was the flexibility which my noble friend asked for in his closing remarks and which I believe these Amendments secure.

The position from a practical point of view, from which we start, is that we begin with a programme of £1.74 million, including research commissioned by the N.C.C. from the NERC, but we have introduced a flexibility which can be exercised at the discretion of the Nature Conservancy Council under which they will be able to conduct some research themselves. It is that power that we have given them, and it is that power for which most noble Lords were asking. We have not altered the functions but given the Council an additional power to conduct research in pursuit of their functions.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I think that we have fully discussed Amendment No. 2. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 12, leave out from ("purposes") to ("things") in line 13 and insert— ("(b) to initiate and carry out such research directly related to their functions under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) above as it is appropriate that they themselves should carry out instead of commissioning or supporting other persons under sub-paragraph (iii) of that paragraph, and (c) to do all such other.")—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.23 p.m.

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 18, after ("directions") insert ("of a general character").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3, which I think is a simpler and more straightforward Amendment. This Amendment limits the scope of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in his direction-making power under Clause 1(5) to directions of a general character. As at present worded this clause would enable directions of a specific nature to be given. Although there is no indication that the direction-making power would need to be used, this type of provision is common in legislation setting up public bodies. The form of the power varies, and the effect of this Amendment will be to bring the provision more into line with that which applies in the case of the Countryside Commission. A request to change the power in this way was made by the Nature Conservancy, and the Secretary of State's agreement to this request demonstrates that he has no intention of seeking to interfere in the running by the Council of its day-to-day affairs. That is a simple explanation of quite a simple point. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Advisory committees of Council]:

LORD SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 39 and insert ("three committees for the purpose of giving them advice about the discharge of their functions in England, Scotland and Wales respectively.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4. The purpose of this Amendment is to place a statutory duty on the Nature Conservancy Council to appoint an advisory committee to advise them on the exercise of their functions in England. The Bill already places responsibility on the Council in relation to Scotland and to Wales. In Committee my noble friend Lord Craigton withdrew an Amendment which would have had the same effect following an assurance that I gave that the matter would be considered further after the views of Sir David Serpell, the chairman-designate of the new Council, had been obtained.

At present, under the terms of the NERC Charter, the Nature Conservancy Committee are required to appoint sub-committees to advise them on their work in England, Scotland and Wales respectively. The only reason why the Bill as originally introduced did not continue this requirement in effect in relation to England was in order to retain the maximum flexibility as regards the organisation of the Council in England. The chairman designate has agreed that provision should be made for a statutory committee for England. This will not prejudice whatever further arrangements of an original nature, for instance, the Council may draw up as regards the organisation of the Council in this country of England. It will still be open to the Council to appoint any further commit. tees as they may wish. I hope that this has met the point of my noble friend Lord Craigton and other noble Lords who spoke on this particular point.


My Lords, with this Amendment the members of the English Committee will have the prestige and the satisfaction of knowing that they are members of the main statutory English Committee, and in that respect are on a par with their Scottish and Welsh colleagues. The Minister has heeded the appeal that I made at the Committee stage for a fair deal for England, and I am very grateful to him.


My Lords, I have been a chairman of the England Committee for many years. I was a member of it over twenty years ago and I am still a member. In my heart I rather agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said on Second Reading, that it really did not much matter whether it was statutory or arbitrary. There always was an England Committee and there always will be an England Committee, but its members at present undoubtedly feel in some way inferior to their Welsh and Scottish colleagues in not having a Committee imposed on the Minister by Statute, or at any rate by obligation, so they may as well have it. It will give them pleasure, and I am sure that it will do the Ministry no harm.

There is indeed one point where it occurs to me that there may be some advantage. In the past many important struggles and Parliamentary battles have arisen on English Bills—the Manchester Water Bill, for example, or the one concerning Dungeness—where English issues bulked perhaps a little larger in the eyes of the public and Parliament than they might have elsewhere. It is no bad thing that the Conservancy should be buttressed by a special England Committee when those problems arise again, as is likely. I say that the more so because there is a feeling—it may be ill-founded—that since the NERC took over the Conservancy it has not been quite so vehement or so clear-spoken on the issues that have arisen as the Conservancy has been in the past.

When I was chairman of the Conservancy I was grateful more than once for the strong support that we got from the noble and learned Lord who was then Lord President and who now sits on the Woolsack. He always said, "As scientific men, your people are entitled to say, and are bound to say, what they think, whether or not it is liked by the Ministry of Agriculture or some other Department, or some Minister. You submit eventually to the Cabinet decision, but whatever you think the consequences in nature will be, you state them." If we can go back to that clearer and rather firmer scientific line, then I, for one, shall be glad, and I think that with an England Comittee of our own my old colleagues may feel rather more emboldened to do so.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.