§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I believe that it is something of a break with tradition for the Government to introduce legislation of this kind on subjects which have been well cared for in the past by Private Member's Bills. The cause of nature conservation has been well-served in the past, by the efforts of voluntary organisations and their parliamentary supporters, and by the willing co-operation of landowners and farmers. We intend that the Bill should promote and assist such activities, not replace them by a plethora of controls on countryside activities.
In developing proposals for the Bill, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has, of course, had regard to the social and economic needs of those who live in the country, and this concern is reflected at appropriate places in the Bill. Of course, there must be compromises in the Bill. They are possible and in no way weaken our objectives. It will make wide-ranging improvements to the law on nature conservation and the countryside.
The stimulus for bringing the Bill forward at this particular time is the European Community Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds, on which member states are required to legislate by early 1981. However, the Bill also recognises the awakening awareness, both nationally and internationally, of the need for conservation of our wildlife resources, as reflected in the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, and the Bonn Con- 984 vention on the protection of Migratory Species, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.
May I now turn to Part I of the Bill. Extensive modifications will be made to the law on the protection of wild birds. Some amendments to the law are necessary in order to comply with the European Community Directive on the conservation of wild birds, and the Bill accordingly includes provisions relating to killing or disturbing wild birds, keeping them in captivity or selling them, dead or alive, and egg-collecting. Our main concern is not the amateur bird-watcher or egg collector, although, of course, egg collecting has largely been illegal since 1954, but those who make a profit from excessive exploitation of wild creatures, or kill them unnecessarily or without due care. The Bill includes provision to allow activities such as falconry, aviculture and taxidermy to continue without endangering the natural resources on which they depend.
While on the subject of birds, I should like to give an assurance about the licensing provisions, under which those who make their living from the land will be authorised to kill pests. The impression seems to have been given in some places that general licences will allow anyone to kill creatures of the species named on the licence at any time. This is misleading. A general licence will be issued in circumstances where it is known in advance that a group of people will need it. The licence will be limited to that group of people and will be specific as to the species to be killed, the period of time, the area of the country, and the purpose and method of killing for which it is valid.
In those cases where a general need is not foreseen, licences will be issued to individuals. It is recognised that destruction of wildlife is not always the best way to prevent damage, and the various Government departments concerned have conferred with the advisory bodies to ensure that the proper balance is struck. Licences will be issued in accordance with policies which take account of the extent of the damage caused, the conservation status of the species involved and the availability of alternative methods of preventing the damage.
I know that the new proposals in relation to bird sanctuaries have aroused considerable interest. I should like to stress that existing sanctuaries will not be affected, but new, more flexible, arrangements should make it possible to establish new areas of protection, which could not be established at all under the current provisions. The Bill provides for sporting and other activities to be allowed in parts of these areas, or at certain times of the year, as long as these activities do not conflict with the purpose for which the area has been proposed. For example, an area might be established to protect the breeding site of a rare summer visiting species, without the need to prohibit shooting in the winter months of other plentiful species.
The scope of the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 will be extended, much along the lines envisaged by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale in the amendment Bill which he withdrew from the House in June last year, to enable protection to be afforded to rare creatures before they are in immediate danger of extinction and possibly beyond help. The list of protected creatures and plants has 985 been extended to take account of Lord Skelmersdale's proposals, of advice from the Nature Conservancy Council and of the requirements of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. The NCC has recommended that the otter in Scotland should be protected throughout Great Britain, and that is reflected in the Bill.
I now turn to the arrangements in the Bill by which the Government are required to seek expert advice on wildlife matters. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has decided to transfer to the Nature Conservancy Council, who are the Government's statutory advisers on nature conservation matters, the function of providing him with scientific advice on animals under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act. My right honourable friend is very conscious of the excellent work performed by the Scientific Authority for Animals since the passing of the Act, under its chairman Dr. Michael Brambell, and I am pleased to be able to announce that the Nature Conservancy Council intends to constitute a broadly similar committee, under the same chairman, to enable it to carry out this function.
The Advisory Committee for the Protection of Birds are at present constituted to advise the Government on matters related to the Protection of Birds Acts. If Parliament accepts the amendments to the Acts contained in Clause 21 of the Bill before you, it is our intention to appoint the Nature Conservancy Council to be the Government's statutory advisers on birds, under broadly similar arrangements to those applying to the Scientific Authority for Animals. The arrangement will ensure that appropriate representation is included to cover any interests which are particular to Scotland or to Wales.
In Part II of the Bill, the major innovation will be a requirement for owners or occupiers of the most important areas of special scientific interest to notify the Nature Conservancy Council before they carry out operations which might destroy the scientific value of those areas, and to delay those operations for up to one year while the Nature Conservancy Council seeks agreement with the owners to protect the area. At present, operations outside the development control planning system might destroy such areas without any warning. The new measures will include a right for anyone whose interests are affected to object, and for there to be a public inquiry. Anyone whose operations were delayed for more than three months as a result of an order applying the new measures would be entitled to compensation. I believe that this simple notification scheme will give voluntary arrangements a fair chance to work.
We already have legislation to protect agriculture and forestry against the injurious effects of imported alien wildlife. The Bill will extend this protection for the benefit of our native wildlife. Introduction to the wild of exotic species of animals and plants, which might upset the balance of nature and harm our native species, will be prohibited, except under licence.
The desirability of restraining the use of certain indiscriminate or cruel methods of killing wild animals has long been accepted. The use of poisons and spring traps, for example, is already strictly controlled. The Bill will introduce new controls on other methods, 986 including a total ban on the use of self-locking snares. Our primary aim has been to prevent unnecessary large-scale destruction of wildlife, but we have also taken into account our treaty obligations and public concern that some methods of killing are unnecessarily cruel. However, we have not proposed a total ban on all types of snare, as many people have suggested we should, because in some conditions there is no equally effective, more humane, alternative way of controlling pests. The Bill will not seek to prevent the use of measures necessary to control pests, but it should encourage the responsible use of such measures.
There have been doubts about the extent to which the removal of limestone from limestone pavements is subject to development control. We are planning to remove these doubts. Limestone pavements which cover no more than 5,000 acres or so in England and Wales possess features of great natural beauty and scientific interest, botanic and geological. They have been subject to despoliation, principally to provide rock for garden rockeries. Now county planning authorities and the Secretary of State will be empowered to make orders prohibiting the removal or disturbance of the limestone in areas which the Nature Conservancy Council have informed the local authorities are limestone pavements. Removal will be allowed if planning permission has been granted, or, where the limestone is needed for agricultural purposes, by the farmer himself.
The Nature Conservancy Council will be given wider powers to promote any activity conducive to nature conservation by means of grants, and a new power to make loans. The work of voluntary conservation groups will be further promoted by a provision enabling their reserves to be afforded the accolade "national nature reserve" and, if they wish, to be protected by by-laws made by the Nature Conservancy Council. Voluntary organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the various county naturalists' trusts, and the Wildfowl Trust maintain extensive reserves, which in many cases are of the highest quality, and it is right that such important assets should be publicly recognised as such, and be as well protected as other reserves of a similar standard which are managed by the Nature Conservancy Council.
The Bill includes specific powers for local planning authorities to make voluntary management agreements with landowners for the conservation or enhancement of the natural beauty of the land, or its enjoyment by the public. National park authorities will be empowered to give grants or loans for the same purposes, which will be very useful in conserving important aspects of the countryside economically.
The Government have carefully considered the issues involved in conserving moorland in the national parks. Since November 1977, when the noble Lord, Lord Porchester, produced his important report on Exmoor, much has changed. Nearly 1,900 acres of the Exmoor moorland have gained protection by voluntary means. The National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association, and the Exmoor National Park Committee, are in co-operation together to formulate guidelines to serve as a financial basis for voluntary management agreements. My noble friend Lord Avon informed the House on 23rd October that for the Exmoor National Park Committee's 987 moorland conservation work, the Government would provide a special rate of financial support, a rate of 90 per cent. instead of the ordinary 75 per cent. The Government's determination that the Exmoor National Park Committee should not lack support has also been shown by the special arrangements made earlier this year to purchase 881 acres of the moorland at Lark-barrow, to tide the committee over until their resources permit them to take transfer of the land.
We are committed to the view that a significant change in the overall character of Exmoor National Park would be unacceptable. We believe that the climate in Exmoor is now sufficiently co-operative to allow any such change to be avoided by voluntary means, provided there is a proper system for the farmers to notify the National Park Committee of their proposals 12 months in advance. The NFU and CLA announced a short while ago that the farmers' voluntary notification arrangements, which until now have provided for six months' notice, are to be revised to provide for 12 months' notice. Nevertheless, it is essential to have in reserve a statutory power to secure 12 months' notice compulsorily if need be. The Bill will now provide that power, although it will not be used in Exmoor so long as the voluntary notification arrangements are observed, and we have no present intention of using it in any other national park.
All these things meet points to which the noble Lord, Lord Porchester, drew attention. However, the Bill does not provide a power of last resort to compel farmers to sell out their rights to convert moorland. Some may think that such a power would be helpful, but, against the background which I have described and in the light of careful assessments of the situation which Ministers have made, we do not think it would help. In conserving Exmoor, we are concerned with practical success and there is as yet no real sign that a last resort power of compulsion would be useful or essential.
The main need is to remove the difficulties which, as the noble Lord, Lord Porchester, said, stood in the way of voluntary management agreements, and to foster the kind of arrangements which suit both the public and the farmers—voluntary management agreements carrying annual payments, unless the farmer prefers otherwise. These requirements are now being met. The attitudes of some conservationist societies are exaggerated. The facts are that land is not being ploughed up without authority. Our policy is working and is successful. A proposal to extend the powers of local authorities to employ wardens on land to which the public have access and on footpaths has been dropped. The proposal had merits, but this is not the time to create new tasks for local authority staff.
The Countryside Commission will become a grant-aided body responsible for employing its own staff and accounting for its own block of money. This will put the commission in a similar position to comparable organisations such as the Nature Conservancy Council.
As regards Part III of the Bill, the current arrangements for the review of definitive maps of public rights of way in the countryside have not worked well. The periodic country-wide reviews have attracted numerous objections which have taken a long time to determine. The revised map cannot take effect until 988 all the objections have been resolved, and in some cases this has meant that decisions made years ago have still to be implemented. The requirement for a review every five years will be replaced by a provision allowing definitive maps to be amended continually by means of definitive map amendment orders. This will enable the maps to be amended as soon as any objections to each amendment order have been determined. There will be no limit to the number of paths which may be included in any order. Local authorities will determine objections and will also be made responsible for determining opposed public path orders—that is to say, creation, extinguishment and diversion orders. In both cases, local authorities' decisions will be made following a public local inquiry conducted by an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.
In most counties in England and Wales, by-laws prohibit the running of bulls in fields crossed by public paths. In 14 counties, the by-laws allow any bull to run in such fields provided it is accompanied by cows or heifers. To have different rules applying in different counties is confusing and unsatisfactory and the Bill includes measures to remedy this. A total ban would be far too restrictive and have a serious impact on normal farming methods. The Bill therefore repeats a provision from the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 allowing a bull which is not of a recognised dairy breed to be at large in fields crossed by public paths provided it is accompanied by cows or heifers. This has worked well and it is wrong to say there is no comparison between farming in Scotland and England.
We hear much these days of the conflict of interests between those who wish to conserve the countryside and those who make a living from the land. The Bill does not support any one group at the expense of another. Taken together, the various measures in the Bill will promote the conservation of the countryside to the benefit of all who depend on it, whether for their livelihood, education or well-being or simply for recreation. This is a major step forward, after the most careful consultations, and I am confident its measures will prove successful. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, we on this side are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his comprehensive introduction to what is a major and quite complicated piece of legislation, and we certainly welcome the Bill as a major opportunity to legislate on a wide range of important issues that affect the countryside and wildlife. We also look forward to the two maiden speakers the Bill has attracted.
Although the Government have undertaken widespread consultations on the contents of the Bill—aided a little, I think, by the fact that it was delayed for one Session because of other matters which the Government mistakenly saw fit to put into last Session's programme—there are still a large number of issues that remain to be looked at in Committee. The lengthened consultation period has had a major advantage, namely, that the otter, which originally the Government seemed to be going to leave unprotected in Scotland, is now included and will be protected in Scotland as it 989 is in England and Wales, and that will be welcomed in all parts of the House.
I look at the Bill both as a director of a family farming company and as a member of a number of voluntary organisations interested in protecting wildlife. To take up a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, towards the end of his speech, I am sure it will be the case from time to time in our debates on the Bill that it will be presented as embodying some sort of conflict between nature conservationists and farmers. I do not feel as if that sort of conflict is going on internally within myself. Nevertheless, that seems to be an important point and I very much hope noble Lords will not see the Bill, its contents and the debates we have on it in that over-simplified way.
Conservationists are sometimes characterised—as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, characterised them in a debate last Session on the MAFF capital grant scheme changes—in quite extreme terms. I would simply say, as the Sunday Times pointed out recently, that the voluntary organisations interested in wildlife have over 3 million members, more than the members of my own political party and indeed more than the members of the party of noble Lords opposite. "Wildlife on One", one of the wildlife programmes on television, is more popular than "Match of the Day" and, as another example of the strength of commitment of ordinary people to wildlife conservation, I may say that the amount of work done voluntarily each year on county trust reserves alone—that is, leaving out RSPB reserves and reserves owned by the Nature Conservancy Council and the National Trust or the Wild Fowl Trust, and looking simply at county trust reserves—is worth about three-quarters of a million pounds. So I believe that there is a great deal of serious and level-headed commitment to the kinds of thing which the Bill sets out to protect and foster.
On the other hand, farmers are not the uniform group that they are sometimes suggested to be. MAFF sonic years ago did some research which found, for example, that over a third of the total number of farmers, 38 per cent., were interested in wildlife, half of them from a sporting point of view and half as naturalists. A much larger percentage, 60 per cent. of all farmers, were interested in having advice on wildlife conservation.
A more recent piece of research carried out by Essex University looked, first, at a sample of one in two of all farmers farming over 1,000 acres in East Anglia, and, secondly, at a sample of one in three of all farmers, regardless of the size of holding, in an area of 44 parishes in East Suffolk. That research showed, first, that 87 per cent. of the farmers farming over 1,000 acres and 72 per cent. of those in the 44 parishes expressed what might be termed a sympathetic view to the problem of environmental conservation. Indeed, the most common response that the researchers reported from those whom they interviewed was an acknowledgment of an environmental problem but that this was seen as having been created by impersonal factors, economic and technological, with which the farmer had little choice but to comply. It seems to me that it is those factors that need changing, and that to attack—as I am sure many will in the debate on this Bill—the forces that have led farmers to destroy 990 wildlife habitats and destroy the wildlife that depends on those habitats is not to attack farmers themselves.
The researchers at Essex University summed up their work by saying:By no means all farmers are as hostile to the conservationist case as is sometimes assumed".That work was supported by the findings of the Countryside Commission's New Agricultural Landscapes study, which came to very similar conclusions.
There is another point of view on this matter which comes from the countryside, from agriculture, and which I do not think is very often mentioned in debates of this kind, but which it seems to me is well worth mentioning—namely, the views of those people who work in the countryside on farms; agricultural workers. They have an interest in the countryside not only as the source of their livelihood, but also as a place which provides a varied and interesting environment in which to live and work. Agricultural workers are well aware that their jobs are often lost through the intensification of agriculture and the increased mechanisation which is also often responsible for destroying wildlife habitats. A letter in a recent edition of the agricultural workers' newspaper said that,the economics of prairie farming are largely one of manpower …".The letter went on to ask for support to stop the destruction of nature, which was seen as going alongside the loss of jobs in the countryside.
So I hope that we can approach our debates on the Bill without seeing it as a conflict simply in terms of conservationists versus those who farm or work on farms, because I simply do not believe that that is an accurate reflection of the views of either side. Indeed, there is much in common between the two groups: the need to protect rural land from all the threats that face it from urban development, industrial development, roads, and so on; and the importance of a prosperous and thriving community in the countryside. Very often, nature conservation itself depends on agriculture; for example, in the grazing of chalk downland, or the uplands, and so on.
I am quite sure that many farmers, if not all, are aware of the current scale of destruction of wildlife and they wish that the factors that have led that to happen were not as they are and that society had different priorities. It seems to me that that is the major task before us in framing the Bill.
All of us, whether or not we are conservationists or whether or not we live or work in the countryside, have an interest in it. It is an interest in wild flowers and wild birds, in places where we can walk, in wild areas where we can go for solitude, in unspoilt coastlines where we can go for holidays, in areas where we can picnic or camp, and so on. But those kinds of area are disappearing. Enormous changes are taking place—and taking place ever more rapidly.
I want briefly to outline some statistics—and I make no apology for so doing—on the rate of loss of habitats in order to underline the enormously grave problem which we are looking at when we come to judge whether the Bill, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, does strike the right balance between competing interests, and, more importantly perhaps, whether it will actually solve some of the problems 991 that we have to overcome and meet some of the international commitments into which the Government have entered, as the noble Lord mentioned.
First, I should like to look at sites of special scientific interest, of which there are about 4,000 in this country, covering about 5 per cent. of the land area of Great Britain. Only about 2,000 of these sites are thought to be at risk; in other words, capable of destruction. That leaves out the tops of mountains, cliffs and so on; and those 2,000 cover about 3 per cent. of the land area. Four to 5 per cent. of all SSIs are being damaged or destroyed every year, according to the estimate of the Nature Conservancy Council, and, at the current rate, that means that in about five years one in four of all SSSIs will have been damaged or destroyed; in other words, probably half of those currently thought to be at risk.
For some habitats the rate of loss is up to three times higher. For example, 80 per cent. of Dorset heaths have been lost since 1811. In regard to heath in the Suffolk and Norfolk Brecklands, there has been a 70 per cent. loss in the same period. In regard to heath in the Suffolk coast area of outstanding natural beauty, 73 per cent. has been destroyed in the 50 years up to 1968.
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, mentioned some improvement on Exmoor. That does not alter the fact that one-fifth of Exmoor, 12,000 acres, has now disappeared. That was lost in the 25 years after the war.
With regard to downland, in Dorset a quarter of all downland was lost between 1957 and 1972. En Wiltshire half of the downland, 64,000 acres, was ploughed between 1937 and 1961, and less than 3 per cent. of chalk downland in Wessex remains intact as old, undisturbed grassland.
In ancient woodland the losses have been nearly as striking. In lowland Britain, between 30 and 50 per cent., certainly half in Eastern England, of ancient deciduous woodland has been destroyed since 1947. Despite that massive loss, the losses are continuing, and it is estimated that at the current rate of loss a further 15 per cent. of what is left will go in the next 20 years. With regard to grassland, in Lincolnshire in 30 years half of the ancient grassland sites have been converted to arable or subjected to agricultural improvement.
The statistics regarding wetlands are no doubt well known to many noble Lords. There has been a 70 per cent. loss in Bedfordshire in 25 years, a 99 per cent. loss in Lancashire since 1865. There has been an estimated 75 per cent. loss or conversion nationally. Twenty-five thousand acres of wetland are drained every year, and it is estimated that at the current rate of loss all lowland bogs will have been destroyed by around 1985 to 1990—in the next five to ten years.
It might be said that those are fairly general areas, but that the prime sites, the most important sites, are quite safe and that we need not worry as long as they are safeguarded. Well, that clearly is not true, if about half of the SSSIs currently under threat are likely to be lost in the next 20 years. The national nature reserves, in many people's eyes more important than the generality of sites of special scientific interest, are also gravely at risk. The Nature Conservancy 992 Council says in fact that half of the national nature reserves are at risk in the next 10 years, and 15 per cent. of NNRs are under imminent threat.
In 1977 the Nature Conservancy Council published the Nature Conservation Review, a massive work, which I suspect took this country into the lead internationally in having information about wildlife habitats, their extent and importance. It took us into the lead in having the information, but unfortunately it did not take us into the lead in protecting those sites. Since then in parliamentary Answers the Government have admitted that 57 out of the 735 sites listed—that is nearly 8 per cent.—have already been damaged or destroyed.
In my own county of Norfolk, let us look simply at the Grade 1 starred sites in the Nature Conservation Review—and one cannot get much nearer than that in terms of the top level of sites. There are eight starred Grade 1 sites in Norfolk out of 33 sites altogether listed. At least two of those—that is, a quarter—are suffering serious damage already. Indeed, I discovered the other day that one of the Grade 2 Nature Conservation Review sites (there are only 735 in the country) which is listed as an alternate to one of the major sites on the Broads—that is, Barton Broad—has, since the review was carried out, been described as and has become allegedly the most polluted lake in Europe. That says a lot for our ability to gather information, but very little for our ability to act on it.
More important, these threats are still occurring and accelerating. The County Trusts say that 25 SSSIs are currently threatened or have been lost in recent months, 11 of them in Norfolk; 16 per cent. of lowland flood meadows in Oxfordshire were lost to agriculture change in the last two years; and a MAFF official recently estimated that all the remaining 4,200 acres of downland dales in North Humberside would be subject to agricultural improvement in the next 10 years.
Maybe worse, because it is more widespread and less noticed, is the scale of destruction of more everyday features of the countryside, and it seems to me more important as well because these are the features which give most people, the majority of the population, both those who live in the countryside and those who visit it, their pleasure and the joy that a day in the countryside can bring. One-third of our coastline is ruined from the point of view of amenity or nature conservation; and half the ponds in East Anglia have been destroyed. But let me concentrate on simply three features—hedgerows, hedgerow trees and deciduous woodland (broad leaved woodlands).
For hedges, the figures are well known: 140,000 miles of hedge lost so far, and the current rate of loss about 4,500 miles a year. This is an accelerating trend in many areas, and not, as some people think, a decelerating trend. In Cornwall, for example, between 1963 and 1976—in other words, in 13 years—more hedges were lost than in the previous 75 years. Norfolk has already lost 45 per cent. of its hedges (that is, 8,000 miles) in 25 years; and in Cambridgeshire the figures are very similar.
In the case of deciduous woodland, in 25 years since the war 16 per cent. of the broadleaved woods in Cambridgeshire were converted to arable, and 30 per cent. of the broadleaved woods in Lincolnshire were 993 felled in the same period. In the 20 years up to 1972, 20 per cent. of Devon's woodland was destroyed. It is not only destruction which is taking place, but major changes. For example, in Dorset, in 1811 95 per cent. of the total woodland was deciduous and only 5 per cent. conifer woodland. In 1972, only 23 per cent. of the woodland was deciduous and the rest either mixed conifer/deciduous or conifer. Furthermore, 30 per cent. of small woods—woods under 2½ acres—had been cleared in the 25 years up to 1973.
My Lords, the position with regard to hedgerow trees is, if anything, more serious than the other losses I have described. Norfolk has lost 80 per cent. of its hedgerow trees in 25 years; and the future looks even bleaker, apart from the effects of Dutch elm disease, which have been bad enough. Saplings should occur in hedges at a ratio of about 50/50 to trees of all other ages. In fact, the proportion of saplings nationally is as low as a third, and in some areas is even down to one-ninth. So the losses that we have seen in hedgerow trees are undoubtedly going to occur to a far greater extent in the future.
My Lords, that lengthy exposition of statistics—for which, as I say, I make no apology because I think them important; they underline the seriousness and gravity of the appalling situation which we face in the countryside—could be mirrored by similar statistics on the destruction and disappearance of species of different sorts. The chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council said in an article last year:The increasing destruction of natural and semi-natural habitats is such that over the next few decades we could see the extinction of species on an unprecedented scale".I think one could no doubt argue about the importance of a particular site, or, indeed, of a particular category of sites. People may say, "Well, heaths are not particularly important", or, "I am not too worried about bogs", or whatever. But the overall scale of destruction, I suggest to your Lordships, is quite unarguable, and is horrifying, and we need to do something about it.
Against that background, what does the Bill do? It does nothing for the basic fabric, the everyday things—the ponds, the hedges, the hedgerow trees, the small woodlands. It does nothing at all. For moorland it does nothing more than exists at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, gave a commitment to the preservation of Exmoor which was very welcome, but the actions that follow from that and which are needed in the view of most people are not apparent in the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, the Bill does nothing even for sites of special scientific interest as a whole.
The Minister of State said in a recent speech that a "comparatively small number of sites" would be affected by the provisions of the Bill. Comparative to what? It would be interesting to know from the Government. And at a press conference to launch the Bill, a Government Minister actually spoke of the Bill creating a set of super-SSSIs—a tier above the existing SSSIs, the remainder of which would presumably be allowed to continue to be destroyed as they are at the moment. That remark about a super-SSSI flew in the face of all the assurances which have been given by the Government to all the voluntary conservation bodies during the consultations on the Bill, 994 when it was said quite explicitly that nothing of that sort was intended.
My Lords, the threats to wildlife habitats are so important because without their protection the specie which depend on them—the animals, the plants, the birds, the insects and so on—will cease to exist, however well protected they are. We can pass laws, as we have in your Lordships' House, to protect butterflies, to protect otters and so on. If the habitats which those animals and those insects depend on are destroyed, so will be the animals. It may be a protected otter, but it will still be a dead otter. I would suggest that in this vital and most important area the Bill simply does not begin to meet the needs which it should be meeting. We on this side of the House will certainly be bringing forward amendments to safeguard all SSSIs, but, more important, to safeguard the basic fabric of the countryside, the generality of trees and hedges, and so on, of which I have spoken.
Still on the subject of habitat protection, there is one other major omission from the Bill—and I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, did not mention this—and that is the question of marine reserves, where it has been suggested for some time that certainly the Government were considering this and that the Government would be introducing, if they could, provisions to enable this country to set up marine reserves. I was interested recently to see a leaflet produced by the Central Office of information (I assume with Government approval) called Fact Sheet on Britain, which covers conservation and which says that the Nature Conservancy Council,has also made proposals to the Government for the establishment of marine nature reserves".This important document on conservation in Britain, produced by the Government, goes on to say:An important role is envisaged for the trusts"—that is, the county naturalists' trusts—in the promotion of marine conservation".I am not quite sure how the Government envisage the county naturalists' trusts playing this important role if they are not prepared to produce legislation to enable marine reserves to be established.
My Lords, the two international conventions which the noble Lord mentioned quite clearly place a duty on this country to protect the marine environment as well as habitats on land, and it seems to me quite clear that the Government will be in breach of those international conventions without provisions to set up marine reserves. It looks as if this country will be lagging behind about 40 others, ranging from Indonesia to Ireland, which already have provision for marine reserves—many extensive areas of marine reserves. It is not as if this country did not have some of the most important coastal areas in Europe. Of the 30 estuaries in Europe and North Africa that harbour over 20,000 wintering wading birds, no less than half are British; and against that sort of background it seems to me imperative that this Bill should contain adequate provisions to enable marine nature reserves to be set up.
My Lords, there are a number of other omissions from the Bill and many other points which I have not attempted to cover in the time available to me. My noble friend Lady David at the end of the debate, and 995 many other noble Lords on both sides of the House, will no doubt want to cover other points. I want to mention simply two things to give the Government notice of amendments which we think will be important at the Committee stage. First, the protection of badgers. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the gassing programme in south-west England, it cannot be right that the publicity that has generated from the gassing and the argument about it should be leading to the needless and pointless persecution of badgers throughout the rest of England and Wales. We on this side of the House intend to introduce amendments to this Bill to protect all badgers outside the gassing areas in the south-west from killing by anybody unless they have a licence issued for that purpose. I hope we shall have the Government's support in those amendments.
Secondly, ADAS. The noble Lord said very little about how the Government were going to encourage the sort of voluntary agreements and co-operation which they and everybody else wish to see over these issues. For many years now there has been a perfectly clear report which says what should be done and how it should be done: that ADAS should play a major role in giving advice on wildlife conservation. We shall be moving amendments to ensure that the Government live up to the words they used when discussing the farm capital grants scheme when they said that extra staff in ADAS would be available to give advice on conservation and wildlife issues; and, again, I hope we shall have Government support for that.
The Bill, it seems to me, needs to be judged against two major trends which are developing in the countryside. First, away from species protection, away from the protection of individual animals and plants, however important that is—and it is important—towards the protection of wildlife habitats in general to which I devoted so much of my speech today. It seems to me that, on the whole, the Bill does not measure up to these new challenges at all. Secondly, a major trend towards greater public participation in countryside affairs and access to the countryside; the huge growth in the membership and numbers of voluntary organisations and specialist interests; the greater number of people visiting the countryside; the change there has been in the attitudes of those involved in nature conservation—away from seeing people as a threat towards encouraging people to visit reserves through open days and encouraging people to take part in nature conservation.
Again, it seems to me, the Bill falls down badly, in particular in the provisions on bulls and public footpaths—which caused some merriment among noble Lords on both sides; but, maybe, not so much merriment to those who are killed or injured on footpaths by bulls every year, or to the three agricultural workers who were killed in 1979 and the 23 that were injured by bulls in England and Wales. Bulls are dangerous animals and should not be allowed to mix with people. In this respect, the Government's proposals in the Bill are quite unacceptable. It is against those criteria: whether the Bill will encourage public participation and whether it will really provide adequate protection rather than nominal protection for plants and species, 996 that we shall judge its progress and move amendments to improve it at Committee stage.