HL Deb 30 March 1981 vol 419 cc91-104

Page 101 lines 15, column 3, leave out line 18.

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The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 158 to 160 with Amendment No. 107. Amendments Nos. 161 and 162 were spoken to with Amendment No. 102. I spoke to Amendments Nos. 163 to 165 with Amendment No. 107. With your Lordships' permission, I would like to move Amendments Nos. 158 to 165 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 166: Page 102, line 13, column 3, at end insert ("In section 5(3) the words from the beginning to "save as aforesaid."").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendments Nos. 167 and 168:

Page 102, line 37, leave out from beginning to end of line 28 on page 103.

Page 102, line 5, leave out ("mammals") and insert ("animals").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have already spoken to Amendments Nos. 167 and 168. I beg to move these amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 169: Line 6, leave out ("the Badgers Act 1973").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 169. This is a drafting amendment to remove a duplication in the title. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

An amendment (privilege) made.

7.32 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass and. with your Lordships' indulgence, I will speak for just a few minutes. There had been expectations that the Bill would arouse considerable interest during its passage through this House but I do not think that anyone anticipated the records which it must have broken. Despite the lengthy consultations which preceded the introduction of the Bill, very many improvements have been made after much expert advice, couplied with first-hand knowledge from all sides.

The Bill will make many desirable changes and extensions to the law on wildlife and the countryside, as well as providing the right framework for conservation for many years to come. We have often referred during the debates to the extent to which conservation can and must depend, not only on voluntary groups but even more on the goodwill of landowners and farmers. I should like now to thank noble Lords on all sides who took part in the debates, for the goodwill that they have shown in expressing their concern about these matters, always patiently and courteously. I should like to assure them that on those occasions when the Government seemed less amenable than many noble Lords had hoped, that was not because their views were disregarded, but because we had already extensively considered similar points which were raised during consultation on the Bill. I say that especially in view of the many eloquent speeches which we have enjoyed, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who has been untiring in his efforts and impressed the whole House by his grasp of every aspect of the Bill; he has been ably supported by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and also in the earlier stages, by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, until he withdrew to the higher reaches of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has led a persuasive team from the Liberal Benches; there has been expert advice on a variety of subjects from my noble friends behind me. As virtually all of them have spoken, I hope they will forgive me if I do not name them now individually.

I should like, at this point, as I have been asked on a number of occasions whether Clause 3 of the Bill will affect existing bird sanctuaries, to make it absolutely clear that the Government have no intention whatever of disturbing the present status of existing sanctuaries by the provisions of this Bill. Our intention is simply to facilitate the creation of further areas of protection.

The Government have made a major innovation in the Bill by empowering the Secretary of State to requite that landowners and farmers on selected very important and vulnerable areas of special scientific interest should no longer be allowed to carry out certain agricultural activities without giving notice of their intentions. We have, however, made it clear that we are not prepared to take sweeping measures to impose a statutory requirement on owners involved in the large areas of land covered by the nearly 4,000 sites of special scientific interest at present notified by the Nature Conservancy Council, which, of course, many noble Lords suggested. I hope that our reasons for that are now understood. We do not believe that such restrictions would assist the cause of conservation. We have, however, made improvements to the notification system by the NCC and provided for a Government code of practice. It is our believe that voluntary agreements, with payments as necessary, are the best means of obtaining the co-operation of farmers in carrying out the work which is needed to conserve areas of special interest.

Our conviction that voluntary agreements are the surest way of conserving that which ought to be conserved, also led us to resist the various amendments which were put down to provide compulsory powers in respect of moorland in national parks.

The Government in no way dispute that some areas, particularly in Exmoor, have been under threat, but we firmly believe that it would have been counter-productive to have written compulsory back-up powers into the Bill. The arrangements for moorland notification orders, coupled with the new powers of county planning authorities to enter into management agreements, should suffice to ensure that the critical areas of moorland are conserved, which is what we all want.

The point has been made repeatedly that the success of conservation work will depend to a large extent on the funds which are available and, especially, on the amount of money which is available to the Nature Conservancy Council. The House will appreciate the point that the Government are not able to provide more funds in the present economic circumstances. However, the Bill does allow for expansion when the climate is right.

Another major cause of concern to some noble Lords has been the proposed licensing system. I believe the Bill now makes it clear that agricultural departments will issue licences speedily, whenever this is necessary, and that they will consult the Nature Conservancy Council about the circumstances in which licences might be issued. I hope that we have also laid to rest any fears that the defence that action is necessary in order to prevent serious damage, might be a loophole in the licensing system. It is our view that it will not.

The Government are concerned that the law should be enforced and the Bill incorporates many provisions which will improve enforcement.

The Bill includes provisions concerning registration and ringing of captive birds, search warrant powers and other powers of entry, and some increased penalties. During the Bill's passage through this House we have agreed to higher penalties and to a statutory role for the Nature Conservancy Council in assisting enforcement. The Government have indicated their intention to restrict ports of entry for some or all live specimens of endangered species. I do not think that we have overlooked any realistic means of improving enforcement of the Bill's provisions.

Turning now to the public rights of way provision in Part III of the Bill, there have been three issues which have been the subject of particular controversy. On the major one, the proposal to transfer to local authorities powers to determine opposed definitive map and public path orders, the Government still do not believe that it represented an outrage to natural justice as has been alleged, and we do not feel that a lack of trust in local authorities is justified. However, we acknowledge that we were defeated on this issue and we accept the decision of this House.

Our proposals on evidential provisions also attracted widespread opposition, but we gave careful consideration to all the representations, and our decision, which was warmly welcomed, to change them in Committee, does I think demonstrate that we do pay due regard to alternative proposals, and where we are convinced by the opposing arguments we are prepared to make the necessary change. There have been disagreements on points of detail concerning the new arrangements for definitive maps, but our proposals have been generally welcomed and we certainly hope that the new arrangements will work in practice much better than the present time-consuming procedure.

The Bill has grown in scope during its passage. For instance, the Government have agreed to accept a package on badgers, seals and deer. There is, of course, a further opportunity for changes in another place. I have in mind the Government's continuing consultations regarding marine nature reserves and, perhaps, I should here commend the efforts of many noble Lords from all sides in this respect. I believe that the Bill is now ready to go to another place.

We have been able to draw on a great fund of knowledge in this House and I especially recall contributions from my noble friend Lord Craigton, although I am sorry that we could not always agree on what should be done about bats! The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who unfortunately cannot be here today, contributed greatly to our knowledge of birds and my noble friend Lord Cranbrook right up to the last minute provided ample information and advice about other wild creatures and plants. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and my noble friend Lord Chelwood helped us greatly on matters concerning the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council and, of course, my noble friend Lord Sandford spoke with authority on the difficulties of conserving moorland in national parks.

Here, too, we welcomed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, although I am sorry that we could not go along with his views. Throughout the debates we have been able to rely on my noble friend Lord Stanley and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, to explain the interest of landowner and farmer alike. The contributions of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, have been invaluable in relation to rights of way matters. I hope that those other noble Lords who have made such valuable contributions will forgive me if I do not mention them by name, if only in the interests of time.

Finally, I should also like to turn to my colleagues on the Front Bench who have so ably helped me in fielding the various questions, some of a very complicated and different nature. I believe that the Bill will promote the interests of all who are concerned with the countryside, including those who depend on the land for their living, as well as those who enjoy visiting the countryside. I am sure that it will prove its value for many years to come.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Earl of Avon.)

7.44 p.m.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I should like very much to thank the noble Earl, Lord Avon, for what he said about me and to reciprocate by saying that I think at times I have been in a happier position than he has in that I have had some rather easier briefs to defend than he has had. However, his unfailing courtesy to all of us on this side of the House—in all parties, new and old—and to his noble friends behind him has enabled us to get through an extraordinarily heavy burden of work—with Chief Whips and others glaring or smiling, depending on how things were going—with, I think, remarkably good speed. We are very grateful indeed to him and to all the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite who have helped him.

I should also like to thank those behind me, particularly my noble friend Lord Kilbracken, who could not be here today, and my noble friends Lord Houghton, Lord Underhill, Lord Fletcher, and Lady White, who have spoken extremely briefly and concisely but always to the point and with great effect. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lady David, without whom I could not have carried out my task on this Bill, and my noble friend Lord Donaldson who, as the noble Earl has said, halfway through went a long way behind us and has now disappeared, which I daresay is not altogether insignificant!

Briefly, I think it would be useful to put on record some of the things that we have achieved in our long deliberations on the Bill. I start where the noble Earl left off, at Part III: the ploughing provisions; the provisions in the Bill which reverse the case of Suffolk v. Mason; the provision for appeals when a claim is made that something should be added to or deleted from a definitive map and the authority refuses; and, of course, particularly the decision about the Secretary of State's jurisdiction, which the noble Earl himself mentioned—and I was delighted to hear the terms in which he mentioned it—which I am sure will be widely welcomed. Those were significant changes. Although we still hope that something on greenlanes will emerge from the Spicer Committee and that another place will deal rather more fairly in looking at the balance between path users and farmers with bulls on footpaths than did your Lordships' House, nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that Part III is now in a state which will receive a very wide welcome. I am only sorry that it did not manage to include something for those farmers with sheep who are worried about the actions of dogs in their areas.

Turning to Part I of the Bill, I think that we have improved the Bill as far as the balance between bird conservation and aviculture is concerned. The plants clauses in the Bill now make sense and are enforceable, which I do not think was the case when the Bill was introduced. With support from all sides of the House, we have introduced minor restrictions on crossbows and air guns, very minor in the case of air guns where we are really restating the existing law. I was personally delighted with the Badgers Act amendments. Badgers are a hobby-horse of mine and my noble friend Lord Houghton, and the change is something that both of us warmly welcome. I hope that the Minister. Mr. Monro, will accept the credit which I think is due to him personally in the manner in which he pointed the way to those amendments, as well as my noble friend Lord Houghton, who has taken such an interest in this Bill.

The restriction on ports of entry brought forth an extremely valuable assurance which the noble Earl was able to give us during the passage of the Bill. Probably most significantly in Part I we have managed to make clear that Clauses 4 and 10, which deal with the emergency action which farmers and landowners can take, are designed for that purpose. The wording now makes that clear. As the Bill was introduced, conservationists felt that Clause 15 made the whole of Part I of no value at all and would have represented a major step backwards, particularly as far as Protection of Birds Acts legislation is concerned since the 1950s. I think that we have now reached an acceptable compromise and the Ministry of Agriculture will receive advice from the Nature Conservancy Council. It does not mean that they have to act on that advice. I wish it did, but it does not. We were not able to go that far. At least we have some acknowledgement in the Bill that licences to kill creatures have to be rather more specific than licences to photograph newts, or something of that sort.

In Part II we have included some recognition of the rights of the disabled in the countryside, which is appropriate in this year; the provisions for wardens have been included and there have been some important amendments concerning water authorities and internal drainage boards; the marine nature reserve amendments, which the noble Earl, Lord Avon, mentioned, which I hope will not be altered too much in another place if the Government are able to complete their consultations in time, which frankly I would be surprised at, but maybe they will; and of course the amendments which relate, as it were, to trying to bring agricultural interests and conservation interest rather closer together in looking at the role of ADAS; and the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, moved, and which seemed to me to be important.

Finally, in case there is any misunderstanding about the changes which have been made to the Bill, I should like to make the point that we on this side of the House have not seen very much point in pressing party points in this Bill. There are a number of points of party policy on this side of the House on which we have not put down amendments, particularly concerning animal welfare and field sports, all of which it clearly would have been in order to table in this House. We, my noble friend Lord Houghton, who feels very strongly and for many years has campaigned very strongly on these matters, and other noble friends involved, felt that the sensible thing to do in your Lordships' House (where there is a very large majority on the Government side in Divisions on party political points) was to pursue points where there was all-party support. Anybody looking at the Division Lists will see that on every single amendment that has been pressed there have been some votes from all parts of the House, even those we have lost and certainly all those that we have won.

We have not, therefore, pursued party policy. In some respects that is a pity because there are a number of important issues that therefore have not been discussed. I daresay that noble Lords opposite, in particular some on the Front Bench, will say thank goodness for that. But I would not like people to feel that the Bill has left your Lordships' House with an exhaustive discussion of all the issues that could have been discussed. We have deliberately tried to concentrate on, and draft, amendments that would be acceptable to at least some noble Lords opposite and to other parties on this side of the House, and to Cross-Benchers.

Finally, I should like to say a word about sites of special scientific interest—about habitat protection. The whole of Part I of the Bill is of not very much use without some effective protection of wildlife habitats. The question of compulsion keeps being raised here. We have not in this area, as in others, pursued the amendments which this party thinks would be sensible to protect wildlife habitats, such as extension of planning control over agriculture and forestry. We did not press that to a Division, for example. We again tried to support amendments moved by noble Lords opposite which we thought would gain support from all sides of the House. Those amendments did not do anything to compel farmers or landowners to protect such sites. All they were designed to do was to compel farmers and landowners to give notice before they destroyed those sites.

The issue of compulsion versus voluntary procedures has got extremely confused, particularly as we now have a Government voluntary code of practice written into a statute, which seems at least one contradiction in terms if not about three in one. I do not believe that the voluntary code will work. I am convinced it is a recipe for disaster. It will be a disaster for farmers because inevitably the code itself will be broken. Not everyone will give notice, and the people who will get the blame then will be farmers and landowners. It will be a disaster for farmers because SSSIs will continue to be damaged and destroyed.

If 30 per cent. were damaged and destroyed in a single county last year, I cannot believe that anybody seriously expects a voluntary code to thwart that process next year, and again farmers and landowners will get the blame for that. Of course, this approach will be a disaster for sites of' special scientific interest, for wildlife habitats and for wildlife that depends on them, because they will not be protected at all. We shall not even be given any advance warning about their destruction. We do not have anything in the Bill which would protect them.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that we should pay more attention to what the Government's statutory advisers, the Nature Conservancy Council, have to say. On the whole, we have paid very close attention to them. This is the one area where the Government have totally ignored their advice, and their advice is that without some adequate protection for these sites we shall see massive extinctions of British wild animals and insects and birds before the end of this century.

That is what the Government's statutory advisers say about the Bill as it stands. I cannot believe that that is acceptable to anyone in this House when they think about it, and certainly not to the country as a whole where there is tremendous concern about this. I hope that that countrywide concern will be reflected in the steps another place take in looking at that part of the Bill. But I think that our work on it has been worthwhile, and I reiterate my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and his colleagues for the considerate way they have dealt with our amendments, and particularly to their staff and advisers who have had to deal with an enormous amount of work and in a relatively short space of time. We are very grateful indeed to all of them. I hope that, when the Bill comes back from another place, apart from the one or two improvements I have mentioned, we do not have to go through too long a string of amendments.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, your Lordships' House is much given to self-congratulation at all moments of the day or night on its progress through Bills, and how helpful everyone has been. It is not always justified, but with this Bill it really has been. This Bill has done a tremendous amount. What is more, it has not been the work of just a few people, but it has been the hard work of a large number of people in many parts of the House. Because there are so many I shall not weary your Lordships by going through a list, except that I am, in private affection as in duty, bound to thank my noble friends Lord Winstanley, Lord Foot and Lord Avebury, for their great help during the passage of this Bill, and I suppose to a certain extent my noble Scottish friends for stimulation, if nothing else.

I should just like to mention two other Members of your Lordships' House. First, I think that Lord Melchett's knowledge and understanding of the Bill has impressed everybody. In fact there were times when he clearly knew more about it than the Government Front Bench, and possibly even the civil servants' box. In addition to that, there has been the work of the noble Earl, Lord Avon. All the Members of the Government Bench who have dealt with it have been understanding and helpful and able, but the noble Earl, Lord Avon, joins my private pantheon of, I think it is now, five Ministers who in the course of my 13 years in your Lordships' House, I regard as models of what Ministers answering questions and dealing with Bills should be. It is a bit early. He may lose his place, but certainly on this Bill he has done wonders, not only for the Bill but also to help your Lordships' House to get the best out of itself and out of its speakers in dealing with it.

As noble Lords have said, this has not been a party Bill. It has sometimes been a Lobby Bill. Lobbies oppose each other. There have been quite a lot of moments when we have come together, but I have always thought of that song in the musical, "The Farmers and the Cowboys should be Friends", where they all dance round in circles and then, if I remember rightly, the whole thing breaks up the next day and they all go back to shooting each other. The farmers and conservers have in fact worked quite well together during large parts of the passage of this Bill, and probably can do so even more in the future.

Speaking as a conserver, of course one understands the farmers' point of view, particularly if one takes the view that certainly I take, that the pressure is far too much economically on farmers, and that there should be a different kind of agricultural set-up which would not put the pressure so much in their efforts on getting the last little bit of food out of the ground. I hope that they understand the conservers' point of view, which is the very strong one that what we are defending so often is irreparable. The things we are trying to stop being abolished, if they are abolished, will never come back again. That is the urgency on our side. If we have sometimes seemed to them to be a little too pressing, I hope that they will accept that that is the reason.

I have only one point of substance to make, and that is very much the same as the last point that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made. It is the back-up position of compulsion on sites of special scientific interest. That particular point of view has been defeated, but in its defeat there have been widespread discussions, and well reported discussions, of what is actually happening in the countryside. We take what the farmers have been saying very seriously, and we know that obviously as a result of this Bill there will be a large amount of improvement in the lamentable situation that has been occurring over the last few years.

But we must say that it really is the last chance, or the last chance but one, for the conservation of British wildlife in a countryside and agriculture which is putting increasing pressures on the very existence of a great deal of wildlife. We hope that this is going to work. We hope that what the Government have said is right, and that the voluntary agreements will actually stand up, and the rate of decline will not only slow down but stop. This is the last opportunity for the voluntary agreements to work, and about that there is enough agreement in all parts of your Lordships' House, in all parties and in all interest groups. If it does not work this time, another Government will have to do something much stronger, and I believe that many of your Lordships agree with that. In the meantime, we have done a job of which we can be proud and we are sending a better Bill to another place.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I wish briefly to add the thanks of CoEnCo and all conservationists for the help we have received on to the Bill, especially from the Government Front Bench; they have their own problems and I know they have their own colleagues to deal with and will have to get the Bill through another place: I have been very conscious of how far they have bent over backwards to meet us. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who, in co-ordinating his linked committee of CoEnCo, has been able to express not only his own views but those of all the conservation bodies in this country, and to that extent your Lordships have benefited.

I have two regrets. One is about the SSSIs, and I shall not say anything about that, and the other is that, so far as bats are concerned, the Bill leaves this House in a faulty and unfinished state. Things have come to my notice that I did not know, even on Report. For instance, last week, 120 scientists representing 16 European countries held a symposium about bats and came down with exactly those arguments that we tried to put over as to why they should be further protected. In addition, the Dutch Nature Conservancy Act of 15th November 1967—I have just discovered this—carries out exactly what we wanted to do regarding bats in households, and carries it out in the way we proposed. I hope that when the Bill reaches another place something will be done to clear up the business of bats living in householders' roofs. Apart from that, I wish again to thank all concerned for the help that has been given.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I welcomed the Second Reading and now I welcome the Third Reading even more, and I join the tributes that have been paid to both Front Benches. I recall my noble friend Lord Avon complaining at one point that he was being sniped at from behind as well as in front, and that was true at one stage. However, he came through it unscathed and smiling. Likewise, the Opposition Front Bench has been as well informed as it has been constructive.

I have two major reservations, however, about the Bill, and I appreciate this opportunity to mention them briefly. The first is about habitat protection. Where Clauses 28 and 29 are concerned, I share the serious doubts that have been expressed about the effectiveness of the voluntary code, even with the back-up of designation orders, and I have two reasons for saying that. The first is that we do not yet know whether all owners or occupiers of all SSSIs will be expected under the code to inform the NCC if they wish to do something contrary to the advice they have received. That is absolutely essential if it is to work. It would rectify the absurd situation in which only those who want capital grants for improvements now have to inform the NCC or even ADAS of their plans. How can anyone justify that?

As for the wider countryside, which includes the SSSIs, the Government have still not fulfilled their clear promise to give ADAS definite responsibility for promoting nature conservation, as recommended in the Strutt Report and accepted by the Government and by the previous Administration, and the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, referred to that. ADAS lost what responsibilities they had in this connection when the need for prior notification of applications for grant aid was ended last summer, and I hope my noble friend can reassure me on both those related points.

My second reason for doubts about the habitat protection measures is related to the designation orders. I shall not join in the numbers game—it would not help to do so—but I would like an assurance from the Government that it is not intended to impose any arbitrary limits on the use of them. Will my noble friend confirm that where a valuable site is eligible for a designation order, there will be no hesitation in making one to counter a known or potential threat, even though, as we know, the ultimate safeguard must rest on whether there are sufficient resources or not? Given those assurances, the accelerating and wholly unacceptable rate of habitats loss, which really cannot be questioned, should be brought under control and we shall all be in the conservation business together, which is what everybody wants. If, however, in a year or two that can be shown not to be the case, the Government will be bound to amend the law and think again.

A point which has not yet been touched on is the Nature Conservancy Council's resources. As noble Lords know, I am a member of the council; our vice-chairman would have liked to have been here to make this speech, but cannot be, and I shall be as brief as I can in summing this up. As legislators, we are sometimes fairly accused of passing laws without ensuring the resources to make them effective, and I fear that today we are falling into that very trap. The NCC is the principal agency responsible for making the Bill work. We have extended the protection of the law to more plants and animals and therefore the need for licensing and the necessary monitoring. We have given the NCC new responsibilities for the birds and animals advisory committees; we have given them new enforcement functions; we have given them the heavy task of advising all owners and occupiers of SSSIs anew about the scientific interest of their land and, an entirely new requirement, the activities which might damage that land, a suggestion which I made on Second Reading and which I am glad to see in the Bill; and—and this is by no means the whole list—we have given the NCC a brand new and major role in setting up marine nature reserves, something which I, like most noble Lords, warmly welcome.

I know the NCC are happy to take on those extra statutory duties, but they are seriously and rightly worried, as our chairman has told the understanding Secretary of State, that their over-stretched resources simply cannot be stretched any further. I feel it right at this stage that Parliament should know that that is the case. In spite of the strictest economies we have been able to make, including cutting our staff by 13 per cent., we are in a position where we cannot see the future clearly. Out of our annual grant of under £10½ million—the equivalent of the cost of a pint of milk per day per head of population—we can afford only 5p in the pound for the critically important need for land grants and agreements. More than half our grant has to go on salaries and superannuation. Under the Financial Memorandum it is suggested that the extra cost to the council of making management agreements and acquiring land for habitat protection might be of the order of £600,000 to £700,000 on average per year". That will be a real help, but the figure can be only a guess and it takes no account, as I see it, of any of the other duties which I have described. Thus, the NCC is not sitting on its hands hoping to win the pools, or something like that; we are actively pursuing the idea of commercial sponsorship for nature conservation, for which we have high hopes. We are trying to eliminate any remaining duplication with the work of the voluntary bodies and anyone else, and so on, but I shall not go into further detail about that. Something is going to snap before long unless full account is taken of what I have said, and I have no doubt it will be. I do not expect an answer today from the Government Front Bench, but I ask my noble friend to take what I have said into careful account, and I thought that when introducing the Third Reading he dropped a strong hint that that would be the case.

The Bill will set the framework for nature conservation for the next decade or so. It is not in any way party political. I should deplore it if the Government were to use their influence in another place to reject the carefully thought out and fully debated amendments that we have passed. The Bill also puts Britain firmly back again in the forefront of those countries that are determined to carry out their national and international obligations, a position from which we were definitely beginning to slip. It will give untold pleasure to millions of people who enjoy and care about the countryside and its wildlife.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I feel that everything that ought to be said has been said The only omission I feel it right for me to make good is the fact that nothing has been said from this single Back Bench, and I shall be very brief because, as I explained at an earlier stage, I am still unacclimatised to and suffering from lack of breath at this altitude. I think it should be said from this new Bench that we are as appreciative as all other noble Lords who have expressed themselves grateful for the absolutely magnificant work done by the Government Front Bench and indeed by the Opposition Front Benches in getting the Bill through its various stages, through its long, weary progress.

However, I think it only right that once again I should voice my lack of confidence, my doubts about the future. If I am any prophet, I would say that in the next four or five years the Government of the day will be constrained to bring in reserve powers in regard to the protection of both SSSIs and moorland in certain critical areas. I am talking not of areas where there is a very great deal of moorland left, but areas where very little is left, where the moorlands have shrunk to a critical level. The whole pattern of the past shows that what I fear is likely to be the pattern for the future. However, nothing that I have said should detract from my admiration of the way in which may people, leaving out myself, have worked to get the Bill into better shape before it goes to the other place.

8.11 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to back up the plea of my noble friend Lord Chelwood that the Government ensure that the NCC receive the financial resources necessary to carry out the provisions of this Bill. I also wish to raise a point about SSSIs on tracts of hill country, where there are a great deal of flora and fauna, especially fauna. Will the Government ensure that when they are designating an SSSE they do not force the landowner, or the farmer, to grant too much access? It is of course human disturbance that destroys the fauna in these wild areas. I should like to stress that point, and I hope that the Government will take note of it.

I must not sit down before congratulating my noble friend Lord Avon on the most remarkable and absolutely adept way in which he has presented the Bill. His achievement is the more amazing because this is the first time that he has presented a Bill. He has really been thrown in at the deep end, since this is a major Bill, but he has done extraordinarily well. I must also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. He is really amazing and I cannot understand how he has any voice left. He must have been burning the midnight oil. He has shown a remarkable knowledge of wildlife and the countryside in general that I never realised he possessed, and I am really lost in admiration of his performance.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lord Avon and all his colleagues for the time that they have spent in dealing with very difficult and complicated points. I feel that the Bill would have been a better one and a different one had more finance been available. The Bill has shown up the deficiencies of some farmers and of the NCC, but let us hope that they will work much more closely together from now on. I know that every effort will be made by the famers, who are aware of their responsibilities. I know, too, that the National Farmers' Union will make every endeavour to get across to the farmers the points about the care that they must take with the countryside, and I have no doubt that the NCC will reciprocate.

8.14 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, first, I should like to thank all noble Lords for their kind comments about me and my colleagues on the Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said how lucky it was that party points had not been pursued, but once or twice during the course of the debate I rather wished that I had had a party whipped in behind me. All kinds of facetious thoughts have gone through my mind. Being an ignorant Londoner, I thought of my favourite Yorkshire grouse being invaded by capercaillie, and that alone had me in shivers. But I have learnt a great deal as a result of our discussions on the Bill.

I should like to take a minute or so to answer one or two points which my noble friend Lord Chelwood made. First, with regard to the Strutt Report, the Government have endorsed the central recommendation of the report that ADAS should devote more resources to advising farmers on conservation matters as they bear on the service's basic role of helping to improve agricultural efficiency. Training schemes have already been set up to achieve that end, and more will be done as resources allow. The new arrangements for the capital grants scheme—that is, the ending of prior approval—will allow ADAS officers to devote more time for the conservation role.

The Government recognise that additional tasks will devolve upon the NCC as a result of the passage of the Bill through this House. Of course, one must add that in the present economic climate it is not possible for me to say that more money will be made available for the NCC's annual grant. However, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will take these additional tasks into account when considering the NCC's future level of grant. I should like to add that my right honourable friend has shown himself very aware in the area of conservation, more specifically in a recent speech on building. I am sure that the NCC can look forward to a fair share of the monies available to the Secretary of State himself and that those moneys will in turn be as substantial as the Secretary of State is able to obtain.

I was asked about arbitrary limits on SSSIs. The figure of 30 or 40 was plucked entirely out of the air at a press conference, and there is no such limit on the number of special sites that might be designated. I was asked about the voluntary code. It will clearly enjoin all landowners on SSSIs—not only those who have a MAFF grant—to inform the NCC of damaging operations.

In closing I should like to pay my tribute to the staff and advisers who have backed us up during the passage of the Bill and who have worked very long hours. Most of them live in Bristol, and no doubt they are delighted to hear that I might continue speaking with the result that they will be unable to catch their last train. Much has been said about the SSSIs. I should like to close by saying: Give the voluntary code a good chance! I believe that the very fact it is so urgent that the habitat should be protected will enhance the prospects of the voluntary code's success.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

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