HL Deb 15 October 1981 vol 424 cc480-4

57 Page 25, line 47, at end insert— '(1A) Before giving a notification under subsection (1), the Council shall give notice to the persons mentioned in that subsection—

  1. (a) setting out the proposed notification; and
  2. (b) specifying the time (not being less than three months from the date of the giving of the notice) within which, and the manner in which, representations or objections with respect thereto may be made,
and shall consider any representations or objections duly made.

(1B) If, after reasonable inquiry has been made, the Council are satisfied that it is not practicable to ascertain the name or address of an owner or occupier of any land a notification or notice required to be served on him may be served by addressing it to him by the description "owner" or "occupier" of the land (describing it) and by affixing it to some conspicuous object or objects on the land.'.

58 Page 26, leave out lines 6 to 29 and insert— '(3) The owner or occupier of any land notified under subsection (1)(b) shall not carry out, or cause or permit to be carried out, on that land any operation specified in the notification unless—

  1. (a) one of them has, after the commencement date, given the Council notice of a proposal to carry out the operation specifying its nature and the land on which it is proposed to carry it out; and
  2. (b) one of the conditions specified in subsection (4) is fulfilled.

(4) The said conditions are—

  1. (a) that the operation is carried out with the Council's written consent;
  2. (b) that the operation is carried out in accordance with the terms of an agreement under section 16 of the 1949 Act or section 15 of the 1968 Act; and
  3. (c) that three months have expired from the giving of the notice under subsection (3).

(5) A person who, without reasonable excuse, contravenes subsection (3) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500.

(6) It is a reasonable excuse in any event for a person to carry out an operation if—

  1. (a) the operation was authorised by a planning permission granted on an application under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 or Part III of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972; or
  2. (b) the operation was an emergency operation particulars of which (including details of the emergency) were notified to the Council as soon as practicable after the commencement of the operation.

(7) The Council shall have power to enforce the provisions of this section; but nothing in this subsection shall be construed as authorising the Council to institute proceedings in Scotland for an offence.

(8) Proceedings in England and Wales for an offence under subsection (5) shall not, without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, be taken by a person other than the Council.

(9) A notification under subsection (1)(b) of land in England and Wales shall be a local land charge.

(10) A notification under subsection (1)(b) of land in Scotland shall be registered either—

  1. (a) in a case where the land is registered in that Register, in the Land Register of Scotland; or
  2. (a) in any other case, in the appropriate Division of the General Register of Sasines.

(11) Section 23 of the 1949 Act (which is superseded by this section) shall cease to have effect; but any notification given under that section shall have effect as given under subsection (1)(a).

(12) Subsection (1A) shall not apply in relation to a notification of any land under subsection (1)(b) where a notification of that land under the said section 23 has effect as if given under subsection (1)(a).'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 57 and 58. Your Lordships will recall that the Bill was amended during its passage through this House, in order to require the Nature Conservancy Council to notify the owners and occupiers of land which is of special interest of the type of operation which might harm the features of interest.

Many of your Lordships expressed considerable concern that while provision had been made for the Nature Conservancy Council to notify owners, no provision had been made for the owners to notify the NCC of their wish to carry out a potentially damaging operation. At the time the Government considered this to be too sweeping an imposition on landowners and farmers and preferred to rely on voluntary arrangements. We accordingly proposed a statutory code, particularly to guide those who owned land, but in debate in another place, as indeed in your Lordships' House, the arguments were put forward that such reciprocal notification would at least ensure that the NCC had the opportunity to influence the activities of landowners in order to minimise or indeed obviate the effect on the SSSI. While retaining the concept of the code, the Government have therefore accepted these arguments. Amendment No. 58 provides that once that notification has been made, owners and occupiers will be required to give the Nature Conservancy Council at least three months' notice of their intention to carry out any such harmful operation. The notification by the NCC of a site of special scientific interest will be registrable as a local land charge, so that future owners will know of it.

Amendment No. 57 provides that owners and occupiers will be entitled to be informed about any new proposal to notify land as being of special interest and will be allowed at least three months in which to make representations about any such proposal. As a result of these amendments, Clause 28 has grown rather large and, for the sake of tidiness, the provision for a code of practice has therefore been moved to another clause by a later amendment, Amendment No. 77. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendments.—(Earl Ferrers.)

As amendments to Amendment No. 58:

58A Subsection (3), line 1, after ("land") insert ("which has been").

58B Subsection (3), line 6, after ("Council") insert ("written").

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 58A and 58B remove certain ambiguities. The first makes it clear that once land has been notified in accordance with the new procedures, all owners and occupiers, including successors in title, will be required to give the Nature Conservancy Council advance notice of harmful operations. The second amendment makes it clear that notice must be given in writing. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the said amendments as amendments to Amendment No. 58 and with Amendment No. 58, as amended.—(Earl Ferrers.)

Baroness White

My Lords, may I ask one question? I am sorry I was not able to hear all the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, but am I right in thinking that if a period of three months' notice is to be given during which, if an area is to be designated as a site of special scientific interest, representations may be made, there will be no safeguard that no detrimental action can be taken during that period?

Lord Melchett

My Lords, before the noble Earl replies may I put to him a couple of propositions? I understand that there is no safeguard whatsoever in the legislation that a proposed site of special scientific interest will not be destroyed during those three months. At this stage it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to amend the legislation to try to make sure that that does not happen. It is a real problem. There are a number of sites known to conservationists which were destroyed once it was proposed that they should be made sites of special scientific interest. And this is under the existing provisions, where site of special scientific interest status is of no very great significance in terms of protecting the site. Under the provisions of the Bill it will he of a little more significance. There are other areas where it is known that the Nature Conservancy Council were not prepared to put forward the area as a site of special scientific interest because they knew that if they did the farmer or landowner would destroy it immediately. I do not pretend that this is likely to happen very often, but obviously this is a problem which exists and which will become worse once the site of special scientific interest designation carries with it the requirement of notification by the owner or occupier before he does something that would damage it.

I wonder whether the noble Earl can give us an assurance on two points. First, can he assure us that this particular point will be covered in the voluntary code? That will come before the House in a form which will not allow us to amend it. It would be very helpful to have an assurance from the Government that it will be made clear that if the Nature Conservancy Council propose that an area should become a site of special scientific interest it will be a breach of the spirit of the legislation and of the voluntary code for a farmer to plough it up or destroy it during the period which the Government have allowed for objections to be registered to this notification and for those to be considered by the Nature Conservancy Council. If the noble Earl has got that point on board, I hope he will be able to give us that assurance about the contents of the voluntary code.

There is a second course which the Nature Conservancy Council would be able to take in extreme circumstances where there was an important site and where they had very good reason to suspect that were they to notify it as a site of special scientific interest it would immediately be destroyed before the provisions in the Bill had any power to stop it. That is for them to go straight to the Secretary of State under Clause 29 for an order to be put on the site where the appeal procedures take place while the site is protected, rather than in this case under Clause 28 where the appeal procedures take place before the site is protected. If the noble Earl could confirm I am right about that latter point, the fact that this is covered in the voluntary code and that Clause 29 will be available to the Nature Conservancy Council will go a long way towards meeting the very real worries which would otherwise exist.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, were quite right to raise this point. Quite clearly, the whole purpose of this arrangement in the Bill is that where there is a notification of a site of special scientific interest and the farmer wants to do something, then he is obliged to notify the Nature Conservancy Council, and there should be a three-month period during which the Nature Conservancy Council can object. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, asked whether it will be in the code of practice that the farmer should not disrupt the site of special scientific interest within that three-month period unless he has permission from the Nature Conservancy Council to do so. The answer to that question is, Yes.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but my point was a slightly different one on the earlier amendment. That is, when the Nature Conservancy Council notify a farmer that they intend to make a site of special scientific interest, and before it becomes a site of special scientific interest, there is a three-month period during which the owner or occupier can object to the Nature Conservancy Council about this proposed notification, but there is nothing in the Bill to stop the owner or occupier from destroying the site during those three months. I hope that the code of practice will make it clear that this appeal procedure has not been provided so that everybody can destroy the site while they are appealing. It is a straightforward point but it refers to an earlier stage.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the answer is a straightforward one and it is in the affirmative. The noble Baroness, Lady White, asked the same question.

Baroness White

My Lords, Yes.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, the noble Earl has not covered Clause 29 and the use of that clause.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right and I apologise for not having done so. It will be possible to use the Clause 29 provisions under those circumstances.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend and the Government for those two clarifying amendments, Nos. 58A and 58B. At the same time may I ask him a question. Before doing so, may I assure my noble friend that I am extremely anxious to accept the new proposals contained in Amendments Nos. 56 to 58 because of an overriding desire on the part of the agricultural interest to show goodwill over this matter. Will my noble friend keep an open mind about the advisability of there remaining a power for the Secretary of State to call in a proposed site of special scientific interest designation under certain circumstances? It could be useful, I believe, for all parties, supposing in particular that a three-month consultation period proved to be an undesirably contentious period—or if wider issues than could be readily dealt with during that period happened to arise.

I believe that it is necessary to bear in mind that the ordinary SSSI is now a somewhat different animal from the case when the Bill left your Lordships' House and went to another place. To do this would enable one to keep the Nature Conservancy Council's advisory role and avoid any unfortunate difficulties which could arise with cries of "dictatorship" and so forth. One must bear in mind that the council is appointed and not an elected body whereas the Secretary of State is, of course, elected. I believe this to be a constructive and conciliatory suggestion and I trust that the House will take it in that spirit.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I will speak only if I have leave of the House so to do because I have already spoken once. My noble friend said that the SSSIs are a different animal now from what they were when they left this House. I do not agree that he is right. The sites of special scientific interest are the same sites that they were before and only what happens to them is different. I will certainly take into account what my noble friend has said but I will go no further than that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

6.2 p.m.