§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett rose to move, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Western Isles Integrated Development Programme (Scotland) Regulations 1982 [SI 1982 No. 996], laid before the House on 21st July 1982, be annulled.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing it my name on the Order Paper. First, in moving this Motion, may I stress that I broadly welcome the aims of the Western Isles Integrated Development Programme, and I have tabled this Motion today to give us an opportunity in Parliament 126 to debate the programme. I have no intention at the end of the debate, however unsatisfactory the Minister's reply might be, of asking the House to divide against the programme or to threaten it in any other way.
However, I think that it is worthy of debate, and that view seems to be confirmed by the number of noble Lords who have put down their names to speak. As I say, I very warmly welcome the concept of integrated development programmes and, indeed, I welcome 95 per cent. of this integrated development programme—the programme for the Western Isles. However, I have very great concern about one part of the programme. It is a narrow concern, but it affects extremely important issues. It is my primary reason for wishing to have a debate on the subject.
Very briefly, to describe the programme, the IDP is funded jointly by the EEC and the British Government on a 60-40 basis. It contains a wide variety of measures to improve and assist local craft industries, tourism, construction of roads, piers and related infrastructures, the improvement of agriculture and support for forestry and fisheries. In all. £56.6 million will be spent over five years. At present, however, only the agricultural, fisheries and forestry measures are guaranteed support and it is those measures—amounting to £20 million—which are the subject of this statutory instrument before your Lordships today.
Of the £20 million available for agriculture, it is only a small part of that, which is itself less than half the total expenditure on the IDP—£3.4 million to be precise—which will be spent on land improvements, which causes me and a number of other people great concern. Our concern is yet more limited because there are many areas in the Western Isles where land improvements could be carried out without there being any conflict with other interests. But there is a very severe risk—indeed, a certainty—of conflict with conservation interests if land improvement is carried out in certain parts of the Western Isles.
As I understand it, the areas most likely to be affected by the £3.4 million to be spent on land improvement are 10,000 hectares of commons grazings, 13,000 hectares of inbye land, and in particular 1,000 hectares of machair. That 1,000 hectares of machair is the area that is by far the most important from a nature conservation point of view, and it is very restricted. It occurs on only three islands—North and South Uist and Benbecula—and, on those islands, only on the west, Atlantic, side of the main north-south road that runs along the islands.
The nature conservation importance of the machair is really outstanding. To give your Lordships an idea—and I am sure that other noble Lords will touch on this—you could take the whole of the Somerset Levels, about which there has been enormous public concern—Ministers have visited them, there have been numerous meetings with NFU and CLA representatives, conservationists and conservation bodies have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds buying land there, and so on—and in 100 acres of the best land in the Western Isles you would find more breeding birds.
Therefore, the area that we are talking about in the Western Isles is of quite exceptional nature conser- 127 vation importance. Indeed, it is probably the most important area for birds and wild plants in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is, indeed, the only area in the United Kingdom which is of international significance. In international terms, this country is not all that well endowed with wild birds, wild plants and so on; but the Western Isles, and this particular part of them, certainly is of international importance and is recognised as such by naturalists all over the world. It is one of the few areas in this country which we have an international responsibility for safeguarding.
If the area of nature conservation significance is so restricted and if it is so important in international terms, the question must arise: how could an integrated programme possibly give rise to any conflict in this area? The unfortunate fact of the matter is that these wetter areas of inbye land and wet machair have been singled out as the most promising by the DAFS for land improvement expenditure. It is the very same areas that have been singled out for expenditure on land improvement which are of maximum importance for nature conservation.
The next question which a number of your Lordships might reasonably ask is, if a conflict of this sort is inevitable why does not the Wildlife and Countryside Act, on which your Lordships spent some time recently, provide a sensible solution? The answer to that is that the Wildlife and Countryside Act only provides a means of resolving conflicts of this sort on sites of special scientific interest; but the system of designating sites of special scientific interest is widely recognised as being defective nationally and particularly so in the Western Isles. This is mainly because shortage of staff in the Nature Conservancy Council has meant that a lot of areas which are of SSSI status and which are normally called proposed SSSIs have not been officially designated. To give your Lordships an example, in the Western Isles the best areas for breeding corncrakes, which is one of the very rare birds which abound in this area, and the outstanding area for ringed plovers which also breed in the Western Isles, and other waders, have not been designated as SSSIs.
The other reason for believing that it was worth having a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House was to put the record straight. It is unfortunately a fact that the Government have persistently misrepresented the case that conservationists have made about the IDP since it first became public. First of all, to the European Community. The Government have apparently told the EEC officials concerned that their statutory advisers on nature conservation, the Nature Conservancy Council, are happy with the IDP and see no problems with it. That has been confirmed by officials in the Community who have said that that is the message they received from the British Government.
After that message had been conveyed I had a letter from the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, Sir Ralph Verney, which said, amongst other things.this IDP is integrated in name alone".He said that the failure to provide funds for project environmental appraisal, 128is a serious problem, and in our view infringes important principles of EEC environmental policy".He went on to say:I must say we have been disappointed by the lack of opportunity to obtain true integration within their programme so that nature conservation would have featured in its own right".The Government have also misrepresented the conservationists' case in responding to concern raised at international level about the IDP. An official at the Scottish Office in writing to the International Council for Bird Preservation said, first of all, that he assumed that the concern which the International Council for Bird Preservation had raised was,presumably based on the impression that there will be large-scale drainage of ecologically valuable wet lands with a view to introducing the sort of intensive arable farming associated with certain parts of the mainland".The letter went on:Nothing could be further from the truth".What could actually not be further from the truth is that any conservationist had suggested that there was going to be intensive arable farming in the Western Isles. It would have to be somebody pretty stupid, with respect to the Minister's private secretary. I think it was, who signed this letter, who was going to suggest that the sort of arable farming which I and others go in for in East Anglia was really going to be suitable as an agricultural practice in the Western Isles. It really seems to me to do no good to the Government case to attempt to set up some ridiculous supposition of this sort and pretend that it is the conservationists' case against the IDP and then proceed, not surprisingly, fairly easily to demolish it.
The Government—and I regret to have to say this—have also just been downright rude about the conservationists who have raised the question of the IDP and its problems with them. The noble Earl the Minister who is to reply to the debate said in Scotland, in September, to a local paper:A great many of the people who are expressing anxiety have never been to the Western Isles, know nothing of the Western Isles, or the difficulties of those who live in the Western Isles. These people who are expressing anxiety have never bothered to find out for themselves what the IDP is, or means, or the sort of help it is going to give the people in this part of the world".I do not know whether the Minister had me in mind when he made those remarks. I had just spent, a few weeks before, over an hour with him and his officials having him describe the IDP to me, and I can only say that if I did not understand after that I cannot help feeling that some of the blame should be attributed to him and his colleagues.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, as the noble Lord asks a rhetorical question and not strictly rhetorically, perhaps I may answer it here and now. Of course I did not mean the noble Lord. But equally he will acknowledge that he does keep some pretty strange company.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I do not acknowledge that for a moment, because the organisation which has been in the forefront of raising this issue, and which has raised it with the Minister and his officials, is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They first drew this to public attention, and they responded to requests for information from a number of politicians 129 about the IDP. Incidentally, first from myself in the hope that I could show that the IDP was what the Ministry of Agriculture in England and Wales should be pushing as a sensible means of agricultural improvement and development in other areas of the United Kingdom. It was greatly to my disappointment to discover that there was this major flaw in the programme.
I had thought, and still believe, that IDPs have tremendous potential for supporting communities not just in the Western Isles but in many other areas of the United Kingdom. I do not think that the RSPB really warrant the sort of rude remarks which the Minister made. They have, for example, visited the Western Isles annually since 1950. Their staff have made four visits there so far this year. They have employed somebody there for the last 15 years. Since April they have had six meetings with the Minister's officials at DAFS. They have had meetings with the North of Scotland Agricultural College, with the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland, and so on. To suggest that these are people who really do not know what is going on there, have never been there, and do not know what they are talking about is, with great respect to the Minister, a quite unwarranted criticism.
Apart from the RSPB there are a great many botanists, many of whom I have spoken to, who have been on field trips to the Western Isles over many years, and I would suggest much more frequently and consistently than anybody from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland. To suggest that conservationists do not know the case they are making is unfair. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a rather more constructive reply to the debate today.
So far the Government have been totally unbending on this. This is a very small area. Even when it became clear, as it has done, that the Government are determined to press ahead with development even in this thousand hectares which is of outstanding importance, and very minor suggestions have been made as to the way in which the damage can be minimised, the response from DAFS has been unyielding and unbending. To give your Lordships two examples, there is very little silage making in the Western Isles at the moment, but the IDP aims to increase this to increase the amount of fodder available for winter feed. Silage cutting will threaten nesting corncrakes. It is likely to chew up adult birds, destroy the nests, and so on. Conservationists have asked DAFS whether it would be possible to ensure that silage cutting takes place after 21st July and not before. The response to that was, No.
Ragwort is going to be killed because it is a noxious weed, as noble Lords will know. An assurance was asked for that, because these areas are botanically so important, a non-broad spectrum herbicide should be used to kill the ragwort; and there are a number which, while they may not be specific to ragwort, are a great deal more specific than others. Again DAFS refused to give any assurance of that sort.
The agricultural objective of the scheme, this part of it at least, is primarily to increase winter fodder by increasing the amount of silage that is made and indeed by improving summer grazing by increasing grass production. The question arises, why will that 130 cause any dangers? One suggestion has been that all this area was drained in the past and it is simply going to revert to previous agricultural practice. It is true that there are old drainage ditches, some of which are blocked, in the area. But I would suggest that anybody who knows anything about modern farming and drainage will know that clearing out ditches with modern machinery, with Hymacs, and so on, bears absolutely no relation whatsoever to the sort of ditching done 100 years ago by people working with spades.
In addition, 100 years ago broad spectrum herbicides were not used to spray the wild flowers and other things growing in the fields, and there was no question of fields being reseeded with modern strains, for example, of rye grass, or whatever, to improve grass production. So the kind of agricultural improvement which DAFS have in mind in this area is not, and bears no relationship to, traditional crofting practice, and the effects of this and other steps—for example, removing iris and nettle beds, which are important early cover for corncrakes in the spring—will undoubtedly lead to major losses, first of flowers, which seems quite unarguable, and it may be that the Minister has not taken that point on board sufficiently so far, but also to the nesting and breeding birds in the islands.
The next challenge, as it were, from the Government is, "How do you know this? None of this has started yet. The IDP has not begun, so how can you tell this will happen?" There has been some land drainage and improvement work done in the Western Isles, in particular about 100 acres on Benbecula have been drained and reseeded. Experts who visited that area this spring have made it perfectly clear to me that it has had a drastic and bad effect on the wild life, both plants and birds, of the area, so it is quite clear that what is intended will be very damaging indeed.
This raises one other defence which the Minister has put to myself and others, and that is that everything which will be done under the IDP was possible in the past and that all that is being done is to raise the rate of grant slightly. It seems difficult for the Government on the one hand to announce this as a major new development which will have major benefits for the islands, while on the other to say, "It is really nothing new. All of it would have happened anyhow". That is clearly not true. The rates of grant are much higher under the IDP and there will be a number of staff going round making sure the grants are taken up and developments take place. Therefore it is not possible to argue—indeed, it is a little silly for the Government to try to argue—that the IDP will make no difference.
I stress that I am not against public money going to the islands. As I said before, and want to reiterate—because this has been constantly misrepresented—I warmly welcome the integrated development programme. I am extremely concerned that about £36 million of it has not yet been guaranteed by the Government, and I hope the Minister will be pressed by others on that point. Nor am I against, I wish to stress, money going to the crofting community in the Western Isles. I recognise clearly the importance of local people living off the natural produce of the islands, including agriculture and fisheries, where, incidentally, I think there is probably 131 a much stronger case for more expenditure than the IDP actually allows, and that has been confirmed to me by people in the Western Isles who know a great deal about the fisheries case.
Certainly some very trenchant criticisms are made, not least by the Government's own agricultural advisory service, the North of Scotland Agricultural College—the equivalent of ADAS in the South—about the agricultural justification of the scheme, and I have no doubt that other noble Lords will comment on that.
But there are alternative ways of spending the money and alternative ways of creating many more jobs at much less cost than this particular part of the agricultural package. For example, the Highlands and Islands Development Board reckons that the cost per new job created ranges from about £4,000 for marine engineering, £1,700 for crafts and £8,200 for tourism up to £10,000 for agriculture. I welcome the fact that the IDP gives money to many of these areas, and that is one of the reasons I strongly support it, and I feel I should comment on the question of tourism. Noble Lords may not think that the Western Isles are what most people would see as a tourist paradise, but that is a mistaken view. Obviously it will not be a major factor in the economy. I do not pretend it is, or will be, nor do I think it should be, but it is a factor. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have a reserve on the Western Isles. Annually, about 1,500 people sign the visitors' book in a bothy on the reserve. There is no doubt that many more people visit the reserve than sign the book, but that will give your Lordships an idea of the number of visitors which the wildlife on the islands can attract.
I have a catalogue of an American tour firm which takes in a number of places in the United Kingdom including Windsor Castle, the North Norfolk coast for birds. York and York Minster, Hadrian's Wall, Edinburgh, the New Forest and Snowdonia, but it includes two days in the Western Isles. I suggest that if Hadrian's Wall, York Minster or Windsor Castle were threatened by the integrated development programme, people interested in tourist development in this country would have something to say about it. It is interesting to note that all of those places are visited for a shorter time than these visitors spend in the Western Islands; they spend two days there as opposed to one day visiting almost everywhere else I have mentioned. The tourist season for people watching birds and going to look a flowering plants is rather earlier and longer than traditional holiday-making tourism, so it has some economic usefulness. It seems absolutely ridiculous that in what is called an integrated programme, such a small part of it should threaten that tourist potential to the extent I believe it does.
The Government have said repeatedly in discussions with conservationists about the IDP that if conservationists make a fuss about it, they will set up what has been referred to by Ministers as a birds versus people argument. They have used that phrase rather than conservationists and it seems to me have been very much in the category of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the Government said often enough that if there was a bird versus people argument, some people would be 132 misled into believing that that was what the argument was about. It is not. In so far as it is, I believe it is a conflict entirely and exclusively of the Government's making. I say that because as a result of this problem in the programme—this small part of it which will give rise to such enormous conflict over a number of years, I believe, unless the Government give the sort of assurances that conservationists have asked for—I can see only two possible routes down which this integrated development programme will go.
The first is that the Government will ignore the conservation case—incidentally, in the process breaking various international obligations which they have entered into about the protection of these very rare birds—and that will, of course, guarantee the controversy I have mentioned. It will guarantee it continues and that there is an international row, a row not just in Europe or in this country but internationally about the destruction of wildlife in the Western Isles. It seems to me that as a result it will jeopardise the possibility of a future integrated development programme, which is widely talked about for the Western Highlands and which again, as I say, given my support for the concept of IDPs. I would warmly welcome. Thus, the Government, by taking a narrow and unyielding view of this IDP, will cut the throats of a large number of other farmers in the Western Highlands and crofters who would have benefited from another IDP there.
The other possibility is that the Government will actually listen to the conservationists' objections in these areas. They have, incredibly, devised the IDP to guarantee conflict in a way that no conservationist supports because, unlike any other farmer or crofter in the United Kingdom, if a crofter under the IDP is refused an agricultural development grant on conservation grounds, they will not have to be offered a management agreement by the Nature Conservancy Council or anybody else to compensate them for the loss of agricultural potential and development which the IDP would have brought them. That is singling out the crofter for special discriminatory and unfair treatment outside all other farmers in the whole of Great Britain. It seems totally unjustified and I have not heard a single argument from the Government to justify such treatment.
Of course, the reason is that they know perfectly well that for it to be an integrated programme, funds to help crofters who keep their land managed in traditional ways should be available in the programme itself. That is what an integrated programme means: that you integrate payments for nature conservation, tourism, fisheries, forestry and agricultural development all within a single programme. That is what the Government have refused to do and that is why I fear that the IDP will cause conflict which, as I say, I very much regret. I still hope that at this late stage the Government will see the error of their ways in respect of this particular part of the programme and will change their course before it is too late. My Lords, I beg to move.
Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Western Isles Integrated Development Programme (Scotland) Regulations 1982 [S.I. 1982 No. 996], laid before the House on 21st July 1982, be annulled.—(Lord Melchett.)
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, put his case with vigour and a certain amount of passion. He was wise enough to say that he does not want the Western Isles to be turned into a Norfolk or East Anglia and that he wants to see the development programme go forward. I say at the outset quite unashamedly that, as a farmer, I am on the side of the farmers and crofters and that, while the birds are important, the 30,000 people in the Western Isles are much more important.
About 8,000 or 9,000 live in Stornoway, but the bulk of the people live in townships all over the 300,000 hectares of the Western Isles; and that is a lot of space—more space than anywhere else in Europe. They are people who have a passion for the land.
Part of the conservationists' case has been the production of a paper by an individual member of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, with which my family has had a long connection, and it is not the policy of the North of Scotland College of Agriculture to play down the importance of agriculture. Individual members produce papers which stimulate discussion. But in fact the figure is £4 million in cash, as near as can he calculated, going into the Western Isles and the 30,000 people who live there. It is a lot of money. I doubt whether the tourism connected with seeing the birds, which I agree are important, is all that important.
I believe that the feeling of the people of the Western Isles is enormously important. Lord Leverhulme, who was a man of immense energy and vision, spent millions of his money in the Western Isles trying to set up a fishing industry, and he was beaten by the passion of the people for the land. That is what beat him. It was not that the idea was wrong, or anything else like that. But they would not co-operate. What they wanted was the land and to live and work on the land, and that feeling is deeply engrained in those who are left in Lewis and Harris and the rest of the Western Isles. That must be taken into account more than any other single factor.
Other things have been tried in the Western Isles. The Highlands and Islands Development Board has just had to close down a fish exporting factory at a loss of millions of pounds. But agriculture goes on, and I believe that any development scheme that ignores agriculture and does not do something to promote it and to make it more efficient and more attractive for the part-time crofters—any scheme which does not acknowledge that—is bound to fail.
In my view the scheme that we are now considering cannot do the harm that the conservationists are claiming. We are talking of an area of 300,000 hectares. We are talking of the machair. The machair was the most important part in the old days. They used to nourish it with seaweed, and they grew crops. They took off not only hay; they grew oats as well.
I understand that the corncrake population is declining. Some of my ornithologist friends tell me that the lack of cultivation may in fact be one of the causes of the decline in the numbers of corncrake. I cannot believe that taking 1,000 hectares and improving it can do anything that would really damage the extremely valuable wildlife and birdlife that we have there. But I know that, if one does not 134 encourage the improvement of agriculture, if one does not give these people a little more coming in, and better stock to look at and nourish, as well as a better opinion of their stock and their agriculture, they will not be retained on the land.
I should like to put to the House a very simple proposition. I do not wish to hold up the House, since many other people wish to speak. The importance of improving the grazing, of improving the stock in the Western Isles, is extremely vital towards improving the confidence of the people and the crofters. I cannot believe that the modest programme set out can do anything but good for both the wildlife and the human life, which is the important thing there.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I listened with considerable interest to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in saying that sufficient consultation has not been undertaken over the programme. The programme, which comes into effect now, has been worked out with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Crofters' Commission, the Western Isles island councils, the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, and the Nature Conservancy Council.
The Nature Conservancy Council, for which undoubtedly the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was speaking up, has had officials at every committee meeting that has been engaged in the plan. It has had a special representative on the main committee. It has had officials attending the working groups set up to advise on the land improvement schemes which, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said, will be a great asset not only to the agricultural side, but also in regard to the question of the preservation of the birds and so on. It is perfectly clear that the consultation covered every interest, and agreement was reached by everybody. Everyone agreed on the scheme.
Of course there have been a few extremists, who have been carrying on a kind of war against the whole scheme, but they are in a minority. As I understand it, they are not people who are supported even by the Nature Conservancy Council, because that council has been in on all the discussions and all the plans.
There are arrangements whereby safeguards for the environment exist and will continue to exist, and these kind of safeguards already operate in a great many other areas, too. So to do what it proposed is nothing new; it is something that will help the whole community. The interests which are being consulted, and which will benefit, are very widespread. There are included in the areas covered improvements for agriculture and for the crofters' farming which are as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said, absolutely vital to the particular area.
There is to he assistance for transport, and this, too, is vital. Anyone who has been to the area will know how difficult it is to get about and how important it would be to improve the transport. Then there is the question of the social activities, such as help with the 135 tourist industry, and additional small industries will all benefit everybody and will do no harm to birds, flowers, or anything else. Then there will be help with marketing, as well as co-operative production, which is also extremely important, since the area where the agricultural units are is very small and on the whole crofters are part-time workers. Therefore it is necessary to have marketing schemes which will help everybody and in which all car participate.
Furthermore, unless a scheme of this kind is carried out in the Western Isles, the deterioration which has begun will continue and the conservationists who are against the scheme will expose the whole population to not receiving grants and help which the EEC and the Government are prepared to give.
I have recently returned from a short trip. Some of us on the agriculture committee of your Lordships' House were invited to go to see what are called the less advantaged areas of southern Italy, some parts of Bavaria—hill land and smallholdings—and some areas of the South of France. If one goes to such areas, it is perfectly obvious that while they have valuable agricultural products—olives, vines, and so on—they cannot live entirely on those holdings, and they receive tremendous help from what I believe are called social-economic developments, which in the main involve tourism and things which arise for tourists. The areas that we visited reminded me very much of the Western Highlands and the Western Isles. In the areas that we visited there are being provided employment and trade which otherwise would not be able to continue. I think that anyone who saw these areas would realise that what really helps them is to have (as it were) two types of employment, and to be able to get assistance to set up the structure which is required for these matters.
The scheme for the Western Isles is bringing in EEC money and help to an area which has not been included before. Help on this scale has been going to other places—to Ireland, for instance—and there are two other schemes, one in France, in the Lozere, and the other in Belgium, in the Luxembourg Province. The EEC has given great assistance to those areas. I was enormously encouraged by the fact that in the case of this particular scheme and these areas we, too, now, for the first time, are going to benefit from the EEC and are going to get a considerable amount of assistance from them.
This scheme will bring to Scotland assistance which will be of the greatest use to the crofters of the islands and to their social and economic development, which is as vital to the population as is agriculture. All through this the Nature Conservancy Council has been consulted and has agreed. This plan, which includes conservation as well as development, will increase the possibilities of development in those areas, and this will be to the benefit of everybody.
I think it would be nothing short of tragic if now, in the case of a very small area and as a result of a very small amount of protest, so to speak, this scheme were held up. While I understand and appreciate that Lord Melchett is speaking for a small number of people who have these strong views, I think they are wrong. I think all the people who are operating this scheme have just as strong views on using the scheme to develop all that 136 we are talking about and on the conservation that is required for this very small area.
I would remind your Lordships that if you let land just go hack to bog, if you let land rot, what will happen is that it will be overrun by a great many vermin, like mink, rabbits and so on, and that will not help the bird life, either. In fact, it will be extremely dangerous, because we know that mink are a great danger to bird life, as well as in other ways. So I think it would be nothing short of tragic for this scheme, now agreed by everybody, now worked out, now about to begin, not to go ahead with the strong support of everyone in your Lordships' House.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I am pleased that there are some in the House, like the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who are concerned about conservation and wildlife protection; but I cannot help feeling that I have been round this course before, when I was chairman of the Forestry Commission. Whenever we endeavoured to plant up some new area in the Scottish Highlands, we had the regular pressures from so-called conservationists, whose only concern was that the countryside which they knew and recognised, and in which they were brought up, should not be changed. In a sense, they were conservationists but they were conservatives in the extreme.
I have always believed that the appearance of the countryside is not diminished, and is probably enhanced, by its ability to support traditional industry; and there is nothing more pleasant for me than to go to the Highlands and the Western Isles on occasion and see that some people have the opportunity to earn their living in a place where they want to live. If you look at the statistics of employment in the area you will see that the Western Isles is a sad place. While the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has obviously visited the Western Isles and knows them, I suspect that many of his supporters have not visited the Western Isles and seen the sad spectacle of the deserted and brokendown crofts, where people who have been unable to earn their living in traditional industry have had to leave the countryside in order to find employment elsewhere.
There was massive depopulation in the Western Isles following the clearances, and that story has been well told. But looking at the period from 1921 until today, the population in the Western Isles in the areas concerned in this IDP was 44,000 in 1921 and is now 29,000. The number of cattle has decreased from 4,700 in 1967 to 3,800 in 1980. As a Scot who loves the Western Isles, I am concerned about these human statistics, and I am concerned that there should be opportunities for people to earn their living in the Western Isles. It is not only a matter of population statistics: these are widely-spread areas. So what happens when the population declines, as I have outlined? It means that schools are closed and post offices are closed; and it means that the whole infrastructure breaks down. The general amenities of living in the Western Isles must decline if you permit a continued reduction in the number of people who can earn their living in these places.
So I hope that the Prayer that is submitted to your Lordships' House will he rejected. This is an 137 imaginative scheme. It is funded substantially from the EEC, and it is part of their support to improve agricultural structures in the less favoured areas of Europe. I am delighted that these funds are being applied on this experimental basis in the Western Isles of Scotland, and I shall be very interested in the results.
The argument is made by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that this is disturbing the wildlife and the bird life of the Western Isles, but he does less than justice to the Department of Agriculture in Scotland and to the government in Scotland, and to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. Let me assure Lord Melchett that there are many people in Scotland who are just as concerned as he is with the wildlife and with the protection of birds in the Western Isles, and that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland and the Highlands and Islands Development Board consult in the case of any agricultural programme in the Highlands and in the Islands with the local nature conservancy officers; and so far as I can gather from a message received from the HIDB only this morning, there has been no serious conflict between them and the local official of the nature conservancy in the case of any of the agricultural schemes which they have produced.
Surely the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will accept that it is possible for people in Scotland to be concerned about the same things as he is concerned with, but to ally that concern with an even deeper concern for the creation of a reasonable economic structure in the Highlands and Islands. The HIDB was set up because the Highlands and Islands had special problems—economic problems, deep-seated problems. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, says that there are alternative uses for subsidies, that marine engineering will create more jobs. Let him study the transport costs by McBraine taking marine engineering parts from the outlying islands to sell to the shipyards or to wherever they build fishing vessels or other ships on the mainland or in the south.
The noble Lord is dreaming dreams which have no reality, and he is creating a monster which has no substance. We are concerned about bird life; we are concerned about conserving the beauty and the wildlife of the Western Isles; but we are also concerned with giving people the opportunity to earn their living, and this is an imaginative scheme which will stimulate that. My Lords, 80 per cent. of the people who live in these areas have some involvement in agriculture. All of them are crofters, some of them part-time crofters, and there is no other scheme or no other form of economic investment which has more importance for the population than this scheme. Consequently, I would ask your Lordships to approve it.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I should like to support the Prayer of my noble friend Lord Melchett. I had hoped very much that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, could have been here today, but important business has detained him elsewhere. As your Lordships will know, he is chairman of the sub-Committee of the European Communities Committee which deals with environmental matters and which has taken some evidence on the matter before the House this afternoon. However, that Committee has 138 not yet drawn up a report, so one cannot say that one is speaking on behalf of the committee. Nevertheless, as this is likely to be the last occasion on which I myself shall address your Lordships as chairman of the main Select Committee on European Communities, I am glad that it is a matter on which I take a strong personal interest myself.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, is hoping to speak later in the debate. I am delighted that he found time to visit the Western Isles for a day during the Recess. I have noted the brief report which he has submitted to the agricultural sub-committee of the European Communities Committee. Clearly, he had a most enjoyable time but, if he will forgive my saying so, I found his report what I can only describe as rather sugary. His hosts were, plainly, not wishing to cloud his day with any awkward problems. I myself was not able to journey so far, but as a guest of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, I have in the past been to both Lewis and Harris, though not to the other islands.
However, during this Recess, I did get as far as Edinburgh and some three weeks ago I spent an afternoon at the Nature Conservancy Council office there, where their version of the story was different in emphasis from that given to the noble Lord, Lord Walston. I have since had some discussions with the appropriate NCC officers in London. I have, of course, seen a copy of the letter which the chairman of the NCC sent some time ago to Lord Melchett and I have also spoken to senior officers in the Environment Directorate of the European Commission in Brussels, who were equally concerned and dissatisfied with the present situation. I have also been in touch with the European Environment Bureau in Brussels. Finally, needless to say, I have read the integrated five-year development programme. So I have conscientiously tried to do my homework.
My Lords, I stress this, not out of any self-righteousness, but because of the remarks already quoted by my noble friend Lord Melchett which came from the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, during the time that I was in Scotland. I, too, quote from the Stornoway Gazette. Some of us, after all, have done our very best to study this matter in as objective a way as possible. It states in the Stornoway Gazette:Lord Mansfield said it was quite wrong to say that the [proposed] IDP schemes would mean a new threat to the environment".He went on to emphasise that much of the aid is similar to what was given in previous years. It is only the scale of help that is new.
Of course, my Lords, the scale is part of the problem. One cannot spend £56 million mostly, though not exclusively, on physical changes of some kind in the area concerned, without having some major physical effects—many of which must have environmental significance even in areas which are not formally designated as of special importance.
I would, of course, emphasise, as did my noble friend Lord Melchett, one's complete support for the integrated programme. There is no doubt whatever in one's mind that this is a most desirable scheme, and no one who has ever crossed the Minch could doubt it. So there should be no misunderstanding about that. What we are discussing is really something which is marginal but nevertheless of considerable importance 139 internationally as well as for our own reputation in this country. No one should underestimate—and we certainly do not—the need for special help to sustain the population and to improve the economy of the Western Isles. To anyone who says that spending £56 million sterling over five years for the benefit of slightly fewer than 30,000 people (in addition to the money which has been put in already over the years by the Crofting Commission and the Highlands and Islands Development Board) is perhaps spending rather a lot of money, even though a substantial contribution will be coming from EEC, I would reply that one should accept it as necessary new money with the hope that it will achieve the desired result.
To suggest that something on this scale is, in effect, irrelevant to the environment—which is what the noble Earl is suggesting—is not, in my view, sustainable. One recognises that direct work on land reclamation and development is only a small part of the total proposed scheme—considerably less than 10 per cent., as my noble friend Lord Melchett indicated. But that argument cuts both ways. If the proportion is so small and if the main thrust of the programme is towards non-agricultural employment and social and physical infrastructure, then I would suggest that some desirable modifications of the land development proposals could involve no great sacrifice. As Mr. Bill Lawson, director of the project team on the islands, wrote in the Guardian of 30th September last:Agriculture in the Western Isles is unlikely to provide full-time employment for more than a few".Part-time employment is, of course, the basis of the crofting system anyway. He went on to say:the land improvement proposals in the IDP are only a little more attractive than the existing grants under the Crofting Acts".If that is so, then their effect, surely, must be marginal.
One can then, I think, intelligently respond by asking the question: if it is as marginal as is suggested by the Minister himself and by the team leader, then does one really need to apply such marginal sums in the really relatively few areas where there is still a very real concern about the effect on wildlife and natural resources of all kinds? In other words, need one go in for treating the relatively small percentage of existing machair which one understands is to be part of the scheme? Would it not be possible to compromise on that while carrying out no doubt entirely desirable agricultural improvements in other areas which are less sensitive?
I will leave this argument now in the interests of brevity. We appreciate that the noble Earl is trying to get to Inverness at some time tonight. I will leave the argument simply pointing out that one cannot have it both ways. The real problem in this so-called integrated scheme is that there is lip service to environmental values but very little to sustain it. In the last part of the "General Background" section of the official programme, the international ranking of the islands is fairly indicated. I quote:The islands are internationally important for wildlife, including large seabird colonies. On the west coasts are found some of the finest examples of machair in Scotland and there are extensive wetland and moorland habitats. The four National Nature Reserves, two of which are"—140 on the international list of particularly important and sensitive areas—and thirty-five Sites of Special Scientific Interest … emphasise this biological importance … the Western Isles is part of a priority biogeographical province … requiring extra protection on account of its global ecological importance in relation to existing measures of protection".My Lords, we have an international obligation, both legally under the EEC directive on bird protection, and in other international organisations in which we are members and to which we are a party. We should not suggest that this is something which we can just put on one side. The situation is that while £56 million in all is to be spent, there are no additional funds of any kind to be available either from Her Majesty's Government or from the European Communities for environmental improvement or protection. It seems to me that it is quite absurd that no additional money should so far have been offered in a scheme of this magnitude in relation to this relatively small area.
The Nature Conservancy Council are, as we well know, much concerned about the situation in which they feel that they have been placed. They were indeed brought into the working party but only as observers and not, I am informed, as full members. Should they wish to advise that grants be withheld under the IDP scheme, even though the position, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has made clear, is not legally quite the same as under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, they will feel under very considerable moral pressure. They regard it, so they inform me, as being quite inequitable that under one scheme compensation grants should he inequitable that under the other one they should not. At present if they wish to undertake either additional work or to offer any kind of compensatory grants on environmental grounds they are to be expected to do it from their existing budget.
However, it is quite obvious to anybody that if you are going to spend the money of the order that I have suggested in this relatively small area and on a relatively small number of people, there must be additional work involved. There should be adequate additional work to appraise the various developments, not only in the designated areas. This is bound to put extra work on the NCC staff, and I repeat that so far Her Majesty's Government have offered them no extra sustenance whatever but simply an indication that they might spend out of their existing budget, which is likely to be under considerable stress, under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act if that is properly implemented.
The European Communities' position is even worse because they, after all, are the instigators of the integrated development programmes. But the funds that they make available, generous as they are in many respects, are very strictly confined to agricultural structures and socio-economic functions. They have indicated quite clearly that so far as the Integrated Development Programme is concerned there is no money whatever available for environmental protection or improvement under the terms of the programme, in spite of the programme's references to the obligations to consider these factors. The environment directorate, DG XI, in Brussels in this particular sphere has no real influence over the agricultural directorate, DG VI. There is no EEC environment fund on which to draw as there is a regional fund and 141 a social fund. A pilot scheme to monitor results of this programme ex post facto, is all that DG XI, the environment directorate, can offer. It is not quite "thank you for nothing", but it is very near to it.
So, as chairman of the Select Committee appointed by your Lordships to scrutinise Community action, I conclude by saying as emphatically as I can that the United Kingdom representatives in Brussels should actively seek to remove the legalistic hindrances in this scheme and help to ensure that proper provision is made for some reasonable environmental input into these otherwise desirable integrated programmes. At present the scales are tilted quite unfairly.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Craigton
My Lords, I put my name down to speak in this debate but unfortunately, by a clerical error, it was not included. I have asked to speak in this debate early because I have to go to another very longstanding appointment and I am speaking, with your Lordships' leave, by courtesy of my noble friend Lord Onslow. I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in what he said. The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to the Integrated Development Programme and quoted from it. It seems to me the merits of Lord Melchett's case are expressed in the plan in this way:… the Western Isles is part of a priority biogeographical province (the Scottish Highlands and Islands) requiring extra protection on account of its global ecological importance in relation to existing measures of protection.In harmony with that clear statement from the Minister is EEC Regulation Article 3.1 which requires the Government to ensure that the IDP is compatible with the protection of the environment.
What does the IDP, the instrument, say, about carrying out the policy of Her Majesty's Government and the EEC Regulation? The IDP is silent—it is quite incredible!—on the need so vital here to protect the environment. It gives 85 per cent. grant. What for, my Lords? Re-seeding, drainage and fertilisers. But the 85 per cent. might well be for damaging the scientific interest of the area, for threatening the corncrakes and the waders dependent on wet pastures. This is, to say the least, misleading for the potential customers for grant because a quite vital consideration in receiving grant is that referred to in the Minister's own document. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, many occupiers, if they knew the danger, would, I am sure, have too much regard for Scotland's interests to apply for particular grants. But are they given any guidance at all here? The answer is, no. Ought they to be? The answer is, they should have been.
There is one other point. Chapter 10 of the programme raises another important point and I should like the assurance of the Government that we will get their co-operation. Paragraph 10(3) emphasises that the assessment of environmental needs should be considered early—and I underline "early" and not,at an advanced stage in the planning process".It refers in paragraph 10(7) to the machair as,a unique, fragile biologically important ecosystem",and that a need for change should be carefully considered to be sure, 142that severe or irreversible damage to the machair is not being exchanged for a mere ephemeral or short-term benefit".That is the Minister's own statement.
My Lords, what are we discussing? It is putting money—some of the taxpayers' money—into possibly some of the poorest farming land in Britain, and that at the risk of endangering an area that is a unique wildlife sanctuary that already brings visitors. Properly nurtured it would bring more visitors and, if properly looked after, in a few years' time would be a source of pride and prosperity to Scotland. I believe the NCC is short of money to carry out the obligations placed on it by Parliament, but is it really necessary for we conservationists to let this vital protection be endangered because we are sorry for the NCC? Should we not say to the Government of this country, "We will not stand for this particular risk being taken"? That is all I am talking about—the risk being taken. It is up to you to ensure that this is not done. This is going to cost money. To pay for the essential pregrant-making investigation—and this is all we are asking for—in Chapter 10 the programme requires £50,000 for the NCC in a five-year period. I may be wrong, but I understand that the Secretary of State and the Department of the Environment have increased this sum to £60,000. I doubt whether that is enough, but all I would ask the Minister to do is to give the House an assurance now that if this amount for preinvestigation is insufficient to do the job properly, as recommended in his own proposals, more money will be provided.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, one of the benefits of joining the EEC was the multinational approach to the deprived social regions of the member states, of which the Western Isles are a perfect example. Therefore I hope it is not too presumptuous for a lowland Englishman to congratulate the Scottish Office on 95 per cent. of their achievement. But of course there are caveats. The first is the historical one; lots of people from the clearance Dukes of Sutherland, through Lord Leverhulme, to the Highland and Islands Development Board have chucked money at the Highlands and have seen not one penny (or very little of it) returned. Sometimes great hopes have been raised, jobs have been created; and then industries and schemes have gone bust, with the equivalent disappointments involved. The other caveat obviously concerns the environment, and I think this is really what we are all talking about today. The environment fear concerns the SSSIs and the bird population and the general appearance of the countryside.
Various factors, land holding among them, have resulted in traditional farming methods being carried on on the machair and on the inlies. The turf, which supports a wide selection of wild flowers, is still much in evidence. Are we sure that ploughing it and planting it with modern grasses and making silage will be really profitable either to the crofters themselves or to the community, if by so doing their income from tourism is decreased because of a decline of our much talked about friend, the corncrake, which, some of your Lordships may he aware, has practically gone from the mainland of Britain? Perhaps the Scottish Office would find it more beneficial to subsidise the ferries, both air and sea, to a much greater extent than at 143 present. Therefore the net price obtainable for crofters' beasts—admittedly they sell in the autumn—would he much better for them than the increased price and also the increased numbers obtained by silage, et cetera, and still very expensive ferry to the mainland.
The worry that some of us have concerns the £3.4 million to he spent on land improvement. This will result, as I have said, in the reseeding and the removal of iris beds and the lowering of water tables, resulting in a reduction in the size of the lochans, and the consequential threat to the large wader nesting sites, improvement of the dry machair so that the traditional pattern of fallow and small field pattern is lost.
The IDP envisages the improvement of 20 per cent. of the machair and 50 per cent. of the inbye land. This does clash a little with ministerial statements that no "large-scale improvements" will he brought about. The sum of several small-scale improvements adds up, I suggest, to a large-scale improvement. I realise that it is difficult to criticise from a lowland farm Government efforts which are essentially correct, generous-minded and socially just; but as the Government, in paragraph 10.7 of the ID programme, say themselves:The conservation of this unique, fragile—and the reason I am quoting this following what the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, said, is that I want to emphasise the word "fragile"—and biologically important ecosystem depends upon sympathetic management".These caveats must he aired. Article 4 of the EEC Directive 79/409 on birds requires habitat protection measures to be taken for certain rare species, including the 15 found in the Western Islands. No mention is made of this in the IDP.
A cost-benefit analysis of the improvements has not been carried out because Ministers are aware they would not be cost-beneficial. As I said earlier, it is for social reasons that the money is to he provided, and we all recognise that social reasons are very important in this context. We all recognise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, how essential it is for a man to have the standing to be able to work and earn his living in the home and in the place where he was born and reared. It is hard for us here to criticise anything that is going to produce money for that, even though I think it is possible to suggest that some of that money could he spent in better ways.
Can the Minister confirm that Section 32 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act requires landowners whose grant has been withheld after a rejection by the NCC to the improvement of an SSSI to be offered a management agreement and that section is being waived on the grounds that because it is not a grant given as a Ministry grant but one given under the European scheme, therefore the obligation to offer a management agreement is not still on the NCC? If that is the case, all the arguments several of us had during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act for changing "shall" to "may" in Section 32 will now be stood on their heads by the Ministers who themselves argued against them. It will be quite amusing and interesting in terms of political semantics to see whether that is the case.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to intervene. Is he saying that he wants "shall" rather than "may" now?
§ The Earl of Onslow
No, My Lords, I did not say that. I said that is what the law says. If Ministers are then going to say: "We agreed that 'shall' should be the case last year but now, just because it is convenient to us we are not going to give enough money to the NCC to allow them to offer management agreements", that is exactly what we said would happen, and we are now being proved right even earlier than we thought would be the case. There is nothing more smugly satisfying than to he able to say, "I told you so". It is also quite probably the most irritating thing for the people to whom you are saving it.
Furthermore, if this is the case, what will be most unfair is that the islanders themselves will feel prejudiced against. Now we have got the "shall" argument, "shall" it shall he and "may" it may not be. Surely if the cost-benefit is so definitely not in favour of this improvement, then the money could just as well he used for management agreements, together with the improvement of piers and roads envisaged in the IDP and further subsidies to both air and sea ferries, and the social gain which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, rightly talked about would be achieved and the environmental damage would be limited. After all, a recent paper by Mr. Dalton, published by the North of Scotland College of Agriculture concludes:It is highly unlikely that the crofting sector can absorb a great deal more capital profitably either from the viewpoint of the whole economy or of the individual crofter".Therefore I would suggest that the net return to a crofter will be increased more by management agreements and cheaper ferries than by too much improvement, and at a greater benefit to the fragile environment and its enormously high nesting density of waders—all these corncrakes and all the habitat, which I suggest is not only the heritage of the Western Islands but the heritage of us all, which is so important.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, there is much to respect in the ideas of my noble friend Lord Melchett, although many of them I disagree with; but I think we are all very grateful to him for raising this topic today because I think your Lordships will agree that it has developed slightly wider than he probably thought. I think that is a good thing because this is a subject of great importance, particularly to the West of Scotland and the Western Isles themselves.
We all know how beautiful the Western Isles are, but I think that that beauty is marred when one looks at the derelict crofts and the derelict areas of land where people lived, worked and made their living in the past. These areas have now, in many cases—we are talking about tens of thousands of acres—almost gone back to nature again and are useless agriculturally, which spoils the environment more than anything else. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, mentioned the trip we had together in Bavaria and southern Italy, and the improvement in the housing and the buildings there. I thought of what such an improvement could do to western Scotland and the Western Isles. Drainage, 145 lining et cetera can improve the pastures and after all, it is a pasture area—although some crops can be grown—producing store sheep and store cattle. If that were done, it would help the environment and would certainly not hinder it. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, said that there was no mention of the environment in the brochure, but I should like to correct him, because on the second last page of this brochure, at the bottom, is mentioned the environment and its importance. So I think that he made a mistake in saying that it was not mentioned—
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, this document is what is going out to the people in question and it is mentioned there. In the general picture of people who are very environmentally orientated, there is always this term, "destroy the environment". But you do not destroy the environment by schemes such as this: you change the environment. I should like to emphasise that. In my opinion, a scheme such as this for the Western Isles will change the environment only for the better. But using this term "destroy the environment" is all wrong.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, quoted the Stornoway Gazette. I should like to quote what I think is a much better paper for the Highlands—the West Highlands Free Press. I know that there is a bias against some of your Lordships who live there, and that it is left-wing orientated, but it is widely read and I think that many lairds in the Highlands read it with great avidity. I get it regularly and it keeps me in touch with that area. I should like to quote from an article by Mr. Charles Pickup. It is a very good article on the subject and it is headed "Defusing the 'conservation vs. IDP' row". I should like to quote one paragraph and ask the noble Baroness to think about it:My own research has shown that inbye reseeding treatment can enrich the wildlife of the moorland grazings. Similarly a resucitation of croftland between the machair and the moors could be of benefit to the birds. In many areas land which once was cultivated has degenerated into rushy sheep pasture which is of little use agriculturally and of little interest to the conservationist. With more arable cultivation and grass production for hay or silage in this zone a greater variety of wildlife habitats will be created.A visit to any of the offshore islands around North Uist will show that where arable cultivation has ceased the diversity of birds and flowers is reduced. A revival of cultivation in similar derelict areas will undoubtedly benefit some of the specialities of the machair wildlife".He goes on:The corncrake is a case in point.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I have read this article as well and, equally, am fond of the Western Highlands Free Press, no doubt for much the same reasons as my noble friend. We have enemies in common with them. But that article which he quoted explicitly excludes the area that I am concerned about, which is the wet machair. It, talked about the moorland and derelict inbye land, but I made a great deal of play in what I had to say about the fact that it is the 1,000 hectares of wet machair which is the major concern of nature conservationists. What my noble friend has read out does not impinge on that at all.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I am sorry to start to quote again, but the last sentence states:A revival of cultivation in similar derelict areas will undoubtedly benefit some of the specialities of the machair wildlife".So the author does mention that area and, as I said, he says that the corncrake is a case in point. I know there is great regret at the passing of the corncrake in most areas of the United Kingdom, although my wife assures me that she heard one in Essex last summer. I am not sure how accurate that may be, but that is what she said. So I make that point that Mr. Pickup makes.
There is the same experience in forestry. When new forests have been planted all over Britain, the wildlife is far in excess of what it was before. This has been proved time and time again, but most people refuse to believe it. As most people know, private forestry owners and the Forestry Commission have wildlife people looking after enormous varieties of wildlife that have come into the forests because of the change in the environment. There has been a lot of detailed criticism of some schemes, particularly of the cleaning of ditches and the redraining of the 1,000 hectares of machair land. This is only 20 per cent. of the total machair land. No doubt it is quite a large area, since it is 1,000 hectares, but I cannot help thinking that the article which I have just read out is right and that helping this land to be better agriculturally will help not only agriculture, but the wildlife as well.
I know that one point that is made about draining this land is that you lower the water table, but I think that they have had only one drought year, which is this one. The Western Highlands is not well-known for its droughts. But in these flat areas, with new drains, the water table can be controlled with sluices et cetera, and I see no objection to that. One thing that is certain is that you will not grow crops of good grass or anything else on wet land that has to be drained.
There has been criticism that the Nature Conservancy Council will not be paid for their assessment work out of the funds that are to come from elsewhere. I think that this principle has been agreed before. The NCC has work to do and it has to get it from the Department of the Environment and not from the Ministry of Agriculture. My noble friend laughs, but that is the case, and he will need to press the Secretary of State for the Environment if he wants the money for an assessment service, which is quite important.
Another point—and I am very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, did not raise it—is that, if environmental considerations are given precedence over agricultural ones, there will be a deal of frustration in getting schemes completed. There is nothing worse in planning a scheme than having an NCC officer breathing down your neck all the time. I have had to do with many schemes where people have just given up, saying: "I can't be bothered if this is what is going on". So one has to be very careful in pressing the environmental lobby too hard on agriculturalists, if you are going in for these schemes.
Finally—and I am going fairly wide now—why, in this era of surpluses,' particularly in Europe, should we produce more food under expensive and difficult conditions, as there are in the Highlands? Last week, we had a short debate on the question of bringing 89,000 tonnes of New Zealand butter to a surplus butter area in this country. The point was made very 147 strongly that the help which New Zealand gave us in two world wars warranted seeing that they had precedence over the surplus in this country. But I understand that, man for man, the West of Scotland and the Highlands of Scotland provided more men in the two world wars than any other part of the country. So if precedence is being given to New Zealand on that basis, then why should the Western Highlands of Scotland not produce what they can produce, which it can be argued is also in surplus—sheepmeat and, to a certain extent, beef? I understand that, in some areas of Scotland, store cattle are scarce this year and are likely to be more scarce, because the beef herd has been going down year after year. So I do not think that there is a surplus.
But that is not all. I do not know how many noble Lords listen to "Thought for the Day". This morning a very nice, much travelled vicar quoted the World Bank as saying that 700 million people are badly fed, that there is malnutrition among them and that probably half of them are starving. He said the World Bank had made a conservative estimate and that probably 1,000 million people rather than 700 million are starving. If that is the case, there is no surplus of food in the world. There is a lack of will and knowhow in getting food to these people. I do not think that the argument about food being expensive to produce in these areas should carry any weight at all.
I said earlier that what are important are people, the land and the environment. Therefore I suggest that this scheme should go on. Do not hinder it by putting forward environmental considerations. Although they must be taken into account, do not hinder the scheme.
§ 4.40 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I join other speakers in my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for enabling this debate to take place. He is not proposing that there should be a vote to reject the regulations, but this debate gives us an opportunity to discuss them. I think there is anxiety throughout the country—there certainly is in Scotland—about this plan. As it is an integrated development programme which might be the precursor of others, it is important that we should look at it carefully.
It brings a very large contribution from the EEC. For the £20 million over five years to be spent on agriculture, forestry and fishing there is a 40 per cent. contribution from the Community. That part of the programme which is of concern to those who are worried about damage to the environment is the land improvement part. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been taking the lead because of the threat which it sees to birds. But to the Royal Society and to others it is less than 10 per cent. of this programme which is of concern.
At the outset, I should like to make clear my own views on the present situation. I believe that to stop or seriously delay the IDP would be folly. I believe that the Western Isles have the highest unemployment in the country. It is over 30 per cent. The resources there are few and the opportunities are limited because of their remoteness. Of the possibly endangered species in the area, the most important is the Hebridean crofter. In other words, I would remind the most ardent conservationists—I hope I shall not be taking 148 my life in my hands by saying this—that people are more important than birds. Provided that this IDP is not rejected or discarded, there need not be a conflict. There need be no conflict between people and birds. But if the IDP were to be rejected or very seriously delayed, I believe that people would suffer.
So far as the Government are concerned, they cannot afford to ignore safeguards for flora and fauna. Any administration which was responsible for the extinction or the near extinction of a rare bird would have a lot to answer for to the electorate of this country. Under the EEC scheme, the Government have to give an assurance that the IDP will not damage the environment. It is not clear, however, that they have taken the steps necessary to protect the environment. The area of concern is a strip running down the West Coast of the Isles. It consists of that unusual land surface, the machair. It is only to be found in a few other places in the United Kingdom. It is, of course, formed by shell sand being blown over sand dunes and spread over peat. Also, in the language of crofting tenure, there is the "inbye" land, mostly adjoining the machair. Together they form a habitat for particular birds and for rare and interesting flowers and plants. It is accepted in the IDP, on the subject of the scientific importance of machair, that:The conservation of this unique, fragile and biologically important eco-system depends upon sympathetic management".Unless my noble friend can explain them today, there appear to be no visibly dependable provisions for monitoring, for safeguarding particular sites, or for compensation if it is clear that a crofter should not carry out work under the IDP for essential reasons of conservation. The machair and the inbye land support a high percentage of the total United Kingdom populations of certain waders and the corncrake. If care is taken and if special measures are adopted, the IDP need not decimate them. I hope that it is not too late to include the provisions needed.
I have had a little experience of such situations. I am known to be, and have been since a teenager, a birdman in Northern Scotland, but I have also had to deal with similar situations as a Minister. About 10 years ago there were the planning applications for platform building sites at Nigg Bay and Ardersier, which cover a large area of shore and which were immediately recognised by all those concerned with birds as a threat to certain shore birds. There was understandable anxiety, but it was also important to avoid the necessity of public inquiries. I am glad to say that not only in those two cases but also in the case of Flotta, which has become a terminal in Orkney, those who had put forward reasoned objections were satisfied when we were able to provide suggestions by which the threatened species would be able to continue without disturbance. Otherwise, the first oil flow from the Forties Field would have been up to two years later. Also, the Piper Field would have been much delayed as a result of a Flotta public inquiry, had there been one.
I understand that there is some rigidity in the financial boundaries between the funds which can be spent on agriculture and the funds available for protecting the environment. That is not only in this country but also in the EEC schemes. I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Mansfield when he comes to reply to 149 say whether it is correct that money for the protection of the environment cannot be produced from the agricultural funds of the EEC and that only agricultural funds are available—this £20 million to be spent over five years. I understand also that the Nature Conservancy Council have been attending the meetings on this programme. May I ask my noble friend whether it is true that the NCC are prepared to offer a management agreement where any farm capital grant is rejected on conservation grounds, and that such an offer would be made to any crofter in that area who was in that situation. For this purpose, is an IDP grant a farm capital grant? If there is not some scheme like that to which the Nature Conservancy Council are committed, it seems that any crofters in that situation would be treated less favourably than farmers anywhere else in the country. That surely cannot be the intention of the Government.
I wrote to my noble friend at the beginning of this month and raised some of these points. I hope that this evening he can give us the assurances which are needed, or tell us that action is being taken to cover these points. The IDP should go ahead. I do not think anybody has spoken against it, but the essential safeguards for the survival and maintenance of certain species must be seen to be accompanying it.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, it is rash for an East Anglian farmer, albeit one who has a lifelong interest in the rural scene and in conservation, to enter into a discussion which is so very close to the hearts of those living in the North-West of Scotland. I do so only because, towards the end of July, I attended a meeting chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, where the dangers posed to wildlife by this particular project under discussion were raised. It struck me then that a very strong case had been made out for some drastic alteration in the proposals. Therefore, when I was in that part of the world, I made a special expedition to Lewis and Harris in order to find out in a short while what I could about the scheme. I was very fortunate in being able to spend a whole day with the man responsible for the project and his assistant and the latter part of the day with a representative of the Nature Conservancy Council.
It was as a result of that that I prepared the report to which the noble Baroness, Lady White (I am sorry she is not in her place now) referred as being somewhat "sugary". I am not quite sure what she meant by that. I gathered she thought that the report did not emphasise the conflicts that appear so apparent to us in this Chamber listening to this debate. I did not emphasise them, because in my opinion they were not there. I would much rather have a small amount of natural sugar on the report than a rather larger amount of synthetic salt rubbed into wounds which exist only at some distance from those islands which are directly concerned in this project. While I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, there is a danger that harm can be done to this enormously important, valuable and imaginative project by giving the impression by what is said here and in other places south of the border that there is a head-on conflict between those who are interested in agriculture, those who are interested in wildlife, those who are interested in 150 people, and those who are interested in birds. I do not believe that any of your Lordships who went to those islands today would feel that was the case at all.
Let me quote, in the first instance, from the pamphlet that has been produced for the information of crofters by the Integrated Development Programme.
In one paragraph it states:The islands are of international importance to wildlife, flora and fauna. In drawing up plans for projects, proper consideration must be given to the need to protect the environment.Elsewhere it states:Many parts of the Islands have been declared SSSIs and any scheme affecting an SSSI requires prior consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council.
§ Lord Walston
May I just finish the quotation, my Lords? It goes on:The project team will be able to advise you whether this applies to your scheme and if so, to arrange discussions with the NCC for you.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, this is the second time that the actual leaflet describing the IDP for the people concerned has been quoted. It does seem a shame that the noble Lord did not read from the whole of the pamphlet; he jumped from the pamphlet to another piece of paper.
The paragraph in the pamphlet goes on to say:For developments within national nature reserves of SSSIs the Nature Conservancy Council must be consulted.One of the criticisms I have is this is far too restrictive. As I and others have made clear, the nature conservation interests in the Western Isles goes beyond the NNRs and SSSIs. It is misleading, as far as this country's international obligations to wild birds have been concerned, to say that it is only in those restricted areas that the NCC should be consulted.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, I would have continued and will continue to deal with the point which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has just raised. I quoted those two sentences only to show that those responsible for the IDP are fully aware of the environmental implications of the scheme and that they are not simply tough agriculturalists interested only in producing more and better grass, higher quality silage, and better beef and sheep. They are people who are aware of the total implications of the environment and of the enormous importance to the other isles of the flora and fauna which exist today.
In fact, the agricultural side of the organisation said to me personally that their objective was to improve the total life of the islands. They fully realise that tourism in its widest sense was an important part; the tourists not being the conventional type of Brighton or Blackpool tourist, but tourists who went there to enjoy and sometimes study the wildlife. Anything which detracted from that would be defeating the purposes which they had in mind. I assure your Lordships that they are very much aware of this.
Furthermore, the personal relationships between them and the NCC appear to me to be extremely close. They both assured me, in the presence of each other, that they had no doubt that they could reach happy 151 agreement on at least 95 per cent. of the projects which were likely to be proposed, and that the only sources of conflict might be a maximum of 5 per cent. I think the noble Lord agrees with me there. Let me reiterate the point that there is close collaboration and understanding between the agricultural side and the nature conservancy side in the islands itself. Any idea of confrontation between them is extremely misleading.
In passing. I would like to make two points—both of which, in a manner of speaking, have already been raised. One concerns the corncrakes, which I was assured were diminishing up there because of the diminution in the animal acreage. If this scheme, as seems probable, is going to enable a rather greater acreage of oats to be grown; it would have an advantageous effect on the corncrake. As the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, so rightly pointed out, one must not look at any change in agricultural practice as being the destruction of the environment; it will be a change, and sometimes a change may be better from the environmental point of view.
The other slightly less serious point I would direct to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, concerns the point he made about the correct time for cutting silage and the desirability of persuading crofters to cut their silage after certain birds have nested and hatched. I would remind the noble Lord that one of the causes of the French Revolution was the fact that the Seigneur forbade his peasants to cut the hay when it was at its best, because it would disturb the nesting partridges; the peasants had to wait until the partridges hatched and flew away before they were allowed to cut their hay, when it was far past its prime. This was not the basic, original or main cause of the French Revolution, but it was undoubtedly a contributory cause and it would be unfortunate if anything of that sort were to operate—even in the remote Western Isles.
There is nothing much that I can add to what has already been said. The scheme is an admirable one. It is an extremely expensive one and it could be queried on the grounds, possibly, that £55 million or £56 million for the benefit of a relatively small number of people is not the most efficient use of funds—but that is not what we are discussing today. I am delighted that it is to be done because I believe that the contribution which the Western Isles can make in a whole range of respects, including the provision of a very fine group of people, is something on which we cannot turn our backs.
I agree with those noble Lords who have urged upon the Goverment—and I hope our voices will have some effect on the Government—that where, in some of those 5 per cent. of cases to which I have referred, there is going to he a prohibition on the implementation of the agricultural side of the plan, money will be made available to the NCC in order to implement the management agreements. It will not be a very large sum; it will probably be little, if any, more than the actual amount that would have been spent on the capital improvements. So the amount of money involved is minimal, the benefit to be obtained, from the environmental point of view and the goodwill point of view, is enormous. I hope the noble Earl will be able to give us some encouragement in this respect.
§ 5.2 p.m
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I welcome this debate, and I welcome very much the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, not to press his Prayer against this project. I welcome the project itself; in fact I was welcoming it over three years ago when the concept first appeared from Brussels and at the time I was chairing a sub-committee of your Lordships' Select Committee on European Affairs, on rural policy. But I have to say that, whereas then we held out high hopes of this project. I must express my disappointment that we have not achieved more. My disappointment arises from three causes: first of all, that the EEC Commission in Brussels have still not found a way of assigning funds from the Social Fund or the Regional Development Fund, still less from the Environmental Fund, in order to balance the funds that are assigned from agriculture, without which balance it is not really reasonable to call this an integrated development project. My disappointment also arises from the fact that the conservation element has not been adequately built into the project as a whole, and we have heard enough about that already this afternoon. There is recognition in Chapter 8 that, because no one can reasonably he expected to earn a comparable income—to use the EEC term—from agriculture alone, it is necessary to create other enterprises associated with or outside agriculture. But this whole matter has been most cursorily dealt with—there are just a few platitudes in Chapter 8 and no more; without those being properly developed we really are not justified in calling this more than a major piece of agricultural extension, but of course it is welcome for that alone.
If the EEC and the Scottish agencies listed in the project are not able to do better than this after three years. I think we have to look elsewhere in order to make progress in this whole important business of integrated rural development. I believe we can find some hope of making some progress from two or three sources. First of all, the EEC themselves have decided that in order to make more progress in this field it will he necessary to have some more research done into how integrated rural development is being tackled throughout the Community. I am glad to say that they invited proposals for such research at the end of 1980 and 10 or 20 such projects, four of them this country, are now proceeding. I have here the results of one of them carried out by the Rural Planning Research Trust in the district of Radnor in mid-Wales, in the less favoured areas, which is illuminating, but it shows that the funding going to that area through the Less Favoured Areas Directive is extremely wastefully, inefficiently and extravagantly applied, and that we are still throwing money at this problem and not really dealing with it.
The other area which we can look to now for some prospect of an improvement is the policy which Parliament approved in, I think it was, July or October of 1980, some two years ago: the new system for administering farm capital grants in sensitive areas such as national parks and sites of special scientific interest. I would, if I may, read an extract on this topic from the annual report of the Dartmoor National Park which has just come to my hands. Your Lordships will recall that the arrangement come to in July 1980 in the 153 statutory instrument that brought this new system into force was that in these areas individual farmers had to take such of their proposals as they hoped to get grant for to the national park authority to see that they matched and corresponded with the conservation policies in force in the area.
Reviewing that process over the past year, I read as follows from the report of the National Park Authority for Dartmoor:Agricultural grant notifications are rapidly becoming the most time-consuming as well as the most important single operation within the Department".Then it goes on:Over the whole year decisions were made on 248 notifications. Most of these involved several agricultural operations and many were for very substantial proposals. The value of the system lies not just in the opportunity which it affords the National Park Authority to object to damaging proposals and possibly prevent their execution …"—and this is the important pointin fact over the whole year there were only two outright objections to the 240 proposals put in".That is 99 per cent., not 95 per cent. as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was suggesting there would be.More it lies in the creation of an opportunity for negotiation. A large number of submitted proposals from farmers are modified prior to the National Park Authority giving its decision. Thirteen were approved subject to agreed conditions. Most important of all is the basis which it provides for contact and for discussion".This strongly reinforces what the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was just saying. Then,National park staff begin to understand farming operations and farmers' values and aspirations, and farmers in turn come to associate the national park with a face rather than a bureacracy, hopefully with a face which is willing to listen and to understand and which also puts forward a supportable case for conservation which the farmer can respect and act upon".There, I think, lies some hope for more satisfactorily reconciling the conflicts which are being apprehended.
Since then, we have the Wildlife and Countryside Act, with Section 41 thereof—alias the Sandford amendment—in which on top of that requirement we have the statutory duty for ADAS and the Scottish equivalent to give advice to farmers on the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, and—and this is the second leg—to advise such persons on diversification into other enterprises of benefit to the rural economy".With the kind of process that I have just quoted to you from one of our national parks—but I could quote the same thing from many other sensitive rural areas—plus the additional responsibility of ADAS and the Scottish equivalent to give advice both on conservation and on diversification into other enterprises besides agriculture, I do think we see a way forward. I am disappointed that a policy and a large-scale development project such as the one we are debating has proved so relatively unsuccessful in achieving this integration. It will be a good project nevertheless. In the light of the last three years' experience, my hope is that we will look to progress, and particularly to ADAS to make progress by putting itself more firmly in a position to give advice to farmers on diversification and on conservation. That will enable the process I have just described for Dartmoor to become the norm and the common practice throughout our countryside.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I found the noble Lord's speech very encouraging. One or two noble Lords have been encouraging. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, eventually said that he thought that this would be all right and that he hoped the Government would take some small action, and so did my noble friend Lord Walston.
We need not despair. The arguments in favour of doing something were put with the greatest clarity by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and he was supported in a great deal of detail by Lady White and others. I shall not go through those points again. I shall quickly take up one or two of the points that have been made and which I think should not be allowed to pass.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, surprised me by saying that he did not believe that ploughing up or re-seeding the machair would do any harm. I am sorry to disagree. I was president of the RSPB for five years and, although there may be a few fringe characters who are not altogether easy to deal with, basically it is a most serious body. The noble Earl on the Government Front Bench raised £1 million, so it is not a body to be ashamed of.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
I am sorry, I am out of date. It is a body of the most intensely active, accurate and careful workers. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that if the RSPB experts suggest that something will do harm I would not be too quick to say that it will not.
While we are on machairs generally, Lord John-Mackie made a comment which interested me. He said that one does not destroy the environment, one changes it. That is true. However, one does destroy a habitat. That is the point we are talking about. The habitat of the machair is 20 per cent. of all the machair available anywhere—certainly round about—and the 1,000 hectares which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, particularly asked to be saved form a very large part of the total available environment for certain birds, of which the corncrake, we heard, is a very important one.
The whole problem—we spent hours in the Wildlife and Countryside Act discussing this—of the environment against profitable farming is a very tricky one. There are many cases where one has to put up with the destruction of the environment or with damage to the environment for economic and personal reasons of the people concerned. This most desirable scheme will help people who have needed help for years and years. The crofters have always been, as far as I can see, left outside any reasonable assistance, although a great deal has been done in the past 30 years. Before that it was very bad indeed. They have always wanted help. They have only lived through help. It is entirely desirable that this scheme should go forward and do something about this area where, as my noble friend Lord Taylor said, there are fewer people all the time.
As a population dies or diminishes, so conditions get worse. All that is true. The trouble with Lord Taylor's speech is that I agree with every word he said except his conclusions. He said that it is most important to see 155 that the help gets there. Of course it is. But it is not most important that the last 2 or 3 per cent. of the £50 million talked about should get there. The position is that the approximate £50 million is the whole scheme, of which £20 million is agricultural, £3.4 million of it for machair and inbye land—mostly the inbye land. The 1.000 hectares, by my reckoning and without doing an accurate calculation, would get under £500,000 or between £500,000 and £l million out of the £50 million.
We are not saying that in every case where there is a conservation issue one must decide in favour of the birds or the deer or whatever it may be. We are saying that in this case, where a very good job is being done, if one does not do a very small part of it, one would go a long way towards saving a very important part of a rare and important habitat for birds.
That seems to me quite different from what has been suggested. The conservationists want to stop the whole scheme. The noble Lords who have spoken on this side say they do not, and they want the schemes to go forward. However, it did not stop one or two people suggesting that they were against the whole scheme.
That is as far as I want to go. I want the noble Earl on the Government Front Bench to say that if he cannot agree to help us over £3½ million worth of the plan, which is for the inbye land and the machair land, that he will at least see what can be done about the 1,000 hectares. It is a very small concession for the conservationists of the world but it can easily be done. It would be inexpensive. There are money difficulties which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and others raised and I do not know how they will be met, but the amounts are small. However, it is an important point and I hope that we can obtain that small concession from this interesting debate.
§ 5.19 p.m.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, I must apologise for not putting my name on the list of speakers, but I was not sure that I could be here. Perhaps I may make a comment or two.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and I might both be accurately described as bird men. We would go a long way to preserve the corncrake, which is one of the most delightful of birds. I am not sure that I come to quite the same conclusions as he does, but we can see that later on. Perhaps the most valuable of the EEC's contributions to Scotland and the activities in Scotland has been the injection of additional capital into marginal land. Both my noble friend Baroness Elliot of Harwood and I have had first hand experience of this. The capital contributions from Europe have undoubtedly enabled us to hold the population on the hill land which would otherwise have left. That has been a prime objective of all Governments for as long as I can remember, but we have not been very successful up till now in arresting the depopulation of the hill lands. For the crofters of the Western Isles to lose £3.4 millions of cash, applied to a comparatively small area, would be a pretty grave loss. For the reasons given, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I find myself unable to go along with Lord Melchett's Prayer—cogently as he argued the case.
156 There are certainly rare birds on the machair land and also rare plants. Perhaps the plants are almost more interesting than the birds. But the trouble with too many of these environmental cases is that, at any rate at the start, the conservationists ask for too much and the owners of the land concede too little. This is a case in which I seem to remember the noble Baroness, Lady White, said that we could not get the best of both worlds. But I think that we can. That is exactly what I believe we can do. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that we are apt to underestimate the common purpose of the Department of Agriculture, the local authorities and the farming community, including the crofters.
Therefore, although I would like to hear the answers to the points raised in particular by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy about the possibility of safeguards and, for example, management arrangements, nevertheless I could not support the Prayer which is immediately before the House. However, as I say, I hope that this is one of the cases in which compromise and common sense will prevail.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, first I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Melchett on having raised this subject. It has enlightened many of your Lordships about the Western Isles. We do not have very many debates about the Western Isles and I hope that in future much more sympathetic attention will be paid to the needs of the Western Isles.
My noble friend has raised an important point, and he has probably raised it at the right time. I think that it was the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who congratulated the Government on their achievement. Quite frankly, we have not achieved anything yet. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford—if I can have his attention—suggested that this was a failure. With all due respect, it is no failure because it has hardly begun—indeed, it has not begun. That is why it is important to raise it now.
There is no doubt at all that if there is any area in Britain that requires special treatment, it is the Western Isles. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that it is a place not where the population is declining, but where it was declining, and that decline was stopped by the efforts of the Scottish Office and the activities of Secretaries of State, among whom I was one. I set up the Highlands and Islands Development Board just because of the special conditions of that area, which has a proud past and which has proud people. They never call themselves poor; they are rich in many things. But if there is one thing in which they are rich, it is probably scepticism about what Governments say, about what Members of Parliament say and about what Members of this House say about their concern for them, about retaining the life there and then opposing something that may appear to be for their benefit.
Let us look at the problem. People have said that they are quite happy about 95 per cent. of the programme, but not about 5 per cent., and that 5 per cent. comes down to £3.4 million in relation to land development. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, appreciates what has been done in recent years. We gave the crofters, for the first time, the statutory right to buy their crops, and that included the 157 inbye land. I think that there is probably more hope now of getting improvement because the crofters feel that they have a greater stake in it than they ever had before. But if you do not develop the inbye land, you will not be able to improve the stockholding capacity of the land, whether it be sheep, cattle or anything else. Therefore, it is not good enough to say, "We are concerned. Please do not do anything about the 10,000 hectares of inbye land"—the noble Lord's argument is false there—and then belittle the problem, saying that it is only this.
There must be an assurance by the United Kingdom Government—and in this case, of course, it is the Scottish Office—that the actions envisaged are compatible with the protection of the environment. That surely must not give an absolute veto to conservationists. I do not think that they would expect to have it. But it gives them a voice to ensure that the administrative routines are adequate for this to he carried out and for, say, the NCC to do the job that it is set up to do. I have a feeling that, if the NCC had been the SNCC and they had all come under the Secretary of State, this debate would never have arisen, because when they all come under the one Minister I can assure your Lordships that there is a possibility of welding them together and getting the routines right.
As regards the SSSIs—I think that there are 35 of them—as I understand it, it has been agreed that three months' notice will he given, and they are reasonably satisfied with that. They are not satisfied about the other areas which might he important but which are unscheduled. The point is that no project has yet started. Therefore, what my noble friend Lord Melchett has been putting forward are fears that arise because they are not satisfied with the administrative routines in the first instance and, in the second instance, as was emphasised by my noble friend Lady White, the actual funding in respect of one aspect of it from the point of view of the protection of the environment.
I want the Minister to tell us what are the administrative routines, because we have not had a project yet, nothing has failed yet and nothing has yet been tried. We must be satisfied because, to a certain extent, I think that the fears may well be justified. I shall not say that all conservationists are reasonable men, but I do not want this scheme to fall down either through the deficiencies of the Scottish Office or the obsessions of certain people in the conservation area. Let the House know just exactly what this is.
There is a suggestion in respect of outside the SSSIs that there will be two weeks' discussion. That might well not be enough. I want to see this programme go ahead. One of the difficulties about it—and to this extent the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was right—is that we are not seeing the whole scheme. In fact, there is not a quarter of the scheme in what we are debating today. Anyone who spoke about great schemes for arable redevelopment and what will happen in the Western Isles should have read the regulations before us. In paragraph 4(d) under the heading "Comprehensive agricultural improvement" it is stated:the grant payable under this regulation shall not exceed the least of—and then there is (i), (ii) and (iii); and (iii) is £3,000. We are dealing with small projects for small people and for 158 people who need help. Quite frankly—and I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has gone; everyone who speaks in these debates seems to disappear very quickly.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I have been asked to apologise on my noble friend's behalf, who omitted to give his apologies in advance that he could not attend the rest of the debate.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will convey to his noble friend Lord Mackie my apologies for having mentioned his name, not knowing that he was going to apologise. He is always there, so I turned round with confidence thinking he would he there. The fears may well be real, and I think they can be dissipated.
There is going to be disturbance of the ecology. I began to feel like a criminal when my noble friend was speaking. I can remember—and I daresay that the same applies to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, as it would to the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, if he had been here—going to the Butt of Lewis and going through winding roads that I hope are going to be brought up to date as a result of this, and having pointed out to me with pride by the leader of a township a field on a hillside that had been reseeded. That emerald green stuck out from the stark darkness of the rest of that hillside. They were proud of it. Who did it? They did it themselves. Certainly they got money.
I do not know what the confusion was. I was horrified to hear that a civil servant had been classified by my noble friend as rude. Then he went on to say that the civil servant had said that it had been done before. Of course, it had been done before. I had been doing it before; encouraging people to reseed.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
No, my Lords, I want to finish this very good story. Having got there and seen this and admired it, and seen the trouble there was to get it done, and learning it was the co-operation of the people of the township that had done it, I said; "Mr. Macleod, how did you do it?". He held up the biggest fist I had ever seen and said, "By persuasion!" Sometimes I think we need that kind of thing in this House. I hope our persuasion will be such that our fears, although they may be real, if we take the right action—and that can come from the answer we get from the Scottish Office—can be relatively groundless. We will change the ecology. But I think on balance we can change it for the better. There can be benefits from it. It is neglect that has produced some of the habitat, and you are not going to persuade me that we must continue to neglect people.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I simply wanted to put the record straight. I would not have dreamt of criticising a civil servant in your Lordships' House for being rude or anything else. I was in fact criticising the Minister on the Front Bench opposite.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
Well, My Lords, I have not always said that he was the most gracious of Ministers, but the instance he quoted was about a civil servant saving to him that it had been done in the past, and I am saying that of course it had been done in the past. It is being done today under the less-favoured-area grants and under reseeding grants, and schemes like that.
This is an important point because I want to ask the Minister how much money is being spent a year on these things that are being attacked today. Secondly, is this £3.4 million in respect of land development new money, or is just the 40 per cent. from the EEC new money, and in other words we are going to be doing not so very much more than we have been doing before?
The third matter is the important point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady White. It is quite wrong, if you have got the best of routines for alerting people that there might be difficulty in respect of a highly difficult area from the conservation point of view, if the people who are supposed to be looking after protecting that and giving their advice on it have not got the staff to do it. It is one Government staffing the Scottish Office and also staffing the NCC. Therefore, it is up to them, having given them the task within the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and then given the pledge in Article 3 of the IDP, to ensure that they can do that job. That is important.
Secondly, the question arises out of the compensation available for those who are refused development under the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. They get their compensation, and I understand it has been suggested that the decision has been taken at ministerial level that no compensation will be paid to a crofter. I think it is wrong. Mind you, who is going to pay the compensation? It is the British Government, through an agency to whom they are probably denying the money. We are in this cleft stick. That has nothing to do with the IDP; these are the consequences of the IDP, and the Government have to face up to them. I congratulate the noble Lord for having raised this important debate—and given me a chance of being hoarse for the rest of the week.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, we have had an important debate about a matter of considerable interest to the Members of your Lordships' House, and it is also of vital concern to the people of the Western Isles. I have listened carefully to everything that has been said. I do not agree with it all, but nevertheless much valuable ground has been covered. I shall try to answer as many of the points as I can now, but if I do not or cannot then I shall write to those noble Lords to whom I am not able to respond on this occasion.
The integrated development programme represents a determined attempt to improve the economy of one of the most remote and disadvantaged communities in Britain; that is to say, the Western Islands of Scotland. As my noble friend Lady Elliot said, this IDP is one of three pilot programmes which were authorised by the European Commission. As she again said, the others are in the Lozère province of France and in the Luxembourg province of Belgium. The three areas obviously differ in many ways, but they show an important feature. The backbone of their economy is 160 agriculture, but agriculture alone cannot provide the population with a decent standard of living.
The very name integrated development programme has been the cause of a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings, and certainly the programme which has eventually emerged with the blessing of the Council of Ministers is very different in character from the original integrated development programme which emanated from the Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, quoted Sir Ralph Verney as saying that the programme is integrated in name only. I do not altogether agree with that although I understand Sir Ralph's reasons for holding the view that he does, or did.
The programme covers a huge range of matters from such things as water and sewage treatment which we have not discussed this afternoon, to the production of Harris tweed, which I do not think we have covered either; and of course it is true that, as some people have said, the £36 million which is to be spent on the infrastructure as opposed to the agricultural part of this, or the tourism and those parts, would have been spent eventually anyway. I suppose a lot of the work would have been done, some of it most certainly would not, but the important part of the programme is the bringing together of all this vast range of measures into one programme.
This will, and indeed already has, given the islanders a great new hope and encouragement. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, said that you cannot say it is a success or a failure yet because nothing has happened. But in fact the project team has been appointed. The people engaged on it have been giving lectures all over the Western Isles to tell people how they can take advantage of the scheme, and a great deal of enthusiasm has already arisen and a measure of hope has been raised. One must not lose sight of the serious economic condition of the people to whom this programme is directed, and it will be of enormous benefit.
We have heard about the very poor quality of the land, most of which is rock and hog. Only a tiny proportion is fit for any form of arable treatment. The entire amount of land which can grow cereals—I do not say this as a debating point but as a point of realism—is less than one large East Anglian, or indeed East Scottish, farm. The people have an ageing population. There are under 30,000 of them, and at the same time they have one of the highest unemployment rates in the United Kingdom, of over 30 per cent. They have among the highest food prices, a very restricted range of activities and an even more restricted range of opportunities. One must admit that they have in many places a complete absence of the sort of amenities we take for granted in the more favoured parts of the United Kingdom. I have visited the islands on a number of occasions in the last three and a half years, particularly recently in connection with the IDP. I have seen the difficult conditions there and spoken to a wide range of people interested in or involved with the IDP.
I have been attacked—whether the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, attacked the officials of my department is no doubt a matter we shall learn in Hansard when we read it—for being insensitive, obdurate and even downright rude, I think that word was used. At any rate, the Government agreed to produce an integrated development programme and I 161 shall relate my part in it because I decided that it must concentrate, first, on measures likely to give the maximum benefit to the islanders; secondly, it must, so far as possible, build on what the crofters are already doing, which is farming and fishing; and thirdly, the effects of the environment must be taken into account. To those noble Lords who perhaps do not believe that the Government have been alive to environmental considerations, I refute that absolutely. We were alive to them from day one.
In any event, I appointed a group of officials to work out the details of the IDP and all their meetings were attended by representatives of the Nature Conservancy Council. I attended one or two myself. The inclusion of NCC officials shows that we were aware right from the outset of the need to take conservation into account. Eventually, in the spring of this year, we submitted, for submission to Brussels, a programme which encompasses about £56 million of public expenditure over five years, of which £20 million is for agriculture and fisheries, as stipulated by the regulation.
I shall not detain the House by rehearsing the details of the programme, copies of which are available in the Library, and a few noble Lords have in their possession the actual pamphlet which the customers, if that is the right word, can obtain. But I wish to make a few points about it. First, in many of the schemes, as has been correctly pointed out, the rates of support on offer are generally higher than at present. This exceptional level of Government assistance—which will, of course, be available in the Western Isles only during the life of the programme—is a clear indication of the importance we attach to it.
Secondly, none of the land development and livestock improvement schemes is totally new; they are in fact improved versions of those which have been available under existing legislation for many years. It is some of the technical details that are different, and that is why the regulations which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made on 19th July are needed. The livestock and land improvement measures dependent on these regulations account for only about £6 million of the total package, but this part of the programme is one of the most important because although investment in agriculture alone will not solve the problems of the Western Isles, it would be nonsense to try to do so without improving the livestock and nutritional value of the land on which they depend.
If Lord Melchett's Prayer were successful, in the sense that these regulations were annulled, the integrated development programme would, of course, be frustrated, but it would not prevent the local people from undertaking exactly the same operations, with rather less help from the public Exchequer, under existing grant schemes. However, I hope to show that if that were to happen, from a conservation point of view the outcome would be much less welcome, because the work would no longer be subject to scrutiny by the assessment service which we have set up.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, asked me about what I might call the way in which the scheme will operate. By arrangement with the local NCC staff, all projects which fall within certain categories (which have 162 themselves been selected by the NCC) will be referred by local Department of Agriculture for Scotland staff to the local NCC staff for their observations. The fortnight referred to by the noble Lord should be enough for all but the most complex cases. As he remarked, the vast majority of these schemes, certainly where individuals are promoting them, will be very small in scope. But if there is a complex case and it requires further consideration, more time will then he given. Therefore, there is no question of the proposals which an individual crofter may have for the amelioration of his particular farming conditions, as it were, slipping through without anybody who is either knowledgeable or interested in conservation matters, having the opportunity to comment.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, if I heard him right—if I did not, no doubt he will correct me—said in effect that there was no system written into the scheme. But he will have looked at Chapter 10, and particularly at paragraph 4, and will have seen the very great care which is taken there so far as conservation is concerned. We come to the arguments which have been put up, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, against the scheme. I understand all too well his concern that land improvement can damage what I think can be described as a fragile eco-system. I cannot foretell the future. I cannot guarantee that on no occasion will it happen—obviously I could give that guarantee—but I think it is most unlikely because of the checks and balances we have put into the whole system.
The statistics I have given show that there is no agricultural revolution which is about to happen in the Western Isles. In many cases, the programme seeks merely to restore traditional farming practices. I think we shall be content if the programme encourages crofters to work the machair land, formerly in productive agricultural use, but currently neglected, with choked drains and infestations of undesirable weeds. I do not think it would be right, even if we had the resources, to pay large sums to crofters in Lewis and the Uists not to farm their crofts. They should be encouraged, rather, to take advantage of the pump-priming which this programme offers so that they can help themselves in effect to combat their difficulties.
I am very glad that even those who are concerned about the impact of the programme have not rejected its general aims. I have heard no credible economic or political alternative to it. The Scottish director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has made it quite clear that while his organisation has reservations about the land improvement measures on the machair land, it welcomes the objectives of the programme; and that was confirmed today by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I am sorry that previous debates outside this House have generated a great deal more heat than light. If he will forgive me for saying so, even the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, had a change of heart. When he gave evidence to the Agriculture Committee of another place on 20th May, he described the programme as "a complete disaster", before going on and answering a question from Mr. Miles and saying that he had never been to the Western Isles.
I think that perhaps many people have moderated their view, because they have learnt about the area and in some cases have even visited it. I hope that the noble 163 Lord will agree with me that in the Western Isles the link between man and his environment is particularly close.
It has been said that the Integrated Development Programme will encourage in the Western Isles intensified agriculture of what has been described as the East Anglian type. I have never accused either the noble Lord, nor indeed the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or any other of the bodies, of making such claims; and indeed the noble Lord has not made those charges. But very many people have written to me over the last few months. They have suggested that modern farming techniques, leading to what they describe as the East Anglian type cereal production, would be encouraged by the IDP. Anybody with even only the smallest knowledge of the area and of those who live in it will know that that is nonsense, and I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in effect to say words such as that this afternoon. However, crofting agriculture is one of the reasons why, ecologically speaking, the Western Isles is such an interesting place. The present character of the machair land in particular is partly due to the generations of crofters who have worked it. The programme will help them to continue to do so.
I want to come back to the Nature Conservancy Council. As I have explained, I look to the Nature Conservancy Council for advice. I have heard it suggested that the council is unhappy about the environmental aspects of the programme, but that is simply not so. One of the 11 chapters is entitled "Protection of the Environment", and that was written by the NCC. The council proposed an environmental assessment service which will operate, and which I have described. The NCC will be consulted about any proposed development which might constitute a significant threat to wildlife or their habitats, and I have described the processes by which we can identify such cases in time and try to secure a compromise between the needs of the local people and their environment. I believe that those arrangements will provide a greater safeguard for the environment than applies at present, or indeed will apply outside the Western Isles.
Of course I understand that the council is concerned about the additional burden that the assessment service will place on its resources. The council itself estimated that it would cost about £60,000 over five years, and it would like that to be paid for either by my department or by the European Community. I am sorry to have to say that, try as we could to find it I am satisfied that there is no legal way in which the Farm Fund—in other words, FEOGA, the only European fund to earmark money specifically for these programmes—can pay for the environmental assessment service; and I do not think that it would be right for my department to do so.
The main activities of the council are funded by a grant-in-aid, currently about £10 million a year, which is fixed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He and I take the view that the additional modest burden on the Nature Conservancy Council should be funded in precisely the same way as its other management work. But I can tell your Lordships that my right honourable 164 friend has said that he will take the extra burden into account in fixing the council's grant-in-aid.
Some people are uneasy about the character of some of the land improvement proposals which may come forward during the programme's life—and I have dealt with some of the more bizarre criticisms. I accept that we shall get awkward cases, but I believe that the main interest will be in repairing or improving existing drains, fencing, and grazing. There is plenty of scope here before anyone need think of large projects to drain new parts of the ecologically important wetlands.
However, there is a danger—I think other noble Lords will agree, since they have touched on it—that because of the feeling of "birds versus people", which has been generated by some of the remarks quoted in the press, the needs of the crofters are to he disregarded, as compared with the needs of wildlife. But that is certainly not the case.
It has been said, though not this afternoon in your Lordships' House, in effect that. "If the Dutch can use European funds to pay farmers to preserve the environment, why don't we?" The facts of the matter are that the Dutch cannot use EEC funds for this purpose, any more than we can. They do make payments to some farmers in a few areas to restrict certain agricultural activities, but they use their own national funds; and so can we. Our counterpart of the Dutch arrangements are the management agreements between the Nature Conservancy Council and farmers on national nature reserves and sites of special scientific interest, provided for under Section 32 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I can confirm that the Government and the NCC will apply the Section 32 provision to both IDP and existing crofter grant schemes where a person has been refused a capital grant.
I hope that I have—
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, since earlier in his speech my noble friend was good enough to invite me to intervene if he had in any way misunderstood me, may I at this stage, before he sits down, say that he referred me to Chapter 10, and indeed I quoted from that chapter during the course of my speech. I acknowledge that the importance of the eco-system is set out there very clearly. But to my mind it is in general terms, and what I believe I and others have been seeking are what I described as visibly dependable measures to carry out what is there described as necessary and desirable. I am grateful for the answers that my noble friend has given, including the one given just now about the NCC. I am also grateful for his confirming in reply to my question that the EEC does not have funds for the protection of the environment that can he provided from the agricultural source. To me that seems to make it even more important that the United Kingdom Government should provide that support.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I should like to supplement that intervention by asking the noble Earl, whose description of the EEC position was of course entirely correct, whether Her Majesty's Government will not exercise their best endeavours to see that in an integrated scheme some funds from the Environment Directorate might be made available for these 165 purposes—funds greater than the very small amounts committed to be spent under the present arrangements.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I am satisfied that we cannot get any money from Europe as things stand, and as a good Scot I was very interested to try to get money from any direction that I could to supplement the scheme. We have to take the situation as we find it, and the Government have concluded that, so far as the present position is concerned, the best way is for the NCC to carry out its role and be funded by the Department of the Environment in the normal manner.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, would my noble friend give way on that point, very briefly? I am sorry to interrupt him. Is he satisfied that the NCC has enough money to make objections under Section 32 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, so that if objections are upheld it can enter into a worthwhile management agreement?
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, it is for the NCC to assess its own priorities, to estimate the grant-in-aid that it requires on an annual basis and to obtain it from its sponsoring Ministry, to wit the Department of the Environment. What I have said is that my right honourable friend is aware of the situation, is aware that the Integrated Development Programme will put new burdens upon it, and will take such into account when he fixes his grant in aid. Beyond that, I do not think I can go.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady White, using the full authority of her chairmanship of your Lordships' Committee, said that it had heard evidence about this matter and that (if I may paraphrase her remarks) the IDP had been weighed in the balance and had been found wanting. What she did not say was that I had offered to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook—perhaps I could finish my sentence before I give way to the noble Baroness—to give evidence on the other side, and the noble Baroness might agree that it might be better to suspend judicial decision-making in this case until both sides have been heard.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I thought I made it entirely clear in my opening remarks that I was not in a position to speak on behalf of the Committee, for the reason that they had not yet reported.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness for correcting me in so far as I needed such correction.
My Lords, I have, I think, answered the point about the SSSIs and national nature reserves. I want, if I can, finally, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, about his 1,000 hectares of wet machair, for that really is the nub of the whole argument—and I see him nodding in agreement. This 1,000 hectares is the maximum uptake for the whole machair scheme. Much of what the noble Lord referred to as wet machair is in fact the cultivated machair which has been allowed to decline in recent years—I may say, years in which the corncrake has also declined.
166 I am coming now to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, who unfortunately is not in his place, because he cannot receive my strictures for shooting my fox. I, too, read the West Highland Free Press, although I think that, politically speaking, it is much nearer his side of the House than mine. Nevertheless, I agree with what the environmental correspondent of that much-read journal has said, and I agree that he has taken a broad view of the situation. What is important is that some knowledgeable people believe that the bird population in that part of the world has declined in recent years partly because of the decline in the standard of crofting agriculture. Much of the now-neglected crofting land is of as little interest to conservationists as it is of use to the crofting economy. A variety of different habitats in a small area tends to enrich the wildlife, and crofting can maintain such a mosaic environment. I go so far as to say that the IDP may therefore extend, rather than reduce, the range of wildlife habitats.
But other environmentalists—and some of them with local knowledge—have been making precisely the point that I have made and which was made rather more elegantly by the environmental correspondent of then West Highland Free Press; namely, that there is no reason to suppose that the land improvement measures that we are proposing will destroy the unique natural environment of the Western Isles. We need a balanced approach to the large number of economic and social problems in this remote area. We must help the crofters to build on what is already there, and that must include land and livestock improvements. But with the safeguards that I have mentioned and the procedures that we have laid down, I hope the House will agree that the balance of priorities is just about right. It is in that sense that I commend the regulations to the House.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I should like to thank everybody who has taken part in what I think is generally agreed to have been an extremely valuable debate, and I think that one or two of the things that the Minister has just said will have themselves made the debate worthwhile. Some were positive and some were possibly negative, but, nevertheless, he did go further than the Government have gone before, particularly in giving an assurance that crofters and people refused grant under the IDP as a result of conservation objections would be eligible for management agreements in the same way as people refused normal capital grant aid. I think that will be widely welcomed, not only by conservationists but I have no doubt to an even greater extent by the crofters who are likely to be affected; and if that is the only thing to have come out of this debate in your Lordships' House, it will have made it worthwhile.
I make just two or three quick points. First, to my noble friend Lord Ross, he need not feel a criminal. The sort of re-seeding which he described on the side of a hill is something to which no conservationist would have any objection. It may be that one or two of the grouse-shooters will object to moorland being reclaimed in that way, but certainly not, I think, conservationists. Indeed, one of the thrusts of the conservation argument in this is that there are huge 167 areas which are quite capable of being improved for agriculture in the Western Isles and elsewhere in Scotland where there is no conflict with conservation.
It is, as the noble Earl himself said, on the 1,000 hectares of wet machair that we get to the nub of the point; and just as he said he was going to get to the nub of the point and tell me about this, he went off on to something completely different—the dry machair, the area which is under some arable cropping, where there are oats and crops of that sort grown. I quite agree with him it is possible that if that is extended on the dry machair it will improve the wildlife interests of the area, and that is why I quite deliberately left out any reference to the dry machair areas in opening the debate. It is quite possible, as long as this is done in small areas with a fair degree of variety, as he says, on the dry machair, things will actually be improved, and certainly not necessarily made any worse. But when we get to the 1,000 hectares of wet machair we come up against the problem, and it was at that point that the noble Earl scooted off sideways; and that, I am afraid, is one of the things which still worries me.
The noble Earl gave a very forthright and welcome assurance that damage was most unlikely. If he had stopped there I would have had nothing but praise for the Government's (as I would have seen it) change of heart. But unfortunately he then went on to say that he did not believe it was right to pay people not to farm their crofts rather than to encourage them to farm. Of course, that could he taken as a coded way of saying that the Government do not believe in the management agreements which they have just agreed to extend to people refused grant aid under the IDP; so with the same breath as he said something very welcome I am afraid he really took it away again. Because it will he necessary under management agreements to pay crofters, not to refrain from farming crofts, but to continue to farm them as they are now, rather than encouraging them to develop them in the way that the IDP will encourage. So I am afraid that the conflict that has been evident in the debate between different speakers is still there.
I also find it very difficult to deal with the shifting sands of the arguments against the conservation case, and we have heard them during the debate today. On the one hand, this scheme is going to do nothing new and what is the conservationist concerned about? On the other hand, it is vital for the economic development of the islands, it will make dramatic changes and therefore we should not oppose it. The analogy which two noble Lords used of the blanket afforestation of the Highlands with alien conifers I would have thought was hardly likely to endear the scheme either to conservationists or, indeed, to crofters themselves. It seemed to me to be an extraordinary analogy to draw. It really did seem to me that that was not a very sensible argument to be put by those who support the scheme.
Finally, may I make this point to the noble Earl? I entirely agree with him that it is for the Nature Conservancy Council to make a case to the Secretary of State for the Environment about the resources it needs. It did that last year and is currently doing it for the next financial year. Last year, it went into a great deal of effort, time and trouble to make a case for the 168 resources that it needed, or thought that it would need, in the light of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It put in a bid, and the Government gave the NCC half the extra money that it asked for; as a result, the NCC seems to have run out of funds for certain major aspects of its work this year and is delaying procedures under the Wildlife and Countryside Act not by 12 months but by a full 18 months. If the noble Earl will support whatever bid the NCC put to DoE this year and will make sure that they get all that they ask for, including any sums that they need under the IDP, then, again, the debate will have been worthwhile. But I have to tell him that I think it very unlikely that that will happen, and halfway through next year we will be in exactly the same position with the NCC running out of money. Then there will be some serious conflicts in the Western Isles as a result of the Government failing to provide the funds that are needed.
I should like to say that I was delighted that nobody opposed the IDP. I stand by my view that it should go ahead, although I think it is disastrous that the Government have not grasped this nettle of integrating conservation into the programme. The noble Earl seemed to say that the answer to that was that it was called the wrong thing; but an integrated rural development programme is what everybody interested in agriculture and the countryside has been asking for for years—and not least the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, as he said. He deserves a great deal of credit for the effort that he has put into this. It is a pity, when he finally gets an integrated programme, that the Government turn round and say that it is misnamed. What it ought to be is properly integrated.
I think that the debate has been worthwhile and, as I say, not least for the assurance that the noble Earl has been able to give about management agreements. I hope that it will also serve the purpose (as my noble friend Lord Ross has said) that although actual projects under the IDP have not yet started, the fact that so many noble Lords are as keenly interested as they are in what is going to happen will. I hope, be borne in mind by the project team, by local NCC staff and others. I very much hope that some of the gloomy predictions that a number of us have felt moved to make will not he borne out.
The fact is that we will be able to count the birds and flowers on the Western Isles in a year, two years or three years and will know what effect the scheme has. It will he judged by its results; and the possibility of future integration programmes for the Western Highlands of Scotland or elsewhere will also be judged, I believe, by the results of this scheme—and that places a heavy duty on the project team. Having said that, may I reiterate my thanks to noble Lords for what I believe has been a constructive debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.