HL Deb 04 February 1985 vol 459 cc890-906

7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order which stands in my name on the Order Paper and which was laid before your Lordships and another place on 22nd November last year be agreed to. The order contains a number of changes which were made as a result of the consultation which we undertook last spring. The Northern Ireland Assembly welcomed the legislation and in its report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the assembly put forward 20 recommendations for amendment, largely concerning matters of detail rather than matters of principle.

Eleven of the suggested amendments are included in the draft order before us this evening and it has been possible to give the Assembly an assurance that a number of their remaining recommendations are covered in substance by the provisions of the order as presently drafted. I shall refer specifically in the course of my remarks to the more substantive changes resulting from both the consultation process and consideration by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There are several reasons why this order has been brought forward. The Amenity Lands Act (Northern Ireland) 1965, which this order will supersede, is at present the cornerstone of legislation on nature conservation and countryside amenity in Northern Ireland. When enacted 20 years ago it was the first piece of legislation of its kind. In that time notable progress has been made with a planned programme of establishing nature reserves, areas of scientific interest and amenity areas. Several areas of outstanding natural beauty have also been designated. However, present day requirements, the increasing pressures on the countryside from competing forms of land use, and the experience arising from the Act's working over almost two decades have begun to show up the limitations of its framework.

Therefore, amendments are now necessary. These are incorporated in the measures before your Lordships, along with a consolidation of the 1965 Act. The consolidation element is necessary as the Amenity Lands Act has undergone several minor amendments and repeals as the consequence of legislation during the 1970s on associated items such as planning and drainage. In the circumstances I am sure that your Lordships will not object if I confine my remarks for the moment to the new policy matters. That does not, of course, preclude any other matter in the order being raised later on.

The order will bring Northern Ireland broadly into line with the rest of the United Kingdom in matters of countryside recreation and amenity. It is not possible to do so precisely because planning control is exercised differently in Northern Ireland. In addition, the executive responsibility in Great Britain for nature conservation and countryside recreation lies with three semi-autonomous bodies: the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions. In Northern Ireland that function rests with the Department of the Environment. The new provisions of the draft order do, however, draw heavily on sources in Great Britain, specifically the Nature Conservancy Council Act 1973, the Countryside Act 1968, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and, of course, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It is appropriate at this stage to mention that the publication of the proposal for a draft order produced a considerable amount of debate on the question of whether or not the existing administrative structure for conservation in Northern Ireland is the most appropriate or whether that structure could be improved by the establishment of a body or several bodies on the lines of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions. As a result of the interest in the whole of this matter the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland is currently reviewing the existing structure, assisted by a distinguished and independent expert in this field.

The Northern Ireland Assembly feels that there is considerable merit in the concept of a separate body for conservation in the Province; however, it also recognises the need for full public consultation following the review and the desirability of bringing into effect at an early date the many improvements which the proposed order and the related wildlife order would introduce. As a result, the Assembly supported the order, subject to the recommendations contained in their report. Any necessary alterations to the structure for conservation in Northern Ireland would therefore be the subject of a further order in council in due course. I am sure that it was right to proceed rapidly with the legislation before us this evening and to consider the matter of structure at a more deliberate pace.

The existing functions of the department in relation to nature conservation and countryside amenity are narrow. They are limited to the acquistion of lands for nature reserve and amenity purposes and the designation of national parks, areas of scientific interest, and areas of outstanding natural beauty. These powers are restated in the order, but if your Lordships glance at Article 3 you will see that it will enable the department in future to exercise a wider range of nature conservation and countryside functions similar to those administered by the Nature Conservancy Council and the two Countryside Commissions.

In Article 4 the order recognises the wide-ranging land use demands of public bodies and requires that such groups, which include Government departments, district councils and other statutory undertakers, should take into account the requirements of nature conservation and countryside amenity in the exercise of their land-related functions. This has a direct analogue in Section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968 and it reflects an acceptance that the demands of nature conservation and countryside amenity deserve equal consideration as other forms of land use planning.

Article 5 establishes a new conservation advisory committee which is to be called the Committee for Nature Conservations. It will assume the responsibilities of the existing Nature Reserve and Wild Birds Advisory Committee and will have certain additional functions under this order and in relation to wildlife protection. We believe that this should make for a more effective advisory service.

Parts III and IV of the order are mainly consolidation and repeat the department's existing role in relation to amenity lands, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Consultation requirements in relation to the latter—that is, areas of outstanding natural beauty—have however been considerably widened and fresh powers have been given to the department to enable it to take more positive action towards the conservation of such areas.

In Part V Article 20 introduces the totally new concept of marine nature reserves and in that respect it corresponds to Section 36 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the existence of which is in no small way attributable to the efforts of my noble friend Lord Craigton during the fairly lengthy Committee stage debate of the Bill in your Lordships' House. The case for establishing statutorily protected marine nature reserves was made at considerable length in the 1979 joint Nature Conservancy Council/Nature Environment Research Council publication, entitled Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment. It makes the point that some of the primary objectives of conservation policy on land have been to conserve representative examples of plant and animal communities, to safeguard sites where research and experiment can be pursued without disturbance, and to provide educational facilities. It is illogical that such an approach should end at the low water mark, especially in view of the inter-dependence of marine and land-based ecosystems. Procedural instructions to designate marine nature reserves are precise, and all power to create a reserve and confirm by-laws regarding it will be vested in the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Under Article 22, district councils are for the first time to be given the power to establish nature reserves within their areas and to acquire land for that purpose.

It has long been a feature of Great Britain law that local authorities have this power. I look forward to district councils in the Province participating in this sphere of activity.

Part VI of the order deals with areas of special scientific interest—a slightly different from of words from that which we have been using in Great Britain—and its provisions represent the most substantive change in the proposal for a draft order since it was published for consultation. At that time it was recognised that considerable modification of the Great Britain procedure found in Sections 28 and 29 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 would be required in order to apply it to the circumstances pertaining in Northern Ireland, in which, for example, the existence of a single-tier structure with the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland responsible throughout required a single continuous procedure.

It was clear that this was a matter which should be fully debated at the consultation stage, and hence the proposal merely included a provision equivalent to Section 28 of the 1981 Act with the department at the same time encouraging full discussion on the matter through the circulation of a separate consultation paper to the main interests concerned and to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The provisions now included in the draft order are the result of that consultation, and it is considered that the procedure to be introduced will effectively protect areas of special scientific interest in Northern Ireland and at the same time will enable the United Kingdom to comply with the requirements of the Berne Convention. Paragraph (1) of Article 25 eliminates the so-called "three-month loophole" which has caused so much concern in Great Britain.

Your Lordships will be aware that concern has been expressed in some quarters over the phrase: The Department may make a declaration that an area is an area of special scientific interest". That can be found in paragraph (1) of Article 24 on page 18 of the order. I am sure that your Lordships will also be aware that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Department of the Environment of Northern Ireland has accepted the desirability in this provision of changing the word "may" in the fifth line on that page to the word "shall". My honourable friend has given a firm undertaking in another place that this amendment will be effected by way of an Order in Council which will soon be brought forward by his department. I am sure that your Lordships will accept the desirability of this change and will consider the undertaking given by my honourable friend as a satisfactory method of resolving this particular matter.

The financial provisions of Article 29 widen the department's existing powers to grant-aid voluntary bodies, which are presently limited to those under the Wild Birds Protection Acts (Northern Ireland) 1931 right through to 1968, to include any body which has among its objects the conservation of wildlife or of the countryside. This is entirely consistent with the position in Great Britain.

I am confident that the order before us this evening will provide for the effective administration of nature conservation and countryside amenity matters for many years ahead, and in so doing it will place Northern Ireland on a similar footing with the rest of the United Kingdom. On that basis, I commend the order to your Lordships and beg to move that it be approved.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd November 1984 be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am certain that we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for so clearly explaining the provisions of this order. The order is related to the wildlife order which is to be debated later this week, but I think it is important that the two orders are debated separately, because there are important points to be raised on each of them.

As the noble Lord has said, this order draws heavily on the legislation of Great Britain and also includes the consolidation of the 1965 Act. However, it contains 34 articles and five schedules, and again I make the complaint, which I make every time we debate a Northern Ireland order, that in effect it is a parliamentary Bill, that we can only talk on it, that we cannot amend it and that it is here for acceptance, because we will not reject anything which has gone through the other House.

As the noble Lord said, the order has been considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly. I have read the reports, the close questioning of the various witnesses and the large amount of written evidence that was submitted to the Northern Ireland Assembly with considerable interest. On this matter, as on a number of other matters, the Assembly has done a very good job.

The explanatory memoradum which was sent out with the original draft order explains that the order seeks to remedy deficiencies in nature conservation and countryside amenities. Various shortcomings were listed in paragraph 3 of that memorandum. They included the fact that protection for areas of scientific interest is woefully unsatisfactory; that there are no proper management facilities in respect of areas of outstanding natural beauty; that as the noble Lord has emphasised, provision is needed for the new concept of marine nature reserves; and that at present there is no role for district councils in the field of nature conservation. Therefore as the Minister has emphasised, we are pleased that provisions for marine nature reserves have been included in this order, and we are pleased that, as the noble Lord said, for the first time power has been given to district councils to establish nature reserves and to acquire land for that purpose.

Generally, the Assembly welcomed the order, and I was pleased to note the many recommendations that it submitted and the fact that so many of them were accepted by Ministers and are included in the order now before us. Undoubtedly the Assembly's discussions have assisted in improving the draft order. Basically, the order is in line with conservation legislation in Great Britain, and it fulfils certain of our international obligations.

The noble Lord the Minister has referred to Article 24 and, although this was considered fully in a debate in the other place, I must make one or two points about it. Paragraph (1), to which the noble Lord referred, relates to the designation of areas of special scientific interest. The original draft order provided that the making of a declaration of such designation was to be a statutory requirement in line with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which is applicable to Great Britain although some wording has been changed from the wording of the original draft order. As the Minister has said, there was the important change that the mandatory "shall" should now be the discretionary "may".

Although, as the Minister rightly says, the Minister concerned in the other place went a considerable way to ease concern on the matter, there are questions that must be asked. I ask them not in a carping manner, but because they may raise points as to why and give rise to an attitude on certain matters. First, why was the change made at all? All the organisations which submitted evidence and the Assembly itself were satisfied with the mandatory provision. No one asked for it to be changed to a discretionary provision. Even the witnesses from the Department of the Environment did not raise the matter with the Assembly. Were any organisations consulted on this change from "shall" to "may" between the issue of the draft order and the laying of the order now before us? Why was this important change not even included in the Minister's initial statement to the Commons when he moved the adoption of the order? Why did the matter have to be raised in debate before there was any Government statement in the other place on this matter?

We have the assurance given by the Minister, Mr. Patten. May I ask does this mean categorically that at the earliest possible opportunity the article will be changed so that provision is made mandatory? If only this was a Bill we could deal with it here and settle the matter completely, but under our direct-rule arrangements we cannot do so.

If for any reason legislation on other matters is delayed—I am thinking of Dr. Jean Balfour's report—will the Government bring forward an early order to make this amendment only? It is important that we should not wait a long time before this admitted change—I was going to say correction; it is not a correction, it has really spoiled this section of the order—undoes some of the other welcome provisions made by amendments put forward by the Assembly.

Evidence presented to the Assembly by my noble friend Lord Melchett—I was hoping he might have been here this evening to speak himself—and also by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and a number of other bodies, expressed concern, as the noble Lord has said, that the original order contained the same three-month loophole, about which there has been complaint, in the 1981 Act. All this was dealt with in some detail in paragraphs 5.16 to 5.27 of Volume 1 of the Assembly report. I am pleased that the Government have accepted the amendment on this matter, and I do not think therefore that I need speak any more about it. We are pleased that the amendment is now in the order before us.

When we considered the Access to the Countryside Order in November 1983 I questioned then whether there was not a sound case for the creation of a body somewhat similar to the Countryside Commission in Great Britain to deal with all relevant matters under that particular order. Following our debate on that occasion, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, sent me a detailed letter on a number of matters, for which I was grateful. He pointed out that some years ago it was decided that the Great Britain model would not necessarily suit Northern Ireland, and that a deliberate decision had been taken not to set up bodies on the lines of the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council as are applicable in Great Britain. He pointed out that a provision was being made for the statutory advisory committees.

Within a few days of that debate I also received a letter from the RSPB stating that there was considerable support among conservationists for the general point I had made, and further than the point that I had made there was general support for a joint countryside/nature conservancy body to promote amenity conservation and access to the countryside in Northern Ireland.

That view the society subsequently emphasised in evidence to the Assembly. A number of other organisations put evidence of a similar kind to the Assembly. A committee of the Association of District Authorities in Northern Ireland also declared unanimously in favour of an independent commission. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has pointed out, the order provides for the establishment of a committee for nature conservation, which (although there are some improvements) in effect takes over from the nature reserves committee which will no longer exist.

There will also be the continuation of the Ulster Countryside Committee. But in both cases these are advisory bodies. The Secretary of State will appoint the members of both committees, and there is no provision for the appointment of members to represent any particular interests. I appreciate that because of the concern the Minister, Mr. Patten, asked Dr. Jean Balfour to carry out a review of the structure and organisation for countryside and nature conservation.

Again I have had the oportunity to read the report which Dr. Balfour prepared for Mr. Patten. I appreciate the work that Dr. Balfour put into this and welcome this particular report. This is not the time to debate in detail Dr. Balfour's report, but I notice that she emphasises that an independent body would not flourish under direct rule and without the support of the farming community.

However, she stresses in her report considerable shortcomings in the present system. May I just quote paragraph 3.4: The Conservation Branch"— that is of the DoE— has no graphics or cartography support. They have no science or research capability. The staff are accommodated in quite inadequate premises in a wooden hut at Stormont, remote from the Assistant Secretary or the other branches in the Conservation Division". Dr. Balfour sets out in paragraph 5 of her summary a large number of points which are highly critical of the present set up.

Although many organisations have stressed the need for an independent statutory commission, Dr. Balfour comes out against such a commission for the reasons that I have mentioned. Although I consider on my reading of her report that it is a very competent piece of work, it is the report of one person and I hope that it will not necessarily discount all the written and oral evidence presented to the Assembly by a large number of persons who take the view that there should be an independent, semi-autonomous body to handle these matters. I noticed that the noble Lord the Minister used the words, "There is a desirability that there should be public consultation". Does that mean that Dr. Balfour's report is to be open for public discussion and comment?

While structure is all important, because how one works and carries through this sort of work is of vital importance, whatever changes may be proposed it is essential that there must be adequate resources of staffing and finance. I noted that in her report Dr. Balfour said that this question was central to the future of nature conservation and the countryside in Northern Ireland.

In Great Britain the budget for the Nature Conservancy Council, although some may consider this to be still woefully inadequate, has been progressively increased since the 1981 Act. I understand that in the coming financial year there is to be provision for additional staff and an increased budget. That is in Great Britain. Will there be adequate resources to carry out the present draft order if it is approved? Will there be adequate resources if proposals submitted by Dr. Balfour are accepted by the Government and put into operation? When is it proposed to bring in a new order in the light of Dr. Balfour's report? Generally we welcome this order, but there are these points that we should like the Minister to deal with.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I speak tonight not only as a spokesman for the Alliance but also as an ex-president of the RSPB. I only want to underline what my noble friend has said. He never leaves one much to say when one is following on. The two vital points about this order are, first, the change from "may" to "shall". I thought that my noble friend made rather heavy weather of that. He has two absolutely specific statements from the Minister in the other place repeated here. The Minister said on 16th January (at col. 468 of Hansard): I shall consider it an unshakeable obligation on my department to declare as areas of special scientific interest all areas that meet those criteria". That is those areas properly selected.

He also said (at col. 480): when we bring forward legislation, as we shall be obliged to do in due course … we shall amend the wording in the article so that it takes account of the arguments that have been advanced". Tonight the Minister said rather more. I must look at Hansard, but I think I am right in understanding that he said he would remove "may" and insert "shall", or words to that effect. We must accept that as being the background which the noble Lord went into in some detail. It may be rather sinister advice for people who want things to be different; it has been ignored by the Minister now and I think we can rest assured that that is the case.

The other matter which is fundamental is that of resources. If the Balfour Report which I have seen a summary of but have not read, is to be implemented, the resources required will be more than were originally thought. But without the Balfour Report the RSPB reckons, despite what Mr. Patten said about the present staff engaged in Northern Ireland being equivalent to 27, that on population comparison we shall need 61, and on acreage or square mile comparison we shall need 130 to do the job properly.

There are two perfectly clear points. The first is that the Government in their present mood will be very unlikely to supply as many as are required. What we have to do is to try to force this all the time. This is the one thing that matters. We have found in our experience in England—which I shall not go into because we all know about it—that many things have gone very badly wrong through lack of staff. This is improving, and various changes have been made. We are anxious that the same thing should not happen in Northern Ireland. Those are my two important points.

It is good that the Northern Ireland arrangements are being brought up to date with ours and in some cases are being slightly improved. I am always glad when the Government, who have been so hoity-toity about quangos, produce another. That is always rather nice. I have always been in favour of quangos; but that is a different point. The basic matters are resources and personnel and, subject to that, I give the fullest approval.

I should like to make one further comment, which is that I shall not be here on Thursday when we are to discuss the allied order, which clearly we should have discussed with this order. I should like to ask my friend and colleague to put in a word for the curlew and the scaup, both of which do not have protection and need it. Having said that, I give the order a good run.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord for having presented what is, on the whole, a penetrating and far sighted order. It was well received generally in Northern Ireland. In the Assembly we were gratified to find that there was not the chasm that might have been expected. There have inevitably been conflicting interests between the harvester and the hedgerow and between the drainage and the duck. In the event both agricultural and conservationist interests, with certain reservations, welcome the order. Her Majesty's Government are to be congratulated thereon for that reason.

There are two other points which are gratifying: one is that the order is an improvement on the 1981 wildlife and countryside legislation, and it is good to see that lessons have been learnt from the implementation of that over the intervening years. The other gratifying point is that so many of the Northern Ireland Assembly recommendations have been accepted, and that is encouraging for those of us in the Assembly who feel that Her Majesty's Government take such serious account of the penetrating scrutiny to which any orders are subjected.

Therefore it is not necessary, indeed, it would be superfluous, for me to dwell on any detail of the order, particularly as the famous matter of the word "may" instead of "shall" in Article 24 has already been so well ventilated. I refer to the generality of the order in which I suggest Article 3 is perhaps the most important of all. This covers the functions of the department and Article 3(2)(c) states that the department shall, among other things, establish, manage and maintain nature reserves in Northern Ireland". My question is: has the department the resources so to do?

When the first draft order was written in 1983 it was assumed that the department would continue to have full and direct control of the administration of nature conservation. It is good that that first draft provoked discussion and a number of influential interests made powerful representations that there should be an independent body, as has been mentioned, equivalent to the Countryside Commission and, rightly, the department decided to call upon Dr. Jean Balfour to produce an independent report. Her report was published shortly before Christmas and we have read it with great interest.

The main question on which everything else pivots is whether the department with an enhanced conservation branch will continue to have direct administrative control over nature conservation, or whether it will eventually be decided to have an independent body, such as the Countryside Commission. In the event Dr. Balfour, while not being too emphatic or dogmatic about it, comes down on the side of an enhanced conservation branch in the department, rather than a Countryside Commission.

In view of that it is worthwhile looking at how existing resources of the department would be likely to measure up to the responsibility with which they would be faced. Among the considerations is the fact that, unlike the position in Great Britain, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has no back-up from a Nature Conservation Council, nor from an Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. All it has is the Nature Reserves Committee and the Countryside Committee. I am sorry to say that many individual members of those committees feel frustrated, having served on them for a number of years. They feel that the recommendations that they have carefully thought out and proposed get lost in the machinery, and they often wonder whether the time they spend going to meetings is time well spent. One is tempted to ask whether the Committee for Nature Conservation, as proposed in Article 5, will be any more effective, or will we find dedicated naturalists, ornithologists and others who are sufficiently dedicated to the conservation of nature and the ecology serving a term of years and then going away frustrated, wondering why they ever bothered? This is a serious matter that Her Majesty's Government should think about.

Another consideration was one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, concerning the number of nature conservationist personnel engaged in Northern Ireland compared with those in Great Britain. The figure I have for Great Britain is 2,222 compared with 27 units of equivalent personnel in Northern Ireland. The lack of resources in Northern Ireland will further be exacerbated by approximately 100 sites which are waiting in the pipeline to be designated as areas of special scientific interest. And they so jolly well ought to be considered when one takes into account the fact that in Great Britain 7 per cent. of the land area is so designated while in Northern Ireland it is 0.2 per cent. designated as nature reserves or areas of special scientific interest. If and when those 100 potential sites come forward, this is going to be an extra workload, quite apart from the fact that apparently there is a requirement for the existing areas of special scientific interest to be renotified, which will be additional work once again.

One wonders how that quite inadequate staff are going to be able to cope with this, particularly when one is told that a very much greater staff available in Great Britain are themselves pressed with the workload that they have. Therefore, I think that the cardinal issue, irrespective of what comes out of the consultation and debate arising from the Balfour Report, is whether or not Her Majesty's Government will make available the necessary resources to make the order that we have before us this evening, or a future order arising out of the Balfour Report, work.

If those resources are not made available, the result will be much the same as is symbolised now; that is, the small, wooden hut lurking in the shadow of massive Dundonald House—i.e., the low priority given to conservation compared with the mass of the rest of the Department of the Environment. So I would say that unless the resources are made available the order and the Balfour Report will hardly be worth the paper on which they are printed. If Her Majesty's Government do make the resources available and make these proposals come to life, this will be a real breakthrough in the history of nature conservation and ecological conservation and all that we hold dear in nature history in Northern Ireland.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I welcome this order but there are one of two questions I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister. He has answered the first question regarding Article 24. I was extremely mystified as to why "shall" was altered to "may", which changed the nature of the powers of the department from mandatory to discretionary. But now, having heard my noble friend say that "may" is to be put back to "shall", I am quite satisfied on that.

I have three more questions I should like to ask my noble friend. I am not quite sure, but I understand from the order that I have been reading that the district councils, too, are going to have power to designate areas of outstanding beauty and amenity and geological interest. I may be mistaken about that, but that is how it struck me, looking at the order. May I ask my noble friend, if that is so, whether the powers of the Department of the Environment and the powers of the district council are likely to clash in any way, since there appears here to be some division of responsibility? That is how it appears to me, but I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will have a very good explanation for that.

I was brought up in Northern Ireland as a small boy, and I have been there a lot. From my experience of district councils, certainly those in England, although they may be excellent advisers on areas of amenity I personally would not think them the best advisers on areas of outstanding beauty and geological and physiological interest. I should also like to draw attention to "public access". As I have often said before in this House, I am all for public access; but the great trouble (and this particularly applies to certain areas in Ireland and Scotland) is that the public, unfortunately, are inclined unwittingly to destroy what they come to see. That may not be so in the North of Ireland, but there are some quite wild people in the North of Ireland and I have known a bit of vandalism in my former grounds, which are now owned by the council.

I should like to ask the Minister: if there is damage done in areas where the Department of the Environment and the councils allow public access, who is to pay for that? I should also like to know whether anybody recompenses the farmers or other people in that area who may suffer damage. In my part of Scotland, where I have an estate in Argyllshire, on the Isle of Mull, I have made footpaths at my own expense for the public because the council would not do this themselves. The council put up signposts marked "Footpath" and pointing blankly into the hills, but there was no footpath and everybody got lost.

I should like to know who is going to fund the damage done to individuals in these areas and who is going to keep up the footpaths. Presumably, the Department of the Environment and the district councils must do this, but the district councils might run out of funds. Before leaving that subject, I remember about 18 months ago reading in the press that a farmer in Cumbria had to leave his farm and take off all his stock because he had suffered such great disturbance by the public that the whole farming operation had to end. I presume he was compensated but by whom I do not know.

There is one further question that I should like to ask. Perhaps it should come into Thursday's debate, but, in fact, it is in the present order which is under debate. Under Article 19(c), the department may, by by-laws, when they have a reserve: prohibit or restrict the shooting of birds of any description within such area surrounding or adjoining the nature reserve (whether the area be of land or of sea) as is requisite for the protection of the nature reserve. What I cannot understand is how one is going to fix a boundary. One can fix a boundary for a nature reserve, but how is one going to fix a boundary for the area outside the reserve, and on the sea, where people are not allowed to shoot, probably quite rightly? How is one going to arrange that? Are there to be buoys? And there is also the problem on the land. It really does not make sense to me, but I am sure that my noble friend will be able to explain. However, I should just like to say that I do welcome the order. It is definitely a step forward in the protection of areas of amenity and of great geological interest in the North of Ireland.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord the Minister on his very cogent and lucid exposition of the order and I would refer only to one part of it—that is, Article 14 on page 11 of the order, which deals with areas of outstanding natural beauty. I am very glad that the Government have so carefully set out their plans concerning consultation and sharing with both local and provincial newspapers when seeking to designate such areas, so that publicity will be wide and all will be drawn in to discuss the matter of what is to be included under paragraph (1) as regards an area of outstanding natural beauty.

I should like to make just three points to the Minister. First, I would emphasise that Northern Ireland, as he now knows so well, has such a tremendous variety of natural beauty that it will be very hard to know which areas to designate—the Giant's Causeway, the new coast road, Strangford Lough, Downpatrick, Saint Patrick's Tomb—the lot. As I noticed on a recent visit, there is so much that is glorious and beautiful that we have an embarras de richesses.

My second point is this. I am glad that the Government have told us that they will in fact make full use of this order by paragraph (5), subparagraphs (a) and (c) on page 11. Subparagraph (a) refers to, conserving or enhancing the natural beauty or amenity of that area; and, promoting its enjoyment by the public;". So clearly here is a positive determination to make the very best display of these areas of outstanding natural beauty.

A strange thing happened some years ago. A very energetic and enthusiastic group from the Nature Reserves Committee of Northern Ireland came across to Norfolk, which one may think is a far cry from Northern Ireland, but in fact we too have three-quarters of our area surrounded by sea. We too are a bit cut off from the rest of England; and with our Broadlands, our wetlands, our fenlands, our brecklands and coastlands, we have many areas of outstanding natural beauty which are not known to the rest of the country. I think this particular order is going to be of the greatest help in simply drawing attention to the fact of the natural beauty and of areas of outstanding natural beauty in Northern Ireland. I hope very much that when such areas are designated under this order the widest possible knowledge is disseminated and that the National Trust, the tourist boards, the BBC, Independent Television and so on will really make these things known.

I should think that Americans today, with the present favourable rate of exchange for them, ought to be really pouring into Northern Ireland to discover the new areas of outstanding natural beauty. That would help to disabuse people's minds of the vision of derelict sites—I refer to Article 28—because, for many people, their visual image of Northern Ireland is derelict sites and not areas of outstanding natural beauty. So I hope very much that, as in this very forward-looking and imaginative order the Government seek particularly to do this task concerning areas of outstanding natural beauty, they will make sure that what they do is widely known and thoroughly disseminated.

I would give your Lordships this example to finish with. There was a television programme here in England called "Swallows and Amazons", which was made on the Norfolk Broads; and our tourist industry has developed by 8 to 9 per cent., with new people booking more boats and coming to chalets and using the Broads more than last year, simply because they found what a beautiful place it is from that one particular programme. I therefore use that as an illustration and I hope that the Government will let it be known that they are seeking to designate these areas of outstanding natural beauty so that Northern Ireland can regain its confidence, its poise and its warm human welcome to visitors. This order will in fact be useful for the good not only of visitors who come there but also for the people of that lovely land.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, there are just a couple of matters to which I should like to draw attention. The first is that once again an important Northern Ireland order is taken here during the dinner hour, thus ensuring that only a dozen Peers are present for it. I cannot complain about that but I simply point it out as an indication of the supreme indifference that is felt by this House, as it is by another place, in regard to Northern Ireland affairs in general.

The other point I want to mention is that in Article 11 and in subsequent articles there are references to the Ulster Countryside Committee. I must complain that there can be no such thing as an Ulster Countryside Committee when it has no jurisdiction whatever over three counties of Ulster, namely, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, which are in the Republic of Ireland. I know we cannot amend this order but I hope that the body in question will, as soon as possible, be named the "Northern Ireland Countryside Committee", because it really does cause offence in the Republic if a body has that sort of name, which, by inference, means that it is claiming jurisdiction over a part of another country. I feel that it should be changed as soon as possible.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we are very grateful for the close attention and the great amount of work that has been done by all your Lordships who have attended this discussion on the order. Indeed, we are very grateful for all the comments that have been made by all the speakers.

If I may start with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, we note his usual complaint on the fact that we cannot amend any of the measures relating to Northern Ireland. We appreciate his comments on the close questioning of witnesses in the report to the Assembly. Of course the noble Lord also raised the question of district council powers and marine nature reserves. He also went on to ask me several questions on Article 24. As the noble Lord will be aware—I think the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, pointed this out—Article 24(1) will be changed. The word "may" in the fifth line will be changed to "shall" and indeed a categorical assurance was given by the Minister in another place, and I should be happy to repeat that.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also had several points to raise in connection with the Balfour Report. He waxed eloquent about the report and I just wondered whether he knows in advance what is in his diary and perhaps knew already that he might not be here when we should be discussing the Balfour Report. Certainly I have nothing to add tonight and I hope that, through the usual channels, we shall be able to find time to discuss the report. However, that will be a matter for the usual channels. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and to others of your Lordships that it is our intention to change the word "may" to "shall" in legislation to implement the Balfour Report's recommendations. I would stress to the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Donaldson, that these recommendations will be implemented.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also raised the question of a joint Countryside Commission and Nature Conservancy Council in Northern Ireland. This is the topic on which Dr. Balfour was asked to report to my honourable friend the Minister. Your Lordships are aware that the report has been presented and is being debated by the Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will be aware the Assembly has invited comment from everybody who submitted evidence on the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order which is before us this evening, and my honourable friend will be awaiting with keenness the report of the Assembly on this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also asked about adequate resources to implement the Balfour Report. I would quote what my honourable friend had to say in another place about resources. He accepted the point and went on to say: It would be injudicious and dishonest of me to pretend that the sky is the limit in providing resources. He continued: I appreciate the fact that we need to do more and that, even while my Department does have other pressing priorities, we need to commit greater resources. So I hope your Lordships will accept that we recognise the need to implement the Balfour Report, but the question of resources is being closely looked at by my honourable friend.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was kind enough to warn me that he will not be here on Thursday when we discuss wildlife. I promise to take on board his question about the curlew and the scaup. We shall note these species on Thursday and give them our best wishes. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, conjured up the simile of conservation in the shadow of Dundonald House. I particularly appreciated the concept of this tiny question in the shadow of the vast monolith of agriculture. On the other hand, I thank the noble Lord for his efforts in the Assembly in reconciling conservation and agriculture. I compliment him on that, since I for one know the power of the agriculture lobby in Northern Ireland. I am also aware of the close interest which is paid to conservation in Northern Ireland.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments on the improvement in the 1981 Act, as it applies to Great Britain. The noble Lord asked me one question about the workload, as regards the renotification of areas of special interest to areas of special scientific interest. I am able to say that three units of scientific staff, which I presume means three persons or three whole-time equivalents, have been recruited for two years to undertake this particular aspect of the work.

I appreciated the thoughts of my noble friend Lord Massereene on damage and vandalism, on farmers' stock being harmed by the pubic—which we hear enough about—and on the worrying of sheep by dogs. My noble friend had one particular query on that. He worried about what the district councils would be able to do. I am able to tell him that, where a district council creates a public footpath or provides access to open country using its powers under the Access to the Countryside (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, that council will assume responsibility for public liability concerning the footpath or access land. I hope that that will he of consolation to my noble friend.

He had one other question on district councils. He will see that district councils will have power to acquire land only for nature reserves. These will, in practice, be sites of local interest and the department will still acquire those sites which are of national importance. I hope that that will settle the query in my noble friend's mind about district councils and about the department acquiring various sites.

I appreciated my noble friend's query on the extent of the banned area for shooting around nature reserves. I am advised that this was included in the 1965 Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Act. I am also advised—and my noble friend will appreciate this—that this provision has never yet been implemented. I understand, too, that any boundary which has ever been established under this provision will be clearly defined on notices, certainly on land. I cannot go further than that. Perhaps I may write to my noble friend as to the seaborne or marine assault upon the bird life. I am thinking particularly of Strangford Loch and the wildfowlers, but I understand that measures are available to control wildfowling on Strangford Loch. May I write to my noble friend about controlling areas where shooting is or is not permitted?

I hope that that covers all the queries that were raised by your Lordships. I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for what he said about areas of natural beauty. I agree with him that vast parts of the Province are particularly beautiful, especially in the summer which I was pleased to enjoy last year. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate drew attention to the powers of the Department of the Environment in Article 14, and I certainly note his thoughts on disseminating the knowledge that various areas have been designated as areas of outstanding beauty or as sites of special scientific interest.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, does not think that because the debate is taken in the dinner hour we accord any less priority to it. I hasten to stress to the noble Lord that what matters is quality and not necessarily quantity, and most of your Lordships who were in the Chamber, who have special knowledge, took part in the debate on the order. I am afraid that I am not able to give the noble Lord a definition of the old Province of Ulster. Indeed the only definition of Ulster and the Nine Counties that I understand is when they play provincial rugby or other sports. But I take the noble Lord's point and if there is anything I can do perhaps I may write to him about whether the body should be called the Ulster Countryside Committee. I hope the noble Lord will accept that we certainly do not mean that the legislation shall spill over into County Cavan, County Donegal or County Monaghan. In conclusion, I am very grateful for the attention that has been paid to this order and I shall write to my noble friend about the shooting areas.

On Question, Motion agreed to.