HL Deb 17 May 1985 vol 463 cc1342-83

11.21 a.m.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

It is a great pleasure to be moving this Bill in your Lordships' House. It has been steered through another place with great skill by my honourable friend David Clark, MP, in what proved in this Session to be some very difficult waters for Private Members' legislation. The Bill comes to your Lordships' House having been sponsored in another place by Members of Parliament from all parties, with at least qualified support from all conservation organisations and with support from the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association. Therefore, the first thing that can be said about the Bill, compared with the parent Act which it amends, is that it is a very different Bill.

The original Act was subject to fierce controversy and very deep divisions not only on party lines across the Floor of your Lordships' House and in another place but also between the conservation organisations and those organisations representing farmers and landowners. I think it is a feature of the way that attitudes have changed since 1980, when we were debating the main Act, that it is possible now to produce what is, in effect, a consensus Bill.

It is also of course a feature of Private Members' legislation that it has very little chance of getting through Parliament unless it aims to have consensus support not only across parties but from all the interested groups likely to be involved—and that was something which my honourable friend worked very hard to achieve in the very short time available to him.

What I should like to do—without taking up too much of your Lordships' time because many noble Lords wish to speak and will cover many of the points which justify the introduction of the Bill and its clauses—is briefly to go through the provisions of the Bill as it stands. I shall say something about its history before it was introduced and as it went through another place, the difficulties encountered, and then to add a few words about the future timetable, as I see it, which we need to meet to ensure that we not only get the Bill right but get it on the statute book.

Clause 1 amends the Badgers Act 1973. I believe that it will now make it impossible for those wicked people who go out into the countryside with dogs, very often trespassing on land, and dig in badgers' setts with the objective of catching the badgers and then setting dogs on them, torturing them and eventually slowly and miserably killing them, to continue with that activity. At the moment badger digging appears to be greatly on the increase, and the number of convictions which it is possible to secure is severely limited because of a loophole in the law. That loophole is that they can claim they were digging for foxes, and they need only provide minimal evidence; for example, a dead fox, or a fox in a bag, or something of that sort, which can quite possibly be obtained elsewhere. Offenders have regularly escaped conviction and have even avoided prosecution in the first place because the police prosecutors have known that they would not win the case.

In a small way this clause shifts the burden of proof on to those who are, prima facie, clearly digging for badgers; and does so in a way to insist that they should show they were not digging for badgers so that the burden is not simply passed to the prosecution. My advice from solicitors who have taken such cases recently and lost them is that this clause will be of enormous help. It also achieves another objective which it was necessary to achieve if the Bill is to secure support in both Houses at the present time, in that it does not in any way threaten or interfere with the activities of fox hunters or those connected with fox hunting.

Clause 2 deals with a loophole in the 1981 Act, which has become known as the "three-month loophole", concerning sites of special scientific interest. This was a provision added very late on to the 1981 Act. It was a provision, I think it is right to say, that was fiercely criticised on both sides of your Lordships' House when it was added in another place because a number of us felt that it would give rise to exactly the problems that have arisen. What happens under this provision is that the Nature Conservancy Council, if it wishes to create a new site of special scientific interest, is obliged to give the occupier or landowner three months' notice of the intention to make the site an SSSI. During that three-month notification period—the three-month loophole—the site is completely unprotected. As I am sure a number of your Lordships will say later in the debate, numerous sites have been very badly damaged, or totally destroyed, during this three-month period. Indeed, the Act is so deficient in that respect that I have met staff on the Nature Conservancy Council, who serve on the ground, who have told me that they are simply not prepared to seek to declare any new SSSIs under the law as it stands but are waiting for the law to be amended, as it will be under this clause; a clause drafted by the Government in the first place.

The third clause amends Section 43 of the 1981 Act which applies to the making of maps by national park authorities. There were two problems with the map-making powers which I think have been seen from all sides. First, they were restricted in the 1981 Act to areas of moor and heath. All of those involved in national park administration and the voluntary organisations interested in national parks felt that the maps should go wider and reflect all the landscape features of interest in the parks. In some parks, of course, moor and heath will be more important than in others, although it is a feature in all of them.

The other problem is that there is not sufficient consultation in drawing up the maps either with the national body—the Countryside Commission which is responsible for the general oversight of these areas—nor with other interests involved in the national parks such as farmers and landowners. The clause would remedy both those defects. It will ensure that the maps are drawn up on a wider basis and that there is greater consultation with local interests and a greater uniformity of approach through consultation with the Countryside Commission.

Finally, Clause 4 places a new duty on the Forestry Commission so that in carrying out its statutory functions it is required to endeavour to achieve a reasonable balance between forestry and nature and landscape conservation interests.

I think that it is fair to say that, although the 1981 Act has been reasonably successful in placing a duty on water authorities to further conservation interests, there have been considerable problems between conservation and forestry interests since the 1981 Act was passed. The Forestry Commission is certainly taking steps to try to remedy that, and conservation organisations have been working for many years to try to achieve better relationships with the Forestry Commission and a greater understanding both of the needs of commercial forestry and of nature and landscape conservation. But there is still a long way to go.

Even at the moment, while the Forestry Commission is producing a new policy on broadleafed woodlands, there is a great deal of disquiet both about the proposed content of the new policy and the way that the Forestry Commission has gone about consulting people in producing it. I am afraid that, while I am sure things are improving, they are by no means right; and there have been specific instances where very important wildlife sites have been destroyed with the knowledge and occasionally even with the support of the Forestry Commission. It is my belief that though the wording of the clause may not be ideal it will go some way to help to improve the situation.

I should like briefly to say a word about the history of the Bill. It is one of the more complicated, if not controversial, Private Members' Bills which has come to your Lordships' House from another place this Session. As I said at the start of my remarks, my honourable friend Dr. David Clark, MP, in the very short time that is available between the results of the ballot for Private Members' Bills and the need to get the Bill printed, carried out extensive consultations with the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association, the voluntary wildlife and landscape organisations concerned with the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and also with some animal welfare organisations concerned about the problems involved with badger digging and baiting.

Those consultations initially produced a long list of amendments which voluntary organisations felt were needed to the 1981 Act. When those had been whittled down I think that there were about 12 clauses which the voluntary organisations felt were the minimum that they could support in an amendment Bill to the 1981 Act. Then in the process of discussion with the NFU and the CLA, in order to achieve the consensus which I said at the beginning was so important, the list was reduced to six clauses and it was a six-clause Bill which was introduced in another place by my honourable friend.

I think that there is one other thing that I should mention because it is particularly relevant to your Lordships' House. In this process of determining the content of the Bill it was made known to my honourable friend that the Government were particularly worried about the possibility of large numbers of amendments being put down in this House. They no doubt had in mind the very extensive, and I hope effective, debates that we had in your Lordships' House on the 1981 Act. As a result of that, a number of us—and I was one of those Peers—signed a letter which was given to the Government undertaking not to put down amendments to this Bill which would widen its scope beyond the clauses which were in the Bill which had a Second Reading in another place.

In other words, while I hope that we shall be able to discuss in detail at later stages the contents of the Bill as it now stands, and indeed the two clauses which were deleted in another place, I and I think a number of other noble Lords have undertaken not to try to widen the scope. It is only if the Bill's focus remains reasonably narrow and only if it retains consensus support from outside interests that it has any hope of reaching the statute book, and I think that that is something which noble Lords on all sides of the House would wish to see.

I said that in another place the atmosphere for Private Members' Bills had not been a very happy one this Session. Noble Lords will be aware of the problems which the Bills introduced by Mr. Enoch Powell and Janet Fookes have come up against. It was partly because of that, and because Enoch Powell in particular put his Bill into an empty committee rather than waiting, as is the normal practice, for the Standing Committee to which Private Members' Bills go in turn to become vacant, that my honourable friend had to get this Bill into another committee which happened to be vacant at very short notice. Then due to the fact in part that he had to get the Bill back to the Floor of another place quickly, and in part because of the convenience of the Government Minister who was otherwise going to be dealing with several Bills in committee at once, the Committee stage of this Bill was taken in one day. Both at Committee and on Report—which of course also has to be done in part of a day—the main debates in another place centred on the clause affecting badgers.

A great deal of controversy arose. I hope we shall not need to reopen or even discuss it in your Lordships' House because the clause as it now stands, I think, is acceptable to everyone. Nevertheless, in another place nearly all the time spent discussing the Bill in its stages after Second Reading was spent on badgers As a result, I think it is fair to say that the rest of the Bill has not had very detailed scrutiny, and in particular the two clauses which were deleted at Committee stage in another place have not been subject to extensive debate or discussion.

The problems that the Bill faced at Report were compounded by the unexpected interest that at least two Members of another place from the party opposite seemed to be taking in crash helmets, which was not an interest that they had expressed in any great detail in the past. But the fact was that a Bill dealing with that subject came on before this Bill and the time for debate on this Bill was therefore at Report stage considerably foreshortened.

In conclusion, the 1981 Act was subject to very extensive debate in your Lordships' House and in another place. I think that it had a record number of amendments put down to it in this House, at least as far as the records go back, and it took a long time on its parliamentary passage. I believe, as I think noble Lords on all sides of the House would say, that many improvements were made to the Bill during that process. But nevertheless it is possible now, with two or three years' experience of the Act behind us, to see that there was a lot wrong with it, despite that very careful attention to its detail.

The three-month loophole may be the most glaring omission, but the clause which was added to the 1981 Act in your Lordships' House dealing with marine nature reserves, and which was amended in another place, has also proved to be deficient, because despite the intentions of the then Secretary of State, Michael Heseltine, to have a marine nature reserve within months, if not a shorter time, of the Act passing, since the Act was passed no marine nature reserve has been established. The procedures under the 1981 Act do not appear to be workable; and that is the advice, as I understand it, of the Government's statutory advisers, the Nature Conservancy Council, which has to try to implement the 1981 Act.

As I said earlier, the conservation bodies believe that there are a large number of amendments, many of them technical and minor, which need to be made to the 1981 Act but which have not been brought forward in this Bill for the reasons I have explained—the difficulty of getting a Private Member's Bill with too many clauses through Parliament.

The other clause which was deleted in another place—I am sure other noble Lords will mention it and so I will not spend any time on it—dealt with the duties of agriculture Ministers when it comes to conservation. I think that it is fair to say that, while the 1981 Act has focused attention on the protection of sites of special scientific interest and has gone a long way to change the atmosphere as far as they are concerned—the presumption now is that they should be protected, although unfortunately a few are still being destroyed—nevertheless in the wider countryside outside those sites problems have continued. I acknowledge the fact that the Ministry has done many things which would not have seemed possible in 1980. It has moved a long way, but I think that noble Lords on all sides of the House feel that it still has a long way to go. There may be some strong arguments which I hope we can look at in Committee for reinstating at least a version of the clause which was deleted in another place.

Because of the rushed passage of the Bill through another place, inevitably in the circumstances, and the concentration on one clause above the others I believe that it will be necessary for us to look at this Bill carefully as it goes through your Lordships' House. I think it is important that we do not run the risk of making the same mistake that was apparently made in 1981 with the main Act of leaving further loopholes and deficiencies in the drafting of the provisions in this Bill. I understand, for example, that the NCC has communicated to the Government its concern about further loopholes in the 1981 Act as they affect SSSIs. Noble Lords will know that the Nature Conservancy Council has recently lost two court cases where renotified SSSIs have been damaged or destroyed by farmers or landowners. It may be that, while we are plugging the loophole over proposed SSSIs, another loophole will need looking at in regard to all SSSIs which are renotified. I do not know what the implications of the court cases are but I hope that, if not now then at a further stage of the Bill, the Government will be able to tell us what advice they have received from the NCC on that matter.

While the Government have provided very considerable assistance in the drafting of the clauses in the Bill, I think the clauses need looking at from a drafting point of view. For example, I have had advice that Clause 4, affecting the duties of the Forestry Commission, may not be very well drafted and that the wording may not have great effect. I hope that is something we can examine when the Bill goes into Committee.

As I said earlier, this has been a difficult Session for Private Members' Bills in another place. However, if we stick to a timetable, and subject to the agreement of your Lordships' House, it will be possible to get this Bill through all its stages in your Lordships' House and back to another place by 5th July. As I understand it, that is the last day available, indeed the only day available, for the other place to consider amendments if they need to be made to the Bill here. We shall clearly need to weigh in the balance two opposing factors. One is the need to have the Bill on the statute book and not put it in jeopardy in another place and the other is the need to get the provisions right and not leave still further loopholes or create new loopholes in this important area of the law. I apologise for going into some detail about the process through which the Bill has been, but I think that is important. I hope it will set the scene for the debate and allow other noble Lords to concentrate on why we need the changes in the law which the Bill introduces.

As I have said, they are changes in the law which have very widespread support. I think it is probably the first time that a Bill dealing with wildlife and countryside issues, and in particular habitat protection (which has always been a most controversial area) has had the wholehearted and strong support of conservation organisations and farmers' and landowners' representatives. I hope your Lordships will feel that that is a welcome development and one which will therefore encourage your Lordships to give the Bill full support and a speedy passage. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Melchett.)

11.43 a.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, referred to the qualified welcome which this Bill has had in various quarters before coming to your Lordships' House. I rise from these Alliance Benches to give the Bill a qualified welcome.

At the end of the passage of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act a number of us forecast that within four or five years it would be essential to make some substantial amendments in order to rectify its very definite shortcomings. As one of the prophets, I cannot feel other than gratified that this Bill, albeit insufficiently, has fulfilled that forecast. In saying "insufficiently" and "qualified", I should like to say that I believe great credit is due to Dr. David Clark for bringing this Bill to another place and helping it to come through. I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for introducing it into your Lordships' House and for moving that it should receive a Second Reading.

In saying "insufficiently", I too acknowledge the realities in regard to the prospects of Private Members' Bills. I too was one of the signatories to a letter to Mr. Waldegrave last December, giving him our assurance that, given the need for urgent amendments to the principal Act, we should not seek to extend it beyond its content at Second Reading in another place, in order of course to enhance its prospects as a Private Member's Bill in the ocean of parliamentary business. However, I should like to stress this (and indeed to take up what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has just said): that is, that there are a number of other shortcomings in the 1981 Act which remain to be dealt with. They were highlighted last January in the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment, which examined the effectiveness and operation of the 1981 Act. They also found expression in some 30 recommendations by the Countryside Commission in its report on the uplands last year.

For reasons which we all understand, very few of the recommendations of either of those important bodies find expression in the Bill now before us. I should call them unfinished business, which I shall not dwell on now, save in one respect: that is, Clause 4 in the Bill as it was presented by Dr. Clark in another place, the clause to which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has referred. That clause dealt with the duties of the agriculture Minister (and of course the Secretary of State for Wales) to further conservation and the protection of the countryside. That was in particular through his grant-aiding policies, his advisory service to farmers and in fulfilling the policies of the common agricultural policy. As your Lordships have been informed, that clause has been removed from the Bill in another place.

It is the contention of those of us on these Benches that it should be reinstated. I shall not go into the arguments now beyond saying that we on these Benches would be prepared to move or to support an amendment to that effect when the Bill, as we hope it will, reaches the Committee stage. We see that clause, without going into its detail, as a useful marker and a statutory marker, a reminder of the need to give greater recognition and importance to the scenic, scientific and recreational values of the countryside in overall policies and patterns of rural land use.

It is significant that the National Farmers' Union should favour the reinstatement of Clause 4 as it was. I think that at this point in my speech it is worth making a reference to what it said: The NFU believes that in principle this proposal"— that is what was contained in Clause 4— would impose a not unreasonable duty on the Minister, and could encourage a continued commitment to the environment within agricultural policy". I think that is particularly significant and very helpful at this particular stage. When the Minister comes to reply perhaps he will explain why such a laudable, not incompatible and innocuous a duty should not be laid on his right honourable friend in this Bill.

Of course I am aware of the difficulties of the Government in regard to the timing of a statutory commitment of this kind. I am aware that there are a number of moves in the desired direction which can be said to be in the pipeline. I also welcome MAFF's initiatives in a number of directions, which we see as being most constructive: that is, in their survey of farmers' attitudes towards environmental matters and in issuing a consultation paper to farmers on designating environmentally sensitive areas for farming along traditional lines. These are just a few examples. I should like also to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the Minister's noble friend Lord Belstead for his efforts and skill in the recent negotiations among his colleagues in Brussels on the agricultural structures directives amendment.

I have noted also the very positive attitude of the United Kingdom Commissioner to Brussels, Mr. Clinton Davis, in a letter to The Times on 5th February. From that letter it is quite clear that we have a very firm and valuable ally at court. I should like to remind the House that the Agriculture and Environment Sub-committee of your Lordships' Select Committee on EEC legislation, in the final paragraph of their report on the proposed draft regulation to replace the agricultural structures directives, said this: Her Majesty's Government must not wait for a lead from the Community. They can, and should, take their own initiative. The care of the countryside in the United Kingdom is first and foremost a national responsibility". That challenge is relevant to the proposition that the former clause, Clause 4 in Dr. Clark's Bill, should be reinstated.

As to the other clauses in the Bill which have been most adequately described by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, we on these Benches give a general welcome to Clauses 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. The only one to which I would make any reference is Clause 1, to make it abundantly clear, if that is necessary from these Benches, that we attach enormous importance to the protection of badgers. Of course we would be prepared to consider any amendments that might strengthen or improve any of those clauses. We regret the omission of the former Clause 3 which related to marine nature reserves. Again, we would be prepared to consider sympathetically supporting amendments to reinstate that clause at Committeé stage.

In conclusion, I would say that this is a modest but valuable Bill. It may serve as an acknowledgment of the mounting public concern to protect wildlife in the rural environment, and it should be seen as a harbinger of further measures towards that end.

11.50 a.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, as I understand it, the main purpose of the Bill is to close the so-called loophole in Section 28 of the 1981 Act, although there have been very few cases of this loophole being exploited by farmers. Only a tiny minority affected by Section 28 did, in fact, exploit the loophole. To that extent, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that it is a very serious problem. However, I fully accept that this loophole should be closed because of those, shall I say, rogue farmers, who have exploited it. But I must say and impress upon the House that it was a very small number.

Your Lordships will note, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has pointed out, that the Bill now contains other provisions, particularly Clause 1, which will make the digging and therefore the consequential baiting of badgers more difficult without, I hope, causing me to be locked up for having a rather unruly set of terriers that are totally undisciplined and which go off chasing when I tell them not to. I congratulate those who have framed the clause and got it into a position where all agree. I hope very much that it will remain in the Bill as it stands.

My main objective will be to ensure that this Bill becomes law—the same objective that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has. It is with that overriding consideration that I shall consider the merits of whether a further duty should be placed on the Ministry of Agriculture to further conservation, which was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or indeed whether any other provision should be added to the Bill. I hope sincerely that the Committee stage and the Second Reading of the Bill will not be so contentious and long winded as a certain other Bill which is going through your Lordships' House at the moment.

I shall oppose any amendment that I think would put this Bill at risk. I shall oppose any amendment if it is semantic. But I shall support any amendment if the movers can convince me that it would further the constructive dialogue now being seen between farmer, Ministry of Agriculture and conservationist, if I can separate all three, which I do not like doing anyhow. Although I know that the great majority of farmers are conservationists—the country would not be like it is today if they were not—I would suggest to your Lordships that there has been a remarkable change, as pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Hunt, in co-operation between these three parties since, I suggest, the passing of the 1981 Act, which does that Act considerable credit. I would not wish to see your Lordships put any amendment into this Bill to upset that progress. I have therefore—I promise I do—a completely open mind towards any amendment.

11.54 a.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, all my life I have been greatly interested in questions of wildlife and the countryside. So, when this Bill came forward, I studied with great care the report of the Environment Committee of another place and the debates on the Bill in another place. Despite what that Environment Committee said, I have some doubts about the voluntary approach which is enshrined in the 1981 Act, both on principle, as it seems to be wrong to treat one section of the community differently from another, and also because of the vast expense that may be entailed. For instance, the county of Suffolk has reckoned that to carry out the provisions of compensation will cost between £6 million and £8 million a year in Suffolk alone. Apart from that I was greatly impressed by the strength and unanimity of the view in another place among all shades of opinion, including some farmers. Everyone seemed agreed, as did responsible bodies outside Parliament, that the Wildlife and Countryside Act should be built on and improved.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has put eloquently and moderately the case for the Bill now before your Lordships. I was greatly impressed by the enormous care taken by Dr. Clark in particular to obtain a consensus which I think he successfully did. I noted that there was a good deal of dismay, which I share, at the Government's somewhat negative line, first in not providing Government time for a Bill of this sort, and secondly in weakening the Bill in Committee in another place by striking out the clause about marine reserves; and, above all, by striking out the clause extending the duty of agriculture Ministers to further conservation to protect the countryside.

On the general question, I am sure that no one has any wish to go back to the 1930s. I remember as a child seeing abandoned and empty farms and the desolation in the countryside of that period. There is no doubt in anyone's mind about the importance of a flourishing agriculture. But things have, I think, gone too far and become out of balance. All that we have been interested in has been agricultural production at any price. Farmers are especially privileged people. They do not pay rates. They have very substantial grants and subsidies, guaranteed prices, their own tame ministry. Indeed, it was pointed out during the miners' strike that the farmers already have what Mr. Scargill tried and failed to get; namely, uneconomic farmers kept going by Government support.

A recent sad development has been increasing public criticism of farmers. In my experience, this is quite new. It has come about I think because of the destruction of so many hedges and trees, straw burning, the spreading of dangerous chemicals on the land and damage to the environment despite the privileges that farmers are given. There is a need for all of us to recognise the immense extent of the catastrophe that has taken place in the countryside in the past 35 to 40 years, the years since the Second World War. One hundred and fifty thousand miles of hedgerows have disappeared and many are still disappearing for lack of upkeep. I saw in Yorkshire the other day a great many hedges shaved off 2½ feet or so above the ground and which had great gaps in them. Clearly, they will disappear altogether in the next few years. Ninety five per cent. of our lowland meadows have gone, half our lowland heaths, half the fenlands, a third to a half of our ancient woodlands and a quarter of our upland heaths and grassland. All these have gone. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Environment, Mr. William Waldegrave, has said: I believe that the damage which has been done is a matter for acute concern". There are also additional hazards today. The Welsh Water Authority in evidence to your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities, which, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow studied agriculture and the environment, said: Pollution by farm wastes is increasing in importance and is by far the most serious pollution problem". Wildlife is becoming increasingly vulnerable. It used to be spread across the countryside altogether, but now it is increasingly concentrated in a few areas. For example, when I was a boy the snipe was a common bird and I could find snipe nests in any water meadow. Now, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds calculates there are only 2,000 breeding pairs of snipe left in certain concentrated areas, so the snipe has become an uncommon bird.

In my part of Wales, peregrines have tried to make a comeback after the banning of DDT, but are subject to the ravages of egg collectors. This year has been the worst year ever for the nesting of the red kite in mid-Wales, because eight clutches—about one third of the total—have been stolen by egg collectors. Therefore, I support the call by the Nature Conservancy Council for more stringent penalties for those who steal the eggs of rare birds. The present penalties do not, I am afraid, adequately deter.

Modern intensive farming methods have resulted in converting parts of our once beautiful and rich countryside into the dismal prairies seen today in East Anglia, East Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for giving way. Would he acknowledge that during the war East Yorkshire, to which he referred, was used as a training area by no less than five armoured divisions? The noble Lord mentioned hedges, but under those circumstances is it not remarkable that there are any hedges left at all?

Lord Moran

My Lords, the point I was going to make is a little different.

A noble Lord

That was 40 years ago.

Lord Moran

My Lords, when we come to the reasons for the catastrophe suffered, the chief scientist of the Government's advisory body, the Nature Conservancy Council, has described them first as the "reclaiming", as it is called, of semi-natural or natural habitats into cultivation; secondly, new high input/high output methods have left ever less room for other living things beyond crop plants and thirdly, forestry is spreading ever-increasing swathes of conifer plantations across the hills. Incidentally, these alien conifers have produced a new hazard. The Welsh Water Authority told your Lordships' Select Committee that through afforestation with conifers over relatively large areas of upland, West and North Wales is now implicated in serious water quality problems and the reduction in fish populations in the headwaters of several important rivers. There are no more trout or dippers in the Upper lrfon, which once had many. There still are trout and dippers in rivers which, in mid-Wales, do not flow through conifer plantations.

I think chemical manufacturers must take a large share of the blame. They have large resources and should know better. Agricultural chemicals are poured on the land in ever-increasing quantities. There is said to be three times as much going on the land now as there was only four years ago. They are doing serious damage. We must look to the Government to rein this back.

I think the farmers are only in part to blame. Naturally, like anyone else, they respond to economic conditions. The damage has been caused, I believe, mainly by a system of state subsidies devised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which, until very recently, ignored environmental features and concentrated only on food production, despite the fact that many products are now in embarrassing surplus.

The chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council has stated: The financial structure of agriculture is hostile to nature conservation". The responsible Government Minister, Mr. Waldegrave, said: The important thing for the majority of the countryside is to get the basic balance of agricultural and other land incentives right so that the engine of destruction is removed. No one could put it better.

Mid-Wales, where I live, has happily been immune from the horrors of prairie farming but it has its own special grant-induced damage—to farm roads. This was a point made by the Prince of Wales's Committee—

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is rambling incredibly wide of this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett said, this Bill is narrow. I think we honestly want to get on with discussing the merits of the Bill rather than the general damage, which admittedly has been done, and most people now accept that something has got to be done about it. I also want some lunch!

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am indeed going to make some specific comments about the Bill, but it is absolutely essential to consider the background against which we are dealing with it and the fact that the Government have taken out from the Bill certain very important provisions which are very relevant to what I have been saying.

Both the environment committee of another place and your Lordships' Select Committee mentioned the strong criticisms of the Ministry of Agriculture which they had encountered. Even the National Farmers' Union seemed to think that a process of re-education was needed. Clearly, there has been some improvement lately and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has played a notable part personally in bringing about some of these improvements. The cosmetic measures such as the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Groups, the Environment Co-ordination Committee, changes in ADAS, grants for hedging and stone walls and the encouragement to plant tip odd corners are all good in themselves, but they are not enough; any more than the Forestry Commission planting of a few broadleaved trees around the serried ranks of sitka spruce is enough.

What is needed is a fundamental rectification of the balance towards preserving the countryside and making good some of the damage done since the Second World War. To this end, it is only common sense that the Government should accept the obligation that the water authorities already have to take account of conservation and the environment. It is important that the Ministry of Agriculture should be required to take environmental matters into account, which they have failed to do in the past.

I am surprised and concerned that the Government should have rejected two versions of a clause to this effect, both of which were supported by the National Farmers' Union. Of course we need good farming, but as the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council put it, "without using these high production methods so destructive to nature". Ideally, I believe we should have selective planning controls on the more damaging major operations. Failing that, we need a grant system which takes far more account of environmental considerations. As the Select Committee put it: As an element of the improvement of farming, care of the environment should have comparable status with the production of food. This should not be a party matter or the occasion for controversy. The Bill started out as a consensus Bill, and I regret very much that the Government cut it back so drastically in another place. Since the NFU agreed to the balanced clause putting the environmental questions within the duties of the MAFF, why cannot the Government agree to it? I cannot think it is sensible not to put in this clause. I believe there is enormous support in the country for it. It is unfair to leave farmers exposed to criticism as they are because of the ministry's hitherto rather one-sided policies. What is needed is a signal that the Government are now determined to halt and reverse the damage to the environment.

So, my Lords, I hope very much that when this Bill comes to Committee the Government will be prepared to think again at any rate about the clause on the duties of the agriculture Ministers and to reinstate something on the lines originally proposed. I am glad that the noble Lord replying for the Government is himself president of two important nature trusts. I hope that means he is on the side of the angels and that we can count on his help.

12.10 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I can entirely understand the impatience of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow; on the other hand, I, personally, should like most warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on an extremely well-informed and very thoughtful speech. Those of us who over many years have taken an interest in these matters very much welcome a most enlightened and, if I may say so, distinguished new recruit. Equally, I recognise that when one is dealing with a Private Member's Bill one must resist the temptation to press for the best, which can in these circumstances often be the enemy of the good.

A Private Member's Bill is a fairly frail barque. If it becomes over-loaded, it is in danger of sinking. This, of course, puts those of us who were active in the proceedings on the main Act of 1981 in a difficulty because, as my noble friend Lord Melchett said in his introduction to this debate on Second Reading, those of us who prophesied that that Bill was by no means perfect have been proved correct. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also emphasised that point.

There are a number of areas in which we would seek improvement. I repeat that we must nevertheless restrain ourselves because of the political circumstances of Private Members' legislation. I should like to add my thanks to Dr. David Clark in another place for his tremendous efforts to obtain as broad a basis of agreement and, if not full support for, at least acquiescence in, what he was endeavouring to do. I, too, was one of the signatories of the letter of renunciation, as I suppose one might call it, of all the other matters that we should like to have seen included in the Bill.

With those preliminary comments, I should like to confine my remarks to the two matters which are not in the Bill, or which, at least, are no longer in the Bill. Reference has already been made to the attitude of the Government in striking out the original clause and then striking out the balanced amendment during the Committee stage in another place because apparently they are frightened of taking any responsibility in the Ministry of Agriculture for the preservation of our national rural heritage. I cannot understand this pusillanimity. Originally, I was not so much perturbed about the dropping of the clause because I thought that perhaps it had been regarded as purely exhortatory and as such not of very great account. However, there is no doubt whatever that the fact that the clause has been dropped from the Bill and the fact that the proposed amendment has also been rejected by Her Majesty's Government is an indication that many interests in the country considered that this was an important negative action on the part of the Government. Reference has already been made to the fact that the National Farmers' Union has accepted that the principle proposed would impose a not unreasonable duty on the Minister and could encourage a continued commitment to the environment within agricultural policy. What is wrong with that?

I am further puzzled by a reference in Chapter 7 of a recent document which emanated from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and which was presented to Parliament by the Minister by command of Her Majesty in March this year. I am referring to the report on Financing and Administration of Land Drainage, Flood Prevention and Coast Protection in England and Wales. If your Lordships will study the chapter headed "Ministerial Responsibility", you will see that in the section headed, Government Powers to call Public Inquiries into Land Drainage matters", (but the principle would be the same in other areas), it refers to a limited area of that responsiblity. In that section it appears that possibly the officials in the department who drafted the report have gone rather ahead of their Ministers in responsibility and courage, because they say: In deciding whether or not a public inquiry should be held, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods acts on behalf of the Government as a whole. Whenever environmental issues are involved he consults, and acts in agreement with, the Secretary of State for the Environment. Moreover"— and this is the key sentence— both Ministers have a duty to further conservation and enhancement of the countryside when discharging their functions". This appears in a Command Paper presented by the Minister of Agriculture to Parliament. Why, therefore, did Ministers in another place—and I hope ultimately not Ministers in this House—reject the original proposition in the Bill that this responsibility, which is a very reasonable one, should be openly accepted? I shall not labour the point further, but I should be very interested to know who passed this Command Paper with that phrase in it if it is not now to be supported by the Minister who presented the paper to Parliament.

The other part of the Bill which was deleted in another place concerns a subject with which a number of us were much concerned—namely, the marine nature reserves, which were included in the 1981 legislation. I have an interest in the Marine Conservation Society, and we are deeply distressed at the inefficency of the provisions of the 1981 Act. We were delighted when that particular section was ultimately included. But what has happened? Again, as other noble Lords have done, I refer Members of the House to the report of the Environment Committee of another place, which was presided over by Sir Hugh Rossi, and in particular to paragraphs 71 and 72 of that report, in which the committee expresses in the most specific terms its disappointment at the failure to create a single marine nature reserve in the period which has elapsed since the passing of the 1981 legislation. In its report it states very clearly why this state of affairs has come about. It says that there is an impasse in terms of further development in terms of marine nature reserves. Then the committee says: The central problem, it was generally agreed by witnesses, stems from 'the fact that although the legislation confers byelaw-making powers on NCC' "— which is the statutory body involved— 'it restricts them to functions which are not already the responsibility of other byelaw-making authorities'". This provision has entirely stultified the intention of the House that in appropriate circumstances marine nature reserves should be created.

The primary difficulty is with the sea fisheries committees—and I refer to the analysis of the objections of the Marine Conservation Society. If any of your Lordships are interested in the matter, I am sure that the society would be more than happy to communicate with you. The society has supplied some of us with art analysis of the situation in regard to fisheries in the seven proposed sites for marine nature reserves, not one of which has made any progress or is likely to make progress unless some support is forthcoming from the Government, preferably by the reinstatement of the marine nature reserves clause in this Bill as it passes through this House.

I am particularly interested because, of the reserves, there are in Wales those at the Menai Strait, Bardsey Island, and Skomer; and I suppose we have a half interest in Lundy, as it is in the middle of the Bristol Channel. In none of the proposed areas except possibly one Loch Sween, is there any real conflict between commercial fishing interests and the proposal to establish marine nature reserves, because in these islands, or straits, it has been made clear by the Nature Conservancy Council that there is no occasion to disturb what they call the static fishing; that is to say, lobster pots, and that sort of installation.

There is some doubt about dredging for scallops and such like. This is not the moment to go into too much detail, but all I would say is that really the Sea Fisheries Committee, it appears to me, are becoming almost hysterical about something which, so far as one can judge, is a non-problem. Problems may well arise in the future when one has developments of commercial marine fish farming in certain areas, but if that is so, one obviously does not select those particular sites for marine nature reserves.

However, in the ones which have been proposed no progress has been made, no progress appears likely, and it seems to many of us who are concerned with the marine environment that it was most regrettable that the Government not only secured the deletion of the clause but even altered the Long Title of the Bill to make it more difficult to reinsert this particular provision.

I feel that most of the important work that will have to be done on this Bill will take place at Committee stage and so I shall not pursue matters further. But I should like to express the hope that those of us who are much concerned with these matters will give the Bill a fair hearing today—I have little doubt about that—and that when we come to the later stages we shall endeavour to improve it in the two substantial areas to which I have made reference.

12.23 p.m.

Lord Middleton

My Lords, I, too, welcome the initiative which led to the promotion of this Bill in another place, especially for what it seeks to achieve by Clause 2. I confess that I find Clause 2 extremely difficult to interpret, but the fact that it has been drafted at the behest of the DoE is proof that the Government are fully aware of the need to give better protection to sites of special scientific interest.

We discussed the loopholes in the 1981 Act when we debated my noble friend Lord Onslow's Question on 12th June last year. I remember saying then that it was inexcusable that any owner or occupier of land should take advantage of the three-month notification period so as to damage the scientific interest in any SSSI. I remember, too, during my presidency of the CLA going around the country and telling farmers that any such action would be totally contrary to the spirit of the 1981 Act and that if it did occur, the public would not stand for it and would demand stricter controls over land. At the least the Act would require to be strengthened. As we have heard, damage has been done. I regret the necessity for Clause 2, but it is abundantly clear that we must have it.

The other weakness in the 1981 legislation lay in its failure to allow the Nature Conservancy Council to act quickly and decisively when a Section 29 order was required to protect a sensitive site. I understand that Clause 2, as it is drafted, has the effect of covering both gaps in the Act, and if that is the case, I welcome it wholeheartedly.

Whatever may be said about this House, your Lordships can never be accused of being unkind to badgers. The 1973 Act is still fresh in our minds, and of course badgers received further protection in the 1981 Act as well. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has assured us, it is necessary yet again to introduce badger legislation in order to nail those people who dig up badgers and bait them with dogs, Clause 1 must be welcomed.

In passing, I think one must raise an eyebrow, as it were, at the shift in the burden of proof embodied in this clause. But I believe that a great deal of work has been done in the wording of Clause 1 as it now stands in the Bill. The clause is drafted in a form that has received the greatest measure of agreement, after much deliberation, and I am sure that that fact will be taken into account by your Lordships at the Committee stage.

I have listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, but I am far from clear why we need to have Clause 3. Speaking from memory, I thought that when we discussed the protection of moorland during the passage of the 1981 Bill we laid a duty on planning authorities to map their moor and heath land in national parks in order to remove any doubt as to what land was to receive special protection. In providing against the erosion of moorland we had to be clear precisely which areas came into that category.

Clause 3 of this Bill lays a duty on the planning authorities to map virtually all the other types of topographical features as well. It is my belief that national parks are well mapped already, and I wonder therefore what the promoters of the Bill have in mind by having this additional requirement embodied in legislation. In Committee we may have to consider the word "down" in subsection (5) in case there is a definition problem.

I believe that the Forestry Commission deserves great credit for what it has for some time been doing in the interests of conservation and for its enhancement of the public's enjoyment of the national forests. The lessons of bad landscaping of new plantations are well learned now by both the Forestry Commission and private woodland owners. I cannot seriously quarrel with Clause 4, but I wonder whether it is needed.

As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has reminded us, during the passage of the 1981 Bill in this House we looked at between 600 and 700 amendments. I hope that this Bill will not be thought of as a vehicle for furthering a multitude of conservation projects, however worthy. I am reassured by Lord Melchett's undertaking in this respect. The necessity for an early enactment of Clause 2 is so great that this Bill should not be put into any danger by seeking to widen its scope. I fully agree with my noble friend Lord Stanley on this.

There are certain other provisions which noble Lords will have in mind. Other noble Lords and the noble Baroness just now have referred to them. They were discussed in another place, and I am sure that they will get a full airing in Committee. We need to exert a degree of self-discipline in order to avoid any possibility that the enactment of this Bill is put at risk.

12.29 p.m.

Lord Tryon

My Lords, it is good to see this reunion of some of the veterans of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It hardly seems like four years since we sat here late one night, at the end of a long and contentious process, saying kind things about each other on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. However, I hope that this little Bill, unlike what Lord Melchett calls its parent, will have a much speedier and less contentious passage. I see it as a good little Bill which should in general commend itself to almost anyone who is not a badger digger, a deliberate despoiler of the countryside or a believer in big, ugly blocks of conifer forest. Fortunately, these three species are so out of tune with public opinion that I hope we can disregard that in the general interest. I have a few words to say on the four clauses, but I shall be brief because I have no doubt that many noble Lords like myself wish to go to enjoy the beauties of the countryside in May on a very fine day.

Clause 1, as we have heard from several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has been most heavily debated in another place and seems to me now to be a well-balanced answer to the problem of separating those who legitimately have to dig for foxes and those who, quite beyond my comprehension, have sinister designs on badgers. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, described them as wicked men: indeed they are, they are quite beyond contempt.

Clause 2 covers ground that was much argued on the 1981 Act. My only comment is a slightly churlish one that it is indeed a pity that we could not persuade the Government to get it right at that stage. However, there is support for this Bill and one must be thankful for the late repentance.

Clause 4 seems wholly commendable. My only comment is to ask Lord Melchett what steps will be taken to monitor its observance—this seems to be a slightly tricky point to which we shall probably return later—not only on new planting and re-planting by the Forestry Commission, but in the improvements that this seeks to make to existing forests. That is as I read the Bill.

Finally I have had my disagreements in the past with the noble Lords, Lord Stanley of Alderley and Lord Melchett, on these sorts of matters, but today we seem to be completely as one. One this occasion I too shall do nothing to rock the frail barque, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, called it, or indeed to overload it. Unlike other noble Lords, I have not signed this letter agreeing not to put up any amendments, but I shall certainly give Lord Melchett my word that I shall not do so. I shall also seek with Lord Stanley to oppose any amendments which seem to widen the scope of the Bill to the extent of imperilling its reaching the statute book. I have the greatest sympathy for those who would like to tack on other things, but they should remember the wise old phrase that half a loaf is much better than starving.

12.34 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady White, spoke with great authority on marine reserves, and gave the views of the Select Committee. I shall not repeat anything that she has told the House. I should like to make some comments of my own about the clause that was deleted. The Minister did not like the clause. It had a two-year loophole. We are now sitting here trying to close a three-month loophole. I too did not like the clause that was taken out. The clause was removed only after the Minister had done three things: he had admitted that there had been some delays in starting marine reserves on the part of the NCC. He had held out hopes of an early settlement of at least two reserves and he had undertaken that, to repeat his own words, if all came to naught he and MAFF would come back to the question.

Looking back over the past few years, your Lordships may agree that there has been a great disregard for the wishes of Parliament as expressed in the 1981 Act. What has gone wrong? At the Committee stage on the 1981 Act your Lordships agreed with an amendment I put down to make marine reserves into SSSIs. I withdrew that amendment because the Minister said it would not work. Whether it would have worked we shall never know, but the Government promised to put down something else, which they did. The provisions therefore were drafted by the department itself: provisions which have not worked properly. They are provisions which, as the Select Committee believes, will perhaps never work properly and have left us, a maritime nation, already trailing behind the rest of the world. Over the past year there has been pressure for change.

In July 1984 the whole question of the lack of conservation co-ordination below the low water mark was discussed by the all-party conservation committee of both Houses of Parliament and in the context of world conservation strategy of which these marine reserves were part. In this wide context marine nature reserves were an outstanding and specific case in point. A resolution was passed at that meeting and I was requested to write to the Prime Minister and specifically refer to marine nature reserves. On 29th August last year the Prime Minister replied saying that she had asked the Secretaries of State for the Environment, for Wales and for Scotland together with the chairmen of the NCC and the two Countryside Commissions to have a meeting on the world conservation strategy. She had sent my letter to them to add to the agenda. That was eight months ago.

What has happened? As I am told, on 14th March officials of the departments concerned and directors, not chairmen, of the three bodies had a meeting to try to draw up an agenda for the Ministers' meeting. The meeting has not yet taken place after eight months and they hope to have it fairly soon. There is no sense of urgency there.

I said I did not like the clause that was taken out at Committee stage so I have to offer an alternative. Last year I submitted a paper to those who will no doubt attend the meeting which has not yet taken place. In it I offered a possible solution. The beginning of this was the asking of a Question in another place on 8th June 1976 to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Callaghan, on the development of a co-ordinated policy on the use of the sea and the seabed. The direct concern at the time was not marine reserves—we were not worried about them—but the health and safety of oil and gas exploration workers.

In the wider context, what happened after that Question was that there was a departmental committee which submitted a quite long report but achieved nothing—I repeat "nothing"—but a list of names and addresses of departments concerned with matters below the high water mark. But there was also a much more important point, breaking entirely new ground, an amendment by an Order in Council of the Health and Safety at Work Act giving the Health and Safety Commission overriding powers in this matter of their duties over all other authorities below the high water mark. The reference is Statutory Instrument 1977 No. 1232.

Now we have one Ministry with powers over all other Ministries in carrying out this duty. If that was done in 1976 there seems no reason at all why in relation to the authorities affected by marine reserves the Department of the Environment should not have similar overriding powers. That is my view. I shall not put down an amendment as it would be—using the words of the noble Baroness, Lady White, in the letter of renunciation—beyond the agreed terms.

Baroness White

My Lords, with respect to my noble friend—and on this occassion I may call him my noble friend—the renunciation applied only to things which were additional to the Bill as it was read on Second Reading in another place, which then included a clause about marine nature reserves.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I wish the noble Baroness was right, but I have read it most carefully. In making these kinds of agreements with Ministers we have to be very careful. This would be wider than the Bill as approved by another place on Second Reading, so I should not care to take that on.

While I am now speaking, I ask the Minister to repeat the pledges given in another place and to tell us that following those pledges and following the Prime Minister's request of which I have now told the House, he will undertake to take steps now to get this problem solved once and for all. Finally, I am told that it may be possible that a major reason for delay is that the department does not want to upset the local people. That was the reason for the three-months' loophole. It did not want to upset certain people. This is a quite mistaken idea. I believe that acceptance of marine reserves is a selling job. There will not be many of them. But if they were properly put over, properly presented, local people would be proud to have a marine reserve in their area and would co-operate with the visitors and appreciate the prosperity it would bring. All that is needed is something such as I have suggested: proper powers given to the Department of the Environment.

12.42 p.m.

Lord Margadale

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Craigton will forgive me if I do not follow him in his speech at this juncture. I do not know the contents of his letter and I do not know enough about maritime matters to comment properly. I should like to say that I heartily support and agree with the speeches made by my noble friends Lord Stanley of Alderley, Lord Middleton and Lord Tryon. I should like to comment—but I think that it is outside the scope of this Bill—on some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I shall refrain from doing so except to say that in regard to the elimination of what I call "hedges" and what the modern generation now call "habitats", there are in my part of the world very few and it looks as though that could be so in the part of the world inhabited by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I am old enough to remember the first Lord Melchett, the noble Lord's great-grandfather, I think, who did a wonderful job in industry.

I understand that this Bill, coming from another place, was propagated by Dr. Clark whom I do not know personally but to whom I should like to add my congratulations for getting his Bill so far and in this House at the present time. He must have been very patient, as has been said already. A great deal of discussion took place between Members on all sides of the House, as I understand it, helped on occasion by members of the Civil Service and Ministers. The outcome of that is what we see today.

First of all, I should like to say a word or two about the badger, which is already a protected animal and has been included in two Bills before this one, as has been stated. It is now more protected and there is more likelihood of a miscreant or a dog being apprehended; although it has changed the sense of the law in that the person who is accused now has to prove his innocence, rather than the traditional British way where he has to be proved guilty. I am not sure that I really approve of that; but in view of the assurances by the Minister in another place I accept it in the interests of an agreed Bill. There is no doubt that illegal badger diggers would be more likely to be convicted under these proposals. I have read the various briefs from the bodies who send one briefs—the county councils, the County Landowners' Association and the CPRE—which include a number of small points which seem to have been carried out more or less to their satisfaction; so there is no great criticism.

In another place the Minister made it clear that if Members tried to raise too many points Her Majesty's Government might withdraw their support for the Bill. I personally give it my support. I particularly want to point out that the CPRE (the Council for the Preservation of Rural England) said that it represents an agreed passage of agreed reforms which is practical, sensible, and stands a real chance of being implemented. I hope very much that it will be so without too much tinkering later during its passage through the House.

12.45 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I too should like to endorse the words of congratulation that have come from several parts of your Lordships' House to Dr. Clark in another place for his courage, skill and perseverance in sponsoring and conducting this Bill through all its hazards in another place. He was perhaps too bold to believe that his original Bill, with its wide scope for controversial issues, would be a suitable one for introduction under the Private Members' Bill procedure, but I am myself delighted that he took a chance. It nearly came to grief but I think we can all feel satisfied that the Bill as it has arrived in your Lordships' House is worth going on with. We should safeguard its prospects of being passed into law.

This is not the time or the occasion to criticise the Private Member's Bill procedure, but I hope that one day something better will be made of it than we have at present. We are now reaching the time of year when we shall hear the warning: "If you go on, if you want to debate this Bill at length, if you want to amend it in material respects, you run the risk of losing the Bill altogether; because if it is sent back to another place it will have to join with a crowd of anguished Members of another place all hoping to get their Bills through the final sieve". That is the day of the slaughter of the innocents, the day to commemorate the waste of hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money in debating, in recording, in writing, in printing and in distributing pieces of paper which come to naught. I think that in these days of efficiency, when we are telling everybody to put their houses in order, there is a very big House here that needs to be put in order. That is one of the aspects that requires attention.

I would say only one more word. So far as I personally am concerned, during the period of the Labour Government I was glad to be part of an agreement with Prime Minister Wilson that, in the interests of the repute of Parliament, no Private Member's Bill that got a Second Reading under its own steam and was on a matter of topical interest or concern should fail for lack of time. We stuck to that, and that is why some quite controversial Bills passed into law during that period when the mischief of obstruction and the talking out of Bills, which we have seen happening in another place as recently as in the last two weeks, could finally kill a Bill. That is all I have to say on that.

The second thing I want to say on the Bill as a whole is that we must pay regard to the jeopardy it will be in if we change it substantially. I think that the only hope the Bill has of becoming law, if it has to go back to another place, will be if we have the support of Her Majesty's Government in making changes. Not even that would ensure it, but at least it would reduce the risk. Personally I believe that the only safe thing to do with this Bill is to pass it as it stands and send it off for Royal Assent without any further palaver. I think that the steps we are taking in several directions here justify disregarding the opportunities we might otherwise wish to take of improving the Bill, and let it go on.

However, before I come to my main point on badgers, I wish to add my congratulations to those expressed by my noble friend Lady White to the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I witnessed the anguish on the faces of noble Lords opposite as he was speaking. They were having a most uncomfortable time, and one noble Lord interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Moran, to suggest that he was going far too wide of the Bill. Happily, in your Lordships' House we are given a great deal of latitude and sometimes notable speeches can be made, as we heard this morning, within the wider limits of debate and order that we have in your Lordships' House. I enjoyed hearing from the noble Lord so many things that I firmly believe to be true, and I am sure that must go for other Members of your Lordships' House, too. One day when we are debating agriculture I think we ought to try to sort out more candidly than ever before this complicated relationship between agricultural activity and production and conservation. It is becoming more and more important and we ought to face it very squarely indeed, because at present public interest is aroused on both issues: over-production of agriculture and the continued destruction of our environment and countryside.

I now come to Clause 1, and this is the only clause I shall now refer to. Here I think that noble Lords on both sides of the House have recognised that the formula set out in Clause 1 is the result of an enormous amount of discussion, consideration and mutual accommodation. This is where the Bill almost came unstuck, and had Clause 1 appeared now as it appeared in Standing Committee in another place, it would have been a very different story in today's debate. Some of us would have had to say that if we could not improve Clause 1, we would have to seek to delete it altogether, because it would probably make the situation worse than it is now.

However, we have got to where we are, and it has taken quite a long time to get here. I must refer for a moment to the fact that on the 13th November last I introduced into your Lordships' House a short Bill, which is still waiting in the wings of Private Members' Bills, dealing with this same matter: badgers. When today's Second Reading is approved it will fall to me to rise and ask leave of the House to withdraw my own Bill. I hope that when I get up and do that there will be no misunderstanding about what I am asking to have withdrawn. It will be my own Bill, introduced in November of last year, which is now rendered unnecessary by Clause 1 of this Bill, and procedurally I must ask leave of the House to be rid of it.

There is no doubt that digging for badgers has become an increasing menace to the species up and down the country. The difficulty in getting convictions has become apparent where those accused have put forward the alibi that they were digging not for badgers but for foxes. There has been insufficient evidence to prove that they were telling lies. I think the new clause will make it more likely that in genuine cases where the accused were digging for badgers a conviction will follow. None of us likes in any Act of Parliament a provision which deals with an offence where the onus of proof of innocence is placed on the accused. The cardinal principle of our judicial system is that it is the prosecution which must prove guilt and that it must not be left to the accused to prove his innocence. But here we are dealing with very strong circumstantial evidence and in order to avoid a serious failure of the law to cope with a nuisance and a mischief which we want to stop we must take this slight risk with the principle upon which we usually conduct our judicial affairs. I have personally had a lot to do with the preparation of this clause and am very ready to leave it as it is and to congratulate all concerned on getting it as good as it is.

I should like to say a word about fox hunting in this connection. Your Lordships need not worry; I am not about to embark on a tirade against field sports or fox hunting. So nobody need get up and go out, and the smiles on the faces of noble Lords opposite can stay where they are. But I must refer to when I led a few of my friends in a deputation to the Home Secretary on 12th December last, and I shall quote from what Mr. David Mellor said at col. 1155 to the other place on 26th April 1985. He said: My right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that we would look favourably at any provision to tighten up the law on badgers, with only one caveat—that it should not be used as a stalking horse to make unlawful what was legitimate field sport. Provided that that distinction could be maintained, my right hon. and learned Friend was wholly in favour of making these changes".—[Official Report.] That is really what started the whole thing off. I introduced my Bill the very next day; and when Dr. David Clark was successful in the ballot and decided on his Bill the chance of getting it through was stronger if he could include such a provision and not leave me to wade my way through the Private Member's Bill procedure starting in your Lordships' House. We have kept to that. But I should like to make one plea. It is that those who indulge in fox hunting ought to look rather more closely now at the practice of stopping up and digging out.

Half the trouble here in connection with badgers is that when you catch people with the equipment and the dogs and you are pretty certain what they are up to, they say, "I wouldn't know a badger's sett if I saw it; I am after foxes". There is a badger's sett in close proximity, but they say they were digging for foxes. Unless there is some strong circumstantial evidence, very often they get away with it.

In a recent case it took an awful lot to get a conviction of some men who went from Burton-on-Trent to Glamorgan with all the paraphernalia and apparatus for badger digging but who swore when they were charged in Glamorgan that they had gone there to dig for foxes. It was more than the court could stand that men should drive all that distance from Burton-on-Trent to Glamorgan to dig for foxes. They concluded on the circumstantial evidence of the case that they were digging for badgers. You cannot always catch people who come 120 miles or 150 miles to dig for foxes. They might have come only two miles. When they come only a few miles it is not so easy to prove that they are telling lies.

Why is it that this is dangerous from the point of view of badgers? The digging for foxes is very often the work of the foxhunt. The stopping-up of bolt-holes or the digging-out of foxes in the course of a hunt both have their hazards for the badger. Both at the present time, if genuinely undertaken in the course of hunting activities, will not be covered by this proviso. I think that it is up to the hunt to consider whether sportsmanship requires them to prevent the escape of animals who may find a bolt-hole or to dig them out if they have found one. It does not strike me as being part of "the sport of kings".

It is a rather low-down trick to play on the quarry in a hunt, to stop them getting away. Except in Ireland, we make it a condition of hare coursing that there must be an opportunity for the hare to escape. I just mention that. Is it necessary to do it? Cannot the badgers be left alone? I am told that about half the foxes that go into bolt-holes in the course of a hunt go down badger setts because they are more open and are probably more easily found. If digging takes place during the hunt, it is in many cases to get a fox out of a badger's sett.

That is all I have to say. I hope that this Bill goes forward with unimpeded progress and that some of the matters that need additional attention, as well as matters not in the Bill at all that need attention, may find an opportunity for consideration at some later time.

1.3 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I am very happy to give this Bill an unqualified reception. As a teenager I witnessed a badger dig. I was thoroughly disgusted by the injuries done to one of the terriers, and I have never witnessed one since. What I did not quite understand—and I was not informed—was that when the badger was uncovered he was taken out with a pair of tongs. I have since discovered why. The real agony of the badger starts after he is taken out with those tongs. When he is in his sett, he backs down to the end of the sett and has his rear part against the earth so that terriers cannot hurt him. The terriers can get hurt badly themselves. An old terrier will learn just to bark and not to go near the badger.

Badger-baiting is a most foul activity. Your Lordships will probably know that the badger is put into a pit. Then these insensitive louts put in a terrier and they put in a succession of terriers, and they bet. The badger is eventually torn to pieces. Another aspect of this which is appalling, and about which perhaps your Lordships probably do not know, is that when some of these terriers become valuable because they have won bouts against badgers, the badger's jaws will be broken so that he cannot unduly hurt the dog.

I speak from memory and from reading about the matter, but I thought that we had an Act of Parliament, the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which outlawed the baiting of any animal, whether it was a bull, a bear, a badger or whatever. If we have that law, why has it not been used? It must have been illegal the whole time to bait badgers.

I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, with regard to digging out foxes, because that is for another debate, if we have such a debate. That is done for quite a different reason. The fox is shot by the hunt using a humane killer when he is uncovered in the earth. One could just as well say that sending cattle and sheep to the slaughterhouse is cruel—no doubt it is.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley with regard to Clause 2. The loophole in the 1981 Act was taken advantage of, but only by a minority of farmers—quite a small minority. During the three-month period for the farmer to make up his mind, he could, if he was what my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley called a rogue, do destruction to the SSSI.

I turn now to Clause 4 and the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission have not been very satisfactory regarding the protection of flora and fauna, in enhancing the beauty of the countryside and all the other aspects of the clause. I rather doubt that the Forestry Commission will be made to abide by these new statutory duties. I think the commission have been extremely unsatisfactory with regard to flora and fauna. The commission plant huge areas of spruce. In planting spruce, especially Sitka spruce, one destroys everything under the canopy. The birds do not like it, and one could call it a complete cemetery for wildlife. It certainly is a cemetery for deer.

The Forestry Commission, especially in Scotland, shoot deer regardless of season and sex. They shoot them in the night and they shoot them the whole year round. I have known employees of the Forestry Commission, and I have seen them at it. I do not suppose the high-ups know, but they open the gates of the plantations so that the deer will go in and then they close the gates and slaughter them. I do not know whether that money goes to the Forestry Commission or to the employees, but it does happen.

I think that their attitude towards deer is appalling. Once the trees reach a certain height—12 feet—the deer can do hardly any damage to them. They may possibly damage trees when they are in velvet and rub their growing antlers against the bark. That might damage 1 per cent. of the trees in any area. Still, I sincerely hope that if this Bill becomes law the Government will be strict on the Forestry Commission in this respect.

Also, the Forestry Commission are bad at repairing its fences. I am talking now about the situation in the Western Highlands. The commission should be made to maintain its fences. In my experience, once trees have grown to 10 or 12 feet high the commission do not worry too much about the repair of its fences. This is because all the deer come in during the winter, and they are shot. This represents a big income. As there is no pulp mill in the Western Highlands, the commission are cutting down the tree thinnings and letting them rot. This practice may be socially attractive from the point of providing employment, but to cut down trees in their thousands and let them rot seems pointless.

The large-scale planting of spruce has created greater acidity in the rivers, and it can cause acid rain. This is very unsatisfactory. I am speaking from experience. It may be that some noble professors only have experience from the books they read and from the experiments they perform, and perhaps they are not conscious of the real facts. I am very conscious of them.

I end by giving this Bill a good reception. I hope that it will become law. As we know, Private Members' Bills usually have less than an even chance of success, but I hope this Bill will do better than that.

1.12 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, for the benefit of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard I may say that the 1911 Act covers only animals in captivity or agricultural animals and does not cover what I believe are technically described as de ferae naturae, which means, animals of a wild nature.

I unreservedly give a welcome to this Bill. It might be reasonable to explain why I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Moran. It was mainly because I agreed with all the points he made. They have been made before and are well known. Those of us in the farming world are very conscious now of abuse involving chemicals. We had a Bill in this House on exactly that point only about three months ago, when I thought that the Ministry of Agriculture exhibited vastly increased sensitivity and knowledge as to what happens. We are all conscious of the very great need for conservation, and I have a terrible feeling that the noble Lord spent 15 minutes fighting a battle that has already been won.

My next point concerns the deletion of the duty on the Ministry of Agriculture to further conservation. I am convinced that my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale will say that the ministry is performing this duty already. I will then ask him, "On what grounds is the ministry doing so, and under what powers?" My noble friend will reply that it is under the 1967 countryside Act. That Act uses words such as "pay regard to", which means that if one notices there is a tree on the horizon, one need not do anything else but notice that it is there.

I further suggest that the Agricultural Act, which was designed solely to further the food productive capacity of the agricultural industry, does not allow the Minister to take a conservation point of view when issuing a grant. It would be very interesting when a farmer was asked to erect and spend more money on a building or a project because the Ministry of Agriculture had taken into account conservation, if he then went to court and asked to be told under what law the ministry was making him spend that extra money—given that he was not receiving the grants that he would be getting under the Agricultural Act 1970.

I believe that the European Community is interested in this point and would like to see it tested. I hope that my noble friend will have an answer to that question. If he does not have an answer and someone does take this matter to court, there will be a serious problem to be faced. I seriously wish that the Government would reinstate the duty on the Ministry of Agriculture which was inserted in the first Bill. I cannot see why the Government are objecting. The NFU, the CLA and the CPRE all accept it. It is accepted by everyone apart from the fort of the Alamo at the Ministry of Agriculture saying that it is unnecessary; "Come back, Davey Crockett" is all I can say about that.

One further loophole has been pointed out to your Lordships by the RSBP. The NCC has lost two cases recently where the owners of SSSIs have successfully defended a charge of breaching Section 28 of the principal Act on the ground that they had not received notification. In other cases a registered letter is deemed sufficient evidence of receipt of notification. I should have thought that this was a totally non-controversial provision. I should not have thought that it could widen the scope of the Bill, and I trust that my noble friend will take some account of that suggestion. My Lords, three minutes of speech at this time of the afternoon is quite enough. I wish this Bill a very speedy passage.

1.16 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I hope that I may be permitted to address the House for two minutes, or even one minute. This is not a speech, but merely a matter of raising one point which follows on from what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, concerning the very weak position that obtains when pursuing the matter of possible offences.

If digging is likely to occur, it will happen, as like as not, in a remote place where it would be hard to prove. There are very few police constables in rural areas. Police are not to be found everywhere; we do not want them to be found everywhere—but we must have rather more information than we get.

In national parks there are wardens everywhere, but they are not encouraged to be sworn in as special constables, at least by some chief constables; I do not know why. The Government may like to know, too, that in most parts of France there are men called gardes champêtres, who are a form of rural policemen who carry considerable credit but who have very limited powers. We need a limited number of people having authority who can show some form of authority on the ground, rather than continue pursuing matters in the courts.

1.18 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I join with everyone else in welcoming this Bill. In fact, I have seldom heard in this House such a chorus of approbation from all parts of the Chamber. I should like also to join with the House in congratulating my honourable friend and my noble friend Lord Melchett. If I have a quarrel with my noble friend, it is that he has been so moderate today that I scarcely recognised him.

I do not feel particularly moderate about one aspect of this Bill. I believe it is wrong that matters of such importance should be left to a Private Member's Bill. The right honourable gentleman the Minister in another place referred to this Bill in Committee as "a fragile ship"—and so it is. Moreover this ship is holed below the waterline by the time factor which we are going to run up against and to which my noble friend Lord Houghton referred.

Although we have the greatest sympathy with many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, I am sure he now understands that we have to accept this Bill as the best we can get at this time because of the situation we face. But he may take heart that although we do not wish to endanger the Bill's progress, we were dismayed by the changes made in Committee in another place. Within the terms of our undertaking we can, if we so wish, seek to reinstate those provisions which were in the Bill at Second Reading and which were accepted completely by another place.

I heard the Minister on Radio 4 this morning—I seem to be the only one who heard the right honourable gentleman at five minutes to eight this morning—when he was interviewed about the Bill. He said it was a matter of urgency that your Lordships should get the Bill back to the Commons—and I quote— where we will pass it as quickly as possible". He sounds very confident. I hope that if and when the Bill goes back there he will be able to keep his word because there are other rocks on which this particular ship can founder, if your Lordships will forgive me for going on with that metaphor.

Before coming to the Bill itself, I acknowledge with thanks the many bodies who have supplied information and very moderate and informed comment on the substance of the Bill. They are, although not necessarily in this order: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; the Council for the Protection of Rural England; the Council for National Parks; the World Wildlife Fund; the Marine Conservation Society; the Royal Society for Nature Conservation; the National Farmers' Union; the Country Landowners' Association, and several others. They have all given very helpful advice and support to the Bill, and I think we should acknowledge that.

I turn now to Clause 1, on badgers. We should have preferred even stronger wording but, as my noble friend Lord Houghton said, we almost lost it altogether in the other place and we therefore accept that this clause represents the result of much discussion and is probably the best we can get. We do not propose to seek any further changes in this House; at least not from these Benches. My noble friend Lord Houghton has covered the subject and I have little to add except to deplore the necessity for the legislation.

Such depraved cruelty—for that it is what it is—in so-called sport degrades all those who take part in it and all those who watch it and who bet on it. We shall be looking at the results of this legislation very closely and if it seems not to be working we shall be seeking further measures before too long. I understand very well the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I do not confuse the legitimate pursuit of other sports with that of badger baiting, which is a disgraceful occupation, as he described, and to which I could add even mure lurid details but will not harry your Lordships with them.

Coming to Clause 2 on the SSSIs, this is an important clause. I know that it is a clause that the Government want to get through—as do the Opposition. It has been supported by all the organisations consulted, including the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union. Both have again written in the past week to reiterate their support.

However, there is the possibility of a further legal loophole, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and by my noble friend Lord Melchett in his opening speech. This gives cause for concern and I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House a reply. A registered letter is accepted in the courts: indeed, something less than a registered letter, a registered delivery, will be accepted in the courts in other cases. Surely it could be accepted in this case.

It seems that there is a new danger to SSSIs and to national parks to which we must ask the Minister to address himself. It is possible that he will not have the answer today, but if he has not perhaps he will supply it before the next stage of the Bill. I refer to the new EC regulation on agricultural structures. Three of the existing grant schemes—I shall be as brief as I can—are to be replaced this summer by a single new scheme. The new grant scheme will not be covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This is because Sections 32(1) and 41(3) of that Act relate only to grants made under the 1970 Agriculture Act. As the new grant scheme will be EC-funded, it will be operated under the 1972 European Communities Act (as the AHDS is now). Currently, the EC-funded AHDS is treated like the nationally-funded AHGS in applying the Wildlife and Countryside Act, although technically only the AHGS is covered by this Act. This administrative arrangement is unsatisfactory because it is open to legal challenge. The prospect of a new, wider-ranging grant scheme coming into operation without any statutory controls over its application in SSSIs and national parks is totally unacceptable. This would mean that no damaging farm capital grants were covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Therefore, I have to ask the Minister—and I repeat that I do appreciate that he may not be able to give a reply today—whether he can confirm that the new grants scheme outlined in the Green Paper on the implementation of the new EC structures regulation will be introduced under the European Communities Act 1972? Can he confirm that farm capital grants introduced under the European Communities Act 1972 are not covered by Sections 32(1) and 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act? Will the Government, as a matter of urgency, consult with his right honourable friend to introduce amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill, if necessary, to ensure that farm capital grants made under the European Communities Act 1972 are covered by the same arrangements as grants made under the Agriculture Act 1970? I think it is very important to have answers to those questions before we reach the Committee stage.

I turn now to Clause 3 on maps of national parks. This extension will require national parks authorities to map all areas of open country. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, was concerned about why this should happen. My understanding is that there was a lack of consistency between the available maps, that there were local difficulties caused in some areas and that the approaches to consultations were poor. A number of other points were made. The new proposal in this Bill means that there would be better policies for monitoring and for consultation, which would lead to better understanding all round. We welcome this clause, too. It should lead to better management of resources with, I understand, no extra cost.

Referring to Clause 4, on forestry we do not applaud this very watered-down version of the clause passed by the other place at Second Reading. As a number of noble Lords have said, forestry policies have shown too little regard for conservation in the past; as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, illustrated. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard made a particularly interesting speech. He opened my eyes to many things which I did not know were happening. The House of Commons' inquiry into the working of the 1981 Act specifically recommend, in its recommendation No. 17 (Paragraph 68 of its report): A provision, analogous to Section 48 (which gives water authorities explicit duties towards nature conservation and the countryside) should be extended to the Forestry Commission". That was quoted earlier by another noble Lord but I believe that it cannot be said too often that we feel that this recommendation should have been taken into account when framing Clause 4. Since no sound reasons have been advanced for not adopting a more positive line, we wish to see the original wording of the Bill reinstated at a later stage.

I have a considerable amount of evidence on the destruction that has taken place through the present Forestry Commission's lack of control but I propose to save it for a later stage so that I do not continue for too long and can allow the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, to have his lunch.

I now come to the two major omissions from the Bill. There are two major clauses which I think should be discussed, and have been discussed by other noble Lords. I refer to the clauses relating to the duties of agriculture Ministers in relation to conservation and the marine nature reserves, about which most other noble Lords have spoken.

There was widespread support for a new approach by MAFF including, as we have heard, from the NFU. It seems inexplicable that the Government have not put that in. I hope that we may pursue it at a later stage. There has been discussion about the constitutional propriety of instructing Ministers, but there is advice which says otherwise. Indeed, I have a number of examples, which again I can quote at another stage if necessary, which establish precedents for instructing Ministers on their duties in this regard. We had a telling contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady White, and I hope that her questions will be answered, even though I know that she has had to leave for another engagement.

Most publicity has been given to the SSSI clause, but the impact of the duties of agricultural Ministers has greater overall importance when one considers the amount of land affected by the duties in relation to SSSIs. The areas covered by SSSIs are comparatively small. They can be identified, and protection can be bought by way of compensation, whatever one's views may be on the way that that is done. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he felt that there was too much financial support given, but that is a question for another day. The noble Lord gave many statistics which I intended to give and which I shall not repeat, but they are valuable.

Applications for farm capital grants outside SSSIs and national parks are not normally ever refused. Can the Minister quote a single instance where a grant outside an SSSI or national park has been refused? I think that that would be a telling argument in favour of increasing the duties of agricultural Ministers in that regard. The Environment Committee inquiry recommended a strengthening of MAFF responsibilities towards conservation. That is a view shared by all conservation bodies and, perhaps a little surprisingly, by the NFU and the CLA which I am sure are willing to be quoted. I think that the NFU was quoted earlier, and so I shall not repeat what has been said. This is a very important clause and we strongly support its reinstatement.

I come now to marine nature reserves. We are an island nation whose culture and language reflect our preoccupation with all things nautical. Speeches today have been larded with references to fragile ships, fair winds, safe passages and even holing below the waterline. We rely on the sea for much of our food; we dump our waste in it; and we flock to it in millions for our holidays each year. In return we cannot even guarantee a few small, scarcely visible specks on the map—because that is all they are—where marine life can be protected. It seems that that can be done without causing serious disability even to sea fisheries, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, said.

The Minister says that we should wait another 12 to 18 months, but that would take us to just before an election year. What chance of legislation would there be at a time when the Government are trying to clear their programme? Besides, if we add 12 or 18 months to the three years that we have already waited, it will be four and a half years. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, considered that great disregard had been shown to the wishes of Parliament in ignoring that legislation. I fully support him on that. If we did what the Minister suggests it would mean that nothing would be done until another Parliament. Why not take the opportunity to legislate, even if operative dates are delayed to give voluntary agreements more time?

We shall be pursuing this clause at Committee stage unless the Minister has better news for us than that which was available in another place. There they were led to believe that discussions were proceeding at such a rate that an announcement might be expected at almost any time. I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that and add to what was said by his right honourable friend.

In conclusion, if clauses on the duties of agriculture Ministers and marine nature reserves are not reinstated, it will be necessary to return to them in the next Session of Parliament. There is a degree of urgency which should not allow them to be left to the next Government, though I can assure the House—and I have had discussions with my noble and honourable friends on this matter—that an incoming Labour Government will give high priority to conservation. If your Lordships need proof of that, I point out that my honourable friend, Dr. David Clark, has given up his precious time on a Private Member's Bill, with a chance of success, to deal with conservation.

There are other recommendations by the Environment Committee inquiry into the 1981 Act which need to be implemented as soon as possible. We cannot afford to ignore them. The Bill is a welcome move in the right direction. We are grateful to my noble friend for introducing it in this House. We wish it well but we consider it to be an interim measure, especially in its present diluted form. With a nautical reference once more, I hope that the Bill will come safely into harbour but perhaps suitably amended to put back the original two clauses.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I presume to ask her a question reverting to her views on Clause 4? I believe she indicated that it was not strong enough having regard to the attacks that have been made on the Forestry Commission, strongly supported by her, in relation to lack of control. Does she support the view that, where such lack of control is experienced in Forestry Commission management, more pressure should be brought on the Forestry Commission to sell or privatise those areas more than it is doing at present? I ought to declare an interest. I am responsible for an area of about 250 acres on Lake Coniston, which is the home of John Ruskin, and we are surrounded on three sides by vast Forestry Commission forests. I have not myself noticed or had brought to my notice the lack of control in those forests organised by the Forestry Commission which has been indicated and supported by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I do not wish to give the impression that I think that everything that the Forestry Commission has done lacks sensitivity or imagination. Indeed, in many places it has applied both, but there are too many where it has not. If the noble Lord can produce evidence that privatisation of forestry produces better conservation, I shall be most interested to see it. Certainly I have had no evidence of that so far and I shall reserve my comments until such evidence is forthcoming. I know that at the moment there is an instruction to the Forestry Commission to sell unproductive or uneconomic parcels of forestry. I do not know what has happened to that, whether such forestry is being sold or what effect that has had. But I deplore the investment that is being encouraged in pockets of forestry by diverse people who have no interest in the effect of that forestry on its surroundings and are merely using it as an investment. I cannot see that such a way of privatising forestry can lead to a better conservation approach.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I say that badger digging has never been classified as a field sport?

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I take the point that the noble Lord makes. I did not refer to it as a field sport. I meant "sport" in inverted commas, which is how those who participate in it refer to it, I regret to say.

1.38 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, there are moments when I wish that I could get embroiled in arguments such as those which your Lordships have just heard, but I am responding to a Bill which has been debated in another place and which is being introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and I am delighted to do that. I am delighted also to be able to agree to parts of the speeches made by every noble Lord. That, I might say, is a somewhat unusual position for me to be in, in the light of my experiences in the Chamber over the past month.

As has been pointed out, we have before us a Bill which represents a valuable advance for the cause of conservation. It is ironic, is it not, that a Private Member's Bill, itself an endangered species, should be the vehicle for such an advance? I too congratulate the Member for South Shields on his success so far and his undoubted political skill. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, received scarcely a mention in today's debate and I would venture to say that he is no less an ally of the conservation cause.

This is a short Bill containing only four operative clauses. However, I venture to say that each clause on its own would provide a worthwhile gain. Its provisions are sound and workable and will go a long way to responding to a number of major criticisms of existing statutory provisions. Its progress so far has been marked by an open and constructive approach from all sides. The Government have co-operated with the sponsors of the Bill to find the right balance among the various interests, to resolve possible conflict and to allay fears. I accept that we have not always had it right first time but I believe noble Lords will agree with me that it should be given a fair wind and speedy passage through this House and that it deserves to reach the statute book.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who answered the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, before they were actually put to the House, I also believe that there was no way at all that the provisions of the Bill we are debating today could ever have been included in the 1981 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others of your Lordships may be prophets but I am convinced that they will agree that conditions at that time were entirely different from what they are today. The speeches we have heard bear out this belief of mine.

The heart of the Bill lies in the measures to strengthen Section 28 of the 1981 Act. As the House is only too well aware, sites of special scientific interest are at present vulnerable during the three-month loophole. This Bill will not affect the right of landowners to object to SSSI notification but it will apply the protection of Section 28 from the beginning rather than from the end of the consultation period. It will thus close the three-month loophole.

The provisions of Section 29, which empower the Secretary of State to make nature conservation orders to protect wildlife sites of outstanding importance which are under threat, have also been criticised for being too slow and unwieldy to prevent such sites being damaged. Under the present arrangements owners and occupiers are required to give the Nature Conservancy Council three months' notice of any intention to carry out a potentially damaging operation. It has been suggested that this does not give the NCC time enough to negotiate with the landowner and apply for a nature conservation order if negotiations fail. By extending the period of protection following notice of a potentially damaging operation from three to four months, Clause 2 will give the NCC an extra month in which to seek a nature conservation order if it is unable to reach a negotiated settlement within three months. Hence, without actually amending Section 29 itself, this clause will also close the Section 29 loophole.

As my noble friend Lord Margadale said, there has for some time been some concern about the difficulties in operating the present provisions for the protection of badgers. The Government therefore welcome Clause 1; indeed we were closely—perhaps I may say sometimes too closely—involved in the preparation of it while the Bill was in another place. It is appalling that people should want to kill and maim badgers for so-called "sport", and we believe that this new provision will significantly enhance the prospects of bringing such people to justice. Your Lordships may be a little anxious about a provision which expressly places a burden of proof on the accused. This is of course unusual, although not without precedent in our statutes. I believe I can reassure the House. Clause 1 does not of course simply transfer the whole burden of proof on to the accused. There must be reasonable evidence on the prosecution side before the defendant is required to prove the contrary. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that anybody engaged in a legitimate countryside pursuit—foxhunting, or catching rabbits on behalf of a farmer, for example—would be affected. There would be no evidence to begin with that there were any designs on badgers. The only people who should be deterred by this excellent clause are the badger baiters themselves.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood, in a very brief speech in the gap, had some specific questions on this clause. I am advised that the penalties embodied explicitly in this clause are defined in Section 10 of the Badgers Act 1973. I can tell my noble friend that they have recently been increased and the relevant penalty is now a fine not exceeding £2,000.

Perhaps while I am addressing my noble friend I may also say that the Government have no plans to introduce a new kind of specialised police, which of course would be totally outside the scope of this Bill even if we were to do it. Chief officers of police take their responsibilities seriously and have prosecuted offenders under the Badgers Act 1973. Conservation societies, including the RSPCA, have also taken action, as they have every right to do, to enforce the 1973 Act.

I also commend the changes to the arrangements for the preparation of maps of important areas of moor and heath in national parks. Under the terms of Clause 3, these will be extended to include other types of landscape. These changes will give effect to the Select Committee on the Environment's recommendation that consideration be given to expanding the scope of Section 43 maps. By identifying in a more comprehensive way the areas which are of particular importance for conservation purposes they will also assist in the development of sympathetic and appropriate policies for the areas concerned. I take note, however, of suggestions that the drafting of this clause may be far from perfect.

The Government have also welcomed I he proposed duty on the Forestry Commission to endeavour to strike a reasonable balance between the needs of forestry and the conservation of the natural heritage. The commission has already demonstrated its concern for conservation in a number of ways and is doing a lot to try to harmonise its policies with conservation objectives. However, it is nevertheless a Government agency with a single, clearly defined function—the development and maintenance of an efficient forestry industry. We therefore think it reasonable to enshrine in its statute the particular requirements and considerations which attach to a function of this kind. This duty is also something which conservationists have been keen to see introduced. I was very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, poured cold water on this particular clause.

There are those who claim that the Bill does not go far enough. Indeed, today's debate has been more about what is not in the Bill than what is in it. I believe that the House has approached this Bill in the most constructive way and has recognised that, while it does not pretend to be a panacea, it is a very worthwhile and significant step in the right direction. Many issues have been raised in the debate today. I hope the House will forgive me if I cannot provide an immediate Government view on all of them. Where I cannot, I shall write to the noble Lords concerned about them, and following the modern practice I shall of course put a copy in the Library.

Reference has been made, for example, to a proposal to impose a duty on the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The proposal was made but withdrawn in another place. It was pointed out that the whole object of the proposal is based upon an assumption that agriculture Ministers are not sufficiently sensitive to conservation requirements, so they need to be singled out for special treatment. This simply is not the case. There are many recent examples which illustrate the commitment of MAFF to securing a proper balance between agriculture and conservation.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has successfully negotiated in Brussels, against enormous misunderstanding from other member states, for inclusion in the agricultural structures regulation provisions that will allow us to support traditional farming practices compatible with conservation needs in environmentally sensitive areas. Consultation on the implementation of this success has already begun. MAFF has joined with the Countryside Commission to introduce an experimental scheme for the Broads. I was privileged to be at the launching. The scheme aims to keep permanent grassland, with livestock, on the Halvergate Marshes. It will encourage the management of grazing marshes which will support both farming and conservation. It will encourage the re-establishment of permanent grassland in some areas formerly grazed but now arable.

Over and above this, MAFF has a new, or comparatively new, initiative. Many interested Members of your Lordships' House, who from time to time attend the all-party Conservation Committee of both Houses of Parliament, were at the meeting on Wednesday of this week when we had a talk from a Dr. Park, who is the assistant secretary in MAFF who heads the new and very exciting conservation policy unit. This unit advises at all levels of policy formation and is already starting to make itself felt.

Changes, too, have been made in farm capital grants. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gives grants for such things as hedgerow planting, shelter belts and stone walls, for the creation of ponds in connection with drainage schemes, and for landscaping reservoirs. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that these grants should aim to balance, or rather that MAFF grants generally should aim to balance, agriculture and conservation better. Of course the Government fully accept this. MAFF grants have been reviewed both in 1983 and 1984. On both occasions, operations which were not sympathetic to conservation were removed. I can quote as examples hedge removal and land reclamation; and operations that enhance the countryside, for example, hedge planting, stone walls, and so on now benefit from the highest rates of grants.

My right honourable friend is quite willing to look for further opportunities to improve this balance and the Ministry has recently introduced a consultation paper for a new scheme. On the subject of grants, it is quite true, as my noble friend Lord Onslow has said, that the Agriculture Act 1970 and the relevant EC legislation require MAFF to pay grants for agricultural purposes. But MAFF also has a conservation duty under statute. This is of course not only in the Countryside Act 1968 but also in Section 41 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which covers ADAS advice on conservation. There is also a section—I think 32(1)(a)—where it has a duty to further conservation in relation to capital grants in sites of special scientific interest, national parks and the Broads. In Section 48, it has a duty to further conservation in relation to responsibilities for land drainage. These specific duties are sensible and helpful.

Much of the discussion today has centred on a general duty that I shall come to in a minute. I accept therefore that MAFF cannot pay grant towards conservation projects per se. The Countryside Act requires MAFF to have regard to the desirability of conservation. The Ministry carries out this duty by giving extra emphasis in its grant schemes to agricultural operations that are sympathetic to conservation. New provisions in the EC agricultural structures regulations to which I have already referred will allow MAFF to pay grants to encourage traditional farming practices in designated environmentally sensitive areas. The Ministry fully expects to introduce legislation to give effect to this as soon as possible.

All these things are not the policies of an insensitive department. The basic truth is that conservation is Government policy affecting all departments of state. Of course it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, reminded us, that for more than a generation the policy of successful Governments of whatever hue has been directed to increasing agricultural output. But emphasis has changed and is changing so that conservation needs are increasingly brought into the balance as a matter of policy, not of statute.

The other subject that has been extensively debated today is that of marine nature reserves. This is a topic on which there is no difference between the Government and the sponsors of the Bill or, indeed, any noble Lord who has mentioned this matter. All of us wish to see the establishment of well protected marine nature reserves. The difference between us arises on the question of how this objective is to be achieved. The Government attach great importance to what has been called the voluntary principle enshrined in the 1981 Act. It is not something to be given up lightly. Certainly, as my noble friend Lord Craigton has forcefully said, progress has been slower than had been hoped, although it is fair to point out that the Nature Conservancy Council has rightly given top priority to the notification of SSSIs. And it is as well to recognise that the language of priorities applies just as much to conservation as it does to any other area of life.

But there are encouraging signs. In only one case—Lundy—did negotiations reach an impasse, and there, I am please to say, a meeting has been arranged for 28th May to be attended by the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee and the NCC as well as by officials from both MAFF and the Department of the Environment to try to get negotiations resumed. At Skomer and the Menai Straits in Wales progress remains encouraging. Also, voluntary marine nature reserves do exist. The one that I know at first hand is at Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset. I am sure that the House would do very well to study this approach in parallel to the approaches suggested by my noble friend Lord Craigton and also by the noble Baroness, Lady White.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. The noble Lord said that negotiations had only broken down in one area, but he failed to mention the Scilly Isles where my understanding is that things have also reached an impasse.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in that case my understanding is different from that of the noble Lord; and my response would be, "Not yet and I hope never". But there are encouraging signs—I am sorry, my Lords. The noble Lord has thrown me slightly. My noble friend Lord Craigton has drawn attention to the proposal from the all-party Conservation Committee of both Houses for a parliamentary Select Committee on marine and coastal conservation and development. Consideration of this proposal has, I fear, been long delayed. The meeting between Secretaries of State to which he referred which would have considered the proposal some months ago had, alas, to be postponed. However, I can assure my noble friend that the matter has not by any means been overlooked. I have every reason to hope that the long deferred meeting and consideration will take place shortly. I would, however, stress that the voluntary approach to enlist the support and co-operation of those living and working in the areas concerned is by no means exhausted. It would be a pity and counter-productive if the threat of compulsion at this stage led to confirmation of fears and a hardening of attitudes.

At the same time the Government recognise the importance attached to the creation of marine nature reserves. They will watch progress closely and will help in the negotiations in any way they can. If, as my honourable friend said in another place, the voluntary approach has not yielded results in the next 12 to 18 months we shall need to look very carefully at the existing provision and to consider whether further measures are necessary to strengthen it.

As I intimated at the beginning of my speech I am well aware that there are still those who suggest that the Bill is not radical enough; indeed, that the whole Act is not radical enough. They believe that the only way to safeguard the heritage is through the imposition of tougher and more extensive statutory controls. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, based much of his speech on this. In the Government's view, this big brother approach to conservation is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. Statutory controls undoubtedly have their place, but at bottom conservation is not about compulsion or heavy-handed central control. It is about building partnership involving people and developing consensus.

I do not think realistically that I have the time to go into a full answer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I would of course point to the accepted long delay in the introduction of Part II of the Control of Pollution Act which is one of the ways in which the Government are showing that they are determined to do their level best on both pollution and conservation.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to the consultation paper on the financing and administration of land drainage and flood protection issued in March. She and I have had a long battle over this particular paper. I pay tribute to her for her forcefulness of attack.

The duty referred to in that paper is the duty on MAFF Minsters to further conservation in carrying out their land drainage responsibilities under Section 48 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. There is every difference between a specific duty such as this, relating to limited responsibility, and a general duty such as was in the Bill, which would affect agriculture Ministers in all their activities, whether or not they were relevant to conservation.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will give way for one moment. If there is a specific duty as to one thing, the absence of that duty as to something else is presumably intentional, and therefore shows that there is no duty on the Ministry of Agriculture to further conservation. However much they say they are going to do it, it is the absence of duty which is highlighted by the specific duty imposed in respect of some other point.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have no doubt that this is a matter we shall return to at some length at later stages of the Bill. For the moment, I would say that my noble friend Lord Onslow is only partly right, for the reasons I have just explained.

Another subject which has caused concern in the debate today is the prosecutions which have been lost by the Nature Conservancy Council. The NCC has expressed concern about the implications of the recent lost prosecutions, and have asked that consideration be given to tidying up the arrangements set out in Sections 28 and 29 of the Act for serving notices. We are currently considering this subject as a matter of some urgency.

In the great conservation debate there is no serious disagreement about our ultimate destination; it is simply on the most suitable way of getting there. I am firmly convinced that the co-operative and collaborative approach about which I spoke a few moments ago, and which underlines the 1981 Act, is the best way to make progress in this sensitive and complex area. We cannot achieve consensus by rushing too quickly into making ill-considered and inadequately debated changes. We need to proceed with both caution and care. The only conservation policies which will work effectively are those which most people agree with and actively support. Therefore, on behalf of the Government I take this opportunity of thanking those noble Lords who signed the letter saying that they would not seek to amend this Bill beyond its formation on Second Reading in the other place.

I was interested to hear the mini-debate that went on between the noble Baroness, Lady White, and my noble friend Lord Craigton on the subject of marine nature reserves. I have no doubt that after the debate today their conviction is rock solid. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, for saying that if he had been given the opportunity to sign the letter he would have signed it.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, not only for his wise words on the procedures of Parliament, but for his intention to withdraw his own Bill relating to badgers. This Bill—and it is this Bill that we have been debating today—has the full support of Her Majesty's Government. It not only deserves, but at this moment obviously has, the full support of this House.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, sits down (I deliberately did not interrupt him earlier), I should like to make a brief reference to an expression which I think was a most unfortunate one in his otherwise excellent speech, when he spoke about the big brother approach. I feel hound to assure him that from these Benches we do not advocate a big brother approach to the protection of the countryside from a scenic, scientific or recreational point of view, or from any other. There are many bodies which quite genuinely feel that stronger controls may be needed, but that falls very far short of, and should not be interpreted as, the big brother approach. That was a most unfortunate thing to say.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very sorry if I have given offence to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or anyone in the conservation movement, by the use of that particular phrase. What I intended to say was that the Government have a policy enshrined in the 1981 Act of a mixture of carrots and sticks. I do not want the sticks to outweigh the carrots!

2.5 p.m.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, into a more party political argument about the relative men is of the different approaches to these things of the various parties, but I do not think that would gain favour with the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested, we should stick with the Bill.

I do not think there are many questions raised by noble Lords on this Bill which remain for me to answer. I am extremely grateful for the support received from everyone who has spoken. I am delighted that, in the light of that support, the Bill will be proceeding to the next stage.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, drew attention to the anomaly in the Act of 1911 whereby if someone goes badger baiting they may be committing an offence if the terriers are injured but are not committing an offence under that Act if the badger is tortured and killed. It is very much my hope, as it clearly is of your Lordships, that the amendment in this Bill will put an end to badger digging and badger baiting once and for all.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, received a satisfactory answer about the need for changes in the mapping provisions in national parks. If not, I hope that we can return to that at a later stage. The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, asked about monitoring the performance of the Forestry Commission as a result of the new duty under Clause 4. There are numerous conservation organisations which will continue to watch the every move of the commission, as clearly the noble Viscount is doing in his area. I do not think anyone will miss a change for the better in the performance of the commission which the Bill will bring about. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who reminded us of the problems which led to the need, first, for the 1981 Act, and now for this amending Bill.

My final comments relate to the objectives of the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Stanley of Alderley and Lord Middleton, both suggested that the objective of the Bill was to close the three-month loophole, as it has been described. That was not the objective of my honourable friend Dr. Clark when introducing the Bill. If I may say so, that was the objective of a Bill introduced last Session by another honourable friend, Peter Hardy MP, but that Bill did not receive Government support. That was a one-clause Bill to close the loophole. But my honourable friend's objective in introducing this Bill, and mine in bringing it to this House, is to block loopholes and to make good deficiencies in the Wildlife and Countryside Act with a Bill that can achieve a consensus from the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association, from the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission, and from the voluntary animal welfare, wildlife conservation and landscape protection organisations outside Parliament.

As I see it, the objective of this Bill is to introduce a consensus Bill of that sort. It is quite clear that, although a one-clause Bill blocking the three-month loophole might have commended itself to some noble Lords in your Lordships' House and the Government, it would not have been a consensus Bill of that sort and would not have been supported by all the interests that I have listed in the way that Dr. Clark's original six-clause Bill was.

A number of noble Lords suggested that the heart of the Bill lies in a particular clause. I suppose that if you are a strong believer, as are noble Lords opposite, in the voluntary principle, the heart of the Bill lies in the clause blocking the three-month loophole. If you are primarily concerned with animal welfare, like my noble friend Lord Houghton, the heart of the Bill undoubtedly lies in Clause 1, in the badgers' provisions. For my part, my heart lies in seeing a future where agricultural and conservation interests work much more closely together, where those interests are fully integrated and where we are concerned not just with particular sites like SSSIs but with what happens in the whole of the countryside. Therefore, my heart lies in a clause which at the moment is not in the Bill, a clause which extended to agriculture Ministers the duty to further conservation. However, we shall clearly need to look at that matter and others when we reach the next stage of the Bill.

I should like to conclude by asking noble Lords to consider just one thought. As I said in my opening remarks, the Bill has come from another place in very good time, in part because of the speed with which my honourable friend managed to get it through its stages. There will be no problem in our completing its timetable here, subject to the goodwill which your Lordships have already shown towards the Bill, and returning it to another place by 5th July with amendments to be considered, if they need to be.

Given that we can meet the timetable, this Bill will not die. If Bills can meet that sort of timetable, they do not die. Private Members' Bills have a risky life because they are subject to being killed off by either Members of your Lordships' House or Members of another place. When we talk about the risks to this Bill I hope that we do not dodge around the question but that we are a little more specific. As has been made clear from this side of the House, from all the parties represented, none of us wishes to see this Bill killed off. If we were to put the Bill at risk, we would be putting it at risk of being killed off by Members of either this House or another place supporting the Government, or by the Government themselves. I hope that when we come to debate amendments in Committee that is a thought that your Lordships will bear in mind. I hope that we can improve the Bill and that we can give it a speedy passage onto the statute book.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.