§ 2.55 p.m.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what further progress has been made in the designation of marine nature reserves since November 1986.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, the Nature Conservancy Council has applied formally to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales for an order designating Skomer Island and the Marloes Peninsula as a marine nature reserve. This is currently being considered. The Nature Conservancy Council has also started informal consultation with interested parties about proposed marine nature reserves at Loch Sween and in the Menai Straits. Formal proposals are expected to be put to interested parties later this year.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that I visited Lundy Island last month and I was told by the Landmark Trust warden that the regulations regarding the MNR are working satisfactorily? Does he recall that in answer to a supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, on 16th January last year his noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said that the process of designation was such that the second and third cases would take a very much shorter time?
Given those facts, and since only one MNR has been designated so far of the eight selected by the Nature Conservancy Council during the past six 603 years, has not the time come to reconsider the law in order to speed up and streamline the procedures, as his noble friend Lord Skelmersdale indicated during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill on 16th June 1985?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord was encouraged by what he found when he visited Lundy Island. So far as his remarks concerning changing the law, the Government feel that although in these cases consultations are often protracted it is important to reach a consensus. However, I recognise the point that the noble Lord makes. Accordingly, we shall be in consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council to reconsider the consultation procedures and to see what can be done to streamline them. It will, however, be important to ensure that parties with a legitimate interest are not denied an adequate opportunity to continue to put forward their views.
§ Lord Mowbray and Stourton
My Lords, is my noble friend aware, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, that I put down an amendment to the Act in 1985 and was given the same sort of answer by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale as my noble friend has now given the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we are still considering the position and trying to help matters forward? Is that really good enough?
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned Skomer. Has he made provision for its consort in the affections of the bird watching public, to wit Skokholm. Skokholm and Skomer are the bird-watching twins.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, at the moment an application has been put forward only for Skomer, together with the neighbouring peninsula.
My Lords, in spite of what my noble friend says, is he aware that the lack of progress has been very disappointing indeed and far less than any of us anticipated when the Wildlife and Countryside Bill was going through this House? Is he further aware that that does not result from any lack of enthusiasm or energy on the part of the Nature Conservancy Council, and what he has said about trying to find a shorter means to the same end is welcome?
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that we are as bored with having to ask the same question, as I am sure he is with having to answer it? May I ask two constructive questions? When the legislation is being discussed with the Nature Conservancy Council, would it be possible to discuss removing the right of veto? Is the Minister aware that at the moment any one party to the negotiations can veto the whole exercise? Would it 604 also be possible to give the Nature Conservancy Council the power to make its own by-laws, which would strengthen the exercise and which is something that needs to be done?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, the noble Baroness in a gentle and charming way is, however, saying to me that we should do away with the voluntary principle and change the law, thereby resorting to further primary legislation to remove consultation and voluntary agreement. I have roundly to say to her that I find that line of argument exceedingly unattractive. I have not this afternoon said that we are going to change the law; I said that we shall look at the consultation procedures to see whether we can streamline them. We shall be careful to ensure that parties with a legitimate interest are not denied an adequate opportunity to put forward their views. With regard to the last part of what the noble Baroness said, which is important, at the moment the NCC has no power to make by-laws which interfere with pre-existing rights; for example, fishing rights and the functions of relevant authorities such as local authorities and water authorities. That will remain the case.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, will the Minister consider putting a time limit on discussions if everything else is unacceptable to him?