HL Deb 25 March 1987 vol 486 cc179-80

3.16 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the opposition to the present Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Bill, they will consider withdrawing it and replacing it with a Bill which gives the Broads Authority an overriding duty of conservation.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Government's Bill, which is now before a Select Committee in another place, was very generally welcomed, and indeed received an unopposed Second Reading. It is a major piece of conservation legislation which balances the equally important needs of navigation, conservation and public enjoyment; and will establish for the first time an authority with powers to manage the land and water spaces in an integrated way. The Government will not therefore withdraw it.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that not unexpected reply. Is he aware that the disappointment which has been expressed arises from the lack of protection being offered flora and fauna? If, when the Bill concludes its passage, it does not have the comprehensive powers for which conservation societies are hoping, will the Government consider using their powers under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to establish water protection zones?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, with respect, those are two rather different issues. Obviously, the control powers under the Control of Pollution Act would be applicable to any area in the country where those powers are needed for a particular purpose.

With regard to the Bill, petitions were deposited against it by boating and farming interests no less than conservation ones. But all petitioners expressed support for the basic principle of the Bill. The changes to which the noble Baroness referred, strongly sought by conservation interests, were equally strongly opposed by boating interests. This is why the Government were led to the belief that they had the balance broadly right.

Baroness David

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that water quality is of prime importance when considering conservation on the Broads? Is he aware that the European Commission is instituting proceedings against the Government under Article 169 of the Treaty of Rome because we have not met the standards of the water directive? Would it not be a suitable gesture in the European Year of the Environment if the Government agreed to meet that directive? Can I remind the Minister that I asked him part of this question last week and he did not answer it?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, with regret I am not going to answer it now because it falls wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, having heard the Minister's reply that the Government were not intending to withdraw the Bill, will the Minister nevertheless give an assurance that the Bill is capable of being amended to impose an overriding duty of conservation?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. It is a public hybrid Bill which, as I explained, is currently before a Select Committee in another place. It will then go to Standing Committee, followed by Report and Third Reading stages. It will then come before your Lordships. I should have thought that there was plenty of opportunity to discuss the Bill at such length as noble Lords require.