HL Deb 19 November 1990 vol 523 cc575-608

3.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Strathclyde)

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

The Bill has three quite distinct and major parts. First and foremost, it contains provisions for the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage by merging the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland with the Countryside Commission for Scotland. The Bill also contains provisions to enable river purification authorities to control the abstraction of water within their areas for irrigation purposes and provisions to enable the Secretary of State to make drought orders on application by water authorities and water development boards. Both these parts of the Bill replace existing legislation. However, the Bill has one overriding purpose and that is to ensure that our natural environment in Scotland, and in particular the resources of land and water, are managed in a sustainable way to secure the inheritance of succeeding generations.

Our proposals for the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage were first announced by my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State in another place in July 1989. Since then we have consulted widely by publishing two consultation papers, copies of which are lodged in the Library of your Lordships' House. Our second consultation paper, Scotland's Natural Heritage: The Way Ahead, set out our aims and aspirations for the future management of our natural heritage in Scotland and the role we expect Scottish Natural Heritage to play. The majority of those responding to our consultation paper are supportive of our proposals to merge the newly created Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland with the existing Countryside Commission for Scotland. This was confirmed by an independent poll recently undertaken in Scotland which showed a three to one majority in favour of our proposals.

Our proposals are founded on the important work carried out by the two predecessor organisations. As your Lordships will see in the Bill, all the functions and responsibilities of the predecessor bodies will be continued by Scottish Natural Heritage. I should like at this stage to pay tribute to the work of the two organisations. The dedicated efforts of the Nature Conservancy Council officials have resulted in the conservation of a wide range of habitats and the protection of a great diversity of species, as well as the protection of features of geological and physiographic interest. Their job has not always been easy but they have carried it out with conviction.

Let me also pay no less a tribute to the work of the Countryside Commission over its two decades of existence. There is a great deal of evidence in the Scottish countryside of the commission's efforts. I should like to single out the work it has undertaken in improving the environment around our towns and cities, its initiatives in major projects in the central belt of Scotland and, more recently, its reflections and prescriptions for the longer-term management of our mountain areas. We fully intend to build on all this work in the new partnership which we propose to establish.

Your Lordships will be aware that we seek an integrated approach to our natural heritage and consider that the merger will bring about a more efficient and more effective organisational structure to achieve that. We believe that the protection of species and habitats, on the one hand, and the protection of landscape, on the other, have many characteristics in common. Perhaps not surprisingly in Scotland, those areas of greatest nature conservation significance are also those with landscapes of the highest aesthetic and amenity value. Rather than see a clash between nature and landscape conservation, therefore, there is a strong concurrence of interest. However, I would not wish to give your Lordships the impression that the new body is concerned only with conservation. Far from it. We also expect Scottish Natural Heritage to improve the appreciation of natural heritage issues by those who live and work in our rural areas as well as those who visit these areas. It will, for example, provide opportunities for greater understanding and improved access to enhance the enjoyment of those areas.

There were some who argued that recreational access and enjoyment of the countryside are not compatible with conservation. The Scottish Sports Council has suggested that it should take over the Countryside Commission for Scotland's recreational access and enjoyment functions. The Government stated their case against such an arrangement in the consultation paper. Such fragmentation would undermine the objective of an integrated approach to the management of our natural heritage.

Another aspect of our reorganisation proposals by which we set great store is the building up of positive partnerships between Scottish Natural Heritage and the whole range of other interests: local communities, local authorities, owners and occupiers of land, business and industry and voluntary bodies. We are intent on building up those partnerships by having a highly dispersed organisation for Scottish Natural Heritage. That work will continue in designated areas, but we also seek a much greater effort in new designated areas. We intend to build on the existing NCC office network. I fully expect that the great majority of staff in Scottish Natural Heritage will be based in regional and local offices.

There are a number of other ingredients required for the success of that operation on the ground. One of them is undoubtedly the support of applied research to increase our understanding of sustainable management and to help in the development of practical demonstration schemes and initiatives. That is why there will be a centrally managed cadre of specialists. In addition, no organisation with a great deal of delegation and dispersal of staff can operate effectively without a coherent set of policies and decision-making frameworks. That is properly the role of staff in the agency's headquarters, but they will also have another vital role; that is, to advise government or any other party on any aspect of policy or activity which they consider has an effect on Scotland's natural heritage. We expect that task to be carried out objectively, with rigour, with integrity, but most of all effectively. I can assure your Lordships' House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State looks to Scottish Natural Heritage as his adviser on the conservation, understanding and enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage and the means of bringing that to fruition in a sustainable manner.

There were those who criticised our proposals as being unduly parochial. I hope that your Lordships will have set aside any doubts on that front from what I have already said. Scottish Natural Heritage cannot operate without proper regard to national and international considerations. It will, after all, be the responsible body for the identification, notification and protection of sites of special scientific interest, including those sites which in addition might be designated under European directives such as the birds directive and, in the longer term, the species and habitat directive. It will undertake its wider nature conservation responsibilities with its sister agencies in England and Wales, through the Joint Nature Conservation Committees, and it will work within the standards, procedures and protocols agreed by the committee.

I turn now to the subject of landscape protection. The Government are committed to the continuing conservation of those of our Scottish landscapes of the highest value. How that should be done in the longer term is a matter of some debate in Scotland at present. The Countryside Commission for Scotland has produced a report on the conservation and management of our mountain areas. It contains many valuable suggestions aimed at securing sustainable use of the land and makes particular suggestions for ways of building partnerships at the local level through the establishment of land management forums. It also proposes that four areas should be designated national parks.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has not come to any conclusion on the commission's recommendations. He is waiting to see the commission's further reflections following a recent consultation exercise. However, the Government wish to move forward on a limited basis to test out the principles of integrated management. That is why my honourable friend the Minister for Horne Affairs and the Environment has announced not just the Government's intention to seek world heritage listing for the Cairngorms, but the establishment of a working party to advise the Secretary of State on the longer-term management of the area. I stress that the Government's desire to move foward on the Cairngorms is in no way meant to pre-empt the possibility of the area becoming a national park.

Existing designations are confined either to landscape purposes or to nature conservation purposes. There is at present no integrated designation. A single designation for the benefit of areas of the highest natural heritage interest will be an essential tool if the new body is to approach the management of such areas in a positive and integrated manner. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State intends to bring forward an amendment to the Bill in another place to enable natural heritage areas to be established.

We do not intend to give, at least at this stage, any additional responsibilities to Scottish Natural Heritage. We do, however, intend to bring forward an amendment to give to the Red Deer Commission powers for the culling of deer on nature and landscape conservation grounds.

I have dwelt at some length on the principles and the expected practice which should come about by the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage. I shall explain how we expect the Bill to achieve those purposes. Part I provides for the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage. It will be a body with the full range of powers currently given to the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, but with the wider definition of the natural heritage and the abolition of the concept of countryside it will operate throughout Scotland.

I shall underline particularly the general aims and purposes set out in Clause 1. They are: first, to secure the conservation of species and habitats, of areas of geological and physiographic significance and of areas of natural beauty and amenity; secondly, to secure the enhancement of our natural heritage; thirdly, to foster understanding of our natural heritage by increasing the degree of interest and the level of knowledge of everyone who has an interest in the use and management of heritage; fourthly, the agency will have the ability to provide at its own hand or to support others in providing facilities for the enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage. Included in that important purpose are not merely built facilities but the provision for access. Finally, and of overriding concern in the Government's view, is the duty to ensure that its own actions, and by influencing the actions of others, Scottish Natural Heritage will secure a sustainable natural heritage. Schedule 1 makes provision for the constitution and proceedings of the body.

Clause 2 sets out the general functions. Clause 3 identifies a duty to take account of other matters. Clause 4 and Schedule 2 provide for amendments to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to allow the responsibilities of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland to be undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage. Clause 5 widens the scope of powers already available to the Countryside Commission for development projects or schemes. Clause 6 deals with powers of entry.

Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State power to pay grant to Scottish Natural Heritage and Clause 8 empowers Scottish Natural Heritage to give grants or loans in furtherance of its general aims and purposes. Clause 9 makes provision for the report and accounts of the new agency. Clause 10 enables the Secretary of State to give both specific and general directions. Finally, Clause 11 and Schedule 3 make provision for the dissolution of the predecessor bodies and take care of the transitional matters, including offers of employment to staff of the existing bodies.

I should now like to explain the provisions on irrigation. The main purpose of these modest measures is to improve the effectiveness of the present legislation contained in the Spray Irrigation Act 1964 and to widen its scope. Some years ago, a sub-committee of the former Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee was asked to investigate problems arising from water abstraction from surface and underground waters, in the context of both river purification and conservation of water resources. The sub-committee's report was completed in October 1978, following which it was the subject of consultation with interested bodies.

The sub-committee concluded that while there was no case for radical change, there was a need to improve the existing legislation. The Government have long accepted the need for such improvements on which agreement to legislate was reached in 1983 and we have since been seeking a suitable opportunity to bring forward new measures. The sub-committee considered that the 1964 Act required revision in three major aspects.

First, the sub-committee concluded that procedure under the existing Act should be simplified. Under this procedure river purification authorities are required to notify interested parties of their application to the Secretary of State for an order for irrigation. This procedure has proved to be so cumbersome that only one control order has ever been applied for and made.

Secondly, having eased the procedure to make control simpler to introduce, the sub-committee advised that forms of irrigation other than spray irrigation—for example, channel, flood and trickle—might then become more attractive because they were uncontrolled. They therefore recommended widening the legislation to all forms of irrigation.

Thirdly, they found that control should be extended to abstractions from underground sources in areas where such abstractions are likely to reduce significantly the flow of a river or stream.

The key purposes of these changes therefore is to meet a longstanding commitment to replace with workable legislation relevant to present-day circumstances a piece of legislation which has been on the statute book for 26 years but has in practice proved difficult to operate. It is, after all, essential that the quality and quantity of the water in our rivers be maintained. The consequences for aquatic life, should a river or stream dry up or be reduced to a trickle, do not need explanation. In addition, where there is over-abstraction, the ability of the river to dilute and absorb pollution can be destroyed with resultant severe effects on the environment and on flora and fauna.

Drought has already had an effect in parts of England. Part III of the Bill dealing with the supply of water during drought conditions will replace provisions in the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 with provisions similar to those already available in England and Wales in the 1989 Water Act. The provisions will strengthen the powers of water authorities and water development boards to meet deficiencies in the supply of water in Scotland due to exceptional shortage of rain.

I am, of course, aware that the popular image of Scotland is not normally one of a sun-soaked landscape perennially beset with problems of drought. However, your Lordships may well recall the particularly dry spell in 1984. During the months from April to August that year, rainfall was less than 40 per cent. of the average in the period from 1941 to 1970. This had a marked, detrimental effect on rivers and streams and on the fish and plant life which they sustain. River flows were seriously affected and reservoir levels dropped considerably. As it happened, the effects of this drought were not as serious as they might have been owing mainly to the fact that there had been particularly heavy rainfall during the preceding winter months. We have also experienced localised problems of water shortage from time to time. Indeed, only last year drought orders were made in both the Borders and Fife regions.

While it is true that authorities have always managed to handle such situations well, the new provisions will improve water mangement in times of drought by providing a more flexible regime for those who have to deal with the effects of drought. The new provisions will also bring water management in these situations into line with practices elsewhere in Great Britain.

Finally, the Bill seeks to make a number of minor amendments to the existing water legislation: first, to make specific provision in relation to control of water pollution to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations giving effect to international and EC obligations, and secondly, to amend the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 to ensure river purification boards are consulted by water authorities in pursuance of some of their responsibilities under that Act. Lastly, provision is also being made to supplement the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations under the Water (Scotland) Act 1980.

The Bill in summary provides a new basis for the management of our natural heritage, building on the work of the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council. It opens a wide range of opportunities for Scottish Natural Heritage to achieve the general aims and purposes set out. It also provides for the regularisation of responsibilities of water authorities as far as drought and irrigation are concerned. I commend the Bill to the House; I beg to move.

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

3.25 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, perhaps I may first perform a pleasant duty. It is the first time that the noble Lord has introduced a major Bill—in fact it is the only Bill this year—concerning Scotland. I congratulate him on the thoroughness with which he introduced it. His survey was helpful and comprehensive. It means that our understanding of the Bill is much greater than it was: so much needed more explanation. I welcome the noble Lord who comes from close to my own part of the country.

It is not merely a criticism of this Government, although the fault is one to which they are particularly prone, when I say that I cannot understand why there are not two separate Bills. It would have been much easier to proceed on the basis of two Bills, especially as the work of the House regarding Scotland does not appear to be all that heavy. To combine a Bill of this important nature to Scotland with one which is much more technical—the repeal of the Spray Irrigation (Scotland) Act 1964—complicates matters and makes the work of those who are trying to deal with legislation, particularly the lawyers, more difficult. I have great sympathy for them.

I suddenly realised that the spray irrigation Act was a measure on which I spoke when it was a Bill in the other place. I have not had the courage to look up what I said way back in 1964.

There has been a slow response from outside bodies to the Bill before us. Thankfully, those bodies are becoming more aware that this important Scottish measure starts in your Lordships' House and not the other place. That may have taken them off balance. More information of a specialised nature is beginning to come in. Following the Minister's speech, the groups will know even better the effects of the Bill on their own special interests. I am sure that with the Minister's introduction and subsequent speeches today there will be quickened interest leading to a well informed Committee stage.

I wish to thank those bodies that have so far sent me valuable and well informed papers: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Scottish Crofters Union, the Scottish Sports Council, CoSLA and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. This is not an occasion for dealing with all the points they have raised. I have no doubt that in Committee we shall deal with the nitty gritty and that we shall be able to improve the Bill.

The appointment of Mr. Magnus Magnusson as chairman designate of Scottish Natural Heritage seems to have met with general approval throughout Scotland. Although strictly speaking he is a foreigner, there must be few people—native or otherwise—in Scotland who are as thoroughly identified with all aspects and strata of life in Scotland. To adapt a phrase used in another place, I am sure that except on special occasions Magnus Magnusson will fully pass the football or rugby (Scotland) test. His appointment has been well received and I wish to add my good wishes to him in his work on the new body.

The Bill proposes to amalgamate the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland. We all hope that this will result in a more comprehensive approach to promoting the enjoyment of the countryside along with the conservation and protection of the environment. We welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that the resources needed to make the new agency a strong, viable and effective body will be provided. If the new agency is to do its job effectively, proper funding will be essential.

Achieving the right balance between conservation and recreation will be a crucial test of the new agency. It will be a miracle if it can achieve 100 per cent. balance and 100 per cent. agreement, but Mr. Magnusson's appointment has given the new body an early credibility which we hope will be buttressed by further wise and independent minded appointees to the board. We shall certainly want to discuss in Committee the kind of people we want to see appointed to the board.

The agency must provide to the Secretary of State good objective advice which the Government will feel able and willing to support. We hope they will allow action to be taken on it. The more credible the composition of the board, the more hopeful we will be that the advice will be taken into account by the Secretary of State.

Local authorities in Scotland have expressed support and enthusiasm for the merger and are keen to work with the new agency, especially at local level with the proposed local offices. Local contact and involvement with local authorities will be essential. Given the integrated role of the new body it will be important for it to enable local authorities to pursue and extend the progress that has been made to date in the many innovative schemes for countryside management and protection that have been undertaken. Many important partnerships already exist at local level between authorities and the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. I hope the Minister is aware of this important co-operation and will wish to see it maintained.

I now wish to refer briefly to some specific points that have been brought to my attention. Clause 3 seems to give very wide guidance to Scottish Natural Heritage. The terms of the clause are perhaps too wide in a legal sense and could be improved by suitable amendment. The Minister provided some assistance on that clause in his explanation of it but we shall want to discuss it more fully.

We have a number of queries with regard to sites of special scientific interest. While it is recognised that these sites are of great importance, that importance has not in the past been too well explained to local people. The areas of the sites were perhaps drawn a little too widely to enable an understanding of their importance to be conveyed to local people. Therefore we think that those areas have been drawn too widely and that access for local people may not have been as easy as it should have been. I hope the Minister will pay some attention to that point. It is meant to be helpful.

I could talk for a long time on the subject of fish farms. They cause much concern to many different groups in Scotland. I know that there is considerable conflict between employment opportunities and the long-term ecological effects of fish farms. The Minister has already referred to the Scottish Sports Council. That council is concerned that the new body may not be as effective as the Countryside Commission in promoting access to the countryside. I hope that that will not be the case. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister on that point.

What will be the powers of Scottish Natural Heritage in relation to national parks? Up until now we believed that it was unlikely that national parks would be designated. I was going to suggest that protection should be given to the Cairngorms and perhaps Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. However, I am pleased that the Minister has intimated that the World Heritage listing for the Cairngorms will be pursued. He also spoke about the encroachment of towns on the countryside. This juxtaposition must be sympathetically dealt with.

Perhaps one of the most difficult concepts in the Bill is that of sustainable development. This matter could be debated at length. The concept has been described to me as a buzz phrase. That conveys the impression that someone had a good idea that was too difficult to verbalise and was thus open to all kinds of opportunistic one-off interpretations. I have my own concept of the matter which we can perhaps debate in Committee. However, I assure the Minister that clarification of the phrase "sustainable development" will be needed.

Government commitment to decentralisation is welcome. It will raise public awareness of Scottish Natural Heritage as well as help to establish its credibility. Local offices will, however, need the support and co-operation of local communities so mechanisms need to be developed to ascertain local views. It has been suggested that the headquarters of the new agency should be located in rural Scotland. That suggestion is worth looking at and I have sympathy for it, but I can see great problems in finding a compromise location suitable for the east coast, the west coast, the Highlands and the Islands and the Border areas. We sometimes seem to forget that the Border areas are an important part of the Scottish heritage.

With amalgamations there is always the possibility of conflict. I remember someone who always used to talk about a Dover and Chatham railway. It is always difficult to get staff to accept mergers. However, I am sure the Scottish staff will be more flexible. Staff training will be needed to develop their understanding of the new objectives of the integrated agency and to promote as their primary allegiance a commitment to Scottish Natural Heritage notwithstanding their former backgrounds. The Bill is an important Bill for Scotland. We shall welcome the Committee stage, when I hope we shall be able to seek and receive suggestions and clarification on a number of issues. In the course of discussion, perhaps we shall be able to make improvements to the Bill.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I wish to join the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, in the congratulations he offered to the Minister. I also wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, on his speech. However, I did not altogether follow his razor-sharp mind as regards water, although I understand that he was chiefly concerned with drought. I must confess that among all the evils of this wicked world drought is not high on the list for those in the far north of Scotland.

I welcome the amalgamation of the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. That was obviously a sensible step. I also very much welcome the fact that these bodies will be controlled from Scotland. That too was an eminently sensible step. Will the co-ordinated committee always be centred in Peterborough? I hope that that will not be the case. I hope that it will be a small committee, with a small number of staff, and that it will not become an excuse for re-centralising activities in Peterborough. I suggest that some of the meetings of the committee should be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff or possibly some other place in England, Wales or Scotland.

I particularly welcome the appointment of Magnus Magnusson. As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, mentioned, he is a foreigner. He is a very good foreigner from the far north and he will bring to the quarrelsome Scots a little Nordic common sense and general calm. That is much needed in some Scottish undertakings. However, am I not right in thinking that Magnus Magnusson has also been appointed to look into the future of the Cairngorms? Has he been appointed to do so in a personal capacity or as the chairman of this new body? How much of his time will be taken up by that activity? When do these various appointments take effect?

I much object to the title of the new body. The body is not Scotland's "natural heritage". It is slovenly drafting to set up a body called Scottish Natural Heritage. I know that there are precedents but it is not something that Parliament should do.

There are also practical disadvantages. The word "heritage" is overworked and there are already several bodies which include it in their title. Furthermore, before the Bill appeared I received a letter from a member of one of the previous organisations who pointed out that such organisations tended to think that they were God. They tended to believe that there had been no landscape in Scotland until they had been formed. Such a title could encourage that mentality. It is vital that such bodies should not believe that they are God and should not be under the impression that they created the Scottish natural heritage.

What is the mischief that we are trying to cure? What is the main thrust that this body should follow? The mischief is threats to the countryside. It is very difficult to get agreement about what the countryside should be and what the threats to it are. But we know that laying down large areas of concrete, building unsuitable roads, cutting down trees and numerous other activities are thought to be detrimental to the countryside.

Who are the potential villains? Farmers, landlords, developers, government departments—in particular those which design the roads—and local authorities, which cut the verges and lay down large areas of concrete in unsuitable places. There are many sectional interests with impeccable intentions which bring about undesirable results. There is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is now the largest landowner in Orkney. I very much doubt whether it is a good thing that such an absentee landlord, run by bureaucrats, should own such a large area of Orkney. There is also the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, which is a very reputable body. However, it is about to ruin the environment of the Broch of Gurness by building a car park for more than 100 cars and laying down a tarmac road along what used to be a rather nice piece of unspoilt coast. I could go on.

We must also remember that those are the people who made the countryside—the landlords, the farmers, you and I, all of Scotland—have done an enormous amount to conserve it and so have those bodies. Therefore the new body will have an exceptionally difficult time in laying down what can and cannot be done, even by admirable bodies such as those I have mentioned.

I should like to refer to three or four matters which are now in the Scottish eye. There is the question of the new forests in Caithness. The re is violent controversy as to whether fir trees are good or bad. There is violent controversy over Aviemore. In today's Scotsman there is a picture of a track through Glen Feshie, which was probably originally created by the estate of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton. On the back page of the Daily Telegraph there are pictures of enormous quarries in Oxfordshire. In both instances a case can be made for and against the developments. I can see no objection to the track in Glen Feshie and, as to the quarries in Oxfordshire, no doubt we have to build roads and houses, and quarries are necessary. It will be very difficult to set up a body which will be impartial and able to advise the Government on such matters.

I believe that the only way in which that can be achieved is for the body to keep its purpose clearly in mind. Its purpose is primarily to conserve. It may also educate people about the natural beauty of Scotland and advise on developments, but it is a conservation body. It is not set up to undertake research or hold conferences. I have no objection to it commissioning research, but research can be undertaken by the universities without a new centre being set up.

The new body should be as impartial as possible. Therefore I do not favour it being filled with people who are parti pris and members of some, no doubt, admirable body. I should like to ask whether, when the Bill mentions members coming from various areas of activity, that means geographical areas or areas of different skills such as agriculture or architecture. I can see arguments both ways.

One of the most difficult matters in Scotland is tourism. Noble Lords have probably not read the report by the priests of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is an extremely good, well written and carefully worked oat report. It concludes that the cathedral has already been ruined from the point of view of worship, which after all was its main purpose, and unless the number of tourists can De reduced it will soon be physically destroyed. It will be physically destroyed as a result of the quantity of vehicles which park outside it and the number of people who tramp through it. We know that the Cairngorms face the problem of people trekking over wild areas.

Therefore I believe that this new body should not encourage tourism. We already have a tourist board. The new body should stand apart from tourism. It is splendid that people should visit our natural heritage and sites of natural beauty but a limit may have to be imposed. Other considerations may have to be taken into account.

I should also like to say a word about ownership. When I was secretary of the National Trust for Scotland we found that it was of enormous advantage for the former owners to stay in properties. They looked after the property far better than any bureaucrat. They were far cheaper and far more acceptable to local people and the people who visited their properties. Therefore I am in favour of leaving the former owners of properties in charge as far as possible.

The difficulty about that is that the former owners become very competitive. When a property is first taken over, the representative of the National Trust is taken on one side by the owner, who says "I don't want people tramping through my house and my bathroom". After a year or two he draws one aside again and says, "Old Colonel Stick-in-the-Mud is getting far more tourists than I am. I don't understand it, my house is much nicer than his. Would you mind putting advertisements in the local newspaper to encourage people to come and see it?" So continuity of ownership does not deal entirely with the problem of tourism, but I believe that as far as possible we should not go back to absentee landlords. They have a very bad reputation. The Nature Conservancy Council became extremely unpopular in Orkney because it sought to behave like an absentee landlord. We got rid of most of them in the last century. If anything is worse than an absentee landlord it is an absentee bureaucrat.

When I was at the National Trust for Scotland we entered into covenants with people such as not to shoot on land and to protect this or that. Those covenants were extremely effective.

If the Minister ever comes to Orkney I shall take him to a very beautiful historic house which is lived in and looked after by the local district nurse. She keeps it beautifully. Her family assist her and she receives grants for repairs to the roof and so on. She has been collecting furniture which originally came from the house. That relationship can only exist so long as the property does not belong to some bureaucratic body. If properties are taken over, for example, even by the National Trust for Scotland —for which I have the highest admiration—at once there have to be car parks, lavatories, an information centre and a tea room and it becomes extremely expensive.

Now I come to the question of designation. We should take advantage of the Bill to look again at the designation of sites of special scientific interest and so forth. In a way the whole landscape of Scotland, or very nearly all of it, is of interest, as is that of Europe. I remember that when the best moorland of Orkney was designated, I spoke to one of the bureaucrats and he talked of it as being an internationally beautiful place. But so are Provence, Germany and Italy, as well as most of the landscape of Scotland. One has to be very careful about this matter in that some places are more deserving of preservation than others. We might possibly discuss that point when we come to discuss the Bill in more detail.

I should like to raise one or two other questions about the Bill. Apart from the Title, to which I object, I notice that in Clause 1(3) it states that: For the purposes of this Act, 'the natural heritage of Scotland' includes the flora and fauna of Scotland, its geological and physiographical features, its natural beauty and amenity; and references to 'natural heritage' shall be construed accordingly". That shows the dangers of specifying some things and leaving out others. Are fish a part of our natural heritage? I consider salmon to be as much a part of our natural heritage as the grouse. Are reptiles part of our natural heritage?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if the noble Lord will turn to Clause 3, I think that he will see the answers to those questions.

Lord Grimond

But my Lords, should there be doubts there? It seems to me that even if those things appear in other places, they should appear at this point also.

Again there is the very difficult question of fish farming that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I should like to return to the word "sustainable". I do not understand what sustainable means. Does it mean that one can embark on nothing if one cannot keep it going for all time? If that were the test, then Culzean Castle would never have been built. In modern times it is unsustainable except by public funds. Coal should not be mined because coal supplies cannot be sustained for ever. I do not see what "sustainable" means in the Bill. No doubt these are matters which will be discussed in Committee at some length.

In conclusion, we meet today on a Monday and I understand that the Committee also will meet on a Monday. For those who occasionally go to the far north of Scotland it is not very convenient to meet on a Monday. I ask the Government to bear that in mind. I know that it also may not be suitable for those who live in the deserts of northern England and some other places. The Government might take into account that Monday is not an ideal day to discuss a Bill which will require a great deal of consideration in Committee.

With those reservations I wish the Bill well. I believe that its main recommendations are on the right lines because above all we must ensure that this body is responsible to people in Scotland. Much as we may disapprove of the Secretary of State, he is our own man—the Under-Secretary is too. We welcome the return to Scotland of some control over what will be a most important body.

3.55 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the Government on bringing forward this Bill. In particular I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on his admirable presentation. I understand how important and useful the measure will be. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, brought out some very good points and the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, went in for a great deal of detail. I shall not go into any detail at all today because I hope to do so at Committee stage. The Bill is very important. It is a very good moment to bring it forward and I hope that it will receive great support.

There are large areas in Scotland which will qualify for special environmental care. This Bill will both control and help in irrigation—a matter in which I am particularly interested. It will ensure that essential water supplies are delivered and protected. Supply in Scotland should be fairly easy since in many areas the annual rainfall is high. Oddly enough a drought in the summer can have a bad effect and if there is no snow in winter the springs in the hills of the area in which I live can dry up.

One of the interesting things about the Borders, about which I am speaking, is that the water often comes entirely from springs, as it does on my estate, which is fairly large. So strong are the springs that they also supply the whole, quite sizeable village with water. I have never had to pay any water rates for the simple reason that all the water comes from my own ground. In a way that is rather curious. I do not know whether it happens elsewhere but it is so in that particular area.

It is very important, particularly in the less favoured areas of which I am speaking, that we should make sure that irrigation is protected and encouraged. As I read the Bill, it will ensure that areas of doubtful supply are dealt with in one way or another. That will be of great help to agriculture.

In the Borders, the River Tweed and the River Teviot are very strong rivers of supply, with many hill streams running into them. They are excellently managed both from the purification point of view and as regards amenities. Regulations protecting the river from careless pollution are very strict indeed. In my experience they work very well.

Scotland has 47 per cent. of the sites of special scientific interest and 68 national nature reserves. Under this Bill they will still be protected and encouraged. In some parts of Scotland there are plans for developments of different kinds, but they will all be subject to approval by Scottish Natural Heritage.

I have had some experience of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. I feel confident that working together in one organisation will be very suitable indeed and will prove to be of great help. So often in matters concerned with local government and local areas there is too much competition from different interests. This measure will concentrate interests into one body for natural history under the Natural Heritage Bill, which will be very valuable.

I hope that in the course of the Committee stage we shall be able to add to the provisions and improve the Bill. In the meantime I support it wholeheartedly and congratulate the Government on having brought it forward.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I too should like to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. My only regret is that he does not appear here as the Minister of State to speak on Scottish affairs as it occurs to me that these matters have an importance that would justify that status. I recall very well (as will no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, behind me) the presence of his grandfather when we entered the Glasgow Town Council together. His grandfather became a distinguished Minister of State at the Scottish Office and answered on Scottish questions in this House. It is a pleasant experience to find the young Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, maintaining the traditions of his distinguished family and handling these matters with such competence.

I am delighted to support the Bill in the House today. Noble Lords may recall that there was a fairly passionate debate in this Chamber on nature conservancy being decentralised to become part of the new organisation as described in the Bill. I recall the passionate speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Ross of Newport, in opposition. One cannot get further from the Highlands of Scotland than Haringey and the Isle of Wight. Both noble Lords stirred the House and called a Division in order to frustrate the Bill that is before us now. Therefore I congratulate the Government and their supporters on their success.

Now we have the Bill. Now we have the terms on which we shall construct this new enterprise. It will not be easy because the interests—some conflicting, some harmonising —are difficult to balance. We have had experience of the Nature Conservancy Council and its operations to date in Scotland. One of the reasons that I supported the Bill was to ensure that decisions in connection with the Scottish countryside should be made nearer the ground. In the past NCC powers have been exercised from Peterborough.

I hope that the new organisation will be more sensitive to local needs. One of the difficulties from past experience has been that SSSIs were applied without appeal in large areas throughout Scotland. Over a million hectares in Scotland today are under SSSIs. Ten per cent. of the land surface of Scotland is under SSSIs, laid down by the Nature Conservancy Council. Those SSSIs will be maintained in the new Bill. I am not sure that they have always been sensibly and sensitively applied.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, talked about the balance between conservation and recreation. Conservation and recreation come within the province of the Bill but they are not the only interests that are to be affected in the application of the powers of the new organisation. First, there is no appeal against an SSSI. If the Nature Conservancy Council says, "It is a very nice and important place for birds to rest on their way back from South Africa or Iceland, or whatever", then that is so. One Member of this House told me recently that the Nature Conservancy Council said to him, "There is a pool of water on your land to which we think we should apply an SSSI". The noble Lord went with the local representative to look at it. He observed that it was a broken drain. That was about to be designated an SSSI for the birds.

There are other considerations in the countryside than simply recreation and conservation. There are the interests of people who live and work in the countryside. I have always thought that one of the great aspects of the countryside was not simply admiring the wilderness areas of the Cairngorms but also to see people earning their living in the countryside, in the saw mills, in forestry and in various other activities by which they choose to earn their living. I hope that the new body will be representative of balanced interests.

Much has been said about Magnus Magnusson. He is a folk hero in Scotland. He is highly regarded, sensible and intelligent. However, Magnus Magnusson is the president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. That is a special interest. I received a letter from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds today. It states: The RSPB expressed concerns at the splitting up of the Nature Conservancy Council", and so on. That means that Magnus Magnusson, as president of the RSPB, or his organisation, has been opposed entirely to the Bill. The organisation has lobbied seriously against the Bill. I wonder whether, if I had been appointed chairman of the new body, people would have said, "You cannot appoint Lord Taylor because he is interested in forestry and that would upset the balance". I am not seeking appointment, but I point out that we have to be extremely careful that the body that we set up is balanced and that other interests are well represented.

Local authorities—the elected representatives of the people—have a very important role to play in conservation. The SSSIs that are sprinkled over Scotland have been imposed over Scotland without a right of appeal. I hope that the new body will work closely with the elected representatives of the people. Those people are not elected. They are appointed by the Secretary of State. The local people elect their own representatives. I hope therefore that the land use strategies of the local authorities that have been developed in some parts of Scotland will be heeded when we consider the claims of recreation, conservation and other interests.

I notice in today's Glasgow Herald that the Crofters' Union is apprehensive about the powers that have been taken to impose plans. It quotes its experience also of SSSIs. I hope therefore that the Crofters' Union, the local authorities, the Forestry Commission and people of that ilk will be represented on the new body so that we have balanced judgments. Many of the judgments that are made in this field are subjective. We have to be aware that people who have a passion for a particular aspect of conservation are not unduly predominant in decisions that will require to be made by the new body.

Having said all that, I wish it well. It is a great exercise in decentralisation of authority which I support. I am sure that we shall benefit from the fact that it is Scottish-based. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, spoke of location. Anyone who has visited the beautiful headquarters of the Countryside Commission in the heart of Perthshire will probably recommend the Countryside Commission headquarters in the middle of Scotland as the appropriate place to locate this new and prestigious organisation.

4.8 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, was chairman of the Forestry Commission. I have always been prone to planting trees; my family have always planted trees. I also have always been in favour of the Forestry Commission.

I shall speak about the Western Highlands and Islands. I know Scotland very well; I could almost speak about the Western Highlands and Islands in my sleep. However, when the Forestry Commission was set up at the end of the 1930s —I may have the date wrong—it made a mistake. It planted woods for about a mile along the sea shore. By doing so it made the uplands barren in winter because the wildlife—the sheep and the deer—could not get down to the shore to eat the seaweed which is a very good diet for them.

I wish to point out that, although I have great respect for the official bodies, they are not God Almighty. They do not always have the practical experience of landowners whose families will no doubt continue to be landowners for a long time. However, I believe that Scottish Natural Heritage will be a satisfactory organisation.

Although the flora and fauna are most important, I wish to raise a point about the natural fertility of the land. During the war, in my part of the Highlands the Government introduced sheep in their thousands to the hills. Whereas there had been a great deal of wildlife and many deer, the sheep came in their thousands. Sheep, especially the Black Face breed, are close grazers. After a few years on the shallow soil of the hills where there is heavy rainfall the sheep cause a great deal of damage to the natural herbage through grazing. The heavy rainfall leaves the soil very thin and that creates a great deal of screeing. I have lived a long time—I am in my middle 70s—and I can remember parts of the hills which were grass providing good grazing, but are now scree. Such problems must be looked at most carefully.

I am happy with Scottish Natural Heritage but I am not happy with the Countryside Commission being amalgamated with that body. I am all for access by the public to beautiful scenery and for them enjoying themselves but I hope that the new Countryside Commission will not pour too many tens of thousands of people into the Western Highlands. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and I have travelled all over the world.

I have property on the beautiful Isle of Mull which I have tried to preserve. Messrs. David MacBrayne are running a new ferry which can carry about 1,000 people and 400 cars to the Isle of Mull. They run only two boats per day in the winter but six per day during the summer. The ferries are not always full but often they are packed. If 3,000 or 4,000 people per day are being ferried to a beautiful but small island—it is not as large as Skye—eventually the wildlife will be destroyed or driven away. A great deal of flora and fauna will also be destroyed even though they are protected by SSSIs.

I have many SSSIs on my estate because a great deal of it is geologically interesting. Many years ago I invited members of the International Geological Society to visit for about three weeks. It is a geologically important part of the world and I have always allowed learned parties, geologists and so forth to visit at certain times of the year. There are only two or three months when I do not allow this. I have an agreement with several universities and polytechnics. They have behaved well and do not send visitors at times other than the eight or nine months when I welcome them.

I wish to point out that much of the press appears to believe that landowners are wicked people. I could never understand the reason for that belief, although perhaps it is true of some of the new landowners who have made a fortune on the Stock Exchange. If it had not been for the old type of landowner a great deal of our heritage would have vanished.

I see that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy is ready to speak but I wish to make one further point. I have a large fish hatchery on my Mull estates. It supplies many of the cages around the west coast of Scotland. As a result of greed, the fish farms which we supply have been almost closed down for about three months. Disease has struck the salmon smolts, especially in the north of Scotland, and it is a serious matter. It is a result of greed because people overstocked the sea cages, did not clean them properly and so forth. I could continue on the subject for hours because I am pretty well informed about it. However, I shall now sit down and allow my betters to speak!

4.20 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, perhaps I may say to my noble friend that I am sorry but I have to sit forward on my seat in order to be able to stand. However, I was listening to my noble friend with great interest.

I congratulate the Government on the speed with which they have introduced the Bill following the enactment of the Environmental Protection Bill. I took a special interest in Part VII of what is now the Environmental Protection Act 1990 because it foreshadowed what is now in their Scottish Bill. Towards the end of last year I was co-opted onto the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology under the chairmanship of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I was very pleased to serve on that committee. I believe that its recommendations greatly assisted the Government in improving their original proposals for reorganisation of the NCC and Countryside Commissions.

There is one particular reason why I have supported the principle of that reorganisation as regards Scotland. The lines of responsibility had become tangled and were unclear to members of the public involved. First, let us consider the roles of Ministers. The Secretary of State for the Environment takes no decisions in Scotland. He is the Minister for England, not only on environmental subjects but also on housing, local government—for example, the community charge—water and everything else which falls in Scotland to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office. That has been so for at least 30 years, before the Welsh Office came into existence and when the Department of the Environment was called the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

The Nature Conservancy Council has had functions in England, Scotland and Wales but has been sponsored by one Minister; namely, the Secretary of State for the Environment. It reported to him. He takes no decisions in Scotland because those are all within the responsibility of the Scottish Secretary. When controversial or difficult issues have arisen in Scotland, that paradox in responsibilities has made matters worse. Furthermore, the field of nature conservation is one in which proposals affecting particular areas need to be discussed with local people and handled with great sensitivity.

At Report stage of the Environmental Protection Bill on 17th October, I alluded to anxiety which has been felt in some areas of Scotland about the designation of vast areas as sites of special scientific interest—SSSIs. That has been mentioned already in the debate today. The word "site" has lost its meaning when hundreds of thousands of hectares are designated.

As I believe noble Lords know, I am in favour of the system. For most of my life I have been known in Scotland as a conservationist and a bird man in particular. My home is in the local authority area of the Highland Regional Council. That council has informed me that no fewer than 380,000 hectares of its area have been designated; that is about 15 per cent. of its area, which is about one-third of the whole area of Scotland.

Some residents of the Highland Region have the unfortunate impression that designation has the effect of blight or devaluation of the land. I hope that the reorganisation proposed in this Bill will change all that. Members of the Highland Regional Council are anxious that there should be an improved understanding of the system and the reasons for it.

I raised one question on this aspect during that debate on 17th October. My noble friend Lady Blatch was replying but she could not reply to that point at the end of the debate. I wrote to her immediately afterwards and she has now replied to me. The point I was making was about the question of any form of appeal or referral from decisions of the NCC as it then was. With the speedy publication of this Bill, it seems that the answers as regards Scotland should now come from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in interpreting its provisions.

I asked whether Scottish Natural Heritage will be both investigator and final decision maker on its own proposals or whether there will be provision for referral to an independent body or a Minister when, for example, a local authority, reputable organisation or individuals fail to reach agreement with this new body.

The Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, which has just been created by the Act which we passed, will now have a life of not more than a year or so. Therefore, we must look at this Bill to see what it proposes.

I see that powers of compulsory purchase are to be given to the new body, but in that case the authority of the Secretary of State is required. I believe that in Scotland the position is still that any power of compulsory purchase requires, in all statutes, the authority of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Clause 10 provides for the Secretary of State to give general or specific directions. If a dispute unfortunately arises, can the Secretary of State give a specific direction to end it, either in favour of SNH or of the other contender? Will the Secretary of State be able to use the power to call in a decision? That is a power which he can and does use in the town and country planning legislation.

Everyone concerned in nature conservation and the countryside will wish the new body good fortune and success. However, there are some who want to know if there is to be any referral or appeal procedure in contested cases arising from the new body's proposals.

I was personally delighted to hear that Mr. Magnusson had accepted the chairmanship and was the chairman-designate of the new body. Of course, he would be Sir Magnus were it not for his Icelandic nationality. I believe that he will start with much goodwill and public support in Scotland. I can add to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I put a question to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds when it was giving evidence to the sub-committee because Mr. Magnusson's appointment had been announced only a few days beforehand. From the answers I received from the chief executive, who was against the original proposals for this merger of the two bodies, I am satisfied that there is a wide area for different opinions within that society. It has many members and I can quite understand that. The man who has been president of the society for some time is taking on this new job and is therefore accepting the reorganisation. That should be very helpful.

On the question of new bodies and new names raised in this Bill, I should like to mention again the subject of names of departments with a view to helping the public to discover what they do. Twenty years ago the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which had no functions in Scotland, was renamed the Department of the Environment. Its duties still include housing and local government and do not extend to Scotland. During the passage of the Environmental Protection Bill earlier this year I pointed out that the word "environment" is not included in the names of any of the departments of the Scottish Office which include other subjects such as home and health, education, agriculture and fisheries.

Over 30 years ago a Scottish Office department was created and called simply the Scottish Development Department. It was given that single description largely because it covered so many subjects including housing, local government, roads and electricity. Since then another department—Industry Department, Scotland—has taken from it most of the subjects affecting industry and development. I believe that it would be much clearer to people in Scotland and, more important, the public outside Scotland that environmental matters should be one of the main concerns of that department. Otherwise, it is thought that it is only in favour of development and gives priority to that. Therefore, I suggest that the name should be changed to the Environment Department of Scotland—EDS—and not the Scottish Environment Department because that would have the initials SED which are the well known initials of the Scottish Education Department.

The department now called the Scottish Development Department has at present the functions which are exercised by the Department of the Environment in England. The new name would therefore help the public to identify its role and perceive that it matched its counterpart south of the Border while working under the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is anomalous that one of the ministers at the Scottish Office now has "environment" in his designation, but no department has. My honourable friend Lord James Douglas-Hamilton is designated the Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment.

I should remind your Lordships that it was I who introduced the system of designations of Scottish Office Ministers 20 years ago when I was Secretary of State, so I hope your Lordships will not mind my making suggestions about this now. Of course I recognise the inconvenience of changing names and I accept that it should not be done too speedily but over a period in order to save expense. Nevertheless I hope that the Government are seriously considering the suggestion.

I have also a question for the Opposition Front Bench which I hope can be answered, because it affects this reorganisation and the proposals in the Bill. In a recent policy statement the Labour Party announced that if it was to form a government it would institute a minister for environmental protection. Opposition spokesmen must have given some thought to how this appointment would operate. I ask: would this new minister have a co-ordinating or supervisory role, or would he have a new department? If there is to be a new department, would it cover Scotland and Wales as well as England? I ask because a similar situation arose in 1964. Before the General Election in that year the Labour manifesto stated that the Labour Party would establish a new ministry for land and natural resources. It was duly established, but it lasted only two years. In 1966 it was dismantled and packed up.

When it was being formed in late 1964 and early 1965 I put Questions to the Prime Minister of the day in another place on whether its mandate would include Scotland. The Welsh Office had not come into existence then. The replies at first indicated that this had not yet been decided. Later, when it was decided, the new ministry's mandate did not extend to Scotland.

I could understand the dilemma in that proposal because it had been ventilated widely as a new ministry which would have wide overall responsibility for environmental subjects. For more than one-third of the land and natural resources of Britain not to be included detracted from the concept. On the other hand, to have taken away from the Scottish Office functions which it had possessed for years would have been unpopular with Scots and would have provided ammunition for the Nationalists. I want to point out that this could occur again.

One of the main reasons for its abolition only two years after its creation was the difficulty of drawing lines between departments and in particular the complete exclusion of Scotland. I must add that an important casualty was the loss of the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Sir Freddie Bishop. He had been promoted to the job at a youthful age but with a high reputation, having been principal private secretary for some time to Prime Ministers. He then departed and went to the City, where, I understand, he has lived happily ever afterwards; but that was a loss to the public service.

I note that there is no second speech to come from the Opposition Front Bench, but I shall listen with interest to answers to these questions arising from the present proposals of the official Opposition during later stages of this Bill. In the meantime, I strongly support its principles.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, and to offer my general support for Scottish Natural Heritage as proposed in this Bill. However, I should like to put down a marker about an initiative which the Countryside Commission for Scotland is planning and which, I suppose, may be taken over by Scottish Natural Heritage in due course.

The Countryside Commission for Scotland, or the CCS as I shall call it, has produced a report entitled The Mountain Areas of Scotland: Conservation and Management, which proposes that at least four large national parks should be set up in areas of some of our finest mountain scenery. I must declare an interest, in that I own land which the CCS proposes to include in one of its national parks. I hope your Lordships will not feel that this clouds my judgment too much, because I intend to offer what I trust are some fairly objective criticisms of the CCS report.

To start with, their consultation process does not appear to have been as full as your Lordships would expect for a proposal of this importance. For example, I was certainly not consulted in any way, and nor was any other landowner with whom I have been able to discuss the project. We were not sent a copy of the report when it came out, either. The landowners and their representatives have become involved in the consultation process, but only because they went rather aggressively to meet it and not because it came, as I feel it should have done, to meet them.

This lack of proper consultation with the landowners is not surprising if one reads the report carefully. It has all the hallmarks of a document whose authors wished to reach a predetermined conclusion and who were not interested in any advice they may have received along the way which did not accord with that conclusion.

It is actually quite a disturbing document. I hope I am not being alarmist if I suggest that it is capable of socialist, confiscatory interpretations. For instance, at least part of its inspiration is exposed right at the start. I quote: A sense of injury about land tenure continues in the Highlands today. That is a statement which requires examination in the overall context of the Highland heritage and the Highland economy today. There is also a disturbing assumption that somehow local authorities should be very influential in the new national parks. I think that is also an assumption which requires much greater examination.

Given that inspiration, it is perhaps not surprising that the national parks are intended to have some truly draconian powers, which are of course to be found lurking in an annex. The new national parks are to have powers. Again I quote: to manage land and co-ordinate other land-controlling organisations; to impose land management orders, as a last resort; to purchase land, compulsorily where necessary; to introduce bye-laws to control nuisances; and to enter into management agreements to secure access. This being so, it is not surprising that throughout the report the landowners are assumed to be responsible for everything that is alleged to have gone wrong. There is only one grudging reference to the fact that if this land is as fine as the authors suggest—and I believe it may be—the landowners themselves must deserve some credit for their management over the past 150 years or so. This grudging reference appears on page 12, when the report admits that, —and I quote: Estate management in the mountains has led to slow change, and this has served some aspects of the public interest. Also significant is the admission that landowners have taken, and do take, a generally tolerant approach to public access.

So of what are the wicked landowners supposed to be guilty, apart from some general undefined lack of management in the public interest? The report identifies three specific areas of concern and, in my view, all of them could be better dealt with by an extension of existing mechanisms and powers than by the creation of national parks. Those concerns are, first, the bulldozing of unsightly hill tracks. If that is a problem—and I believe it is—it is not confined to the proposed national park areas. It is much more widespread throughout Scotland. Surely that is an activity which could be controlled through an extension of existing planning controls and/or by Scottish Natural Heritage when it takes over. National parks are unnecessary and will not deal with the generality of the problem.

The second concern is that there are too many unsightly plantations full of alien trees. That is true. But I fancy the Minister may wish to examine the role of the Forestry Commission in this regard. I am sure that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

The third accusation is that landowners are not shooting enough red deer, particularly hinds, and these are spoiling the local ecology. That accusation may also be just. However, we do not need a national park authority to show us the solution. The Minister said that the Government intend to give the Red Deer Commission power to shoot more deer. With the greatest respect, I wonder whether even that is the solution. It may need to exist as a background power, but it is not the front line solution. It would be much simpler to alter the season during which deer, particularly hinds, may be shot, by bringing forward the hind shooting season from 20th October, when winter is fast approaching, to, say, 1st September. That change would have many other spin-off advantages for the Highland economy, which I do not have sufficient time to mention now.

An overall point I should like to make regarding deer, landowners and the Highland economy is that this is not the right moment to attack the deer interests. The deer, with the money and the employment which they bring to the Highland economy, are vital. We live in a time when the common agricultural policy is in doubt, when the grant on sheep is falling, and we, the deer managers, are struggling on, receiving only one-third of the price we received last year for our venison, without any grant at all from the Government.

At the same time, I should have thought some consideration should be given to encourage cattle onto the hill in the summer, balanced with sheep and deer, away from the practices of the past 150 years which have encouraged sheep and deer to take over entirely. Earthworms cannot live under the droppings of sheep and deer. They need cow pats.

I hope that that shows how at least some of the more important assumptions and conclusions contained in the report are seriously flawed. Another fundamental error is that the CCS does not appear to have considered—or rather I understand it considered but decided to discard—the honeypot effect of turning some of our finest landscape into national parks. Such a designation would inevitably bring more people. Large numbers of people, however much we may welcome and want them, do not fit well with delicate wildlife and natural habitats. The parallel experience in other parts of Europe proves that point. Therefore national parks may defeat the object of the exercise, if that object is indeed to preserve our finest natural heritage.

If we really want to reconcile the interests of recreation, true nature conservation and the local communities that live in our remote areas, this report is not the way to start. I hope that Scottish Natural Heritage will ignore it and start afresh with itself in the driving seat.

4.44 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, although I do not have a direct interest, I should possibly declare an indirect interest in the Cairngorms. My husband has a house in that area and my family has an estate. I had not originally intended to speak today but as the debate has proceeded one or two matters have arisen that concern me greatly.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, gave an example of the kind of arrogant disregard for owners of property on the part of the Countryside Commission which many of us have experienced in the past and about which we are worried lest Scottish Natural Heritage repeats such disregard in the future. From reading the Bill it appears that Scottish Natural Heritage is to have draconian powers with no duty to consult either the owners of property or such interested organisations as, for example, the Scottish Landowners' Federation, the Red Deer Commission, the Forestry Commission or, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said, the representatives of the people. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would care to comment on that point.

The noble Lord mentioned in his opening speech the powers that the Government intend to confer on the Red Deer Commission to cull excess deer. Does that mean that the Red Deer Commission will simply walk on to estates and begin shooting? Or does it propose to offer assistance to owners carrying out the cull themselves?

It is perhaps not appreciated as widely as it should be that deer forests have a quota of stags and hinds which they should kill each year in order to keep the herd down to such numbers as the forest will support, with or without additional feeding in the winter. That quota is decided by the Red Deer Commission. Well-run estates take trouble to try to achieve the target. In a hard winter weather conditions may make it difficult for the estate staff to kill the necessary numbers before the end of the season.

On a well-run estate tenants are obliged to shoot old, sickly or disabled stags with poor heads. They cannot simply shoot any stag they wish; they must shoot the one indicated by the stalker. If the stalker is good and the estate is well run it will be the deformed head, the poor, sickly, aged stag that they will shoot, not the one that they fancied they could take home to Germany or Italy as a fine trophy. That is to allow the best animals to breed and improve the stock. The stalker will bear similar principles in mind when killing hinds later in the season.

Perhaps the noble Lord will say what line the Red Deer Commission is proposing to take. Will it be co-operating with the landowner or riding roughshod over him? The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, spoke of the suggestion that certain areas, particularly the Cairngorms, should be designated as national parks. As he said, the very name "national park" acts as a magnet to tourists. The area of the Cairngorms is already approaching saturation point in that regard. Even walkers who stick to the paths, if there are too many of them, eventually erode the paths. I believe that has happened in parts of the Lake District. When people ride mountain bikes either on paths or, worse still, off them, and indulge in off-piste and sometimes very far off-piste skiing—now called cross-country skiing—in winter, it does great damage not only to the paths but to the flora and fauna. I do not know how one copes with that situation. It is very serious. Designating large areas as national parks will not help.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said that he hoped that Scottish Natural Heritage will bear in mind that people live and work in the Cairngorms and in those parts of Scotland it is so anxious to conserve. I hope that it will respect their livelihoods and the quality of life those people have enjoyed.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, also suggested that the headquarters of Scottish Natural Heritage should be in Perthshire. I heartily endorse that suggestion. I suggest that it should be in or very near Perth because that is about the only place in Scotland which can be reached in one day from any part of the country.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, according to what the Red Deer Commission has told me, it does not lay down a particular quota which it wants shot. All over Scotland—certainly in west Scotland—we have our own deer management committees. That concerns all the deer forest owners in a certain area. It is laid down how many deer should be shot including both stags and hinds.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Viscount. I was not quite sure how the quota was arrived at. I am most grateful for his help.

4.51 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, as my name is not on the list of speakers, I shall be very brief. It is obvious from the quality of discussion this afternoon and from the number of questions and arguments that have arisen that the Bill is very important for Scotland. I look forward to developing some of the arguments and answering, I hope, some of the questions at a later stage.

I have one question to put to the Minister. When we were discussing Part VII of the Environmental Protection Bill, which is the parent of this Bill, we were helped to a large extent by at least having some of the names of the people who are to run the new body. My noble friend Lord Carmichael raised the matter in his speech. I make a special plea to the Minister. I hope that he will provide during subsequent stages of the Bill at least some of the names of those who will be on the new body. That will help us to have a flavour of the kind of body it will be.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, as a sassenach and a townie, I would like to have an answer from either the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, or the noble Lady, on a matter which is of concern to me. The noble Lord referred to the hinds being slaughtered. The word "culled" is just another euphemism. Once again it is the poor old female, and I wonder why. Surely, it is the stag which does the damage. I do not follow that at all. The noble Lady referred to both being slaughtered. Is there such a number of these beautiful creatures that they have to he killed just for the clearance of the woods? That is something which I find extraordinarily difficult to understand.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, the answer is yes. If there are too many of them they starve.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, perhaps I may add to what the noble Lady said. The last wolf was shot in Scotland in 1703. There are now no natural enemies of the red deer herd except for man. If those of us who have the responsibility for controlling the number of deer on our ground do not control enough of them, they die an extremely unpleasant death, usually in the late spring. Death is caused not so much through starvation but by eating the fresh grass when it comes through. I shall not trouble your Lordships with the pain and suffering that that causes. It is in those circumstances that the deer wander further and raid crops and cause other damage. It is for this reason that the Red Deer Commission feels that the estates are not shooting —I do not much like the word "cull"—mough hinds. There is not so much of a problem with the stags because they tend to be shot in September and October when the days are longer. Stags also have a much higher value to the estates, because foreigners and others come in, to the benefit of the Highland economy, and pay considerable sums to shoot them.

After 20th October the stalkers, who are the professionals on the estates, tend to be left to get on with the job of shooting sufficient hinds. Because of poor conditions, short days, and for all kinds of other reasons, in recent years the stalkers have not been achieving that sufficiency. That is why I have suggested that it might be sensible to move the season for shooting hinds further forward. That would allow the cull between stags and hinds to be more properly balanced.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I did not expect to be back in this country in time to speak in the debate. In fact, the job has been much better done by my noble friend Lord Grimond. However, now I am here, I cannot resist saying something. The debate has ranged in various directions. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has given a very full explanation. I suggest that he should fill it out by writing to the noble Baroness so that she can understand what goes on.

I can tell her that some Highlanders think that the wolves have been replaced by landlords. That is not true. The foreigners who come to shoot also give good money which is very useful in the "Highlands. I welcome the Bill and the setting up of the body. The time is right to co-ordinate environmental protection in Scotland. Every single body is now looking at this issue. We have no less than two reports which were debated at length in this House the other day, both dealing with matters on the same lines and both concerned with what we can do to preserve and improve the environment.

It is admirable that the heritage body is being set up in Scotland to run Scottish affairs. Though the conservationists in England say that conservation is international, the fact is that Scottish affairs and Scottish heritage will be better looked after in Scotland by Scotsmen and Icelanders, however much the English may think they can do it better.

Magnus Magnusson is an admirable choice as chairman of the new body. I hope that he will realise that the heritage also includes Scottish people. There is a tendency on the part of some conservationists to put birds before people in the countryside. Such matters have to be taken into account by a Scottish body in order to balance exactly the concerns of the countryside and the people in it besides the wildlife. I believe that those factors will be well looked after by the new body.

Agriculture in the Highlands and the uplands needs a new look. We are no longer desperately in need of food because we have great surpluses. We are spending a great deal of money on supporting them. A great deal of that money could go to the different objective of properly balancing the environment. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that there is no question about cattle. It is not clear whether it is better to crop the grass shorter and aerate the ground or whether it is the dung patch itself which encourages the fertility of the soil and with it the worm. The cattle on the hill have to be balanced with the heather. If there is a great deal of heather, more farmers will pay money to shoot grouse. There is a great deal of balancing to be done. I hope that it will be an expert body which will advise the agriculture department on how to make this proper balance in our affairs.

I am very glad that the Scots are going to sort out their own affairs and look after the environment in Scotland. I hope and trust that the Government and the Minister, who is new, young and energetic, will see to it that they get enough money to do the job.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I listened very carefully to the debate and I have no hesitation in saying that I found it interesting. The quality of the contributions was of a very high standard. I am grateful to all those who spoke. Clearly, a great deal of thought had gone into each of the speeches. There is particular proof of that because in the gap we had three extra speakers. I am not sure whose fault it was although I thought it was that of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. That was until the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said that he had just returned to the country. It was at that stage that I heard that the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, were due to speak. I am very glad that they did.

The Government have given a great deal of thought to these proposals before submitting them to the House. While there may be some disagreement on the details there is no fundamental dispute about the merger itself. I was glad to hear the overall congratulations from noble Lords on all sides of the House, particularly from the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. My noble friend was a great battler on the Environmental Protection Act, especially on Part VII, as indeed was the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, regretted the fact that the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Ross of Newport, were not present to listen to the debate. I have to agree with him. It would have been excellent if they had been here to see what has developed out of our debates on Part VII of the Environmental Protection Act and to see the good work that has gone into creating something which I know will be workable.

Perhaps I may now turn to some of the detailed points raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked why we were having a single Bill rather than two separate Bills. I find myself in a difficult position. I am sure that if I had come to the House with two separate Bills the noble Lord would have asked why, as these matters concern environmental issues, we did not have a single Bill. We are frequently criticised for overloading the legislative programme. The two parts of the Bill—water and heritage—are both environmental matters and fit in well together.

The noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Grimond, mentioned the word "sustainability" and asked how we would define it. In fact, there was a good deal of discussion about definition. We are the guardians of the heritage of our successors. We can do that properly only if we manage our heritage. In the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister: We do not hold a freehold on our world, but only a full repairing lease". In addition, the White Paper on the environment said that we should not be sacrificing tomorrow's prospects for largely illusory gains today and that we have a moral duty to look after our planet and to hand it on in good order.

These concepts are the essence of sustainability. They do not mean preservation and not allowing things to change, but making sure that when changes occur in the use of land and water resources they do not irretrievably damage the natural environment and impair the heritage that we wish to hand on. That is what we mean by sustainability. No doubt we shall discuss that at greater length when we reach the Committee stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said that the balance between recreation and conservation would be crucial to the operation of SNH. The Government do not expect SNH to solve all of Scotland's environmental problems or to remove all conflict between developers and conservationists and single-handedly move the Scottish economy to a base of sustainable use of resources. Such ambitions are unrealistic. The role of the new agency will be to maintain and extend the work of NCCS and CCS, building on their existing strengths, carrying forward their existing duties and responsibilities and bringing about changes in attitudes and behaviour towards the conservation and enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, asked about the name Scottish Natural Heritage. It has been chosen because it best encapsulates what we are trying to achieve—a Scottish body responsible for the conservation and enjoyment of nature's bequest which can influence positively man's use of it so as to hand it on in good heart to future generations. It is a simple, distinct name. It readily identifies the new organisation and sets out its focus of attention. Throughout the process of consultation it has been the Government's preferred option and we have received no better suggestion, though of course it will be open to the noble Lord to bring one forward when we reach the Committee stage. I looked at a list of about 25 alternative names. I felt that none was better than Scottish Natural Heritage.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, made an excellent speech. He brought together a good many different strands about the countryside, its management and the heritage bodies which currently exist. He asked what the country should be. That is the kind of question which Scottish Natural Heritage will need to answer in real situations. He also said that those organisations tend to act like God, a point echoed by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. We have no desire to see SNH turn into that kind of organisation. The major role of the organisation is to advise and to work with landowners and occupiers. That is crucial.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, also asked whether the areas of expertise for the board would be geographical or academic. Geographical representation will be taken into account and we envisage a series of regional boards. We shall have to wait before we can announce the participants on the board. It is important that there should be some continuity from the existing NCCS boards and the Countryside Commission boards.

I am glad to have heard so much said about Magnus Magnusson, the chairman of NCCS. Having met him only recently, I too believe that he is just the right kind of person to take on the very real challenges that SNH will face over the next few years and to create the foundations that such a body will need. A question was asked about his work on the Cairngorms Working Party. He has been appointed to the chairmanship of the Cairngorms Working Party in his capacity as chairman designate of Scottish Natural Heritage. The working party will operate from early 1991 to early 1992. We do not envisage it getting in the way of his work in setting up SNH itself.

Many noble Lords referred to the role of SSSIs and said that this was not properly explained, especially to local people. They also pointed out that there is no right of appeal. The noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Taylor, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Campbell all mentioned this point. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, spoke of draconian powers. I agree. I can understand the great concern about the SSSI system being seen not entirely to have worked. NCC Scotland has therefore been asked to review its procedures and the procedures it uses within the present statutory framework. Although we do not propose to change the present arrangements, we seek a more positive approach through negotiating positive management agreements between the landowner, the land user and SNH, which will be so greatly concerned with creating a sustainable environment for natural heritage.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the noble Lord has said that the new body will look at the procedures for the application of SSSIs. Will he look at the existing SSSIs, which have been imposed without right of appeal? Are they to stand without review?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it will be up to the new successor organisation itself to see whether an SSSI should remain an SSSI or whether in the future there may be a point in changing it.

Several noble Lords referred to the location of Scottish Natural Heritage. We shall be keen not to find an urban location, which I think all noble Lords will appreciate would not be the most appropriate place for an environmental conservation body. But whether it will be just outside Perth, in the Borders or somewhere in the Highlands remains to be decided. I was most grateful to my noble friend Lady Elliot for the support she expressed for the Bill. I am very much looking forward to hearing her when we come to the Committee stage. I know that her many years of involvement in the countryside will be useful to our later deliberations.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard and to some extent the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, talked about tourism. I believe that we need to look at two major principles in respect of tourism. The first is extending the seasonality and the second is regionalisation. In that way we shall be able to avoid the situation where tourists visit honeypot areas and thereby create the Notre Dame type problems which we have seen in Paris and which have arisen in some areas of Scotland.

Visitor management is a concept which is crucial to helping the spread of tourists around Scotland and ensuring that they see as many different parts of it as possible without ruining the environment which they have come to see. The SNH is not a tourism body, but it will have a role to play in increasing the understanding of visitors about the environment so as to prevent any damage to it.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned the role that he played in designating the names of ministers. I shall read his words most carefully and pass them on to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. However, he made one important point. He referred to the Labour Party proposals for creating a minister for the environment in Scotland. He said that they had not been properly thought out. That came as no surprise to me. One has just to look at the Scottish Labour Party's proposals on the constitutional convention to see that very few of them have been properly thought out. However, I am sure that the Labour Party never considered talking to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, on the point.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for referring to what I said. However, as a matter of accuracy, perhaps I should point out that I was asking for information rather than suggesting that the proposals had not been thought out. In fact, I actually said that I presumed that the Opposition spokesmen had thought them out. I shall be interested to hear about this in due course.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for not having listened to him properly in the first place. No doubt at some stage we shall hear from noble Lords opposite exactly what they envisage for the future.

My noble friend also asked about the role of the Secretary of State and whether he would act as an arbiter in disputes, as is the current procedure in respect of planning cases. SNH will be the legal adviser to the Secretary of State on all natural heritage matters. It will be for the Secretary of State to decide how to act in the circumstances of a particular dispute and to balance the advice from SNH against all the other factors which will undoubtedly arise.

I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Pearson mentioned mountain areas and the consultation exercise which has just been completed with the Countryside Commission. We are awaiting the outcome of that exercise before deciding the way forward. However, perhaps I may emphasise to him the fact that no decisions have been made by government. There is an opportunity for everyone to state their views. I understand that the Scottish Landowners' Federation has responded substantially to the proposals which have been put forward. Obviously the federation's views will be studied carefully, as will those of my noble friend. They will be read with great interest.

I am glad that there was mention of deer shooting at the end of the general debate, especially as regards the start date of the hind shooting season. We shall consider a whole range of proposals that have been put forward by the Scottish Landowners' Federation on this important issue.

Perhaps I may conclude by saying that the establishment of Scottish Natural Heritage will create better opportunities for positive action in the use and management of Scotland's natural heritage. It will also offer the chance to promote the sustainable use of that heritage. The new body will be a source of co-ordinated advice and guidance to government.

I am aware that during the course of the debate I may not have been able to answer every question put to me by noble Lords. However, I shall read Hansard most carefully and perhaps I may write to noble Lords on any issues that were left unanswered.

The Bill fulfils the Government's commitment for the creation of an effective, integrated and independent natural heritage agency. Its establishment will mark the beginning of a new era in the management, use and enjoyment of our natural heritage. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

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