HL Deb 17 July 1991 vol 531 cc194-6

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are content that the arrangements for the successor bodies to the Nature Conservancy Council are working satisfactorily.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, we believe that the statutory framework introduced by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 provides a sounder basis for nature conservation in Great Britain than the previous arrangements. We are determined that these should operate as intended under the Act for the benefit of nature conservation throughout the United Kingdom.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer, but will she accept that, when those arrangements were made, the suggestion by the Carver Committee that there should be a Joint Nature Conservation Committee for the whole of the United Kingdom went a long way to alleviate our worries in that area? In view of what has happened in the past week, when the Chairman of the JNCC has offered his resignation because he believes that the work of the committee has been made impossible by the legislation that has been passed, will she reassure us that steps will be taken to ensure that the work of the JNCC can proceed as planned?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am certainly aware of the arguments that were proffered by the Carver Committee. Even in these early days there is considerable evidence that the separate country councils are working for the individual countries. We inter d to see that they do work and that the JNCC, of which the country councils are a constituent part, also works. However, we have written to Professor Holliday concerning his resignation and have reassured him on a number of points that were of concern to him.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the new council has made a favourable start in Wales, certainly with regard to landowners and farmers, in contrast to the Nature Conservancy Council which was apt to act both arrogantly and unsympathetically? I hope that my noble friend will give the new council all the support that it obviously deserves.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we shall certainly continue to give the separate councils full support. It is important that the principle of subsidiarity works and that what is right for Scotland is dealt with by the Scottish council, what is right for Wales is dealt with by tile Welsh council and what is right for England is dealt with by the English council. However, on the question of common standards and criteria, it is important that they work through the JNCC.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords—

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a key proposal was the setting up of the joint committee and that the Government made great play with the appointment of Professor Holliday? Has the Minister seen Professor Holliday and found out his anxieties, because it is a great blow to the Government's plans? We want to see them succeed, but, given that anxiety, it looks rather unpromising. It is necessary to look carefully at the subject.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, at this stage Professor Holliday has not finally resigned, but we are aware of his anxieties in some detail and the Secretary of State has written to him addressing all his anxieties and reassuring him. There has been an area of misunderstanding and a loss of confidence which we hope can be restored.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is it not astonishing that the Minister should recognise the anxieties of Professor Holliday, but at the same time should not have seen him and talked to him? Is it not astonishing that Professor Holliday should not have been given advance notice of the changes made in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord appears to think that I should have seen Professor Holliday personally. My colleague, the Minister of State for environmental matters, Mr. Trippier, has seen Professor Holliday. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is also in touch with him. We have written to him. We are aware of all his anxieties and we hope that the matter can be resolved, but we have every confidence that the JNCC and the separate country councils will work.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the new arrangements have been well received in Scotland and that there is greater satisfaction that the preservation of our national heritage is being handled with great sensitivity? In view of the conflicting interests that are involved, we are delighted that this exercise in devolution is succeeding.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's comments. I agree that a particular problem with that monolithic committee was that of sensitivity and the different problems pertaining to Scotland, Wales and England. Subsidiarity now works through the JNCC, of which the country councils are a constituent part, to ensure that, in areas of common interest, common standards and criteria are properly established.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the House is partially reassured by what she has said about Sir Frederick Holliday and that it would be a tragedy to the JNCC if he were to resign at this stage? Can she also reassure us on the Welsh side that the resources will be available to the council for Wales to enable it to do the work?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the allocations have been made to the individual country councils which then fund the JNCC. That is consistent with all the promises that were made with regard to the Bill, so that is not a point at issue.

Lord Carver

My Lords, does the Minister recall that the committee which I chair recommended that the joint committee should be the means through which the country councils work together and that it should be strong enough to drive forward the cause of nature conservation at a national level? Can she assure the House that that is taking place?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I can assure the noble and gallant Lord on that, not only at the national but at the international level. It is our intention that it should work in precisely that way.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, I am sorry, but the 30 minutes is up.