HL Deb 16 October 2000 vol 617 cc764-8

. English Nature, as regards England, and the Countryside Council for Wales, as regards Wales, shall formulate standards for the identification of local wildlife sites by any relevant local authority and from time to time shall report to the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales on the status of such sites.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. It follows on from the long debate that we had immediately before the supper break. It should have been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, but unfortunately he is not with us tonight and it falls to me to do so, as a supporter of the amendment.

English Nature, the wildlife trusts and the local authorities have a list of wildlife sites that go beyond the areas that are already designated, which we were talking about immediately before supper. They are areas known to contain wildlife that should be protected where people are anticipating possible movements caused by climate change and other changes in the countryside.

As many noble Lords have said, it is important that the Bill is seen to provide comprehensive and real protection for biodiversity over the next 100 years, or at least during the next half of the coming century. I hope that the Government will tell us how they intend to safeguard the identification of local wildlife sites beyond what has already been done. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

I rise to commend the probing of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and to reinforce the importance of local wildlife sites. The Bill is concerned primarily with sites of special scientific interest which are nationally or internationally important. However, much of our local biodiversity is also important, not because it is rare or special but because it is common. These days, we are becoming short of things which are common.

Local wildlife sites are important for two reasons. First, they are places where some of our more common species continue to exist. Secondly, being local they are, by definition, close to where people live. Generally, people value and are more interested in wildlife which is close to their own locality than they might be in rather rare and special creatures elsewhere.

Therefore, although I am not sure whether we require support for local wildlife sites to appear on the face of the Bill, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has raised an important point. The amendment encapsulates many practices that are occurring at present without statutory support, and the Minister may want to consider whether statutory support is necessary.

Lord Hardy of Wath

I briefly express my support for the amendment, in part in order to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who served for many years as chairman of the All-Party Conservation Group. As the present chairman, I am delighted to have the opportunity to pay tribute to him. I hope that the Committee will pay heed to the proposal that he and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, have put forward.

My principal reason for supporting the amendment is that many hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of people in these islands live a long way from AONBs and even from sites of special scientific interest. From an educational point of view, a real case exists for promoting the establishment of local sites where local people can enjoy wildlife. Wildlife can be enjoyed in virtually every locality. It would be particularly appropriate for local authorities to take such projects on board in order to provide an opportunity for children within schools. I certainly hope that my noble friends will be able to give sympathetic consideration to the proposals.

Lord Whitty

I recognise the intentions behind the amendment and, indeed, the central importance of wildlife at local level in all localities. We need clear guidelines on the identification of local sites and we need substantially more information about their condition. However, I do not believe that we need an additional statutory power in this respect, and I can demonstrate that, through their action, the Government are already addressing the issue.

In the Government's Framework for Action White Paper we made a commitment in relation to SSSIs to develop proposals on locally important sites in consultation with local authorities. We delivered that through the Local Sites Review Group. That group produced its report this year and we are now in a position to move forward. We have agreed to funding for a comprehensive research project in the coming financial year. The DETR project will include an examination of damage to local sites from non-development activities and consideration of the means of preventing them. The research project is also likely to include Wales.

In consultation with other parties, English Nature is also putting arrangements in place to facilitate the preparation of draft guidance on the operation of local sites. Officials will be meeting English Nature shortly to agree the scope of the project and to set a deadline. I believe that we can make significant progress with English Nature over the next few months. We also want to ensure that the views of local authorities, land managers and voluntary conservation groups are taken into account fully before we publish our guidance.

Meanwhile, local authorities are already incorporating local wildlife sites into their own biodiversity action plans. We have also indicated that we shall revise PPG9 on nature conservation to reflect the work that we are taking forward on local biodiversity.

Therefore, I believe that the Government's commitment, funding and action, along with that of our partners, is clear. I hope that the assurances that I have given indicate that commitment, and that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the other noble Lords who support the amendment will not press it.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for what he has said. It appears that the Government have taken this on board, are doing something about it and will produce resources with which to put it into action. As I said at the beginning, this is a probing amendment. I doubt whether anything much remains to which we shall need to return on Report. Therefore, I shall consult the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and, in the meantime, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 70 [Powers of entry]:

[Amendment No. 521B not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 521C: Page 44. line 33. leave out ("the") and insert ("or in relation to").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 521C, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 521D and 521 E. Briefly, Amendments Nos. 521C and 521D attempt to stretch the protection of SSSIs inasmuch as offences can be committed in relation to an SSSI; in other words, that they will affect an SSSI adversely. Such offences are "on or in relation to", for example, the fouling of a watercourse near an SSSI. The offence may have an effect on the water but not take place on the SSSI. I am sure that Members of the Committee will be able to think of many other such offences in the vicinity of an SSSI which over a period of time could seriously damage that SSSI. Therefore, the purpose of the amendments is to protect the SSSI from such an occurrence.

We debated Amendment No. 521E when we discussed Amendments Nos. 491 and 492. We are saying that we feel that there is no consistency of approach throughout this part of the Bill. We believe that an environmental court is clearly needed but that the legislation is skirting that. I could go on but I believe that we have had that discussion. The Minister is well aware of the feeling of the Committee with regard to arbitration. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Amendments Nos. 521C and 521D do not appear to me to be necessary. The offence in Section 34 of the 1981 Act, to which Amendment No. 521C refers, of removing or disturbing limestone pavement is applied "on or in any land". It is difficult to see how an offence outside the land of the type referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, could affect a limestone pavement or therefore be designated by a limestone pavement order. The Section 42 offence in Amendment No. 521D relates to a moorland or heathland order. Again, I find it difficult to understand what offence outside the area would justify the phrase "or in relation to", which would be inserted by the amendment. Therefore, there appears to be no logic in applying the powers of entry for an offence committed in relation to land because there would be no continuity with the offences.

I speculated, although the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, did not refer to it, that he may have been using an analogy from Clause 70(5), which correctly refers to, on or (as the case may be) in relation to". that land. The reason for the wording in Clause 70(5) is because some of the offences in Section 28M, to which that subsection refers, are ones committed by a public body. They could include offences committed off the land; for example, abstraction licences wrongly granted upstream away from the site itself but which could damage the site. However, I do not see how that could apply to limestone pavements or to moorland or heathland.

As regards Amendment No. 521E, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right. We have been over this ground. I understand that the Land Tribunal would be well qualified to arbitrate on claims of that nature. It could well do so. But the amendment provides only that the Land Tribunal can be involved. That seems too restrictive. We are talking about damage which has occurred in the exercise of the power of entry where there is a dispute about the person's entitlement to compensation or the amount. We believe that the Secretary of State should be allowed to retain his discretion. The arguments are not sufficiently compelling to suggest that the Land Tribunal alone should arbitrate on the issue.

9 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

I thank the noble Lord for those explanations. When I read my notes on Amendments Nos. 521C and 521D, I was thinking of external pollution of one sort or another which might ultimately damage an SSSI. Perhaps I have not dealt with the matter in sufficient detail or followed it through. I accept the Minister's explanation also on Amendment No. 521E which I do not press at this time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 521D and 521E not moved.]

Clause 70 agreed to.

Clause 71 agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 522: After Clause 71, insert the following new clause—