HL Deb 16 October 2000 vol 617 cc731-44

(" .—(1) The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall each determine and keep under review from time to time—

  1. (a) the species and habitats of conservation concern; and
  2. (b) from amongst such species and habitats, the priority species and priority habitats of conservation concern,
which, as regards the Secretary of State, occur in England and, as regards the National Assembly for Wales, occur in Wales.

(2) The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall each establish the criteria for determining the species and habitats under subsection (1), having regard to—

  1. (a) the advice of the relevant nature conservation body; and
  2. (b) the criteria which have hitherto been relied upon in determining the species and habitats of conservation concern and priority species and habitats of conservation concern in the United Kingdom under the existing Biodiversity Action Plan regime,
and, taking into account the advice of the relevant nature conservation body, may from time to time review such criteria.

(3) The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall each—

  1. (a) take measures to promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement, by any person, of the species and habitats of conservation concern determined by him or it in accordance with paragraph (a) of subsection (1);
  2. (b) take additional measures to promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement, by any person, of the priority species and priority habitats of conservation concern determined by him or it in accordance with paragraph (b) of subsection (1); and
  3. (c) compile, publish and maintain, in such form as he or it thinks fit, a register of the species and habitats of conservation concern and the priority species and priority habitats of conservation concern determined by him or it in accordance with subsection (1).

(4) Every Minister of the Crown (within the meaning of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975) and government department shall, when exercising their functions and consistent with the proper exercise thereof, secure or further the implementation of the measures taken in accordance with paragraph (a) of subsection (3) and additional measures taken in accordance with paragraph (b) of subsection (3).

(5) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State and of the National Assembly for Wales—

  1. (a) to ensure that the register referred to in paragraph (c) of subsection (3) is available, at all reasonable times, for inspection by the public free of charge; and
  2. (b) to afford members of the public facilities for obtaining copies of entries, on payment of reasonable charges.

(6) In this section—

  1. (a) a reference to "the existing Biodiversity Action Plan regime" is a reference to the regime set out in the publications entitled—
    1. (i) Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, volume 1: Meeting the Rio Challenge, 1995;
    2. (ii) Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, volume 2: Action Plans, 1995; and
    3. (iii) Government Response to the UK Steering Group Report on Biodiversity, 1995;
  2. (b) "the relevant nature conservation body" means—
    1. (i) in respect of the Secretary of State and in respect of species and habitats which occur in England, the Nature Conservancy Council for England; and
    2. (ii) in respect of the National Assembly for Wales and in respect of species and habitats which occur in Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales.").

The noble Baroness said: It is with some relief that I rise to move an amendment that I believe is uncontroversial. From the support that I have received from all sides of the Chamber, I believe that this amendment will be welcomed by many noble Lords.

Amendment No. 518 deals with the statutory underpinning of the biodiversity action plan. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Moran—the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is not in his place—for adding their names to what I believe is an important amendment. Many of us believe that the Government should accept the thrust of this amendment and I hope that at the end of this debate the Government will adopt it.

Earlier discussions in Committee on this Bill have dealt with the many demands placed upon fanners, land managers, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals, in relation to the time and finance spent on the conservation and preservation of our countryside. We are also aware that unfortunately some of the United Kingdom's wildlife has suffered. I want to place on record my thanks to the many thousands of people who, over many years, have worked so hard to look after our wildlife. I also thank members of the public whose membership of wildlife organisations has provided finance for such conservation work.

Currently, there is no statutory obligation on the Government to advance or support biodiversity action plans. As many noble Lords are aware, the Government have various schemes to which farmers and land managers can apply for grant aids, either through SSSIs or through schemes more directly related to farming. In some instances, those schemes are already oversubscribed. In addition, English Nature has management agreements with owners or occupiers to conserve or to enhance conservation interests.

However good our intentions are, they can fail. The Countryside Council for Wales, which was originally operated with a government budget that it regarded as inadequate, has had to drop a significant section of its workload. It has had to prioritise its programmes and its statutory duties have had to take precedence. Consequently, as biodiversity action plan work in Wales has not been a priority, the benefits have not been achieved. I could give other examples but I suspect that other noble Lords will want to speak on this amendment.

In responding to a debate on biodiversity action plans in another place, the honourable Chris Mullin stated that the Government are very sympathetic to the proposals, but the danger is that the proposals will provide a statutory basis for species and that habitat action plans would place the onus on the public sector and might put at risk the highly successful delivery partnerships of the statutory, business and voluntary sectors. I do not agree with that. I believe that statutory underpinning would not take away from voluntary contributions. Later, Mr Mullin said that the Government are prepared seriously to consider placing the biodiversity action plans on a statutory footing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. Due to the lapse of time between the debates in another place and here I hope that the Government will feel able to accept our amendment.

This amendment has been supported by many organisations dealing with wildlife and conservation work. It was prioritised by the coalition of the voluntary wildlife organisations under the banner "Wildlife and Countryside Link", which considered it to be the most important improvement that could be made to the Bill.

Friends of the Earth, in its briefing to Peers, recognises that Amendment No. 518 would greatly improve the conservation of species and habitats in the wider countryside, as does the RSPB and many other organisations. Unfortunately, I missed the debate we had as recently as last Friday—I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, in his seat—when noble Lords took the House through the recommendations in the Select Committee report on the Biodiversity Action Plan. That committee agreed that the process should be put on a statutory footing.

There were some positive responses following that debate, on which I shall leave other Members of the Committee to comment. I had an opportunity earlier today to speak to the Minister and am hopeful that the Government will be able to give us a positive response. To be flippant for a moment, it would be wonderful to have an amendment which has support throughout the Chamber accepted by the Government. This is a serious issue. Chris Mullin in the other place felt that putting it on a statutory basis would jeopardise the work being achieved by the many voluntary organisations. I do not agree and I hope that, with the passing of the months, the Minister will follow that line of thought. With great pleasure, therefore, I beg to move.

Lord Judd

I have great pleasure in supporting Amendment No. 518. As the noble Baroness indicated, we debated much of the substance of the amendment last Friday in our biodiversity debate on the recent report by Sub-Committee C of the Select Committee on the European Union.

The Committee may recall that the sub-committee came down firmly in favour of putting biodiversity planning on a statutory footing. Unlike other countries—for example, the United States with its Endangered Species Act—the UK still lacks legislation specifically promoting the recovery of endangered or threatened species, or the recovery of habitats which have declined or are in decline.

Speaking as a member of Sub-Committee C, in the debate last Friday I argued that there is no room for complacency. The WWF estimates that more than half the existing sites of special scientific interest are in a deteriorated or damaged condition, and that more than 20 sites have been damaged in the months since last year's Queen's Speech.

As the noble Baroness powerfully argued, biodiversity action plans involve many stakeholders, including of course conservation organisations, farmers, private companies and individual landowners on a voluntary participating basis. I would go so far as to say that, without such partnerships, it would be impossible to deliver long-term conservation objectives. But it is not sufficient for the entire biodiversity action plan process to be dependent on good will. For example—the noble Baroness referred to this also—Friends of the Earth, of which I am a member, argues that species recovery programmes and habit regeneration schemes are necessarily realised over long time-scales and that private sector stakeholders need to be sure that public sector bodies will remain committed to the process for whatever time is needed. Unfortunately, as matters stand, private sector stakeholders feel their working commitment to be in jeopardy because there is evidence that local authorities, quangos and government departments are increasingly giving such action plans lower priority. There is genuine anxiety lest the essential momentum is lost, with dire consequences for precious wildlife.

The noble Baroness referred to the Countryside Council for Wales and the fact that it has moved backwards in terms of its commitment. What is disturbing is that it decided to stop work on 102 of 222 biodiversity action plans which apply to Wales. As the Minister will have noticed, the argument is not for the plans themselves to become legally binding and there is no intention to prescribe how they should be implemented; what is being argued is that, to ensure government and public sector commitment to the biodiversity action plan process, there should be a baseline requirement for the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to prepare, maintain and periodically review action plans and to further the objectives of such plans.

I find it interesting that, as I understand it—my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—a statutory requirement for the Mayor of London to prepare, maintain and review a biodiversity action plan for London is already in place. But why only London? Surely a similar requirement should be placed on the Secretary of State, the National Assembly for Wales and other government departments.

I recognise that during Report stage in the other place, the Government made clear their intention that biodiversity action plans should be integrated into community strategies which would be established by the Local Government Act. That at least is something. But there is an inescapable major responsibility for all government departments and public bodies, and especially for the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales, to give a consistent lead if the accelerating and grievous loss of biodiversity in this country is to be reversed. Amendment No. 518 seeks to provide the belt and braces to ensure that that happens.

Lord Walpole

Perhaps I can follow on from Friday afternoon when I spoke on the same subject. In my closing remarks I said that it was obvious from the debate that everyone was behind what we were saying. Everyone, irrespective of party, knew what they wanted to achieve. The differences arose on the question of how it was to be achieved. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Moran, I strongly support this amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

We on these Benches strongly support the idea of this amendment. We want more comprehensive protection and encouragement of our wildlife. Although we commend the Government on bringing forward Part III—in our view, it is long overdue legislation—they should not believe that they have fulfilled their obligation to wildlife. The Biodiversity Action Plan must be statutorily underpinned now because it is likely to be a long time before we can cover this matter in other legislation.

If this Bill is not amended, SSSIs will be patches in a cloth of desolation. We have seen what has happened in the rest of the country, and the habitats and species which have suffered considerably over the past 20 years will continue to suffer. Wildlife habitats have been destroyed, damaged, covered by tarmac, sprayed and have suffered from fertiliser and its run-off into water courses. Habitats have been "tidied up" until only a few inaccessible corners are left. Sometimes lack of grazing and scrub control destroy an ecosystem; sometimes overgrazing does the same.

When one considers the reasons I outlined for habitat destruction or neglect, it is easy to see that the fault lies in the hands of many organisations and individuals. Of course, the answer is in the hands of farmers and landowners with regard to how they farm; but it lies also in the hands of MAFF, which decides which agri-environment schemes to implement and how to apply them. For example, MAFF recently came to the strange conclusion that the recently revised hill farm allowance should continue with stocking rates as they were, thus perpetuating overgrazing, but gave no thought to an allowance for hill farmers, who may have substantial amounts of land which will become open access land, thus encouraging less stock. Responsibility must lie also with the previous government, who took up a small amount of the European money available for wider rural and agri-environment schemes.

One of the attractive parts of Amendment No. 518 is Clause 4, which would give all government departments a responsibility which they currently do not have. Habitat destruction can lie also in the hands of planning authorities which fail to pay sufficient attention to the overall impact of 10 or 20 years' development. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to local authorities. Where there is no statutory obligation, some may give biodiversity action plans lower priority, although some authorities are to be commended on the effort and resources they put in to those plans. However, planning gain money has often been directed into road building although only a tiny amount is needed to create a copse, a pond or a reed bed.

We firmly believe that the Biodiversity Action Plan should have statutory underpinning and that that should mean redirecting money to where the fine words are. But it should not always be a question of money and that is where we may part company with the Conservative Benches, depending on the noble Baroness's reply. Last Wednesday, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, when speaking to her Amendment No. 458A, seemed to want more money for landowners. That seemed to be the bottom line of that amendment. She said that a requirement on an owner to improve or restore land to a level above its original state would be unreasonable without some financial support. However, under Amendment No. 518 that is what we would be expecting every agency and individual to do: to improve and enhance Surely we will not be able to pay all those who may be involved. Creating a habitat which supports biodiversity and a commercial operation is not just a question of money.

In conclusion, perhaps I may give the Committee a brief example of that. Last week in Somerset I visited the winner of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group award; Home Farm, Curry Rivel. It is a family-run farm, mainly arable, of about 1,000 acres. It is a model in terms of "enhancing" what it has. It grows its hedges wider and thicker, has widened its field margins, restored its traditional orchards, managed its woodland and much more. Several key species are already benefiting from that.

The interesting point was that its reliance on environmental payments was less than 1 per cent of its turnover and it sees that as set to decrease, although it sees its enhancing work as set to continue and increase. What it needed and had was imagination and commitment. The same kind of commitment to biodiversity which the farm shows at a local level is needed more at a national level from every part of government.

I hope that on Report the Government will come forward with an amendment which can fulfil such a commitment to Biodiversity Action Plan. Their response to Recommendation 21 of the excellent biodiversity report was weak. They raised no substantial points which would prevent them coming forward with an amendment. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

7 p.m.

Lord Renton

I warmly support the substance of the amendment but feel bound to point out that it is an unusual method of statutory drafting. I shall be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

Subsection (2)(b) provides that the criteria which must be applied in determining the species and habitats of conservation and the priority species and habitats of conservation are to be judged under the existing Biodiversity Action Plan regime. That is referred to in subsection (6), which informs us that the regime is set out in three steering group reports.

In effect, we shall be making the conclusions of those steering groups part of our statutory plan. It may be that in unusual circumstances that can be justified, but it is unusual. If there is a more conventional way of achieving that when the new clause has been accepted, as I hope that it will be by all sides of the Committee, we should on Report consider whether any necessary drafting needs to be done in order to make it plain what is being applied by statute. I say no more for the moment, but I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Lord Hardy of Wath

Like the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and my noble friend Lord Judd, I trust that the Government will take a helpful view and bring forward helpful proposals on Report. I make that point because this approach will determine whether the Bill is seen later this century as a landmark provision.

There is a great deal to be said for the amendment and I do not want to detain the Committee for long. However, I must point out that it is a logical step in the ladder of conservation measures which Parliament has approved during the past 20 or 30 years. In 1976, I took legislation on the conservation of wild creatures and wild plants through the other place. That established a scientific basis for the protection of endangered species. The decision whether a species was to survive or not did not rest on a value judgment made by individuals but on the basis of scientific assessment by the then Nature Conservancy Council. The then government were extremely helpful in ensuring that that Private Member's Bill succeeded.

We then witnessed a bipartisan approach to some of the international efforts towards furthering the cause of conservation. I was fortunate to be rapporteur and chairman of the Council of Europe Committee which took action leading to the Berne Convention on Wildlife and Habitat. Both the then government and opposition were consistent in their approach to that instrument.

There have been numerous other such provisions during the past 10 years. The earlier measures were consolidated into the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which was regarded as being of great importance, but even that Act had loopholes. From time to time, Members on both sides in both Houses in Westminster took initiatives to try to block or remedy those provisions. I believe that on balance those responsible for the 1981 Act would rather that the loopholes had been avoided in the first place. I hope that that approach will apply to this measure and that in a couple of years we shall not regret that we did not go a little further.

I want to see the Bill regarded as a major piece of legislation which will ensure that the great decline in recent years in the variety and wealth of the British natural heritage is not only halted but reversed. That cannot happen unless the biodiversity programmes proceed. If they are to proceed effectively, those involved must accept that the Government will be consistent in their approach. One accepts that some costs will be involved, but I do not believe that anyone will suggest that they will be colossal.

The lives of many hundreds of thousands of people will be diminished if they do not have the opportunity to enjoy our natural heritage. It is under threat, but I hope that on Report the Government will ensure that people can plainly see that that threat is to be reduced and that the Bill will be regarded as of enormous historic importance.

Earl Peel

I, too, support my noble friend's amendment in principle. I begin by declaring an interest as president of the Game Conservancy Trust, which is joint lead agency for three biodiversity action species; the great partridge, the brown hare and the crayfish. It is an extraordinary mixture, but I shall not go into how it came about.

There is no doubt that since the Government signed up to the Rio Convention on Biodiversity in 1992, Britain has had a new conservation agenda, in principle at least. But there is a world of difference between principle and reality.

The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, rightly referred to the 1981 Act. It is easy to look back with hindsight and say that mistakes were made here and there. Although the 1981 Act has, by and large, served us extremely well, it is now 20 years old and is beginning to show its inadequacies. There is a need to move away from what might be described as the single principle of protection and to embrace the greater responsibility—which it certainly is—of positive management, because that is real conservation. English Nature has begun to embrace that with its positive moves towards the wildlife enhancement scheme. That is a step in the right direction towards the whole concept of biodiversity.

If one turns to page 14 of the Countryside Agency's publication The state of the countryside 2000 one sees a graph which shows how various species have fared since the introduction of the 1981 Act. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to farmland birds. It is clear from the graph that since 1981 farmland birds have declined at an astonishing rate. This indicates that not only is the 1981 Act inadequate in some respects but, above all, that the protection of species or habitat per se is not enough. Positive management is required if we are to achieve the objectives of biodiversity. One basic problem is that the various agri-environment schemes, welcome though they are, must continually compete with the underlying inadequacies of the common agricultural policy. The provisions of biodiversity action plans with statutory backing will help everyone to focus their minds on the need for positive management to achieve the objectives.

I should like to put a question to the Minister. I do not suggest that the noble Lord is in a position to give a comprehensive answer tonight. One wonders about the clash between the biodiversity action plan and the common agricultural policy, and the extent to which the statutory backing of BAPs will help to motivate a fresh look at the whole way in which the CAP is administered. I appreciate only too well that that is a big undertaking.

There is a real possibility that the implementation of biodiversity action plans will be a painful process. It may well uncover the reality that the present conservation schemes do not address many of the issues and that more positive solutions need to be undertaken. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, said that there might be some financial implications. I believe that there will be very real financial implications. We look to the Minister to indicate how he sees this admirable objective being fully and properly financed.

I welcome the proposals behind the amendment which will provide a real challenge to both the public and private sector, but I do not believe that without a degree of statutory backing biodiversity will succeed. It is a matter of crossing our fingers and being realistic. We shall not achieve everything. I suspect that without reform of the CAP and real money a good deal of what we all hope for will not come about.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

In the early 1990s I chaired the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which had responsibility for advising governments on their response to the biodiversity convention to which not only the United Kingdom but the European Union are signatories. The biodiversity action plan regime was the product of discussions with a wide number of organisations that contributed to it. The success of biodiversity action plans has been due very much to partnerships between statutory nature conservation organisations, land managers, education, local authorities and other interests.

Whether this amendment will add value must depend ultimately on a greater number of biodiversity action plans being delivered and owned by those who seek to implement them. I support the amendment because I believe that on balance that will be the outcome. There is enormous amount of enthusiasm at grass roots for biodiversity action plans. The failure of the National Assembly for Wales to fund CCW adequately must be a grave discouragement to those local organisations which find themselves without the support they might have expected from CONT. However, when one gives new statutory responsibilities to the Department of the Environment, or the Secretary of State for Wales, there is always a danger that those powers will be passed down the line and impact in ways that are less than helpful on those on whose goodwill one entirely relies. That concern was expressed in another place. On balance, I am not too concerned. However, I hope that the Minister will assure the Committee of a willingness to recognise that biodiversity action plans, with or without statutory underpinning, will work only with the goodwill of all the stakeholders involved.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

I am heartened to hear the degree of support from all sides of the Committee for statutory underpinning of the process of conservation and action on biodiversity. That process has been going on for almost 10 years. It is the product of collaboration among many interests. That is one of its major benefits. One understands, however, why the Government may be unhappy about the amendment because of the degree of flexibility that may result. It would be unfortunate if only the range of species and targets currently described in the biodiversity action plan could be taken forward. I would be concerned if the intent, or the outcome, of the amendment focused attention only on government and not on partnership in the biodiversity action plan.

I would also be extremely concerned if some of the current actions were the only ones to have a statutory basis. The plan will take many years to implement and over time the appropriate range of actions to conserve particular species and habitats will alter. It is important to have an amendment that has a degree of flexibility but still gives the process of biodiversity action statutory underpinning. Therefore, if this amendment is not accepted I hope that the Government, persuaded by general support for the principle which has been demonstrated today, will table another amendment. I believe that such an amendment would need to contain a number of minimum criteria. First, it would need to place a duty on government to define species and habitat priorities, and targets for those priorities, based on analyses of conservation concern. Secondly, it would need to place a clear duty on the Secretary of State to take measures to conserve those species and habitats. The third criterion, referred to by many Members of the Committee—for me it is the bottom line—is to enshrine a duty on all government departments to secure or further the implementation of measures to meet biodiversity priorities.

One cannot overstate the importance of departments, other than the Department of the Environment, delivering some of the action for biodiversity which this Bill will not provide through special sites. About 40 per cent of the targets in the biodiversity action plan cannot be delivered through the measures to conserve special sites. Therefore, the role of MAFF, the National Assembly for Wales, the Treasury and the DTI—joined-up government (to use that dreadful expression)—is of fundamental importance. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the clear view that has been evinced in Committee that there needs to be a statutory underpinning for biodiversity action, and that the amendment will require all government departments to join in that action equally. I think that at Report stage, if we are not able to have that degree of assurance, the view of the House will have to be tested.

Baroness Mallalieu

Perhaps I may briefly support the spirit of Amendment No. 518, although I recognise that some of the detail may need to be altered. On all sides of the Chamber—indeed, it is scarcely possible to argue—there is concern that there has been, and continues to be, the most alarming loss of biodiversity. At present the Bill misses an opportunity to do something for areas that are not sites of special scientific interest, which represent, as I understand it, only about six per cent of the countryside. The Bill could be made to do rather more for the general well-being of the countryside in general and its wildlife in a much wider area.

The reality is that it will be volunteers such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, volunteer money raised in all kinds of ways, and it will be private money as well as specifically that provided by farmers, landowners and indeed through country sports interests which funds biodiversity. Country sports interests should not be forgotten because much of the small woodland in this country is managed for biodiversity by hunts. Large tracts of the wetlands of this country are managed by wildfowling and shooting organisations. Indeed, much of the small woodland planting that has taken place in the last 50 years has been done purely because it has a benefit which is additional to biodiversity.

All those parties have put money in, and will have to continue to put money in if we are to arrest the alarming loss of biodiversity. To leave government out of that partnership would be a missed opportunity. As we all know, when there is no statutory obligation things slip down the list of priorities of governments, particularly when resources are limited—as they always are—or when political priorities change.

Conservation has currently caught the imagination of the public. It was not always so and it may not always be so in the future. When the enthusiasm and the publicity dies down, the job will still have to be done. My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone spoke of joined-up government. I hope the Minister will not say that that will be dealt with elsewhere in another Bill, perhaps a local government Bill. It is surely vital if we are, for example, to tackle the necessary reforms to the CAP—to which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred—that every relevant government department combines in the mammoth task of reversing deterioration which has been going on now for a very long time. Without some statutory obligation, it is hard to see how the responsibility which must be shared by a number of relevant government departments can be achieved. I hope the Minister feels that a place can be found in the Bill for an amendment which does what this amendment seeks to achieve.

Lord Marlesford

I rise briefly to support the amendment. I should like to point out one thing. For 50 or 70 years we have been fighting the tide of destruction of the biodiversity of our countryside, and indeed our countryside itself. We are now, I hope, moving towards a period of enhancement, clawing back and advancing. The amendment seeks to do that.

There is one very important point which has not been mentioned. That is the timing of this initiative, indeed the timing of the Bill. It is happening at what I fear is only the beginning of what is probably a very long-term decline in agriculture. That means the income of agriculture. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to some prices she was given for her excellent stewardship. I am quite sure there are many occupiers of land who perceive themselves, apart from anything else, as being stewards of the countryside and its biodiversity. But the cash supply for that has fallen alarmingly. Even the "Today" programme last week led on the fact that farming incomes have fallen by 90 per cent in the past four years.

The figures behind that fall are simple. The price of milk to producers over the past four years has fallen by one-third. The price of wheat has halved and is now back, in real terms, adjusting both for inflation and production—three and a half times the production of the 1930s—to its price in the 1930s. The price of oil seed rape—a more modern crop—has fallen by two-thirds. The fact is there will be far less cash available to do what we all want. That is why the Bill is very opportune. I hope very much that that opportunity will be taken and that it will be recognised that there are costs involved. They are costs which I believe the people of this country, indeed the wider world, would wish to see met.

Lord Whitty

I cannot but note the widespread support for doing something along the lines of this amendment. It is support which is evident here tonight and was expressed in the debate on the Select Committee report introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, on Friday.

I think that everyone recognises that biodiversity action plans are an essential element of our policy, and in particular the implementation of the convention on biological diversity. It is a very strong commitment by the Government. We have given assurances already to make sure that the statutory guidance under the Local Government Act make it clear that biodiversity is an important element in delivering the new obligations on the community strategies.

We indicated in a previous debate some reservations about the need for legislation to underpin this policy, given the other commitments that the Government have made. Perhaps I may turn to the individual points of the amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that in one sense we are actually writing into statute the provisions of what are 400 or more different species and habitat action plans. However, as my noble friend Lady Young said, we could be wedding ourselves inflexibly to that in statute. Therefore, there are some problems in the way the amendment is drafted. There is a need for greater flexibility. I shall take into account what my noble friend Lady Young says. I take the point that there needs to be partnership here, but also the Government need to be clear what they are actually committing themselves to.

However, I recognise that there is a need for some statutory entrenchment here. There is overwhelming support in the Chamber for something along those lines. While I have some reservations about the exact nature of the amendment, I will undertake to look at it again and consult with colleagues, with the intention of tabling an amendment at Report. I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. On that basis, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Byford

I am most grateful to the Minister and delighted that he will look at this again. I realise the drafting of the amendment is perhaps not ideal. It was a stab at a very important issue.

Perhaps I may highlight a few points. As agriculture spokesman, I was trying not to make a speech on agriculture. Agriculture plays an important part in conservation. This cannot be looked at merely as a simple issue of conservation within our designated areas.

I agree with the comments made about the need to look again at the reform of the CAP and at the very many schemes to which landowners are trying to work. The point made by my noble friend Lord Marlesford is, sadly, very true. The average farm income last year was £8,000—£1 60 a week. I am not making a party political point, but in the past it was predominantly the land managers who carried out a great deal of conservation work on their land. They are now finding it difficult to continue with that work, so any help the Government can give will be important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked how I could add my name to Amendment No. 518 when I did not have my name to an earlier amendment dealing with the enhancement side. Perhaps I may deal with that point. If a land manager or owner has on his land an SSSI that has been damaged, it is acceptable that he should be required to return it to its previous state. However, some of the amendments with which we were dealing at that stage referred to "enhancement". If someone is expected to enhance something that he has not previously been expected to enhance, financial support should be available for that. That is what I said on that occasion. If I did not make myself clear, I am happy to restate it today because it is important.

I know that time is running on and that we have much to do but I should like to thank other noble Lords for their contributions. Each of them came forward with relevant views on what would be a suitable amendment. I hope that the Minister will reflect seriously on those views.

Finally, perhaps I may say clearly, if I did not say it at the beginning of my remarks, that the essential ingredient for the success of what we propose is that it should be reflected across all government departments. It is not a question of it being only a MAFF or DETR issue; it is one that should be reflected across all government departments and local authorities.

I am sorry that I have not done justice to the contributions of all noble Lords. There were so many and they are all important. Perhaps I may refer to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, because it takes us back to where we started from. We are all stakeholders, whether as individuals or as members of groups. This is a wonderful opportunity to put such a provision into the Bill. I accept that my amendment is probably not perfect and I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to take it away, think about it and come back at Report stage with something that is perhaps more suitable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 8.32 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.