Mr. Andy Stewart
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to review the current organisation of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Ridley
The Government are concerned to improve the way we handle the conservation of wild fauna and flora and the countryside. There are great differences between the circumstances and needs of England, Scotland and Wales in this respect. The present organisational arrangements do not match these differing requirements. The Nature Conservancy Council is responsible for nature conservation throughout the whole of Great Britain. The Countryside Commission is responsible for conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the countryside in England and Wales, while there is a separate Countryside Commission for Scotland. There are increasing feelings that these arrangements are inefficient, insensitive and mean that conservation issues in both Scotland and Wales are determined with too little regard for the particular requirements in these countries.
We have therefore concluded that the functions which the Nature Conservancy Council at present exercises throughout Great Britain and the functions which the Countryside Commission exercises in England and Wales should be exercised in future by separate bodies for England, Scotland and Wales. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales have decided that the nature conservation and countryside functions should be the responsibility of a single body in each country. They are making parallel statements about their detailed plans today. The Government believe that combining these responsibilities in one body for Scotland and one for Wales will allow a more comprehensive approach to pursuing the special inheritances of wildlife and natural beauty in these two countries.
We have also considered what would be best for England. In view of the much greater density of population and consequent pressure upon the land, we believe that it would be right to maintain the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission as separate bodies in England.
I shall continue to be responsible for representing the United Kingdom's interests on nature conservation matters within the European Community and under 485W international conventions. Arrangements will be made for all the necessary advice to continue to be available to me for that purpose.
These changes require legislation, which we shall bring forward at the earliest opportunity, and which will be confined to organisational matters.
I should like to pay a warm tribute to the manifest achievements of the chairmen, members and staff of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. We have the most comprehensive administrative arrangements for dealing with wildlife and countryside issues anywhere in the European Community, and perhaps the world. It has become clear that these arrangements will be even more effective if they can take more account of differences in local conditions between different parts of Great Britain. These proposals will achieve that.