§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before the Secretary of State begins his speech on the Bill I should like your advice on a publication that arrived in the mail of every hon. Member. I could not give you any warning that I wished to raise a point of order, because I opened my mail only a short while ago. The publication has been produced by the League against Cruel Sports, and seems to purport to be an official publication. It contains many amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. Indeed, it contains so many that we should need to guillotine this Bill as well as the British Nationality Bill. However, I am concerned because on the front of the publication are the words "Wildlife and Courtryside Bill". It shows the crest of the House of Commons with the words "House of Commons" printed underneath. I should be happy to give you a copy of the publication, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an outside body to use the title and crest of this House in publicity material?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is not in order for people outside this House to use the crest of our House in the manner that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. Perhaps he will write to me. I shall them give him a ruling.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is the third major Bill that I have introduced to the House since I became Secretary of State and it is the first of the three to come here from the other place. The proceedings in the other place have been the subject of much comment. The length of time, the number of amendments and the depth of feelings have added to the controversy. Indeed, there has been some criticism along the lined that such controversy or such a commitment of time should in some way have been avoided. I want to start today by making my position absolutely clear. The proceedings on this Bill so far have been of immense credit to the parliament process.
This is a Bill about matters where feelings rightly run very deep. It is about conservation of natural resources. It is a Bill about issues concerning the countryside where public concern is growing, where attitudes are changing and where the pressures are intensifying. The growth of leisure, rising standards of affluence, education, transportation industry across the world are encouraging a growing interest in country matters.
In this small island the problems are intensifying beyond measure. It is unavoidable that those who want to visit the countryside in increasing numbers bring with them new attitudes and demands. It is unavoidable that there will be some conflict between such attitudes and those of the people who have traditionally sought their livelihood and their pleasure in the countryside. There are inevitable conflicts between the advocates of increasing public access and those who treasure the private rights of property, particularly as amongst the latter are to be found those whose record of conservation is exemplary. I do not 525 intend to be drawn into an analysis of motivation, but without doubt the private ownership of the British countryside has made a contribution to its conservation, which now helps to make is so attractive to some many people.
For every deplorable act of destruction that rightly brings public condemnation and the demand for new legislation we are fortunate in the vastly greater instinct of preservation and conservation based on genuine love and understanding that needs no law for its maintenance. So I say unashamedly that I believe that the proceedings on this Bill have been exciting and vital. They are about issues that must be the concern of Parliament.
I should like to make one other general comment. The Bill is a compromise. It acknowledges that there is a balance of argument. It sets out the position to which the Government now believe it is right to move. It will not be the last Bill. It does not in any way seek to create a Maginot Line. It seeks a balance between the often conflicting and deeply held views of people whose motivation and sincerity are not in question, although they line up on opposite sides of many arguments.
The Bill is primarily concerned with the conservation of living resources. We are not legislating against agricultural improvement, field sports or cruelty to animals. Historically, conservation has been closely linked with preservation for its own sake, but in recent years the need to conserve living resources has been recognised as the primary goal.
Last year the world conservation strategy was welcomed by the Government. For the first time, voluntary movements, Governments and the United Nations combined to produce compelling reasons for conservation.
Conservation can be defined as the wise husbandry of living resources for man's future use, whether that use be simply for pure visual enjoyment, food, medicines or other need. It is about man's survival—our own, our children's, and that of generations yet to come.
The Bill is primarily about conservation. Other issues appear largely to reflect the need to incorporate previous legislation. The Bill is designed to produce a framework for the future that will safeguard those who depend on living resources—farmers, fishermen and the public at large—from the consequences of uncontrolled and often unrealised tampering with the environment.
If conservation is wise husbandry and simple common sense, it is fair to ask why it is necessary to have laws at all. Why cannot we rely on the sense of the public at large and individuals to take the right steps? There are two clear reasons. The first is ignorance of, or indifference to, the consequences of some everyday activities. The second is to do with the balance between husbandry and exploitation. We must be clear that conservation may mean forgoing some immediate return. Conservation in this context means a sensible use of natural resources.
We can all quote examples of damage done by uncontrolled exploitation. We cannot, of course, simply stop using natural resources, but the Bill indicates some of the areas in which we believe that there should be a commitment to conservation. It seeks to establish a legal framework within which conservation can take place.
The first part of the Bill concerns species protection. Historically, we have in this country protected certain wildlife and birds. This protection reflected the view that we have a duty towards rare wildlife and to ensure that it 526 remains. But the aim of this part of the Bill is to point out that we have a greater duty to the future, in a very practical sense. We are looking towards conservation in this practical sense.
By way of background, it is estimated that, for example, a majority of our medicines are derived from wildlife sources—animals, plants and, indeed, insects. The practical application of conservation measures is thus essential. Each part of an ecological system is dependent on other parts—often in ways that we do not yet fully understand. I would argue that for man to allow any species to disappear—particularly by his own actions—is short-sighted. Indeed, it may in the long run be a disaster.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Does the reference to "practical application" mean that the Government will not take steps to try to remove the Sandford amendment, which was inserted by the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Heseltine
I shall deal specifically with the Sandford amendment later in my speech.
I welcome the international recognition that it is totally unacceptable for species to be allowed to disappear. This has been recognised in the Washington convention on trade in endangered species, the Berne convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats, the Ramsar convention on wetlands of international importance, the Bonn convention on the protection of migratory species and, more particularly, the European Community directive on the protection of birds.
The emphasis of all these conventions is the same: that steps should be taken to bring under control activities that are particularly harmful and, in some cases, to ban them.
The conventions recognise that different decisions may have to be taken, but all the signatory nations have agreed to take such steps as are necessary to enable the control of depredations against species of wildlife.
In one context, we are bound by international agreement. The European Community's birds directive is, as the House will understand, binding on the United Kingdom.
To me, one of the most important aspects of the part of this legislation dealing with bird protection is not how much it does but how little it needs to do. In Britain, existing laws are already amongst the most comprehensive in Europe. It is a matter of credit that we have already protected bird life to such an extent that the European directive is more a tidying up operation than a sweeping innovation.
The principal changes within the Bill are tighter controls on the keeping and sale of birds and their eggs; an extension of the list of prohibited methods of killing and taking; and restrictions on the killing of birds doing damage. A system of consultation, licensing and reporting makes adequate provision for the needs of farmers 'while upholding the general principles of bird conservation and protection, of which we in Britain have every reason to be proud.
The measures in the directive are required to be implemented by national legislation, and we should implement it to the best of our ability. That is one part of the Bill.
The relationship between conservation and field sports always provides controversy. It is my view that there is nothing necessarily contrary to conservation in the concept of field sports. Some sports are a legitimate use of wildlife 527 resources, provided that they are conducted wisely. Over centuries there is much ecidence that wildlife in this country has been conserved and, indeed, enchanced by the activities of those interested in field sports. Therefore, the Bill is not a vehicle for outlawing field sports, though they are in a sense affected.
There is to be a reduction in the number of a quarry species that may be shot; semi-automatic weapons are to be used only for pest control; and the otter will no longer be hunted legally. When species are declining in numbers to the point at which their further shooting cannot be justified, positive protection must be given. The jack snipe and the common scoter are thus to be protected.
The need for threatened species protection is recognised, although no one should confuse this recognition with the very different case of those who want to prevent field sports. The Bill was not intended to extend controls on field sports, except where this is necessary on purely conservation grounds. Amendments that have that effect are better examined in detail in Committee, when individual species can be considered. Conservation depends upon keeping species in balance.
Some of the international treaties that I mentioned are explicit on the subject. However unpalatable it may seem, the uncontrolled expansion of a species—sometimes the result of successful conservation policies—may occur only at the expense of other species. In such cases, in order to preserve a balance we must be prepared to support and encourage positive action to restrict such population growth. The decision is not so difficult when the species concerned is publicly regarded as a pest, but it becomes more difficult when the species has a natural appeal, as all who watched the controversy surrounding the grey seal will be fully aware.
In some cases we cannot protect the species on which we depend without protecting the habitats that provide sustenance. The second part of the Bill is about habitat protection and the protection of special parts of the countryside. Conservation is the safeguarding of resources for our use, and our rural environment is a resource of immense value. There are many ways of protecting the countryside to safeguard habitats and to promote its enjoyment. The options vary from total control on all land use through various systems of partial control to a system relying on voluntary co-operation.
A Bill of this kind tends to provoke a range of reactions, and I suspect that interested parties on both sides may have exaggerated fears about changes in the law.
The conservation movement is in the main composed of responsible people, who recognise that their concerns are shared by a large part of the farming community. Indeed, much of the farming community led the earlier conservation trends long before the pressure groups of today grew up. The interests of conservation, in my view and that of the Government, are best served by constructive co-operation. Equally, millions of ordinary people recognise their personal dependence on efficient farming but are nevertheless concerned that our preoccupation with the need for food production should not inadvertently deprive us of our rich heritage of wildlife and landscape. I am sure that all hon. Members share that legitimate concern.
The Bill seeks to contribute to a process of sensible conservation, recognising the legitimate concerns of the 528 landowners, those with a specific interest in conservation and, of course, the general public view which is often not as clearly articulated as we would like.
Many basic measures to co-ordinate our knowledge of what we have to conserve and identify already exist. There is the process of designation, whether it be national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty or sites of special scientific interest. We also have to ensure high quality advice on ways and means of conservation available to all. We have here the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and the agricultural development advisory service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As the House will realise, the status of the Countryside Commission is changed by the Bill.
There is the invaluable assistance of voluntary bodies in addition to the statutory bodies I have mentioned. These include the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the county naturalist trusts and the farming and wildlife advisory groups. We have to ensure that the implications of Government policy for conservation are assessed and the appropriate balances struck. This is done under section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968. The same type of process is also necessary where people are seeking use of taxpayers' money to make changes on their land that could have conservation implications.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In the other place, Lord Gibson, as chairman of the National Trust, put forward concrete proposals that the county naturalist societies should get some paid help, in the same form as the Territorial Army used to get help through the payment of adjutants, to carry out their functions. Have the Government come to any conclusions on the matter?
§ Mr. Heseltine
One of the difficulties that I face in my Department is that I have a wide range of organisations that perform a first-class job not only in conservation but often within the conservation movement. Many of them look to the Government for help. At a time when I have been striving to maintain the resources that I make available to the conservation bodies for which I am responsible—these are largely exempt from public expenditure reductions—it is difficult to see ways of extending help on a wider basis. One can take a practical view as time goes on. No specific decision has been taken on the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. It would be difficult, at this moment, to look to other outside bodies to give further assistance of the sort that he suggests.
I was saying that it is necessary for us to ensure that the implications of Government conservation policy are assessed and that an appropriate balance is struck. We have the mechanism of section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968 for this purpose. For example, we have special arrangements in relation to the Ministry of Agriculture grants, which were revised in the course of last year. MAFF grants are available for more than agricultural purposes. A farmer incurring additional expenditure to ensure that agricultural improvements are carried out to meet the conservation recommendations of a responsible conservation body can claim MAFF grant at the relevant rate on that expenditure. Many of them do so.
We need to ensure that where, in the national interest, farming improvements should be given up in the interests of conservation, the farmer should not be placed at a disadvantage by compliance. The Government have already made substantial provision for relief from capital 529 transfer tax. Provision for management agreements with the NCC already exist in relation to sites of special scientific interest.
Further provisions are made in relation to the countryside in clause 37. The incentives for voluntary co-operation exist. We need, therefore, to look at what happens where co-operation cannot be secured. There are broadly two options. The law can provide for compulsion or we can seek to establish an accepted standard of conduct in these matters while still leaving the landowner free in the last resort. We have chosen the latter course, in clause 28.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
Many of the difficulties in the past have arisen because of conflicting policies pursued by the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Would it not have been appropriate for an Agriculture Minister to be present today to listen to the debate? Can hon. Members expect an agriculture Minister to sit on the Standing Committee?
§ Mr. Heseltine
The selection of hon. Members for the Standing Committee is a matter for people other than myself. It is, however, realistic to inform the House that the Ministry of Agriculture is fully aware of the arguments that I am advancing. There has been wide consultation between my Department and the Ministry of Agriculture. The decisions to which the Government have come reflect the joint views of Government. The House will not lose sight of the fact that the present Minister of Agriculture was the first Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment. I was one of the junior Ministers. No Secretary of State for the Environment has done more, or believes more genuinely in the cause of conservation, than does the present Minister of Agriculture. It is wholly misleading to give the impression that there is a totally different approach by the two Departments. There is bound to be a discussion and balances struck, but the idea that there is a fundamental difference of approach misrepresents the views of the two Ministers who head those Departments.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
While the Secretary of State may feel that it is important for Ministers to be present to listen to Ministers, does he not appreciate that most Back Benchers believe that it is important that Ministers should be present to listen to them? Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that if he cannot get his right hon. Friend to attend to listen to him he will at least get him here to listen to Back Benchers?
§ Mr. Heseltine
I am sure that Ministers within the Ministry of Agriculture will want to consider the hon. Gentleman's point. It would be unrealistic to pretend that I can ensure, by some form of magic, their presence in the Chamber at this moment, but I give the House my assurance that I will draw the attention of my colleagues to all that is stated in this debate, which will be clearly recorded in Hansard for their consideration.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I am grateful for the Secretary of State's comment. Will he examine a press notice in regard to a speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8 April, in which he said thatthere is no such thing as the natural beauty of the countryside"?The Parliamentary Secretary added: 530It is totally untrue—and I reject utterly the accusation—that farmers and landowners are damaging the countryside.The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that some of them are damaging the countryside.
§ Mr. Heseltine
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of State to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food puts his views with great clarity. I stand behind the spirit of what he says on every occasion.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I should like to question my right hon. Friend about a more fundamental point concerning possible conflict between the conservation arguments he has put forward so lucidly and agriculture policy. Are not the details of agriculture policy and the arguments put by my right hon. Friend trivial compared with the general trend of agriculture policy? If we are to pursue policies that lean so heavily towards intensive cereal cultivation, with all the ploughing up of grasslands that this entails, are we not destroying—whatever my right hon. Friend does in the Bill—much natural habitat, and failing in our objectives? Is it not vitally important that my right hon. Friend should be discussing this matter with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
§ Mr. Heseltine
My right hon. Friend raises a most graphic example of the conflict to which I have referred. There is no way in which one can avoid the fact that a conflict of interest exists. That will always be the case. That is not to suggest that it is a bad situation. There is a conflict. Governments in the future, like those in the past, will have to pursue policies that reconcile that conflict as best they can.
The view that I take, based on my experience, is that the farming community is Britain's most valuable asset in securing the proper conservation of the countryside. 'That is not to say that there is not the odd farmer who behaves in a way that one would not wish to support and 'whom one, in fact, would positively condemn. That is always the case, in every aspect of life. One must not judge the vast and impressive performance of the many by the isolated and reprehensible, although exceptional, case.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
I accept what my right hon. Friend says. However, as there are those who are impervious to arguments of good sense and logic, is it sensible to rely on their complying with a voluntary code? Should we not have regard to some of the examples in the built environment, where even the listing of buildings and the statutory protection that it gives—this is known to my right hon. Friend, who has been a valiant champion—does not deter some of the vandals who want to pull the buildings down?
§ Mr. Heseltine
That is right. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) knows a great deal about these matters and judges them extremely sensitively, and he will appreciate that it is difficult to look at the countryside, where there is a relative absence of controls of the type associated with the townscape, and to believe that the performance of human societies in the towns has been in some way qualitatively vastly superior, for all the controls that they have introduced. It can be argued that, with the relative absence of controls in the countryside, the farmers have made a better job in the main than those in the towns.
All that I wish to establish is that there is not a black and white case that says that, because we move to controls 531 typical of the townscape and put them into the countryside, somehow matters will improve automatically everywhere. I do not think that human experience supports that.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
My right hon. Friend has just referred to the townscape. Does he agree that the conflict of interest about which he has spoken between the conservationists and the agriculturists is aggravated by the fact that about 60,000 acres of good agricultural land are lost every year because of the outward sprawl of urban development and the acquisition of green field sites for building instead of the use of vacant inner city wastelands? The sprawl continues, which puts the wastelands, the national parks and good agricultural practice in conflict. Will my right hon. Friend try to reduce the amount of green acres destroyed every year in this way?
§ Mr. Heseltine
The House will now begin to understand why in another place there were more amendments taking up more time on this Bill than on almost any other. The Standing Committee clearly has a fascinating task ahead of it. However, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), it must be said that it is now rather fewer than 60,000 acres which are taken for this purpose.
§ Mr. Heseltine
That is not a bad reduction. I believe that my hon. Friend is as aware as I am of the considerable steps that we are taking to make better use of urban land.
To return to what I was saying, there were two broad options about how to secure the regime for the countryside disciplines that we seek. The first is the compulsory one. The second is to seek to establish an accepted standard of conduct that leaves the landowner to proceed. We have chosen the latter course in clause 28.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I should make clear the Government's attitude on this aspect. We are not prepared, as a Governvent, to support amendments that would change this basic approach. In our view, the cause of conservation is done no good by using compulsion as the primary means of making landowners and farmers manage their land for the general benefit of our heritage. The threat of the big stick can have quite the opposite effect on the landowner.
I believe in the positive gains to conservation from increasing the involvement of those landowners who might be alienated by compulsion. This was very much the argument that we had about Exmoor. I am greatly impressed by the progress that has been made on Exmoor, where voluntary arrangements have been reached. They have only just been reached, so I am not attempting to suggest that that proves the worth of voluntary agreements. However, the owners and the conservation bodies have reached an agreement. If that agreement can be seen to work, it will confound the worst fears of those who demanded compulsion as the primary method of control in the case of Exmoor. It is right, therefore, to watch how that set of arrangements works out. I wish them the best of possible fortune. The Bill therefore provides for compulsion in only a few of the most important and vulnerable wildlife sites. We believe that for the 532 countryside generally the best practical way forward is a positive policy of environmental education, discussion and debate.
The Bill proposes the first major advance in the protection of our most significant natural sites for more than 30 years. The 1949 Act created the SSSI. Over 30 years, 4,000 such sites have been notified and, in many cases, for all the practical effect that it had, such notification need never have taken place. In some cases the owners of the sites did not even know that the land which they owned had special interest or why it was deemed to have special interest. All of that is to change.
The Nature Conservancy Council will notify all owners, and the new regime will be that owners and occupiers of sites of special interest are clearly advised of the nature of the sites and, just as important, what operations would be damaging to those sites. To encourage landowners to assist in its consideration we shall produce a voluntary code and present it for the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
It is because conservation is now an essential part of mankind's survival that all of us should be aware more fully of the consequences of our actions.
In relation to species and habitat protection, there is a difficult problem of enforcement. There is something strange about the idea of the police having to enforce conservation measures. In some cases, of course, that is necessary, but conservation is much more to do with cooperation, voluntary observance and understanding. I hope to move towards a situation in which the community accepts conservation—again I use the term "wise husbandry"—as a vital part of our life in relation to both the land belonging to the individual and the wildlife species that belong to us all.
The voluntary organisations have played a vital part in increasing public awareness of the need for conservation over the past two or three decades. I see the Government's role as encouraging and developing this awareness. There is no doubt that public attitudes have changed. I shall do what I can to encourage and promote this awareness.
Part III of the Bill does not reflect directly the major issues about which I have spoken so far. However, it relates to public enjoyment of the countryside, as it is concerned with public rights of way. These are valuable assets, often of ancient origin, which are the envy of many other countries, and we should preserve these assets. But, like many inheritances, they are not always accurately recorded, although an attempt to put this right was made in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. After 30 years, we are still a long way from achieving an accurate record. It is for that reason that the Bill puts forward alternative procedures for correcting and updating the definitive map. These procedures will produce maps that enable path users to use paths confident in the knowledge that they have a right to be on those paths. They will enable landowners and farmers to order their affairs confident that any public rights over their land have been taken fully into account.
This should help to remove the conflict that has sometimes arisen between farmers and path users over the years. The conflict has been based largely on lack of information about the rights that exist. The bill provides a framework within which arguments can be resolved—and I hope that they will be resolved—quickly.
The Government accept the substantial contributions and most of the changes made to the Bill in another place.
533 The clause on marine nature reserves needs redrafting, and an appropriate amendment will be proposed. Although I am very sympathetic to the purpose of what is known as the Sandford amendment, I do not believe that the use of the agricultural grants machinery is the appropriate vehicle. We shall need to come back to that topic, and it will be the subject of examination in the Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Sandford amendment is not the appropriate vehicle. What, in his view, is the appropriate vehicle?
§ Mr. Heseltine
We shall be considering this matter in Committee, and I shall want to see it explored thoroughly. However, I do not believe that it is appropriate to graft the intentions of that amendment on to the agricultural grants provisions. This is a matter that the Committee will wish to look at. If necessary, we can return to it on Report.
Moving to another matter of controversy in the other place, I am persuaded that the restriction on Sunday shooting removes an opportunity for many wildfowlers to pursue leisure activities traditionally open to them. I realise especially that many people effectively can shoot on only two days a week and that the "no Sundays" rule would be too harsh for them.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I will be accepting that amendment.
As I said, I accept that this or any Bill that deals with this subject must almost inevitably be a compromise. It recognises the situation as it is. It is undoubtedly a most important piece of legislation. It recognises that the wise husbandry of our living resources is of vital concern. In international terms, the United Kingdom has frequently pioneered developments and has often guided the international community in reaching its conclusions.
In the longer term, successful conservation policies need—and I believe in Britain will secure—the support of those affected by them. The Bill establishes a sound practical framework of advance and I strongly commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
On the whole, reading draft legislation can scarcely be regarded as one of the most pleasurable available activities. The jargon of parliamentary counsel, though no doubt often necessary, has few poetic pretensions. However, parts of the Bill are certainly an exception, and certain of the schedules read like poetry. For example, we have the red-backed shrike, the spoonbill, the black-winged stilt, the Teesdale sandwort, the drooping saxifrage, and the whorled Solomon's-seal.
Discussions on the Bill in the House of Lords were often as enchanting as some of its contents. We are indebted to Lord Kilbracken for the information thatthe mute swan can always be told from the hooper and the bewick because it has an orange bill and a knob at the base of the bill whereas the hooper and the bewick have lemon yellow bills and no knob."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 February 1981; Vol. 416, c. 968.]Few would be able to respond with confidence to the query of Lord Chelwood who asked: 534Who could put their hand on their heart and say that in half light or even good light they are sure of the difference overhead between a curlew and a bar tailed godwit?"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 March 1981; Vol. 418, c. 190.]Politically, too, this is a carefully balanced Bill. Schedule 8 offers welcome protection to a plant felicitously named the blue heath, while a later schedule casts its mantle over a wily game bird called Mikado's pheasant. Many of the Bill's provisions can be readily welcomed. Lord Craigton has pointed out that the Bill is good news for bats, although the provisions for dealing with bats in the houses of people who do not want them there are not yet as satisfactory as could be hoped. There have been important improvements in the protection of badgers, building on the pioneering work of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), whose presence today we welcome with particular satisfaction.
During its passage through the House of Lords the Bill was significantly improved. Measures were inserted to prevent rare birds and animals from being killed by various means. Steps were taken to protect the structures and the places used by wild animals for protection and shelter. Provisions were included to protect particular species and plants. Many amendments were added by agreement, but the Government were defeated seven times, sometimes by large majorities, on matters such as the prohibition of Sunday shooting and the banning of airguns.
The Secretary of State said that the Government would seek to reverse the amendment of Sunday shooting. I should point out that the vote in its favour in the House of Lords was 129 to 68, and it could well be that he will encounter trouble if he decides to reverse it.
Perhaps the most important provision inserted against the Government's wishes was that for the establishment of marine nature reserves. I am pleased to hear that that is one provision that the right hon. Gentleman will not seek to reverse. No doubt, other important provisions will be considered in Committee, such as the addition of birds to the quarry list and the illegalisation of airguns. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not seek to reverse those decisions.
While the Bill in its present form is undoubtedly much improved, many parts still fall far short of what is needed. It is difficult to understand why the Government are so obdurate on the subject of bulls in fields. Bulls are dangerous animals. Between 1977 and 1979, seven farm workers were killed by bulls, and another 109 were injured. I am not claiming that those men were killed or injured while walking on paths across fields. On the other hand, they were more experienced than the countryside walker in the ways of these creatures, yet they were vulnerable to them all the same. Indeed, fear of injury can detract from the pleasure of a countryside ramble, whether or not an encounter with a bull actually takes place.
I do not want to dismiss the needs of the farmer, even though the potential detriment to farmers of a greater restrictiveness can be overestimated. Why cannot we go back to the clause contained in the Labour Government's Countryside Bill, which fell as a result of the general election? That provided for the needs of farmers, while protecting the interests of walkers, by suggesting a temporary diversion of footpaths and bridleways. I hope that the Government will agree to a change of that kind. Even if they do not, I hope that the House will make the change all the same.
535 The Bill is inadequate to deal with the ghastly problem of snares. These are vicious and cruel devices. No one who has seen pictures of animals whose bodies have been mangled and lacerated by snares can be indifferent to such cruelty. It is harrowing to read of a fox or badger gnawing off its own paw in an attempt to free itself.
The debate in the House of Lords on an amendment that would have limited the use of snares provided an uncanny reminder of the debates in another place half a century ago, when efforts were being made to ban gin traps. It is worth refreshing the memory of the House with what was said in May 1935, when the Lords debated the Gin Traps (Prohibition) Bill. The Earl of Ilchester said:this Bill goes too far. It is too drastic. It oversteps the limits of common sense … Personally I hate traps, but I know perfectly well that we cannot get on without them in this country … this Bill, if brought into law, would deal the most serious blow to agriculture that it has had for many years".It took another 23 years before gin traps were finally banned, and it is fair to say that agriculture has survived the blow.
It is interesting to note that in opposing the abolition of gin traps the Earl of Ilchester adduced another argument. He said:In my humble opinion any snare that I have ever seen is just as cruel as a trap".Lord Cranworth, who also opposed that Bill, declared:probably snaring inflicts the greatest cruelty of all".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 May 1935; Vol. 97, c. 17–28.]It was therefore ironic that in another place, on this Bill, the Government spokesman, Earl Ferrers—the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—advanced arguments for the retention of snares which were almost indentical to those advanced half a century ago for the retention of gin traps. He said:I do not like snares but I can only reiterate … that the snare is widely used and is a necessary tool of the trade for farmers, forestry workers and others."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 March 1981; Vol. 418, c. 223.]Earl Ferrers admitted that between 100,000 and 200,000 snares are bought each year, and he estimated that a much larger number are made at home. The amount of cruelty inflicted by the unfettered use of such devices is almost unimaginable. I very much hope that the House will decide to impose on the use of snares the restrictions that were proposed in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. David Myles (Banff)
Has the right hon. Gentleman ever seen the unfettered cruelty imposed on sheep and lambs by foxes? We are fast reaching the stage where there is no other method of capturing or eliminating pests such as foxes.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman advances a powerful argument. No one for a moment would justify attacks by wild creatures on sheep and other farm animals. However, there are other ways of dealing with these matters, and I know that they will be discussed in Committee. An important and sensible debate on this matter took place in the House of Lords, and I recommend that the hon. Gentleman reads it.
The trouble is that everyone is able to say, when one comes down to the matter, that there are some kinds of trapping or some kinds of catching of animals that are even worse. For example, when the Gin Traps (Prohibition) Bill was being debated in the House of Lords in 1935 Lord Cranworth said: 536I conceive that if I were a rabbit I should prefer to be shot by a good shot, or to be driven into a net and then, after a certain interval, knocked on the head."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 May 1935; Vol. 97, c. 28.]No doubt people take different views about how they would like to suffer if they were the animal in question. All that I am saying is that there is no doubt that the catching of animals in snares is an extremely cruel practice, and I very much hope that the House will decide to limit the use of such snares, in the interests of humaneness.
Those are important matters, but it is the wider scope of the Bill that is crucial for the future of the countryside, and it is on these essential issues that the Bill falls far short of what is needed.
The characteristic nature of our countryside—sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh; sometimes comforting, sometimes challenging—is unique and precious. It is not exaggerating to say that it is our countryside—the countryside that has inspired poets, novelists, painters and musicians—that gives Britain its precious and enduring character. What we are witnessing today is the rape of the countryside, a rape unparalleled in the history of our country. We can see for ourselves what is happening if we look out of the window when we travel by train or by car. The grim tally of statistics adds up to depredation on a scale that many still do not realise.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when we are travelling by car we are among those who are destroying the countryside, because more hedges are grubbed up in the provision of large motorways than are grubbed up in the interests of farming?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I should not accept that contention, but even if the hon. Lady were right that would be no excuse for its taking place. In any case, as I shall point out, one of the major reasons for conserving the countryside is that it is the people from the towns to whom the countryside belongs, just as much as it belongs to those who live in the country.
Our hedgerows are disappearing. Since 1945, 140,000 miles of hedgerows have been lost. The loss continues at the rate of 4,500 miles a year. In Huntingdonshire, 88 per cent. of the hedgerows have been lost in 30 years. In Cornwall, more hedges were lost in the 13 years to 1976 than in the previous 75 years. Ancient woodlands have decreased by about 40 per cent. since the war.
In the Wakefield metropolitan district, 24 per cent. of woodland cover was lost in the 17 years to 1978, almost entirely to agriculture.
Seventy-five per cent. of all wetlands have been lost. In Bedfordshire alone, 70 per cent. of wetlands have been lost in 25 years. Grass and downland are going too. Twelve out of 61 flood plain meadows identified in Oxfordshire in 1978 have been lost, mainly due to ploughing. In Wiltshire, half of the downland, 64,000 acres, was ploughed between 1937 and 1961. In Dorset, a quarter of all downland was lost between 1957 and 1972.
The same kind of damage is being inflicted on upland areas. An official of the Ministry of Agriculture recently estimated the the remaining 4,200 acres of downland dales in North Humberside would be lost to agricultural improvement in the next 10 years.
Moorland is especially in danger. Between 1950 and 1980, 44,500 acres of the North Yorkshire moors were 537 lost—over 25 per cent. of the total area of moorland in the national park in 1950. Since 1947 more than 12,000 acres of Exmoor have gone under the plough and to afforestation.
For a grim catalogue of some of the depredations inflicted on all aspects of our countryside I shall, with the permission of the House, quote at a little length from a document that has been supplied by Dr. David Goode, assistant chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council.
§ Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)
In this catalogue of statistics, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House how many acres of agricultural land have been lost to the urban dweller in concrete over the last 20 or 30 years.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but it is not one that invalidates the cause that I am trying to make. It is banal to say that two wrongs do not make a right. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) may regard this as a great triumph. It is not a triumph. It is a double disaster. That is the point that I am trying to make.
Let us look at some of the facts that have been provided by Dr. Goode. He said:Two years ago the NCC commissioned Edinburgh University to investigate the rate of habitat change within the lowland agricultural landscape of southern Scotland … Reductions in deciduous woodlands vary from 8 per cent. in parts of Strathclyde to 30 per cent. in Fife, the average loss being about 20 per cent. In addition a great deal of the mixed woodland has been converted to conifer plantations. Heathland has been almost entirely destroyed in some regions, the loss averaging 61 per cent., but reaching 90 per cent. in Galloway and 96 per cent. in Fife. Marshes and fens have declined by about 10 per cent., and grasslands by 35 per cent., the latter due largely to conversion from improved pasture to arable. During the same period, hedgerows have shown an average reduction of about 25 per cent. The overall trend has been towards a landscape increasingly improved in agricultural terms at the expense of wildlife habitat … In Devon only 35 per cent. of the heathland and rough grazing in existence at the turn of the century now remains …The heathland of Dorset is now reduced to 5,832 ha. which is only 15 per cent. of the 1760 figure …Similar losses of heathland have been reported elsewhere in Britain, notably in the Breckland of East Anglia and the greens and heaths of Surrey and Hampshire. Between 1966 and 1980, NCC staff recorded a reduction of 19.4 per cent. in the heaths of North Hampshire. One only has to look at the data on Sand Lizard distribution in Britain to see how this reduction in heathland habitat can affect individual species. Over the past 10 years the number of localities where this species still exists on the heaths of southern England has fallen from 159 to 42, a 74 per cent. reduction. The Sand Lizard is afforded special protection as an endangered species yet it is the loss of its habitat which poses the greatest threat to its survival.Lowland bogs: the decline in mossland over this period has been dramatic. By 1978, 87 per cent. of the original area had been utilised in one way or another. Only 34 areas of bog remained, half of which were reduced to fragments of less than 10 ha. All the remaining bogs were affected by fragmentation and piecemeal reclamation around their margins. In the Lancashire lowlands, 99.5 per cent. of the mossland has been reclaimed, and none of the other study areas has more than 20 per cent. remaining…Grasslands: during 1980 NCC repeated the comprehensive 1966 survey of chalk grasslands and found that the extent of this habitat in Britain had been reduced (since 1966) by 21 per cent…Individual counties show reductions of 19 per cent. in Dorset, 26 per cent. in the Sussex Downs, 32 per cent. in the Chilterns of Berkshire and 25 per cent. in the Yorkshire Wolds. In Wiltshire, which in 1966 contained over 70 per cent. of 538 Britain's chalk downland, the losses amount to 22 per cent. There have also been extensive losses as a result of agricultural improvement, mainly through the application of fertilisers…It is not surprising to find that the distribution of the Snakeshead Fritillary has been substantially reduced. In 1950 it was recorded from 116 different 10 km squares in southern England. It now occurs in only 15 of those squares…Woodlands: in evidence last year to the Select Committee considering scientific aspects of forestry, the NCC … stated that some 30 to 50 per cent. of all ancient semi-natural woodland in Britain had been lost since 1947. This reduction over 30 years is roughly equal, in extent, to all the losses of the previous four centuries. The recent losses are mainly due to conversion to conifer plantations. A quantitive survey of Scottish deciduous woodlands recently completed by the Institue of Terrestrial Economy has revealed that out of 3,188 woods marked on Ordnance Survey (7th series) maps of the 1950s, 752 no longer exist. Virtually all (97 per cent.) of these are now dominated by conifers. The remaining deciduous woodland totalled 61,000 hectares or just under 1 per cent. of the land area of Scotland. Direct comparison with the 1947–49 Forestry Commission census shows that the area of deciduous woodland in Scotland has decreased by 56 per cent. in the past 30 years and some counties have shown losses of up to 80 per cent. (including Selkirk and Kincardine).The loss of those woods, moors, heaths and meadows does not simply mean a loss of places that are good to walk in or simply to look at—sites that go to make up the historic British countryside. All those places have their inhabitants—birds, animals, insects and plants—and with the loss of the habitat goes the loss of those vulnerable creatures and plants for whom the habitat provides a nourishing and protective home.
Dr. Goode again points the moral:The increasing rate of habitat loss in recent years is now cause for considerable concern. It is no longer a question of losing just a few individual species, like the Corncrake which was one of the first to suffer as a result of agricultural intensification. Modern agricultural practice is resulting in a depletion of the remaining areas of wildlife habitat at an accelerating rate, with the result that for most habitats the effect on wildlife over the past 20–30 years has been greater than the effects over the past 200 years. Because most species of animals and plants are restricted to particular habitats and cannot survive in today's intensively farmed land, we are now in danger of losing a substantial proportion of our wildlife. If current trends continue there is no doubt that many species of plants and animals will become extinct in Britain before the end of this century.Those are facts that cannot be gainsaid, and the Secretary of State has shown himself well aware of their significance. Soon after he came to office he made a statement about the environment which met with great approval and provided much encouragement to the many millions who care about our countryside. He said:We have to do more than protect our green belts, we also have to preserve the habitats of wildlife and reconcile conservation of the countryside with the demands of modern agricultural and forestry and leisure activities. Particularly harmful are the effects of draining wetlands; enlargement of fields by hedge removal and clearance of small woodlands; ploughing up of permanent pastures; infilling of ponds and ditches; and the injudicious use of fertilisers and pesticides. Then there is the abandonment of traditional management of established woodlands and their replacement with fast-growing conifers which support poor communities of flora and fauna.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am quoting the Secretary of State and I shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. The right hon. Gentleman said:Our aquatic wildlife, by nature fragile and sensitive, suffers from a range of injury and disturbance, such as the deepening, straightening and embankment of rivers; or the enrichment of waters by nutrient chemicals, reducing its capacity to support life; and oil pollution of the sea is of increasing concern.539 No one doubts the Secretary of State's good faith on these issues and when that good faith has been put to the test the right hon. Gentleman has often lived up to his promise. Only last week many of us read with great satisfaction of his decision to refuse planning permission for a development that would have endangered the especially valuable wildlife sites at the Gedney salt marshes in Lincolnshire.
The Secretary of State deserves all credit for that decision, but he was able to make it because it scraped through the definition in section 22(2)(e) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. The trouble is that there are many developmentsfor the purpose of agriculture",as the Act puts it, that are outside the scope of that or other legislation. For example, the Act would not protect the 2,500 acres of marsh land now under threat in the Norfolk Broads from a scheme to be financed by the EEC. Nor, I regret to say, would the Bill, because it goes hardly any of the way to achieving the objectives that the Secretary of State proclaimed two years ago. It is inadequate because it goes hardly any of the way towards providing the Secretary of State with powers that could enable him to make similar wise decisions to his decision about the Gedney salt marshes to prevent so many of the activities that are turning our landscape into the featureless tundra of a rural food factory, often for the over-production of crops that are subsequently piled wastefully in the store house of the intervention board.
Both the bodies charged with protecting our rural environment are profoundly dissatisfied with the Bill. The Nature Conservancy Council is the Government body responsible for nature conservation in Britain. It has recently issued an analysis of the sites of special scientific interest that were damaged in 1980 alone. In Cornwall, 9 sites out of 54 were damaged—17 per cent. In Dorset, 20 out of 62 sites were damaged—32 per cent. In Berkshire, 4 sites out of 20 were damaged—20 per cent. In Essex, 5 sites out of 56 were damaged—9 per cent. In Cheshire, 3 sites out of 42 were damaged—7 per cent., and in Leicestershire 5 sites out of 40 were damaged—13 per cent.
The Nature Conservancy Council declared in a statement issued this month:The SSSI series, which represents the core of Great Britain's wildlife habitats, and on which depends the survival of many species, is under very serious threat. New measures to support the conservation of SSSI are essential to prevent irrevocable losses to Britain's natural heritage.The Countryside Commission is the Government's statutory adviser on landscape matters. It has advised the Government that the provisions of the Bill as presented for the protection of nationally significant landscapes are unsatisfactory and that the provisions for the protection of wildlife habitats are also unsatisfactory. It states:It cannot be denied that the most beautiful parts of England and Wales are being steadily and in some cases rapidly eroded by farming.I should make clear that I am not attacking farming or farmers by making those quotations. The overwhelming majority of farmers care deeply about our landscape and countryside, and indeed one of the most satisfying aspects of the countryside is the pleasing and happy coexistence of farming and natural landscape when both are in balance. Travelling on Saturday through County Durham I was 540 struck by the beauty of ploughed fields, fields used for grazing sheep, streams, meadows and small woods going together to make a harmonious whole. At the same time, there is no doubt that the economic incentive given to farmers often conflicts with the need to protect the amenities of the countryside.
The chairman of the Exmoor Society highlighted that paradox in a letter in The Times last month:The Government through its agriculture policy is responsible for the ploughing up of Exmoor. As the annual subsidies are paid per animal, more intensive farming leads to larger payments. In 1978, subsidies totalled £.1.3 million compared with £34,000 spent by the park authorities on conservation. Thus, the Ministry of Agriculture is paying for the ploughing of Exmoor at the same time as the Department of the Environment are offering grants to the National Parks Authority to prevent ploughing of Exmoor.The comparable figures in the Lake District are Ministry of Agriculture grants totalling £2,340,000 and expenditure on conservation of £105,000. On the North Yorkshire moors, Ministry of Agriculture grants totalled £1,230,000 and expenditure on conservation was £21,000. In 1980, £433 million was spent on special Ministry of Agriculture support, together with support for price guarantees and capital improvements. In 1979–80, expenditure on national parks totalled £11,654,000 and grants from the Countryside Commission totalled £5,441,000.
We do not ask that support for agriculture should be reduced. Nor do we underestimate the importance and the value of sustaining our agriculture industry. However, it is worth pointing out that more workers are employed in tourism than in agriculture. In 1978 tourism was a £6 billion industry. Much depends upon attracting British and overseas visitors who take a special pleasure in the unique characteristics of our countryside.
We welcome clause 39, which was introduced in another place and which makes it possible for funds to be paid for farming in ways that assist the conservation of landscape and wildlife. I was dismayed to hear the Secretary of State say that there was some risk to that clause. I hope that he will think again and permit it to remain in the Bill.
Even with that clause, the Bill does not go far enough. Clauses 28 and 29, which deal with sites of special scientific interest, are far too weak. The code of conduct is not binding in any way, may not be necessary for a farmer who is conscientious about his responsibilities to the countryside and could be ineffective if a landowner is not concerned about the effects of his activities on the countryside. The chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, Sir Ralph Verney, declared last month that the code of conduct inserted in the Bill in another placewould not be effective in restraining either that small minority of farmers who care nothing for conservation or those who feel, in present economic circumstances, that they have no option but to maximise production.However, the Bill contains the power to create a handful of super SSSIs—a power whose force depends ultimately not only on the determination of the Nature Conservancy Council to impose compulsory purchase but on the availability of funds for the council to make that purchase. It would add teeth to that provision if the Secretary of State gave a commitment to make available the necessary funds to the NCC whenever it thinks it necessary to resort to compulsory purchase. I fear that if 541 the right hon. Gentleman unexpectedly makes that commitment he will be reluctant to make the corresponding designation orders.
Clause 40, which deals with the notification of agricultural operations on moor and heath in national parks, is scarcely worth the paper on which it is printed. The very need for the Secretary of State to obtain the agreement of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food dilutes such potency as the clause possesses. Negotiation could be simply a means for a landowner to extract a penal price for participating in a management agreement.
Anyone ready to convert land without a grant would not be affected. Many sorts of threatened countryside, such as downland, woodland and wetland, would not be covered. In any case, all this trouble has been taken simply to obtain a years's delay in the operations.
We need much more effective provisions. In the case of SSSIs we need, at the very least, a requirement for all landowners in SSSIs to notify the NCC about all operations that might damage the sites. I cannot understand why the Government so adamantly rejected that proposal in another place. I trust that such an obligation will be inserted by this House. We must take even more resolute action to protect our countryside. The Secretary of State should have a reserve power to prevent any operation which, in the opinion of the NCC, would spoil the special interest of an SSSI.
Another advance would be to insert in the Bill a provision for more land conservation orders, as was contained in the Countryside Bill put forward by the Labour Government. As in all such matters, it would be necessary to provide suitable compensation. With the loss of our moorlands proceeding at its present frightening rate we cannot he satisfied with the Bill as it stands. Sooner or later we shall have to come to grips with the real problem of our countryside.
Of course we must protect our SSSIs. We must do so more effectively than is possible under the Bill. We must safeguard our national parks, and I hope that the Bill can be amended to do that reliably and satisfactorily. Our countryside, as we inherited it and as we hope to bequeath it, does not consist simply of the multi-starred attractions in the guidebooks—for example, the spectacular mountains, the moors and the lakes.
It is the little features that do not earn themselves even a single star which most mean England—places that we hardly notice until suddenly we find that they have gone. I refer to the ponds, the hedges and the scrublands where we can get out of the car and take a walk with the dog. If we travel in East Anglia today we see the endless acres of ploughed or planted prairie. The eye aches for a little irregularity in the landscape and the soothing glimpse of a copse or a bridge running over a brook. We must protect those as well as the major sites than cause controversy when they are threatened.
Rupert Brooke was thinking of the unregulated, humdrum English countryside when he wrote:Unkempt about those hedges blowsAn English unofficial rose.The time has come to protect those unkempt hedges. We must introduce into the countryside the same wise planning development control as that which helps to preserve many of the finest features of our built environment. Sooner or later the House will require the same restrictions on material development of the 542 countryside as are an obligation in our towns and cities. If someone needs planning permission to build a carport next to his house, the same permission should be required to uproot a hedge or to drain a pond. The House will have to consider instituting a listing system for nature sites that have comparable significance to listed buildings and which, when lost, are even less replaceable than are listed buildings.
This is probably the most important Bill that will be considered during this Parliament. When the controversies about the Secretary of State's Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and the Housing Act 1980 have long faded away, and when their effects have also long faded away, what we do with this Bill will have a definitive effect on the way that our country will look, not only for generations but for centuries to come. I hope that we shall examine the Bill not as parties—which so often rightly and properly divide in controversy about political principle and dogma—but as members of a Parliament which is the custodian of this nation and its heritage. John Bright said:England is the mother of Parliaments".Let this Parliament fulfil its responsibility to our country by enacting a Wildlife and Countryside Act that preserves and conserves so much of what makes this country precious to us all.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
Much reference has been made to the provisions made in another place. I regret that no one has seen fit to praise the efforts of their Lordships. They have greatly improved and strengthened the Bill. It is a good indication of the value and powers of our Second Chamber.
I turn to the second part of the Bill, which deals with conservation in general. I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), who dwelt on the virtues of hedgerows and the like. I agree with him in principle, but we must not blind ourselves to the fact that some of the features that we are now seeking to preserve in the countryside are the result of farming practices in previous generations during many hundreds of years. Hedgerows represent the enclosure that came after the medieval open fields system. However, that may be a diversion.
I want to commend the strengthening of the conservation issues in the national parks. My constituency is cheek by jowl with the Dartmoor national park, and I am well aware of the often sharp conflict of interest in that beautiful and largely unspoilt part of the countryside.I am especially glad that in future there will have to be notification of agricultural operations on moor and heath in that national park, and that in some circumstances it may be prohibited. It is all the more important that we give this weight to the natural countryside in the national parks if, as we must, we give due weight to agricultural interests on land outside the national parks. I regard that as an important quid pro quo.
I was especially pleased by the amendment to clause 41 that allows for grants and/or loans for conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the national parks. I noted with some alarm that my right hon. Friend feels that this is not an appropriate way of proceeding and that there is likely to be either a striking out of the amendment or a change in it. I hope that we can be told more clearly when the Minister replies precisely what is intended. I have considerable fears at present.
543 I especially welcome the long overdue provisions concerning marine nature conservation. I understand from my right hon. Friend that these provisions, too, need amendment. I am not clear whether he is seeking to alter the principle or to amend what is at present defective wording. I gather from the inclination of his head that it is merely a technicality. I therefore breathe more freely again.
When the Bill is considered in Committee I hope that there will be an addition to that part dealing with marine conservation. I am concerned about the plight of sea birds that suffer, often in great numbers, from the accidental spillage of oil. I am aware that the Department of the Environment, in its other guise, is making strenuous efforts to prevent oil spillage. However, we must be realistic and appreciate that from time to time there will be either accidental or careless spillage and that as a result sometimes hundreds of thousands of sea birds will die after great suffering. The lucky ones are those that find their way to the beaches and are picked up, but there are many more that suffer a lingering death at sea from starvation and the poisonous effects of the ingestion of oil.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Will the hon. Lady confirm that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds estimates that about 42,000 sea birds lost their lives in the way she described in 1980 alone?
§ Miss Fookes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for supplying that statistic. Of course, these birds are only the ones we know about. I suspect that many more literally sink without trace. I know as chairman of the RSPCA council that there is deep concern about the plight of sea birds when they are washed up on the beaches. Strenuous efforts have been made to develop ways of treating them so that they may be returned to the water. It is a costly business. It is time-consuming and it requires great expertise. In some instances, the oil is of such a nature that the birds do not regain buoyancy and they cannot be returned to the sea. If they are returned in that condition, they quickly die. The RSPCA and the other bodies that seek to do this work rely entirely on voluntary contributions. There is no grant from the Government for this purpose. I should like to see the Bill made the vehicle for some such assistance.
The first part of the Bill deals with wildlife and its conservation. I noted my right hon. Friend's assertion that the Bill is not intended to act against field sports, or to devise any method of prohibiting them. He and my other right hon. and hon. Friends will not be surprised to know that I am disappointed by that. I should be failing in my duty to my own conscience if I did not state clearly that I deplore field sports and that I would gladly see the Bill used as a vehicle for prohibiting them. I do not expect that to be a particularly popular view.
§ Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Does my hon. Friend realise that one of the activities prohibited by the House of Lords is wildfowling on Sundays? She may approve of that, but I certainly do not.
§ Miss Fookes
My only regret, if I may be a little tiresome, is that the prohibition does not apply to every day of the week instead of merely to Sundays. That at least would have the merit of consistency.
I turn to other matters about which I am concerned. The right hon. Member for Ardwick rightly said that snares are a particularly cruel form of taking wildlife. I regard them as diabolical. I am sorry that they are not totally prohibited in the Bill. They can cause torture for hours on end and there is no guarantee that those who set them will come round at regular intervals, as they should. I do not accept that there is no alternative. If there is one thing that mankind has specialised in over the centuries it is devices for killing of every sort, shape and form. They may be long-winded or short and sharp, painless or extremely painful. We know that there are at least 14 types of trap that are approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If it is imperative that the animals concerned are taken—I think that it applies mostly to foxes—I should prefer shooting by experts, or even gassing, snaring.
At present, snares can be in the hands of the totally inexperienced or, at any rate, under the control of those who care nothing for the animals they are trapping or the indiscriminate nature of the traps. I suspect that the main reason why they are used is that they are the cheapest and easiest devices. I do not accept that there is no alternative. I take a strong view on snares.
I am concerned about the continued use in some instances of air weapons. I recognise that strides have been made in lessening the use of air weapons. On this issue, the RSPCA and the NFU are at one. I quote from a letter sent to the RSPCA by a representative of the NFU which states:The NFU has the greatest sympathy for the aims of the RSPCA in regard to the control of air guns. Whilst details of policy may differ, we share the same goal.I hope that the relevant part of the Bill will be strengthened as two bodies that do not always see eye to eye at least agree on this issue.
I am worried about the exemptions that are contained in clause 11. I am especially concerned about subsection (4). Here the sting is in the tail, like a scorpion. It appears that it is a defence to say that certain articles for catching and killing animals wereset in position by the accused for the purpose of killing or taking, in the interests of public health, agriculture, forestry, fisheries or nature conservation".This seems virtually certain to drive a coach and horses through the earlier provisions of the clause. I shall look for a considerable whittling down of the exemption in Committee.
I regard the Bill as a major step forward. I was interested to learn from my right hon. Friend that he does not regard it as the Maginot Line and that he expects to see further Bills in due course. Perhaps one should take particular comfort from the concept of the Maginot Line. I gather that originally it was intended to be the absolute stop on every enemy incursion, and when it came to the point the enemy swept round it—it failed in its purpose. Therefore, with reservations, I welcome the Bill and hope very much to see it strengthened in Committee.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
It is a rare pleasure to be able to welcome any measure introduced by the Secretary of State. We can welcome the measure on this occasion, although perhaps not all his arguments.
545 There is general support for the main purpose of the Bill, but there is also a strong desire by many organisations and individuals who care about preserving our natural heritage to see the Bill further strengthened, as has already been done in the Lords. I support everything which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said, except for one or two of his remarks about conifer plantations.
I must confess and declare right away a personal—although not a constituency-vested interest, as is the case with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes)—in Dartmoor and Exmoor and the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire Ridgeways. I have discussed the Bill with various organisations representing those areas, and I admit to a strong personal prejudice for the unique beauty of Dartmoor and Exmoor. In that area the conservationists are anxious for the Bill to be strengthened in at least four main ways. The first is to achieve a better balance—we all agree that there must be a balance—between the preservation of wild moorland and agricultural extensions. Those representing that area want the present clause 35 affecting grants to be retained. I am not sure whether that is the Minister's intention. They also want to see reserve powers inserted in the Bill to control agricultural extensions, such as ploughing-up in national parks whenever voluntary management agreements cannot be secured. In Dartmoor, there are areas where I believe both farming and forestry can actually enhance the beauty and variety of the landscape. However, there are also other cases where the opposite can happen.
Of course, we all prefer a voluntary system when it works. But if there are no reserve powers in the Bill, but mere notification, there may be a few, but damaging, cases where the safeguards are disregarded. There have been instances where Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food grants have been given for changes and so-called improvements which the national park authorities deplored. The Minister must agree that, although there have certainly been successes on Exmoor, nevertheless in other cases the voluntary method has been tried over a long period and has by no means always succeeded.
Secondly, Dartmoor preservationists would like to see clause 29, aimed at protecting some of the so-called sites of special scientific interest, extended to all such sites. There are many prehistoric remains on Dartmoor, some of them second only to Stonehenge in interest, and which are of the same date. The cost to farming and forestry of preserving those sites would be negligible.
Thirdly, it is argued by conservationists that there should be a larger representation on the National Park authorities of those concerned with preserving our national heritage than there are representatives of landowners and farmers. That seems reasonable. After all, the farmers are well represented. The National Farmers Union is not exactly a silent body. It has prepared an admirable brief on the Bill. Surely the bodies responsible—as the national park authorities are—for preservation and amenity should normally have a preservationist majority to preserve a due balance among the voices which we hear about those problems.
Fourthly, is it right that agricultural and forestry buildings should still be wholly exempt from planning controls? I know that is a long-standing anomaly in our legislation; but farming has changed over the past 30 or 40 years. I could give an example from Dartmoor, and another from the Chilterns, of agricultural constructions 546 which look more appropriate for an oil refinery or a chemical works than for what most of us expect from agriculture. Is there not a case, at least perhaps in national parks, for planning control over such buildings? Some of the Minister's arguments today about the desirability of doing everything by a voluntary system would have been arguments against having any planning legislation whatsoever.
The reforms proposed by the Ridgeways Conference, which speaks for the Wiltshire and Oxfordshire areas, and which has many distinguished supporters, are concerned mainly with the preservation of ancient or traditional trackways, of which the most notable is the Wessex Ridgeway. The principal proposal of that conference is that the Bill should provide for certain tracks, where the public right of way is not in doubt, to be designated as "Greenways" and thereby protected against damage or destruction, either by ploughing up and the demolition of hedges, or by motor vehicles. Those who have encountered motor cycles on the Wiltshire or Oxfordshire ridgeways will have much sympathy with that proposal, which had strong support in the Lords. Here. again, valuable historic relics and natural beauty can be preserved with negligible cost or trouble to farming. I would be glad if a few remaining corners of England could be saved from the motor vehicle. I hope that the Government will state their attitude on that proposal and that it may be further discussed in Committee.
For brevity's sake, I have said little about footpaths or bulls. No doubt other hon. Members will speak of them. I shall not relate my various confrontations with bulls on Dartmoor. But it would be odd if this well-intentioned Bill were to end up by making it easier for public footpaths either to be closed or to be effectually blockaded by even the most benevolent of bulls. I say "blockaded" because on one occasion on Dartmoor I encountered a fully grown bull standing foursquare athwart a long-established public bridleway.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on his stout defence of the interests of Exmoor, Dartmoor, the moorlands as a whole and the greenways. I do not dissent from one word of his advocacy.
Like the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), the right hon. Member for Battersea, North and everyone else, I lament the development of modern farming, which causes hedgerows, downlands and grass to disappear, but so far in this controversy too little attention has been paid to the demands of modern farming and the economic pressures on the farmer. What we think of as the traditional English pattern of the countryside—Constable's countryside—has, after all, taken up only a short period in the history of English farming. Economic pressures—not least the CAP and the 547 demands of European agriculture—often force a farmer to plough and drain where many of us would wish him to leave the land alone.
§ Mr. Hastings
Part I of the Bill carries great potential advantages. To some extent, this part is the result of EEC regulation, which, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, has shown up how effective are our measures of protection for wildlife. However, I am less certain why the Government have proceeded with the other parts of the Bill. I am left with deep doubts. Whatever the ultimate benefits or disadvantages—I suspect that we shall get both—the Bill has driven conservationists on the one hand and farmers and others who earn their living from the land on the other into entrenched positions that they otherwise might not have adopted, which is a pity. Many of the problems highlighted were being solved gradually and amicably. However, I pay tribute to the assiduous consultation process throughout the Bill, for which the Government and my right hon. Friend can take credit. I hope that my case will not sound too contentious, but I believe that the Bill's whole approach to the countryside is misconceived.
Before developing my main point, let me mention a constituency interest. I am lucky enough to represent the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at Sandy, in my constituency. The society does important work for conservation and is highly effective as an educating body in the ways of wildlife and the countryside for a large number of people, not least young people. It is a voluntary body, with a membership of 330,000, and has been growing at the rate of 1,000 a week for several years. If any political party represented here did half as well it would be amazed! In addition, the Young Ornithologists Club has a membership of 110,000. All that is a great achievement and shows remarkable initiative. The staff are experienced and dedicated, and take a highly responsible and realistic view not only of farming but of field sports. They are well aware of the contribution that these make to wildlife generally. I hope that in Committee the views of the society will be taken very seriously.
As the points in which the Society are interested are mainly Committee points, I mention them only briefly. First, there may be an attempt in Committee to remove some shore waders from the protected list. I was a keen wildfowler. It is a hard and most sporting form of shooting. I would defend Sunday shooting and night shooting at full moon. It is only fair to wildfowlers, not least those who have a hard job to get to the shore line, to allow them to do so. However, I do not think much of the wildfowler who depends for his sport on the bar-tailed godwit, the redshank, or even the curlew, which cannot be classified as game birds by any definition that I can accept. I hope that they will continue to be protected.
Secondly, the RSPB feels strongly about the Government's proposal to license the destruction of protected species under clause 15 if there could be serious damage to crops. It is in favour of the principle of licensing but is concerned about the vague and comprehensive nature of the permission, which could make the situation worse than it was before the Protection of Birds Act 1954. I hope that the clause can be substantially improved.
548 Thirdly, the society is concerned about the vexed question of sites of special scientific interest. I am aware of the Government's proposals for super-SSSIs and of their Lordships' amendment, which was nearly carried. It is a difficult matter. In Cambridgeshire we manage a fairly large SSSI successfully and amicably with the Nature Conservancy Council, but the RSPB can demonstrate heavy losses elsewhere. In fairness, the position should be re-examined in Committee. I stress the value of voluntary agreements, as my right hon. Friend did in opening, and I repeat that we must never forget that it is economic pressure above all that drives farmers to develop these areas by ploughing and draining.
I come now to the two main considerations that cause me to assert that the approach in the Bill is misconceived. It runs to 94 pages and 14 schedules, and their Lordships have spent many hours on improving it, but nowhere does it contemplate, let alone provide against, the wholesale disappearance of the countryside. Three years ago, my small committee, the countryside committee in the Conservative Party, conducted a survey based on the best sources that we could find, official and otherwise, into land and countryside loss. We were obliged to rely on figures for farmland, since no figures exist to measure the loss of the countryside as such. Our conclusions were, first, that the average annual loss over the past 30 years is 41,200 acres, or 16,680 hectares, a figure close to that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). Secondly, the likely average rate of transfer of farmland to urban and industrial use for the 10 years from 1977 is 49,400 acres, which, incidentally, equals half the area of the Isle of Wight each year.
Thirdly, and in addition, there is a steady increase in unrecorded losses where farmland is abandoned in or near an urban zone. In 1972 a survey was concluded of North Kent, South Essex and East London. A measurement was made of 14 sq kms of new settlement, but that resulted in 42.5 sq kms being lost to farming. How did that happen? The total of derelict and fragmented farmland in England and Wales is probably now as high as 640,000 acres. Most—not all—of that represents a loss of countryside, as we surely understand it in the context of the Bill.
Alas, official statistics are not as satisfactory as they might be. On 27 June last, in reply to a question from me, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stated that the average yearly loss of farm land during the period 1974–79 was 52,400 acres—slightly greater than the figure that my own committee had computed. There was a slight improvement over the last two to three years, but, as my hon. Friend wisely said, it is better to take the average over five years to be certain.
I turn to questions to the Department of the Environment, which surely should be equally interested, about the figures for land lost to housing, industry—particularly the extractive industries—and motorways. The answer given in June last year was that the information was not available, while the answer to another question, relating to the total of identified derelict land, was the information was not readily available.
We do not know how fast our countryside is disappearing, but from the figures that I have given we seem to be losing it at a rate equal to a county at least the size of Leicestershire every five years. Apart from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the country interests generally, we seem perfectly content 549 with that. I venture to suggest that we treat our countryside as though we lived in the middle of a virgin continent rather than on a small, over-populated island.
The whole balance of planning, both urban and industrial, must be reviewed if this process is to be halted. The powers of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in this context should be increased, and its liaison with the Department of the Environment should equally be strengthened.
Perhaps the Bill is not the right instrument to do this, but I believe that it is farcical to devote so much ministerial, departmental and parliamentary time and ingenuity to devising regulations for the use and enjoyment of the countryside if we simply ignore the fact of its rapid disappearance.
I turn to the second of my two main considerations. The population of this country today is 82 per cent. urban and 18 per cent. rural—the most highly contrasted ratio in Europe with the single exception of the Netherlands. There is therefore no doubt where the pressure lies. Yet the Countryside Commission wishes to entice five times more people into the countryside and claims that the Bill may well achieve that.
There is no doubt that the majority of urban visitors are responsible people. I can certainly bear witness to that in my own part of the world. But many, alas, are not. And the House must be aware of the present effect of this. We are indebted to Farmers Weekly for a survey conducted by Dr. Coleman and Miss Inga Feaver of the London University land use department in July 1980. They devised a questionnaire of no fewer than 80 questions. All hon. Members are familiar with questionnaires, and we know that some of them receive short shrift. As I am sure we all know, too, farmers have a horror of paper. In spite of that, however, no fewer than 618 farmers replied in detail from all over the United Kingdom, representing holdings from as little as 100 acres to as large as 5,000 acres. Most of them had a stake in replying, because they were sufferers.
What were they suffering? I quote from the results of the survey that appeared in the Farmers Weekly only last week:Farmers report more than 300 different types of damage including organised crime… Top of the list are trespassers"…89 per cent. of the sample complained of this—Many farmers have been physically attacked by intruders and still more go in fear of such abuse. More than one-third take little action against trespassers for fear of reprisals. Such farms are especially vulnerable to arson.Malicious damage was reported by more than half the sample:Vandals deliberately assaulted animals on a quarter of the farms in our survey.Cruelty to animals could be one of the most effective arguments against encouraging more people on to farm land. Pigs were killed in their pens and ewes were mutilated with crossbows and air-rifles.One farmer reported ewe lambs tied to railway line. Another found two of his cattle left dismembered in a field. Three of his hay barns were also set on fire burning several cows to death. This man abandoned farming altogether because of vandalism.The worst of the pollution was caused by unauthorised tipping and dumping which occurred on two-thirds of the farms…Most farmers in our sample are fighting an onslaught of vandalism. They are losing money because they cannot farm the land in the most profitable way. They are often paying a double bill in the form of increased insurance premiums…Our survey alone reveals that 4,525 hectares (11,172 acres) of land are kept in a straitjacket as a result of urban pressures. This is merely the tip of the iceberg.550 The survey concluded with the recommendation that more farmers should be appointed to the Country side Commission to neutralise its bias. I say "Amen" to that. If hon. Members are not convinced by those quotations—as they may not be—I recommend the story of Mr. George Pykett and his Derbyshire farm—a story that appeared in the Farmers Weekly on 17 April. It is a horrific story of 35 years' struggle against what can only be described as a cruel, vicious and determined enemy. His efforts included guard dogs, human guards, electronic systems, and personal night patrolling. Yet this struggle looks like ending in his defeat.
What is to be done about this on behalf of the countryside? It is all very fine, comfy and self-satisfying to intone about access to the countryside for the urban population—I, too, have acknowledged this—to argue about the kind of countryside that we think we should like, regardless of economic pressure on farmers, and to introduce rights and regulations in favour of conservationists, preservationists and other visitors. But if at the same time we turn a blind eye to the rapid destruction and disappearance of the countryside, and its wanton abuse by too many urban dwellers, we cannot complain if future generations accuse us of having acted either from ignorance or from hypocrisy. The Bill, by itself, for all its good intent, lays us open to both charges unless it is balanced by some attempt to face the real threats to the countryside.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
It would be hard to find a constituency more different from that of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) than my own. He represents the 18 per cent. I represent the 82 per cent. When I was selected as a parliamentary candidate for my constituency in North-East Durham I received a very friendly letter from the NFU pointing out that it was the only seat in the old county of Durham that did not have a farm within its boundaries. I make no apology for that. I believe that the countryside is as much the heritage of the townsman as of the countryman. It is as much their heritage as is the Roman fort in South Shields or Durham cathedral.
It is worth drawing the attention of the House to the fact that walking is the most popular recreational sport anywhere. It is said that millions of people are involved in fishing, but the latest statistics show that whereas about 4 per cent. of the population of Great Britain are involved in fishing, an average of 22 per cent. are involved in walking. That is an amazingly high figure, and in the Northern region it is even higher, at 26 per cent.
It is interesting to note that a great many of the amenity measures brought before the House have been introduced by Members of Parliament for North-Eastern constituencies. I believe that that is because we represent the tradition of the local townsmen—the urge of the men in the pits to get out into the countryside. This is particularly true of mining communities. If one scratches the surface of any miner, one finds a countryman beneath. The very fact that miners work in the bowels of the earth gives them a longing to get into the fresh air, and a great part of the traditional folklore of mining communities involves activities in the countryside. In that sense I make no apologies for participating in the debate.
There are three basic parts of the Bill. I shall not discuss the first part, because other hon. Members, including my 551 hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), are experts in that sphere. However, I support any measure that safeguards and protects wild species. I shall not deal with the second part of the Bill except to say that I am disappointed that more steps are not being taken to protect moorland. The Bill seems to deal mainly with Exmoor, but Dartmoor and the North Yorkshire moors are also affected.
There is unease and anxiety about the lack of planning for rural and agricultural use, and especially about the lack of liaison between Government Departments. Earlier this year I took up the case of Graffham Down. It is a small place in the South Downs which was left unspoilt for generations. It was a sanctuary for butterflies, flowers, animals and birds. Suddenly it was bought. It is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty in the West Sussex structure plan, which states:There is an exceptionally strong presumption against development and changes of land use and management which would be harmful to the visual quality and essential rural character of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.The Minister took a great deal of trouble to get the information. He explained that the local authorities had come to a voluntary agreementto leave certain areas of woodland and scrub and ancient tumulis undisturbed. The agreement was embodied in two plans, copies of which were sent to my Ministry. In October 1979 and January 1980 MAFF approved applications for grant-aidable work for clearing, in total, 44 acres of scrub. This was all in the area taken into account in drawing up the voluntary agreement.People involved in voluntary agreements might decide not to abide by them. Therefore, it is important that the Government should have reserve powers. We hope that the Exmoor scheme is a success. However, the chances of success would be greater with back-up power.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The clerk of the district council involved with Graffham Down said that he was appalled that the law had not caught up with the speed at which events had overtaken the councils on such a large scale. Is there not a problem in allowing councils time to take some action before woods are cut?
§ Dr. Clark
I agree. That highlights one of the problems. Perhaps we can tighten the Bill in Committee to make it more meaningful.
I turn to that part of the Bill that deals with amenity rights of way. I have a non-financial interest in that I am chairman of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, which is the oldest amenity society in the country. Many open spaces such as Hampstead Heath exist because of its efforts.
It is not a privilege to use a definitive footpath. It is a right. One has as much right to walk along a definitive footpath as one has to walk along the side of a main road. A definitive footpath is the Queen's highway. If we accept that, life is easier for all. I welcome the reform proposed for updating definitive maps. I hope that in Committee we shall examine the procedures, because to write off odjections made 10 years ago is not the most equitable way to tackle the problem. In principle it is a step forward and it has my blessing.
Not knowing where footpaths are causes difficulty to both farmers and walkers. It is sometimes difficult to find out where footpaths go. One can check at local council offices. However, the Government could ask each local 552 authority to publish for sale definitive footpath maps. Some local authorities, such as the old West Riding authority, did that commercially and made life easier for the walker, amenity organisations and landowners. Such a scheme would ease the problem. The Government might also consider providing better way marking. More and more people are travelling out of town in motor cars to the countryside. More way marking would help them.
I deal now with the question of bulls and the public footpath. Almost eight years ago to the day I introduced a Private Member's Bill which, alas, did not see the light of day but which would have obviated the need for such a provision in this Bill. I suggested action that was somewhat different from that proposed in this Bill. I introduced my Bill not for hardy ramblers, because they can take care of themselves. I had it in mind that 22 per cent. of the population walk in the countryside. Many go with their families. We want to encourage families to go to the countryside. In that way people might be educated against the follies referred to by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. Most vandalism takes place in the urban fringe areas rather than deep in the country. A family that is intent on walking in the countryside will do little damage.
I am worried about the safety aspect. When I introduced my Bill, I was supported by the Gosling committee, which reported in 1968. It stated thatthe pasturing of bulls over 12 months old at large in any field through which there is a public footpath should be prohibited.Nothing has changed since then. It is often said that we are short of beef. That is not true. The warehouses and intervention stores demonstrate that there is an abundance of beef.
It is argued that certain breeds of bull, such as the beef breed, are safer than others. I do not dispute that, but in 1971 a Northumberland farmer was killed by an Aberdeen Angus. There are many other examples. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) gave the figures.
During a debate on my Bill I quoted a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, which wrote:The only safe action that anyone can take when a bull charges is to run for the nearest refuge. It is certainly true that a bull can run faster than most human beings but once a bull has caught you he will knock you down however large a stick you are carrying, and injuries that could well be fatal will result. Bulls are always a potential danger and it is advisable to treat them with extreme caution.What new evidence have the Government, arising in the last eight years, which runs counter to the information given to me in 1973? I submit that there is no information whatever to justify a change.
A letter in The Veterinary Recordof 11 October 1980 states:We all know full well that bulls are dangerous. Many of us will know farmers who have been injured or worse by their own, quiet, trusted bull…It seems that civil servants drafting the law have been persuaded that beef bulls running with cows are safe. Safer maybe, but safe, definitely not.That is further information from people who know that bulls are dangerous.
I return to the point that to walk a public footpath is not a privilege; it is the right of every freeborn citizen of this country. To put a bull in a field where there is a public footpath is to deter citizens from exercising their rights. When we talk of the freedoms of the individual, let us consider that freedom as well. I emphasise again that it is a right and not a privilege.
553 This is an important question, because we are a much more mobile society than we were, and people will happily drive two or three hours in order to reach an area where they want to walk.
We are very fortunate in the Northern region in having three national parks—the Lake District, Northumberland and the North Yorkshire moors. People drive there every weekend, and it is important that they know the law in each of those areas. It is also important that the law should be the same in each case.
It is suggested that the scheme that has operated safely in Scotland for the past 12 years is proven. I doubt whether it is. To start with, most of the walking in Scotland is on upland and highland, where bulls do not roam. Secondly, the Scottish legal system and the Scottish footpath network are very different from the English legal system and footpath network.
The Minister may be interested to know that I was chased down the lower part of Criffell by a Hereford bull, so I do not accept for a moment that beef bulls are safe. I reject that part of the Bill and stress that it will make life for the average walker very much more difficult than it has been previously.
As the House knows, the Commons Registration Act 1965 required that every common and every village green should be registered by 1970. We all thought that that was a great step forward. But there have been a number of legal decisions—especially the Clwyd case—that have turned the intention of the House on its head. I know that the Minister is aware of that case, as were the previous Minister and the previous Administration. Indeed, the previous Secretary of State for the Environment said that he was aware of it and that his Department was working on legislation to deal with it. We know the problem, and it is a serious one.
I have a letter from the solicitor of the Dorset county council, in which he estimates that 75 per cent. of registered common land in Dorset may have to be taken off the register. That is land lost for ever, and rights lost for ever. It is very sad that the traditional rights of people should be lost. I ask the Minister whether it is possible to bring into the Bill in Committee a clause that will deal with this question. It is not only a matter of commoners' rights; it is also a matter of access.
In 1925, under the Law of Property Act, the House in its wisdom said that in an urban area—that includes much of the North Yorkshire moors and much of the Lake District—there is free and unfettered access to any common. Under the present judicial interpretation of the 1965 Act, much of that land will be removed from the commons register, and therefore much access will be removed, at the very time when more and more people are demanding to use the countryside.
I hope that efforts will be made in Committee to tighten up the Bill in that respect. The amenity societies are anxious to do what they can to work with landowners and farmers and to produce a system that is satisfactory to both groups. We realise that it will be difficult and that there will have to be compromises, but I repeat that at the very time when more and more people are going into the countryside, the Bill makes life much more difficult and much more restrictive for them.
The Minister shakes his head, but in 75 per cent. of this country it is illegal to run a bull in a field where there are public footpaths. The Government intend to alter that and make it legal for bulls to run in fields if they are of a beef 554 breed. That will produce danger in 75 per cent. of the country. It will also be a deterrent to walkers. The Minister shakes his head, but he is going against all the evidence. I ask the Minister to give me some authoritative statements from veterinary surgeons and from his own officials to the effect that beef bulls are safe. If he is able to provide me with that evidence, I shall be much more prepared to wish him well with his Bill.
§ 5.56 pm.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I congratulate the Government on all the negotiations and consultations that they have had with outside bodies, over a period of two years, in regard to the Bill.
I am glad to speak after the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), because I well remember his predecessor in this House, who was highly respected by Conservative Members and was an expert on matters of the kind with which the Bill deals. I am sure that some of the words that the hon. Member for South Shields has just uttered in relation to footpaths would have been put no better by his predecessor, who is recalled with affection by many of us.
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's predecessor was for several years the vice-chairman of the all-party conservation committee. When I served on that committee with him we differed, in a comradely way, over footpaths. He used to say "I would defy anyone to prevent a rambler going along a footpath", but several of us would say that in many cases footpaths were initiated simply because they were the only way to get from one village to another.
That was in the days when motor cars and bicyles did not exist. Those footpaths were probably kept open in subsequent years simply by the daily walk of the village postman. Now, of course, he goes by the main road. Today, many of those footpaths, which were once kept open by the village postman, are kept open—certainly in my constituency—by organised bodies of what one might call professional ramblers. They come by bus from the big cities, and spend a day going round the footpaths, and that is the only use to which the footpaths are put during the year.
I suggest that it would be very difficult for the hon. Member for South Shields—as it would have been for his predecessor—to make a convincing case for their retention on that limited basis. I congratulate the Government on having tried, as far as possible, to avoid compulsion. I only hope that their faith in what I might call voluntarism will be justified.
Clauses 28 to 31 deal with sites of special scientific interest. All hon. Members will agree that the preservation of such sites is in the national interest and should be persevered with. Clause 29 states that, after consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council, the Secretary of State can designate by order a site of special scientific interest. I am glad to see that further on the clause also allows the Nature Conservancy Council to acquire a site by compulsory purchase. I hope that those four clauses will not be weakened or tampered with in any way.
A week or two ago there was a disgraceful occurrence in my constituency, near Ulverscroft. The case was typical. Often, it is not the farmer who is to blame. Often, developers are to blame, because they are anxious to turn sites of special scientific interest, which are of no commercial value, into sites of building potential. They are the niggers in the woodpile. Indeed, the Leicester 555 Mercury of 9 April contained an article that referred to Ulverscroft, in Leicestershire. The county has already been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). The article stated that conservationists in the county were having great difficulty. It said that there wasa wildlife site in the Ulverscroft valley, an area listed by the Government-backed Nature Conservancy Council as a site of special scientific interest because of its abundance of wildlifeBulldozers and other machines moved on to the 25-acre Long Meadow of Spring Knowell Wood, near Ulverscroft Priory.The drainage work, reported in yesterday's Leicester Mercury is being carried out by…Mr. David Wilson, a director of A. H. Wilson and Son (Contractors) Ltd.There is a picture of the bulldozers and digging machines on the meadow. Not only is it an area of special scientific interest; since 1956 it has been recognised as a haven for more than 100 species of flowering wild plants, including orchids and primroses, which are rapidly disappearing.
The article continued:Of 90 sites of special scientific interest in Leicestershire, almost 10 per cent. have been lost or damaged in the past three years.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
My hon. Friend said that clause 29 should not be altered. If, as he has shown, sites of special scientific interest can be easily damaged and even destroyed, is that not an argument for strengthening the proposed legislation on such sites?
§ Mr. Farr
I do not agree, because clause 29 and its "co-clauses"—to use a frightful word—are not yet part of the law of the land. The Bill has been received from the other place. When the Bill is enacted, the machinery will work.
In many respects the Bill was better when it went to the other place than when it left it. It is a pity that many of the amendments were accepted against Government advice. For example, there was a determined attempt to prevent the continued use of air weapons for pest control purposes. Hon. Members may not know that there are about 1 million air-weapon users and owners in the country. In a recent national sample survey a large majority said that pest control was their principal reason for having an air weapon. Surprisingly, in the other place there was a campaign—against Government advice—to confine the use of air weapons to range purposes. Fortunately, it was withstood by the Government. Several of us hope that some of the restrictive amendments that were accepted in the other place will be put right upstairs.
Those of us who admire the other place were surprised by the way in which shooting sports, in all their forms, were attacked in that Chamber. Shooting sports are widely enjoyed nationally and are almost the biggest—if not the biggest—participator sports in the country. Nevertheless, a succession of attacks were mounted in the other place. Some of the attacks—both successful and unsuccessful—that were made in the other place force one to wonder whether the peers are fully aware that shooting is a national sport. A successful attempt was made to ban the Sunday shooting of wildfowl in England and Wales. Sunday is often the only day on which people can get away from their duties for an afternoon's or evening's wildfowling. Often, wildfowlers work in the Midlands, in 556 areas such as Birmingham, and face a day's drive to the coast. To ban the Sunday shooting of wildfowl is to make a damaging attack on shooting in general.
Essentially, wildfowling is the recreation of the local working man and the city dweller with limited means who cannot afford a gun in a syndicate. Of necessity, such people can get away only on Sundays, because Saturdays are frequently taken up by work. Research conducted by one organisation shows that more than one-third of all those engaged in shooting belong to the skilled manual socio-economic group. The next biggest category, intermediate and junior non-manual workers, account for 26 per cent. of those engaged in the sport. If the Sunday banning of wildfowling is maintained it will hit the working man hard. There can be no reason, based on conservation, for banning wildfowling on Sundays. Indeed, harmful pressures may be created by doing so.
Another ban was added to the Bill against Government advice in the other place. It concerns three types of wader. In the other place three types of wader were added to the protected list by those who may have acted from good intentions but whose acts may have serious effects for the tens of thousands of those who enjoy shooting as a pastime. The three species are not in danger. The number shot is small. Hon. Members probably admire the work of the Game Conservancy. It believes that two of the species—curlew and redshank—need not be protected in any way. Moreover, scientific surveys have shown that wader populations number hundreds of thousands. At present, the harvest is tiny and numbers only a few thousand birds each year. Wildfowlers value the sport of shooting that the wader species can provide, especially in the early part of the season.
Two other dangerous attempts were made in the other place, which could be repeated in this place, by those who are headed by a clique of peers who seem to be anti-shooting. They made determined attempts to ban wildfowling at night and to shorten the shooting season. Happily, both those attempts were resisted. I do not expect any hon. Member to be so ill-advised as to repeat those attempts here, but it might be worth pointing out the effect on tens of thousands of people who enjoy wildfowling at night and on those who enjoy wildfowling on the foreshore at the end of the season from 1 February to 20 February.
The season for wildfowling on the foreshore was extended from 1 February to 20 February as part of an arrangement that was incorporated in the Protection of Birds Act 1954. As a result of the opening date for wildfowling in general being put back from 12 August to 1 September it was agreed by all concerned that it would be fair to extend the date for wildfowling on the foreshore from 1 February to 20 February.
An assessment of available scientific evidence shows that the February season is unlikely to damage wildfowl populations, because such wildfowling accounts for only a tiny proportion of the total annual harvest of wildfowl. The majority of wildfowl are taken at inland localities between September and January. The banning of February wildfowling, even if it were necessary, would have no effect on wildfowl conservation.
The other attempt in the other place was to ban wildfowling at night. The Game Conservancy, which is a neutral body in this respect—it is funded by independent money; I do not think that there is any Government money in it—devotes itself, at its headquarters in Hampshire, to investigating the wildlife population in Britain, the causes 557 of disease, habitat stimulation and improvement and other important matters of vital concern to those interested in the progress of the Bill. That entirely neutral body has said that banning wildfowling at night would have no effect on duck populations and could have a harmful effect on their habitat. It feels that if wildfowling at night is banned, habitat protection, which is practised by those engaged in wildfowling, may fall by the wayside, as wildfowlers would cease to protect the habitat if they did not have the opportunity for moonlight shooting.
Moonlight shooting, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), has been practised in the countryside for many generations. Moonlight flighting of wildfowl, as it is called, takes place only when the moon is in the right quarter and cloud conditions are favourable, No out-of-range shooting of duck or wildfowl at night can occur, because the birds can be seen to be shot only when they are well within range. As may come out in Committee, records show that shooting by moonlight, because of the limitation of the distance that one can see, causes far less damage to birds by wounding.
I welcome schedule 7 in relation to deer. By a stroke of good fortune, after trying for nearly 20 years, last year I managed to get my first Private Member's Bill through the House—the Deer Act. One of the clauses that I had to jettison in order to get it through was what has now become part of schedule 7 to this Bill. That schedule establishes that deer can no longer be shot with a shotgun. One must use a rifle, unless the deer are damaging crops. That was agreed by all concerned in the important negotiations that took place between 1977 and 1980. I am glad that the part of my Bill that had to be jettisoned has reappeared in schedule 7.
The Committee stage will no doubt be long and detailed. Mention has been made of the use of snares. I appreciate the cruelty involved in the use of snares—hon. Members on both sides will wish to stamp out cruelty, if possible—but a ban on the use of snares would be utterly useless. Anyone can make a snare. Unless we ban the sale of wire in ironmongers' shops we shall never ban the use of snares. The House has always sought to avoid passing laws that cannot be enforced. We should not now commence to pass unenforceable legislation.
Snares are required for vermin control, because other methods—poisoning, trapping, decoying with dummies, or even shooting with a rifle—have been made more difficult to practise legally. The snare, provided that we have a system of regular and proper inspection, is an efficient and humane method of vermin control.
I hope that in Committee we shall be able to discuss how we can eliminate the loss of 4,500 miles of hedges every year. I do not know what to suggest as an alternative. We cannot encourage the Government to give farmers a grant of so much a yard to keep hedges in being. I farm in Northamptonshire. Last autumn I hired a professional hedge cutter with a machine for four weeks. He was paid £600 to trim the hedges. Obviously, it would have been more economic for me to have paid him £600 not to trim the hedges but to remove them. We must appreciate that there is this huge economic problem facing farmers who wish to maintain their hedges.
I hope that the Bill makes more rapid progress through the House of Commons than it made in the House of Lords. I support a two-Chamber system. Indeed, not long ago, the Upper Chamber had a remarkable achievement in 558 reversing the Government's intentions over charging for school buses. However, in view of what happened to the Bill in the other place I do not think that it is a good idea for important legislation of this nature to be initiated there. There is not the same discipline there as there is in this Chamber. There seems to have been a posse of maverick peers, largely of Conservative persuasion, consistently voting against their own Government. I hope that we can put right here many of the wrongs that were committed in the other place.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I hope that the House will allow me to give a word of advice. I recognise the deep interest that exists in this subject. If, however, we are to have speeches lasting over 20 minutes, some hon. Members who wish to contribute will be unable so to do. I only give that by way of advice.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I promise, Mr. Speaker, as I have done on previous occasions, that I shall not keep the House for long. I feel, however, that I must comment on the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). Many of us wish that the Bill had been introduced first into the House of Commons. We fear that many of the amendments that we want to see carried will not be carried. There might have been hope of getting more sensible amendments approved in the Lords which the Government would not have been able, or would not have chosen, to reverse afterwards. It is an insult to say that their Lordships acted as mavericks. I have been heartened by some of the comments that were made in the other place.
There seems to be a welcome feeling among Conservative Members that the Bill does not go far enough. There has been mention of hedges. I realise that to arable farmers hedges are probably a damned nuisance. To the stock farmer, particularly, I would have thought that in the last few days a hedge on the farm must have been a godsend as shelter. I recall the late. Mr. De Quincey, a famous breeder of Herefords, who allowed hedges to grow 20 ft tall because of the protection that they gave to his pedigree cattle. I am sure that this is also the case north of the border.
I welcome the Bill. I congratulate their Lordships on giving it some limited but necessary extra teeth. The Bill is regrettably weak in a number of respects, but I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing it forward. Since he has been in office the right hon. Gentleman has a good record in the conservation of buildings. Many local authorities and some of their chief officers who are heretics about preserving some of our better buildings have found to their horror that inspectors and especially the Secretary of State have not carried out their wishes. I respect what the right hon. Gentleman has achieved in my constituency. I hope that he will therefore be more sympathetic to some of the remarks made by hon. Members during the debate. I hope also that in Committee he will not be too tough in wishing to bring down the heavy hand too often.
As a resident of the Isle of Wight, I welcome the protection given by the Bill to the red squirrel, which is still indigenous to the island. We have taken great pains to try to stop the grey squirrel from coming over. It came over on a boat about four years ago and an RSPCA 559 inspector was well and truly bitten. However, it was sent back to the New Forest on the next boat. The red squirrel is now protected, which is a source of pleasure.
I am delighted also that the otter is to be protected in Scotland. However, the League Against Cruel Sports seems to believe that it can still be hunted with hounds. I do not think that that is the case. I am glad to see that the Minister agrees.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hector Monro)
It is quite wrong.
§ Mr. Ross
I am delighted to have that confirmation. I was one of the members of the Committee that considered the Countryside Bill, which fell because of the general election of 1979. I supported the implementation of Lord Porchester's recommendations relating to Exmoor. I am certain that he was right then, as now, despite the Secretary of State's remarks in his opening address. I regret that the Government still apparently believe that negotiation, management agreements and co-operation without statutory backing is sufficient. It is not sufficient, despite some hopeful indications relating to Exmoor.
I believe that land has changed hands over the last few years at far too high a price if it is not to be exploited to its full potential. Hon. Members with agricultural knowledge will know that when land changes hands at £1,000 an acre, or sometimes £2,000 or £3,000 an acre, or even £3,500 an acre in Northern Ireland, there is no agricultural return for the spending of that sort of amount and people therefore have to explore other avenues to try to recover their money. As the hon. Member for Harborough rightly stated, it is not usually the farmer but a speculator who wishes to make sense out of the price paid. Those are the people against whom we have to seek protection.
As a member of the National Farmers Union, I acknowledge that the vast majority of farmers have no wish to destroy habitats or to plough up areas of special scientific interest. I once owned a farm. I was one of the idiots who sold in 1971 or 1972 at a little over £200 an acre. That same farm sold for at least five times that amount a year or so ago. I had a lovely group of elms. I recall a timber merchant from Buckinghamshire wishing to buy them for veneers. I could not bring myself to allow those elms to be cut down. I lost what would have been a reasonable sum of money. Five years later, the trees were totally destroyed by elm disease. I am sure that many farmers would similarly not wish to allow their scrubland to be ploughed up or trees destroyed.
The cost element, of course, has to be considered. As the hon. Member for Harborough remarked, the cost of cutting hedges is high. In recent years, people under continual pressure from financiers have entered the field. They do not view the matter with such sympathy. A change in legislation is essential if our national parks are to be protected. At present, national parks are starved of legislative support. The Bill provides an opportunity to put things right.
As the Nature Conservancy Council stated, significant damage has occurred to over 10 per cent. of the 3,051 SSSIs in 1980 alone. That is an extraordinary figure. The nature conservation interest in 2,400 hectares has been totally destroyed, and in a further 6,300 hectares it has been seriously damaged. 560 The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) quoted statistics of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The society points out that in the county of Avon 50 per cent. of unimproved meadows were destroyed in the 10 years up to 1980. In my constituency, 17½ per cent. of chalk grassland has been damaged or destroyed in 14 years. In Lancashire, 99½ per cent. of the lowland bogs have been reclaimed. There is hardly any bogland left. In Suffolk and part of Norfolk, 70 per cent. of breckland heath has been lost.
In an interesting article in The Times today, Professor Norman Moore, chief advisory officer to the Nature Conservancy Council, reminds us that Britain has lost its traditional habitat faster than any other European country. Only 10 per cent. of the land area is wooded, and less than half of that consists of native broadleaved species, whereas one-fifth of France is forest. Professor Moore also refers to the loss of plants and wildlife and to butterflies whose caterpillars will not eat Italian rye grass. I remember, as a child, picking cowslips. One does not see many cowslips today.
The statistics are frightening. The situation will become even worse if meaningful action is not taken. We need to change the procedures recommended by the NCC, which failed by a narrow margin to win approval in the other place.
When the last measure was before the House I moved a clause to give protection to limestone pavements. That was on the prompting of a Dr. Halliday. I welcome the re-appearance of the provision in the Bill. I am told, however, that there is still a loophole in the use of these limestone pavements for agricultural purposes and for rockeries, and that sort of thing. I hope that this loophole can be closed. I am told that the provision applies to Scotland where similar things can happen. I hope, therefore, that the question of limestone pavements can be covered in England, Scotland and Wales.
I congratulate the Government and perhaps their Lordships on clause 34, dealing with marine nature reserves. This is surely a portent of things to come. I hope that it will remain in the Bill, although I gather that it has to be redrafted along with clause 35, which provides grants for loans for those incurring expenditure on matters conducive to nature conservancy.
I also welcome the involvement of the Department of the Environment in the licensing procedures for the control of birds causing damage to agriculture. Of course, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must be consulted. However, in my view that Department should not take the final decision. It is too much of an interested party to do that.
I support what was said by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) about the loss of sea birds as a result of oil spillage. Unfortunately, the Bill contains no provision to help the RSPCA and others who put up substantial funds for the treatment of birds in distress. During the hon. Lady's speech I intervened to point out that 42,000 sea birds were known to have died from oil spillage in the past year. That figure represents only known deaths, and it could be as little as 10 per cent. of the total amount. We do not know about birds that die out at sea. The total could be as much as 400,000. It is an enormous figure. We must give all the help that we can to bodies such as the RSPCA, which use their very limited funds to help when casualties come ashore.
561 I take this opportunity to reassure certain Government supporters that most of my colleagues and I recognise the merit in some of the complaints by wildfowlers against certain of the amendments carried in the other place. However, people who wish to shoot on Sundays should recognise that other people wish to go bird watching on Sundays. Anyone bird watching on a reserve who suddenly sees someone taking a pot shot at a duck, as can happen in the Newtown nature reserve, in my constituency, will find the position an odd one, to say the least. Nevertheless, I recognise that shooting is a traditional sport, and we have to be careful before we introduce amending legislation covering such matters.
I am also something of a heretic about bulls on public footpaths. I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). My daughter teaches at his local technical college, so he can take it out on her if he chooses. I ran bulls for many years in the Isle of Wight, which is included in the 25 per cent. of the country that is excluded from the present legislation, much to the annoyance of the Ramblers' Association. I see some merit in what the Government are trying to do. It always amazes me when I think how in Scotland it is permissible to run umpteen bulls together in fields. I have never dared do that, but it is not uncommon to see six or seven Hereford or Angus bulls in a field together. Certainly I have never heard of anyone in the Isle of Wight being killed by a beef breed bull out in a field with cows.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) settled the argument in a rather subtle way on an earlier occasion. I seem to remember that he brought the ramblers and the NFU together, and a solution was hit upon whereby, if a bull was present, there could be a temporary deviation of the footpath. That appeared to be a very sensible solution.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
What always concerns me is not whether people get hurt but how many people are put off from legitimately walking a path because of the presence of bulls. I suspect that it is quite a large number, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for a diversion procedure.
§ Mr. Ross
I think that a diversion procedure is the right way of dealing with the problem. However, I point out to the hon. Member that in my constituency there are vast numbers of footpaths, some of which are hardly ever used. It is a restriction on the genuine farmer with beef cattle, because often he has difficulty in finding a field that has no footpath running through it. The problem is not quite as simple as is sometimes made out.
I come finally to the question of rights of way. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) spoke on behalf of the Ridgeway Conservation Conference, and I want very much to support what he said. In doing so, I quote from a note issued by the conference about the green lanes and historic greenways:There exists in England and Wales a certain number of ancient unmetalled tracks with strong historical associations whose value as part of the national heritage is such that they deserve special protection both:
- (1) against physical damage through diversion of their routes, loss or 'absorption', metalling of surfaces, or other operations on the land liable to injure them; and against the destruction of bordering trees, hedgerows etc that commonly provide a natural habitat for wildlife, both flora and fauna;
- (2) against use by motor vehicles, which is incompatible with the character of these ways and destructive of their peacefulness and other amenities.The number of these historic greenways is not great—probably not more than 20 or so, the Ridgeway on the North Wessex downs being perhaps the best known.On both counts the threat to some of them is increasing. The law as it stands provides no sure protection. The Wildlife and Countryside Bill may be the last opportunity in this century to get the law right.I hope that we can put that right. It seems quite wrong that people walking on our ancient greenways suddenly have to jump aside whilst 20 motor cycles roar by, or people drive in cars as fast as 40 mph. I understand that there must be some agricultural use. Tractors, and so on, must use these ways. However, we ought to be giving them more attention, and I trust that the Standing Committee will look into the problem. I hope that I shall have the opportunity to serve on the Committee, because I shall do my best to urge my colleagues to stress the importance of these vital reminders of our ancient heritage and to give them the protection that they need so desperately.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
In common with most right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, I welcome the Bill and I am grateful for the opportunity to add my pennyworth to the suggestions which have been made about ways in which it could be improved. At the outset, therefore, I express my sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and recognise that he has to steer a difficult and perhaps diplomatic course between agricultural interests and the conservationists—not, I hasten to add, that those interests never coincide.
Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I can see both sides of the argument, especially as I represent a constituency in which town literally meets countryside. Our postal address is Hertfordshire, but at least some of my constituents do not like to be reminded that they actually live in the Greater London area.
I am particulary interested in parts II and III of the Bill, but I accept the argument that the success of part I, dealing with wildlife, depends very much on the success of part II in ensuring the survival of their natural habitats.
As the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) did, I have to declare a non-pecuniary interest in that I, too, have the pleasure of being a member of the national committee of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society. The hon. Member said that this was the oldest amenity society. I confess that one of my ambitions in serving on its committee is to try to shorten its name.
I want particularly to draw attention to what I believe to be the very serious land-use crisis that exists in the United Kingdom. I do not think that it is too simple to say that, if we want to stop the agricultural use of many of our moorlands and heaths to the extent that has occurred in recent years, we must first understand that in part it is due to the urban sprawl into our agricultural lands. Therefore, it is not unfair to say that, if we expect our farmers not to plough up moorlands and heaths, we have to see that the staggering rate at which we are eating into their good agricultural land for development purposes is at least slowed down, if not halted.
I was greatly impressed by the statistics that we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire 563 (Mr. Hastings) in this connection, and perhaps I might quote briefly an answer which I received to a parliamentary question just before Easter. On 16 April, I was informed by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the average yearly loss of agricultural land to development or other uses, excluding woodlands, in England in the five-year period ending June 1980 was 45,800 acres—I will not metrically adjust that figure.
That is an appalling loss, and it relates only to England. There is every reason to suppose that Dr. Alice Coleman, a most distinguished land-use expert, is right to calculate that it probably means that about 75,000 acres of agricultural land in the United Kingdom is lost each year. In some way—I do not suggest that it can be done in the Bill—we have to address ourselves to that problem, because it is a very serious one and it assumes even greater significance in a country which is relatively densely-populated.
I suggest that the loss of moorland to agriculture and forestry is already a serious threat. We have heard, for example, that in the last 17 years more than 20 per cent. of Exmoor has been lost and that in the last 30 years more than 25 per cent. of the North York moors has been lost. I believe that such loss is happening on the same sort of scale in our other national parks.
If most of us can agree that this is an unsatisfactory trend, the argument seems to be about whether it can be checked by a voluntary code and notification or whether there should be reserve powers. I welcome clause 40, which requires notification of agricultural operations and forestry on moorlands and heaths in national parks, but I should like to see it extended to all moorlands and heaths.
I should like to make a few observations on clauses 28 to 31, which deal with sites of special scientific interest. My understanding is that there should be notification by the Nature Conservancy Council to land owners and occupiers of the special interest of the sites and the activities which would damage them. I say "Amen" to that. However, given the serious damage which has occurred to such sites, which we define as special areas, it is not unreasonable to suggest a reciprocal notification from land owners and occupiers when they propose to undertake specific operations on those sites.
I say that because of the recent report, which has not been challenged, which shows that more than 10 per cent. of the 3,051 biological sites were significantly damaged during 1980 alone. The problem is that a code has no statutory backing. As damage is taking place on such an alarming scale, it is not unreasonable to add a provision in the Bill which gives reserve powers to supplement, rather than replace, the system of voluntary notification and management agreements. As I understand it, that is proposed for only 40 or 50 sites of special scientific interest, which in total number about 4,000. It is essential to have effective long-term safeguards for our rapidly-diminishing wildlife habitats.
I should like to say a brief word about hedgerows. We are now facing a crisis over trees in our rural landscapes. The hedgerows are the seed beds of much of our rural tree stock. We are grubbing them up at an alarming rate. I quote one appalling statistic. Of the estimated 26 million elms in Britain, 19 million have already succumbed to the dreaded Dutch elm disease. Development also takes its 564 toll, and death and disease to trees is normal and natural. We must devise and encourage replanting schemes on a much more massive scale than at present.
I should also like to say a few words about clause 32, which deals with limestone pavements. These are unique and valuable. I very much welcome the clause, which I understand removes a loophole contained in the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1977, whereby limestone may be removed for agriculture purposes without planning permission. I understand that six years ago a survey discovered that only 3 per cent. of our limestone pavements remained undamaged.
I endorse virtually everything said by the hon. Member for South Shields about public rights of way. We cannot stress too often the fact that these are public rights of way, not ways on which the public have the privilege of being allowed to walk from time to time. I also endorse his views about our commons. However, the debate on these rights is so technical that it is best left to Committee. For example, I welcome clause 56 in general, which deals with the ploughing of public footpaths. However, I believe that it is defective and that it does not go far enough.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) that there should be a better compromise on the question of bulls in fields. I believe that at least in some instances temporary diversions can be arranged.
I should like to make one comment about a heart-warming trend in respect of public rights of way. That is the setting up of the Spicer committee—the rights of way review committee. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer). Anyone who agrees to be chairman of a committee which embraces NFU representatives, Country Landowners Association representatives and Ramblers Association representatives, and which is subsequently joined by representatives from Government Departments, local authority associations and other path-user bodies, deserves a special bouquet. It is right that so far as we can we should seek consensus on these matters.
I am intensely aware that a Bill such as this cannot please all the interests all the time. Inevitably, there must be a conflict of some interests. Nevertheless, this is the first chance for some years—it may well be the last chance for a number of years—to legislate on important matters concerning the conservation of our countryside. We do not want to preserve it in aspic. However, we must be concerned about the appalling loss of land and the devastation of our natural habitats. I welcome the Bill. I hope that the Government will continue to be flexible and will respond to the representations, which cut across normal, conventional party political considerations.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I welcome the Bill, but I wonder whether there has been too much euphoria about it. I do not believe that it contains enough teeth to do what many of us hope that it will do.
I welcome the fact that there has been co-operation regarding Exmoor. I hope that it continues. However, we may be asking too much, especially when financial considerations rightly enter into many of these issues.
This is not an occasion when we should support one side against the other. We must live with economic conditions. Yet I know that some of the areas specified in the Bill have been devastated. We are now told that 565 persons occupying the tenancy will be notified about these provisions. How frequently will they be told? We all know that listed buildings have been demolished because people who have taken them over have not known that they were listed. How much easier will it be for land to receive the same sort of treatment? 'The Bill requires more teeth to make its provisions stick.
As I represent the Toxteth constituency, hon. Members may ask about my interest in the countryside. Although my constituency contains the district of Liverpool, 8, which has a certain reputation throughout the country, one can almost travel from one end of the constituency to the other by walking through parks. I therefore have that interest in the Bill.
Like many other people, I have enjoyed the countryside over a number of years to such an extent that I am dismayed at what is happening today. When amenities are taken away little by little, it is not easy fully to appreciate how much devastation of the countryside is taking place. It is not unknown for me to take occasional walks over the weekend, and there are few weekends on which I do not see certain aspects of the countryside destroyed. It may be just a short strip of hedgerow, but it is no good blaming the farmers. One can walk along lengths of roadway that are being widened and see that instead of the hedgerows being replaced, concrete posts with wires running through them are substituted.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
I wonder how many people realise that when land is taken from them for road widening purposes they can demand that a hedge be replaced. That is not always called to their attention. In parts that I know well, farmers have made this perfectly proper demand and the hedge has been replaced. Things would be so much better if only that provision were publicised more.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I pay tribute to the farmers who, over many generations, have kept the habitat in the countryside. I do not think that we pay such farmers enough tribute. The hon. Lady has raised a very important point.
When many of us who have been born into towns see a strip of hedge being removed, we do not think that the whole habitat of the area will be affected. We merely think that a hedge is being removed and that things may look a little less pleasant without it. We do not really look into the basic matter and realise that we are destroying the countryside, apart from the hedge. We see this going on all over the countryside.
What are we to do about this matter? As I have said, there is some euphoria about the Bill, as though it will stop this happening. I do not believe that it will do so. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) has spoken of areas of Liverpool that have been demolished and in which no building is taking place, yet we are moving out into the countryside and taking good agricultural land for more building.
Shall we really stop this encroachment on the countryside without putting more teeth into the Bill? When I speak of teeth, I have one thing in mind: where the money will come from to compensate farmers who do not do certain things on their land but preserve the countryside? Also, when roadways are widened there ought to be an obligation on the local authority to put down hedging again instead of concrete fencing. When I speak about teeth, I speak about financial teeth. I cannot see that 566 we shall get such teeth in the Bill. That is why I started by saying that there was a bit of wishful thinking in imagining that we would solve this problem by way of the Bill.
Limestone paving has been encroached upon. The Bill will still allow it to be removed, as long as that is done for agricultural purposes. Whilst 90 per cent., or even more, of farmers are honest and genuine, I am convinced that it is the remaining small percentage at which we must look to make sure that there is not further damage.
I conclude on the subject of bulls on public pathways. It has been rightly pointed out that it is not merely a case of how many people are injured by bulls in the course of a year but of how many would have been injured had they not gone back when they saw the bull on the pathway. I have had many unpleasant experiences and I have been very thankful that the hedges round a field were not very high when I have had to get over them to get out of a bull's way. If that happens to me, I am certain that it must be affecting thousands of other people. What we are doing in the Bill is a retrograde step. Some provision ought to be made so that alternative temporary arrangements can be made. We must remember that it may not always be possible for a farmer to have a field in which he can keep a bull completely apart. If we put that into the legislation, we should be doing something towards maintaining the status quo, which ought to be maintained if people are to get the best out of the countryside.
I welcome the Bill, but until financial teeth are put into it I do not believe that we shall get what so many hon. Members present think that we shall get out of it.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw ) came straight to the point—namely, that if one is to ask fanners to leave the land alone, in today's circumstances one must pay them for it. I do not believe that any political party has faced up to that issue yet. Instead of supporting people in the less-favoured areas by capitation payments on their livestock, we would probably have to come round to a system of paying them per acre.
The hon. Member also commented on the loss of hedgerows along various roads. Such is the ability of nature to adjust to changing circumstances, it is an extraordinary paradox that we now find that some of the best nature reserves in Britain are on the banks and verges of the new motorways. That may be because they are not farmed.
The Bill is essentially an accommodation, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. It is an accommodation between the landowners, the farmers and the country sportsmen. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Fan), I pay tribute to the consultations that have taken place. I was one of those who, perhaps, were responsible for holding the Bill up last year, because much more consultation had to go on. Looking at the Bill that came out of the top drawer of the previous Socialist Minister's desk and the Bill that we now have, one of the casualties of the original Bill, which has now been put right, is that the oldest field sport in Britain, falconry, would have been illegal. I do not believe that that was anyone's intention.
I also held the Bill up because I could not really see why we had to have it. What are the arguments for having it? I think that the House should realise that at present, 567 provided that habitat and food supply are good, no British mammal is in danger of extinction. The pine marten, for instance, is now coming back strongly, having been our rarest mammal, because of the afforestation in Scotland. The otter is not really scarce. It is not in its usual places. There are too many fishermen and fishing nets, and rents are too high. The otters are there, but they have shifted their habitat. There are the butterflies that are dependent on elm trees. We cannot have very many of those when the elm trees are dying. We cannot have a thriving population of barn owls if all the old barns have been pulled down and replaced with asbestos monstrosities. Provided that habitat and food supply exist, no British mammal or bird is in danger of extinction.
The Bill was introduced because various Ministers had gone off to Europe and signed agreements on habitat protection and bringing our protection of birds legislation into line with that of Europe. I want to make a very special plea here. In this process we have had to afford protection to the sawbill ducks, the mergansers and goosanders—some of the most verminous birds on any river in Britain. The way that the Government have proposed to get round this, by the issue of open general licences so that these birds can be put back on the pest schedule and shot, is the right way. I hope that there is no weakening of resolve on the part of the Government about the issuing of the open general licences by the Ministry of Agriculture.
I hope that it will be borne in mind that the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), who objected to this provision. If you, Mr. Speaker, have ever shot a merganser and a goosander and then slit their throats, you will have been shattered by the number of small fish and fry that come out of them. If one fails to get their nests and to shoot them, one will never see a brood of less than 10 of these birds. They are prolific breeders. They have thrived under persecution for the past 100 years, and we must be allowed to go on persecuting them—for their own enjoyment.
§ Mr. Hastings
My hon. Friend was good enough to refer to something that I said. I should like to remind him that the RSPB does not object to the principle of licensing but merely to the Government's proposal.
§ Mr. Kimball
I have felt for some time that there is some argument for the strengthening of the provisions concerning sites of special scientific interest, but I think that the Nature Conservancy Council must put its house in order on this issue. Hon. Members may have seen an excellent article in The Times today by Mr. John Young, the planning correspondent. He says:Many farmers have been astonished to learn that there are SSSIs on their land".That is the situation. The Nature Conservancy Council has been thoroughly idle and dilatory in notifying people that they have an SSSI. At home in Scotland, I agreed with the West of Scotland officer of the Nature Conservancy Council that there were 300 vital acres and that they would be scheduled. That was about 17 years ago. When we came to fence in some particular burns which were very dangerous in respect of sheep losses in snow and decided to plant them with trees, we discovered that in the last 17 568 years the NCC had scheduled a further 27,000 acres and had not bothered to let the owners know, even though it had been in communication with them about the previous 300 acres. That is an indication of the incompetence of the Nature Conservancy Council.
I share the Government's view that the Nature Conservancy Council is capable of managing and scheduling only about 50 vital sites. Let us look after those. The reservoir principle is well established in the preservation of wildlife, as is demonstrated by the success of existing nature reserves. Whatever anyone may say, the landowners, farmers and sportsmen have ensured that in the British countryside we still have a splendid spread of every form of wildlife.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If we had only 50 super SSSIs, would there not be a danger that the other 2,950, or however many there are, would be devalued and that people would not take them seriously?
§ Mr. Kimball
I hope that, as a result of the debate, farmers will be notified of the other 2,000 sites and they will come under the voluntary code of conduct. I hope that the Nature Conservancy Council will get on and notify those involved.
I was chairman of the working party set up by the Labour Government on predatory mammals in Britain. I see no justification for the inclusion in schedule 6 of the wild cat among the mammals that may not be killed or taken by any methods. The booklet "Predatory Mammals in Britain" states that the distribution of wild cats is common in Scotland and its food includes many small mammals and birds, blue hares, rabbits and game birds, chiefly grouse, roe deer kids and well-grown lambs. In winter, it takes fish and carrion. There is no doubt that the wild cat is a damaging predator and we must continue to have the right to control it.
I am sorry that we do not continue with the pest status for the stock dove, and I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said about the need to restore the shooting of shore waders. There is no shortage of those birds. Few are killed, though they are delicious to eat if one shoots them early in the season, in September.
I wish to make a special mention of falconry. Little public comment has been made about the provisions in clause 7 relating to the keeping of birds of prey in captivity and for falconry. Falconry is our oldest and most venerable field sport and is practised by a relatively small number of dedicated bird lovers. Our rare avian predators, eagles and peregrines, have been fully protected since 1954, and I am positive that it is in all our interests that rare birds held in captivity should also be subject to control.
Captive birds that people use for falconry have, for the most part, been taken legally from the wild, imported under licence or bred in captivity. Clause 7 ensures that falconry will be carried on by birds that have basically been captive bred but have been tamper-proof ringed, and whose owners have been registered.
The Bill includes provisions for the ringing and registering of certain birds listed in schedule 4, as well as for inspection and enforcement. I pay a particular tribute to the Department of the Environment, the experienced British falconers, the aviculturists, the zoos and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds for their co-operation in getting clause 7 right.
Legislation is not the solution for many of the problems facing the countryside. The House will recollect that in 569 1959 we had a major crisis in the countryside over the use of pesticides. Only 12 fertile pairs of peregrine falcons bred in Britain that year. Pigeons fell out of the sky with blood coming from their mouths as a result of mercury poisoning. The Duke of Edinburgh's study conference on the countryside in 1960 averted a clash between the agricultural community and the conservation movement.
We must have the Bill, but after it is out of the way we must sit down and think hard about how we are to reconcile the interests of those who live and earn their living in the countryside and the increasing numbers that we want to encourage to visit and understand the countryside. That is not a matter for legislation. It is a matter for common sense, education and getting to know each other.
I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that the British public are marvellous. If they are given the facilities and told where they are welcome on their day out, nine out of 10 will go there, because all that they want to do is to enjoy themselves and respect the countryside. I want us to build on that spirit, and we shall not do that merely through legislation.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) took a complacent attitude towards the serious threats facing the countryside. I wish that the Bill were stronger. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because I believe that the Bill introduced by the Labour Government had some of the teeth that we need to put into the new measure.
I welcome the changes made in another place and I pay tribute to the sterling service of Lord Melchett, who led for the Opposition. It is interesting that almost every change was made on an all-party basis, and I hope that our approach to the Bill, both in the House and in Committee, will be on an all-party basis. There have been disagreements between hon. Members of the same party, but we must accept that the Bill has to deal with the danger of what some may call creeping devastation. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) referred to how fast our countryside is disappearing, and we cannot get away from that fact.
Partly because of my constituency interests, I shall concentrate on habitat protection. I have a special interest in that topic because Norwich is the gateway to the Broads, which are seriously under threat, in spite of the fact that they comprise the richest and most varied freshwater wildlife habitat in Britain. Much of that is being destroyed and the most important part of the Bill—which needs to be strengthened—concerns the protection of habitats.
Plants and animals depend on their habitats to provide food and shelter. Once wetlands, meadows and woodlands have been destroyed, the wildlife is destroyed or displaced elsewhere—and in this country "elsewhere" is rapidly becoming "nowhere". The ultimate step is extinction; and once a species has been destroyed it can never be recreated. It may be argued that an historic house cannot be replaced, but at least it can be reconstructed so that it looks as it used to look, but we can never reconstruct the countryside, which is one of our greatest national heritages. The Bill has a duty to preserve that.
Wildlife habitats are being rapidly destroyed, largely by changes in agriculture and forestry practice that lie outside planning controls. The most recent evidence from the Nature Conservancy Council shows that, on average, 10 per cent. of sites of special scientific interest were 570 damaged or destroyed in 1980 alone. Agriculture and forestry were responsible for more than half of those changes.
In East Anglia, there are many important SSSIs that are viewed by the NCC as nationally important because of their wildlife. A number of those areas have suffered because of the lowering of water tables by expensive drainage schemes, with the result that the rich grazing marshes, which are important for wild flowers, birds and insects, are being converted to arable land. Much of the Yare and Bure marshes are already too dry to support the more sensitive species. When I questioned the Under-Secretary on 7 November 1980 he said that of 735 key sites for nature conservation four had been destroyed and 53 seriously damaged by changes in agriculture and forestry. Five of the damaged sites that he listed are based upon the Broads and the attendent river systems, namely, Hickling Broad, Horsey Mere, Upton Broad, Calthorpe Broad. Bure Marshes and Surlingham Marshes. Only three Broads remain in an unpolluted state, of which one is threatened by enrichment from a pump drainage scheme serving the surrounding grazing marsh. Hickling Broad and Horsey Mere—which will have been visited by many hon. Members on their holidays—together with Bure Marshes have been listed as of international importance under the Ramsar convention. The aim of the convention is to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future. Only 13 sites have been listed under the convention, and three have been subsequently damaged.
There are 80 sites in Britain of international importance for their waterfowl and wader populations. None of them, other than the 13 already listed, has been added to the Ramsar convention by the Government. Recently the Under-Secretary said that 15 sites were being considered, and I asked him whether any were in the Norfolk and Suffolk areas. None of them is, which causes me and those concerned with the broadlands of Norfolk and Suffolk, a great deal of consternation.
Another matter of crucial importance to rural life are the cost benefit analyses undertaken by agricutural departments and water authorities when they decide whether to grant-aid a scheme. They take no account of the unemployment created. The analysis assumes that a worker freed by the improvement will find gainful employment elsewhere. That is untrue, especially with the current high level of unemployment in agricultural areas. Improvements and intensification of production can be linked to rural depopulation and decline. Traditional farming methods are more sympathetic both to employment prospects and to nature conservation.
Wetlands are in real danger. It is not alarmist to say that, apart from a few isolated nature reserves, Britain will have no flood meadows, reed beds or mosslands if present trends continue. Even areas owned by nature conservation bodies are not entirely safe as they become isolated and water tables around them are progressively lowered.
Some hon. Members said that the funds available to the nature conservation bodies to protect the SSSIs—which cover only 5½ per cent. of the land surface of Britain—are modest in the extreme. The Nature Conservancy Council has a budget of only £9 million, of which only £300,000 was available for safeguarding sites in 1980.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough made some sharp criticisms of the Nature Conservancy Council that were unjustified. Perhaps he did so because he knows that his
571 right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not taking the advice of the NCC about methods to deal with and properly to protect the SSSIs. I agree with the NCC's recommendation that there should be statutory measures of control. The matter should be considered in the same way as the Secretary of State rightly considers applications for planning in urban areas.
Part II of the Bill, which deals with wildlife habitats, is grossly inadequate to deal with the task facing it. I hope that it will be strengthened in Committee. I was sorry to hear the Secretary of State say that he would be absolutely firm and that such matters would be dealt with on a voluntary basis. He said that a code of conduct would be satisfactory. That is not so. Not only should those involved in the sites be kept informed; they should have an obligation to report any action that they may wish to take—in the same way as is necessary for applications in urban areas. Unless the Bill is given those additional powers—which were recommended not only by the NCC but by other organisations that carefully considered the position—we shall lose an immense opportunity. We shall have passed a Bill with a great deal of good will, containing codes of conduct and practice which may be meaningless when trying to stop the creeping paralysis which, by one means or another, is taking place. Not only are the urban areas moving into the country, but the countryside is becoming a farming industrial area.
I doubt whether the balance is right between the funds made available by the Government for promotion of conservation and the funds that they and the EEC make available for agricultural grants for drainage schemes. I hope that the Secretary of State—with all his worries about funding and in view of his good relationship with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—will ensure that there is a greater measure of co-operation between the two Departments, and that more resources are made available. We have seen an increase in the funds available for drainage grants and a decrease in the funds available for conservation.
I hope that the Secretary of State will think carefully before the Bill goes into Committee and that he will show the flexibility that has been shown in another place—where amendments were not always tabled by the Opposition, but often by Conservative Peers. I hope that the Bill will be approached in that non-partisan manner, with a genuine concern to get it right so that our countryside is not gradually destroyed.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) that the subject that we are discussing transcends party politics. I also agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) that we should not be euphoric about these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) said that we should not be euphoric because the need for resources lay at the root of the problems. I shall say more about that later.
The discussion has, somewhat inevitably, not focused on part III, which deals with footpaths, possibly because the matter was aired exhaustively in another place. Nevertheless, footpath issues go to the root of much of our social history and, one suspects, to much of the social future of Britain.
572 In his opening remarks my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about trying to find a balance between inevitably conflicting interests. It is true that those who represent user interests have rights that are enshrined in our constitution. To an extent they contrast with the interests of landowners and farmers, which were well represented and advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings).
There is a third interest, which has not been mentioned so much—namely, that of the taxpayer and ratepayer. The mileage of known footpaths is about 120,000. My county has 50,000 of those miles. If the county were abiding by its statutory requirements it would be spending between £1 million and £2 million on those footpaths. When that is taken into account, one begins to realise that there is a third interest. It is enshrined in statute, but it has not been complied with fully.
Bearing in mind the legitimacy of the various interests, I was daunted when asked to be chairman of the National Rights of Way Committee about a year and a half ago. Its membership is comprised of the national representatives of the various interests that are involved. The idea was to ascertain whether there were areas of common interest that could be incorporated in the Bill. I accept that there are conflicting interests, but I am impressed by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough about the common concern for the countryside that is shared by all the various interests. I was immensely impressed from the start by the level of knowledge, depth of sincerity and common interest in countryside matters that existed in each organisation. That certainly applies as they are represented nationally.
It was for that reason that we were able to submit a number of recommendations, some of which have found their way into the Bill. I shall comment on four of the areas in which the Government have accepted some of the recommendations. I stress that the membership of the committee includes all the so-called conflicting interests.
The first recommendation was that there should be a change in the rules for publicising path orders. The recommendation evolved as part of a package proposal taking away the necessity to publish in the London Gazette. It will be a great saving, and it has been put in the Bill. Part of the quid pro quo was that authorities would have to establish a system whereby interested persons could be supplied regularly with notices on the basis of prepayment. Undoubtedly objections will exist if the original recommendations are only partially accepted, if the London Gazette arrangements are withdrawn and nothing comparable is put in their place. The Government have accepted part of the package arrangement, and it is incorporated in the Bill. I hope that they will consider the second part.
The second agreed recommendation concerned path diversion orders. It incorporated two specific recom-mendations. We suggested that a better wording should be established than that which exists in the Highways Act 1980. The key words in the existing legislation relate to theefficient use of land and the commodious use of land".Those words were considered by everybody to be rather vague and perhaps expensive in their interpretation. We suggest that the following words should be adopted:To provide a better route having regard to the interests of agriculture, the interests of the owner and occupier in the use of the land traversed by the right of way or in other land held with 573 it, the public interests in securing the continuance of the right of way or a suitable alternative to it and to the effect that the diversion will have on public enjoyment of the path as a whole.Those words are quite general, but we believe that they will meet the necessity of having simple and comprehensive criteria by which diversions are made.
We suggested also that local authorities should be allowed to recommend and make diversion orders on their own initiative. That could possibly be relevant if any compromise were to be arrived at on the issue of bulls. At present local authorities cannot take the initiative in making such orders.
A major third issue related to the ploughing of paths. This is a matter that worries users and local authorities. The problem concerns the making good of paths. Clause 56 pretty well covers the issue of paths going round fields. There is a feeling that the clause does not go far enough for paths that go across fields. The majority recommendation—which the farmers do not accept—was that paths should be made good on the day in question, when the tractors and other implements are, as it were, on site. That might go too far, but it has been agreed by local authorities and users.
The fourth recommendation was that traffic regulation orders should be applied to horse riding. The secondary recommendation was that stallions should be kept out of fields with bridleways in much the same way as has been proposed for bulls.
A fifth and important issue concerns the historic rights associated with what are known as the greenways. The agreed proposal of all the so-called conflicting interests was that something comparable to the arrangements being proposed in the Bill for super SSSIs should be introduced for greenways. The only difference in the agreed proposal would be that there would be no compulsory purchase arrangements, but that the Secretary of State should have powers to designate and powers to insist on notification and to suggest management agreements.
I would like now to deal with two general issues. First, there is the vexed question of bulls. A specific recommendation, which the Government should accept readily, was that there should be incorporated in the Bill a schedule of permitted breeds of bull. The suggestion was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and others that temporary diversion orders should be made. When I started to chair the committee there were only the NFU and representatives of the Ramblers' Association, and local authorities were not represented. At that stage there was an agreement involving diversion orders. One can understand why there was disagreement once the local authorities came on to the Committee; one comes back to money and public resources.
Nevertheless, I am sure that the Government understand that there is still a great concern amongst users about the present provisions for bulls. One could argue at length about what sorts of bulls are dangerous. There is a genuine worry by walkers about that matter. Suggestions have been made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and others that we should consider giving temporary limited powers to local authorities where there are paths of special interest leading to special beauty spots or those that are particularly heavily used. Those suggestions should be considered.
Lastly, the Bill does not say much about the issue of resources. In a way, that is at the root of the whole matter. 574 From whatever side one considers the matter a perfect solution usually involves the spending of more money. One understands that that is not readily available. Therefore, I ask that the Department and the local authorities should consider the greater use of volunteers. That is much more contentious than one might imagine. At first glance one might assume that voluntary help would be an uncontentious way of maintaining paths. The problem is that many footpaths are not readily accessible or well maintained. However, the use of volunteers involves trade union problems and questions of standardisation and liability. I hope nevertheless, that the Department will consider these matters and see whether management practices can be developed involving the use of volunteers. Certainly the user groups are willing to participate on a voluntary basis. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) claimed that he Bill would probably be the most important Bill of this Parliament. That may well be. Whatever it is, it is a step in the right direction. It is not surprising, therefore, that it has been welcomed from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
I shall concentrate my remarks on part II of the Bill. In passing, I shall refer to the issue of bulls in part III. The provision in the Bill has been a working byelaw in Merioneth for a substantial period, and so far Welsh black bulls have obeyed that byelaw.
I endorse what has been said about the effects of pollution on the specific conservation of species, which is referred to in part I, and what has been said about demands for further resources in that area.
What has struck me in this debate, as in all debates on the countryside, is the variety of perspectives on the subject. There is the ecological perspective—the perspective that stresses habitat, conservation and protection of species and so on. There is the agricultural perspective, which must stress the need for agricultural development and food production, and the income needs of farmers. It is appropriate to remind the House that the incomes of many hill farmers in hill and less favoured areas that I represent are substantially below average industrial earnings. They may have large assets, but those are working assets, which they cannot realise without removing themselves from the farming industry, which far too many of them have had to do in recent years because of the pressures on them.
There is also the environmental perspective—the physical planning aspects and the landscape view. Here again, one can see that there is a conflict not merely between agricultural and conservation interests but between tourism and conservation interests. One need only consider the recent effects of skiing in the Cairngorms, in Scotland, or the Welsh Office's major study on the top of Snowdon some years ago to see the environmental and conservation hazard to plant life and other habitats caused by tourism and users of the countryside.
On the other hand, conservation can and does create jobs. In the Snowdonia National Park there have been some effective schemes pioneered by the park authority, using the temporary employment measures of two Governments, to reconstruct footpaths and access to the hills, mountains, and so on.
There is also the perspective of the user from outside—the romantic view of the countryside from trains, 575 which we heard from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufmann), who, in our long sessions on the Housing Bill last year, convinced me that he was a romantic at heart. His view of the countryside from his car and the train has confirmed that. That is the view of the voyeur—the person from the city—who looks at the country environment from the outside or who will occasionally come to the countryside as a hill walker. However, often he does not confront the cultural and community problems of the people who live and work in the countryside.
In the other place another conflict was referred to, by Baroness White. That was about access to Yr Aran in Merioneth, where a certain climbing club—I speak as a member of a climbing club over the border, having had access to part of Yr Aran, came into severe conflict with the local community, to such an extent that the local community established a defence society. Now we are all forbidden access to Yr Aran, where there is no public footpath or negotiated access agreement.
All those conflicts over land use in the countryside are economically based, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and others have pointed out. Where there is such a conflict the key to its resolution, as in most social conflicts, is resources. My concern about the Bill is the very concern expressed so clearly by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), when he said that there was too much euphoria about the Bill, because there were not enough resources behind it. There are not enough resources for specific compensation for those who live and work in the countryside environment where, for conservation reasons, they are unable to develop land in the way that they would develop it, were there not conservation considerations. The financial memorandum contains no clear indication of how much will be spent on the provisions of clause 30 or clause 41
The most crucial issue is within which framework those various perspectives of the countryside and conflicts over land use are to be resolved. Where and how will the compensation be determined? That framework must be democratic. Although, as someone with an interest in science policy, I entirely agree with the objectives of the Nature Conservancy Council and its Welsh committee, and although I have high regard for its staff working in Wales, I am concerned that that is a nominated and specialist body, which often does not have effective communication with the persons whose land and terrain may be directly affected by its work.
I shall briefly cite the case of the Berwyn mountains, which I hope will be developed by the hon. and learned Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan). A massive site there is about to be designated by the Nature Conservancy Council. There are strong views, not only in the farming community, which is directly affected, but in the rest of the community, that such a large area of land should not be designated in such a way and that there should have been much earlier consultation.
Although I accept the need for statutory powers and intervention as a last resort, I stress the need for the voluntary element in those powers to be used and for the nature of the Nature Conservancy Council, as a nominated specialist body, to be reassessed. Specialist policies of intervention can be effectively pursued, particularly in the 576 countryside, only if they are legitimated locally, and the work of the national parks authorities is a fine example of that. Through warden schemes and farming liaison officers, the authorities intervene successfully in land use conflicts between walkers and climbers and the farming community.
The age-old question on the countryside concerns the state of the Countryside Commission in Wales. If not in Committee, certainly on Report, I shall raise again the issue of a countryside commission for Wales in order to strengthen the work of the existing Countryside Commission. In view of the large amount of national parkland in Wales, schedule 12 should be strengthened.
There is a lack of co-ordination between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Scottish Office agricultural division and the Welsh Office agricultural division, and the environmental policies of those Departments and the Department of the Environment. There is no coherent countryside policy. The assistant scientific officer of the Nature Conservancy Council said that we required not an over-concentration on SSSIs or super-SSSIs but a countrywide wildlife policy.
The benefits of national parks—although they are sometimes viewed as disbenefits when more extensive stonework is involved; but that reverts back to the issue of compensation—available to those like myself, who live near them and use them, should be more widely available. For 20 years we have had an inner cities policy, although it is now under attack because of lack of funding, but there is no comparable countryside policy. We have a conflict not only in our views on the countryside but in our policies towards it. The CAP and the hill and less favoured areas funding point one way—to maximum agriculture, although the latter scheme has a social element. The Wales Tourist Board has another policy, as do the Forestry Commission, private forestry, the Countryside Commission, the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Development Commission, the National Parks, the Nature Conservancy Council and others.
All the approaches to the countryside are unco-ordinated, as was shown in the countryside studies undertaken on an interdepartmental basis by the previous Government and also in the policy document on countryside policy for which the Labour Party was largely responsible. Market forces are undermining small-scale employment in the countryside. Rural schools, delivery of social services and health care in rural areas are under threat. Petrol prices are making rural life more difficult. We need a countryside Bill that will treat the countryside as the living basis for a community.
§ Mr. Geraint Morgan (Denbigh)
As has been observed, the Bill was exhaustively considered in another place, and indeed its scope was increased before it reached this House. I do not go quite as far as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who said that that reflected parliamentary process at its best, but no one can fairly allege that the Government have not been receptive to amendments. They accepted many—perhaps too many—in another place and, rightly in my view, rejected others. The Bill is a compromise measure and it strikes a reasonable balance between regulation and non-interference in countryside affairs.
It is over 30 years since the last major statute on nature conservation and public enjoyment of the countryside was 577 passed. The intervening period has witnessed far-reaching changes in the countryside's ability to produce food, timber and other resources for our population, on the one hand, and the public's expectation of the countryside as a provider of landscape and wildlife amenity and recreation, on the other.
In view of the torrent of legislation affecting farmers directly and indirectly over that period, it is hardly surprising that they regard new laws with a measure of suspicion. However, I congratulate the Government on refusing to indulge in coercive legislation, which would not have led to positive and creative action by farmers and landowners. Farmers would not take kindly to the sort of regulation suggested by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman).
Stories that gain publicity through the media can and do distort the picture of what is happening in the countryside. To take just one example—recently, national television coverage was given to the ploughing of an area of heathland in Dorset that supported certain rare species. What went almost entirely unreported was that the Nature Conservancy Council in the same county had trebled to over 1,500 acres the size of a nature reserve supporting many rare species, because of the generous leasehold terms offered by the owners.
A good deal of discussion has centred around SSSIs, and will continue to do so. It may come as a surprise not only to non-agricultural members of the public but to farmers to learn that there are no fewer than 3,800 such sites, all of which have come into existence without any prior consultation with the owners or occupiers of the land, let alone any right of objection. Many farmers, through no fault of their own, are unaware of the exact boundaries and conservation value of the sites within which, willy-nilly, they find themselves placed or even, in many cases, of their very existence. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) that the Nature Conservancy Council must put its house in order.
Pausing there, one may also justifiably question whether some of the sites need to be quite as large as they are. In that connection, I am in unison with the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). In designating sites the NCC has sometimes tended to operate on a Rolls-Royce scale. For example, in the Berwyn range—an area that the hon. Gentleman and I have in common—no fewer than 53,000 acres have been designated as an SSSI, which is not far short of 100 square miles. It is the view locally that that is excessive for the purpose. I hope that the talks between local farming interests and the NCC will result in the site's reduction to a reasonable size.
Because of the frequent lack of communication between the NCC and local owners and occupiers of land within SSSIs, I particularly welcome the provision in clause 28 whereby the council will be obliged to notify such persons of the existence of a site and of any operations likely to harm it. The provision should greatly reduce the rate of damage to sites, a good deal of which has been done unwittingly. That unfortunate fact is strikingly borne out by a sample survey conducted by the Country Landowners Association among some of its members owning land within SSSIs, nearly two-thirds of whom had not been approached in any way by the NCC. There had been no sort of discussion of management arrangements with the owners.
The further provision in clause 28 for drawing up a code of conduct recommending procedures for farmers to 578 observe before carrying out operations on these sates should effectively protect them, even though the recommendations will not have the force of law. It is important to stress that the agricultural community is a very responsible one. The code will in practice place severe restraints upon both owners and occupiers. They will be under public scrutiny and, as the scheme is voluntary, those in breach of the code will incur criticism not only from the public but from fellow farmers. This will more especially be the case because the NFU has pledged its whole-hearted support for the voluntary code and has undertaken to encourage the farming community to co-operate fully in making it work successfully.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle
I speak as a farmer. Is my hon. Friend aware that, even though farmers may be aware of the code for treating their special sites, economic reality is often a much stronger argument for them to carry out the work, which would be worth while even though they would not receive grants for it?
§ Mr. Morgan
That is always a consideration, of course. I repeat that farmers are a responsible community. When organisations such as the NFU throw their weight behind a scheme it should certainly be given a chance. I put it no higher than that. I believe that this justifies the view taken by the Government. They were absolutely justified in their resistance to efforts made elsewhere to extend the notification procedure. It will in any case be enforced in respect of 50 SSSIs of particular importance, but the Government were quite right to resist extension of the procedure to all 3,800 of them. Such a move would have been as counter-productive as it would have been oppressive.
The fact that compulsory powers are best avoided is well illustrated by what has already been achieved ort a voluntary basis in moorland conservation. In his opening speech my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the arrangements arrived at on Exmoor earlier this month. Guidelines for management have been agreed by the national park, the CLA and the NFU after months of hard work by the parties concerned. Inevitably, the spirit in which such agreements are achieved would be seriously undermined if any element of coercion were introduced. Voluntary arrangements will undoubtedly be effective in preserving moorland if they are given a reasonable chance to operate.
Part III of the Bill relates to the important matter of public rights of way. Again, I believe that the provisions strike a reasonable balance between the interests of users of the paths and primary producers. I am sure that everyone must welcome the introduction of a new procedure for the continuous review of definitive maps of rights of way. A great deal of inconvenience and injustice has resulted from the numerous cases of paths appearing on maps when either none existed or the paths as mapped were given the wrong status. The position has been in no way improved by the fact that up till now there has been no duty to inform the landowner of public path claims on his land—a state of affairs that has sometimes produced bizarre results, due to the errors that have been made, and that has indeed been criticised by no less a body than the Court of Appeal.
The Government also deserve congratulations for tidying up the law by simplifying and reducing the cost of public path orders, the purpose of most of which is to 579 divert existing paths to more sensible routes for the benefit of footpath user and fanner alike. In the past far too many local authorities have been unco-operative in this respect, or where they have been co-operative their charges have been unreasonably and increasingly high, with the result that many modifications of routes that would have been to the public benefit have been abandoned. It must be emphasised that such modifications, which will now be made much easier to achieve, do not imply any significant overall reduction in the national mileage of public paths. Rather, they seek to site them in the right places for today's users and to minimise interference with food production, which is, after all, the primary role of the countryside.
This brings me finally to a subject of much discussion and concern, namely, the presence of bulls in fields crossed by footpaths and bridleways. Although there has been a great deal of argument about this, and although many people are still not prepared to accept the compromise contained in the Bill, practically everyone would agree that the matter should be regulated by national legislation rather than by the present chaotic welter of byelaws.
In support of clause 54(2), which makes it lawful to have beef bulls in fields crossed by public footpaths, one may fairly pray in aid the fact that this has been the law in Scotland since 1967, seemingly without any disastrous or dangerous effects. I gather that the same has been true in Merioneth under a local byelaw. So Scotland and Wales speak in favour of the provision. I should have thought that 14 years would be a sufficient testing time for any legal provision. The evidence certainly points to the conclusion that ramblers' fears on this have been greatly exaggerated.
The NFU, which is as concerned as anyone with the safety aspect of livestock production, has made a careful survey of accident statistics. This shows that accidents are confined almost exclusively to those working with animals rather than to the general public. Indeed, the statistics trotted out today by the right hon. Member for Ardwick were to precisely that effect.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The very presence of a bull in a field stops people from going in. Therefore, there is no accident. The point is that people should have the right to cross the field. If it is safe for people to go through a field with a beef bull in it, how many farmers would let their own children do so? A public right of way should be safe for a child or an adult to walk through and not be intimidated because there is a bull there.
§ Mr. Morgan
There is no record of any user of a footpath having been killed by a bull for very many years. The experience of Scotland and Merioneth supports my argument, but the decisive point, I believe, is the economic one, to which I now turn.
It is vitally important for beef farmers—and nowhere is this more important than in Wales—for beef bulls to be able to run in fields with the herd. The problem does not arise to the same degree with dairy cattle. I ask the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) also to take note of the important point that there are farms with footpaths in every available field, whose economy would be wrecked by a total prohibition. Indeed, the effect of the 580 evidence of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Fell committee on this very point was that in hill areas complete prohibition wouldhave a significant effect on output, incomes and the maintenance of grazings. This could in turn lead in some areas to further depopulation and the abandonment of land to a very extensive form of sheep fanning as found in parts of the Scottish highlands.I need hardly add that rural depopulation has been one of the greatest tragedies that have beset Wales, Scotland and many parts of England during this century. That is sufficient in itself to justify what has been described as the bulls clause. If any further argument were necessary in favour of it it could be advanced on the ground of amenity.
The livestock farmer likes trees and hedges that provide shade and shelter and stock-proof fields of a reasonable size. Because of the dairy conversion scheme, there has already been an impetus towards arable farming which, in its turn, means converting the traditional and attractive hedgerow landscape into a dull arable landscape. It can be argued fairly that the interests of footpath users no less than those of farmers and landowners lie in supporting the clause as it stands.
What should be appreciated by everyone, but unfortunately is not, is that landowners and farmers are by tradition the best conservationists. The great merit of the Bill is that it recognises that basic truth.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
The hon. and learned Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan) said that farmers would resent reserve powers and would not make progress. Good farmers who wish to protect the landscape and habitat have nothing to fear from reserve powers. They would be used only at the end of a long search for management agreements. Not all farmers support the NFU in all that it does. Not all farmers or landowners support the Country Landowners Association. We need reserve powers to deal with a minority.
The hon. and learned Member said that the Nature Conservancy Council had failed to communicate with landowners. I have always found the council to be an extremely lively body at both national and regional level. We must ask whether we give the council adequate staff and funds to do the job given it by the Government.
My constituency is smaller than that of the hon. and learned Member for Denbigh. It covers less than three square miles and contains inner city wards. I make no apology for taking part in the debate. My constituency contains a couple of footpaths across fields. It contains some of the most neglected part of the countryside—the urban fringe, which is badly kept and not farmed well.
The Countryside Commission has done a magnificent job in the Tame Valley by wardening, helping with footpaths and using the voluntary system suggested by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer). My constituents joined early the fight for access to the mountains and upland areas. Some of us took part in the battles in the 1930s with representatives of the sporting interests for access to the High Peak of Derbyshire. We were proud when the 1945 Labour Government gave us access to the mountains. That legislation was one of that Government's great achievements.
City people have an interest in the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and the preservation of the countryside. We have the responsibility to educate 581 adults and children in knowledge of the countryside and the protection of the environment, the landscape and wild life. I pay tribute to the teachers in city and country schools and to the host of voluntary workers for their valuable work. They receive assistance from the Countryside Commission, the national parks, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Council for Environmental Education, with its base of many voluntary organisations.
I hope that education spending cuts will not seriously affect such organisations. I fear that the Council for Environmental Education is already suffering. I am vice-president of the Youth Hostels Association and I know that visitors to the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are no longer only people from the near conurbations. The ramblers and cyclists of the 1930s have to some extent given way to the motorists.
Many thousands of foreign visitors come here and earn a great deal of money for Britain. They come here because of the varied and beautiful landscape within a comparatively small area. Wear and tear on the national parks has increased because of the greater number of visitors. The landscape has also suffered from industrial use, farming and forestry. The view in the Lake District, for example, of rectangular blocks of conifers on magnificent mountains is no tribute to the Forestry Commission.
There are offenders on both sides. Some visitors leave litter, damage the vegetation and property and are cruel to animals. On the other side, quarrying and other industries must be watched. Some farmers demolish hedges, plough moorland and footpaths and destroy wild life in the cause of good agriculture, usually with grants from the Ministry of Agriculture. We need adequate legislation to deal with that small minority. The Bill does not provide it.
The Labour Government's Bill had completed its Committee stage when the 1979 election was called. That Bill contained many features contained in part II of this Bill. It was a stronger Bill, with reserve powers to deal with landowners who will not make agreements to defend the natural landscape and habitat. That Bill could have completed its remaining stages in the few days before the election if present Ministers had co-operated. It could have been operating for two years by now. However, they preferred delay and weakened legislation.
In the last few years the national parks have made a number of purchases of land. I trust that the Government's privatisation policy for industry will not extend to such publicly-owned land.
Many landowners and farmers take a keen interest in the preservation of the landscape and wildlife. Hill farmers on Exmoor and Dartmoor, and in North Yorkshire, Northumberland and the Peak District have great expertise. We do not need to legislate against them. Legislation is needed for the few others. The argument is not between conservationists and farmers but between two conflicting Government policies—policies on agriculture and the environment. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, the Government's advisers on such matters, describe the Bill as unsatisfactory to protect nationally-significant landscapes and wildlife habitats. They blame the conflicting policies in the two Departments.
The Department of the Environment hands out about £8 million a year for conservation work in the national parks. The Ministry of Agriculture hands out hundreds of millions of pounds in grants, price guarantees and support 582 for the upland areas, much of which is in the national parks. Government-sponsored agricultural schemes are destroying and have destroyed the natural landscape in upland and lowland areas. What increase in agricultural production results from such subsidies? I believe that it amounts to less than 1 per cent.
I have voted, and will continue to vote, in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords. However, I admit that it has made improvements to the original Bill. Clause 39 is an example. It revises agriculture and horticulture grant schemes to assist farmers while taking account of the preservation of wild life and landscape. The Secretary of State has said that he will oppose that in Committee and that other means will be found, but where are the other means? Are there to be grants from the Department of the Environment? It does not look like it. From the financial statement it would appear that very little money will be made available.
The problem of Exmoor and the loss of moorland has been highlighted, but it is not only an Exmoor problem. There are other national parks with improvable moorland on them—Dartmoor, North Yorkshire, the Peak, the Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, and the Brecon Beacons in Wales. The other parks should be included in the Bill, even if it is written into the Bill that the Minister will have to come to the House for an order when he considers it to be necessary.
It is always tempting, in a Second Reading debate, to go into details that are more appropriate to the Commit tee stage, and as one who hopes to be on the Standing Committee I shall reserve further comment to that stage, but I want to question the statement in the preamble on the financial effects of the Bill. It is pointed out that additional expenditure is not expected to be significant, nor will there be any increase in public service manpower. That suggests to me that not much will be done.
Is the Minister satisfied that the Nature Conservancy Council will have the necessary funds and the necessary manpower to carry out its programme of SSSIs and to notify the public?
Is the Minister satisfied that the Countryside Commission and the national parks will have the funds to enable them to meet the duties placed on them? There is to be a new indepedent status for the Countryside Commission, but the Countryside Commission staff, which was 120, has now been reduced to 100, and will probably be further reduced to 85. Can they do the job in those circumstances?
Will the Minister say something about environmental education and the support that he will give to the bodies that deal with it? Some of them, as I have pointed out, are in great difficulties.
The promises of compensation under moorland protection schemes and the provisions for compensation seem to be most inadequate. Is the Minister really expecting any schemes to come within the miserable amount that he has put forward in the financial statement on the Bill?
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
It seems entirely appropriate that the Government, who have already shown their considerable interest in the heritage, should introduce this measure, designed to provide additional safeguards for our countryside and the wildlife that inhabits it. It is also entirely appropriate that the 583 Bill—intended, as it is, to accommodate some of the major concerns of conservationists—should come before the House at a time when public interest in the countryside and its wildlife shows a marked and welcome growth.
If, as a nation, we are to take the necessary steps to preserve our natural heritage, it is necessary that a lead should be given in developing a conservation strategy. The Wildlife and Countryside Bill enables Parliament to ensure that a valuable link in that protective chain is forged, to the benefit of our generation and of those to come.
We have to make certain, in this relatively small island realm, that we afford substantial attention to the needs of land use. Agricultural land, the farmed landscape and woodland, must have adequate protection from the many competing claims upon it. Open spaces, national parks and nature reserves are ever at risk. Wetlands, unspoilt coastline and remote scenic beauty cannot be simply taken for granted.
To achieve, in the words of that overworked but accurate phrase, "a better quality of life", we have to turn our attention to halting the urban sprawl, and to reclaiming or making better use of derelict land. At the same time, we have to proceed with inner city revival, and the encouragement of high quality in new buildings and landscaping.
The Bill concentrates on certain important areas that contribute towards that strategy, but no one should be in any doubt that many other key issues remain to be tackled in due course. It becomes increasingly necessary to consider the quality of life aspect in all items of environmental policy and governmental action, to ensure that a consistent and comprehensive approach is achieved.
The Bill is particularly and rightly concerned with aspects of conserving nature—the protection of wildlife habitats and the protection of rare species of birds, animals and plants. At the same time, it seeks to touch upon that rapidly growing topic of leisure and recreation, especially with regard to footpaths and access to the countryside, where society must look to the finding and creating of ways and places to meet public demand.
One aspect of the Bill to which I should like to draw particular attention is that referring to public rights of way. There can be little doubt that appreciation of our beautiful and diverse scenery and its flora and fauna is very much the result of walking the many public footpaths that we have criss-crossing our countryside.
More people than ever before are gaining access to the country by use of private and public transport, and more and more appreciation of the valuable and special role played by footpaths is therefore being gained. It would be appropriate in the debate to pay a special tribute to all those individuals and organisations who continually do battle to ensure the continuation of our footpaths, by fighting to keep them open and cleared for others to enjoy. I am particularly conscious of this in Welwyn and Hatfield.
In mid-Hertfordshire, there are a multitude of opportunities for walking in the countryside, by virtue of the many footpaths that we have there. What more relaxing and pleasant way is there to appreciate how fortunate we are to live in this still green and pleasant land than to stroll in the fresh air in such surroundings? Perhaps I should declare an interest as one who certainly avails himself of the footpaths in his constituency—when the opportunity permits.
584 However, I still have a lingering doubt as to the enthusiasm of many of my local ramblers and walkers should they find that their Sunday afternoon outing is likely to be shared by that formidable horned quadruped known as the bull. I fully recognise that Labour Members, sporting their true Socialist colours, may have more to fear from any temperamental outburst if the accepted folklore of the red rag to a bull is borne out. But even dressing in Conservative true blue attire is not necessarily totally convincing to the would-be venturer legitimately using a path through a field from which a beady eye may be glowering.
Clearly, it is essential for the success of any form of conservation strategy to obtain the co-operation and the good will of both landowner and land user, of professional interest groups and of voluntary interest groups. It is particularly important, therefore, to remember that exhaustive consultations have taken place to obtain the widest possible basis of agreement before the Government introduced the Bill. This should be acknowledged.
It is equally important to recall that the very thorough examination that the Bill has had in another place has contributed greatly to the detail that we now have before us. For the sake of the wildlife and the countryside that we are endeavouring to protect it is to be hoped that the measure will attract a wide level of support, remembering its objectives, which all hon. Members must surely share.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), as we have already spent a great deal of time on bulls in the debate. I am not absolutely sure that I go all the way with some of my hon. Friends on this question, as I once became extremely friendly with a Hereford. I always took the view that if a Hereford were surrounded by a sufficient number of cows even in Welwyn and Hatfield, very little harm would befall the pedestrian.
I ask the Minister to look particularly at two small points. The Nature Conservancy Council has received a good deal of criticism in the debate. I tabled a question for written answer on 14 April, and the Minister's reply would seem to give the lie to some of the very pungent criticisms that have been offered in regard to the notification to owners. It would appear that the principal reason for owners not being notified is that those who had the property before them—or the owners themselves—failed to notify the Nature Conservancy Council of the change of ownership. A body that has to operate with the limited resources available to the Nature Conservancy Council should not be subjected to the type of criticism that has been offered today.
One reason why I am interested in the Bill is that I have taken three Private Members' Bills concerned with nature conservation through the House. I had expected all three of them to be included in schedule 16 and repealed under this consolidation measure. The Badgers Act 1973 and the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 are mentioned, but the small but relevant Protection of Birds (Amendment) Act 1976 is not included. I should like to know why it has been overlooked. Perhaps we shall be able to clear that up in Committee. Indeed, like several of my hon. Friends, I hope to serve on that Committee.
I was interested in the speech made by the Secretary of State. Part of it was most commendable. He said that our rural resource deserved a high valuation and that we should 585 maintain a balanced approach towards conservation. I agree that the Bill should be a conservation Bill and not an animal welfare Bill, although certain items could be included in the Bill on both conservation and moral grounds. I am particularly concerned about that tool of the vandal, the air gun.
However, I was also concerned by the Secretary of State's remarks. He accepted that the extinction of species would be disastrous, but he said nothing to suggest that he would reconsider our priorities. Millions of people looked forward to the introduction of this measure, which will provide £600,000 or £700,000 per annum for the conservation of nature. I did not join those of my hon. Friends who totally criticised Mr. MacGregor's appointment as chairman of the British Steel Corporation. I took the view that if Mr. MacGregor could look after the BSC as well as he appears to have looked after himself and his former employers, my constituents would gain enormously. But, a few months after the announcement of a major Bill and significant and important international commitments, it is a bit much to find that the same amount of money is being provided for nature conservancy in the British Isles as was paid in compensation to the former employers of Mr. MacGregor. Our priorities are wrong.
The Secretary of State should—and, I believe, did—accept the problems presented by the ravaging changes that are afflicting our islands. Therefore, he must realise that £600,000 or £700,000 is not enough. More people are involved in conservation organisations than in the Conservative or Labour Parties. Therefore, conservation organisations are entitled to more serious consideration than is demonstrated in the financial provision.
Both the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and that made by Lord Melchett, when he opened the debate for the Opposition in the other place, demonstrated chapter and verse the need for a concern that should transcend party allegiance. I do not propose to list the ravages that have occurred in every county. We have lost 140,000 miles of hedgerow since the war. Enormous quantities of heath and wetland have been lost. Within the lifetime of some hon. Members, all our natural and semi-natural woodland will have been lost.
If we do not take action, there will be little left for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. We are entitled to remind farmers that British agricultural tradition is to farm not for next year's harvest but for the harvest that our grandchildren can hope to garner. Many farmers still hold that view.
We cannot rely on a voluntary arrangement. I know many farmers in South Yorkshire. Some are as concerned as I am about conservation. Some are as angry as I am with the black sheep in their midst. Some are angry that a fortnight ago a farmer in my constituency extended his interests and removed hedges on a new farm. Only a few years ago, another farmer in my constituency acted in the same way and was prosecuted by the local authority for removing hedgerow trees. We were fortunate that he was fined. Farmers in my constituency cannot be confident that the farmer who removed his hedgerows will not do so again—perhaps more extensively—if he can get away with it.
Although the majority of farmers subscribe to the ideals and practices of the Farming and Wildlife Group—which has attracted the interest of many farmers and achieved a 586 great deal—other farmers do not. Too great a priority is given to development over and above conservation. For example, £7.25 million per annum is provided for the Nature Conservancy but £23 million per annum is provided for land drainage. Less money is provided for actual conservation than for one month's drainage development of our agricultural land. That suggests that our priorities are wrong.
In Committee, I hope that the Minister will return to the Treasury and screw out of it a little more money. Even mandarins in the Treasury must take weekends in the countryside and have some concern for their children's heritage. In addition, I hope that Ministers in the Department of the Environment will ensure that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not allowed to make all the running. I intervened during the Secretary of State's speech because of the absurd comment of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to the effect that there was no such thing as the natural beauty of the countryside. He rejected totally the accusation that farmers and landowners were damaging the countryside. I do not know any farmer or landowner who would agree with him, unless he happened to be one of those doing the damage.
Anyone with an interest in British history will know that farming and forestry have changed the shape of our country. As a realist, I accept that change must continue. However, it is ridiculous to deny the natural beauty of our topography and the shape of our island. We are in great danger. The best periods of our music, art and literature are to be found when natural objects could be recollected in tranquillity. The peak of our poetry is to be found when there was an association with our natural heritage. We reached the depths when we were concerned purely with urban life and when man's cultural attention was confined to the coffee houses of London. At that time, our literature, music and art were at their worst.
§ Mr. Hardy
The hon. Lady should compare the poetry produced in the first decades of the nineteenth century with that produced between 1720 and 1760. She will find that there is ample evidence for my point.
If we remove our ancient woodlands and make our forests rectangular, if we remove our hedgerows and replace them with barbed wire and if we clear the vegetation from the banks of our streams—all those things are being done now—we shall destroy inspiration for the future.
The last piece of Shakespeare that I read was recently when seeking to find the answer to a crossword clue. Members of Parliament do not have time to read seriously. I read in "Henry V" something which I found moving when I was in the sixth form at my local school. I read how Falstaff, who is probably the best box office attraction of all Shakespeare's characters, on his deathbed babbled of green fields. That was Shakespeare writing around 1600 about the early fourteenth century. It is said that a real Falstaff existed. It is almost certain that he would have sired large numbers of children. Therefore, it would be fair to say that the descendants of the real Falstaff would be with us now. However, I believe that they will have very few green fields about which to babble unless a higher priority is given to conservation.
587 I hope that we shall see an attempt not merely to get voluntary agreements, which are highly desirable, but to build in the final safeguards of community interests which, in my view, will be necessary in the 1980s.
§ Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) will forgive me if I do not take up all the points that he raised. I intend to make a short speech about one or two constituency matters.
I should like first to make a general observation on the Bill. I start with the comment with which I am sure most hon. Members start: that the Bill is seeking to reconcile the interests of development with those of conservation, and a total reconciliation of those conflicting positions is an impossible task.
I expect that the Government at some stage in their deliberations before today have despaired of the difficulty of getting the matter right, even in what is clearly a non-political area such as this. But all the disagreements and debates on the Bill in the Lords have had one good effect. They have highlighted the point that they are irreconcilable interests if they are maintained at the same level as people promote them today. We must all enter into a spirit of compromise if we are to reconcile some of the difficulties. I welcome the Government's courage in dealing with this legislation. They cannot get everything right, but they are seeking to take a step forward and to point in a particular direction.
I venture to suggest that I shall not be a member of the Committee that considers the Bill. That may seem a somewhat rash statement to make, but I believe that I shall be on a Committee considering another piece of legislation in Committee on the Floor of the House on Thursday. It may be considered by the Committee of Selection that that will take precedence.
Therefore, I should like to make two points affecting my constituency. I pay tribute to the other place for the way that it has conducted its debates on some of the matters that it considered. Some of that which it did was good, but some was bad. I lend my support to the arguments that have been put forward on behalf of wildfowlers. There are many such people in my constituency, as indeed there are in the area covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman). I hope that she will not think that I am poaching on anything that she may wish to say on this subject, but we are neighbours. Many of her constituents go wildfowling over Morecambe Bay. The whole of the sands of Morecambe Bay are within my constituency. If anyone were minded to build his house on those shifting sands, he would be my constituent.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is perfectly true.
The Bill should not concern itself with the morality of blood sports. Many supporters of wildfowling in my constituency suspect that there was a degree of morality on blood sports in what their Lordships sought to do. I mention this point particularly with regard to Sunday shooting. There must be no confusion between 588 conservation and the interests of the anti-blood sports lobby. That is why I was pleased to hear that this matter will be dealt with in Committee.
The Bill should not curtail the interests and pastime of wildfowlers unless there is a good argument for conservation. It is fair to remind the House that wildfowlers are in many cases conservationists, and the Bill should be seen in that context. The provision that prevent wildfowling on Sunday is a mean little amendment that should be put right. Wildfowling takes place mainly at dawn and dusk. I have received many letters from wildfowlers in my constituency who are also bird watchers. I am sure that they are honest when they say that they rarely see bird watchers when they go out in pursuit of their sport. One constituent expressed it well when he spoke of the conflict between wildfowlers and bird watchers as occurring not on the ground but in the mind. That puts the matter accurately.
Of course, those who have objections to blood sports should be given the opportunity to debate the matter. However, that objection, which forms no part of the Bill, should not be used in this measure to limit the interests of people who pursue the sport of wildfowling.
I wish to make a few brief remarks about the provisions on limestone pavements. I take a particular interest in the matter. It is of tremendous concern to my constituents, many in the Lake District and North-West Lancashire where some of these beautiful limestone pavements are still in existence. The pavements have been subjected to vandalism and damage. All hon. Members would agree, I am sure, that it is time that action was taken to prevent the destruction of these lovely areas of limestone for use in rockeries all over the country.
A considerable improvement, compared with the original Bill, was achieved following discussion in the other place. Many of their Lordships had expert knowledge. I should like to refer to one aspect of clause 32 that deals with the matter. The Nature Conservancy Council or the Countryside Commission can draw the attention of the Secretary of State or the district planning authorities to certain areas of interest because they are limestone pavements. The "physiographical features" of the area can be taken into account. Reading those words, as occurs so often with legislation of this kind, I ran for my dictionary. I am glad to see that the Nature Conservancy Council is also not happy with those words.
The NCC wishes to report areas which, in its opinion, are worthy of report because of their landscape character. The Oxford English Dictionary says that physiography isA description of nature, or of natural phenomena or productions generally.That is most of what it says. It did not take me much further. I should like to see a word that we can understand, that is straightforward and that gives opportunity for the Nature Conservancy Council to consider landscape character in making recommendations.
Why cannot we have a word that is simple, as well as the complicated phrase if someone in the Department advises that a complicated phrase is necessary? I should like to see this matter considered in Committee.
Like other hon. Members, I should like to refer to agricultural exemptions. It would seem to me acceptable if the exemption allowing farmers to take limestone pavements to crush the limestone for fertiliser were abolished. It is not an advantage that farmers take. Lord Duncan-Sandys expressed the matter well in the House of 589 Lords when he explained how farmers used limestone for repairing buildings and walls. Many people who admire beautiful limestone buildings in the countryside regard those buildings as part of our national heritage and would be loath to see them repaired with other materials. Surely, it should be possible for the clause to remain as it is, and to deal with the problem of farmers using it as a loophole by some other means. Why should not the sale of limestone for use on a rockery be made an offence? That would deal with the matter and satisfy both the Countryside Commission and the interests of farmers. I have no wish to make a peroration. That is all I wish to say.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
Right hon. and hon. Members will note that only clause 15 and schedule 10 to the Bill extend to Northern Ireland. To judge from the interest shown by right hon. and hon. Members today and the amount of correspondence that I have received from my constituents and others in that part of the United Kingdom, I believe that the whole Bill should be extended to Northern Ireland.
Despite that, I was told in answer to a written question on 6 April:The provisions in the Wildlife and Countryside Bill for the protection of animals and plants and on public rights of way are not at present covered by Northern Ireland legislation. It is, however, planned to include similar provisions in two Orders-in-Council on wildlife protection and access to the country side.—[Official Report, 6 April 1981; Vol. 2, c. 183.]That is a procedure to which Northern Ireland Members always object, because such orders are debatable but not amendable. In those circumstances, we find ourselves largely excluded from a debate such as this and from the rest of the proceedings on the Bill, but when it comes to extending it to our part of the United Kingdom we are prohibited by the nature of the instruments from seeking to make amendments.
In the light of that, I say these few words to give the Government notice that it is the intention of Northern Ireland Members to table a new clause. Since the Government, like the previous Administration, have been very helpful in these matters up till now, I hope that our new clause will have the sort of reception that we have experienced in the past and that the whole Bill will be extended to cover Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
I am grateful to the Chair for calling me in a debate on a very important Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will not mind if I do not take up what he said. However, the fact that we have the Bill is proof that all is not as it should be in the countryside, and I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward and being so bold as to tackle so many subjects at the same time. Perhaps it attempts to do too much, but its complexity is at least a tribute to the infinite variety which the countryside contributes even to our urban society.
In the short time at my disposal any attempt to deal with the whole Bill is bound to create as much bewilderment as that first tropical rain forest caused Charles Darwin, so I shall concentrate on what I consider to be the central issue of the Bill, which is the preservation of habitat.
Without doubt, the protection of habitat is the prime requirement in any programme of conservation. Without 590 habitat, we do not have species. We will not, for example, have the fritillary without water meadows, nor the oxlip without ancient boulder clay woods. The nightjar and the stone curlew have become rare just because their heathlands in East Anglia have given way to agriculture, while the otter has declined so rapidly in England, not because it is an effete creature, but because it so rarely has the undisturbed stretches of waterway that it needs so badly. The story is the same with many other species that are becoming rarer in our country.
Moreover, it is not sufficient to have isolated areas of the right habitat. If the population becomes too small or too isolated, survival is a risky business. If the downland suitable for the large blue butterfly had not disappeared so comprehensively, that butterfly could still be with us.
If we are concerned about conservation our prime concern must be about habitat, yet the attack on habitat since the war has been unprecedented. We have heard the facts about the attack on habitat, not only in this Chamber today but in the lengthy debates in the House of Lords, and therefore I shall not repeat them, but it must be emphasised that damage to habitat is accelerating. It is not static. It is not even declining. Habitat is being damaged in an ever-accelerating manner.
The Bill does not deal with all habitat. It rightly restricts itself to SSSIs. The system of SSSIs is essential for any network of habitat, and the network is the important consideration. The rapid destruction of these essential sites is causing the most concern. Facts show that that destruction is largely the result of farming or forestry activities.
I declare an interest as a farmer. We are lucky enough to have on the farm an old deciduous woodland which is an SSSI. I therefore understand the pressures on both sides of the argument. I should like to describe what happened with that SSSI a few years ago. We were not aware that the woodland was an SSSI, and we cleared part of it in order to make a small field larger. We also drew up plans to turn other parts of the woodland into commercial forestry, which meant felling the old wood, killing the stumps and planting conifers. Mercifully, we did not proceed, but the lesson is clear, and it has been echoed elsewhere.
First, we were ignorant of the importance of our site. Secondly, economic reality encouraged us to clear the wood in order to make a larger field and also to go in for forestry. Thirdly, and most important, we received Government grants for both activities.
Few farmers destroy the habitat wilfully, but the Government must not underestimate the devastating effect of both ignorance and economic pressure. Speaking as a farmer, I believe that both are at large in our community. The Bill must therefore be judged on the basis of how far it protects these SSSIs. I welcome the fact that all owners of those sites are to be notified and that a code of conduct is to be drawn up for them. That at least will attack the ignorance that so often causes the damage, but in my view that will not stop the damage to those sites, and unless. the Bill achieves that it will fail.
Economic pressures are still very real. A wood cleared for a field or reforested, or a water meadow drained, will be much more valuable even if the farmer forgoes the grant. The Government have in part recognised the weakness and have tried to get around it by creating a number of super sites, but because of the shortage of resources these are likely to be small in number and it is 591 unlikely that they will affect the overall habitat. Moreover, it is arguable that the creation of a number of super sites will make the other sites seem somehow less important.
As I understand it, the Government have been reluctant to include all SSSIs, basically for two reasons: first, I suspect, out of respect for ownership, and, secondly, because the financial resources are not available.
If anyone is lucky enough to own an SSSI, he has a duty to protect that site for posterity. As we all know, it takes hundreds of years to create an important natural site. An ancient wood that is destroyed cannot be renewed or replaced by a new planting in an awkward corner. Historically, the ownership of land in the United Kingdom has involved not only rights but duties.
The Government believe that we should impose restrictions on the general public in respect of wildlife. For example, the general public are prohibited from taking eggs or digging up wild plants, and penalties rightly exist for doing so. In my view the destruction of habitat is as bad and its effects far more grievous. We must remember that the Bill covers only 4,000 sites. the Government must therefore face reality and extend the protection proposed for the super sites to all SSSIs, and not fall back on the excuse that financial resources are not available.
I back the Government's economic strategy. If we are to have a healthy economy, Government expenditure must be restrained and inflation reduced. I am not asking for greater resources, although that would be a good thing in the long term. I want the Bill to create the right structure. It can do that without supplying greater resources.
I want the owners of all SSSIs to have a legal duty to inform the NCC of any works that might damage the site. There can then be consultation, and that is important. I am certain that in most cases that will lead to a satisfactory conclusion. If it does not, and if no money is available to purchase the site, or even if some restraint on use cannot be attached to capital payment, the farmer can go ahead with his plan, but it will mean that there will be a time for consultation. As a farmer, I can vouch for the fact that the six-month or 12-month delay in developing a site is nothing for a major scheme. It is certainly nothing when one considers future generations and the irreplaceable nature of these sites.
The NCC says that it can cope with this work without increasing its bureaucracy. As the Minister will know, in order to obtain a grant the owner of an SSSI, if he is doing agricultural development, has to consult the NCC. Therefore, all that we are doing is extending this to non-grant-aided work. We are talking of perhaps 100 sites a year, scattered throughout the United Kingdom.
I have spent some time on the subject of habitat, because it is all-important. I accept that the Government have made a brave attempt on many aspects in the Bill. However, I beseech them to look most clearly in Committee at the central issue of habitat and to try, for the benefit of future generations, to stop the destruction, which is proceeding much too rapidly.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I find this a sad and anaemic Bill, and a tragic missed opportunity. It is yet another example of the Government's ability to compromise all virtue away. It is about as useful in dealing 592 with the problems of the countryside and of wildlife as sitting in an oak wood on a stormy autumn day and trying to catch all the falling leaves.
I should like to make three major points. The countryside cannot be an ornamental park; it must be a functioning, useful, evolving entity. All of the countryside must be conserved and protected, and not just a few choice bits. The countryside must be for all of us to enjoy, but in enjoying it we must exercise some constraint.
I was taught a concern, love and affection for the countryside by my parents. I learnt that to go out and to be able to smell, to look at, to hear and to walk in the countryside afforded great pleasure. I was also fortunate in that I was evacuated to a Welsh hill farm during the war. I learnt there many of the problems of the Welsh hill farmer. I regret now that I did not learn far more of the skills of those hill farmers, and how to work with horses and to care for sheep and cows. Although I now have considerable nostalgia for those days, I learnt very much then just how hard it was to work on a farm in the 1940s, and how much harder it had been in the 1920s and 1930s. People worked very long hours, and very often they worked for little more than their food.
I fully appreciate that farming had to change, to free both the farmer and the farm worker from the slavery of the system. It also had to change to ensure that the rest of the population enjoyed a relatively cheap and varied diet. Therefore, I do not dispute that farming needed to change. However, I dispute the necessity for that change to throw out all the old values, such as the care of the farmer that he passed on his land in good heart to the next generation and the generation after that, and to substitute, in too many cases, that care for the land simply for the accountant's yearly return.
What worries me most of all is that much of that change came about as a result of deliberate Government policy. Perhaps worse still has been the desire of the EEC in many ways to take over our agricultural policy and to put forward policies that insist that our farmers behave in particular ways.
Agriculture is the one British industry that has had planning agreements and co-operative marketing systems consistently since 1945 and it has been extremely successful. It is estimated that farmers probably enjoy greater subsidies of various types than any other section of the community. It is amazing that industry should object to planning agreements when they have worked so successfully in agriculture.
I do not ask that farmers should give up that State co-operation or their subsidies. All that I ask is that, in return for a little of the subsidy, we build into the planning process, concern and action to protect the countryside, and change the elements that are destroying our countryside.
It is crazy to give grants to plough up natural chalkland in order to produce barley that will be bought into intervention by the EEC. It is crazy to give grants to reclaim moorland or marsh, which help to make it possible for the marginal farmer to survive, yet to refuse him grants to help to preserve habitat or to encourage access. The nation spends vast sums on agriculture and it has a right to insist that that money is not used to destroy the nation's heritage.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the way in which, in county after county, field boundaries have been destroyed. However, they have not only been destroyed, many have been neglected. Since the 593 enclosures started in Tudor times, stone walls, hedges, turf banks and ditches have given the British landscape an amazing character. A few landowners put in iron railings or fences in the last century, but most used the traditional boundaries until this century. Yet today the commonest form of field boundary is wire mesh, barbed wire and stakes.
Even farmers who do not grub up their fences often neglect their hedges. At one time in the areas that I know well hedges were laid down in a cycle of about 20 years. The trees grew, and although they were pruned a little each year they gradually got higher. Eventually, they were laid down again, putting a good bottom back into the fence. That gave it strength to stop the stock, but, more important, a well-laid, well-preserved hedge was an ideal habitat for many wild animals and an ideal place for wild flowers.
Sadly, few farmers have the time, resources or willingness to lay their hedges. They have allowed hedges to grow. They are often supported by barbed wire, and they have become isolated groups of trees and an area of habitat has been destroyed.
I should have liked to see in the Bill provisions for farmers to be given grants not to destroy the countryside, but to improve it. If grants were available for farmers to lay old hedges and to replant thorn in gaps in a hedge I am sure that many farmers would be happier to apply for those grants than to apply for grants to destroy natural habitat.
I wish also to stress the importance of the provisions dealing with footpaths. Those of us who want to walk in the countryside must recognise that we cause problems for farmers and we ought to exercise care and concern. The simplest way to ease the pressure on farmers is to offer them compensation for allowing town dwellers into the countryside.
The Labour Government's Bill included a provision to allow farmers to apply for grants to divert footpaths or to make alternative footpath provision. I should like to see that proposal included in the measure before us, so that a farmer could apply for a grant to maintain footpaths and to ensure that stiles and gates were provided and footpaths were kept free from undergrowth and generally improved. That would be one major way to compensate the farmer for allowing people access to his fields.
It is crazy for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food continually to warn that a bull is a dangerous animal, which must be treated with care, and then to say that it can be turned loose on public footpaths. The footpaths are there not only for the use of adults who know and understand farm animals but for everyone to use. They should be able to be used by young children who, traditionally, have always used footpaths. Most farmers would not risk their own children walking along footpaths with bulls loose, whether from a beef or a dairy herd. I hope that in Committee that part of the Bill will be improved.
I want to make many other points, but I know that I do not have time. I hope that the Bill can be improved in Committee. I regret that the Government have been so timid in their approach to legislation and have let slip a chance to redress the balance of resources from the farmer via the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food towards ensuring that more resources are available from the Department of the Environment to conserve our heritage rather than to allow it to be destroyed.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is both an ingenious and skilful parliamentary operator and deeply knowledgeable about countryside issues. He does not need me to suggest that he can return to some of the issues that he did not have time to raise during his speech when we discuss the money resolution. I feel sorry for any hon. Member who sat through the full debate from 3.30 pm to 9 pm but could not take part. I suggest that the hon. Members for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and Argyll (Mr. MacKay) take part in the debate on the money resolution.
The five and a quarter hours of debate have confirmed that the Bill is less than perfect—indeed, it is uncomfortably imperfect. If the Opposition believe that wildlife and countryside legislation is central and important, and not a peripheral subject, why are we not pressing a vote tonight? To suppose that an agreed solution acceptable to all legitimate interests exists would be to suggest that there is a crock of gold at the bottom of a rainbow. There is simply no way in which legislation can satisfy everybody. A great deal of work has been carried out by the Civil Service, the amenity societies, many of my hon. Friends—my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) is an amenity society in himself—the NCC, the National Environment Research Council, the Countryside Commission, the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, doubtless by Ministers, to my certain knowledge by Peter Melchett and his team in another place, and by many other Peers. It would be a shame if all that toil came to nothing.
The Opposition care not for political "I-told-you-so's" or "yah-boos" on this subject but for the future of the British countryside. We are alarmed by the prospect that the failure of the Bill could trigger off expectations of much tougher legislation, with the foreseeable consequence that some farmers, Landowners and agricultural property companies would jump the gun and rip up some habitats before the anticipated controls were imposed. There is the problem of the maverick farmer—the black sheep farmer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley called him. There is also the problem of the maverick agricultural property companies. For all those reasons, it is the Opposition's intention to offer constructive suggestions in a succinct manner in Committee, and to do a businesslike and thorough job. We hope that Ministers will respond with open-minded and serious consideration of the issues, and will not go into what John Stuart Mill called thedeep slumber of a decided opinion.I do not want to exaggerate the point and say that it is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. However, I say to the Secretary of State for the Environment that the Opposition think that there should be present in Committee a Minister representing the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. After all that he has said on these issues, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be present.
I seemed to detect that when, earlier, the Secretary of State responded to his hon. Friends the Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) he was a little less than comfortable. The influence of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was persuasive in all the ministerial answers given 595 in the House of Lords. It seems to some of us that Ministers in the Department of the Environment, possibly with their hearts in the right place, have lost a battle in Cabinet sub-committees to the ideas, that have been advanced by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If that is so, the Ministry should be present, physically and not vicariously.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) referred rightly to the importance of the wetlands and the Norfolk Broads. The truth is that controversial decisions have been taken on draining the Somerset levels at Stockmoor. Some of us might consider them to be disgraceful decisions. They were taken not by Ministers of the Department of the Environment but by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. If these controversial decisions—some of us think them bad decisions—are to be taken by Ministers, surely it is a matter of honour that Ministers representing that Department, which takes the decisions, should be present in Committee.
We are in particular concerned to maintain a number of the insertions made in another place. The Secretary of State will have noted my questions on the Sandford amendment and the request made by his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for clarification on precisely what the Government are going to do about it. I repeat the question that has been asked by several hon. Members, and especially by the hon. Member for Drake—what will be done about Sandford? If Sandford is not satisfactory, what is the substitute? Will there be a substitute?
I repeat one of the arguments advanced so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), namely, that this is not a matter of contrasting the individual farmer versus the conservationist. However, we cast a beady eye on the system and framework within which the farmer has to operate in the 1980s. Some of us would like to see the nature of the agricultural grant system scrutinised in depth.
The price support system makes farmers the only group of producers that is guaranteed that whatever it produces will be sold at an acceptable price regardless of the level of demand and regardless of the overall level of production. The existence of an infinite market in the form of the CAP obviously and naturally tempts farmers to expand production indefinitely.
What does this mean in reality? It means that most farmers are under pressure and temptation to reclaim any uncultivated land that they can. If we are to continue to have a world and a system in which any amount of production may be sold at an attractive price every undrained marsh, every unreclaimed wetland, every unfelled wood, every unexploited coppice and every undeveloped moorland will represent forfeited profit.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall refer to the moving and candid speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). He referred to a combination of ignorance and economic pressure in relation to sites of special scientific interest. That is the truth.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That raises the whole question of the hill farmer's livelihood, to which I shall refer. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, amid a fanfare of trumpets, introduced the biggest-ever subsidies to hill farmers in 1979. The trouble is that those very subsidies do something to encourage the spread of intensive agriculture on our moorlands, even in national parks. I make it clear that the hill farmers of West Lothian, like other hill farmers, are people who command admiration for their hard work. They deserve a decent living. I also make it clear that I am no more dependent on the votes of the hill farmers of West Lothian than is my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) on the hill farmers of central Manchester.
Ideally, the decent living of hill farmers should be dependent partly on their willingness to co-operate with the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. I concede that £43 a tonne must be seen in the context of the larger problem of how the hill farmers can obtain a decent living. That is one of the reasons why the Opposition will fight for the spirit of the Sandford amendment.
Looking at the combined operation of the farm capital grants scheme and the EEC farm and horticultural development scheme, we are discussing figures in 1979–80 of about £171 million. Under both those schemes, grants are available to cover up to three-quarters of the cost of putting up buildings and carrying out improvements. What do we mean by improvements? Very often, improvements mean the removal of hedges, premature cutting down of trees, destruction of woods, ploughing up of rough grasslands, straightening of streams and the draining of ponds. For example, in 1979, £584,000 was spent in grant to put up new fences in England, mostly to replace hedgerows.
Farmers can write off the entire cost of new machinery against tax. Therefore, it becomes worth while for them to purchase machinery of a size, sophistication and capacity to destroy habitat, which otherwise they might not bother with. That comes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick. The trouble is that the grants that have been available on demand have been administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with almost total disregard for the implications of the activities that the Government as a whole are funding or would like to fund for other interests in the countryside.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am not giving way.
We come back to the figures that were quoted by my right hon. Friend, that the Lake District received £2.3 million from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the National Park received £105,000. That story can be repeated time and again. The left hand of the Government, in the shape of the narrow Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's responsibility, does not co-ordinate with what the right hand of the Government, in the shape of environmental responsibility, is doing or would like to do.
597 My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred to the tension between those in the Government who are concerned about environment and the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, which is concerned simply about productivity. That is the conundrum that we face.
The trouble is that currently applications for grant tend to be judged solely on technical viability—for instance, on whether a drainage scheme will work and whether the proposal will provide the maximum profit for the farmer. At least the Sandford amendment presents some challenge to that received wisdom.
The Nature Conservancy Council sees another arm of the Government—the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—doing things that it continually tries to prevent. For instance, the drainage of the Norfolk Broads, the drainage problem at Stockmoor, and other drainage problems are examples of areas of low-lying land where the policy of one Government agency has been completely countermanded by the financial power of another, which makes no possible sense.
To take a concrete example, a farmer puts in an application for a grant of £80,000 to install drains to turn a marsh into an arable field in order to produce extra quantities of product—incidentally, often in surplus. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would not, and possibly in practice could not, make the grant conditional on the growing of a product in short supply. If the Ministry is told that improvements destroying habitat will simply increase surpluses, it passes by, like the biblical Levite, on the other side of the road, washes its proverbial hands and says piously that the problem of surpluses is for the EEC. What happens after a capital grant improvement scheme has been agreed and installed does not appear to be of much consequence to the Ministry.
Taxpayers' money may have been used to the detriment of habitat only to increase EEC surpluses. The Porchester report was unchallenged when it said that in an average year the Government paid 56 per cent. of the net income of a farmer in Exmoor, and that in bad years the figure was even larger. Does the nation not have a moral right to tell the farmers of Exmoor what it considers to be in the national interest, when the Treasury is supplying so much of their net income?
Besides, should we really be happy about the automatic nature of agricultural grants in this country? A farmer's means are not examined before he receives the grant, which is a bit different from people seeking legal aid, or asking for a rent rebate. I wonder whether, unquestionably, it is right and proper to pour out public money to farmers to carry out improvements which may or may not be in the nation's interest but which are certainly in the farmer's interest.
Should not there be some selectivity? That is no great revolutionary or subversive thought. In most countries, capital grants are given only to farmers who could not otherwise afford to make what are acknowledged to be desirable improvements. It is almost only in Britain that the Ministry responsible for agriculture administers the capital grants scheme on the assumption that all farmers, whether full-time or part-time, or owner-occupiers with a small acreage and relatively small incomes, or financial institutions with profits running into millions, are entitled by right, with few questions asked, to take taxpayer's money to do whatever they like to increase the profitability 598 of their land. Incidentally, the community takes no share in the increased profits and land values that its subsidies make possible.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Is he speaking on behalf of his party in suggesting that there should be a means testing of farmers before grants are given?
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is a subject that has to be examined properly. In reply to the Secretary of State, I illustrate the point by offering the House a wry little tale recounted to me by a Schleswig-Holstein farmer politician. A few years ago, a delegation from West Germany came to look at British agriculture. Coming from a country where capital grants were given only to farmers who could not otherwise afford to make improvements, they were somewhat astonished at the largesse with which the British Government gave farmers money for capital works. "Would you", asked one West German of his host officials at MAFF, "have given Paul Getty a grant if he had applied for Government funds to increase the profitability of his land?" "Of course", replied the MAFF officials.
One could substitute for the late Paul Getty the names of various well-off people and consortia—for example, insurance companies which have massive investments in land. Should they automatically be given money for so-called improvements which will add to the surpluses and lead to the destruction of habitat?
§ Mr. Hardy
I am not responsible for my hon. Friend's choice of interventionists, but I compliment him on them. Will he consider one other aspect of the matter and perhaps challenge the Government to think about it? If a farmer deliberately industrialises his holding without any respect or regard for amenity or conservation, should not that farmer forfeit rate relief, because the purposes for which it was originally granted would not then be served?
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is exactly the problem that my hon. Friend raised in his speech—the black sheep farmer, or the maverick farmer. It is easy for the Secretary of State and others to ask leading questions, but, equally, it is absolutely proper that the Opposition should ask the Government what they intend to do about maverick farmers, and whether the present situation is satisfactory. Some of us find it deeply unsatisfactory. I agree with the spirit of the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Gentleman says that he agrees with the spirit of his hon. Friend's question. Do I take it that in addition to selective testing on capital grants for agriculture he now seeks to abolish the de-rating of agriculture? It is most important that these matters should be clarified.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I may be green in more ways than one, but I shall not fall for a trick question like that.
It is said that there is a duty solemnly laid by this House on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968 tohave regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.599 But how many capital grant applications have actually been turned down under section 11? The answer is just one—Lockton Moore. I know of no other.
Some of us have real doubts about the mechanics of grant-giving over the past 12 months. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced, to a fanfare of trumpets, in February last year that in 1980 there would be a cut in the number of staff administering capital grant scheme assistance. He stated, first, in a MAFF press release on 1 February last year, that staff would be released to carry out a survey to map marginal land—an estimated 1½ million acres of England and Wales that the NFU considers should attract the same high rate of capital grant and livestock compensatory allowances as are available in the less favoured areas. Secondly, he said that the cut in numbers administering capital grant was to help meet the 3 per cent. target for cost in manpower required by the Prime Minister as MAFF's contribution to the general run of public expenditure cuts.
It is ironic that while savage cuts are being made in industry and housing, the one cut that would help curb the destruction of the natural habitat—a ceiling on the total money available for agriculture capital grants in any one year—has not been made. In spite of the system, which limits an investment grant to £136,000 in a year, the agriculture grants total is an open-ended commitment that depends on the number of applications. Even though the rates have been lowered a little, the grants remain extremely attractive in tempting farmers to take action that the Bill states that they should not take. That is another example of the conflict between the two Departments—Agriculture and Environment.
The House might consider the consequences of the cuts. Inevitably, cuts lead to reductions in the control surrounding the grants. Prior to February 1980 farmers needed MAFF approval before beginning the work for which they intended to claim a grant. Once the application was received a MAFF local official would visit the farm to see what was planned and advise the farmer about costs and other considerations. The visit provided an opportunity for a discussion on the impact of the proposal on wildlife, archaeology, recreation and agriculture.
Under the new set-up farmers tend to carry out the work and send the bill to the Ministry. That change means that some of the grants inflict even more damage upon wildlife habitat. I realise that notification is required for SSSIs and national parks. However, we are not discussing such areas alone. Some of us believe that it was a pity, in the 1940s and 1950s, that the South Downs, for instance, were not scheduled as a national park. The trouble is that in many exquisite agricultural areas, outside national parks, notification does not take place.
I return to the basic theme of the contrast between the work of MAFF and that of the Department of the Environment. Let us examine field drainage. Until recently that was funded at 37 per cent. under the farm capital grant scheme, 50 per cent. under the farm horticultural development scheme and 70 per cent. in hill areas. The ploughing of open moorland is backed to the tune of 22½ per cent., 32 per cent. and 50 per cent. in some hill areas. That represents another tension between what the two Government Departments are trying to do. One can subvert the objects of the other.
600 We should examine the development laws. The laws cover putting up an extra bedroom or a porch in a house in any town or village. However, they do not cover farming and forestry regulations. If a picnicker digs up a cowslip root he can be prosecuted under the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975. If a farmer ploughs up a whole field of cowslips we can do nothing about it. I concede that most farmers would not do that, but we must deal with the maverick or black sheep farmer. More and more decisions are being made not by farmers but by agricultural property companies, more remote from the property than any farmer or landowner. In Committee we shall have to look at the operations of agricultural property companies, whose main concern is the maximising of profits, to a greater extent than was ever the case in the past in rural communities.
For historical reasons, farming and commercial forestry happen to be the two industries uniquely privileged by exemption from the control imposed by the rest of society through the town and country planning systems. In Committee, some of us will be asking whether this should continue to be the case.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hector Monro)
This has been a valuable debate. I shall take heed of the views of hon. Members and discuss many of the points of detail in Committee, although I shall try to reply now to as many points as possible.
Naturally, I want to proceed with good will, as is the intention of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) would, I think, agree that we proceeded in that way with the National Heritage Bill, with significant results. I hope that we can have the same sort of co-operation in the Standing Committee.
This is a subject that does not deserve deep party splits. We ought to be able to proceed with a degree of unanimity on many of the issues that are relevant to conservation. Some hon. Members have suggested that this might be the only chance this century to deal with conservation. That is an idea that we should squash, because if we can show that we can proceed through both Houses in reasonable time, there might be an opportunity for further similar legislation at some time in the future.
There will, of course, be differences among us, but the general intention will be the same, that is, to improve the conservation of wildlife, the habitat, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) concentrated, and the countryside, and to make valuable changes in the Countryside Commission. The tenor of the whole debate encourages me in regard to the future.
It is right that some hon. Members should have mentioned the consultation paper, because we went to tremendous trouble to consult as many people as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) particularly mentioned this in relation to voluntary bodies in his own area. Indeed, this should be true of voluntary bodies throughout the United Kingdom.
We should accept that the detailed consideration in another place was an extremely valuable contribution to the Bill. About 70 amendments were accepted in another place and only six or seven were passed without the approval of the Government. We shall return to some of these in Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, relative to the marine nature reserves, 601 we accept that concept in principle, and the Government will propose new amendments, bearing in mind the consultations taking place at present.
The Bill is most definitely a step forward in conservation, and for those critics who seem to be disappointed with the Bill I underline that it is a substantial step forward. Those who, like the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), took a particular interest in the Berne convention, know that it is the firm intention of the Government to implement it in the spirit in which we signed it.
We already have good protection, but the Bill will make it better. It is also important that we have the aspect of consolidation in the Bill in regard to the repeal of the Protection of Birds Acts, so that there will be a degree of simplification as well. We shall look very carefully at the missing legislation to which the hon. Member for Rother Valley referred. There is some mystery as to whether it is due to a drafting or a printing error that it is not there already, but we shall look into it.
As my right hon. Friend said, it is a matter of finding a fair balance between many conflicting views and, give or take an amendment or two, I think we can achieve that balance. The balance between farming and conservation has been a theme of the debate. Of course, there has to be a judgment on individual action on both sides, conservation and agriculture, but some people tend to forget that the landowners and farmers fashioned the countryside over centuries. The landscape is the product of good husbandry both in agriculture and forestry. Of course, practice has changed, particularly in the South and East, but perhaps not as much as has been highlighted in some publications.
As we know, anything can be done with statistics. Figures have been quoted as regards the percentage loss of sites of special scientifc interest in recent years. However, the matter should also be considered in relation to the area that has been lost. According to the 1980 survey by the NCC, 8,700 hectares suffered damage in sites of special scientifc interest and 2,400 hectares were destroyed. However, it must be accepted that 0.7 per cent. of the area covered by all sites of special scientifc interest was damaged and 0.33 per cent. was destroyed. That is a minute fraction of the total hectares covered by sites of special scientific interest. Every destroyed site of special scientific interest is a sad loss but must be seen in relation to the whole.
§ Mr. Monro
Those who live in the countryside are fond of it and do not wish to see it changed. Their views must carry weight when we balance the proposals in the Bill. Some people forget the positive effort in habitat protection in forestry and moorland management that goes on all the time. The good is often submerged by a few acts of unacceptable folly that gain the headlines. When that happens all farmers have to share the blame and that is unreasonable.
The hon. Member for West Lothian devoted the greater part of his speech to dealing with agricultural grants. He seemed to be calling for cuts and was critical of the grants available to hill farmers. Few hill farms would survive without assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or from the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. Monro
The hon Gentleman was particularly critical of the lack of co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment He should not live in the past. That may have been true years ago, but it is not true today. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I co-operate closely. When careful decisions are needed about whether grants should be paid, he and I go to those critical areas and make a joint decision. Two Ministers are prepared to travel to Cumberland and Yorkshire to look at sites and to reach a decision together. There cannot be much closer co-operation than that. We hope to continue that policy.
The difficulty of obtaining a Ministry of Agriculture grant, or Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland grant in Scotland, when an area of special scientific interest is involved has been glossed over. Consultations must be held with the NCC and, if there is disagreement, with Ministers. It is important to appreciate that those who enjoy field sports are also concerned about conservation. As I said last year, it is the Government's intention that traditional field sports should not be affected by the Bill. Those changes that have had an effect were made against Government advice and were not made for reasons based on conservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) mentioned the Royal Society for Protection of Birds and its involvement in consultations. Both that body and other conservation bodies must be pleased about the strengthening of legislation generally and particularly pleased at the strengthening of legislation governing birds. Where a conservation case can be made, birds have been added to the protection list.
I should like to answer as many questions as possible and I shall try to deal with the Bill chronologically. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) made an important contribution and asked about wild cats. There is a problem in Scotland, but it is not technically a national problem. However, where it is a problem in Scotland, licensing will be available for pest control of the wild cat.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) made a number of points. I confirm that otters are protected in England, Scotland and Wales. The hon. Gentleman referred to hunting. It is only fair to say—because I have had a fair amount of personal criticism about it—that in recent years the otter hunt in Scotland has hardly killed an otter, but it has made a significant contribution to wildlife by killing a large number of mink. The protection afforded to otters is not through otter hunting, but through the conservation of the habitat and control of pollution from which the loss of otters derives.
Reference has been made to night shooting. The Government were right to refuse to accept an amendment on this matter in the other place because it has relatively little to do with conservation. The flighting of a duck pond at night is an old tradition. It takes place rarely because one can flight a pond only about once a month during a relatively short season.
We have resisted amendments to change the seasons for wildfowl. They remain in the Bill as originally drafted. As everyone knows, there is the bad weather procedure should we run into a difficult period in January or February.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) raised the issue of air weapons. Again, we resisted a 603 change here because both my Department and the Home Office felt that this was not the Bill within which to deal with air weapons. The change that has been made leaves it possible to shoot with an air weapon all the pest species and all the animals, bar 12, in schedule 6. In practice, it will make relatively little difference—unless any hon. Member were keen to try to shoot a grouse with an air weapon. In any event, shooting with an air weapon must be by an authorised person, and age limits are now involved.
The hon. Members for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) suggested that money was crucial to the implementation of the Bill. My right hon. Friend has been extremely skilful in maintaining the grant in real terms to the Nature Conservancy Council. It is £9.4 million this year, and the Bill allows for an increase in that amount. If the NCC can produce a good argument for additional help where it has to fulfil new duties, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will look favourably upon it within the constraints of the economic situation.
My hon. Friends the Members for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and for Harborough raised the issue of Sunday shooting. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) would have raised that issue, too, if she had been called. It is a personal matter whether one wants to shoot on a Sunday. In another place perhaps sufficient weight was not given to the effect that prohibition would have on a relatively small number of people who enjoy wildfowling, particularly on a Sunday. Here again, it is not as though one went wildfowling, shooting other game or pests seven days a week in the same area. There is no conservation reason for prohibiting Sunday shooting. We shall look at this matter closely in Committee. I shall bear in mind the point made about bird watchers, but I have not met many bird watchers at half-past seven on a winter morning when out wildfowling. I am sure there is room for everybody to go wildfowling and shooting on Sunday.
The present situation in the Bill is nonsensical. In England and Wales one cannot shoot game or other quarry on a Sunday, but one can shoot pests, yet in Scotland one can shoot game, but not other quarry or pests. We must get some uniformity into the nonsense that arose in another place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) rightly raised the issue of the effect of pollution. I should like to pay tribute to the RSPCA and other voluntary bodies for their immense work in dealing with the problem. While the Bill provides powers to give birds protection in the event of a disaster following oil pollution, I am afraid that it does not as my hon. Friend said give additional financial assistance. This is a matter that might be examined in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and other hon. Members raised the issue of waders. This is a matter of opinion and individual attitude. In strict terms of conservation there is not a case, as agreed by the advisory committees, for putting waders on the protected list, although the English committee said that a moral issue was involved. Here again, we should look carefully at the matter in Committee.
The issue of snares was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake and by other hon. Members.
604 If we could find something more humane and as effective, a ban would be a possibility. At present there is nothing that can deal with pests as effectively as does a snare. One might produce a counter-productive effect by encouraging the misuse of toxic chemicals. I do not believe that hon. Members would approve of that development.
Licensing has been a major issue in the run-up to the Bill and in discussions in another place, over many months. A key part of the wild life provisions of the Bill is to make a flexible approach to licensing effective. Those who wish to shoot birds on a protected list because they damage crops will have to go through the MAFF procedure and consultation with the NCC before a licence is issued. Only authorised people will be able to shoot thereafter. The area will be stipulated. It could be as small as a farm. It could be a parish. It could be a fruit-growing area such as Kent, which experiences problems with bullfinches. However, flexibility will exist. It will be cut and dried. It has been far too loose and vague in the past. The approach will be much clearer. It will be much better for all concerned, including those who wish to ensure conservation and those who have a right to see that their crops are protected.
The hon. Member for Gorton mentioned education. This is covered in the Bill. Under clause 25 it is the duty of local authorities to do what they can to draw attention especially among school children to the whole issue of conservation. I should like to say to the Countryside Commission and to the Gentleman, who knows all about this matter, how experiments like the Bollin Valley, and possibly St. Helens in the future, are providing parks and footpaths near urban areas and going the right way to bring home to people the importance of the countryside.
Many hon. Members have raised the issue of the SSSIs, both super and simple, if that is the right way to express them. Hon. Members, for good reason, may not have followed the procedure. In a super SSSI, the Nature Conservancy Council will advise the Secretary of State that it is nationally important. My right hon. Friend will consult colleagues, and if he agrees with the council he will issue an order. The owner will have the right to make objections within 28 days. The Secretary of State will then decide whether to issue an order. If he does, the order will bite from the day on which he makes it. The NCC will have to be consulted within three months. If the NCC does not come back, the owner may go ahead with the operation within the SSSI—that is, if a management agreement has failed to be completed. Of course, if all fails there is the fallback position of the compulsory purchase order.
With the simple SSSI, there is a big change. It is important in this Bill to see that it is a change and that we are not just going on as we have in the past. In the future, every owner or occupier of an SSSI will know that he owns or occupies an SSSI. He will be informed by the NCC of the damaging features which might be carried out. It will tie in with the code of practice. If a grant is required the NCC has to go through the full MAFF procedure. There is no question but that there will be much stricter control of what is happening in SSSIs in the future.
The right hon. Member for Ardwick mentioned the losses of SSSIs. Although the figures which he gave were correct for the number of sites, I also gave the equivalent number for the acreages lost. My hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Bedfordshire and Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) went into detail about the loss of good agricultural land to housing and other development. I 605 appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has done over the years with his Committee. But this really is a planning matter and not one to be dealt with in the Bill.
§ Mr. Hastings
I accept, of course, that this is a planning matter. That is what I sought to say at one stage in my speech. But what is the point of all this energy and invention about what is to happen to the countryside if, before one's very eyes, the countryside is disappearing? Has my hon. Friend's Department nothing to say about this?
§ Mr. Monro
It all comes back to structure plans and the involvement of local authorities and local authority members. Obviously where bad planning decisions are made and good agricultural land is to be swallowed up unnecessarily when there is known to be space in an urban area, when it comes to appeals and so on another view may be taken by the Department of the Environment. I do not in any way underestimate the importance of what my hon. Friend says. Having read his committee's report and knowing how strongly he feels about this matter, I accept that he is right.
§ Mr. Monro
This is not the Bill to deal with it. But since my right hon. Friend has been at the Department of the Environment I hope that the number of acres destroyed has been declining rapidly. Certainly it is his wish that it should do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale asked about limestone pavements. His question does not apply to Scotland, the only pavements being in Skye, and we keep a close eye on them. However, limestone can be used on farms only for agricultural purposes. That means that a farmer could not put it in his rockery. It is to be used only for repairing dykes, for buildings, or for grinding up for lime. There is very strong control over limestone pavements. Incidenally, if my hon. Friend can find a better word than "physiographical" which does not require two pages of explanation by the draftsman, we shall be glad to have it.
A number of hon. Members spoke about moorland conservation. It is most important, again, not to live in the past. Instead, we must consider how things have changed over the past two years. Lord Porchester made a very important contribution to the whole debate by highlighting the issue with his excellent report a few years ago. Since 1979, when we put immense emphasis on the voluntary approach, as far as I am aware not one acre on Exmoor has been ploughed up without the approval of the National Parks Committee. That is a significant change, and if that is not commendation for a voluntary approach I do not know what is.
The National Parks Committee, the NFU and the CLA have recently agreed a firm guideline on how to deal with applications for agricultural improvements. That is most encouraging. My right hon. Friend has increased the grant paid for moorland conservation from 75 per cent. to 90 per cent. It is refreshing to know that there is co-operation, co- 606 ordination and friendship between the agriculture and national park organisations in Exmoor because of that approach, which does not hold compulsion over them.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked about footpaths and commons. These are technical issues, and it would be better if we returned to them in Committee. However, it is only fair to say—as I have told the hon. Gentleman in previous meetings—that this is not the Bill to deal with commons, which is a subject in its own right. We shall look again at the sale of maps. The hon. Gentleman put forward a good idea. As to objections, if the original objection remains, it still stands.
I want to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), because the Spicer committee has had an important impact on the debate. The changes that have been made concerning footpaths and everything related to them are most important. He will again be meeting his committee this week to consider the important issue of green lanes, and I hope that a solution will be found.
Many hon. Members have referred to the Sandford clause. This is a most important topic. The improvements that have been suggested do not relate to agricultural grants, but rather to a much broader aspect of agriculture and the environment. We are considering those improvements carefully along with MAFF, and we shall have something to say about it in Committee.
§ Mr. Monro
I really cannot. I have only three minutes left and we shall miss the bull. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to do that. We have given careful consideration to this matter. I again emphasise that this applies only to beef bulls that are more than 10 months old running with cows and heifers in fields where there are footpaths. If one looked at a map of England and went from East Sussex to West Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, one would not know the conditions under which one would meet a bull. It is better to have some farm of uniformity and conformity throughout England, Scotland and Wales rather than, say, going to Wales and meeting a bull under all sorts of conditions.
I assure hon. Members that we have taken immense trouble to identify any serious accident that has occurred involving a beef bull in a field with a footpath. Every accident has related to a dairy or beef bull either in the steading itself or in a byre or shed. We must try to educate people not to be afraid of going through a field where there is a bull with cows and heifers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Will the hon. Gentleman do it?"]—Yes, I will. I have done so for years, even with my children.
The right hon. Member for Ardwick was concerned about moorland notification orders. They apply to any proposals, not only those for MAFF grants. I hope that we shall go through the Bill in Committee with great expedition. It will do an immense amount for conservation of wildlife, habitat and moorland. I have great pleasure in commending it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).