§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Hoyle
I should like amendments to be tabled to the Bill to ensure that no dog is put into a sett, or even a foxhole if necessary. I realise that that would not be acceptable to the Conservative party or the fox-hunting interests represented by Conservative Members. However, I should like to suggest an alternative, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields might support. I emphasise that clause 1, amending the Act, was suggested to him by the Home Office. These people are guilty of trespass. Will my hon. Friend consider making an amendment so that they could be found guilty of trespass unless they had received permission from the landowner to go on the land?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, there is no criminal law 1253 against trespass. It is a civil offence, which can be proceeded with only by the landowner himself, and the only penalty is for damages done by the trespasser. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's apparent concern to see that a criminal law on trespass is introduced.
§ Mr. Hoyle
I was trying to get over the difficulty that I see even now with what my hon. Friend the Member for South. Shields is doing. The police might be reluctant, if the onus is on the defence, to bring any prosecutions unless people are found in possession of a badger that is dead, alive or injured. I was trying to find a way round the difficulty and to prevent the sett being entered and the badger being attacked. I hope that there is a way round the problem.
Those concerned always say that they have permission to do what they are doing. I realise that there is a difficulty in relation to the law on trespass, and that at the moment it is a civil offence and the penalty is only for damage done. All that I am asking for is the opportunity to prove that such people are acting illegally in being at or near the sett. In that way we might overcome some of the difficulties and prevent the injury or death of a badger.
I welcome my hon. Friend's Bill. He deserves the gratitude of all hon. Members. I am pleased that he will consider amending it. Perhaps we can find amendments that will give greater protection to the badger. As my hon. Friends have said, we believe that the Act is too weak, and we shall do all that we can to assist my hon. Friend in what he is trying to do, which is once and for all to get rid of people who think that it is a sport to bait a defenceless animal.
§ 11.6 am
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I am anxious to welcome the Bill promoted so effectively and clinically by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). I unreservedly welcome some parts of it more than others. Before I address myself to its contents, most of which I admire, I should like to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). He suggested that there is always a clear distinction between a badger's sett and a fox's earth. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take my word for it that that is completely wrong. Many dwellings are in multi-occupation. In Northamptonshire, where I live, there are setts and earths on our land, not far from Northampton, that today are occupied by both badgers and foxes, sometimes exclusively by badgers. The local conservation society was so keen that it placed ladders on trees so that people could film the badger family, with all the antics of the badger cubs at night. It is a large sett, and two years ago it was taken over by foxes. Now, two years later, it is in multi-possession, with the families of both foxes and badgers in the dwelling. Therefore, it is impossible to say that one hole or another is occupied by a fox or a badger or that no rabbits are in the same complex.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the fox and the badger. However, does he accept that the sett that he is talking about is likely to be of considerable antiquity, and the badgers will have carried out excavations for many human as well as badger generations? The sett is likely to be so large that it can accommodate both fox and badger. I know setts that accommodate both, but does not the hon. 1254 Gentleman accept that it is highly unlikely that the badger will occupy the same part of the sett as the fox? believe that he could tell the difference between the part of the sett occupied by the badger and the part occupied by the fox.
§ Sir John Farr
I should like to get on with my speech. I was merely saying that in most cases that I know of—I could take hon. Members to quite a few setts—there is multi-occupation, and unless one is a real expert, a Sherlock Holmes, on one's hands and knees with a magnifying glass looking for hairs, it is impossible to tell which animal is in occupation at any time.
§ Sir John Farr
I should like to get on with my speech. I shall come back to clause 1 in a moment, but I should like to deal with some other important aspects of the Bill. I especially want to congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields on choosing this subject. Clause 2 is badly needed and I congratulate him on his initiative.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who is a member of the Nature Conservancy Council, said that it may be too early to evaluate the effectiveness of the 1981 Act. I know that that is also the view of the chairman of the council, who says that parts of that mammoth Act, which was put on the statute book largely through the good work of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, are imperfect, but that it would be best to wait for at least five years before implementing any major restructuring or surgery on that legislation.
I welcome clause 2 and I would give the Bill more support if it were merely a one-clause measure. There is nothing to be gained by putting too many clauses into a private Member's Bill. I have initiated a number of such Bills, but I was successful only with the Deer Act in 1982. I had to cut that from 23 clauses to four before I could get it through.
I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will understand that hon. Members on both sides of the House unreservedly wish him well with clause 2, but he could be in trouble on other clauses.
§ Dr. David Clark
The NCC is on record as supporting clause 2, but it has also said:The NCC welcomes the extension of the duty to 'further' nature conservation proposed for MAFF and the similar new duty on the Forestry Commission.It says of the marine nature reserves:We welcome also the possibility of Ministers taking overriding decisions.Those are the official views of the NCC, but I note the point made by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir John Farr
I am grateful for that helpful intervention. The NCC undoubtedly welcomes the hon. Gentleman's initiative in promoting the Bill, but the chairman told me in public at a meeting here on Wednesday that he thought that the 1981 Act should not be restructured for a few years because of its complexity.
There is no doubt that section 28 of the 1981 Act has proved to be inadequate, and the sooner that we can get on to the statute book the amendment set out in clause 2, the better. There was much debate in Committee when the 1981 legislation was going through the House about whether the structure in section 28 was sufficient to protect SSSIs. The Standing Committee in 1981 intended to set up a structure for countryside management till the turn of 1255 the century, based not on compulsion or direction, but on guidance on how best to run the countryside in the national interest.
Parts of the 1981 Act are imperfect and may need some muscle put into them in due course. Originally, the Government looked for co-operation rather than coercion, and they were right to do so.
Although the exploitation of the three-month loophole has not been widespread, the cases that have occurred have been significant. I understand that since the 1981 Act came into effect, only about 20 notified SSSIs have suffered damage, and most of that was accidental. By June last year, more than 160 management agreements had been signed and about 600 such agreements are being negotiated. There are a potential 5,300 SSSIs, so the percentage of sites that have been damaged is minute. Nevertheless, the House will welcome the resolute way in which the hon. Member for South Shields has dealt with the problem in clause 2.
Clause 3 deals with marine nature reserves. I remember the excitement of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and other Ministers when we established the concept of marine nature reserves in the 1981 Act. It met with the approval of conservationists, scientists, biologists and everyone else. My hon. Friend was careful throughout to avoid compulsion, and some of the original drafts of the 1981 Bill were restructured many times so that we could bring along with us people living near marine conservation areas.
There are no marine nature reserves in operation, but can the House be sure that three years is an adequate time in which to ensure co-operation on such a new concept as marine nature reserves? Is the House also sure that the hon. Member for South Shields is right to give power to the Secretary of State to override local objections?
How can a marine nature reserve work effectively without the willing co-operation of local fishermen and others? Is it not the duty of hon. Members to protect the rights and interests of individuals? The safeguards may be cumbersome, but they exist to protect the rights of individuals and it would be wrong for us to take short cuts and sweep away those rights. It is too soon to introduce the measures proposed in clause 3.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle
What sort of time scale does my hon. Friend envisage before compulsion should be introduced?
§ Sir John Farr
I understood from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries when he was piloting the 1981 measure through the House that there was to be no compulsion. We do not want compulsion in the management of our countryside. We do not want compulsion in the operation of marine nature reserves. If there are objections from local people in the vicinity of marine nature reserves it would be better to iron them out by Ministers and others visiting the area to see how the views of local people could be accommodated.
Clause 4 imposes new responsibilities on the Minister of Agriculture. I am not quite sure what is covered here because the Minister already has a statutory duty to further conservation.
Mention has been made of what is known as the FWAGs—the farm wildlife advisory groups. The farm wildlife advisory groups system has become widespread 1256 since the passing of the 1981 Act. When the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was passed, I had never heard of these advisory groups, but they are now established as a network. They have been pushed, paid for and promoted by the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association hand in hand, and they are available to give free advice to all farmers and others engaged in agriculture to improve the conservation of the land with which they are associated.
The hon. Member for South Shields may not be aware of it, but every two months, through the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, the Ministry produces a booklet which is sent free of charge to all those engaged in farming. The last three or four have contained page after page explaining how a farmer can sensibly utilise a spare bit of land in the interests of conservation. With the purpose of making Britain more beautiful, odd corners of agricultural land which are not in full production can be turned into little reservoirs for water life or into small plantations or coppices — however tiny they are. Although grant money is not available, free advice, free help and the guidance of the plans in these booklets are available to all those engaged in agriculture. That has been a new and welcome feature of ADAS advice to farmers in the last two or three years.
I do not recall that these very helpful articles on conservation appeared before the passing of the 1981 Act, but they have since and they have played a major role in making those engaged in agriculture very conscious of the need to try to make the best use from the conservation point of view of spare corners on their farms.
Our Minister has been pressing in Brussels for a provision in EEC legislation allowing the promotion of farming systems in environmentally sensitive areas which are especially helpful to conservation. Recent important changes in our capital grants system have also had an emphasis on the promotion of conservation.
The hon. Member for South Shields has drafted clause 4 in such a way that it places too much emphasis on the duties of the Minister of Agriculture to promote conservation. First and foremost, a farmer's duty is to try to make his farm pay. He has to try to make it profitable. In recent times our farmers have experienced extraordinary difficulty, especially those in some of the hill areas and in the parts of the country where milk production is concentrated. Some of them are in real financial difficulty. The main job of the Minister must be to help farmers in all parts of the country to get through this period of financial uncertainty — not knowing where the next market is coming from or where tomorrow's crop is to be marketed—rather than our giving him the prime duty of promoting conservation. Long before the passage of the original Act, conservation was in the responsible hands of the farmer, and he has not made a bad job of it. He has made Britain's landscape and countryside the envy of the world.
Clause 5 deals with maps. This again is an innovation introduced by the hon. Member for South Shields. However, it is too soon, and I think that it would be very costly. As I understand it, there is nothing in the present law to prevent most of the items suggested in clause 5 being put into operation. In my view, this provision could be dispensed with and we should concentrate on the very necessary clause 2.
Clause 6 deals with the Forestry Commission. Again I think that this is a very sweeping step to take so soon after 1257 the passage of the original Act. The Forestry Commission is well aware of its major role in promoting conservation. It has already piloted many successful schemes with an emphasis on conservation rather than on production. No one is more aware of the unsatisfactory nature of purely softwood plantations than the Forestry Commission. It is now encouraging landowners and others to engage in broadleaved and softwood plantations, with special emphasis on the former which are attractive and which get a bigger planting grant from the commission.
As for clause 1, of course everyone in the House respects the badger. At the moment, his greatest enemy is the Minister of Agriculture, who is engaged in his TB eradication scheme in the south-west. I understand that he is persisting with this scheme despite expert reports that it is probably of little value in eliminating bovine TB. I hope that my hon. Friend will have a chance to reconsider the scheme in the south-west and whether it is necessary to continue it with its present ferocity.
The explanatory memorandum places the onus of proof on the person digging. I am sure that the House supports the hon. Member for South Shields in what he is trying to do, but this is the wrong way of going about it. There is no recognition in clause 1 of the fact that a badger does not live alone. As I explained earlier, he may share a sett with a fox or even with rabbits.
Funnily enough, in October and November of last year I received a communication from the Thurnby and Bushby society in my constituency about illegal badger digging. It wrote to me in October alleging that badger digging was going on in Leicestershire and asking me to see what could be done to stop it. It also urged me to support the Bill.
I first wrote to the chief constable of Leicestershire asking how prevalent this had been in recent times in the county and whether he thought that the existing law was adequate for the police to deal with people suspected of badger digging.
The chief constable replied on 31 October saying that he had had only one case in the county of alleged badger digging and that it had been denied by the youths involved. In response to my question about whether the existing powers in law were sufficient for the police to prosecute, he said that he thought they were. He wrote:I agree that the present law provides the police with sufficient powers of search and arrest … I must accept that a police officer who is not familiar with the provisions of the Badgers Act may advise a complainant to take civil action for trespass.Judging by our experience in Leicestershire, there is little or no justification for clause 1.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said about the quarry list. He reminded me of how the curlew and redshank escaped that list. In 1981, it was the intention of the House and the Committee to keep them on the quarry list, but due to parliamentary procedure and the lack of time for considering Lords amendments, those two birds were lost as quarries. My hon. Friend also built up a very convincing case with regard to the shooting of Brent and barnacle geese. There is every reason for putting them on the quarry list now. In some parts of the country they are prolific, because there has been a population explosion, and they are doing a good deal of agricultural damage to some areas. However, we did not put forward statistical evidence earlier because we, too, felt that three years was perhaps too short a time for there to be a meaningful change in events since 1981.
§ Dr. David Clark
I do not want the House to go down that path, because it is outside our control. Unfortunately, barnacle and Brent geese are protected under EEC directive 79/409. The Government cannot alter that without abrogating the treaty of Rome. Those who voted for the Common Market are responsible.
§ Sir John Farr
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong again. Indeed, about the only part of the Bill that I unreservedly welcome is clause 2. The hon. Gentleman had got that 100 per cent. right, and if he concentrates on that I wish him the best of luck.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Several more hon. Members wish to speak, and I remind the House that long speeches are made only at the expense of other hon. Members' time.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
In an article on Wednesday 30 January, Martin Linton of The Guardian wrote:The entire bill does, however, enjoy the support of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association as well as the 30 largest conservation groups.I have just listened to the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), who is a farmer, and I wonder whether the NFU's support for the Bill enjoys his support. One wonders, because he seemed to disagree with the Bill in many respects.
I assume that it is true when the article says:Ministers have long ago acknowledged that its 1981 measure has a number of defects but it has refused to bring forward its own amending bill, offering, instead, to back a private member's bill.I wonder whether the Government's support is solid, but that will be revealed later.
Obviously, we would love to have Tory support for the Bill, which does its best to plug certain loopholes. I do not know the technical details about badgers, foxes and so on, which are a little above my head. Nevertheless, I have listened with interest to the debate and have learnt a great deal. I want to protect the countryside and our wildlife. I have been a lifelong rambler and have a passion for preserving the countryside, so I should like to comment on the Bill.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made clear his reservations. I want to speak about clause 4—not the Clause IV that I have often mentioned, but clause 4 of the Bill. It embodies some of the things which I should particularly like to see happen.
The Wildlife and Countryside Bill, as it was, had my enthusiastic support, probably because of its title. I thought that we finally had something that would defend the countryside and our wildlife. That Act has many good aspects to it, but, probably due to omission rather than commission, it had many major loopholes which led me to believe that certain provisions were anti-wildlife and anti-countryside. My fears were confirmed some years ago when I made a rare train journey from King's Cross to Edinburgh. I had not made that journey for some years. Although I often go to Edinburgh, I usually go from Sheffield and use a different line.
As the train left London, I was appalled at some of the things that I had never noticed before. I usually ramble in Derbyshire — mainly based on Bakewell — and south 1259 Yorkshire, and such things had not really begun to happen there. Until that railway journey, I had not noticed something which probably most other hon. Members had seen. Following what I saw, I asked a few supplementary questions and tabled one or two other questions, but I received no support from Conservative Members. Sadly, there were howls of abuse when I said, coining an expression, that I was appalled at the prairieisation of the countryside. I remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) said, "That's a new word to me." I said, "Well, Jim, it reminded me of the Canadian prairies when I looked out of the window." I realised that the rape of the countryside was beginning, and I started to take notice. Since then, many hon. Members on both sides of the House have begun to worry about it.
Clause 4 has the backing of the first report from the Select Committee. I am not a member of that Committee, but the third recommendation states:Conservation should be given a greatly increased priority in the training and work of ADAS staff, with increased formal guidance from MAFF on conservation objectives.Clause 4 commends itself to me. Indeed, I hope that it commends itself, along with the rest of the Bill, to Conservative Members. It states:In the exercise of such of his functions as relate to agriculture and forestry, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shall, in so far as its consistent with his statutory duties, further the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside".There are then certain suggestions.
The prairieisation of our countryside made me consider other aspects. I often go rambling in moorland areas. In our area we have one of the many ad hoc committees which have sprung up as a result of the loopholes in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. We have a Sheffield campaign for access to moorlands. There are many moors in Yorkshire, and as I walked along one day I suddenly realised that I was witnessing fields which I had never seen before, and that the heavy new earth-moving equipment which can move boulders, and so on, with which we had had trouble hitherto now enabled local farmers to carve new fields out of the countryside. Of course, we had no say in that, because there was nothing to stop them doing it.
Then I saw a couple of programmes on the television. In one programme there were 20 or 30 farmers, and three or four conservationists were asking them questions. I am sad to say that not one farmer did other than defend the 1981 Act and call himself a conservationist. The conservationists questioned the farmers, but the voices of the conservationists were overwhelmed by those of a number of farmers trying to interrupt, all of whom were making vast amounts of money as grain producers.
On another programme we heard farmers saying that if someone was a grain or cereal farmer and owned more than 300 acres he was automatically a millionaire. They pointed out that nothing like that had ever occurred before. This was due to the immense grants, many of which were made before these moves to deprive the countryside. The NFU's support for the Bill is welcome, because it shows that the union realises the impact of the attacks on the countryside with the removal of hedges, ditches and walls. 1260 When one is out rambling, the noise of the chain saw is heard almost all the time. Trees are cut down, and tree stumps are left scattered around the countryside.
The fact that a great organisation like the NFU — which boasts that its people are at the House every day and that it has never lobbied for any measure which it has not finally achieved — is on our side means that the NFU realises, as we do, that lasting damage will be done to nature if the union does not protect the countryside and join us in supporting Bills such as this. In the long run, agriculture will be injured if prairieisation continues. People from the towns and from all over the country have offered help with this measure. The mailbags of Members of Parliament show how many people are deeply worried about the need to preserve the countryside. We welcome the help of farmers in this struggle.
Clauses 4 and 6 apply to the Forestry Commission. Deciduous trees are being destroyed on a large scale. Afforestation and reafforestation with conifers is occurring in areas where those trees do not grow naturally. Conifers en masse are dark and gloomy and militate against the beauty of the countryside. I note that some Conservative Members are nodding in agreement. They are as aware of this aspect as are many people who love the countryside.
We are not struggling against moves to produce food in the countryside, nor are we opposed to a good life for the farming community. I point out, however, that little of the money gained from the land finds its way into the pockets of the agricultural workers on those farms. That aspect must be considered, and anyone who disagrees should provide evidence to show that the money does find its way to those workers.
There is immense support for the Bill. I am one of those who have not taken a technical interest in matters involving the countryside, but I believe that my voice represents those of millions of people who, without technical data or knowledge, have seen what is happening in the countryside and want to investigate. They include organisations such as the Ramblers Association and local rambling clubs which are intimately connected with the countryside, whose friends are often farmers and farm workers and who will note what is happening in this minor, but important, debate. It is my dearest wish that the Conservative party will give strength to our elbow with this small measure and help us to make this legislation a real Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which we shall amend if we find further loopholes.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
It is not all that often that I have an opportunity to fulfil the dearest wish of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), but I am glad to give my strong support to the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on the balanced way in which he promoted the Bill. He has emphasised that his objective is to improve the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. That is the right way to put it, because the benefits already conferred by that Act have often been unstated and people have not publicly recognised those achievements sufficiently.
I speak with confidence because I represent a number of interests and wear a number of hats. I am glad to speak for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has its headquarters in my constituency; it has gone out of its way not to run down the existing legislation but to point to the way in which it can be improved. I speak also for 1261 the many millions of people who enjoy legitimate country sports and whose help is so much needed in promoting conservation. I speak as a small member of the NFU who has just a few acres. I join hon. Members in welcoming the fact that the Bill has the strong support of the NFU and the Country Landowners Association.
I emphasise conservation and habitat. No fewer than 5 million people take part in country sports which depend upon a good habitat for wildlife in our rivers, on our moorlands and over all our countryside. Their support for and keen interest in something that they enjoy is one of the safeguards of a secure future that we all wish to achieve for the habitats of flora and fauna.
Clause 2 contains the Bill's central objective. I believe that all hon. Members agree that it is high time we closed the three-months loophole. The Bill does so with the Government's strong support. I am confident that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will confirm that strongly. The RSPB asks whether the terms on which that loophole is being closed will also achieve what are sometimes referred to as the "stop" powers which have been thought to be necessary in respect of section 29 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), with his great knowledge about this matter, asked whether it would be effective. No doubt my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will provide some guidance.
I support in principle the idea of marine nature reserves. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) has some reservations about this, but I do not believe that we have been unreasonably compelled in relation to land nature reserves. There are problems involving feeding grounds below high water level which are important to bird life. The principle of marine nature reserves has a place in the 1981 Act, and so far we have not made any practical progress. I hope that this legislation will assist.
I should like to refer to the balancing of the pressures on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I have the feeling — I speak with a strong interest in farming with respect to my constituency and members of my family—that the Ministry is sometimes blinkered in its attitude to the projects it supports. In recent years, we have unnecessarily damaged uplands and wetlands by unwise schemes—sometimes promoted with EEC money—and unwise drainage projects on which, examined in a cooler light and without artificial subsidies, no farmer in his right mind would ever have embarked.
Food production is of course the primary function of the Ministry of Agriculture, but if we said in legislation that there was to be a better statutory balance between food production and conservation we would make an improvement that would be in the interests of the country as a whole. That is why the NFU and the CLA support the Bill.
Clause 1 relates to badger baiting. I think that there will be support for its objective on both sides of the House. No genuine sportsman has any truck with badger digging and badger baiting. If there are loopholes in the present legislation which can be sensibly closed without destroying or damaging other legitimate interests and those of legitimate sportsmen, it is desirable to close them.
I have had the benefit of speaking to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), and I know that what I say has his blessing. The clause seeks to introduce the concept of recklessness. People who kill 1262 badgers recklessly deserve short shrift from the courts, but at the moment the concept of recklessness in this context does not exist. There is a real practical problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said, in that we cannot tell whether a series of underground holes happens at any particular time to be the home of badgers or foxes, or badgers, foxes and rabbits together. That underground system can be approached in a way that need not harm badgers. Our objective is to protect the badger.
If we introduce the concept of recklessness into the legislation—that is embodied in the clause, although it is profoundly mis-stated in the explanatory memorandum—we should all be satisifed.
§ Mr. Sidney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I recognise the legal expertise of my hon. and learned Friend in this technical matter. Are there not many precedents for what the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is proposing? I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to section 25 of the Firearms Act 1968, which uses the phrase, "has reasonable cause".
§ Mr. Lyell
There are plenty of precedents in our law for introducing a criminal offence if someone does something recklessly which is dangerous to a member of the public or indeed to an animal. We are not there trespassing on difficult legal ground. But to do what is erroneously suggested in the explanatory memorandum and change the burden of proof and put it on to the defence is something that we rarely do in our law and a principle that we should approach with abhorrence. I am glad to understand from the hon. Member for South Shields that he does not intend to do that.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
As always, my hon. and learned Friend has researched his case carefully, and I bow to his knowledge of the law. Will he reassure the House that, in whatever amendments he and my hon. Friends seek to put in the Bill, no further loophole will be left? I understand what he says. I come from the country, and I am aware that setts are used by various animals. If he is going to err at all, will he err on the side of the badger?
§ Mr. Lyell
I can reassure my hon. Friend, although as a lawyer I always seek to err on the side of justice; I think that my hon. Friend will agree with that.
We can always protect something to the nth degree, but if we go to the nth degree we may find that we are doing a grave injustice to individuals, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not wish to do that. My objective and that of the hon. Member for South Shields is to do away with badger baiting and digging. We can make a real advance on that by using the concept of recklessness.
I should like to reassure the House that generally the Badgers Act 1973 works quite well. There may be occasions when it does not work, but Home Office-figures show that in 1983 there were 57 prosecutions, of which no fewer than 50 were successful. Many prosecuting officers would be happy with that rate of success. I do not know the rate of successes for 1984, but my researches show that there have been at least 33 successful prosecutions in 1984. People are being brought to book. If we introduce the concept of recklessness, we shall help substantially if not wholly to close every reasonable loophole. I shall work to assist the Bill in that respect.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I shall be extremely brief, largely because every hon. Member who has spoken has accepted the Bill's broad principles. There have been reservations about some details but not one hon. Member has signified his intention of opposing the Bill. The main purpose of my remarks will be to try, first, to set an example to the House by being brief and to urge every other hon. Member who follows me to be brief. I should have been even briefer had it not been for the long speech of the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). He let down the cause of conservation with which he has so long been associated and which in recent years he seems to serve so inadequately.
When discussing the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, the hon. Member for Harborough may recall that we were always on opposite sides of the argument as he sought to extend the list of creatures which could be destroyed and weaken the protection that hon. Members sought to confer on our natural heritage. He has done that again this morning. That is sad, because 10 years ago at about this time of the year, I moved the Second Reading of the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Bill. That went through the House and it had the hon. Gentleman's support. The Bill received its Second Reading before 11.30 am because fewer hon. Members sought to take part in the debate.
One hon. Member who took part in that debate was the former Member for South Shields and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who succeeded Arthur Blenkinsop, has maintained that north-eastern tradition — a tradition that has long been served by my party, which has been far more devoted to the natural heritage than it has to individual privilege and fortune in rural shires.
I am not seeking to be aggressive, because there are Conservative Members who have served the cause of conservation. I was glad to hear the intervention by the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell). I trust that there will be no further nit-picking in the debate to imperil the Bill. My hon. Friend said that the Labour Opposition had sought to co-operate with the Government to ensure that there would be a broad Government measure so that we could see a proper advance. The Minister took the view—there is a great deal to be said for it — that we need a sustained and serious review of the operation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and that there would have to be major legislation some years hence.
My hon. Friend's approach, which has dominated this Bill, and the approach that I adopted in the summer when I tried to block the three-month loophole, was not to contradict the Government's view that there must be a major review and reappraisal of the Act, but to try to close those loopholes which needed urgently to be closed. That is my hon. Friend's purpose. Those who think that he may have gone too far should recognise that we have already made enormous concessions to try to meet the problems 1264 of Government timetables and parliamentary procedure. We could not seek any further reduction in the provisions of the Bill unless we were prepared to accept that this would affect millions of people and scores of organisations that are passionately concerned with the conservation of our natural heritage.
There will soon be further pressure for amendment of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, although perhaps not in the next two years. I have been given approval by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to start a detailed monitoring of the Berne convention in every member state. The Minister knows that that Act was the British response to that convention. The Assembly seems dissatisfied with the situation in many member countries and serious monitoring will take place this year. I hope that, when I carry out that monitoring and report to the Parliamentary Assembly in a year or so, I shall be able to say that the Government have been helpful to this Bill.
I trust that, on badger baiting and such barbaric practices, there will be no more attempts at a nit-picking approach to justice. The sort of people to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) referred in a distinguished speech should not be allowed to get off. If people who are more concerned that the law is neat allow that species to be eradicated, they will deserve condemnation. In my area, 20 years ago, there were 29 occupied badger setts. Today there are two, and that small population is in threat of being wiped out if something is not done urgently. Unfortunately, with a continuation of the cautious response displayed by the hon. Member for Harborough who has been in possession of large areas of land long enough to know rather more about badgers and foxes than he displayed today, the badger will be wiped out in many areas. There will then be fewer prosecutions.
There may have been fewer prosecutions in 1984 than in 1983, but that is because, in south and west Yorkshire, Merseyside, west Lancashire, large areas of the south-west and in the county areas around every conurbation there are few badgers left. That is why I hope that my hon. Friend will insist that clause 1 remains in the Bill. I hope that with it will go an acceptance by the Government that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission must start to pay heed not to the small minority of those who farm the land but to the vast majority who want a decent countryside retained.
§ 12.6 pm
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
I am always glad to follow the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), whose interest and sincerity in protecting the countryside is well known.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clarke) on introducing the Bill. I saw him in the preparation of it, and I was greatly impressed by the intelligence and courtesy with which he got everyone together and his understanding of the issues at stake. I also admire his tenacity in insisting that the Bill went further than was immediately welcomed. It is always important to push bureaucracy in the right direction.
We always welcome extra protection for the badger, and therefore I do not intend to dwell on that part of the Bill. I shall move on to what I consider to be the heart of the Bill and the heart of all our efforts on conservation and that is the effort to protect habitat. It is no use protecting animals or plants if their habitat has vanished. For example, one can protect absolutely the shoveler duck, but 1265 if its wetland breeding grounds are drained it will simply disappear, as brutally as an hon. Member whose consituency is redistributed.
Part II of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 sought to protect habitat. It was a hugely complex Bill, but it made a brave attempt to protect the most special sites. Some flaws in it have appeared, the chief of which are the two major loopholes to which we have referred. We all welcome the plugging of those two main loopholes by clause 2. In particular, I admire the ingenuity with which the deficiency in clause 29 is made good. Given the right attitude of the Nature Conservancy Council, that provision will work. Clause 2, which must be passed, will stop the ignorant or malicious destruction of our best sites, which has occurred since 1981.
I also welcome the determination of the Bill to make marine nature reserves a reality, for, after all, that was the intention of the 1981 Act. That intention has always been frustrated, and therefore the House should not object to efforts to try to make that intention a reality. I understand the dilemma of my hon. Friend the Minister in this respect. After all, we all believe in persuasion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said, but there must come a time when, if persuasion fails, regulations must come to the fore.
I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to examine this point carefully. At some stage, we must have marine nature reserves. When is the first one likely to be set up? Is it likely to be set up at all? If not, is it not perfectly reasonable to ask for some regulation, which we already have, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) said, on the land. Some 60 countries already have marine conservation areas, yet we, who pride ourselves on conservation, have none. Our coasts form perhaps the most magnificent and unusual of all aspects of our national heritage. We are right to seek powers to protect those areas for posterity.
Since 1981 the public's and the Government's concept of conservation has changed. The remarkable success of farming means that we have entered a period of agricultural surpluses, and the whole system of support for agriculture is under question. Increasingly, agriculture and farming must become more sympathetic to conservation. At the same time, it remains a principle that farming has to be profitable if spare resources are to be available for conservation and if the fabric of country life is to prosper.
This excellent Bill reflects the change in attitudes towards farming and the countryside. In 1981 our efforts were concentrated, rightly, on protecting the most important habitats. Now we are starting to serve important habitats elsewhere in the wider countryside. Isolated SSSIs dotted around the country like oases in a desert are inadequate. The intervening farmland must also provide habitat. That is why I welcome clause 4. It is right that Ministers at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should have a duty to further conservation. After all, we accepted that principle in 1981 for the water authorities. In an era of costly surpluses it is one thing to farm existing farmland as well as we can, but another to destroy scarce habitats with the help of subsidies to add to costly surpluses.
The Ministry of Agriculture has a great challenge to see whether it can adjust this policy and develop it to achieve the harmony that we wish to see in the countryside. In this respect, I greatly welcome the support of the Country Landowners Association and the timely conversion of the 1266 NFU. The NFU is wise to say that it wishes not only to have successful agriculture, but for that success to take place in a countryside that is seen to have the right balance between production and conservation and to make farming attractive again to people in all parts of the country.
Ultimately, the farmer has to be the steward of the countryside. The protection of the habitat outside those very special sites must depend upon his actions. Therefore, it is welcome news that the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union have joined forces to play a constructive role and to support the additional burden that will be placed upon farming in order to bring about harmony in the countryside. The Ministry of Agriculture has a real duty and responsibility to respond to the wishes of people outside the Government.
The challenge of conservation in the wider countryside opens up a huge subject for debate. Many important matters of principle are at stake. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister is having many sleepless nights as he ponders the conflicts to which the Bill gives rise. Our aim today is not to address those wider aspects, but to take a modest but nevertheless very important step forward. All of our efforts to protect the countryside depend upon progress being made step by step. We have to meet the problems as they arise and provide for them. We have to be practical in so doing. I believe that the Bill is practical and that it deserves a Second Reading, because it reflects the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the British people.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
On behalf of my party, I strongly support the tribute that has been paid to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). I fully endorse the Bill. I know that the hon. Gentleman has tried to achieve as much as possible by introducing it. Many hon. Members realise that if he had had his way he would have wished to achieve much more, but that is not a criticism. The hon. Gentleman has sought to advance the cause with which he is associated and for which he has campaigned for many years. I hope that the Minister will respond favourably to the initiatives that have been taken.
It is an anomaly that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is described in the most recent edition of Countryside Commission News as representing an entirely urban seat. The constituency of the hon. Member for South Shields, who is the spokesman for the Labour party, is described as one of the few constituencies with probably no green field in it. As spokesman for the environment on behalf of the Liberal party, I can hardly be described, as the Member of Parliament for Southwark and Bermondsey, as representing the most rural seat in Britain. This shows that the issues transcend geographical boundaries. The Bill affects not just those who live in rural areas but those who live in urban areas. They need the rural environment to be preserved for their own cultural and recreational enjoyment.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)
I must have a word with the Countryside Commission about this, because there is no green field in Bristol, West.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not deny that fact. However, it confirms that although the three spokesmen all represent 1267 urban constituencies we have much wider interests. I hope that today it will be evident that the Under-Secretary has taken a considerable step forward. On 2 May 1984, in answer to a question from his hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) about representations relating to the amendment of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, he listed the representations which had been received from the Nature Conservancy Council, the Friends of the Earth, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy).
Yet on 9 May 1984, when the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and I appeared at a rally held by the Green alliance prior to the European Parliament elections, he said that there was no real evidence that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 had failed, although the Government were monitoring it closely. I believe that the Minister must accept that it was seen very early to have failed and that therefore urgent steps were necessary to remedy those defects. That is the first reason why we welcome the Bill so strongly and accept entirely what was said by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) that we must continue to make sure that other steps are taken and that we do not just stop here.
The greatest loss to our heritage has occurred since the war. That loss has continued alongside our understandable drive for agricultural self-sufficiency. Before the second world war, only two thirds at most of our food was produced in Britain. Now we have surpluses, including about 3.8 million tonnes of surplus grain. The race for food production is encouraged by the Government who, understandably, have subsidised the farmers to bring new land under tillage. This is all well and good, but when ancient woodlands or hay meadows containing rare species of flora and fauna or ponds, bogs or marshes which support wildlife populations are threatened — examples were given by the hon. Member for Lincoln — our farming policies have to be reviewed. Therefore, the prime objective of the Bill is to close the loophole relating to sites of special scientific interest.
The most fundamental change represented by the Bill is the beginning of a realisation that agriculture as well as other elements of the use of the countryside have to be brought under the hand and the influence of environmental policies. We cannot continue to lose our natural heritage in this way. My party takes the view that, when dealing with farmers and the agriculture industry in general, there is little room for compromise when trying to preserve what remains of our heritage.
Since 1981, sites of special scientific interest have been destroyed at the rate of 13 per cent. a year. Therefore, we have to do all that we can to ensure that the inbuilt delays in the system, which are specifically dealt with in clause 2, and the inbuilt inadequacies, are overcome.
Last year, I saw a report that was put before the other place by the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Council for the National Parks, which stated that a large part of Suffolk has lost four fifths of its hedges, that Devon has lost one fifth of its woodland in a decade and that 1,500 acres of the Norfolk broads are being drained every year, and 5,000 acres are under imminent threat. Prehistoric parts of Britain, like the south Dorset ridgeway, have been ploughed up.
During the past year, I have asked questions about the loss of moorland by ploughing and afforestation in 1268 England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The figures are substantial. In England, the recorded annual average decrease of rough grazing, excluding common land, during the last six or seven years amounts to 3,000 hectares.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has produced a report dealing with the effects of hill farming on birds. Its statistics show that neither the Ministry of Agriculture nor the Department of the Environment knows exactly what the effects have been. There has been no monitoring of the effects of hill farming on birds. Therefore, we have to ensure that there is a Department which can protect the environment and act as a proper counterweight to other less good influences.
Every hon. Member knows what is needed. When a wood is about to be destroyed, people make representations and say that they do not want that wood destroyed. In the borough of Southwark, part of which is in my constituency, Sydenham Hill wood, one of the remaining very old woodlands in the south of England, is under threat. There is a very strong lobby against its destruction by the London Wildlife Trust. But it is primarily the local people who are fighting by means of a public inquiry to protect that wood.
It is important, let me reiterate, to view the Bill as a trail blazer for a new attitude of compromise and consensus. That does not mean compromise upon principles of conservation but compromise to prevent vested interests from standing in the way of what should be our environmental priorities.
We strongly believe that we need to go further not only in setting up a proper environmental protection section at the Department of the Environment but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said in response to the 10th report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, in ensuring that all legislation includes an environmental impact statement, because planning, housing and trade and industry legislation, for example, may all carve up our heritage sometimes without our realising it.
At the end of 1983, Friends of the Earth sent my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) a proposal for a natural heritage Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and many other Members share our hope that that will soon be possible. My party and its leader have no reservations at all about that. I do not seek to be exclusive about it. We all pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields for his long campaign on these issues and to the many people in all parts of the House and in parties not even represented here who have argued so strongly and effectively for that kind of approach. The proposal for a natural heritage Bill is my party's policy and I believe that it is increasingly supported outside as the right way to proceed. The Countryside Commission has asked for a comprehensive White Paper on the management of our rural estate. That might be the best move to make next.
It may be thought that the Bill does not touch many chords for people in north Southwark, but I have received letters about badger baiting which show that people trapped in inner-city tower blocks feel equally strongly that what has been proposed must be carried out. I believe that the wording set out in the Under-Secretary's letter to Lord Melchett of 7 January is better than the wording in 1269 the Bill, but perhaps that can he discussed in Committee. We must ensure that prosecutions are effective and that we do not have to rely on private prosecutions.
I quote from just one of the many letters that I have received. A constituent, now a pensioner, living on the Heygate estate in Walworth, writes for the first time ever to a Member of Parliament because feelings have become so strong. My constituent concludes:All my friends and neighbours are with me on this, for there is so much cruelty practised on animals that we must do our utmost to avert some of it. Therefore, if you would vote in support of the Bill we would be very grateful.I could scarcely do otherwise, as the League Against Cruel Sports has its headquarters in my constituency.
Clause 2 is urgently needed and is very welcome, as is clause 3, dealing with protection of the marine environment. The latter recognises that the voluntary option does not always work and that one needs to go further when response is inadequate.
Clause 4 is perhaps the most important, as it puts agriculture in the context of the environment, as it should be although we appreciate the need to seek progress by conciliation. In this context, the House of Lords Select Committee stated in paragraph 129 of its 20th report on "Agriculture and the Environment":The Committee believe that common ground can increasingly be found, especially if Government departments are prepared to take steps to encourage conciliatory moves.In the context of an EEC draft resolution, paragraph 138 states.The Preamble and Articles … should be altered to establish that, as an element of the improvement of farming, care of the environment should have comparable status with the production of food.We need to press even more strongly for that.
The House of Commons Select Committee fell short of some of the recommendations that I should like, such as making agriculture subject to planning constraints, but I was glad to note that it recommended not just that the existing system of prior notification in national parks should be extended to the whole of the countryside, for which. I pressed last year, but also in paragraph 73:Without fundamental changes in the structure of agricultural finance, conservation will continue to be set in weak opposition to the forces of intensive and, paradoxically, frequently unwanted production, instead of being an integral part of good husbandry, as it should be.It goes on to make the straightforward statement:MAFF must reappraise its attitudes.In all its aspects and each of its clauses, the Bill should, and I hope will, be supported. It has frequently been said that this is a time of change. The National Farmers Union and others have moved. But if the climate is one of change, it is also a time of trial and we look to the Government not to be found wanting. As I have said, there is little room for compromise or concession if our environment and our heritage are not to be lost. As we know all too well, once lost means lost for ever.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
In adding my voice to those who have expressed support for the Bill, and in adding my congratulations to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), I must express one or two reservations abut the Opposition's attitude to farmers and farming. I declare an interest as a farmer. As a member of both the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union, I am delighted that those organizations 1270 also support the Bill. I have no doubt that what is proposed is correct, although some details will require examination in Committee.
I am, however, saddened by some of the attacks made by the Opposition from time to time. They have not been so bad today, when we are generally in unison in supporting the Bill, but there is still an undercurrent of hostility to the farming industry. I wish to say a word or two in defence of my farming colleagues and of the industry as a whole. Many of the attacks on the way in which farmers look after the environment are ill founded and based more on ignorance than on malice.
I say that the attacks are ill founded because farming is not a static industry. There seems to be an underlying assumption that if the farmers left the land altogether we should return to the idyllic scenes portrayed by John Constable — little fields with cows grazing, hedges blooming and birds flying everywhere—and everything would be marvellous. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were no hedges or little fields until the enclosure Acts altered farming 200 or 300 years ago. Indeed, before that we had something far more akin to the prairie farming to which the Opposition take such exception today. I do not like it either. I regard it as extremely unpleasant and I hope that, partly thanks to the Bill, but largely thanks to the 1981 Act, there will be a return to a far more conservation-minded approach to farming.
It is wrong to single out farmers as the villains of the piece. Since the 1960s and 1970s, in planning and other aspects, there has been an unfortunate falling away from the standards which we now all recognise should be followed. We must regard farming in the context of the European scene in which we operate. Anyone who travels abroad and drives through France will notice that the prairie farming in the once-beautiful countryside round Paris makes the prairie farming in Britain look like paddock farming. Our farmers must be able to compete, as every industrial business must be able to compete, in its markets. Although I regret bitterly the fact that prairie farming is increasing, it would not be right to blame the British farmer for that development.
§ Mr. Flannery
I accept most of what the hon. Gentleman says, but is it not true that, from the point of not producing enough food, we have reached a stage of over-production? Should we not have regard to that fact in the context of conservation?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I accept the accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The over-production of food is a subject for much wider debate, because we over-produce food only for the markets which are currently capable of buying our products. If we could find better ways of introducing the Third world into the international market and generating new revenue there, there would be no shortage of people who wished to eat the food produced by the European Community and the United States. We must be careful, having made the mistake of going from under-production to over-production, that we do not swing back again during the next 20 years to 30 years and return to a position where food is in short supply.
History shows that it is more than probable that that will happen, because almost always when one takes corrective action of the sort proposed in the Bill one swings it too far. I hope that we can avoid that pitfall and that Opposition 1271 Members will join my hon. Friends in ensuring that we do not place so much emphasis away from food production that we fall into that danger in the longer term.
I have said enough about farming and the approach to the environmental controls that are proposed. I shall say a few words on each of the clauses. The most important is undoubtedly clause 2, which closes the loopholes which people have used to get round the 1981 Act and to destroy deliberately and maliciously those parts of the countryside which the Government and the Countryside Commission had decided should be preserved. Clearly, that was wrong, and something had to be done to prevent such abuse. However, we must realise that only a very few people behave so appallingly.
One must put in a cautionary word. Where only one or two people are breaking the law, it is not always the answer to make controls tighter and criminal legislation even stricter. If we did that, we should burden the entire state with over-strict regulations and make life impossible for the innocent, in order to catch the few who are guilty. However, there have been enough cases of people taking no notice of the laws which have been passed to justifiy the steps being proposed today, and I fully support the way in which the loopholes will be closed. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir. H. Rossi) asked whether loopholes would remain at the end of this procedure, and we must consider that carefully in Committee.
The other clauses are also important, and I am glad that the hon. Member for South Shields has included them in his Bill. I appreciate, having tried to introduce a private Member's Bill without success, the balancing difficulty of putting in what one wishes to get through and not overburdening the House with detail so that the time allowed is inadequate. I hope that it will be proved that the hon. Gentleman has judged it nicely and that we will get through the proceedings in Committee swiftly and without problems.
The badger-baiting clause has received most publicity, and it is extremely important. With my hon. Friends who have spoken today, I support the idea of cracking down on those appalling thugs who take pleasure in baiting, trapping, maiming, wounding and killing badgers, but I must join my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) in wondering about the wording of the clause. We must not do anything that will bring innocent people to the dock. I am thinking of people who might be walking their terrier, which then goes down a badger sett and kills a badger. That would not be a criminal act unless the man had been reckless in his approach to his dog's behaviour. We must distinguish between the innocent who inadvertently cause the death of a badgers and those who, using dogs, set out maliciously, and using many excuses to get round existing law, to kill badgers.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) complained that, of the 29 badger setts in his area, all but two had disappeared. That is sad, but during the past 20 years the badger's real enemy has not been the badger baiter, the gamekeeper or the people who go out occasionally and kill badgers for one reason or another. His main enemy has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We know of the apppalling way in which the badger has been hounded, killed and destroyed 1272 in the south-west of England as a result of what now appears to be a gross error in the assumption by the Ministry that the badger was the carrier of bovine tuberculosis. That is regrettable. It is not now reversible. As real doubt has been thrown on the belief that badgers carry tuberculosis, I hope that all such practices will cease and that badger setts will be reintroduced wherever possible so that those lovely animals can be put back into the countryside, thereby giving great pleasure to people, and be able to live the full lives that we would wish for them.
I agree with what has been said about mapping. There is no reason for mapping only moorland and heathland. Indeed, it is difficult to know what should be mapped and what should not. I welcome the prospect that all sites of special scientific interest should be mapped, to make it easier for people to enjoy them and to know what is being preserved.
I believe that it is right to make a change in the duty of the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister is beginning to take into account increasingly the environmental aspects of his job, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will approach the problems outlined in the Bill with all the enthusiasm that Opposition Members and my hon. Friends and I would wish. However, it does no harm to underline his responsibility by laying a general duty upon him and his Ministry to ensure that the environment is properly protected. That is what the Bill seeks to do.
I think that the effect of the Bill will be largely dependent on the good will of the Minister of the day, because it can be interpreted very widely. I hope that, given the universal approval for the Bill that has been shown in the House today, Ministers, of whatever persuasion — and at whatever time in the future they may take control—will give due weight to the fact that the House has seen fit to pass such a measure.
I have a slight reservation about the provisions for marine nature conservation. Unlike Opposition Members, I feel that all controls of the environment should, if possible, be introduced voluntarily rather than compulsorily. My information from my hon. Friends in the Ministry is that they are not satisfied that the period of consultation and voluntary agreement has yet been exhausted, and that we may well reach the stage of being able to achieve marine conservation by agreement rather than by statute. If that can be done, I am sure that it will be a better approach to the problem.
With those few reservations, I warmly endorse the Bill and hope that it will have a swift and happy passage.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I rise briefly to give my wholehearted support to the Bill. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has had the opportunity, through the private Members' ballot, to introduce it.
I should perhaps declare an interest, in that I have for many years been a co-opted member of the Council for National Parks. Its evidence to the Select Committee on the Environment and the support that it has given to my hon. Friend in preparing his Bill have been much valued by all of us. I speak also as someone with a firm belief in the need for us as a nation to conserve our national heritage, to cherish it and to ensure that our children can inherit it. We all too often forget that need in the rush for progress, either industrial or agricultural. We forget that 1273 aspects of our countryside, our landscape and our wildlife are under pressure and under threat, and we should all pay the greatest attention to their conservation.
The Bill is of great concern to my constituents who live in an inner city area of great dereliction. They face increasing pressures in the area and look to the countryside—and their ability to enjoy it—as an escape from the conditions in which they live. Therefore, the Bill is of concern not just to myself but to my constituents, and many of them have written to me to give their strong backing to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields.
I hope that today's debate will continue to be non-partisan and non-party political, but I am deeply disappointed that the Government have not come forward with legislation in their own time to close the loopholes in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The Government seem to be able to find time for many other matters. We have before us in a week's time a Bill which has only just been thought up by the Government on the amount of money that the GLC should pay to London Regional Transport. They can find time easily and readily for such legislation, and it is unfortunate that they have not been able to find time for this measure, which they themselves told the House on several occasions last year they were anxious to see carried forward.
The Bill does a number of major and valuable things. I shall not dwell too much on some aspecs of it, such as the desperate need to clarify the law relating to the horrible practice of badger digging and badger baiting, the need to close the loopholes in sections 28 and 29, which are widely acknowledged on both sides of the House and the mapping duties of the national park authorities, because it should be obvious that, in order to carry out the job of conservation of all aspects of landscape and wildlife in an area, a national park authority must have detailed information on the nature of the area under its protection, which is not provided by mapping just the areas of heath and moorland. All those are extremely welcome measures.
I want to concentrate on the particularly welcome provisions of clauses 4 and 6, which seek to place a duty on the Ministry of Agriculture and on the Forestry Commission, not just to have regard to the interests of conservation, but to further the interests of conservation. It is an extremely important push in the direction of conservation, which is much needed.
At the moment, the way in which the law is framed, and the way in which the Ministry of Agriculture all too often operates, is directed too much on the side of food production. Of course, as many hon. Members have said, there must be a sensible balance, but the balance at the moment is too far weighted on the side of food production against other considerations. Food production is not everything. Agricultural development is not everything. Other values have to be taken into account as well.
When we consider that we have lost about 20 per cent. of the wild moorland on Exmoor since the second world war because of the ploughing up of land for agricultural development, when we look at the way in which agricultural tracts are being bulldozed across the western side of the Cairngorm mountains, when we look at the great battle which was had, and the honourable role which was played, by the Secretary of State for the Environment over Halvergate marshes, when we look at the ploughing up of wild land which is still happening throughout 1274 Britain, we must be concerned at the way in which agricultural grants given by the Ministry are operating to encourage the process which is going on.
It is extremely important that we give the Ministry of Agriculture the duty to further the interests of conservation and set that duty alongside its duty to encourage the production of food for all of us. At the same time, I believe that that same duty needs to be placed on the shoulders of the Forestry Commission. If one looks at the way in which its grants operate, the tax incentives available for forestry production, its policies on the planting of broadleaved woodlands and the shape and siting of forest developments, and the way in which all too often the creation of forestry destroys the landscape rather than enhances it, as it can in the best circumstances, one sees that there is undeniably a need for the Forestry Commission also to have that duty to further conservation placed upon it.
The response by the Forestry Commission to some of the evidence which the Select Committee on the Environment received is instructive. I believe that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds rightly stated to the Committee thatin a variety of ways … the Commission has little regard for conservation.The commission replied thus to that allegation from the RSPB:This is not so. As has already been explained, the Commission gives considerable weight to the needs of conservation and"—this is the important point—is not inhibited by its remit in doing so.That is not enough. The fact that the commission is not inhibited from paying heed to conservation is nowhere near enough. What my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields wishes to do in the Bill, and what I wish to do in supporting him strongly, is to place a duty on the commission to further conservation. We want, not just to remove inhibitions, but to place upon the commission a positive duty to further the interests of conservation.
There have been considerable improvements in the way in which the Ministry and the Forestry Commission have operated over the past 10 or 15 years, but those improvements have not yet gone far enough. The Bill will do a lot to push them further in that direction. The Bill will also give the House the opportunity—it is important that the House seizes it—to make an unequivocal statement that we, as the House of Commons, believe that environmental concern and protection of our natural heritage and environment are of overwhelming importance, and wish to see that heritage and environment improved by the passing of the Bill.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) because we are both members of the Select Committee on the Environment, which recently inquired into and reported on the effectiveness and operation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I should like to join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on introducing the measure. The House knows of the interest and expertise of the hon. Gentleman in matters environmental. Once again, he has done the House a great 1275 service in introducing the Bill. I am proud to be the Conservative sponsor of his measure and to be able to say a few words in support of it.
I wish the hon. Gentleman's Bill greater success than mine had. One of your predecessors, Mr. Deputy Speaker, refused to allow me to propose the closure of the motion when my debate on Second Reading had been going a full 45 minutes. That scuppered my measure and my opportunity of greatness. My Bill was 10th in that Session's list of private Members' Bills. I thought that, numerically, that showed the prospects for my ministerial career, but I have been sadly disabused of that notion since then. It led one of our national papers to report on my private Member's Bill, which was concerned with the discouragement of felling trees, with the succinct headline, "Trees Bill axed".
I am a member of the Select Committee. It might be prudent to mention my completely non-financial interests as an honorary member of the Landscape Institute, president of the Arboricultural Association and president of the London Green Belt Council.
I wish to concentrate on clause 4 of this important Bill. It is appalling to read the statistics of the dramatically changing nature of our countryside in recent years. In the past 35 years, over half our lowland heaths have been lost, half our fenlands have been drained, one third of our ancient woodlands have been felled, one quarter of our upland heaths and grasslands have been destroyed and one quarter of our hedgerows—over 150,000 miles—have been uprooted.
Anyone who has at heart the interests of sensible conservation of our countryside must be profoundly worried about the changing nature of our landscape. Yesteryear, nothing was allowed to stand in the way of maximum home food production. That was right in those days, but we must accept that times have changed and we are members of the European Community which has food surpluses such as butter and beef mountains and milk lakes. Many of our fields are being suffocated by the profusion of oilseed rape and other cereals. The message from both sides of the House is that care of the countryside should have at least as much consideration as the production of food.
I am perturbed that the Ministry of Agriculture is not responsible for collecting land use statistics. That is left to the Department of the Environment. Therefore, it is necessary to have the closest co-ordination and cooperation between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.
I welcome the recent establishment of the environment co-ordination unit in the Ministry and I hope that coordination between the Departments will be at ministerial as well as official level. Two of the principal recommendations of the Select Committee on the Environment tried to spur the Ministry of Agriculture into taking more interest in the care and conservation of the countryside.
Clause 2 has been unanimously welcomed by every environment organisation, the Government and the National Farmers Union. I pay tribute to the farmers who have become much more environmentally conscious in recent years. I hope that that trend continues.
If there is any doubt about the precedent for clause 2, I remind the House that the provisions are along the lines 1276 of well-established town and country planning legislation which gives power to the Secretary of State to issue, instantly and provisionally, preservation orders on listed buildings and trees.
I recognise the emotion involved in the protection of badgers, which is covered by clause 1. I believe that the existing legislation is not working and is being abused. The World Wildlife Fund backs up that contention.
I am not a lawyer, but I do not believe that clause 1 involves a great breach of legal principles. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) spoke about the introduction of the concept of recklessness. When I intervened in his speech, he agreed with me that section 25 of the Firearms Act 1968 contains a similar mechanism, as does clause 1 of the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Bill which is going through the House. If it is a legal mechanism which should be used only as a last resort, I suggest that we have reached the last resort in our attempts to conserve the badger.
There is wide support for the Bill. The Council for the Protection of Rural England describes it as "an important step forward." The Nature Conservancy Councilsupport it, but it doesn't go far enough in one or two respects.The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds "warmly welcomes the Bill." The World Wildlife Fund describes its provisions asnecessary, bare minimum steps…all the clauses are entirely beneficial to the conservation of the British countryside.We have heard of the support, although anxieties have been expressed about the need for amendments to be made. We have also heard of the support of the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union. I am also told that the Government have drafted two of the clauses.
I ask the House to give the measure a Second Reading. If we do not, I believe that we shall deserve the opprobium of the vast majority of the nation. If amendments are necessary, it is a matter surely of dotting the i's and crossing the t's of the Bill in Committee.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) not only on winning a place in the ballot but on submitting the Bill for our consideration.
I enter this debate with some diffidence, since most hon. Members who have contributed to it have far more expert knowledge in these matters than I do. But I want to echo the remark of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that people who live in urban centres of our country care passionately about these matters. Like him, I have had many letters on the subject of badgers, probably from people who have never been fortunate enough to see one. They care passionately that they be protected from some of the revolting practices about which we have heard. I give a great welcome to clause 1 on that account.
My only fear is whether clause 1 goes far enough. Although the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) is not in his place at the moment, I have to say that I found some of his words a little ominous. He said that we had to get the language right when we legislated for the control of and killing of badgers. No one can take exception to that sentiment, but then he added the words, of which I took careful note, "as long as no other country sport is 1277 affected." The direct implication of that is that this practice of digging out and killing badgers or subsequently using them in badger baiting is a form of country sport. It is no sport of any kind. It is a revolting practice engaged in by some of the most unspeakable elements in our society.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept, as I do, that that was not the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and that the way that the hon. Gentleman has interpreted my hon. Friend's words was not what my hon. Friend wished to say or wanted the hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) to understand.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right, and I am happy to accept his interpretation of his hon. Friend's words. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but that is what the hon. Member for Dumfries said. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that this practice must be stopped, with all the powers and resources that the Government and the police can deploy.
Clause 3 relates to marine reserves. We do not yet have a marine reserve, and there is precious little sign of progress on our acquiring one. We are way behind many other countries in this respect. I understand the need for a balance between special interests and the need for conservation, but more than 60 other countries have already managed to strike that balance. It is quite wrong that we should be so far behind and falling further behind. Up to now, special interests appear to have had a veto. I welcome the reply given by the Under-Secretary of State on 9 January, when he said:I am concerned about the problems over making progress and am considering what more might be done." — [Official Report, 9 January 1985; Vol. 70, c. 476.]That was said in the context of marine nature reserves. I very much hope that the Minister will say a little more today about the progress that he hopes to make.
Like some of my hon. Friends, I criticise the Bill not for what is in it but for what is not in it. I quite understand the difficulties of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and the fact that he is anxious to pilot a Bill through the House that will encounter the minimum obstruction and controversy, but it is right to make it clear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said, we would wish to go much further than the Bill suggests. I should like to see an extension of planning control procedures to cover major agricultural operations. I know that, in paragraph 17, the Select Committee rejected that approach, but it seems nonsense that such a huge range of activities affecting the environment in which we live perhaps for all eternity should be exempt from public scrutiny and consent. That is quite wrong.
After all, if somebody puts up an offensive, ugly building in a city centre, it can be pulled down, but a lost marshland can never be replaced. It is gone for ever. Most farmers are responsible people, and the fanning community understands no doubt that it holds its land in trust for the rest of the community, that it is not some asset to be exploited at whim. But until we introduce some system of planning consent for agriculture, we shall never make universal the principle of democratic community control of the environment.
Paragraph 33 of the Select Committee's report concludes by saying: 1278The further measures we proposed would need a wider Bill than is currently acceptable and in the absence of Select Committee powers we expect the Government to introduce one in the next Session of Parliament".I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether this Bill is the end of the road for this Parliament, or whether he and his colleagues are prepared to consider introducing legislation going further down that road before the end of this Parliament.
I am still very concerned about the general attitude displayed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am quite prepared to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt, but I hope that he knows the impression that is created by his civil servants among responsible conservation groups. I have been given a selection of adjectives or epithets which come from conservation groups. They describe their impression of the Ministry's attitude. There are descriptions such as, "wholly unsympathetic to environmental issues", "devious", "hostile", "indifferent", "bored" and "ignorant". If I was a Minister and I knew that the civil servants in my Department were giving that impression to responsible conservation bodies, I should be very concerned.
The Government accept clause 4, which lays down the duty of Ministers of Agriculture to further conservation and protection of the countryside. That is extremely welcome. I trust that those Ministers will be energetic in drumming into the heads of their civil servants the fact that clause 4 must not become a dead letter and that the Department must henceforth deal with its new responsibilities for the protection of the countryside conscientiously, energetically and comprehensively.
It will not be easy to change entrenched attitudes. I am not making any political point. When I was at the Ministry of Defence and we were trying to do something about protecting the whale, we found equally entrenched attitudes then, under a Labour Government, and the Ministry of Agriculture was consistently and deviously obstructive in preventing anything being done in that regard.
If the Under-Secretary of State takes seriously his new responsibilities under clause 4—he has my every wish for success—he will make a far greater contribution to the cause of conservation than any other legislation, however beneficial, that can be passed by the House.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on introducing the Bill. It is a splendid and necessary attempt not only to stiffen the Government's resolve to enhance the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but to implement our constituents' desire to enhance the credibility of our conservation policy generally.
I endorse the point made by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) about the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the difficulty faced by hon. Members over the Ministry's attitude to conservation. To date, the Ministry's behaviour towards the salmon conservation programme has been nothing short of shameful. The gassing in the so-called badger control programmes in various parts of the country has been absolutely disgraceful and has threatened the badger's survival—to no good effect.
This week, in The Field, the author of one article stated: 1279The Ministry of Agriculture admit that their trapping procedures are so slack in badger 'control' areas where there is TB in cattle that they have 'lost' no fewer than 108 caged traps, worth £35 each. Perhaps digging is not the only source of supply.I hope that we shall pay more attention to that aspect as we consider the Bill further.
It has been said many times during the debate that no respectable person, and certainly no one who considers himself a sportman, can find badger baiting anything but utterly repugnant. There is no shadow of doubt that the hon. Member for South Shields has the support of the House for his proposal. We should find ways of tightening the definition of clause 1, and the hon. Member for South Shields is assured of my support for his efforts.
Other hon. Members have referred to the excellence of clause 2. It is high time such a measure was introduced, and I hope that there will now be an end to the rape of the sites which have been so appallingly handled.
I agree with the views expressed on clause 4. I accept the reservations of those who feel that one can go over the top in criticising the farming community. I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that there has been an extraordinary reshaping of the countryside for the worse. I share the hon. Gentleman's views on how one feels when travelling around the countryside and seeing that the places that one remembers from a long time ago are now totally different. That is certainly a change for the worse.
In referring to clause 5, I make a point that is not entirely connected with the specifics of the clause, but I believe that the House should pay attention to it. I refer to national parks' policy and access to the countryside. I agree that it would be desirable to map all areas within national parks. The trouble is that we have stored up some dreadful folly in our approach to access to the countryside.
It is interesting to note that at a symposium on international conservation a learned gentleman said thatman wanted reserves for his benefit and the benefit of animals. When these reserves are created he wishes to visit them, but when he has visited them long enough there is nothing left to conserve. If we do not refrain from being over permissive, then we shall lose many more species.The unhappy conclusion of that symposium was that more research was not the remedy, and that the immediate problem was the loss of breeding habitat for other human uses. The problem is socio-political and not biological. Although that is a little wide of the Bill, I am sure that the hon. Member for South Shields will agree that one of the major problems in the national parks is the way that people behave.
I have a letter from a friend of mine who has a property in a national park on the West Yorkshire moors. He refers to the countryside code, the first paragraph of which says:Enjoy the countryside. Respect its life and work.He had two beautiful memorials on his property. One has recently been stolen, and the other has been grossly vandalised. He said:Egg stealing has increased alarmingly, decimating stocks of merlins and raptores. Rustling has greatly increased. Poaching has increased on a scale that is unprecedented.The litter that is left on the national parks' famous walks and other places is a deplorable blot on the countryside. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can incorporate some further tightening up of such matters. I hope, too, that the Government will support the Bill. The 1280 House and the country will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initiative and courage in bringing forward the Bill.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
There is no doubt that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was a major step forward. It was the first comprehensive attempt to legislate specifically for the protection of wildlife habitats. The Act has been instrumental in stimulating the public into giving greater consideration to conservation.
Having lived with that Act for the past three years, we have found it wanting in certain respects. A number of loopholes have allowed unscrupulous persons to dig up badgers, shoot protected birds and either destroy sites of special scientific interest or hold the Nature Conservancy Council to ransom for large compensation payments for doing nothing. It must be right to make changes to give a holding period after the preliminary notification papers are sent to the landowner, during which time nothing may be done to destroy the scientific interest and that which is worthy of conservation.
I shall give one example of how the Bill may help in Oxfordshire. People there have been fighting for the safety of one of Oxfordshire's sites of special scientific interest in the present three-month loophole period at Lashford lane fen at Dry Sandford. That site of some 17 acres was owned by the Thames water authority, which divided it into two lots and put it up for sale.
The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire naturalists trust tendered for 15 acres at £1,000 per acre. Its tender was accepted, but the authority had divided the site so that lot one, of just two acres, included all the road frontage, and a property speculator tendered some £25,000 for it. That was accepted by the authority. At the same time, the potential buyer was advertising part of the lot as 12 one-seventh-of-an-acre plots with no planning permission, for £5,000 each. That is a return of some £60,000 on his £25,000 investment. That site of special scientific interest could be bought by 12 people. They could do nothing with it.
Fortunately, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security and others took that matter up with the Department of the Environment. They pointed out that the water authority had a statutory duty to further conservation and under that pressure the property speculator withdrew. We now await the water authority's decision on the fate of lot one. The tender made by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire naturalists trust still stands, but if the SSSI notification had been immediate, none of this need have happened.
I am sure that everyone who is interested in the welfare of the countryside will welcome the tightening up of the law on SSSIs. This change will protect areas of particular scientific interest, but one has also to have regard to the wider countryside. Good conservation will always need a system of consent by all those who have the trust of the land, and it should be emphasised that many farmers believe in the same objectives as good conservationists. Many farmers in north Oxfordshire are excellent conservationists. New hedges are being laid and over 2,000 new trees have been planted in the past four years in Oxfordshire alone. There is a climate of change in the farming world. Many farmers are keen to work with 1281 conservationists to help protect the countryside and our rural heritage. Conservation based on co-operation is the way forward.
The badger is the emblem of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire naturalists trust, of which I and many others are proud to be members. I recognise that the deplorable practice of badger baiting still exists and I, and I am sure every hon. Member, wish to see an end to such practices. I hope that it will be possible to tighten up the wording of the clause even further to ensure that we can help stamp out badger baiting. Above all, this Bill will help to stimulate consent, co-operation and conservation.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)
Mr. Deputy Speaker has made an appeal for brevity, so I shall keep my remarks as short as possible.
The House should wholeheartedly welcome if not the letter, the spirit of the Bill, particularly the clause that aims to protect badgers. In my county of Derbyshire, organised gangs of badger sett diggers are at work. The vice-chairman of the Derbyshire naturalists trust, Mr. John Varty, recently stated that setts were being dug out at the rate of one a week, and that that could be just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, I was rather surprised to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Fan). He said that in the adjoining county of Leicestershire, there has been no problem with badger baiting. He based his conclusion on a letter, which he read to the House, that he had received from the chief constable of Leicestershire. The letter said that in the past 12 months there had been only one court case in Leicestershire concerning badger baiting.
Therefore, my hon. Friend concluded that there was no problem. I am sorry that he is not in his place, because I point out, with the greatest respect, that he should have inquired how many instances there have been of complaints to the police, on which the police have taken no action. I thought that the letter from the chief constable smacked somewhat of complacency when it went on to say, if I heard my hon. Friend correctly, that police officers who did not know about the Badgers Act may have advised a civil action. It is a disgrace if such things are taking place.
The hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) referred to the recent case brought by the Derbyshire naturalists trust and correctly said that private citizens can, if they so wish, bring actions in the courts for the offence of badger baiting. However, he did not say that in that case the trust was only partly successful. The charge of digging for a badger was quashed, although the other charge of attempting to take a badger was upheld. More important for those who are concerned about badgers, the trust's costs were estimated to be a little less than £2,000. The judge in the case ordered the defendants to contribute £500 towards those costs. It is not on to expect private citizens who are concerned about this disgusting practice of badger baiting to dig into their own pockets to the tune of £1,500 if they wish to see justice done.
The police are perhaps reluctant to prosecute if they are concerned about the evidence, but there is a case for saying that the law is totally inadequate in this respect and that steps should be taken to tighten it up. Those who dig up these setts are not novices. They are well organised and 1282 ruthless people. These countryside muggers, if I may so describe them, very often get away with what they do. The House has a duty to take action to stop this practice.
A large number of badgers have been killed and tormented during the past 10 years. Quite apart from the badgers that are dug out of their setts by the people to whom I have referred, I understand that approximately 20,000 badgers have been killed at the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, although only a few of them were suffering from tuberculosis. Therefore, I hope that in future the Ministry will act in a more enlightened way. The badger needs to be protected. It would be a disgrace if the House failed to take action today.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on introducing the Bill. I do so on behalf of the half million people who live either in the Lake District or in the surrounding district, which includes a large part of my constituency. I have perhaps the most beautiful constituency in Britain. It includes a number of lakes—Bassenthwaite , Derwentwater, Thirlmere, Loweswater. The people who live in that area are grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill. Many newspaper columns in Cumbria have beem filled with correspondence relating to the efforts of my hon. Friend.
I wish to say a few words about what I believe to be one of the most significant clauses in the Bill—clause 4 which puts into context the whole of the environmental debate. It tries to establish a balance between the development of the environment, the pursuit of economic growth and conservation. In his article in last Sunday's edition of The Sunday Times Mr. David Bellamy misunderstood this approach. I should like to take this opportunity to correct what he said in his article. Clearly, he does not understand what is happening today in our political institutions.
The article is entitled "The Green Rustling" and was written by David Bellamy and Brendan Quayle. It says:Though we, too, have our green spokesmen, our political parties and the ranks of elected representatives have shown themselves less than sensitive to the environment.Mr. Bellamy is completely wrong. During the last two years, there has been a transformation in the attitude of the Conservative Government towards nuclear waste. A decision has been taken by British Nuclear Fuels, in conjunction with the Department of Energy, to spend £150 million upon reducing the discharges from the Sellafield plant into the Irish sea. That is a large sum of money. Controversy surrounds the spending of such large sums of money, but that money is to be spent upon the basis that on this occasion the environmental lobby has been proved to be absolutely right. It has maintained that money must be spent upon safeguarding the environment. For Mr. Bellamy to state that we are insensitive to these issues means that he does not understand what is happening and, furthermore, does not follow the debates in this country on green issues.
The fact is that the Government do not intend to resist the changes that we are seeking to make to the legislation relating to sites of special scientific interest. Three years ago, a major row took place in the House when the Government refused to accept that voluntary arrangements 1283 could not be relied upon. There has been a transformation in the Government's attitude. They accept that the voluntary system has not worked.
I believe that both the Government and Opposition parties accept that there are responsibilities over and above the use of public resources for industrial regeneration and development and that we must ensure that a proportion of those resources are devoted to securing the protection of the environment. It is most unfair for people who are well respected outside the House to use the columns of major newspapers to misrepresent the position in the House.
I do not say that what has been achieved so far is sufficient. We are at the beginning of a period of decades when vast public resources will be expended on improving the environment. For example, the Government have not yet given way on acid rain, but in 10 years they will not only have given way but have implemented major schemes to reduce acid rain as the European Commission suggests. We must not assume that because there is resistance today that is the final position. All these arguments are steadily being won and Ministers know it. At a dinner with the Norwegians the other day, the chap from the CEGB was embarrassed by questions about the CEGB's response on acid rain, but he knew in his heart that it would eventually be forced to give way and was merely waiting for the Government to budge or be compelled to budge.
My hon. Friend's Bill is just part of a major shift taking place in British politics. The politics of the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s and to some extent the 1970s pursued growth at almost any cost. That is now coming to an end and we are moving into a period in which people are far more committed to the environment and understand that whenever we spend money on the development of our economy or society we must ensure that adequate protection is provided for the areas that others will inherit and which we have a duty to preserve.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), as he never speaks to a party brief. He says what he believes, which is sometimes uncomfortable for the Government and no doubt sometimes uncomfortable for his own party. He reminds us, however, that some issues are broadly above partisan politics, and this is one of them. I am grateful for his comments about the action on Sellafield, about which we have had many discussions. I, too, felt that Mr. Bellamy's article was a little unfair, not just to the Government, but to others in the House. He might at least have been gracious enough to mention that the Department makes a considerable grant to the organisation with which he is associated. I doubt whether that would have been so 10 years ago. I was therefore grateful for the remarks of the hon. Member for Workington, who raised the standard of a very good debate even higher.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on his good luck, but also on the way in which he has set about making his reforms. He has been in close discussion with officials at the Department, to whom he paid a generous tribute. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) who started the ball rolling on the three-month loophole. Had we been able to 1284 get through the drafting complexities, which he acknowledged was not achieved in his Bill, we might have been able to act more quickly. The hon. Member for South Shields, however, will confirm that it has required a very complex process of drafting and redrafting, with his help and that of officials at the Department, to close the section 28 and section 29 loopholes.
It is always tempting in Friday debates, when everyone speaks with a little less partisanship, and perhaps with less reliance then normal on prepared briefs, to speak a little more like a Back-Bench Member. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whom I genuinely welcome to the debate, will forgive me if I make some remarks about his responsibilities.
I wish to follow the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor). During the 50 years in which my father has been a farmer, he has seen the cycles to which my hon. Friend referred. He remembers the time when the leader of my party, Mr. Chamberlain, said that it would be the midsummer of madness to support agriculture in Britain when there were food surpluses in the world. The Minister of Agriculture at that time was later a Speaker of the House, Mr. Speaker Morrison. British agriculture was consigned to dereliction and to bankruptcy, which was not good for conservation. It was certainly not good for the rural economy or for the British people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster made the good point that it is necessary to use the politics of rhetoric to move the great ship of state and old policy-making procedures in one direction, but we must remember that once the movement has started it can sometimes be carried too far. I must declare an interest here. As I said, my family is involved in farming, and I have discovered plain bewilderment in the farming communities. This is similar to what happened with the nuclear industry. Ten years ago farmers were public heroes—the industry was doing all that was asked of it, including increasing food production, it had massive bipartisan support, started by the Labour party's 1947 Act and supported by my party, and it was built into the foundation of the European Community—but then, all of a sudden, they were told that not only were they not the most successful producers, doing what was asked of them, but they were regarded almost as public enemies. That is not the way to treat people.
I hope that no hon. Member doubts my commitment to the protection of the environment, and I do not doubt the commitment of the hon. Member for South Shields. I say this because it is easier for me to say it than it would be for my hon. Friend the Minister. We must remember that farmers followed the leadership of the House and did what was asked of them; now they are told that they did the wrong thing. Times have changed, and we need a change of strategy, but we must also remember the stresses and strains that can be involved. If pressure groups were to say about other industries some of the things that are said about farmers, I am sure that there would be protests from the Opposition.
Recently, the European Community introduced a minor piece of Community legislation on the recycling of tin cans — not a bad idea, one may think. Not one, but two, former leaders of the Labour party, and not just the Welsh TUC, but the Welsh CBI, have told me that it will mean the destruction of the tinplate industry as we know it. That may be right, and we must take into account their views, 1285 because employment is vital, but let us remember that the farming industry must be shown what it is that we want. If we can show clearly what we want, from everything that we have learnt in the past, it will do it. No industry is better at doing that.
Having departed from my brief and trundled over the territory of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, may I now defend his Department? Those who do not wish to attack farmers usually vent their spleens by attacking my hon. Friend and other Ministers with responsibility for agriculture, which is not fair. For example, the hon. Member for South Shields, who paid tribute to the movement that has occurred, talked about the destruction that can be wrought by the misuse of capital grants. I mentioned that in my evidence to the Select Committee. I would be the first to say that since my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have been responsible for such matters, there has been a complete reorientation of the approach to capital grants.
The Ministers at the Ministry of Agriculture now talk of the conservation impact of grants as one of the principal criteria which they use in sorting out their grant regime. Within a very short space of time there has been a shift in policy from having grants available for the removal of hedgerows to grants for the planting of hedgerows. That is a symbol of the way in which things are changing very much for the better.
There have been many admirable speeches in the debate. I think I can say, without fear of being accused of flattery, that there has not been a bad speech in the debate.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
Will the Minister accept from me that at least one hon. Member welcomes the fact that a spokesman from the Department of the Environment is now trampling on the ground of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? It is a welcome initiative. Some of us have argued for a considerable time that there should be a greater degree of co-operation between the two Departments.
There seems to be a general recognition of the difficulties facing agriculture and that the Ministry is pursuing policies which are not always in the best interests of the environment. There seems also to be a general recognition that the Department of the Environment has shifted its attitude, particularly over the past two years, and is now genuinely anxious to pursue conservation measures, but there has been no sign of positive co-operation between the two Departments. There has not been a statement of Government policy to resolve the conflict between them. Will the Minister consider whether some new initiatives can be developed so that there can be a concerted approach to the problems, instead of the two Departments working separately?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My response is that only in the past week we have published the details of an interesting joint programme between my Department and the Ministry of Agriculture. We have seen the establishment of an exciting new scheme for the management of the Broads. It will be financed jointly by our two Departments and by the Countryside Commission and the Broads Authority. It is not only a symbol but an example of practical work on the ground, showing how the Departments work together. That exciting proposal came from a joint working group of the two Departments with the Countryside Commission.
1286 I was grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) for his remarks about the Broads. Indeed, I feel rather guilty in regard to the hon. Gentleman. When he was engaging in some routine Government bashing at Question Time recently, I let a touch of irony creep into my tribute to his expertise in these matters. We know that his expertise is real, because he has had a long involvement with the national parks movement.
It is often difficult for campaigning groups to notice when they are beginning to win their cause. As people who are more interested in the outcome than in the rhetoric, they should try to recognise when and where they are winning. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has a saying that all political careers end in failure, in the sense that if politicians achieve what they set out to achieve, no one has any further interest in them. There is some truth in that. We must not forget the progress that is being made in environmental matters. We must not put it under our belt as if it were nothing. A completely new approach to the issues has been put forward by the two Departments concerned and it is widely welcomed in the House.
The purpose of the Bill is to close a loophole; that is at the heart of it. I am able to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), who told me that he would be unable to be present for my reply to the debate because of an important engagement elsewhere. He doubted whether we had closed the section 29 loophole. The fact that I use the word "we" shows the amount of co-operation that there has been on the Bill. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for South Shields has closed the section 28 loophole. I think that he has also closed the section 29 loophole.
By extending the period to four months, if the NCC were to feel at the end of three months that it needed a nature conservation order to produce the effect of a stop power, it could get into action and start to prepare for one. It could do that easily in under a month. It usually takes two or three weeks, although it has been done more quickly on some occasions. Therefore, that is not a serious worry. It does not worry the NCC. In a note that it circulated before the Bill it accepted thatthere are advantages in building the additional month's protection into the framework of section 28 rather introducing a completely new stop power exercise separately by the NCC.Therefore, it supports that part of the Bill. I think that that is all right. We must look at the matter closely in Committee, assuming that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today.
Nor need my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green worry about the danger of manipulation. He seemed to think that if he was clever enough a farmer could manipulate the reformed procedures in such a way that the NCC would have only a month in which to act. Under the proposals of the hon. Member for South Shields, there is a minimum of four months' protection following notice of a potentially damaging operation. Therefore, I think that the Bill as drafted is all right. We must go over it carefully in Committee, but the hon. Gentleman is on the right lines and we certainly welcome what he has done in that area.
We also welcome the aim of clause 1. The digging and baiting of badgers is utterly repulsive and the Government are anxious that those who attempt to do so should be caught and punished. The present law, as has been said, 1287 has not been wholly ineffective. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) gave the 1983 figures. There were 57 prosecutions and 50 convictions, and that is a high rate. There were prosecutions in 1984, and again the figures were given. The Government accept that the law could be and should be improved, and we must consider whether clause 1 has been correctly drafted. We shall look at that in Committee. We certainly welcome the principle of taking further steps to stamp out this repulsive activity and we shall give all the help that we can to the hon. Member for South Shields in Committee to see that we achieve what we want.
The worries of those who have the interests of legitimate field sports at heart have been put forward, and the boundaries must be carefully drawn in this matter. I have mentioned the acceptance of clause 2 and the blocking of the loopholes. Of course, there has been damage. In one or two cases we have been able to use the nature conservation order procedure to limit damage in the past few months, but that is not really what the procedure was meant for. It would be better to close the loophole, and we welcome the proposals of the hon. Member for South Shields.
It has not been referred to in the debate, but it is worth putting on record that the NCC has powers available to it to deal with any of the doubts which were expressed at some stages by farmers about conservation aspects. The fact that that has not been raised in the debate is evidence of the diplomatic skills of the hon. Member for South Shields, who has successfully quieted any of the fears that might have been expressed by the NFU. However, it might be worth while to put on record the situation.
It is possible for a farmer to undertake work which is then found to be a potentially damaging operation when the SSSI is notified. He would, under the clause, have to cease such work while discussion took place with the NCC. Should the NCC decide that the operation should not proceed, the farmer might have incurred some costs. In such a case the NCC would offer compensation, provided there was satisfactory proof that financial loss was incurred under the terms of the management agreement. That is in accordance with the existing financial guidelines. Therefore, the powers exist to deal with that potential unfairness. If anybody is worried about that, I think that his worries are groundless.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
There is also an argument, which I hope the Minister and the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) accept, that the NCC is under resourced in terms of the number of people, particularly in the regions, to do the policing work. Where there is not an equally valid argument about costs, there is an argument for greater resources so that the operation can be carried out as intended.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I know that it is the role of Opposition parties always to act like Oliver Twist and ask for more, but there can be few programmes in this financial year which have had more privileged treatment than that of the NCC, which has had an additional £7 million. A member of the council is present, and I believe I am right in saying that more money would not be effectively useable by the NCC within the year for the deployment of trained people. Therefore, we have taken steps to put our money where our mouth is and make the 1288 resources available. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in the present climate that is not the easiest of tricks to pull. Therefore, perhaps it is fair to say that we have not done too badly in relation to the NCC and its resources in the past year.
I was particularly interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for South Shields in introducing his proposals for marine nature reserves. Many hon. Members referred to the unsatisfactory outcome so far of the search for marine nature reserves. In my evidence to the Select Committee I freely accepted that the original intention of the Act had not yet come about, and we must look at it carefully. We must ask ourselves whether that is a result of inherent weaknesses in the Act, or whether there are other reasons—
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The hon. Gentleman is waiting with impatience. I hope that I can encourage him. "When will we get them?" is the question that we must ask ourselves. Is the delay in getting them a result of weaknesses in the Act, or is there some other reason?
We accept that progress has been disappointing. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green who is the Chairman of the Select Committee, said that there were three choices — I think that three were discussed by the Select Committee. The hon. Member for South Shields picked one of them. The hon. Gentleman is proposing to extend quite considerably the area of compulsion in the Act. What he said was echoed by his sponsors and by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). He referred to the consensus behind the Bill. It is very good that the hon. Gentleman has achieved such consensus on the principal agricutural aspects of the Bill. However, there is no consensus on the part of the Bill concerning marine nature reserves. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has had discussions with the fisheries interests. We must discuss the matter in Committee, but unless the hon. Gentleman can tell us that we have the agreement of the fisheries interests, we must recognise that in that respect we are advancing in an area in which there is not the same consensus. Therefore, we need to consider the matter carefully.
I have had long discussions with the NCC about the marine nature reserve problem. Initially, when I arrived in my Department, the line that the NCC was taking was that its principal duty and the direction of its resources was towards the SSSI renotification programme. That was its first priority. It wanted a little more time to see whether it was possible to negotiate, through the undoubtedly complex procedures in the Act, for marine nature reserves. The NCC is beginning to get impatient. We are all beginning to get impatient. I am not quite convinced of this, but we have to judge whether we should go straight into an extension of compulsion at this stage. We must look at the evidence and discuss the differing views in Committee. We must recognise that on this matter there are sharply differing views, whereas there are not about some other parts of the Bill; above all, about sections 28 and 29 of the Act.
Perhaps this answers the cry of "How long, O Lord, how long?" I am pleased to tell the House that there have been some encouraging developments in the last few days. At Skomer, off south Wales, constructive and helpful discusions have taken place with the sea fisheries 1289 committee and local fishermen. I understand that there is broad agreement in principle on the NCC's objectives and that the one major point of difference is to be resolved by controlled scientific tests to be carried out in the spring. Against that background, I am worried that a move towards further compulsion might be counter-productive.
If we are on the verge of getting the first agreement, it would be a pity to say that the Act had failed at the very moment when it might be about to produce a success. I am not committing myself. When we were looking at the Broads last year and I was cross-examined by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), I learnt not to make promises which cannot be fulfilled. I do not say that the Skomer deal is sewn up, but we are making progress, and it seems that some of the fears about impossibility may be exaggerated. Let us wait a while.
The hon. Member for South Shields is changing the nature of marine reserves and is trying to create a sort of marine SSSI. Powerful arguments were put against such a move in the debates on the 1981 legislation. It was pointed out that difficult problems would be involved.
I have asked my officials to work urgently with the Ministry of Agriculture, the NCC and other interested parties to find a way of preserving the voluntary basis that is the major success of the 1981 Act. Indeed, the Select Committee has endorsed that voluntary approach as the major success of the Act, and the Government welcome that endorsement. Select Committees often like to get major reforming programmes under their belt, and it is a great tribute to those who did so much work on the 1981 Act that their approach should have been endorsed by a Select Committee three years later. I hope that the same will be true of marine nature reserves.
The Bill would impose a duty on the Ministry of Agriculture to further conservation where that was consistent with the Ministry's other duties. I hope that I and my colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture have shown that we understand whence that demand derives. There have been worries about the Ministry's commitment to the environment, but I hope that what I have said has persuaded hon. Members that things have changed.
The Bill could set a dangerous precedent. I am not sure why there should be more of a duty on the Ministry of Agriculture to pay attention to conservation than there is on my Department to pay attention to the legitimate needs of agriculture and industry. We should do that in all our planning and other aspects.
We write into some Acts a duty on Departments to take various actions. Section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968 states:In the exercise of their functions relating to land under any enactment every Minister, government department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.We shall doubtless return to that issue in Committee if the Bill is given a Second Reading, but I am sceptical about expressing the anxieties and fears of the House in the form of statutory duties on Departments. It would be a good parlour game to invent the statutory duties that should be laid on each Department. I imagine that the Treasury would have a long list of duties laid upon it. I hope that, in considering the budget of my Department, the Treasury will have the interests of conservation more at heart than the interests of other Departments against which I might be competing for resources. I think that there is a certain 1290 danger here in allowing a perfectly understandable wish for a declaration to carry us into some logical absurdity in the way that we look at Government Departments.
In another clause, the Bill proposes to extend the scope of the maps which national park authorities are required to prepare under section 43 of the 1981 Act to include areas in addition to moor and heath. This has been welcomed by a number of hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) pointed out the difficulties that face those in national parks who are involved in this difficult business of trying to balance access and conservation all the time. It is a hard task, but not an impossible one, as the success of the national parks movement shows. It needs work, care, intelligence and resources, but it is not an impossible task.
I am a great supporter of the national park authorities. There is clearly a growing body of opinion in favour of broadening the range of section 43 in some way. However, we have to recognise that many people who live and work in the areas of national parks are concerned about the proposals and about that use to which the maps would be put and how their livelihoods and freedom of action would be affected. The proposal will need to be considered further in Committee, and I am sure that it will be.
At first sight the hon. Gentleman's proposal to extend the duty to further conservation to the Forestry Commission seems to land us in fewer problems than extending duties round the central Departments of Whitehall. We have such a duty laid on the water authorities, as several hon. Members have pointed out. In a functional Department, I can see the logical argument more clearly for saying that in carrying out this defined function we are required to pay particular attention to another aspect of policy, whereas for central Government Departments it is the collective responsibility of Ministers together to see that the policy is right.
We ought to give the Forestry Commission due credit for the initiatives that it has taken. In the last few years there has been a great deal more sensitivity to the concerns. I have seen in the constituency of the hon. Member for Workington how the commission tries to take care, for example, to contour new plantations and not to have those terrible straight lines of trees marching across the hills, which many of us regret and feel desecrate the countryside. There has been progress, and my impression is that the commission's awareness of the needs of conservation is much sharper than some of its critics suggest, and is improving. I am sure that there is room for further improvement, and I am well aware of the cases where there has been conflict between conservation and forestry in the past year or two. There are still cases where that conflict can be quite sharp. Although we have to put some doubts on the record, we can return to that matter in Committee and see what the balance of the arguments is.
§ Mr. Soames
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the very serious damage that has been done by afforestation, especially in the north, we should try to adopt the policy that, where conservation and forestry clash, the interests of conservation should always overwhelm those of forestry?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I hope that in many cases the spirit of compromise and consensus which has been called upon today can show ways forward where it does not have to 1291 be total victory for one side or the other. There have been some conservation gains from afforestation. It is not all loss. As usual, there is a balance to be struck.
I have not referred to all the speeches in the debate. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) spoke of the new dangers that derive from our technological capacity to do more than in the past, and that is true. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), who is one of our leading lights on this subject, encapsulated a lot of the present-day understanding of the need for balance between good fanning and good conservation. I pay tribute to him for that.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I realise the difficulty of the hon. Gentleman in trying to deal with all the matters raised in the debate, but may I invite him to answer my question? Does he consider that the Bill is the end of the road for conservation in this Parliament, or does he contemplate his Department introducing any further legislation in the life of the present Parliament?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
As a senior Minister in a former Government, the right hon. Gentleman will doubtless remember the procedures whereby legislative time is shared out. My Department certainly does not rule out going back to the powers that be and asking for further amendments in due course. I certainly do not rule that out.
I apologise to those whom I have not mentioned. The Government broadly welcome the Bill, despite their reservations, which I have already put on record, particularly about the duty on the Minister of Agriculture and about the marine nature reserves. I think that a record number of amendments for any Bill in the history of the House were tabled to the original Bill, and that shows that there is a need for a certain self-discipline, which, indeed, the hon. Member for South Shields has shown. Some of my hon. Friends may be thinking of tabling amendments on wider matters than are dealt with in the Bill, but, in the interests of enacting the principal clauses which we all want, perhaps they will consider refraining this time. However, they will of course make their own decisions about that.
The Government broadly welcome the Bill. We certainly welcome the closing of the loopholes. There are some problems with some of the other clauses, but such matters can be discussed in Committee in a constructive spirit.
§ 2 pm
§ Dr. David Clark
With the leave of the House, I shall respond briefly to some of the points raised. I very much enjoyed all the contributions, and I was encouraged that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House supported almost every clause. I know that the Minister was present for almost all the debate, and he will have heard most of his hon. Friends supporting every clause.
I should stress that this is a minimum Bill. The Government's job has been done for them. All the 1292 interested bodies have put in hundreds of man hours to obtain a consensus Bill. Therefore, I was a little disappointed that the Minister should say that he would accept one provision involving the closure of the sites of special scientific interest, that the Government would look favourably on the badger clause and that they might possibly consider the Forestry Commission provisions, although there could be difficulties. But I cannot see any difficulties there. Under section 48 of the original Act, the water authorities were empowered to undertake exactly the same responsibilities, so there is no case for saying that the Forestry Commission should not be included.
I turn to the marine nature reserves. The World Wildlife Fund was responsible for drawing up the provision, and the NCC gave its clearance and approval. As I have already said twice, the provision has the full support of the Nature Conservancy Council.
The Minister and I perhaps disagree most about clause 4. Incidentally, I echo the Minister's sentiments, and I hope that hon. Members will not try to wreck the Bill. For example, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro) suggested that he might want to table an amendment to change the birds in various schedules. But under section 22 of the 1981 Act there is no need for that, because the Secretary of State can simply lay an order under that Act, and birds and other animals can be deleted or added to the schedules. That is the way to proceed, and it would not be in order to include such an amendment in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Dumfries will not pursue that point.
I was surprised to hear the Minister's statement about agriculture. He was talking about agricultural technology and techniques, and said that they were the engine of destruction for the countryside. Those words graphically describe the situation. As the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) clearly said, there is a general feeling throughout the country that agriculture is concerned not only with producing food in a very tightly knit country but with preserving the environment. Farmers realise that. The mushrooming of the wildlife advisory groups has proved the point. The NFU has supported the clause. The Country Landowners Association has specifically said that it welcomes the measure.
I ask the Under-Secretary of State to listen to hon. Members and the voices of people outside and to nudge his colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food — I know that the right hon. Gentleman has listened to the debate and I am aware of his interest in it—into taking this legislation on board. It will buy a lot of good will and will help the farming community and the cause of conservation.
I thank hon. Members for listening to the debate and for contributing to it. I hope that they are prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).