§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, in reverting to the Bill, it is a pleasant duty to be able to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, wholeheartedly for his exposition of it. We particularly look forward today to two maiden speeches. I suppose it must be rare that in this House we get such a good bag as a brace of Yorkshire Earls, though possibly on this occasion it might be inaccurate, as well as improper, to refer to them as the right and the left.
A couple of days ago, the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said to me, looking at the list of speakers for today with some gloom, that a lot of noble Lords would rise to their feet, say that they were not going to make Committee points and then proceed to make them. I have decided to take up the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and to leave all those matters of the detailed parts and the clauses of the Bill for my noble friends who will be speaking later and also for Committee stage, There can seldom have been a Bill about which there has been so much discussion beforehand, and where noble Lords who are interested have been overwhelmed by so many briefs—briefs which are all welcome and 1007 I think will be used by various noble Lords when we come to the Committee stage. Just because I do not at this stage go into details it does not mean that colleagues on these Benches will be backward in putting forward amendments. But I think it is worth looking at the basic arguments which we shall be bearing in mind during the next few months.
The basic questions today are really not dividing the parties. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made considerable play with what they on those Benches would be doing and saying. But although it is the Opposition's duty to oppose, I suspect that the arguments in this House on this Bill will not be the normal ones of Conservative, Socialist and Liberal, to which we are so accustomed.
Much more important will be the divide which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, also mentioned between farmers and conservationists and which he quite rightly said is probably not so great as we are sometimes led to believe. But we are going to have this debate and discussion between the farmers and the conservationists, both of them working within the constraints of the Government's economy which, much as many of us may regret it in certain fields, we have to take as a fact. That will be the main discussion, with a few blood sports enthusiasts baying round the outside.
It should not be beyond the powers of this House, including as it does many who have a foot in both camps, many of whom would call themselves both conservationists and farmers, to reconcile these interests, in so far as they can genuinely be reconciled. The objectives of both are honourable. The agriculturalists do not want unnecessarily to be bound by bureaucrats; nor do they wish to lose money; nor do they wish to farm, as they would regard it, uneconomically. These are views towards which everybody in this House must be sympathetic.
But the conservationists want to preserve wildlife and certain aspects of country life, and it is a wide spectrum that they cover. Most people will agree with one main point that the conservationists put forward: that where there are rural phenomena which have existed for centuries and whose continued existence is under very real threat, they must be preserved both for now and for posterity. This applies, whether it is butterflies, heathland, or anything else.
From time to time these threats to the countryside become great, as they are now. The last occasion was the time of the enclosures. Very few noble Lords will have first-hand memory of that particular occasion, but we have our witnesses. Noble Lords may know John Clare's poem Remembrances, written just after the enclosures:By Langley Bush I roam, but the bush hath left its hill,On Cowper Green I stray, tis a desert strange and chill,And the spreading Lea Close oak, ere decay had penned its will,To the axe of the spoiler and self-interest fell a prey,And Crossberry Way and old Round Oak's narrow laneWith its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see again,Enclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain,It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hillAnd hung the moles for traitors—though the brook is running stillIt runs a sicker brook, cold and chill.The people who made the enclosures were honourable men, too. No doubt many of them had the very best 1008 motives, and in some ways the enclosures were a necessary part of the development of the English countryside. But too much ruin was wrought in the process and we must see that the same does not happen at this new moment of danger. And it is a moment of danger, of the same order as that one.
Farmers, however, must live and food must be produced. I should be the last to want an unprosperous farming community. I worked on farms all my youth, during the war and after. I read agriculture at university. It was, noble Lords will remember, a time when memories of the 'thirties and of the decay of agriculture in that sad time were still ripe in the minds of men.
I know the evils of neglect. No Liberal is likely ever to forget that food is needed in the world, although at this moment the kind of food we produce is probably not of very great significance in terms of world supplies. But we do need to reconcile the interests of agriculture and the environment. It is a very great shame when dealing with this Bill that we cannot at the same time cope with the revision of our agricultural policy in order to reassure and reward the farmers. It is an even greater shame that countryside matters are split between MAFF and the Department of the Environment. It is a great pity that we do not have, as so many European countries have, a department of rural affairs.
Despite these handicaps, we must try to reconcile our differing interests, always putting first those things which cannot be reinstated if they go. We must safeguard those things whose loss is irrevocable. There are many at stake. Let us at the same time say to the Government, "We understand your problems. We respect your determination to stick to policies, even those which we on these Benches believe to be wrong. We congratulate you on this Bill, the first Countryside Bill to be brought forward by a Conservative Government. But if the need is shown by fair argument in this House, which can contribute so many experts, for more money to save the irreplaceable, or to recompense the farmer in order to save the irreplaceable, that money must be found".
No true Conservative would have it said of him that he sacrificed any part of the heritage of the countryside to solve an economic crisis which, however deep and however abiding, is transient compared with the history of rural Britain and the profound age and continuity of our natural scene. Let it not be said that over the next few weeks we in this House made that sacrifice.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, may I begin by asking to be forgiven. I have an early evening appointment which might prevent my returning in time for the winding up, though in view of the number of speakers it is possible that I shall return in time. However, if matters turn out otherwise, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me. I will try to take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in his two Committee points. It has the extra advantage that it enables one to be brief, which is doubly important with a list of speakers as long as that which we have this afternoon.
1009 Generally, I want to welcome the Bill. One must always have the utmost sympathy for people who are in the difficulty of trying to reconcile opposing points of view. Although the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made the very worthwhile point that many people in this area wear many hats—farmers are also naturalists, and people do not always find it difficult to see each other's point of view—the fact remains that conservation societies, which exist for one purpose, often find it difficult to take account of the point of view of others. In fact, it is not what they are there for. Therefore one's sympathy for the Government in their attempt to reconcile these conflicting approaches is genuine.
Certainly I, who speak as the chairman of the National Trust, have great sympathy for them because we are one of the largest public landowners in the country. We are always trying to reconcile opposing pressures from naturalists, archaeologists, our own tenant farmers and the public who want access, whenever they can get it. It is only by a policy of balanced management that one can hope to achieve some success in reconciling these perfectly legitimate but often contrary pressures.
The National Trust owns and manages about half a million acres of land for public benefit—and not only for the benefit of our own members, who now number about a million, but for the benefit of everybody. That is quite apart from the 200 or so open houses and the villages and the windmills and the landmarks and all the other cottages that go to make up our general estate. Formed in 1895, we have been landowners for a long time, but what I think is relevant to today's debate is that it is really only since the Second World War that we have come to appreciate increasingly, as have all enlightened landowners, the immense complexity of the treasures that we own.
Of course that applies as much indoors as out; as much to textiles, furniture and pictures, on which specialised knowledge has grown immensely in the last generation as therefore has the cost of applying that knowledge to conserve them for future generations to enjoy. Knowledge of all the things that happen in the countryside has also grown immensely. Because of increased public interest many more people study them and far greater treasures are being seen, alongside the knowledge that has developed about their existence and their practice.
This poses us the very difficult problem of finding the money to do all the things which we now know we ought to do. As usual, cash is at the bottom of our problems, as it is at the bottom of most of the problems which the Bill seeks to resolve. So it is against this background of finding a policy of balanced management—by which I mean managing our land selectively for the particular needs of each different area with which we are concerned, having discovered how important it is and that we can only advance and achieve any real success through such a policy—that I look at this Bill. The fact is of course that legislative protection can only play a negative role and these policies of balanced management are expensive and the Bill does not provide very much hope that it will be possible to provide greater resources to back the kind of management agreements which I am glad to see the Bill envisages.
At present we in the National Trust are prevented by 1010 lack of funds from taking many of the conservation measures that we and the Nature Conservancy Council know to be necessary. Past experience shows that the NCC itself has been greatly curtailed in its ability to help owners by means of grants and loans under existing legislation, so I am rather dismayed to read in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill that additional expenditure under this heading is not expected to be significant.
Likewise, as regards Clause 31, which empowers planning authorities to conclude management agreements for conserving and enhancing natural beauty for public enjoyment, which of course are two of our major objectives in the Trust, we know from experience that, to be effective, this provision must be supported by adequate finance.
So it costs money to implement management agreements and it costs money not only because it can necessitate compensation to owners or rent abatement to farmers but because grants or loans may be needed to carry out actual work and because, in our experience, management schemes take a great deal of time and trouble to draw up and management time to monitor. I recognise fully that until our economy is in better shape little can be afforded in the way of finance, but I should be more encouraged if in the Bill the Government showed more recognition of the basic truth that in this crowded island of ours management of the countryside, where we need to achieve the required balance of interests, cannot be achieved without whatever agencies are set up being properly funded.
In regard to the first Part of the Bill, I should like to make one general point. The Bill certainly makes genuine progress towards the preservation of birds, animals and plants, but there is the problem of policing and I should like to make the suggestion that the County Naturalists' Trusts should be given greater standing than they now have. I believe they are very useful bodies and those whose job it is going to be to police these provisions would be very much helped by these trusts if the trusts could be regarded as part of the system. I am reminded of the system under which the Territorial Army was regarded by the War Office as part of our defence system and territorial regiments had adjutants who were regular soldiers. If the Nature Conservancy Council had funds to pay the salaries of the secretaries of these naturalists' trusts—in many cases the secretary's is a full-time job and generally the trusts are too poor to be able to pay their own—I believe the trusts could be very much more effective and they could do a great deal to help in the policing of the sort of arrangements which the Bill quite rightly envisages.
Turning to Part II of the Bill, I want to say only that I found what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, had to say about the phrase "super areas" echoed strongly in my mind. It alarmed me when I read that comment from the Minister in the paper because that is exactly what we do not want, to create super areas and downgrade the rest. The sites of special scientific interest, of which I think there are 2,000 biological sites, have not been designated idly. Of course they cannot all be given the same degree of protection but they are graded as historic buildings are graded and they ought to be afforded the degree of protection appropriate to their grade. Certainly no agricultural 1011 or forestry change of practice ought to take place on any SSSI without very careful consideration. I am just afraid that by concentrating on super areas we shall automatically downgrade the rest. As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said, nothing is really done in this Bill for the ordinary countryside, and I think we have to regard our countryside as a whole.
That is all I want to say about the Bill. In general I welcome it. It does not go as far in every respect as I should like but I hope that we shall be able to make some changes in Committee. I think it is a genuine advance and an attempt to strike a balance and, in short, I welcome it with what the late Mr. Ivor Novello called "modified rapture".
§ 4.39 p.m.
The Earl of Halifax
My Lords, I feel very honoured and privileged to intervene in this important debate with a maiden speech. In the short time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have learned that none of your Lordships takes part in any debate without abundant qualifications to do so. The qualification I dare to claim is perhaps the most sincere of all, a deep devotion to the countryside and to that part of Yorkshire in which I have always lived. Since the reorganisation of local government I have, strictly speaking, ceased to be a Yorkshireman and become a Humbersider—but I try to forget that if I possibly can! Therefore I fully support what I believe to be the essence of this Bill, which is the preservation of the countryside and the provision of facilities for public enjoyment of it. But if this is misinterpreted and misrepresented it could lead to a confrontation between the urban and farming communities and, more serious, between the farmers and the environmentalists.
The majority of those who pose as defenders of our rural heritage seem to point an accusing finger at our hard pressed and hardworking farmers. Miss Short, in her book Theft of the Countryside, presents a one-sided picture of a countryside revaged by farmers, a destructive minority hell bent on transforming the most beautiful countryside in the world into a featureless factory farm. The consumer and the environmentalist lobbies are both attacking the farmer, the one for the huge cost of food and the other for destroying our hedges, the weeds and pests of our crops. My Lords, while we may deplore what some regard as the rape of the countrside for profit, we have to accept that agriculture is a business, that the agricultural community, farmers, farmworkers, manufacturers and suppliers of all sorts of services and goods, is dependent on its economic success. Living as we do on an island, and still dependent on imports for half our food, we must surely realise that the British farmer is the hub of the economy. We have therefore to look for a pattern of rural development which accommodates the aims of this Bill within the needs of the agricultural community.
The countryside bears the stamp of man almost as much as nature. In particular it owes its characteristic features to the fact that it has been farmed. It is for this reason that neither the farmer nor the forester can be regarded simply as members of an industry or on the same footing as those in other industries. In addition to their function of providing food and 1012 timber from the land, farmers and foresters are unconsciously the nation's landscape gardeners, a privilege they share with the landowners. My Lords, I am convinced that the beauty of the countryside is enhanced and in no way impaired with a thriving farming industry.
Enormous changes have occurred over the past few decades in the pattern of the countryside through the farmers' need for bigger fields, including heavy loss of hedges and hedgerow trees. However, we cannot simply urge a policy which seeks to prevent such changes, for it would be self-defeating. Trees in our time will die and if they are hedgerow trees they will not be replaced. Our landscape one hundred years ago was mainly one of small fields divided by hedgerows; farms were smaller both in area and in the size of their buildings; villages were the hub of an agriculturally dependent community and not a dormitory for the more affluent urban workers. While we may regret the loss of such a state of affairs from a scenic point of view, it has gone for good.
The Bill is as much concerned with the preservation of our flora and fauna as with the conservation of the countryside. The principal reason for this concern must surely be the loss of habitat. Unless we can secure for our wild animals and flowers satisfactory habitats, measures for their protection may be in vain. One has only to think back to the unimproved meadow and the wealth of wild flowers and herbs which it supported to understand the need. They can no longer be fitted in with modern farming, but they must be fitted in somewhere.
I have argued that if modern farming in the largely arable areas, with its powerful machinery, requires large fields for economic operation, then this must be accepted. It is a change which is dictated by necessity. As such, it is at one with the loss of woodland which followed agricultural developments in the Middle Ages or the ploughing up of uncultivated land during the Napoleonic Wars. But we must seek to encourage measures to prevent an agricultural desert. I see this as the encouragement of woodlands or shelter belts more widely spaced than the hedges for which they will be a substitute. This will have an effect of providing more habitats for our wildlife and so help to prevent future losses among our species. Such shelter belts would provide a new but not unattractive replacement for some of the familiar hedges we have lost or are in process of losing. I should therefore like to see incorporated in this Bill, in addition to the negative proposals which seek to prevent things from happening, positive proposals which will preserve to some extent our rural heritage, albeit in a different form.
I think it is necessary to put this problem of public enjoyment of the countryside into its proper context. The 1949 Act sought to secure reasonable public access to land for the purpose of recreation. This was usually achieved by defining as public rights of way footpaths shown on Ordnance Survey maps. At the time these maps were produced there was probably little or no public demand for access to the countryside, and there was certainly no feeling that consents were needed. When Victorian factory workers sought rest and recreation they went to the seaside, and new towns grew up to accommodate them. Parallel facilities in 1013 the countryside would, of course, be self-defeating; but we may be approaching something of the same scale of demand and this has to be recognised. We who live in the country are anxious that others should enjoy it, but it is essential that the arrangements for them to do so should be acceptable to reasonable opinion in the rural areas. Any solution imposed on country people would inevitably lead to the confrontation of town against country to which I have referred earlier.
My Lords, I have no miracle recipe for preserving the countryside, which is the envy of the world, or indeed for making sensible arrangements for all who want to enjoy it. But I am confident that long after the last dregs of our newly found oil reserves have been exhausted the richness and beauty of our land will remain. But it will remain a joy for our descendants only if all of us, town dwellers, farmers, landowners and all countrymen, both love it and respect it. It is very precious, and if we treat it without respect we could destroy it for ever.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, it is always a privilege to be the speaker after a maiden speaker. On this occasion it is a very special one, because we have listened to a very special speech from somebody who clearly not only knows the countryside and has it close to his heart but has thought deeply about it, and has expressed himself in a way which I know has commended itself to all your Lordships. My only regret at following so closely upon the noble Earl is that he has in fact made my speech for me; he has said all I intended to say, and he has said it very much more cogently and much more briefly. But, my Lords, I shall not be deterred. I hope he will find that what I have to say at least reinforces and underlines his views. I certainly hope that we shall frequently hear him on this and other subjects.
I think that at the outset I should declare not one interest but three. My first interest is that of a countryman, of somebody born and brought up in the countryside who simply enjoys the country: enjoys walking in it; enjoys smelling it; enjoys getting his boots dirty from its mud; enjoys looking in a very amateurish way at the things which grow there and, in my own particular part of the world, enjoys something which is a part of the countryside, but which clearly does not come into the ambit of the Bill, and that is the sky, the clouds and the feeling of space and freedom. That is my first interest.
My second interest, allied to the first, is that of somebody who for many years has been connected with a large number of organisations concerned with the preservation and improvement of our environment and, in particular, with my own local Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely Naturalists' Trust which has done, as have so many others, admirable work in this respect.
My third interest, which perhaps I need scarcely mention to your Lordships now, is that of a farmer, and it is primarily as a farmer that I shall speak this afternoon. Other speakers have already told us about the changes that have been and that are taking place in the countryside. I do not think that that can be over-emphasised. The countryside which most of us enjoy today is a countryside which was created by reason of economic forces over the last 200 years. 1014 Before the great enclosures, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, reminded us, our countryside was very different indeed. There were many people, including John Clare, whom he so aptly quoted, who bemoaned the passing of the countryside that they loved.
Closer to home in my own case, the fens of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely are today a wonderful habitat for all sorts of species and many efforts are made—and successful efforts—to preserve certain areas of them because of the fauna and flora which live there and which live in few other places. But before Vermuyden came along in the 17th century there was nothing of that sort. There were other types of animals and other types of vegetation. Had certain conservationists been as vocal then as they are today, and had they got their way, we would not have those fenlands and wetlands which we now cherish. It is all part of a dynamic process brought about by economic forces because it is worthwhile draining land, worthwhile enclosing land, worthwhile ploughing up land and worthwhile removing hedges. All that is part of the dynamic process which created the dynamic countryside.
We have no right to say that this is enough, that today, December 1980, is the occasion when the countryside is perfect and must not be changed. We must encourage the change and live with the change. We must realise that certain types of fauna will disappear—just as the wolves and many of the snakes have disappeared from the countryside without being very much regretted—and others will come and take their place. The balance will alter, but for all that it does not mean to say that we can have unbridled economic exploitation. It must be exploited on economic grounds, but with restraint, with understanding and with love.
We have the conservationist lobby—and the noble Earl quite rightly drew our attention to this matter this afternoon—and we have the environmentalist lobby, many of whom are doing admirable work and all of whom are inspired by the best possible motives. But some of them, I am sorry to say, do a disservice to the cause that they wish to promote. An article in last week's Sunday Times, already referred to by one noble Lord, speaks of "no hiding place for Britain's wildlife". That is an alarmist piece of journalism with half truths and some full truths, but giving a very misleading impression. I shall not go into it in enormous detail because it would take far too long. But there are some facts about which I think it is worth speaking and I shall confine myself solely to the removal of hedgerows—a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, mentioned.
Personally I do not like hedges—aesthetically I do not like them. I would much rather see wide open spaces and maybe that is because I was brought up in an area that was reclaimed from heathland about 130 years ago and, on my farm, without removing a single hedge, I have one field of 400 acres and one field of 300 acres. To my mind it is far more lovely countryside than the little four and five acre fields of the West Country where one cannot see over the hedges and one cannot see the countryside at all. There are very few people who walk slowly along those roads looking at the wild flowers growing on the banks. Most drive 1015 rapidly past and would be happier—at least their passengers would be happier, though I hope not the drivers—if their eyes could wander and see the countryside instead of endless rows of hedges.
Be that as it may, let us look at some of the facts about hedges—economic facts and wildlife facts. I was sent the other day a publication from the University of Cambridge Department of Land Economy entitled Farm Modernisation and the Countryside, written by Dr. Ford Sturrock and Mr. John Cathie. I strongly recommend it to your Lordships. It contains certain figures concerning the size of fields which are worth quoting at length to your Lordships. It states that in a two hectare field (five acres) only 37 per cent. of a tractorman's time is spent in cultivating, the remaining 63 per cent. is spent in turning, cultivating headlands, changing fields and contingencies. In a 10 hectare field (25 acres), which is not an enormous field, it states that the effective time rises from 37 per cent. to 59 per cent., and in a 40 hectare field to 71 per cent. It inevitably makes a very considerable difference to the cost of production if one is going to get that much increase in the effective time of the man who is driving the tractor and of the tractor itself.
It goes on to state that an increase from 10 hectares to 20 hectares (25 to 50 acres) increases the work rate by up to 24 per cent. So, there are very real economic advantages in increasing the size of fields and in removing hedges.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, surely that depends on the type of soil? I knew someone who removed all his hedges in Norfolk. A great gale blew and he lost all his land. It depends on the type of soil. If one has very light soil and a 400 or 500 acre field it can be a very dangerous process.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, I do not want to enter into a detailed technical argument with the noble Viscount at this stage and in this place, but I should be happy to do so elsewhere. In fact, that argument is dealt with in the publication, which the noble Viscount will doubtless read, and I hope that he will be convinced that there is very little, if any, danger of that sort of thing happening other than in the fen country of Eastern England where there are no hedges. And in any case, hedges do precious little good, but shelter belts are of enormous importance.
Let us see what problems arise with regard to wildlife if we remove hedges. Here again there is some very interesting information in a paper published in 1970 by Mr. Hooper. Bird nests were counted on three farms which the author believed to be closely comparable, except that Farm No. 1 had fewer hedges than Farms Nos. 2 and 3. To compare Farms Nos. 1 and 3, they are both 200-acre farms. Farm No. I had 1.8 miles of hedge on the whole farm and Farm No. 3 had double that, 3.6 miles of hedge. Yet, curiously enough, if you counted the nests per 1,000 yards of hedge, you found that Farm No. 1 had 20.5 nests per 1,000 yards and Farm No. 3 had 11.9 nests. In other words, the farm which had half the distance of hedge had virtually double the density of nests. The number of birds nesting there was identical.
I do not put that forward to your Lordships as 1016 scientific proof that by removing hedges you do not in any way damage bird life. I am simply suggesting to your Lordships that we need to look far more carefully at the generally-held thesis, that by removing a hedge here and and a hedge there we are inevitably damaging the wildlife, and in particular the bird life on any particular farm. I think that that is something which could well warrant further research.
I shall move on, briefly, to comment on access to the countryside. I believe very strongly that farmers and landowners must adjust themselves to changing circumstances, to the need and the desire, not only of townsmen, but of the people who live in the villages themselves but who are, in essence, urban people at heart, working in the towns and spending most of their life in the towns, to have access to the countryside.
They have their motor cars and their motorways, which enable them to leave the urban centres and travel to the heart of the country. When they get there they want to be able to picnic; they want to be able to walk; they want to be able to play games with their children, and they want to be able simply to sit and enjoy life, to enjoy the sounds and the smells of nature. Farmers have an enormous privilege in that those are things that they have every day of their lives and we, as farmers, cannot hug it to ourselves and say that nobody else must go there.
There must be more access to the countryside, more footpaths, more bridle paths, more picnic places and more caravan sites. All those must develop as time goes on, but they must be developed in such a way that the potential conflict between the urban and nonagricultural users of those amenities and the farmer whose livelihood depends on them is, in fact, avoided.
In my own case, instead of erecting signs saying "Private property—keep out" or "Trespassers will be prosecuted", we have put up signs saying "Walkers and riders are welcome, but please do not bring your cars and please stick to the paths". On the whole, that works very well, but I am afraid that we still suffer from a certain number of mainly young men who bring their motor cycles along and use the land as a testing ground for them, and then skid round on what they think is am empty field—they may not even think about it at all—but which, in fact, contains a planted crop. We suffer even more mainly from young ladies on their ponies who do not realise that the path is a narrow one and that they must stick to it; hoof marks go all over the place, and if you speak to them they say: "I am very sorry; I did not know this was a crop. I thought it was just grass", or something of that kind. There is a need for a great deal more understanding and education by the environmentalists, the hikers and all those people who are concerned with the countryside, towards teach those who do not live on the land—as many of us here do—what is the right form of behaviour.
The final point I would make is the one which the noble Lord. Lord Gibson, also raised—namely, the question of cost. Inevitably, all these things cost money. The countryside of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly with its beautiful trees and its lovely plantings of Capability Brown onwards, all cost money. It was paid for, in the main, by rich landowners who had plenty of money to spare and who were growing the trees for posterity, mainly for their own families but also for the enjoyment of others.
1017 Today, circumstances have changed. There are a few—but very few—landowners still with sufficient confidence in the future, still with sufficient altruistic imagination and still with sufficient money to do that sort of thing. To some extent farmers will do it, especially if they have adequate profit margins, because they enjoy it. But the point that we must all accept is that this sort of embellishment of the countryside—the planting of new shelter belts, the planting of new small woodlands, the planting up of the corner of fields, and so on—are expensive operations and are being carried out, not for the enjoyment of a single landowner, not for the preservation of game for one or two shooting tenants or shooting owners, but for the enjoyment of tens of millions of people today and in the future.
I believe that it is a public responsibility to ensure that, by some means or another, this type of embellishment continues and is made possible. Although I share other noble Lords' welcome for this Bill, I should like to see a more positive approach taken particularly in this matter, so that the generations ahead will be able to look back and say, "The Countryside Bill of 1980–81 is what we have to thank for the countryside that we are enjoying today", rather than, "What a missed opportuity that was".
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Middleton
My Lords, I, too, have special reasons for expressing my pleasure in welcoming the "debut" of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and in congratulating him on a first-rate speech. As a small boy in Yorkshire, I held his grandfather in what amounted to veneration. There was this great man—ex-Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary, about to carry out the vital task of Ambassador in wartime Washington—who had the marvellous gift of talking to humble people with the same courtesy and on the same intellectual level as if he was speaking to his colleagues on the affairs of state. He was just as happy discussing the behaviour of Mussolini as the probable line of a fox. In that connection, I do not think that he would have appreciated the hedgeless countryside advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Walston.
This made a deep impression on a schoolboy. I also held his father in great admiration and affection and, like many of your Lordships, I shared in the widespread pleasure occasioned by the Halifax family victory when Shirley Heights won the 1978 Derby. I look forward keenly to the maiden speech of another fellow-Yorkshireman, the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and like most of those who have the great privilege of owning land in the English countryside, I am an ardent conservationist and at the same time a farmer and forester. I provide and maintain habitats for wildlife, and I am a food producer using modern farming methods. I have served on planning authorities, one of which had two national parks in its area, and also on bodies concerned with the needs of industry. I have sites of special scientific interest and public rights of way within my farmland, and I run beef cattle with their bulls on land where new footpaths and bridleways are being created. Therefore, I have a personal interest in most of the provisions of this Bill.
1018 I am well aware of the multiplicity of pressures upon rural land, and I am glad that these pressures were acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Our total land area in relation to our population is small. Only 40 per cent. of that land is capable of being cultivated, and from that proportion of the total area 3 per cent. of our population has to provide food for the other 97 per cent., while the supply of agricultural land is being diminished each year.
Land must be made available for development of every kind, for improving communications and for the winning of minerals. On top of this, as we have heard this afternoon, the recreational needs of the urban population and the pressure to conserve wildlife grow more urgent every year, and all of us want somehow, and at the same time, to maintain the incomparable beauty of the countryside. A balance has to be found to reconcile all these pressures in the best interests of the nation, and any Government which attempt to legislate to strike such a balance have my profound sympathy as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Gibson.
The need for balance was stated in the Countryside Act 1968 where we have these two well-thumbed sections, Sections 11 and 37. Section 11 says:every Minister, Government department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside".Section 37 says that every Minister and the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council and local authorities shall havedue regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of the rural areas".These two sections are no help whatever when trying to determine just where the balance should be struck. They serve as a reminder of the difficulties inherent in making good land use.
I am sure that the Government have gone to immense trouble in drafting this new countryside Bill to take fully into account the kinds of pressure and conflicts to which I have referred. I therefore welcome it both for what it aims to achieve and for the ways in which it seeks to fulfil these objectives. I have a great deal of sympathy with the objectives of the many pressure organisations that form the conservationist lobby, and I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, had to say earlier.
Recently many of the conservation arguments and the agricultural arguments have been aired in the correspondence columns of The Times. Sadly, some of these letters show some lack of understanding of the natural world and the problems of food and timber production, and it is quite apparent that there are wide differences of opinion about how best to regulate land use in the national interest. This, I think, is not so very surprising. I am therefore equally certain that many of the provisions of this Bill will come under attack in its progress through Parliament.
There are those who say that conservation of the landscape is too important to be in the hands of farmers, and that planners should take charge. I disagree with them. Anyone who has seen what planners have done to some of our towns must feel alarm at the prospect of letting them loose on the countryside. Moreover, the whole aim of Government nowadays in the interests of the national economy is to speed up 1019 the planning process where it applies and not to extend it to new areas, and there could be no better evidence than Circular 22/80 recently issued by the DOE on Policy and Practice in Development Control.
I am quite sure that the best way of achieving conservation is through sensitive management policies, voluntarily and willingly pursued by landowners and farmers, and not through coercive restrictions. All this, according to my reading of the Bill, is well recognised by the Government. Such recognition finds expression particularly in the moorland conservation clause, Clause 33, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, told us, provides a reserve power for Ministers of Agriculture and the Environment to prevent heather moorland being converted to agricultural use unless 12 months' notice is given to the National Park Authority. The intention is that this period should give the opportunity for voluntary arrangements to be agreed between farmers and the relevant authorities.
This clause provides proof of the Government's confidence in the kind of voluntary restraint and co-operation to which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has referred and which is already evident in the case of Exmoor between farmers and landowners on the one hand and the National Park Authority on the other. The Government's judgment that this kind of procedure will give the best results, and the Government's reluctance to take on compulsory powers will, I believe, despite Lord Melchett's fears, be fully justified.
The other principle which appears to be accepted is that if the community wishes to restrict an owner's rights in the interests of conservation, then the community should be prepared to accept some financial responsibility. There is a widespread misconception that conservation is free. It is not, and this point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, just now. It means extra costs of production, and it means lost opportunities for increasing the national wealth. It may still be very desirable, but in the end it is the general public who will foot the bill, and they ought to know its size before they decide whether they want to pay.
If the community demands that certain areas remain agriculturally unproductive either to preserve habitats or for landscape reasons, then the community should contribute to the cost. This seems to be recognised in Clause 30, which provides for grants and loans to be made by the NCC; in Clause 31, which provides for payments to be made for the purposes of management agreements; and in Clause 34, where planning authorities are empowered to give grants and loans for conservation and for the better enjoyment by the public of facilities in national parks.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, told us, Clause 26, which empowers the Secretary of State to make orders designating areas of special scientific interest, forbids an owner or occupier from carrying out any operations which might destroy that which is intended to be preserved; though other people, and other bodies or agencies of possible destruction, do not appear to be covered by this prohibition. I, in passing, wonder how much of Lord Melchett's alarming catalogue of damage was attributable to these other agencies and how much to owners and occupiers.
In the department's information paper it is implied 1020 that these Clause 26 orders should be made only in the limited number of cases where the situation is critical. One is led, therefore, to compare this procedure for what I might call extra special sites with the present procedure for designating ordinary special sites of which there are, if Lord Melchett is right, about 4,000. These were created merely on a declaration by the NCC that the site was of scientific importance, and all that was required under the 1949 Act procedure was notification of the local planning authority. Owners did not have to be informed, and in some cases were left quite unaware of the designation of part of their land. Neither does an owner have any right to question the declaration or to challenge its scientific validity.
On the other hand, there was no statutory obligation on an owner or occupier not to do things that might damage the site; but there was mechanism in the 1968 Act for voluntary agreements. So in some respects that procedure was unsatisfactory, and I can understand the reason for introducing special procedure for extra special sites. But what could happen is that the Clause 26 system of designation by order, which is far more restrictive and which on contravention carries a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment, will become the normal method of designation. We must, I think, delve a little further into this in Committee.
I might add in passing that the mind boggles at the idea of the number of inmates in our overcrowded prisons being swollen by the arrival of malefactors who have contravened Clause 26(2). Meanwhile, perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Avon, could tell us when he replies how many extra special sites he has in mind, and I should be grateful too if he would tell us whether he agrees that the 1949 designation procedure for ordinary SSSIs could be improved. Does he also agree that better financial backing should be given to management agreements for the old categories of SSSIs as well as the new?
I have no doubt that Part III of the Bill, dealing with public rights of way, will attract a good deal of attention both here and in another place. I merely say that broadly I welcome Clause 39, which sets up a continuous review procedure for keeping up to date definitive maps. Clause 46, which prohibits the keeping of bulls on land which is crossed by a footpath or bridleway, was strongly criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I thoroughly approve of the general prohibition. There is a fear, however, which I can well understand but which I believe to be wholly unjustified, that not to extend the ban to herds of beef cows will create a danger for footpath users.
Some provision must be made for beef herds if production is not to be seriously curtailed. It is a fact, long accepted in the countryside where such matters are understood, that suckler herds, with or without the beef bulls that run with them, do not present a danger to persons crossing their grazing ground on foot. It may be a pity that the idea of temporary diversions that was, I believe, accepted by the Ramblers' Association and by the owners' and farmers' organisations was thought to be impracticable by the local authorities. However, what is now proposed is fully in line with the law in Scotland, which seems to be working satisfactorily.
Inevitably there will be matters of detail to discuss 1021 in Committee—I have a few in mind—but I hope the Government will strongly resist pressure to introduce any further legal controls into the management of the countryside. The Bill as drafted seems to strike an acceptable balance between regulation and non-interference in countryside affairs. I conclude by reminding your Lordships of some words used by the Secretary of State for the Environment at a conference last month,The fact is that unless farming is in good shape, the countryside cannot be".
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, in adhering to the traditions of this House, I crave your Lordships' indulgence as, like my noble friend Lord Halifax, this is the first time I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships. I had been advised that when making my maiden speech it should really be on a subject that is not particularly close to my heart (what some people regard as a secondary subject) but I am afraid that I must admit that I am perhaps breaking one of the basic rules of the House, for this Bill is extremely close to my heart due to the fact that I live, work and own land in one of England's national parks—dare I say the most beautiful national park?—the Yorkshire Dales. 1 must add that I commiserate with my noble friend Lord Halifax for having been voluntarily moved out of Yorkshire; he has my every sympathy.
I had thought originally, before I had a chance to consider the Bill more closely, that Part I confined itself to a large extent to birds and mammals of the United Kingdom. It was therefore with considerable amazement and a certain degree of disillusionment in my powers of observation throughout the English countryside that when I first opened the Bill I read about such creatures as the desert rat kangaroo, bridlenail-tailed wallaby and hairy-eared dwarf lemur. However, on closer examination I soon became aware that these splendid creatures were not likely to be the subject of any SSSIs, unless of course they were found, in which case I presume they would be.
Noble Lords, as they have expressed, are very much aware that during the last 30 years or so there have been far-reaching changes in our countryside and great demands made on it. There has obviously been a demand for increased food production, more timber and a growing need to facilitate the desires of an ever-increasing leisure-conscious population. This has naturally resulted in legislation and negotiation to try to cope with the inevitable diversification of interests that have developed, with the aim of trying to maintain a sensible balance. Nowhere is the balance more acute than in the national parks and the uplands of Great Britain.
Much debate and a certain amount of action has taken place with regard to the introduction of small industries into rural areas for the purpose of trying to introduce new blood, and of course to try to restrict the demise of the local population. This is indeed a most important consideration and must be pursued wherever possible; but equally important, and in many ways more so, is the necessity to give maximum support and encouragement to those involved in the established industries, for once they go they will never be replaced.
I sometimes wonder whether people tend to forget about the main upland industries, primarily farming, 1022 which have held these areas together for so long, and how important it is both now and in the future not to pressurise these people to too great an extent but to give them every encouragement and the recognition they deserve. In my area alone the number of farms has halved in the last 30 years, and as older generations die out the prospect of continuity becomes increasingly remote.
There is another activity besides which over the years has played a most significant role in the preservation and management of the moorland environment. Further to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I am one of the "baying Lords on the outside", I am referring of course to field sports and, in particular, to shooting, for I must say, without any hesitation whatever, that the contribution of this sport to the enhancement and benefit of wildlife in general has been of the greatest significance, and if for any reason it should be run down in the future I am quite convinced that the effects will become glaringly obvious. In addition, it should not be forgotten that shooting in general, and in particular in the uplands, has become a major foreign currency earner.
However, those of us involved in the activities of the uplands must accept that these accepted and traditional land-use methods have to operate within a framework that can incorporate the needs and desires of others, and thus we must learn to co-operate more fully with the various authorities that have become prevalent in trying to satisfy all these many and varying demands. I feel so far, however, that due largely to sensible give and take on all sides, most upland areas have managed to maintain a sensible and reasonable balance. It is therefore within this basic need, to give every possible encouragement to those who live and work in the countryside within a sensible degree of management and control, that I consider the Bill.
I am well aware of the considerable discussions, representations and debate that have taken place during the build-up of the Bill. Although I am unhappy to a certain degree about aspects of the Bill, in particular in Part I, I believe that the Government should be congratulated on attaining a reasonable compromise.
I am also aware that the basic aims of Part I of the Bill are to bring this country into line with Europe. Whereas I quite understand and appreciate the need for discussions between member countries, I find it a little odd perhaps that, bearing in mind the traditional understanding and management that exists in this country, and our level of wildlife, which far exceeds that of most European countries, we should take directives from Europe. I believe that they should be taking directives from us. The fact that the Game Conservancy Council has on many occasions been to Europe to advise countries on how to get back their wildlife is, I believe, indicative of the state of wildlife in this country.
Having considered Part I of the Bill with Members of your Lordships' House and others, it seems to me that there is a variation regarding the interpretation of some of the clauses, and therefore there is certainly scope for improvement. In particular I find difficult to comprehend the treatment of Schedule 2 mammals in Clause 2; and the system of licensing in Clause 15 concerns me very greatly indeed. How general will the licences be and how easily will they be obtainable? 1023 Furthermore, why is there no right of appeal if a request is rejected?
Whereas the Bill allows for the protection of livestock from mammals, no provision seems to exist to protect either livestock or agriculture from birds. In my opinion a licence should be available to protect these categories from any bird. I would also include in this regard Schedule 1 birds. In addition, I am somewhat surprised that the greater black backed gull has been taken off the protected list, since I am sure that landowners are fully aware of the extensive damage that this creature can cause. The stock dove interests me as well, because in fact its numbers have increased five times since 1966. It seems rather strange to me that it should suddenly find itself on a protected list. I believe that certain provisions in Clause 2 will be bound to cause at least a certain amount of feeling in the agricultural world.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, I also wish to refer in particular to Clauses 26 and 27 and the restrictions regarding the SSSI system. Whereas I heartily agree with some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I am concerned that the restictions may be carried too far. My own experience of dealing with these matters suggests that individual members of the Nature Conservancy Council are thoughtful and practical people who are prepared both to listen and to respond to suggestions. However, no doubt many of your Lordships are aware of the case of the Berwyn Mountains, in Wales, where an area of 53,000 acres has been named as a SSSI. That would seem rather extreme. It is bound to upset and dismay the agricultural fraternity and generate suspicion and mistrust. Therefore I sincerely hope that it is the intention of the Secretary of State to introduce the new designated areas only as a last resort and to make decisions on size—and this is perhaps an important point—which compare favourably with what is being protected. I am glad to see that Schedule 10 makes provision for an appeal against such an order.
I believe that the introduction of Clauses 30, 31, and 34, enabling the various authorities to enter into management agreements with owners, and to make grants, payments and loans for the purpose of enhancing the natural beauty of the countryside, is a very important and significant step forward. I heartily go along with all aspects of those particular clauses.
It is important for everyone to realise that conservation is a costly operation, and it is only right that in these instances it should be recognised accordingly. It is also right and proper that those fortunate enough to live in the national parks in this country, in the areas of outstanding natural beauty, should show particular respect and courtesy for the environment in which they live. But it must not be forgotten that more often than not they are subjected to pressures from outside forces, additional and stringent planning control, and the knowledge that they are constantly under surveillance. Their confidence, and indeed the confidence of all rural inhabitants, should not be undermined. I am sure that with the exception of clauses in Part I, and bearing in mind my concern about the possible misuse of certain clauses in Part II, the Bill will provide the framework in which further co-operation and understanding in country matters can develop.
§ 5.36 p.m.
My Lords, we have this afternoon listened to two very notable maiden speeches. It was the privilege of my noble friend Lord Walston to speak in praise of the first maiden speech, that of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, and it is my privilege, and my great pleasure, immediately to follow the noble Earl, Lord Peel. The noble Earl brings to your Lordships' House the benefit of professional training at an agricultural college. He also brings the knowledge and experience of his own professional activity on the land. He bears a historic name. He chose to speak on a subject of which obviously he has very great knowledge, and he has spoken with tact in an area which, in my small experience, is not void of discord. He has spoken with balance. But he has also displayed great courage in speaking with deep conviction about interests which he himself enjoys and which he proposes to defend. We have listened to two notable speeches, and I am sure that your Lordships join me in hoping that we hear the noble Earl, Lord Peel, speak on this and other subjects many times in your Lordships' House.
I am well aware that this is not an appropriate occasion on which to enter into a full discussion of the whole area of which the Bill is but a part. I understand that the Bill purports to do no more than to amend and update existing legislation. But since, at a conference to which the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, referred just now, the Secretary of State said that there would be no review next year of the policy and administration regarding national parks, a review for which some people had hoped, I feel that as a newcomer to the convervation lobby—I hasten to say an active, though relatively non-militant, newcomer—I should venture to make a few preliminary general remarks and to raise a few questions before turning to specific matters in the Bill.
I declare a non-financial interest as President of the Council for National Parks, and, having that commitment, I shall not be speaking in a totally balanced way. I shall not be speaking without a certain conviction and bias on one side of the arguments that arise and that are bound to arise. The debate would be the poorer if we all attempted to achieve the same degree of balance, and perhaps it should be said that where there are differences—differences of purpose, interest and method, even differences of emphasis—in political terms it cannot be denied that the farming lobby, the landowning lobby, wields formidable political clout.
My Lords, what appears to me (coming to this subject afresh today) to be lacking, as was apparently the case when Lord Sandford reported to the then Labour Government in 1973, is clear evidence of the present Government's commitment to the original concept of the national parks as an entity, embracing all the environmental interests which the national park can and does contain, not only the scenic and recreational ones but, of course, also the archaeological and geological ones, and the interests of the naturalists, too. What appears to me to be lacking is evidence of a strategy with priorities for giving effect to that commitment, a strategy which ought to be common to, and ought to provide firm guidance for, all departments of state, all public bodies and local authorities with differing interests in the areas involved in the national parks; a strategy which would help to ensure that 1025 planning within the national parks could be harmonised.
I shall be grateful to know, when the Minister comes to reply at the end of the debate, what is the policy of this Government towards the national parks? In 1952 Mr. Harold Macmillan, who was then Minister responsible for planning had this to say:In those areas designated as national parks, amenity and access are to be given an overriding position".He went on to say:While proper regard must be paid to industrial and material needs, in the national parks the position is reversed and amenity considerations have priority".That was an unequivocal statement of policy and a commitment to it. Will the Minister confirm that this is still the policy of this Government; and, if so, is it not opportune, with the passage of this Bill, that the Government should reiterate their commitment and that they should give expression to it by ensuring that all departments of state and all public and local authorities are made aware of it afresh?
In a consultation document which was one of the trailers to this legislation, the Government said in regard to the moorland:The Government regard protection of the characteristic moorland and heath as a matter of national concern";and the Minister, Lord Bellwin, had other words to the same effect in his speech just now. I should like to ask this question. If that is the standpoint of the Government in regard to that aspect of national parks, the moorland, how can it be right for one department of state—to wit, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—to encourage farmers by means of powerful incentives, capital grants, to reclaim and develop for minor agricultural gains vital areas of moorland within a national park whose principal feature is moorland, while in contrast and, indeed, in contradiction by compensatory grants another department of state—to wit, the Department of the Environment—is trying to dissuade farmers from proceeding to reclaim, to plough or otherwise to develop, but with no power to prevent them? It seems to me (coming afresh, admittedly, to this subject) that a degree of ambivalence has crept in, diminishing and obscuring that unequivocal declaration of 30 years ago. I am the more puzzled, looking at this legislation, by the apparent failure in it to relate the related subjects, which are separately dealt with in the Bill. I think we are entitled to clarification on this point, because it seems to me essential background to considering the particular clauses of the Bill itself.
Having said that, I will limit myself to those clauses, Clauses 31 and 33, which deal with management agreements in the national parks. I am, of course, entirely with the Government in preferring—in fact, in preferring very strongly—agreement by persuasion (or, rather, dissuasion) in order to conserve moorland and heath. It is my understanding that in the case of most national parks the prcoedures laid down in the 1968 Act have worked reasonably well; and it seems likely that an extension of the period for notification of intention to develop moorland, whether by ploughing or in other ways, and of the time to pursue the discussion by negotiation, from six to twelve months should be helpful to the national park authorities and to the landowners and farmers.
1026 However, my Lords, there is an important weakness at that point in the Bill, although I accept that it may not be capable of remedy in legislation. This Bill says nothing about the duration of such agreements save that they should be—and I quote from Clause 31(1)—during a specified term or without limitation".A short-term agreement or a "break" clause after, say, three years in a 20-year agreement gives, in either case, no security for a moorland area. On the contrary, it holds out a prospect of continuing uncertainty, of "Stop-Go", and that is hardly the climate in which an atmosphere of harmony can be fostered in negotiations concerning a national park.
But the main objection to that part of this Bill derives from the fact that there are exceptional circumstances in respect of two areas, Exmoor and the North Yorkshire moors, whose very characteristics are essentially moorland and heath, where conversion to farmland, simply or mainly by virtue of management agreements in which an element of compromise comes in, have resulted in a shrinkage of the moorland to critically low levels. In these circumstances I believe that the reserve powers that featured in the previous Government's Countryside Bill to prevent agricultural development are essential. It is interesting to note that, in relation to Exmoor, the national park committee and the local conservation society, the Exmoor Society, which do not always agree, are at one in feeling that that power is necessary.
On Exmoor, as we have heard from Lord Melchett, 12,000 acres have been lost since 1949; and we have heard from Lord Bellwin of the 2,000 acres, or thereabouts, which have been saved since 1977. What Lord Bellwin did not say is what has been lost in terms of acreage since 1977. It may be only a matter of hundreds of acres, but in a situation where the remaining moorland has become so critically small those hundreds of acres mean a great deal. If one excludes the exceptional case of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Park, Exmoor is our smallest national park; and I foresee it as the logical and inexorable result of this gradual process of erosion of moorland on Exmoor, by increasing pressures and incentives to reclaim it with modern machinery, that within perhaps less than 25 years there will not be enough continuous expanse of moorland on Exmoor to justify its continuing designation as a national park. That would be a tragedy, not only for the scenery, for the recreational interests, but, of course, for that wider spectrum which was intended to be implicit in the designation of a national park—the naturalists' interests, the archaeological interests and the geological interests, too.
For this reason I support those who, like Lord Porchester and Lord Sandford, have examined the problems thoroughly in the context of the original concept of national parks and have concluded that there really is no alternative but to have statutory powers as a back-up to be used as a last resort if absolutely necessary, whether by making a conservation order, as proposed by Lord Porchester, or a compulsory purchase order, as proposed by Lord Sandford, of course with adequate compensation to the owners from the public purse—and here I naturally agree with what Lord Middleton had to say.
1027 I see the objections to the very principle of compulsion. I understand the drawbacks to each of the models which have been proposed. But I firmly believe that there must be such a reserve power and I hope to join with others in putting down amendments during the later stages of this Bill. I am not sure at this stage whether the reserve powers should be made generally available for all national parks or particularly for Exmoor and the North Yorkshire moors where the moorland has become critically small and is in danger of becoming positively fragmented. But I hope that this question, too, can be resolved in Committee.
In conclusion, I venture to echo what has been said so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and no less eloquently by other noble Lords and by many others in and outside this House at various times but which bears saying again. What was perceived by the Government of the day in 1949 as being of overriding importance to the nation in terms of our inherited landscape and archaeological sites, in terms of its habitat for wildlife and its recreational amenities, has now become vitally important to the life, to the health and to the ethos of this country as the 20th century draws to its close. Advances in farming technology, higher standards of education and higher standards of living and the means for travel by far more people, in particular, the vastly greater numbers of private cars now available—all this, allied to and reinforced by the pressures and the social problems in our huge urban areas, has made it even more necessary to provide the amenities of tranquillity, of unspoilt and beautiful landscape, of wild country and the challenges which wild country affords.
There is little enough of it left now. By reducing it still further, even in one area, adds to the pressures in other national parks, thus reducing the value of the whole concept. It seems to me to be an inescapable fact that, national parks being priceless assets, they must be safeguarded before it is too late.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, as one of the very few noble Lords who have made two maiden speeches in this Chamber, may I congratulate both my noble friends on two outstanding maiden speeches. They were a treat to listen to; they were very well-informed in content and skilfully presented. I am sure that all noble Lords enjoyed them enormously. The conservation movement greatly welcomes the Government's initiative in introducing this Bill which I think is a good one and which I hope will be an excellent one by the time it has been through both Houses. I must apologise, incidentally, for the fact, for the first time, that I shall not be able to stay throughout the debate, for inescapable reasons.
I am very much the amateur where nature conservation is concerned, although I have rubbed shoulders with professionals in many different fields. I am a member of the National Conservancy Council and I was president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and closely connected with the SPNC as well; but I speak for myself, although, naturally, I reflect the views of some of my friends. This Bill is also a timely Bill, being introduced nine months after the launching of the World Conservation Strategy which 1028 was so strongly endorsed by the Secretary of State when he said that that conservation and wise use of natural resources are essential for mankind's survival. I should like to congratulate the Government on the widespread consultation there has been over a period of 18 months. It was a model of consultation for other Government departments, some of which are not nearly so good. I do not think that anybody in the National Farmers' Union, the CLA, the NCC, the Countryside Commission or the voluntary bodies would differ from what I have said.
How well the NFU and the CLA put what we are trying to achieve today in a pamphlet three years ago, from which I quote one sentence. They said:With care and foresight, it is possible to increase production and the attractiveness of the farm, as well as its ability to support native Nora and fauna".If we, all of us, bear this in mind, throughout our debates, we shall do very well indeed; for that in fact is what this Bill is all about. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, put it equally well and even more briefly when he said that farmers are Nature's landscape gardeners. I like that. This Bill must be seen in the context of a number of major international initiatives which, for brevity, I will call the Bonn, the Berne, the Washington and the Ramsar conventions, and, of course, in the light of the EEC Birds directive, regarding which I should like to inform my noble friend Lord Peel that it is modelled almost entirely on the British birds protection Acts. They came to us for advice from the very beginning and they have incorporated all the best features of our legislation. So we are not being "directed" from the other side of the Channel. Before the Committee stage is reached, I understand that we shall have the opportunity to read and study the report of Sub-Committee "G" of our European Communities Select Committee on the EEC's environmental action programme. That, I think, will be helpful, too.
Conservation strategy, as I see it, in all these welcome initiatives has to rely on two interrelated approaches: the protection of species and the protection of the habitats on which they depend. It is surely right that this Bill extends the scope of the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 to protect vulnerable species of plants and animals, including protecting the otter on a nationwide basis. That is something which the late Lord Cranbrook would have been glad to know about. Similarly welcome are the proposals to control the deliberate or negligent release of non-native species into the wild and the intention—because it is really, I fear, no more than that—to afford greater protection to the habitats of national and often international significance.
I see three areas of considerable worry where this Bill is concerned. It does not really seem to measure up fully to the clear needs of the moment or to all of our hopes. First, it lacks any proposals, as has been mentioned already, for marine conservation. Secondly, the proposals for habitat protection are very complicated and yet inadequate. Thirdly, the licensing system for the control of pest species of birds, where this is permitted under Article 9 of the EEC Birds directive, does not seem to me to be satisfactory. Running through all three points will be my conviction as a member of the Nature Conservancy Council that we suffer in that Council from a very serious lack of resources 1029 which greatly inhibits our carrying out our statutory duties.
First, briefly, marine conservation. In October 1979 the NCC published an excellent report called Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment. Their conclusion was that there was an undeniable need for the conservation of marine communities. How illogical that the NCC's ability to establish nature reserves should end at the low-water mark, when the interdependence of marine and land-based ecosystems is self-evident. Very soon, we shall have an international commitment under the Bonn and Berne conventions to protect marine creatures and the habitats in which they live. Many other nations have already established statutorily protected marine reserves. If little countries like the Seychelles can do it—and what a beautiful reserve it is!—for Heaven's sake why cannot we? Surprisingly, therefore, where others lead, we, for once lag, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said. How curious it is that we should be lagging behind as an island nation with so much "marine" around us. It is time we caught up, and this Bill gives us the perfect chance to do so. I hope it will be suitably amended in Committee and will have all-party support. I look for, I hope for, Government amendments. If it is not done now we may well have to wait for another 10 years—and that could be too late.
Secondly, I want to say something about the habitat protection clauses, 26 and 27. In A Nature Conservation Review, published in 1977, the NCC listed more than 700 biological sites of national importance, to which they have added 29 or 30 since. These are critical areas if the wildlife resources of this country are to be maintained at anything like their present level. Once lost, these areas are gone forever. Over 50 of these key sites already suffered significant losses of nature conservation interest, mainly as a result of intensive agricultural and forestry work outside planning control.
These key sites account for only 4 per cent. of the land survey of the country, and less than one-fifth of their area is actually under nature conservation management through ownership, through leases or through agreements. That arises directly from the NCC's lack of resources. Even the protection of 167 national nature reserves—"key key sites", if you like—is not guaranteed in perpetuity as renewals of agreements are sometimes quite impossible and well beyond the NCC's means. There are close on 3,000—not 2,000 as a noble Lord said earlier—biological SSSI's and this includes the key sites. They cover between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. of the land surface of the country. Although planning applications—and, since last summer, proposals to carry out grant aided activities—are the subject of consultation with the NCC, we in the NCC have no power of decision where these matters are concerned.
But worse still, the owner or occupier of an SSSI can destroy its conservation interest, by accident or design, at his own expense simply by not asking for a grant. Even SSSI status, contrary to popular belief, does not in itself offer any direct protection to a site. I want to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said about loss of habitat. The loss and damage to SSSIs has been very pronounced recently in the cases of lowland and chalk grassland; natural and semi-natural 1030 woodlands, wet lands; and heaths. In the past few years four key sites have been destroyed, more than 50 seriously damaged, and many more threatened. The main reason is that there has been agricultural intensification, often grant aided, with little if any account taken of the need for nature conservation.
No doubt MAFF grants of well over £500 million a year are mostly well spent. I am not against them at all; I am very much in favour of them. But tuppence out of every £1 spent through MAFF grant provided for nature conservation would be a godsend to solve most of our national problems.
Without going into detail at this stage, some way simply must be found to ensure that all SSSIs have adequate protection, otherwise why create them at all? They will not get this protection unless the Bill is amended to take account of the need for advance notification of any potentially damaging activities to any SSSI, including the 900 or so geological ones (which I have not so far mentioned) and perhaps also we might consider doing the same thing where sites of special landscape value are concerned.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I agree with what he is saying. Would he not also say that one of the great drawbacks that the Nature Conservancy suffer under at the moment is that they are able to make areas SSSIs without informing either the owner or the tenant of land? This is doing them a great deal of harm in the country.
My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Speaking for myself, I would not object to having a statutory requirement that there must be consultation with the owners. Nor do I believe that anybody else could seriously object. Incidentally, the Nature Conservancy Council I think are going to publish a summary of the scientific criteria on which they base the selection of these sites. That is something also of considerable interest to owners and many other people as well. I was saying that these sites will not get the protection that they need unless the Bill is amended to take account for the need of advance notification of any potentially damaging activity to any SSSI.
Then, advice could be given by the NCC or the Countryside Commission on ways of minimising its effect or an opportunity would be provided to negotiate a management agreement—a voluntary one—over the land with the right of appeal (which is also very important) hopefully avoiding the threat of a compulsory purchase order. The less there are of those the better so far as I am concerned. To apply designation orders only to those sites selected from time to time by the Secretary of State is only trifling with the problem. There are already three "Ss" in "SSSI." Do not let us have a fourth—for "Super"—please.
We also ought to consider—and this is a matter for the Treasury—whether something more should not be done where capital transfer tax is concerned for owners of SSSIs. Practically none of them gets relief from capital transfer tax. I think that there are only about four or five in the whole country. But if one is going to suffer some disadvantage through owning an area of special scientific interest, why should one not have some fiscal advantages just as one would have if one owned 1031 a historically important house, valuable pictures, an ancient monument, or something. This has been looked at before but nothing has been done about it. If my noble friend, in reply to the debate, could at least say that he will ask the Chancellor to look at this possibility it will be very helpful indeed. Then, instead of landowners looking with suspicion—and even distaste—on SSSI designation, they might even clamour for it. So far as I am concerned, I would. I own some land in Sussex which is now being considered—and, by the way, I have been consulted. It is difficult not to consult a member of Council !
Next, a word or two very quickly regarding licensing, about which I understand my noble friend Lord Arbuthnott, who is the deputy chairman of the NCC, will be saying more. I am far from happy about the proposals in the Bill. Under Article 9 of the EEC directive the Commission is empowered to make sure that derogations are not incompatible with the directive. The article provides for derogations where these are necessary:to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water".Where there are derogations they have to specify some clearly defined things. What I am worried about is that there seem to be two ways in which the derogations can arise. First of all there are the Clause 4 derogations which are simply repeating the present situation which one finds in the Protection of Birds Acts. Secondly, there is the general licences outlined in Clause 15. I am not convinced of the need for both these methods, although perhaps they can be satisfactorily combined. I cannot help thinking that unless assurances are given about general licences being issued to cover very wide areas, many of the methods that are used for scaring, decoying and other techniques, to keep wild birds away—particularly some of the geese—may well be dropped if blanket licences can be given too easily without having full regard to conservation requirements. I hope that this will be looked at with the very greatest care.
Of course, we are only too well aware of the damage that wild birds can do in many different ways. In my old constituency how well I remember that it does not take a flock of bullfinches more than half a day to strip two or three acres of gooseberries. When I introduced that particular Bill in another place we provided for this. I am sure we could find a satisfactory answer here. But who should be the licensing authority under Clause 15(1)(i)? Surely not the agricultural departments, who have expressed doubts about their capacity to do this work—and they are right to do so—and whose primary concern must be to promote productivity in agriculture above all else. This clearly points surely to the right department being that of the Environment Minister. He should be the authority, and I strongly urge this view on the Government. I hope that it will be considered and dealt with in Committee.
Lastly, may I say a word about resources? Several times during this speech I have said that something has not happened because the resources to do not exist. So I noted with some pleasure the statement in the Bill's Explanatory and Financial Memorandum that a sum between £600,000 and £700,000 "on average per 1032 year" (what that means I have not the faintest idea) is likely to be needed to enable the NCC to make more management agreements or to acquire land. I fear that this is a serious under-estimate, though it is of course an earnest of the Government's good intentions which I do not for one moment question.
At the moment, the budget of the NCC is only just over £9 million. This is less in total than the increase which was given to the Arts Council last week. That means we cannot fully meet our statutory obligations which were imposed on us by the 1973 Act. We do not want a fairy godmother, much as we appreciate the attitude, the understanding and helpfulness of the Secretary of State. As the Sunday Times article of 14th December by Brian Jackman said—it was criticised earlier but I thought it was really very good and not at all alarmist—speaking about the NCC:There is a crisis and cash is at the root of it".We do not need a great deal more money but we could certainly do our job better if we had it, and there is a real risk of our falling down on it if we have to run our affairs on a shoestring for very much longer.
I do beg the Government to look at its priorities with greater care. Unless they do so there will be continued erosion of critically important habitats for wild life, simply because the Government's excellent intentions have not been matched with the minimum necessary resources. That would be a tragedy and it would place unfair burdens on the loyalty and dedication of the staff of the NCC, which is admirable. Cuts in our budget—we have not had cuts: in real terms we have had the same thing for three years—are like taking off a limb. It just does not grow again.
I conclude, my Lords, by saying—and I apologise for having taken rather longer than I intended but I got carried away—that somehow we must get across to the whole Government that nature conservation is a positive objective and not just one of several conflicting considerations or options. I hope this Bill and the debates on it during its passage through both Houses will bring home to everyone the importance of finding better ways of managing our natural resources. Town and country, farmers and naturalists, we are all in it together. Provided there is unstinted cooperation between all Ministers whose responsibilities touch on any aspect of this many-sided subject, there will be no problem in proving that good husbandry and higher material standards of living are consistent with careful protection of our wildlife and our countryside.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, it is on these occasions that I think to myself how fortunate some noble Lords have been in their inheritance—noble Lords who in my youth were known as the "landed gentry" or, as my uncle called them (he farmed in the Vale of Belvoir), the "hunting toffs". It is nice to meet the descendants of those noble Lords in the flesh. I think I remember that the forebears of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, lived in Colwick Park in Nottingham and shared a large part of the countryside with the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Rutland and other noble Lords of the time who, I heard in the early days of Liberal politics, wore top 1033 hats, gold chains, smoked fat cigars and grew mangold wurzels. That was what the Budget of 1909 was all about.
We have listened to two most fascinating maiden speeches from two young men of talent whose stake in the future, both in scale and time, is greater than those of us whose visions of the future grow shorter—and the shorter they get the more concerned we are about it.
I think we are very fortunate in having a Bill like this coming to this House before it has been gone over by another place. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, who introduced the Bill, failed to allow his enthusiasm for it to show through. When he made a statement on the rate support grant his vitality returned and he was soon a combatant in this Chamber. Nevertheless, I think the noble Lord, who can withstand a Committee stage with fortitude and great ability, will warm to his subject as the Committee stage goes on—because evidently we are going to have a long one. This Bill is of such wide scope, and coming here first offers such opportunity for constructive amendment, that we shall be reluctant to let it go until it is a very much better Bill. It is, I am told, the most comprehensive Bill on this subject ever to come before Parliament, which makes it all the more desirable that we should grasp the opportunity of making it better.
There have been a great many consultations preparatory to the introduction of the Bill: that we fully understand. It might be interesting to learn at some time just what those consultations were. We are also told that there are compromises in the Bill. It might be interesting to know what they are. Numerous references have been made to agriculture. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said we must remember that agriculture is a business, and I have no doubt that the farming interests, as they are called, have been very fully consulted. That brings me to the National Farmers' Union. I am not against unions—I was a secretary of one for many years—but I have never been able to understand why the National Farmers' Union has been regarded as a more benign combination than, say, the Transport and General Workers Union, because their acquisitive instincts have been developed along similar lines. Samuel Gompers, a United States labour leader, when asked what it was the unions wanted, said, "More". That is a very strong impulse in all unions, whether they are farmers or transport workers.
I think that in the course of our debates we might try to clear away some of the prejudices—I use the word advisedly—and the misunderstandings that attach to some of the descriptive words used in this field. There is a great deal of jargon in it. One hears the words, "environmentalists", "conservationists", "welfarists", as if they were a race apart. On the whole I think that conservationists and welfarists are regarded as "cissy types", not like farmers who take bulls by the horns. They have a dilettante approach to the realites of the countryside and of wildlife. Well, at least they have never behaved like the gamekeepers of old, who swept the foxes from the moors and shot everything within sight that might be a 'predator of the artificially-reared pheasants that were—
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
—needed for the enjoyment of the countryside. I have mentioned grouse, but surely we are all conservationists and we are all welfarists who have the spark of civilisation and humanity in us. That goes for those engaged in the agricultural industry, the townsmen and those who have the benefit of and enjoyment in life in the countryside. Personally I should like to see the principles of conservation and welfare of animal life taught in the schools as part of religious instruction. I think it is just as important. That would help to make not only a beautiful but a civilised Britain.
I should just like to make a reflection upon my own deeper philosophy in this matter. This Bill, like all legislation dealing with the claims and the welfare of other species, rests upon the doctrine that the interests of the human species are paramount; that the needs of man must come first and, if necessary, to the exclusion of the rights of all others. When other species get in the way we call them pests. But the real pest in the living world is man himself. He is the most destructive creature that was ever brought on to this planet. If the world is ever destroyed, it is man who will do it; and yet we claim to have been created in the image of God.
It never occurs to many people that other species have as much right to be here as we have. In fact, they were probably here before we were—at least, before we were in human form. Man, with his demands on resources and with his selfish cruelty, is a threat to the survival of large sections of the living world at the present time. That is my philosophy—to reconcile our claims with those of other species. Unless we do that, the world will become infested by human beings. What a world that will be! With all the stresses of congestion, of overcrowding, of rivalry and of the instinct for war, the world will no longer be worth living in. It is only by the consideration that we give to other living creatures and by our willingness to concede to them the right to live that we shall understand more deeply our true position in the universe. But I must not dwell on that aspect any longer.
There are just one or two points that I want to make—and only one or two—on the Bill itself. When we come to the Committee stage we shall have to examine why it is that this Bill treats birds more favourably, in some respects, than mammals. I do not want to start a war between the urban community and the countryman and I do not want to start a war between birds and animals, but the fact is that the protection given to birds is stronger than that given to mammals. Whether it is because the clauses of the Bill dealing with birds derive from the EEC directive, and those dealing with mammals derive from the Convention of the Council of Europe, I do not know, but one sees that, while the Bill provides a blanket protection for all birds under Clause 1 and then goes on to make exceptions by schedule, it does it exactly the other way round when we come to mammals. The habitat of birds is protected in a degree which the habitat of mammals is not.
Another inconsistency seems to be that, in dealing with mammals, we give to some protection which is greater than that given to others. We have a separate schedule—Schedule 6—which lists animals which may not be destroyed in particular ways, except where a 1035 licence is granted. One wonders why something that is regarded as revolting and unacceptable as a method of destruction should be permitted under licence, especially when looking at the astonishingly short list of mammals in Schedule 6. These are inconsistencies which we shall wish to examine more closely at Committee stage.
I join my noble friend Lord Melchett in making a very strong plea for the badger. The badger ought to be in Schedule 5 and I am glad to see the otter in Scotland there. The badger is having a very rough time. We thought that we were putting him in his proper place in the wildlife of Britain, when we passed the Badgers Act of 1973, but then came this dreadful business of the suspected infection of animals by badgers with bovine tuberculosis. The destruction process began and it has gone much further than ever we thought it would at the time when we permitted it to be done. As my noble friend pointed out, the badger is now suspect as being a carrier of TB infection. This is completely wrong and should be discounted everywhere, because a great deal of persecution of badgers is going on at the present time, in the belief that they have ceased to be an acceptable part of our disease-free wildlife.
I also make a plea for marine conservation, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and my noble friend Lord Melchett. It is a mistake to think that marine conservation relates wholly to fishing, over-fishing and the conditions in the sea itself. It depends greatly upon the foreshore and the connection between the land and the sea. That relationship must be maintained for the benefit of many of our species of marine life.
That is where I shall finish. I welcome the Bill. It is a good Bill so far as it goes. It can be made better. It will be made better, if your Lordships will permit it to be done. We can then send it to another place, feeling proud that we have contributed to one of the historic measures for the conservation of the wildlife and countryside of Britain. That, surely, is something of which we can be proud if we achieve it.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the two noble Earls who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon. We have received two excellent recruits to these Benches, and their great knowledge of country matters will be extremely valuable to our debates in future. I, for one, hope very much that we shall hear them again, not only in Second Reading debates but in Committee stages and matters of that kind, when we shall find their advice more than valuable.
I shall not start by speaking on Part I, as I should like to be as brief as possible. I shall go straight to Part II, in regard to which I want to discuss the moorland conservation order, which I think is Clause 33 and onwards. I find myself almost entirely in agreement with the Government's conclusions on this matter of the conservation of heath and moorland, which arises principally on Exmoor, but also elsewhere. It is right to try to reach agreement between the various interests involved and that, I understand, is very close. 1036 Therefore, the Minister's reserve power for delaying such agricultural improvements as farmers would like to make is the right one. One notes the irony of the fact that the improvements which farmers want will be done, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, through generous grants from the state or from the EEC As he remarked, it is a strange situation.
The compulsory moorland conservation order, which was to have been in the previous Government's Bill as absolutely a last resort, has been dropped from this Bill. But I understand that Somerset County Council and the Exmoor National Park, which is part of that county, and other counties involved in the national park movement would still like to see a long-stop or reserve power to be used only by Parliament—and I repeat "only by Parliament" —because I think it is right that this power should be available only to both Houses of Parliament, and not to local authorities or to the Countryside Commission in cases where absolutely critical areas may be threatened.
This was the conclusion of Lord Porchester's report, and I believe there is some merit in having an ultimate deterrent in these matters. It is probable that such a long-stop power might never be used, but it might equally make it easier to obtain the voluntary agreements which we all need. Not all farmers are angels, though a great many of your Lordships farm. Therefore I exclude them from these remarks. It will be tempting for some farmers to try to get paid for not ploughing out heath and moorland, which they had no intention of ploughing out, anyway. It would not be impossible to have a go at that. Before the war, many farmers in the United States were paid money not to raise hogs. Lots of farmers made lots of money by not raising lots of hogs. It is possible that this kind of thing might happen here. The House must agree that voluntary agreements have to be tried first; that any such powers will only be a very last resort.
I want to raise briefly two other aspects of the matter. The first relates to the cost of these agreements. It is not acceptable to find in the preamble that no additional public expenditure will be involved in this part of the Bill. The cost of such agreements on a large scale might cover hundreds of acres in a national park, and the cost to the National Parks Authority or to the nation could become quite a serious commitment. The difference in lost revenue between moorland and improved grassland could reach, before too long, £20 per acre. The potential acreage on Exmoor alone which is threatened amounts to over 12,000 acres. There are other areas in other parts of the country which could be affected in due course. It is not acceptable to say that the cost will be covered by the national parks supplementary grant or the rate support grant. May I therefore ask the Government where the extra money is to come from? My noble friend the Minister talked about a 90 per cent. grant. Would that come out of the very meagre national parks supplementary grant, which we were told earlier this afternoon would be £4½ million, or would it come out of the rate support grant? If it comes out of the former, the other national parks will suffer. If it comes out of the rate support grant, other services will have to be reduced to pay for it.
I hope that we can tackle the problem because we as a nation are not spending a great deal on our 1037 national parks. The total to be added to the £4½ million of the Government's contribution in terms of local authority contributions is of the order of £6 million per annum. This is not a big sum for an area which covers one-ninth of the surface of England and Wales. It is, I understand, about the same sum as the British Steel Corporation manages to lose in about 48 hours.
If we want to conserve heath and moorland we must be prepared to pay for it. I am not certain whether Exmoor is necessarily ruined by its conversion from heather to glassland. That may be just as heretical a statement as the dustbowl farming of the noble Lord, Lord Walston. If we want to conserve such areas, we must be prepared to pay for them. We cannot expect them to be provided on the cheap, though it is possible that the hill farm subsidies which would be saved if conservation orders were made would pay for some of the difference.
Further, if it is wrong—and it says so—to destroy the ancestral moorland scenery of our uplands in this country by ploughing and reseeding, why is it not equally wrong much more drastically to affect the landscape by blanket forestry of the alien coniferous kind? If it is not possible to bring large-scale forestry into the orbit of planning control, which is where it should be, logically it should become subject to this part of the Bill. I hope that we shall return to this point.
If I may turn to the Countryside Commission, this is an appropriate moment for the House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, whose tenure of office as chairman of that commission comes very shortly to an end. I believe that to some extent he has found it to be a bed of nails and, like many people on beds of nails, he has not tried to lie down on the job. I believe that he has very much tried to influence the relationships between the Countryside Commission and the other bodies concerned. As noble Lords know, many other bodies are concerned. I believe that the commission has achieved a great deal under the noble Lord's chairmanship. I believe that they have come to realise that it is not only the state and its various agencies, but also landowners, farmers and occasionally local authorities which have contributed a great deal of money and expertise to the care of the countryside and have enhanced the beauty and the public enjoyment of the countryside which we all want.
I look a little critically at the proposed executive functions of the Countryside Commission. I wonder whether it is necessary that it should be involved in the grant distribution process of this very minimal sum and whether or not the appointments of national park officers need to be made by it. Nor am I happy that it can, under Clause 35, propose changes in the boundaries of national parks without apparently consulting or obtaining the approval of the relevant local authorities and the elected members for those districts. I hope that this will be put right. I see no useful purpose in the regional offices of the Countryside Commission which are Quangos ripe, if not for the axe at least for a critical look.
I turn briefly to Part III, footpaths. I do not want to say very much about them. However, I greatly welcome the simplification processes which are involved. I hope we can make them even more helpful without destroying the absolute necessity for the public 1038 to have the right to a say over the closing and alteration of footpaths. It must be a local government function and it should become more so. Subject to the totally independent inquiry, the right of appeal and so forth, I think we can make this a very good part of the Bill and make a great step forward. I did not agree with the Countryside Commission when it said in a Press release last week that impartiality and consistency are both at risk.
I end with bulls. We have not heard so much about that subject as we might. If it is not mixing metaphors, this has been a hot potato in many circles for a very long time. I hope I am right in saying that nobody in this country has yet been killed by a bull in a field which has a footpath in it. Let us hope that that never happens. Many people have been very frightened by bulls on footpaths, in houses and elsewhere, but nobody has yet been killed by one. It is very important that nobody should be. A cow with a calf is, in almost all cases, a much more dangerous animal than a bull. I suggest that many people think they are being chased by a bull when in fact it is an old cow. As noble Lords are well aware, the female of the species is a great deal more dangerous than the male. Whether a rambler will, as he runs for the gate, be able to use his last breath to accuse the bull which is about to trample on him of being of an unrecognised dairy breed and thus to persuade the animal to desist, I do not know; it remains to be seen.
However, I believe that Clause 46 is a very acceptable compromise. As we know, it has worked in Scotland. It is essential, if we want meat, to have bulls by which to breed calves. I hope very much therefore that we can accept this part of the Bill. In conclusion, I give a general welcome to the Bill and look forward very much to some of the debates we shall have during the Committee stage.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I should like to give a fourfold welcome to the Bill. First, I am intensely interested in and gain a lot of enjoyment from the countryside, though my responsibility is limited to the care of four window boxes and a small bay tree in Smith Square, Westminster. Therefore, my responsibility is not so extensive as that of many other noble Lords, and makes me one of the rarer species in this House, though perhaps taking a detached view which is in common with most of the citizens outside it.
The second reason why I particularly welcome the Bill is that it is being introduced in this House where the very wide experience that is available can be brought to bear upon it during its first Committee stage. I think your Lordships will agree that the two maiden speeches of my noble friends Lord Peel and Lord Halifax are very good illustrations of that fact. The third reason for welcoming the Bill is that it is the first Countryside Bill to be introduced by a Tory Government. One particularly commendable aspect is that, although they were not responsible for all its parentage, they can take credit for having been admirably thorough in the consultation process. The fourth and final reason for especially wanting to welcome the Bill is that, in clauses such as Clauses 35 and 36 it implements a number of the matters upon which I made recommendations 1039 when I was reviewing the national parks some seven or eight years ago.
My noble friend Lord Middleton reminded us that Section 37 of the 1968 Act makes the point, in statutory terms, that the prerequisite of any effective set of policies for the countryside is the sustaining of the rural economy. That rural economy always involves agricultural prosperity—although it involves many other things as well—but without it we cannot have any satisfactory set of policies for the countryside. It is therefore very important to give full regard to the economic and social needs of those who live in the country, a point which the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, made admirably.
After a whole string of urgent reports and anxious studies from the ACC, the ADC, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, the National Association of Local Councils and many other bodies, all stressing a serious decline in the rural economy and in the rural population in the remoter areas, the common thread and theme going through all their remedies is the need to take a more integrated approach to rural matters and to adopt what the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, has described as "balanced management".
In his opening remarks the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that nothing is gained by polarising the issues involved here or by exaggerating the conflicts. Certainly if we want balanced management and an integrated approach, that would be the worst possible way of setting about it. I hope that through this Bill and as a result of debates on it, we shall be able to develop further a sense of partnership between all concerned towards a more positive and more sensitive and more balanced approach to the use of land in the countryside. The CLA and the NFU in their joint publication which has already been referred to described the problem as being that of making the most of all the potentials in the countryside: its value for food, its value for timber; its value, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, for field sports; its value for tourism, its value for recreation, its value for study and a possibility of establishing a whole lot of rural industries which will add value locally to local products before they go off to market.
I think, first, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and then the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, stressed that the Bill is thin on those aspects. I can only find one particular clause—Clause 31—containing the provision for management agreements, which addresses itself particularly to this theme and therefore I should like to spend a little time on it. I think Clause 31 is the only clause in the Bill which has general application over the whole of the countryside and contains real potential for development and for bringing both private and public benefit. So that is the clause that I particularly welcome.
I particularly welcome those substantial formal management agreements which are already in operation in some of our national parks. I welcome the spread of the many smaller, informal management agreements which constitute the uplands management experiment which was initiated some years ago by the Countryside Commission in one part of the lakes and now extending over the whole of that national park and several others, and I regret the relative lack of further action to establish 1040 management agreements elsewhere in the countryside especially by district councils, who ought to be into this business. I look forward to further constructive action when this Bill is on the statute book.
One of the most promising next steps in integrating policy is being taken in the Eden district of Cumbria—a project known as East Fellside, initiated by several rural agencies acting together. And research is proposed by the EEC for further integrated rural development in which the United Kingdom is taking part and which again will be concentrated on two districts, one in Wales and one in Eden in Cumbria, as well as other possible places.
I am concerned to try to find out, by way of probing amendments to other amendments during the course of proceedings on this Bill, what the role of ADAS is to be in establishing this new approach. A wider and fuller role has been advocated in the Strutt Report, but like my noble friend Lord Chelwood I should like to see the process carried forward and to have assurances during the passage of this Bill that it will be so.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned my role in the moorland conservation business. In the course of reviewing the national parks in fact we could see that there was a problem on Exmoor and we took a certain amount of evidence on it, but it was quite clear that if we were going to complete a review of all 10 national parks in a reasonable time we should have to leave the detailed study of the problem of Exmoor to somebody else. That is in fact what happened and Lord Porchester was asked to make a special study. I think it would have been hard to choose anybody better qualified for that: he is a farmer, he is a landowner, he has been the chairman of the planning committee and he has been the chairman of the county council, and so he was well able to judge the evidence presented to him from his own extensive personal experience.
In the course of writing his report he asked me what I would recommend and I urged on him very strongly the desirability of trying to achieve a solution to the problem by way of management agreements only. But the fact of the matter is that, having taken all the evidence and having studied it all on the ground, with all his experience from both sides he came to the conclusion—and it is there among his recommendations—that scope for moorland conservation agreements on their own would not achieve the result; and he recommended moorland conservation orders and the previous Government accepted that advice,
Coupled with that we have the fact that 20 or 30 years ago when the problem was not moorland conservation but access to moorlands, after considerable battle—and literally a battle on Kinder Scout—we introduced access agreements backed up by access orders. The access orders have never actually been enforced; they have been there in the background and there is a strong argument to the effect that without the access order in the background it would have been impossible to negotiate the wide range of access agreements which are now in force in the Peak District and in many other parts of the national parks.
That is an argument which has to be faced and met. Then there is the further point introduced by my noble friend Lord Ridley that the Somerset County Council—on which farmers are not under-represented—have 1041 come to the conclusion in the light of experience since the Forster Report, during which time further acres of critical areas have been lost, that they cannot do what is required of them without a moorland conservation order. The upshot of all that is that when we get to this point in Committee I think we shall need to hear stronger arguments than any that have been adduced this afternoon as to why it is that the advice offered by Lord Porchester can now be overruled.
I do not want to say anything more or go into more detail at this stage of the Bill. I believe that in general (and that is the exception to what I have just said) we do not want to strive for further designations of land and ever more elaborate special controls unless the need for them is very cogently argued and expressed. What we want to do is to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and many others and go for a different approach, a balanced approach, a balanced system of management which is sensitive and positive; an approach by way of agreements that integrate both private and public objectives on the same land; and an approach that makes the most and best of all the varied and marvellous potentials in the countryside by way of agreement. To the extent that I think this Bill advances that approach I very much welcome it now, but I think we have got to work hard on it to ensure that it does so in full measure.
§ 6.50 p.m.
The Viscount of Arbuthnott
My Lords, I would like to join other noble Lords in their congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Halifax and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, each on his maiden speech and welcoming each into this House. We are now not quite halfway through a long list and while I also will be welcoming the Bill generally I do not want to go over ground that has been covered by other speakers except perhaps to add a change of emphasis.
The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, mentioned that I am deputy chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council. I should like to speak briefly on the role of the council as it may evolve from provisions in this Bill. There has been in the past an understandable hesitation to go beyond the strict role of an advisory body on the part of the council, but I believe a more robust attitude is needed. It must speak for conservation and be accepted by all sides as able to take an independent but sound line. This can be achieved in a number of ways and there is already much that the council can do within its present remit.
However, since this Bill moves the council into a wider advisory role on bird protection and brings forward new proposals for licensing which imply the need to monitor species survival and the control of animals or birds damaging trees or crops, I would venture the thought that we in the United Kingdom have now entered a new dimension of animal, plant and countryside conservation that will need the closest possible understanding between all primary land users, and I include the conservation use of land as one of these. I do not look upon it, as some noble Lords I fear do, as a sort of blight on the countryside.
Respect for the Nature Conservancy Council as a spokesman for an adviser on conservation will only be gained by its activity in the field, where land management problems are to be solved. I should not like to 1042 see the power of decision on licensing left to agricultural or forestry departments. They will know much about damage, but so far they have shown little evidence of knowledge of conservation. I do not believe that ADAS in any other guise will have the capability of advising other primary land users on conservation. Scenery enhancement and crop protection have a rightful place in land management, but they are peripheral to the real needs of conservation. I believe, therefore, that this new role, or change in role, of the Conservancy will give it a status that it requires. I believe that licensing must be in the charge of the Department of Energy under the Secretary of State. And I hope that the council will find a role that will give it more the image of a wildlife advisory service acceptable and sought out by land users, just as they now turn to others for advice on agriculture or forestry matters. But, as Lord Chelwood said, the resources are lacking.
This leads me to my second point, on the subject of sites of special scientific interest. The present notification system is by no means perfect, but only a very small number of cases have caused aggravation. Nevertheless even this number will grow, and it is vital that a system is devised that will win the confidence of all land users. We cannot put the clock back now and must find a solution. I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough. Part of the trouble is caused by the inadequacy of a system that was designed to fit into the planning legislation we know and within whose narrow field it has largely worked. At a time when the pressure is on all land users, and when the cheapest way to make more land is to reclaim it or drain it or reseed it, or when afforestation seems an attractive alternative, then there will be a clash between the accepted uses and conservation use.
The Bill goes some way to a resolution, but there will be no successful answer until managing land for conservation reasons can be shown to be acceptable and respectable and not the soft answer that some say it is. The compensation for non-conventional development of land, or the financial payment in any arrangement made between the council and the land user, should hopefully demonstrate that there is no real revenue loss, at a time when many of us farmers are beginning to count the so-called return, which is often a negative one, gained by striving for a profit from the last ten suckler cows or the last 50 acres of upland barley, and in some cases are getting agricultural grants to help us strive. This, I think, puts a different aspect on the point made by Lord Middleton, in that the national wealth should not always be counted in agricultural or forestry improvement. I believe that proper use for conservation of part of our uplands can indeed be increasing our national wealth.
My third and last point is to underline the importance of recognising how much is done already by voluntary organisations in the field of conservation. It may, therefore, be suprising to some that this is achieved just as effectively by many shooting sportsmen. I confess to another interest here, as president of the Wildfowlers' Association. The concept of the hunter-conservationist is now well established by that organisation, and for many years it has been shown by shooting men in their practice and by the co-operation with other voluntary bodies that conservation and 1043 normal countryside recreation can go hand in hand. The shooting man can be seen as having privileges, but he also accepts obligations in equal measure, and he must do this if his sport is to be safeguarded.
The shooting man, certainly, as a member of a responsible organisation, understands the need for constraint and has already shown a proven ability to exercise it voluntarily when the conservation needs demand. There are unexceptional codes of practice which demonstrate this, if nothing else does. Shooting men will, therefore, see no point in any form of control over shooting unless the evidence shows without any doubt that the particular wildlife population is declining or is at risk of undue and harmful disturbance and that the relaxation of shooting pressure is one of a number of desirable amelioratory measures. I would hope that this House would resist any pressure to change the present perfectly satisfactory rules governing shooting seasons. Particularly would I resist the suggestion that this must be done merely to conform to continental European practices.
I should like to draw what I have to say to a conclusion by admitting that, after 25 years in the conservation business, in the old Nature Conservancy and now with the new Nature Conservancy Council, with the Countryside Commission for Scotland, the Red Deer Commission, and principally as a farmer and landowner, I do find that I am repeating myself. But I feel that it is still a criticism of each side in the environmental argument that so much still needs to be done to win hearts and minds and even understanding on the part of both parties to the discussion.
The countryside of Britain is the workplace of foresters and farmers and the playground of some 80 per cent. of our population from towns and cities. Conservation practices do and will conflict with development of land for farming and forestry. Progress towards an understandable policy for rural land use and nature conservation in any developing countryside must be achieved through a better comprehension by all who are involved of all that is at risk.
A conservation ethic must become part of the conscious will of any rural community. It is the ability of just such a community to reconcile an awareness of the needs of itself and of its environment with the demand of its inhabitants for daily work and reward for labour that is at the heart of the matter. The Nature Conservancy Council will secure a limited success within its power to safeguard sites. The voluntary movement will have some success with its lobby, but nothing of all this will ensure that the countryside of 1980 will survive, because conservation is a larger problem and must encompass the activities of all who earn their livelihood in land management and all who seek recreation in country places.
This Bill is probably the last opportunity for this House to consider the wildlife and countryside of these islands. I believe that it has the possibility of bringing understanding and mutual goodwill. If the result is divisive, it will have been a very sad failure.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Margadale
My Lords, I rise, like others, to say a few words in this House about this Bill. I do so because I am a lover of the countryside and have always 1044 been interested in wildlife. It is my birthday today, but I am not speaking out of any sense of thinking that I am a good orator. I know that I am not, and I do not expect that your Lordships will come to any conclusion other than that by the time that I have sat down, which I hope will be very shortly.
However, this Bill affects the whole of rural life and animals and it is very important to the future. I should like to pay a tribute to all those at the Ministry of the Environment who have done a great deal to incorporate the various points affecting the countryside that have been put to them by many bodies, and I would wish them well in finally producing a Bill which will be acceptable not only to this House and another place, but to all those who live in the countryside. A Bill of this type must be understood and must be fairly clear and simple to be really taken on by the countryside as a whole. The village policeman has quite a lot to do these days. We do not want to make his life too complicated by his not quite being able to understand all that is in a particular Act of Parliament.
I should like to support the noble Lord who has just spoken in regard to the licensing system. Personally I think it is essential that it should be carried out by the agricultural departments—the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the relevant department in Scotland—because they are the people who really know whether damage is being done and who are much more likely to have first-hand information about what is happening in a particular rural area.
I shall dodge about a bit. I took part in the last debate on the Act concerned with bird life. I cannot remember whether it was in this Chamber or another place, but it was a long time ago. At the time when that Bill went through it was considered that there would inevitably be variations in the Act, one way or another, protecting or not protecting various birds. In this particular case some birds are removed from the list of pests as laid down in the old Bill. I think that in certain instances that may well prove to be a pity, although I know that there is a difficulty as regards the EEC rules and the need for special licensing.
All hawks, all birds with claws in fact, have always been protected since the coming into force of the last Act. I like the beauty of the various hawks as much as anybody, but I believe the time may well come—and the keenest conservationists should think about this—when, in some areas where there are too many birds of prey, the very birds that our keen bird watchers like to watch may begin to be in shorter supply than may be appreciated by bird watchers.
I refer to one particular bird which is a very considerable frequenter and has increased a great deal on parts of the West coast of Scotland—namely, the hen harrier. It is a lovely bird. I saw two in Wiltshire within the last 10 days. The male bird is as lovely a bird as one can find—light blue and white with winter plumage. It was being mobbed by two crows within 20 yards of me. It went across the bows of my car. But when one sees 17 hen harriers and no other birds, which is possible in the course of a morning on the West Coast of Scotland, one realises the danger for other birds because of the harrier's claws.
The interpretation of the Act is not very easy as regards some matters. It is nobody's fault, because it is a comprehensive measure which is highly specific 1045 and technical and inevitably a bit cumbersome. I looked up a stone curlew which is mentioned on page 44 of the Bill. It is known by two other names: a Norfolk plover or a goggleeye. I do not know whether everyone in the Chamber knows that, but I was brought up with that fact. However, if I had looked up either a goggle-eye or a Norfolk plover I should not have found it at all. That bird is, in fact, totally protected. That is an instance of where a description may be a little misleading. We must make sure that the Bill when it becomes an Act is clear and everyone can understand it. With that proviso, and the proviso also that, as I hope, the traditional sports of the countryside will be protected I give my general support to the Bill.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, it is nice that we have had the pleasure of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, on his birthday and we wish him well. I should also like to pay my tribute to the two notable and excellent maiden speeches that we have heard this afternoon in this debate. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said that he understood that your Lordships spoke in this House only when they had expert knowledge. I am sorry to disappoint him, because on this subject and as regards a great deal of this Bill I have no expert knowledge. I speak as one of those millions of whom my noble friend Lord Melchett spoke, who love and appreciate our varied and wonderful countryside and who wants to see preserved and protected as much as possible of our wildlife.
I have no desire to be provocative and I hope that I can say this as nicely as my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby said it. But our coastline, our countryside and our wildlife are as much the heritage of those millions to which I belong as any farming interests or any landowning interests. They are the heritage of all of us.
It will be my intention to listen carefully to the debates and to give support to any constructive and practical proposals to follow a course of preserving our countryside and safeguarding this great heritage of our wildlife. I am sure that no one could fail to be impressed by the information given by my noble friend Lord Melchett, in what I thought was an excellent and a very sincere speech on this important subject. I wonder how many noble Lords were concerned, or maybe even appalled, at the information given by my noble friend on the loss of habitats and of national nature reserves, and at the damage done generally to our countryside and coastline. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply can say whether the Government accept the information given by my noble friend. If they do, what do the Government propose to do about it?—because surely, excellent though many of them may be, the measures proposed in the Bill cannot be sufficient to cope with the problems outlined by my noble friend.
On 5th December an article in the Economist stated that the Government have taken great care to get the agreement of their two powerful lobby groups, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association. That is excellent. But if at all possible—and we have heard some views this afternoon on behalf of the National Trust, the Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister can tell us the general nature of the 1046 representations that have been made to proposals in the Bill. Are those bodies satisfied? Are all the conservation bodies satisfied, or are there proposals following the line which I have taken, that the Bill does not fully cope with the situation that faces us?
Of course we must not overlook the needs of agriculture and forestry, and of the rural communities in general. Of course compromise is desirable. Of course management agreements are desirable. But if the facts given by my noble friend are correct, will it be sufficient to leave this matter entirely to a voluntary system? What will be the situation if agreement is not reached? I should like to emphasise that I do not want a planned countryside; I want to ensure that the countryside is in no way despoiled.
The one matter that we cannot overlook is that this cannot be a question which waits for future consideration. If what my noble friend says is correct, if we lose the opportunity given in this Bill, it may be too late to remedy the situation. Surely we cannot do less for our heritage of the countryside and wildlife than we do for protected buildings. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that the habitat protection measures may necessitate an annual expenditure of between £600,000 and £700,000. Surely that is not sufficient to carry out what is required. I repeat, I believe that unless we take the right action now, a great deal of our heritage could be lost for ever, because what is lost now cannot be replaced, even though some noble Lords believe that we could have just as good a replacement heritage. I do not accept that position.
I should like to refer to two other matters: first, the provision in Clause 46 to allow bulls to be kept in fields where there are public footpaths. My information is that this will cancel out by-laws which exist in three-quarters of England and Wales. I may find myself in opposition to farming knowledge, but I should like to know the evidence on which the Government have based this decision. From reading various letters and articles, my understanding is that there is a conflict of views on this issue, even among farming interests. Therefore I should like to know the evidence on which the Government base their decision, on which some informed opinion has expressed alarm.
I should like to echo what one noble Lord has said, that should a farmer consider it absolutely essential to have bulls grazing in a field where there is a footpath, surely it is not impossible to make a temporary order for a deviation of that public footpath. Who actually uses public footpaths? Locals use them as short cuts; experienced long-distance walkers who know what they are up to, use them—at least I believe they do. Then there are the many parents who use these footpaths with their children, maybe giving their children their first introduction to country life. I wonder how many of these parents will be assured that everything is safe if they see a bull in that field merely because there is a clause in this Bill? I am not so certain that I would regard that as satisfactory. I should like the Government to take another look at that proposal.
My last point deals with public footpaths and public rights of way. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that there will be a saving of £175,000 in staff costs by placing responsibility for determining public rights of way solely upon the appropriate local authorities. The final authority of the Secretary of 1047 State is to be removed. At present, in the event of a dispute over designation of a new path or the proposed closure or diversion of an existing path, the final decision rests with the Secretary of State. Surely this is not a matter to be looked at solely from the aspect of a financial saving, which I fear is the case in view of what is said, in the memorandum. It cannot be claimed that a local authority is a disinterested party; if it seeks to close or divert a path or refuses a claim for a new path, it is making a conscious decision.
How then can any objection or claim be impartially left to that particular local authority? I want to find out how many such disputes are actually referred to the Secretary of State. In an article published in The Times on 29th November this year it was stated that about 250 cases go to the Minister each year, of which about half are rejected. That, of course, means that half of the objections are upheld—between 100 and 125 each year. The article continued:This is a facility which is both used and useful and it should not be abolished".I am also informed—and perhaps the Minister can tell me whether or not I am correct—that in January this year the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and the Ramblers' Association—a very happy triumvirate—issued an agreed statement:When a third party is called for to settle a path dispute, generally the most appropriate to fulfil this role is the Department of the Environment".My Lords, on other matters I have complained of excessive powers being given to the Secretary of State. This is one power which we should not ask the Secretary of State to give up. I believe that the final decision on this question of paths should continue with the Secretary of State, and I hope that that provision will be included in the Bill.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, after this great length of time, am I glad to see this Bill? Yes, I certainly am. Not only has it enabled us to hear two very well thought out constructive maiden speeches, but it has enabled your Lordships to do a tremendous amount of philosophising about the general tenets of the countryside and the relationships between the countryside, conservation and agriculture. Last but not least, it has lowered the average age of the speakers in at least one of our debates this week, so that can be no bad thing, can it?
When I withdrew my Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants (Amendment) Bill in June last year—the Bill that I inherited from the late Lord Cranbrook—I knew that the one we would have would subsume my, by comparison, poor little Bill. However, I never thought that it would be quite such an elephant. We had quite a blockbuster from my noble friend Lord Bellwin last Session and here we have this somewhat extraordinary beast from the same stable this afternoon. I say an elephant because it has had a gestation period of more or less eighteen months, and from my copy, anyway, of the Encyclopaedia Britannica this is the description of the gestation period of an elephant. It has also had six miscarriages—six consultation papers which have been referred to by 1048 several speakers this afternoon and which have resulted in a totally different Bill from what I think, was in the mind of the department when they first set out on this long road.
What have we got now? I hope that we have not got a puny little weakling that needs suckling for two years; but I bear in mind very much the Control of Pollution Act, vast chunks of which have still not been brought into force after six years. So what are we going to have? What are we striving for? Before I point to what I think are some of the defects of this Bill, I must in all fairness say that it is a much needed revision of modern conservation law; a restatement with amendments of the Protection of Birds Acts and the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act, and much else.
Had I had any influence in the matter—and I assure your Lordships I have had absolutely none—I personally would have preferred splitting the Bill into two and leaving the essentially planning matters in Part III to a separate Bill. But I recognise that opportunities for legislation come to a department only rarely and they have to cram in everything they possibly can in order to make the most of their opportunity.
Goodness knows! there is more than enough to say in the first two parts, together with their attendant and often rather confusing schedules, which I shall talk about at length later on in the proceedings and not, I hasten to say, tonight. What I should first comment on is how this Bill differs from my own. Your Lordships will remember that the primary object of mine was to extend the protection warranted to endangered species. The way I chose to do this was to identify species of both animals and plants that were in the scientifically recognisable category of vulnerable as outlined by the International Union for Nature Conservation.
While your Lordships were good enough to commend this idea and put the Bill through all its stages in this House, both in another place and outside Parliament it was thought to be far too rigid. It could, for example, have meant that the law might wish to be in advance of science in adding a species which for one reason or another was thought by the Nature Conservancy Council to be becoming so rare that it was about to become vulnerable or even endangered—that is to say, in danger of extinction—and should be protected.
This is exactly what happened higher up the scale when an order was introduced to add the otter to the list of endangered species given protection by the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act. My late noble friend Lord Cranbrook prayed against the order for the very good reason that there was no scientific agreement that the otter was so endangered, and so should not be protected by that particular Act. Interpreting the spirit of the Act he was of course quite correct; and who better to be quite correct than the original drafter of that section of the Act. Unfortunately, the otter was becoming so scarce—a deliberately unscientific term, my Lords—that protection was required, and (since his prayer failed) obtained. This will never, I am convinced, happen again if this Bill becomes, as we all expect it will, the law of the land.
Before I continue to punch my few holes in this Bill, I must of course declare my interest. I am a 1049 professional nurseryman—more of this in a minute—vice-chairman of Co-en-Co, and president of the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation and the British Naturalists Association. As such some would say I have a foot in two rather distinct and disparate camps; but, like the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I have never been embarrassed by this, and so far as I know none of the various activities I am involved in, and the people who are involved in them with me, have been embarrassed by me in the opposite direction, so to speak.
Taking the first of these interests first, I am absolutely sure that under this Bill nurserymen are being done out of a perfectly legitimate trade—not once, but twice. First, under Clause 12(2) if any person has in his possession or sells any wild plant whether living or dead included in Schedule 7 he has committed an offence, notwithstanding the fact that he may well have come by it quite legally. Plants of all genera are comparatively easy to propagate and therefore to conserve. There may even come a time when a plant in Schedule 7 had died out in the wilds and/or in botanic gardens and there may be good reasons for reintroducing it. It would be ridiculous if, for want of technical skill, a curator of a botanic gardens was not allowed to obtain, say, a cheddar pink from anyone—whether nurseryman or not—to use for taxonomic purposes, or for the NCC to ask the Secretary of State for a licence to reintroduce it into the wild, then get a licence and find that the plant could not be obtained.
I said: "Not once, but twice". The second time comes when a person does something under Part III of Schedule 9, which creates a new schedule of imported plants which are again not allowed to be kept or sold by reason of the addition of a new Schedule 5 to the Endangered Species Import and Export Act 1976—something about which I know a little as, after the tuition of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, I cut my parliamentary teeth on it. Despite the private assurances of my noble friend Lord Avon that this is covered by the definition of "wild plant", I still beg leave to doubt it and will be bringing this up in much greater depth at Committee stage. I am reminded my Lords, of the old children's story where, in the end, for want of a horseshoe nail the kingdom was lost.
Moving on to conservation matters, I am unhappy—as I am sure everyone else is tonight, certainly everybody who has spoken—on the subject of SSSIs. My first worry is not in the Bill at all nor, as far as I can see, anywhere else. I am advised by my legal friends that the only time a landowner knows that his farm includes a part of, or is included in, an SSSI is when the thing is first set up and he is notified by the NCC. Despite what has been said earlier, so far as I know the NCC does always notify the landowners and the councils when they propose to set up an SSSI.
How then is someone buying a farm to know that he is in this position? The outgoing farmer, who naturally wants to get the best price lie can for his land, may well not let on. The fact does not come up in the legal searches, although it may be voluntarily released by the council when inquiries are made about structure plans and so on.
Surely it would be sense to complete the Bill in this respect at least and make sure not only that anyone who asks should be told by the Nature Conservancy Council 1050 —as indeed I am fairly certain they are now—but that it would automatically come up in the conveyancing procedure. As my noble friend Lord Chelwood has already said, the designation of sites of special scientific interest is more a statement of intent than anything else, although the new super SSSIs have some definite legal safeguard incorporated into them. What the members of Co-en-Co are asking is the reason for not making all SSSIs the same in this respect. I am sure we shall be told, but I again anticipate long arguments in Committee.
On the super SSSIs, I wonder what the Government's philosophy of compensation is under Clause 27. Again we have heard a little of this already. The Explanatory Memorandum says that the Government expect that £600,000 or £700,000 a year will be paid. The question here is whether the payments referred to are once only, or whether there will be a continuing obligation by MAFF, or indeed anyone else, to pay grants for not doing things year after year—such as was envisaged by Lord Porchester's report on Exmoor. If this is so, surely compensation is likely to start at £600,000 or £700,000 a year and will increase, especially if new super SSSIs are made periodically, as we all hope they will be. So what exactly is going to happen here?
I do not want to speak for too long as there are so many speakers, tempted as I am by a whole host of questions that need to be answered, and assuredly will be before we are finished with this Bill. I must, however, in fairness put a few points on what may loosely be described as the health of animals, a subject touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. To start with, I am sure we all know the two excellent pamphlets put out by the RSPCA and Traffic on the subject of caged animals being sent round the world in cages that are far too small for them, most of them arriving dead. Under Clause 8(2)(a), however, birds in transit are specifically excluded from the provision that birds must be caged so as not to be able to stretch their wings freely. While it would be inappropriate for them to be given quite such homely quarters, surely we have an opportunity here to do something to abate the untimely death of so many birds travelling in such inhumane conditions?
Talking about untimely death brings me to the question of badgers, again to comment further on what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said. In West Somerset and Devon badgers are already under threat, rightly, because of being gassed by MAFF for transmitting tuberculosis. I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, for example, in his finding that bovine tuberculosis in badgers was analogous to and caused the build-up of the disease in cattle. However, to our everlasting shame, badgers are often caught in snares set, quite legally, for foxes. While it is not right to make snaring completely illegal, much as I should like to do so on humane grounds—because rabbits and hares, which are a much greater pest, must be snared in certain circumstances—and while accepting that foxes must be controlled, I do not like the snaring of them and should like it to be outlawed, not so much for the sake of the fox but, as I have said, for the badger. So far as I can tell, the Bill, under Clause 10(2)(d), specifically allows it to be a legitimate excuse to say when one is accused 1051 of snaring a badger that one set the snare for a fox. That really is not good enough.
The other questionable matter appears in Clause 11(1)(c), which makes it illegal to use as a decoy any maimed, blind or injured mammal. The same applies to birds in Clause 5(1)(d), but with one significant difference; one is not allowed to use a live bird. What possible excuse can there be for using a healthy live mammal as live bait? I have asked many people this question and nobody can think of a single reason, and even the department confessed they were a little confused by my question. Perhaps it was an accident; if so, thank goodness for Committee stages.
I am rather worried about Quangos. This Government have an excellent record in reducing the number of Quangos set up to advise them for various purposes, but, under Clause 21 and Clause 2(7)(a), the Secretary of State can set up new advisory bodies. He does not have to do that straightaway; it is left in abeyance so that if he wants to, he can. Elsewhere in the Bill it says that he shall consult the relevant advisory body or the NCC and various other people for particular purposes. That is fair enough, and the great thing about the NCC is that, with all its inadequacies, we have it. Therefore, can we not for once take an existing body which is potentially excellent and give it the strength and finances to achieve the excellence we want of it? As I say, I cannot see the point of adding a new advisory body.
I can best sum up by saying that the Bill is potentially very good and sensible, and I am grateful for it. I described it at the outset as elephantine, but perhaps before I sit down I should put the record straight. I have recently read to my children over and over again, as is the way of these things, about a bird-like elephant with wings. Its feathers start to itch after a while and so, to avoid crash-landing, it has to be scratched. It is called a Phlodolopus. I am sure we have months of scratching ahead of us!
§ 7.35 p.m.
My Lords, I too begin by paying tribute to the two very distinguished maiden speeches we have heard today. I do not know what the collective noun is, if there is one, for a brace of Yorkshire agricultural Earls. Whatever it is, the noble Earls, Lord Halifax and Lord Peel, did us proud. I sympathise with Lord Halifax in having been translated by local government reorganisation from being a Yorkshireman into what he called a Humbersider, but worse things can happen; a few Yorkshiremen have found themselves being Lancashiremen. When I was in Saddleworth recently I asked one of them whether it made much difference, and he replied that he thought the weather had improved a bit, so if one can get used to that, one can get used to being a Humbersider.
The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, helped us greatly with what he said about the role of agriculture in countryside provision initially and he spoke from great knowledge, as did the noble Earl, Lord Peel, who spoke with a clear understanding of the nature and conflicts, and there are many of them, between those who live and work in national parks (as he does, in a very beautiful national park) and those who merely use them for recreation. We heard two speeches from people who 1052 are clearly very well informed on the subject about which they were speaking and who, I am sure, feel deeply about that subject. If all of us spoke only about what we know and feel, we should get on very well indeed in your Lordships' House.
I wish next to underline the words of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in saying how appropriate it is that this important Bill should start in your Lordships' House. I describe the measure as important because, if history is anything to go by, it may be 15 or 20 years before we have another Countryside Bill; that makes this a very important Bill, and it is important that we get it absolutely right. It has always been my view that interest in this House in countryside matters has been greater than in another place. My view has always been that there is a great deal more expertise in, and perhaps a great deal more actual commitment to, the countryside in your Lordships' House. I say that in regard to another place without criticism; I genuinely believe that Members of another place are inevitably preoccupied with what are essentially pressing urban matters, so that sometimes countryside matters get rather squeezed out; not so in your Lordships' House, as one can see from the list of speakers today.
I shall try, as other noble Lords have done, to avoid dealing with Committee points and will make a few general observations. I must however put up a few markers on matters which I may wish to probe rather more deeply in Committee. I do this so that Ministers may know what those points are, without my needing to go into the arguments at this stage. I shall refer first to what are two possibly regrettable omissions from the Bill. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Chelwood, in what they said about the absence of anything to do with marine nature reserves. This is an area where we have fallen badly behind other countries and we should speedily try to catch up, and I am therefore sorry that has been omitted. I am sorry too that something we hoped might be included has been omitted, namely, measures to improve wardening in certain very "sensitive" areas of the countryside. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, when introducing the Bill, said that that had been left out and that this was not the time for it. There never has been a time when it was more desperately urgent for us to have adequate, properly trained, civilised, helpful wardens in "sensitive" areas of the countryside.
As for matters in the Bill which might require amendment in Committee, I shall put up a few markers. The first is the general question of moorland conservation, improvement and SSSIs. I very much agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who, incidentally, paid such a charming tribute to me, that we shall again have to look at costs as we go further into the Bill. We shall not achieve everything that is necessary unless we are prepared to pay the price. I believe that there is a price, and I am not entirely sure that it is adequately provided for in the Bill.
I also believe that the procedures for the protection of these areas will have to be simplified in the interests of farmers and landowners, who already face enough difficulties—such as the new arrangements for MAFF capital grants. We must work towards a more simplified, unified procedure regarding not only sites of special scientific interest, but also "open country" 1053 (as defined in the 1949 Act) in national parks. I should like to see a common, simplified procedure regarding both. It may be necessary to have some reserve powers at the end of the day, in addition to the possibility of "stop" notices to prevent certain things from happening while negotiations are taking place to establish management agreements.
It is interesting to note that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have now arrived at agreed proposals; the Government's two main statutory advisers on the matters that we are now discussing have reached total agreement. Perhaps points in that regard can be put forward at the Committee stage.
I wish very briefly to mention public rights of way and the new arrangements for simplifying definitive maps and so on. The removal of the Secretary of State's role as the final arbiter, independent of the local authority, has perhaps made it easier to extinguish rights of way than to create them. That is perhaps regrettable. The new arrangements might also mean that the county council, which has many important duties, will have to be not only judge but also jury in its own case. That, too, is a matter we shall have to look into.
With regard to the question of bulls and footpaths, I must echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. I regret that we have departed from the agreement arrived at so happily by the Ramblers' Association and the National Farmers' Union when the 1978 Bill was being considered. We felt that with those two bodies in agreement that particular problem had been solved, but now that we have departed from it, in Committee we shall have to have another look at the question of bulls. Indeed, I agree with the noble Lord who said that we shall have to look at the question of cows, too. From my experience of walking in Scotland I think that sometimes Scottish cows are even more dangerous than bulls; but we can have more discussion on that later.
I wish to make a brief remark regarding a matter which I hope will not be amended in Committee. Except in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, very little has been said about Schedule 11, which deals with the entirely new arrangements for the Countryside Commission, under which the commission will change from being a departmental body to being an independent grant-in-aid body, staffed not by civil servants, but by public servants. It will be able to recruit its own staff and dispose of its resources in its own way, without being under the direct control of the Department of the Environment, or indeed the Welsh Office.
In a sense that proposal means that we are to do something rather unusual. At a time when Quangos are not exactly popular, the Countryside Commission appears to be choosing to become a Quango. In the present climate of opinion that might seem rather like dressing up as a turkey at Christmas time. However, I believe that there are very good reasons for the change, the arguments for which can be argued in Committee, if necessary. I believe that in its new form as proposed in the Bill the Countryside Commission will be much better able to discharge its functions than it is now.
I now turn from Committee points to a few general 1054 words on the Bill. I hope that sooner or later we shall all get away from the idea of what is said to be the principal threat to the countryside and to wildlife—and I regard the two as inseparable. When we talk about landscape we do not mean only scenery, but also flora and fauna; they are all part of the same thing. We must get away from the idea that the principal threat to countryside and wildlife comes from agriculture. It does not. I believe that the reverse is the case. As other noble Lords have said, our countryside did not just fall from the skies. Today's countryside is the result of centuries of cultivation of the land. When some of us express anxieties about moorland improvement schemes on Exmoor, not for a moment does that mean that we want to ban agriculture from Exmoor. If agriculture were banned from Exmoor, very rapidly the area would become degraded and would cease to be of use to anybody. So let us get away from the idea that agriculture is a threat to the countryside. It is not. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, rightly said, in our desperately over-crowded island the threat in general comes from people and their ever-increasing numbers.
Our country has turned full circle. It is not so long since the days when the majority of citizens lived in the country and went into the towns for recreation. Now the majority of our fellow men and women live in urban conurbations and go into the countryside for recreation. Besides that change people have much more leisure time, and I welcome the clear evidence that more and more people choose to spend their leisure time in informal countryside pursuits. Bearing in mind those facts we can see some of the threats posed to the countryside.
I am concerned about two trends in our society. One is the ever-increasing rate of depletion of basic resources upon which we depend for our very lives. Energy is the resource that we most talk about, but the resource that I am concerned about is land in general and countryside land in particular—a resource that is in very short supply in England and Wales, and for which there is an ever-increasing demand. The second threat is the ever-increasing rate of contamination of the environment in which we live. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned this, too, and said, quite rightly, that man has already demonstrated beyond all possible contradiction that he excels all other animals in his ability to foul his own nest.
So we have those two trends—an increasing rate of depletion of resources (land in general and countryside land in particular) and an increasing rate of contamination. In the immediate future there is to be a great growth in the amount of leisure time. Some forms of work are now becoming obsolete, while many people are condemned to do work which is not really fulfilling, but is monotonous, repetitive, boring and sometimes dangerous. If one can lift from people's shoulders the burden of that kind of work, so be it, provided we take the consequential steps.
The most important consequential step that we must take is to provide fulfilling opportunities for the constructive use of leisure in ways which are not consumptive of resources and not destructive of the environment. Countryside informal recreation at its best is exactly that. It consumes nothing, it damages nothing. All my experience in this field—and it is not inconsider- 1055 able—has led me to believe that countryside recreation can happily go in harmony with productive use of the countryside, be it in agriculture, for food production, in forestry, for timber production, or in water conservation, and so on. The Forestry Commission has proved the point, and the water boards increasingly are showing that the two interests can exist harmoniously and happily.
I think that this Bill, in so far as it is doing something to preserve opportunities for the enrichment of human life in these ways, in doing something very important indeed for society as a whole. I really must finish, my Lords, but I am bound to say at the end that all of us really must realise that the costs and difficulties of re-creating the countryside in its widest sense when once it has been lost will be immeasurably greater than the very small costs, as contained in this Bill, of preserving it while we still have it.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Craigton
My Lords, I must add my congratulations to those expressed by noble Lords to the two maiden speakers. My noble friend Lord Chelwood claimed a special qualification to congratulate the speakers, in that he himself had made two maiden speeches in this House. I, too, have made two maiden speeches, and I only wish that either of those two maiden speeches had been as good as either of those that we have heard today. I should like to express one more congratulation, and that is to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, who has just sat down. As my noble friend Lord Ridley said, he did a wonderful job with the Countryside Commission, as we in COENCO know only too well, and this is a great opportunity to thank him personally, in public, for all he has done to help the conservation movement.
My Lords, I speak as the chairman of COENCO. I have, as your Lordships have just heard, a very distinguished vice-chairman in Lord Skelmersdale. COENCO stands for the Council for Environmental Conservation, and we co-ordinate all, or virtually all, the non-Government conservation organisations in the country. Our members' wildlife interests are represented by the Wildlife Link Committee, whose distinguished chairman has made a very good speech in opening for his Front Bench, the Front Bench opposite, today. The Wildlife Link Committee is itself split into sub-committees and working parties to deal with the many important subjects that concern them on this Bill. So it is really on behalf of the whole conservation movement that I welcome this Bill. I thank the Government for introducing it, and I thank the department concerned for an unprecedented effort—and it was an unprecedented effort—to provide advance information on which many meaningful and constructive discussions have been held.
Inevitably there are doubts and fears—we have heard some of them today, and we shall hear more—but they nothing like cover the amendments that we are going to have to put down. I think the discussion on this Bill is going to take a very long time, and I am glad, as Lord Houghton said, that it has started in this House, where we have the time and the know-how to make a thorough job of it.
For myself, I raise only two points. First, as other 1056 speakers have said, this is the opportunity to create marine reserves. That matter has been discussed for the last ten years, and nothing has been done. Most European nations, as has already been said, have them. Their establishment was recommended in 1979 by a joint report of the NCC and the NERC. The Underwater Conservation Society, which is a member of COENCO, has been campaigning for some time for marine reserves; and there are the two international conventions to which we are signatories. Both these include protection for marine habitats; and so it is again on behalf of the whole conservation movement that amendments should be put down.
I shall put my amendments down tomorrow morning. They may or may not succeed, but I am sure other amendments will go down. This is not an easy Bill to which to add provisions for marine reserves, but it will not be for the want of trying. I believe that those amendments, or some of them, will be carried unless the Government—and I warned the Government on this some time ago; I gave them the maximum possible notice—have already prepared other amendments which we can accept if they do not like ours.
My second point is one on which I personally feel strongly, and I know that many of my noble friends agree. I know the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would agree, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, may possibly disagree with me; but the point really is quite simple, and it is this. In this small country, where land is scarce, it is inevitable and understandable that there should be differences among those who, in relation to the use of any particular piece of land, have a conflict of interests. Primarily, of course, this involves farming, forestry and conservation; but the ramblers, the local authorities, industry and many others may also have an interest in the same piece of land. The burning problem that faces this nation is how to arrive at a settlement that will be accepted as fair, whatever the disappointment of those concerned who have not got all their way. We certainly have not arrived there yet; and this is something to which I hope COENCO, as for the first time the non-Government organisations, will turn their attention (this is planned, anyway) when this Bill, which is inevitably partisan, is out of the way.
But this conflict of interests, which the Bill as amended may or may not wholly resolve, depends very much on the nature and size of the plot of land involved. There will be many cases where the piece of land on which there is something in the national interest worth preserving (whether or not it is an SSSI) is so small that its preservation will not affect the proper claims in the national interest of forestry and agriculture, and probably can be justified against other, more local claims. So, based on the precedents already in the statute book for the prevention of unauthorised work on listed buildings and on ancient monuments, I shall move amendments to add similar controls, by listing, to SSSIs and other sites of strictly limited size, and I hope and am sure that many of your Lordships will agree with me.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the two noble Earls for their splendid maiden speeches, which filled me with envy when I recalled my 1057 own. I think we are extremely fortunate in that they are both resident in that magnificent part of Britain, Yorkshire, even if some of it is called Humberside.
I began to get rather concerned some time ago, and thought I was in some sort of rarefied atmosphere. I think the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, put his finger on it when he said that in this House there is a huge groundswell of sympathy for all the facets of this debate about the new Bill. There are enthusiastic and responsible landlords, there are enthusiastic and responsible farmers and there are enthusiastic and responsible conservationists. This has carried us through the day, and at one time I almost felt that the Bill was going to be passed with three rousing cheers and no amendments.
If I may be forgiven for striking a discordant note, I have to say that I come in where the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, left off. I am most unhappy about Part II of the Bill. While I welcome that part of the Bill which seeks to protect individual birds, animals and plants, I am concerned about Part II. What the Bill seems to do so far is to identify in Part I those features of wildlife which need protection, and then, in my estimation, to do nothing new at all to help them in Part II—and even, if I understand it correctly, to cut back to a dangerous and probably fatal level the habitat they require for existence.
I share the views of those who consider that the outlook on nature conservation is grim. There are several factors which have contributed, and still are contributing, to the dangerous prospects which we face today. There is sometimes a misconception, particularly in the media, that if agricultural land is not actually developed and put under concrete then it must be OK and is still countryside. It is not always understood that in wildlife terms a ploughed field or clean farming land is in fact simply a desert in another form. It is the other features which make up the landscape, as many noble Lords have said today, the hedgerows, the woodland, the moorlands, the ponds, the wetlands and so on, that constitute the survival factor for wildlife. Agricultural land per se is a negative or denial factor.
I disagree with my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in thinking, first, that the article in the Sunday Times was an alarmist one. It was full of facts taken from several valid references. Secondly, I am sorry that the noble Lord is not here but I cannot let pass his interesting statistics about hedgerows. What he did not add was what would have happened if all the hedgerows had been removed from Farm 1 or Farm 3, whichever it was. I think it is not generally understood outside this House that birds, particularly, do not exist on just sky and earth. I agree with those of your Lordships who consider that there should be no conflict with the farmers. I am a farmer, a landlord, a conservationist, a great lover of birds and of sport, of everything to which we have had many references this afternoon. I do not believe there is a problem.
But, in attacking Part II of the Bill, I should like to assure my noble friend who is to reply that I am not going for this Government in particular, because the problems of today have derived over 35 years of successive Governments and it would be quite unfair to say that the problems had been created in the term of this Government; they are responsible for doing their best, I am sure they are, to perfect this Bill. The problem 1058 in my view derives from the war-time need for maximisation of agricultural production. That still rolls on like a juggernaut and results in the Government contributing £540 million a year, part of it towards the destruction of wild habitats. I believe that that is going on although production targets have been achieved over the last 20 or 30 years and we are virtually self-sufficient in most of the foods that we produce. We must be clear that this Bill does precisely nothing to redress that situation. The Government remain, through grant aid, the chief instigators and supporters of habitat destructions.
Secondly, previous legislation in this regard was enacted in almost a different era. It was introduced before the devastating impact of the technological or power revolution in agriculture. A task that in the old days took 20 men four weeks (and therefore probably was not done) is now done by one man in a morning with a JCB or a bulldozer, earth leveller, backfiller, frontend loader and so on. It is the coming of these implements which has had the devastating impact, because they can devastate features overnight—and sometimes in disregard of public feeling and concern. That obviously would never happen anywhere associated with any Member who has spoken in this debate; but it happens outside in the cold, chill air beyond these walls. Nobody except a lunatic would derive satisfaction from destroying a man-made treasure, say, a Rembrandt; but, either because of the indifference to the interest of future generations or because of the lure of grant aid, agricultural human beings, I am sorry to say, are wiping natural Rembrandts from the face of the earth.
Many farmers and landowners, of course, love their land and their landscapes as do so many Members of your Lordships' House. Wildlife is safe with them. Thus, the concern of the electorate or the public and the interests of future generations are cared for in very many cases and many places by voluntary attitudes and by the sense of commitment and responsibility to the land and the nation. In other cases, farmland and the British countryside is looked upon simply as a factory, as a production base to be exploited to the full regardless of other interests. There is evidence of this—one need not name them—to be seen as one drives around the country. Those who own land should regard themselves as trustees of the British countryside on behalf of the nation. Land should never be regarded by any owner as a commodity at his sole disposition. Such philistine attitudes are not so uncommon, they are not unknown; and they undermine the ideals and philosophies which most of us stand for.
In considering Part II of the Bill, we must see it in the context of the present situation where, first, the Government continue instigating and financially backing the destruction of the habitat to the tune of £540 million, which obviously the country cannot afford at the moment—and, I believe, when there is no longer need for much of it. Secondly, the other major factor is the devastating effect of new technology, and we have to remember that this also is subsidised or partly so by Government aid. Finally, and most importantly, there is, I believe, a tendency in Government to underrate the strength of public sympathy and public opinion and to comprehend the shameful 1059 legacy that we are in danger of leaving to or inflicting on our grandchildren and future generations if we do not halt this trend now.
At this most critical juncture the Government propose to select, I understand, only some 40 sites out of 2,800 wildlife SSSIs. This means the merest handful of sites which may survive while the vast majority, as has been said, is downgraded. I do not want to imply too much criticism, but it seems to be a crude attempt, albeit well-meaning, to solve financial stringency, the knock-on effect of which may be catastrophic in the long run. Wildlife communities cannot be perpetuated by providing solitary sites. I would hazard a guess that the handful of sites, if they are selected, may be those least likely to be in danger or to cause the department any trouble. Downgrading of the other 2,760 is bound to be the consequence of this misjudgment.
How will the selction be made? I am sorry to labour this point, but I believe it is desperately important. SSS1s were designated for a wide variety of reasons, each differing in its own way from the others. What is important for some may be less interesting for others who have different values and subjects. That does not make one site more important than another. Nature does not stand still. Circumstances change over the years according to the successes or failures of conservation policies. When the rare wading bird, the Avocet, came back to nest in 1947, it was regarded as sensational, its return as a breeding species after a century, and the first nesting sites were considered conservation shrines. Now the Avocet is firmly established in Norfolk and Suffolk, and if yet another Avocet colony arose elsewhere I doubt whether the NCC would feel it essential to make a special designation at all. Another case is the collared dove. I went with Max Nicholson, the new President of the RSPB, to see the first nest on the Norfolk coast 25 years ago. It was the first and only nest in the country, although in fact there were three. Today it is a pest and nobody knows how to get rid of it. I am not sure—I do not have the details—but it was probably designated an SSSI.
So much for SSSIs. Much worse is the outlook for the ordinary countryside of Britain. Discrimination in favour of the SSSIs has dangerous implications. There will be no legal restraints and as to features in the landscape which are not even classified as second-class sites of scientific interest, they will have little or no importance in the eyes of the less responsible and sympathetic farmers or owners who are able to get cash incentives from the Government. It is important to reflect that the public minds about the general countryside probably more than about the SSSIs. The millions who go into the lanes, by-roads and hedges of Britain, on to the coastline, as have been described by your Lordships before me, have a greater vested interest in the ordinary wildlife of Britain than in the Avocet or the Osprey or rare plants. It is the popular, and once-common species which will now be at risk and the Government are doing literally nothing for the British public in seeking to protect only 40 SSSIs. What harm is there in having the support of the conservation authorities in making changes in the landscape?
The objections must be that the farmers fear they will not get conservation support. If that is so, that 1060 proves conclusively that British wildlife will be steadily diminished until it is no longer a source of joy and recreation for the public. Either one accepts the conservation view or one defies it. If one defies it, the public is the loser. I cannot see why one small section of the population, that is the farmers, of which I am one, morally has the right to introduce an element of barrenness into the landscape. In my experience it is not what most fatmers want, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has indicated. I believe, in the light of experience, that a healthy and viable agricultural régime is entirely consistent with conservation objectives, provided there is no scope for extremists on either side. Conservationists must be reasonable and sensible, and certainly the NCC have demonstrated such qualities from the very beginning. That was where the valuable services of ADAS officers came in, in reconciling the different interests.
The loss of water meadows, wetlands, ponds and marshes brings about a steady drop in the water table, the long-term effects of which in dry spells cannot yet be calculated. Yet the water authorities have a duty to pursue such drainage policies, and in the Severn-Trent area alone there are 4,500 such sites identified for drainage. These policies involve the nation in astronomical costs, and in many cases they are totally unnecessary, even pointless. For wildlife conservation in which the public have a vested interest they will prove disastrous. It should be borne in mind that the Government in 1979 spent £44 million on drainage under various headings. I personally do not believe that a lot of it—except for coastal defence—is necessary. In my view, we must recognise that the Government are in a muddle and few of their numerous hands know what the other hands are doing. Some are actively in opposition to each other. Part II of this Bill demonstrates beyond doubt that the Government have not made their objectives clear and on financial grounds they are tinkering with major problems. The result in my view will be worse than the present, and I feel that it would be much better to leave things as they are until Part II is re-thought. As has been mentioned by several noble Lords, under the financial effects of the Bill the Government state that the habitat protection measures may be expected to cost between £600,000 and £700,000. While supporting the Government in all their economic policies, we must recognise that this is a pitiful sum, the sum apparently judged to be appropriate for the protection of the British heritage in fauna and flora for present and future generations, and it makes Government expenditure on the arts of £80 million look positively obscene. I am sorry to have to drag this in, and I know that I have done it before, but it is totally relevant in the context of Government expenditure. Even this year's increase for the arts of £10 million is more than the total Nature Conservancy budget of £9 million, and this arts increase of £10 million would probably be enough to secure for all time the vital areas of beauty and scientific interest which mean so much to the public.
I am not a philistine and my home is not totally without culture. Yet one has to say that the townee establishment's obsession with the arts has become a bandwagon which it seems impossible to control. The fact must be faced that we are spending £80 1061 million a year for the benefit of a very small minority, when the long-term benefits of the arts grants are certainly difficult to perceive for most of us. At the same time we are prepared to spare only a fraction of that sum on the most basic of all the factors on which we depend, the land we live on and the natural environment. We get obsessed, quite rightly, about our national heritage and losing great houses and works of art abroad. But what could be more the basis of our national heritage than the countryside and wildlife of Britain? And can we seriously rank it to be worth only 12p in every £1 we spend on the arts, from most of which the public as a whole derive no benefits whatever, and are mercifully not even aware of some of the creative nonsense which the arts grant promotes?
The £600,000 which Government propose for these measures in the whole of Britain is no greater than the sum which GLC give annually to the National Theatre. I am a supporter of this Government and their basic policies, but the PR is bad, because the axe keeps blunting the sharp end where it really matters and in areas where people really care. Last year the BBC external services were nearly axed. Half the world depends on the radio for the voice of freedom. The British Antarctic Survey were nearly axed—and it is a tiny sum involved. Our entire status and influence in the Antarctic depends on the British Antarctic Survey. Now ADAS is being disminished and now nature conservation is expected to stagger along on £600,000 with the SSSIs.
We know that public expenditure must be reduced, but Government will soon he like an army with only an HQ and a sergeants' mess and so on, and no troops in the front line. We are blunting the cutting edge across the whole field of Government activity. That is not to say that I do not think that we are doing the right thing; it is just the way it is falling. There are 120,000 farmers in the NFU but there are 60 million people who mind about the countryside. I know that from wildlife programmes on television. For 20 years my company have made a programme called "Survival" and the last one was in what is called the national Top 20 with an audience of 16 million. One can judge what the public interest is. The NFU can do a great deal to educate their members on the question of conservation, as they did very successfully on the whole subject of straw burning in 1976. The RSPB alone has 350,000 members and the conservation bodies, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, mentioned, have some millions.
I therefore will not go on, and I apologise for taking so long, but it is something that I have been boiling up about for a great many years, practically since the war. I therefore urge my noble friend to ask the Government to think again about this question of selecting sites. I believe this will be a slippery slope and a very dangerous one. I also ask the Government to think again about the financing, which is a very serious prospect.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Somerleyton, is not here and it becomes my turn to congratulate the noble Earls, Lord Halifax and Lord Peel. I am at a loss to know what further one can say to them. It is clear that they have done much 1062 work upon this Bill and, as a result, those of us from the country are most grateful to them.
At this advanced stage of the debate I have been able to delete a number of matters which I had hoped to raise but I should like to thank all those noble Lords who mentioned marine reserves. I was, however, sorry that they referred only to "reserves". There is a need for general marine protection, at least from over-exploitation and pollution. We have had a series of excellent speeches but I regret what appeared to be a somewhat selfish attitude by the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Underhill, to the rural inhabitants who, after all, have been responsible for and are maintaining our lovely countryside.
Every time there is legislation on the countryside, those of us who live there are presented with greater and greater difficulties, and this Bill is no exception. It is riddled with anomalies. However, when we come to Committee I fear that we shall be faced with a new problem, for our Ministers have been off to Europe and the last Government signed a resolution without any consultation with Parliament. I believe that we have not yet signed the Berne Convention. When we come to Committee and we find some horror which requires changing, I fear that we shall be told: "Oh we are committed to that by Directive 79/409/EEC of April 1979". We have the best conservation laws of any of the European partners, and we really must not be dictated to by Frenchmen or Italians who for many years have been shooting all their song birds.
On the other hand, we shall have to be careful that in making exceptions in our Bill we do not set an example to the French, in particular, who may then make their own exceptions, letting them revert to their current status quo. Perhaps we can hear more from the Government on the exceptions that we can make from the two conventions. For long we have suffered from pressures by well-meaning lobbies in the countryside and so often the attack has been ill-directed.
Let me quote just one example: it was suggested that eagles were not hatching because their eggs have been rendered infertile by dieldrin sheep dip. Why eagles should have been suffering when there was no diminution of buzzards nor of corvines was not made clear. Let me point out that I am now talking about sheep dip and not about the dieldrin seed dressing which indeed killed many pigeons and then the sparrow-hawks which preyed upon the pigeons. The sheep dip, however, was doing a wonderful job in controlling that horrid little insect, the blood-sucking tick. No efficient replacement dip was produced and when the dip was banned there was a major explosion of the tick population. Millions of birds and animals have died needlessly as a result, and any Highland veterinarian will confirm this. On one occasion a hare was hung over a basin of water and over 1,000 ticks dropped off that one animal. I had a six-week old pheasant poult which I handed to the College of Agriculture, and they counted over 80 ticks coming off this little bird. Our birds and beasts are being killed by anaemia, quite apart from tick-borne diseases. All the moorland birds have suffered—plovers, curlew, grouse, snipe and manymore—and what has been achieved? Possibly one or two extra eagles; but what a price to pay for ill-directed conservation!
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this Bill is that it has come from a Conservative Government. 1063 It is a mammoth compilation of restrictive legislation couched in phraseology that is most difficult to understand. The result is, I fear, that the law will be brought into disrepute. What is worse, it is once again the private sector which will be most affected, while some of the worst offenders (that is, the public sector) will continue widespread destruction of the countryside. One would think that there was no financial crisis or that no Minister had ever been asked to prune his budget. The Bill, we are told, will add £1 million per year of extra cost to the Exchequer. There are, however, several unpredictable items: for example, nothing seems to have been allowed—one speaker has mentioned this already—for the cost of management agreements in respect of the landscape, and thus the cost may well be in excess of £1 million.
In the process of achieving this, we are told that 20 civil servants will become redundant. If this is the case, how much extra work will fall on the local authorities and have to be paid for by the ratepayers? What is more, it will fall upon the ratepayers of the rural areas, mainly for the benefit and enjoyment of urban dwellers. I say to our Front Bench; surely you must think again. What are we to gain from all these SSSIs? Is it worth the expenditure at this time? My noble friend Lord Buxton just now said he thought the situation would be better left as it is. I was pleased to hear that.
If there is £1 million per annum available for conservation, then there are projects which would bring infinitely greater benefit to nature than the expenditure proposed under this Bill. Let me give your Lordships one more example. On my own doorstep, the whole of the Inverness sewage—not only household waste but the highly toxic distillery and mailings effluent—goes crude (yes, crude, my Lords) into the Firth. This has already caused ecological disasters, and the only thing preventing a comprehensive sewage scheme is lack of finance. If we have money to spend, let us spend it on projects like that.
It is no use being told that one cannot kill this and one cannot take that if in fact the birds or animals are dying out for some reason totally divorced from the taking or killing. A perfect example of this is the otter. Two years of protection in England have made little or no improvement to the numbers. If your Lordships look back at our debates on the Otter Bill, you will find that I made it quite clear then that the drop in otter numbers on the River Ness was entirely attributable to the Inverness sewage which I have just mentioned. If one looks at the otter distribution in Scotland, which is mapped out by the NCC, I believe, one will find that nothing will be gained by protecting this attractive animal in Scotland. It is merely making a pointless offence instead of getting to the root of the trouble. Let us get at the root of this problem instead of playing with it. Let us really protect this animal and not pass something which will just create an offence.
Perhaps an even more nonsensical position arises in the bird section. Surely this Bill is intended to encourage wildlife, but it appears that one will not be allowed to breed mallard ducks or capercaillie—certainly not without a licence. What an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy that would seem to be! Also, one will not be allowed to release that delightful little 1064 person, the mandarin duck, where it might escape into the wild. Why on earth not? Though all the capercaillie in our area died of some disease a few years ago, I shall not now be allowed to release any to replace them, even if I were allowed to rear them; but there is nothing to prevent anyone releasing goshawks or other hook-beaked predators.
I would just draw attention to Clauses 4(2)(c) and 10(2)(c) referring to the dispatch of injured animals. I shall not deal at length with this now, because it is really a Committee matter, but I should like to pose the question: what happens if one finds a bird with a broken wing, perhaps after hitting a car, and which is not so seriously injured that it could not recover if you took it in and cared for it but which would not survive in the wild? Having read this Bill, I should feel very tempted to pass by on the other side for fear of breaking the law, and it could be much kinder quickly to despatch it. The position indeed could be much worse with Schedule I birds. Think what one would have to do if one found a golden eagle which had flown into a pylon line. Would one leave it to die slowly of starvation or what would one do? I think it is a very difficult situation and perhaps the Government may amend the wording of these subsections on Committee. One other small point: I notice that in spite of the fact that the EEC directive permits the use of a boat, it is going to be illegal to use a boat for shooting rock pigeons, which is frequently done off the west coast of Scotland. It seems an unnecessary prohibition.
Before protecting something, surely we should look to see whether or not there is a need for protection. We should look to see whether the particular species concerned is increasing or decreasing. We should not let our hearts overrule our logic. Why give special protection to a species which has had a population explosion without any protection—or even, as my noble friend Lord Arbuthnott said, a species which is already being conserved by sportsmen and is retaining its numbers?
This Bill is full of questionable conservation advantages, but I must not continue this evening. I merely warn my noble friend the Minister that he and his officials are not specially protected species and I have many shots in my locker to fire at this Bill, many of them for conservation, and others to prevent serious damage to livestock, crops, vegetables and so on. However, before sitting down I must tell your Lordships of one particular grievance I shall have over this Bill, if it passes as it is. I shall have to burn my favourite sporran, which I inherited from my grandfather, because it is made of otter skin and I do not think I could ever get a licence to keep it!
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, I feel that before making my speech this evening I should first refer to the great pleasure we have felt in listening to the two maiden speeches of outstanding quality. I would first express pleasure at the outstanding speech of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax. It was made and delivered by the noble Earl with knowledge and sincerity, and was in the best traditions of your Lordships' House. I feel that had it been possible for the noble Earl's father to have heard him, he would have been proud 1065 of his son's efforts this evening. I should like to couple with the remarks I have just made a reference to the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I consider that what I have said in respect of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, also has application to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
The hour is late and I wish to confine my remarks to one aspect of this Bill. I am grateful to the Government for introducing the Bill and I give it a reserved welcome. I propose to confine my remarks to our endangered species for which there is provision in the Bill. But I would say this: when man dies the race survives, our children survive and the world generally goes on. But when we talk about our endangered species we are referring to animals, cetaceans, carnivores and others placed on this planet by the Almighty and which, because of man's greed and exploitation, may disappear from the earth for ever. In that sense, my Lords, I am a conservationist. I welcome the Bill for the way in which it deals with this issue. But, so far as I can see, its success will depend upon the enforcement of the law in the provisions of this Bill, further education of the public on the issues and national as well as international co-operation.
I speak also as a parliamentary adviser to the People's Trust for Endangered Species, which is a trust that is financially supported by donations from the British public. I make no apology for mentioning the splendid work performed by this trust. It is a little over three years since the trust was established. In 1978, in support of the trust, the British public donated £164,000; in 1979, the figure grew to £360,000, and I believe that this year, 1980, that figure of £360,000 will be exceeded. What do these figures portray but a concern by our people for our species which are endangered and a concern that they should not be allowed to perish forever from the earth? Do they not underline the fact that at a time of financial stringency for most people members of the public are prepared to make financial sacrifices to prevent the extinction of species which are threatened?
The trust is in honour bound to place to good use the donations it receives from the public. Where the public has obviously expressed its anxieties, scientific data and information have to be obtained with regard to the policy to be followed, and this is exceedingly costly. In 1979, from donations received, the trust allocated and expended £219,000 on scientific and educational grants, with a further allocation of £40,000 this year. That is a total of £259,000 which, as I have said, has been received from the public.
I would ask my noble friend the Minister, or the noble Earl, Lord Avon, what funds Her Majesty's Government have been able to make available towards scientific investigation and reports in order to protect our endangered species from total extinction. What have the Government been able to do in this sense? These reports are necessary to ascertain the facts and to formulate policy which can be relied upon, so that concerted action can then be taken to prevent our species from extinction.
At this point I would refer to Clause 14 and Schedule 9, under which the powers of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 are to be increased in order to meet the dangers. I welcome the action which is envisaged here, as I welcome all the 1066 powers of enforcement under Clauses 15, 16 and 17 of the Bill, but I would respectfully suggest to the Government, and to the Minister, that it is important to look at the desired objectives of the Bill in some depth. The threat to our endangered species does not lie only in this country; the threat is global. It is a threat on an international scale. The powers in this Bill are not enforceable to meet such a threat. Enforcement involves international investigation, persuasion, agreement on action and the involvement of scientific investigation to ascertain the facts and to plan policies accordingly. All this is necessary, if the dangers of extermination are to be avoided.
It is for this reason, among others, that early this year Robert Walker and Nicholas Gibson, who are trustees of the People's Trust for Endangered Species and whose guidance has been outstanding, appointed Bill Jordan as director of the trust. I believe that he spoke on radio this morning and he is highly qualified and of international repute. In fact, he has now been selected to advise the Committee on International Trade in Endangered Species. This will be of great assistance to everybody, particularly to us.
According to statistics which I have obtained and which I believe to be accurate, there are at this moment 1,000 species of animals facing extinction, so there is much work of an urgent nature to be done. But let me place before your Lordships some facts which are, in a sense, more encouraging. Of animals that became endangered between 1900 and 1960, 64 were lost forever, but since then only four species have been lost. That is a remarkable improvement. It also indicates man's growing concern for our endangered species and the action which has been taken in the ensuing years.
At this juncture in our deliberations I do not wish to dwell at any length on matters which we can discuss at the Committee stage, but under the provisions of Schedule 9, cetaceans, it is possible that we may desire the inclusion of the orca killer whale and the bottle-nosed pilot whale, as well as all species of cetaceans which fall within the European zone.
There is one question which I would ask my noble friend on the Front Bench, at this juncture. Anxiety has been expressed about the future of the otter in Scotland, and from our trust's sources we made a donation of £20,000 to further the interests of the otter. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, gave us an assurance this afternoon, in his opening speech, that Her Majesty's Government have decided that the otter in Scotland should be protected. I should very much like an assurance from the noble Earl, Lord Avon, that this is so. I should also like to know from the Government what precise steps are to be taken in protecting the otter.
I have not covered in my speech other activities which have been carried out by the trust in the last two years, important as they are, to preserve species from extinction. The hour is late and many worthwhile speeches have been made by noble Lords on other aspects of our countryside. I have listened to most of the speeches which have been made. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who was speaking for the Opposition. I found myself in considerable sympathy and agreement with him on his anxieties about the importance of preserving the habitat of the wildlife in this country. Action must 1067 be taken in respect of certain species, if our wildlife is not to disappear. I should like to know the Government's reaction to this point which was made by the noble Lord, for I feel that unless we can get some assurance this important matter should be raised at the Committee stage.
My final comments are these. I have endeavoured to indicate to the Government that there is in this country a widespread public opinion which expresses anxiety about our endangered species. I say that from my knowledge of the activities of the People's Trust for Endangered Species, and from my association with it. I have put questions to the Government which I hope will be answered. We owe it to the future of our children, after we have long departed, to bequeath to them a land to live in, in all its beauty of plant and animal life, and a countryside a love for which has inspired us and will inspire them to overcome all difficulties.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the two maiden speakers on their excellent speeches and to say how sorry I am that they had to change their Yorkshire status and become Humbersiders. That is rather bad luck. I wear many hats in regard to this subject. I belong to all the various societies which have to do with the countryside, field sports, conservation and everything connected with them. As I say, I wear many hats. All of us know that the real danger to the countryside is not due to farmers. Unwittingly, I may sometimes have been a danger to the countryside because I farm. However, the real danger to the countryside is the internal combustion engine. I understand that in this country there are nearly 30 million motorised vehicles. They are the real danger. Millions of people pour out of the urban areas into the countryside. That is very good for people, because it gives them different horizons and it is very nice for them. But we must ensure that people do not spoil what they come to see. That is why I welcome the Bill. It represents a fairly reasonable partnership between the State, the landowner and the farmer. There has to be that partnership today because, owing to taxation, many of the big estates have been broken up.
This has nothing to do with the Bill, but I should like to mention that a year or two ago I was informed, though I was never notified in advance, that the Countryside Commission for Scotland had designated a large part of my estate as an area of outstanding natural beauty. I had no objection, because one does not live for ever, but I should have liked to be informed of that fact. I protect the estate as well as I can during my lifetime, but I find that we are getting thousands and thousands of tourists and that a great number of them do not understand the countryside. Although I have made paths for the use of the public and have put up notices asking them to use the paths, many of them do not do so. This creates great disturbances to wildlife. I am told that some of the hills in the Highlands have been eroded by the thousands of people going up them. This has destroyed the flora and has driven away the fauna.
1068 I hope that this Bill will do something to prevent that from happening. We do not want to spoil what the public has come to see. It is no good putting up notices saying "Beware of the bull" because very rude things are sometimes written on them. I have found that one of the most effective notices is "Beware of the Agapanthus". If my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale were here I am certain that he would say that he knows the plant well, and I am sure all your Lordships also know it well. It is a beautiful, blue plant. I have found that notice to be extremely effective.
The last thing I want to do is to embark upon Committee stage points. However, may I deal with Clause 5, the prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds. I am surprised to see that automatic weapons are included there. They are illegal, anyway, so far as I am aware. Semi-automatic weapons do not appear to be properly described. I presume it means a rifle or a shotgun where the trigger has to be pulled each time it is fired. I have never used a shotgun like that and I should hate to do so, because it must be a very unbalanced weapon. For thinning out rookeries, however, a semi-automatic 22 ought perhaps to be allowed. Such rifles ought to be allowed in special circumstances.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, before that goes on the record, I hope that the noble Viscount will allow me to say that the rook is a seriously declining species in this country and people should be discouraged from thinning out rookeries in the way he suggests.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I do not shoot young rooks. Rooks are very good at killing wireworm. It is probable that in certain parts of the country there are too many rooks. I do not necessarily want automatic weapons to be included.
Turning to snares, one noble Lord referred to badgers. Under the Bill, badgers cannot be snared. This is excellent. A snare is an extremely cruel instrument. Turning to foxes—I am not saying this because once I hunted; I was an M.F.H.; that was quite a long time ago—I think that the people who snare foxes for their pelts, for which they get quite a lot of money, are not very expert. By setting a snare inefficiently they can easily catch a badger. Therefore I hope that somebody will put down an amendment on this matter. If that does not happen, I will.
I should like to say a few words about Clauses 26 and 27. Clause 26 deals with areas of special scientific interest. It is extraordinary that it does not appear anywhere in the Bill that the occupier, landowner or farmer is to be notified in advance that an order will be made against him. In the past I think the occupier has been notified. I cannot find such a provision anywhere in the Bill. Clause 27(2)(a) says if the occupierhas reasonably incurred expenditure which has been rendered abortive, or expenditure in carrying out work which has been rendered abortive, by the making of the order; or (b) he has incurred loss or damage which is directly attributable to the making of the order".Although he might obtain compensation for the losses incurred as a result of the work he has done, there does not appear to be any compensation for the reduction in the value of his land if he cannot farm it. That does not seem to be fair.
1069 Clause 31 will be generally welcomed by farmers and landowners. Management agreements between the national park authorities and the local authorities will be welcomed, but apparently one is not going to have any financial help if, owing to that, one's land has declined in value. I do not believe that this is very fair.
May I turn to public rights of way? On the whole, I welcome this provision. In the past, local authorities have put up notices saying "Public right of way" or, "Footpath". In fact, they did so on my land in Scotland where there were no paths. We found people wandering about, completely lost. So I hope that before the authorities do this they will make sure that the public rights of way are negotiable. Also I should like to make a plea here for the horse. After all, until a short time ago the horse was the only means of tilling our fields. It is a country animal, if ever there was one; so as there will be no restriction on bridle ways at all I hope that farmers will make a distinction between the rider and the scrambler on a motor bicycle. I should like to try to protect the more beautiful countryside from scramblers, who make a hideous noise on their motor bicycles and are completely foreign to the countryside.
I should like now to say a word about bulls. Quite a lot has been said about bulls, and as one or two noble Lords have remarked, certain breeds of cows with calves are far more dangerous than the average beef bull. For instance Galloway cows, which I used to breed, when they had young calves were extremely dangerous, and if they were out anywhere near a public footpath they would be far more dangerous than any bull. Indeed, it was extremely dangerous to approach any nearer to them than 50 yards, whereas on the whole beef bulls are quite harmless if they are out with their cows. I should have thought that any farmer having a beef hull and thinking it was dangerous would be unlikely to have it out beside a footpath. But how one would legislate for that I do not know. I do not think it would be possible.
I should like to support one or two other speakers who have said, regarding marine conservation, that we ought to imitate other countries and have marine parks, because in the last three or four years we have abused our fisheries around the coast appallingly. I frequently warned in this House four or five years ago that if we did not do something about it quickly we should have no herring, and that has happened.
I would end by expressing the hope that, perhaps not now but in the near future, more money will be allocated to the Nature Conservancy Council. I think their budget is £9 million and I believe one noble Lord compared this unfavourably to the money granted to the Arts Council. When we remember the appalling monstrosities we sometimes see produced by the Arts Council I really think that the Nature Conservancy, by preserving our countryside and our flora and fauna, deserve to be better financed. I end by welcoming this Bill.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, this is a long and rather complicated Bill and most noble Lords have concentrated on Parts II and III and have been able to talk in general terms about conservation and the 1070 environment in general. I intend to confine my remarks to birds, which have always been a particular interest of mine, with a word on flowers and perhaps a final flourish on bulls. In fact birds still have two Acts of Parliament to themselves, and the provisions of this Bill follow the existing Acts in starting off by prohibiting altogether the killing of birds, then by imposing special penalties for the killing of rare birds and then making exceptions which enable either pest species or birds that are good to eat, to be shot under suitable conditions.
I should like to take those three points in order. The birds for which one suffers a special penalty if one kills them are set out in Schedule 1, and the fact to which I wish to draw attention is that while this is a list of fairly rare birds it does not include any of the really rare birds, occasional visitors and accidental wanderers, that we should be most concerned to protect and which the villain is most concerned to kill.
I will give an example. This summer a belted kingfisher arrived in Ireland. We have had two "belted Earls" speaking this evening, and I join my congratulations with those who have gone before; but this was a belted kingfisher, and very soon after it arrived it was shot. Because it is such a rare bird—it was the first time it had ever been seen in these islands; it was a vagrant from the United States of America—it would not have carried the special penalty. Therefore in this country the culprit would be liable to a fine of only £50 instead of a fine of £500. Short of adding another 50 to 60 of these occasional species to the list in Schedule 1, I can only suggest, as a preferable solution, that the provisions for special penalties should be abolished, that the fine should be made a maximum of £500 in all cases and that it should be left to the court to judge, on the basis of the rarity of the species and the circumstances of the case, whether the fine should be £50 or £500.
These are really Committee points, but I cannot help mentioning at this stage that I find it strange that birds such as the fieldfare and the redwing, which are extremely common—they are winter visitors but they are common in the winter months—should have been added to Schedule 1 to this Bill. They are not in the 1954 Act, nor is the barn owl, the brambling or the whimbrel, all of which in my opinion are much too common to be on this list, when the Bewick swan, a fine bird and very hard to tell from the whooper swan, has been excluded. So that if I shoot a Bewick swan I can be fined only £50, but if I shoot a fieldfare I can be fined up to £500.
Then again, we have a list of birds in Part II which may not be shot during the close season. But two of them are not here in the close season, the Goldeneye and the Scaup; both breed in the Arctic. And the Greylag breeds only in the areas specified, so it is unnecessary to specify them.
The next curious feature is that Schedule 2 sets out birds which may be killed, either under Part I outside the close season, or under Part II by authorised persons at all times. Yet of those that may be shot outside the close season several are included which attract the maximum penalty if shot during that period. So if you shoot a Goldeneye one day you may suffer a £500 penalty, but if you shoot it the next day you are within the law.
1071 So we get on, in Part II, to the birds which are named as the pest species, which may be shot at all times but only by authorised persons. My noble friend Lord Melchett will be sorry to see that the rook is included on that list and may therefore be shot by authorised persons at all times, but by unauthorised persons never. Under the existing legislation these pest species can be shot at any time of the year by anyone. Now they can be shot by authorised persons as defined; that is to say, landowners or people authorised by landowners or by others. But they may never be shot by unauthorised people, who are, however, entitled to shoot geese and duck and swan and so on. So an unauthorised person can shoot a goose or a duck but cannot shoot a magpie or a starling, and that seems to me to be quite contradictory.
Turning to the Bill, it seems to me that again and again the Bill begins with the best of intentions and then gradually weakens. To give a couple of examples, an authorised person is specifically allowed to take wild geese and duck for the purpose of ringing or marking them or for examining any ring or mark. The taking of birds to ring and mark is work that requires great skill, a technique which has to be carried out properly. The Bill provides that it can be done by anyone under licence, so long as a licence is issued for that purpose. But an authorised person, which means me on my own land for instance, can go out totally unskilled, take any geese and swan I like, in any way I like, for the purpose of ringing and marking them.
Then again, if I kill or injure any wild bird other than ones that carry the special penalty, it is a defence if, when I am prosecuted, I show that it was necessary for the purpose of preventing serious damage to crops, et cetera. This seems to me to run completely counter to what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was saying this evening about the necessity for licensing in such cases. It is provided that a licence is normally necessary for killing birds for those purposes. My own opinion is that it is only if a licence is provided that somebody should be entitled to kill birds, because he is going to plead later that the birds were damaging the crops.
My Lords, I said I would touch briefly on flowers. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, was complaining, quite rightly, that if he wanted to breed some capercaillie and release them to replenish stocks, he was not allowed to. But if I want to plant some narcissi, tulips, or snowdrops in the wild, which I frequently do, I am not allowed to. I am not allowed to plant, or sow, or cause to grow, any flower in the wild which does not already exist in the wild. Why on earth not? Why should not I be entitled to plant some tulips in the meadow? Why do I need a licence to plant snowdrops? It seems to me a quite unnecessary provision.
I want, finally, to touch on hulls. I agree with the apprehension that has been expressed both by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and by my noble friend Lord Underhill. I agree that most Angus bulls seem to be completely harmless. I agree that the majority of Hereford bulls are docile when they are in female company, but I also know that there are exceptions. I have reared many bulls. Anyone who lives in the country knows that some bulls get a bad reputation, they are known to be wicked bulls and you keep your distance from them.
1072 But what sort of research has been done on the ferocity of bulls? How do you measure the ferocity of bulls? Has anyone examined the new continental beef breeds, the "Charley as we call him, the Simnenthal, the Blond d'Aquitaine. How about the Red Devon? Have any tests of ferocity been done, and who carried out the tests? Who did the running away from them? What is a recognised dairy breed? Is a shorthorn a recognised dairy breed? It is a dual-purpose breed. Some people do still milk shorthorns, although they are perhaps more usually reared for beef; but that also needs defining. Perhaps that is a Committee point.
I would also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the noble Viscount who said that in many cases a freshly calved cow was much more dangerous than a bull. I have never had a bull go for me, but I have several times encountered a cow which has calved out in the field and been beside its hour old calf steaming in the grass. If you tried to go near her you would get a much harder time than you would get from most bulls. I conclude by saying that I feel a general anxiety about the presence of any breeding stock in fields with rights of way.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Lord Wise
My Lords, I must first add my congratulations to the two noble Earls who made their maiden speeches today. They were superb and I think that we are fortunate indeed to have heard two such very fine maiden speeches in one afternoon. Farming is undoubtedly a high cost industry which, in order to maintain profitability, necessitates very high output. It is also generally acknowledged that the countryside is, to a certain degree, dependent upon farming and if farming is thriving then the countryside is also thriving. Notwithstanding the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, I feel that there is bound to be some conflict of interest and it is essential that farming interests are always fully aware of our national heritage. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, said, a landscape feature which perhaps has been created over many hundreds of years can be demolished in a matter of hours.
That brings me to the first point that I should like to raise which is the question of the sites of special scientific interest. I feel that there must be more consideration shown to and more co-operation with the landowner or farmer concerned in the initial stages of the creation of any designated area. It is my experience that, in the past, without any prior knowledge, the farmer has been informed that a certain area of his land has a tree preservation order placed upon it and that it will be designated as a SSSI. Admittedly there is consultation between the district council and the Nature Conservancy Council and other bodies, but the order can be placed, and often has been placed, without any prior inspection of the land and without any consultation whatsoever with the owner. That must be wrong. I am glad that the Bill goes some way towards developing greater co-operation between the farmers and the bodies concerned and at least provides for compensation or purchase of the land.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to intervene? He has made 1073 what seems to me, if I understood him aright, to be quite a serious allegation; namely, that the Nature Conservancy Council had actually designated sites as SSSIs without inspecting those sites beforehand. Maybe the noble Lord can confirm that that is what he said and give us some examples?
§ Lord Melchett
Yes, my Lords, but that, if I may say so, is slightly different. I do not want to prolong the debate at this hour. It is slightly different because a tree preservation order is not the responsibility of the Nature Conservancy Council. The noble Lord appeared to be suggesting that the Nature Conservancy Council had been clearly in breach of its statutory duties by designating an area as a SSSI without inspecting it. I take it that he has now withdrawn that suggestion?
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, may I interrupt? I have had at least two SSSIs put on me and I have never been notified that the Nature Conservancy Council were going to investigate. Whether they did so I do not know, but if they did so they never told me.
§ Lord Wise
My Lords, I was most interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Chelwood regarding relief of capital transfer tax for owners of designated land. I think that that could well be worth considering.
The second matter that I wish to raise is the question of bridleways. I know that they can be an awful nuisance to farmers. In fact, I have experienced that. However, I hope that the provisions in this Bill will not result in any decrease in the number of bridleways. Horse riding is becoming an increasingly popular pastime among young and old alike, and it is a healthy and most recreational pastime. All other pastimes and sports have facilities provided, and the only way in which we can provide facilities for horse riding is to ensure the continuance of the bridleways. The vast majority of people who go riding do not own land upon which to ride. Surely in these days, in the interests of safety alone, it is essential to keep horses and riders off our busy roads. Possibly riding schools, using bridleways quite extensively, could assist in the upkeep of gates, et cetera along the paths.
My third and final point at this late hour is to make a plea on behalf of the red squirrel. We are in grave danger of losing this little animal, one of the loveliest of our native wild creatures. It is mentioned only once in the Bill, in Schedule 6, as a mammal:which may not be killed or taken by certain methods",and yet it is not an animal which is protected. I suppose this may be because its only real enemy is the grey squirrel. I do not know why, but when the grey squirrel appears the red quirrel disappears; they do not live in harmony together. There are many different opinions as to why this is so, but it is a fact. I understand that the grey squirrel is sweeping across the 1074 length and breadth of Britain, especially England, and that the red squirrel is in grave danger of becoming completely extinct. I should very much like to see greater efforts made to protect, and more research conducted into ways and means of protecting, this delightful little creature without which our countryside will be so much the poorer.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, it gives me particular pleasure to congratulate the two maiden speakers this afternoon. Being a third Yorkshire Earl, after hearing my two brother Earls from Yorkshire I feel that on this occasion I can rather bask in reflected glory. If I may describe my noble friend Lord Halifax as a Yorkshire Earl, I am sure he would take that as a compliment and not an insult. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who congratulated the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and said that he made a very brave speech. He is a very brave man indeed, because he moved into Yorkshire from Lancashire, and it takes a very brave man indeed to do that. So I am sure that he will show no fear in your Lordships' House in future, and we look forward to hearing both of them again.
At this very late stage of the debate it behoves me to do two things: first, to be brief, which I certainly shall be; and, secondly, to try to raise points which have not been raised so far during the debate, which is much more difficult. I have two questions for my noble friend Lord Avon on that part of the Bill which refers to birds eggs. First, I take it that people who inherit or have inherited long-standing collections of birds eggs may apply for licences and be allowed to keep their collections in the future. I would make a plea that this fact is widely publicised, because I know a number of very distinguished and law-abiding people who have inherited collections, often from their grandparents, and I should hate to think that they would be in peril of being locked up for keeping those collections in the future.
Secondly—and perhaps I ought to declare an interest here—what will happen about the collection and sale of gulls' eggs? I have a gullery and I know that several of your Lordships are very keen on eating gulls' eggs. Again, I hope that a licence can be issued and obtained so that one may continue selling these for human consumption. I take it that this is covered by Clause 15(1)(f) in the Bill.
I welcome these measures on the protection of birds, and I am particularly glad to see that there are stiffer—perhaps they are not stiff enough—penalties for the taking of various types of birds. That may well be a matter which will be raised in Committee.
I should like to ask the Minister—and this is not strictly to do with this Bill, but I think it is very relevant—about one of the growth industries in the countryside, that of poaching. I do not think that there has ever been a time—certainly not in this century—when there has been so much poaching as there is at the moment. At the relevant time I wonder whether the Government will consider introducing stricter poaching law. Many of these laws are archaic; the penalties have existed for a great many years. I understand that a working party is sitting on the matter now. At this time I would simply ask that when this working party reports, 1075 the Government might find time to introduce legislation on this, for I think that would be only fair and in keeping with these penalties.
Clauses 33 and 34 refer to national parks. It is a splendid decision not to plough up any more moorland; I would be very happy if someone told me that I could not plough up any of mine, even if I wanted to. But I am just a little worried about the effects that these provisions would have on manpower in the national parks. I know that my local national park, at the time of local government reorganisation, had a staff which you could count on the fingers of both hands—it was in single figures. Now the staff of this same national park is 59. I should have thought that this was hardly something which the Government would welcome. If this legislation makes more work, obviously there will have to be more officials and more civil servants to do that work, which I should have thought was somewhat in conflict with the Government's decisions in other fields.
All Governments are responsible for this enactment of legislation which either encourages or forces local authorities to take on more staff, and then they make violent speeches attacking them for increasing the rates, as indeed we heard in the Statement made earlier this afternoon. It would seem grossly unfair if this legislation would in any way force local authorities to take on more staff, only to find that as a result they suffer in the long run. Having said that, like so many of your Lordships this afternoon I would give this Bill a welcome. I hope it will, if necessary, be amended in Committee.
§ 9.21 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, I must perhaps apologise for addressing the House and also for the fact that an exceptionally busy day on your Lordships' Select Committee for the European Communities has largely kept me out of the Chamber and prevented me from having the opportunity of hearing much that has been said to great advantage this afternoon. I join other Members of your Lordships' House in welcoming this important Bill. In particular, I echo my noble friend Lord Craigton in welcoming the extent of consultation that went on before this Bill reached its present form. Nonetheless, I am sure that all your Lordships agree that there is a considerable sharpening of opinion through being presented with the actual text of a Bill.
I wish to confine my remarks to a single point that I believe has not been covered; it is the subject of species protection where species other than birds are concerned—that is to say, Clauses 9 to 11 of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in his opening speech, which I considered to be masterly in the extreme, and others of your Lordships who have spoken today, have placed great emphasis on the important topic of habitat protection. I would agree that adequate protection of an adequate area of habitat is undoubtedly the major significant issue in conservation, but of course it becomes totally irrelevant if there is not matching protection of the particular species of animals that live in that habitat.
I took note of my noble friend Lord Bellwin's opening remarks on this subject. I hope I do not misquote him. He said that this Bill was intended to provide the 1076 facility to extend protection to threatened species at a stage before such species were actually in danger of extermination—that is to say, in becoming extinct as wild species in the British Isles. In this respect the noble Lord claimed that the Bill followed the Berne Convention. With the greatest respect, I assert that it does not.
Article 3 of the Berne Convention specifies "endangered and vulnerable species". The technical meaning of these terms "endangered" and "vulnerable" is well known to your Lordships. It has been debated in this House before, and in context is clearly understood. The two categories in the Berne Convention are accommodated by two separate schedules designated as Appendix II and Appendix III. Appendix II applies to the endangered species, and Appendix III to the vulnerable species.
The Bill before us at present has a single schedule for animals other than birds, and this is Schedule 5. Schedule 6 also lists animals other than birds, but it is welfare-orientated and it is not conservation-orientated, and, if proof of this is needed, you will see, for instance, that bats appear in both. The restrictions recommended for Annexe 2 animals in the Berne Convention are matched by those in Schedule 5 to the Bill before us. Those restrictions that apply to Schedule 6 animals are not in any way equivalent to those recommended for Appendix III animals in the Berne Convention.
For the record, and because it is short, I shall read the relevant article of the Berne Convention:Any exploitation of the wild fauna specified in Appendix III shall be regulated in order to keep the population out of danger. Measures to be taken shall include:
Your Lordships will ask me—I will answer even if you do not—what animals are vulnerable? First, animals such as the red squirrel, which is an animal in decline as a consequence of environmental change. I would say that, to the red squirrel, the grey squirrel is part of the environment; a deleterious part of the environment. Undoubedly, in identifying this cause, the noble Lord who has just mentioned the red squirrel picked on the reason why the red squirrel population in this country has declined severely.
- (a) Close seasons and/or other procedures regulating the exploitation;
- (b) the temporary or local prohibition of exploitation, as appropriate, in order to restore satisfactory population levels;
- (c) the regulation, as appropriate, of sale, keeping for sale, transport for sale, or offering for sale, of live and dead wild animals".
Secondly, vulnerable animals may exist in small, localised populations, and as an example I would cite the species of shrews which live on the Scilly Isles or on the Channel Isles where one has the remarkable zoological phenomenon of species which are not found on the British mainland living on the small islands, sometimes different species on adjacent islands, in the Channel Islands. That is a situation of extreme scientific interest. It is liable to attract research workers, potential PhDs, in their thousands, from the Midlands or even from Yorkshire, and these poor shrews are liable to be sought in large numbers by specimen hunters.
A third example of vulnerable species is species with narrowly specialised ecological requirements, and for this example I would cite many moths or butterflies or other insects. Many of these may in fact be quite 1077 common locally in relation to the distribution of a food plant to which they are restricted and on which they are totally dependent. But, by this very token, they can be wiped out in a few seasons by assiduous insect collectors with knowledge of their ecological requirements.
The fourth category of species which may be considered vulnerable is those which are subject to commercial exploitation on a large scale, particularly for instance those which are exploited for the educational market. The amphibians in particular provide an example of this. Your Lordships may not realise how extensive is the exploitation of amphibians for the educational market. The current catalogue of one of the two largest suppliers of educational material for school and university science courses offers eight British species in various forms—alive if you like them wriggling, preserved in alcohol if you like them that way, or as skeletons—and there are entries to such effect on 18 pages of their catalogue.
In the main, this educational material comes from other European countries, but, if those countries, in response to the Berne Convention, were to restrict the collection and trade in amphibians and reptiles, market pressures would undoubtedly place great strain on our local populations, and for that reason they are vulnerable. I am told that at present, in the spring, boatloads—that is the expression used—of Irish frogs arrive in West Country ports and are sold on the educational market by the tonne. I have not myself witnessed this, but I trust the source which provided me with the information. If the Government of the Irish Republic, our partner in the European Community, were, either after the Community had adopted the Berne Convention itself or of its own initiative, to stop or limit the trade in frogs, there would undoubtedly be considerable pressures on our British frog population. Your Lordships will see the dilemma.
Vulnerable populations may be quite common and may not appear to be threatened, and for that reason I think they do not actually require the very rigorous protection that is offered to species, other than birds, under Schedule 5. In fact such protection could become ridiculous. If, for instance, it became illegal to tamper with the eggs or young of frogs, we would have done something rather silly. I should loath to make it illegal for boys to collect frog spawn or toad spawn in the spring. To tell the truth, given the fecundity of parent frogs, and the very poor expectation of survival of their tadpole young in the wild, the activity of collecting their spawn is, at the very worst, harmless, and at best is important for the educational value that it has for young people.
Where these vulnerable species are concerned it is quite sufficient to protect them in a distinct and separate schedule, with provisions to control exploitation, such as those that are suggested in the Berne Convention. Representatives from the United Kingdom, both official, and representatives of voluntary bodies, made very considerable and very significant contributions to the formulation of the convention as it now exists. As we have been told, the Bill before us represents our own national ratification of its contents. Bearing in mind both the input to the convention from the United Kingdom, and the fact 1078 that the earlier version of the amendment to the 1975 Act contained this important category of vulnerable species, I would urge Her Majesty's Government to take account of this important point, and I would press that there should be at least the facility for a two-schedule listing of animals other than birds—because, of course, birds are already listed in this manner—to take account of the points that I have made.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Lord Foot
My Lords, first, I should like to add my warm congratulations to those already extended to the two noble Earls who have made their maiden speeches today. A month or two ago when we were discussing the composition of this House I offered the view that the contribution made by Peers who are here by hereditary right was a very substantial one to the affairs of the House, and that opinion has been fully endorsed by the speeches that we have heard from the noble Earls.
To rise at this late hour as, I think, the 31st speaker in the debate—this is a sentiment in which I may be joined by the noble Baroness and the noble Earl who are to follow me—is, in the memorable words of Mr. P. G. Wodehouse, a salutary reminder that we are not sent into this world for pleasure alone. I shall not encroach upon the goodwill and indulgence of the House by attempting to make anything in the nature of a speech at this late hour; and I shall confine myself to one matter only. It concerns what I believe to be one of the very important parts of the Bill, and it is I suggest a touchstone as to the determination—I shall not say sincerity—of the Government in support of the cause of conservation.
It is the matter of the preservation and conservation of moorland and heathland in the national parks. I say that it is a touchstone of the Government's determination in this matter because in deciding to rely upon voluntary agreements and to abandon the last resort of compulsion, they are departing from the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in his report; they are departing from—indeed, they are turning upsidedown—the recommendations which were made by Lord Porchester in his report; and, of course, they are reversing what was to have been the decision of the previous Adminstration.
That decision is a most important decision because, after all, the Sandford and Porchester inquiries are the major inquiries that have been made into the matter of the national parks in the last 10 years, and if we find a situation in which the Government are reversing the recommendations of both those commissions, then they have got to justify it. My noble friend Lord Winstanley was saying earlier on that this is a debate and this is a Bill of very considerable importance, and the reason he gave for that, with which I entirely concur, is that the legislation which is enacted under this Bill is likely to be the foundation of the future of the countryside for perhaps another decade, or even for 20 years, because it is only at intervals of about 10 or 15 years that we are able to consider the matter of the English countryside again.
My Lords, I should like to remind the Government of what happened in this House and in Parliament on the occasion of the last great Countryside Bill, which 1079 was the Act of 1968. When the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was opening this debate, and when he was endeavouring to explain to the House why it was that the Government had departed from the recommendations of the Porchester and Sandford Reports, he said: "We do not think that the compulsory power"—that is, the power of the last resort—"would help. We think it is neither essential nor helpful. We think there is a climate sufficient to enable voluntary arrangements to work." Those words reminded me of the fact that during the passage of the Bill in late 1967 or in 1968—the Countryside Bill of those years—this matter was discussed; and it was discussed upon an amendment for which I and Lord Molson were responsible.
It was an amendment which had been proposed by the Somerset County Council, and it was to this effect. So far as concerned the critical amenity areas of moorland and heathland, not only in Exmoor but indeed in all the national parks, they wanted an arrangement by which the Secretary of State should be empowered to designate the critical amenity areas in each national park, and that if, thereafter, anybody wanted to develop those lands or convert them into agricultural use, they should be required to give a necessary notice to the planning authority, the national park committee. They wanted that the national park committee should then be able to pronounce upon it, and that if they refused it then there should be a right of appeal by the applicant to a public inquiry, the matter being eventually decided by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the inspector. Further, they wanted that if it was finally decided that the agriculturist—the farmer, the landowner or whoever it might be—was not permitted to engage in the desired process of conversion, then he should be paid suitable compensation.
That was the effect of the amendment. It was, in fact, proposing almost precisely what is the proposition of the Porchester Report. That was resisted. At the time there was a Labour Government and Lord Kennet was the Minister in charge. He resisted, and resisted upon the very same ground now advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and the Government; that is to say: if you were to do this you might alienate the sympathies of the agricultural community, you might make things more difficult, you might make better progress by consultation and by agreement.
As a result the amendment fell. What the Government did was to come forward with an amendment of their own. That was an amendment which eventually became Section 14 of the 1968 Act. Under that proposal (which was a substitute for what we were proposing) the Secretary of State would be entitled and empowered to designate the areas which he considered to be of critical amenity value, and then there would be a process by which anybody who wanted to develop or convert those lands would be obliged to give notice to the planning authority and that the planning authority should have a period of six months or so in which to consider whether they approved of it or not. At the end of that six months, whether they approved or did not approve, the applicant would be able to go on, if he wished, with his development. That is precisely what is proposed in this Bill today. That is exactly what is proposed here: that there should be nothing 1080 more than the obligation to give notice of your intention and then, at the expiry of the period of notice, you can go on with your development and your conservation, whether the planning authority like it or not.
We are therefore back precisely where we were in 1968. And, of course, Section 14 proved to be an utter futility. It was never invoked. The Secretary of State never designated a single area in any of the national parks. At no time were the procedures of Section 14 ever brought into play and the thing was a charade; and it was precisely because it was a charade and that the thing did not work that we had to set up, later on, the Porchester Committee. If the voluntary arrangements and agreements had worked, there would have been no need for the Porchester inquiry at all. It was all a waste of time. But the fact is that because the Government of the day—that is, the Labour Government, the predecessor Government—were satisfied that Section 14 had not worked, they set up the Porchester Committee. And the further fact of the matter is that this issue cannot indefinitely be fudged.
The fact is that, whatever good will there may be on both sides, on the side of conservation and on the side of the farmers, in the last resort when you are talking about these critical amenity lands, peak land in the national park, a moment comes when there is an irresolvable conflict between the requirements of the developer and the requirements and obligations of the national park committee in conserving these lands. There is no use pretending that, however much goodwill you can engender, you can avoid in the last resort a conflict which has to be resolved not by a fudge but by decision of one side or the other.
The fact of that problem existing which cannot be avoided was most clearly expressed in the first paragraph of the Porchester Report which was headed "The Problem". If I may read it to your Lordships, it says:In its starkest form the problem which I have been asked to study can be presented as a conflict between increased agricultural production from moorland and the need to maintain the existing balance of the Exmoor landscape. For sound farming reasons "—I underline "sound farming reasons"—farmers have converted moorland to improve their holdings' stock-carrying capacity and may continue to do so. This has the effect of gradually diminishing the areas of moorland which conservationists rightly say, and many farmers admit, is one of the main characteristics of Exmoor and one of the reasons for its original designation as a national park".That was the first paragraph in the Porchester Report, and it set out clearly for all time that this is an issue which one day has to be decided, and it cannot be decided by talk about voluntary agreements without any last resort to compulsory power.
That is the issue which this Bill avoids, and that is the matter upon which I suggest not only to conservationists but to the landed gentry, the Country Landowners Association and the NFU is something which ought to be settled in this House and in this Parliament on this Bill. If we fudge it again or try to do what proved a complete failure in 1968, then I have the gravest doubts whether the heartland of some of our national parks will survive for a further decade.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble and young Earls who have made their maiden speeches today. It has been a day for the young, and I feel, as a grandmother of 11 children, slightly out on a limb today. If only we can get this Bill right in Committee I hope that my grandchildren will be able to enjoy the heritage of wildlife and the countryside that we trust this Bill will preserve.
My noble friend Lord Melchett, the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, and other noble Lords, have spoken about the central issue in this Bill: the protection of the natural habitats without which wild creatures and plants cannot possibly survive. We believe the provisions in this Bill for the preservation of conditions essential to even a modicum of wildlife are inadequate, and that without more effective means of control and more certain funding than are promised in it, the Bill is no more than window dressing. The measures for protecting individual species, however good in themselves, are beside the point. Nevertheless, in the hope that something will be done about this basic issue, I feel it is worth making a few comments on the more specific provisions for wildlife protection. In general, we welcome the adjustments put forward in this Bill. The aim of many of them is to rationalise the existing arrangements and introduce a greater consistency in the regulations. In this aim the Bill has some success. Indeed, I shall suggest that in some cases the desire to make everything consistent has gone too far.
May I turn to specific provisions on the clauses relating to bird protection and enforcement? Many of the proposals have the full support of the voluntary conservation bodies. Some, however, appear to be less effective than we should wish. A few are definitely retrograde and there are some omissions. Clause 1 is the principal clause giving basic protection to wild birds, their nests and eggs. An important new provision is that the possession of eggs which have been illegally taken will now be an offence as well as the actual taking, and this change will aid enforcement.
I feel that the hunting seasons for wild fowl and waders mentioned in Clause 2 have not been rationalised to fall into line with conservation principles now applied throughout much of Northern Europe. I welcome Clause 5 but should like to see an amendment making any authorising person or body liable for prosecution for one of these offences committed by their agents unless it can be shown that all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent the offence from occurring.
Clause 6 deals with aviculture and the sale of birds, and contains some important new proposals. The list of birds which may be sold if aviary bred and close ringed is reduced from over 100 to 25; and this must be welcomed. Furthermore, only those species which breed readily in captivity would be eligible for competitive exhibition. I am concerned that non-competitive exhibition may take place, for this may continue to encourage the illegal taking from the wild, the keeping and showing of less common birds. The list of species in Schedule 3, Part I, is still too long and includes several birds which do not breed readily in captivity.
1082 Clause 7 relates to the keeping of birds in captivity. An important new element here is the proposed registration and ringing of all captive birds of prey and other uncommon birds as listed in Schedule 4. This is satisfactory provided that there are regulations for adequate inspection and enforcement procedures. At the moment there are no provisions within the Bill for the establishment of an official wildlife investigation and enforcement agency. This is deplorable. Acts are meaningless without adequate enforcement. Each year the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds receives information on over a thousand possible offences against the Protection of Birds Act alone. The society have a very small staff for following up these reports. Because they are not a statutory body they do not have access to official information to enable the investigations they undertake to proceed swiftly and smoothly. And because of this lack of resources they have to select a few cases to pursue and cannot give due time and consideration to all the information they receive. The RSPCA are in a similar position.
What are these offences? Twenty-two per cent. of the reports received by the RSPB in the last five years are concerned with the illegal taking, possession and sale of birds of prey. In 1980 the society had their worst year on record for robberies of peregrine eyries. The peregrine falcon is a rare bird of prey for which we have an international responsibility. This year there were known thefts of eggs or young from 32 areas, representing about 10 per cent, of those known to exist in Britain. Seventeen young peregrines were eventually recovered by the RSPB and several prosecutions are in process. Egg collecting is still a major problem. For example, four people were prosecuted earlier this year for taking eggs of golden eagles in Scotland. Subsequently two of them were caught taking rare birds' eggs in Northern England: their earlier fine had not been a deterrent.
Is the £500 maximum adequate? Young peregrines can be sold for £1,000 each. I understand that the total number of individuals who appear in court for offences against wild birds is over 200 annually. The RSPB believes this is merely the tip of the iceberg and that it is only the foolish who make themselves obvious to the police or customs and are caught. The large majority, knowledgeable and highly organised, go undetected and make a lucrative profit from the nation's wildlife heritage. Sadly, there is no voluntary organisation similar to the RSPB with sufficient staff resources to deal with offences under the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act, and very few prosecutions for contravening this Act have been undertaken. Under import and export legislation the voluntary bodies—
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? She mentioned a maximum fine of £500 but I must remind her that I think there is three months in gaol as well.
§ Baroness David
Yes, my Lords. I hope that people are not going to be sent to gaol a great deal, as no doubt we shall discover later in the week when we have that Bill presented again. But I feel strongly that the maximum fine is not adequate, considering the price that people get for the peregrines. Under the import and export legislation, the voluntary bodies are not allowed 1083 behind the lines of customs. Thus, by and large, one has to rely on the overworked customs officer to detect offences against the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, and how can he be expected to identify the range of bizarre creatures and products that can so easily be smuggled into this country? Importation should be restricted to a very few ports of entry where expert surveillance could be maintained, and where there would be proper conditions in which to house the animals or birds.
I do not want my remarks to be taken as a criticism of the police or customs officers, who are currently empowered to enforce wildlife legislation. It is just too much to expect them to have the time and the necessary technical knowledge to detect and convict these offenders. The present unsatisfactory state of affairs can be remedied only if the Government will provide police and customs with a backing of technical experts. Ideally, this should be done by the Nature Conservancy Council appointing a small wildlife investigation and enforcement unit as the NCC's equivalents do in the USA, New Zealand, Australia and now also in Ireland. Without this, the smuggling rings, the organised egg and falconry thieves, will continue to operate in the knowledge that the risk of detection is very low indeed.
We are very concerned about the Government's proposals regarding the granting of licences under Clause 15. A number of noble Lords have made this point, and I shall therefore cut that part of my speech relating to Clause 15. I should like just to say that the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, in opening were not totally reassuring and we should like to probe those in Committee. I should also like to comment that I am disappointed that he is not here at the moment for the winding-up of this debate, and has not been here for a great deal of it. So he has not heard the quite sharp criticisms of the Bill which have been made from his own side of the House—
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness, she may not be aware that it is the custom of the House that the Government are represented by the person who is winding-up. It is not the normal practice that the Minister who opens is expected to be present throughout. I can assure the noble Baroness that there is no discourtesy.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am very interested to hear what the noble Lord has said. But I must still say that I am slightly surprised that the opener would not be interested enough to hear the comments of the House. To go back to Clause 15 and the licensing, we feel that the implications are horrific. We could go back to the pre-1954 situation, when each county had its own by-laws governing bird protection and nobody knew where they stood. Moreover, we believe that the proposals fly in the face of the spirit, and probably the letter, of the EEC directive. Conservation bodies believe that the authority empowered to issue licences should be the NCC, in consultation with the agricultural departments, and that licences should be for quite specific purposes and not for whole counties, regions or countries. Only so can Article 9 of the EEC directive on wild birds be complied with.
1084 I should now like to deal with mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Here rationalisation has not gone far enough. All birds and all plants are, in some measure, protected and the schedules of species list those which are to be accorded additional protection, or, because they are pests, which are excepted for protection. We think that the same method, which is known as reverse-listing, should be applied to mammals, reptiles and amphibians. It is surely absurd that only four species in the latter group are to be protected in any way. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, bore this out in their speeches.
On plants, it is very satisfactory that the schedule of protected plants has been enlarged, but here a striking degree of inconsistency remains. The amended list does not even include all endangered plants in Britain. At Committee stage, some additions to the schedule of protected plants will be proposed. In any case, it is vital that we should ensure that the machinery for amending this and other schedules, by addition or by deletion, should be such as to allow speedy action. Changes in natural conditions, and in the degree of threat, may be very sudden and dangerous and it would be intolerable if the urgent measures necessary were to be impeded by a long bureaucratic process, or suspended until another Bill could be brought before Parliament.
The provisions regarding the sale of protected plants have been brought perhaps too rigidly into line with those for wild creatures. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred to this. We feel it important that it should still be possible to buy specimens of these plants from the horticultural firms which for a long time have been rearing them in cultivation. The Bill, by its definition of wild plants in Clause 25, does indeed safeguard the nurseryman who sells what I may call tame plants, but one can envisage the dishonest nurseryman using this safeguard as a cover for illegal operations. It will be necessary either to keep a register of bona fide growers licensed, after inspection, to grow and sell these plants or—and this is the means to be adopted in the parallel legislation in Ireland—the onus of proving that the plants offered for sale are not wild plants should be placed on the vendor rather than on the prosecutor.
In the proposed legislation regarding the introduction of alien species, plants are again a little too rigidly aligned with other forms of wildlife. The seed of a garden plant which happens to blow over your hedge into the country beyond is in a different category from the coypu deliberately let loose. Some amendment is desirable, and my noble friend Lord Kilbracken has raised some of the complications. At the same time, we should like to add some regulations regarding the sale of foreign seeds of British native plants. Often the foreign strains are genetically very different from the native ones and, if introduced and allowed to interbreed, might noticeably affect the nature of British plant populations.
We very much welcome the provisions regarding limestone pavements in Clause 28, but hope that it may be possible to secure a protection order on grounds of natural beauty as well as of scientific interest. I did not quite understand what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said about this in his introduction, because 1085 it did not seem to me to be quite in line with the clauses in the Bill. But I shall read his speech with care to see whether I am correct on this.
I now turn to Part III, dealing with public rights of way. When the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, mentioned Clause 46 which deals with bulls, he said that nobody had been killed; but according to my information, the Ramblers' Association has a file of cases in which walkers have been chased, injured or even killed by bulls. For example, a pensioner was killed by a bull when he was out walking near Thornaby-in-Cleveland in October of last year, so perhaps the noble Viscount was not quite correct in his information.
§ Baroness David
I think that one is enough, my Lords. To turn back to public rights of way and the other clauses dealing with this matter, we welcome the streamlining of the procedure for updating definitive maps: that there will be a process of continuous updating instead of quinquennial reviews, which in most counties never were quinquennial. We welcome the extension of definitive maps to cover areas which do not have them at the moment—for example, former county boroughs like Plymouth, Cardiff, Leicester.
What we are not so happy about is that the Secretary of State will no longer be involved in the drawing up of the maps or in the processes of creating, diverting or extinguishing rights of way. These powers from now on will be wholly in the hands of the county and district councils. Hitherto, these councils have been empowered to make path orders, but if objections are received the matter is referred to the Secretary of State who makes the final decision.
Under the Bill, there will still be a right of appeal, but only to the authority which made the initial order. Local authorities own large areas of land. They may want to close paths to facilitate development which they themselves are promoting. They might even wish, by closing paths, to divest themselves of their statutory duty to signpost and maintain them. In 1979, there were 75 creation orders and 341 closure orders—far more closures than creations. Path users fear that there will be many closures if local authorities are given the final decision.
A proposal to close a public path is a proposal to deprive the public of certain rights. It is generally accepted as fair that when a local authority wants to deprive an individual of his right to develop his land or property by refusing planning permission, it should be open to the individual to appeal to the Secretary of State. It should apply with just as much force, therefore, that when a local authority wishes to deprive the public of certain rights by closing a footpath, it should then be open to members of the public to appeal to a higher and independent authority.
It has been objected in the past that the process of appealing to the Secretary of State may take an absurdly long time, sometimes over three years. That objection would be removed if the Secretary of State's inspectors were empowered not merely to recommend but to make the decision. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum claims that the reduction of the role of the Secretary of State will enable savings of about £175,000 per annum to be made in staff costs. These 1086 costs will merely be transferred to local authorities. There are 53 county councils and 369 district councils, and a small number of civil servants with extensive experience of path orders can surely do the job more cheaply and more efficiently than 422 local authority solicitors who have plenty of other things to do. Moreover, the Secretary of State proposes to retain some independent power of making path orders. The central staff therefore cannot be entirely disbanded and in addition there will be yet another variation added to the bewildering diversity of criteria likely to be applied by local authorities. Inconsistency between decisions in similar cases is surely to be avoided.
In conclusion I would say that the greatest threat to wildlife and to the countryside in Britain lies in the apparently widespread belief that conservationists and farmers are in implacable opposition. That is an absurdity, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. In Britain, the so-called natural habitats and landscape are largely man-made or at least strongly man-influenced. To preserve them in any desirable state requires continuous management but it is the wildest fallacy to imagine that conservation means just freezing a piece of land against any kind of interference and leaving all to nature. In Britain, land subjected to such a policy would rapidly become overgrown with impenetrable scrub of no use to wildlife, to farmers or to the rambler. The obvious people to manage the land are the farmers and the foresters who are used to, and skilled in, working it. The Government are therefore right to emphasise the need for voluntary working arrangements between conservationists and landowners, but these may well not be enough. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and other noble Lords have pointed this out, including the noble Lord, Lord Foot.
In many areas there is abundant co-operation and I should like to pay particular tribute to the work of the farming and wildlife advisory groups, where these exist. Inevitably there will be instances where the interests of the farmers and the conservationists conflict, or appear to conflict, and the sort of informal contacts offered by FWAG provide the best opportunity for the resolution, or at least the understanding of such conflicts. Often they arise from ignorance or from a false assessment of short-term as against long-term benefit, an assessment frequently unfairly biased by Government incentives which have been insufficiently researched and monitored.
Many Welsh farmers discovered in the drought of 1976 that unimproved pastures survived and continued to sustain their cattle while those ploughed and re-seeded with rye grass were burnt to nothing. In Wiltshire, however, for centuries agriculture and wildlife have co-existed happily, the tops of the downs being ploughed and the steep uncultivatable slopes left to maintain a rich variety of rare and beautiful plants and butterflies. Recently the practice of indiscriminate spraying with fertilisers from the air has raised on the still uncultivatable slopes crops of nettles, thistles and docks for which the only possible treatment is burning off, along with what little of the original flora has been able to compete with them.
If the Bill is really to do something positive for wildlife and the countryside, it must do much more to ensure that time and opportunity are given for such issues to be fairly examined, in the overall national 1087 interest as well as in the interests of those immediately concerned and with some insulation against ultimately "phoney" inducements. The Bill must also make some provision against the obstinacy of the purely selfish or bloody-minded landowner. One hopes that these are rare but they certainly do exist, as in every other section of the community, and they should not be allowed to obstruct whatever may be clearly in the long-term interest of the community as a whole.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I should like to join with other Members of the House in congratulating my two noble friends, Lord Halifax and Lord Peel, on their maiden speeches. It seems to be that one ought to try to find some relationship with them, so I am happy to tell the House that my mother was a Yorkshire lady and born in the North Riding. I thought the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, made some very wise remarks about farming and forestry, whereas the noble Earl, Lord Peel, brought us up to date on national parks and particularly upland industries. Both their contributions are of considerable value to the House, and I hope we can drag them down from those wonderful moors of Yorkshire as often as possible.
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate. Indeed, I expected no less in view of the wide scope of the Bill. I am sure we shall have the opportunity later, when we go over the Bill clause by clause, of fully considering many of the points raised. Your Lordships would not wish me to answer every question or reply to every point made here this evening, even if I could. The Bill is concerned with subjects which deserve serious attention. I think it is especially important that we should proceed with goodwill and agreement; this is one of the mainstays of this Bill and, on the whole, I think its reception from all parts of the House has been good. I should like also to pay tribute to voluntary organisations which have been involved in long consultations before drawing up this Bill, whose chairmen or vice-chairmen or presidents are around me on all sides.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, opened in his normal ebullient way, and I thought I was going to be able to congratulate him on a very well-balanced speech until he ran into hulls right at the end. I should like to take one small issue with him. Really there is not a conflict here among farmers and conservationists so much as a compromise Bill. The noble Lord mentioned one or two points. He particularly reminded us, very wisely, of the continued pressure on the countryside by the so-called civilisation of today. We did, later on, come across the tree preservation order, when he corrected one of my noble friends behind me. There is also, of course, an opportunity for hedgerows and woodlands to come under management agreements; but I admit that this does not happen very often. He also brought up ADAS. I would remind him that they are committed to follow the conservation aspects which are laid down in the Strutt Report.
Before going on to other noble Lords' points, I should say that notes on clauses are being prepared. I am sorry they are not available for this debate today, but they will be available when the House reassembles, 1088 and I hope will help a number of noble Lords. I think particularly the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, and the noble Lord, Lord Burton, would welcome some guidance on some of the clauses. If that sounds rude, I only say it because they both asked for clarification. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made moving remarks about saving our heritage, and I am sure all the House will agree that in this House there is a real hope that this Bill will be drafted as the best possible Bill. He made some aspersions about the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—it is a pity that this is covered by two Ministries. Personally I think these are the sort of things which are difficult to balance, and I believe there are many advantages in having the two different departments to advise.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston, reminded us of the continuing process of erosion of our countryside, and brought us up to date both with agriculture and the habits of visitors in his area. He has also notched up a considerable dislike of hedgerows. My noble friend Lord Middleton has formidable knowledge and wise advice. I particularly welcome his accent on the voluntary spirit particularly in relation to the SSSIs. I shall come on to those again later.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke of national parks and particularly Exmoor. He also quoted to me from some 30 years ago, but I regret to say that at present I have been unable to find a quotation to cap him. However, I do serve under a Secretary of State at the moment who is on record as a committed conservationist, and my right honourable friend the Minister who is the Member for Bridgwater is always on my back about conservation.
I should perhaps put one matter into perspective. About three years ago in a White Paper about Dartmoor it was written that, important as the national parks are, they cannot be paramount over everything else. I think that that is a little cautionary word. As regards Exmoor, since Lord Porchester's report there have been just under 1,900 acres protected in Exmoor, while in this same period we have actually lost 66 acres.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also spoke about agreements. We have in mind agreements for a period of about 20 years which, I think, would be the most satisfactory both for the farmers and for the parklands. My noble friend Lord Chelwood made pleas for money and I shall come to money again later and also to capital transfer tax. I can but say that I shall bring this matter to the attention of my right honourable friend. He also brought up the subject of the licensed control of birds which cause damage. I should like to make a few comments which concern both birds and mammals. The agricultural departments, the advisory committees, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Department of the Environment have conferred on how the right balance is to be achieved. They have worked out procedures which should make sure that any licences to take or kill birds because they cause serious damage are only issued in accordance with agreed policies, taking into account the degree and extent of damage; the conservation threat to the species; the alternative methods of dissuading birds apart from killing them; and the need by proper reporting to assess the effectiveness of any measures approved. May I say once again that that refers to 1089 mammals as well as birds. We have a duty to do that to comply with the European Community directive and we also have a duty to do it to meet the central principle of United Kingdom bird protection—that birds are protected unless they are plentiful, quarry species or are causing damage. The Nature Conservancy Council will be consulted on a policy for all species. The Government take the view that the rarer and more vulnerable the species the greater the care needed in control of killing.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—I hope that he will find me warming to the subject except that he is not here to see me boiling over—talked about consultations. As usual the department has an open door and I think that your Lordships have heard from noble Lords here today enough to realise that the consultation was just about as widely drawn as it possibly could be.
The noble Lord also raised the fact that birds are more protected than mammals. That is a factual statement. This Bill is primarily a conservation Bill, not a protection Bill as such, and the bird protection elements include welfare, but only because they are carried forward from previous legislation and mainly amended because of a Community directive. The animal provisions are designed to reflect the conservation status of the species concerned. Animal welfare measures are provided for in other legislation—for instance, the Badgers Act and there is a Protection of Animals Act as well.
My noble friend Lord Ridley talked about finance and so did other noble Lords. In the general sense I am afraid that my answer will not be very satisfactory. The Bill provides a framework so that we are able to spend money when, of course, the economic climate provides us with the money to spend. But it does provide the framework. My noble friend asked specifically whether the Government's financial support for moorland conservation expenditure in Exmoor will come from the National Parks Supplementary Grant. The answer is, yes. As to whether it is enough, the amount is mainly determined by the Exmoor National Park Committee's own estimate of their needs. So hopefully it will be.
My noble friend Lord Sandford referred to Clause 31. Here one must pay tribute to his report, much of which is contained in Part II of the Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will recognise it, as he will recognise that much of the work of the last Administration is to be found in Part II. Where we part is at a point which both the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, have raised, which is in regard to what one might call the long-stop. In his report in 1977, Lord Porchester recommended a long-stop compulsory order to stop a farmer converting his moorland by buying out his rights. This is what we have left out, and this is what the previous Administration included in their draft. As my noble friend Lord Bellwin said, we have omitted it because we believe that we have such a good arrangement going on Exmoor at the moment, an arrangement agreed by the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association and the Exmoor National Park Committee. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said, this co-operation is proceeding so well that we believe it is better to let it run as it is, and any compulsory order 1090 might have the adverse effect. I think that we have to agree to differ on this particular point.
I particularly appreciated the words about urgency of the noble Viscount, Lord Arbuthnott, in his very well-founded speech, and I shall read his speech with interest in detail tomorrow. I should like to wish my noble friend Lord Margadale many happy returns on his birthday and, equally, I shall write to him on his particular points. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill—it was refreshing to hear his views among all the farmers—asked me whether I accepted all the statistics which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, produced. Frankly, without reading them, I should not like to say "yes" straight off, because there was one point with which I did not agree. But perhaps I could take that up with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, later. I do not think that the report which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, read from the Economist was entirely fair, for the Economist said that we consulted only one side, whereas I think the noble Lord will now have gathered that virtually everyone has been consulted all the way along the line. I shall come later to his other points about the footpaths and the bulls.
My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale in his interesting remarks said that the Department of the Environment was confused about live animals as decoys. I do not think that the department was confused by that. It discovered that the live animal was not there, and believes that it might be protected under the Cruelty to Animals Act. However, we are checking on that. At the same time I should like to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale for all the work he did on his previous Bill. I am only sorry that at the moment he thinks the Bill is not as recognisable as he would like it to be.
I should like to welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, on the Countryside Commission. I rather thought that the present Countryside Commission was a Quango, but I shall not argue whether it will be or whether it was. I am sure that it will be a very good commission under its new status. I also noted with interest the noble Lord's other comments on the countryside, as I am sure other noble Lords will have done.
Perhaps I might say a few words here on badgers, on which the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, spoke. The badger is already afforded a measure of protection by the Badgers Act 1973. For example, an unauthorised person may not kill a badger, and there is a provision for areas of special protection where authorised persons may kill or take a badger only when it is necessary to do so to prevent serious damage to their property.
In this Bill we are proposing to increase the degree of protection which a badger might enjoy by including it in the schedule of mammals against which a range of methods described in Clause 11 should not be employed, except under a licence. I am advised—f know that this contradicts what one noble Lord has said—that the status of the badger is not threatened in Great Britain as a whole, and we would need to consider carefully any proposals to extend the protection still further. However, if there are new proposals, obviously we shall consider them carefully at the Committee stage.
1091 The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, fired a lot of shots at me from behind, putting me really into the front line. I can assure him that the Government are not in a muddle. They know where they are going. For instance, he mentioned that drainage seemed to be going one way and conservation another, but I can inform him that the Department of the Environment is also responsible for drainage. At the same time he spoke rather nastily about the arts and the amount of money being spent on the arts. I could equally inform him that I am meant to be the Government spokesman on the arts as well, so there is a little umbrella there.
The noble Lord, Lord Burton, mentioned the Berne Convention. That has been signed but it has not been ratified. He also made a remark about passing by a wounded bird on the other side of the road. That is not necessary in this Bill. There are clauses which take into account taking in a wounded bird and repairing it. My noble friend Lord Swinton asked about egg collections. I should like to reassure him, on the collection of eggs, that it is only eggs taken after the date of the Act which it will be illegal to possess. He will also, in principle, be able to get a licence to take gulls eggs provided that there are no conservation objections. He also asked about poaching. We do not think that that is a right subject for this Bill. On the other hand, we have done a bit towards it by our constant reference to authorised persons.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, raised a number of technical points. If I may, I shall write to him about them. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, asked why our list differed from the Appendix 3. The NCC advises us on which species are not only in danger of extinction but are also likely to become so no matter what the reason. Hence, incidentally, the otter in Scotland. In Schedule 5 we offered the same protection to both, unlike the Convention. The Convention requires us to take whatever measures are necessary to protect Appendix 3 species. This we have done. We rely on the NCC for advice.
The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, asked for a positive answer that otters in Scotland will be protected. Yes, they will. The measure is in the Bill. He asked about funds for international species. The NCC, in co-operation with many other national and international organisations, funds research into the status of endangered species outside the UK. The Government play a significant part in the international field, and a very recent agreement by the Council of Ministers of the European Community to ban the trade in primary products of all cetaceans and many secondary products was a direct result of United Kingdom research.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, in her closing remarks particularly mentioned law enforcement. Here of course we sympathise with the RSPB on this. No doubt at Committee stage we can discuss whether there is anything more we can do on this matter. I have also taken into account her views of the NCC's assisting either the customs or the police where it is appropriate. I should now like to come to the question on which there were more pros and cons than most, and that is the SSSI.
§ Lord Craigton
My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, a number of questions were raised about marine reserves. Has he anything to say on that?
§ The Earl of Avon
I have, indeed, my Lords. It actually comes at the end because it is not in Parts I, II or III. On SSSIs, some noble Lords have raised doubts on the habitat protection measures, saying that they do not go far enough and that the Government should be seeking to protect all sites of special scientific interest to the extent that owners should notify the NCC when they intend to vary the way in which they are currently managing the land. At the last count there were 3,816 such sites, and the Government do not wish to impose what might be an unreasonable and unnecessary burden on farmers and land-owners. The success of nature conservation in Britain depends not so much on statutory provision as on the continuation of the goodwill of those who earn their living from the land and those who are concerned that its wildlife resources should remain unimpaired.
In regard to the notification of SSSIs, the noble Lords, Lord Middleton, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Chelwood, suggested that the Bill might contain a requirement for all owners of sites of special scientific interest to be notified of the fact. The Government, of course, accept that it is most important that owners of land notified as areas of SSSI should be made aware of the importance of their land. NCC policy is to ensure that this is done and they already make every endeavour to notify all owners. Sometimes this is not possible, despite their efforts, and here I take note of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt about the danger of not informing people.
I can assure the House that it is not the Government's intention to see the notification system for areas of special interest under Section 23 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 replaced by the new provision in Clause 26. The two co-exist, and as indicated in Clause 26, my right honourable friend may designate sites of special interest for the purpose of securing the survival of flora, fauna, geological and physiographical features or for the purposes of complying with an international obligation or in the national interest.
In practice, therefore, a designation order will be used only in relation to areas mentioned in the Nature Conservation Review or areas of similar quality and only when there is a real risk of threat to these sites. Apart from one or two Ramsar sites designated under the Ramsar Convention, it is not feasible, or indeed desirable, to give advance notice of which areas might be involved. My right honourable friend intends to restrict these orders to some of the most important and threatened sites, and in the first few years I think it unlikely that the number will exceed 40 or 50.
All sites are important, but of course some sites are more so. The essential difference between normal sites of special scientific interest and those to be covered by the proposed designation order is that the Government are proposing that the latter should be afforded the opportunity of total protection from damaging activities. At present this can be afforded only by ownership and it is protection which we call "super". I believe the NCC should be left to look 1093 at the SSSIs themselves and they should not be graded; as several noble Lords have said, that would be a bad idea. At present some key sites have been announced and there are also some other very important sites, and it is some of the latter which will be subject to the orders. We believe that our measures, together with the new climate of awareness, will stem any tide, and, after all, that is why this legislation is before the House.
I come to the question of footpaths. I have listened with interest to the views expressed by many noble Lords; the noble Lords, Lord Underhill, Lord Winstanley and Lord Middleton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, all spoke on this subject. It is our intention to bestow the responsibility on local authorities for taking the final decision wherever possible to create, divert or extinguish rights of way or to amend definitive maps when they are disputed. This proposition is entirely consistent with the philosophy that issues of local importance should be decided locally without the involvement of central Government. Public rights of way are without doubt a supremely local matter, in that first and foremost the path network within a particular area should meet the needs of a local community. Logic demands that responsibility for decisions on these matters should be entrusted to the democratically elected representatives of the local community. That paths may be used by visitors from outside the area does not mean that the needs of a local community should be subordinate, or that responsibility for decisions should pass out of the hands of a local authority.
Much has also been said about the way in which authorities would exercise the additional powers. I have no reason to believe that local authorities would act irresponsibly or be any less impartial in their judgment on disputed proposals. None the less it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that we do not recognise at the outset that the proposal would be controversial and that the impartiality of authorities would be questioned. We therefore propose to make it an obligation on authorities to take disputed proposals to a public local inquiry, which will be conducted by an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State; and it is intended to amend the Bill to bring that about. The noble Lord—
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, the noble Earl has made a very important new announcement, and if he is now moving away from that point I wonder whether it can be made clear whether the intention would then be for the local authority to be able to contradict and find in the opposite sense to the inspector at the local public inquiry, or would that decision be final?
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, as we have it at the moment the authority would be able to contradict it, but since I have not yet seen the amendment perhaps we can leave that point until next time.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned appeals to the Minister. It is true that 40 per cent. of them—I think the noble Lord said half—are rejected. We hope that the requirement that I have just mentioned will safeguard the interests of objectors and indeed the authorities, since it will ensure that the arguments are heard by a person independent of the authority 1094 and that processes leading to the decision will be carried out in public.
My noble friend Lord Wise mentioned bridleways. We see no reason why under the new legislation there should be any reduction in bridleways; in fact we should imagine that there might even be an increase. I believe that this transfer of jurisdiction should be welcome, in view of the terrible backlog that we have at the moment.
So as to waken up your Lordships in the 27th minute of my speech I shall go on to deal with bulls. Several noble Lords have referred to our proposals on bulls and public paths. We have given careful consideration to the alternative proposals of introducing temporary footpath diversions, and various arrangements were discussed with major interested parties. However, as stated in the department's recent information paper, it was not possible to reach agreement. A noble Lord thought that there had been agreement some years back, but it is still not possible to reach agreement. So we have put forward proposals which are reasonable to both the path user and the farmer.
The system works well in Scotland, and has done so for more than a decade, both on low ground and high ground, and our proposal would ensure consistency throughout the country. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, some counties have one type of obligation, while other counties have another type. So one can run away from a bull and get to the county border and the bull cannot cross. Our proposals are surely safer to the path user than the conglomeration of by-laws and no laws that abounds today. We are recommending that beef bulls be permitted to graze in fields crossed by footpaths. That is much safer than the present system in some counties which permit dairy bulls.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to an incident in which a pensioner was attacked and killed last year in Cleveland. I understand that that incident involved 16 young Friesian bulls which were being fatted for beef, and furthermore that it did not occur on a public footpath. So that instance does not really apply to the clause before us.
Turning finally to the question of the marine nature reserves, which was raised by no less than six noble Lords, I am instructed to say that following the publication last year of the Nature Conservancy Council's and the Natural Environment Research Council's joint report entitled, Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment, discussions have been taking place on their suggestion of establishing statutorily-protected marine nature reserves. The issues are, however, much more complex than they appeared at first sight, and the Government are hoping to issue a consultation paper in the very near future.
It is not perhaps surprising that this Bill has aroused so much interest. Many of its provisions reflect the large number of helpful and constructive comments made by a wide range of interested people and organisations before the Bill was introduced into this House. It is a better Bill as a result of those consultations, but I know that your Lordships will ensure that its provisions receive the most careful scrutiny. I commend the Bill to this House, and I invite your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.