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Column 45scientific work and the designation of sites. I have had many representations about maintaining these aspects of the current NCC remit. These are legitimate concerns which must be met under our plans.
The wider view is vital--whether to meet our European Community responsibilities to monitor endangered species, or to assist Government in implementing international wildlife conventions. This was recognised from the outset, and the options for meeting these objectives were discussed during the autumn with the NCC itself, and with a wide range of scientific opinion. As a result I was able to announce in the House in November that certain key responsibilities for international and Great Britain nature conservation issues, for setting scientific standards and for commissioning and supporting research on issues which transcend country boundaries would be exercised jointly by the three new country bodies, acting through a statutory joint committee. The Government's decision to appoint an independent chairman to the joint committee will enhance the confidence of the wider scientific community and ensure that Great Britain and international matters are viewed from a broad perspective. This will be covered in an amendment to the Bill, which the Government will table in Committee.
The country agencies will be required to ensure that the joint committee has adequate resources to provide appropriate scientific advice on matters within its remit. The Bill provides me with reserve powers to direct them to do so, If I believe that their own proposals are not adequate.
I should emphasise that the arrangements in the Bill, including the establishment of a joint committee under an independent chairman, meet all the main requirements which the full Nature Conservancy Council itself sought from Ministers, following its meeting to discuss reorganisation last November. The NCC asked for independent and properly resourced agencies for each country, properly backed up by science. Our proposals will set up such agencies. It asked for a co-ordinating committee with an independent chairman to deal with scientific, Great Britain and international issues. The Bill will establish one. It asked for a secretariat and technical unit to support the committee, and hence the country agencies. The Bill will allow for this. Furthermore, we will take the opportunity to bring Northern Ireland into the formal arrangements for the first time, so that we can obtain a United Kingdom as well as a Great Britain dimension to nature conservation policies.
The Bill also delivers two other important commitments. First, it guarantees that every existing NCC scientist--and indeed all existing members of the NCC's staff--will be offered posts in one of the successor bodies. This will ensure that the existing skills and expertise of the NCC are transferred to the new bodies. Secondly, the Bill will provide for the transfer of the NCC's existing property and commitments. This means that the many hundreds of management agreements which the NCC has negotiated will remain in force. It also means that our 235 national nature reserves will be passed on to the stewardship of the country body responsible for the area where they are located.
Each of the new agencies will inherit precisely the powers and duties of the present Nature Conservancy Council, including those to set up, manage and maintain
Column 46nature reserves. I have been advised that the Bill definitely secures this, but if there is any lingering doubt, I shall be happy to see that it is removed.
I have no doubt that any reasonable person will view these reforms as a strong and flexible framework for countryside protection throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr. Ron Davies : It would be churlish of those hon. Members who opposed the original proposals not to recognise the substantial concessions that the Secretary of State has announced this afternoon. I am grateful that he has come such a considerable way from the position outlined by his predecessor when the scheme was announced. However, will he acknowledge that there is still total opposition to the dismemberment of the NCC within that organisation? [Hon. Members : "No."] Perhaps those hon. Members who disagree will have the opportunity to put their point of view later.
The staff and membership of the NCC are still opposed to its dismemberment. The voluntary organisation is unanimous in its opposition to dismemberment of the NCC.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that two fundamental questions have not been answered? First, the science base will be undermined by the dismemberment, and nothing that the Secretary of State has said this afternoon has given us any assurances on that. Secondly, nature conservation transcends national boundaries. Issues that are important in Britain are important to the whole of western Europe. The Secretary of State should
Mr. Patten : The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ron Davies) said that there was widespread opposition to the proposals within the NCC, and to the proposals that I have announced this afternoon. As far as I am concerned, my proposals meet all the suggestions put to me by the full NCC council.
I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), to the fact that, among those bodies which appear to support our proposals, are the English, Scottish and Welsh committees, of the NCC. Indeed, the Welsh committee of the NCC has enjoyed, or even bathed in, the endorsement of the Leader of the Opposition, who has supported our proposals. As the CID says, I have documentary evidence to support that, should it be required.
As I said earlier, some issues need to be dealt with on a Great Britain basis, and that is why we are setting up a joint statutory committee. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly believes that scientists and public servants, such as Lord Cranbrook and Mr. Holliday, would connive to weaken the science base for nature conservancy, I suspect that he does not know as much about the subject as I thought he did.
Column 47at 2.30, anxious that hon. Members should continue to press the case that some of us have been pressing for months?
Have Sir William Wilkinson and Sir John Burnett agreed to the Secretary of State's proposals, and could he satisfy one lingering doubt? He talked about the comparable protocols in scientific research. Does that mean that there will be no duplication of scientifically scarce resources between Scotland, England and Wales?
Mr. Patten : I hope that there wil be no duplication, and that will be one of the tasks that the joint statutory committee will want to turn its attention to. That committee will also want to ensure that there is a common scientific base for work throughout Great Britain, but I hope that that does not lead to duplication of scarce scientific resources.
On the hon. Member's first question, I will not speak for individual members of the NCC, as I am sure that they can speak for themselves-- indeed, they have not been slow to do so. The chairman of the NCC wrote to me, on behalf of the council, in November, setting out what he wanted me to do to make the proposals acceptable. I think that, with the best will in the world, I have met the council on every point.
Part VIII contains a number of small but important measures. In clause 110, we are taking new powers to regulate the trade in waste. I refer to that clause in response to earlier interventions on the subject.
Clause 111 allows for strengthened controls over the disposal of waste at sea. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, will say more on that subject later, if hon. Members wish.
In that part of the Bill, we are also giving statutory backing to payments to environmental bodies, such as the United Nations Environment Programme. That has been urged on us on a number of occasions by the Select Committee on the Environment, and I hope that it is pleased with the proposals.
Having outlined the main elements of the Bill, I shall mention one or two items that time has prevented us from including in the print. At a later stage, we shall introduce an amendment to require information on the environmental hazard of certain industrial chemicals--the so-called "existing chemicals" which have been sold and used for some time--as opposed to new chemicals marketed for the first time. My Department published a consultation paper on the proposals last year. Full account has been taken on the responses in preparing the amendment. I hope that the House will see that as a worthwhile step forward.
One issue that was covered in the consultation paper, which we have already included in clause 109, is the proposal to broaden the control powers currently contained in section 100 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced to the House on 30 November, we intend seeking powers in the Bill to enable us to prohibit the burning of all crop residues. The intention is that the prohibition will take effect in the late autumn of 1992 to give farmers time to adjust.
Hon. Members will recall that, before making his statement, my right hon. Friend conducted a thorough review, which included a careful examination of the
Column 48effectiveness of existing controls. In last year's dry summer, burning straw proved particularly difficult. There were literally thousands of complaints from local authorities, fire brigades and the general public.
I should emphasise that the problems that arose were not confined to those burns which failed to comply with the byelaws and the National Farmers Union's code of practice. The reduction in public nuisance that a ban would represent will be obvious to anyone who lives, in particular, in eastern and southern England. Our proposals have been warmly welcomed on both sides of the House.
Hon. Members may have noticed that the Bill does not specifically address the question of Crown immunity. I do not intend that the Crown should be immune from the provisions of the Bill. Far from it : the Government should be seen to be in the lead in protecting the environment. The proposals I will be bringing forward will therefore ensure that where Government Departments do not come up to the required standards, that failure will be plainly identifiable.We will follow the provisions already put into practice in the food safety legislation, that the House is considering at the moment. By any standards this is a major Bill. If we judge the importance of legislation by its length--I hope that the same is not true of speeches--I believe that the Bill should be seen as a measure of particular note. It will lay the foundation for pollution control well into the next century. The Bill is a demonstration of our commitment to improve and protect the environment of our own country and to play a major role in international environmental policy. No-one can sensibly argue that we can cope with every environmental problem at home and abroad through some great green contraption, wheeled into the heart of government to provide comprehensive answers to every environmental question. To secure those environmental objectives which most of us share, we need a number of things. We require a good scientific base for our policies ; we need to take a precautionary approach whenever it is justified ; we require a sensible attitude to environmental economics ; we need a sound legislative framework, which this Bill helps to provide ; and we need a coherent intellectual framework for coping with all our environmental problems, and that we intend to set out in terms in our White Paper later this year.
When the time comes, as come it inevitably will, the Government will be content to be judged on their record in working for a cleaner and a greener Britain, and on their plans for contributing to the solution of general environmental problems.
The Bill is a central part of our strategy for the environment. I apologise for having spent so long setting out its merits to the House. I wanted to go through the provisions in detail, and to respond to every question, if I was able to do so. Therefore, I commend the Bill with enthusiasm to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
That this House declines to give a second reading to the Environmental Protection Bill because of its failure to address the urgent and major problem of global warming ; its failure to establish a comprehensive system of integrated pollution control administered by a fully independent, properly staffed and resourced Environmental Protection Executive ; its failure to provide sufficient safeguards on the release of genetically
Column 49engineered organisms to the environment ; the inclusion of hasty, ill conceived and arbitrary proposals to restructure the Nature Conservancy Council, and because it fails to incorporate into British law proposals arising from the European Community's Fourth Action Programme on the Environment and other international agreements. There is no doubt that we need a Bill to protect the environment ; unfortunately, this Bill is not it. The environment certainly is in grave danger, and action is urgently needed. The need for an environmental protection Bill has never been greater, but the Government's response to the major threats to the environment, such as global warming, is not to be found in the Bill. Unfortunately, it is still to be found at Noordwijk, where the Minister for the Environment and Countryside committed the Government, yet again, to refusing to accept an internationally agreed timetable and targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier) : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish intentionally to mislead the House. I was pleased and proud to lead the United Kingdom delegation to the Noordwijk conference. I therefore assure hon. Members that I was a party to the brokering of the declaration, which fixed a date for the reduction of CO emissions to the year 2000. I should be most grateful if the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his comment.
Mr. Gould : I am afraid that the record simply says otherwise. The Minister may wish to adhere to his position, which he has taken since he returned from Noordwijk, but the record says otherwise, as do other independent observers who were present.
Mr. Trippier : May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, rather than reading some of the selective material produced in certain newspapers by journalists who did not attend the Noordwijk conference, he should read articles that appeared in The Times and The Independent which were written by journalists who were present? I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was a party to the signing of the declaration, which included that date, and played a significant part in brokering the deal.
Mr. Gould : As I suspected, the Minister will continue to adhere to his position. My information comes from those who were present and who participated in the conference. No doubt that argument will rumble on.
The Government's failures relate not only to their weaknesses in international negotiations but to their failures in domestic policy. Their response to these grave problems is to be found not in the Bill but in their difficulties in international negotiations and their continuing inability to adopt domestic policies on energy and transport to enable them to commit themselves to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : If the hon. Gentleman is unable to accept the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister, will he accept that almost all the measures in the Bill have been widely discussed over several years, and that to introduce proposals on the greenhouse effect, however desirable or important, that would not be discussed or canvassed would lead to the sort of botched legislation that we should not support?
Column 50The Bill fails to address those major issues. The claim that it is a "green Bill" is vainglorious nonsense. In so far as it has any colour, it is at best mottled, and blue rather than green. It owes more to Tory dogma and ideological obsessions--the free market, an antipathy to local government and to public spending, the protection of powerful vested interests and all those familiar landmarks of the Tory political landscape--than to any appreciation of the true scale and urgency of the threat to our environment.
That is not to say that there are no worthwhile or welcome provisions in the Bill. Much of the Bill is welcome--we shall try to improve on those parts in Committee--but overall it is a disappointment.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : As the hon. Gentleman likes so little in the Bill, perhaps he will tell the House, apart from the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which was largely a Conservative measure, how many environmental measures the last Labour Government enacted?
Mr. Gould : If the hon. Gentleman considers the record of the last Labour Government on matters such as energy conservation and public transport, which are crucial to environmental concerns, he will find that the comparison is favourable to that Government.
The Bill is disappointing because it is little more than a rag-bag of measures drawn from disparate sources, many of which have been dusted down and brought to life again simply to be cobbled together to give it a lick of green paint and the impression of action and cohesion. That is all designed to conceal the fact that the Government have neither the will nor the conceptual ability to understand what is truly required to protect our environment against modern challenges.
Even judged by those unheroic standards and as a rag-bag, hotch-potch measure, the Bill is still a disappointment. It fails, even in those terms, to legislate on some of the welcome, laudable and relatively minor commitments that the Tory party gave in successive manifestos. For example, where are the measures to protect common land and to safeguard public access to footpaths? Why was not the opportunity taken to legislate on those matters, given that the Government were clearly scrambling around for small measures to sustain their green reputation?
The problem is that the Bill is such a hotch-potch that it has ended up hopelessly and appallingly badly drafted. Everyone who has considered its provisions--including, I suspect, the Secretary of State's civil servants-- agrees that it is riddled with imprecision, conflicting definitions and straightforward drafting errors. It gives the impression of a measure that has been hastily cobbled together and not properly thought through.
Even when the Secretary of State published the Bill, he had to announce that there were omissions in it that would be made good. Every time he opens his mouth on the subject, he announces yet another series of additions and amendments, and he was at it again today. I note that with gloomy foreboding, because I have seen the Government produce ill-prepared legislation that has required literally hundreds of Government amendments as it has proceeded through the House. I speak as a veteran of the Financial Services Bill and the Insolvency Bill, and my hon. Friends are veterans of the Local Government and Housing Bill.
Column 51We know what a burden is placed on the House and on Committee when the Government introduce badly thought out proposals such as these. The Bill exhibits the other characteristic of a measure that has been badly thought out and badly drafted--it is replete with general powers to be created by the Secretary of State, with little sign of how they will be exercised or little assurance that they will be used. For all those reasons, we shall vote against the Bill, on the grounds specified in our reasoned amendment.
We have more detailed and specific reservations. Even in its major objective--the control of pollution--the Bill is seriously deficient. The introduction of integrated pollution control is welcome but long overdue, as the Secretary of State conceded. It was first recommended by the Royal Commission on environmental pollution as long ago as 1976. Even this part of the Bill is vitiated by a failure to understand the problem. There is little attempt to prevent pollution, merely an attempt to regulate it. The approach is to cast the Secretary of State in the role of the man who comes along with a shovel after the lord mayor's show--in other words, pollution is treated as something to be cleaned up afterwards rather than prevented from the outset.
There is little recognition that this will often be too late, that environmental damage is increasingly operating on a ratchet which clicks forward but cannot be turned back. What is needed is what the Labour party recommends in its policy review--a presumption against pollution. The benefit of the doubt must be given to the environment. We need to apply a precautionary principle : if in doubt, do not do it. It is not good enough to rely on the "polluter pays" principle--welcome though that may be--as evidence that even the Government recognise the need to intervene in the market and ensure that environmental costs are not always simply externalised. There will be some forms of pollution which cannot be tolerated, whoever pays for it. The same point can be made in respect of the BATNEEC principle enshrined in the Bill--the obligation to use best available techniques not entailing excessive cost. How much unacceptable pollution is to be tolerated on the ground that prevention would be excessively costly? Costly to whom? What is excessive, and who is to judge?
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : The hon. Gentleman has talked about the Labour Government's record. Why, when ordering the Drax power station, did they not fit flue gas desulphurisation equipment, although the problem was known? It was left to this Government to retrofit it at much greater cost.
Mr. Gould : I wish that the Government would proceed with that programme with rather more dispatch than they have shown. The experience with other similar phrases in the statute, such as "best practicable means", and the interpretation placed upon them by the inspectorates that apply them do not inspire confidence that the community and the environment will be offered effective protection. Similar doubts arise about other provisions in part I. Why will integrated controls apply to such a narrow range of pollutants? Why is the red list so restricted, applying to only 22 chemicals rather than the hundreds that are
Column 52regulated in the United States? Why will it be so slow to take effect? Why are the standards that have been set so low- -sometimes they are lower than current practice--that we will lose the advantage of what the experts call "technology forcing", whereby higher regulatory standards compel the development and application of new technology?
Are we still lumbered with the outdated view that fixing higher environmental standards means imposing a competitive burden on British industry, whereas our more successful rivals in Germany and Japan have repeatedly demonstrated that fixing higher standards confers upon them a technological lead and competitive advantage? Why is there such imprecision in the relationship between Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and other authorities such as the National Rivers Authority? Do not those potentially damaging administrative problems show all too clearly the need for an environmental protection executive with comprehensive jurisdiction? Is not this omission from the Bill one of its primary flaws and defects?
What is the point, as the Secretary of State conceded, of creating a regulatory structure if there is no adequate machinery to enforce it? What reliance can be placed on Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution when it is notoriously under-researched and understaffed and its morale is consequently at rock bottom?
Are the Government ready to accept the recommendation of Friends of the Earth that a threefold increase in the staff of Her Majesty's inspectorate will be needed if the Bill is to be effective? Will the Government pay attention to their friends in the CBI, the Chemical Industries Association and even in the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, all of which in their different ways have expressed grave fears and reservations about the inspectorate's effectiveness in its current state in regulating and monitoring the regulatory structure?
Why is there no overriding commitment to freedom of information? I listened with great interest to what the Secretary of State had to say on this subject. In common with, I suspect, all my hon. Friends, I was amazed at his initial remark on this subject, but I am afraid that our amazement turned to an all-too-familiar disappointment when we heard the weasel words, "subject to the exception of commercial confidentiality".
We know all too well, even if the Secretary of State does not, that that exception is so wide as to render virtually nugatory the fine words with which he tried to blind us. Why is no duty imposed on industry to carry out waste orders? These are some of the points in part I on which we wish to press the Government in Committee. We have similar reservations about part II.
Mr. Chris Patten : I am following the hon. Gentleman's comments closely and should like to clear up one point. Is he saying that commercial confidentiality should never be taken into account in deciding whether to make environmental information available?
Mr. Gould : I am glad to answer that point. Of course we are not saying that. We say that a commitment to freedom of information--to public access to information provided to the inspectorate--is rendered nugatory if it is subjected to an unspecified and undefined exception in respect of commercial confidentiality. We will need to hear a great
Column 53deal more from the Secretary of State and hear more about the Bill before we can give any credence to his apparently wide-ranging assurances on this subject.
Mr. Patten : I should like if we can to secure a measure of agreement, because it seems as though we are not as far apart as I had thought. We will certainly publish the guidance of which we think the inspectorate and Ministers should take account in determining what constitutes legitimate confidentiality. I hope that we can publish that guidance before we reach that part of the Bill in Committee. [Interruption.] I am not sure what the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) is saying to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) out of the corner of her mouth, but perhaps it is part of the consensus building. I hope that, in the light of my comments, the hon. Gentleman will agree that our proposal is reasonable, balancing access to information and those occasional examples of commercial confidentiality which must be honoured.
Mr. Gould : I am grateful to the Secretary of State, because his intervention concedes the entire point that I was making. He has just admitted that he has yet to publish the information on which we will be expected to make a judgment. As we do not yet have that information and have had no assurances about what it will contain, we are right to be cautious about the apparent amplitude of the assurances that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to offer the House.
We will carefully look at what the Secretary of State produces. Let us see whether his actions and the words in his guidance note match the breadth of the commitment that he purported to give.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Is my hon. Friend aware of the situation in my borough involving a firm dealing in toxic waste called Leigh Interests, on which a Select Committee reported, stating that the relationship between the council and that firm was at an all-time low? Is my hon. Friend aware that, although there may be some limited improvements in the Bill, that firm will continue to operate in the borough and cause all the difficulties that it has been causing in the past two or three years? That is far from the substantial improvement that many of us locally would like to see.
Mr. Gould : My hon. Friend makes a point that I made earlier--the much touted move towards integrated pollution control will take a long time to come into effect and will have a pretty limited application.
In respect of parts I and II, we welcome recognition of the fact--this is unusual for the Government--that local authorities have a key role to play. We argue, as we have argued in the past, that for a long time local authorities have been local environmental protection agencies. They have been in the front line in the fight against pollution, waste and litter. But there is no point in creating new duties and functions in relation to pollution, waste management and litter unless resources are provided commensurate with those new duties. The explanatory and financial memorandum is laughably over-optimistic on that score. The Government must think again. Any excess of spending--even if mandatory--will fall disproportionately on poll tax payers under the new poll tax arrangements.
Column 54We believe that the Government have been over -optimistic in arguing that local authorities will cover their costs in a variety of ways. If the exercise of the new duties involves extra spending that has not been taken into account in the revenue support grant, the poll tax will rise by four times the amount of every item or unit of that additional spending, as the Secretary of State well knows. That means that the Government have a grave responsibility to ensure that resources are provided to local authorities for every aspect of the new duties and responsibilities that they are being asked to undertake under the Bill.
There are other aspects of part II with which we are unhappy. If the separation of waste disposal functions from waste regulation functions is so essential--and not merely, as we believe it to be, a prelude to privatisation--why is that not also true for Scotland? What is so different about Scotland? As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) asked in an earlier intervention, why is there nothing in the Bill to deal with waste reduction or packaging? Why are there no measures to deal with the problem at source? Why is there nothing about clean technology? If the Bill is meant to contain the Government's comprehensive statement of their policy on waste management, that policy is woefully deficient in those respects.
So far, we have been talking about errors of omission. But there are also errors of commission, the most notable of which is the proposal to dismember the Nature Conservancy Council.
Dr. Derek Ratcliffe, who recently retired as the NCC's chief scientist, wrote in The Times of 15 July :
"The Government's proposals to dismember the NCC are a potential disaster for nature conservation in Britain."
Nothing that has happened since--no expression of opinion from those primarily involved in nature conservancy, and nothing that the Secretary of State has announced today or in recent weeks and months--has changed that basic judgment or the accuracy of the view of that well-respected commentator.
The measure flatly contradicts any claim that the Bill may have to be a green Bill. It threatens major damage to nature conservancy in Britain. The dissolution of the Nature Conservancy Council will throw away 40 years of experience and scientific effort. The proposal threatens the destruction of an important and painfully constructed Great Britain-wide science base. It will deny the Government an essential expert adviser on matters of national concern and deprive the increasingly important international environmental effort of a powerful partner and participant.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : The hon. Gentleman is totally out of touch with present-day thinking. The majority of members of the Nature Conservancy Council are in favour of the proposal. We have a scientific committee with a most distinguished chairman and we look forward to the establishment of a satisfactory scientific base in the home countries.
Mr. Gould : Let me say straight away that I am the first to pay tribute to the heroic restraint shown by the NCC in public. I am absolutely satisfied that the NCC remains implacably opposed to the principle of its own destruction.
Column 55Mr. Gould : The hon. Gentleman may be a member but he is not entitled to speak--
Dr. Thomas : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Welsh committee of the Nature Conservancy Council, building on its long experience of trying to extend its own scientific base and working alongside the other nature conservation agency in Wales--the Countryside Commission committee for Wales--warmly welcomed the proposals? I was lobbied both publicly and privately and asked to ensure that the Welsh Office does not surrender any of the ground that the commitee regards as a major strengthening of environmental conservation in Wales.
Mr. Gould : The hon. Gentleman is referring to a different matter. [Laughter.] Conservative Members' response shows how little they understand what is truly at issue. They do not understand the central concern of the Nature Conservancy Council. What is at issue is not the degree of devolution or arrangements in Wales or Scotland for the protection of the Welsh or Scottish environment.
The Opposition would welcome a substantial element of devolution, as I shall shortly say in terms. But we say, "Devolution, yes, but destruction and dissolution, no." Why is it necessary to dismember, destroy and dissolve the Nature Conservancy Council? That is the central question that the Secretary of State, for all his manoeuvring, has yet to resolve. He has not yet been able to square that circle, and I shall explain why in a moment.
The proposal moves in the opposite direction to the trend of international and European co-operation and standards throughout Europe and elsewhere, which is increasingly being regarded as the way forward in environmental protection. The proposal was introduced without consultation. It came as a bombshell to the NCC. It has few friends, if any, among conservationists. Virtually all the major conservation bodies oppose it, and that includes the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, a body whose name has been taken in vain by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who listed it as a supporter of the measure. That has been flatly contradicted by the APRS.
This provision, above all others in the Bill, is badly drafted. It fails-- at least, it arguably fails--to provide the necessary power in the hands of the new council. In trying to deal with the question whether the Bill transfers to the council the absolutely essential power to establish, maintain and manage nature reserves, even the Secretary of State had to concede that he would need to take further advice to ensure that the Bill achieved that objective. It is hard to believe that such an omission or defect could be the consequence of mere incompetence.
Mr. Chris Patten : Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the legal advice that we have received from draftsmen is perfectly clear : we do not need to write that provision into the Bill. But if it is felt in Committee
Column 56that we need both belt and braces, and if that point can be made overwhelmingly, I am content to write into the Bill what I am told at the moment is not necessary.
Mr. Gould : I am glad to have that assurance from the Secretary of State, but the very terms of his assurance and his earlier remarks show that even in his mind there remains a doubt that may have to be resolved.
Part VII of the Bill is unequal and complicated in its effect. It is internally inconsistent. It creates different structures for different parts of the country, and those structures are to be created according to different timetables.
Why has this friendless measure been introduced? The game was given away in the September edition of Forestry and British Timber. [ Hon. Members :-- "Really!"] Ah. Conservative Members believe that that is not a source on which one can rely. Nevertheless, I suspect that this is, indeed, the truth of the matter. An article in that publication makes it clear that Ministers have acted in this matter because they disliked the robust stance taken by the NCC against afforestation in the flow country. It says :
"One of the tasks of the new Scottish natural heritage agency will be to investigate all SSSIs and sweep away the dross created by indiscriminate conservation."
There, I suspect, is the truth of the matter. That is the pressure that has been brought to bear on the Government to produce the measure, which has no logic or support to commend it.
Mr. Adley : I gather that the Welsh nationalists, the Scottish National party, the Social and Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party all take the same view on this issue. The sole exception is the Labour party. Do I take it, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman regards splendid isolation on political issues as matter for commendation?