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Mr. Atkins : What a good question--I shall endeavour to discover the answer to it and tell the hon. Gentleman when I reply to the debate. It is an important question. The hon. Gentleman has a recognised and considerable interest in these matters and he deserves a proper answer. If I cannot give him one this evening, I shall certainly write to him with the details.
The draft regulations follow the public consultation that took place last autumn. All those who responded have received a letter explaining the contents of the regulations.
Column 240A copy has been placed in the Library, together with letters from respondents plus a summary analysis of their contents. A summary of responses to the public consultation on the amendments to the general development order effected by the regulations has also been placed in the Library.
The regulations tell a clear story. In essence, they build on our existing legislative base, which provides the framework for successful nature conservation in this country. Much of the text of the regulations restates the provisions of existing law, modified as appropriate, to ensure that the terms of the directive are transposed. The regulations provide for the selection and designation of sites that will become special areas of conservation--SACs--as required by the directive. They also give effect to the requirement that by June 1995 the Government must submit a proposed site list to the European Commission.
The Government are receiving advice from the nature conservation agencies, through the joint nature conservation committee, on their site proposals based on the directive's scientific criteria. We shall consider that advice and publish a list of sites for consultation before the end of the year. The Government are committed to preliminary consultation with all owners and occupiers and other affected interests on the sites before submission to the Commission takes place. Further full and detailed discussions about the management and definition of sites will also take place before the Community list is agreed.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I appreciate that the Minister is going through matters logically. What, in his and the Department's view, is likely to be the major effect of this legislation as opposed to pre-existing legislation, and specifically is not the weakness of it the fact that the limitation to owners and occupiers' liability will remain a limitation under the new proposals, despite the fact that it is one of the great loopholes of the present legislation ?
Mr. Atkins : I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Having taken advice, we very much believe that voluntary management and involvement with owners and occupiers of sites is a better way of doing things than legislating fiercely. As the hon. Gentleman might be aware, we have the reserve right to impose a compulsory purchase order where necessary, but that is the nuclear option and not something that we want to use. However, we are required to do that under the directive and that is what we will do if necessary. Experience suggests that voluntary arrangements and agreements are a much better way of doing things.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : I very much endorse what my hon. Friend says. As he knows, I have a number of sites of special scientific interest in my constituency. A letter that I received today from the National Farmers Union expresses concern that the consultation procedures will not be as good under the European proposals as they have been under the previous arrangements. I urge the fullest consultation with owners and farmers to make a success of the proposals, which can happen if there is genuine co-operation.
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am aware of his constituency interest in these matters. We have only belatedly heard from the NFU and the Country Landowners Association, but I assure my right hon. Friend
Column 241that we will ensure that consultation is proper and thorough. Quite frankly, that is the only way that the procedure will work. He was right to say that, if we make it work properly, the benefits will be substantial.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), and the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) took the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 through the House. They will recall that during its Committee stage they said, understandably, that consultation was highly desirable. The Minister now says that it must be thorough. That involves staff. Quite often, the reason given for delay was that there was not sufficient staff either in the Department or in the Scottish Office. Are the Government sure that they now have sufficient staff to carry out a thorough consultation, about which I am sure the Minister is sincere, because that takes a very long time and many, many staff hours ?
Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. I cannot give him a direct answer but I am satisfied that, as matters stand, we have the necessary staff. We are not lagging behind on this matter, despite the little hiccup in tabling the regulations. That was because we wanted to get them right. We are doing well in comparison with other members of the European Union and it is our intention that that remains so. If the concern the hon. Gentleman raises turns out to be the case, I shall be as worried as he is and I will have to take the necessary action.
"may be of a social or economic nature."
My constituency has the chance of an industrial development involving the creation of 1,500 new jobs on an enterprise zone site which, unfortunately, impinges marginally on a site of special scientific interest. Can the Minister provide me with a definition--if not this evening, at some future date--of "economic nature" ?
Mr. Atkins : I hear sotto voce from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who speaks on these matters for the Scottish Office, that he is aware of the case. If the hon. Gentleman would care to approach him, he will write to the hon. Gentleman with the details and perhaps they can then be discussed in the usual way. The regulations provide for the establishment of a register of European sites, which will be open to public inspection. The entry of a site on the register will be notified to owners, occupiers, local authorities and any other interested bodies which the Secretary of State may direct. The register will be the formal means to record the sites that will be subject to the protection provisions in the regulations.
A cornerstone provision of the regulations is the introduction of new duties on Ministers and the nature conservation agencies to exercise their functions in order to secure compliance with the requirements of the directive. All Ministers and the nature conservation agencies must use such of the provisions in existing nature conservation
Column 242legislation and in these regulations as may be necessary to secure the protection of sites and species as required by the directive. All Government and public bodies are given a new duty to have regard to the directive's requirements in the exercise of their functions. The Government remain committed to the voluntary principle of land management and it is expected that where management is necessary most of the conservation needs of designated sites will be delivered through voluntary management arrangements negotiated between owners and occupiers and the nature conservation agencies. The regulations also allow for the making of byelaws to control third-party activities and will enable the existing powers of compulsory purchase in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to be used if necessary, as I said earlier, as the only means of safeguarding the conservation value of the land. The regulations introduce a highly significant new framework for the conservation of European sites in the marine environment. All statutory bodies with functions relevant to marine conservation must, under a new duty, exercise their functions to secure compliance with the requirements of the directive. Identified relevant authorities such as sea fisheries committees, harbour authorities and local authorities are further empowered to join with one another in drawing up schemes of management for those sites.
Consistent with the Government's declared approach to the inter-agency management of the coastal zone, the Government expect that, for the most part, those authorities will work together voluntarily to establish such schemes founded on the advice that the nature conservation agencies are under a duty to provide. However, under the regulations Ministers may give directions to those bodies in respect of the establishment of a scheme of management, and will do so at any time if it seems necessary to secure the conservation of a site.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already announced, we wish to bring a number of additional controls relating to consents and permissions within the specific scope of the directive. They will be contained in further draft regulations to be laid before the House in due course. I believe that the regulations represent a thorough implementation package to comply with the requirements of the habitats directive, and I commend them to the House.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : Although the directive may be a little overdue--for technical reasons which have been explained--we give it what must, sadly, be a qualified welcome. We believe that an opportunity has been missed : primary legislation would have been preferable to secondary legislation, especially in overcoming the difficulties of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
I am very concerned about the lack of information in the public domain about sites of special scientific interest. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that, some months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) tried to obtain detailed information about the damage being done to such sites by tabling written questions. I shall not bore the House with the arcane procedures that proved necessary ; suffice it to say
Column 243that it eventually proved impossible to table questions that could be answered. Either blocking answers were in place, or no Minister appeared competent to reply.
We then consulted English Nature, which refused to give us a list of damaged sites on the ground that the National Audit Office had all the information. The NAO said that it could not provide the information. Eventually it published a report, which gave no specific details ; it provided only statistics, with one or two examples thrown in. I hope that at some point the Minister will consider the great black hole that needs to be filled : I know that a vast amount of data is involved, but it should be brought into the public domain so that Members of Parliament can gain access to detailed information about not only the incidence of damage but what it adds up to, and the difficulties that have been encountered.
Mr. Atkins : Neither my Department nor I intend to hide such information, which is generally available. It might be useful for us to discuss the matter after the debate, through the usual channels, to establish whether there are ways of providing the information the hon. Gentleman wants. It may be a simple process of bringing all the information together, rather than avoiding disclosure. That should not be particularly difficult. I will check, if it will help.
Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to the Minister. I should be even more grateful if he would go a step further, and give me a guarantee that he will find some way of bringing the information into the public domain.
The NAO report, published earlier this year, stated that, since 1987, 800 reports of damage to sites of special scientific interest had been made. None of us can be complacent about such a serious matter, and I hope that the Government are not complacent. Other statistics from the 1990 countryside survey commissioned by the Department of the Environment itself revealed that there had been a decrease in the bio-diversity of many sites over the preceding 10 years. Again, there is no room for complacency.
The most notorious examples are the St. Catherine hill SSSI, north of Twyford down, and the Itchen valley/Winchester meadows SSSI, south of Twyford down. Tragically, roads have been driven through both. Sir William Wilkinson, the former chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, has said :
"Good landowners protect SSSIs but bad boys get away with murder. The most recent example that springs to mind was Twyford Down where the agent of destruction was the Government."
I note that the Government are not currently represented by the Minister responsible.
Many of the sites involved provide habitats for various flora and fauna-- birds, for instance. Over the past 20 years, the population of seven species of common farmland bird has declined by more than 50 per cent. According to a study conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology
Mr. Howarth : Indeed it is. According to that study, between 1969 and 1991 the tree sparrow population fell by 80 per cent., the corn bunting population by 76 per cent., the grey partridge population by 73 per cent., the turtle dove population by 72 per cent., the reed bunting population by 50 per cent., the linnet population by 56 per cent. and the skylark population by 54 per cent. That is very worrying.
There is also legitimate concern about peatlands. Perhaps the Minister can give us an idea of whether he intends such sites to be included among the proposed special areas of conservation. There is already ample evidence to suggest that natural peat bogs--there is one in my constituency--are being routinely and systematically damaged or threatened by developments of one kind or another. It is instructive to note that the threat is not posed only by housing developments and the like ; in my constituency, an unusual combination--the manager of Liverpool football club, a nightclub owner and a solicitor
Those three people propose not to build a housing development, but to convert the peat bog in my constituency to a landfill site. Hon. Members may ask what a nightclub owner, the manager of Liverpool football club and a solicitor are doing in such a business ; I have asked that question myself, and I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. It clearly does not bode well for the future of the peat bog.
Other important habitats--such as dry heathlands, which are a natural habitat for rare and threatened species of plant life, birds and butterflies--are equally threatened, and in some instances are already being undermined by inappropriate use. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will take into account the importance of such sites--both existing SSSIs and other important habitats--undertake a review and, where necessary, revoke planning consents that threaten their survival ? If we are serious, we must consider not only sites that have not yet been damaged but sites that might be damaged, or might be subject to planning consents that would threaten the survival of wildlife.
The Minister might also tell us how he proposes to achieve favourable conservation status for annexe 2 species such as the shoredock plant and the marsh fritillary butterfly. He may not lie awake thinking about such matters, but they are important to many people who are concerned about the survival of those species. It is clear that unless such habitats are managed by specialists and with proper sensitivity, there is a real danger that they could disappear altogether.
I will deal now with management agreements and nature conservation orders. They are, after all, the most significant cause of long-term damage to SSSIs and, as the NAO report made clear, they often result in neglect and mismanagement. The Government are proposing a revised
Column 245form of management agreements to encourage land-owners to manage their land. However, that is effective only when the land owner is willing to enter into an agreement. If he will not accept responsibility, which has happened in many cases, the relevant statutory agency can apply to the Secretary of State for a special nature conservation order.
However, there are serious problems when a dispute arises. The Government have the option of acquiring the land by a compulsory purchase order. Clearly, that is something that we support as far as it goes, but the evidence pertaining to CPOs in this respect does not give me any reason-- and should not give the House any
reason--necessarily to believe that that is the right answer unless it is differently in future.
The CPO scheme already exists in legislation and is carried out by statutory agencies, but the bureaucracy and the limited resources available for their administration often make it unworkable. I am aware of only one site on which a CPO has been served, and that is Westhay moor in Somerset. There were serious problems, but it still took three years for the dispute to be settled and for the CPO to go through. Clearly, that is unsatisfactory, and we need assurances that the CPO system as it is to apply will be an improvement. The regulations offer little reassurance that SACs will be protected when disputes occur. In the past, the Government have often failed to introduce immediate and effective measures.
Problems are anticipated in Scotland where the use of a CPO as a fallback measure could be costly and the purchase of a large estate such as Mar lodge would require several times more than the annual budget for Scottish Natural Heritage. I should be grateful if the Minister will say something about available resources because it is clear that often they do not match the job that needs to be done. I should also like some information about how the Government intend to deal with trouble spots. I have in mind, for example, the case of an SSSI and a proposed motorway scheme. How does the Minister see disputes being resolved in such trouble spots within the new SAC framework ? There is surely a strong case for undertaking a thorough review of all such sites, including and perhaps especially those subject to unsuitable developments. The whole question needs to be examined closely through the planning system, and I should welcome more information on it in the wind-up speech.
Although I welcome the fact that the Government are to consult on such sites, it is very important that the consultation exercise should go as wide as possible and include not only the owners of sites but non- governmental organisations which have a legitimate interest in them. I hope that the exercise will not be confined to the specific selection of sites but will cover the criteria to be used at the stage prior to their selection because it is important that such issues are considered in advance of selection.
I shall deal next with marine and coastal issues. In a parliamentary answer on 11 November 1992, the then Minister for the Environment and Countryside said that his Department would ensure that
"the proposals for implementation of the marine conservation aspects of the habitat directives fully meet the directive's requirements."--[ Official Report , 11 November 1992 ; Vol. 213, c. 791 .]
Measures for marine conservation lag behind those for
Column 246conservation on land. The legislation gives specific powers through byelaws to maintain principle of special areas of conservation. The nature conservation agencies can use those powers inside and outside SACs but not in the case of marine sites. The regulations state that the competent authorities will have
"regard to the requirements of the Directive".
However, it is not clear whether that is limited to SACs. It is essential to promote good practice inside and outside protected areas given the highly mobile nature of the marine environment. The regulations do not give the Secretary of State for the Environment a lead role in directions concerning SACs. That could lead to conflict, confusion and delay in the management of SACs. Priorities for fisheries, transport, mineral extraction and other activities can be in serious conflict with nature conservation objectives. The Secretary of State for the Environment already has a lead role in the case terrestrial protected areas under section 29 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to assist in the conservation of SSSIs. The same should be true for marine SACs. Will the Minister give us an assurance that that issue will be considered seriously ?
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : Has my hon. Friend considered what amounts to deregulation in the dredging of aggregates, which has altered the foreshore line of rivers at the expense of the environment and bird life ? Does he agree that it should be properly controlled and regulated ?
Mr. Howarth : My hon. Friend probably has a greater knowledge than any other hon. Member of the River Mersey, on which he worked for many years. I believe that there is also a problem with the River Severn, but his point was well made and I sympathise strongly. That leads me neatly to my final point, which relates to
barrages--especially those proposed in south Wales--and their possible effect on the migratory runs of salmon and sea trout.
Apparently, there are seven species of migratory fish in the rivers of south Wales, all of which are subject to barrage developments or proposals. The nature of their life cycle, which involves between two and 12 passages through the estuaries, makes them extremely vulnerable to such developments. Barrage developments create obstructions to the passage of migratory fish, as is well known, and an effective fish passage is crucial to the future of fish stocks. The River Usk, which is the subject of one such proposal, contains the rare and high conservation status twaite shad, lamprey and allis shad. These species are considered to be in general decline. The National Rivers Authority for Wales estimates that the cost of monitoring and mitigating the adverse impact of developments on the River Usk would be considerable. The development on the River Taff would require the purchase and release of hatchery-reared salmon smolt and it is estimated that 60,000 smolts a year would be required at a cost of more than £1 a smolt. There are clearly a number of issues to be dealt with.
Mr. Morgan : Does my hon. Friend agree that what is so fascinating about the conflict between barrage developments and the migratory fish species in south Wales which he has listed is that it is only at the end of south Wales's heavy industrialisation phase that the sea
Column 247trout, or the sewin as we call them, and salmon have returned to our rivers ? At the very time when salmon and sea trout are returning to the Tawe, the Taff and other rivers, people for some reason decide to erect barrages, thereby preventing with physical concrete obstacles what pollution and the coalfields have prevented for the past 200 years.
Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. His knowledge of south Wales is almost unparalleled, and few if any of the things in the rivers or on the ground escape his eagle-eyed attention. However, to deal with his comments from a conservation point of view, I was lucky enough once to catch a sewin. It is quite a considerable fish to catch. So, it is important not only in conservation terms for its own sake, but because there are sporting problems.
Mr. Howarth : As my hon. Friend said, they taste nice as well. To return to the point at which I started, while we feel that this is a missed opportunity and that there is a case, which we regret has not been taken up by the Government, for primary legislation, we nevertheless welcome the directive, partial though it is, and we shall not be dividing the House on it.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I welcome the measure as a flexible and sensible approach to conservation in this country. I have 10 points which I would like to put briefly to the Minister on these highly complicated regulations. I regret to say to the Minister that my points are inevitably technical and, therefore, I do not necessarily expect him be able to respond to them fully this evening. Perhaps, he may be able to respond to me in due course. I also apologise for putting the points to him rather late in the day. I appreciate that he would have preferred more notice. First, regulation 2 defines the occupier for purposes of part III--protection of species--but not for the purposes of part II ; the section on conservation of natural habitat. Especially in the context of regulation 13--notice to landowners, relevant authorities et cetera--and regulation 16, it is not clear whether "occupier" includes those having rights of hunting, shooting, fishing or taking of the game or fish. That is, of course, important because those with sporting interests have an interest in preserving the species, as defined in part III.
Indeed, it is significant that the European Commission and the European Parliament have confirmed the part played by country sports in conservation. A resolution specifically dealing with the protection of wild birds, initiated by Mr. Jean Raffin, a French Green party Member of the European Parliament, which was adopted at the beginning of February, acknowledged that, if sporting activities are
"practised sustainably in accordance with the principle of wise use of renewable natural resources",
"can make a valuable contribution to habitat conservation, which is a key feature of many species conservation strategies."
Commissioner Padraig Flynn, no less, said :
"the deterioration and destruction of habitats pose more serious threats to the survival of wild birds in Europe than hunting' as such."
Column 248It would therefore be helpful if the Minister could confirm that, for the purposes of part II of the regulation, the occupier also includes those having sporting rights. It may be necessary to ask the owner or occupier who else has sporting rights over his lands and, perhaps, those with that interest could be subsequently notified. Secondly, regulation 7 provides for the Secretary of State to draw up a list of sites eligible for identification of sites of community importance--so-called SCIs. There is no indication that there will be any consultation with the owners and occupiers of such sites before the list is sent to the European Commission on or before 5 June 1995. The Commission and the Government will adopt a final list by, at the latest, June 1988. Finally, the designated special areas of conservation, the so-called SACs, have to be designated by June 2004.
If the Minister and his Department are to supply that list to the European Commission by June 1995, time is ticking on if they are to have the full consultation for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) called in his intervention. It would be necessary to begin that consultation process pretty well straight away. So, can the Minister explain the Government's intention on the nature, extent and timing of the consultation with owners and occupiers over the preparation of the list of potential SCIs ? It would also be helpful if a list of SCIs were not published until full consultation had been carried out. Once such things go on a list, they have a habit of staying on that list, even if turns out that, as a result of the consultation process, they should be not be on the list at all.
Thirdly, article 4(2) of the directive provides that SCIs shall be adopted not only on the basis of the criteria set out in annex III, but on the framework of five biogeographical regions referred to in article 1(c)(iii). SCIs in the UK will need to be selected in the framework of the Atlantic biogeographical region. That is also important because it would be folly if we were to designate far more sites which have a Atlantic ecosystem, only to find that the French and the Irish were designating very few sites and, indeed, on those sites which were designated, there was not the same compliance ratio as there would undoubtedly be in this country under my hon. Friend's Department.
Therefore, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain what steps are to be taken to ensure that the Government will include on the list of potential SCIs only so many sites as are appropriate, and no more, in the context of the Atlantic region and in the light of the performance of other member states. That would also give us the opportunity to ascertain how closely our compliance was compared with that of other EC countries.
Fourthly, in paragraph 2.2.4 of their earlier consultation paper, the Government stated that special areas of conservation, so-called SACs, will have already been notified as SSSIs, to which the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) referred. The regulations make no mention of that commitment. Should the Government consider in any circumstances the designation of a land-based SAC, or include land outside an existing SSSI within a SAC, without first giving the owners and occupiers involved an opportunity to make representations to the appropriate nature conservation agency through the SSSI notification process ? It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm their intention regarding the relationship between SSSIs and land-based SACs.
Fifthly, management agreements offer an important mechanism for developing an effective partnership
Column 249between landowners and nature conservation agencies to manage, conserve, restore and protect European sites and land adjacent to them. That voluntary nature of conforming with the regulations has already been mentioned in the debate by a number of hon. Members. Indeed, in his opening remarks, the Minister indicated its importance by saying that the compulsory purchase procedure would be used only in "nuclear deterrent circumstances" or some words similar to that. He has acknowledged the voluntary nature, which is absolutely essential if all those involved, particularly those who have to manage the sites, are to do that effectively.
The Government should recognise that a major increase in the real level of resources available to the major nature conservation agencies will be essential if our international, national, regional and local conservation objectives are to be achieved. For example, many of the land management systems which have produced internationally important wildlife habitats such as lowland heath are no longer economical. Substantial financial support may be needed if landowners are to continue to operate uneconomic farming systems or to restore such systems where they have been lost for nature conservation purposes.
I very much welcome the schemes which the Government have already introduced, such as the environmentally sensitive areas--I have two such areas in my constituency, the upper Thames tributaries and the Cotswold hills--the countryside stewardship scheme, which is operated so successfully by my hon. Friend's Department and, the Tir Cymen scheme which operates in Wales. I am sorry that my Welsh is not as good as it should be and I apologise to all Welshmen present if my pronunciation is not correct.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). I will try again. Is it Tir Cymen ? No doubt the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong. No doubt all in Wales will be cheering at the success of this scheme and of the habitat scheme.
All these schemes have an important role to play in European sites, as elsewhere. I mention here the Land Drainage Bill which I promoted and which went through all its stages two Fridays ago. It will give local authorities and internal land drainage boards an obligation to consider environmental aspects before major drainage schemes are carried out. That is a major step forward, because we have lost 50 per cent. of all our wetland areas since the war. I drained 25 acres of my own wetland under a very high grant regime in the 1970s. Having found that the land has never been economic, I rather wish that I had never done it. If my Bill had been in place then, I would not have been allowed to drain that land and we should all have been the richer culturally and environmentally as a result.
It would be helpful, therefore, if the Minister could give a high priority to management agreements at European sites while accepting that the resources required for that purpose should not be made available at the expense of
Column 250other SSSIs or of other schemes that secure conservation benefits in the wider countryside. Having set up the SSSI regime, it would be a tragedy if we found that the European sites competed for the existing resources and that compliance with the existing SSSIs was weakened as a result. I hope that my hon. Friend can give us some assurance in that respect.
It would also be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister could confirm that no SAC will be designated until the resources required to sustain the necessary positive management of the SAC have been secured. What would be the point in us designating an area and then finding that we did not have the resources necessary to ensure that the area was managed according to the regulations ?
Sixthly, regulation 18 provides for any existing notification of operations likely to damage an SSSI to be amended, for the purposes of the directive, at any time. The regulation provides for owners and occupiers to be notified of such amendments, but not for consultation with them. Surely owners and occupiers should have an opportunity to make representations to the nature conservation agencies regarding any amendments that the Minister may make as they already have under the existing SSSI regime. That surely complies with the rules of natural justice. Surely anyone should be able to make representations regarding a change in designation before that designation is made. I am also concerned that regulation 18(3) leaves nature conservation agencies to decide which owners or occupiers should be notified of amendments. In view of the penalties likely to face owners and occupiers who damage protected sites without reasonable excuse, surely it is unreasonable for the agencies to have that discretion. It would be helpful for the Minister to outline what opportunities, if any, will be available to the owners and occupiers to question the decision to amend the list of potentially damaging operations in respect of the European site. It would also be helpful if the Minister could explain why it has been decided to give the nature conservation agencies the discretion to decide which owners and occupiers they should notify of the amendments in any one case. It would be helpful if the Minister could lay out the parameters for how far outside the designated site-- [Interruption.] I can see my hon. Friend looking at his watch. I am a long way through the points that I must make to him. It would be helpful if we could have some idea of how far outside the designated site owners and occupiers will be notified.
Seventhly, regulations 50 to 59, to which the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) has already referred, provide for extant planning permissions that may affect European sites to be reviewed. It is important that compensation is payable to anybody holding such permission which is subsequently modified, discontinued or revoked. I believe that such a provision is contained in regulations 50 to 59, but I know from reading the regulations that they are extremely complicated. It would be helpful to have the Minister's clarification on this point.
I have in mind the following example. Let us suppose that a quarry was operating and that it was then decided to designate it as a SAC. The quarry might have an existing planning permission. As a result of the designation, its operations might be curtailed or modified in some way. Would the quarry owner receive compensation ? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that point.
Column 251Eighthly-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] I am at the eighth out of 10 points, as my hon. Friend the Minister will be glad to know. I am particularly concerned-- [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have no power to curtail anybody's speech tonight, beyond the final one. I remind the hon. Gentleman and all others that the whole debate has to be contained within an hour and a half.
Eighthly, I am particularly concerned that it appears that some permitted development works by farmers and others could now be disallowed without compensation. That could happen if it were decided under the regulations that planning permission was needed for such works and it was then refused. As the Minister is aware, there are certain permitted development rights under existing planning legislation which can be carried out without planning permission, such as the erection of certain farm buildings, although they have to be notified to the local authority. Under the current system, where permitted development rights may be withdrawn under an article 4 direction, compensation is payable. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain why compensation is not to be offered where permitted development rights are withdrawn under the regulations. Ninthly, I understand that the provisions relating to planning permission and permitted development in part IV of the regulations apply to any development affecting European sites, whether or not the development lies within their boundaries. I am concerned that that could lead to quite innocuous developments being subject to further consultation and control when they are likely neither significantly nor adversely to affect the European site. One can envisage an immediately adjoining or a not-so- immediately adjoining landowner wishing to carry out a development. He carries it out in all innocence under the existing planning regulations only to be told at some time in the future that he comes within the scope of the regulations. We owe it to all those who may be affected by the regulations to ensure that they are widely publicised in a form that everyone can understand. I am sure that no one will thereby fall foul of them.
It would be helpful if the Minister could explain how local planning authorities will distinguish between innocuous proposals and those likely to have significantly adverse effects. It would also be helpful if the Minister would agree to review his advice to local authorities on this matter and the regulations themselves if local authorities appear in practice to take an unnecessarily interfering approach to development proposals outside European sites. It is only a matter of human justice that those who live some distance from the site should be well appraised of any possible effects that it might have on their activities.
Tenthly--and finally, the Minister will be glad to know--article 2(3) of the directive requires that
"Measures taken pursuant to this directive shall take account of economic, social and cultural requirements and regional and local characteristics."
That is fundamental to a rural area such as mine. The requirement does not appear in the regulations although--the Minister may be able to give me clarification on this--it may be that regulation 3(2), which gives the Secretary of State powers, but not the ability to issue directions,