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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I compliment the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Herbert) on his maiden speech. The pride that he takes in his constituency and his determination to safeguard its beauty will stand him in good stead both there and in this House, and we look forward to hearing more from him.
I want to make a number of points in the short time available. First, I remind the Minister and the House that the Bill covers England and Wales but also mentions Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although most of the debate has centred on natural England, the Bill will affect Wales. Those of us who believe that our role in this House is at least partly to nurture the devolution settlement and ensure that the Welsh Assembly grows in confidence and in its ability to work for the Welsh people look at such legislation to see whether it is moulded in a way that will contribute to that. The Government do not get 10 out of 10 as far as this Bill is concerned, because we would look for more enabling powers for the Welsh Assembly. Although I cannot go into detail now, several clauses say that the Welsh Assembly "must" do something. We certainly have confidence that the Welsh Assembly will do the best for the Welsh people, but it would be better if the Government had similar confidence and used the word "may".
Part 2 covers the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, where Wales is represented by the chairman of the Countryside Council for Wales and one other member. Five other members are to be appointed. I know that the Minister will say, "Yes, of course we would consult the Welsh Assembly on that", but it would give us more confidence if that was stipulated in the Bill.
As for the inland waterways advisory council, the Secretary of State will appoint its chairman in consultation with Scottish Ministers, but what about consultation with the Welsh Assembly as well? Two Scottish members are to be appointed. A little more openness and commitment to devolution would not go astray. The Welsh Assembly is of course a child of the Labour Government and the more they nurture and encourage it, the better.
It would be helpful if all the Members who made maiden speeches and prayed in aid bits of the national parks in their constituencies could join the all-party
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group on national parks. Several of us have been campaigning for direct elections in respect of national parks. That may be a radical and revolutionary concept in terms of this country's democracy, but I am sure that it would do a lot of good. When I was chairman of Brecon Beacons national park, I introduced a traffic regulation order that safeguarded a very ancient right of way from destruction by various types of vehicles. It would be a real advance if national parks could introduce traffic regulation orders themselves instead of having to go through the county councils. Perhaps the Minister would consider putting that in the Bill.
That brings me to rights of way. In my constituency, the use of motor vehicles in recreation is an important part of the local economy. Some very responsible people are engaged in that. The retired bank manager who wants to travel from Rhayader to Tregaron and back again for his Saturday afternoon leaves no mark of the fact that he has made that journeyit is the irresponsible people whom we should be concerned about. I will support the provisions in the Bill, but we must make an accommodation to ensure that those people who are engaged in responsible use of motor vehicles in the countryside can continue to enjoy that. That will benefit the local economy, as well as nature conservation.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. Hearing so many great maiden speeches makes one pleased to be back in the Chamber: they were excellent speeches, brimming with enthusiasm.
I am particularly pleased to speak about the natural environment and rural communities on the day that the British Airports Authority, as it wasnow BAA plcissued its master plan to destroy at least 700 homes in the London borough of Hillingdon in connection with Heathrow. We have talked about communities; I am talking about villages that the BAA plans simply to wipe out. Although they are in the next-door constituency, Hayes and Harlington, West Drayton, near my constituency, is also affected. When we talk of communities, let us not forget that semi-rural communities exist in the London borough of Hillingdon just as they do elsewhere.
The Bill is a curate's egg, but I welcome some parts of it. Clauses 44 and 45 deal with the use of pesticides and poisons, which is a real problem. However, I feel that the Secretary of State's power to proscribe the possession of a pesticide should perhaps be broadened to reflect the danger posed by such chemicals to human health and companion animals, in line with schedule 2 of the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986.
There is a risk that the list of prohibited pesticides will always be behind the poisons favoured by those who wish to kill birds illegally. Those who abuse such
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chemicals will simply move to a new pesticide as their chemicals of choice are added to the list. The delay between investigations showing that another chemical is in widespread use and its inclusion in the list will allow those involved in the unlawful use of such chemicals to continue to possess them.
Nothing, I believe, has been said today about clause 46 and the destruction of nests outside the breeding season. I know that that is a matter of great importance to the House. The clause includes a rather limited selection of birds. White-tailed eagles do not breed in England and Wales, and there is only one golden eagle nest in England. We should examine the threat of deliberate damage to nest sites, possibly considering the barn owl, chough, hen harrier, merlin and peregrine. Perhaps we should consider the swift as well, because it has suffered a great deal.
Before referring specifically to the Bill, I must declare an interest. It is included in the old Register of Members' Interests, but we have no register yet for the new Session. I own land in a national park and am a commoner in the Dartmoor national park, where I have grazing rights and rights of turbary. The Minister may not know what those are, but no doubt he will find out before his winding-up speech. I have never exercised them.
My specific concern about the Bill relates to part 6. Last year, I introduced a private Member's Bill under the ten-minute rule, the Restricted Byways Bill, although I knew that eventually the Government would produce legislation on the use of trail bikes and four-wheel drives on our bridleways and other byways in the countryside. There is a particular problem in Dorset, where trail bikers cause enormous problems.
The real problem envisaged by me and my county councilwhich I share with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight)was that certain organisations would try to get in under the wire to get these bridleways and other byways approved before the legislation took effect. The commencement date set out in the Bill is not specific enough. Even I got that wrongin my Bill, I gave too much leeway by proposing a commencement date of 1 January 2006. I now believe that the commencement could even be retrospective. If we do not have these measures in place,
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the provisions of the Bill will be totally ineffective because all the organisations involved will have got in under the wire. I hope that that issue will be addressed in Committee.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): This is an important Bill for the English and Welsh countryside, as has been made clear by the quality of today's debate and by the fact that eight of my hon. Friends elected to make their maiden speeches. That is a clear demonstration of the genuine Conservative empathy with the countryside, rather than the caricature that we are only interested in hunting. Indeed, until 9.15 this evening, the only person to have mentioned hunting in this debate was the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker).
This debate gives me the opportunity to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), and I look forward to debating the Bill with him during its further stages. We have heard a number of maiden speeches today, including that of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Horwood). I am afraid that he lost my support when he suggested that people should go to Cheltenham race course rather than to Newmarket in my constituency. We also heard eight exceptional maiden speeches from Conservative Members, all of whom bring credit to these Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) clarified the distinction between trial bikes and trail bikesthere is a great difference between the twoand referred to the new land army of bureaucrats with clipboards. I understand from today's paper that he is a member of the new model army, and we look forward to his further contributions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) spoke with great fervour of the joy of representing the constituency in which he grew up. He spoke of the importance of local accountability and democracy and of the protection of green fieldsan issue that arose again and again during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) also mentioned it, when he referred to the damage done by bad planning decisions taken in Kenilworth. He also spoke of the need to decide what we want the countryside to be and of the interdependence of agriculture and the environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) rightly paid tribute to Sydney Chapmanall of us across the House miss his companyand reminded us of his environmental credentials. She, too, raised the issue of the impact of development and told us that a third of her constituency consisted of green belt and open space.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-Super-Mare (John Penrose) made a lucid and fluent maiden speech about the unchanging nature of parts of his constituency. He also mentioned the problems of planning and overdevelopment in other parts of the area. His views on that were shared by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), who illustrated that his constituency consists of more than concrete cowsit contains real countryside and real rural communities.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) rightly paid tribute to English Nature, which is based in his constituency, and showed himself to be the robust Member that we in Cambridgeshire have long known that he had the potential to be. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Herbert) used the words "kindness" and "Whips" in the same sentence, which he will probably not do for much longer. He also spoke of the problems of new housing and its impact on the countryside.
In moving our amendment, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) rightly said that we support many of the measures in the Bill. The issue of green lanes, in relation to trail riding and four-wheel-drive vehicles, has been widely rehearsed across the Chamber tonight, and it is clear that there is unanimity among everyone who has spoken, not only on the nature of the problem, but on the need to get on with sorting it out quickly, as the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) said. I also endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) has just said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) made the point that many of the people concerned want mud to make their journeys more exciting. In relation to the Human Rights Act 1998 getting in the way of this legislation, I find it difficult to accept that walkers or riders are denied their human rights because they cannot walk or ride where that mud is.
Of course, we support the measures to improve protection of sites of special scientific interest, wildlife, biodiversity and many other areas. All the concerns that we might have on the detail can be addressed in Committee. I hope and, from earlier conversations, believe that the Minister will seek to engage constructively on those issues. But if I may say so, all those parts have been added to what is clearly a suitable legislative vehiclepart 1 of the Bill. Because part 1 is seriously wanting in achieving the objectives that the Government lay down, we must oppose the Bill, and have therefore tabled the amendment. I say to the hon. Member for Lewes, who scorned our position, that it is because we believe the flaws of part 1 are too major to be addressed by amendment in Committee that we have decided to table an amendment on Second Reading.
A great deal has been made of simplification, removal of red tape and fewer visitsall those words were used by the Secretary of Statebut I want to give one example of the sort of problem that exists today, and that will not be helped one iota by the proposals in this Bill. Unfortunately, the source of the story must be anonymous, as the farmer involved is understandably concerned about what might happen as regards the officials involved.
The issue is one of a long-redundant ferry operating across an estuary in England, where the hard standing had been neglected for a century. A meeting was held to discuss restoring it. The meeting took all morning and was attended by two farmers who owned the land, one part-time volunteer ferry operator, one member of the local voluntary amenity association, somebody from the Environment Agency, two people from the planning department, one from English Nature, and two from the joint area of outstanding natural beauty partnership. Of the 10 people there, six were being paid by the taxpayer,
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but the Bill would not have made any differenceit would not have reduced attendance at that meeting by a single person. We cannot expect real change unless the problem of bureaucracy is properly addressed.
We largely agree with the critique of Lord Haskins in relation to the current delivery system, but the Bill does not provide an answer. It creates a potentially massive organisation with conflicting priorities and powers to do anything that it likes. It does nothing to prevent over-zealous use of powers, and that problem already exists. It sets up three funding blocks, but does nothing directly to reduce the number of individual schemes or the form-filling. We are far from persuaded by the Government's position on the issue of the Forestry Commission.
There is no recognition in the Bill of the importance of economic activity, particularly farming, in care for the countryside. Nowhere in the Bill is there any recognition that the landscape itself is a result of economic activitynot always for the better if judged by today's standards, but nevertheless paid for by local economic activity. The countryside and nature of England is not some twee chocolate box scene to be frozen in time: it is home to 23 per cent. of the population and the workplace of most of them. The Government have delegated some of the delivery to regional development agencies, whereas county councils and local councils could have done a better job with greater accountability. That raises the issue of the voice of those 23 per cent. and the proposed commission for rural communities. That body has no powers, is appointed by the Secretary of State and therefore has no credibility with rural communities.
No Conservative Member doubts that rural people need a voice. We have watched for eight years while the Government have ignored their plight, even with the Countryside Agency and the rural advocate, so why would an even weaker body make any difference? The real voice of rural people is their elected representatives: local councillors and Members of the House. Indeed, it was that voice that spoke on 5 May and brought my hon. Friends to this place.
Yet again, we have seen the tendency of the Government to believe that the public are best served by a large organisation lacking direct accountability. The objective of rationalisation and simplification is, of course, worthy but the chosen method is wrong. Instead, the Government should have examined how to simplify the system itselfthe complexities of the single farm payment, of the entry level and higher level scheme. Those are all examples where simplification of the schemes could come ahead of changing the structures. The Government should have sought to work with existing local structures and local accountability. The flaws in their proposals are too great to be corrected by amendment. They should think again. I commend the amendment to the House.
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