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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the same situation applies throughout the Commonwealth and that it is reciprocal? I am not entitled to claim an Australian pension here, even though I remain Australian.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, yes, a number of other Commonwealth countries contain a substantial number of British pensioners who do not receive the full pension. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are among them.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, will the Minister accept that that does not make it right and that the injustice remains? People in Commonwealth countries are treated less well than pensioners in non-Commonwealth countries. The Minister should remember that 33 other countries have changed the system and have agreed to the reciprocal social security arrangement which allows the payment of pensions. Is he aware that people are asking only that the injustice should be righted and that the same kind of agreement should be reached with the Commonwealth countries?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, this is not an injustice but a term of the scheme which has been there and known to anyone who emigrated. What the noble Lord proposes is an improvement to the scheme. That will be considered along with all other possible improvements to social security and all other possible additions to government expenditure. At the moment the improvement does not rank high enough for our immediate consideration.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that ever since the pension scheme began in the late 1940s, today's workers have paid for today's pensioners and that therefore it would be quite wrong for them to be expected to pay for people who choose to live elsewhere other than in this country?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not sure that I entirely share my noble friend's argument. Indeed, we pay substantial sums to pensioners who live overseas. It is clearly true that pensioners who live overseas do not pay British taxes and are therefore not contributing towards the payments to pensioners in this country, and in many cases they have not done so for many years. I would not
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that, even though an injustice has been going on for a long time and people have emigrated despite the fact that the injustice was there, it still remains an injustice? I have never heard any real argument from the Government except that to change this is expensive. Is the Minister aware that the Conservative Party is trying to rally ex-pats to vote for it at the next general election and that it will need those votes badly? Does he not think that perhaps a little bribe might help?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has asked the Highways Agency to look again at the plans for the bypass and to explore other options. He will consider the way forward when he has received further advice from the agency.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Answer seemed to lack any necessary sense of urgency for a matter which has been under consideration for years, and in relation to which it has been accepted that there will have to be a bypass if we are to deal with the appalling traffic congestion in this area? Can he give some indication that the Government realise the seriousness and importance of this matter and how unjustified is the delay that they are imposing on it?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I understand my noble friend's concern about traffic congestion in this area. The Government take this issue extremely seriously, which is why my right honourable friend ordered this further review; we want to be absolutely sure that we have the right solution to this difficult problem.
Lord Roskill: My Lords, are the Minister and the Secretary of State aware of the amount of land which was set aside for the bypass on the proposed route, including a cottage belonging to the Mary Hare School for Deaf Children, which is now idle? Are they further aware that enormous losses and inconvenience are being caused to everybody who lives in that area? While I am on my feet, would the Minister care to convey to the Secretary of State an invitation to lunch or dinner on any weekend day between now and the end of September, starting next Sunday, which is the first Sunday at Newbury Races, when those of us who live in that area are expecting the entire area to be gridlocked? If he comes, I hope that he will come openly and not secretly, as he did last time. I ask him also to let it be known that he is coming and to come via the A.34 and exit 13 from the M.4. We shall undertake to keep his lunch or dinner hot in the oven for at least two hours.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we fully understand the inconvenience caused by any delay to any traffic scheme. I underline the importance in this particular situation of getting the right solution. I shall pass on the noble and learned Lord's kind invitation to my right honourable friend.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this route is part of Euro-Route E05, which gives some indication of how busy this road must be, and that it will become busier and busier? I take up the point raised by the noble and learned Lord as regards blight. I have a sheaf of material here, and a great deal more, about the secret visit of the Minister, Dr. Mawhinney, to see what the area is like. The situation is a terrible inconvenience to people. Not only is land now sterilised for no one knows how long, but the whole area must be waiting with some sense of urgency, which is the word used earlier by another noble Lord. The word "urgency" should be used instead of "thoroughness". Urgency is absolutely vital in this case.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that both urgency and thoroughness are important. It is important to get the right route. Once the route has been chosen and the road has been built, we cannot un-build it very easily. It is desperately important that we get the right route, which is why the Secretary of State ordered a further review. He will make a decision as soon as possible after receiving further advice from the Highways Agency.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble friend indicate when a decision is likely to be made? Is he aware that for years it has been accepted that there should be a bypass there? The Government, having acted to hold up the matter, are surely bound to indicate when they will come to a decision.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my right honourable friend has already indicated that he expects to be able to make an announcement in time for the publication of the road scheme starts for 1996-97, which will be later this year.
The Earl of Strafford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is now a very fine dual carriageway or motorway route all the way from Southampton to the Midlands and the rest of the country, which, as I am sure
Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords, I do not believe that it is wimpish at all. It is proper government to make sure that we have absolutely the right solution. It is an important route and we acknowledge that. There are also severe congestion problems, which we also acknowledge. We want to make sure that we have the right solution.
Lord Annan: My Lords, does the noble Viscount admit that there has been inquiry after inquiry into this route? If the Minister cannot make up his mind now, is there any likelihood that he will be able to do so in the future?
The purpose of this debate is to explore the Government's intentions on marine protection, particularly those sites which have been identified for designation as marine nature reserves. Some of your Lordships may have noticed that in the past 10 years or so I have asked a large number of Questions about the progress on the designation of marine nature reserves, and I have received a wide variety of Answers from at least eight different Ministers. It seems to me that the medium of an oral Question was not very satisfactory and that is the reason for this debate.
During the passage in 1981 of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which is now an Act, the Government accepted that certain valuable marine sites needed special protection. Seven sites were identified in Great Britain at that time and one in Northern Ireland was added later. But so far only two of those sites have been declared. They are Lundy (in 1986) and Skomer (in 1990). Voluntary agreements exist in two others; namely, St. Abbs and the Isles of Scilly. I shall turn to the subject of voluntary reserves at some length a little later.
Negotiations are in hand on a number of other sites on the list, but progress seems painfully slow. For example, consultations on designation of the Menai Strait were initiated in 1988. Although at that time 80 per cent. of respondents favoured proceeding with the exercise, the Welsh Office would not make a decision. In January 1993, a second consultation was started and the result was submitted to the Welsh Office in March 1994. Nothing has happened since then, except a promise that a decision would be made by the end of March 1995. We have reached May 1995 and that promise has not been kept.
The main problem has been that, unusually, the Government seem to require 100 per cent. agreement from all those affected by the proposals before proceeding with the designation of a marine nature reserve. The reason why marine protection requires that approach is still not clear, but it has been a persistent thread in all the parliamentary Answers until Question Time on the 2nd of this month when the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, said:
I hope that that does not indicate that the Government intend to delay action on marine nature reserves until the introduction of special areas of conservationwhich I shall call SACs from now on for the sake of brevity. SACs do not become operative until the year 2004. We cannot afford another nine years of inaction on those sites. In any case, Menaiwhich is the one that we hope is nearest to conclusionhas not been included in the list of SACs so, in any case, it would require special treatment.
SACs provisions must be additional to and not instead of the requirements of marine nature reserves. Those reserves are sites of high value for educational purposes and for the research essential to the maintenance of marine biodiversity. They need special arrangements, and they need them soon. Evidence of deterioration is readily available, but I am afraid that I do not have time to go into such details today.
I turn now to voluntary reserves, which government seem to consider an adequate substitute for statutory protection. Voluntary arrangements can work well. They develop local community involvement and are useful for educational purposes; but they are vulnerable. Often the driving force is provided by one or two individuals. The departure of those individuals, for whatever reason, weakens the initiative and the whole project can run out of steam. They are also vulnerable to the operations of some commercial operators who are not impressed by anything less than a statutory restriction.
Most of all, voluntary reserves are vulnerable to financial difficulties. They have no guaranteed finance and when, as now, finances are generally tight, they suffer. For example, I understand that the voluntary reserve at St. Abbs has resorted to a three-month contract for wardening. Wardens are essential for many reasons, not least in developing public understanding of reserve purposes. There is concern on other reserves that the St. Abbs "solution" may be attractive to other voluntary reserves in financial difficulties and would lead to a deterioration in the level of effectiveness of those reserves.
In the past, English Nature has helped to finance projects on voluntary reserves, but this year it has decided to concentrate its resources on those areas where it has statutory obligations. Therefore, that source of funds for voluntary reserves has dried up. I understand why English Nature is in that state; it, too, is short of money. However, the effect on voluntary reserves could be quite disastrous. It is at least arguable that starting those projects and allowing them to fail is worse than not starting them at all. Local people become discouraged and disillusioned, and it does not encourage people in other areas who may have been contemplating voluntary arrangements in the future in the hope of some support from English Nature. Voluntary reserves are a peculiarly British phenomenon. Most other countries prefer statutory protection for their important sites. The only exception that I have been able to discover is in the Philippines.
There is not time to discuss in detail our international obligations; but with our long coastline and our favourable climate we inevitably have a large number of sites of international importance, and we are signatories to a number of conventions and agreements to protect those sites. We also have obligations within the European Union, notably under the habitat and species directive.
We are committed under the agreement signed at Rio in 1992, the so-called, "Earth Summit", to develop plans and strategies for sustainable development. At this point I should like to compliment the Government on the speed with which they have produced strategies in support of the agreement reached at Rio. Those strategies have been generally welcomed. One of them relates to the maintenance of biodiversity in the United Kingdom in which the health of the marine environment is a significant element.
Marine nature reserves offer protection to some unique and valuable areas which need special treatment if they are to survive. I urge the Government to take that responsibility more seriously and to press on with that important programme. I should like to think that this is the last time that I have to raise the subject in your Lordships' House. I beg to move for Papers.
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