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House of Lords

Tuesday, 30th April 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Scotland: Wildlife Monitoring

Lord Mackie of Benshie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking, through their agencies, to monitor wildlife in the terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments of Scotland.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, Scottish Natural Heritage, as the main government agency for conservation of the natural heritage, has the primary responsibility for monitoring wildlife in Scotland. It has an extensive monitoring programme which is co-ordinated with a wide range of other agencies and non-government organisations.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am glad that the Government are taking an interest. However, is he aware that, without an overall plan for monitoring these important factors, and without the resources, the voluntary labour that is plentifully available will be wasted? What are the Government doing about that?

The Earl of Courtown: The noble Lord is quite right; the voluntary sector is very important in work for the environment all over the United Kingdom. So far as monitoring is concerned, it is recognised that some aspects of wildlife monitoring are relatively well covered. That is true particularly in the case of birds. For others, such as lower plants, invertebrates, fish and mammals, the information base is less developed. The priority in many cases for species and habitats is to establish a satisfactory baseline inventory. As the noble Lord commented, one has to find out what is there in the first place before changes in levels can be monitored. As regards funding, I believe that in the region of £20 million per annum is spent in Scotland on monitoring wildlife.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, in relation to such monitoring exercises, especially of the marine environment and the conservation of salmon, to what extent does the Minister think that the north-east drift net fisheries are adversely affecting the salmon stocks in Scottish rivers?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, salmon fisheries are a very important part of industry in rural parts of Scotland. We fully recognise the value of wild salmon to Scotland's rural communities and its importance from

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the standpoint of natural heritage. As the noble Lord is aware, we are very concerned over drift netting, and the position is continually being looked at.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the scientific community, together with landowners and conservationists, are all most grateful for the Government's recent decision to extend their support for the acid rain monitoring programme for at least another year; and that we all hope that that support will continue for many years to come?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for letting me confirm that the network is to continue. Much of this is down to my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who is unable to be with us in the Chamber today.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is it not the case that the budget for Scottish Natural Heritage for 1996-97 has been cut from £40.3 million to £36 million? How does that tie in with the Minister's assurances that all the services will be kept up? Will he assure the House that Scottish Natural Heritage will continue to support the Joint Nature Conservation Committee?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, not for all her content but for the point she makes. The commitment remains to ensure that Scottish Natural Heritage is sufficiently well funded to be able to fulfil its statutory and other obligations. Both Her Majesty's Government and SNH are absolutely certain that we shall be able to carry that out. Circumstances have changed, and it should be noted that efficiency savings are available and improvements in effectiveness are expected to follow from the implementation of the recent efficiency review and also The Way Ahead.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, will my noble friend inform the House of the large subventions made by this Government to the environmentally sensitive areas, which I believe amounted to some £66 million? Will he also comment on the fact that the Organic Aid Scheme received only £1 million?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I am afraid I did not catch everything that my noble friend said. The environmentally sensitive areas in Scotland are very important. There are 10 such designated areas in Scotland. We continuously review and measure changes in vegetation cover and landscape features; there is also more specific monitoring of individual sites on farms and crofts in the scheme.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, has anybody monitored the population of birds of prey (raptors) since so many have become protected species, and their effect on the population of small birds, in particular songbirds?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lady makes a very important point. The Biodiversity Action Plan takes that into account.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Scottish Environmental

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Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage are obviously doing much the same type of work in slightly different spheres. We were promised in the 1995 Bill that there would be a memorandum of agreement between the two bodies. Can the Minister say--perhaps not now; he may prefer to write to me--whether there is such a memorandum and where it can be obtained? If it has not yet been published, can he say whether it will be published soon?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I always try to help the noble Lord but in this instance I cannot. I am afraid that I shall have to write to the noble Lord.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, did the Minister notice that yesterday fishermen were taking salmon from the River Tweed at Berwick-upon-Tweed and inserting small radios in the stomach of the salmon before putting them back in the water? If the Minister should be talking over the radio to any of those salmon, can he ask them to persuade their colleagues to swim further north up into the Scottish rivers?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as usual, the noble Lord makes a very interesting point. As I already said to his noble friend, Scottish salmon are very important.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, in view of the number of interesting points made, would the Minister do his homework again and see that resources are given instead of being reduced?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I am fully satisfied that resources are available, as are the rest of Her Majesty's Government and SNH. Monitoring will continue and we shall look to the safe environmental future of Scotland.

Training and Enterprise Councils

2.44 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to take any action to improve the working of training and enterprise councils.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, the three-year licensing process is supporting continuous improvement in training and enterprise councils. To be awarded a licence a TEC must meet rigorous criteria across all that it does. That includes assessment of the TEC's corporate planning and indicators of its strategic impact, a corporate programme and internal capability. Sixty-four TECs have already been awarded licences. The Government's intention is to contract only with licensed TECs after 1997.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most unsettling and worrying aspects of TECs at the moment is that their legal status is not quite clear? If Oldham TEC wins

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charitable status arising from its court case with the Inland Revenue, would it not make some of the activities of the TECs illegal? Perhaps equally important, would it not affect the liabilities of members of TECs? In those circumstances, is it not likely--in fact, highly probable--that some members will cease to do work for TECs?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the uncertainty following the case for charitable status which involved Oldham TEC. I understand that the Inland Revenue has appealed to the High Court the decision of the special commissioners of Inland Revenue to grant Oldham TEC charitable status for tax purposes. At the moment, all I can say to him is that the department is considering with the Charity Commission and the TEC National Council the implications for TECs following that decision if the Inland Revenue fail to win at a higher court.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is it a fact that the application for charitable status came about because the TEC in question was concerned about financial resources and felt that obtaining charitable status would improve the financial resources available? Is it also true that TECs constantly seem to have to battle with the Treasury for adequate resources? Furthermore, how do the Government deal with what appear to be varying degrees of effective performance among the different TECs? How is it intended to obtain consistency of performance?

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