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Earl Peel: I fully acknowledge what the noble Baroness says. Hill farmers have been kept going not only by schemes with which English Nature is involved but by various conservation schemes. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. However, the simple point that I wanted to make was that we are moving away from conserving to conserving and enhancing. That is a worrying concept, and I wanted to obtain confirmation from the Minister that no financial implications were involved. He explained the situation extremely well and I am most grateful to him. I am sure that we will be assured by what he said.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister. Unfortunately there was some confusion and this matter got off to a rather bad start. Upon reflection, the Minister may feel that he was mistaken in suggesting that my noble friends had not declared an interest. They said quite clearly that they have an interest. When the Minister looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that they referred to that. I believe that that is where the confusion lies. I declare that I have--

Lord Rotherwick: I have stated on a number of occasions that I am a land manager and owner. I want to add that this issue does not benefit us financially in any way. Where funds are received to help us in our management, they only help to subsidise what in many ways we are already doing.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I remind Members of the Committee that the Companion states that where there is an interest which is direct, pecuniary and shared by few others, noble Lords should exercise extreme caution in the contributions that they make to debate.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for clarifying that. If it was not quite as correct as it should have been, I can only apologise. Certainly, speaking from the Dispatch Box I can say that we have land; none of it is SSSI land. There is no way I can benefit from it. I sometimes wish that we had SSSI land. We are not so lucky.

All Members of the Committee will be extremely grateful for the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. There has been understandable concern--and she will understand it because she deals with it all the time--on the part of those who manage land. They believe that the Bill asks extra of them. Earlier, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that she found my position extraordinary, although she may not have used that word. I wish to set out how these things will be possible, whether in relation to this set of amendments or the very important amendments to be discussed on Monday.

At the end of the day, this will not all happen out of thin air. Those matters have to be financed. Therefore, I wanted to clarify the present position in relation to what English Nature and other organisations are expecting of those people who have SSSIs within their brief.

The Earl of Caithness: Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, before he becomes thoroughly cross with me, that I have no direct interest or any indirect financial interest at all in this. It is some years since I was a land agent but I have talked to people in the profession and fellow surveyors.

I was grateful for what the Minister said. I was grateful too for what the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said. I should have been much happier if the Minister had said what the noble Baroness said. That would certainly have carried more weight in the Official Report.

But there are two points to make. There is a change in the law. The Minister is wrong to say that the law has not changed. There is a definite change from the 1981 Act. As I recall that Act, there is no requirement to enhance SSSIs. I am sorry if I did not make it clear when I spoke originally. I am in favour of enhancing SSSIs but the point which I perhaps did not bring out as clearly as I should have done is that I am concerned about the financial implications for the owners and occupiers of the land.

If the law is changing so that it imposes this extra duty on landowners, why is it not clearer under the Bill? Why is not included with the other obligations in the new Section 28E?

Lord Whitty: We are dealing here with notification. I should say that I accept what the noble Earl says

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about his own interest and I am grateful to him for clarifying that. I did not say that there was not any change in the law. I said that no direct liability arises from that change in the notification procedure. That is what is being dealt with here, whereas the later section deals with other matters in relation to the management of the SSSIs rather than the notification procedure as such.

The Earl of Caithness: But if the notification procedure comes within Section 28E--and it gives a list of authorities--surely the owners should be included in that. That makes it much clearer.

Lord Whitty: Section 28E refer to public bodies, which have a responsibility for enhancement. That is written into Section 28E.

The Earl of Caithness: I shall read with great care what the Minister said and reserve the right to return to this matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 459 and 460 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 461:

    Page 91, line 29, at end insert--

("(9A) The Council shall establish and maintain a list of sites of special scientific interest which shall contain such information as is prescribed by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this group of amendments is to establish a full list of sites of special scientific interest, including associated information, and to require owners and occupiers to inform the nature conservation agencies of changes of ownership.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, referred to Schedule 8 as having draconian powers. It has strong powers for good reason. However, now that the schedules associated with SSSIs have such powers, it is right that the information as to who owns them, when they change hands, which public bodies own them is apparent. The public at large should have access to information regarding areas that are notified as SSSIs.

Amendment No. 461 would establish an up-to-date list of all notified land and include information to enable anyone to see what is required of them in relation to an SSSI. There are approximately 23,000 owners and occupiers of SSSIs in England and around 5,000 in Wales.

Lord Bridges: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. The draconian powers to which I referred are not in this part of the schedule. They are in the denotification procedure in Section 28C(6). That is what I shall speak to when we reach that point. I did not refer to the matter about which the noble Baroness is speaking.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I apologise to the noble Lord. Nevertheless, with the enhanced

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powers under the Bill, it will be important for people to know what are SSSIs and what are not. The Bill needs to be clear about that.

Amendment No. 470 would make it a requirement that any owner or occupier must inform the statutory nature conservation agencies when they sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of land within an SSSI. That would enable the agencies to maintain an up-to-date list and to approach the new owner to talk about site management. That is equally important to ensure that potential owners are aware of the sort of responsibilities they are taking on and are able to discuss management agreements at an early stage.

Amendment No. 498 would make the failure to inform the agencies under this section an offence. In the final analysis, it would be easy to ensure that the list is up to date and as full as possible. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If it is convenient for the Committee, I should like first to speak to the government amendment in this group and then to the other amendments.

Amendment No. 499 adds another section to Schedule 8; that is, Section 28N. It sets out a clear procedure for ensuring that the conservation agencies are notified in writing when the ownership or occupation of an SSSI changes. It addresses concerns expressed by farmers and landowners that information about notification of SSSIs is not always readily available to new purchasers. Many recognise how important it is that discussion about management of notified land takes place at an early stage. The amendment places the duty to inform the agency on the owner when disposing of any of his or her interest in the land or when he or she becomes aware that it is occupied by an additional or different occupier. There have been instances in the past where a new landowner or occupier has carried out damaging operations in ignorance of the fact that the land was an SSSI. As well as being concerned to protect the SSSI, this amendment also seeks to protect the interests of a new owner or occupier and means that the conservation agency will be able to contact new owners or occupiers, explain the details associated with the notification and discuss the management of the site.

While prospective purchasers should in fact identify an SSSI notification in a pre-purchase search, by virtue of the obligatory local land charge entry, there have been cases where it has been alleged that this has not happened. Also, an occupier, or short-term licensee, may not carry out such formal investigations and this amendment seeks to address that situation. Because we believe it to be important that the agency is fully informed, we have provided for an offence of not complying with the provision without reasonable excuse, but we have set the level of fine proportionately at level 1; that is, only £200.

Amendments Nos. 470 and 498 address the same issue, but they differ. Amendment No. 470 places the duty on both the owner and the occupier to notify the conservation agency. I see no reason to extend the duty beyond the owner, who holds the superior interest and

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will therefore be more appropriately responsible for notifying any change of occupier. Amendment No. 498 imposes a penalty of up to £1,000 and makes the offence indictable where the owner or occupier fails to notify the conservation agency. I believe we should keep the penalty proportionate to the offence and level 1, as proposed in the government amendment, is more suitable.

I turn back to Amendment No. 461 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The amendment would require the conservation agencies to maintain a list of SSSIs, containing information prescribed by the Secretary of State. The Government are fully committed to greater openness about SSSIs and the new provision requiring that new SSSI notifications should be published in a local newspaper helps fulfil that commitment. We have also stated in our public consultation paper on the draft SSSI code of guidance that we will expect English Nature to make information readily available, in a variety of formats, on the extent and location of SSSIs and the reasons they are considered special. However, I am not convinced that this should be subject to a statutory requirement.

Of course, the fact that land is notified as an SSSI should be recorded on the local land charges register. Steps are already being taken by English Nature. For instance, it is already publishing both the citation--the description of the features which are special--and the digital boundaries of SSSIs on its web site, which is, after all, publication of a list. Checking its website, or requesting further details from English Nature about a specific site, is a simple next step enabling anyone to discover the status of a site. I am not clear what the existence of a "list" would add to that.

We should also exercise some caution and consider where there are special interest features that are particularly fragile or rare or endangered species. If there is a perceived risk or threat, the agencies must have some discretion as to whether information about those sites should be readily available. We had disputes in Europe with the habitats directive when it was originally said that a list of all the sites should be made available. But it was recognised in due course that for particularly vulnerable sites it was not a good idea to make them public. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.


Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for that response. If his intention is eventually to create a full national list, I suggest Amendment No. 499 will take a long time to come into effect. The land will have to have changed hands for that to happen. But I hear the Minister's reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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