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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The amendment would make it an offence to sell waterworn limestone removed from a limestone pavement subject to a limestone pavement order. We have every sympathy with the intention behind the amendment, which my noble friend Lady Gibson moved on behalf of my noble friend Lady David. We recognise the desire to give greater protection to one of our most valuable habitats, but we do not think that the amendment would be effective.

There continues to be a demand for limestone pavement for use in garden rockeries, but it is fed almost exclusively by stocks from outside the United Kingdom, largely from Ireland, where legal extraction continues. It is very difficult at point of sale to establish the source of the extracted material. We do not believe that the amendment would be enforceable because of the problems in distinguishing between legally and illegally extracted limestone.

We are also conscious of calls to stem demand by enforcing a trade ban--perhaps one of the routes suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. However, that raises difficult issues, because any attempt to interfere with trade in legally extracted materials from other parts of the EU would be covered by the free trade rules of the Union.

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I understand and perhaps can sympathise with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. We cannot arbitrarily impose a ban across the European Union. That is why we have concentrated on protecting all our significant remaining areas of limestone pavement and providing for more effective deterrents against illegal extraction.

All significant areas of limestone pavement in England are now protected through the limestone pavement order provision in Section 34 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We are encouraging colleagues in Scotland and Wales to make full use of those provisions. In England there are currently 22 sites of special scientific interest and four special areas of conservation designated for their limestone pavement.

The provisions for increased penalties in Clause 69 will substantially reinforce Section 34(4) of the 1981 Act, which makes it an offence,

    "If any person without reasonable excuse removes or disturbs limestone on or in any land designated by a limestone pavement order".

We are increasing the penalty under those provisions from £5,000 to £20,000. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath recognises that that demonstrates the seriousness of our intent.

We believe that the combination of those measures will provide an effective means to protect limestone pavements. On the basis of those assurances, I hope that my noble friend Lady Gibson will not press her amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I thank noble Lords for the support that they have given to the amendment. I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. I understand her arguments. I am a little disappointed, but under the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 69 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 521:

    After Clause 69, insert the following new clause--

("Payments under certain agreements


. In section 50 of the 1981 Act (which makes provision relating to payments under section 16 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 or section 15 of the Countryside Act 1968), in subsection (1)(a), for sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) and the preceding word "to" there is substituted "to any person; or".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 521A:

    After Clause 69, insert the following new clause--

("Local wildlife sites

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. English Nature, as regards England, and the Countryside Council for Wales, as regards Wales, shall formulate standards for the identification of local wildlife sites by any relevant local authority and from time to time shall report to the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales on the status of such sites.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. It follows on from the long debate that we had immediately before the supper break. It should have been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, but unfortunately he is not with us tonight and it falls to me to do so, as a supporter of the amendment.

English Nature, the wildlife trusts and the local authorities have a list of wildlife sites that go beyond the areas that are already designated, which we were talking about immediately before supper. They are areas known to contain wildlife that should be protected where people are anticipating possible movements caused by climate change and other changes in the countryside.

As many noble Lords have said, it is important that the Bill is seen to provide comprehensive and real protection for biodiversity over the next 100 years, or at least during the next half of the coming century. I hope that the Government will tell us how they intend to safeguard the identification of local wildlife sites beyond what has already been done. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I rise to commend the probing of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and to reinforce the importance of local wildlife sites. The Bill is concerned primarily with sites of special scientific interest which are nationally or internationally important. However, much of our local biodiversity is also important, not because it is rare or special but because it is common. These days, we are becoming short of things which are common.

Local wildlife sites are important for two reasons. First, they are places where some of our more common species continue to exist. Secondly, being local they are, by definition, close to where people live. Generally, people value and are more interested in wildlife which is close to their own locality than they might be in rather rare and special creatures elsewhere.

Therefore, although I am not sure whether we require support for local wildlife sites to appear on the face of the Bill, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has raised an important point. The amendment encapsulates many practices that are occurring at present without statutory support, and the Minister may want to consider whether statutory support is necessary.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I briefly express my support for the amendment, in part in order to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who served for many years as chairman of the All-Party Conservation Group. As the present chairman, I am delighted to have the opportunity to pay tribute to him. I hope that the Committee will pay heed to the proposal that he and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, have put forward.

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My principal reason for supporting the amendment is that many hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of people in these islands live a long way from AONBs and even from sites of special scientific interest. From an educational point of view, a real case exists for promoting the establishment of local sites where local people can enjoy wildlife. Wildlife can be enjoyed in virtually every locality. It would be particularly appropriate for local authorities to take such projects on board in order to provide an opportunity for children within schools. I certainly hope that my noble friends will be able to give sympathetic consideration to the proposals.

Lord Whitty: I recognise the intentions behind the amendment and, indeed, the central importance of wildlife at local level in all localities. We need clear guidelines on the identification of local sites and we need substantially more information about their condition. However, I do not believe that we need an additional statutory power in this respect, and I can demonstrate that, through their action, the Government are already addressing the issue.

In the Government's Framework for Action White Paper we made a commitment in relation to SSSIs to develop proposals on locally important sites in consultation with local authorities. We delivered that through the Local Sites Review Group. That group produced its report this year and we are now in a position to move forward. We have agreed to funding for a comprehensive research project in the coming financial year. The DETR project will include an examination of damage to local sites from non-development activities and consideration of the means of preventing them. The research project is also likely to include Wales.

In consultation with other parties, English Nature is also putting arrangements in place to facilitate the preparation of draft guidance on the operation of local sites. Officials will be meeting English Nature shortly to agree the scope of the project and to set a deadline. I believe that we can make significant progress with English Nature over the next few months. We also want to ensure that the views of local authorities, land managers and voluntary conservation groups are taken into account fully before we publish our guidance.

Meanwhile, local authorities are already incorporating local wildlife sites into their own biodiversity action plans. We have also indicated that we shall revise PPG9 on nature conservation to reflect the work that we are taking forward on local biodiversity.

Therefore, I believe that the Government's commitment, funding and action, along with that of our partners, is clear. I hope that the assurances that I have given indicate that commitment, and that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the other noble Lords who support the amendment will not press it.

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