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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that final point of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is absolutely right. It does not just save money for the future; it also saves wasted lives and broken dreams. This general sub-text was very much in the mind of the Home Secretary when he asked the chief constable, Mr. Keith Hellawell, to undertake an overview of the present drug problems and how we deal with them in a variety of ways. I can assure your Lordships that this matter is very much in the forefront of the thinking of the Home Office.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I can. Lorne House has 20 beds. In 1996-97 Lorne House admitted a total of 105 male and female young persons aged between 15 and 25. The average stay is seven to eight weeks. Residents can stay for up to six months if necessary.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, what concerns me now is that this worthy establishment cannot continue to exist indefinitely on a hand-to-mouth basis. It must have some long-term certainty of continuing; otherwise its work will be paralysed.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the donation of £50,000 preceded 1st May. But that is entirely the point of giving that grant. Turning Point is reviewing the operation. We await the results of that review; and we shall proceed in, I hope, a prudent way.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that not unexpected Answer. Is my noble friend aware that Thorne and Hatfield Moors are two of the most important wildlife sites in the United Kingdom--they provide habitat for 25 of our most endangered species--and that raised bogs, of which these are two examples, are of the highest priority under the European Union habitats directive? Is it not time that the Government looked seriously at the working of the 1981 Act with a view to updating the legislation so that a more considered approach could be taken on these important sites? Is my noble friend aware that Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, to which she referred, is against the denotification and has said so, as is the Environment Agency? The situation is very unsatisfactory.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend has a long-standing interest in this area. The Government are considering currently the options for strengthening the protection given to special sites. We hope to consult on that issue in the new year.
However, because of the well known concerns about Thorne and Hatfield SSSIs, my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment recently invited English Nature to make a presentation. That was attended by local MPs who have an interest in the area and by Friends of the Earth. At that meeting Mr. Meacher asked English Nature to look again at all the evidence for denotification. The council of English Nature will be considering that evidence carefully at its meeting on 2nd December.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, will the Government support the wildlife charter launched today by a wide-ranging group of NGOs? It calls for planning laws to reflect the national importance of all SSSIs and to prevent their damage in future from such activities as peat extraction.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as the noble Lord said, the wildlife charter was launched today. We believe that it is a useful document. As I said earlier, we are already considering how best to improve the protection and management of SSSIs in the context of our commitment to improve the protection for wildlife. Officials have already held discussions with a wide range of bodies. We welcome the views of the wildlife organisations, which provide positive and useful ideas which will be considered carefully. In the new year there will be a full public consultation on a range of options.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is because of the concerns raised over possible denotification of parts-- I should stress that it is only parts--of the Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSIs, to which my noble friend referred, that we have asked English Nature to look carefully at this area. Following a major voluntary transfer of sites with planning permission from the peat operator to English Nature, peat is now worked only from those sites within Hatfield and Thorne Moors which have already been damaged by previous extraction over many decades.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, perhaps I may offer the Minister one further thought. Almost 19 per cent. of our sites of special scientific interest--it is one of our strongest designations--are either destroyed or damaged each year. That has continued since 1981. Can the Minister explain to English Nature that unless we are seen to protect our own most valuable sites our exhortations to other countries, especially in Europe, to protect their sites are not helped?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I take note of what my noble friend says. As she is aware, a number of candidate special areas of conservation under the habitats directive have been submitted to the European Commission. Parts of Thorne and Hatfield Moors have been included as candidate special areas of conservation although not the parts currently being considered for denotification, as I understand it.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, while I may be pushing at a partially open door, the matter bears emphasis. In an area where the public have not been convinced by the scientific evidence so far presented, does the Minister accept that it is important that evidence is of the highest order and totally convincing? The Minister stated that peat is being extracted now only where the land has already suffered from extraction and has been damaged. By definition, to remain a peat bog, a peat bog has to be wet. By definition, the scientific views seem to be those which are challenged by a wide number of people.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. Work is being undertaken only at sites which have been damaged. In the context of peat bogs, it is sensible to do that since it is only by continuing extraction to groundwater level that bogs will be re-established allowing the regeneration of the conservation interest. But it is precisely because of the concerns raised about the quality of the scientific evidence that my honourable friend asked English Nature to look again at that evidence and consult with some of the people who are challenging it. However, eventually the responsibility lies with the council of English Nature.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I admire the noble Lord's ability to involve green belt policy in SSSI questions. Issues of the green belt are important. We are looking at planning policy in a variety of contexts, in particular as regards regeneration of town centres.
Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Sewel on the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Oil and Chemical Pollution of Fish) Order 1997 will be moved during the dinner adjournment this evening. The relevant sign was omitted from today's Order Paper due to a printer's error.