Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 451:


(" .--(1) In this Part--
(a) "restricted byway" and "restricted byway rights" have the meaning given by section 44(4);
(b) expressions which are defined for the purposes of Part III of the 1981 Act by section 66(1) of that Act have the same meaning as in that Part.
(2) In this Part any reference to a highway includes a reference to part of a highway.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 451A:

    After Clause 65, insert the following new clause--


(" . It shall be a principal aim of the Nature Conservancy Council in discharging its functions of protecting and enhancing biodiversity and physiographic features also to make such contribution to sustainable development as is required by guidance issued by Ministers from time to time.").

The noble Baroness said: The Committee will be pleased that the issues of conservation and protection of SSSIs will be considerably strengthened by the Bill; and that English Nature will continue to be the champion of those sites. The amendment seeks to establish the Government's thinking on the relationship between such championship, and the duties of English Nature.

The amendment would come into play when there was a conflict of interests. For example, as a result of the Government's policies on climate change, local communities might wish to devise local energy solutions. A community with a good river flowing through it might choose to sink a turbine into the bed of the river to produce a considerable amount of energy. However, if the river came within English Nature's area of responsibility, it might recommend against the scheme. The amendment would enable Ministers to issue guidance to clarify such debates. It would not lessen the authority of English Nature. The aim is to ascertain the Government's view on how strictly applied local policy advice from English Nature might fit in with wider national objectives. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: We have reached Part III. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has said, this is a probing amendment to establish the Government's line. I shall not delay the Committee at length. We have a number of important amendments coming up on protecting and enhancing diversity and looking to the future. I thank the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity to speak on those issues.

Lord Whitty: Having at last reached Part III, we are directly addressing the nature conservancy and wildlife protection aspects of the Bill. Addressing issues of sustainable development is central to my department's strategy. The Liberal Democrats have tried to insert references to sustainable development in various Bills on the subject. Sometimes I have agreed

11 Oct 2000 : Column 454

with them and sometimes I have not. In most cases, they have argued that bodies that are primarily concerned with economic developments should take a longer-term, more sustainable and more environmentally oriented view.

Everyone has to pay attention to sustainable developments, but the conservation authorities have specific requirements relating to their conservation responsibilities, which could be diverted by writing in sustainable development on the same basis. English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales are already under a duty to have regard to the needs of agriculture, forestry and the economic and social interests of rural areas when carrying out their statutory functions. They take those responsibilities seriously. English Nature has recently issued a position statement on sustainable development.

A sustainable development duty as outlined in the amendment may not be entirely appropriate, because the conservation agencies are under a duty to notify SSSIs based on a scientific assessment of whether the site is of special interest by virtue of its flora and fauna and its physiographical and geological features. Once it has decided that that is the case, the agency has a statutory duty to notify the land, but it must ensure that only the land that is of special interest is so covered. Once the assessment has been made, other authorities are responsible for looking at the wider sustainable development arguments.

I accept the aim of the amendment, but writing such a duty in as equivalent to other requirements and duties of English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales could blur matters unhelpfully. I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. Although I understand that English Nature would in many ways be an advisory body in this area, if its advice was negative that would often be a body-blow to a particular scheme. However, given its statement on sustainable development, which I have read carefully, I believe that its heart is in the right place and I thank the Minister for his reassurance.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: While brandishing my copy of the Addison rules, I wonder whether I may add something which may help the Committee to understand the difficulty which has arisen in relation to this issue. The noble Baroness gave examples of where laudable sustainable green energy schemes might come into conflict with the nature conservation interest of a particular piece of land. I believe that English Nature's primary objective in this area is the conservation of biodiversity. That is very much a key test of sustainability. If biodiversity is going down the tubes, one can be fairly certain that, as a nation, we are not making decisions that are sustainable. Therefore, it is a valuable touchstone for whether the decisions that are being made in economic and social areas are indeed sustainable.

11 Oct 2000 : Column 455

I believe that conflict will arise in areas where sites are protected. The sites of special scientific interest in this country cover approximately only 7 per cent of the land surface. They are special for their nature conservation interest and I believe that it is not unreasonable for them to be seen as having conservation as their primary purpose. In many cases, economic activities are perfectly compatible with that. If a green energy scheme is not compatible with that, then I believe that we must look for schemes which do not impact on that very small proportion of land surface designated as special because they are genuinely the jewels in the crown for nature conservation.

As I continue to brandish my copy of the Addison rules, I hope that that explanation has been of value to the Committee.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I feel doubly reassured and look forward to returning to the debate, which may widen under Amendment No. 536AA to which I shall add my name. That amendment may extend the issue to cover marine areas. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 452:

    Before Clause 66, insert the following new clause--

("The Nature Conservancy Council for England


.--(1) The Nature Conservancy Council for England shall be known instead as English Nature.
(2) For any reference to the Nature Conservancy Council for England--
(a) in any provision of a local Act or subordinate legislation, or
(b) in any other instrument or document,
there is substituted, as respects any time after the commencement of subsection (1), a reference to English Nature.
(3) Any reference to English Nature in this Act (apart from this section), or in any instrument under this Act, shall be construed, in relation to any time before the commencement of subsection (1), as a reference to the Nature Conservancy Council for England.
(4) Schedule (Amendments consequential on change of name of Nature Conservancy Council for England) (which makes amendments consequential on subsection (1)) has effect.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry moved Amendment No. 453:

    Before Clause 66, insert the following new clause--


(" . After section 87 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 there is inserted--

11 Oct 2000 : Column 456

"Duty of certain bodies and persons to have regard to conservation and enhancement of areas of outstanding natural beauty.
87A.--(1) In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in an area of outstanding natural beauty, any relevant authority shall have regard to the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of that area.
(2) For the purposes of this section "relevant authority" means--
(a) any Minister of the Crown,
(b) any public body,
(c) any statutory undertaker, or
(d) any person holding public office.
(3) In subsection (2)--
"public body" includes--
(a) any local authority as defined in section 11A(6),
(b) any joint planning board within the meaning of section 2 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and
(c) any joint committee appointed under section 102(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972;
"public office" has the meaning given in section 11A(4)."").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, perhaps I may remind the Committee of something that I said earlier. I am chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, the length of which from the east Hampshire/Sussex boundary to Eastbourne lies within an area of outstanding natural beauty. I am also on the executive committee of the Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an association which was formed fairly recently and of which every AONB in England and Wales is now a member.

It may be said that this is a modest, generalist amendment and, therefore, why table it at all? However, the fact is that the law as it currently stands designates land as areas of outstanding natural beauty but is then very unclear about the consequences. That is something that we shall tackle perhaps on Monday evening when we reach the various clauses at the end of this part of the Bill. Indeed, talking to this amendment this evening is rather, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said earlier in relation to Amendments Nos. 417ZA and 417B moved by my noble friend Lady Byford, awkward at the present time. But there it is. The Public Bill Office placed the amendment at this point in the Marshalled List and so I shall speak very briefly to it.

The purpose of the amendment is to make a rather greater reality of general AONB designation than exists at present. It is a preface to the much more detailed discussion which we shall have on later amendments on Monday evening which deal with AONBs and the setting up of statutory conservation boards.

The amendment seeks to ensure that "any relevant authority", including a wide range of public bodies,

    "shall have regard to the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of that area",

for which it is responsible which is in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

11 Oct 2000 : Column 457

It is a generalist amendment. Perhaps I may give the Committee an example of how it may work. At present, if the Secretary of State is making a decision about the route of the Okehampton bypass, because that lies in a national park he must have regard to the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty and whether that affects the route of the bypass. Let us suppose that a comparable bypass were being built today around either Chichester or Arundel in West Sussex. Both lie in an AONB, but the Secretary of State would not have to have comparable regard to the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area.

The amendment merely seeks to bridge that gap. We are already assured by Ministers that in planning terms AONBs have, and will have, exactly the same degree of protection through PPGs as national parks. This is a more generalist approach but it is important in a general sense. It will give comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who commented earlier that she was worried about there being, in a sense, two classes of AONBs--those which are in conservation board areas, if that is the will of the Committee next week, and those which are not. But my amendment applies to all AONBs, whether they are in a conservation board area, have joint advisory committees or whether the duties and responsibilities come directly under the local authority.

Therefore, on that basis, I recommend the amendment to the Committee and I hope that it will find favour. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page