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Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As the Committee thought that Amendment No. 515 was complex, he will understand why I felt it important to try to clarify some of my amendments to his amendment. I thank him for agreeing to look at Amendment No. 515B again.

Amendment No. 515G is a probing amendment in relation to the relevant person not being the person with whom the agreement was made but who would be able to terminate the agreement. Perhaps I may suggest that all noble Lords should reflect on what has been said in this debate and we can return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 515B to 515G, as amendments to Amendment No. 515, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 515 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Clause 68 [Ramsar sites]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 516:


On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 517:


    Page 43, line 18, leave out ("The Nature Conservancy Council for England") and insert ("English Nature").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 68, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 518:


    After Clause 68, insert the following new clause--

STATUTORY UNDERPINNING OF THE BIODIVERSITY ACTION PLAN

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall each determine and keep under review from time to time--
(a) the species and habitats of conservation concern; and
(b) from amongst such species and habitats, the priority species and priority habitats of conservation concern,
which, as regards the Secretary of State, occur in England and, as regards the National Assembly for Wales, occur in Wales.
(2) The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall each establish the criteria for determining the species and habitats under subsection (1), having regard to--
(a) the advice of the relevant nature conservation body; and
(b) the criteria which have hitherto been relied upon in determining the species and habitats of conservation concern and priority species and habitats of conservation concern in the United Kingdom under the existing Biodiversity Action Plan regime,
and, taking into account the advice of the relevant nature conservation body, may from time to time review such criteria.
(3) The Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales shall each--

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(a) take measures to promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement, by any person, of the species and habitats of conservation concern determined by him or it in accordance with paragraph (a) of subsection (1);
(b) take additional measures to promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement, by any person, of the priority species and priority habitats of conservation concern determined by him or it in accordance with paragraph (b) of subsection (1); and
(c) compile, publish and maintain, in such form as he or it thinks fit, a register of the species and habitats of conservation concern and the priority species and priority habitats of conservation concern determined by him or it in accordance with subsection (1).
(4) Every Minister of the Crown (within the meaning of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975) and government department shall, when exercising their functions and consistent with the proper exercise thereof, secure or further the implementation of the measures taken in accordance with paragraph (a) of subsection (3) and additional measures taken in accordance with paragraph (b) of subsection (3).
(5) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State and of the National Assembly for Wales--
(a) to ensure that the register referred to in paragraph (c) of subsection (3) is available, at all reasonable times, for inspection by the public free of charge; and
(b) to afford members of the public facilities for obtaining copies of entries, on payment of reasonable charges.
(6) In this section--
(a) a reference to "the existing Biodiversity Action Plan regime" is a reference to the regime set out in the publications entitled--
(i) Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, volume 1: Meeting the Rio Challenge, 1995;
(ii) Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, volume 2: Action Plans, 1995; and
(iii) Government Response to the UK Steering Group Report on Biodiversity, 1995;
(b) "the relevant nature conservation body" means--
(i) in respect of the Secretary of State and in respect of species and habitats which occur in England, the Nature Conservancy Council for England; and
(ii) in respect of the National Assembly for Wales and in respect of species and habitats which occur in Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales.").

The noble Baroness said: It is with some relief that I rise to move an amendment that I believe is uncontroversial. From the support that I have received from all sides of the Chamber, I believe that this amendment will be welcomed by many noble Lords.

Amendment No. 518 deals with the statutory underpinning of the biodiversity action plan. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Moran--the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is not in his place--for adding their names to what I believe is an important amendment. Many of us believe that the Government should accept the thrust of this amendment and I hope that at the end of this debate the Government will adopt it.

Earlier discussions in Committee on this Bill have dealt with the many demands placed upon farmers, land managers, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals, in relation to the time and finance spent on the conservation and preservation of our countryside. We are also aware that unfortunately some of the United Kingdom's wildlife has suffered.

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I want to place on record my thanks to the many thousands of people who, over many years, have worked so hard to look after our wildlife. I also thank members of the public whose membership of wildlife organisations has provided finance for such conservation work.

Currently, there is no statutory obligation on the Government to advance or support biodiversity action plans. As many noble Lords are aware, the Government have various schemes to which farmers and land managers can apply for grant aids, either through SSSIs or through schemes more directly related to farming. In some instances, those schemes are already oversubscribed. In addition, English Nature has management agreements with owners or occupiers to conserve or to enhance conservation interests.

However good our intentions are, they can fail. The Countryside Council for Wales, which was originally operated with a government budget that it regarded as inadequate, has had to drop a significant section of its workload. It has had to prioritise its programmes and its statutory duties have had to take precedence. Consequently, as biodiversity action plan work in Wales has not been a priority, the benefits have not been achieved. I could give other examples but I suspect that other noble Lords will want to speak on this amendment.

In responding to a debate on biodiversity action plans in another place, the honourable Chris Mullin stated that the Government are very sympathetic to the proposals, but the danger is that the proposals will provide a statutory basis for species and that habitat action plans would place the onus on the public sector and might put at risk the highly successful delivery partnerships of the statutory, business and voluntary sectors. I do not agree with that. I believe that statutory underpinning would not take away from voluntary contributions. Later, Mr Mullin said that the Government are prepared seriously to consider placing the biodiversity action plans on a statutory footing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. Due to the lapse of time between the debates in another place and here I hope that the Government will feel able to accept our amendment.

This amendment has been supported by many organisations dealing with wildlife and conservation work. It was prioritised by the coalition of the voluntary wildlife organisations under the banner "Wildlife and Countryside Link", which considered it to be the most important improvement that could be made to the Bill.

Friends of the Earth, in its briefing to Peers, recognises that Amendment No. 518 would greatly improve the conservation of species and habitats in the wider countryside, as does the RSPB and many other organisations. Unfortunately, I missed the debate we had as recently as last Friday--I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, in his seat--when noble Lords took the House through the recommendations

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in the Select Committee report on the Biodiversity Action Plan. That committee agreed that the process should be put on a statutory footing.

There were some positive responses following that debate, on which I shall leave other Members of the Committee to comment. I had an opportunity earlier today to speak to the Minister and am hopeful that the Government will be able to give us a positive response. To be flippant for a moment, it would be wonderful to have an amendment which has support throughout the Chamber accepted by the Government. This is a serious issue. Chris Mullin in the other place felt that putting it on a statutory basis would jeopardise the work being achieved by the many voluntary organisations. I do not agree and I hope that, with the passing of the months, the Minister will follow that line of thought. With great pleasure, therefore, I beg to move.


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