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Baroness Mallalieu: Perhaps I may briefly support the spirit of Amendment No. 518, although I recognise that some of the detail may need to be altered. On all sides of the Chamber--indeed, it is scarcely possible to argue--there is concern that there has been, and continues to be, the most alarming loss of biodiversity. At present the Bill misses an opportunity to do something for areas that are not sites of special scientific interest, which represent, as I understand it, only about six per cent of the countryside. The Bill could be made to do rather more for the general well-being of the countryside in general and its wildlife in a much wider area.
The reality is that it will be volunteers such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, volunteer money raised in all kinds of ways, and it will be private money as well as specifically that provided by farmers, landowners and indeed through country sports interests which funds biodiversity. Country sports interests should not be forgotten because much of the small woodland in this country is managed for biodiversity by hunts. Large tracts of the wetlands of this country are managed by wildfowling and shooting organisations. Indeed, much of the small woodland
All those parties have put money in, and will have to continue to put money in if we are to arrest the alarming loss of biodiversity. To leave government out of that partnership would be a missed opportunity. As we all know, when there is no statutory obligation things slip down the list of priorities of governments, particularly when resources are limited--as they always are--or when political priorities change.
Conservation has currently caught the imagination of the public. It was not always so and it may not always be so in the future. When the enthusiasm and the publicity dies down, the job will still have to be done. My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone spoke of joined-up government. I hope the Minister will not say that that will be dealt with elsewhere in another Bill, perhaps a local government Bill. It is surely vital if we are, for example, to tackle the necessary reforms to the CAP--to which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred--that every relevant government department combines in the mammoth task of reversing deterioration which has been going on now for a very long time. Without some statutory obligation, it is hard to see how the responsibility which must be shared by a number of relevant government departments can be achieved. I hope the Minister feels that a place can be found in the Bill for an amendment which does what this amendment seeks to achieve.
Lord Marlesford: I rise briefly to support the amendment. I should like to point out one thing. For 50 or 70 years we have been fighting the tide of destruction of the biodiversity of our countryside, and indeed our countryside itself. We are now, I hope, moving towards a period of enhancement, clawing back and advancing. The amendment seeks to do that.
There is one very important point which has not been mentioned. That is the timing of this initiative, indeed the timing of the Bill. It is happening at what I fear is only the beginning of what is probably a very long-term decline in agriculture. That means the income of agriculture. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to some prices she was given for her excellent stewardship. I am quite sure there are many occupiers of land who perceive themselves, apart from anything else, as being stewards of the countryside and its biodiversity. But the cash supply for that has fallen alarmingly. Even the "Today" programme last week led on the fact that farming incomes have fallen by 90 per cent in the past four years.
The figures behind that fall are simple. The price of milk to producers over the past four years has fallen by one-third. The price of wheat has halved and is now back, in real terms, adjusting both for inflation and production--three and a half times the production of the 1930s--to its price in the 1930s. The price of oil seed rape--a more modern crop--has fallen by two-thirds. The fact is there will be far less cash available to do what we all want. That is why the Bill is very opportune. I hope very much that that opportunity
Lord Whitty: I cannot but note the widespread support for doing something along the lines of this amendment. It is support which is evident here tonight and was expressed in the debate on the Select Committee report introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, on Friday.
I think that everyone recognises that biodiversity action plans are an essential element of our policy, and in particular the implementation of the convention on biological diversity. It is a very strong commitment by the Government. We have given assurances already to make sure that the statutory guidance under the Local Government Act make it clear that biodiversity is an important element in delivering the new obligations on the community strategies.
We indicated in a previous debate some reservations about the need for legislation to underpin this policy, given the other commitments that the Government have made. Perhaps I may turn to the individual points of the amendment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that in one sense we are actually writing into statute the provisions of what are 400 or more different species and habitat action plans. However, as my noble friend Lady Young said, we could be wedding ourselves inflexibly to that in statute. Therefore, there are some problems in the way the amendment is drafted. There is a need for greater flexibility. I shall take into account what my noble friend Lady Young says. I take the point that there needs to be partnership here, but also the Government need to be clear what they are actually committing themselves to.
However, I recognise that there is a need for some statutory entrenchment here. There is overwhelming support in the Chamber for something along those lines. While I have some reservations about the exact nature of the amendment, I will undertake to look at it again and consult with colleagues, with the intention of tabling an amendment at Report. I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. On that basis, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Byford: I am most grateful to the Minister and delighted that he will look at this again. I realise the drafting of the amendment is perhaps not ideal. It was a stab at a very important issue.
Perhaps I may highlight a few points. As agriculture spokesman, I was trying not to make a speech on agriculture. Agriculture plays an important part in conservation. This cannot be looked at merely as a simple issue of conservation within our designated areas.
I agree with the comments made about the need to look again at the reform of the CAP and at the very many schemes to which landowners are trying to work. The point made by my noble friend Lord Marlesford is, sadly, very true. The average farm income last year
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked how I could add my name to Amendment No. 518 when I did not have my name to an earlier amendment dealing with the enhancement side. Perhaps I may deal with that point. If a land manager or owner has on his land an SSSI that has been damaged, it is acceptable that he should be required to return it to its previous state. However, some of the amendments with which we were dealing at that stage referred to "enhancement". If someone is expected to enhance something that he has not previously been expected to enhance, financial support should be available for that. That is what I said on that occasion. If I did not make myself clear, I am happy to restate it today because it is important.
I know that time is running on and that we have much to do but I should like to thank other noble Lords for their contributions. Each of them came forward with relevant views on what would be a suitable amendment. I hope that the Minister will reflect seriously on those views.
Finally, perhaps I may say clearly, if I did not say it at the beginning of my remarks, that the essential ingredient for the success of what we propose is that it should be reflected across all government departments. It is not a question of it being only a MAFF or DETR issue; it is one that should be reflected across all government departments and local authorities.
I am sorry that I have not done justice to the contributions of all noble Lords. There were so many and they are all important. Perhaps I may refer to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, because it takes us back to where we started from. We are all stakeholders, whether as individuals or as members of groups. This is a wonderful opportunity to put such a provision into the Bill. I accept that my amendment is probably not perfect and I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to take it away, think about it and come back at Report stage with something that is perhaps more suitable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.