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Viscount Simon: My Lords, having listened carefully to the contributions, I no longer feel somewhat guilty in asking a question which only touches upon this particular code. Within about 15 miles of where I live there is a beautiful SSSI called Hatfield Forest. It has been unchanged for over a thousand years. It is one of the very few remaining unchanged forests of its type in Europe and the only one remaining in England.

If Her Majesty's Government decide to expand Stansted airport, this ancient forest will be totally demolished. What would future generations think if they learnt that an area of such importance was sacrificed for the commercial reasons of those who travel by aircraft? I simply ask my noble friend how robust these notes of guidance and existing legislation are in protecting areas of such importance which are irreplaceable.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I have to admit that when I first saw the measure we are discussing I thought, "Here is some more bumf that I forgot to refer to in my speech on environmental regulation and agriculture. Here is more bumf for the poor land managers and farmers, such as my wife, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest". I had forgotten that she owned a tiny SSSI when I spoke in the House that Friday and when I listed a few of the papers that she had to absorb in the line of duty.

The guidance does not come on its own, of course. It refers to three other documents, the main one of which will come in the future, as English Nature is said to be,

but we do not see that yet.

I have three or four worries and then some positive points. My first worry is that good old legal disclaimer in the preface, which makes me wonder how the farmers and land managers will get things right if the Civil Service cannot. Publicity of the SSSIs and why they have been given that status is referred to. I know of an ex-SSSI that used to have lily of the valley. Once the wood was publicised as having lily of the valley, the flowers were promptly picked by various marauding people. They do not exist any more, and the site is no longer an SSSI. Publicity could be disadvantageous and counterproductive sometimes, so that should be looked at carefully.

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Paragraphs 63 and 67 intrigue me. Paragraph 63 states that a management agreement should enable the person to meet the costs of whatever works are required. Paragraph 67 states that, if English Nature has to carry out the work, it will recover the excess costs. I suspect that that highlights the original problem—that the amount agreed was insufficient to cover the costs, or the original agreement was for the incorrect amount—so paragraph 67 should not be necessary.

I felt the titles were excellent. The title of the explanatory memorandum uses the words "Building positive partnerships", and the title of the code uses the words "Encouraging positive partnerships". Both are admirable objectives. With the right attitude, such partnerships could be made to work. If English Nature has the right officials with the right ability to handle people and their concerns, and if they really give help and advice, that will work to the benefit of everyone. It is only if they come in as little Hitlers and start telling people what to do that everything will break down.

On that point, there can sometimes be a very difficult conflict of interests. I heard recently of someone who had to dig out their drains in order to maintain the hydrological balance of the area, as has to be done. However, they were promptly penalised for disturbing vole habitats—heads I lose, tails I lose. Such matters must be handled carefully, and we need officials who know how to handle them properly. The legal obligation should not end up on the poor old farmer, but on the person who gives the advice.

As usual, because of the new structures, the implementation is carried out by an agency. I have never really thought that very sensible. It means that Parliament cannot ask questions about the actions carried out in the name of the Government. That has always concerned me. We now have a sort of split. Suddenly English Nature will be making by-laws and its agents taking actions, and we will be able to do nothing about it.

I shall end on a positive note by saying that partnerships can work very well. My wife had an incredible amount of help and support from FWAG when she was working on Countryside Stewardship schemes. If English Nature gives the same level of support and advice on the matters under discussion, everything will certainly work. The key is collaboration, not confrontation.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, how right the noble Earl is that much of what is important is a matter of attitude rather than legislation. I declare an involvement rather than an interest as the Minister who guided the 1981 Act through Parliament. I subsequently spent nine years as a member of the Nature Conservancy Council, and was then the Minister in charge of SNH. I feel that I shall have "SSSI" on my gravestone.

In passing, relative to SNH and Scotland, I should say that I was one of those who was very enthusiastic in the 1980s and 1990s to convert NCC Scotland into

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having its own responsibility as Scottish National Heritage, and that happened. The principal reason was that Peterborough was a very long way from the highlands of Scotland, where many of the SSSIs were and much of the involvement in nature conservancy was. Last week, the First Minister in Scotland announced that the headquarters of SNH was to be moved from Edinburgh to Inverness. The whole thing will be moved far north, which is most inconvenient and to which the staff object totally. It cannot in any way help conservation in Scotland.

I want the Minister to say whether Scotland will produce a similar code of guidance. So often, in agricultural terms, I have heard Ministers say that Scotland will follow suit, but it never does. Relative to all the legislation and discussion on foot and mouth, Scotland was to produce its own papers, but I am still waiting for them. What relationship and co-operation are we having with SNH, because the borderline does not impact on livestock and nature conservation? We want arrangements to be the same both sides of the Border if at all possible.

The 1981 Act succeeded a Bill introduced by the previous government that fell at the 1979 election after the Porchester report. We felt that that Bill was far too full of compulsion, and wanted to move forward wherever possible by voluntary agreements, backed up by law if required. That was the basis for the Act. The Committee that considered the then Bill was very constructive. The clause that we are debating was put in on Report in July 1981, and called for guidelines to interpret the legislation. Impartially, I would be quite interested if the Minister were to tell me the differences between the guidelines with which we are dealing and the recommendations relative to cattle welfare.

The guidelines are definitely required, as they were in 1981 because the NCC's relationships with farmers and landowners were pretty tense. As has already been mentioned, it failed to be flexible and there was little co-operation. It often led to intimidation and court proceedings. I welcome that we now have common-sense guidelines to procedures, which bring in the social and economic impact of SSSIs on rural areas. The NCC had a reputation for being somewhat heavy-handed, and the guidelines show a positive and more friendly way forward, particularly relative to notification of new SSSIs.

Most owners of SSSIs are proud to have them and want to go along with English Nature, with the appropriate management agreements. One major problem was potentially damaging operations or, in the awful jargon of that world, PDOs. Sometimes simple agricultural operations were banned for, in the views of the farmers or landowners, no good reason. Matters could of course have been resolved amicably, which is what I hope the guidelines set out to do. They are about sympathetic management between English Nature, its area officers and the landowners and farmers.

Much of the success of the code will depend on English Nature and its staff, DEFRA and its staff, and the Ministers responsible. They have to set the tone

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and bring harmony rather than strife to the countryside. They must use their influence with NGOs such as the RSPB, the RSPCA and so on, whose large memberships sometimes seem to dictate final decisions. English Nature and DEFRA must keep a fair balance with the guidelines. Some organisations, such as the National Farmers Union, the Game Conservancy Trust and BASC have a wealth of knowledge at least equal to that of English Nature. Sometimes, built-in opposition to country sports by English Nature has brought most unfortunate repercussions. It tends to forget that those interested in country sports perhaps spend more time improving habitats and conservation than anyone else.

For the beautification of the landscape, the prominence of SSSIs is very important. But to have SSSIs and a lovely landscape, we need profitable farming, and the Government seem to be doing their level best to have the reverse.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. Perhaps I may underline the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, about the need to co-operate and to work together to protect that which we all agree should be protected.

I begin by referring to the noble Lord, Lord Monro, who sought to draw me into commenting on matters that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that it was done in all innocence. We are not aware of any immediate plans for a code to be produced in Scotland. We work closely with other conservation agencies across Border sites on issues that are common. There are common monitoring requirements across England, Scotland and Wales. If the noble Lord is not happy with some of the decisions, I am afraid that he must take them up with his representative from the Scottish Parliament. I compliment the noble Lord on the role that he played in introducing the 1981 Act.

As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, co-operation must be the watchword. In usual circumstances, it should be possible to reach a voluntary agreement—referred to by several noble Lords—and the use of English Nature's power to issue a management scheme will not be necessary. But, where it is, English Nature is required to consult owners and occupiers on the scheme and to allow them three months to make representations. The code makes clear that English Nature will be expected to consider carefully any comments, suggestions and representations that owners or occupiers may make during the course of developing the scheme, and the scheme must be confirmed within nine months. But where English Nature issues a management notice to secure the implementation of the scheme, owners and occupiers have the right to appeal against the terms of the notice to the Secretary of State, and they must be informed of that right by English Nature.

Perhaps I may cross the other Border for a moment in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I am aware of the beauties of the Montgomery Canal. I am also aware of the role played by the late Lady

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White in the development and reopening of that canal. I am afraid that the noble Lord seeks to draw me into commenting on the role of the Countryside Council for Wales. While I fear that it is not within my power to do so, I should be grateful if he would send me a copy of the letter that he has received and I shall seek to ensure that it goes through the appropriate route in order to obtain answers to the questions.

I am aware that other people have been up against the problem that the noble Lord avoided by taking very early action in relation to the presence of bats. There will always be conflict—

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