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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. Two sites have been designated, at Lundy and Skomer. However, the Government consider that marine nature reserves should be established only after full consultation. Before designation, efforts should be made to ensure that there is agreement with those with a legitimate interest in the area concerned. As the noble Baroness indicated, that process can take longer than many of us would wish. But we remain of the view that time spent in gaining local support is worth while.
Of the list proposed, a number of voluntary reserves are operating successfully, including St. Abb's Head; and others are being considered for that voluntary status, including the Isles of Scilly and Loch Sween in Scotland.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the most important action that the Government can take towards restoring the marine flora and fauna around our coasts is further steps for the prevention of pollution, which still takes place on too large a scale?
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That is a problem about which we are indeed concerned. My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Environment and Countryside, Mr. Atkins, announced four coastal policy initiatives in July 1994. Those included a standing forum on coastal zone management. I believe that that will go some way towards dealing with that problem.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the people of Gwynedd are baffled and dismayed by the failure of the Government to reach a conclusion on this important issue? A delay of seven years or more is unforgiveable. I should be grateful if the noble Viscount could tell the House the reason for it, especially as a clear promise was given that a conclusion would be reached by 1st April last. People in North Wales are wondering whether the Government are waiting for the Menai Straits to run dry before they reach a conclusion.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I must repeat that some objections are still outstanding and those objections from interested parties are now being considered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, is it not in keeping with your Lordships' wishes during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 that interested parties should be kept informed and their views listened to before a marine nature reserve is created? If the Menai Straits are made a marine nature reserve, is it not also a fact that further regulations could be added, with no right for anyone to appeal or even be consulted about the further regulations?
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. When the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was passing through another place, undertakings were given that marine nature reserves would be designated only after important differences of opinion had been resolved. However, that does not mean that everyone must agree with the proposal. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will obviously take account of the views of all those who expressed an interest. I believe that in due course all marine nature reserves will be designated as special areas of conservation under the Habitats Directive.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, will the Minister agree that several types of sea bird which have been common around our shores for centuries are under threat? They are in particular the guillemot, the puffin and the gannet. The most important is the Manx shearwater; 90 per cent. of the world's breeding grounds for that bird are within British waters and the species is severely threatened.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, under the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations which have just been enacted, such areas will be taken into account. A number of areas have been identified as possible special areas of conservation and the list published for consultation.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, indeed, it is on the basis of recommendations by Scottish Natural Heritage that the proposal was put forward. Also, the concept that it should be run on a voluntary basis is being considered.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the special areas of conservation under the habitats directive. Are we now to assume that all marine nature reserves are to be subsumed under that rubric of "special areas of conservation"? If so, is the noble Viscount aware that the Menai Straits are not a proposed SAC? Is he further aware that the Welsh Office publication The Environment in WalesThird Report included a commitment to reach a decision on the Menai
Viscount Ullswater: No, my Lords, I do not believe that to be an entirely correct interpretation. Some 36 marine sites have been included in the recently published list of possible SACs. The noble Lord is quite right that the Menai Straits is not one of those; it is being pursued under the marine nature reserve policy. At the moment it is subject to a draft order, subject to a non-statutory inquiry. A decision will be taken very soon.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the subsidy to British publishers under the Educational Low-Priced Books Scheme will be phased out over the next two years. During that time, in consultation with publishers and other interested parties, we will be developing new strategies to achieve improved access to key textbooks and other essential learning materials for the poorer students in the poorest countries in pursuit of our developmental objectives.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I must declare an interest, as two of the medical textbooks which I wrote were once included in the scheme. The Minister referred to the difficulty of reaching the poorer students, but does he agree that the department's review concluded that the scheme's merits outweighed its minor limitations and that it should be retained, with some modifications? Is it not a precisely targeted scheme meeting an essential need among students who cannot afford textbooks at developed world prices? As such, it makes a contribution to Britain's influence and reputation abroad out of all proportion to its modest cost of £1.5 million a year.
Does the Minister further agree that 78.5 per cent. of books in the scheme are sold in low income and very low income countries? Does he also agree that the ELBS is much admired by USAID, which might well step in and publish American books with a similar scheme at the cost of British influence?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am sure that the Government agree with the noble Lord that the achievements of the scheme and the value of British books in developing countries are great. The problem, as we see it, is that this scheme has not been appropriately focused on the poorer students in the poorest countries.
Since the review in 1988, it was determined that the scheme should be focused on countries which had a per capita income of less than 1,000 dollars per head per year. In fact, currently 22 of the 54 countries to which the scheme applies are now outside those guidelines. We are not satisfied that, taking the scheme as a whole, we are satisfactorily targeting the poorer students in the poorest countries. Some are less poor students in richer countries and in some of the poorest countries the price of the books is probably such that the poorest students will not be able to buy them anyway.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is a deplorable decision? Is he further aware that it was a Conservative Government who in 1960 initiated the scheme, which has given some of the most effective kinds of aid to the poorest countries of the Commonwealth and engendered good will towards Britain in the best possible way? Does the noble Lord know that his colleague, the Minister for Overseas Development, has agreed to meet a deputation? When that deputation is heard, will the Government seriously reconsider one of the best pieces of British aid towards the Commonwealth?
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