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Lord Judd: I have great pleasure in supporting Amendment No. 518. As the noble Baroness indicated, we debated much of the substance of the amendment last Friday in our biodiversity debate on the recent report by Sub-Committee C of the Select Committee on the European Union.
The Committee may recall that the sub-committee came down firmly in favour of putting biodiversity planning on a statutory footing. Unlike other countries--for example, the United States with its Endangered Species Act--the UK still lacks legislation specifically promoting the recovery of endangered or threatened species, or the recovery of habitats which have declined or are in decline.
Speaking as a member of Sub-Committee C, in the debate last Friday I argued that there is no room for complacency. The WWF estimates that more than half the existing sites of special scientific interest are in a deteriorated or damaged condition, and that more than 20 sites have been damaged in the months since last year's Queen's Speech.
As the noble Baroness powerfully argued, biodiversity action plans involve many stakeholders, including of course conservation organisations, farmers, private companies and individual landowners on a voluntary participating basis. I would go so far as to say that, without such partnerships, it would be impossible to deliver long-term conservation objectives. But it is not sufficient for the entire biodiversity action plan process to be dependent on good will. For example--the noble Baroness referred to this also--Friends of the Earth, of which I am a member, argues that species recovery programmes and habit regeneration schemes are necessarily realised over long time-scales and that private sector stakeholders need to be sure that public sector bodies will remain committed to the process for whatever time is needed. Unfortunately, as matters stand, private sector stakeholders feel their working commitment to be in jeopardy because there is evidence that local authorities, quangos and government departments are increasingly giving such
The noble Baroness referred to the Countryside Council for Wales and the fact that it has moved backwards in terms of its commitment. What is disturbing is that it decided to stop work on 102 of 222 biodiversity action plans which apply to Wales. As the Minister will have noticed, the argument is not for the plans themselves to become legally binding and there is no intention to prescribe how they should be implemented; what is being argued is that, to ensure government and public sector commitment to the biodiversity action plan process, there should be a baseline requirement for the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to prepare, maintain and periodically review action plans and to further the objectives of such plans.
I find it interesting that, as I understand it--my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong--a statutory requirement for the Mayor of London to prepare, maintain and review a biodiversity action plan for London is already in place. But why only London? Surely a similar requirement should be placed on the Secretary of State, the National Assembly for Wales and other government departments.
I recognise that during Report stage in the other place, the Government made clear their intention that biodiversity action plans should be integrated into community strategies which would be established by the Local Government Act. That at least is something. But there is an inescapable major responsibility for all government departments and public bodies, and especially for the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales, to give a consistent lead if the accelerating and grievous loss of biodiversity in this country is to be reversed. Amendment No. 518 seeks to provide the belt and braces to ensure that that happens.
Lord Walpole: Perhaps I can follow on from Friday afternoon when I spoke on the same subject. In my closing remarks I said that it was obvious from the debate that everyone was behind what we were saying. Everyone, irrespective of party, knew what they wanted to achieve. The differences arose on the question of how it was to be achieved. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Moran, I strongly support this amendment.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We on these Benches strongly support the idea of this amendment. We want more comprehensive protection and encouragement of our wildlife. Although we commend the Government on bringing forward Part III--in our view, it is long overdue legislation--they should not believe that they have fulfilled their obligation to wildlife. The Biodiversity Action Plan must be statutorily underpinned now because it is likely to be a long time before we can cover this matter in other legislation.
When one considers the reasons I outlined for habitat destruction or neglect, it is easy to see that the fault lies in the hands of many organisations and individuals. Of course, the answer is in the hands of farmers and landowners with regard to how they farm; but it lies also in the hands of MAFF, which decides which agri-environment schemes to implement and how to apply them. For example, MAFF recently came to the strange conclusion that the recently revised hill farm allowance should continue with stocking rates as they were, thus perpetuating overgrazing, but gave no thought to an allowance for hill farmers, who may have substantial amounts of land which will become open access land, thus encouraging less stock. Responsibility must lie also with the previous government, who took up a small amount of the European money available for wider rural and agri-environment schemes.
One of the attractive parts of Amendment No. 518 is Clause 4, which would give all government departments a responsibility which they currently do not have. Habitat destruction can lie also in the hands of planning authorities which fail to pay sufficient attention to the overall impact of 10 or 20 years' development. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to local authorities. Where there is no statutory obligation, some may give biodiversity action plans lower priority, although some authorities are to be commended on the effort and resources they put in to those plans. However, planning gain money has often been directed into road building although only a tiny amount is needed to create a copse, a pond or a reed bed.
We firmly believe that the Biodiversity Action Plan should have statutory underpinning and that that should mean redirecting money to where the fine words are. But it should not always be a question of money and that is where we may part company with the Conservative Benches, depending on the noble Baroness's reply. Last Wednesday, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, when speaking to her Amendment No. 458A, seemed to want more money for landowners. That seemed to be the bottom line of that amendment. She said that a requirement on an owner to improve or restore land to a level above its original state would be unreasonable without some financial support. However, under Amendment No. 518 that is what we would be expecting every agency and individual to do: to improve and enhance. Surely we will not be able to pay all those who may be involved. Creating a habitat which supports biodiversity and a commercial operation is not just a question of money.
In conclusion, perhaps I may give the Committee a brief example of that. Last week in Somerset I visited the winner of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group award; Home Farm, Curry Rivel. It is a family-run farm, mainly arable, of about 1,000 acres. It is a model in terms of "enhancing" what it has. It grows its hedges wider and thicker, has widened its field margins, restored its traditional orchards, managed its woodland and much more. Several key species are already benefiting from that.
The interesting point was that its reliance on environmental payments was less than 1 per cent of its turnover and it sees that as set to decrease, although it sees its enhancing work as set to continue and increase. What it needed and had was imagination and commitment. The same kind of commitment to biodiversity which the farm shows at a local level is needed more at a national level from every part of government.
I hope that on Report the Government will come forward with an amendment which can fulfil such a commitment to Biodiversity Action Plan. Their response to Recommendation 21 of the excellent biodiversity report was weak. They raised no substantial points which would prevent them coming forward with an amendment. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Lord Renton: I warmly support the substance of the amendment but feel bound to point out that it is an unusual method of statutory drafting. I shall be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.
Subsection (2)(b) provides that the criteria which must be applied in determining the species and habitats of conservation and the priority species and habitats of conservation are to be judged under the existing Biodiversity Action Plan regime. That is referred to in subsection (6), which informs us that the regime is set out in three steering group reports.
In effect, we shall be making the conclusions of those steering groups part of our statutory plan. It may be that in unusual circumstances that can be justified, but it is unusual. If there is a more conventional way of achieving that when the new clause has been accepted, as I hope that it will be by all sides of the Committee, we should on Report consider whether any necessary drafting needs to be done in order to make it plain what is being applied by statute. I say no more for the moment, but I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
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