Skip to main content

New Clause—(Power Of Drainage Authorities To Do Work In Nature Reserves)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Where the Nature Conservancy, a local authority or any other person enter into an agreement with a drainage authority for the doing by that authority of any work on land managed as a nature reserve by, or under an agreement with, the Conservancy or a local authority, no limitation imposed by law on the capacity of the drainage authority by virtue of the constitution thereof shall operate so as to prevent the drainage authority carrying out the agreement.—[ Mr. King.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause has already been discussed in reverse by the Committee. We previously asked the Committee to approve a Clause giving powers to the Nature Conservancy and local authorities running a nature reserve to employ a drainage authority as their agent. This Clause permits drainage authorities to be employed as the agent of the Nature Conservancy or the local authority in carrying out work where the Nature Conservancy or the local authority require them to do so.

This new Clause draws attention to the fact that water may be of vital importance to nature reserves. That is so throughout the Fenland area. I welcome this new Clause, but I should like to express regret that it does not go far enough. In order to explain my reasons, perhaps I might explain the position in regard to a private nature reserve in my constituency. Hon. Members will recollect that when the Fens were drained a large proportion of the natural wild life of those parts disappeared, for various reasons. This private nature reserve is included in the area administered by the Middle Level Commissioners, and in it there are two very famous and exceptional butterflies. Those butterflies are there because they live on a rare plant which is very thirsty and which must have water, and if the level of the water is lowered by the drainage commissioners there is a danger that the plant will die and that the two rare butterflies will have nothing upon which to feed and will be exterminated within the British Isles.

It may be that there are others as well. I am speaking of species and not individual specimens; I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

The recent exceptional dry weather we have had brought matters to a head recently for this nature reserve. The level of the water sank lower and lower, and the society which is responsible for the nature reserve had to arrange a hasty meeting with the drainage commissioners, who were most fortunately co-operative and amenable in the matter. One can envisage circumstances, however, in which there might be a conflict of interest. In reading Part III of this Bill, which deals with nature conservation, I am a little surprised to find that there is no provision, so far as I can see, to ensure that there shall be a sufficient level of water in all nature reserves where that matter is of importance.

Therefore, while welcoming this Clause because it at least introduces some reference to co-operation between the Nature Conservancy and the drainage board, I regret that it does not go further and make it obligatory on the drainage board to maintain that level of water which will enable the Nature Conservancy to be an effective nature reserve. By the amplification of this Clause in another place, it would be possible to achieve that aim. I shall be glad to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say about the point.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has made a most interesting speech, but the burden of his complaint is that there are not even greater powers in the Bill, or specific powers, dealing with the problem which he raised. I scarcely think that one would expect to find that provided in the Bill. The Bill contains no kind of limit on the sort of agreement into which the Nature Conservancy may enter with a drainage board. If problems arise in the Nature Conservancy or if there is an agreement with a private reserve, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the taking of such action as the hon. Member has indicated should be taken.

7.0 p.m.

Well, it is the duty of the Nature Conservancy to carry out their function, and their function is to conserve nature. If it is necessary to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests, they have the full right to enter into agreements with drainage boards to do that.

Supposing that they fail to obtain the necessary co-operation from the drainage board, what is to happen then? Is the Nature Conservancy to withdraw and surrender its intention, or what is to happen?

—which cannot possibly be answered. In this country we have a variety of local authorities and any one of them may fail to agree with another on any subject. It is impossible to lay down in an Act of Parliament which authority in such circumstances shall be able to dictate to the other, and that is what the hon. Gentleman is asking.

The Parliamentary Secretary described my point as a hypothetical one. I thought I had explained—I hope with some clarity—that it was a practical point, based on circumstances which have occurred during the past few weeks, and may very easily occur again. Surely this is a matter which must receive further consideration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will at least give an undertaking to consider the matter further. I am quite willing to give him the facts which will enable him to get in touch with the authorities concerned in this particular case, if that would be of assistance to him.

Let me say at once that I would be most interested to receive the particulars of any such difficulty, if the hon. Gentleman will let me have them; but so far as the law is concerned, I do not think that he has produced any argument to make one think that this particular Clause should be altered.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.