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Clause 2

Volume 77: debated on Friday 26 April 1985

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Notification Of Areas Of Special Scientific Interest

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 6 leave out 'three' and insert 'six'.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 6, in page 2, line 14 leave out 'nine' and insert 'twelve'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 27 leave out 'nine' and insert 'twelve'.

These three amendments relate to section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has substantially amended section 28 of the 1981 Act which has been said to be a defective provision relating to sites of special scientific interest. In certain respects, the 1981 Act may be defective. There are defects in section 28 and I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields for incorporating a clause which, in the view of a number of hon. Members, provides the main reason for the Bill. Such questions as badgers and the Forestry Commission are very important but what is critically needed is a tightening up of the legislation relating to sites of special scientific interest.

The purpose of my three amendments is to extend the period during which a person who has been notified of an area of special scientific interest can consult and prepare his representations about that notification. The recipient has only three months in which to make a considered response. I know that the hon. Member for South Shields wishes to be fair. Therefore, I must point out to him that three months is a ludicrously short period. In my constituency there are farmers who employ no farm workers. At certain times of the year, therefore, they are working flat out and would be unable to respond to a notification from the Nature Conservancy Council. This might happen during lambing and probably at harvest time. A three-month period is unfair. It would be very difficult for a small farmer, a smallholder or landowner who received such a notification to respond within three months.

The Bill will block that loophole, but the recipient should be allowed a longer period within which to respond. Therefore, I have suggested in amendment No. 5 that he should be given six months in which to respond.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 give the Nature Conservancy Council a little more time to make a response and final decision. At the moment the Bill gives a period of nine months and I am suggesting 12 months. Although I have not entered into formal consultations with the Nature Conservancy Council, I understand unofficially that such a lengthening of the time would not be unacceptable.

I understand the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) in lengthening the various time scales, but the proposed amendment to subsection (2) to increase the time for representations is unnecessary because the three-month period is a minimum. It is left to the good sense of the NCC not to seek quick responses from farmers at the times of year when they are under most pressure. Sufficient flexibility has been built in and we do not need to establish a longer minimum period.

My hon. Friend's amendments to subsection (4A) to lengthen the time for consultations from nine to 12 months run the danger of prolonging matters and we do not want to do that without good reason. It might be thought helpful in a general way to allow more time for objections and consultations, but such changes could mean up to a year of uncertainty before the resolution of a particular situation. That could be particularly trying to an owner or occupier of land, especially in the event of a notification finally being withdrawn or inconclusively lapsing.

There are possible gains from the amendments but they could only be obtained at the price of a good deal of delay and a general slowing down of the process of notification of an SSSI. As the clause, which we all welcome and which is in one sense where we started, is generally agreed, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his amendments on this occasion, although I understand why he has moved them.

I have listened to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has had to say. I hope that there will be an opportunity on another occasion to consider afresh the matter and the evidence that I have. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.