I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 4 line 9, leave out 'or any land reclaimed.'.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 8 in clause 6, page 5 line 33, leave out
No. 9, in page 5, line 39, leave out from 'and' to end of line 41 and insert`enclosing an area of 95 hectares'.
No. 12, in page 6, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 5. No. 13, in page 6, line 2, after 'above', insert`contained within the limits shown on the deposited plans and described as "Limits of deviation work".'.
`and subject to the consent in writing of the Secretary of State for the Environment.'.
I immediately declare an interest. As the House may be aware, I am a member of the council for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I have a substantial interest, but it is not financial.Amendment No. 2 seeks to alter clause 2 by leaving out the words "or any land reclaimed". The aim of the amendment is to remove the activity of creating reclaimed land from the work — [Interruption.] One would have imagined that Conservative Members had already had the opportunity to indulge themselves this evening. The aim of the amendment — I am sorry to repeat myself, but I am prepared to do so frequently to assist those Conservative Members who wish to listen to the argument——
To give added credibility to my hon. Friend's remarks, will he confirm that no hospitality suite has been provided by the RSPB in the House?
If there was one, some of us would have strong objections because we value the donations that we receive from scores of thousands of members of the society and it would mean that that money was ill used.The aim of the amendment is to remove the activity of creating reclaimed land from the work definition in clause 2. At the same time, the amendment will remove reclaimed land from the "power to make work" in clause 6. Therefore, the amendment is substantial and goes right to the heart of the argument relating to the wild bird interest — the subject of so much controversy in the deliberations on the Bill. I do not wish to detain the House for long on this amendment.
I will explain in due course.Those of my hon. Friends who are interested in ornithology will be aware that there are quite a number of species of wild bird in the locality—[Interruption.] I am trying to be helpful to Conservative Members and it is very sad that they are not paying attention. I should have thought that they would be delighted with what I am about to say.
My hon. Friend has mentioned the various species involved. Can he tell us whether the bartailed godwit is one of the species involved?
It is not one of the species to which I will pay attention. Whether that bird will be mentioned in a subsequent amendment remains to he seen.
Is the turnstone one of the species involved?
No doubt the turnstone will be considered during our considerations. However, as I do not wish to be accused of contributing in a contracted debate, I have decided to concentrate my remarks on the Brent goose and the widgeon.
I must confess that I have difficulty in distinguishing the Brent goose from the Canada goose. How does my hon. Friend distinguish those birds in the field?
All will be revealed.
The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) said about my hon. Friend that he knew only about tits. Will my hon. Friend name all the birds that will be affected?
If my hon. Friend is patient, by the time we reach the end of the debate he will have learned a great deal about the various species of bird found in the Felixstowe area.
I am not a paid-up member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, but I have an intense interest in the birds' welfare. I hope that my hon. Friend will dwell in detail on the feeding grounds of birds for the benefit of hon. Members such as myself who do not have his knowledge. Any information that my hon. Friend can give will be very welcome.
During that intervention I heard one of my hon. Friends say from a sedentary position that the hon. Member for Tatton had gone. I imagine that those Conservative Members remaining share the lust for knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, (Dr. Marek).
I am anxious that my hon. Friend should make clear that the tits that have an interest in Felixstowe are the one-winged variety and are not right-winged tits.
Given the remarks that have been made from a sedentary position by Conservative Members and the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who has a profound interest in those matters, I think that is relevant. I had always understood that the hon. Member for Tatton was interested in opencast mining, an interest that some Labour Members do not enthuse about to the same extent. I will restrict my remarks on the amendments to the Brent goose and the widgeon because I do not want to prolong my contribution. I can illustrate the effects of the amendments by reference to only those two species. On other amendments I will speak about other species of birds, and hon. Members with an interest in ornithology will have an opportunity to contribute. I offer the assurance that, to help the House and to avoid causing indigestion to Conservative Members by going too far on the amendments, I will not deal with the whole range of species.
On the point about Members' digestion, will my hon. Friend, when describing and identifying those birds, on each occasion tell us whether they are edible.
When my hon. Friend rose to intervene I did not think what he was saying was relevant. However, I recall now that when, some years ago, we were debating the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, I had to make a necessarily lengthy speech about another species of bird — the goldeneye. Unfortunately, my speech was enormously lengthened by the intervention of an hon. Member—I am relieved to see that he is not with us this evening — who confessed to having eaten the bird. So, perhaps, while I am debating the birds that are important in the context of Felixstowe, some hon. Members may feel moved to confess that they have eaten these species. If they do, I am sure that we can forgive them if they confess in a contrite manner. The fact remains that the goldeneye is an attractive bird, and I suspect that some Conservative Members may have eaten it at some time.12 midnight We are not proposing that the birds should be considered this evening for culinary reasons. We are here because we want them and their habitat to be retained.
Before my hon. Friend develops the theme of the culinary properties of the goldeneye, perhaps he will now answer the question that I asked him before: how would he distinguish between Brent and Canada geese at a glance in the field?
To satisfy temporarily my hon. Friend's curiosity, I may say that the principal difference between the birds is one of size. However, I shall reveal more as we proceed. Before I discuss the Brent goose and the widgeon, I want to make some introductory remarks about the amendment.The Bill aims at expanding the port of Felixstowe in a north-westerly direction up the Orwell estuary. That will involve dock construction and quay faces supported by heavy equipment such as cranes, fixed installations, towers and elevated lighting. Such construction will mean destroying critical inter-tidal areas comprising mud flats and salt marsh. As has been said earlier in the debate, there are some quaint names in the area, and the flats are known as the Fagbury flats.
My hon. Friend has come to an interesting point. I believe that the flats are famous for old oyster beds. Oyster are not now in common supply—they are sometimes polluted and rather suspect for consumption. Are the oyster beds first-class oyster beds, producing edible oysters to the advantage of the country?
I am sure that the hon. Member for Wentworth will deal in great detail with all those things.
I shall try to deal with these matters in detail without detaining the House unduly. I am getting more exercise than I care for.
In view of the problem that we have had on the Gower of oyster fishermen shooting oyster catchers, will my hon. Friend tell us whether a viable population of oyster catchers is associated with the oyster beds? If so, will the Bill prejudice the environment that is so necessary to their continued existence?
So as not to detain the House unduly, I suggested that I would concentrate in this batch of amendments on the Brent goose and the widgeon. On a later batch of amendments one can properly consider the oyster catcher.
It is not just a question of the birds. My hon. Friend is old enough to recall that, before Colchester became a league team, it got to the third round proper of the FA cup. When those responsible were asked why the team had made such magnificent progress, they said that they were feeding their team on the oysters off Fagbury flats. My hon. Friend may not want to deal with it now when he is talking about the widgeon, but when we get to that set of amendments he may want to dwell upon the fact that the Minister for Sport, for example, could do with a few oysters, along with his spinach. So it is a very important point, not just from the aspect of the birds.
My hon. Friend is right.
I was speaking about paragraph 2, by the way.
We have to make sure in the hours that follow that we do not cast too many pearls before swine. That is not on any paragraph. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The food that can be extracted from Fagbury fiats might be more relevant to a subsequent amendment, probably No. 42.Fagbury flats are vital. In a debate in the last Parliament I spoke about the relevance of this area to Britain's standing in international conservation. As chairman of the Council of Europe environment committee, I obviously have a considerable interest in Britain's standing in that respect. It is regrettable that after the Government have accepted that the area should be registered within the Ramsar convention as an important international wildlife resource to be safeguarded other than at times of dire national need, they can so easily and lightheartedly allow this Ramsar site to be ruined despite the existence of vast alternatives for dock provision. At a meeting this morning I noticed in a document which clearly had originated in the Department of the Environment a reference to the Minister of State being the important guest speaker at a reception to announce that Langstone and Chichester harbours were to be areas of special protection under the EC birds directive and would be recognised as internationally important wetlands under the Ramsar convention. There the Government were informing the world about that at the very time that all Conservative Members are united in seeking to remove from Ramsar protection a site of even more importance.
May I assure my hon. Friend that his expertise on ornithology is well recognised in the House? Certainly my hon. Friends and I respect him for the wisdom and the care that he brings to these matters. Will he confirm that the site under discussion has already been indentified under the Ramsar convention as a site deserving special protection? Will my hon. Friend also say that it has been confirmed as a site deserving special protection under the EEC birds directive?
I believe that, had the Bill not emerged, the area would be registered by now as an area of special protection under the EEC birds directive. The EEC would recognise that the ornithological and conservation interest in this site was such as to make it more than suitable for inclusion in the treaty.
Reference to the Common Market—or the EEC, as my hon. Friend calls it — may be made from time to time in the debate. I am anxious to help my hon. Friend in everything he does to try to prevent the Bill from being used to extend the Felixstowe port, but he will begin to upset one or two of us if he keeps talking about the Common Market as though it were wonderful.I do not for a moment think that the Common Market would have done anything to preserve this area. I know that my hon. Friend has views about this, but I hope that he will not upset some of us with this Common Market job. It has cost us £8 billion to be a member of this club. It could not do enough, even within the next 100 years, to pay East Anglian taxpayers back the money that they have poured in to the Common Market. Do not glorify the Common Market. My hon. Friend voted with me against it on 28 October 1971—
Order. I understand the hon. Member's deep interest in the Common Market, but we are debating amendments that do not relate to it.
I just want to finish this point because it is——
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who has the Floor, has taken the hon. Member's intervention on board.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will appreciate that I gave greater emphasis to the Ramsar convention, which has nothing to do with the Common Market, than to the EEC birds directive.
I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) he will make it clear that the Ramsar convention has nothing to do with the Common Market.
That is all right.
I am gratified to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover understands that the Ramsar convention is an international convention. Ramsar is a small town in Iran, not an acronym. It was the site of the original international conference that ratified the treaty extending the protection of birds. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) makes it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that the EEC, through the birds directive, has shown itself to be far more progressive than the Government. Whenever we——
Order. I am afraid that interventions are getting far too long and that the House is forgetting who has the Floor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) is stretching credulity. The suggestion that the EEC is more progressive than the Government is an accurate observation — but everything is more progressive than the Government.
I was not suggesting for one moment that the EEC is more progressive on all matters. The EEC has taken initiatives on bird, environment and habitat protection, yet every time the Government have rejected EEC developments.
There is some justice in my hon. Friend's point. If the EEC wished to improve nature conservation in Britain and Europe, I should be delighted. The only time that I get annoyed is when my committee and the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe take a forward step that is reported—if it is reported at all in the British press—as a decision from the EEC rather than from a body that I regard as rather more estimable.
I do not want to divert the argument any further about the merits of the Common Market although some interesting points have been made. Is not the real point that my hon. Friend should be making that we have an area of outstanding natural beauty which is very important for the ecological reasons that my hon. Friend has outlined, but the Government are trying to maintain the pretence in these procedures that they have no views on the matter? Our criticism is not whether the EEC is better than the Government or vice versa, but why the Government have no view on the matter. They should have a view and the truth is that they maintain the pretence, but they have a view which they hide behind a public corporation.
That is relevant. However, worse than that, almost everything that has been said so far in connection with the amendment has been relevant to the responsibilities of the Department of the Environment. I can see that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is now sitting on the Government Front Bench. He was a Minister in the DOE 10 years ago. However, I do not see anyone there who bears any responsibility for environment matters now, and that is a disgrace. We are discussing the destruction of a Ramsar site and an EEC candidate site, yet not one Environment Minister is present.
I had to table certain questions to the Department of the Environment last week and I know that my hon. Friend will be very interested to learn that the golden plover is a protected species under the EEC birds directive, but under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is allowed as a quarry species. Will my hon. Friend tell us whether the golden plover is likely to lose any habitat or breeding habitat? If that is the case, as a natural consequence of the presumed passage of the Bill, should we attempt to put pressure on the Government to remove the golden plover from the schedule of quarry species in the 1981 Act?
That was a relevant intervention. If the Government were really serious and believed that the national interest had to be served by the destruction of the site, one would imagine them telling the conservation bodies that recognise that they are engaged in dreadful destruction and want to make up for that by providing enhanced protection for those species which may be affected by the destruction. The golden plover may figure there, but as far as I am aware, it is not one of the significant species.
I do not know whether the golden plover is actually the ringed plover——
We live and we learn. From my information, to which I had intended to refer later but which I will mention now, according to the document sent to Opposition Members—and we did not have to go to the Jubilee Room to get it — 223 ringed plover are in danger. If my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) is going to raise distractions about golden plovers, the result is that we will have to stay up all night. Some of us have come here to try to talk reason.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is suggesting for one moment that my constructive interventions on the relevance of the germane speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth was in any way intended to delay the——
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order.
Clearly the Committee is not eager to be as disciplined in its selection of birds to match amendments as I would have thought originally. To clarify the matter and assist the Committee, I can state that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) is more of an expert in ornithology than I.I said at the beginning of my remarks that I would deal with the Brent goose and the widgeon on these amendments, to avoid tedious repetition. We may well talk about the ringed plover and the oyster catcher on the next amendment, as well as the dunlin, redshank and turnstone, which are also particularly important species in this regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, who is a distinguished ornithologist in his own right——
The popular name for them is twitcher, as my hon. Friend points out.Two years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe saw for himself a rare visitor to Britain which had wandered across the Atlantic, and which is still the subject of serious debate in ornithological circles. My hon. Friend may wish to identify the species concerned, because it will not be mentioned again.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way.
Order. Is this an intervention?
Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker.I should like to clarify some of the points that have been raised about the golden plover. That species is certainly affected — not only the Eurasian variety, but the lesser golden plover, both the North American and the Siberian races. I understand that the British Ornithologists Union intends shortly to separate the lesser golden plover into those two species, the North American and the Asian. That is of considerable importance. As for the Brent goose——
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is making a speech. If he wishes to catch my eye at some stage, I shall be perfectly willing to allow him to do so, but an intervention should be a question or a pertinent comment.
I am most grateful for the information given by my hon. Friend.
It is common practice among those interested in ornithology not only to use the common names, such as golden plover, or Siberian golden plover, but—to differentiate precisely between the species—to use the Latin names. It is a matter of scientific precision. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) could consult our hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), so that we could be accurate about the species that we are discussing.This is relevant, Madam Deputy Speaker, because the House is under an obligation, not only under EC regulations—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is desperately concerned about this——
Order. The hon. Gentleman's point has been taken. I repeat that interventions should be either questions or pertinent comments.
You are absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I suggest that my hon. Friends intervene rather less frequently. I had assumed that I would have sat down by now, but I have a good deal left to say. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly made a relevant point. If this debate is read internationally—it may be, because there is international interest in conservation—it is right that, to assist identification, I should tell the House that the Latin name of the Brent goose is Branta bernicula and that the Latin name of the widgeon is Anas penelope.
Opposition Members are now talking in Latin. Only last week Tory Members of Parliament said that they wanted Latin to be part of the core curriculum. I am fighting against a national curriculum. I want to know about the 223 ringed plovers, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) is only bothered about the 1,500 Brent geese and the 1,800 widgeon. The minorities are being left out of the discussion. The Opposition have fought for years for minority interests, so my hon. Friend should stop speaking in Latin. It is linked to the Common Market.
My hon. Friend knows that Latin was spoken before the treaty of Rome was drafted, and Latin will no doubt be spoken when the treaty of Rome is no more than a memory.I have assisted my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly by giving him the Latin names for the Brent goose and the widgeon. We should ensure that those who deal with conservation matters use scientific names for those birds. I hope to assist him further by providing the scientific identification of other birds. The Brent goose and the widgeon are two very important birds. I shall deal later with the oyster catcher and the ringed plover.
Does my hon. Friend realise that this group of amendments is crucial? They cover all the birds that are to be found on these marshes. He said earlier that he would deal in detail with the oyster catcher. I do not want to rush my hon. Friend, but I hope that he will refer in detail to the oyster catcher and the ringed plover after he has dealt with the Brent goose and the widgeon.
Will my hon. Friend (Mr. Hardy) please refer to the importance of the area that lies between the low and the high tide marks? If that area is not covered by sea water, the invertebrates and the oyster catchers will suffer—as will the entire bird population that depends upon the intertidal area. The bartailed godwit will disappear, as will the golden plover and the oyster catcher.
Order. I am quite sure that, if he is given the opportunity, the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) will make that quite clear.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Damage will be caused to the habitat if this amendment is not accepted. Conservative Members have remained silent so far, but many of them will wish to refer to the species that have already been mentioned and also to others that will be mentioned later.
My hon. Friend is being too kind to Conservative Members. He said that Conservative Members have remained silent so far, but my hon. Friend will recall that, when he referred to the importance of international conservation, Conservative Members laughed. The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that they are not interested in any of these birds.
Perhaps I am being too generous; my hon. Friend is probably right—it is a matter for regret.
Speaking as a layman, are these oysters the type that produce pearls? If they are, surely by getting rid of them we are depriving the Tories of a huge economic advantage in the production of pearls in the oyster bed?
The problem with oysters in British waters is that the rapacity of the people who own them is such that they do not allow the oyster to live long enough to produce a pearl of any substantial worth.
As to oysters, will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that at one time the oyster was a significant ingredient in the traditional Lancashire hot-pot? However, the oyster beds were destroyed by the greed and rapacity of the owners, which is why it is so fundamentally important for the heritage of the nation, in a matter of such special scientific interest, that we preserve them.
My hon. Friend's intervention allows me to illustrate the imperfections of Government, in that not long ago large number of oyster catcher birds were shot in an authorised cull, which today the authorities would agree was unwise and unnecessary. I think that the authorities regret the destruction of the oyster catchers.
With regard to my previous intervention about the reaction of Tory Members, there may be some economic advantage in the shooting of the oyster catchers. Will my hon. Friend say whether any of these birds are quarry species under the definition of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981? That is a germane fact, so I hope that my hon. Friend will cover it in his speech.
We will deal with that in due course, but of the quarry species the widgeon is probably the most common.
I remind my hon. Friend that it is not only the widgeon that is in jeopardy. The golden plover, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is very worried about, is a quarry species under the 1981 Act. Licences are granted for the taking from the wild of peregrine falcons, sparrowhawks, merlins and golden plovers to use them as birds of falconry. Some Tory Members take delight in taking birds of prey from the wild and then training them for their own malicious and bloodthirsty purposes. We must ensure that the golden plover is protected.
We seem to be devoting a considerable amount of attention to the golden plover. It did not figure in the count that has already been referred to, although I tend to agree with my hon. Friend's analysis.If Tory Members have any interest in conservation, they cannot complain about the detailed attention that is being given by my hon. Friends to the amendment. They should consider my case, which I shall now advance in case I forget to do so later. When it considered the Bill, the Committee received a great deal of information.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds signified his assent to that proposition. He will accept that the Nature Conservancy Council did not give evidence to the Committee. The NCC possesses the most information about wildlife and nature matters on these islands. The Nature Conservancy Council should not have been prevented by the Department of the Environment from appearing before the Committee as a petitioner Once again, I regret that no Minister from the Department is present. Change proceeds slowly in Parliament. When an hon. Member makes a serious point, Ministers from the Department should be required to be here. Where are they? Have they gone away?
Perhaps they have gone shooting.
As my hon. Friend says, perhaps they have gone shooting. Perhaps they have gone elsewhere, looking for champagne.
I am sure that I do not need to remind my hon. Friend that, under the wildlife and countryside legislation, the taking of most quarry species between the hours of midnight and dawn is outlawed.
Of course. My hon. Friend is right. I do not suggest that, at this time, Ministers from the Department of the Environment are taking any species, whether or not they be quarry species.
My hon. Friend must allow me to reply to one intervention before he offers another. Let us proceed in an orderly manner.I do not in any way suggest that Ministers are breaking the law or that they are doing anything else that may be lawful but which may not be proper at this time. The fact remains that they are not here. One of the Ministers from the Department should be here.
We should consider for a moment or two—not for too long because it would upset you Madam Deputy Speaker—where the other seven Ministers of the Department are. Some of them are gunmen. I want to know whether they plan to go out tomorrow and shoot the 223 ringed plover about which my hon. Friend will not speak. He will not even give us the Latin name for the ringed plover. Why does he not talk about them and the 576 turnstone? What are they? Never mind whether Tory Ministers will shoot the birds tomorrow—they probably will. We should concern ourselves with the small number of birds. If we lose some of the 1,800 widgeon there will still be some widgeon. If the 223 ringed plover go, there will be no ringed plover left. It is time that my hon. Friend talked about the small groups of birds that are in danger.
First, I did not say that I would refuse to speak about the ringed plover—everything in its place. I suggested that, if my hon. Friend exercised a little patience and a little restraint, we shall deal with it. I tell him that Charadrius hiaticula is the latin name of the ringed plover. He asked about the turnstone. Its latin name is Arenaria interpres. I hope that I have enlightened my hon. Friend.I indirectly referred to the ringed plover when I made the point that, together with the estuary of the River Stour, the Orwell site has been proposed for listing under the Ramsar convention and as a special area under the EEC directive. A large part of the River Orwell, including the mud-flats and the adjacent salt marsh, has already been notified as a site of special scientific interest under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) may have enlightened my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but he has not enlightened me. I would like to be able to form a balanced judgment of the amendment. Apparently, there are only 223 ringed plovers on the marshes, whereas there are 1,800 widgeon. Does my hon. Friend know how many widgeon and how many golden ringed plovers there are in the United Kingdom as a whole and can he tell us the relative merits of each bird and how rare it is?
I shall have to curtail my speech to assist my hon. Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
No, I shall not give way for a few minutes. It is essential that we should proceed with the process of enlightenment so that my hon. Friends can understand the nature of the birds under serious threat.My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover suggested that the ringed plover would die. My point is that all these representatives of species will die if the Bill goes through as drafted.
There is an important distinction to be drawn between the ringed plover and the golden plover. My hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) referred to the golden ringed plover, but in fact we are talking about two separate species, the ringed plover and the golden plover. We were told earlier that the golden plover receives special protection under the EC birds directive. At the same time, it is a quarry species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.Let me put some simple questions to my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). Will he tell us the Latin names so that we may be quite clear which species we are discussing and give us a ready field identification of the two species? Will he also tell us whether the ringed plover is a quarry species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act? If it is not, what steps would he propose to extend to the golden plover the protection afforded to the ringed plover?
I subscribe to the view that the Department of the Environment should respond readily to the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council. I believe that the NCC should act quickly——
Is that a quango?
It is a reputable body that deserves considerable respect.
Is it a quango?
It is going that way, but it serves a necessary purpose. My hon. Friend will appreciate that I would much rather decisions were based on the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council than on Ministers getting out of bed the wrong side. Ministers deserve to get out of bed the wrong side tomorrow; they will no doubt be looking round to find out why their colleagues from the Department of the Environment were not here today. As it is, they are having to listen and are being enlightened, albeit reluctantly.To assist my hon. Friends I should now discuss the two species of Branta bernicula, the Brent goose. My hon. Friends will recall that there were 1,500 at the relevant count and that only the widgeon and the dunlin were more numerous when the count took place. The Brent goose is one of the black geese——
Are they edible?
I do not think that my hon. Friend would like them; he might find widgeon rather more palatable. I do not suggest that any of the species should be eaten, although they might as well be eaten if the site is destroyed, because they will have nowhere else to go. I can imagine Conservative Members saying, "Well, they may as well grace our dinner tables as fly about looking vainly for somewhere to live."
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) talked about minority groups in the bird population. Is it not the case that there are two sub-species of Brent goose—Branta bernicula, the dark-bellied race which comes from northern Europe and Branta hrota, the pale-bellied race which comes from Greenland? Is it not also the case that there have been sightings in the area of the black-bellied Branta, which is a North American sub-species?
My hon. Friend is right. We shall now continue to educate the House.The Brent goose, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly will confirm, is the smallest of the wild geese. It is no larger than the drake mallard. It is about 23 in long and, if I have to use the decimal measures, it is about 58 or 59 cm on average. The smallest of the geese has a totally black head. The one to which I am referring is the smallest of the wholly black-necked geese. It has a black neck and upper breast, with a white patch on each side of the neck, back and rump. The wings are a dark grey-brown and the tail feathers are white. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly must allow me to complete this section of my speech. He should listen. The underparts are slate grey in the dark-breasted geese, and they breed in Arctic Europe. That bird probably starts from the Taimyr peninsular in the north of Asia and flies all those hundreds of miles back to its home on the Orwell. If the Government have their way it will fly away to the Taimyr peninsula, then it will fly all those hundreds of miles back, and when it arrives where will its habitat have gone?
I know where it will land. Those birds will finish up on a P and O liner breakfast table. It took me two hours to sus that out. There is money to be had, and it will start with the ringed plover. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) should deal with that matter. He says that there are different varieties of Brent geese. I accept that, but how many different varieties of ringed plover are there? If we are concerned about saving birds and preventing them from landing on the breakfast table of the P and O liner, we should concentrate on the small number of ringed plovers. Too much effort is being put into saving widgeon and Brent geese; it is time my hon. Friend turned his attention to the small groups, especially when the Liberal and Social Democratic party Members have not turned up to look after the minorities. They do not care about the ringed plovers. We have to represent them in the House.
My hon. Friend's concern does him a great deal of credit. I have known my hon. Friend for many years and I have never before seen him demonstrate innocence and naivety in the House. My hon Friend suspects that P and O will be serving ringed plover to its customers. I do not think that it will. That is not because of any compassion or commitment to conservation but because the ringed plover is much smaller than the Brent goose, which is a small goose. A Brent goose is 23 in long, but the ringed plover is about 7 in long. There is a lot more meat on a Brent goose than on a ringed plover.Therefore, when Conservative Members and their friends see an opportunity to remove all those species and decide that, because they have no home to go to, they may as well eat them, they will first be looking for the weightier birds that will be more nourishing and satisfying. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover would like the taste of the ringed plover. I have never tasted one, but no doubt some Conservative Members have.
Given the interest of our hon. and mutual Friend, the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in the ringed plover, would my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) care to speculate on whether his interest may be due to its characteristics? It is described as a bird having disrupted head and breast markings, rather like my hon. Friend, the Member for Bolsover. It is different because it is generally inconspicuous, but it becomes conspicuous when it calls or darts to catch prey, rather like my hon. Friend. Will my hon. Friend let us give him the bad news? While he is worried about the 223 ringed plovers, that figure referred only to the bad winter of 1984–85. Over 500 were counted at high tide between 1982–85, so the problem is more serious than the House has been led to believe.
The point made by my hon. Friend is relevant. We are talking about one count for the season 1984–85. The number varies, although many species tend to be stable.
That is why they travel south.
Some travel south; otherwise, they may finish up on a supper table. My hon. Friends may be enlightened and intrigued if I complete the description of the Brent goose. I have mentioned the colour and said that they breed in Arctic Europe, although the paler grey breeds in Spitzbergen and Greenland. Wherever they breed in the northern areas——
I will in a moment, but I want to finish the description. My hon. Friend referred to the absence from the debate of the minority parties. It is a pity, because they may have liked to hear, and perhaps copy, the distinctive sound the Brent goose makes. Its croaking noise, as far as it can be expressed in the English language, is a croaking 'Gruk, gruk, gruk'.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, some consideration ought to be paid to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), one of the key promoters of the Bill, who not only has his back to the Chair, but also is discussing ways and means of drawing the debate to a halt. I can hear him talking about when the closure will be moved. What right have Conservative hon. Members to talk about the closure?
Order. The hon. Gentleman is outside the normal speaking area of the Chamber. There is no point of order.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been in the House for five years and have never seen Conservative Members lying flat on the bench with their feet on the seat, fast asleep. Is that in order?
The position any hon. Member wishes to take on the Benches has nothing to do with the Chair, but I expect hon. Members in any quarter of the House to show respect and decorum while in the Chamber.
Perhaps it would be helpful to the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) if a Brent goose were to waddle through the chamber, put his beak to the hon. Member's ear and go 'Gruk, gruk, gruk'. We do not seem to have had any effect on the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that his recumbent position allows him comfortably to accept the arguments I am advancing.I hope that I have said enough about the Brent goose to illustrates it attractive appearance——
Before my hon. Friend finishes with the Brent goose, will he confirm that it has a specialised diet of eel grass and weeds——
Order. The diet of these fowl or fish has nothing to do with the amendment. I was about to ask the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) to speak more directly to the amendment.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that this group of amendments relates specifically to reclaiming an area of marshes? If the land is reclaimed, the food which it provides for the birds will no longer be available. It should be in order for us to describe the problems that will be generated by the reclamation of the land for the birds which feed in the area.
We have had a very wide debate on this group of amendments. I have been very tolerant. It has been an interesting and illuminating debate, but the House must be brought back to the amendments on the amendment paper I ask the hon. Member for Wentworth to relate his speech more directly to the amendments.
I shall do so, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I appeal to my hon. Friends to be careful when making their interesting interventions not to persuade me to say anything irrelevant. I shall now speak only to the amendment and will not be distracted. I ask my hon. Friends to think before they intervene.
I hope that my hon. Friend has thought about it.
Every intervention in my hon. Friend's speech so far has been carefully thought out. Not only that, but if they had been out of order, I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would have ruled them out of order.
Indeed I would.
My hon. Friend has mentioned Brent geese. We are anxious to know the extent to which the feeding habits of Brent geese would be destroyed if the Bill was passed. My hon. Friend said that there are two subspecies of Brent geese——
That is a matter of ornithological dispute between me and my hon. Friend. I believe that there are two recognisable sub-species——
Order. Is this an intervention or a speech? If it is an intervention, will the hon. Gentleman make his point so that it can be properly answered?
It is an intervention. I understand that there are two recognisable European sub-species of Brent geese, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would say which sub-species he means. There is a general westward shift of the European population during the winter; perhaps my hon. Friend will say which sub-species will be affected by the Bill.
I am talking about the darker — the black—bellied-Brent goose. I hope that that enlightens my hon. Friend.The amendment relates to the inter-tidal mud flats and salt marshes where those species of bird obtain their rood. It will be impossible entirely to overlook their sources of food. I do not wish to press the point too much, but I may have to mention it when considering the other amendments in the group. We have accepted that amendment No. 2 is the most significant, as it involves an attempt to protect the mud flats, but amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are also worth mentioning. They would help to limit the environmental damage that would occur if the docks were extended and the mud flat and salt marsh were destroyed. They would change the approach being taken to the construction of the docks and at the same time would enable the company to go ahead. Because of that, I regard them as second best, and I hope that those who speak on behalf of the promoters will accept that the amendments enable some gesture to he made towards conservation. 1 am Being proposed is the construction of a concrete island linked to the existing docks at Trinity terminal. The only attractive aspect of that is the alliterative quality of the title. Thus, dock movements could take place in the south-east of the development, and the north-west of this concrete peninsula would be left open so that much of the mud flat and salt marsh area would remain. This would provide for some of the birds an opportunity to survive — until no doubt the pollution which one associates with such developments kill them all off. Conservative Members may feel that the company should be given carte blanche to destroy the area wholesale. We shall see when those who speak for the promoters comment on these amendments, which offer something of a halfway house.
Would my hon. Friend explain which side of the quay is involved?
The amendments refer to the construction of a quay frontage along the line intended by the company. My hon. Friend may care to consult the sketch map of the area. They would not allow the whole Fagbury flats to be reclaimed and would therefore apply to the seaward side of the concrete frontage.Amendment No. 12 is consequential, so that if Nos. 8 and 9 are agreed to, No. 12 would also have to be accepted. The RSPB has described these amendments as an imaginative suggestion which would reduce the need to enclose and reclaim areas of mud flat and salt marsh and would reduce to some extent the amount of damage that would be caused to the valuable wildlife habitat of the estuary. It will be interesting to learn whether those who support the Bill are prepared to accept these compromise amendments.
One can never be sure how one change in the coastline in one particular area has relevance to a change that takes place in another part because of different tides and so on. I remember that when we were discussing the Eastbourne Harbour Act 1980, which entailed changes to the entire coastline of that area, we had the same arguments about whether those changes would affect the birds and the marine life.I know that my hon. Friend has great insight regarding wildlife and I wonder whether he has made any observations about what has happened to wildlife as a result of the Eastbourne marina development and the changes that have taken place at Brighton. If we can stop this Bill perhaps a visit could be arranged to Eastbourne to discuss with the RSPB, Greenpeace, the conservationists and so on the effects of those changes. That would be of some relevance to the area under consideration in this Bill.
I am aware that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have cautioned us about our approach to the amendments, but I believe that my hon. Friend is right to refer to the chain effect that can occur. Dramatic and substantial developments in one area can have equally dramatic effects elsewhere.A little while ago I prepared a report for the Council of Europe about the release of poison into the Rhine in Switzerland by the Sandoz plant at Basle. Some days later in the Netherlands people were not allowed to take water from the Rhine for drinking for a period of four days. We must recognise the effects that a change in one area can have on another. It is another argument in support of the amendments. If hon. Members care to refresh their memories they will notice that amendment No. 13 states:
It is yet another reason why a Minister from the Department of the Environment should be here. There is a specific reference to the ministerial responsibilities that that Department should exercise. All kinds of people are cluttering up the Treasury Bench this evening, but not one Minister from the Department of the Environment is present. I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). He made such a convincing argument last night. I hope that he is paying attention to this Bill because he will discover that the arguments in support of our case are just as telling. The Secretary of State or one of his minions from the Department of the Environment should be here because we are seeking to assist them."and subject to the consent in writing of the Secretary of State for the Environment."
Earlier I mentioned that perhaps Ministers were getting some shuteye, ready to shoot the birds on Fagbury flats. I would not wish to withdraw that comment, but I have reflected upon the fact that the Committee on the Local Government Bill is upstairs now. I do not think that it would be a bad idea if we could make sure that somebody was alerted in that Committee so that one of the Ministers for the Environment could come down here to listen to the debate and hear my hon. Friend's lucid arguments. If that request can be made through the Chair that is all well and good. One of the people on the Treasury Front Bench should go upstairs to see one of the Environment Ministers so that they can come down to the Chamber to participate fully in this debate.
The Government have an almost obscene majority. They will have a majority in that Committee of at least three. Indeed, several of those members will have spent their time in the Corridor drinking tea instead of attending to the duties of the Committee. They would be better off coming down here. A Department of the Environment Minister should be present while we consider amendment No. 13 because it refers specifically to the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for the Environment. I shall explain why. Conservative Members may then be so moved that one of them, or a Government Whip, will fetch a Minister to listen to my remarks.The amendment is very straightforward and is not as convoluted as some that we consider. Its central intention is the protection of the environment. It proposes that the Secretary of State will have to consent before dock construction and related development can occur.
My hon. Friend has stressed the point that a Minister from the Department of the Environment should be present. On reflection, is that such a great idea? We have an ex-Secretary of State for the Environment in the Chamber. This is just a suggestion, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend would be satisfied if the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) stood in. We know that he is trying to make a come-back to the Front Bench. It is not for Labour Members to get excited about who follows Thatcher, but there is just half a chance that, if he can get by the Mace without picking it up, he will be prepared to listen to the debate and shed some light on Fagbury flats.
If the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) moved a little he would be standing at the Bar of the House. Some hon. Members have occasionally taken the view that the right hon. Gentleman deserved to be brought before the Bar of the House. I hope that I am not breaching parliamentary convention. When the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State, he took a rather more helpful view about conservation than the present incumbent. That is not saying a lot, but on balance we accept that his decisions on the green belt and other conservations issues were more acceptable than the decisions of the present Secretary of State.We take the view—and I think that it is a reasonable one—that the Secretary of State should ensure that all necessary steps are taken to protect wildlife. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Henley accepts that the Secretary of State is the guardian of the environment. Given that, we are entitled to ask not merely that a Minister should be present, but that the Secretary of State accepts the responsibilities conferred on him by the amendments. On 15 July last year the House legislated to provide that, before primary works could take place, the consent of the Secretary of State for Transport had to be obtained. If the Secretary of State for Transport has to consent, why should not the Secretary of State for the Environment have to consent before we wipe out a site of national importance? I should have thought that the weight of responsibility was heavier in respect of the environment than of transport. The works under that legislation were defined as land reclaimed for dock construction and the Secretary of State had to be satisfied that that work would commence within a year and that there was no alternative land available. I hope that when, in due course, I conclude my remarks, he will speak on behalf of the Bill's sponsors and give us the assurances that we seek. I hope that hon. Members recognise the importance of the amendments, which would make the Secretary of State for the Environment responsible for ensuring that the environmental interest was protected at all times. They would also mean that the development could not proceed unless the Secretary of State was satisfied about that. In certain practical matters, for example, his influence could be crucial. He could ensure that the development took place at an appropriate time to minimise the harm to the bird population. He could also ensure that the whole approach was acceptable to conservation interests. Doing that would preserve some aspects of the SSSI approach, to which the Government have not paid sufficient attention.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Secretary of State for the Environment, I want to dwell on an important point of public health, which is my particular interest. It concerns possible changes to the tidal flows, which, in turn, affect sewage outfalls. It is well known that semi-treated sewage, which we deposit so often in this country, is contaminated with bacteria of the salmonella group that are known to affect birds of the species to which my hon. Friend has referred. The natural diet of the birds includes grasses and weeds that are not usually contaminated, assuming that outfalls are far enough out to sea and not disturbed by changes in the hydrodynamic flow in the estuary concerned; but if changes occur to the outfalls because of works of the type that we are discussing, they will not necessarily be free of such contamination.
I would not dream of disagreeing with my hon. Friend, who, in his short time in the House, has already demonstrated his profound knowledge of' matters of great concern.
Just like Dr. Finlay.
My hon. Friend is a real doctor, not a fictitious television personality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) has a wonderful smooth voice and bedside manner. I should like to hear more of what he has to say. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) should lightly dismiss what my hon. Friend has to say. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth knows all about Brent geese and widgeon, but he does not care too much about ringed plover. If we have learned one thing this evening, it is that my hon. Friend does not care a great deal about 223 ringed plover. His heart lies with the Brent geese. I want my hon. Friend to pay some attention to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy said.
Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is too long, and he knows that to be the case. Will he now come to the point?
If the sewage flow is changed, there will be a stink on Fagbury flats. That is not only a matter for the birds.
The natural habitat of the British Isles is contracting. We should not seek to destroy the flora and fauna further by these obnoxious and unpleasant smells or because of the misdirection of the sewerage system which could carry salmonella to the disadvantage of both human and animal species.My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover is right because he brings us back to the importance of the habitat. I said at the beginning of my remarks that I would illustrate the arguments on this batch of amendments with the widgeon and the Brent goose. We shall refer on subsequent amendments to that delightful bird, the ringed plover, which has commanded the attention of my hon. Friend. The second species with which we should illustrate this group of amendments is the widgeon. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover seems to be complaining about my reference to the widgeon. If he would listen to the description of this bird, Mareca penelope, he would recognise why it should be protected and secured in this locality as well as in others. At rest the drake is distinctive. My hon. Friends will recognise that, as with most duck species, the drake is much more handsome and striking than the female. It has got a chestnut head, a buff crown, a grey underpart and a white line on the wing. In flight that white line is a very identifiable feature. It is not a large duck. It is slightly smaller than the mallard. It has a more peaked forehead, a pointed tail and what is described as green speckling. It makes a characteristic noise, a distinct call, whee hoo, which might even have woken those hon. Gentlemen who have slept during my remarks.
Give us a sample.
I will not sing in the House because I think that it is against Standing Orders. Having quoted Latin during my speech, I would not wish to be then accused of breaking the customs and practices of Parliament by indulging in melodic offering. I merely say that the whee hoo call of the drake widgeon is a distinctive noise.The widgeon flies very fast for a duck, often in small flocks. Some other points have to be considered by the House. It is a gregarious duck, like Conservative Members.
Will my hon. Friend consider for a moment the qualities of the widgeon which, while giving it a certain attraction, are also a disadvantage because those very qualities of fast flight and the ability to rise rapidly from waterside vegetation make it an attractive bird for shooting? Is it a matter of regret——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is again repeating himself.
I think I understand the drift of my hon. Friend's concern. It is illustrated by the facts which are available to us and which are relevant to the debate. Recent study of the widgeon has shown that its numbers have grown in areas where full protection is afforded but have fallen markedly in areas where protection is not enjoyed, where Conservative Members go out to destroy them, whether at the proper time of the year or not. Since the widgeon is being persecuted by these people, the House has an obligation to ensure that it, like the Brent goose and the ringed plover, receives proper consideration. For that reason, our amendments are couched in terms that require the Secretary of State to be involved and works to be so curtailed as to contribute to the retention of the area's natural historical value.
This is an interesting point. My hon. Friend says that some of these birds can weather environmental changes better than others. I suppose that that is true. My hon. Friend says that the ringed plover, of which there are now only 223, could weather the environmental changes just as well as the Brent goose and the widgeon. Would the population of ringed plovers be sustained if there were a massive change caused by the invasion of Fagbury flats, the salt marshes, and so on, taking away worms, crustaceans and other food? Will my hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters, explain which, among the Brent goose, the widgeon, the oyster catcher, the ringed plover, the dunlin, the red shank——
Order. The hon. Member has been down this path many times tonight. That has been made clear to us over the past hour or two.
I may relieve my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover if I tell him that the count of 223 ringed plovers in that locality on one day was not the total population of ringed plovers in the British Isles. If it were, my hon. Friend might have been right in his suggestion that there is a similarity between the little ringed plover and the alliance parties.The latest estimate I have seen on the mid-winter population of the ringed plover in the British Isles is between 10,000 and 15,000. That is obviously much higher than the strength of the alliance parties, certainly in terms of their membership in the House. But it is not so high a figure as could be lightly dismissed or assumed to be safe by Conservative Members.
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I am concerned about where all those birds will go, but I do know where all the parrots have gone!
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman mentioned parrots. Only a short time ago, I saw photographs of dead parrots being transported by people who believe that market forces should prevail. Parrots are taken from the wild and destroyed on an enormous scale by people——
Order. I hope that the hon. Member, who has not been led astray much, will not blot his copybook at this stage.
I accept the admonition that you offer, Madam Deputy Speaker. If we want to avoid the slaughter of the parrots, we must exercise a degree of caution. It is a degree of caution that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) has not shared, or he would have intervened much earlier and expressed a more genuine commitment.
It may well be that my hon. Friend should concern himself with the fact that some Conservative Members are as sick as parrots—certainly, some of them are looking rather goosed. My hon. Friend may have misled my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and given him the wrong analysis in trying to allay his fears about the difference between the plover and the Brent goose. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) made the plea that the plover was in less danger than the Brent goose because the Brent goose had more meat on its body and therefore was more likely to be exterminated by the gunmen on the Government Benches. Clearly, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth has forgotten that the upper classes have taken a decided liking in past centuries to delicacies including lark's tongue and such morsels.
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is not relating his remarks to the amendment on the Order Paper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) should be a little more circumspect in his interventions. I made no reference to larks' tongues. No doubt if larks' tongues came between a Tory and his profit, the lark's tongue would be very swiftly sacrificed. However, we are not talking about larks' tongues because they are not particularly relevant to the amendment.
They are tasty morsels.
Indeed they may be tasty morsels. I am reminded of a story which perhaps I had better not tell because I might be out of order if I did and I do not wish to incur the wrath of Madam Deputy Speaker.Suffice it to say that I hope that I said enough in the early part of my speech about Brent geese. In the latter part of my speech, I referred to the attractive drake widgeon and I suggested that it flies swiftly in small flocks. The fact that it flies swiftly may be part of the peril that it faces. Some of those Conservative Members who still shoot may well feel that the widgeon is a challenging target, as it is better to shoot a bird that flies fast than one that flies slowly. They can then boast about their marksmanship although I suggest that they would be better employed shooting at clay pigeons if the changes in firearms legislation do not prevent them from being sufficiently responsible to own, possess or have access to a firearm. They may argue that they should possess firearms to destroy humanely those birds whose habitat is likely to be destroyed. I hope that some Conservative Members will recognise that the Brent geese that I described in the early part of my speech deserve to survive in this part of East Anglia and other parts of Britain where it lives and represents a substantial proportion of the international population. Earlier I referred to my main concern to speak this evening as a member of the council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds because of the importance of international conservation and the Ramsar convention.
No financial support there.
My hon. Friend should understand that as far as I know, no hon. Member receives any financial remuneration from membership of conservation bodies and I would be very angry if any conservation body started to pay Conservative Members, as I know that no Opposition Members receive anything and nor should they.
Not even a glass of champagne.
No, I do not think I have ever received a glass of champagne from a conservation body and I would not wish such a body to buy me one. That is to be reserved for the commercial organisations which more readily attract some Conservative Members than others. I am obliged that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has taken a more responsible approach than some of his hon. Friends and has sat intently throughout the debate. I am conscious of the fact that he will be saying a few words later.I hope that the comments from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds will bring reassurance that profit will not dominate the entire consideration and acknowledge that the amendment deserves to be considered and accepted. I trust that that acceptance can be made clear to the House before very long and that the amendment will ensure that the widgeon, Brent geese and other species that will be mentioned in subsequent consideration of other amendments will continue to survive in those areas. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds will recognise that the eel grass, algae, grasses of the mud flats and saltings of the area are important. If they are destroyed Britain will not simply lose an important and essential area of international habitat, but the Government will be seen to be guilty of a rather odious level of hypocrisy in having recognised that the matter is of' international significance and that the area should be protected at all costs—except at times of dire national need. If they accept that—and they accepted it when they signified their assent to the Ramsar convention—we are entitled to demand that Conservative Members and their supporters either act with consistency, or offer a profound apology, not only to those in Britain who are interested in conservation, but to the international bodies that they will have gravely and rather odiously misled.
I am sure that the House is obliged to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) for having taken us on a fascinating bird-watching excursion. I first became acquainted with Brent geese when I was responsible for a much more difficult piece of legislation relating to the ill-fated Maplin airport. At that time, we took considerable steps to estabilish whether it was possible to provide a new habitat for the geese in the Wash. So, like the hon. Gentleman, I have studied these matters with some interest.When I was first asked to support this Bill in the House, I said — and I repeat it now — that, as a former Environment Minister, I could not back it unless I was satisfied that the environmental and ecological benefits that might flow from it would outweigh the environmental disbenefits that would undoubtedly arise. Consequently, once the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds became interested, I was very pleased that the Bill's promoters financed the most intensive survey of bird life in the area that has ever taken place. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Wentworth quoting some of the figures that arose from a survey that was promoted by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company. The survey demonstrated that, of the 30 species of bird that occupy the area, three might be disturbed. I take that seriously, as do many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the promoters have taken a number of steps to meet the reasonable objections made by the RSPB. First, some 176 acres of what is now arable land will bo turned into wetlands for the benefit of the bird population: the promoters have entered into that commitment. I am afraid that it will involve one of the tenant farmers losing some of his land, but it is an agreement on which Trinity college—which is just as concerned about bird life and ecology as any hon. Member in the House — insisted. Secondly, lagoons will be provided for the birds; and, thirdly, there will be a large extension of trees. It seems to me that the promoters have gone a long way to deal with the point that the hon. Member for Wentworth has been pressing on us for some time.
The hon. Gentleman referred to undertakings given by P and O. May I remind him that P and O gave undertakings to passengers on the Zeebrugge ferry? Those undertakings were empty, so why should we believe the present undertakings?
I do not propose to enter into that despicable argument. The undertakings were entered into by the board of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, and accepted by the Committee that considered the Bill, long before P and O had anything to do with it. The effect of these amendments was considered by the House in great detail on 15 July 1986.
As a member of the Committee, I heard the evidence that was given by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Is the RSPB happy with the company's commitment?
The RSPB said:
The RSPB would like the promoters to go further, but at least it has said that."it would be possible to create a worthwhile reserve on these … marshes that would probably attract birds in nationally significant numbers."
So the answer is no.
These amendments would make it impossible to reclaim any land. Consequently, they would wreck the Bill. Therefore, I cannot advise the House to accept them. However, I am able to offer one concession to the hon. Member for Wentworth. I hope that he will take it seriously and that in doing so I shall be able to attract his attention and that of the House.Amendment No. 13 provides an important protection—that there shall be no reclamation unless the consent in writing of the Secretary of State for the Environment is obtained. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that would be a very great protection. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the promoters are content to accept amendment No. 13, and I recommend it to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member far Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) dealt in detail with these amendments. I intend to refer specifically to amendment No. 2, thereby enabling the debate to be set in its broad environmental and ecological context.Amendment No. 2 focuses on the environmental arguments against the Bill. It seeks to remove reclamation from its provisions. The argument must be set in its regional context. Environmental protection for East Anglia is essential——
My hon. Friend says that our hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) dealt wit h the broad details of this debate, but does not my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) accept that the debate was specific, in that my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth dealt with the consequences for a number of species of birds if these proposals are accepted? The amendment's purpose is wide-ranging, but the debate has focused on a number of consequences for various species of bird.
That is true, but I construed the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth as being primarily concerned with two species.
Only as examples.
Yes. Other species will be dealt with later in the debate.Environmental protection and the risk of destruction have to be set in their regional context, given the level of environmental destruction in East Anglia. Environmental protection is essential for East Anglia, and environmental destruction must be resisted by all possible means.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern to set the debate in its regional context, but does he not accept that this area is important to birds that come to it in winter from Antarctica, the northern parts of Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden?
Order. That is a repetition of an argument that was put forward some time ago.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is repeating himself. I am sure that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) will deal with the point.
My hon. Friend's intervention was most illuminating, and perhaps he will develop it further on later amendments. This area is of international importance because of its value as wintering grounds for a variety of birds.The destruction of sites of scientific interest and major areas of wildlife habitat is a substantial issue in East Anglia. I speak as a member of Friends of the Earth, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Norfolk Naturalists' Trust. I am a keen bird watcher in the improver class; I am not in the super-twitcher class of my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who has great knowledge of the specific species that live in the area. Several authoritative surveys have shown how threatened the wildlife habitats and landscapes of East Anglia are.
My hon. Friend referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) as a twitcher. The importance of this area is not in regard to the unique bird but the wide variety of regular birds. The importance of the area is a habitat for a large number of wintering birds and is important not only for twitchers but for people who are concerned about the environment generally.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) developed at some length the larger populations of birdlife that inhabit the area. I referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe as a twitcher, which for ornithologists is not a pejorative term but one of admiration. I hope that he will refer to the specimen species that occur in this area.
I recognise an expert when I see one, so will my hon. Friend throw some light on the statements by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who talked about the importance of the golden plover as opposed to the Brent goose or the widgeon? I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) got to the bottom of this issue in his speech as to whether the site is of importance to the former or latter or for both categories of birds.
I thought that the site was more important for the former, but the latter appears to have substantial representation. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe, who knows not only the population of these birds but most of the individuals by name, will enlighten us in his speech.
My hon. Friend is pointing out to the House—half of which is listening and half of which is not — the great importance of the scientific nature of these flats in East Anglia. They have achieved far greater national and international significance by virtue of the fact that the similar flats in the Tees estuary have been reduced from an area of 6,500 hectares to less than 400 hectares. The East Anglian flats are of more significance and importance than ever before.
My hon. Friend is right. The level of destruction of wetlands in East Anglia is remarkable and is a matter that I hope to refer to later.I was saying that several authoritative surveys have shown how threatened the wildlife habitat landscapes of East Anglia are today. Today only fragments remain of hedgerow, heath, natural woodlands and wetlands. Throughout the region, agricultural and commercial development has led to a massive loss of hedgerows, the ploughing of heathland and the destruction of wetlands. What we have left are mere fragments. For example, we must think of the enormous area covered by the brecklands in the last century. They are now reduced to little more than a Ministry of Defence danger area in the centre of Norfolk. What we have left must be protected. One of the main objectives of the Bill is to destroy a wildlife habitat of the greatest international importance. In addition, the land has been and still is being soaked in nitrates, pesticides and herbicides, with unknown consequences. Goodness knows what disease and illness we shall visit on future generations as a result of the reckless use of herbicides and pesticides throughout East Anglia. Commercial development of the kind proposed will add to the problem. Statutory authorities have nowhere near the necessary resources to limit, control or reduce destruction. I shall give the House one or two local examples of the level of destruction that is going on in the region at this moment.
While my hon. Friend considers the relevance of that point, will he bear in mind the analogy between the nitrate pollution of the East Anglian water supply with what happened throughout Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, when the widespread use of organic pesticides caused the virtual destruction of the sparrowhawk? The creation of infertility in the sparrowhawk led to the near obliteration of the species. Will my hon. Friend recognise that there is a real danger that the problems that existed with the sparrowhawk during those two decades are now likely to be replicated in the region that will be affected by the Bill?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I shall refer to that matter in a short time.The Anglian water authority area, within which the area that we are discussing is located, has a higher incidence of pesticides in waterways than any other water authority in the country, according to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee second special report, session 1986–87, volume 1, entitled "The Effects of Pesticides on Human Health". I shall refer to paragraph 153.
In some ways, my hon. Friend is bound to make a valuable contribution to the debate.
It is excellent.
Not only that, but he represents an area in East Anglia. He has just spent a few years outside the House. Who knows, he could have been on Fagbury flats. I want my hon. Friend to tell us, based upon his knowledge of the broads, what effect the change in the broads has had on wildlife and how it could be used as a guide to what will happen if the Fagbury flats region is developed. Is there a parallel or analogy?
There is a direct analogy between the gross pollution of the broads and the pollution which will be visited upon the area if the development is allowed to proceed.As I was saying, the Anglian water authority area has an exceptionally high level of pesticides. After all, the Agriculture Committee is not noted for making remarks hostile to agriculture. Paragraph 153 of its report states:
The report continued:"The Anglia Water Authority provided evidence of contamination of both surface water and ground water. The principal pesticides detected in surface water were mecoprop, atrazine, simazin, dimechoate and lindane, which were each found regularly at the great majority of monitoring sites. Dimechoate, mecoprop and atrazine were also found at 10 per cent. of ground water monitoring sites".
"We are particularly worried about contamination of ground water because exposure levels will be persistent and prolonged even if they are low."
Does my hon. Friend accept that these worrying circumstances are being reported to the House for the first time? I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will share my concern about the effects of lindane on bats, which have led the Nature Conservancy Council to take action to ensure that lindane is not used in areas inhabited by bats. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is danger not only to the ecosystem and to bird life but to some species of mammal not hitherto identified as being at risk?
Who will speak up for the bats? That is the question.
Bats are, indeed, affected by lindane, which is a wood treatment. I am not especially concerned about the bat population in the area. I suppose that I should be but given the absence of buildings in the area I reckon that there are relatively few bats.The Select Committee on Agriculture report continued:
The development will have permanent effects with incalculable long-term consequences——"Although pesticides tend to degrade at different rates in the environment, the evidence available to us indicated that degradation in ground water is often very slow."
As I understand the Bill, the company proposes that Trimley marshes should be used for bird resettlement. Does my hon. Friend know Trimley marshes, and has the area been polluted in any way over the years?
I know Trimley marshes only from the air — from a Brent goose's point of view — so I do not know to what extent they have been polluted. However, given the amount of agricultural run-off in the area there must be a high level of nitrates, for example.
If that is so, I wonder to what extent the company has investigated the matter. The company seems to believe that it will he adequate to give Trimley marshes over as a habitat for birds but it may be handing over land which has been insufficiently surveyed and which might cause them long-term damage.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) referred to an exhaustive survey of the flats. I am not sure whether a study has been made of the ecological condition of the Trimley marshes area, which is supposed to be turned into a bird reserve in place of Fagbury flats. Perhaps he will tell us whether the survey dealt with the ecological condition of the marshes.
No, it did not.
The answer to my hon. Friend's question is that we do not know the ecological or environmental condition of the area that is proposed as a substitute for that which is to be destroyed.
That is quite a revelation. The company has proposed an alternative to appease the lobbies that wish to protect birds but it has not carried out work to establish whether damage would be done to the birds if the marshes became their new habitat. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who seems so well attuned to the promoters' aims, would do well to find that out for us so that we can assess the matter during the debate, because it may well be relevant to other amendments.
My hon. Friend is right. We can refer to this matter in later amendments. Perhaps we can then probe the promoters of the Bill to try to establish the ecological and environmental quality of Trimley marshes, which is offered as a substitute for that which is to be destroyed. I hope that we can examine that at greater length.2 am The report to which I have referred discusses the wholesale destruction through the use of pesticides of the area proposed in the Bill for development. It says:
"Pesticides may enter water supplies from a number of sources. These include careless overspraying of water courses, drains or standing water; run off from sprayed or treated areas; careless disposal of 'empty' containers, washing down of contaminated equipment, spills, and leaching from soil in treated areas. On occasion pesticides, particularly pyrethroids, are deliberately added to water supplies 'to control animal infestation in the distribution system.'"
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is nothing wrong with the addition of pyrethroids because they are naturally occurring pesticides? The problems stem from the organic chlorides, which are artificially made and are destructive when they get into the food chain.
My hon. Friend may be right, but, as far as I can tell, the Committee was taking a dim view of the practice in the section I quoted.
Which of the birds will be affected the most? Will it be the little ringed plover, which is smaller than the ringed plover—I see that we have a different Deputy Speaker in the Chair and that it is now a different ball game—or the Kentish plover? My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) has obviously seen those birds on Trimley marshes or on Fagbury flats.It is no use trying to talk above people's heads and use long names for pesticides and so on. We should get down to the nitty gritty. What sort of chain reaction will occur to those little birds? That is the question. Are we going to allow the tyrants to do as they like in that area, upset the ecological chain and destroy the little ringed plovers, never mind the ringed plover, Kentish plover, Brent geese and the widgeon? Why do we not turn our attention to those little birds?
My hon. Friend is right. My assumption is that the degree to which a bird would be affected by the pesticides would depend on body weight. Therefore, the little ringed plover would suffer the most from ingestion of pesticides.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) did not say a word about the little ringed plover in one hour and 45 minutes. He concentrated on widgeons and large geese. However, when the ecological chain begins to break down the first victims of the Bill introduced by the Tory despots will be the little ringed plover.
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right. I find emotion taking over at this stage and I feel that I can hardly reply coherently.There is an example of the interest and concern shown by the Government for the whole problem of pollution, particularly of sites of scientific interest. Paragraph 159 of the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture concluded:
"The DoE's proposals on monitoring did not seem to us to amount to a coherent national policy. Witnesses from the Department expressed confidence that water authorities would voluntarily conduct appropriate monitoring if they were asked to do so and the letter of guidance, sent out in August 1986, gave advice on only 40 pesticides."
There is no need for my hon. Friend to make an assumption about the relationship between body mass and the effects of organic pesticides; it is a well-documented fact.
Declare an interest.
I willingly declare an interest. This is one of the most interesting debates I have had the good fortune to take part in, and I look forward to it lasting as long as possible. I have learned an enormous amount, and I am certain that I will learn more when my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) speaks. The effects of organic pesticides are related to body mass. That is a fact, not an assumption. Therefore, one must ask whether any smaller birds in the area might also be affected.
No doubt there are some smaller birds in the area, but I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) to discuss the rarer small birds who are affected. I understand that on future amendments my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) will discuss the condition of a couple of species per amendment, so that in the end birds both large and small are likely to be covered by him.
My hon. friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) has raised intriguing questions. He is correct in explaining that not only Brent Geese will be affected, but the Kentish plover and the little ringed plover. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) explained that birds of a much smaller body mass will be affected. Birds such as the tree pipit and the skylark, which exist on the shore line in large numbers, are not particularly important and certainly would not be covered under the terms of the Ramsar convention, nor would they be protected by the EEC directive.They are important to the ecology of the eastern coast of England. I know that my Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is concerned about smaller birds. Perhaps he could discuss the importance of the area as an important breeding ground and wintering ground for skylarks.
I was about to come to coastal ecology, but before I do I refer to sources of destruction of the wildlife habitat in East Anglia. Nitrate levels in water courses throughout East Anglia are at or near the EEC limits and often exceed them. There are often examples of nitrate pollution above the EEC levels. The discharge of household and industrial effluent has led to a concentration of phosphate and heavy metals in water courses which has severely damaged fish and bird populations. Then there is the gross sewage pollution of the coast and beaches. Some observations have been made by the Coastal Anti-Pollution League of East Anglia, Which informs me that the fish population has suffered noticeably.
I wonder how migrant birds will be affected, because a considerable number come from Africa and elsewhere. There is a well-known bird in Africa, a migrant to Britain's shores, the thatcher bird. We are concerned about all birds. To what extent does my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) know of the existence of the thatcher bird on the Trimley marshes or the Fagbury flats? Has he ever been there, or does he get as far as Grantham and stop?
There is no evidence of such a lethal predator being found in the area which we are discussing.
Before we leave the effects of pollution on waterways, which we are rightly discussing in some depth, may I ask my hon. Friend about the type of pollutants that are found? He mentioned nitrates, organic pesticides and heavy metals. It is interesting that each group has a different method of action. Nitrates are not intrinsically damaging when they are concentrated; they cause most damage when they are converted to nitrosamines. Their action is local, especially in the gastro-intestinal system——
Yes, of birds. I am not an expert on birds——
I will be as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Organic pesticides are interesting, because they deposit at different rates in different tissues. Not only lean body mass, but the amount of fat on a bird is important, because organic pesticides are much more readily absorbed into fatty tissues then they are into muscle. Heavy metals are deposited especially in bones. There are many different aspects, and it might be interesing to clarify——
Order. Interventions must be brief. I am beginning to have doubts about which hon. Member has the Floor.
So am I, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend's intervention was most interesting, because he speaks from a medical viewpoint, whereas I am talking from an environmental and ecological viewpoint. He has demonstrated the sort of damage that can be done to birds, especially the little ringed plover, by the ingestion of residues from pesticides and heavy metals into their bone structure, their circulatory systems and their digestion systems. To that extent, his intervention was helpful.The Coastal Anti-Pollution League study shows that that area of the coast has suffered especially from raw sewage being pumped into the sea. It states:
The residues from many lethal chemicals are working up the chain, first wiping out the shrimp—which is a small prawn — then the fish and ultimately the fish-eating birds."Over the past few years the fish population has noticeably suffered, and the Pink Shrimp (actually a small prawn) (Pandalus Montequii) have disappeared from the area, due to a wipe Out by sewage sludge of their prime food requirement the Ross Worm. Upon the shrimp depend the higher life forms, and the annual Cod have been absent this past year in the area. Sea Trout, another fishing dependency, is also reported to be low in numbers."
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of heavy metals and residues in animal matter, will he say whether he has any local knowledge of the lead poisoning that has been caused among wildfowl as a result of ingesting shot fired by wildfowlers and left in the natural environment? If we are worried, as we should be, about the damage caused to the ecology by the inadvertent deposition of heavy metals, we must give some consideration to the problems of lead shot and the deliberate pollution of the environment.
As usual, my hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am not familiar with the effects of the ingestion of lead shot, but swans have suffered greatly from the ingestion of lead fishing weights, and I have no doubt that other birds have suffered from lead shot.
The ingestion of lead shot might slow down the flight of the widgeon and that might have an effect on its survival.