HC Deb 04 November 1987 vol 121 cc1027-38
Mr. Spearing

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 4, line 27, leave out 'three' and insert 'twelve'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this we will discuss amendment No. 5, in page 4, line 29, leave out `twelve' and insert `twenty-four'.

Mr. Spearing

For the benefit of the House, I should explain that on the previous amendment we felt that we had shown suitable dissatisfaction to serve the points that we had made.

Clause 5 relates to orders that the Minister may make. For the benefit of the House, I shall paraphrase. Under the clause the Minister may specify grazing marsh, fen marsh, reed bed or broadleaved woodland and, in any such areas, operations that might affect the character or appearance of those areas. That provision permits the Minister, no doubt after consultation, to specify areas of particular sensitivity. Having identified such areas, the Minister may specify actions likely to affect the character or appeareance of those areas.

Once that has been done, no person — presumably including owners or any outside person—can carry out any work that might contravene the Minister's order, unless written notice is given to the authority, which then gives permission. The authority can then do one of three things. First it can consent to what he wishes to do. I have no doubt that in well-managed land, particularly carr land, or land which is dedicated to the growing of reeds in which there is good commercial traffic, permission might be given if it is not to the detriment of ecological equilibrium or natural beauty or if there is not some other reason why it should not be done. So the authority can give consent.

Secondly, the authority can, if it wishes, neither refuse nor give consent. It is rather like a planning application, but in that case the applicant cannot go ahead. Under the Bill he has to wait three months, and then he can go ahead.

The third possibility is that the authority refuses consent. Then the applicant cannot go ahead and do what he wants to do until 12 months after the date of the refusal.

This is a hybrid way of doing things, similar to that found under planning laws with which hon. Members will be familiar, but with one major and important difference: that, after the lapse of time, the person concerned can go ahead and do whatever he wants on the application even if the authority has said no or if it has not determined the application at all.

I shall not spend much more time on the amendment because it seeks purely and simply to increase the periods. We wish to increase the three months to 12, and the 12 months to 24—a quadrupling in the first case and a doubling in the second. If the Broads Authority does not give consent, there must be a good reason. Therefore, it would be arbitrary to a degree to allow the applicant to go ahead after a relatively short period. I make no secret of the fact that in Committee an amendment was moved to delete these powers altogether. It would not be proper to debate that again here. Many of the arguments may be rehearsed, but if such an amendment had been tabled I am sure that it would not have been selected.

The principle is clear. The authority will have a power which is but temporary. Because of the objectives that the Government have in mind, one would have hoped that the authority would have the first word and the last word. In this case, after an interval, which we wish to extend, it is the applicant who is to have the last word. That, in principle, is wrong. We cannot reverse it at this stage but we think that the applicant should wait a little longer.

Mr. Moynihan

In Committee, Opposition Members tabled a number of amendments to clause 5, including one to delete altogether subsection (2) (b) and (c) which is the subject of the amendments. I advised the Committee that those amendments would unquestionably rehybridise the Bill, since they would affect private interests in ways not contemplated in the Bill. The present amendments would have the same effect. Rehybridisation could wreck, and would certainly badly delay, both the Bill and the establishment of the new authority. I cannot believe that supporters of the creation of a statutory authority for the Broads really wish to jeopardise in that way what they and the Bill are seeking to achieve. As hon. Members on both sides of the House know, I have never rested my case on rehybridisation.

Even if the amendments would not rehybridise the Bill, the Government would strongly urge the House not to accept them. We do not consider it appropriate in such a Bill to make any changes in legislative provision of national application other than those which are required in orders to adapt them to the local circumstances of the Broads. Clause 5 does no more and no less than to apply to the Broads the provisions of section 42 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with such relatively minor modifications as are necessary to reflect the unique features of the Broads. For example, where section 42 refers to "moor and heath", clause 5 refers to grazing marsh, fen marsh, reed bed or broad-leaved woodland. They represent the equivalent types of landscape that it is vital to preserve in the Broads.

11 p.m.

Mr. John Garrett

If it is so vital to preserve them, perhaps the Minister will tell us how many orders have been made under section 42.

Mr. Moynihan

That is an extremely good question. I shall ensure that, by the time I have concluded my remarks, the hon. Gentleman will have the precise answer.

Section 42 of the 1981 Act provides a means by which national parks authorities will be notified of impending agricultural and forestry proposals and can impose a period of delay during which management agreements may be negotiated to obviate any damaging effects of such proposals. Voluntary arrangements already exist in national parks, under which such notification is given. Section 42 provides legislative backup should such voluntary notification systems break down. Clause 5 serves simply to extend the backup provision to the Broads.

The existing time limits carried over into clause 5 from section 42 are adequate and are appropriate for their purposes. Three months is a reasonable period in which to expect the authority to reach a decision whether to grant consent. By contrast, it could seem unreasonable to expect those concerned to wait for as long as 12 months for that decision. Equally, 12 months should be a sufficient period for the authority, where necessary, to negotiate a management agreement with the owner or occupier of the land in question. Twelve months represents one complete growing season or agricultural cycle. Any extension beyond that would prevent the proposed operations for two seasons, without any compensation. The House cannot consider that to be reasonable.

I suspect—what hon. Members have said in support of the amendments reinforces my suspicion—that those proposing the amendments are trying to convert the provisions of clause 5, which are designed to provide no more than a useful delaying mechanism, into what would be more akin to stop orders. Such orders would deny landowners, for at least one season, and possibly two, the right to use their land for agricultural purposes in a way that would be open to landowners everywhere else in the United Kingdom, including the national parks.

The Government do not believe that section 42 or clause 5 provide an appropriate way of dealing with the absence, as yet, of effective backup powers to protect the landscape at large from uncontrolled and damaging agricultural operations. Instead, we have been consulting on proposals for landscape conservation orders, which would provide national parks authorities and the Broads Authority with this sort of power, as recommended by the Select Committee on the Environment in 1985. We are carefully considering the responses to our proposals and will make an announcement in due course.

It comes to me in a blinding flash of light that no orders have been made under section 42.

Mr. John Garrett

Does the Minister know where that blinding flash came from? The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), came and asked me.

Mr. Moynihan

It was an unusual occasion, with a great deal of thunder in the Box coming before the blinding flash, which took some time to arrive. As hon. Members know, this is a fallback power which, thankfully, has not been needed because management agreements have not broken down.

For the reasons that I have put before the House, I strongly urge hon. Members to reject the amendments.

Mr. Spearing

This amendment is in a different league from the previous one. I do not find the Minister's arguments wholly convincing in some respects. Although a national norm is a good bench-mark, I think the Minister will agree that there is a big difference between the national parks and the Broads, not just in area but because the Broads are very close to river and marsh areas. Although significant, those areas are smaller and similar in a way that bigger areas are not. However, having said that, we understand the Minister's point about the penalties that exist in terms of seasons and the difficulties that might ensue.

The Minister put his finger on the real nub of this issue by saying that management agreements can be negotiated. Some of us hope that, despite the Bill's shortcomings, good will and a spirit of purpose will make things work. Several provisions in the Bill could improve that. However, coming together in voluntary management agreements would probably make full use of the fallback statutory power and the others that the Minister has described as unnecessary. Because of that and because this matter might be taken up in another way in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, that the Bill be now read the Third time. [Mr. Moynihan.]

11.6 pm

Mr. Allan Roberts

In my new incarnation as the shadow Minister for environmental protection and development, this is the first time that I have faced the Minister across the Dispatch Box in his new role. I welcome him to his new job. There was some concern when the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) was shifted away from his responsibilities for the environment. Many environmental groups and other organisations concerned about the environment thought that he might have been moved because he was getting too fond of the environment and was, therefore, committing the Government to too much public expenditure. We have yet to see whether the new Minister can live up to the reputation of the hon. Member for Bristol, West and sustain a campaigning interest for and on behalf of the environment within the Department of the Environment.

I remember the last time the Minister and I crossed swords. It was some years ago. I had cycled to the House and was exhausted. I felt that the hon. Gentleman, who was filibustering on a housing Bill that I was trying to introduce, should give up and, as a keen sportsperson, take my bicycle back to Bethnal Green as the journey was all uphill. He refused to do so although I offered to fit blocks to the pedals. However, I am pleased to welcome the hon. Gentleman and to face him across the Dispatch Box.

The Bill is important, and the principle of the Bill, which sets up the equivalent of a national park for the Norfolk Broads, is one that Opposition Members welcome. The Labour party has always been committed to that concept. In fact, since as far back as 1947 and the publication of the Hobhouse report, which advocated the need for such a national park, the Labour party has advocated that proposition. The problem is that we are not so sure that the Bill meets all the requirements. My hon. Friends have highlighted the issues that concern us.

There are four major problems in the Norfolk Broads. One is polluted rivers, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) has talked. Pollution from nitrates and nitrites is increasing, with farm slurry and even human sewage getting into the rivers. That is still happening. We all welcome the concern of the European Community about nitrates in drinking water and in rivers, but the Community is putting it there in the first place because of the common agricultural policy, to which we subscribe. The Government must get to grips with that and in legislation such as this they must protect the rivers in the Norfolk Broads, and elsewhere, from nitrate and other forms of pollution because it is still increasing.

Another problem is the diminishing wildlife. The wildlife in the Norfolk Broads is amazing. The ever-vigilant Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has issued a brief which says: The proposed Broads Executive Area contains important habitats for rare birds such as the marsh harrier, bearded tit and bittern and for rare plants including marsh pea and water soldier. I had not heard of a water soldier until I started to look at the Bill. The brief does not mention the natterjack toad, which lives in my constituency, but goes on to say: The Broads provide the only remaining habitat in Britain for the swallowtail butterfly and Norfolk aeshna dragonfly.

Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman says, "Oh." If he had his way, he would build a motorway across the area. It is important to protect these species because the whole ecological system inter-relates. There is the problem not only of polluted rivers but of diminishing wildlife.

There is also a problem with the erosion of the sides of banks. One of our criticisms of the Bill is that navigation rather than the protection of the environment has been put first. We are worried that the commercial interests of the Norfolk Broads might have been put before the protection of the environment. A law prevents people going at more than 4 mph along the canals. Boats cause erosion of the banks and there is pollution because of the discharge from motor boats. We are not sure that sufficient attention was paid in Committee to amendments which would have dealt with this problem.

The Opposition are concerned also about effects on the uniquely traditional landscape of the Norfolk Broads, 25 per cent. of which has already vanished. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the declaration of areas of special scientific interest have not saved the Norfolk Broads' traditional special landscape. All right, 75 per cent. is left—that is fine—but, if erosion continues at the same pace, eventually that land will go, too. We hope that this legislation will protect that area, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We shall examine those points to find out whether the legislation is effective.

Anglers have not been given the consideration in the legislation and amendments that they might have been. More people fish in the Broads than sail on them. Angling is the biggest participant sport in Britain. More attention should be paid to anglers and to the fact that pollution in the rivers affects their sport.

We must preserve the natural beauty and ecological balance of the Broads and put them before commercial interests. If the Government have the balance wrong—a Labour Government will strengthen the legislation to give it more power—they will destroy the very thing that caused them to get it wrong. Commercial interests in the Norfolk Broads are dependent on its environment. The combination of natural beauty and wildlife on the Norfolk Broads attracts hundreds of thousands of people. They give the area its commercial viability. If the Government, in conjunction with commercial interests, destroy that environment—by not giving the necessary powers and not accepting amendments—they will destroy the goose that lays the golden egg.

We shall not oppose the Third Reading. We favour the concept behind the Bill, although we do not think that it is strong enough and are not sure that it will do the job. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We shall wait to see what happens and return to the legislation in the future.

11.14 pm
Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth)

I need detain the House only briefly. With the passing of 300 years of history for my constituents as a result of the Third Reading, I think that my constituents expect me to say a few words.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has just said, the Government have got the balance between ecological equilibrium — if one can balance an equilibrium — and other interests right. It would be wrong not to recognise that the concerns voiced by Opposition Members earlier exist in different degrees throughout the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk. Nevertheless, one can tip the balance too far in one direction or the other. I can understand the arguments of those who say that the balance has gone too far in the direction of commercial interests, although I do not agree with them.

For 300 years of our history, powers have been effectively exercised by the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners. They had ample opportunities to present their views to the Select Committee, and I was able on several occasions in Standing Committee to draw attention to matters that I still believe would have made this a better Bill.

There is no need for the Broads Authority to have the navigation powers that it has. I understand why that has happened, and the issues have been argued effectively. It is important to remember that Norwich, Suffolk and Norfolk are all represented on the commission. It is not a body that is confined to the town of Great Yarmouth. There is now widespread acceptance—notwithstanding my own reservations—that the Broads Authority will be more effective if it has navigation powers. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) would not have been so helpful during the passage of the Bill if it had not included those powers.

There is one aspect of the Bill that will, I hope, be rectified in another place as a result of what the Minister said in Standing Committee. I refer to the Broads Authority's boundaries for exercising its planning powers. Setting the boundary near the Haven bridge in the centre of Great Yarmouth—next to Norwich, the main commercial centre for Norfolk and Suffolk, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) — and making the Broads Authority responsible for planning within the heart of Great Yarmouth, overlooking the development of commerce and industry on the riverside, is a matter of concern locally. If the Great Yarmouth borough council, as the affected planning authority, wants to make representations elsewhere, that is a matter best left to it. However, I am still concerned about the fact that the boundaries of the authority's planning powers extend beyond the river.

I have spent all my life on the Broads and seen the decline that has been mentioned. However, it is nothing like as bad in some areas as has been maintained. I think that the Government have got the balance right. I am delighted that they have refused to accept the amendments. I hope that the Bill will return unamended from another place. It is a good job, coming as it does after many years of discussion about the right solution in Norfolk and Suffolk. I hope that people will be able to enjoy holidays on the Broads—including all their flora and fauna — and, above all, that the Broads will continue to be an important provider of employment in Norfolk and the constituency of Great Yarmouth.

11.19 pm
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (Norfolk, South-West)

As a newcomer to the House, I have come late to the parliamentary procedures on the Bill, although as a member of Norfolk county council I was involved in the early local stages.

The Bill enjoys wide support in Norfolk. I make that point because my hon. Friend the Minister and other hon. Members may be tempted to believe, following the extensive and absolutely proper lobbying by the many special interest groups, that the whole of Norfolk is seething with discontent about the Bill. The reverse is the case. The special interest groups, whether they are concerned with wildlife, the environment or the use of the Broads for work or leisure, are at least united in the view that the powers proposed by the Bill are vital if that unique area is to be safeguarded.

The wider public in Norfolk want to see an end to the conflicts of interest that have brought the Broads to the state of near ruination that they have reached in certain places. That is why, in the county as a whole, there is agreement that it is right, indeed essential, to preserve a balance, as the Bill seeks to do, between those special interest groups, and not to favour any one at the expense of the others. Any other solution would have proved unworkable.

There was one area of concern on which I should have sought reassurance from the Minister had he not been illuminated by a blinding flash. I shall not repeat his other less becoming imagery. Suffice it to say that I should seek a little reassurance from him that he understands the concern in some agricultural quarters that section 42 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 cannot be applicable to an area that does not have many moors, or a great deal of heath or open country that is not to be designated a national park. I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure me on that point, but I believe that the Bill is right in the balance that it seeks to strike.

11.22 pm
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

On Second Reading, I spoke about my childhood memories of Arthur Ransome and the Norfolk Broads and books such as "Coot Club" and "We Didn't Mean to go to Sea". Hon. Members may remember such books. That underlines the affection that we all have for the Broads, which was apparent in Committee. People have great affection for the Broads and a deep desire to make sure that they are preserved and restored.

However, even in the Swallows and Amazons stories there was conflict between the boats and the fishermen and all the different people who enjoyed the Broads. Since those days it has got considerably worse, and now it is imperative that action is taken. The Bill and the Broads Authority that is being established are the ideal answer to the problem. The balance is right. I should like to think that Arthur Ransome would approve very much of what we are doing in the House tonight.

Primacy has been touched on more than once, and it became a major issue when the Bill was in Committee. We have become obsessed by it, and sometimes it has diverted us from what we are talking about. The reason for the Bill and the Broads Authority is the management, restoration and conservation of the whole of the Broads area. Surely it does not need spelling out more clearly than that. All the interests in the Broads have to be carefully managed. That will be the task of the new Broads Authority. Continual talk about primacy and which is the most important of the various interests in the Broads has deflected us to some extent from our purpose, which is the establishment of the authority, whose job will be to make sure that all those different interests are carefully balanced.

Mr. John Garrett

How does the hon. Gentleman square what he has just said with a letter dated July 1987 from the Council for the Protection of Rural England which states that the council supports "very strongly" amendment No. 3—in the hon. Gentleman's name, I believe—which, in the proposed statutory duties of the new Broads Authority, gives priority to conservation.

Mr. Lord

The hon. Gentleman may recall that I withdrew the amendment precisely for the reasons that I am now giving. At one stage, many people clearly thought that it was important that one particular interest should dominate our proceedings. In my view, that would have been quite wrong. The whole purpose of the Bill is to establish the Broads Authority, and the authority's purpose is carefully to balance the interests in the Broads area. That will not be an easy task, but I believe that the authority will tackle it well. As other hon. Members have said, the Government have got the balance about right.

I hope that sensible legislation, coupled with education, will enable us to enhance and protect our surroundings, and not just in the Norfolk Broads, where I am sure the Bill and the authority will work. In the briefest of asides, however, I must say that I sometimes despair when I stand on the Terrace of the House of Commons and look at our great River Thames full of flotsam and jetsam and filth. Clearly we have a long way to go in other directions, too.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the competent way in which he has steered the Bill through the House, and I wish the Bill a speedy passage in another place, and on to the statute book.

11.27 pm
Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

Delighted as I am to follow my hon. Friends, I find myself in the unfortunate position of having heard my best phrases used already. As an hon. Member with a strong constituency interest in the Bill, however, it is appropriate that I should echo and support the remarks of other hon. Members.

When I was a child, in the days before local government reorganisation, the slogan of the old Lowestoft borough was that Lowestoft was the town where broadland meets the sea—and it still is. Given the strong constituency basis of my interest in the Bill I share my hon. Friends' regret that I did not come to the House at an earlier stage in its proceedings.

There is a strong feeling in my neck of the Broads that at last we are able to move ahead quickly and see the authority in position. It may have been as long as 10 years ago that a television documentary entitled, I think "Lullaby for Broadland" sounded warning bells, and not only in the ecological and environmental lobbies.

Mention has been made of the balance of interests, and f share my hon. Friends' view that the right balance has been struck. The long history of the Bill has been a marriage of' interests—more like a harmonisation of fiscal frontiers marriage than a Joan Collins marriage. Provided that it is presented not as another quango or expensive talking shop—or, indeed, another tier of local government—the people of East Anglia, I believe, are ready to accept the new authority as the only co-ordinated and sensible chance of a grand design for the Suffolk and Norfolk broads.

In Committee, I referred to a carbuncle on the landscape in Oulton Broad—the ruin of boat Yellowtail. My hon. Friend said that he would report back to me. For all the good work that the Broads Authority may do in its area, it is possible that just outside the boundaries there may be an environmental nightmare over which the authority will have no control. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister said that there would be an exclusion clause taking out the area where the boat Yellowtail is situated and other parts of Lake Lothing around Lowestoft. I imagine that that will now be introduced in another place.

When we send the Bill on its way, my hon. Friend the Minister will have the distinction of being remembered in East Anglia as the man who gave birth to the Broads Authority—or who artificially inseminated the system to produce it. The resulting animal will have to be very real. It will have to be very effective and, if not loved, it will have to be accepted on all sides. If it fails, parts of Suffolk and Norfolk will become a devastated wasteland that will make the October hurricane look like a storm in a teacup.

11.29 pm
Mr. Spearing

This is the last opportunity for lion. Members to comment on the Bill. I do not think that the balance is right. Greater attention should be paid to ecological equilibrium. The wording of the Bill is not, therefore, as it should be, but we shall have to see what happens in practice.

I am a little suspicious about the words promoting the enjoyment of the Broads by the public". We want the public to enjoy themselves, but I hope that those words will not result in the Broads Authority being turned into a publicity agency for an already very well-known area. The people who go to the Broads, perhaps in increasing numbers, will need to be appropriately accommodated. That phrase may ring a few bells in some places.

There has been frequent mention of commercial pressures, especially on those who hire out boats. The traditional Norfolk boat yards were run by local people. However, there has been a change during the past 10 years, or more. National bodies have bought up boat yards. I refer to breweries, betting shop chains, caravan manufacturers, caravan site owners and a large motor car concessionaire. A few years later those bodies have sold the yards. We are referring not only to the legitimate interest of local commerce. National commercial interests, which I believe are inappropriate to this area, should be looked at again, because the Bill does not offer sufficient protection against such a threat.

The Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners have been established for 300 years. I hope that there will be successful co-operation over their agency navigation function in the Broads.

I do not believe that the establishment of this new authority within such a short period will necessarily yield the best results. There ought to be a period of reflection to enable good planning to take place, in partnership with the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners. They could improve their performance in some respects. Some of the most modern boats make the most noise. There are no noise limitations, and some of the boats have too much power. In the days of Arthur Ransome one needed only a 10 hp modified car engine to get one safely through the Yarmouth area. Now nothing less than a 50 hp water-cooled engine with reduction gear box is good enough for some people. Electricity may be the great future propellant. It would admirably suit the Broads.

In Committee I raised fears about the dredging powers of the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners in schedule 5, paragraph 2. I have been given no scientific information by either the Minister or the commissioners that satisfies me. If they cannot supply it now, perhaps the matter can be dealt with in another place.

Provided that there is good co-operation, new areas of ecological balance may be pioneered without prejudicing any of the other factors. That point should be studied by the new authority, and I hope that all its members will be prepared to co-operate. I understand that even a sailing boat can disturb birds. I hope that people on the extremes will realise that the best interests of all are served by cooperative enterprise. The best traditions of local government will be transferred to the new authority.

I thank the Minister for his courtesy. He may come from a dry stable, but he has wet experience, which he has shown politically and in the practical way in which he has conducted the Bill. I hope that the Bill is improved elsewhere and that we shall be able to discuss those improvements at a later date.

Mr. Moynihan

To the many hon. Members who in the past half an hour have rightly mentioned the question of balance, I reaffirm that in tackling the problems of the Broads it is essential that we strike a balance between the various interests. On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) the Minister then responsible for the Bill, declared his conviction on the need to afford equal importance to the various interests when he said: Clause 2 sets out the vital balance between the interests of navigation, conservation and enjoyment by the public. All three are, in their own way, equally important, and the authority is required to have regard to all three aspects in discharging its functions."—[Official Report, 1 December 1986; Vol 106, c. 670.] In Committee and tonight the House has reaffirmed that view.

I thank the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) for his kind comments. I reciprocate by congratulating him on his new appointment. We wish him well and I look forward to many debates with him on important environmental issues.

Mr. Allan Roberts

The bicycle is still here.

Mr. Moynihan

I am beginning to feel a lot less fit than when I took over the job as Minister for Sport.

It is appropriate for the House to acknowledge the outstanding work of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), who chaired the Select Committee proceedings on the Bill.

I should congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). He gave great service on the Standing and Select Committee stages of the Bill. While I am in this eulogistic congratulatory late-night mood, hon. Members will wish me to place on record the fact that the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), has had a long interest in the Bill, but was obviously unable to contribute during its passage through the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) wisely drew our attention to the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners. I congratulate him and them on their responsible contributions during discussions of the provisions of the Bill and throughout their many years of service to this unique area.

I note the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shepherd) made. I have written to her on a number of the relevant issues that she raised this evening, but I should also add that—perhaps I did not sufficiently emphasise this point in the earlier debate—our consultations in December over proposals for landscape conservation orders were critically important. Consideration is still being given to the comments that we have received. We believe that this way forward may overtake the section 42 provisions and make it less likely that they would ever need to be used.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) mentioned a number of issues on which I have corresponded with him, and I confirm that those points will be raised in another place. I thank the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for his extensive contributions both in Committee and in the House. It is useful to benefit from his experience, and I know that all hon. Members thank him and congratulate him on the depth of his analysis and on his useful contributions.

The purpose of the Bill, as amended, is to establish new statutory arrangements by which the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads can be conserved for the enjoyment of all who treasure this unique area. There is general recognition in the House, emphasised by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) in his speech, of the need for a new statutory authority to manage the land and water spaces in a harmonious way. That is necessary if the continuing deterioration in the ecology of the area is to be halted and reversed.

The existing non-statutory Broads Authority has done valuable work and I pay tribute to its efforts. However, more is needed and the sooner the new authority can be established, the sooner we can hope to gain the real improvements that all concerned, boating and commercial interests no less than nature conservationists, wish to see. No one doubts that they all share a common interest in preserving, protecting and enhancing the Broads. The authority that the Bill seeks to establish will harness those interests to tackle the problems that must be faced.

Happily, the Bill has commanded general all-party support, although there has not been unanimous agreement on all its details. We greatly value that support and hope that we can rely on it to secure the Bill a Third Reading and allow it to continue its parliamentary stages in another place. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Allan Roberts

The Bill has the unanimous support of the Opposition. We have only one caveat: that, if it does not succeed to the extent that the Minister and the Opposition wish the Government will support us in returning to the issue and strengthening the Bill if that is required.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.