HC Deb 19 June 1991 vol 193 cc390-427

  1. 2141(1) A person guilty of an offence under section 214E(5) above shall be liable—
    1. (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding —20,000; and
    2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine.
  2. (2) In determining the amount of any fine to be imposed on a person convicted of an offence under this section, the court shall in particular have regard to any financial benefit which has accrued or appears likely to accrue to him in consequence of the offence.'.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I am surprised that the amendment has been moved formally. Will the Minister describe the Government's thinking on this so that the House can consider it?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

I am happy to do that and I welcome the opportunity.

It may be helpful if I outline the background to the amendments. The Government White Paper "This Common Inheritance" contains a clear commitment. It says: Following a review, to be published shortly, the Government proposes: to enable local authorities to protect hedgerows of key importance by making preservation orders, with appropriate payments to farmers to look after them properly; … Full details will be included in a consultation paper later in 1990. There are a number of elements which I should like to draw to the attention of the House. As promised in the White Paper, that consultation paper was published last December. It was issued as part of our wider view of preservation policies and legislation. It was, as promised, a consultation paper because there are clearly a number of value judgments that have to be made and there is the greatest chance of making the right judgments after consultation and after giving all those who have a particular knowledge, interest and concern the opportunity to study the initial proposals to suggest improvements where appropriate, and to see how differences of approach may be reconciled to devise a system that will endure and command broad respect.

The consultation paper included a number of initial judgments—that powers would be given to local authorities; that payments should be made to owners towards the costs of managing protected hedgerows; that such payment would be calculated on an average cycle of 20 years; that such payments should take the form of a lump sum payable in two instalments and should have regard to typical costs of laying and cutting; and that there would be the possibility of appealing to the Secretary of State against the making of an order or its renewal. There was a wide range of issues on which we invited comment, fully in accordance with the original timetable laid down in the White Paper commitment.

I am glad to say that the response to the consultation paper was positive, vigorous and stimulating and raised many issues of interest, from detailed points to broad matters of principle. We received responses from a broad range of bodies—conservation groups, land-owning bodies, farmers, professional and technical associations concerned with trees and hedgerows, and submissions from the local authorities associations which, according to the White Paper, would be in the position of making hedgerow management orders. In addition, we had a not insignificant number of letters from private individuals raising a number of points of interest in relation to tree preservation orders and hedgerow management orders.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point, perhaps, of curiosity, like many colleagues I spent 100 hours or more in Committee considering the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I think that every member of that Committee thought that that Act and the work that was done in Committee and subsequently on the Floor of the House had solved the hedgerow problem. In these representations, has it been made at all clear what the shortcomings of that Act were?

Mr. Baldry

In fairness, I do not think that those who made representations or came to discuss the possibilities of hedgerow management orders sought to discuss in detail what they perceived as shortcomings in the present statutory framework. The House knows that there has been substantial loss of hedgerows since the last war, and I take it as accepted, because I recognise that the House wishes to make progress this evening, that the House acknowledges the considerable contribution that hedgerows make to our natural heritage and to providing natural nature reserves. I think that all those whom I consulted wished to see a regime which will endure to protect key hedgerows.

It was because of the detailed and extensive responses to the consultation paper, and because in part there were clearly areas of principle and detail on which there were a number of differences, that I felt it important that I should have the opportunity to discuss those issues at first hand with a number of those who had written to me. I therefore invited a wide range of organisations to come to the Department of the Environment to discuss the proposals with me in greater detail.

Those organisations ranged from the Ramblers Association, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the local authorities associations to those representing professional interests and a host of other interests. The meetings took place during March and April. They were set up as soon as the formal consultation period had come to an end and it was possible to see the issues involved.

I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that I was making every effort to press on with the timetable as speedily as was humanly possible. I hope, too, that anyone who attended any of those meetings will have reported that they were positive and constructive and were conducted by a Minister who wanted to find the optimum way forward to fulfil our White Paper commitment on hedgerow management orders.

It should be put on record—I make no criticism of anyone—that hedgerow management orders have never been intended to be part of the Bill. None of the organisation that came to see me suggested that this Bill, which was then going through the House, would provide a statutory opportunity to tackle tree protection orders or hedgerow management orders. The timetable towards which I had been working did not contemplate hedgerow management orders being incorporated in this Bill—

9.15 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

Perhaps the Minister was going on to tell us what timetable he envisaged. The environment White Paper was published last September; it declared the protection of hedgerows to be Government policy. The consultation period ended slightly more than three months ago. Given that the Minister's consultations with interested groups finished about two months ago, and given that this is the first available vehicle for such legislation—it may require secondary legislation to work out the details later—will the Minister say yes in principle now and leave the details till later, or will he put off the matter to an indefinite future date?

Mr. Baldry

I suppose that every Minister wishes that every statute would provide for Ministers to do whatever they liked later and when it was convenient. Throughout the negotiations we have moved forward as fast as we could—since the White Paper of last October, through the consultation paper in December and through the three months of consultations. It takes a little time for people to analyse the submissions that are sent in. Meetings were set up in March and April for discussions with a wide variety of groups. In courtesy to them, we wanted to hear what they had to say and to consider their views. One of the points put forcefully to me by the local authority associations was that they wanted a system that would endure. It is therefore important that we devise a system that commands universal respect and support.

A number of key issues emerged from the consultations. I am not tempted to urge the House to grab this opportunity to set up a statutory framework because I am not convinced that those issues have been satisfactorily resolved. If we move now, various groups would fall out and that would be detrimental to what we are trying to do.

Compensation is another key element. The White Paper commitment is that local authorities should make appropriate payments to owners. It is clear from the amendments that have been tabled and from the debate in another place that there are a number of different views on this. There are those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), will tell the House that they take the view that hedgerows should simply be part of the planning system. If someone wants to remove a hedgerow of a certain length he should apply for planning permission, and there would be no question of compensation—planning permission would either be granted or not. There are those, on the other hand, who believe that farmers receive far too much money for doing things that they should be doing anyway. And there are those who fall somewhere between the two positions. There are those like members of the CLA and the NFU who not surprisingly feel that there should be compensation—

Mr. Soley

The commitment that the Government made in their White Paper was to a scheme based on compensation—that is why the amendment moved in Committee prescribed that. Consultations are all well and good, but Parliament is sovereign. A Committee of this House decided in favour of the amendment, which was in line with the Government's thinking as stated in their White Paper. What weight does the Minister attach to the Committee's views during the consultation procedure?

Mr. Baldry

I am genuinely grateful to the Committee, because it has enabled all hon. Members to focus their minds on hedgerow management orders sooner than they would otherwise have done. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) for having raised the matter. Ultimately, however, the House must take a view. A probing amendment was tabled in Committee, but the House must decide on the best public policy.

The Country Landowners Association, which wants compensation to be paid, said in its note to hon. Members today that it makes sense for the Government to announce on Report—which I shall do later—our intention to introduce a hedgerow management order scheme with compensation, rather than rushing through a scheme which may not have the correct statutory framework.

I hope that we shall be able to produce clear proposals on how the scheme will work. The House realises that, even if we were to accept the provision included in the Bill in Committee, it would still require a host of secondary details. It would require regulations, and we would be no closer to a working scheme than we are now.

A number of issues have been raised, such as whether compensation should be paid and how that should be done. I hope that the House will decide that it would be best to proceed with hedgerow management orders and tree preservation orders on the timetable that every group that came to see me accepted as reasonable. I envisage making a clear statement of intent about the detail of the scheme by later this summer, so far as is humanly possible, and thereafter to introduce legislation at the first possible moment. As the House knows, the decision on when legislation is introduced is not within my gift.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Can the Minister tell us how many hedgerows that would be governed by such an order are lost per month or per year? If there is a delay, there will be a loss to our environmental heritage. Many people are concerned about that.

Mr. Baldry

It is because we are concerned about loss that this provision was included in the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman should put that point in context. Even if the House were to accept a provision this evening, further work would be required, and we could not necessarily guarantee that the statutory framework would be correct.

Are local authorities the right organisations to protect woodlands in rural areas under tree preservation orders? A number of similar issues have been raised. I want to ensure that we get the answers right, with the support of the various groups involved. Until the amendment was inserted by the Committee, I do not think that any of the organisations which made representations had expressed concern about the timetable. They recognised and supported the general approach of the local authority associations that, in all fairness, it was necessary to devise a scheme that would endure. Therefore, it needed to command broad support from the Ramblers Association at one end of the spectrum to the Country Landowners Association at the other.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

We have heard what my hon. Friend has to say about consultation; we have also heard that he expects to make an announcment this summer. Can he tell us whether the announcement will be made before the House rises for the summer recess? That would certainly influence my decision.

Mr. Baldry

I certainly hope that it will be possible for me to give the details to all the organisations which come to see me—and, indeed, to the House—before the recess. I appreciate that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to make progress.

Mr. Soley

That is not a very convincing reply. We have about a month—perhaps five weeks—before the House rises. Will the Minister be able to present his detailed statement within five or six weeks? Let us suppose that the House rises on 1 August. Will he be able to present it by then?

Mr. Baldry

I hope that I made my commitment clear. I would include only one caveat. I have consulted many organisations already. Obviously, I want to make certain that we receive the answer yes, and I shall want to engage in more consultation as I begin to firm up our proposals. I shall be happy to keep in touch with hon. Members who, as a result of the amendments, have signalled their interest in hedgerow management orders. I am grateful for their interest, and I shall continue to acquaint them with developments in the negotiations.

There are, however, a number of bodies with which I must keep in touch. I cannot guarantee that, for example, local authority associations, the Council for the Protection of Rural England or the National Farmers Union will not say, "We shall have considerable difficulties with such a scheme—can you think about it a bit more?" Although, as I have said, I want an affirmative answer, I shall also do all that is humanly possible—as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) —to ensure that the House, and the organisations involved, receive a clear statement of intent before the summer recess.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Baldry

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Actually, I was proposing to make a speech. I was going to say, among other things, that I would rather have a bird in the hand than a handful of caveats, but I will say it some other time.

Mr. Baldry

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. I repeat what I said earlier. If I thought that we could grab a general, all-prevailing power for Ministers to do whatever they wanted, I should be only too glad to take the opportunity. I do not, however, want the House to enshrine such a measure in a statutory framework only to find that the framework is wrong. Even if an enabling power were taken, and even if we could guarantee at this stage that we had got the statutory framework right, detailed regulation would still be required in due course to give the scheme substance.

It is for those reasons that we have tabled amendment No. 116, the aim of which is to delete a clause introduced in Committee. For the same reasons, we cannot commend the alternative amendments. I hope that I have demonstrated the Government's commitment and determination to protect hedgerows of key importance by enabling local authorities to make protection orders.

There is no question of the Government's scrapping measures that would ultimately have given hedgerows statutory protection, as some newspapers have inaccurately reported. In the White Paper we undertook to consult, and we have done so. As a result of our consultations, we have discussed the best way forward in detail. Following those discussions, we shall present proposals in support of the commitment that we made in "This Common Inheritance" as soon as possible. Our aim is to help to protect an important part of that inheritance—our hedgerows.

9.30 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

I shall give credit where it is due. From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said that the Government were "hedging", and they are; but I understand the complexity of the issue.

I have known the Minister for much longer than either of us has been in the House. We used often to oppose one another in another place. However, the Government have been backing off from making the decision for a long time. They were going to make a decision about looking after hedgerows in national parks after a commitment in the 1987 general election manifesto, but they backed off. At last, and belatedly, they made the decision in the White Paper published last October. They went through the process of consultation and many of us believe that we cannot afford to wait any longer. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) made a pertinent point.

The clause tabled by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) in Committee is now in the Bill. It allows the detail to be added to it. Hon. Members and all the interested parties will feel far more secure if there is a peg on which to hang the detail. If we throw this out, there will be no certainty about what will happen next. With the best intentions, we all know that civil servants, Ministers and the other advisers combined can often spin things out for a long time. It is five weeks until we rise for the summer recess, followed by a two and half month recess, with an announcement possibly being made outside sitting time and then a promise of a Bill, which will have to compete for parliamentary time in a Session that will be shortened because of a general election and that may mean that we will not get anything at all.

The interventions by the hon. Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and for Lancaster were evidence of the fact that Parliament is becoming frustrated. We know that about 4,000 miles of hedgerow are lost every year. We know that we have the ridiculous anomaly that while the Government can protect buildings, sites of special scientific interest, trees and landscapes, they cannot protect hedgerows. It is the only part of the environmental landscape that we cannot protect.

Here in England, of all countries, where part of our history is about enclosure, and where hedgerows are a most important part of the landscape for the protection of wildlife, it is important that we protect them. This may be a little matter within the panoply of Government environmental legislation, but it is a test of whether the Government are green in general, green in principle, or green in practice. The Minister could and should accept the clause. The Government's amendment to get rid of it is a sign that, sadly, the Government are not willing to manifest their commitment, although they could so do.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The hon. Member referred to hedgerows in England. As a Welshman, may I invite him to extend what he is saying to Welsh hedgerows?

Mr. Hughes

I made a historical point about the battle being more important in England, but the legislation applies to the whole of the United Kingdom and protects hedgerows in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I advise the hon. Gentleman that the Bill does not apply to Scotland as the problem does not exist in Scotland.

Mr. Hughes

The issue applies to all parts of the United Kingdom although the legislation is limited to England and Wales. The hedgerows that we want to protect are those in England and Wales. The historical battle about closure was primarily in England. The issue now is whether we take this legislative opportunity. If the Minister persuades the House to vote out the new clause, it may be a long time before we have a substitute. That is not good enough, and I hope that the Minister will think again.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

This is more than the 11th hour —the clock has gone round several times and I find myself, for the second time in two days, following the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and saying that we have quite a lot in common. I tried to do something about this problem once before, when I promoted a private Member's Bill to introduce hedgerow protection orders.

Unfortunately, that Bill was blocked by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). I am not making that as a political point because the same thing happened to the attempt by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who introduced a similar private Member's Bill before I became a Member of Parliament. Here we are, a good few years later, still losing hedgerows. In the early 1980s, they were being lost at the rate of 4,000 miles a year. Nobody knows what happened in the late 1980s, because the aerial surveys on which the earlier figures are based are no longer made.

Even if I were to concede that there has been an improvement, as I do, and that some farmers are planting new hedgerows, the fact is that hedgerows are a vital part of our heritage and the loss of any is a problem that deserves to be met with the appropriate legislative framework to ensure that it cannot continue.

Should the House take the opportunity to address that problem tonight? When I knew of my appointment as a member of the Standing Committee, I wondered whether I should use that opportunity to take yet another crack at protecting hedgerows. When I spoke to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, it pointed out that the consultation period had only just ended, and queried whether it was the right time to press the matter. I responded that I thought that it was, because I wanted a clear undertaking from the Government that they would legislate so that no more hedgerows would be lost.

On that basis, I tabled an off-the-peg amendment. Such amendments have their disadvantages. My amendment lays down a local authority framework without providing the resources or requiring it to take action—and that is not necessarily the best way of tackling the problem. Nevertheless, it had the advantage, once the Committee voted to incorporate it in the Bill, of ensuring tonight's debate and the attendance of my hon. Friend the Minister after a flurry of activity.

We all understand the difficulties of sorting things out between the Department of the Environment, the Treasury, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. None of us would like to have been in the shoes of my hon. Friend the Minister in trying to persuade them to bring forward something in time to satisfy the House tonight. Therefore, I am not all surprised that we do not have a perfect solution before us.

We have, however, received a clear undertaking from the Minister that the Government have made a commitment not only in principle—that was in the White Paper—but to presenting details. I expect my hon. Friend not only to give his best efforts in respect of the undertaking that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) but to perform and deliver, and to announce in the House before it rises for the summer recess the precise details of his proposals. I want to see that legislation at the top of the list in the Queen's Speech this autumn.

Mr. Moate

The CPRE said that a vague promise of future legislation would be of little comfort to anyone. Does not my hon. Friend agree that the Minister has given as specific a commitment to legislation as we have ever heard? He not only made a firm commitment but promised that the details will be forthcoming. It is surely more important to get the scheme right than to rush something through tonight, perhaps wrongly. Are we not right to accept the assurances of my hon. Friend the Minister?

Mr. Jones

I agree with my hon. Friend's analysis. The importance of the issue explains the presence of so many of my hon. Friends tonight, many of whom made representations to Ministers and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. No one seeing that degree of feeling could possibly have the cheek to return to the House and say, "I am sorry but we could not make the deadline, and there is no room in this autumn's programme."

I am serving what I consider to be a very powerful notice on the Government that their commitment must be honoured. On that basis, I support the Government in deleting the unsatisfactory scheme, which I used only as a device in bringing pressure to bear on them.

Mr. Dalyell

I am something of a surrogate for my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who is chairing an important Council of Europe committee and regrets that he cannot be present. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) went arm in arm endlessly during the Committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 on the question of hedgerows. They were greatly influenced by the work of Marian Shoard, author of "The Theft of the Countryside", and by the statistics that she and others produced. We made a case which the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who was in charge of that Bill, completely took on board. The Government did their best to be as effective as they could in that legislation.

I understand, however, from my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), and certainly know from my own knowledge, that no statistics on the loss of hedgerows have been published since the mid-1980s. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but the Minister has the best advice from the Box. Are we really to believe, given the importance of the subject, that there is no information on the rough total lost in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989? One would not be unreasonable and say that the Government should have figures for 1990—although that might be desirable—let alone for the first few months of this year, but surely we could be given some facts about the extent of the grubbing up that took place at the end of the 1980s.

Mr. Baldry

A survey is now being undertaken, and I hope to be able to give the House the figures in the not-too-distant future, but the process takes a little time.

I do not believe that there is any dispute, either in the House or among most of the groups involved, that, both just after the war and more recently, more hedgerows have been lost than we should like. I shall certainly read the Official Report of the Standing Committee debates on the 1981 Act to find out whether what was said at that time is relevant to the schemes that we seek to introduce.

I shall, of course, let the hon. Gentleman have the fullest possible statistics and other information available, and I hope that the current survey will show more clearly the extent of more recent losses.

Mr. Dalyell

I have an Adjournment debate about Mar Lodge later, so, for reasons of self-interest and because my hon. Friends want to make progress, I shall leave it at that.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

It would be a pity to delete clause 22 in return for a vague promise that a statement may be made before the summer recess. If no statement is made, tough; we shall not have a statement, and there will be nothing that we can do about it.

My definition of the word "precise" does not accord with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). My hon. Friend the Minister told us vaguely that he would make a statement if possible, but it may not be possible, whereas the clause is before us now.

In my part of the world, we are intensely proud of our hedgerows, but they are expensive to maintain. When people come from the towns to relax in the countryside, they talk about its natural beauty. There is nothing natural about it; it is maintained, and has been maintained for centuries, by farmers' hard work. But farmers are cutting their staff now, and their incomes are under pressure.

The clause represents one way in which farmers could be paid for doing something that is in everyone's interest. They would not be producing something that had to be put into storage; they would be producing and maintaining something that is a joy to behold.

It would be a great pity to lose this opportunity. We may have to wait years for legislation. If the Bill, including this provision, were in situ, it would be the Minister's job to produce appropriate regulations to make it work. Our farmers are entitled to such remuneration for maintaining the hedges for the benefit of the rest of the country.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I shall speak in strong support of my hon. Friend the Minister, but my reasons for doing so may be different from those we have heard so far. The idea of 4,000 miles of hedges—that is the figure being bandied about the Chamber—is a fiction. In the 1960s and 1970s, under the influence of the farm improvement grant, which provided about one third of the capital cost of buildings and other alterations to farmland, a great many hedges were removed. The geography of farms was changed to adjust to modern farming conditions, and in large areas, especially in the eastern counties, many hedges were removed.

Today, the situation has altered. The farm improvement grant finished at the end of the Labour Government's period in office, or perhaps soon after this Government came to power. When I was a junior Minister responsible for agriculture, I asked my officials what evidence they had of the wholesale destruction of hedges. Even though we had a network of officers throughout the country, we were talking in terms of only a few hundred yards here and there—not the massive figure of 4,000 miles. That figure is mythical.

I do not claim to be an expert on many things, but I do know about hedges. The hedges on my farm were a matter of considerable pride to me, and to my father before me. After the war, in 1947, every inch was cut by hand, using shears.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

By shears, surely.

9.45 pm
Mr. Wiggin

I said by shears: my hon. Friend obviously did not hear me correctly. We took a lot of trouble with our hedges. About one seventh of them were laid each year to maintain what is, after all, a growing plant. I am extremely nervous about the proposition that the Government should now take it upon themselves to start dictating—albeit for perfectly genuine reasons, which I understand—in connection with the preservation of growing plants.

We have tree preservation orders, and the same criticism applies to them. Members of the Select Committee who went to examine the aftermath of the gale in 1987 will recall the devastation we saw, and will recognise that a large number of the trees had not been harvested when they should have been. They had been allowed to grow too old, to the point at which, although they looked nice, their benefit had been lost. Nature, as always, evened things up in the great gale. I am concerned at the suggestion that bureaucrats and officials should start interfering in the day-to-day management of our farm land.

I wonder what would have happened if the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had been a Member of Parliament in 1700 and a preservation of the countryside Bill had come before the House. No doubt the hon. Gentleman would have sought to prohibit the planting of hedges. He would have said, "I do not want the countryside changed. It looks nice as it is." I have today visited Exeter with members of the Select Committee. We travelled there by road and back by rail, and I can only say that I did not see one inch of hedge being dug up anywhere. I saw a beautiful countryside. Our countryside has probably never looked more beautiful than it is looking this damp summer.

I hope that, rather than being pressed by the weight of opinion, which in my view does not come from the countryside, the Government will be very cautious about proceeding with any scheme to interfere in such detailed matters.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

It is interesting that, when my hon. Friend the Minister gave his undertaking, there were cries—jeers almost—from Opposition Members who have never held office. Unlike them, my hon. Friend knows full well the problems of consultation.

I put it to my hon. Friend that he has one problem. If he is to keep his undertakings, which I accept totally, he will have to make certain that his civil servants perform and deliver. When I held his post, I had a certain task to do, which gave me great pleasure—winding up the GLC housing estates. I said that it had to be done by 31 March of a particular year. I was told, "Minister, this is not possible." I said, "I am not interested in whether it is possible; it is going to be done." If my hon. Friend will pursue that line, I shall be satisfied with what he has said.

There is no doubt that there is a cry in the countryside, as well as in the towns, for hedgerows that have been grubbed up without mercy to be saved now. I agree that, at this stage, this clause, which my hon. Friend has said is defective, should be removed, and I am happy to accept my hon. Friend's undertaking.

Mr. Soley

We have received a tragically inadequate response from the Government. The Minister has given a commitment tonight—or, rather, has gone half way to giving a commitment, if that is what the words "possibly" and "hopes to" mean—that he cannot meet. If the hon. Gentleman's speech meant anything at all, that must be so, for reasons that I shall explain.

Let me quote from page 84 of the Government's document, "This Common Inheritance", in which they outline their environmental strategy: The Government proposes"— the House will note the word "proposes", which implies that the Government knew what they wanted to do— to enable local authorities to protect hedgerows of key importance by making preservation orders with appropriate payments to farmers to look after them properly. The House will have heard the Minister say that he wanted much more consultation because there were many different views about what should happen—some people believe that there should be compensation and others believe that there should be none. In other words, even now, the Government have not made up their mind in principle about the compensation issue—unless the Minister meant to say that he has decided in favour of compensation, in which case all we need are the details of that compensation. If he is saying that, he could just about deliver before the House rises for the recess.

However, if he is saying that he wants to take into account all the different views on whether we should use compensation or some other method, as it appeared—we can all read Hansard in the morning to see—he cannot deliver that commitment of providing a statement to the House before it rises, unless we sit right through August. As everyone knows, the House is likely to rise between 19 and 26 July—in about five weeks' time—so the Minister has just five weeks to get that commitment from his officials and to deliver the statement to the House.

Does the Under-Secretary think that he can hold anything over the Government? I think that he used the phrase, "I can hold them to this very firmly." He cannot. He has no power after the vote tonight. If a Minister goes up to him in a few weeks' time and says, "I'm sorry, I wanted to do it, I thought I could, but frankly I can't", the Under-Secretary is lumbered and there is nothing that he can do about it. There is nothing that any other Member of Parliament can do about it.

The reality is that the consultation procedure has been going on for some time. As Opposition Members have said, this issue is not new; my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) introduced a Hedgerows Bill, which had cross-party support, but was blocked by the Government.

Remember when the Government launched "This Common Inheritance" under the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, who is now chairman of the Conservative party. They said that they were talking about not paper commitments but real commitments. In that paper they said that they proposed to protect hedgerows by local authorities giving compensation. There were no ifs or buts about it, no dithering or fudging. However, tonight we have heard nothing but dithering and fudging.

The Minister's speech does not stand up to analysis even as to what the Government are thinking of doing. They are thinking of listening to the views of the Country Landowners Association, the Council for the Protection of Rural Engalnd and all those other organisations on whether we have compensation, unless, perhaps, the Minister wants to stand up and say that I am wrong and that there will be compensation. Is that what he is saying, or has he not decided?

Mr. Baldry

If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, he will realise that he has inadvertently misinterpreted what I said. I told the House that among the groups that have made representations and among hon. Members, as evidenced in the debate this evening, there are varying views on a suitable scheme and on how appropriate payments should be made. I want to ensure that, as far as possible, we find a way forward that commands support and agreement—as the local authorities associations have said we need to find a system that endures. That is what I want to achieve and what I am determined that we shall achieve.

Mr. Soley

We have come a little further—the Minister is now saying that there will definitely be a compensation scheme, so we do not need to listen to people who express the view that there should be no compensation. Is that correct?

Mr. Baldry

I am seeking to fulfil the commitment that is clearly set out in the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman has repeated what was said in the White Paper, which states that there should be appropriate payments for key hedgerows.

I know that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has had many discussions with organisations such as the CPRE. In its consultation paper its advice to me was that it questioned whether local authorities were the right bodies to make the appropriate payments. It suggested, as part of its consultation paper, that payments could be made as part of the agricultural support scheme. Those are the sorts of issues that one has to consider.

As I have made clear to the House, it is our intention to deliver that White Paper commitment. We also have to ensure that the legislative framework is appropriate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) made clear, and that we do not simply clutch at any passing legislative peg to hook it on hoping that we get it right.

Mr. Soley

The Minister says that there will be payments that will or will not be administered through the local authority, but he has not yet decided, and that another way of administering it may be through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If the Minister is so uncertain about the detail and is unable to provide it to the House within the next five weeks, he cannot make that commitment. Then he moves the ground a little and says that he is committed to delivering his commitment in the White Paper. When will that be? The Queen's Speech will be formulated in September. The Minister will need to have not just the detail but something that looks like an Act that can be passed before the next general election takes place which, at the latest, will be next July. A Bill will therefore have to be introduced by November or December of this year.

Is the Minister saying to the House—I look forward to another intervention—that he is confident that he can present a Bill to the House in November or December and that he will give a guarantee that if an election does not take place before July—we accept that it may take place before then, but the Minister cannot control that—there will be legislation on the statute book by July? Is the Minister giving the House that commitment?

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Gentleman will have heard, as did every other hon. Member, the commitment that I gave to the House. Each hon. Member must decide whether he or she finds that commitment one which he or she can support.

Mr. Soley

That is what I call a fudge with a vengeance. I have never heard anthing so waffly in all my life. The Minister said earlier, "Trust me, I'm a good man; I shall deliver." I am sure that he wants us to believe that. I am sure that all Conservative Members desperately want to believe him. However, the timetable is that which I have just laid out. It is not in our hands, or those of the Minister. It is there. The Minister had got to meet it, or else he will have to say—as I suspect the truth is right now —that he cannot guarantee it but that he will try, although there is a very good chance that he will not be able to deliver.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

The hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend the Minister to undertake to introduce a Bill and have it passed. Will the hon. Gentleman guarantee that the Opposition will not oppose a single dot or comma in that legislation, or will he do his usual fudge and mudge?

Mr. Soley

I shall give the hon. Gentleman an even better commitment. The Opposition will accept the amendment that the Committee accepted. That can go through right now. We got it through the Committee with the help of several Tory Back Benchers. They voted for it; we voted for it. We shall vote for it tonight. I challenge Conservative Members to vote for it as well, if they are serious about their commitment to the countryside and to the environment.

We need to remember that hedgerows are being destroyed. I accept that there is an argument about the numbers. We also know that many of them are very old and that they are vital to wildlife. If the message goes out from the House that we intend to legislate to protect hedgerows but that there will be a gap of some months during which hedgerows can be destroyed, those who want to will understand that now is the time to do so. That is the wrong message to send out from the House.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that many of the hedgerows that he criticises people for having ripped out were ripped out by urban man who moved into the countryside, bought a cottage or house there, and, as his first act, ripped out the hedge around his cottage or house and erected a brick wall instead?

Mr. Soley

It is amazing to think that, using the same argument, the hon. Gentleman would vote against a tree preservation order. [Interruption.] Now we have the truth. Several Tory Members would like to get rid of tree preservation orders. I wonder whether the Government agree with that. Do they want to get rid of tree preservation orders? I know that the Tory party is divided and that it is in desperate trouble these days. If, however, the Government are committed to green issues, it is vital that they give a commitment that they will not get rid of tree preservation orders and that they will protect hedgerows.

Mr. Gill

The point is that many people who speak about these issues do not understand that trees, like human beings, have a finite life and that people who live in the countryside have a better understanding of such issues than the people who live in towns and believe that trees live for ever. The countryman well knows that trees must he felled sooner or later and replaced. If the hon. Gentleman considered the countryside in detail, he would see how many new trees are being planted everywhere today.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Planning and Compensation Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Boswell.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Soley

The Government also have a finite life and they will soon be felled.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) knows—as do most of his colleagues—that the tree preservation orders were a good thing. The fact that there are some arguments about some of the issues is irrelevant, and the same is true for hedgerows. As I have said, we can argue about the number of miles of hedgerows that have been demolished, but hedgerows are important for maintaining the wild life pattern in many areas. We want to keep them.

When the Government opposed us in Committee, I wondered who the assassin would be. I thought it would be the Treasury, so I tabled a holding amendment that would have protected hedgerows but allowed compensation and payments to be dealt with later. That would have got the Minister out of his hole now—he could have protected hedgerows now and considered the details later if he so wished.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has decided to turn the debate into a political shooting match. He implied that there was a sense of urgency, and I thought that that was the view of the whole House. Can he explain why, when he and his party tabled amendments at the start of the proceedings, there was no amendment about hedgerows? Why did the Opposition wait until I tabled such an amendment?

Mr. Soley

The reason is simple—I wanted such an amendment to be tabled by a Tory because I knew that it would have a better chance of being accepted, and I was right. If I had tabled such an amendment, I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman would have voted for it. Other members of the Committee who are present today will correct me if I am wrong but my memory is that the hon. Gentleman moved the amendment, but did not press it to a vote. I had to step in to do that.

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why I am turning the debate into a shooting match. If ducks keep standing in front of me and ask to be shot, I shall shoot them. It is as simple as that. I suppose that that will not do much for my green image.

In all seriousness, the House now has an opportunity to ensure that the idea reaches the statute book. We won the argument in Committee—we won it with the help of Conservative votes and we won it after reasoned argument. The majority of interested organisations outside the House support the amendment. We also know that, for the reasons I have given, the Minister is unlikely to be able to deliver anything like the commitment in the White Paper before the next general election. In other words, if hon. Members want to protect hedgerows and to ensure that we win the argument before the general election, I urge them to accept the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 153.

Division No. 183] [10.03 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Alexander, Richard Browne, John (Winchester)
Allason, Rupert Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Amess, David Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Amos, Alan Buck, Sir Antony
Arbuthnot, James Burns, Simon
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Burt, Alistair
Arnold, Sir Thomas Butler, Chris
Ashby, David Butterfill, John
Aspinwall, Jack Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Baldry, Tony Carrington, Matthew
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carttiss, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cash, William
Bellingham, Henry Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Bendall, Vivian Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Chapman, Sydney
Benyon, W. Chope, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G. Churchill, Mr
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Body, Sir Richard Colvin, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Conway, Derek
Boscawen, Hon Robert Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F 'rest)
Boswell, Tim Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bottomley, Peter Couchman, James
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Curry, David
Bowis, John Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Davis, David (Boothferry)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Day, Stephen
Brazier, Julian Devlin, Tim
Bright, Graham Dicks, Terry
Dorrell, Stephen Lawrence, Ivan
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lee, John (Pendle)
Dunn, Bob Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Dykes, Hugh Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Eggar, Tim Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Emery, Sir Peter Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lord, Michael
Evennett, David Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Favell, Tony McCrindle, Sir Robert
Fenner, Dame Peggy MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Maclean, David
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey McLoughlin, Patrick
Fishburn, John Dudley McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Fookes, Dame Janet McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Forman, Nigel Madel, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Malins, Humfrey
Fox, Sir Marcus Mans, Keith
Franks, Cecil Maples, John
Freeman, Roger Marshall, John (Hendon S)
French, Douglas Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Fry, Peter Maude, Hon Francis
Gale, Roger Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gardiner, Sir George Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gill, Christopher Mills, Iain
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Miscampbell, Norman
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mitchell, Sir David
Goodlad, Alastair Moate, Roger
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Monro, Sir Hector
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Gorst, John Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Morrison, Sir Charles
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Moss, Malcolm
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Gregory, Conal Neale, Sir Gerrard
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Needham, Richard
Grist, Ian Nelson, Anthony
Ground, Patrick Neubert, Sir Michael
Grylls, Michael Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hague, William Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Norris, Steve
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hampson, Dr Keith Paice, James
Hannam, John Patnick, Irvine
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Pawsey, James
Harris, David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Haselhurst, Alan Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hawkins, Christopher Porter, David (Waveney)
Hayes, Jerry Portillo, Michael
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Powell, William (Corby)
Hayward, Robert Price, Sir David
Heathcoat-Amory, David Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Rathbone, Tim
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Hill, James Riddick, Graham
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Roe, Mrs Marion
Hunt, Rt Hon David Rossi, Sir Hugh
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Rost, Peter
Irvine, Michael Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Irving, Sir Charles Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jack, Michael Sackville, Hon Tom
Janman, Tim Shaw, David (Dover)
Jessel, Toby Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Shelton, Sir William
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Key, Robert Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kilfedder, James Shersby, Michael
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Sims, Roger
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kirkhope, Timothy Speed, Keith
Knapman, Roger Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Squire, Robin
Knowles, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Latham, Michael Steen, Anthony
Stern, Michael Waller, Gary
Stevens, Lewis Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wareing, Robert N.
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Watts, John
Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wells, Bowen
Stokes, Sir John Wheeler, Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Whitney, Ray
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Widdecombe, Ann
Taylor, Sir Teddy Wiggin, Jerry
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Wilkinson, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wilshire, David
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Winterton, Nicholas
Thornton, Malcolm Wood, Timothy
Thurnham, Peter Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Yeo, Tim
Trotter, Neville Young, Sir George (Acton)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Tellers for the Ayes:
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Mr. David Lightbown and
Walden, George Mr. John M. Taylor.
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Abbott, Ms Diane Galloway, George
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Allen, Graham Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Alton, David George, Bruce
Anderson, Donald Godman, Dr Norman A.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Golding, Mrs Llin
Ashton, Joe Gordon, Mildred
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Graham, Thomas
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Barron, Kevin Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Battle, John Hinchliffe, David
Beckett, Margaret Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Beggs, Roy Home Robertson, John
Beith, A. J. Hood, Jimmy
Bell, Stuart Howells, Geraint
Bellotti, David Hoyle, Doug
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Boyes, Roland Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Buckley, George J. Kennedy, Charles
Caborn, Richard Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Callaghan, Jim Kirkwood, Archy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Lamond, James
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Leighton, Ron
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Lewis, Terry
Carr, Michael Livsey, Richard
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cohen, Harry Loyden, Eddie
Corbett, Robin McAllion, John
Cousins, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Cox, Tom Macdonald, Calum A.
Crowther, Stan McFall, John
Cryer, Bob McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dalyell, Tarn McKelvey, William
Darling, Alistair Maclennan, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McMaster, Gordon
Dixon, Don Madden, Max
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dunnachie, Jimmy Marek, Dr John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Eadie, Alexander Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Eastham, Ken Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Edwards, Huw Martlew, Eric
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Maxton, John
Fearn, Ronald Meacher, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Meale, Alan
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michael, Alun
Fisher, Mark Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Flynn, Paul Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foster, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Fraser, John Morley, Elliot
Fyfe, Maria Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Paul Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Nellist, Dave Soley, Clive
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Speller, Tony
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Strang, Gavin
Patchett, Terry Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pike, Peter L. Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Prescott, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Primarolo, Dawn Wallace, James
Quin, Ms Joyce Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Radice, Giles Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Richardson, Jo Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Robertson, George Wilson, Brian
Robinson, Geoffrey Winnick, David
Rogers, Allan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Wray, Jimmy
Rowlands, Ted Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Mr. Frank Haynes and
Short, Clare Mr. Eric Illsley.
Skinner, Dennis

Question accordingly agreed to.

  1. Schedule 2
    1. cc407-9
  2. Schedule 8
    1. cc409-11
  3. Schedule 3
    1. cc411-22
    2. DEVELOPMENT PLANS 6,521 words
  4. Schedule 5
    2. c422
  5. Schedule 10
    1. c423
  6. Schedule 6
    1. c423
    3. c423
    4. 'Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 (c. 80) 140 words
    5. cc423-5
    6. Planning permission for development already carried out. 836 words
  7. Schedule 11
    1. c425
    3. cc425-6
    4. Planning permission for development already carried out. 645 words
    5. cc426-7
    6. Effect of planning permission, etc., on enforcement or breach of condition notice. 493 words
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