§ 11.24 a.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, in the name of my noble friend Lord Bellwin I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Avon.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [THE EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 444ZA:
§ After Clause 30, insert the following new clause:
—(1) After section 22(3)(b) insert—
(c) the planting of coniferous trees on, or the carrying out of drainage works affecting the water table of wetlands or marshes or bogs, involves a material change in the use thereof;
(d) the piping underground of a stream, dyke or natural watercourse involves a material change in the use thereof;
(e) the conversion to agricultural land, by ploughing or otherwise, of, or the planting of coniferous trees on, moor or heath or down or permanent pasture which has not been agricultural land at any time within the preceding 20 years involves a material change in the use thereof;
(f) the felling or uprooting of a hedgerow, or a tree growing in a hedgerow or wood, involves a material change in the use thereof;
(g) the conversion to agricultural land of a pond involves a material change in the use thereof.".
(2) After section 22(5) insert—
(6) In this section 'agricultural land' does not include land which affords rough grazing for livestock but is not otherwise used as agricultural land.".
§ (3) In section 59(a) after the word "trees" insert the words "or hedgerows".
§ (4) In section 60(1) after the word "amenity" insert the words "or wildlife or historic preservation" and after the word "woodlands", in both places where it occurs, insert the words "or hedgerows or hedgerow systems"; in subsection (1)(a) after the word "trees" insert the words "or cutting down, uprooting or wilful destruction or neglect of hedgerows"; in subsection (3) after the word "trees", in both places where it occurs, insert the words "or hedgerows".
§ (5) In section 62(1), after the word "tree" where it first occurs and in the penultimate line of the subsection, insert the words "or hedgerow" and in section 62(2), after the word "tree" where it first and last occurs, insert the words "or hedgerow".")
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 444ZA and with it speak to Amendment No. 557A, which repeals part of the Town and Country Planning Act in the Schedule to this Bill where the repeals are listed. It is not entirely clear from the amendment on the face of it that that is what it is doing but if noble Lords will look at the place where it comes in the list of repeals they will see that Amendment No. 557A repeals part of Section 22(2)(e) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971.
§ We had a debate yesterday—indeed several debates at some length—on the need to conserve as sites of special scientific interest a small percentage of this country's rural land area which is particularly important for nature conservation. Later today (hopefully reasonably soon) we shall go on to debate the need for special protection for moorland areas in 410 National Parks. This amendment, coming between those two debates, is intended to deal with some matters which, along with a number of my noble friends, I raised at Second Reading. Its subject is the need for protection and conservation of the wider countryside.
§ Conservation should not simply be a matter of protecting a small number of key sites, whether they are nature conservation sites or sites which are important from an amenity point of view. It should be an ethic which affects the whole of the British countryside and it should affect the features which make the English countryside something which I think noble Lords in all parts of the House love and hold dear and about which people in this country and many from abroad feel very strongly—features such as hedges, hedgerow trees, the combination of cultivated and uncultivated land, streams, ponds, small woods, and so on. It is on those features that the amendment seeks to give some say from the public point of view before they are destroyed.
§ Two questions could be asked straight away: why not rely on order-making powers of the sort that we discussed yesterday and shall be discussing later today? In the first place, it seems clear from the debate which we had on Clause 26 that this Government at least are, to put it mildly, not very keen on order-making powers. Secondly, I think it is also agreed on all sides that order-making powers are only really suitable for a small number of sites—the top tier of sites, or whatever it may be.
§ The second question on which we spent some time yesterday is, why not depend on co-operation, on persuasion, on agreement? That is the system we have at the moment and indeed it is the system we have had since the Second World War. Co-operation and persuasion have presided over massive, wholesale and accelerating destruction of the English countryside, particularly of the sorts of feature which this amendment would seek to bring under development control.
§ We have had many statistics about the rates of loss and every time we go back and look at what has actually happened the figures get worse, and I do not intend today to waste your Lordships' time by simply repeating those figures. However, there are two that I should like to mention because they apply to something on which I think we have not really concentrated our minds so far—deciduous trees in fields and hedges. Twenty-four million have been removed in England since the war, and that compares with the 11 million killed by what I think we all agree was a national disaster, Dutch elm disease. We have actually had removed 24 million, well over twice the number killed by Dutch elm disease. A third of the small woods in England and Wales have been cleared away for agriculture since the war and up to 1972 and it is clear from the figures released by the Nature Conservancy Council this week that, if anything, the scale and the rate of change have been accelerating as we have ended the 1970s and started the 1980s.
§ To give an example of the sort of instances I am speaking of, last weekend in Suffolk a farmer destroyed a thousand year-old hedgerow and an ancient woodland in defiance of the local authority's intention to preserve them. The farmer apparently destroyed this hedgerow and woodland because of the shade it was casting on his field, despite the fact that this bordered a public 411 highway—a lane—and that the district council concerned—the Mid-Suffolk District Council—had unanimously decided a week ago today to put a tree preservation order on the hedgerow and woodland. On Saturday—that is, six days ago—that decision was announced in the local paper, but at dawn last Sunday the farmer, with some helpers, arrived with chain-saws and started to cut down the hedge and the woodland. Despite being asked to stop, they went on, and by the time the official tree preservation order was served last Monday afternoon 90 per cent. of the copse and 600 metres of hedgerow were gone. That is the problem both of relying on persuasion and agreement and of relying on order-making powers. This is the sort of problem with which development control of the sort we are suggesting here would deal.
§ The effect of the amendment would be to bring major changes under planning control: planting of conifers on wetlands, moor, heath, downs and ancient meadows, new drainage works including the destruction of ponds and streams, the destruction of hedges, hedgerow trees and woods, agricultural buildings, the destruction of moor, heath, down and ancient meadows.
§ In the second part of the amendment tree preservation orders would be extended to hedges and would include a positive duty to ensure that hedges were not neglected. I should stress that the general development order would obviously have to be amended in the light of this amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act to ensure that day-to-day farming operations were not subject to development control, because that is certainly not our intention. Farmers' normal activities would continue as they do now. It is simply the major changes which would be brought under development control.
§ I tried to make the point at Second Reading, and I repeat it now in case it needs repeating, that this proposal is not intended to be, and nothing I have said on this Bill is intended to be, anti-farming. On the contrary, it is intended to be pro-farming. I, as a farmer, do not want to see the agricultural industry become increasingly unpopular and increasingly under attack. I do not think anyone could deny that that is what has been happening in the last six or 12 months, in the debates on this Bill, during the preparation for this Bill and during the public discussions of the issues which your Lordships' Committee have been discussing. Agriculture is increasingly being seen as a villain in the countryside, in total contrast to the position after the Second World War when the Town and Country Planning Act was passed and when all the major Acts dealing with the countryside were passed. I believe that if we genuinely want to ensure, as I certainly do, a long-term and healthy future for agriculture we must ensure that the basic fabric of the British countryside is not destroyed.
§ Agriculture gets a lot of public money. It has been estimated that it is something of the order of £5 billion a year when all the varying subsidies and rate reliefs and other matters are taken into account, an average of around £8,500 a year per British farmer. I make no complaint about that; indeed I think those figures should be higher. Agriculture along with other industries is suffering very severely from the current 412 recession. I was interested to see some figures the NFU produced this week to substantiate that. I wish the Government were subsidising a number of other British industries to the tune to which they are subsidising agriculture, but that is another matter. I make no complaint about these subsidies; I think them an excellent thing and I want them to be continued and increased. But with that amount of public money must go some responsibility to the public, and that is what these amendments would achieve.
§ Very briefly to answer some of the criticisms that have been made of proposals of this kind, it is suggested that development control would fossilise agriculture, stop agricultural development. I have made the point, first of all, that only major changes, not everyday changes, would be brought under development control by this amendment. If farmers do, in the NFU's words, care for the countryside—and I said at Second Reading that in my view a great many certainly do—they will take time to consider and think very carefully about the sort of major changes which this amendment would bring under development control. Therefore, it seems to me that having to apply for planning permission should not involve any additional length of time before the decision is taken and should not result in any delays. If such changes are made on the spur of the moment then they should be brought under development control, and they should be delayed and subjected to public scrutiny. I would also make the point that development control as it works at the moment is not a fossilising process and that well over half the applications for planning permission are granted.
The NCC have said that if current trends continue—that is, the destruction of the countryside—many species of plants and animals will become extinct in Britain before the end of the century. But in a recent article in New Scientist the NCC assistant chief scientist went on to say that protecting SSSIs was not enough. The article said:
SSSIs occupy less than 6 per cent. of the land of Britain; even their complete protection is not enough. What we really need is a national policy for rural land use which takes full account of the requirements of wildlife".
I believe these amendments would achieve that. I beg to move.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
I want very briefly to support this amendment. When town and country planning was first brought in, one of the reasons why agriculture was exempt was that very little was changing in the countryside. There had been, of course, the upheaval of the war, the ploughing of all the old leys, and the changes that had come from intensive food production. But things were in a way going back to what they had been before the war, and no one in the late 1940s early 1950s visualised the kind of extreme changes we are seeing in the countryside today. Even as recently as 1971 the kind of change that has happened over the last 10 years was not foreseen. The figures we have already heard for hedge removal in Huntingdonshire provide one absolutely outstanding example.
I think it is right that a number of matters which have hitherto been exempt should be brought under control for the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, 413 has given. One can quarrel slightly with one or two parts of this amendment. I think I know the reason why in paragraph (f)the felling or uprooting of … a tree growing in a hedgerow or woodinvolves material change of use thereof. It is very difficult to quantify how many fellings make a considerable difference. I would have thought it was drawing the mesh a little too fine to have "a tree" growing in a wood involving a material change in the use thereof. I think drafting amendments can be made, but I believe the principle of the amendment is right and we should support it.
§ Lord Underhill
May I briefly say a few words on this amendment. What troubles many noble Lords and many people outside this House is whether or not the Government accept that damage is being done to our countryside. I emphasise "our countryside" because it is not the property of any small minority. Millions of us have inherited this great heritage. We have enjoyed it. We want to be satisfied that we will be able to pass it on to those who follow. If we miss the opportunity provided by this Bill, further destruction will go on, and those who follow will not have this countryside to enjoy. The other thing that troubles me and many others is whether the Government accept the facts given to them by their own statutory bodies, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, who have expressed their concern about this matter. If the Government do not accept this information, why do they have these statutory bodies? And if they do not accept this information, from where do they get the information and advice on which to act?
On Second Reading, many noble Lords expressed concern on this issue, and while I and many others said that we preferred to have the voluntary principle, many others felt that the present system of management committees was not succeeding, otherwise we would not have the wholesale destruction which is taking place. If the present system is not succeeding, then something must be done about it. The amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Melchett is really a compromise. I have tabled Amendment No. 447A, which I shall not speak to now, but which goes much further than this amendment. If the Government do not move towards a compromise, then regrettably I shall find myself compelled to move Amendment No. 447A.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Would the noble Lord give way for a moment? Can he explain why he thinks he and the planning authorities are better at deciding what should or should not happen in the countryside than the farming community? He has not quite explained that to me.
§ Lord Underhill
I would refer the noble Lord to what I have already said. A very noble statesman of colleagues on the Right said:God gave the land to the people",and it is for us all to enjoy. It is naturally there for production of agricultural produce, but to do that, and at the same time to destroy something which every noble Lord in this House wants to see preserved would be wrong. I am suggesting that there must be 414 some harmony. We do not have it at present, and I hope, therefore, that the Government will see fit to accept the compromise proposal which my noble friend has moved.
§ Lord Milverton
I hope that the Government will be able to accept this amendment, but if they cannot accept it I hope that they will look into the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has just said, are the Government really taking note of the information coming to them as regards the sad fact that our countryside is being spoiled?
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I am sure that farmers are concerned about this matter as well as about their farming interests. My other interest is agriculture—farming. I hope that the Government will be able to indicate that they do realise the situation and are taking note of what they have been told. One only has to live in the countryside to see how spoiled much of it has become. I am sure that farmers must realise that people are not just "gunning" for them. People appreciate the interests of farmers. However, at the same time as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said—farmers must realise that there are the interests of others besides their own.
§ Lord Gibson
While I am in total sympathy with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said, and have been throughout these debates, I feel that this amendment goes much too far. That one would have to ask a bureaucrat before one could cut down a tree in a wood, and that one could not thin the conifers in one's mixed plantations, which are very likely nurses to the hard woods, is really taking it to absurd lengths. I for one would find it quite impossible to support the amendment as it stands.
§ The Earl of Avon
Perhaps I could intervene at this stage with the Government's view. I should like to answer one or two points which have been made. Of course, the Government accept that there is damage to the countryside, but I do not particularly want to rehearse the arguments that I made yesterday about the very fact that we are producing the Bill and debating it to this degree shows our interest. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the people. Of course all people can go to the countryside. We are all God's people—both farmers and conservationists. He also mentioned the NCC. We have a very close relationship with the NCC and, in fact, unless I am very much mistaken there are probably two members of the NCC in the Box at the moment. They advise the Government and we accept their advice wherever possible. We have to keep a balance between all people.
I come back to the clause. As the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, has said, it seeks to extend the scope of development control to cover coniferous afforestation, certain drainage works, piping of streams, the conversion of moor, heath, down and ponds into agricultural land, and felling or uprooting hedges and trees in hedges and woods. Additionally, it seeks to extend the tree preservation order system to cover hedgerows. I think that I heard the amendment described as a compromise. I do not think that that would be the Government's view.
415 Planning control is a very wide subject. It is a process which is well adapted to controlling a wide variety of changes of land use and of balancing the many considerations that arise in developing or building on land. But this new clause would propose to apply such a control in what is necessarily a wide-ranging way to a variety of new types of activity concerned with countryside conservation. The result, in the Government's view, would be a much too weighty and bureaucratic procedure involving considerable costs to farmers and to local planning authorities and covering very many more individual cases than those which give rise to the conservation concerns which motivate the new clause.
The power which local planning authorities already have to make tree preservation orders, enables authorities to protect woodland or individual trees whether they are in woods, hedgerows or elsewhere in the countryside, where the protection is justified in the interests of amenity. The term "amenity" is capable of a very broad interpretation, and the advice on the grounds for making TPOs which is given in paragraph 40 of the Department of the Environment circular, is that, in addition to that "other factors (such as a wildlife habitat) may be taken into account". Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I do not think that that directive is quite strong enough and we shall certainly look at improving it on the lines that he is suggesting for wildlife.
As regards hedgerows, the new clause seeks to control their felling in two ways: first, by bringing the felling or uprooting of hedgerows under development control which would involve many thousands of planning applications each year; and secondly by enabling authorities to place preservation orders on individual hedges. On this second aspect, it should be borne in mind that the value of particular hedges would not normally be so readily apparent as in the case of trees, and to establish which hedgerows merit retention in any area could in many cases be determined only after detailed consideration of the farming operations. That might well be beyond the resources of local authorities. I should mention here that Clause 31 could be taken into account when hedgerows management agreements are discussed.
I believe, too, that the proposed extension of protection to hedgerows could well be counter-productive, in that farmers would be less inclined to seek advice about hedge management from local authority countryside officers and more inclined to proceed with rapid removal. The Tree Council, which comprises a wide range of organisations, including amenity and landowning interests, has recently submitted to the DoE long-term proposals for changes to TPO legislation, as recommended by a working party which the Council had set up. One of the working party's recommendations referred to hedges and was as follows:Woods/coppice as well as individual trees should be protected by tree legislation but not hedges or shrubs and bushes. However consideration should be given to making provisions elsewhere for conservation for these other forms of woody growth ".My department will be entering into discussions with the council and other bodies such as the local authority associations concerning the working party recommenda 416 tions. The working party concludes that the extension of TPO protection to hedges is inappropriate, and with that the Government agree.
So far as afforestation is concerned, the Secretaries of State in the previous Administration in 1976 considered that the consultation agreements as revised in 1974 in both the public and private sectors would prove satisfactory, and that planning control over forestry was not necessary. This Government believe that the consultation arrangements have indeed proved satisfactory and see no reason to differ from the views of the previous Administration.
To return to the main features of this new clause, the planning system has long provided for exemptions from planning control of agricultural operations, although all agricultural buildings, of course, of certain sizes are subject to control. To impose more restrictions on farmers and foresters as the amendment proposes would be a very costly and an inappropriate method of achieving conservation. The best way to protect areas of scientific interest and landscape value as we all want, is by voluntary means—by entering into management agreements such as the Bill provides for and enlisting the help of the farmers themselves. Having said that, I hope that I have made it quite plain that the Government consider this to be a very sweeping—indeed, too sweeping—amendment.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
I should briefly like to make a point which I do not think is covered. I do not want it to go out from this noble Chamber that some of us on this side of the Committee are against the farmers. The beauty of Britain has been maintained by many of the farmers. I am thinking particularly of the new tendency for what I would call the international organisation of farming. There are Dutch people entering various parts of Britain these days buying up land in Scotland and other places, and sweeping away hedges. A hedge is not only needed for beauty; it is also a wind-barrier and in parts of Britain these matters should be looked at. Consequently, much of the blame rests not so much on the farmers or the aristocrats—if I may pay tribute to the lucky people opposite—who through centuries have maintained the beauty of the land, but upon the modern trend for over-capitalisation of farming and the extensive use of machinery that sometimes ruins the landscape itself.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I must beg the Government to resist this amendment as hard as they have done. I care just as much about the countryside as anyone in your Lordships' House. The amendment will not do any good. In the case described by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, the tree preservation order system broke down. It is quite possible that if the local authority concerned had moved fast enough to impose that tree preservation order and the man had not been able to cut down his trees, the system would have worked.
Surely it would be possible to alter the grant system in some way whereby one could obtain grants for planting hedges. I believe one can even obtain some from the Countryside Commission. That is the way to do it. This surely is where the Government should provide support.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
The probability is that we are trying to do too much in one Bill. Unfortunately, however, time is running so fast against us on the things that we want to preserve and safeguard that it makes it difficult to contemplate spreading this legislation over a longer period. But it does raise the question of our procedures; whether a Bill of this complexity and this length can be dealt with in the way in which we are attempting to deal with it.
Some of my friends who have been listening to the brief references to proceedings in your Lordships' House in the radio programme "Today in Parliament" have asked What are you doing there? All that seems to happen is that amendments are moved; there is a brief explanation from the Government, and a word of thanks from the mover, who then withdraws the amendment". So what is the point of moving amendments, listening to gabbled or hurried—I do not want to be offensive—replies from the Government and then saying, "Thank you very much. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment"? My friends say that the Government never agree to anything; that the movers of amendments never achieve anything. They ask: "So what is wrong? Either the amendments are bad, there is something wrong with the Government, or there is something wrong with the institution.".
These are valid comments. The Government Chief Whip always menaces me because we know that a feeling of haste is now entering our proceedings because parliamentary time is very precious indeed. I wonder whether our institution of Parliament will be able to stand the strain and achieve the purposes of modern times. But that is a matter for another debate. I leave it there. I only hope that we shall not feel that we are being pressurised into getting rid of this Bill at the earliest possible moment.
We are dealing with matters of profound importance for the future of the nation. We know that much of what we are talking about today was ravaged in two world wars. We have never recovered from the harm that was done to the beauty of Britain and to many of the interests which we are trying to safeguard today. Probably what we lacked was the vision to understand what harm had been done and how urgent were the steps to try to repair it.
However, we went in for unimaginative forestry and increased agricultural production, without counting the cost. We are now having to safeguard what is rapidly vanishing from the countryside today, both in wildlife and in beauty. My noble friend Lord Underhill said, "God gave land to the people". That is what Lloyd George said in 1910. God did not do anything of the sort. He gave land to the people who already have it, and this is really what we are talking about at the present time. What are those who have it doing with it and how are they discharging their responsibilities to posterity and to the nation?
I would hope—and I think that this goes to the very root of our discussion—that if we spoke less about the rights of ownership and more about the duties of trusteeship, the attitudes might change, and it is attitudes that we want to change. This is where the limitations of legislation must be recognised. I know that my noble friend thinks that this amendment goes as far as it should go. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, 418 says that it goes much too far. So far, nothing in the Bill goes too far. I doubt whether there is anything in any amendment that has been moved or has yet to be moved which goes too far. It may go beyond what is enforceable; it may go beyond what some people will find acceptable; but I do not know how we decide what is going too far.
All the same, in the light of the evidence that we have on what is happening, I think that this amendment becomes very relevant indeed to some of the most subtle activities which lead to the destruction not only of the habitats but of areas of beauty and scientific interest. I happen to be a vice-president of the Yorkshire Naturalist Trust, which has probably supplied other noble Lords as well as myself with a long catalogue of the disturbing things that are happening in its area. Private owners are not the only vandals. Apparently near Goole there are 100 acres or so used by the Central Electricity Generating Board as a tip for pressurised fuel waste, which area was previously important scrubland.
The problem here is that our values lead us to believe that fruitful use of land can take only one form, and that is to convert it into the means of profitable enterprise. If we put our values in better balance, I think we can then approach this matter with more hope of ultimate achievement. I am reaching the stage when I think we ought almost to break off for a few days and have a taking-stock discussion to consider where we are going, how far have we got, and whether at the end of our debates on the Bill we shall really have achieved the purpose we seek? Unless the Governmnet come forward with the results of favourable consideration of the many matters they have kindly undertaken to take back for further thought, we shall have had a very long Committee stage of this Bill, achieving very little.
It is now time for noble Lords on both sides of the Committee—if on these matters we are on two sides—to make up their minds to try to enforce their will and to go forward in a spirit more of battle than of compromise with little achievement at the end of it.
§ Lord Foot
Before the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, replies, I wonder whether I might add a postscript to what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has been saying. I shall make a suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in a minute which I hope will help him with the business, so perhaps he will listen to the two or three sentences that I want to say before I deal with that.
It is evident, is it not, that the subject which is raised by this amendment is of enormous importance? As the noble Earl said just now, among other things it raises the question whether we are to deal with the control of agricultural works by the process of management agreements and orders, or whether we will do it under the planning legislation. That is a momentous question which, I suggest, could usefully occupy this Committee for a whole debate. Today we are being asked to discuss it in only a few minutes. Why is that happening?
I suggest that it is happening because everyone who is interested in conservation and, indeed, generally in the countryside, realises that it is only about once every decade that you get the opportunity of changing the legislation. As a result of that, when you get a Bill of 419 this kind it is not surprising to find that people come forward to try to do in this Bill what they will perhaps not have the opportunity of doing for another 15 years. That is why so many amendments have been put down.
Now I want to make the suggestion to the noble Lord which I hope will help him. If he will have a word with the noble Earl about this, if he will look at the amendments we are discussing, and if he will look at paragraph (e), he will see that what is proposed there is that the conversion of agricultural land by ploughing or otherwise should be brought under planning control If the noble Earl could be persuaded to accept that, it would get rid of all the amendments about moorland conservation, and so on, which are due to be debated later today or next week. I make that as a practical suggestion, that we could get on much faster with our business if that suggestion were adopted.
§ Lord Melchett
To noble Lords opposite who may feel that just over half an hour is too long to debate what we feel on this side of the Committee as the most important amendment we have put down to this Bill, I should like to make the point that for example we had some long debates last night on compensation terms, on which I think at least for some of the amendments nobody on this side of the Committee, and indeed nobody except Members on the Government Benches, spoke. I think that any disquiet is a little unfair to both my noble friends and noble Lords on the Liberal Benches who wish to take part in what we see as a vitally important debate.
Having said that, I know that a number of noble Lords on all sides of the Committee are anxious to get on to moorland conservation orders and I think it would be sensible to bring this debate to a conclusion. I listened with great interest to what all noble Lords said. I wish to pick up one point from the noble Lord, Lord Gibson. He suggested, for example, that thinning conifers, or indeed hardwoods, in an existing wood would be affected by this amendment. To keep my remarks short I deliberately did not go into the detail of what would be exempted under a general development order, but I should have thought that that was an obviously everyday activity that would clearly be exempted from the terms of the amendment by the general development order. Normal management of woodland, whether it be thinning conifers or hardwoods or whatever, would be exempt from these proposals by a general development order and would not therefore be affected by it.
My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek mentioned farmers coming from Europe to farm here. Indeed, some of the most notorious cases of destruction of the British countryside have been those where farms have changed ownership. I do not think it is fair for us to blame people coming here if we remember that, for example, in a country like Denmark there is a system of controls of the sort that this amendment seeks to introduce. I do not think that Denmark is a particularly good example to take of a country which has an inefficient, unproductive agricultural industry which fails to export anything. In fact, it is one of the best examples of the reverse case. But I do not suppose it is surprising that if there are tighter controls in Europe people tend to look to this 420 country as a bit of a soft option, and that is what is leading partly to the destruction of our countryside.
The noble Earl gave me a courteous response, for which I am grateful, and there are a number of things he said that I should like to look at. He suggested that the motive for this new clause was conservation, but it is not. The motive is to protect the English countryside. If the English countryside was simply a huge food factory in which nothing else went on we would not, for example, have a £6 billion tourist industry concerned with visiting the English countryside. It is the second most popular reason for tourists visiting this country. It is part of the reason why British people holidaying in this country spend £3 billion a year.
The English countryside that this amendment was intended to protect is the countryside which is the inspiration for many of our most famous artists, musicians, sculptors and writers. It is that aspect of the countryside that this amendment is designed to protect. I think it would be fair to assume that the well-disciplined silence from many noble Lords opposite does not indicate a massive support for this amendment, and your Lordships would not thank me for asking the very large Government majority in this Committee to go through the Division Lobbies simply to prove what we already know, that they are not in favour of the public having some say in agricultural development. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 444B:
§ After Clause 30, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment to 1949 Act
. For section 23 of the 1949 Act there is substituted the following section—
Arears of special scientific interest.
23.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section where the Nature Conservancy Council are of opinion that any area of land, not being land for the time being managed as a nature reserve, is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features, it shall be the duty of the Council to notify that fact to the local planning authority in whose area the land is situated.
§ (2) The Council shall give particulars of any intended notification under subsection (1) to every owner and occupier of any land included in the area to which a notification is to be made, stating that objections to the notification may be made by notice in writing to the Secretary of State within the period of three months from the giving of the particulars.
§ (3) If before the end of the period of three months referred to in subsection (2) notice in writing of an objection is received by the Secretary of State from any person to whom particulars are required to be given under this section, and the objection is not withdrawn, the Secretary of State shall, before authorising the Council to give notice under subsection (1), either—
- (a) cause a local inquiry to be held; or
- (b) afford any person by whom a representation or objection has been duly made and not withdrawn an opportunity of being heard by a person appointed by the Secretary of State for that purpose.
§ (4) On considering any representations or objections duly made and the report of any person appointed to 421 hold the inquiry or to hear representations or objections, the Secretary of State may authorise the Council to notify the area of land with or without modifications; but if he proposes to alter the area of land, the Council shall give such additional particulars to every owner and occupier as he may require."").
§ The noble Lord said: I rise to move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Thurso. In the discussions we had yesterday on the subject of the notification of SSSIs to landowners a number of people were unhappy about the notice which had been given—in some cases, none at all—among them my noble friend. On the whole, the instances given were unfortunate exceptions rather than the general rule. Anyway, I hope so. But I think it was clear that there was one particular ingredient which was missing from the package, and that was the ability of the farmer or the landowner, the owner or the occupier, to protest against a designation which had been made by a body which was not publicly accountable and which must, in the very nature of things, very occasionally make mistakes. I put it no higher than that, and I do not use the phrase "very occasionally" at all sarcastically, but it must happen.
§ This new clause tabled by my noble friend is an important one and would, if accepted, solve a large number of problems. It seeks, in the words of my noble friend—and I use his words—to take the paranoia out of SSSIs by setting up an appeal procedure before a publicly accountable person. The NCC is not publicly accountable. We heard last night on limestone pavements that the Government said that it was not appropriate for the Countryside Commission to make orders as it was not publicly accountable. The NCC is in very much the same situation. Originally its role consisted solely of giving advice to local planning authorities which are accountable and also subject to appeals to their decisions. It is in the area where SSSIs have effect without the intervention of an accountable body on a formal, normal cultivation practice, that the shoe pinches. In any event, the NCC should not fear the necessity to have their case heard before an independent person, nor tested by being subject to expert argument on a scientific basis, or upon the basis of what it is reasonable to do.
§ My noble friend gives an example of a farmer near him in Wick, on the coast, who had an SSSI declared on the borders of his farm, one boundary of which ran diagonally from corner to corner through one of his rectangular fields, there being so far as he could tell no particular reason why it should contain that half field, except for administrative convenience. It was of course difficult for him. If he ploughed he had the problem of ploughing half a field. If he grazed he had the problem of grazing half the field. He could not possibly deal with that without great inconvenience, and there was no particular reason for it so far as he could see or elicit. It was a proper case for him to appeal, and for an appeal to be heard. If there was any good reason for it, then it would have come out.
§ We want to help conserve. Except for a small minority I think everyone wants to help conserve. But the way matters are currently arranged actually offends a number of otherwise reasonable people into marked reaction against the steps which are taken. Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause is in the 422 measure already; subsection (2) was accepted by the Government in the debate on Amendment No. 376; subsection (3) is the important one, the one to which I have been speaking and which would allow an inquiry; and subsection (4) is semi-consequential in that it allows for the boundaries of SSSIs to be altered.
§ The main point here is that the NCC cannot always be right; in over 3,000 decisions a few must have been wrong. No one and no body is infallible. Therefore there should be a way of challenging both the scientific and practical judgments that are made. What is proposed is a very mild inquiry procedure, not setting up a great bureaucratic machinery; just an opportunity to be heard by a person appointed by the Secretary of State for that purpose. It is simple and is not something to which the Government should object on that basis and, if there is a good inquiry procedure and farmers know there is, there will be a better chance of local co-operation, and that is essential in this matter. I beg to move.
I believe the proposed new clause is based on a complete misunderstanding and that the procedure it suggests is very cumbersome. The classification of an area of land as an SSSI is a statement of scientific fact. An avocet is an avocet, a natterjack toad is a natterjack toad and a marsh gentian is a marsh gentian, and there is no arguing about that. The classification of an area as an SSSI does not, so far as I know, inhibit or affect in any way existing farming or forestry operations that are being undertaken. It does not blight the area in any way. Surely an appeal is appropriate only if and when a designation order is placed on a site because of failure to reach a voluntary agreement, and a voluntary agreement is what everybody wants to achieve. The rather timid approach in Clause 26 of the Bill will mean that designation orders—I hope there may be second thoughts about this—are likely to be placed in only a very small number of cases, between 1 and 2 per cent. of all the biological sites.
I regret that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is not in his place—he told me last night it would be impossible for him to be here today—because I wish to comment on a remark he made about entering on land without the owner's or occupier's permission. I was in touch with the Nature Conservancy Council this morning and they told me without any equivocation that it is their invariable practice, as it should be, to get in touch with the owner whenever they wish to look at land in his possession. If a mistake has been made in the past in an individual case, that is much to be regretted, but I have no evidence of it. I hope we can dispose of the amendment quite quickly.
§ Lord Sandys
I am obliged to all noble Lords who have spoken to the proposed new clause, but I must say at the outset that I agree with my noble friend Lord Chelwood that there are a number of misapprehensions. For example, one point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, could be misleading; he said that subsection (2) of his proposal had been accepted by the Government in the debate on Amend- 423 ment No. 376. That amendment was withdrawn for further consideration. The Government have not accepted No. 376, and I hope the noble Lord will accept that.
The Government are firmly of the opinion that owners or occupiers of land which is subject to notification should be aware not only of the fact but of the reasons which have prompted the NCC, in discharging their duty under Clause 23, to make that notification to the local planning authority. That can only be in the best interests of nature conservation and of farmers who are seeking grant aid from my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. For them it is essential, or they could put their grant aid at risk.
We may argue that one of the effects of the proposed new clause would be to make sure that owners and occupiers of sites which might in the future be considered to be of SSSI quality would be in no doubt and that that would be a good thing. However, the NCC now make every effort to discuss with owners and occupiers of land which is of potential SSSI quality the features which would justify notification to the local planning authority under Clause 23. I know there are instances of owners and occupiers who do not know that their land is regarded as an SSSI. I hope there are relatively few such cases. They may occur when the land has changed hands since the notification was first made.
We had an interesting and informative discussion about habitat protection and sites of special scientific interest when similar concerns were expressed, and the Government wish to consider those opinions. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
The Minister may be in danger of prolonging the debate by trying to change something which his noble friend Lord Avon said yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, asked:Am I right in understanding that my noble friend is accepting in principle Amendment No. 376 … and that he is also accepting Amendment No. 413?The noble Earl, Lord Avon, replied:to take first the points raised by my noble friend, yes".—(Official Report, 12/2/81; col. 317.)I hope that that is still the position.
§ Lord Sandys
It is indeed the position, but there is a mildly grey area here; the word "accept" means accept and the word "consider" means consider.
§ The Earl of Radnor
May I ask my noble friend to clarify a point that is troubling me? If an owner is approached and has a discussion about the notification of a certain area and, for reasons of his own, which he thinks are right, he does not want to have it notified, what happens then? I thought it was in that situation that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, wants some form of appeal.
§ Lord Sandys
I feel that my noble friend Lord Radnor is raising a valuable point, but I cannot 424 give him the assurance he seeks, not having had previous notice of it, and therefore I do not think it would be wise for me to answer him from this Dispatch Box.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
I had made a note that I would accept the point the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, made about subsection (2) of the proposed new clause, but in view of the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, I shall not do that. I am in a way sad that I have not had more support from noble Lords on other Benches. I was hoping that, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, would be leaping to their feet to support me; and I am glad the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, did.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, a natterjack toad is a natterjack toad and I would not dispute that. But what is special scientific interest is a highly subjective, not objective, matter, and there are plenty of sites where the animal or bird to be preserved is not nearly as obvious a case as, say, the natterjack toad would be, wherever it appeared. Sites of special scientific interest are a matter of opinion and it is a matter where the Nature Conservancy Council could come to the wrong decision.
The noble Lord also said that the declaring of SSSIs did not inhibit the normal actions of the farmer or occupier. That is absolutely true, but the making of such orders inhibits some otherwise perfectly normal and reasonable actions which might be carried out in future, and that is what some noble Lords have been complaining about in the Chamber over quite a period of time. I cannot pretend that the Government reply was satisfactory, nor indeed, towards the end, did I find it entirely clear, particularly after the intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and the inability, for obvious and understandable reasons, of the Government to reply to it. I reserve the right to bring back this matter at a later stage; but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 31 [Management agreements with owners and occupiers of land]:
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 444C:
Page 28, line 18, after ("natural") insert ("or man made").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that man-made features can be included in management agreements. There has been some doubt about this. An example of what this could cover is perhaps a management agreement to plant a hedge along the Ridgeway or to keep up stone walls in the Cotswolds. I should be grateful for clarification from my noble friend, and I hope and expect that it will be in the affirmative. I beg to move.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
We are concerned in this context with the beauty of nature, not with nature introduced by human hand; indeed, if that were the meaning of natural beauty, there would not be much natural beauty around. The fact that a tree has been planted, the course of a stream changed, or the land- 425 scape otherwise altered by human beings, does not mean that the resultant beauty is not natural beauty in the sense of being the beauty which nature affords us. It would not be original natural beauty, but that is a different matter. It is on that basis that we regard the addition of these words as unnecessary, and I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Melchett
I found that an incomprehensible reply, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, will at least have a look at it and come back to this matter at the next stage. I certainly did not think that the reply remotely answered the point that the noble Lord made.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I am absolutely delighted to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. The reply was quite incomprehensible to me. Of course I shall study what my noble friend said, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Middleton moved Amendment No. 445:
Page 28, line 39, at end insert—
("( ) A management agreement under this section is a local land charge.")
§ The noble Lord said: When I asked whether certain restrictions relating to orders made under Clauses 26 and 28 would become local land charges, the Government gave me a reply in which I was assured that they would be. The purpose of the amendment is to ask whether a management agreement under this clause would also be a local land charge. I therefore seek clarification. I beg to move.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
I hope that this answer will be more successful than my last one. The noble Lord seeks to ensure that a management agreement under Clause 31 will be a local land charge. Where such an agreement binds successors in title, which will usually be the case, this is provided for automatically by the Local Land Charges Act 1975. The agreement will be a local land charge both as regards restrictive and positive covenants. But although a management agreement made under Clause 31(3) will normally bind successors, it will be open to the parties to the agreement to provide otherwise. In that event, there is no purpose in registering the agreement as a local land charge, because only the parties will be bound by its provisions. To do so would, moreover, be out of line with the normal practice that one does not make express provision for the registration of something that is already a local land charge. I hope that that clears up the point and that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 445A:
Page 29, line 9, at end insert—
("( ) Before entering into a management agreement as respects land in a national park or area of outstanding
natural beauty the relevant authority shall consult with the Commission").
§ The noble Lord said: I think that it would be to the convenience of your Lordships' Committee if with this amendment we take Amendment No. 445B. The two amendments deal with precisely the same point and I think that they can be disposed of fairly rapidly. The amendments are concerned with the apparent omission of any reference to the Countryside Commission in matters in which the commission certainly ought to be, and indeed is, very substantially involved. I doubt whether there is any real difference between us on these amendments, but I wish to put them forward.
§ Amendment No. 445A requires that the Countryside Commission shall be consulted by those who are about to enter into or who are contemplating management agreements on land which is a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty. The amendment mirrors Section 64(5) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The situations under that Act and this Bill are similar. The commission is concerned to ensure that there is a reasonable parity in the use of the power between individual national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
§ That need will increase if the power is used more extensively in conjunction with Clause 33 of this Bill, and the commission is clearly the appropriate central body to store information which it has collected and to offer advice based on experiences in similar situations in other areas. I have no doubt that with regard to that point the noble Lord will say that of course the commission will be consulted, but if it is a fact that the commission will be consulted, why not say so in the Bill?
§ I now turn briefly to Amendment No. 445B. This, too, concerns the matter of entering into management agreements, and once more the commission itself is left out. The amendment proposes the inclusion of the Countryside Commission. As it stands, the clause does not allow the commission to enter into such agreements, although the commission has the power to pay grant towards the expenditure incurred by the relevant authorities as a consequence of making such agreements. The commission does grant aid these management agreements, and therefore it seems perfectly proper that it should be able to enter into them. Surely it is desirable for the commission to have such a power, because a relevant authority might be unwilling to act, perhaps due to lack of funds, in a case where action clearly should be taken and where the person having the interest was willing, perhaps eager, to enter into such an agreement.
§ It is important that the making of such agreements should be set against a national scale of landscape evaluation. Such agreements will usually be made in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, both of which are designated on the initiative of the commission, and indeed, by the commission. It is surely right that in those areas the commission should be able to take the initiative where a relevant authority is unwilling to act.
§ Before the noble Lord replies, I should like to put one further point to him, without straying from order in any way. The noble Lord will of course be aware that a later part of the Bill, Schedule 11 in particular, provides for the commission to change its status and 427 become an independent grant-in-aid body, like the Nature Conservancy Council and almost all the other statutory agencies operating in the countryside. The commision has been battling for that for 10 years. Finally, we have managed to persuade the Secretary of State to agree, so that the commission is to become independent. But if we find that in a Bill such as this the commission is constantly being missed out in matters in which clearly it should be deeply involved, that might provoke people to wonder whether the motive for enabling the commission to become independent was perhaps somewhat different from that which those responsible for the commission had actually hoped for. I trust that we shall have a sympathetic answer from the Lord on these two amendments. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ridley
I do not like these amendments. They represent a vast extension of bureaucracy, and I hope that we shall resist them.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
With regard to the first amendment, the Countryside Commission has a statutory duty under Section 2(4) of the Countryside Act 1968 to advise local authorities in matters relating to the countryside, as it thinks fit. But it is the local planning authorities which have the executive task of landscape conservation. They are the ones who have the responsibility of negotiations of management agreements with farmers, and they must meet the cost. I think we have to recognise that this requires delicate judgment, and often there will be a need for urgent action if agreement is to be reached within a short space of time so as to dissuade a farmer from proceeding with an agricultural operation which, in the view of the local authority, would best be avoided. We must try to keep a distinction between conservation advice from the commssion, which the local authorities get in many ways, and involvement of the commission in the detailed terms of individual management agreements implementing conservation aims.
There can be only two parties to a management agreement, the landowner or his tenant and the local planning authority; the commission will not be party. Informal consultation may sometimes help, but a statutory requirement might well impede the local planning authority in an important and urgent task which is theirs alone. I believe that a statutory requirement to the Countryside Commission on management agreements could well have the effect of imposing delay, resulting in the loss of valuable scenic landscape, and the Government are therefore not prepared to accept this amendment.
Turning to the second amendment, which aims to provide the Countryside Commission, as well as the local planning authorities, with the power to make management agreements, this, in our view, would not be appropriate in relation to the commission's statutory role, which is primarily advisory, and it would be very unsatisfactory for two public bodies to be able, in the same area, to negotiate with farmers, possibly outbidding each other at public expense. The local planning authorities have the executive conservation role in their areas, while the commission 428 advise them, and this should remain as it has always been. I hope I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I must say that the noble Lord has said enough to make me rather worried about the Government's intentions with regard to the future of the Countryside Commission; and it does seem to me rather odd that he should say that the commission should not be a party to certain management agreements, and that really we should have nothing to do with them, when we are at the moment in fact grant-aiding them and paying public money to them. I cannot say to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, that I am wholly satisfied with his answers, but I shall look at them carefully. I am grateful to him for those answers, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 445B not moved.]
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne moved Amendment No. 446:
§ Page 29, line 12, leave out from ("authority") to end of line 15.
§ The noble Lord said: We are responding to Amendment No. 454, put down by my noble friend Lord Craigton, to Clause 34, page 31, line 11. We have introduced these amendments to ensure, as he wishes, that the grants or loans by national park authorities under Clause 34 can be for the conservation of flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features as well as for landscape conservation. We are also ensuring that the same applies to the management agreements made by local planning authorities and national park authorities under Clause 31. Instead of amending Clause 34, as my noble friend suggested, we propose amendment of Clause 38, which provides for the interpretation of Part II of the Bill. That is the more convenient way to do it, and in consequence some words which already appear in Clause 31 become unnecessary.
§ I should add that we also accept the spirit of my noble friend's Amendment No. 448, to Clause 32, page 29, line 29, where he wants to ensure that the Countryside Commission's power to conduct experiments could be used for flora, fauna, et cetera, as well as landscape. That is automatically achieved, however, by Clause 32 itself, since it amends the wording of the Countryside Act 1968, which already imports the "flora and fauna" interpretation through Section 49(4) of that Act. I hope that, as a result, my noble friend will not move Amendments Nos. 448 or 454. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alport)
I have to advise your Lordships that if this amendment is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 447.
§ Lord Craigton
I was not quite clear, in listening to my noble friend, what he said, but I think I have to thank him for something, in which case I do.
§ Lord Melchett
As Amendment No. 447 will fall, could I just say, first of all, that we welcome all these 429 changes that the Government have made; and, secondly, perhaps the Government will write to me to let me know whether it is necessary to insert the word "historical", as I wanted to in Amendment No. 447, to achieve my purpose, or whether it is covered by the existing wording. I will simply leave it at that to save time.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 447 not moved.]
§ Clause 31, as amended, agreed to.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 447A:
§ After Clause 31, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment of Town and Countr. Planning Act 1971
§ The noble Lord said: I think that in view of previous discussions the Committee would not take it kindly if I made a long speech in moving this amendment, but I make it quite clear that I believe a powerful case could be made for this amendment in the light of the Government's replies on other amendments. Perhaps I may make just two points and ask one question of the Government. All of us know how this country suffered from the Industrial Revolution—and we are still trying to clear up the results of it after countless years—and the price that that clearing up is costing this country. What we must avoid is that we do not have the same situation from the agricultural revolution which is now taking place.
§ Noble Lords generally wish to see management agreements, but if noble Lords cast their minds back to Second Reading it will be remembered that noble Lord after noble Lord expressed concern about management agreements—not the agreements themselves, but the absence of management agreements in many cases—and that there was pressure for a fall-back position. We could have the situation, in the case of an area which was not an SSSI nor a nature reserve, nor a national park, but just an area of pleasant beautiful countryside that people wanted to enjoy, when, overnight, bulldozers could come in, and within 24 hours that site would no longer be there. Therefore, what I want to ask is this. Where a farmer does not voluntarily, as many of them do, take care of the countryside in their operations, or where the farmer does not wish to enter into a management agreement, what is the fall-back position to stop an area of the kind I have mentioned being absolutely destroyed? If there is no planning control, what are the Government going to offer?—because so far we have heard nothing whatever.
I have one other point. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, spoke this morning about hedgerows. On Second Reading, in column 1087 on 16th December, the noble Earl said:
There is also, of course, an opportunity for hedgerows and woodlands to come under management agreements; but I admit that this does not happen very often".
I should therefore like to know what the Government are going to do with the minority who do not do anything about looking after the countryside by management agreements, because they are the people who are causing the difficulties. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
The noble Lord's amendment is intended to bring agriculture and forestry under planning control throughout the country by means of a basic amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. May I just mention that I think the correct reference should be Section 22(2)(e) of that Act, and not Section 22(e). Such a wide-ranging amendment to our planning law, we believe, is hardly appropriate to this Bill; and as the noble Lord himself did not rehearse the arguments we spoke to on the first amendment, I hope he will forgive me if I do not, either. However, he mentioned one thing about hedgerows, and slightly picked me up on saying that it could be done under Clause 31 if it was not satisfactory. I would also refer him to what I said earlier about the working party which has been set up and which, with the DOE, is looking into hedgerows in a separate context. I hope that what we said to the first amendment will have covered most of the other points made by the noble Lord.
§ Lord Underhill
Before the noble Earl sits down, can he answer the point about the minority who do not come into management agreements and do not make efforts to look after the countryside? It is the minority we are worried about, not the others.
§ The Earl of Avon
If that minority is outside the 3,800 sites, then they are outside the sites and there is nothing of specific scientific interest to watch over them with.
§ Lord Underhill
I am not talking about areas of scientific interest. I am talking about areas of beauty which millions in this country want to enjoy. As my noble friend Lord Melchett said, millions of foreign visitors come to this country for that very purpose.
§ The Earl of Avon
In answer to that, I must say that nature over the last few years has continued to produce the added carrots that bring people into this country, and although many noble Lords have said that the countryside is disappearing—and of course it is—these are special arrangements for things which are disappearing for which we are trying to make special conservation arrangements. But, if the noble Lord is talking about the whole countryside of Great Britain outside the SSSIs, then we trust in our people.
§ Lord Underhill
I am certain that the whole Committee listened to the noble Earl's reply. He is speaking on behalf of the Government. The reply is absolutely unsatisfactory. It shows that the Government have no policy to deal with this minority. I can only ask leave to withdraw. The Committee will note the disappointing reply.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 448 not moved.]
§ Clause 32 agreed to.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 448ZA:
§ After Clause 32, insert the following new Clause:
§ ("Amendment of section 10 of Highways Act 1980
.—(1) After subsection (9) of section 10 of the Highways
Act 1980 (general provisions as to trunk roads) there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(10) When constructing, widening or otherwise improving any trunk road the Minister shall give due consideration to the desirability of providing such boundaries, walls, fences or similar structures as are traditional to the area.".
(2) After subsection (8) of section 16 of that Act (provisions as to special roads) there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(8A) Before making or confirming a scheme under this section the Minister shall give due consideration to the desirability of providing such boundaries, walls, fences or similar structures as are traditional to the area.".
(3) After subsection (4) of section 24 of that Act (construction of new highways) there shall be inserted the following sub-section:—
(5) In the exercise of any power under this Part of this Act the Minister, Secretary of State and local highway authority shall give due consideration to the desirability of providing such boundaries, walls, fences or similar structures as are traditional to the area.".
(4) After subsection (3) of section 72 of that Act (widening of highways) there shall be inserted the following subsection:—
(4) In the exercise of any power under this Part of this Act a due consideration shall be given to the desirability of providing such boundaries, walls, fences or similar structures as are traditional to the area.".")
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to place a duty on any authority building a new road to give due consideration to the use of stone walls or, say, local long-lasting hedges as boundaries. There have been cases, particularly in the case of the Ministry of Transport and the Welsh Office, where no consideration has been given to fencing a new road in the traditional manner. By contrast, many county councils have shown a high degree of responsibility in this matter. If farmers and landowners are being asked to spend money on conserving the countryside and the moorland (which I believe the great majority do) I hope the Government will accept that they, too, should try to do likewise. I hope that my noble friend will be able at least to say that this amendment is in the spirit of preserving our countryside and will not give me an answer similar to my last one, which sounded to me like a passage out of St. John's Revelations. I beg to move.
§ Lord Melchett
Once again, as I think has been the case throughout the morning, with the possible exception of the first amendment, we are entirely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
I am sure that everybody appreciates the concern for the environment which has motivated this amendment. We are all concerned that new highways cutting through the countryside should blend in with the scenery and intrude as little as possible. Since the amendments of the Highways Act which are proposed are in terms of the provision of boundaries, walls and fences by the authority which is constructing the works, I must say a few words about the legal position. The fact is that highway authorities are under no legal obligation at all to provide any kind of fencing along highways.
In the case of motorways, however, it is the Department of Transport's practice to fence them because the use of motorways is restricted by law to certain 432 classes of traffic, and it is necessary to mark the boundaries within which these restrictions apply. On other roads, there is no such necessity, and it is for the owner of the adjoining land to fence it or wall it in as he considers necessary. In the case of other roads, as I have said, the provision of fencing is not the responsibility of the highway authority. The owner who has part of his land taken for the road would receive compensation from the highway authority, not only for the land itself but also for severance and injurious affection, and the compensation payment takes into account the cost of erecting new fences on the land remaining in his ownership as well as the liability to maintain them.
It is often to the mutual advantage of the highway authority and the landowner for fencing to be provided by the authority, as accommodation works, at the same time as the road construction, in which case the compensation settlement will reflect the costs which the owner has been spared. It may well be that the cost of providing dry stone walls, in an area where that is the traditional form of boundary, may substantially exceed the total cash compensation payable and would not therefore be justified on compensation grounds. For this reason it is not accepted that accommodation works should automatically take the same form as that which is to be replaced or is usual in the area. But I understand that in exceptional cases, where amenity and planning factors are of overriding importance the Department of Transport may be prepared to consider whether there are grounds for providing accommodation works of a nature which would not otherwise be justified.
I have attempted to clarify where the responsibilities for boundary fencing lie, but if the noble Lord can produce examples of serious damage to the environment by the erection of fences I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport would be pleased to look into them. I hope my noble friend will not press his amendment.
§ Lord Burton
Having been a chairman of a roads committee, I find the answer given by the noble Lord, is not altogether correct. The first fence, if a road is widened and a fence has been demolished it must be replaced by the road authority. But where there is no fence they are under no obligation to put up a fence—despite the fact that in one case the Land Court stipulated that a fence should be erected because the situation had changed; they had made a fast road, which was dangerous. That caused considerable ructions in the Ministry of Transport. I am not sure what the final outcome was. Certainly, the first fence should be and is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. Thereafter it is not. That is partly what causes the trouble, because, if you replace a wall with a fence, the fence will last only seven, eight or 10 years, whereas a wall may last for 50 years, apart from the amenity value.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I just want to make the point while the Chief Whip is here that it is really not going to do this Committee a great deal of credit, nor the House in general, if we, as we are all trying to do, go through these amendments at great speed and we get answers—and I am not speaking about my own amendments but about those of noble Lords opposite— 433 which either none of us can understand or which do not really address at least the spirit of the amendment, if not its letter, which I think would be fair to say was the case with the answer to this amendment. If we are going to go quickly we must act in a spirit of at least some co-operation. I do not necessarily want it for my amendments, but I think the Government might give a little to their own supporters.
§ The Earl of Avon
One of the difficulties of this amendment was that, until my noble friend moved it, we were not quite sure which way he wanted to go. Having heard it, we can of course consider it. As my noble friend Lord Burton intervened there, I was not sure if he paraphrased his remarks by saying what kind of road he was talking about. If he was talking about motorways we agree with him entirely, and that is what we said.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I do not think that was a very good answer. I shall consider what was said. I do not think my noble friend is right, or I misunderstood him. I am talking about roads other than motorways. He said that on some occasions the authority "may be prepared" and I should prefer "should be prepared". Finally, I must say to my noble friend that if the Government cannot afford to do their little bit—and, quite honestly, he did not give me much encouragement, as I think noble Lords will agree—I do not see why you should expect farmers to do better, although they will. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 [Orders requiring notification of agricultural operations on moor and heath in National Parks]:
§ Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 448A:
§ Page 29, line 40, leave out subsection (1).
§ The noble Lord said: In speaking to this amendment, may I speak also to 448B and 451? All are related. In looking at Clause 33, it seems to me that we have now moved to an area of the Bill which is highly sensitive and crucial to the whole working of the Bill—as crucial and sensitive as were the discussions on Clause 26 yesterday which took us such a long time. I am quite sure that Clause 33 will take every bit as long. With regard to Clause 26, I think we were greatly reassured by the obvious perception on the part of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, of the kind of anxieties which were demonstrated in all parts of the Committee, and I think we were much reassured.
Well, I will say, from my point of view, that I had the feeling that the noble Earl would be endeavouring to transmit to members of Government the anxieties felt in various parts of the Committee. I am now hoping that we can be persuasive with the noble Earl once again, and that he will listen to 434 our arguments on this very crucial clause in the Bill. This clause, like Clause 26, really reveals a certain degree of lack of balance in the Bill. This lack of balance shows itself in the positive and very direct protection which we afford to species in Part I of the Bill. Those measures, surely, will lose their effectiveness if they are not linked to equally positive measures for landscape protection in Clause 33 and for protection of SSSIs in Clause 26.
There is no point in elaborate protection of species if our open countryside is being steadily eroded, especially under the stimulus of Government incentives. Although precise figures are not available, it appears that central Government and the EEC support for agriculture in the national parks in 1977 amounted to about £27 million in production subsidies and a further £4½ million in capital grants. That vastly exceeds the total spent on conservation.
Regarding the defects in this clause, as drafted, it is directed at the narrow objective of conserving moorland in national parks, particularly on Exmoor. Even on Exmoor it is likely to prove ineffective unless it is reinforced by the kind of provisions contained in the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. The need for effective provisions can be illustrated by the statistics for Exmoor. I propose to exercise a self-denying ordinance regarding Exmoor because I believe that we ought to have a very serious discussion about that matter when we come to the noble Viscount's amendment, which of course I shall be supporting. I believe the clause at the moment will not work on Exmoor without the later amendments; I also believe that it would not work, either, without part of my amendment.
The provisions in the Countryside Bill 1978 could have been made to work but the present proposals are so reduced in scope as to be of practically no value. In particular, the proposals can be effected only by the making by the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture of an order under Clause 33(1). The Secretary of State has stated that he has no intention of making such an order so long as the existing voluntary arrangements are observed. If they are not observed, further loss would have taken place before the powers could be implemented. What is the threshold of loss needed before the powers are activated?
Secondly, the order is subject to Negative Resolution procedure—Clause 33(7); so there could be no speedy response to an immediate threat. Section 14 of the Countryside Act 1968 specifies no procedure. The time taken would be extended even further by the need to procure agreement from the Minister of Agriculture. The proposals in the clause as now drafted do not catch the person who is prepared to convert land without MAFF grant, and, in addition, moorland can be lost by conversion to forestry, and the clause at the moment as unamended does not apply to that, though I know that there are later amendments.
Regarding my amendment, it is designed to draw attention to some of the critical issues. It applies to all national parks and all areas of outstanding natural beauty. It therefore extends the range of the clause to cover all nationally-designated landscapes. It deletes references to an order made by Ministers. It therefore operates in all national parks and AONBs from the commencement of the Act. It refers to open country 435 instead of moorland heath. It therefore covers all unenclosed and wild land. It does not cover enclosed land. In such enclosed land the voluntary notification system would continue to apply.
The proposed amendment refers to the Secretary of State rather than "the Ministers". It seems right that in the clause concerned with the protection of the nation's finest landscapes, it should be the Secretary of State for the Environment who is directly responsible for taking decisions as to what operations are likely to affect the landscape. The amendment does not cover the important points that there should be a common procedure for SSSIs and sensitive landscapes, which I think would have been a great help to farmers and landowners. Nor does it cover the fact that there should be a conservation order which would prevent harmful agricultural development. That, of course, comes in a later amendment. Nor, as I have said, does it cover forestry, which surely should be covered as well as agriculture. We shall come to those matters in later amendments.
The reliance at the moment is wholly on voluntary management agreements. I favour the use of voluntary management agreements; but they are open to two difficulties. First, in being voluntary, they depend for their effectiveness entirely on the goodwill of individual farmers. Those who are not sympathetic to conservation will not enter into an agreement, so landscape will change and lose quality without a reserve power of compulsion. Also, such agreements are normally for only 20 years and are reviewed much more frequently, so that they cannot secure long-term landscape protection. The end of every agreement puts the landscape at risk again. Landscape protection needs certainty. Secondly, such agreements are very expensive indeed in manpower (for negotiation) and in money. In our later debate on Exmoor, figures with regard to money will most certainly emerge.
Let me come now briefly to the case for a compulsory notification system. At the moment, notification does not arise unless the Secretary of State has made an order. It appears very unlikely that he is going to make any orders. It may seem draconian to ask for a compulsory notification, but in my view it is not. It is important to remember that until the present notification system for agricultural grants was implemented last October the normal practice was for farmers anywhere to apply to ADAS in advance. The new procedure is for the farmer to do the work and then claim grant. It is only as a concession that this procedure has not also been followed in the national parks and SSSIs. There the farmer has to tell the national park authority or NCC what his plans are if he wants grant. So he is not doing anything more than he had to do before. If the farmer and national park authority cannot agree, it is the Minister of Agriculture who decides whether grant should be paid. It is very rare indeed for the Minister of Agriculture to refuse a grant on conservation or environmental grounds. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how often that has taken place.
The importance of compulsory notification is that it would catch those people who do not notify the national park or planning authority, or who are prepared to forego grant if there is a dispute (the importance of 436 finding out the number of refusals of grant is important here). These are the ones for which the powers are needed. For the farmer who abides by the notification agreement and accepts a reasonable management agreement there is nothing to fear in such a clause. On the other hand, moorland and other open country continues to be converted, even on Exmoor, which has a voluntary notification system.
My amendment includes the definition "open country" which, to noble Lords not familiar with it, sounds a vague term. The definition of "open country" in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside Act 1968, Section 16(1) and (2) is much wider than moor and heath. It includes: moor and heath, down, cliff or foreshore (including any bank, dune, beach flat or other land adjacent to the foreshore), mountains, woodlands, rivers, canals or any expanse of water through which a river or part of the flow of a river runs.
The wider definition, although originally devised for use in connection with the access provision in the 1949 Act covers substantial areas of outstandingly beautiful land which is also a valuable wildlife habitat. There is considerable detailed evidence that many of these habitats and landscapes in lowland Britain (as well as upland Britain) are being lost.
My amendment also brings in areas of outstanding natural beauty. I know I shall not persuade the Committee to accept this amendment as it stands, but I believe that what is happening in some of the areas of outstanding natural beauty which have been designated for a purpose, going right back to the Dower and Hobhouse Reports, is simply because it is outstandingly beautiful land, which certainly needs protection. This amendment gives me the opportunity to ask the noble Earl what are the Government's intentions with regard to land in areas of outstanding natural beauty at present under serious threat. I think this is an opportunity which it is proper to use so as to try to get some reassurance.
I believe it would be right to apply such a clause not only to national parks but to areas of outstanding natural beauty, and throughout 1980 the Countryside Commission carried out a thorough review of existing areas of outstanding natural beauty and the policies for them. Their conclusions were summarised in a policy statement published on 19th January. In it they argue for the notification system in national parks to be extended to areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Many of these areas are in lowland areas and include much of the areas of open country as defined in the 1949 and 1968 Acts. The protection of these areas is essential both on landscape and on wildlife conservation grounds. As in national parks, farmers who follow voluntary notification procedures would not be disadvantaged in any way. It is only those who did not who would be restrained. It should be noticed that in their press notice of 2nd July 1980, the Ministry of Agriculture announced the draft Agriculture and Horticulture Grant Regulations 1980, which then provided for notification in AONBs as well as national parks. The regulations were withdrawn and when they were reintroduced in August they had been shorn of the provision for the notification regarding AONBs.
There is substantial evidence that these areas are 437 perhaps more at risk than national parks. Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive statistics existing for the loss of natural landscape features in areas of outstanding natural beauty, but there is some material. For example, the article by Dr. Goode in the New Scientist, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, mentioned that the heaths in Dorset declined up to 1960 to a third, and since then of that third a further half has gone. Half the Dorset heaths are in the Dorset area of outstanding natural beauty. Dr. Goode records the fact that 49 per cent. of Wiltshire downland was ploughed between 1937 and 1971, and that there have been extensive losses since then. Much of that downland is in the North Wessex downland AONB. A study has been comissioned of the Kent down AONB in 1979, and that report showed that their grazing declined by 3½ per cent. every year between 1961 and 1971. In certain key parishes 41 per cent. of rough grazing disappeared between 1958 and 1977. Eleven per cent. of the woodland was lost between 1961 and 1972, and losses are continuing. Replacements in the main are with conifers.
I could go on with many similar examples, but I will say just this: when we are tempted to consider that the only problems are those which have arisen on Exmoor, we should bear in mind that there are the AONBs as well and also the other national parks. Indeed, the Sandford Report gave figures of the loss of moorland outside Exmoor, in the North Yorkshire moors and Dartmoor. The latest figures I have for the loss in the North Yorkshire moors are that between 1950 and 1980 24.6 per cent. of the moor land has been lost, about one-quarter to agriculture and three-quarters to forestry; so this is not only a problem relating to Exmoor.
I am sorry to have dwelt on this for a long time but I believe this is a crucial part of the Bill and unless we make sure that Clause 33 genuinely works we shall continue to lose valuable, vital landscape not only in Exmoor but in other national parks, and in areas of outstanding natural beauty as well. I know that the noble Earl is not going to say that he is delighted to extend the whole of the Bill to areas of outstanding natural beauty, but I should like him to tell me what the Government intend to do to protect these smaller areas of sensitive but beautiful landscape, and what they intend to do to make Clause 33 work. As I said, it will certainly require the back-up provision in a later amendment which I shall support, and also compulsory notification, which is contained in my amendment but not in the clause as drafted. I beg to move.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
We all welcome this excellent introduction to Clause 33 by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, who is such an expert on the subject and who has spoken so persuasively. The amendments proposed by him, as I am sure he realises, will completely change the sense and scope of Clause 33. There will be a compulsory notification requirement within the Act itself, not imposed by an order made by the Ministers at discretion when and where necessary. This would apply over an enormously wide range of land: all national parks and all areas of outstanding natural beauty in England and Wales. The requirement 438 would apply to all mountains, moor, heath, downland, cliff, foreshore, woodland, river and canal in these designated areas, so that probably more than 10 per cent. of the land surface area of England and Wales would be affected. Every owner or occupier of these types of land would have to notify the county planning authority when he intended to convert the land into agricultural land or to carry out any other agricultural operations which the Secretary of State considered likely to harm the character or appearance of the land. Incidentally, there would appear to be no provision in the amendments for advising the owners or occupiers of those operations which the Secretary of State considered harmful.
The noble Lord referred to the review of areas of natural beauty policy carried out by the Countryside Commission and published in December 1980. This contains a recommendation that the new procedure for the Ministry of Agriculture's capital grant application, as applied to national parks and SSSIs, should be extended to areas of natural beauty. These recommendations are at present under consideration by the Government and a statement will be made as soon as possible.
The Government's position on Clause 33 is perfectly clear. We are sure that a compulsory notification power must be available in reserve in connection with the conversion of moorland into national parks, but we do not think it is either necessary or desirable to go as far as these amendments propose. It would impose a very considerable administrative burden on the county planning authorities, who would be required to consider each scheme for agricultural improvement and decide within three months whether or not it should go ahead. Undoubtedly, there would be a burden of staff at a time when the Government are pressing the other way. In addition, the Government really like voluntary agreements; and we shall be discussing those later so I will not pre-empt that matter at this stage, if the noble Lord will forgive me. Having said how sweeping these amendments are and how persuasively the noble Lord put his arguments, the Government must ask him to withdraw them on the ground that they are so sweeping.
I am most grateful to the noble Earl for his reply, to which I listened with care and which I shall read with even greater care. I fully acknowledge that the amendment is defective in a number of ways, and in any case could not have been pressed for a variety of reasons. I also accept that it would not be appropriate at this stage to try to bulldoze into the Bill quite extensive provisions of this kind. But I hope that by moving this amendment I have alerted your Lordships' Committee to the fact that there are areas of countryside in Great Britain which are under very serious threat, and which will undoubtedly disappear unless something is done.
It would appear that, as a result of the initiatives taken by many noble Lords and others—we have had the Porchester Report and we now have a new Bill—we are within reach of doing something about one particular area in one national park. But I am bound to say, before I withdraw my amendment, which I shall presently seek leave to do, that if one merely leaves it at that and does no more in Clause 33 of this 439 Bill than protect Exmoor, then we shall have left some very beautiful countryside in Britain in jeopardy, and the loss of it will continue at the present rate and may, indeed, accelerate. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Earl Cathcart)
In calling Amendment 448AA, I should say that if the amendment is agreed I cannot call Amendment No. 449.
§ 1.11 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 448AA:
§ Page 29, line 44, leave out from the beginning to ("any") in line 2 on page 30 and insert ("Subject to subsection (2A), no person shall—
- (a) by ploughing or otherwise convert into agricultural land any land to which this subsection applies and which is moor or heath which has not been agricultural land at any time within the preceding 20 years; or
- (b) carry out on any such land.").
§ The noble Earl said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 448AA and 449A together. These amendments do not alter the effect of Clause 33, except that they also prohibit without notification an operation carried out by someone other than the owner or occupier of the land. An operation by such another has not been at issue in the case of moorland in national parks, though it is theoretically possible and the motive for these amendments is consistency.
§ These amendments make the same changes in Clause 33 as have already been made in the case of Clauses 26 and 28. Amendment No. 448AA provides that no person shall carry out a conversion of the land. Amendment No. 449A then provides an exemption for either the owner or occupier, provided that proper notification has been given and that one of the three conditions in subsection (3) is satisfied. I did not know that my noble friend's amendment would be overrun, and I do not know whether he will wish to speak to it; but I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ridley
May I speak to Amendment No. 449, as this seems to be taken up and I believe that it would save time if I did so now. The Government have accepted in Clause 33 that the ploughing-up of moorland and heath should be subject to the notification procedure, which we are about to debate in greater detail, and not more than 12 months must elapse if anything is to be stopped. But I see no logical reason whatever why forestry should be excluded from this process; and I am here talking only about national parks.
The operation of mass planting of trees is a much more drastic alteration to the landscape than anything that any farmer could possibly do, even given the modern machinery for ploughing, reseeding and so on. Furthermore, it is permanent and forever. It is thought that the Forestry Commission in this country wish to plant over the next 20 years something over 4 million further acres, in addition to what they have already planted. At least part of this will come in England and Wales and, presumably, a great deal of it will be in the upland areas which, in practice, means the national parks. It is also, I think, established that 440 of this area about 97 per cent. will consist of alien species of coniferous trees, not native to these islands. It is a massive and drastic change in the landscape which is threatened; and with the decline in hill farming, which your Lordships know something about, there will be a great deal more hill land coming on to the market and available for forestry.
I am not opposed to forestry in any way. I own a great deal myself and my greatest pleasure is planting trees, even with my own hands, whenever I get time to go home. I think it is important that this country should have a substantial reserve of forestry and a substantial acreage planted. But I am saying that it is not necessarily right that it should be done in national parks, without the notification procedures which the Government accept are necessary for the conversion of heath and moorland.
There is one other matter which forces me to move this amendment. Very recently, the Government have announced that they are suggesting that the Forestry Commission should be selling off quite large chunks of land to private ownership. I am not debating the desirability or otherwise of that. I am only saying that the national park authorities will be faced with a totally new set of owners, some of whom may not be nearly as responsible as the Forestry Commisssion have generally been in national parks over the past few years. I know that this may be an unfounded fear, but it is something which is worrying the national park authorities at this moment, and it is something to think about.
I am sure that the noble Earl will reply by saying that there is a voluntary agreement which has worked very well so far in national parks, and by which it has been generally accepted that certain land should not be planted, while other land which is not so vulnerable can be planted. I accept that it has worked quite well in some areas, but, like all voluntary agreements—and this has been the tenor of days of debate—you must have behind you some form of compulsion, if necessary, so that, one hopes in the last resort, Parliament can say: "Enough is enough".
There has been trouble in Northumberland National Park. There have been areas planted which people did not like to see planted and, had it not been for the Ministry of Defence, there would have been a great deal more planted by the Forestry Commission. There has also been trouble at some place in Wales, the name of which I cannot pronounce. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady White is not here to support me, but she had to return to her native land this morning. I know that she feels as I do on this matter, and I am sure that she would have supported me. In speaking to Amendment No. 449, I have, in effect, been moving it.
§ Baroness David
We should like very strongly to support the amendment which the noble Viscount is not going to be allowed to move and we feel that it is a very necessary safeguard.
§ The Earl of Avon
Perhaps I could ease matters here by just saying what is the Government's view. Afforestation proposals are already covered by the agreed arrangements involving consultations between the forestry Commission, agricultural departments and 441 local planning and other interested authorities, with the object of ensuring that the requirements of land use, agriculture, amenity, recreation and nature conservation are fully taken into account. This has been working quite well and, if any unresolved differences of view arise, the proposals are referred to the Forestry Commission's regional advisory committee, on which planning, amenity and conservation interests are represented. If the committee fail to reconcile the differences, there is provision for referring cases to the Ministers of either the environment or agriculture. Only a very few cases have needed to be referred to Ministers, and most of these have resulted in the afforestation proposals being rejected. Having so said, and bearing in mind that it may be difficult for my noble friend to move his amendment, may I say that if he is not satisfied with that answer I shall be perfectly happy to consider his amendment at Report stage.
Having heard the Minister, I shall not persist at length in giving my own personal views about the afforestation that has been going on over the years in national parks, beyond saying that nothing has distressed myself, as an amenity user of certain national parks, and many other people, than the darkening and the obliteration of the openness of the landscape in the national parks, which was the main characteristic intended to be preserved in the 1949 Act, than the serried, dark phalanxes of forestry, totally changing the whole character of the landscape. I am not at all satisfied that consultation agreements will safeguard and prevent further extinction of the openness of the landscape in the future, and I am comforted to hear that the Minister is prepared to consider the noble Viscount's amendment at a later stage.
In saying what I have said, I hope nobody will accuse me of being unaware or unappreciative of the importance of forestry to the amenity of this country, and of the very considerable initiatives that the Forestry Commission have taken, and are taking, to provide amenity facilities of certain kinds within the areas under their control. But I strongly believe that it is time—indeed, it is over time—that the encroachment of forestry into the openness of national parks was brought into the procedures for notification, not only for consultation but for planning control, as is the case with agriculture.
§ Lord Sandford
Before my noble friend Lord Avon asks us to accept his Amendment No. 448AA, which would have the effect of pre-empting the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley, I hope, he will confirm his assurance, which he has already given tentatively, to look again at the matter. It is true that the arrangements for controlling afforestation in national parks have been improved since it fell to me to review the national parks early in the 1970s, when the situation was very far from satisfactory and had already done a considerable amount of damage, notably in the Northumberland National Park.
This system is working reasonably well. I think my noble friend would agree that it is not a statutory system. If we find that it is necessary to introduce, as we have, a statutory system for the control of ploughing in national parks, certainly it is necessary 442 to have a statutory system for the control of afforestation, the effect of which is far more serious and far more permanent.
I think the noble Earl should be in no doubt as to the universality of the support in your Lordships' Committee for the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. May I say from these Benches that I agree with every word of the noble Viscount. Having agreed with him, I see no point in repeating those words. However, it may help the noble Earl to realise that there is support for this point of view in all parts of your Lordships' Committee.
§ Lord Foot
I will try to confine what I have to say to two sentences. They deal with what the noble Earl said about the consultation procedures, which are very familar to me. We have had them on Dartmoor for many years. The noble Earl is perfectly right in saying that, generally speaking, they have worked quite well. If this amendment were carried, it would in no way threaten or detract from those procedures. Those consultations will go on as before. The fault with the procedures is that the understanding on which they are based does not bind the individual. There is nothing to stop an individual, if he is so minded, from going ahead with his afforestation projects without even informing the national park committee. That is the defect of the procedure. So there is nothing to be lost if the Minister will agree to accept this amendment at a later stage.
§ Viscount Ridley
I am very grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for saying that he will look again at Amendment No. 449. There is a problem, and I am sure that the Government realise that there is a problem. My noble friend mentioned that the Forestry Commission enter into these agreements, but he did not say that the threat comes from private forestry. I do not intend, however, to press Amendment No. 449.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 448B not moved.]
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 449A:
Page 30, line 5, leave out from ("land") to end of line 6 and insert—
("(2A) Subsection (2) shall not apply in relation to any operation carried out, or caused or permitted to be carried out, by the owner or occupier of the land if—").
§ The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 450:
Page 30, line 18, leave out ("three") and insert ("two").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment would mean that the national park authority would have to reply within two, not three months. This would bring the time of notice into line with the capital grant arrangements. Being a farmer and therefore ever optimistic, I am hopeful that my noble friend will accept the amendment.443
§ The Earl of Avon
We are slightly surprised by the amendment, although we realise the reason for it. Ever since the moorland notification system was proposed in the former Government's Countryside Bill over two years ago the idea has been that the farmer should know where he stands within three months of informing the national park authority of a proposed agricultural operation and should be free to go ahead if he has not by then been refused consent. Here we have a proposal to reduce that period to two months. Apart from what my noble friend has said in this debate, there has been no pressure for this change, although the reason is fairly plain.
Three months was chosen as the shortest time within which the national park authority could reasonably be expected to investigate the farmer's proposal and reach a considered decision. Here I may say, among a lot of experts, that I understand that some of the authorities concerned have only a monthly meeting. If therefore it happened to be held at the wrong moment, the matter might be too pressing. Although in such circumstances they might subsequently decide to vary their decision, the farmer could well be delayed for up to 12 months instead of being released after three. We think that is a slight danger. Having said that to my noble friend and explained to him why we have chosen three months, I hope he will be prepared not to press his amendment.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I will agree, though if I were on the other Benches I suppose I would not. If it can be done in two months for capital grants, I really cannot understand why it cannot be done in two months in this case. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 451A not moved.]
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 451B:
Page 30, line 37, leave out subsection (7) and insert—
("(7) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be laid before Parliament after being made and cease to have effect after the expiration of a period of forty days (calculated in accordance with section 7(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946) beginning with the day on which it is made unless within that period it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment would mean that Clause 33 orders, the compulsory notification of moorland operations, would be subject to an Affirmative order in Parliament. Such orders would cause a significant change in land use. Therefore, to have an Affirmative order would be seen to be correct. There would be no delay in bringing an order into operation. As with the Agriculture Act 1970 on capital grants, the order could be made immediately. Parliament would then have 40 days to confirm it. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
We are surprised that this amendment should arise when a similar existing power embodied in Section 14 of the Countryside Act has the Negative Resolution procedure. That procedure was considered appropriate for moorland notification orders during the debates in another place on the former Countryside Bill. There has been no pressure until now for anything different.
444 In the former Countryside Bill, the Affirmative procedure was reserved to an order of much greater significance: that which designated an area in which compulsory moorland conservation orders could be made. The Government have made it abundantly clear that the moorland of Exmoor should be effectively conserved by voluntary means and that a prerequisite is effective notification of farmers' proposals. We have said we shall not impose compulsory notification on Exmoor while the present voluntary system is being observed, nor do we propose to impose it in any other national park at present.
If Ministers made an order under Clause 33 it would mean that the voluntary notification system had broken down and that conversion of moor or heath was proceeding before the national park authority had had a chance to consider whether to try to negotiate a management agreement to conserve it.
A compulsory notification order would not represent a heavy imposition on farmers. Any farmer who had a conversion proposal would have to notify the National Park Authority and then wait up to 12 months. After that if he was not willing to enter into a management agreement, he would be free to go ahead. Such an order is not a matter which should require the Affirmative Resolution procedure. As I have already said, there has been no suggestion hitherto that the Negative Resolution procedure is insufficient.
I think my noble friend and I have crossed swords before on whether it should be an Affirmative or a Negative procedure. I hope that once again I may persuade him that we do not consider this to be a suitable moment for an Affirmative Resolution. We should much prefer to leave it as a Negative Resolution.
§ Lord Foot
It will be observed that when we come in a moment to the amendments which stand in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and others we are there recommending that with moorland conservation orders it should be the Negative procedure, not the Affirmative procedure. One of the reasons why I think that that is right is because I do not believe it to be sensible that if Ministers are proposing to make an order under Clause 33—making the order apply to 10 acres of land in Exmoor—I do not think it is reasonable that both Houses should be asked to discuss this and carry an Affirmative Resolution. I think it is something with which these Houses ought not to be concerned. Under the Negative Resolution procedure, anybody who is interested and concerned, and who thinks that something is wrong, has every opportunity of raising the matter. Therefore, I do not think there is much to be said for the noble Lord' proposal.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
All I can say to my noble friend is that he has not persuaded me, but I will, reluctantly, withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Lord Middleton moved Amendment No. 453:
Page 30, line 44, at end insert—
("( ) An order under this section is a local land charge.").
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this amendment is to elicit from the Government whether an order under this clause is a local land charge. I beg to move.445
§ The Earl of Avon
Of course we agree to this in substance. The desired effect is achieved automatically under Section 1 of the Local Land Charges Act 1975. I am informed that it is not the practice to provide in statutes for items to be Local Land Charges where they are already Local Land Charges by virtue of the 1975 Act. Therefore, there is no need for the amendment.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I am grateful to my noble friend and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33, as amended, agreed to.
§ Viscount Ridley moved Amendment No. 453A:
§ After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:
§ (" Designation of areas in which moorland conservation orders may be made
§ .—(1) The Ministers may, if satisfied that it is expedient to do so, by order designate the whole or part of a National Park as an area (a designated area) in relation to which the provisions of section (Moorland conservation orders) shall apply.
§ (2) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Viscount said: We now come to what I think will be known in future debates in this House as the Battle of Exmoor. I have pleasure in moving Amendment No. 453A, and with this amendment I wish to take also 453B, 453C, 457A, 468A, 469A, (to which other noble Lords including the noble Baroness, Lady David, have put their names) and 470A and 471A standing in my name. In that way I think we dispose of at least eight amendments in one debate, and I think also Amendment No. 453AA in the name of my noble friend Lord Onslow is to be taken with these.
§ We come here to a fundamental difference of approach between this Government's feelings and the last. To say that I am suggesting reinstating in the Bill the teeth that were in the last Government's Bill on the subject is, I am well aware, the last way in which to commend myself to the present Government. I am also aware that there is a fundamental attitude involved here to the whole dilemma of how we are best to protect the critical areas of our national parks in England and Wales, our commitment to the future and our philosophy on national parks in general. If they are worthy of protection, how can we achieve it?
§ I want to explain as briefly as I possibly can why I am putting forward these amendments. I think every member of this House would feel, and indeed the whole country would feel, that it would be preferable in an ideal world that everything should be done voluntarily by agreement and as speedily as possible. But we do not live in an ideal world. Although we are here going to talk about Exmoor principally, the principle must be applied to all national parks everywhere. Exmoor is in all our minds today but it is certainly not unique. This has certainly occurred in the North Yorkshire moors, and it may occur in other places. Those responsible for countryside matters and that includes the Exmoor National Parks Authority, including among their members several people appointed by the Minister to advise him on these matters and they also include the great majority of elected members of Somerset County Council—and I do not think we could 446 describe them as long-haired conservationists!—and also the Countryside Commission and many other bodies all feel that there must be some back-up power to compel people in the very last resort to protect important areas of landscape in national parks. I repeat, only in national parks and if possible this should be done for all time. I hope that such power may never have to be used, as has been the case in the question of access agreements in the national parks, where the power exists but has never, I believe, been exercised. But the existence of such a power makes it much easier to achieve such agreement. I think Parliament must take this right, otherwise the whole of the legislation on which we have spent so many days will become meaningless. It seems equally wrong that the Government should appoint people to advise them on all these bodies and then ignore their advice.
§ Somerset County Council have persuaded me that such a power really is needed on Exmoor. I am quite certain that my noble friend Lord Avon will reply that nothing has as yet gone wrong and that everything is working very well indeed, and everyone is happy. All that was said during the Second Reading debate and I will try not to repeat any of it. But Somerset fear that there are areas which are at this moment potentially under threat. The points which they made to me and which really persuaded me to table these amendments were as follows: first, they say that if one farmer should ignore them and go ahead in a critical area and get away with it a great deal of carefully constructed work that has been done will be threatened. All those farmers who have loyally co-operated and who entered into voluntary agreements—there are a great many of them—will feel that they have been let down and they may tear up their agreements or otherwise change their minds. That is why Somerset County Council wants the ultimate deterrent preferably to be operated by them. It is arguable that Parliament alone should possess this power, but it is a question of timing, as I said at Second Reading; and if Parliament cannot act quickly enough the County Council may be the right authority.
§ The second reason why nothing so far has gone wrong is because people have been waiting to see what this Bill contains. They had thought it might be the same as the previous Government's Bill, which had teeth in it; but now this Bill is seen to be a toothless bulldog and it is feared that things may well change. I have also consulted Lord Porchester on this matter who has spent such a lot of time in studying this and who wrote such a reliable and thorough report. Alas! he is not a Member of this House and so is unable to speak for himself; but he felt that the need was proved for this moorland conservation order. He still feels the same way. He thinks that nothing has gone wrong yet but he feels that it could go wrong and he would, I think, support me if he were here.
§ I am quite certain that there will be opposition—indeed I can hear it lumbering up behind me—from the farming Lobby which is so powerful in this House. I should say at once that I belong to both the CLA and the NFU myself, and I am proud to do so. These are not associations which can or should interfere in the activities of their members, nor should they be able to stop their members doing it. They certainly are not closed shops like NALGO and the Sandwell District 447 Council, and I hope they never will become so. It worries me a little though that these bodies give the impression that conservation can always safely be left to farmers. Although it can be in 99 per cent. of cases, there are occasions when it can not be left to them. We have heard enough about that in the last few days. I agree that conservationists almost always overstate their case. Equally, farmers and landowners have yet to realise that they are not always popular in everything they do. I say that although I am one myself. I hope they can at least be persuaded to listen to the arguments. They may not publicly admit that some of their Members are not always wholly angelic all the time, but they will realise that one farmer can do tremendous harm to the image of the farming industry. I am sure that the majority of farmers on Exmoor or anywhere else would not object to this power. I feel it is necessary that all responsible in that area in national parks would welcome it, provided it is fairly done and Parliament is involved.
§ I repeat that it must be only for national parks and other critical areas. I am sorry that it is at this very moment when the Countryside Commission has raised the question of extending this sort of notification to areas of outstanding natural beauty, because I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and think this is the worst possible moment to frighten the farming industry by the threat of extending it beyond the critical areas I am discussing. Farmers would rightly be very worried indeed if they thought this was the thin end of the wedge which would creep over, not 10 per cent. of the extent of England and Wales, as the noble Earl, Lord Avon, said, but something approaching 30 per cent. I am certain that is something I would never support if I could possibly avoid doing so.
§ I am certain that the Minister is going to say that everything is going very well and there is nothing to worry about. Reseeding, however, can make a tremendous difference to the profitability of hill farming. It is now in a very desperate situation. If you reseed it, I am told, it is possible to multiply the sheep stock by a factor of eight at best, from half a ewe per acre to four ewes per acre. This, of course, is a very tempting thing to do if you are trying to make money out of hill farming, as I know myself. What I saw myself on Exmoor this week, when I went round on Monday, was that even the steeper parts of the moor, what I think are known as coombs, which I would have thought were always fairly sacred and safe, are now ploughable and reseedable, and a magnificent technical job it is by modern machinery. So nothing, in a sense, is sacred. It was interesting, visiting Exmoor, to find how many of your Lordships have been down there. They said, "It has been a very good spring for noble Lords; we have never seen so many here before". The pressure to improve land will grow very quickly, and I believe the situation may be very fluid.
§ I must say next that I think it is absolutely vital that totally fair compensation must be provided where we are asking any farmer to forego the right to improve his land. This must be realistic and must make a totally accurate assessment of the loss of potential profit. It will be a very big bill for the nation. We have to decide whether we can afford it. The Government 448 have said they will pay 90 per cent. of it. Many people will make the point that some could perhaps come from the grants and subsidies which are paid to farmers to carry out improvements; in other words, it could be a social grant not to improve land, and thus the money could be found; not to perhaps increase the mutton mountain. I think the compensation figures are nearly agreed by all parties on Exmoor. I would not wish by anything I say today to interfere with such an agreement. I take at once the point that it is much more easy for a realistic figure to be agreed for compensation if there is no compulsory power. I rather think my amendment, No. 453A, should deal with this. If not, I believe Lord Onslow's amendment will refer to it. It is important that we do not affect the compensation and the farmers' livelihood if they are prepared to forego these improvements.
§ I think we have here a fundamental issue. My noble friend Lord Gibson said yesterday that the stick is needed as well as the carrot. I think this applies in this case too. Although I do not live on Exmoor—I live as far away as you can possibly get and still be in England—I have been there many times and I admire it. In my personal opinion it is the most beautiful part of England, carefully excluding Scotland and Wales. I am quite certain we need such a compulsive power as a very last resort, as the ultimate deterrent, to preserve this marvellous piece of England. I beg to move.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I would suggest to your Lordships' Committee that we should take my Amendment No. 453AA at the same time because it is really a slightly different method of doing the same thing as my noble friend Lord Ridley has suggested. I think all noble Lords in your Lordships' Committee have the same aim. We all want to preserve the maximum beauty of our national parks. As my noble friend has said, the danger is greatest on Exmoor, and I hope the debate today will be a battle of Exmoor not Sedgemoor. Exmoor was studied by the noble Lord, Lord Porchester, who came out on the side of compulsory moorland conservation orders. In no way could he be described as the Dennis Skinner of the Caernarvon dynasty, because he is certainly not that. He is a distinguished, sensitive man who has put a lot of effort and intellectual thought into the Porchester Report.
There are some 17,000 acres of real special interest to which a moorland conservation order could apply. However, 8,000 acres are really the only ones at risk; the others are common or belong to the National Trust and so are not at risk. Another 2,000 acres have already been protected by the two management agreements in existence, one of which is comprehensive and the other not nearly so. Management agreements take a long time to negotiate and they have to take into account several interests: landlords', sporting, tenants', tourists', farmers' and conservationists' interests. That is why the Glenthorpe Agreement, which is held up, rightly, as a model to us all, took three years to negotiate between a very enlightened landowner and an enthusiastic National Parks Committee.
Questions of compensation have taken time, and this is further borne out by the fact that we still do not have at our disposal the guidelines for compensation 449 which all departments of Government and the national parks are producing together with the agricultural interests. My amendment, I believe, gets round the point that enacted long-stop powers force the before and after method of valuation by county valuers to the detriment of landowners. I have seen this in a letter. I quite admit to your Lordships that I am not a professional valuer, but it seemed to me that this was a very reasonable point to make. Valuation points have exercised farmers on Exmoor, and this is something on which I should like very much to underline what my noble friend Lord Ridley said. Unless there is totally reasonable and fair compensation, no voluntary and no compulsory order is going to work without very serious trouble.
The reason why I think that my method, as recommended in my amendment, is better is that the powers suggested by Lord Ridley, Lord Foot and Lord Hunt are those which are in the Bill but they are to all intents and purposes a separate Bill, and they can only come into force when certain distinct things have happened.
The national parks are there because they are something very special and the farmers in them have a special responsibility, but they also I suggest to your Lordships, have special privileges. Without the farmers Exmoor would be a much duller place. Without the tourists and trippers farmers would be much poorer. Tourists and trippers provide income, and a considerable income, to farmers for their bed and breakfast industry and for a certain amount of caravan parking, et cetera.
Tourists only come to Exmoor because of its quite outstanding beauty. I had not been there before I was one of that queue of Peers peering over Exmoor. I was totally bowled over by its beauty. I had never seen it before. It is quite fantastically marvellous and it really is so important that it should be preserved. If, by some awful chance, the 8,000 acres of moorland were to go, in spite of voluntary agreements, the farmers of Exmoor, I would suggest to your Lordships, would in fact lose some of their tourist income. It is therefore essential that a minority of farmers whose sense of the aesthetic, and even their sense of their own long-term gain, is not as strongly developed as others, should not be able to embarrass the vast majority who are conscious of their heritage, of their own interest and of the beauty of the countryside.
By suggesting back-up powers we are not really suggesting anything intrinsically new. I, as a farmer, have three buildings, excluding my own house, which are protected as Grade 3 and Grade 2 buildings. One is a 1755 type barn, which I may not pull down or alter without the planning consent of the local authority. I have a tree preservation order placed on some woodland. I do not think it is particularly good woodland. It was planted by my grandfather. The people of the village decided they wanted a tree preservation order, and it landed on my desk one morning. I had not read the local newspaper, so I could not cut the woodland down before the order came into force. But I do promise your Lordships that I would not have done that. We are subject to a certain amount of planning constraints, and I do not think there is anything wrong in that situation. All the same, I still agree that if we could make a voluntary system work it would be by far the better course to adopt.
450 However, since Porchester, and despite pleas from the National Parks Committee, approximately 66 acres have either been ploughed or slagged and limed in the critical area. If heather is destroyed it takes between 30 and 60 years to come back. Remember that heather is a lime-hating plant so the moment that one limes and slags it one stops the heather rejuvenating itself. The lardus and molenia grasses are found in the wetter areas and they are removed by drainage and also, I believe, by ditches which ensure that the water goes away. They take 100 years or more to come back. There were some areas which were drained in the 1860s which were found not to be economic as upland improved land; and they are only just coming back to the situation which they were in before the 1860s. I do not quite know when the drains were allowed to silt up, but it seems to me that about 100 years is involved. That illustrates the damage which can be done by a small number of people.
We are talking about something which is very precious and in fact, very small—namely, Exmoor. That is what is exercising so many people. It is not an enormous great national park. It is only, in the critical area, as I said, 17,000 acres which, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said is small compared to some of your Lordships' estates. On the whole, I think that farmers are good conservationists and they look after their land and they have a care for it. But there is a sufficiently small minority who do not have these high standards—some of the more insensitive barley barons or some of the more insensitive small hill farmers spring to mind.
Maryon Sheward, in her book Theft of the Countryside, I suggest overstates her case, but there is just enough in it to make we farmers put on our thinking caps and think seriously about what we have done, admittedly with vast sums of Government money at our disposal, with grants to pull up woodlands, grants for drainage and so on. We must think, because it would be fatal for the countryside if we, as farmers, fall out with the rest of the community. I beg the Government to consider seriously taking reserve powers. They have agreed, I think, that in the event of the voluntary system breaking down, they would be prepared to enact further legislation to protect the countryside from the damage we all think is a possibility and which we all know would happen in the event of the voluntary system breaking down.
I am suggesting in my amendment enacting the legislation now, but making it possible to bring it into force only when it is shown beyond all reasonable doubt that the voluntary system has broken down. There is the compulsory notification period which may be brought in by Clause 33 which goes beyond the total voluntary system. My amendment to the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, allows the voluntary system to break down, the notification system to break down and finally, if everything breaks down, after a full-dress debate both here and in another place, we can say to the farmers, "Look, the voluntary system has broken down and it is in the nation's interest that this should happen". I suggest to your Lordships that it would probably never be necessary for that to happen because farmers will say, one to another, "If you do this or that you will bring the 451 wrath of Parliament down on our heads". So it is not compulsion: it is something right in the background.
I know that my noble friend Lord Foot—and I call him "friend" in the literal sense as opposed to the party political sense—finds that this does not go nearly far enough, but I am trying to find a way which is between (for want of a better word) the hardline conservationists who have a case and the farmers who equally have a case. I am trying to find something which would enable the Government to say: "We are not having enforcement; we are having a voluntary system. But we have said all along that if the voluntary system breaks down we are very sorry, but we shall have to introduce enforcement".
A Government's programme, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, at great length reminded us, is a very tight programme. They have difficulty in bringing in laws for this and that, and we have spent a long time on this Bill. I hope that what I have said will convince your Lordships that there is some need—I hear my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley muttering "No" behind me. Could it possibly be that he has a closed mind and is not prepared to listen? I do not know.
All I would say is that at one end of Exmoor there is a column to one great British and Irish national hero. If, by terrible chance, the voluntary system breaks down and there is no ultimate reserve power after the notification power, and those 8,000 acres of Exmoor are destroyed, another column will have to be put up. It will not be made of beautiful stone: it will probably be made of old fertiliser sacks, scrap iron and tourists' thrown squeezy tins. At the bottom it will have "Monro" and on the other side "Avon", and it will say "In memory of Exmoor". I beg to move.
§ 1.55 p.m.
I rise to support and recommend to this Committee the amendment in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, myself and others, and in doing so to make a brief comment on the amendment to the amendment put down by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. When the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, was moving his amendment he made a passing reference to "long haired conservationists" and he looked in my direction. I hope very much that members of this Committee will not identify me as a long-haired conservationist. I am, in fact, more properly described as a short-haired recreationist—an endangered species, a less exotic species, which is badly in need of protection under Schedule 6 to the Bill.
The purpose of this series of amendments—as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has made perfectly clear but I should like to put it another way—is to underpin "beyond peradventure and for all time" (those were the words of Lord Porchester in his report) the twin purposes of the 1949 Act. Those twin purposes were the conservation of the landscape in the national park in all its connotations, and the enjoyment by the public of the area in the national park in all the connotations of legitimate enjoyment. The purpose of the amendment is to take certain measures only after the area in question has been designated by Ministers 452 and approved by Parliament as being of crucial interest to one or other of those two basic purposes of the 1949 Act.
The proposed new clause, Amendment 453B, which embodies the moorland conservation orders will, I think, have been appropriately placed in the Bill—if your Lordships agree that it should be—so as to make it absolutely clear that the orders would only be resorted to either by agreement or in the event that all the procedures which are already incorporated in the Bill proposed by the Government as it stands, had been tried and nevertheless an agricultural operation was about to or was thought likely to take place.
The noble Earl, Lord Avon, has just pointed out to your Lordships that a similarly drafted clause was already in a Bill which had passed the Committee stage under the last Government, when the Government fell. I refer to that perhaps, slightly politically indelicate point only because the noble Earl has mentioned it himself and because I think it right that members of the Committee should know that I have read the whole proceedings of Standing Committee B, and that the clause, which was then Clause 3 of that Bill, had passed the Committee; that the reservations understandably held about it during the discussion had largely been dispelled; and that, unlike other points made in that Committee on which the Committee divided, there was no Division at the end of the discussion on the reserve powers for moorland conservation orders.
As has been mentioned all too often during this debate, Lord Porchester's conclusion was that for Exmoor such a reserve power was quite essential. A number of figures have been bandied around in your Lordships' Committee this afternoon. I should like to refer to some that have not been mentioned. At the time when Lord Porchester was making his inquiry, no less than 12,000 acres of moorland on Exmoor—the smallest (as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, pointed out), if you exclude the Pembrokeshire footpath, of our national parks—had been lost in the previous 30 years. Between Lord Porchester's report and 1979 a further 296 acres had been converted in one way or another for agricultural purposes. Although it happened at a slower pace, it was still for lack of firm preventive measures.
Of those 296 acres, 70 acres were ploughed up against the wishes of the national park authority. I understand that a further 100 acres were converted as a result of a single management agreement. It is anyone's guess how much of the remaining 126 acres, if my arithmetic is correct, might have been saved for moorland and heath if reserve powers had been available. After all, it is in the nature of things that in any agreement there is a degree of compromise. Compromise in this context almost certainly means a certain loss of the moorland and heath about which we are talking.
I understand that a further acreage—and I am not sure of the amount—is already imminently in danger of being converted from moorland because of the lack of reserve powers. I cannot give your Lordships chapter and verse for that, but I am told that that is the case. As has been pointed out, this amendment is not concerned with the protection of Exmoor alone. I was doubtful about this on Second Reading and said 453 so. I am now absolutely sure that this is completely right. After all, countryside Bills are very infrequent affairs; they happen at very widely spaced intervals. We have had a 1949 and a 1968 Act, and now in 1981 we have this Bill. Who can tell what situations may arise in parks other than Exmoor and may impair critically the quality and the extent of the landscape and its amenity values in the next decade or so?
Having said that, I do not believe that for the time being at any rate this long-stop power is likely to be invoked in more than one or two national parks, and it may not even be necessary in those cases, provided that it is on the statute book. Even then it would be invoked in only small parts of certain critical areas which, as Amendment No. 453A provides, have been so designated. As we know, such a situation already exists on Exmoor. After visiting Exmoor—and I was one of those who took the opportunity to jump on that bandwagon—I can say from personal conviction and testimony that I am convinced that Lord Porchester was right. I say with very great regret that I came to that conclusion. But much more important is that bodies and individuals with far longer acquaintance with Exmoor than I, and with far greater knowledge of the problems there, are also so persuaded. It is the strongly-held view of the Council for National Parks, which embraces both conservation and amenity bodies; among those who have been quite explicit about this are the YHA, the CPRE and the Ramblers' Association.
The most significant point made in the course of the discussion so far has been that made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, himself: that he is speaking for the Association of County Councils, not just for the Somerset County Council, and on behalf of those locally-elected or nominated members on the national park committees or boards. I would suggest to your Lordships that those people are much better placed to take into account all the local interests—after all, that is their job—than are Ministers in Whitehall.
Conservation of the national parks was perceived as being a matter of national importance more than 30 years ago. Today that importance is even greater, with an increased population, increased wealth, increased leisure and the means to travel, and a far stronger urge on behalf of far more people to enjoy the benefits of wild country after the pressures of urban life. Yet on Exmoor, on Dartmoor and on the North Yorkshire Moors in particular, there is considerably less, not more, wilderness available to the public than was the case 30 years ago. The logic for powers kept in reserve to conserve what remains of the moorland seems to me to be inexorable.
I share the Government's preference for voluntary agreements between owners and farmers, on the one hand, and the national parks authorities on the other. I welcome the extension from six to 12 months of the time in which to seek agreements. I am well aware that there is a large fund of goodwill towards conservation among the farming community, especially on Exmoor. I do not believe that that goodwill would be prejudiced by this long-stop power, which I regard as essential. We already have in existence such powers in respect of access. They are seldom, if ever, used, yet they are there. In fact, I am assured that this has not created any loss of goodwill.
454 I, too, attach great importance to Amendment No. 453C with regard to compensation. I am not entirely happy about it as drafted. I regard it as absolutely axiomatic and essential that farmers who are restrained, or who will be restrained, by the reserve power of a moorland conservation order should not in any way be penalised in respect of the compensation that is due to them. They should be amply compensated for having to be restrained.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, referred to the exceptional farmer, the maverick, who would ignore the National Parks Authority and risk losing his grant whether from MAFF or the EEC, and get away with some agricultural development of moorland in a critical area of a national park in the absence of conservation orders. I understand that there is only one instance to date where an agricultural grant was refused on amenity grounds in respect of the North Yorkshire moors. There may be only one or two, there may be no such wildcat at present, but who can say how successors of the present owners and occupiers may wish to act in future?
Even one such maverick or wildcat farmer on Exmoor is one too many. Against such a person speed is of the essence, and this is where I have reservations, indeed objections, to the amendment to our amendment put down by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. The implication, apart from not being very precise, is that the action to designate an area would be done after the tractors had been out; closing the shed after they had been out and after they had come back, having done their ploughing, or whatever the operation might be.
The noble Earl, Lord Avon, told the House on Second Reading that the Secretary of State for the Environment is a committed conservationist. In their consultation paper No. 6 of the 10th October 1979 the Department of the Environment stated:The Government regard the protection of the characteristic moorland and heath in National Parks as a matter of national concern".I should like to think that the Government might give proof of their stated standpoint, not against an ideal situation but in the light of the hard realities and facts of life, by accepting these amendments. Your Lordships on this Committee will have noted that they are supported from all quarters of your Lordships' Committee. I should like to feel that if we divide on these amendments there will be substantial support from many Members of all quarters of this Committee, including these Cross-Benches.
§ 2.11 p.m.
Earl De La Warr
I am glad to say that I am the fourth in a row of noble Lords who are speaking who have recently visited Exmoor, and what a lovely visit it was. It is something that, like my noble friend Lord Onslow, I shall never forget, not having been there for decades. I strongly disagree with this series of amendments, and that includes the amendment of my noble friend Lord Onslow. I hope that the Government will stick to the clause as it stands and resist putting an ultimate power into the hands of anybody, however remote he may be.
I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ridley will agree that there is much common ground between us 455 all. Everybody, not least the farmers, is dedicated to the conservation of Exmoor and of its unique character. Everybody believes that conservation is best done voluntarily. Perhaps most important of all everybody knows that conservation is achieved at least as much by positive action as by refraining from doing something. Retention of the acreage of heathland on Exmoor is important. Retention of the heather itself upon that acreage is probably more so. In many areas of Exmoor I understand it is gorse and scrub thorn which form the natural climatic vegetation, and not heather. Positive management by proper grazing and by swayling—that is, burning—are an essential ingredient of Exmoor conservation.
I have dwelt on this point because I believe that we cannot discuss the different solutions unless we bear in mind the complete spectrum of conservation and not just half of it. Generally, the law is about "Thou shalt not" rather than about "Thou shalt", and certainly this goes for Exmoor. I believe that the greatest danger to Exmoor—indeed, really it is the only danger—lies in souring the attitude of the farmers by the threat of ultimate compulsion so that they withdraw their present wholehearted support for the voluntary conservation that is already going on. Believe me, there is a real danger. Do not let us forget that, when the chips are down, it is not the law but the goodwill of the farmers on whom we wholly depend.
A great many statistics are being bandied about by both sides inside and outside the Chamber to help people prove whichever case they favour. Indeed, I note that in some cases the same statistics are used to prove exactly opposite arguments. But to me there is only one figure which counts for anything and which cannot be denied: out of 45,000 acres, in the last four years just 66 have been ploughed or otherwise improved without the agreement of the Exmoor National Park Committee; 25 were ploughed without notification and 41 were limed and slagged following notification but without agreement. My noble friend Lord Onslow used the same figures with which to draw precisely the opposite conclusion.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I did not mention 45,000 acres. I referred to 8,000, and there is a difference.
Earl De La Warr
I apologise to my noble friend; the figure of 66 had taken my attention. At any rate, there is not too much indication there that heathland and moorland on Exmoor are on the point of disappearing or that there is any threat from the farmers in that direction. The indication is exactly the opposite. It is that things are very stable and under good control already.
Most noble Lords will be aware—it has been mentioned—of the enormous amount of work that over the years, particularly in the last few years and especially since Lord Porchester made his famous report, has gone into creating the framework for a system of voluntary notification, voluntary delay and voluntary agreements. What is about to be published, and which has so far not existed, is a sophisticated and reliable system of assessing compensation, where a farmer agrees to deny himself the financial benefit of increasing 456 his acreage of "in-bye" at the expense of his heathland. It is based on an annual payment related to loss of profits, and it has been worked out by the University of Exeter, the landowners, farmers and Exmoor National Park Committee together.
This is a totally different method from that which would follow the imposition of a moorland conservation order and which is spelt out, though not as such, in this series of amendments. The moorland conservation order method would mean a one-off payment based on the familiar "before and after" land valuation basis. It would be more complex, more arbitary and, by definition, less favourable to the farmer. I do not blame the farming community for fearing there would be irresistible pressure on the county valuer to fall back whenever he could on the compulsory method of valuation, thus effectively destroying the whole of the voluntary system. Indeed, not only do I not blame the farmers; I entirely agree with them because that is exactly what would happen.
So much for the financial aspect. It is very important—of course, it is—and to pretend that there is no conflict in financial terms between farming and conservation is to put a telescope to one's blind eye. The farmer must be compensated and somebody else must pay. It is as simple as that. But finance is very far from being the only consideration and it is not in my opinion even at the heart of the matter. The Exmoor farmers are showing themselves to be highly responsible in the matter of the conservation of their countryside.
Co-operation with the Exmoor National Park Committee has grown up over a long period, albeit not without arguments from time to time—it would be odd had that not been the case—and as I said, voluntary notification is accepted and a 12-month delay period is accepted and is working already. The voluntary financial guidelines are accepted by all parties. Indeed, the system, the voluntary system—and this is perhaps where Exmoor may be unique—is on the verge of being finally, and one might say formally, established.
This is where we come to the heart of the matter, which is quite simply the psychological bombshell that you throw which is inherent in saying, "No, your voluntary efforts are not good enough. We are going to put you all on a lead and collar, on the off-chance that one day one of you might escape". So I implore your Lordships to forget the battles of the last decade and to accept the Government's clause as it stands.
§ Lord Gibson
I had not intended to speak on this clause because I spoke about the need for a reserve power on Clause 26, and it can be assumed that if I thought it were necessary there, I should think it necessary here, but what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has just said provokes me into making a quick reply. First, may I say that of course we all agree that conservation by voluntary means is infinitely preferable. Nobody I think questions that, and that is how it will be, except in the very occasional case. I think that it will always be like that if the reserve power is taken. I do not think that we shall ever get to the point where we need to use it.
The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said that it would 457 sour the attitude of farmers if the reserve power were taken, but I believe exactly the contrary to be the case. If a number of farmers have agreed to do something voluntarily but one farmer disagreed, if I were among those farmers who had agreed—and I think most of them will agree—I should be very soured if one fellow had got away with it and possibly wrecked the whole scheme. So I think that the noble Earl has got it the wrong way round.
Before I sit down may I refer to the noble Earl's final phrase about a collar and chain on all of them. Surely it is the other way round. The collar and chain is to be put on one man who does not do what other people have agreed to do. No collar and chain is to be put on people who agree to fall in with what most people want to see done.
Earl De La Warr
I do not think that the noble Lord is being totally fair to me because I gave him this phrase last night and I fear that he has been working up an answer.
§ Baroness David
I wish to make only one or two very brief comments in support of the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, since he and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, put the case so extremely well. I think that in a good many places the Bill is in danger in terms of weak enforcement of what it is trying to do. The point was discussed at length yesterday on Clause 26 and it has arisen again here: if we do not take the reserve power, we may lose what we are trying to achieve.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said that not much had happened since Porchester, but nearly 70 acres have been lost and I should think that that is of some importance. Of course, we want the goodwill of the farmers, but from what we have been told it is clear that there are the odd ones who will turn their backs on the law and do whatever they can. We must act against that. I expect that much of the trouble is over the question of compensation. Perhaps the Government could accept the amendments with goodwill and say that they will look at the compensation provisions. It seems to me that probably a capital payment is the right course, as Lord Porchester said in his report. Perhaps that question at least can be looked at.
Time is absolutely of the essence in these matters, and therefore I think that the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, should be resisted. The Affirmative Resolution process takes a long time, during which much damage could take place. The provisions of the noble Earl's amendment would come into operation only following a failure in the notification system, after damage had been done. I therefore hope that his amendment will be resisted.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Lord Foot
I was going to hold out a little longer, and if Lord Sandford has risen to his feet just now I would have been very happy to let him go ahead of me, because he can speak with much greater authority upon this matter than I can. But there are one or two small contributions that I should like to make to this debate, which will be partly an attempted reply to what we have heard from Lord De La Warr and partly in 458 answer to my noble friend (if I may reciprocate the compliment) Lord Onslow and his amendment.
Lord De La Warr was telling us that he thought that if, in the last resort, these compulsory powers were invoked, the relationships with the farmers would be soured. I remember only too well how, 13 years ago in your Lordships' House, we had a debate exactly upon the lines of the debate which is taking place here this afternoon. Indeed, it was not only a debate on the Committee stage of the Countryside Bill 1968 but a debate that was pursued through the Committee stage and into the Report stage, and then into the Third Reading. With Lord Molson I was responsible for promoting what were then called the Somerset amendments. They were amendments which were promoted by the Somerset County Council on behalf of the Exmoor Park Committee, and they were amendments which were to introduce this last resort compulsory power which is contained in the amendments proposed by Lord Ridley.
What happened then was this. I pointed out, and Lord Molson pointed out, over and over again, that there were all sorts of safeguards to protect the farmer here. First, the compulsory power could not be brought into effect at all until the Secretary of State had designated the area of critical amenity value in Exmoor and, indeed, in the other national parks. Secondly, it was perfectly obvious that he would not designate any land unless he was satisfied that it was essential to preserve the character of the park, and that would probably be a very limited acreage indeed compared with the acreage of the park as a whole.
We pointed out that there would be all sorts of safeguards in that, if the Secretary of State did make such an order, anybody aggrieved or objecting to it would have all possibilities to object to it and of having a local inquiry, or of making his representations known to the Secretary of State, before the Secretary of State confirmed the order. All these things were pointed out at that time; but the Government said, "No, we will not have it", and they brought forward an amendment of their own—and that became Section 14 of the 1968 Act. Now Section 14 of the 1968 Act is almost precisely the same proposal as is contained in Clause 33 of this present bill. It differs in no material way. The only substantial way in which it differs is that then, under Section 14, the farmer or anybody intending to convert the land had to give six months' notice, whereas under the present proposals, under Clause 33, the period is 12 months.
What in fact happened?—and this is the answer, I suggest, to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.
What happened then? We were told at that time by the Government—and I have the Hansard here, but I shall not bother to read it to your Lordships and to take up time—over and over again: "Do not provoke the farmers; do not alienate the farmers. Let us keep on good terms with them. We are satisfied that a voluntary arrangement and co-operation and so on will do the trick; and the erosion of Exmoor will stop". That was the expectation that was held out at that time by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on behalf of the Government. It was supported even by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who had just recently been the chairman of the National Parks Commission, as it then was. That argument commended 459 itself to the Committee, it won the day and Clause 14 was duly enacted.
What then happened to the expectations which had been aroused? What happened—this is not my figure but the figure of Lord Porchester in his report—is that between the passing of the 1968 Act and the issue of Lord Porchester's report in 1977, no less than from 1,000 acres to 1,500 acres of moorland disappeared from Exmoor. That is what happened. That is the lesson of history. I should like to say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that, as I understand the purpose of his amendment, it is suggesting that it has still to be proved that the voluntary system does not work and that we ought to put off the bringing forward of a compulsory system until it has been demonstrated by somebody that he is a maverick and that he is going to plough up and disregard the general intention. It is simply not true that it has not been proved. Those figures demonstrate beyond any possibility that Section 14 was no good at all and was disregarded wholesale. Except in two very minor parts, it was never invoked by the Minister or by the National Parks Commission. It did not work. As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, earlier in the period between the issue of the Porchester's report and the last Government's Bill, the 1980 Bill, a further 77 acres have disappeared against the wishes of the Parks Committee. They are absolutely powerless to stop it.
If a person chooses to go in and plough up land, it is absolutely impossible for them, under Section 14 procedure as it is under Clause 33 of this Bill, to stop the farmer who gives notice—"I am going to plough up", or whatever; and who then waits for 12 months and then says, "All right. I am now going to do it." Meanwhile, the National Parks Committee may have expressed every objection; they may have refused their permission, they may have tried to deal with the chap and negotiate with him to see if he will come to terms. Under the present arrangements, and under this Government's Bill, all that the maverick farmer needs to say is: "I do not want to deal with you. When the time expires I will plough up the land." And that will be wholly within the law.
There is a philosophical point here, is there not? One of the few facts about this whole argument which I would suggest is generally agreed by 99 per cent. of all people who are really concerned with the argument is this. On Exmoor, and, indeed, in other national parks (but let us use Exmoor as an example) you have a unique landscape, very largely dependent upon and attributable to the heather moorland; you have something such as you have not got in any part of the country, or, I would say, in any part of Europe or possibly the rest of the world. Anybody who has studied this question from Lord Porchester down has come to the conclusion that there is an area of land—not the whole national parks of course—which is of critical importance if one is going to preserve the general landscape appearance of the park. That is a fact which I do not think any serious person disputes.
What is the position to be? Supposing a national park committee or, for example, the Minister declares that a certain area is of that quality and then we do not have the compulsory system at all, we merely 460 have Clause 33 of this Bill. What will happen? All the maverick farmer has to do is to give notice that he intends to plough this piece of land. Then the park committee will consider the matter. They can refuse permission; they can try and deal with him, and at the end of the 12 months he can, fully within the law, go on and his wish will prevail.
The question that I ask the Committee is this: Is it really tolerable that one individual for economic reasons should be entitled to defy what is a very considerable national interest? In no other field of planning do we allow such a thing to happen. We do not allow people to build up their back yards just as they please. We have all these restrictions upon what they can do in the general interest.
What Clause 33 proposes is that when one gets to that crux moment at the end of the collision between the maverick farmer and the interests of the nation, the maverick farmer will win. That is what Clause 33 is all about, and it is a complete pretence. If we are going to hear in a minute—
§ Lord Foot
Yes, thank you very much. I agree with that. Of course, on the SSSIs and these moorland conservation orders, we are at one. They are at great risk. The two most important debates in the whole of this Bill were on the amendments which we put down on Clauses 26 and 33. I have spoken for longer than I had intended. May I conclude with something which I hope may allay the fears and anxieties—and I dare say that there are fears and anxieties—among the farming community. It was indicated to me this morning by somebody in the corridor that there were some Devon farmers here today who are anxious and concerned about the implications of these amendments. May I make it clear how many safeguards there are in the proposals we are making. First, there cannot be any activation of these compulsory procedures unless both Ministers—that is the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Agriculture—are agreed in designating the critical areas of land.
They will have to be persuaded that the land is of such a critical nature that it must be preserved at all costs. Then anybody who is aggrieved by the order which they then make designating the critical land can appeal against it and all the procedures under Clause 10 are available to try and alter the order or to get it amended. Up to that stage the order is purely designatory and not prohibitory. It merely designates the land where in the future conversion orders can be made.
What is the next step? It is that anybody who is contemplating developing or converting those lands must make an application under Clause 33 to the park committee and give them notice that he intends to carry out that operation. Then the National Park Committee have to do one of three things. First, they may agree to it. Secondly, if they do not agree they can open negotiations and then, if those negotiations fail, it is only at that last stage that there is this possibility of the park committee or the Ministers making a moorland conservation order.
§ Viscount Ridley
I believe the noble Lord is spoiling my case by speaking for too long. I believe it is the wish of the Committee that we should now bring this to a conclusion.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I should have liked to say a word on this amendment, but now that all the four movers of the amendment have spoken, the chairman should put the Question.
There is just one aspect which has not been referred to and perhaps I can raise it now so that the noble Earl can reply to it. I have already said that I do not believe Clause 33 can work without the back-up power in reserve which is referred to in this amendment. I would also say to the noble Earl that it will not work without money. We have already heard about the agreements that have been negotiated so far. I entirely agree with those noble Lords who say it is not going to work unless there is adequate and wholly fair compensation. The Haddon Hill agreement covers 225 acres and cost £3,000, rising to £3,600 in 1981 because it is index-linked, and it lasts for 20 years. With the Glenthorn agreement, in return for leaving 150 acres unploughed and re-routing the South-West long distance path, the owner receives £3,000 per annum. That lasts for three years. Since there are about 40,000 acres of Exmoor which is of the highest landscape value, those agreements might cost up to £600,000 a year at present value. So Clause 33 cannot work unless money is supplied, and I hope that the noble Earl will tell us that the necessary funds will be supplied if we are to pursue the matter via this clause.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
First, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ridley for introducing this amendment so calmly, so reasonably and in such a well-balanced way. He said that it was going to be a battle but he did it in a very nice way. I recognise that these three new clauses and associated amendments are designed to incorporate into the Bill the moorland conservation order provisions of the previous Government's Countryside Bill. But before I explain why the Government do not wish to accept these amendments, I must draw attention to one aspect of the proposals. By following in other respects the pattern of a former Bill, as amended in a Commons Committee, these proposals fail to contain an important safeguard which we understand the previous Government intended to introduce at a subsequent stage of the Bill—a provision that the National Park Committee must offer the farmer a voluntary management agreement before the compulsory moorland conservation order power would be usable.
However, it is not for that reason that the Government oppose the new clauses and amendments. It is really on the substance of the issue, and it has been rehearsed already. The amendments, of course, are 462 designed to deal with the problem of moorland conservation in Exmoor National Park, on which we made our views quite clear in a paper quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, (Paper No. 6) as long ago as October 1979. I think if he had gone on with his quotation from that document he would have found that we are talking of a voluntary process. Nothing has happened since then to change our position, which we reaffirmed in the information paper published in November 1980. Indeed, since the general election there has, I am told, not been one instance of conversion of moorland on Exmoor to which the National Park Committee has objected.
What is important is that we get effective results, committed as we are, and as we shall always remain, to the view that a significant change in the overall character of Exmoor National Park would be unacceptable. There is a new mood of optimism on Exmoor, and many advances have occurred since Lord Porchester's Report in November 1977. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, quoted some figures, but they could equally be used for my argument, because they showed that, whereas there was at one stage a great loss of acreage over Exmoor, the rate of loss has been steadily decreasing until at the moment there are the 66 acres. We firmly believe that, in this current climate, any move towards the introduction of compulsory conservation powers would undermine the farmers' and landowners' confidence in the Government's approach to the problem and, possibly, have the effect of precipitating a rash of ploughing before the Bill became law.
The significance of the new climate should not be under-estimated. The National Park Committee, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association are energetically co-operating together. Over the last 12 months, they have been negotiating guidelines for the financial aspects of voluntary management agreements and are close to final agreement. This will meet one of Lord Porchester's reasons for recommending the compulsory power, which was to import, through the public compensation code, external ground rules for the basis of payment to farmers under management agreements for conserving the moor. The lack of external rules, which he found so hampering in the past, will soon be rectified.
I was asked some specific questions about compensation. If there is a statutory provision for moorland conservation orders, there will have to be a lump sum payment. However, under the present system, the payments are annual. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, asked me about such places as Glenthorn, which has a break in its 20-year agreement on a three-year basis. It is the Government's intention to provide the money necessary for the agreement on the basis of negotiation.
Furthermore, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association have recently voluntarily agreed to extend the period of notification of proposed agricultural operations on the moorland from six to 12 months, and several noble Lords have welcomed this. This is to give the NPC more time in which to consider the case for a management agreement, and to negotiate one if they think it is justified. As I informed noble Lords on 23rd October, the 463 Government are fully backing the effort in terms of financial support. The NPC will estimate how much they need to spend on moorland conservation and there will be a grant of 90 per cent., instead of 75 per cent. This not only helps materially, but demonstrates that we regard the Exmoor situation as exceptionally important. The Exmoor National Park Committee are extremely active, not only with farmers' proposals but also with implementing Lord Porchester's vital recommendation that a map should be published.
We have the right disposition in all quarters, in central Government, in the National Park Authority, and in the farmers' and landowners' associations; and, I am sure, among the farmers and landowners themselves. The right machinery is being provided to pay them for their conservation agreements. All this is a transformation post-Porchester. On the general aim, all noble Lords will agree with us, though they may dispute our method. I ask them all to recognise this complete change in the situation over the past three years.
Several management agreements have now been made, and some moorland purchased, and there is reason to expect that this will continue. All along, everyone involved has accepted that voluntary methods are the best for normal use. Currently, there is no failure in the voluntary methods but, if noble Lords favoured these new clauses, the spirit supporting those methods could be jeopardised. I suggest this would be an unwise decision. We do not want to proceed in an atmosphere where compulsion might cease to be a last resort and break down, because few people would stand for it as the normal practice.
I know well the good intention of my noble friend Lord Onslow in moving his amendment, but his formula contains a reference to the moorland conservation order which, as I think he will have learned from what I have just said, the Government find unacceptable. We regard the protection of a characteristic moorland and heath in national parks as a matter of national concern, and we have long made it clear that a significant change in the overall character of Exmoor National Park, where the issues arise acutely, would be unacceptable.
Once the Bill is passed, if the voluntary notification system which is already in operation there should break down (although we the Government believe that to be unlikely to happen) it would be possible to make a moorland notification order under Clause 33 within a week or so. Once such an order had been made it would be an offence to convert moorland without the consent of the national park committee unless one of the conditions specified in subsection (3) of the clause were met. A delay of 12 months can therefore quickly be imposed.
Any cause to impose a moorland notification order would also give rise to further consideration of the need for compulsory back-up powers. If we decided that a reserve power of compulsion was necesssry in the new situation which had arisen it would require only three or four clauses in a short Bill, which could be passed through all its parliamentary stages well before the 12 months' time limit had expired. We should then be in a position to ensure that the moorland was conserved.
464 Contrast this with the position if these clauses were written into the Bill now. It could be interpreted by the farming community on Exmoor as lack of confidence in the voluntary system which has been so carefully fostered. If my noble friend presses his amendment, the Committee will no doubt give its opinion.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
This is the first time I have made a speech on this long Bill and I hope that the Committee will bear with me for just a few moments. My recollection of Exmoor is printed on my heart. It was the first national park to which we went to conduct my review. The first of a series of 30 public meetings took place there, at Porlock Weir. I clearly remember the Women's Institute of Somerset taking over the first half hour in order to protest about public loos which were going to be built on Dunkery Beacon. I rise to express full sympathy with my noble friend Lord Ridley for the intention behind his amendment, though I would prefer a different way of achieving it. I hope we shall succeed in persuading the Government to put down amendments of their own to give effect to his intention before we reach the next stage.
This is the first clause dealing with national parks. One of the things achieved in the review which I carried out was to make the conservation of the natural beauty of those parks their prime purpose. It was agreed by all concerned, and by the Government in particular in their Circular 476, that all the other purposes, such as access by the public, had to be reconciled with it. So also has agriculture.
The two conflicting misconceptions with which Porchester had to deal were these. The first was that held by the farming community—and more, I think by the Ministry of Agriculture than by the farmers—that in practice agriculture did not have to be reconciled with the need to conserve the natural beauty of the park. The second misconception was that held by some of the National Park Authority, that the planners in it could do the reconciliation by the sort of planning control which was being urged upon us in Amendment No. 444ZA earlier this afternoon. It was because of the coexistence of both of those errors that Lord Porchester was called in. Contrary to the advice he asked me for and all that I had hoped for, he reported in November 1977 in favour of moorland conservation orders. I am afraid I have to say that with the evidence which he had, I should have had to come to the same conclusion, though very reluctantly.
In reflecting upon that situation, we have to bear in mind the prevailing understanding about farm grants which then existed, the details of which are set out by Lord Porchester in his report at paragraph 619, and those following. There is no need to go through all of those paragraphs; they are there in his report. The point is that at no point in any of those paragraphs did Lord Porchester indicate that those grants were subject to the prevailing conservation policies of the national park. He had to report upon a situation in which, in the five years previously (as we have already heard), no less than 650 acres of the critical areas had been ploughed up with grant. That is the situation he had to deal with.
The other point of significance that he made in that part of his report was that no less than 56 per cent. 465 of the farmers' income in that area was made up of subsidy. The significance of that I shall come to in a minute. At that time (1977) the less favoured areas directive which governs the grants that farmers receive—the whole of Exmoor is in a less favoured area—had only been published for two years. The farm horticultural development schemes had not long been started. It was only gradually being realised that the new EEC hill livestock compensation grants under the EEC directive were not the same as the old UK hill cow and sheep subsidies. The Exmoor National Park plan was not published until that year. In all those circumstances it can be seen how a misunderstanding about the use of the farm grants for conservation could have arisen.
To resolve that misunderstanding the then chairman of the Countryside Commission, Sir John Cripps, wrote to Mr. Roy Jenkins, who was then head of the EEC Commission, to obtain his elucidation of the way the grants were intended to work and this is the reply that he received. It is very significant. This is Mr. Roy Jenkins to Sir John Cripps in February 1978:As you know, Exmoor is one of the parts of the kingdom scheduled as a less favoured area. You have asked me for the Commission's opinion on the interpretation of the directives. Ultimately it is the Court of Justice (of the EEC) which is empowered to make final rulings on the application of community legislation. The Commission also has the right to give interpretative opinions and in the case of these directives we already have gained a certain amount of experience in the course of their application in different member states.In the first place, I would draw your attention to Article 24 of Directive 72/159 which says that 'Member states may lay down additional conditions as regards the implementation of the measures of aid provided for in this directive'. This provision was included in the original directive precisely to deal with the kind of situation to which you refer.In our view, therefore, although a farmer in a less favoured area, or for that matter, elsewhere, is free to choose the system of farming and the improvements which are necessary to carry out a development plan, in so doing he is obliged to respect all the regulations and conditions with regard to the conservation of the countryside, national parks, planning and so on, provided that such regulations or conditions, national or local, apply equally to all land users in the same location.Moreover, member states are not obliged by the directives to grant aid projects which would be in conflict with the accepted national or local conservation regulations, guidelines or agreements".I wonder whether the noble Lord would keep quiet while I am trying to deploy this argument. It is rather confusing.Moreover, member states are not obliged by the directives to grant-aid projects which would be in conflict with the accepted national or local conservation regulations, guidelines or agreements.I hope this reply gives a clear answer to the questions which you have put and satisfies you that it is not true that the agricultural directives form a straitjacket which obliges member states to permit projects which would be undesirable from the point of view of landscape and the environment. Such an interpretation would be against both the spirit and the letter of community policy".That is EEC legislation and it completely transformed the situation as it had been understood pre-Porchester. Following that, the Ministry's own agricultural advisory committee—the Strutt Committee—reported in 1978 and recommended an enlarged remit for ADAS to deal particularly with conservation, and, following that, we get a series of significant shifts in ministry policy. Thus, in the consultation paper on this 466 Bill of October 1979—this was after the Conservative Government had been elected—we read:Nevertheless where the improvement of a particular piece of moorland is contrary to the National Parks Authority's declared policy, and where they have offered a voluntary management agreement on reasonable terms, a farmer would be unwise to assume that MAFF grant for the improvement would be forthcoming if he decided to go ahead".In January 1980 I got a letter from Mr. Tom King, in which he said:It [that is, the new policy] clearly carries the warning, in the circumstances described, that grant cannot be relied on to pull against the interests of conservation".Finally, in October of last year, following our debate in August on the administration of farm capital grants, we get another version of this fresh approach, reading now from the Ministry's own pamphlet on the farm grants scheme:In considering claims for grant the Minister will be concerned about the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, including wildlife. You must consider"—that is, the farmer must consider—if the work you have in mind will create problems in relation to conservation. If it does your grant will be at risk. If you are in any doubt seek advice from your ADAS adviser.That situation completely transforms the background, and it really is a misnomer to do as my noble friend Lord Avon has just done and call this a wholly voluntary system. It really is nothing of the sort.
We now have a firm statutory framework that was not accepted or adopted before, based on fresh EEC legislation, administered by ADAS in the United Kingdom, for reconciling agriculture to national parks plans, in the course of which anything up to 56 per cent. of a farmer's income is put at risk if he departs from it. We have now operating under ADAS exactly the one-off system which the Strutt Report recommended. That is the statutory framework, only just beginning to apply, which has made it possible for the farmers on the one hand and the National Parks Authority on the other to move on from that system of constraint by way of farm grants, to positive management agreements under which farmers will be encouraged and enabled to make a positive contribution to Exmoor.
I should like to congratulate those concerned on Exmoor who are now operating under this entirely new system, which has come into use since Porchester reported. I think that what we need from Her Majesty's Government is reassurance both on the strength of these financial constraints that are now operating in this new legal frame work, and on their comprehensiveness. I think it removes the need for powers of the precise kind for which my noble friend is asking, but we do need to know whether there is real justification for the belief that even this system on its own will curb everyone in every park for all time. I do not believe it will. I think we need a further amendment on the lines of that of my noble friend, but with a number of variations which I would be glad to discuss with my noble friend before we reach the next stage.
§ Viscount Ridley
I have said all that can be said. I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for accusing him of being a long-haired conservationist; I had no intention of doing that. But when I look 467 around the Chamber there is not a lot of hair anywhere else! Everything that can be said has been said. I believe the issue of principle is such that we should force this issue.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 453A) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 56.
|Airedale, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Ardwick, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hunt, L. [Teller.]|
|Barrington, V.||Ilchester, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Chorley, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Collison, L.||Monson, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Noel-Baker, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Onslow, E.|
|David, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Ridley, V. [Teller.]|
|Foot, L.||Spens, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stone, L.|
|Gibson, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Gray, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hale, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Winstanley, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Kemsley, V.|
|Avon, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Knutsford, V.|
|Burton, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Long, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Marley, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Melville, V.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Morris, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Effingham, E.||Seafield, E.|
|Enniskillen, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Soames, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Stradbroke, E.|
|Gormanston, V.||Tollemache, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Hives, L.||Wise, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Wolverton, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
With the leave of the Committee, I think it might be appropriate if at this stage I make it clear that we now cannot hope to complete Part II 468 of the Bill today. It will, therefore, be necessary to continue the Committee stage on Tuesday of next week. There is, of course, other business on Tuesday and the resumed Committee may not come until the late afternoon or early evening. But I shall make a further Statement on Monday if any consequential changes are to be made to the existing business for Tuesday.
I very much regret any inconvenience which this may cause to Members of the House, but I hope they will agree that the Committee stage really must be completed by the end of next week. The difficulty is that with a Bill of this size and of this importance it is absolutely vital that we maintain the gap between Committee stage and Report stage, or the business will become unworkable. It is also vital that, after examining the Bill on Report, we get the Bill to another place in good time by Easter. Again, I very much regret any inconvenience that this may cause, and I hope that in the very short time that there will be left today we can make a little more, rather faster, progress to get as far as we can before we adjourn which will not be after four o'clock.
§ [Amendments Nos. 453AA to 455 not moved.]
§ Clause 34 agreed to.
§ Viscount Ridley had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 456:
§ After Clause 34, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Extension of Power to Appoint Wardens
§ .—(1) This section applies to any land in a National Park or in the countryside if—
- (a) the public have access to that land whether by right or otherwise; and
- (b) there is no power under any of the provisions of the 1949 Act and the 1968 Act for a local authority, a local planning authority or the Countryside Commission to appoint wardens as respects that land.
§ (2) Subject to subsections (3) and (4) below, the power conferred on a local authority by section 92(1) of the 1949 Act (appointment of wardens) shall include a power, exercisable only with the agreement of the owner and of the occupier of any land to which this section applies, to appoint persons to act as wardens as respects that land, provided that the agreement of the owner and of the occupier as aforesaid shall not be evidence of any agreement on their part to grant rights of access to the public.
§ (3) The only purpose for which wardens may be appointed by virtue of subsection (2) above is to advise and assist the public.
§ (4) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 41(3) of the 1968 Act (Countryside Commission to be local authority for purposes of section 92 of the 1949 Act), nothing in this section shall be construed as conferring on the Countryside Commission any additional power to appoint wardens.").
§ The noble Viscount said: I am not moving this amendment because I think that Amendment No. 460 is better and says the same thing.
§ [Amendment No. 457 not moved.]
§ Clause 35 agreed to.
§ Lord Melchett had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 458:
§ After Clause 35, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment of National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
§ . The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 is amended as follows: 469
- (a) in section 5(2), for the words "extensive tracts" there shall be substituted the word "areas";
- (b) after paragraph (b) of section 5(2), there shall be added the following paragraph:
(c) the extent to which, taken together, such areas are representative of upland, lowland, farmed, non-farmed, wetland, hill and mountain areas in England and Wales,";
(c) in section 6(1), after the words "commencement of this Act," there shall be inserted the words "within 12 months of the commencement of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.".").
§ The noble Lord said: It seems to me that we are in such a hurry today and the Chief Whip is pushing us along so quickly that it might be better to leave this and come back to it at Report stage, because it is obvious that your Lordships' Committee is not in a mood to give serious consideration to major points at this stage of the afternoon. Therefore, I shall not move this amendment now but move it at Report stage.
§ [Amendment No. 458 not moved.]
§ Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 459:
§ After Clause 35, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Planning Boards and National Park Committees
§ "11. (a) Not less than 30 per cent. of the members of a joint planning board, special planning board or National Park Committee established for an area being or comprising the whole or any part of a National Park shall be persons appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with the Countryside Commission.
§ Provided that if in any particular case the Secretary of State, with the agreement of the Commission, so determines, this paragraph shall have effect as if for the figure "30 per cent." there were substituted the words "one quarter".
§ (b) Not less than one fifth of the members of a joint planning board, special planning board or a National Park Committee established for an area being or comprising the whole or part of a National Park shall be persons appointed by the Councils of the Districts situated wholly or partly within each National Park.
§ Provided that no Council of any such district shall be entitled to appoint more than one member.
§ 12. The persons appointed in pursuance of paragraph 11(a) above shall hold office for such period not being less than one year nor more than three years as the Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Countryside Commission, determine and shall be eligible for re-appointment." ").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 459, which I can do because it is not an amendment to which your Lordships need give their detailed and close attention at this stage. It is only tabled to provide an opportunity for the Government to confirm that it is their intention to introduce an amendment along these lines in order to secure for the district councils a place, as of right, on the National Park Committees and Boards. Ten years ago, when reviewing these parks, I was under a lot of pressure to provide for this, and thought at the time that it would be better to leave it to local agreement. In eight out of the 10 parks that has proved to be the right approach, but there are one or two places where there are difficulties, and I am now persuaded that it is necessary to make proper statutory provision.470
§ It is difficult to do this and I would welcome a fairly long and thorough consultation process, which I believe the Government are just about to embark upon, and I should be glad to have confirmation of that. It would be useful if we could find a way to obtain a progress report from them at the Report stage in this House, but I would myself recommend that the right timing for a fully considered amendment along these lines would be when the Bill is in another place. I beg to move.
Baroness David moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 459, Amendment No. 459ZA:
In line 7, of paragraph 11(a), leave out the proviso.
§ The noble Baroness said: We have a lot of sympathy with Lord Sandford's report. One does like local representation. What we are worried about is the possibility of the number of the Secretary of State's appointments being cut down to below a third. It is important to remember that these are national parks and therefore are of national importance. They are of importance for the whole country, and not just for the local population. That is the reason for our Amendment No. 459ZA. I understand that there is a consultation paper coming, and we hope it will be out before this Bill is through both Houses. That is all I wish to say now. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Ridley
I would not disagree with my noble friend Lord Sandford that there is a case for district councils having a representation on national parks. It happens more or less automatically now. There is a problem in the Peaks where there are nine districts involved and in Brecon where there are seven districts; some of them with tiny areas which hardly justify a member. I do not think that this amendment is the right way to do it, not only, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said, because it reduces the Secretary of State's nominees, which is in no one's interests, but also because it means you can only get something like 6.9 of a member, which is difficult. We will have to cut someone in half, or something. There must be a better way of doing it. Despite the desire of district councils to have a membership on national parks I have not noticed them coming forward with any offer to help pay for the cost of national parks. Perhaps my noble friend could bring that to the attention of their association.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
We hope to issue a consultation paper within the next 10 days and, as my noble friend Lord Sandford suggested, we propose to put an amendment in the Bill in another place, assuming the consultation period has been concluded.
§ Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 459A not moved.]
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.471
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Baroness David moved Amendment No. 460:
§ After Clause 35, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Extension of power to appoint wardens
§ .—(1) This section applies to any land in a National Park or in the countryside if—
- (a) the public are allowed access to the land; and
- (b) there is no power under any of the provisions of the 1949 Act and the 1968 Act for a local authority, a local planning authority or the Countryside Commission to appoint wardens as respects that land.
§ (2) Subject to subsections (3) and (4) the power conferred on a local authority by section 92(1) of the 1949 Act (appointment of wardens) shall include a power, exercisable only with the agreement of the owner and of the occupier of any land to which this section applies, to appoint persons to act as wardens as respects that land.
§ (3) The only purpose for which wardens may be appointed by virtue of subsection (2) is to advise and assist the public.
§ (4) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 41(8) of the 1968 Act (Countryside Commission to be local authority for purposes of section 92 of the 1949 Act), nothing in this section shall be construed as conferring on the Countryside Commission any additional power to appoint wardens.").
The noble Baroness said: A similar clause was put in the last Government Bill in Committee. It was not opposed; in fact there was no discusson of it and it was accepted immediately, I think as a sensible provision to make. In the Consultation Paper No. 5 which was issued earlier, this new clause was suggested but for some reason was not included in the Bill, maybe on grounds of the present circumstances. But the clause is permissive and it would be a pity to lose this opportunity of giving this enabling power to the local authorities to use later. Apparently there are precedents; the power could have been given subject to a caveat, as was included by the Secretary of State in the circular on the report of the National Park Policies Review Committee, in which it was aid:
Since, however, the increased powers envisaged by the committee for national park authorities are discretionary, and will serve to widen the range of policy options open to those authorities in allocating whatever resources are available to them from year to year, the Secretary of State has concluded that it would be right to proceed with the preparation of the necessary legislation and to introduce it as soon as the parliamentary timetable permits".
We have this opportunity now and as this amendment is almost identical to that standing in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, No. 456, I hope it will be accepted by the Government.
§ Lord Sandford
I support the noble Baroness, Lady David, in this case. One of the most valuable innovations which have been required for a long time has been the power to appoint wardens and have them working in those areas where the public have access by agreement with the owners and occupiers of land. The fact that it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find extra staff at this moment does not seem to me to be any argument for not providing the power to make appointments when the resources are available.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Baroness, Lady David, that we are happy to accept the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.472
§ Lord Winstanley moved Amendment No. 460A:
§ After Clause 35, insert the following new clause:
. The following paragraphs shall be substituted for paragraphs 11 and 12 of Schedule 17 to the Local Government Act 1972:—
11. Not less than one third of the members of a joint planning board, special planning board or National Park Committee established for an area being or comprising the whole or any part of a national park shall be persons appointed by the Countryside Commission.
§ Provided that if in any particular case the Commission so determine this paragraph shall have effect as if for the words "one third" there were substituted the words "one quarter".
§ 12. The persons appointed in pursuance of paragraph 11 above shall hold office for such period not being less than one year nor more than three years as the Commission may determine and shall be eligible for reappointment".").
§ The noble Lord said: At this time of day and in the kind of mood into which the Committee appears to have got itself, I am perhaps right in thinking that I shall get a fairly short answer to this amendment. And if experience is anything to go by—when I have endeavoured on several occasions to try to enlarge the role of the Countryside Commission in various activities in the course of the Bill—I shall probably get a dusty answer as well. However, I should like to move the amendment and to say a little about it.
§ There is anxiety over the whole question of the so-called ministerial appointments, the independent members on the committees or boards of the national parks. As Members of your Lordships' Committee know, the National Park Committees consist of two-thirds elected members, and one-third ministerial appointees. The present arrangement is that by statute the Secretary of State—and these are his appointments—is required to consult the Countryside Commission before making the appointments. I can say from my own experience as a past chairman of the Countryside Commission, and from what I know of the experience of other previous chairmen, that Ministers of whatever Government consult very thoroughly; the practice has been very full consultation.
§ However, there are problems. There are problems when, for one reason or another, a Minister decides not to reappoint somebody and to appoint somebody else instead. Very frequently there are accusations of political partiality. I am not saying that the accusations are well-founded, but a number arise with either party. When a new party comes into power there is a feeling that it tends to put its own people on to National Park Committees. I am not saying that that is true, but there is a suspicion that there is such a practice, and I think that it is sometimes rather damaging to the morale of the National Park Committees.
§ The purpose of the independent element on the National Park Committees is surely to ensure that the national interest is properly and effectively represented. One fully understands that the elected members on the National Park Committees have quite naturally been elected to respond to local needs, to react to local pressures; and that is quite proper. But surely the parks are designated for national purposes, and therefore there must be on the committees people who can look after the national interest.473
§ In our discussions with Ministers before the appointments are made we endeavour to see that different functional interests are effectively represented on the various National Park Committees. For example, if a committee does not include a representative of the Ramblers' Association or of one of the voluntary bodies, we might try to remedy that situation; or if there is no representative of some other activity, we might try to remedy that. If the farming interest is not effectively represented among the elected members, that is an imbalance which could be corrected by including more farmers among the nominated members.
§ It is my submission that at the end of the day it might very well be to the advantage of the Secretary of State if it were really seen that he was at a distance from these appointments and that they were made by a body which was politically independent and which was charged with representing the national interests. Then we would not get the accusations of political partiality which arise from time to time regarding the National Park Committees, irrespective of the political party to which the particular Secretary of State of the day happens to belong.
§ I believe that there would be advantages in the change that I propose. There would be advantages to the National Park Committees themselves, advantages to the Minister, and probably in the end advantages to the interests of the national parks. Would it not be more logical if the body with the statutory responsibility of monitoring the national parks, what goes on in them and how effectively different interests are represented, were responsible for introducing this independent element? I beg to move.
§ Baroness David moved Amendment No. 460B, as an amendment to Amendment No. 460A:
§ In paragraph 11, leave out the proviso.
§ The noble Baroness said: My objection to this new clause is exactly the same as my objection to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. We do not think that less than one-third is a suitable number for the impartial appointments that the Secretary of State now makes. I beg to move.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
I certainly do not intend to give the noble Lord what he calls a dusty answer, and I doubt whether it will be quite as short as I should like it to be. As the noble Lord, with all his experience, will be aware, there is already statutory provision for the Secretary of State to consult the Countryside Commission before choosing his appointees, and this process of consultation is a full and thorough one. The chairman is already consulted by the Minister about each individual on the short list for appointment. There are 60 ministerial appointees to national park authorities in England, and a further 24 in Wales. The range of interests represented is very wide, as the noble Lord mentioned, including, at present, academics, scientists, farmers, architects, surveyors and at least one bank clerk.
They have been appointed because it appears to the Minister that they have the ability to represent the national interest when the national park authority are discussing and taking decisions. For example, they might have before them a planning application to 474 develop a camping site. The county council members of the authority will have their own views, based on local considerations; but there should also be someone who can speak knowledgeably from the wider viewpoint of those users of the park who come from further afield. I do not believe that the Countryside Commission, had they full responsibility for choosing people to represent the national interest, would in practice select persons of different types. They might not select the same people, but this would be a matter of personal preference. I quite understand what the noble Lord is saying about the choice of people and the discomfort that this might cause locally, and certainly the point that he has made will be read with interest by the Government.
As a matter of principle, it is surely right that the final responsibility for such appointments should rest, as it now does, with the Secretary of State. I therefore cannot agree to any change in this arrangement which, we believe, has in the past and will in the future continue to work well. I accordingly hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that very sympathetic and, if I may say so, very understanding reply. Before I seek leave to withdraw the amendment, as I presently shall (though it will be necessary, I think, for the noble Baroness to seek to withdraw her amendment to my amendment before I can do that), I would say merely this to the noble Lord. I think it is right to say that the present arrangements do not invariably work entirely effectively, because a Secretary of State has other matters on his mind. He cannot be thinking in detail about every national park—and there are 10 of them—constantly, and sometimes the names that emerge are not always entirely suitable. They emerge from some recess within the department.
I can give the noble Lord an example. When the Minister suggests somebody as a possible appointee, always I as chairman or my deputy chairman will go and interview him. We went to interview one nominee who had been suggested, ostensibly by the Minister, and when we arrived we found that he had been dead for two years. I would hasten to say that the Minister did not actually appoint him, but I mention that just to show that the system does not always work with that degree of efficiency for which one might hope. But I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord for the tenor of his reply, and when, perhaps, the noble Baroness has sought to withdraw her amendment to my amendment then I shall seek leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
I understand that Amendment No. 461 in the name of my noble friend Lord Craigton might take a little time. Perhaps, as we are approaching the 475 hour of 4 o'clock, this would be a convenient moment to adjourn the Committee, to resume on Tuesday late afternoon. I hope noble Lords will look at the Order Paper to see the exact time it is likely to come on. I beg to move the House be now resumed.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to: House resumed.