§ Further considered on Report.
§ Clause 29 [Limestone pavement orders]:
§ Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 170:
Page 27, line 14, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
("(1) Where land in the countryside which consists substantially of limestone exposed on or lying near the surface of the ground has been notified to the county and district authorities by
§ (2) The county planning authority may amend or revoke an order under this section and the Secretary of State may amend or revoke any such order made by him or that authority, but only after consultation with the Countryside Commission or authority respectively.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 170 on the Marshalled List, which stands in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady David, several noble Lords and myself. During the Committee stage there were a number of amendments on the list with the same general purpose, if with minor differences of emphasis. They aimed to achieve that the landscape value of these limestone pavements should be one of the reasons which should weigh with the Minister when it came to making an order. As we read the Bill as at present drafted, it seemed that the reasons were entirely scientific and we felt that that should be broadened because these limestone pavements—which are so rare in this country and in North-West Europe—are, in the opinion of many people, a very distinctive feature of the landscape.
§ Since the Committee stage there have been pictures of limestone pavements on a board in the Library for the benefit of those who have not seen them. I admit that one has to get down on one's knees in order to see them, but, none the less, those noble Lords who have looked at them will, I am sure, have been greatly impressed and will have come to the conclusion that on this occasion we ought to do all that we can to give them the preservation that they deserve.
§ Perhaps it would for the convenience of the House if we were to discuss the following amendment, No. 170ZA, and the two amendments at the top of the following page together. If so, it might save time, for I believe it is the intention of noble Lords that we 460 should try not to repeat ourselves if it can be avoided. Therefore, I hope that I shall be excused if I speak a little beyond the scope of Amendment No. 70.
§ In his reply during the Committee stage the Minister expressed great sympathy with our object, but he had some reservations. One of the reservations in particular was because an amendment imposed certain order-making duties or responsibilities on the Countryside Commission. Since the Committee stage those of us who had this series of amendments on the list have, in fact, discussed this whole clause and we have all agreed with the amendments which are on the list today. Noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady David, whose names stand to the amendment are drawn from all parts of the House. Furthermore, we hope and believe that we have avoided in these amendments all and every point on which we knew or believed that the Government might have some reservations. Therefore, we hope that we shall not have to take up much of your Lordships' time this evening and that the Minister who is to reply will indicate that he not only has sympathy with what we are trying to do, but that he also has authority to say that it shall, in fact, stand in the Bill.
§ As I have just said, we omit those matters to which we believe the Minister objected, particularly the limits on the role of the Countryside Commission which, in this amendment, is now in a position to notify and advise, rather than having actual order-making responsibilities. I shall leave the noble Baroness, Lady David, to speak to the amendment which immediately follows Amendment No. 170. When one turns over the page, the two amendments—
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would restrict his remarks to the first two amendments that he has mentioned, because I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we spoke to Amendments Nos. 170 and 170ZA together, to which he has alluded.
My Lords, full of hope, I agree with what my noble friend has advised the House, and I think that there is little more for me to say other than that I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Nugent of Guildford)
My Lords, I shall now call Amendment No. 170ZA as an amendment to Amendment No. 170.
Baroness David moved, as an amendment to the amendment, Amendment No. 170ZA:
In subsection (2), line 4, after ("with") insert ("the Nature Conservancy Council,").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I think that the Nature Conservancy Council was omitted from subsection (2) of the amendment which stands in the name of four of us from all parties. I think that we intended that the Nature Conservancy Council should be consulted as well as the Countryside Commission. When I noticed that the NCC was not in subsection (2), I did not have time to consult my friends whose names were down to this amendment, but I think I can assume that they are in total agreement with it, and that it was really an accident that the Nature Con- 461 servancy Council was missed out of subsection (2) of Amendment No. 170. Therefore, I beg to move Amendment No. 170ZA.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 170ZA, which of course is the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady David, if we are to accept Amendment No. 170, I entirely agree that the amendment to the amendment should first he accepted. Turning to Amendment No. 170, I think that the House will be glad that my noble friend Lord Inglewood has returned to this particular subject, because I believe that there is an advantage in providing that district councils as well as county councils should at least be informed of the existence of limestone pavements in their areas. I also see no objection to the suggestion that the Countryside Commission should notify local authorities of pavements in their areas.
Finally, I agree that it is right that the Government's statutory advisers should be consulted before orders are amended, although we do not think that the county planning authorities should be able to amend or revoke orders made by the Secretary of State, which would presumably he the effect of leaving out the words "made by the authority" in line 2 of the subsection as it stands. Therefore, I should be pleased to accept in principle the main features of the amendment, though we should like carefully to consider the wording of the new subsection before accepting it in the Bill as of now.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, suppose that the county planning authority had made the order, would it then be its right to revoke it? I understand the point that if the Secretary of State had made the order, then perhaps the Secretary of State should revoke it, but if the county planning authority had made the order, presumably it would be in order for it to revoke or amend it?
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I cannot definitely give the noble Baroness the assurance that she desires. I believe this to be true, but in bringing forward the final shape of this important amendment, which we undertake to do in consultation with the noble Lord, the best thing is for that point to be considered at that time. Therefore, we would look at this once more at Third Reading.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, perhaps I might raise what might be a lone voice against this series of amendments. I thought that we had it right in Committee. I remember moving an amendment myself which made it quite clear that it was a county planning matter and that the involvement of districts would just delay the whole process, and result in a great deal of paper work and bureaucracy. I am still of that opinion. However, that is relatively unimportant.
I am disturbed at the introduction of the Countryside Commission, both in its right to initiate action and in its consultation afterwards. I should have thought that the Nature Conservancy Council was the right authority for this matter. If we have yet another step, yet another Quango, involved in this we are going to have many more authorities, bureaucrats, and so on. The problem is not that sufficiently large 462 that it is necessary. I can foresee the Countryside Commission appointing a limestone pavement officer with a supporting staff of goodness knows how many typists, and a new office in Westmoreland, or wherever it is the limestone pavements exist. We had the Bill right in Committee, and I hope that the Government will think carefully before they accept any amendments on these lines.
§ 8.11 p.m.
My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the noble Viscount takes such an optimistic view of the future resources of the Countryside Commission, so that they will be appointing this officer, that officer and the other officer. If we are to accept—and it appears that the Government do now accept—that the whole question of the preservation of these remarkable limestone pavements is not purely a matter of flora and fauna, and the very unusual biological developments which occur from plants which grow within these crevices in the limestone, but is also a matter of the preservation of these limestone pavements on landscape considerations, then it would be absurd if one was to ignore the Government's statutory advisers on landscape matters, who are in fact the Countryside Commission.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? Is it not equally absurd to ignore the local county planning authority, who are well aware of the importance of these landscapes?
My Lords, I would not dream of ignoring the county planning authorities for a moment. I am taking issue with the noble Viscount merely on the narrow point that he is apparently objecting to the introduction of the role of the Countryside Commission in a matter in which limestone pavement is to be protected on landscape grounds rather than on purely conservation grounds. That would he quite absurd. I have no quarrel with him on his other argument. I have no wish to enter into disputes between counties and districts on these planning matters, but I must insist that if it is to be accepted by your Lordships' House that for limestone pavement—an unusual and remarkable feature of our landscape, and also an unusual and remarkable habitat for certain plants—we are to take into consideration landscape considerations, one cannot ignore the Government's statutory advisers on landscape matters; namely, the Countryside Commission. My understanding of the noble Viscount's observation was that he objected to the interpolation of the Countryside Commission in this matter. I cannot go with him on that, and I doubt whether he will find many other people who would so so.
My Lords, I would not dream of intervening to delay the resolution of this particular amendment, except to emphasise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has made that the whole burden of this amendment is to make it clear that it is the landscape value of these unique and peculiar, if you like, features—not geologically peculiar, but peculiar in relation to their unusualness in the scenery in the rest of Britain—that we wish to protect through this amendment. As to who should be consulted and 463 who should initiate the proposals in regard to that, I would be quite happy to leave to the Government to resolve in the light of this debate. I should like merely to record my delight to know that the Government are looking favourably on subsection (1)(b) of this amendment, because this is the whole point of it.
§ Lord James of Rusholme
My Lords, I should like to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as someone who often walks on limestone pavements. I do not think that any care of them can be exaggerated both on the grounds of habitat and beauty, because they add immeasurably to a landscape if you know where to find them. They are unusual. They are vulnerable. They are productive of all kinds of beauty from small ferns to elements in the landscape, and no trouble can be too great to protect them,
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I take this opportunity of replying to a question put by the noble Baroness in regard to revocation of orders. I am advised that a county planning authority may revoke such orders as she mentioned.
My Lords, after such valuable and distinguished support I certainly do not want to prolong the rivalry between different factions which began to appear in these, I thought, innocent debates. So far as I can see my amendment puts the emphasis on the county and not on the local planning authority, but I am prepared to leave it to the Government when it comes to drafting a final version. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, spoke freely about a certain county appointing curious officers. I do not know whether that is the way it happens in Northumberland, but I am sure it is not the habit of the county which is more intimately concerned with this clause.
Finally, I thought we had met that particular objection to an extension of Countryside Commission functions even though it is well within their statutory powers. Heartened by what the Minister said about accepting all this in principle, and full of hope that we shall see a clause, slightly different no doubt in words but the same in spirit, at the next stage of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, on the understanding that the Government are going to produce a further amendment by Third Reading, I shall withdraw my amendment to the amendment.
§ Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment No. 170, by leave, withdrawn.
The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 170A:
Page 27, line 26, after ("order") insert ("(a limestone pavement order)").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friends on the Marshalled List. This is a drafting amendment, and is equally applicable to the Bill as it stands or to Amendment No. 170. If we look at Amendment No. 170, it would come in and take effect on the first line after subsection (1)(c). This part 464 of the Bill, Clause 29, refers to limestone pavements orders. Although we have been told that it will not affect such areas as the Cotswolds and that limestone pavements in Great Britain amount perhaps to little more than 5,000 acres, there is nothing in Clause 29 that limits it to limestone pavements. It would, therefore, seem logical to include the words in my amendment, and I beg to move.
The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, the noble Earl prefaced his speech by saying that he was going to withdraw his amendment, but I imagine he is proposing it.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I accept that it would be desirable to make sure that Clause 29 does not cover large areas of limestone which are not limestone pavements. Accordingly, I shall be pleased to consider the amendment. However, it may well be that the amendment does not itself achieve that purpose because of the width of the wording in Clause 29(1)(a). We will consider the wording of the subsection as a whole. I think it would be of assistance to the House if the noble Earl would feel able to withdraw it and we shall consider it.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 171:
Page 28, line 2, leave out ("either").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 171, and if noble Lords agree Amendment No. 172 could best be taken with it. I do not want to speak at any length of time because these two amendments deal with the defence against damage to limestone pavements which can be obtained by quoting from the general development order in the case of certain damage that may be done to limestone pavements, such as using limestone, or allegedly using limestone, for certain agricultural purposes. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says in reply to these points which we raised at some length at Committee stage. Therefore, I shall not elaborate them further now. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, it has been a basic characteristic of successive Town and Country Planning Acts that the use of land for the purposes of agriculture should not be subject to the need to seek planning permission. The general development order gives general permission for various works for agricultural purposes. In particular, paragraph 3 of Schedule 6 to the General Development Order 1977 give a general permission for:The winning and working, on land held or occupied with land used for the purpose of agriculture, of any minerals reasonably required for the purpose of that use, including—465 As I said in Committee, limestone is an indigenous material on many of our hill farms, and many of the old farm buildings and drystone walls which form an integral and charming part of our landscape are made from it. While I cannot pretend that farmers nowadays extract limestone from the land, crush it and use it to fertilise their land to any great extent, they still use this natural resource for the repair of their buildings and drystone walls and, as I have said, they enhance the landscape by so doing. It is the Government's view that it would be unreasonable to restrain farmers from taking limestone to the extent which the general development order permits. I hope the amendment will not be pressed.
- (i) The fertilisation of the land so used; and
- (ii) The maintenance improvement or alteration of buildings or works thereon which are occupied and used for the purposes aforesaid, so long as no excavation is made within 25 metres of the metal portion of the trunk or classified road ".
My Lords, I wait to see what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, decides to do with the amendment. I do not entirely disagree with what the Minister said, and as he has given such a sympathetic and co-operative reply I am sure that in the Government's consideration of the whole matter they will wish to reconsider this aspects of it. This is not a question of Quangos. I was going to tell the noble Viscount that it takes two to Quango, but perhaps I had better not.
The damage and destruction to limestone pavements is not caused by farmers picking up bits of limestone for drystone walling, and crushing it for use as fertiliser is long since obsolete as a practice, as the Minister acknowledged. The problem is not with the farmers at all; it is with others who have been extracting limestone pavement for rockeries in gardens. Indeed, quite recently I visited a remarkable area of limestone pavement on the beach at Southerndown, on the South Glamorgan heritage coast, an area which has not been mentioned in our debates. There were people there with bulldozers extracting lumps of the limestone, which I am sure was going for sale in garden shops for rockeries. That is the difficulty, not the farmers. Those of us who have been associated with this and similar amendments have not been worried about the farmers but about threats to the limestone pavement of a very different nature. I am content with whatever course of action the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, decides to take in regard to this amendment.
§ Baroness David
I am not, my Lords, and if the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, does not press the amendment I shall, because what has been said to persuade him not to press it is, to be frank, a load of old rubbish. The general development order will just provide a loophole, and I hope noble Lords have looked at the visual aid on this subject in the Library. As has been pointed out, bulldozers are getting at this limestone, which is then sold for rockeries. Farmers will not crush it up for use as fertiliser; and the sort of limestone one gets from the pavement is not the type that can be used for making walls. Anyway, there are plenty of stones lying about that can be used for making walls. There is a loophole here of which I do not approve. I hope Lord Inglewood will press the amendment, and I give notice that I shall if he does not.
My Lords, in so far as it may be true that under the general development order it is possible 466 to exploit the natural pavement for the purpose of selling it and making artificial crazy pavement in people's gardens, for rockeries and so on, that is totally offensive to the landscape and is morally wrong, and therefore I support this amendment.
My Lords, it surprises me that this innocent amendment should have aroused such intense rivalry. I am not sure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is correct. I thought the tolerance allowed by the general development order was for agricultural purposes only, and not for extraction in such quantities that it was worth transporting all over the country for rockeries. That, to the best of my belief, is not allowed under the general development order. As between the different points of view expressed on the Benches opposite, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady David, and although it may seem ungallant, I intend to take the view of the noble Lord—
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord with a question? He seems to be very easily satisfied over this. How does he know when the limestone is taken whether it will be used for agricultural purposes or be transported all over the country for rockeries? It may not be allowed, but how will he know as the limestone is being scooped off the limestone pavement, its final destination?
My Lords, it is a long time since I served my time and passed my exams as an agricultural surveyor, but I think I can still tell. As for the rivalry between the two points of view on the Benches opposite, on this occasion (not least because the Minister has come so far in our direction on the main point of our case) I shall take a course of action which will not deprive the noble Baroness of a series of other opportunities in another place, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I have a perfect right to press the amendment, to which my name is attached, and I would have a right to press it even if I were not a signatory. I certainly hope the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, intends to vote for the amendment, which stands in his name.
My Lords, I have no intention of depriving the noble Baroness of two votes, not one, on the amendment, remembering that we are speaking at the same time to Amendment No. 172. In the circumstances, I will, if your Lordships wish, withdraw the amendment.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 171) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 71:467
|Ardwick, L.||Briginshaw, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Brockway, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Chorley, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Collison, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]|
|David, B. [Teller.]|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Foot, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Peart, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hale, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Hall, V.||Segal, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Stone, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Thurso, V.|
|James of Rusholme, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Jeger, B.||White, B.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Avon, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Burton, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Mersey, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Middleton, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|de Clifford, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Peel, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Ridley, V.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Eccles, V.||St. Just, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Ferrers, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Soames, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Gray, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Henley, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Vickers, B.|
|Kemsley, V.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Kilmany, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Wise, L.|
|Long, V.||Yarborough, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 172 not moved.]
§ Clause 30 [National nature reserves]:
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Lord Mowbray and Stourton moved Amendment No. 173:
Page 28, line 23, at end insert—
("Provided that byelaws under this section shall not prohibit or restrict the entry into or movement within a national nature reserve of any person acting in the exercise of any lawful right or privilege.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment on behalf of my noble friends and myself, I apologise for the fact that we have put it down, since it is the same as an amendment that was moved 468 in Committee. At that time the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, gave an answer which seemed to my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt to be satisfactory. Since then we have had slight reservations on one small point, and despite having received a very helpful letter from the office of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, we should like to draw the Government a little further, if we can, on the question of a lawful right or privilege being given to someone who is not an owner or occupier of a nature reserve. An owner can give privileges to various people to do various things in nature reserves. We are seeking an assurance from the Government that the right of an owner to grant a privilege to a person or body approved by him is not likely to be hindered or subjected to injury by the by-laws. Privileges have been enjoyed hitherto. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt raised this question at the Committee stage, he explained his concern that traditional rights of access to the countryside should not be prejudiced by nature reserve by-laws. He said that his, point could apply to many people on foot or on horseback who from time immemorial had gone to the areas in question. He went on to say that he wished to ensure that the traditional rights of such people should not be prejudiced. In moving the present amendment my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton has explained the concern about protection of traditional rights. It may be a help to the House if I say that the proviso to Section 20(2) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which is applied by Clause 30(4) of the Bill, prevents by-laws from interfering with the rights therein mentioned, including the exercise of any right of way.
I should also like to draw attention to the provisions of Section 20(3) of the same 1949 Act, which are likewise applied by Clause 30(4) of the Bill. Section 20(3) refers to various rights which are not exempted from interference, but in relation to which interference Rives rise to a right to compensation. Section 20(3) applies to the exercise of any right vested in a person, whether by reason of his being entitled to any interest in land, or by virtue of a licence or agreement. The expression "interest" in relation to land is defined by Section 114 of the 1949 Act as including:Any estate in land and any right over land whether the right is exercisable by virtue of the ownership in an interest in land or by virtue of a licence or agreement, and in particular includes sporting rights.Thus Section 20(3) covers a variety of private as distinct from public rights which are not covered by the proviso to Section 20(2).
It is our view that proper by-law control over nature reserves would be impossible unless certain private rights could be interfered with, subject always to the payment of compensation. Insofar as the rights and privileges which the noble Lord wants covered fall within Section 20(2) of the 1949 Act, there is no problem. On the other hand, if they fall within Section 20(3) of the 1949 Act, then I do not think it would be right to disturb the existing position. I hope that my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton feels that this is sufficiently exhaustive coverage of the particular point he has raised and that he will not press his amendment.
§ Lord Mowbray and Stourton
My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for giving me such detailed chapter and verse, which I should like to read and digest. Certainly, in a moment or two I will withdraw my amendment. I take it that I am correct in thinking that the general gist is, provided the privileges envisaged in my amendment are not injurious to the particular nature reserve of that area, the likelihood is that the privileges allowed by the owners will be allowed to go on. Am I right in thinking that?
§ Lord Sandys
My Lords, I think it would be true to say that a licence to a person mentioned in this particular context is a permission; and, yes, I would agree with that.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 173XA:
Leave out Clause 30.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment. The purpose of putting down this amendment was to raise the point with the Government that I raised at Committee stage and about which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, was kind enough to write to me. This clause deals with the designation of County Trust or other voluntary bodies' nature reserves as national nature reserves. The point I made at the Committee stage, and to which I now wish to return very briefly, concerns the procedure which the Nature Conservancy Council will adopt when deciding whether a voluntary organisation's reserve is of sufficient stature to qualify as a national nature reserve. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, has written a most helpful letter to me and it might be useful if I put on the record what he wrote, because it is of considerable concern to voluntary organisations which have reserves which they feel might qualify for national nature reserve status. In his letter the noble Earl, Lord Avon, wrote that he understood my main concern was to avoid any suggestion on the part of the NCC of interference in the way in which County Trust nature reserves are managed. He went on:
I can give you this assurance. The Government would want the Council to be convinced on three main points: that the reserve is of national importance—in other words, that it is featured in the Nature Conservation Review or is of such a size and standard that it is on a par with such sites; that there is adequate security of tenure—and here the Council would be looking for the Trust to show that the reserve was safe for 21 years; and that the management of the reserve would ensure that the scientific interest would be maintained during that time".
§ The last part of that letter is of still some concern to me. It just seems to me that it would be of benefit all round if the Nature Conservancy Council could take it that responsible voluntary organisations such as the County Trust, the RSPB, and possibly the Wild Fowl Trust if it becomes involved, has sufficient expertise to ensure that the management of the reserve would lead to scientific interest being maintained during the period of 21 years. Apart from possibly some assurance from the RSPB, the County Trust or whoever that that was the case, the NCC should not really ask to see a detailed management plan, and certainly should not ask for detailed monitoring of that plan.470
§ I say that because it appears to me that the NCC does not have the resources to do such a thing, and even if they do have the resources they would be better applied to better things. A part of this work really would best be left to the voluntary movement, and the management of their own nature reserves is one of those things which should be left to the voluntary movement.
§ The third thing that occurs to me is that this is not an exact science. With regard to the management of nature reserves, there are always differences between those reserves interested in birds, those interested in plants, those interested in reptiles and so on. I believe that everyone, including the NCC, is capable of making bad mistakes at times, but I am not sure that the expertise in this field lies entirely with the NCC as opposed, for example, to the RSPB.
§ I feel that it would be sensible at the outset of this new provision being introduced by the Government that the NCC should be satisfied on the points which the noble Earl, Lord Avon, mentioned to me, but that they will not look for detailed management plans or at the detailed policies of management; and certainly that they will not wish to monitor them regularly. Obviously, they will want to control the scientific interest of the sites and I would accept that. I feel sure that an assurance along those lines would be of major help to voluntary organisations, who otherwise frankly see this as possibly introducing unwarranted interference by the NCC in the management of their own reserves. If that is the case, I believe much less use will be made of the provision than otherwise.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, one discovers something new every day in this particular debate. In this case, I have discovered that if one writes to a noble Lord, he may read out my letter and most of my speaking notes will go by the board! The Government holds in high regard the various voluntary organisations which contribute so much to the cause of nature conservation; organisations such as the National Trust, Country Naturalists Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which manage extensive nature reserves of a very high quality. It seems only proper that a similar status and degree of protection should be available to the best of those reserves as is available to those reserves managed by the NCC. That is the purpose of Clause 30.
The Government has no intention of authorising the NCC to interfere in the management of voluntary bodies' reserves, and the clause confers no such powers. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that it is not the intention to apply a heavy hand here. I agree with him that there is not the time available to produce such a heavy hand, nor is there any intention at the moment to introduce the sort of monitoring powers of which he has been speaking.
I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that the scheme is permissive and no organisation need apply for such a designation unless it wishes to do so. Furthermore, the proposals make available to a nature reserve by-law-making powers of the NCC, which I believe could be a very positive benefit in many cases. We want to be able to give every appropriate reserve rightful recognition as being of national importance, and I hope that with my assurances—and 471 bearing in mind the permissive nature of the clause—that the noble Lord will be satisfied.
§ Lord Melchett
Yes, my Lords, I am. I think the noble Lord, Earl Avon, has gone just a little further than he did in his letter to me. I apologise for preempting his speech, but it did have the advantage of shortening the debate on this point. I am grateful to him for what he has said and I am sure his remarks will be studied by the organisations concerned. I apologise for omitting from my own remarks the National Trust, one of the important voluntary organisations involved in this. I think that the noble Earl has met my personal worry. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 31 [Grants and loans by Nature Conservancy Council]:
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Baroness David moved Amendment No. 173YA:
Page 29, line 4, at end insert—
("( ) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3) above, the council shall ensure that any person receiving a grant or loan under this section in respect of premises to which the public are to be admitted, whether on payment or otherwise shall, in the means of access both to and within the premises, and in the parking facilities and sanitary conveniences to be available (if any) make provision, insofar as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable, for the needs of members of the public visiting the premises who are disabled.")
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, at Committee stage on 12th February I moved three amendments to do with the disabled to make sure that when grants were given in national parks and in other areas where the disabled might go for recreation proper provision should be made. I named a number of things which might be done to make it easier for them. At the end of that debate after, at first, a not very good response, the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said:
The Government are very sensitive to the situation regarding the disabled in this particular year and I shall he happy to consider the position in a little more detail, especially after what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has said, and if it would benefit the position of the disabled generally to cast a statutory obligation upon a public body I think we should consider it again before Report stage.
§ That was followed by a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Avon, to my noble friend Lord Melchett, when he said that amendments would be put down as in Nos. 444 and 445, and an amendment in slightly different terms from No. 467. These amendments have not been put down by the Government, and this is why I am moving them again. There has been a slip-up in the Marshalled List. The first two amendments I put down are down; the third, to page 77, line 34, is not. This is an omission that I spotted only this morning, when it was too late to do anything about it. May I be assured that something will be done about this; or were these false promises? I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I am grateful for the way the noble Baroness moved her amendments. We take it that the third would be as effective as the other two. When I wrote to her exactly what was happening 472 it was happening, but since then parliamentary counsel have sent back the amendments saying they are not necessary so perhaps I should explain why. As I had at Committee stage I have (and everybody has) great sympathy in this Year of the Disabled with the amendments. The problem is that in Section 4 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 there is a method of enforcing what the noble Baroness has in mind. The providers of premises to which these amendments would apply are already obliged by law to make provision, in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable, for the needs of visiting members of the public who are disabled. The amendments would simply make it incumbent upon the NCC, as the national park authorities, to impose grant conditions ensuring that the provider of the premises does what he is already legally required to do.
My Lords, it has been argued that this would be harmless and would serve to ensure that public grant does not reach the provider of the premises if he fails to meet his legal obligations. But we are advised that it would be extremely unusual to seek to enforce the provisions of one Act by imposing sanctions in another, unrelated Act. I have been assured that the concern of the NCC and the national park authorities to meet the needs of the disabled will lead them automatically to inquire, before providing grant-aid, whether the recipient's plans comply with his lawful obligations in this and other ways. We do not need to oblige those public grant-aiding authorities to be sensible and careful before distributing public money.
I was interested to read in a newspaper report dated 28th February last that wheelchair trails, like mountaineering routes, labelled as "Easy", "Moderate" and "Difficult" are to be sought and identified in all British national parks. Experiments partly financed by the Countryside Commission are to be conducted into the design of a cross-country wheelchair route for disabled people. I read that out only in order to emphasise that I think things are going on in this field which are highly complimentary, and of which the whole House will be very proud. Bearing in mind this difficulty we have with the law, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would like to think again on these issues.
§ Lord Melchett
I think parliamentary counsel has confused his role of giving legal advice to the Government with that of giving policy advice, because I think he has got the point of the amendments wrong. We were well aware, as were the disablement organisations which put forward these amendments, of the effect of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I suspect the voluntary organisations working with the disabled in this country know the Act as well as the parliamentary counsel working on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. The point is that the Countryside Commission and the NCC are providing grants. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act does not apply to the provision of grant by those bodies. I think that is clear, and that we got it clear at the Committee stage. I thought that is why the Government agreed to put down their own amendments on this.
I know the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act puts a duty on people who put up buildings to 473 include facilities for the disabled when it is practical; but here is the point. It is not practical to provide facilities for the disabled in, for example, a centre in the countryside if you cannot afford to do so. To be able to afford to do so you need to be able to get a grant from an organisation like the NCC or the Countryside Commission. What we want to be sure of is that those organisations have a statutory duty, when they are giving grants, to make sure those facilities are provided. That is the purpose of the amendments, and that is why they are needed. To give the noble Earl an example, in the countryside there will be required such special facilities as toilet facilities for wheelchair users, braille nature trail leaflets and bird-watching hides that can be used by disabled people—few of which at the moment, if any, could be. Generally the features which benefit disabled people will be of benefit to everyone.
I do not believe that without a requirement on the grant-aiding bodies to take this into account those putting up the buildings will find it reasonably practical to provide those sort of facilities. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act does not place an absolute duty on people to provide those facilities. It would be impossibly expensive, I think it was felt at the time, if it did. It simply says it is desirable and that they should do it if they can. At the moment most of the voluntary organisations have to say, "We would like to have facilities for the disabled, but we cannot afford it. "Facilities of this sort are expensive. That is why these amendments, placing this obligation on the funding bodies, is so important. It is a quite separate point from the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. There are 5 million disabled people in Britain. They need to have the confidence that when they visit the countryside facilities will be available for them. I think it would be a tragedy if this Bill went through your Lordships' House in the International Year of the Disabled—given the enormous interest the noble Earl commented on in allowing and making it possible for disabled people to visit the countryside and to enjoy themselves—if we did not have these amendments in the Bill. The Government agreed with that until recently. I hope they might accept these amendments. If Counsel can still find some drafting rather than policy problems with them, he could put them right at Third Reading.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I should like to support what noble Lords have said about this. It seems that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has failed very largely because of the words "practical" and "reasonable", and anybody who does not want to make the facilities available says that they are not practical and are not reasonable because they cannot afford to provide them. That seems to be the reason why they get away with it all over the country. Here, I should have thought, where it is a question of grant. it is an entirely different ball game. They are given the money to do something, and the money can be given on these conditions. Therefore, they cannot use it as an excuse that the provision of these facilities are not practical or reasonable. I hope the Government will have another look at this.
My Lords, I have listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said. While I agree with him that this is an amendment which should be agreed to, I should assure him that what he hopes will happen will in any case happen. As a former chairman of the Countryside Commission, I think it is right to tell your Lordships that the Commission are utterly determined to take steps of this kind whether or not they are enshrined in the Bill.
Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in a conference held at the Calvert Trust Centre, the open air centre for the disabled on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake, organised by Lady Rochdale and the Countryside Commission. Representatives of almost all the national parks attended and explained their plans for trying to make national parks more accessible to disabled people. There is no doubt at all that there is a determination to do it. But there are difficulties. If we make the top of Snowdon accessible to disabled people in wheelchairs, then we make it accessible to people on motor-bikes et cetera. Sometimes we preserve things—as indeed we take active steps to preserve the blue whale—not in the expectation of ever seeing them but merely because it is nice to know that they still exist. It was my opinion, talking to disabled people and representatives from many of their organisations, that they were willing to accept that certain wilderness areas must continue to be wilderness areas and they would not like to see them opened up in ways which in the long term will be damaging.
Regarding grants, the Countryside Commission have the power to spend public money on experiments. They have already decided that they will spend some money on experiments in improving the provisions for disabled people regarding access to national parks. Whatever is done with this amendment, I am utterly satisfied that the Countryside Commission and the NCC will do everything they possibly can to increase the opportunities for disabled people to enjoy SSSIs, national parks and the countryside in a whole variety of ways without making those places so accessible as to destroy them altogether. Whatever is done in regard to this amendment, this is going to happen anyway. I say that not only as a former chairman of the Countryside Commission but also as the second sponsor of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill in another place.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, with leave, and briefly, it was nice to have the Countryside Commission's ex-chairman make those remarks. The NCC and the national parks authorities are concerned to meet the needs of the disabled. This will lead them automatically to inquire, before providing grant aid, whether the recipient plans comply with lawful obligations in this and other ways. If the noble Baroness wishes to press her amendment, we shall see what we can do about getting the lawyers right.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, this amendment has in a way had the backing of the Countryside Commission and last time had the backing of the NCC. I am not altogether satisfied with what the noble Earl said. Perhaps the parliamentary draftsmen have had too much to say in this. I shall press the amendment in 475 the hope that we can get something really satisfactory into the Bill by Third Reading.
At Committee stage, I made a number of suggestions. I should like to make one more about picnic tables and seats. The picnic tables with fixed bench seats are now appearing everywhere. They are not at all good for the disabled and nor are benches without any arms. Good seats should have two arms so that a disabled person can get up easily. I shall now press the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 9.5 p.m.
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 173ZA:
After Clause 31, insert the following new clause:
After section 46 of the Forestry Act 1967 there shall be inserted the following section—
Duty of Commissioners to consult the Nature Conservancy Council.
46A. In the exercise of their functions under this Act relating to any land which in the opinion of the Nature Conservancy Council is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features the Commissioners shall consult with and shall have regard to the advice of the Council in respect of anything which in the opinion of the Council is likely to destroy or damage such interest.".")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is another point which we discussed in Committee. I moved an amendment based on the findings of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology which attempted to widen the powers of the Forestry Commission so that they took into account nature conservation and wildlife interests. Having looked at the debate that we had, in spite of the fact that my amendment was based on the recommendation of a Select Committee, I have now considerably narrowed the point that I was making then.
§ I now have an amendment which says that the Commissioners should consult with the NCC about SSSIs and have regard to the advice of the council if the council feel that something that the commission are going to do will destroy or damage the interest of that site. I hope that this is not something which can be seen as interfering arbitrarily or in a heavy-handed way with the Forestry Commission. I hope that I do not need to repeat at length the tribute which I paid to the Forestry Commission and the work that they do in providing nature trails, picnic sites—with or without fixed benches with arms—camp sites and many other facilities. They have done an extremely good job in that way in recent years. I intend no criticism of them in moving this amendment.
§ However, as the Select Committee said on scientific aspects of forestry, there has been a massive decline in deciduous woodland cover particularly in Southern England and Scotland in recent years. It is a matter of great concern and was one of the issues that the Secretary of State for the Environment mentioned in the speech that I quoted earlier before the dinner break.
§ In fact, over the last 30 years about 50 per cent. of ancient woodland has been lost in Britain, much of it by conversion to conifer plantations and most of it grant-aided by the Forestry Commission. I am not saying in this amendment that should stop, although T would prefer to have seen amendments carried which might have had that effect; but that is behind us now. 476 All I am saying is that there should be a requirement on the Forestry Commission to consult with the NCC when that process is taking place on a site of special scientific interest and that they should bear in mind the NCC's advice during the planning.
§ Perhaps I might give your Lordships an analogy which has been widely accepted and indeed is widely quoted: that is the trouble that the Forestry Commission have taken for a number of years now, over the landscaping of their plantations. Dame Sylvia Crowe's work has been very widely praised in a number of circles for the planning of new conifer plantations, and it seems to me this is the same sort of move but on the nature conservation side. We are simply saying that when the Forestry Commission are planning to do something on a site of special scientific interest they should get some scientific advice. As usual, it may well be possible to modify their proposals in a very small way without any economic loss or with only marginal economic loss, in a way which would at least go some way to safeguarding the scientific interest. I hope therefore that the amendment which, as I say, goes a great deal less far than I thought your Lordships' Select Committee would have wanted to go, will be acceptable. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I should like to say very briefly that the Forestry Commission's plantations do vary in the various regions quite considerably in their treatment of the flora and fauna. Of course, the Forestry Commission are a law unto themselves, but I have always advocated that when they are planting some vast acreage of Sitka spruce fenced in straight lines—and of course if you are going to make a fence it is sensible to have them in a straight line and I do not necessarily quarrel with that—they should leave, say, 100 yards here or 50 yards there and 40 yards there on the edges of the Sitka spruce, or whatever it may be; the natural seed of the ash, scrub oaks or birch will blow in there and will grow, eventually softening the line and making it much more attractive. But I have never seen them do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was quite right in saying that the deciduous woodland has disappeared to a large extent in the last 30 or 40 years. Some of that is due to the Forestry Commission because when they are planting a hillside where there is virgin forest of oak, birch and other similar trees, they ring all the trees to kill them and then go and plant spruce or fir where that deciduous wood has been. Naturally, that does damage to the natural flora and fauna.
I am afraid this amendment is a non-starter, because the Forestry Commission has the Government where it wants it and so the amendment will not be accepted. Some of the regions have learned a bit because in the old days they used to be frightful in what they did. But they have now started the extremely unpleasant habit, I am afraid, of shooting deer by searchlight—that is by night—in their plantations. They are overshooting and I think it is an extremely unattractive habit. The law does not allow any private individual to do that, and I think it ought to be stopped. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, I should like to say 477 just a word on this. I shall not follow my noble friend Lord Massereene in all his arguments, but I will see that what he said about the Forestry Commission is brought to the notice of the Commissioners word by word. With regard to the amendment, I would say that it is rather excessive and unnecessary. What is behind it, of course, and what has been said with regard to the Forestry Commission I very much appreciate, because it is true. There is continuing liaison between the Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, although I do not say that the result is always agreeable to the Nature Conservancy Council.
As I understand the amendment, it says that they shall have regard to the advice of the Council. I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that the Forestry Commission does already pay a great deal of regard to the Nature Conservancy Council, particularly in those areas where it is apparent to the members or the Commission at all levels who have knowledge of botany, or ornithology and things of that sort. So without taking up the time of your Lordships' House, I would say, that I hope the Government will think carefully before amending the Forestry Act, because I think it is unnecessary.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and the noble Lord, Lord Melchctt, have been grossly unfair to the Forestry Commission who, in my experience, take considerable trouble to preserve a certain amount of mixed habitat around the edges and through the middle of their plantations. Certainly, where they have planted in Caithness and on my ground which I have sold to them, they have taken into consideration wildlife of every kind. Indeed, my experience is that, far from having nasty habits in regard to red deer, they take immense trouble to try to get the deer out of the plantations—I am talking about what the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, said—at an early stage.
I have myself taken part in deer drives to get out deer that had, unfortunately, got inside a fence before it was closed and that kind of thing. Their plantations, certainly in Caithness, have produced an expansion in the variety of bird life, flora and fauna of all kinds, which exist in areas that previously were barren and carried nothing but heather, mosses, sedges and things of that kind.
So what has been said about the Forestry Commission is a little unfair and, really, this question does not arise, because either they are allowed to plant on a site of special scientific interest or they are not. If they are allowed to plant on it, then, presumably, all the discussions will have taken place first. If they are not allowed to plant on it, the question does not arise. If it is not a site of special scientific interest, then I cannot see why there should be any restriction on the Forestry Commission in the normal way.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, in support of what the noble Viscount has just said, we must distinguish between the Forestry Commission of today and the Forestry Commission of 10 or 20 years ago. In my contact with them through the National Trust, I find them extremely constructive about the landscape nowadays and that should be placed on the record.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, before the noble Lord 478 sits down, he did not mention my name, but, in case he was pointing in my direction when he said what he did say, may I point out that I said absolutely nothing that could possibly be taken as critical. I made a speech which was full of praise for the Forestry Commission.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, in regard to what the noble Viscount said, in my region it is certainly not so—
§ Noble Lords: Order!
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, may I make one small observation? I am just wondering whether this amendment is correct. I think that the noble Lord wanted it to refer to areas designated as SSSIs, but what it says is "special interest". I am just wondering whether that is sufficient. I do not know how the Forestry Commission know that something is of special interest unless it is actually designated, and the amendment as worded might be faulty.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, this clause seems identical to that tabled to the Forestry Bill in the other place on the fifth sitting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on 26th February. At that stage, the Government resisted the proposed clause. The Government's case against the new clause was set out by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. He said:In general terms, this clause would impose an additional and quite unnecessary statutory obligation on the Forestry Commission going far beyond the obligations normally imposed on other public bodies. Like other Government departments and public bodies, the Commission is required under the Countryside Acts to have regard, in exercising its functions relating to land, to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty of the countryside. The term 'natural beauty' is construed under the Acts as including references to the conservation of flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features. There is no evidence that the Forestry Commission does not fully comply with this requirement. Indeed, from my personal experiences I can assure the Committee that the Forestry Commission goes to endless trouble to try to seek proper consultation on these difficult matters.As the Committee knows, the NCC already has statutory authority to designate land which, in its opinion, is of special scientific interest. There are such areas of Forestry Commission land and the Commission has well-established procedures for liaison with the NCC in respect of the management of such areas. The Commission does therefore consult the NCC on any operation which is likely to threaten the scientific interest in designated areas, and it would be unnecessarily bureaucratic to require the Commission by statute to do something which it is already doing as manager of public land. To extend it even further to non-designated land, as the clause implies, would be an unreasonable restriant on the Commission in exercising the duties laid upon it." [Official Report, Commons.]I think that really sums up the Government's view and I need not add anything to it, except to say that there has been extraordinary liaison in people between the Forestry Commission and the NCC, and that Sir Ralph Verney, who is now chairman of the NCC, was a past Forestry Commissioner. It is also true that Sir David Montgomery, now chairman of the Forestry Commission, was previously on the Nature Conservancy Council. We consider that this is not a 479 necessary clause and I hope that the noble Lord will not feel the need to press it.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I must say I am confused about the arguments against the amendment. On the one hand it is said that it is excessive and on the other that it is unnecessary. I find it hard to understand how it can be both. If it is unnecessary because it repeats something which already happens, which I take to be the argument of the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, because the Forestry Commission would consult the Nature Conservancy Council about any site of special scientific interest, why is it excessive? It is not asking them to do anything which they do not do at the moment.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, if I used the word "excessive" perhaps that was wrong. I meant that it was unnecessary, that it was overdoing it.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, the noble Lord has put my mind at rest on that point. In quoting his honourable friend in another place the noble Earl, Lord Avon, used words which implied that it would be an enormous bureaucratic imposition on the Commission to be required to consult the Nature Conservancy Council about sites of special scientific interest, although he also said that they do this, anyhow. How can that be so? I find both arguments to be totally unconvincing because they cancel each other out.
The noble Lord, Lord Burton, asked me if it was drafted wrongly. It may well be. I take his point. The difficulty is that "sites of special scientific interest" is a term which does not appear in any statute. It appears as a sideline, as I discovered when I tried to amend it. We shall come to that, possibly on the next day of the Report stage. That is why it is difficult to get that into the clause. But even if it has been drafted wrongly, the intention is to ensure that the Forestry Commission consult the Nature Conservancy Council before they plant on a site of special scientific interest.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said that if they have permission to plant they must have talked to the Nature Conservancy Council. I do not see how that follows. There is no requirement on them to talk to the Nature Conservancy Council because they are going to plant on a site of special scientific interest. There is nothing in the legislation about it. It may well be the policy that the Minister in another place when replying to this did not go so far as to say that the Forestry Commission always would consult the Nature Conservancy Council before they planted on a site of special scientific interest. As I understand it, he said that it would be up to the Commission to decide whether or not a site was sufficiently important for them to consult the Nature Conservancy Council. It seems to me that we ought to ensure that the Forestry Commission will consult the Nature Conservancy Council over sites of special scientific interest.
If my amendment went wider than that it was an error, in which case it might be better not to press it now. However, I should like to ask the noble Earl to look at this again. If the Forestry Commission do this as a matter of routine there is no problem. The noble Earl can write me a letter confirming it, in which case 480 I agree that my amendment is unnecessary. However, my information is that this is not the case. To give the noble Earl an example, there was a problem in, I think, Abernethy Forest where the owner prevented the Forestry Commission from consulting the Nature Conservancy Council when discussing changes to a planned forestry operation on the site. That was a Grade 1 site of special scientific interest. The owner of the site said that he did not want the Forestry Commission to consult the Nature Conservancy Council, and the Forestry Commission—I dare say very reluctantly, in view of what the noble Earl and others have said—had to abide by the owner's wishes. There was no way in which they could consult the Nature Conservancy Council over that. The Nature Conservancy Council had no way of finding out what changes were being proposed to that Grade 1 site. There was no consultation, no discussion—nothing. That does not seem to me to be satisfactory.
If, however, the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, and others are correct and I am wrong, I should be happy not to bother the House with it again at Third Reading. I wonder, though, whether the noble Earl could give me an undertaking to look again at this matter. I may not have had him directly on the point because my amendment was not correctly worded. If the noble Earl would undertake to look at it, I should be happy to withdraw the amendment now.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I am happy to say that I will look at it. I should also like to know how an owner could prevent the Forestry Commission from going to the NCC. It does not seem possible.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I hope that is what the noble Earl is going to look at. That is my information, that it was said to the Forestry Commission that they did not have the owner's permission to discuss the plans that were going to be grant aided by the Forestry Commission with the NCC, and so far as the Forestry Commission was concerned that was that. There was no discussion with the NCC at all on that one. I am grateful to the noble Earl for saying that he will look at this again and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.26 p.m.
Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 173ZB:
Insert the following new clause:
§ ("Schemes under Agriculture Act 1970
§ .—(1) Any scheme made under section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 shall, in respect of National Parks in England and Wales and such other areas as may be specified in the scheme, seek to provide in respect of the parks and such other areas as may be specified for conserving and enhancing their natural beauty and the public enjoyment thereof; for maintaining a minimum level of population; for developing tourist and craft industries and such other measures as may be for the benefit of the rural economy.
§ (2) Any scheme made under section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 shall provide that, in relation to an application made under that scheme, where representations are made by the relevant authority for the area to which the application relates that the work or operations for which grant is sought would be likely to affect adversely the character or amenity of the area and those representations are not withdrawn the application shall be finally determined jointly by the Ministers.
§ (3) Where, in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of this section, an application is refused the relevant 481 authority shall seek to enter into a management agreement with the person who made the application in respect of that land. The financial consideration in respect of the agreement shall be determined in accordance with a scheme which shall be determined by the Ministers.
§ (4) In this section "relevant authority" means, as respects land in a National Park, the county planning authority and, as respects any other land, the local planning authority.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I move the debate from nature conservation to the management of the countryside as a whole, and particularly its management in national parks for, not single purposes of agriculture, but multiple purposes by the hill farmers. Before deploying my argument, I must share with your Lordships a little gem which I discovered while doing my homework for this debate in an EEC Report on the social conditions in the regions. I read:
A farmer may have employment outside agriculture and may include employment located on the farm, such as managing a camp site or tourism, for example. When a farmer has neither employment outside agriculture nor works a minimum of 2200 hours a week on his farm he is regarded asunder-employed".
I say that in order to register my admiration—and I think the admiration of all your Lordships—for our hill farmers, who even if they do not work as hard as that, do work very hard, and under very difficult circumstances, working not only as farmers engaged in food production but as agents of conservation and indeed as agents of all the purposes of national parks.
§ So the role of the hill farmer from the point of view of national parks is not just important, it is essential, and everyone with a concern for the countryside has a direct interest in keeping the hill farmer farming well and profitably. If he were not there we should have national jungles, we should have national swamps, but we should not have national parks and we should have no possibility of achieving them. So everything possible must be done to encourage our hill farmers to stay there and to farm and to do nothing which needlessly harasses or hampers them. But, in this week in particular, when the Gospel is the story of the Temptations of our Lord, we have to remember that man does not live by bread alone and there is more value in the hills of, say, Snowdonia, than in so many kilograms of sheepmeat; and our aim is to find and to hold the balance and achieve a reconciliation between the needs of the rural economy, which basically depends upon the price of lamb in the market, and the needs of those millions of people who seek spiritual refreshment by lifting their eyes up into the hills when they get into our national parks.
§ In addition to those two extremes, one basic and one sublime, we have to cater for a whole range of other needs which are met in our national parks and to balance them correctly. In seeking to do this through my amendment to this Bill we are not starting from scratch in the quest for balance and reconciliation and a comprehensive approach to rural affairs; we start from Section 11 of the Countryside Act of 1960, under which all Ministers and public bodies are required to have regard to the natural beauty of the countryside in everything they do.
§ We go on with the findings of the Countryside Review Committee in the early 'seventies which advo- 482 cated and strongly recommended a comprehensive and not a sectional approach to rural policy. There were numerous reports in the mid-'seventies by each of the associations of local authorities, urging that more comprehensive attention should be given to the rural economy as a whole where the social fabric was being weakened and depopulation was being encouraged by the over-concentration on agricultural production alone in isolation from other objectives. We have the support of the Less Favoured Areas Directive, adopted in 1975, which transposed the old United Kingdom hill cow and sheep subsidies into the EEC Common Agricultural Policy, but at the same time widened their scope to require that the farming supported by the directive should be farming of a kind which would support conservation, as well. We have the Upton management experiments which have been conducted with the aid of ADAS officers, led by ADAS officers, in the Lake District and in Snowdonia. Now we have similar experiments going on in the Eden district in the Pennines, all demonstrating the ability of good management on the ground to increase farm income and pursue conservation and access objectives all simultaneously.
§ Then we have the Strutt Report in 1978, which advocates a wider remit for the ADAS officers of the Ministry of Agriculture in the fields of conservation, public access and tourism. There is a farm study conducted by the Ministry itself in East Herefordshire, ending in 1979, showing how good a return on capital, ranging from 16 per cent. to no less than 295 per cent., is to be had from farm tourism of every kind in that particular area. Finally, we have pilot projects in integrated rural development, advocated by the Commission, and now to be established in the Western Isles, in Lozere and South-East Belgium, on which I did a report for your Lordships some year or two ago. Finally, and most recently, research projects also stimulated by the Commission into the technique of integrated rural development.
§ Having listened to that catalogue, some of your Lordships may say, if there are already all these recommendations all these reports and these successful experiments, why do we need more legislation? I am afraid the answer is that, despite all these, I would say, welcome developments, we have had serious, and I would say unnecessary, clashes in a number of places between forestry and farming interests on the one hand and conservation interests on the other. We have had these serious losses in SSSIs, all of which could have been avoided if this multiple management had been taken more seriously and sooner, and we have had the trouble on Exmoor which it is the object of Lady White's amendment in a moment to cure.
§ My intention in this amendment, No. 173ZB, is not so much to cure these problems but to proceed by way of a more vigorous and wholehearted attempt to prevent them occurring. My amendment seeks to achieve this aim of prevention not by introducing anything much that is very new but by providing a new framework in this piece of primary legislation in which the recommendations of all these reports and experiments I have catalogued can be more constructively and more readily put into practice.
§ With that, I will turn briefly to indicate some of the ways in which I believe that will happen. The require- 483 ment in the first part of my amendment, subsection (1), relating to conservation and access is just a little more positive in respect of the Ministry of Agriculture than the obligation already laid on all Ministries and public bodies by Section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968. But it goes no further than is required by the Less Favoured Areas Directive and no further than the Strutt Report, which recommends precisely that ADAS should have a wider remit to decide farm applications in the national parks against conservation and access criteria.
§ The reference in subsection (1) of my amendment to seek and to maintain populations in the rural areas and to develop farm tourism, again goes no further than what is already in the less-favoured areas directive. The widening of the subsections to embrace other measures to benefit the rural economy is just giving expression to every single report that has been written about the problems of the countryside in the last few years. The possible extension one day, if desired, of this clause to other areas outside the national parks is to allow for the benefits to farmers in all this—and I am sure that there will be benefits—to be extended from the national parks and the less favoured areas into marginal areas where farming is also difficult and where farm incomes are also vulnerable.
§ Subsection (2) provides for dealing with the kind of breakdown in relationship, such as we have, alas!, recently seen in Exmoor. It does so in the hope and indeed the expectation that by applying some form of joint determination further alternative guidance and advice to farmers could be given and that in turn could prevent the problem ever reaching the point at which any form of compulsion or coercion would be needed. I have been at particular pains to draft this part of the amendment to give Ministers entire discretion as to the manner in which the joint determination is to be achieved. I would also ask the House to note that at no point is the matter taken out of the hands of the Minister for Agriculture—it is just that in consideration of the matter he brings in the Secretary of State for the Environment as well.
§ Subsection (3) provides a framework in this primary legislation under which Ministers can more readily decide the best way in which the public funds available for all this can be channelled and employed. The broad purpose of what we must seek to do is to move away from the situation in which policy for the management of the countryside is dictated by a whole series of sectoral, financial and administrative mechanisms and to get and keep ourselves in a position where policy is decided by the policy-makers and the administrative machines are made to serve the policy; rather than the situation that we are in at the moment where the sectoral policies that apply to the countryside distort, fragment and undermine the policies. I hope that that explanation makes the purpose of my amendment clear and gives sufficient indication of how I think that it will operate. I beg to move.
§ Lord Craigton
My Lords, in my view this amendment must be right if rural farms and populations are to exploit their rural possibilities to the full. I wish to say two or three sentences on the clashes, as my noble friend said, between forestry, farming and conservation. In this land of Britain where there is so little land, 484 inevitably there will be clashes between forestry, farming and conservation and each party to those clashes has a good case. I like the way in which subsection (2) does not specify any procedure in determining applications of the type that would arise. I am sure that that is the right answer. There is no complicated legislation. A meeting conducted locally by good men and true who know the local position and at which all the local interested parties attend is the very best way to work out a solution, limiting to the minimum having to refer to the DoE or MAFF. I am sure that that is the right answer. This is a very important matter for Britain and I wholly support the amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, it may be for your Lordships' convenience if I also speak at this stage to Amendment No. 173FA. Both these amendments deal with the question of capital grants under Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970. Both deal with circumstances where such operations could adversely affect the flora, fauna and other features of the countryside, and both can take in any land, because the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, refers to "national parks and other areas". The difference is that in his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has proposed that if an application is refused then a management agreement can be sought with, of course, appropriate financial considerations. This brings in the long discussion which we had earlier this afternoon, which I am certain noble Lords would not wish to reopen, as to what happens if a management agreement is refused—full stop.
So far as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, goes, we would support it, but the amendment standing in my name and the names of my two noble friends goes a little beyond that. The second amendment proposes that where the Minister considers that there is or is likely to be damage or destruction to the features of the land, the grant that may be paid under this clause shall not be paid. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has stressed: the duty that is already placed upon Ministers and public bodies to take the interests of the countryside into consideration in all matters; therefore, it would be in connection with the payment of these grants. I would ask noble Lords to note the words: where they are damaged or destroyed "to an appreciable extent". Therefore, there must be a reasonable amount of destruction or damage.
However, even where these circumstances exist, there are two provisos in the second amendment. One proviso is that the works would be absolutely essential having regard to the needs of the individual concerned; that is, the needs of the farmers are such that it would be a hardship if this grant was not agreed, despite the possible or actual destruction or damage to any of the features of the land. The second proviso, which is complementary, is that there are no reasonably practicable alternatives to those particular operations.
Therefore, the effect of the amendment which I would move when we come to it is, first, to safeguard the features of the countryside; secondly, to avoid any hardship to any individual; and, thirdly, no additional finance is required because these will be grants which, but for this amendment which I shall move when we 485 reach it, would be paid if the scheme was approved by the Minister. So we believe that this is a further step towards ensuring that we do something more than go up to a certain point, as is proposed by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and then come to a full stop if there is a refusal. I hope that this will be taken into consideration, and when we come to the appropriate point in the Marshalled List, I shall formally move the amendment.
My Lords, I warm to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. I particularly like subsection (1) of his amendment, deriving from his comprehensive and masterly historical survey in an area in which he is so expert. It seems to me that that subsection is quite excellent because it might be described as fertilising common ground in this difficult matter of equating the diverse interests—and it is no good blinking the fact that they are diverse interests—between those whose livelihood is in a national park and those who come to enjoy the purposes for which national parks were set up.
If the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will forgive me for pointing it out, the weakness lies in subsection (3) of the amendment, in two little words: "seek to". It is one thing to seek an agreement on an application, and particularly where it is a matter of conserving vital areas of moorland in a designated critical area of a particular national park, but it is quite another to reach an agreement which fully conserves and protects that vital critical area. In that respect I prefer the amendment which will be moved shortly in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady White, and myself and others. Particularly in subsection (1) it is undoubtedly a great contribution to the clause as it stands. I should like to commend it.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, any reference to national parks made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in view of his extremely wide experience, must be taken seriously. Whereas he has given great detail to this amendment I should like to talk in general terms. Any sensible move which would provide the opportunity for a wider consideration of facts when considering simply agricultural grants for the national parks and for the less favoured areas must be welcomed.
This amendment would widen the scope for the agricultural and the horticultural grants under Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 to include these other considerations within the original context—and that is important—such as conservation, obviously an important aspect in relation to this particular Bill, tourism and local industry. Factors which are becoming increasingly important to the income of the rural communities and in the long term, to the benefit of the public at large. It would bring these other factors into line with the agricultural considerations, and in my opinion, and certainly in the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, these are obviously of equal importance.
The role of the agricultural occupant is changing, particularly in the more remote rural areas, and diversification away from simple, straightforward agriculture is happening. As noble Lords are aware, over the last 20 years or so we have seen considerable 486 changes. On the whole farms are becoming larger in order to try to counteract the ever decreasing margins that exist within the agricultural communities. This has been to a large extent, I regret, to the detriment of the environment, and populations in the agricultural communities have fallen accordingly. They have fallen to a level where the resident community—and I say resident as opposed to the casual or holiday community—has fallen drastically, with all the inevitable consequences.
This amendment does not in any way suggest the re-deployment of money; it is simply looking at the agricultural aspects in wider terms. It is right that where these grants are concerned the agricultural aspects should be given full consideration, but in conjunction with these other important factors which now, whether we like it or not, form such an integral part within this type of community. This amendment seeks to do this and puts these other considerations on an equal footing with agriculture. This surely must be a sensible move.
The availability of financial support, and the justification for the degree of support, is another matter. With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Sandford, I have serious doubts, as i am sure other noble Lords have, as to whether in the long term an amendment such as this will have any real effect to steady the demise of the rural populations. But that is another argument. The important factor is that this amendment produces a vehicle, and enables the Minister of Agriculture, when considering these grants, to look at all aspects within this community. It should, therefore, provide a more comprehensive outlook, which I hope will benefit all aspects of the upland rural community. I therefore urge your Lordships to support this amendment.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, this goes wider than national parks, and I am glad it does because there are certain areas in Wales, for example, where they are not in national parks—they should be SSSIs but they have not necessarily been designated—and I think I gave too rosy a picture last week when I was discussing the triumverate of the Nature Conservancy Council, the Forestry Commission and farming interests. I understand, now that I have got myself more up to date, that it has not been working perhaps quite as smoothly as one might have wished.
I do not want to delay the House at this late hour, but there are two points I would emphasise. The first is that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is right (as those of us on the European Commission Select Committee know well) in stressing that some of our partners in the EEC have looked at this matter of the integrated development of upland, or less favoured farming areas, with a good deal more imagination than, on the whole, we have.
Secondly, we shall not solve the conflict between primary farming, and to some extent forestry, and conservation unless there is a more even balance in the money scales, because so long as people can get grants under the Ministry of Agriculture grant scheme for maximising food production, no matter how expensive it is—because it is mainly highly marginal production in most of the areas we have been discussing, certainly so far as the uplands are concerned, though I 487 would not necessarily say the same of the lowlands—they will not sacrifice themselves if they can possibly help it by doing anything else. Therefore, an integrated programme of land use in what are the prime conservation areas, which we have been discussing under the Bill, is very necessary.
It is too late to pursue this argument on what is a very wide subject, and I see the Government Chief Whip looking rather impatient. This is an extremely important matter, however, and one of the great disappointments about the Government's attitude to the Bill is that they have not tackled the basic money and economic equation. Unless you can shift some of the cash from one side of the scale to the other you will not solve these problems, and that is why the amendment should have our support.
My Lords, I am sure the Government will do a great deal to cure the impatience of the Government Chief Whip, to which the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred, by accepting the amendment, which I hope they will. I was immensely encouraged when the noble Earl, Lord Peel, advised us to accept the amendment, since I felt that some farmers might be a little suspicious, bearing in mind that this is to do with grants. But knowing the noble Earl to be a suspicious Yorkshireman, and he having advised your Lordships to accept the amendment. I feel optimistic.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in this matter. He has worked indefatigably in this direction, and has been extremely perceptive. It is interesting to note that whereas we have had the Porchester Report and all sorts of other inquiries, at the end of the day it takes a clergyman to see that at the root of the problems of the national parks is money. How right he is, and I hope the Government will accept the amendment.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I feel, my Lords, that I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that I, too, am suspicious.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that my noble friend Lord Sandford has worked indefatigably and has been very perceptive. Indeed, to use some words of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I have warmed to the amendment because it has a great deal to commend it. However, one of its effects would be to introduce major changes in the scope, administration and implications of the system of grant-aid for farmers. That may be one of its purposes, but it would certainly be one of its results. I am glad that my noble friend made the reference he did to hill farmers, who live a hard and tough life; and the amendment is designed to enable them to have a continued or increased income with grants by methods which need not necessarily be agricultural.
Subsection (1) would extend the scope of such aid as they receive in national parks and certain other specified areas to include a range of non-farming activities. The question of whether or not that in itself would be desirable can be debated at length; but it is certain that, at the present time of economic stringency, such an extension would not be suitable, since it could be achieved only by reducing the level of 488 support for projects aimed at stimulating food production. It is inevitable that Government grants have to be administered by one Government department or another, and it is obviously desirable that the Ministry of Agriculture should not be involved in grant-aiding projects which are non-agricultural projects.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. With respect, I think he is mistaken in this regard. It is wrong to assume that because a grant had been applied for but had been rejected the money would have been available as of right, simply because the application might have been accepted. Grants for conservation objectives and for the purposes of encouraging tourism and the development of craft industries are already available from other sources, including the Countryside Commission, the National Tourist Boards and the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, and it seems to me to be preferable to allow the present arrangements to continue.
Subsection (2) of my noble friend's amendment relates to a separate matter: the adjudication of disputed cases where, in the area concerned, the relevant authority had objected to an application made by a farmer for a Ministry of Agriculture grant on the grounds that the character or amenity of the area would be adversely affected. At present, unresolved cases of this type are referred to the Minister of Agriculture for a decision on grant eligibility. Under the terms of the amendment that decision would be taken jointly by, in England, the Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, the Government's view is that it is proper that grants made by the Minister of Agriculture should be determined at his discretion—after, of course, all representations have been taken into account. However, I can give the House an assurance that it is now the invariable practice of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture to consult the Secretary of State before taking his decision whenever there is an unresolved dispute with a relevant authority.
Subsection (3) of my noble friend's amendment provides that, in the case of applications which are refused, the relevant authority shall seek a management agreement with the applicant in accordance with financial guidelines which would be determined by Ministers. In practice, such agreements will already often be sought in national parks. But I think that it would be undesirable to make such a requirement mandatory, for two reasons. First, it would oblige the local authorities concerned to increase their expenditure, irrespective of the circumstances of the case. We are, of course, anxious at present not to impose any statutory obligation upon local authorities that would have that effect. It is far preferable to leave them, as at present, to make up their own minds as to whether a management agreement should be offered. Secondly, it might encourage farmers to put forward controversial schemes which would never be sound enough to secure a grant on the grounds of their agricultural value, in the knowledge that the relevant authority would be bound to object because of conservation implications. If the objection were not withdrawn, the offer of a management agreement would be obligatory.
My noble friend's amendment is ingenious and basically sound. He aims to provide that if a farmer wishes 489 to improve his land and therefore his income, but for conservation reasons his application for grant is refused, the Government contribution which would have been available to him should be made available to him in some other form, to enable him to increase his income in some other way which would be more acceptable from an aesthetic and a conservation point of view. In theory the rationale is hard to refute, but for the practical reasons that I have given to your Lordships I feel that it would be difficult for the Government to accept the amendment.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
In the Highland area, of course, the Highlands Development Board will I do just this. They give grants for all types of rural activity in both agriculture and industry.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I believe that the measure of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, goes rather wider than the kind of activities which the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, has just mentioned. It seems to me of very considerable and fundamental importance. I do not want to make the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, any more suspicious than he apparently is and perhaps I could simply make some brief remarks from an agricultural point of view, and from the point of view of a farmer, which I am.
Personally, I am worried about the future of the agricultural industry in this country. It seems to me that the agricultural industry has a fundamental weakness which at the same time is its strength; the extent to which it is dependent upon public funds in a number of ways. I make no complaint about that, as I made clear at the Second Reading. I think this is an excellent thing, but we are going through an extremely serious economic time in this country at the moment and the agricultural industry is suffering. But it is the one industry in this country where there have been no massive lay-offs, major closures or economic disasters on anything like the scale which is true in almost every other area of British industry. I think that is an excellent thing and again I make no complaint about it, but as farmers it seems to me that we have to watch ourselves in those circumstances.
Another thing that worries me is the enormous public unpopularity of the Common Agricultural Policy and the surpluses which it produces. Agricultural production is unpopular in this country now in a way that it never was under the old pricing support system. Agriculture is now something unpopular; a nasty business in the eyes of many people, because we are producing large surpluses with a good deal of public expense attached to them, which are then sold to people outside the EEC—such as the USSR, again with some public subsidy attached. Many people view that as something which should not be done. Agriculture gets tarred with a brush which I think is unfair, and I am concerned about it.
My other point is that agriculture has for its support a declining constituency. The number of workers in agricultural industry has fallen steadily and fairly rapidly over the years, and so has the number of holdings, and thus the number of people involved in agriculture both in management and as workers has declined. As farmers we need to be sure of public 490 support, particularly since we depend so largely on public money. I believe the Common Agricultural Policy and the surpluses, perhaps because of the way in which they are presented to the public, as much as the facts of what is happening, are eroding that public support.
It seems to me that all these changes are reflected in the power of the agricultural industry and possibly within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food itself; the domination by people with large farms—and speaking as an East Anglian farmer myself, the domination of lowland farmers as opposed to the upland farmers, and the domination of the large company-owned farms and estates as opposed to the small farms and tenant farmers. This seems to me to reflect the other change which has taken place in our industry and which, again, fundamentally weakens it. Far too much of the public money which goes to agriculture is going to people who do not really need it; certainly they do not need it nearly as badly as hill farmers and tenant farmers; people who very often cannot afford to make use of the large capital grants which are available. Unfortunately, the money tends to go to the richest farmers.
It seems to me that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is an excellent way of starting to redress a number of what I see as being inherently very serious weaknesses in the agricultural industry and the support it receives from the Ministry of Agriculture, and from the public through the Ministry of Agriculture. I think it would be an excellent move in the right direction for farmers who are battling against very difficult conditions, as hill farmers certainly are; they are suffering much more severely from the sort of recession which we now find ourselves. Corn and sugar beet farmers, for example, in East Anglia are not suffering so badly, despite what we all say; it is the upland livestock farmers who have suffered much more severely in recent years in a number of different ways. I do not believe that the balance of money going into farming is going in the right direction, and Lord Sandford's amendment seems to be an excellent way of starting to redress the balance. It would not demand more money. It would seem to me to demand a slight readjustment of the way the money is spent by MAFF.
The noble Earl said that he thought that the amendment was basically sound. I doubt that he will say that about the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Underhill and myself, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will press this amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, said that he was not sure whether it would work. He said to me when we were talking about the voluntary agreement proposal in Clause 27, "Try it and see!" Maybe I could turn that back on him and anybody worried about this amendment. Let us try it and see. This would be a new concept. A second reason why I think it useful to get this provision in the Bill is that it is a complex matter and this is the first time we have discussed it, unfortunately late at night. If we do not put it in the Bill, I do not believe that another place will consider this subject. It is not the sort of amendment, I would have thought, which is likely to be accepted in another place, even if tabled; although I say that without knowing what is likely to be done. If we get 491 the amendment in, it will give the other place a chance to discuss it. The Government can change it if they wish without too much trouble. It has enormous merits from an agricultural point of view, apart from the advantages for upland areas which it is designed to help. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will press his amendment, If he does not, I think my noble friend and I might well do so in preference to our own amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said. I had the honour of serving under Lord Sandford on his committee on rural integration and we spent a lot of time considering the matter and there was a debate on it in this House. I am in sympathy with what my noble friend is putting forward but I do not think it can be done in four paragraphs. It must take with it the full support of the farming community which is not there at the moment. It has to have more thought than we are giving it at this hour. I hope that my noble friend does not press the amendment. I am grateful for his raising the matter but perhaps we are taking it at the wrong stage.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, the sweeping indictment of agriculture made by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, cannot pass without comment. By and large the national parks are not covered with acres of sugar beet, by and large the areas we are talking about are where the hill farmers live and hill farmers are not losing lots of people. They are down to their last person.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I must protest. The noble Viscount did not listen to a word I said. That is exactly what I was saying—
§ Several noble Lords: Order, order!
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I think the noble Lord had a good say in denigrating the farming industry.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, we will find this in Hansard tomorrow. Let us leave it at that. What I feel we must recognise is that the farming industry is under pressure to produce food for the country and for the world and is losing not only money but acres. Every year some 30,000 acres are being taken out of farming by urban sprawl alone. Yet the farmers are being catigated in this debate for trying to take in a few acres of rough ground in the hills. I do not think we are getting the matter in proportion. Certainly from what I have heard of what Lord Melchett has said, his attack on farming was unjustified. This has nothing to do with Lord Sandford's amendment. Much of what was said did not have much to do with Lord Sandford's amendment.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I must protest. The noble Viscount has completely misrepresented what I have said—as would have been clear from watching the faces of noble Lords opposite. I was trying to defend hill farmers and saying that they ought to get more money than they do now and more public support.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, as the only Peer in this House who has actually been burned in effigy on the steps of Stormont for not giving the hill farmers of Northern Ireland enough money, I want to say as a compensation for those bad days how pleased I am to support this amendment and my noble friend who seems to have been not only misunderstood but absurdly abused by the noble Viscount. If I may say so, it was a most senseless attack. His defence was that farming as a whole is asking for some redistribution. It is perfectly obvious to everybody that the rich farmers get rather too much and the poor too little. Anybody who does not think that is halfwitted.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, I do not wish to get involved in a Lib-Lab battle rather than a Lib-Lab pact. The Chief Whip is glowering at me but I can take that because the other day he gave me a rocket for not having spoken on one amendment. Something very much attracts me about Lord Sandford's amendment. This is something which has not been discussed at any time: it is on moorland conservation and on the over-stocking and over-grazing of heather. In our part of the North Yorkshire national parks we could swallow up many times the whole of Exmoor in the amount of white land which used to be moorland and which has been over-grazed. I do not think that this is the fault of the farmers. All you can do if you are a hill farmer and times are hard is try to produce more and more sheep and lambs.
In doing that you tend to kill off the heather. It is very easy; you do not have to plough up a moor in order to kill the heather, you can do it by over-stocking with sheep, and even more so by putting cattle on it. Cattle pull the heather up by the roots and it never grows again. If the land has been over-stocked by sheep then in due course it can regain its state if it is left alone over a number of years. Pressures have been on the hill farmers. They have put more and more sheep on and they have over-grazed the land. Then the land becomes useless, white land, not much good for farming and then it is taken over by forestry. We have seen acres and acres disappear like this.
I do not think that this has been mentioned before in the whole debate. If I have missed it in Hansard or if I have been asleep, I apologise. This is a fairly reasonable amendment which might well cover this topic by linking conservation measures in the distributing of grants. This is something which farmers do from necessity because they have not enough cash coming in. In the end, it goes against them and the land is lost forever to agriculture. It is taken over by forestry. I am not sure that I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, if he presses this amendment to a Division; I like the amendment but I should like more time to think about it. There are certain aspects which I do not like; but, on the other hand, this is a point which attracts me.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said on agriculture. It is certainly true that we are in danger of 493 getting our image badly muddied. Having said that, I should like to suggest that part of the danger of overproduction and mechanisation of agriculture is depopulation of the countryside. By helping with grants for stone walls as opposed to wire, and hedges as opposed to using wire, it keeps the population in the countryside more stable. If you do that then it is more interesting. I know that as farmers it is all our fault; but the East Anglian countryside is not as beautiful as it was 20 or 30 years ago. I do not think that one can blame the farmer for this. We in the farming industry have to take a long hard look at ourselves, and we have to be careful. This is a very good amendment and I hope that my noble friend Lord Sandford presses it. I sincerely hope that we are not going to be over-awed by what could be known as the Wiggin pressure in the Ministry of Agriculture.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that I understand the sense and feeling which has been expressed. However, the money which is made available for grants is for the Ministry of Agriculture to spend in order to stimulate food production. I would only say that the practicalities of this amendment, were it to be passed, would be such as to endeavour to make available that level of grant which would have been given to stimulate food production for something other than food production. The fact is that the Ministry of Agriculture would not have that capacity, because they have not the ability to make financial contributions for those purposes; and however much your Lordships may think that in principle it is right to do this, the fact is that each government department has got to organise its own grant system. It is a fallacy to say that there would be a certain amount of grant available if the project had been accepted but because it had been rejected therefore that amount of Government money is available even if it comes from a different department. It is the practicalities of it which, I respectfully suggest, would not work.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, would the noble Earl not think that if this amendment were put down the Government might then think of this problem?—whereas if it is not put down we shall simply go on as we are at the moment where hill farmers, for extremely expensive marginal food production, get rather more than 50 per cent. of their incomes, one way or another, from public funds. There may be better ways to do it. It does not necessarily have to come from the Ministry of Agriculture. If this amendment is put down, the Government might have time to think how in more practical ways they could meet the problem, which is a very real one, and bring forward their own amendment in another place. If we do not put it down, the other place will never think of it.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I am grateful for that support. I think the House would now like to come to a decision on this. I do not want to say very much more except to comment briefly on what my noble friend said in that last intervention. Of course it is true to say about agricultural grants generally that their main purpose is to stimulate the production of food. But in the case of the less favoured areas directive I do not think my noble friend is right to say that without 494 qualification, because it is quite clear from the directive that the farming and food production it is designed to stimulate is to be of that nature which also has the effect of helping to stem rural depopulation and also, where necessary, to contribute to conservation.
I cannot agree with my noble friend if he sought to give the House the impression that it is not possible to apply the sum of roughly £2 million per annum which goes to the thousand or so hill farmholdings in Snowdonia alone, in a way which not only stimulates food production but also contributes to conservation. It is not a question of diverting agricultural funds from agricultural purposes but of using them imaginatively, intelligently and in the way the Strutt Report recommended, in order to do more than one thing at a time. That is all I want to say by way of comment.
I find myself in a difficult position. I have long been deeply concerned, as have many of your Lordships, over the state of our rural areas, their depopulation and the weakness of their economy, and all the more so since I have been President of the Association of District Councils. In order to get this amendment right, I have consulted very widely with the county councils, the district councils, the English and Welsh Tourist Boards, the Development Commission, with the CLA, the NFU and the Countryside Commission. After a whole series of meetings with them in various groupings, I have found a form of words for my amendment which everyone I have consulted is either able to support enthusiastically or, at the very least, is able to sympathise with.
During the course of this short debate, which through no fault of mine is taking place at 10 o'clock, I have had nothing but support from within the House from every side and, if I may say so to my noble friend, the arguments against incorporating this amendment into the Bill have been limited to a few objections on matters of practical detail. If we were at the Committee stage, of course I would not hesitate to withdraw the amendment, because we would have an opportunity of further discussion and so on—though, heaven knows! there has been an opportunity enough for that on all these reports and experiments going on for many months already. Much as I should prefer not to be doing this, I have to share the feeling which has been expressed by a number of noble Lords already that if we do not get this into the Bill now there will not be any debate about it during the course of the passage of this Bill. Therefore, I am afraid that I have no option but to press the amendment.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 173ZB) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 48; Not-Contents, 46.495
|Arbuthnott, V.||Davies of Leek, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||de Clifford, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Foot, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Gibson, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Glasgow, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Gray, L.|
|David, B.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Pender, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Sandford, L. [Teller.]|
|Jeger, B.||Segal, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Stone, L.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.||Swansea, L.|
|Melchett, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Mersey, V.||Thurso, V.|
|Onslow, E.||Underhill, L. [Teller.]|
|Peart, L.||White, B.|
|Peel, E.||Winstanley, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Avon, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Burton, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Middleton, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Rochdale, V.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||St. Just, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Salisbury, M.|
|Gainford, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Soames, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Henley, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Kemsley, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Long, V.||Wise, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 10.29 p.m.
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 173A:
Page 29, line 12, after ("natural") insert ("or man made").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I asked the same question as this in Committee and received an answer in the most beautiful language. Unfortunately, neither I nor, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, could understand what my noble friend said. I am asking him to confirm that management agreements could extend to man-made features such as green lanes, stone walls and hedges. I could understand if the answer is, Yes. I beg to move.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, in an effort to speed things up now that we are making such excellent progress I wonder whether I may speak to Amendment No. 173AA at the same time because, although it does not look like it, I have had a letter about my amendment which makes me think that actually the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and I are on the same point, or at least are very close. My amendment was actually suggested by the Association of County Councils, so the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, may feel that I am not such an unwelcome bed-fellow after all. The amendment was designed to enable this clause to apply to man-made features in the countryside which were of historic interest. The sort of things I had in mind were parks of country houses which had been designed 496 by somebody like Capability Brown and which were essentially fashioned by man much more directly than something like a piece of moorland, or some other scenically attractive area, and were also, of course, of historic interest.
The letter that I received about my amendment does not really meet that point. It says that existing legislation covers almost every other sort of thing one can think of in the countryside, either under the existing clause or under the Archaeological Areas Act, but it seems to me that there is a point which I was trying to drive at and which I think the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, was trying to drive at—or, at least, we are very close—which is not covered either by this clause as it is drafted or by the Archaeological Areas Act. I therefore thought I would give the noble Lord some support; and I hope the Government can reply to my amendment at the same time as that of the noble Lord, because I think we are driving, though it may be from different directions, at the same thing.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, if I may reply to my noble friend first, I can give the assurance he seeks. The phrase "natural beauty" has been used in our countryside legislation since 1949, and it is clear that there can be no rigid distinction between natural and man-made things when a management agreement is being negotiated. There is no reason why Clause 32 management agreements should not be made to protect features such as green lanes and other ancient trackways.
To come on to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, perhaps I had better read out some of the things in the letter that he knows about but that other noble Lords may not have seen. A complementary range of powers lies in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, the Long Title of which specifies archaeological or "historical" interest. Section 17 provides for agreements between occupiers and local authorities, or the Secretary of State, for the protection of monuments, and that word includes an enormous range which I can paraphrase as "any building, structure or work, whether above or below the surface"—and I feel that must cover the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, which I think was a bit of a Capability Brown house.
§ The Earl of Avon
Park—I beg the noble Lord's pardon. Then, "any cave or excavation; any site comprising the remains of the above"—so it could be a bit of a Capability Brown park with a temple in it—"any machinery which is part of a monument".
We therefore seem to have coverage of "countryside" and of "things", and I am assured that the 1979 Act covers industrial history as well as other kinds. I hope that with that large list and comprehensive survey both both Lords will feel satisfied.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, does "natural beauty" include man-made lakes and lochs, and amenity planting of timber? I suppose it does.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, with that final remark by my noble friend I am happy to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 173AA not moved.]
§ 10.34 p.m.
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 173AB:
After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:
.—(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: My Lords, I will not repeat the points made in Committee at column 431 on 13th February, but will just remind your Lordships that the purpose of this amendment is to encourage the highway authority to replace the fence, the wall or the bank, if they destroy it when putting a road through a farm, in as near as possible its original form so as to keep it in tune with the local area.
§ My Lords, I have received a letter about this from my noble friend Lord Avon, and I am sorry to say that I am even more distressed to realise that there is no obligation to replace a fence; and, indeed, the compensation to the owner for re-erecting such a fence is derisory. For instance, in Northumberland we have had a case where a mile-long stone wall was destroyed by a highway authority when putting a road through, and the amount paid to the owner was only sufficient to build under 100 yards of that wall. That is hardly a good example by highway authorities to farmers. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, we are back on one of my hobby-horses, which is compensation. Ever since the case before the Lands Tribunal, which was in 1979 I believe, of Cuthbert v. Secretary of State, the whole basis of compensation has been altered and has made life extremely difficult when trying to act on behalf of an owner or occupier where a highway authority has widened a road and taken the boundary with it. Under common law it is the duty, when 498 somebody is affected, to put them in the same position after the event, or in as nearly as possible the same position, as they were before. When one affects boundary walls and the highway authority claims that the compensation is going to be excessive, then one is not putting the owner or occupier back in the same position as he was before, and this is going to be extremely detrimental.
Since the Cuthbert case it has increasingly become the practice of local authorities to put up the cheapest possible fence. Combine this with the onus that is put on farmers by the Animals Act 1971 in the control of their stock, and it has become an almost untenable situation. I therefore support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned Northumberland. May I say that for every 100 yards destroyed by the local authorities there are many hundreds of miles of stone walls that have been repaired by the local authorities—walls which were crumbling and badly needed repairing. The cost of that fell on the public purse.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I did not necessarily say local authorities. I said highway authorities, which might be the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, it seems to me that this amendment does not really meet the example that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, quoted. I will not put it as low as wishful thinking expressed in statutory form, but to ask a Minister to give due consideration is not really asking very much. You can never tell whether or not he has given it. No court of law can say that he has not—not even the Ombudsman can say that he has not—if the Minister says he has. So, altogether, this amendment, like many others in this group, is seeking to allay fears. I think this is the serious point behind this amendment.
Those with experience have obviously had fears and anxieties about the present administration, and they want those allayed by words in this Bill. It seems to suggest that there has been something less than satisfaction in the administration and the bringing together of the various statutory obligations of different Ministries. I think there can be no possible harm done by passing an amendment of this kind. It may do good. I do not myself regard the expression of statutory hopes as being incompatible with any conventional ideas of statute law. I think in recent years we have carried our educational programme into statute form. The Race Relations Act is a piece of education and the Sex Discrimination Act is a piece of eduation. We create an atmosphere; we seek to get a point of view across and have due regard paid to it, which is what we are asking the Minister to do. He will probably say, "I have given due regard to what I am required to do, but it would be too expensive, so I am not going to do it, but I have paid due regard to what I am required to do under the law ". That is not cold water; that is realism.
We talked only a few minutes ago about Ministers jointly deciding something. Have your Lordships ever tried to get Ministers jointly to decide something? Have noble Lords ever got the Minister for Agriculture 499 and the Secretary of State for the Environment on speaking terms? Who decides if Ministers cannot agree? When I was in the Cabinet some years ago the Cabinet dealt more with disputes between Ministers than with deciding Government policy. That is apparently what is in store for us.
Nevertheless, I am only supporting the noble Lord because I thought that his partner the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, had deserted him. It started off with a triumvirate, then it became a partnership and on this amendment the noble Lord has been left alone. I thought that, in view of my affection for him, I should get up and support him. Therefore, I hope that the House will pass this amendment out of respect for the noble Lord who has worked so hard on this Bill.
My Lords, I have had so many happy disagreements with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, on this Bill that I am a little reluctant to tell him that I totally agree with this amendment, lest that should immediately tempt him to withdraw it without more ado! I have some personal experience of a very beautiful dry stone wall being replaced by a post and wire fence. I really think that, while the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, may be right in that this merely requires the Minister to pay due regard et cetera, it would be nice to know in the future if this happens again, that the responsibility is in part that of the Minister as well as that of the highways authority. I hope that we shall do something about this amendment.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I should like to make a few comments about traditional road bridges over small rural roads. There are some beautiful stone bridges. The highway authority, in my experience, invariably knocks them down and I lays a steel girder with concrete, which is absolutely horrible.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I should just like to say that we again—while hoping that it does not put the noble Lord off—see some merit in the amendment, despite the problems which my noble friend has seen in the likelihood of it actually leading to something being implemented. While I am on my feet, I should like to take the opportunity to apologise to your Lordships. When I last said that I had an amendment which struck at the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, I suggested that it had been supported by the Association of County Councils—in fact it was the Royal Town Planning Institute, but I hope that that makes our co-operation none the less desirable for the noble Lord.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, the insertion of these provisions into the relevant provisions of the Highways Act 1980 would effectively place a duty on highway authorities to provide boundaries in the style and materials used in the area. The first point, on which the Government wish to stand, is that highway authorities have no responsibility—or legal obligation—to provide any kind of boundary for private land bordering on their highways. This is entirely a matter for the landowner. Perhaps this might be illustrated by 500 referring to Section 155 of the Highways Act 1980 under which the keeper of horses, cattle et cetera is guilty of an offence if his animals are found straying on the highway.
However, in the case of motorways the Department of Transport provides fences—not under any statutory obligation to fence the adjoining owner's land, but to mark the boundary within which the restrictions on the use of this special kind of highway apply. But it is, of course, the practice to provide a fence sufficient to prevent cattle or sheep from straying on to the motorway, and the form of fencing to stop this is arranged with the farmer.
In the case of other roads—both trunk roads and local authority roads—I must maintain that where part of an owner's land is acquired for highway construction it is for that owner to decide whether he needs to fence the land left in his ownership; and that in law he is only entitled to monetary compensation. Undoubtedly if the landowner keeps stock on the land remaining with him he will need a new fence and, as I have explained before, the highway authority will usually arrange for this to be done and this is then taken into account in negotiating the settlement of compensation. Here perhaps I could comment on the remark of my noble friend Lord Caithness; in the Cuthbert case it did not alter compensation law which is still based upon depreciation in the value of the interest in the land. However, the difficulty arises if the cost of constructing a fence would be more than the amount of compensation due. The point I am leading to is that the cost of providing something more expensive than a standard form of fencing—as a stone wall is likely to be—could well exceed the actual depreciation in the value of the owner's interest. It is that depreciation, apart from the value of the land acquired, which the owner is entitled to be compensated.
It may seem that I have strayed a long way from the purpose of the amendment, but the point is that it would place on highway authorities an obligation to provide boundary fences or walls, which they do not at present have and a consequential expectation that, whatever the cost might be, traditional materials would be used. We have had some comments about the beautiful bridges and the beautiful walls and, of course, in the context of the previous two amendments there would always be a possibility of obtaining an agreement to retain such beautiful features. This is a complicated subject involving the Highways Act, and I suggest that this will cost money and is rather out of the orbit of this particular Bill.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, if a road is widened by the highway authority and a stone wall is taken down, can he say whether it is not the duty of the highway authority to put up an equivalent wall—in other words, a stone wall—on the new boundary? I had always thought that that was the case, and in Gloucestershire the only decent walls being built now are being built by the local authority.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I do not think that there is any onus on them to do so, but, as the noble Lord has rightly said, it normally happens and the occasions are very rare when it does not.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, I thought that perhaps my noble friend Lord Stanley was going to withdraw the amendment after he had heard what the Minister had to say. But in view of what the Minister has said, I am absolutely appalled at the situation. I rather hope that my noble friend will persist in his amendment, because if what the Minister has said is correct, it is a shocking situation.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I must put my noble friend Lord Ridley right; I do not think that he was here when I moved this amendment in Committee, so I must put him right. In the past local authorities, which are the highway authorities, have behaved quite exemplary. I can give an example in Gwynedd where they put a road through my farm and replaced the wall superbly. Unfortunately, in the construction of a by-pass in Gwynedd, however, the Secretary of State for Wales is behaving quite disgracefully. That is basically the pattern. The local authorities are all right, but the Secretary of State for Wales and the Ministry of Transport are disgraceful. So I am not complaining here. It is the inequality of it. You get the situation of a local authority building a wall so far and then coming to the Ministry of Transport road and then nothing at all, or just a barbed-wire fence.
I was delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Yes, I would love to make it a duty, but, unlike him, I am a timorous person and I have only included a requirement. That is the point which I want to pick up from what my noble friend Lord Avon said; he said that it will cost money. I wish that it would cost money. If I was as brave as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I would make it a duty; then it would cost money. But I quite agree with the noble Lord that they need not do anything about it. I am sorry, but I am a timorous creature; next time I shall bring in a duty. However, I think that it is quite disgraceful. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, brought this up. There is no duty to replace, and I, too, was horrified. I did warn my noble friend Lord Avon and my noble kinsman the Chief Whip that there would be tears over this. I beg to move.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 173AB) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 33; Not-Contents, 40.502
|Arbuthnott, V.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Burton, L. [Teller.]||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Chorley, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Mersey, V.|
|David, B.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Peart, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Segal, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. [Teller.]|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Stone, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hunt, L.||White, B.|
|James of Rusholme, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Wise, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Avon, E.||Mansfield, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Pender, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Ridley, V.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||St. Just, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Sailsbury, M.|
|Gainford, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Hemphill, L.||Soames, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Swinton, E.|
|Kemsley, V.||Thurso, V.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Trenchard, V.|
|Long, V.||Waldegrave, E.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 34 [Orders requiring notification of agricultural operations on moor and heath in National Parks]:
§ 10.58 p.m.
Viscount Ridley moved Amendment No. 173B:
Page 30, line 37, at end insert ("or forestry").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I bring this matter forward again at this stage because my noble friend Lord Avon said he would be happy to consider it on Report and because I have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady White, whose name is also attached to the amendment. I shall be as brief as I can in view of the lateness of the hour. I realise that forestry is somewhat of a sacred cow in this House, and any suggestion that it should be interfered with by any legal process is bound to arouse the anger of many noble Lords. However, I believe that, in the context of the national parks, which is the subject under discussion, it is vital—if we accept that notification should be given of agricultural processes—to accept that forestry is just as important, if not more so, in this context of notification; forestry should therefore be notified, and I am not referring to the situation which will arise when we come to later amendments.
§ The ploughing up of heather and rough grazing may not be all that permanent; in time it will revert to its former state. But if you plant uplands with trees, they are there for all time, the situation is changed completely and the visual intrusion is total and absolute. It has been said that planting hill land is like losing virginity—it can be done only once.
§ It is also absurd that planning permission is needed for a garage for a forestry worker, but it is perfectly possible for the Forestry Commission, or some other people, to create what is in effect an arboricultural slum with vast quantities of alien species of timber. Indeed under this very Bill they would probably be committing several hundred thousand offences a year by putting in alien species under Clause 13, which we have now agreed they should not do.
§ I know that the regional advisory committees are supposed to cover this subject—as was mentioned at 503 the Committee stage—but I do not believe that that goes nearly far enough. In those committees there is a fairly cosy situation, where the national park authorities, the Forestry Commission, perhaps the local authorities, and the Government departments make certain agreements. But there are other people who are not involved in those agreements, and I believe very strongly that the notification procedure would help the regional advisory committees, would help with the process, and that forestry should be brought within the ambit of the clause that we are discussing.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, was able to discuss this matter very briefly at the Committee stage, but for technical reasons it was not possible for him to have a vote on the amendment which he then moved. It seems to me important that tonight, late though the hour is, we should consider this matter, and in particular find out exactly how the mind of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, has been working in the interim. He said quite clearly that he would be happy to consider the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, at the Report stage, but there has been no indication that the Government themselves proposed to table an amendment on this point.
I was not able to be present at the Committee stage, but I have of course read the debate, and I wish in particular to emphasise what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said: It is not just a question of the Forestry Commission; it is the private forestry that very often is the most difficult element in national parks. We have had difficulties with the Forestry Commission in some of our own national parks, but we have also had difficulty with the private owners It seems to me that in certain situations forestry can be just as obtrusive as any agricultural operation. Therefore, even if there is consultative procedure, surely there is a necessity to make quite sure that forestry, whether public or private, is brought into full consideration in national parks, and if possible, early enough for ameliorative measures to be taken, if necessary.
That is not to say that there should be no great expansion of forestry in National Parks. Of course there are areas where more timber growing is called for. We fully recognise that. But we also recognise that in certain of our National Parks the traditional, semi-natural timber is being very rapidly replaced by commercial, coniferous timber. Even if some deciduous trees are planted at the edges of plantations, that does not give to many of us the same pleasure, nor does it afford as much opportunity for a variety of wildlife, as in the kind of semi-natural vegetation and timber growth that there is, for example, in Powys, in the Brecon Beacons.
On the basis of a survey done there in 1977–78, it is reckoned that at the present rate of loss, by the end of the century, 20 years from now, there will remain only half of the semi-natural woodlands, scrub oak, and so on, which can be so delightful to walk through. It is for reasons of this kind that I think the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and I myself feel very strongly that forestry should be included in this particular section of the Bill.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, may I just say very briefly that I agree with everything that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has said and at this late hour I do not wish to repeat any of it.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, I put a slightly contrary view. Successive Governments urged forestries to grow four acres of forestry, and although I was glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady White, refer to some areas in the national parks, I believe she would certainly accept that some forestries should take notice. I think the noble Baroness would agree with me that this should take place in those areas covered in bracken, which are very often on the side of the national parks. This is very typical of the Brecon Beacons. Nobody is suggesting that you should have afforestation on the top of such peaks as Snowdon, or any mountain of that sort.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me, there was a proposition only a few months ago, which fortunately was defeated, that there should be coniferous forests in Ogwen, at the foot of Snowdon.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, yes, but with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, there is not a great deal of point in planting hardwoods in view of the return one gets on them now. I do not think anybody in the forestry world sees any sense in doing a great deal of planting of that kind. That is the trouble, from the conservationist's point of view. All I am trying to say is that Governments urge those responsible for forestry to produce more; and then, time and time again, in just such an instance as this, we have another little restriction—not in itself terribly important but making it more difficult for the wishes of successive Governments to be carried out. In about 50 years, when North Sea oil goes, the time will come when both food and timber are going to be in such short supply that there will be a great problem in feeding our people and keeping them warm. People will not recognise this. I do not oppose the amendment. but I do wish to draw the forestry problem to the attention of my noble friends.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt in what he has said. In one area I know where the public very much like to walk, there was the most awful outcry when one had to cut down some timber. One cannot have it both ways. One cannot say that one does not want the situation altered because one must not grow trees in a particular place and then, when there are trees, there is an outcry in the other direction when you want to cut them down.
One must be flexible on this. Most of the planting done in a national park—which I believe is the only kind of area which has been referred to—will presumably be undertaken with some care, particularly if the Forestry Commission are involved, and one takes it for granted that they would be. One must leave a little to their discretion.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, put down a similar amendment in Committee which l undertook to reconsider. We have done so but, as I explained in Committee, the fact is 505 that there are already comprehensive consultation procedures with the local authorities and national park authorities about private and public forestry proposals. The Forestry Commission consults the national park authorities and for private forestry similar procedures were adopted under a formal direction issued by Forestry Ministers in 1975.
The procedures provide for reference to Ministers if need be. An example where Ministers, both Forestry and Environment, had first-hand involvement in a case referred to them under the procedures, occurred in March last year at South House Moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. They concluded that the afforestation proposal should not be admitted for Government grant even though the National Park Committee itself was prepared to accept the proposal. This demonstrates the complete impartiality which is brought to bear in such cases. The procedures are working well, and we see no necessity in practice for the amendment.
Part of a Government's duty is to make sure that important sectors of the economy do not suffer from unnecessary statutory control. Another part of their duty is to avoid the creation of new bureaucratic procedures. There are already comprehensive consultation procedures to ensure that land use, agricultural amenity conservation interests are fully taken into account when decisions have to be taken on forestry proposals in national parks.
To some extent I feel the pressure is not about the notification or consultation aspect at all, but about the nature of the eventual decision on the forestry proposal after consultation has taken place. Furthermore, I am sure that forestry interests could very properly object to this legislation, by an amendment in this way, without adequate consultation with them beforehand on what they would regard as an important principle. My Lords, I have listened to what has been said and I still see no real practical necessity for this amendment. I leave it to my noble friend whether he wishes to press it.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether there is any intention on the part of the Government to strengthen the amenity and conservation membership of the regional committees?
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I seem to have given the impression that I am opposed to forestry or to forestry in national parks. I am not opposed to it. I say that there ought to be some process whereby the suggestion of planting should be notified formally to the planning authority. I do not think that this amendment would offend forestry interests. I do not think it would do any harm. I should like to push it—if I have support.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Greenwood of Rossendale)
My Lords, Tellers for the "Not-Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Contents" have it.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I think that it may be for the convenience of the House if I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.