HL Deb 15 October 1981 vol 424 cc533-40

101 Leave out Clause 39 and insert the following new clause:

"Duties of agriculture Ministers. 1944 c. 28

.—(1) The advice for the giving of which free of charge the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State are required by section 1(1) of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944 to make provision through such organisation as they consider appropriate shall include—

  1. (a) advice to persons carrying on agricultural businesses on the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside;
  2. (b) advice to such persons on diversification into other enterprises of benefit to the rural economy; and
  3. (c) advice to government departments and other bodies exercising statutory functions on the promotion and furtherance of such diversification as is mentioned in paragraph (d).

(2) In the exercise of his general duty under section 4(2) of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act 1911 of promoting the interests of agriculture and other rural industries, and without prejudice to the generality of that duty, the Secretary of State shall make provision, through such organisation as he considers appropriate, for the giving of such advice as is mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1).

(3) Where an application for a grant under a scheme made under section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 (farm capital grants) is made as respects expenditure incurred or to be incurred for the purposes of activities on land which is in a National Park or an area specified for the purposes of this subsection by the Ministers, the appropriate Minister—

  1. (a) shall, so far as may be consistent with the purposes of the scheme and the said section 29, so exercise his functions thereunder as to further the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside and to promote its enjoyment by the public; and
  2. (b) where the relevant authority have objected to the making of the grant on the ground that the activities in question have had or will have an adverse effect on the natural beauty or amenity of the countryside or its enjoyment by the public, shall not make the grant except after considering the objection and, in the case of land in England, after consulting with the Secretary of State; and this subsection shall have effect, in its application to Scotland, as if references to the amenity of the countryside were omitted.

(4) Where, in consequence of an objection by the relevant authority, an application for a grant as respects expenditure to be incurred is refused on the ground that the activities in question will have such an effect as is mentioned in subsection (3)(b), the relevant authority shall, within three months of their receiving notice of the appropriate Minister's decision, offer to enter into, in the terms of a draft submitted to the applicant, a management agreement—

  1. (a) imposing restrictions as respects those activities; and
  2. (b) providing for the making by them of payments to the applicant.

(5) In this section— agricultural business" and "the appropriate Minister" have the same meanings as in the said section 29; management agreement"—

  1. (a) in relation to England and Wales, means an agreement under section 37;
  2. (b) in relation to Scotland, means an agreement under section 49A of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967;
the relevant authority"—
  1. (a) in relation to England and Wales, has the same meaning as in section 37;
  2. (b) in relation to Scotland, means the authority exercising district planning functions.

(6) Subsection (1) extends only to England and Wales and subsection (2) extends only to Scotland.".

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 101. Certain of the points arising in this new clause I have already touched on in speaking to Amendment No. 76. However, the present amendment is, as your Lordships will recognise, the main clause concerned with these matters, and its origins lie in the amendment which was tabled in your Lordships' House at Report stage by my noble friend Lord Sandford, and to which your Lordships agreed. That amendment (Clause 39 of the Bill as it left this House) and the points of principle involved were the subject of extensive discussion in another place, and I would particularly refer your Lordships to the statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services in Committee on 9th June, in which he made clear the Government's views on the original "Sandford" amendment, explaining that, while the Government sympathised with its objectives and were willing to incorporate its essential features in the Bill, at the same time they wished to repair certain deficiencies and make other improvements in drafting. The result is the present new clause, with which I understand—though no doubt he will make his own comments on the point—my noble friend Lord Sandford has been kind enough to express himself well satisfied—and that is quite an achievement.

Perhaps it would assist your Lordships if I were to comment on the detail of the new clause and the main changes which have been introduced. Subsection (1) defines the role of agricultural advisory services—in England and Wales, this means ADAS—in respect of conservation and farm diversification. Subsection (1)(a) in effect picks up what was Clause 45 of the Bill when it left this House and it lays on my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and his colleagues in Wales and, by virtue of subsection (2), Scotland, a duty, through the appropriate advisory body, to provide advice to farmers on both conservation and amenity. That puts into law one of the central recommendations of the 1978 Strutt Report and it enables advantage to be taken of the routine contacts with farmers which are enjoyed by those advisory bodies. But subsection (1)(b) goes further and lays a specific obligation on the advisory body to give advice to farmers on diversifying their business in ways benefiting not only the farmers directly concerned but also the rural economy generally. Subsection (1)(c) extends this obligation to cover similar advice to Government departments and statutory bodies.

My Lords, the Government have been unable to accept that the Ministry of Agriculture grants should themselves be available for such diversification as was proposed by the original amendment which was tabled in this House. As Ministers made clear in another place, the primary purpose of grant aid under the Agriculture Act 1970 is and must remain the improvement of agriculture. There already exist, of course, other sources of aid for diversification projects—for example, the Development Commission, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas and the corresponding agencies for Scotland and Wales, and the national tourist boards—though we shall be looking at present arrangements to ensure that they are fully effective in meeting this need.

Subsections (3) and (4) embody, as noble Lords will see, the essential features of the original amendment, designed to safeguard conservation and amenity in national parks and any other areas which Ministers may in due course specify. In particular, they provide that an objection on amenity grounds by a relevant authority to an application made by a farmer under the Agriculture Act shall be considered by agriculture Ministers before grant is made, and that in England there shall be prior consultation with the Secretary of State.

This, as in the case of the original "Sandford" amendment, is backed up by the provision that, where an objection by a relevant authority is sustained under the terms of the clause and grant is refused to the farmer concerned, then under the terms of this new clause that authority must offer to enter into a management agreement which should provide appropriate financial compensation for the farmer. Subsection (4) improves on the original provision by introducing a deadline for that offer—within three months of the authority's receiving the Minister's decision.

My Lords, I have already remarked in my comments on Amendment No. 76 on one major way in which the Government have gone beyond the terms of the original Clause 39 as it left this House; that is, that the scope of the special safeguards to which I have just referred has been extended to include all sites of special scientific interest. We shall shortly discuss Amendment No. 106, which provides for financial guidelines to be drawn up by Ministers for management agreements offered under this clause but which now adds what was not present in the original proposals—a provision for arbitration. I also draw attention to a third widening of the scope of Clause 39 as a whole—the application of its provisions to Scotland.

I hope your Lordships will agree that the Government have made a full response to the terms of the original amendment as it was moved in this House, and I commend this new clause to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(Earl Ferrers.)

9.48 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to Amendment No. 101, Amendment No. 101 A:

101A Subsection (4), line 5, leave out ("shall") and insert ("may").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, we have had a long discussion on this. Therefore, I do not propose to move this amendment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend Lord Ferrers if he will explain one matter in relation to Scotland—and, as we have the benefit of the presence of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, I would hope for a doubly wise answer. I am surprised and a little worried that at the bottom of page 20 we find the words, in relation to subsection (3) of this new clause: this subsection shall have effect, in its application to Scotland, as if references to the amenity of the countryside were omitted". The Scottish people and those who, like myself, have an interest in Scotland are just as concerned about the amenity of the countryside as anybody who lives in Scotland or Wales. It seems to me to be quite unnecessary for those words to be included there. There may be a good explanation, but I think we should be given it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I, too, was somewhat puzzled by this. Is it on the grounds that Scotland has natural beauty but no Englishman can see amenity? I do not know. I think it requires an explanation, and I, too, look forward to hearing it.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, there are three points on this new clause on which I hope the noble Earl will comment. I would say that I have no intention of repeating the arguments that we had on No. 76. These are separate points on which I should like more information and I hope the noble Earl will be able to give it when he comes to reply. First, on the question of money, as the noble Earl has made clear, the situation has now changed. With the original Sandford amendment, we had a situation under which the whole thing came within the ambit of MAFF. They decided whether to give a grant for agriculture or for conservation. Now, in a sense, MAFF are off the hook and merely decide whether there is a qualification for an agricultural grant, but they may in some circumstances be tempted to say, "You ought to get a grant but we are not sure whether you will. It depends on what the national parks committee do". That may intensify the antagonisms between landowners and the national parks committees which are regrettable but exist in certain parts. The ultimate fate of all this depends on the availability of money.

My first point is that the noble Earl will be aware that at the national parks conference the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Heseltine, gave an undertaking, not an unqualified one, with regard to the provision of the necessary resources to enable the national parks committees or boards, as appropriate, to fulfil their responsibilities under this new revised procedure—which is a different procedure from that envisaged under the original Sandford clause. The noble Earl when replying earlier to the new clause under No. 76 did not repeat the undertaking with regard to money which had been made by the Secretary of State. Perhaps he might take this opportunity to say a little about that.

The second point is in comparing this with the national parks and countryside of landscape quality rather than with the SSSIs as was the case with No. 76. Under the provisions of No. 76, the noble Earl will recall that we had two additional safeguards. First, there was a provision for advance notification by both sides, by the NCC under Clause 28 and by the landowner under Clause 28 as amended; so that there was advance notification of any changes. Secondly, there was another safeguard in the code of practice under Amendment No. 77. So under the provisions relating to SSSIs we had two additional safeguards; a sort of belt and braces situation. Here when dealing with national parks land and land of outstanding landscape quality we do not have the belt and we appear to have the braces without buttons. Perhaps the noble Earl can comment on the fact that this, in so far as it is protection for landscape of outstanding quality, appears less strong that the earlier one in relation to SSSIs.

The third is a factual point which I hope the noble Earl will be able to answer. Subsection (3) of the new clause refers to an application for grant under a scheme made under Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 on farm capital grants. My understanding is that that does not cover all agricultural grant schemes. It does not cover forestry grants and I doubt whether it covers grants from the EEC. If I am right and it does not cover these grants, is it the intention to extend this provision administratively, while it is not here statutorily, to other forestry grants?

In general, I welcome the new clause; it could be valuable. But I should like some comment from the noble Earl on the question of money, on the absence in this of the two additional safeguards that exist in regard to the SSSIs and on the question of the other MAFF grants which do not appear to come within the statutory scope of this provision. Are they to be covered administratively?

9.55 p.m.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, the time it takes my noble friend to reflect on amenity in Scotland provides me with the opportunity to comment briefly on this matter and to thank the Government for embracing the ideas in my original amendment and bringing them forward in the more comprehensive and extensive form in which they are now before us. I hope that my noble friend will agree that the partial data and figures that I was able to give about the operation of the so-called ADAS tea party are a significant factor in enabling us to judge the success with which this clause is likely to operate.

May I consult with him in the course of the next few days? I should like to formulate a Parliamentary Question for Written Answer which would put on the record the precise way in which all 10 national parks are operating the ADAS tea party and the results that they have achieved in the course of the past year. This would give us a still more comprehensive background in which to consider whether we have taken the right decision, as I believe we have tonight in respect of this amendment and the earlier one, No. 76.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am in no way intending to reopen the debate that we had prior to the dinner break. One point needs clarification. It may well be that some noble Lords, after hearing the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, have the impression that there is no difference at all in the use of the word "shall" in what is known as the Sandford amendment and the new clause which is before us. For the record, I should like the Minister to say whether there is any difference between what is in the Sandford clause, "shall seek to enter" into a management agreement, and what is in the new clause, "shall offer to enter". In one case it is to try to get a management agreement and the other way is to offer. I should like the Minister to confirm that that is the position.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and I have a great affiliation, I think. I asked the same question to see whether offering to enter was something rather stronger than seeking to enter. I am advised that there is no difference. If you offer to enter you in fact seek to enter. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, shakes his head. A111 am trying to tell him is that there is nothing spurious or almost like a subterfuge about that. I am advised that the two things are in fact synonymous and that the lawyers so consider it.

My noble friend Lord Sandford is making a comment from a sedentary position which I am sure would be most interesting if I could hear it. He asked whether he could consult with me over the next few days with the idea of putting down a Parliamentary Question for Written Answer on a number of points upon which he would like explanations. I should be delighted for him to consult me for such purposes, and I can recommend that procedure to your Lordships who might otherwise feel that they would wish to ask difficult questions for immediate answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked about Scotland. The clause relies in respect of England and Wales on the power to make management agreements. That is Clause 37 of the Bill. That has been amended to include provision for management agreements to be made for the purposes of amenity. In Scotland the power for local authorities to make agreements already exists in other legislation. But that Act does not extend the power to make management agreements beyond conservation objectives and to promote enjoyment by the public. It would therefore have been meaningless to provide for this clause to apply to amenity in Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, wondered what the financial provisions were with regard to the providing of finance for these management agreements. He is quite right. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made a speech in Norwich on 18th September in which he went as far as he reasonably could. He said, and I quote his words: Management agreements may be expensive. I shall have to take into account the new responsibilities placed on statutory authorities by the Bill and I have many hard decisions to make about the use of scarce resources. That is the position as it is at the moment. The noble Lord also asked whether forestry and EEC grants will be covered by the Nature Conservancy Council as if there had been a statutory duty. These will be made under the guidelines which will be produced. Regarding the third question which he asked, I can say that the national parks have not got the powers which the Nature Conservancy Council have. I hope that answers the various points that have been made.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down—because I did not make a speech before he got up—may I ask him to confirm that the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum in the copy of the Bill we are now working from is in fact incorrect? On page v it says that: The provisions relating to the Countryside Commission, national parks and management agreements require no additional public expenditure. Presumably that is now out of date and the Government will produce some alternative version, giving an estimate of what expenditure they expect these new clauses we are now debating to lead to.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Financial Memorandum to which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, refers, was talking about expenditure which the provisions within this particular Bill will require—that is, which will inevitably necessitate. It correctly said they will necessitate no extra expenditure. This does not rule out additional expenditure on management agreements under normal arrangements—that is under existing legislation—if it becomes desirable. Government and finance for management agreements would be provided under existing legislation and not under this Bill. Therefore the Financial Memorandum is in fact correct.

On Question, Motion agreed to.