HL Deb 21 March 1984 vol 449 cc1301-36

8.18 p.m.

Lord Alport

My lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Alport.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 2 [Licences]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before calling Amendment No. 4, I have to say that if Amendment No. 4 were to be agreed to, I would not be able to call Amendments Nos. 5, 6 or 7. Amendment No. 4.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) The agriculture Minister shall grant a licence in accordance with regulations made under this section of this Act to permit a person to set fire to straw or stubble on arable land.").

The noble Lord said: With permission. I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 16, 17 and 26.

Amendment No. 8: Page 1, line 14, at end insert— ("(1A) The agriculture Minister may withdraw a licence from any person convicted of an offence under the provisions of this Act or any local straw burning byelaws.").

Amendment No. 9: Page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (2) and insert— ("() A licence granted under this section shall be subject to compliance with any conditions set out in the regulations made under section (Regulations) of this Act.").

Amendment No. 16: Page 2, line 1 leave out ("A local authority") and insert ("The agriculture Minister").

Amendment No. 17: Page 2, line 2, leave out from ("is") to end of line 3 and insert ("set out in the regulations made under section (Regulations) of this Act.").

Amendment No. 26: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:—


("The agriculture Minister may by statutory instrument make regulations—

  1. (a) prescribing conditions for the safe burning of straw, taking into account good agricultural practice and the protection of the environment;
  2. (b) prescribing the fee to be charged under section 2(3) of this Act; and
  3. (c) generally for carrying this Act into effect;
and regulations made under this section may make different provision for different cases.").

I gather that it may be convenient for the Committee also to discuss the other licensing amendments of my noble friends Lord Alport, Lord Mountgarret, Lord Ridley, Lord Ironside, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I am, of course, in your Lordships' hands, but I know that such an action would probably please the Chief Whip.

The purpose of the amendments to which I am speaking is to introduce a system of licensing for farmers who wish to burn straw or stubble, which I believe is exactly what my noble friend Lord Alport wants to do in his amendments. Despite rumours to the contrary, the National Farmers' Union is not against such a form of licence. The difference between our proposed licensing system and that of my noble friend is that ours would be a national scheme, administered by the Minister of Agriculture, and would coincide with the model by-law. I am convinced that if a satisfactory system is to be brought into operation it must be uniform from district to district or county to county and it must be seen to be fair between farmers and the public throughout the United Kingdom. Only a nationally operated scheme will do that.

I shall now explain my amendments in detail. Amendment No. 4 does two things. It makes the licensing authority the Minister of Agriculture instead of the district council, and it introduces the concept of regulations to burn. These regulations could provide a wider function than the by-laws. For instance, they could control burning next to the highway. I think that this would take care of the proposal in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, Amendment No. 13. The regulations would also apply throughout the United Kingdom without further bureaucratic procedures. Also they could be changed by the Minister, if necessary, immediately.

Amendment No. 8 empowers the Minister to withdraw a licence from anyone who is convicted of an offence under the Act, which is a point that we have been struggling to achieve since the Criminal Justice Act last year. Amendment No. 9 provides a limitation on the conditions which may be applied to an individual licence. As I have already stated, these conditions would be determined by the Government instead of by individual councils. We envisage them being similar or even identical to the model by-law and they could replace the by-laws altogether. We believe that this would be far more effective than the system proposed by my noble friend Lord Alport.

Amendment No. 16 would ensure that the fee paid for a licence would be determined on a national basis, which I believe is a much more fair and practical method. My mind boggles at different rates of fee from field to field or even part of a field. Amendment No. 17 would make it clear that the licence fee would be determined by the Minister and published in regulations.

Finally, Amendment No. 26 would enable the Minister to make it all work by way of a statutory regulation. I believe that our method of introducing licensing for burning is superior and much more practical than the proposal of my noble friend. I hope that your Lordships will support us.

However, I make one final plea before your Lordships discuss the whole question of licences. According to the press, our Second Reading of this Bill was bad tempered. I suspect that, if it was, it was partly my fault, due to my perhaps bucolic and rather narrow minded objection to some noble Lords taking a view on straw burning opposite to my own. Having admitted my sin, I very much hope that we can discuss this question of licensing constructively—neither farmer- nor conservationist-bashing. As I understand it, we are all in favour of some form of licensing, with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord Belstead. But I am sure that if we can all agree, as always, he will be the first person to help us to help our industry with the problem. His ability to solve apparently insoluble differences was amply shown during the passage of the Agricultural Holdings Bill.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Alport will agree when I say that it is up to us to agree first before bothering my noble friend the Minister with our divided system of licensing. Let us try to agree for once not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of good relations between the farmer and the public. I beg to move.

Lord John-Mackie

I think that we all agree, together with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, that nothing will be done properly to control straw burning unless there is a licensing system. The only point of disagreement may be who should run the system. I am afraid that I must disagree with the amendment to put that in the hands of the Minister. I do not think that the Minister would want it, but, as the noble Lord said, if such an amendment was passed, he would just have to accept it and make the best of a bad job.

I think that the licensing must be on a fairly local basis. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, shakes his head. I always try to visualise what would happen to me. As your Lordships all know, I farm in a built-up area. I have two not very large fields poking right down into the small hamlet of Bumbles Green. If I protested or wanted to appeal, there would be more chance of getting my local councillor to deal with the matter than one of the slowly contracting agricultural departments in the various counties. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, may say that that can be altered. As far as we can see, it cannot be altered for five years, much as we should like it to be. After all, it is local people, and particularly local councillors, who have raised the greatest objections to straw burning. It would satisfy them tremendously if they had some say in the licensing.

As regards the picture of the licensing, as I said on Second Reading, I should like to think that it would be almost automatic, other than in cases like my farm which had a field near a school, houses and one thing and another where there might have had to be some inspection and prohibition. But in general I should think licensing would be automatic. I thoroughly agree with the proposal in the amendment, which is also in the Bill, that the withdrawal of a licence for offences is a major penalty, I think far greater than a monetary one.

I do not want to delay the Committee further. My idea would be to make licensing automatic. I think that a farmer should apply for his licence, showing a map of his farm on whatever scale is required, and giving an indication of when he might be burning straw—say, from July to the end of October, or something like that. As I say, the licence would be almost automatic and nothing need be done unless the farmer broke the code or committed an offence.

I am not quite sure of the difference between Amendment No. 26 and the by-laws that councils will be prepared to incorporate in due course. I am not quite sure of the object of the amendment. But, with that, I shall be interested to hear what other noble Lords have to say, especially about where the licensing should be controlled from.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

It gives me genuine pain to have to question something that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, has just said because the Committee may not be aware that for some 15 years he and I—if I may use the expression—"went steady" as pairs in the House of Commons in a system which is not used in this House. But, if I heard him aright, I think I heard him just now say that he supported a licensing system. Well, reading his speech on Second Reading, I do see that in column 207 of Hansard for 14th February he said: I am sorry that the noble Lord has so little faith in council by-laws. I believe that the by-laws must be tightened up. I agree with the noble Lord that we should go a step further. He suggested a system of licensing". But at the end of his speech, in his peroration, he said the words: To sum up, we subscribe to the main principle of the Bill to control straw burning with codes and by-laws". Farmers are great individualists and I am going to say, quite bluntly, to my noble friend Lord Stanley that I join with my noble friend on the Front Bench in being apprehensive about licensing. I am apprehensive about introducing a system. I thought that we had a fascinating debate last night, if only because I felt at one time that it took the form of a discussion at an Agricultural Society's meeting, the members of whom were more eminent than attend most Agricultural Society's meetings, if only because that discussion last night showed that, once again, the most practical of farmers can argue about differing experiences over identical practices. Two examples are incorporation and length of stubble. As I say, farmers are individualists and the only times that I have known farmers always to agree is in being anti-government, whichever government happens to be in office. Then they do come together.

I should give my credentials before I say what I am going to say. I grow 300 acres of grain in Scotland and I have brought in 50 harvests now. I have been promoted from using the pitchfork, 50 years ago, to being in charge of the grain dryer now. I cannot say that I never burn straw—I do if bad weather forces me to do so and leaves no other way out. But I hate burning straw. I think it is ugly and it desecrates and defaces the beauty of the countryside in which I farm. It is equally hard on those who have washing out drying or who have just cleaned the windows of their homes. I shall never forget on a day late in October four years ago when the weather more or less forced me to pick that one and only day to set fire to a field of straw, when the friend who has a house upon my farm said to me, rather wearily, "Dear dear, dear! did you have to do it? We are having a wedding next week and I have only just had the windows cleaned". I said, "All right, have them cleaned again and send the bill to me".

I am lucky enough. I bale my oat and barley straw and sell it. I chop my wheat straw and plough it in. I have experienced none of the difficulties of incorporation that were aired last night, although my land varies from sand, on which I can grow carrots, to the heaviest of clay. I am glad to say that, despite this ploughing in of straw, my five-year average of yields has gone slowly but surely up. All this is very old-fashioned, just like my rotation of three years in corn and two years of grass. So I am far from being against working towards the end of burning stubble and straw. But, as so often happens—in fact it nearly always happens—it is over how one achieves the objective that one has one's worries.

I do not get the least bit thrilled with this idea of licences. You may ask why. I suppose it is because the word "licence" carries with it what I would describe as the inevitable sniff of bureaucracy—of planning. If local authorities—and I know that there is an amendment down on this to amend the granting of licences—were to issue the licences, then I suspect that it would he to the planning department that we would go.

Therefore, I wonder whether my noble friend, whose Bill this is, could clear my mind on what I think are some practical points. First of all, if I am to have a licence, when do I apply? Presumably well before harvest begins. Secondly, does he envisage my getting what I would describe as a blanket licence or shall I have to specify, well in advance, what field or fields I may have to burn? May I just point out that working on a rotation, as I do and many other farmers in Scotland do—I think rather more farmers up there than do in the South—the possible candidates for burning will vary every year. Thirdly, if I am refused a licence—in my view unreasonably—do I really appeal to the courts against what will basically be a decision by a local government officer, be he planning, environmental health or even—as has been suggested on Second Reading—on the fire service side?

Certainly my experience as a Minister in governments has been that it is surely more usual for an appeal of this kind to go to a Minister, not to the courts. That would not be so bad in Scotland, where my right honourable friend Mr. Younger is responsible for agriculture, planning, environmental health and the fire service; but I think it is not nearly so likely to be so swift a procedure in England as people seem to think, where several ministries would be involved.

I know a substantial number of your Lordships clearly favour licences being issued. The NFU, in their brief, have agreed but only if the system operates swiftly, both for applications and then for appeals. Until I hear my noble friend's reply, I am not convinced that that condition of swift action can be met. Nor when both my noble friend at the Ministry of Agriculture and every local authority in the country is being pressurised to reduce the numbers of its staff, am I at all optimistic about whoever is to issue licences not making this an excuse for obstructing that very laudable campaign of reducing staff numbers.

Finally, I should mention that my noble friend is applying his Bill, and my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley is applying his amendment, to the whole of the United Kingdom: from the Isle of Wight to the Shetlands. Conditions vary so widely and problems differ so extensively that I really must ask both of them to what extent they have consulted all shades of opinion in Scotland, because it is highly unusual to have an agricultural measure which applies to the whole of the United Kingdom; in my experience agricultural legislation is almost invariably divided between England and Wales with a separate Bill for Scotland.

Quite frankly, I favour giving the by-laws a chance. To my mind they are pretty horrendous: the 25-acre limit on burning; the water tanks on site with equipment having to be moved from field to field and all the rest. But I am ready to be convinced otherwise.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I think the noble Lord has overlooked the fact that last night the Committee decided that Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill. If the noble Lord will read line five of the Bill which he has in his hand, he will see the words, "save as permitted by licence under this Act." Those words are now in the Bill. It would be out of order, in my submission, for anything to be said or done now which seeks to remove those words from Clause 1, which the Committee agreed last night shall stand part of the Bill.

I come straight to the question of administration. I deeply regret that we are likely to have Second Reading speeches on almost every amendment. I regret also that this Committee is much more like a committee of the Westminster branch of the National Farmers' Union than a Committee of your Lordships House. I am a person with no stubble to burn, no land to cultivate—only a sense of smell. I can savour the Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon stubble burning which I am happy to see will be prohibited under the new legislation. That is the only qualification I have for intruding in this debate. I really feel I am intruding because of the expertise going into these speeches on the other side of the Committee which is obviously far beyond my own experience.

Does anybody really think that from an administration point of view—about which I do know a little—the granting of licences by the Ministry of Agriculture is a serious proposition? I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, thinks Whitehall will know best. My noble friend Lord John-Mackie referred to the greater knowledge of the environment of the area climatic conditions and the people in it, which would be better known by the local authority than the civil servants in Whitehall.

Really, the substance of what we are discussing—if I may respectfully say so now—is whether the licences are issued by the Ministry or by the local authority, and that is really all we are concerned with at this particular point. Most of the amendments linked to this amendment are subordinate to the main proposition. I submit, with great respect, that hostile as some people may be against local authorities, it is nothing compared with the hostility of a great many people to the centralisation of administration in Whitehall. One can see all the things which may go wrong in the issuing of licences from Whitehall with the obvious difficulties of those who are aggrieved by some mischance or other of getting a remedy in time.

On the general question, I will permit myself this observation: if all the farmers of Britain are to be allowed to set their fields alight, I do not think it is too harsh a condition that they should have a licence to do so.

Lord Alport

Perhaps it might be helpful if I were to answer some of the questions which have been put. I do not intend to interfere with the contributions which other noble Lords wish to make, but merely to try to be helpful and shorten some of the discussion we had last night.

I fully understand the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has moved his amendment. I think I understand the importance which he attaches to standardisation, and I think this is the view of the National Farmers' Union. I think possibly, there is a belief underlying the point of view of the National Farmers' Union that district councils—representing, as they do, the whole neighbourhood—will be less understanding of the farmers' point of view than the Ministry of Agriculture. But it is the whole neighbourhood—the villagers, the townsfolk, motorists, market gardeners, ramblers, holidaymakers seeking to enjoy the amenities of the countryside and builders (quite apart from conservationists and naturalists)—who are adversely affected by straw and stubble burning. The local authority is local; it knows the particular problems of the area it administers. The Ministry in Whitehall, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, only knows it at a distance and probably as a point on the map.

My noble friend's proposal represents what I feel, in principle, this Committee for the most part—certainly the opinion in the country—is against, which is the modern trend towards centralising power increasingly in Whitehall: to remove judgment in these matters from local bodies, although the problems involved are essentially local in their nature, as in this particular case. What is more, the Ministry has for more than a decade passed responsibility for controlling straw burning through the district councils and their bylaws. Now my noble friends wish to reverse this.

I should be astonished if my noble friend the Minister speaking on behalf of the Ministry would want his department to undertake this responsibility. But, of course, if he is willing to do so it would be a factor which we would all take into consideration. Let us look at this from the farmer's point of view; from his farm in, say, Northumberland, Norfolk, Kent or Cornwall. He would, under my noble friend's amendment—if it is passed—have to apply for a licence. If there are any queries, it will mean writing to or telephoning Whitehall: talking to some unidentifiable official who will not be familiar with his particular problem. Even if he is in touch with the representative within the county, the same position arises because he will be under the authority of the Ministry in Whitehall. He will have to wait for an answer, which may or may not be long delayed.

I live in a country district which has a highly efficient administration and which has a council where the farming community is fully represented. Any farmer can drive for 20 minutes to talk to any official of the council. His district councillor lives not far from him—perhaps four or five miles away. Council officers know where he lives and when issuing a licence will know his circumstances and his particular problems. If there is delay, he has the easiest recourse possible: either to the town hall or to his local councillor. What is more, not only would that give confidence to the farmer, but the fact that the administration of the licence is in local hands will give confidence to those who live in the area and who would like to feel that decisions in these sorts of matters are in the hands of the people who represent them in their local authorities.

The issue at this stage of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, says, is not whether there should be a licensing system for straw and stubble burning. The National Farmers' Union accepts it in principle. So do the county councils, the district councils, and also, though I speak only for myself in Essex, the parish councils. The Royal Commission on Pollution accepts it in principle. So does the CPRE, the Countryside Commission, the Country Gentlemen's Association, the Society for Clean Air, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Ramblers' Association and, most important of all, the mass public opinion of villagers and townsfolk in country Britain. The issue that we have to decide is not whether there should be a licensing system, but who should issue the licences. Should it be the district councils or the Ministry of Agriculture?

In the Bill as drafted, the process of obtaining a licence would be as follows. The farmer would apply to the district council requesting the issue of a licence as soon as his decision was made as to the planting programme that he intended to follow. Here, I am trying to answer a number of points put by my noble friend in his speech. In making his application, the farmer would define the areas on his farm that he intended to devote to wheat, oats or barley. He would almost certainly show this on the farm map. His application, I imagine, would—and I think rightly—apply to the whole farm. A responsible farmer, in making his application, would, however, bear in mind the areas of his farm where, because they border, say, upon a housing estate or are close to a major highway, burning would be undesirable. He will always have the alternative of incorporation. My noble friend says that he normally practices that on his own farm and has done so for many years. Even though he excludes certain parts of his farm from his application for a licence for burning, that does not preclude him from using them for growing arable crops.

The licence would then be issued to him as a person. A person, I am informed, in this context, includes a corporation. Once a licence has been issued, in my view it should remain valid without the need to apply for a fresh licence annually, unless the farmer brings land not specified in his original application into arable use, or if the farm changes hands, in which case the new "person", whether owner or tenant, would have to obtain a fresh licence. This, I should have thought, would greatly reduce both the obligations on the farmer and the clerical and administrative work falling on the district council.

According to the Bill, when issuing the licence, the council would take into account, from its knowledge of the situation of the farm, any factors that make it desirable to vary the extent of the land that may be burnt. That is, for instance, as I have already said, if there is a motorway or a special conservation area, a neighbouring housing estate or vulnerable residential or public property, such as a hospital. There would also be specified the period for which the burning can take place. That must obviously be over a fairly expansive period of time. Here, the council, however, has the guidance of paragraph 2 of the by-laws. It would also impose other conditions, having regard to the by-laws.

Many councils, no doubt, will follow the by-laws in full, but others may consider that some of the by-laws are either irrelevant or impractical. The draft which your Lordships yesterday received from my noble friend seemed to me to cause a certain amount of concern among a number of noble Lords. But the decision as to what are the conditions will be made locally by an authority that is representative of all sections of the public, on which the farming interest also is fully represented.

I do not think that a licensing system such as I have outlined will be onerous to either the local authority or the individual farmer. I think that it will be practical and fair. The enforcement of the conditions will depend primarily on the sanction that an offender may have his licence withdrawn. That is a much more effective sanction than the fear of a fine, whatever size that fine may be. I do no think that it can be so effectively administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, and I wonder whether it can be administered by that Ministry at all. If my noble friend's amendment is agreed, I am sure that all the fears that many of your Lordships have about bureaucracy will be realised.

I would, however, give my noble friend this undertaking. If he thinks that it would be right, then following consultation, I shall introduce at a later stage an amendment, in the form of a schedule, if appropriate, defining in greater detail both the procedure regarding applying the licence and the conditions which would be normal within a licence. That will enable there to be some form of standardisation, which is what the amendment really intends to achieve. I must say that I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment. We shall have, or may have, an opportunity later to consider whether the licensing authority shall be the county council or the district council. I must confess, however, that if my noble friend decides to press his amendment, I think that the decision should be made by your Lordships in the Lobby.

The Earl of Onslow

I should first like to say to my noble friend Lord Stanley how much those of us who have perhaps not agreed with him on earlier occasions appreciate his speech. It shows that the difference between us is not quite so great as may have previously appeared. One of the points worth making is to ask whether the Ministry of Agriculture is equipped to carry out the licensing system. I would suggest that it is probably not. It is rather like asking whether the Department of Trade is the right organisation to administer health and safety at work, or whether the Ministry of Agriculture should run health and safety at work on farms. I would suggest that this is probably not the right way. The Ministry of Agriculture is one of the finest promoting ministries. It knows exactly what it wants to do. Some of us do not always agree with it 100 per cent. But it knows exactly what it wants to do. It would possibly be dangerous to leave environmental control in the hands of the promoting Ministry.

The county councils, in their brief, liked the idea of the local fire authority having a major say in the licensing system. That makes sense. Firemen know more than anyone else about fires. That sounds simple, but it is true. The other point worth mentioning is that there are such enormous regional variations that it might not be reasonable in big grain areas to control burning to within 25 acres, whereas in some other areas it might be reasonable and sensible to control the burning within an area much smaller than 25 acres. If guidelines were set down by the Ministry, or regulations, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Alport, that might produce conformity. Local authorities would be able to take into account local conditions. That is a better way to proceed. I hope that my noble friend Lord Stanley will not press his amendment for the reasons given extremely ably by my noble friend Lord Alport, and also for the few additional reasons that I have given.

9 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Stodart applied his arguments to the procedures for licensing, and therefore of course my noble friend's speech fell most certainly within the scope of Clause 2, with which we are now dealing, and within the scope of this particular amendment. I am bound to say to your Lordships that I very strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Stodart that the licensing system gives one cause for some very distinct reservations. It is, by definition, bureaucratic and I do wonder whether it could possibly be said to be easier or cheaper to enforce than by-laws, and indeed whether it may be more effective.

I listened to my noble friend Lord Alport, in answer to my noble friend Lord Stodart, explaining how the licensing system would work. As I understood my noble friend Lord Alport, the licence would be given to the person. To raise just one question—if that is really so and that peson then does not burn as he should and he is disqualified—what is to stop him asking someone else to apply in his stead? It is true that he will have been guilty, but so is the man who is disqualified from driving a car, yet he may ask or employ someone else to drive him. I think that this sort of issue raises questions which would really need to be answered if a licensing system were to be introduced.

However, my reservations go wider than that. The Government published the new model by-laws yesterday. They are very strict and they are designed to meet the problems of last summer. I do not for one minute say to your Lordships' Committee that we believe that they are absolutely right. That would be an extremely rash thing to say, but we have done our best and we have consulted very widely indeed. I was very interested that my noble friend Lord Stodart again queried the consultation which had preceeded the introduction of this Bill. It is for those broader reasons that I very much regret that this Bill has been introduced by my noble friend Lord Alport.

As to the amendment—yes, the Ministry of Agriculture would indeed have difficulties in having this responsibility thrust upon them. I think that we would have to deal with it from our divisional offices, which cover a wide area. Last week I went to Guildford, which is one of the three divisional offices for the South-Eastern area. That division covers an enormous area, including the Isle of Wight, going west to Winchester and east towards the Kent border. For that reason almost alone, if for no other, there would be very great difficulty in having a responsibility of this sort placed upon the Ministry. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for having seized this opportunity to make it clear why, on behalf of the Government, I have reservations on the way in which licensing would be administered.

Lord John-Mackie

I should like to take my erstwhile pair in another place to task because I do not see anything inconsistent in what I said on Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, brought driving licences into the picture. He will know that one has to buy a driving licence, that one has a Highway Code to tell one how to do so, and then there are the laws which one must obey. That is exactly the same picture as the one I put forward. Perhaps the noble Lord would think that over in due course. I do not think that I made myself clear on why I did not understand Amendment No. 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. Nowhere in the amendments does it suggest that we should leave out subsections (2), (3), (4) and (5) of Clause 2. I simply thought that Amendment No. 26 was trying to replace those subsections, but nowhere does it suggest that they should be omitted. That is the point that I was trying to make.

Viscount Mountgarret

I was very sorry to hear what my noble friend Lord Belstead had to say about not being very keen on the local Ministry of Agriculture possibly having the duty of issuing licences, as would be required by this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Stanley. I am not sure that it would be a tremendously onerous duty. Already the local Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for issuing licences to those people who wish to burn moorland out of season or, as it is called in Scotland, "muir burn". If one wishes to burn moorland in England after 31st March one has to apply for a licence, and one applies to the local Ministry of Agriculture. It is probably more logical that if hill farmers apply for licence to burn moorland, it would be sensible for lowland farmers to apply to the local Ministry as well.

I should have thought that this could go some way towards meeting what my noble friends Lord Alport and Lord Stodart had to say about local people knowing what local farmers wish to do. I should have thought that there is no one better qualified in knowing what local farmers want to do than the local Ministry of Agriculture—after all, its officials are supposed to be qualified and knowledgeable in matters of agriculture—rather than councillors who need to have a wider understanding of their activities. For those reasons, I think that my noble friend's amendment should be greeted with a little more enthusiasm. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Belstead would take that point on board.

Lord Gisborough

I should like to take up some points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. He made the point that a form should be filled in giving details of all the fields which the farmer intends to burn over the period. Of course, during this Government's term of office, the Minister has done his best—and very effectively—to reduce the number of forms that everyone has to fill in—and here is one that has been introduced. As we know, farmers plough up fields which were previously down to grass. Therefore, assuming that a farmer practises some form of arable crop rotation, having filled in one form, he will have to fill a new form in every year.

Lord Alport

Perhaps I may correct my noble friend. I may not have made it as clear as I should, or perhaps he did not hear what I said. But I thought that I said quite clearly in my speech that once the original application had been made—and in all probability made on behalf of the farm—that would continue for so long as it was necessary. Therefore there would not be the troubles for the farmers which my noble friend anticipates.

Lord Gisborough

I appreciate that. The point I am making is that under that particular form he would have to restrict his arable land to that land that he put in on the form. Much of it might be grass in one year and then become arable in subsequent years. Then there is the question of the council permits. Councils vary enormously. Many councils have a number of agriculturally orientated councillors who know what they are doing. But now with the larger districts many agricultural districts are covered by totally town councils who have not the faintest idea, and want to know less, about what agriculture does, and in some cases have an actual antipathy towards agriculture.

Then there is the question of the matter of giving the permission itself. My noble friend Lord Mountgarret mentioned the Ministry of Agriculture with regard to the burning of heather. It might be perfectly safe to agree to a burning tomorrow, or the next day, and by the time the permission gets back to the farmer—which might be for the next fortnight or whatever the conditions might be—the weather may have completely changed and it might be completely dangerous. Therefore, it is worthless.

The Earl of Onslow

As I understood it, the licence is granted not just for one day. A licence is granted almost forever until it is taken away. You can get the licence, as I understand the Bill, in October of the year before your harvest, and that lasts the farm, or the farmer, until he has the licence either taken away from him or the whole system of licensing is withdrawn, which is possible under the Bill.

Lord Gisborough

Perhaps that serves the case. Then we come to the by-laws, which are the most absurd by-laws I have ever read. Every paragraph is nonsense. According to the NFU brief that I have, while they have agreed to the matter of having by-laws, there is no mention of them having agreed in any way to any particular by-laws, and I cannot believe that they would agree to one single paragraph that has been written. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, mentioned that the farmers' interests would be represented on the local authority. Would he be kind enough to tell me on what assembly within local government the farmers are represented alongside the district councillors?

Lord Alport

As my noble friend has asked that question, I would say that farmers get elected to local authorities. They are represented on district councils themselves, and they are the people who will look after the interests of farmers and their neighbours.

Lord Burton

I have listened with great interest to this debate. Unfortunately, I was unable to be here for the Second Reading, but I am surprised that this Bill ever got a Second Reading. It seems to be fraught with difficulties. I do not like straw burning, so I have seldom done it. I must say it has been done occasionally. I would rather see the stubble left as long as possible to give some cover for the partridges.

I have however done much heather burning—or muir burning, whichever you like to call it. I also realise the need for straw burning in certain circumstances. However, it is clear that this Bill has only been introduced because so many errors have been made and there has been so much bad straw burning—hedges burnt, and every kind of thing—and therefore it looks as though some sort of restriction is required.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and my noble friend Lord Alport seem to be lucky with their district councils; but this situation certainly does not apply in a great many districts. Indeed, in Scotland our district councils have rather a different function from those in England. Of course we have no county councils—to which the noble Lord referred—in Scotland. If this Bill is to proceed, perhaps for a start at the Report stage we might delete Scotland from the Bill.

The situation is different in Scotland anyway from East Anglia, and it is only on a few occasions that we have suitable weather for burning. I know about two years ago there was some suitable weather in the southern part of Scotland, and unfortunately there may well have been some need for some sort of control. However, it was also suggested that the fire brigade might be the suitable body for advising on this aspect.

From many cases of bitter experience when hill fires have become out of control, I have found that nearly all the training of the fire brigades is for dealing with fires in buildings, and they are not experienced with coping with hill fires. I had a great deal of difficulty with our own local fire brigade in getting them to get proper boots to go on the hill. They insisted on having plain, leather-soled boots and the firemen slipped back two paces for every one they went up.

Furthermore, the Bill does not seem to have taken into consideration which way the wind is blowing. Surely you cannot give a licence any time ahead when the wind in one direction will be suitable and perhaps in two or three other directions would not be suitable. It is fraught with difficulties. Perhaps the Minister can tell us, now the Bill has had its Second Reading, how he would grant licences. He does not like his own officials doing it. Does he then say that it is right that district councils should do it? I do not think he really answered that.

The Earl of Caithness

As my name is to this amendment I should like to make one point: that is whether it will he quicker to have the licence done by the Ministry or by the local authority. I think it would be longer with the local authority because one would have to wait for an answer from a committee rather than from a delegated person. I do not think the local authority would delegate the power to one person, when it came to a question that has aroused so much public interest.

I would suggest to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley not to press this amendment. I would also say to my noble friend Lord Alport that I hope we can take all the amendments relating to licensing away and discuss them because we are in a muddle. I do not like licences, but if that is the way we have to go let us, for goodness' sake, try to get agreement. If all noble Lords would not press any of their amendments on licences to a division perhaps we can make some progress between now and the next stage.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness White)

Does the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, wish to withdraw his amendment?

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Yes, I do wish to withdraw the amendment. I beg leave to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Mountgarret moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 12, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Viscount said: This also is another amendment on the same theme, the issue of licences. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Alport will be good enough to consider the short points I should like to make. With permission of the Committee, I should like to speak also to my Amendments Nos. 7, to No. 9 and No. 12. Amendment No. 7: Page 1. line 14, at end insert ("if it is satisfied that the applicant will have special regard to potential danger and inconvenience to the public and conservation of the countryside when carrying out such operations."). Amendment No. 9: [Printed earlier: col. 1301.] Amendment No. 12: Page I. line 22, at end insert ("and shall have regard to the provisions of the "model byelaws" authorised by the Secretary of State for adoption by local authorities."). I see that Amendments Nos. 9 and 12 are somewhat consequential on the purpose behind Amendment No. 5.

I am asking that my noble friend might consider that the licensing authority, whoever that may be when it has been discussed, will have a requirement in the Bill that a licence "shall" be issued, rather than "may" be issued. They are two very different things. If a local authority did not have any farming inclinations, or there were people on the authority who favoured farming but were totally opposed for very understandable reasons to the burning of straw or stubble, it could refuse to issue the licence notwithstanding the fact that my noble friend has Amendment No. 23 down which refers in some measure to this.

It might be relevant if I referred to another Act of Parliament in relation to the issue of firearms certificates: that is in relation to Section 27(1) of the Firearms Act 1968. I know that my noble friend Lord Onslow is finding difficulty in keeping in his seat at the moment.

The Earl of Onslow


Viscount Mountgarret

It is a fact that this section of the Firearms Act provides that if a chief constable is satisfied that an applicant for a certificate has good reasons to possess one and he has no grounds for supposing that the applicant should not have one, for whatever reason under the sun, he is required to issue that certificate. In this case there is no question of "may". It is a question of "shall". The same criteria might perhaps apply to the issuing of licences for straw burning, provided—I emphasise the word "provided"—that certain safeguards are observed.

My Amendment No. 7, my noble friend's Amendment No. 9, and indeed the amendment of my noble friend Lord Alport, Amendment No. 12, refer to certain safeguards. Perhaps between now and Report stage there might be some measure of agreement between incorporating the word "shall", provided that the licensing authority is satisfied that the applicant has good reason and is prepared to observe the various conditions that may be imposed.

9.19 p.m.

Lord Alport

Perhaps I may answer this straight away, because I have given consideration to this amendment which goes, as my noble friend has said, with Amendment No. 7. The meaning of it is that the local authority or the authority granting the licence would only grant a licence if the farmer satisfied the authority that he would have special regard to the potential danger and inconvenience and has indicated satisfactorily that the measures he proposed to take to protect the environment, the convenience and safety of the public were sufficient for the local authority's purposes.

This will place a heavy burden on the individual farmer. It will also give great power and impose great responsibility on the licensing officials of the local authority. The farmer will, in effect, have to prove his entitlement to a licence when he makes his application. However satisfied he may be that the precautions he will take will satisfy the local authority, there is no certainty that the licence will be issued to him.

Under the present wording of the Bill, with the amendment I have proposed, the farmer has to make an application for a licence to the local authority which then issues the licence, subject to conditions which are set out in the licence and with which the farmer is bound to comply. If for any reason, as my noble friend knows, the local authority refuses to issue the licence, then the farmer, under Amendment No. 23, has the right to appeal. I think that process is fair to the farmer. It enables him to carry out his burning programme with a clear idea of what his obligations are to the public and avoids his having the responsibility of proving, before he gets the licence, that he is a fit and proper person to have one. I think the onus should be on the local authority to show reasons why it refuses to issue a licence, rather than for the farmer to show that he is entitled to obtain one.

My Amendment No. 23 ensures that the licence will not be unreasonably withheld from any applicant. If, as a result of any administrative failure or any prejudice on the part of the local authority, the farmer has recourse not to a magistrates' court but, as I suggested in the Bill, to a county court which is a civil court and a forum for local appeal, I think that this is fair and right, and I hope that it reassures my noble friend. But I am quite prepared to consider the anxieties which lie behind this amendment to ensure that the farmer gets a fair deal as far as the licensing authority is concerned; and, if there is any way in which at the next stage that can be achieved, then I should like to consider it and discuss it with him.

Viscount Mountgarret

May I say that I am grateful to my noble friend. He has referred to Amendment No. 23 and therefore, with permission, I should like to do so also. I do not think that it is really very satisfactory for a farmer to be in a position of wondering what will happen if he has his application for a licence refused. There is no use his saying that he can go to a court and apply to a Crown court. I think that it would cost the minimum of £2,000 or £3,000 to apply to a Crown court. And if you apply to a Crown court I think you have to be represented by a barrister, although I see my noble friend Lord Onslow shaking his head; so that I may be mistaken. Nonetheless, the process of applying to the Crown court must take a certain amount of time, and meanwhile his straw or stubble is being left unburned, unbaled, unused and un-everything.

I am not sure that this is quite the tidiest way of doing it and I hope that it will be possible to incorporate the requirement that the licensing authority shall issue a licence unless it has good reason to suppose that the applicant is not a suitable person to have it. I agree that my wording of Amendment No. 7 is probably not ideal. It was tabled before I had the opportunity of seeing the proposed model by-laws. Something like that perhaps could be incorporated between now and Report stage. Those are the points that I wish to make.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My noble friend I think has said that an appeal would go to the county court. Can he tell me to which court in Scotland he would send it?

Lord Alport

I have not considered this. I have no doubt that if one of my noble friends from Scotland cares to put down an amendment at Report stage to signify the exact court in Scotland to which it should go—and I imagine it would be to the sheriff court—that is something on which I would have to take advice, but it would be an amendment which can be made at a later stage.

Viscount Mountgarret

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.25 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 13, leave out ("or derived from").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move this amendment. It is consequential on Amendment No. 2, which was agreed yesterday.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9 not moved.]

Viscount Mountgarret moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (2) and insert— ("() The applicant shall—

  1. (a) specify the arable land to which the licence will apply:
  2. (b) speciify the periods during which he wishes to burn straw or stubble; and
  3. (c) indicate what measures he proposes to take in regard to the protection of the environment and the convenience and safety of the public.")

The noble Viscount said: Again, the purpose of this amendment is part and parcel of how licences might be issued. I would venture to suggest that perhaps in this respect the Bill as drafted has got the cart a little before the horse. The Bill as it stands requires the issuing authority to tell the farmer to what area the licence will apply, the period during which straw may be burnt and so on. I would have thought that it might be better if the applicant himself were to put specifications to the authority who is to issue the licence. For instance, surely it would be better if the applicant were to state the area he wishes to burn on and the periods during which he wishes to burn: that would presumably be a blank period, for example, two months during August and September.

Referring to paragraph (c), this was drafted before I had advance knowledge of the proposals in the model by-laws, but perhaps we could reconsider this aspect between now and the Report stage. Perhaps there should be an undertaking that one would abide by the provisions of the by-laws or what-you-will. However, basically I think it would be better if the applicant were to make the indication rather than be dictated to by the licensing authorities. I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker

I must inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call amendments 11 to 14 inclusive.

Lord Gisborough

Here again we have the position of a district, which may well be an urban district, knowing very little of farming and it is in a very different situation from the countryside district where farming is part and parcel of its general work. I should like to support this amendment because I think we may get a lot of problems in the urban districts where people do not know what they are talking about.

Lord Alport

Perhaps I could say on this that I do not think there is very much between my noble friend and I as regards paragraphs (a) and (b). When I spoke to a previous amendment I said that the application for a licence would have to specify the arable land, which indeed might be the whole farm, and to obtain a licence on behalf of that, so that would happen automatically. He has also to specify the period for which the straw is to be burnt, and that again is taken more or less for granted so far as the Bill is concerned. If it is necessary, when we reach a later stage, to specify this within some schedule or additional section of the Bill, I should be happy to talk it over with my noble friend. The only thing I would not agree with is that one should indicate the measures one proposes to take. I think these measures in fact should be the ones that are laid down by local authorities either in by-laws or as special conditions they may wish to attach to the licence. I hope my noble friend will withdraw this.

Viscount Hampden

I should like to support this amendment. I realise that when I spoke on Second Reading I failed to declare an interest. Unlike my noble friends on my right, who are experienced farmers, I am a farmer with an "L" plate on. I got involved in the industry only 18 months ago when one of my tenant farmers went bust. I think it is very important to realise that farming is not so profitable as we are led to believe from some of these debates. I have had to burn not only straw but docks, couch grass and other horrible weeds.

I support this amendment, because where I burn stubble and straw is on very unstable ground, which I do not think I can do anything else with. It is also next door to a SSSI, which also belongs to myself with a public footpath going through. So I am very careful about what we do there. But I very much appreciate that I and my partner, who is a much more experienced farmer than I am, can suggest to the district council, the county council or the ministry—whoever gives the licence—the protection that we are giving to the public in this matter. So I support my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

May I appeal to the noble Viscount not to press this amendment at this stage? It really is, to a certain extent, connected with the amendment which he has already withdrawn, No. 5, and Amendment No. 7, which was not moved. If this amendment were pressed to a Division, we would not—unless it was defeated—be able to discuss the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and to have the very important discussion which we must have on the model by-laws. It would be most inconvenient if that were to happen, and I should have thought it was for the convenience of the Committee that we should proceed to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Alport. Perhaps, if the noble Viscount wishes to do so, he could return to his amendment at a later stage.

Viscount Mountgarret

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that he need not appeal to me too much about not pressing this amendment. We are having a very useful preliminary canter around the field on the whole system of licensing, and I am very grateful for the way in which my noble friend Lord Alport is accepting some of the points that are being made. It seems clear that there is a measure of support. I would say in my defence on paragraph (c), that I myself do not want that in. I put it in only in order to try to satisfy the original drafting of my noble friend Lord Alport. I am trying to meet him. So I hope that between now and Report stage, having given this matter a good airing, there will be a broad measure of agreement on the whole subject of issuing licences, and that we shall then get along very nicely at Report stage. Meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 11: Page 1, line 20, leave out ("having regard to") and insert ("for")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 11 and this goes directly with Amendment No. 12. Amendment No. 12 [Printed earlier: col. 1315.]

When the Bill was first prepared and considered by your Lordships' House, I was not aware of the form which the model by-laws would take. We have now seen the model by-laws and some of my noble friends have taken considerable exception to them. However, what I felt was that there must be some standardisation, and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Stanley. There must be some indication in the Bill as to the kind of basic conditions which a council should attach to any licence. It seemed to me that it would be right, therefore, knowing that the model by-laws were about to be agreed and issued by the Ministry as I understood it, to make a reference to the model by-laws at this point.

Your Lordships will notice that Amendment No. 12, as it stands, states: shall have regard to the provisions of the 'model byelaws'. That does not mean that they may follow them slavishly. As I said earlier, most of them would probably take the model by-laws in full and attach them to the licence, but it is not necessary, according to this amendment, that they should do so. However, I do not think that this is the occasion for having a discussion on the model by-laws. I should like to hear any comments that any noble Lord should like to make. But I would consider withdrawing this amendment if it was the view of my noble friend Lord Stanley and others that they would like to consider this point further and come back to it at a later stage. I beg to move.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I welcome the remarks about trying to have some standardisation in the regulations that my noble friend has indicated he will discuss. I think the answer is that between now and Report we can get together and achieve some form of standardisation. The new model by-laws are so severe that I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Alport, would consider withdrawing his Bill and accepting the model by-laws.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

May I intervene at this stage and, if it is convenient to the Committee, speak to Amendment No. 13. Amendment No. 13: At end insert ("and such byelaws shall include provision for safeguarding residential property and highways.") The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, is here, and at this juncture he may wish to speak to Amendment No. 14.

The fact is entirely contrary to the way in which the noble Lord who has just spoken has put it. He regards the by-laws as being so severe as to be unacceptable. They are not, in my opinion, sufficiently strict, especially having regard to residential property and highways and, in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, having regard to animals, buildings [other than residential buildings] and plant growth on property adjacent to the arable land specified in the licence, as well as … rights of way and wayleaves". I was extremely grateful for a copy of the by-laws which the Minister very kindly sent to me as well as to others who are interested in the subject. I am glad that the noble Lords who have spoken so far welcome the fact that there will be central guidance to local authorities. Surely that is a great improvement. When I looked at the by-laws, I was very happy to see that one of the matters which concerned me—residential property—is safeguarded. On the other hand, carefully though I have read the by-laws—perhaps, by inadvertence, I have missed something—I see that there is no reference to highways. This is a matter of the very gravest concern. As we all know, there was a death on the Great North Road last summer in the most horrible circumstances, due to straw and stubble burning—I do not know which; perhaps it was due to a combination of the two.

We are concerned here not merely, as the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, has been concerned, quite properly, with the burning and maiming of animals in horrible circumstances; we are concerned with human beings on the highways who have been not just burned to death but who have been terrified and frightened. I have here a letter from somebody who was involved in just these circumstances. I should like to quote from it, if I may, just in case farmers are complacent about what happened last summer. It says: I was driving in a well spaced queue of cars and saw a plume of smoke about a quarter of a mile away which I thought was well away from the road. In fact, with no warning and on a straight bit of road, we were plunged first into smoke and then into extremely dense smoke so dark I could not see in front of the car's bonnet, and naturally we all ran into each other. And someone in front had stopped. We were going very slowly as the first lot of smoke had slowed us. The hedge was burning briskly to my left and most people were abandoning their cars, and, indeed, it seemed folly to stay in. So I got out. Smuts were falling on the car and through the sunshine roof. I ran down the road to try to stop the cars coming as they could not see what was happening. I found someone who telephoned the police, the fire engines"— and so on. The story ended happily; there were no deaths. But men, women and children were terrified that the petrol tanks were going to explode. They were scrambling over barbed wire fences, scratching themselves. They were extremely frightened and in terror of their lives. That is the kind of incident which has occurred.

I know that some of these incidents have arisen not as a result of straw and stubble burning but as a result of sparks which have set light to standing crops. That is no excuse for not taking extra care when burning straw and stubble. If it happens, as one must accept that it does happen, either by spontaneous combustion or due to the fact that farm machinery sends out a spark which causes a crop to catch alight, that itself is danger enough to the general public, and it causes the authorities to send fire engines, ambulances and so on to rescue those who may be on the highway when such an incident occurs. But if added to that hazard—which is already happening in a hot summer—one additionally burns straw and stubble without due care and attention, and without sufficient safeguards in respect of highways and other places where the public are legitimately adjacent to farms where burning is carried out, then there is no question but that something must be done to protect the public.

For those reasons, I very much welcome the by-laws and hope that they will be strengthened along the lines I have indicated, and also along the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, has indicated by his amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

I hope that we will not get into a long debate about the model by-laws, because my noble friend Lord Alport is going to withdraw his amendment and we can discuss this aspect in detail. As I understand it, the reason why highways are not covered in the by-laws is that they are already protected by statute; they are protected by the Highways Act 1980, and a by-law cannot duplicate what is already in statute.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Ironside

I should first like to apologise to the Committee for not being here when my noble friend Lord Alport was speaking, but I should like to intervene at this stage to speak about my own amendment, Amendment No. 14.

Amendment No. 14: At end insert("and such by-laws shall make provision for safeguarding persons, animals, buildings and plant growth on property adjacent to the arable land specified in the licence, as well as for safeguarding the use of highways, rights of way and wayleaves where they pass through the licensed land or are adjacent to it.")

This is essentially a precursor to that amendment and Clause 2 covers the licence to burn. Call it matchbox farming if you like, but it does mean that a licensee possesses skill and is qualified, and that is how people see it. But to my mind, a licence is no more than permission to spread fire, and an open fire at that. Skill is not needed for this, but restraint is needed. It is difficult to exercise restraint when one has acres of space at one's disposal. While the model by-laws define the methodology of burning and are desirable, they do not go far enough in defining the objects of protection. They need to be slightly more specific.

Combustion is one of the most violent chemical rections short of explosion that we know of. Yesterday, my noble friend Lord Gisborough mentioned the fact that a bale of straw did explode. The circumstances were, I think, arguable between him and my noble friend Lord Mountgarret, but nevertheless we have to realise the seriousness of combustion. Once it is started, it is difficult to control. That is surely where the skills lie in fire fighting, and that is why qualified men are needed in the fire service. It is very much easier to light a fire than to put it out, and we do not want to place onto the fire services a greater burden than they already bear in dealing with many accidental and urban incidents. The extra burden of man-made, countryside fires would be really unacceptable within the present availability of resources.

Clause 2(2)(c) specifies conditions which may be imposed, and I believe that the inclusion of the model by-laws reinforces the purpose of the clause. But to my mind there are omissions, and I have endeavoured to cover them in my own amendment. I have seen the new draft which my noble friend Lord Belstead circulated just yesterday. I think there is a need to have regard, first, for objects generally—either animal, vegetable or mineral—and, secondly, to the rights of way in the various forms they occur. There are people to safeguard on the adjacent property, where occupied and unoccupied buildings exist, with residences and other possessions. There are gardens and other amenities to think about, as well as horticultural enterprises. Frequently, there are animals around, and animals are intensely frightened of fire and smoke. They panic—and horses panic very easily.

The wording of my amendment embraces all these matters, whereas the objects in the model by-laws as they stand at the moment are rather limited. There are no references in the model by-laws to safeguarding the use of highways or other rights of way, some of which may pass through or over the licensed land. In the case of wayleaves, for example, impregnated poles carry high voltage electric supply lines and they are at risk. Well, I see that the new model by-laws make reference to telegraph poles, but, as I understand it, telegraph poles do not involve wayleaves; it is the electricity poles that do that. I have therefore endeavoured to cover these public interests in the second part of my amendment.

The model by-laws are very flexible instruments of government. Some people would say that they are too flexible. But I think that in this case the guidelines for them need to be incorporated into the framework of the Bill in Clause 2. I believe that my amendment does that, and I would be very interested to hear what my noble friend has to say on these points which I have raised in my amendment.

Lord Alport

I did not withdraw my amendment immediately because I was anxious that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and my noble friend Lord Ironside should have the opportunity of airing the views that are represented by their amendments to this Bill. But we should not be led away further on to discussing model by-laws. There will no doubt be an opportunity of doing that in due course—at any rate, I hope that will be the case. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

Before the noble Lord does that, may we not hear the views of the noble Lord the Minister on the model by-laws?

Lord Alport

That is entirely a matter for the Minister, but I think I must say that I have moved the withdrawal of my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does the noble Lord, Lord Alport, wish to move Amendment No. 12?

Lord Alport

No, not moved.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I wonder whether I may move Amendment No. 12, solely for the purpose of eliciting a reply from the Minister about the remarks which have been made regarding model by-laws. I beg to move.

Lord Alport

I am present in this Committee. It is my amendment and I have not moved it. Therefore it is not moved.

The Deputy Chairman

Therefore, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 to the amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

With respect to the noble Baroness in the Chair, I believe that the amendment is in the possession of the Committee and it is competent for any noble Lord to move the amendment. I beg to move Amendment No. 12.

The Deputy Chairman

With that advice I think I must accept the amendment proposed, page 1, line 22, at the end insert the words on the Marshalled List.

[Printed earlier: col. 1315.]

Lord Belstead

Rather paradoxically, though it is not my Bill and I am replying to amendments which are not my amendments, perhaps with the leave of my noble friend, I may say a word in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and my noble friend Lord Ironside, and confine my remarks entirely to the two subsequent amendments.

The model by-laws provide protection to certain vulnerable objects, such as residential property, hedgerows, trees, standing crops, and buildings or structures constructed largely of inflammable materials, by requiring farmers to construct appropriately sized firebreaks between those objects and the area to be burnt. The safety of persons and livestock is, we believe, best assured by adequate measures to prevent fires from getting out of control. The by-laws endeavour to do this by limiting the area which can be burnt at any one time and by requiring the supervision of each fire by at least two people with suitable fire-fighting equipment to hand. That is the way we have tried to meet the point made by my noble friend Lord Ironside about the safety of animals and people.

I should add that the NFU code, I think for many years, has contained clear advice to farmers that before starting to burn they should contact the neighbours. If a neighbour has animals which might be frightened by burning, obviously one would try to ensure that that would not happen by consulting the neighbour about the direction of the wind and generally seeing whether it would be acceptable.

As regards the very important point put by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, may I just add to what my noble friend Lord Caithness said. Protection for roads and road users is provided in the highways legislation, and we were advised that tougher provisions could not therefore be legally incorporated in the by-laws. Nevertheless, we have received many representations along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said. These representations have been brought to the attention of the Department of Transport, which is now looking into the scope for tightening up the existing powers in highways legislation.

If I may just return to my noble friend Lord Ironside before I finish, I suggest that straw burning represents a very temporary inconvenience to those who use rights of way. Although I should like to look carefully at what my noble friend has said, I think that so far as that is concerned we have the balance of the by-laws about right.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, wish to move his amendment to the amendment? The amendments to the amendment, strictly speaking, ought to be taken first, I think.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I think that we are speaking to Amendment No. 12: Page 1, line 22, at end insert", the words on the Marshalled List. That Question has been put, and the Minister has very courteously replied. I am very happy to have elicited that reply. If it is the wish of the Committee, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment. I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, does not think that I was in any way being discourteous to him. Had I not moved the amendment, I could not have elicited this response from the Minister, and that was my sole purpose in wishing to move it. My amendment depends on his amendment, and that was the only way in which I could have elicited this reply. Does the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, wish to speak?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Lord, Lord Ironside, has a right to move an amendment to Amendment No. 12 if he wishes.

Lord Ironside

In view of what my noble friend Lord Belstead has said about my amendment, I think I am happy to withdraw it at this stage, but I should like to study what he has said in detail and, if necessary, raise the whole matter again at the Report stage. One particular thing that he said worried me. In the model by-laws he requires the fire fighting services to be informed when burning is to take place, but no mention is made of informing neighbours or owners of adjacent land.

Lord John-Mackie

May I elicit from the Minister, or from someone, what one can do about the model by-laws if one disagrees with them? I take it that they will be sent to local councils, and it is up to the local councils to decide whether to accept or amend them. Is there any other way? Can we discuss them here? As far as I can see, we can discuss them if we put down an amendment, but not otherwise. I think that it is rather important that there should be some method.

Lord Alport

May I appeal to the Front Bench, or to whoever is responsible for this matter. I specifically did not withdraw the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, then moved it on my behalf, and the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, has spoken to it. As far as I understand it, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, has not been moved. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will now withdraw the amendment so that the Committee can get on with the rest of the Bill. I think that there are other occasions when the model by-laws will be debatable in this House and it will be much more appropriate to debate them then. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has a Question after this business and I hope that he will have an opportunity to deal with it sometime either today or tomorrow. But perhaps the noble Lord will now withdraw the amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

Yes, indeed. If I may, with the leave of the Committee, I should like to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 not moved.]

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert— ("(2A) A local authority may withdraw a licence from any person convicted of an offence under the provisions of this Act.")

The noble Lord said: I move very briefly Amendment No. 15. It is to enable the local authority to withdraw a licence from any person convicted of an offence under the provisions of this Act. My noble friends will notice that it is very much in the same form and has much the same purpose as their Amendment No. 8. It is something which is important and I know that the National Farmers' Union and others who are concerned, feel that it is important that the authority should have the right to withdraw the licence as a sanction to ensure the observance of any conditions with which the licence is issued. I beg to move.

Lord Gisborough

The problem here is that a farmer would almost certainly undertake burning and, as far as he could, obey the regulations or the by-laws, which are drawn up so absurdly that they would not do much good anyhow. So it could well be that even in obeying those by-laws, he might have an accident or something might go wrong. In fact, that almost certainly would happen. For that he would appear before a court, and for that offence he could be fined £1,000. Now, it is proposed that he should be punished twice. I thought you could only be punished once for an offence, not twice. If, having been fined, he then gets his licence withdrawn, not only is he punished twice, but the following year he cannot take advantage of the lesson that he learned the previous year and be more careful because he is not allowed to burn at all and he has no way of getting rid of his straw, and the situation is hopeless.

Viscount Mountgarret

I cannot let that pass without comment. I think my noble friend Lord Gisborough was going too far. The fundamental fact of the matter is by my Amendment No. 7, which we have already discussed, if someone shows himself to be unreliable and not responsible enough to observe either the model by-laws or NFU code or whatever, not only does he get a thumping good fine, but he is also prohibited from burning. I support my noble friend Lord Alport's amendment entirely.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 19: Page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Earl said: I think we are all unanimous on this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 2, line 6, at end insert— ("(4A) The Secretary of State may order direct that after 31st December 1988 no further licences shall be issued and that all licences issued before that date shall be withdrawn. (4B) No order shall be made under subsection (4A) above unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 20. In the Bill as it is at the present moment, the banning of stubble and straw burning would take place at the end of five years: that is, on 1st January 1989. But at the Second reading I promised that I would consider introducing an amendment which altered that in some respects. The reason I did so was because I was impressed by the arguments which were raised during that debate about my forecast, and the forecast which I have seen on many other occasions in the farming press, that by the end of four or five years, the necessity for straw and stubble burning will have ceased.

Your Lordships' attention no doubt will have been drawn to the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. You will remember that on page 15 the Royal Commission says as follows: We therefore recommend that the Government should announce the introduction of a legislative ban on straw burning on stubble fields to take effect in five years' time. The legislation should be introduced now and come into effect on a prescribed date without the need for subsequent statutory instruments or commencement orders.

That is a categorical statement which represents the Bill as it presently stands. The Committee will also probably have noticed that the chairman of the Cereals Committee of the National Farmers' Union forecast not very long ago that there would be a ban on straw and stubble burning in five to 10 years' time. The amendment which I now move provides that the Secretary of State has power by order to direct that after 31st December 1988 no further licences shall be issued and all licences shall be withdrawn. He will have the power to do that, but he will not be able to do it unless he has previously placed a draft of the order before Parliament and it has been approved by an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That means that in four or five years' time after the passing of this Bill the Secretary of State shall have the power to ban, but it will be at the discretion not only of the Secretary of State of the day but of the Parliament of the day as to whether that ban is to be put into effect. This gives flexibility to the Bill which I think is desirable.

I think it is important also to remember one of the arguments which the Royal Commission introduced. The argument was that in order to ensure progress of the development of alternative uses of straw, or the machinery for incorporating straw in the land, it is important there should be some indication to industry and those who are going to invest in research and development in this subject that it is worth their while to put their money towards the particular purpose.

I hope, therefore, that the Committee will accept this amendment. I know very well that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is opposed to a ban. This is a matter which can be considered if this Bill goes from your Lordships' House to another place, and the decision can be made there. I am very anxious to persuade the Committee to accept this amendment so that it can be included in the Bill at this stage and subsequently be considered in another place. I beg to move.

Lord John-Mackie

There seems to be a desire for speeches to be as short as possible, but I should like to point out that I did not arrange the business of the House, and I feel one should not be gagged in discussing this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, said "affirmative resolution" although it is not in his amendment. I should like to suggest that the words "affirmative resolution" must be in the amendment.

Lord Burton

I question whether this amendment is sound. The Minister of State for Agriculture has no jurisdiction in Scotland. As I understand it, this Bill applies to the whole of Great Britain. I wonder, therefore, whether the noble Lord, Lord Alport, could answer that problem, and if his amendment is invalid perhaps he would withdraw it.

Lord Alport

I should be unwilling to withdraw it, but I will give an undertaking to my noble friend that at the next stage any amendments which are necessary to ensure the Bill does apply to Scotland will be introduced.

10.4 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

This is one amendment which I cannot accept, and I hope my noble friends will support me. I do not think it is going to cure the problem. There are two really important points to take into consideration: weather conditions have already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston. There are going to be circumstances in which one will need to burn, particularly the further north one goes in this country. Where you have a late harvest and in order to get the ground ready to accept the winter oilseed rape or winter corn, the only way to get rid of the straw will be to burn it. Therefore, there is always going to be a need to burn it.

I do not think that by banning the burning of straw, you will actually stop the problem. Fire officers throughout the country are generally opposed to the county councils' advice that it should be banned. They are most concerned. In 1981, 94 per cent. of the fires that caused problems for fire brigades were caused accidentally or maliciously. If my memory serves me correctly, 1,442 fires were caused in that way. By banning the burning of straw and stubble, you will not solve the problem of my noble friend Lord Gisborough's stubble that automatically ignites. You will not solve the problem of the rogue bale of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, rolling across the fields in the wind. In fact, you will cause more problems. There will not be ploughed headlands. There will not be the protection of residential property. There will not be the protection of hedges.

Who will get the blame? It will be the farmers, because they have not taken precautions. The farmers will say that they do not need to take precautions because they are banned from burning. I believe that many more problems will be caused because no action will be taken to minimise the damage. I hope, therefore, that the amendment will be withdrawn. It is a crucial amendment. The noble Lord has to see, I hope, the force of the argument that says that we have to maintain all the protections that the model by-laws require of farmers. If that is taken away, we shall really have trouble in six years' time.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I express some surprise following upon the point made by my noble friend Lord Burton about the legislation applying to Scotland. It is not so long ago that, in reply to other amendments, my noble friend Lord Alport reeled off a considerable catalogue of bodies, from the Ramblers' Association to the Countryside Commission, that had been consulted. I am slightly surprised that he rather airily says in reply to my noble friend that he will incorporate at the next stage of the Bill a measure that will include Scotland. Has he consulted any organisations in Scotland? Has he had any representations from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland? I asked him this question at the beginning, and I got no reply.

Lord Belstead

My noble friend Lord Alport has referred to my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture. I think that I should make the point that in announcing the issue of the new by-laws yesterday my right honourable friend said that he believed that the new rules would work and would prevent a recurrence of the problems experienced last summer. But my right honourable friend said: If farmers do not respect them, the Government will have no option hut to take even stronger measures". This shows that my right honourable friend is being sensible and also that we have due humility in the Ministry of Agriculture. We do not believe, necessarily, that we have all the answers; but we are doing our best and at least we have consulted widely. I say that just to put the record straight as to the position of my right honourable friend.

So far as this amendment is concerned, I welcome the deletion of the provision for a ban on straw burning from 31st December 1988, but its replacement by a power for the Secretary of State to impose a ban from that date is still objectionable to the Government. It was my noble friend Lord Caithness who put his finger on the crucial point. If there were to be a ban and there were miles and miles of inflammable material lying around the countryside it would mean that the dangers to everyone were very great. With respect to my noble friend Lord Alport, he simply has not explained how there will be sufficient outlets for all the surplus straw when we start to get into the time span that he talks about, when he gives power for an order to he made for a ban.

In saying that I should like to make it quite clear that very large sums of money are being spent on research and development at the moment—£2 million. It is not for want of technology that there are not outlets. But if we are talking about straw for feed, straw for fuel or straw for substances like paper or board, it is necessary to get the straw onto the market in large quantities, at a price which people wish to pay for it. This is the difficulty at the present time.

If the Committee were to agree to this amendment, my noble friend would be taking a very great risk with the environment and, indeed, with the livelihoods of farmers after 1988. I would ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Viscount Mountgarret

I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Alport will pay even more attention to what my noble friend Lord Belstead has just said. On Second Reading my noble friend urged my noble friend Lord Alport to withdraw the Bill in its entirety, for the very good reasons that were represented then. Yet again these reasons have been given. I hope that my noble friend will take note of them.

It must be quite wrong to consider legislating now for something that might happen in five years' time, before we have even given the by-laws, or other measures which may be taken, a chance to utilise surplus straw, which I know is the situation at the moment. It is quite inappropriate to allow this amendment to go through at the present time.

Lord Alport

Perhaps I should point out to my noble friend the Minister and to others that the amendment says: The Secretary of State may by order direct … That does not make it compulsory for the Secretary of State to issue the order. He is entitled to do so if by that time what I had forecast and what I think is more than likely to happen will have happened. But if it has not, there is no obligation at all on the Secretary of State to issue the order. This amendment is intended to give some reassurance.

I must say to my noble friends who represent the farming interests here that they must bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and my noble friend Lord Ironside have said about the interests of the other members of the community. They should remember what the chairman of the Arable Cereals Committee of the NFU has said: that there will be a ban in five to 10 years'. They should remember what the Royal Commission has said: that it definitely wants a ban in five years' time. If this is not included in the Bill, I can assure noble Lords that there will be increasing agitation for an immediate ban.

Perhaps I may give the farming interests this advice because, as I said on Second Reading, this Bill is not antagonistic at all towards the farming interests. This is a security measure. At the worst let us suppose that the agitation is as great as it may well be. The farming industry will have four years for the development of research and for investment to take place to ensure that by the beginning of 1989 the ban can be brought in. But if by that time the Secretary of State of the day and Parliament decide that it is not in the interests of the country or of the farming industry that this should be done, under this amendment there is no compulsion that a ban should be brought in. So I must say to my noble friends that, in the interests of the farming industry and of the community generally, this provision is essential to the Bill and therefore I shall not be able to withdraw it. If it is opposed, we shall have to decide it in the Division Lobbies.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I thought that I was naive, but my noble friend is being too naive when he says that the Minister "may". He knows as well as I do that if this amendment is included in the Bill, in 1989 my noble friend the Minister will be put under tremendous pressure to do this. He will receive advice from all to do it. It is tying his hands now in advance for doing something, and it would expose him to intolerable pressure.

I would correct the other point made by my noble friend on the late chairman of the National Farmers' Union. He is misquoting him; he did not say that. I will make one other point to my noble friend about the Royal Commission. They have made a remark—and I have no doubt he has read it carefully—and have devoted 210 pages to the subject of straw burning. In these pages it is stated: The ill effects of straw burning are tangible and immediate. And again: Unlike the putative effects of low level cumulative pollution the impact of straw burning is immediate. I regret to say that the Royal Commission seem to have based their recommendation on hearsay evidence. For instance: They took their evidence on numerous reports in national and local newspapers. A scientific Royal Commission taking hearsay advice from the press seems strange to me. They also based their recommendation on the Countryside Commission who, in their report, totally failed to suggest an alternative method of disposal, which in my opinion reflects little credit on them.

I cannot fail to note that the vast majority of those who sit on the Royal Commission have never had to do a day's work with their hands for their living. I believe their decision in this matter, and this matter alone, lacks common sense, and their conclusion is not supported by the facts in their report. However, both the Royal Commission and my noble friend Lord Alport state that a total ban in five years would concentrate the mind on getting rid of surplus straw. I do not agree at all. But if it did, I will suggest some of the ways it might concentrate the mind, and I do not think your Lordships, let alone the public, would appreciate some of them.

It might make us put the 6 million tonnes on the road for Wales or the West Country in July and August. It might make us chop and incorporate. Recent work suggests that incorporation means cutting under two centimetres long. In fact, preferably dust. A good wind such as caused the trouble last year would drive this dust everywhere. And what about farmer's lung? Has anybody thought about this? Has anybody done research? I would not even wish farmer's lung on my noble friend Lord Alport. It is a terrible disease, and I do not want to see that wandering around.

When your Lordships' sub-committee on science and technology asked the Ministry of Agriculture two weeks ago whether any research had been done on straw disposal, the answer was yes, but that the problem was mainly economic. That certainly is so. It does not pay me to carry by free straw from my Oxford farm to my Anglesey one, because of the carriage. The cost of disposing of the United Kingdom's surplus straw other than by burning could be between £40 million and £100 million a year. This money will have to come from somewhere. If your Lordships insist on a ban I wonder whether the ordinary citizen really wants to make this sacrifice, for, like it or not, this money has to come from somewhere, and it comes out of the gross national product, and will not be available for other uses such as hospitals, pensioners and schools. I trust that my noble friend will think clearly and withdraw this amendment.

10.19 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

What the noble Lord is attempting is to undo the Second Reading of the Bill. It is not surprising that on this subject almost every speech and every amendment sparks something off. It certainly sparked something off in the noble Lord a moment ago. Where we have got into a mess is that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and others, to the deletion a moment or two ago of subsection (4) on page 2. By the deletion of subsection (4) on page 2 the ban has been taken out of the Bill. It has not been taken out of the Title but it has been taken out of the Bill.

Therefore, it is desirable to replace subsection (4) by something else relating to the termination of the right to burn. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has just moved the amendment which is to replace the deletion of subsection (4). I do not know whether he was wise to have agreed to the deletion of subsection (4) until he had agreement from the triple alliance on the other side of the Committee to the amendment he is proposing to put in its place.

Lord Alport

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. There was no agreement, and there has been no agreement, with my noble friends on this. I forecast that I would take this action when I wound up on Second Reading of this Bill. It was clear to me that this was an amendment which, in the circumstances, was a wise one. My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has just said that the amendment, in his belief, means that the Minister will introduce the ban in four years' time. He is worried about that. The noble Lord says that possibly he will not, but in fact I feel strongly that this is the sort of amendment which is fair both to the farmers and to the rest of the community.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I am obliged to the noble Lord. It is clear then that the moment he indicated that he was willing to wheel out the bandwagon, the triple alliance climbed on to it. They were going to make quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, deleted subsection (4).

The practical point now is, what do we do with subsection (4) out of the Bill and opposition to the proposed Amendment No. 20? I humbly suggest to the Committee that to avoid a quarrel over this we should agree to the insertion of Amendment No. 20, with the assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and a clear understanding in the Committee that something has to be done regarding the time factor here. The terminal date is involved. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has probably overlooked that whereas he had a terminal date in the Bill he has now removed that for uncertainty about the terminal date.

There is some sympathy to be given the farmer who may say: "Where am I now? If you tell me at the end of five years that there will be a total ban, whether I agree with it or not, I do know where I am; but now I do not because at the end of the five years the Minister may decide to go on or he may give notice by order that he will do it after six years." There is some difficulty in the farming industry not knowing where it stands.

If there is no terminal date then the Bill has lost a good deal of its force. But it could probably be overcome. If a terminal date is to be given then there should be proper notice of it. The industry should be given time to adjust itself to the determination of a terminal date at any point in time when the Minister may resolve upon that. I am sure that there is a form of words that could be inserted in the Bill to make it clear—if I have not made it clear—that when the Minister comes to fix a terminal date he will have to give a reasonable period of years' notice of it. That would mean that the Minister could not act without the industry having proper notice, the length of which could be stipulated in the clause. I throw it out as a possible help to overcome this difficulty.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has said. I much regret that the original provision has been, almost inadvertently, deleted from the Bill. I ventured to agree at an earlier stage of the Bill with Dr. Johnson that if a man is under sentence of death it concentrates his mind wonderfully. I was glad to see a short time afterwards that much the same sentiment was put into the Royal Commission's report at page 15 where, after the words quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, not merely was it the Royal Commission's recommendation that this should take effect in five years' time, but it was also the recommendation of the Countryside Commission and the National Society for Clean Air. They went on to say this: Once there is this assurance that the practice will have to be discontinued, the industries concerned will be able to make the necessary investment to develop ways for the profitable use of the surplus straw (an example of the concept of technology forcing, —and "technology forcing" is only another way of saying "concentrating the mind wonderfully"— which the United States and Japanese regulatory authorities claim to follow). The Royal Commission then go on to say that the appropriate technology might have export potential, and they therefore recommend to the Government that greater priority should be given to research and development on alternative uses of straw in the immediate future. This all points to a definite date.

Lord Gisborough

There is no doubt or argument that straw can be dealt with in many ways. The problem at the moment is that the cost of carrying it is prohibitive. That is the whole point. It does not matter whether there are things you can do with straw or not; you cannot get it economically to the factory.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I put a point to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, with great respect. When I put my Motion down, I was told it would probably come on at 8 o'clock. It is now 10.25 p.m. Is there any chance of the noble Lord postponing the rest of this stage until a later occasion?

Lord Alport

My Lords, I have great sympathy with the noble Earl. The debates on the Straw Burning Bill have taken place between 11.30 p.m. and 2 o'clock in the morning on the first occasion and between 10 p.m. and 12.30 p.m. on the second occasion. In those circumstances, we are accustomed to rather late sittings on this Bill. I apologise to the noble Earl. I only hope to be able to terminate our proceedings as soon as possible. We are nearly at the end and then the noble Earl will have the opportunity to introduce his Motion.

However, I should like to say that I would consider the helpful suggestion that Lord Houghton has made about the terminal date for licences and ensuring that the industry has sufficient warning between the introduction of the order and its coming into effect. Then it would be over a period of not only one year or two years but perhaps more. I should like to consider that at a later stage. I intend to ask your Lordships to decide this in the Lobbies if that is necessary.

Lord Belstead

I hope that noble Lords will now decide. May I make it clear—and I speak with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—that the Government do not find the suggestion he has made helpful. I repeat that we do not believe that we have found all the answers. We have a proper humility in these matters. My right honourable friend has recognised that we have to look to see how we go and perhaps have to take even stronger measures. For the moment, with some very strong measures being laid before the farming community and the public generally in the by-laws, I think that this particular part of the Bill is extremely unhelpful. It would not be made any more helpful by the suggestion that has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Therefore, the Government are against Amendment No. 20.

10.28 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 20) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided.

Alport, L. [Teller.] Perry of Walton, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Rea, L.
Hooson, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Tryon, L.
Ironside, L. [Teller.] Underhill, L.
McCarthy, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Mountgarret, V. [Teller.] Stanley of Alderley, L. [Teller.]
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, as it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 54 I declare the Question not decided and that further proceedings on the Bill stand adjourned. The House will now resume.