HL Deb 02 May 1984 vol 451 cc608-22

7.55 p.m.

Report received.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, before calling the first amendment I should point out that all the amendments on the printed list are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alport.

Clause 1 [Straw and stubble burning]:

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 6, after second ("to") insert ("unbaled").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should point out that there is a correction to be made to the way the amendment appears on the Marshalled List. The amendment should read: Page 1, line 6, after second ("to") insert ("unbaled").

This is an amendment which is consequential on an amendment we made in Committee on Clause 3. I beg to move. On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 7, leave out (" (whether baled or unbaled) ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is a further consequential amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to. Clause 2 [Licences].

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 12, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

  1. ("(1) A local authority shall grant a licence to permit a person to burn straw or stubble in accordance with regulations made by the agriculture Minister under subsection (2) of this section.
  2. (2) The agriculture Minister may by statutory instrument, subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament, make regulations prescribing conditions for the burning of straw and stubble, taking into account—
    1. (a) good agricultural practice,
    2. (b) the protection of the environment,
    3. (c) the safety of the public,
    4. (d) the safeguarding of property, and
    5. (e) the effect on public health from the pollution of the atmosphere
and may prescribe the procedure for making an application to, and the issuing of, a licence by a local authority.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a much more substantial amendment. It covers a number of points which were raised by my noble friends and noble Lords opposite during the Committee stage. Your Lordships will see that in subsection (1) I include "shall" instead of "may": A local authority shall grant a licence".

This is in response to a point made by my noble friend Lord Mountgarret. It ensures that the farmer will get his licence subject to the conditions in subsection (2) of this amendment.

In subsection (2), I included the point made by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, in making provision for conditions to be included in the regulations to be the subject of the affirmative procedure in both Houses. I think that is sensible. It has the great advantage that it ensures that the conditions, in contrast to the present model by-laws, will then have behind them the authority of Parliament as well as the authority of the Secretary of State. I have included in subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b) of this amendment conditions suggested by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley. They are that good agricultural practice and the protection of the environment should be taken into account by the Minister.

In subsections (2)(c) and (d) I have included in general terms various points made by my noble friend Lord Ironside and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. I think this provision covers the general points which they made and at the same time gives full scope for the Minister to take into account any considerations which are appropriate. I have no doubt that when the time comes the model by-laws as they are drafted at present will be a guide to the Minister in issuing his regulations. Subsection (2)(e) covers matters relating to damage to public health as a result of straw and stubble burning. It is important in view of the great concern which was expressed by public health authorities over the events of last summer.

The advantage of the procedures which I propose in this amendment are two-fold. First of all, the amendment meets the point made by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley who wished to see—I was greatly impressed by his arguments—standardised procedure over the whole country so that the farming community would know exactly where they are in this licensing system. Secondly, it gives far greater authority than the present model by-laws can give for the conditions under which straw and stubble burning is carried out.

In addition, this provision enables the Minister of Agriculture to prescribe procedures for appeal by any farmer who wishes to appeal. I think this is right. It was the addition that was made at Committee stage, but this is an improvement because it meets the point made by one of my noble friends; that is, that the authority for this is given to the agriculture Minister, who when we come to the definition clause will be defined as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State. This means that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales will make their own regulations in accordance with the conditions which are necessary in those two countries.

So this amendment is an important amendment. I hope that it meets—it is certainly intended to meet—the views expressed by my noble friends and by noble Lords on the other side during the Committee stage. If I may say so with due modesty, I think that it is a very considerable improvement upon the Bill which I originally brought before your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, it is with some disappointment that I view the considerable changes which have taken place in the Bill during my absence. Let me first say on behalf of my noble friend Lord John-Mackie that he has to be elsewhere this evening and is extremely sorry not to be present.

By substituting "shall" for "may" in the first part of the amendment, we are saying that the local authority now loses all discretion in the issue of a licence. I do not feel that this can possibly be an improvement and I hope that the Minister will spell out to me whether there are any circumstances in which the local authority—if it is known that the licence should not be issued—can take action, and what that action should be.

We would have supported the ultimate sanction which was included in the original Bill, that the Secretary of State should eventually have the power, if he felt it necessary, to ban straw burning altogether. We feel—and when I say "we" I include my noble friend Lord John-Mackie, because we have discussed the matter—that the removal of this power makes the Bill less effective because there will inevitably be those irresponsible people who will ignore the whole system and the regulations produced by the Minister. However, we support the licensing scheme and we hope that it will suffice.

No one could argue with the regulations which are to be brought forward by the agriculture Minister. But can the Minister explain to me what the effect will be on the existing local authority by-laws? It seems to me that they are not going to be of very much use. Are they automatically repealed? Are they automatically overridden if this amendment is passed, or will there be any residual powers left in them at all? In other words, I am asking: why bring the local authorities into it at all?—because they seem to have no powers left under the amendment.

Whatever we may do with this Bill—and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on his courage and persistence in seeing it through even in this reduced state—the problem will not go away. Right up to the beginning of April I was still receiving private letters from individuals in Cambridge on the events of last summer. If that happens again I think that the Government will have no choice but to take action. I hope that the Minister realises that and that, if we have a repetition in this coming summer of the events of last summer, the Government will not need to be prodded by a Private Member's Bill, but will realise that they must take action to protect the public.

We spoke earlier this evening about the freedoms which people enjoy. One of the greatest freedoms is the freedom to enjoy clean air. We recognised that a long time ago and I hope that it is not a freedom we are going to give up.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, perhaps for the convenience of the House I might speak to all the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Alport on licensing straw burning. As your Lordships will remember, the Government published during the passage of my noble friend's Bill their proposals in the form of a new model by-law. They said that that by-law—as I hope and as they believe—will be the way forward. I believe with them that all local authorities who have a straw burning problem will adopt the new model by-law. This new model by-law should be given a real chance to work, and by "a chance to work" I do not mean for just one season. Nor do I accept that it is not working just because some reporter somewhere suggests in some paper that the by-law is not working or, indeed, a Member of your Lordships' House somewhere else does exactly the same.

If your Lordships take such a view, I would suggest once again to my noble friend Lord Alport that his Bill is unecessary—a point as regards which I tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade your Lordships and my noble friend on Second Reading. I very much hope that we—or perhaps I should say "I"—will abide by the by-law. But if we do not do so, then I would not trust my noble friend Lord Belstead not to impose even harsher restrictions and penalties. Indeed, I would remind your Lordships—as I am sure he will do in a minute—that he has said that he would do so. I would also remind the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that that probably answers all the points that she has made, although I am sure that my noble friend Lord Belstead will be happy to answer them on his own behalf.

However, I would suggest, perhaps more in hope than in expectation, that my noble friend Lord Belstead should agree that the by-law as drafted is ridiculously strict already. But if your Lordships still do not trust the by-law and still wish to have a licensing system, then the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Alport improve those that he originally proposed. In fact, I will go so far as to say, perhaps rather like Pilate, that I can find no fault in them; although I am not a lawyer and I am certainly not a parliamentary draftsman.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I think that both noble Lords who have spoken have raised some interesting points on the amendment. It all needs a little sorting out. It is true that we have had the model by-law published while this Bill has been before your Lordships' House and that there is some relationship between the two. Indeed, that brings me to the important question; namely, what will the Government's intentions be about this Bill when it has passed through your Lordships' House?

We are all aware of the fact that, while we make room for any Bill passed in another place, another place does not always make room for a Bill passed in your Lordships' House. If the Government take a friendly view of the Bill in its present form, then I think that the adjustments that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, will be fully justified. But I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that, so far as I personally am concerned, I was looking forward to seeing the end of this scorched earth policy in 1989. That is removed from the Bill and so my hopes of seeing an end to stubble burning in my lifetime are now receding. It was a very important concession to have made. To secure favour for this Bill we are removing the target date for ending stubble burning.

Secondly, in order to meet points of view on this—and I am not complaining—the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has substituted the word "shall" for the word "may". My noble friend on the Front Bench has just asked in what circumstances local authorities might have power to refuse a licence. There is the point on page 2 of the Bill that: A local authority may withdraw a licence (for any period) from any person convicted of an offence". That is a discipline imposed on non-observance of the rules. When the Minister replies he will probably tell us about that. What I want to know is: are we doing business? If we are doing business, then I am all for getting a compromise to enable business to be done. If we are not doing business, then I see no reason to make concessions in, as it were, thin air. Therefore, I look forward to the Minister's reply on that point.

For the benefit of a lapse of memory on my part, when he replies perhaps he can tell us who pays for the fire brigades who have to turn out to fight the fires. I was asked that question the other day by someone who thought that by now I must be an expert on stubble burning, and for the life of me I could not remember whether I had heard the answer. If those who are careless have to pay for the fire brigade to turn out to put out the fires, a greater discipline might be imposed on people to take care. However, if the public have to pay, then people will not be so conscientious. I am sure that that point was raised in an earlier debate, but I have not had an opportunity to look it up.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I should like to make a contribution from the Cross-Benches. First, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on following someone who he might regard as his master, the late Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, in achieving by these amendments what was the art of the possible in political terms, though they do not go as far as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, would like or as far as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, would like, or indeed as far as I would like or, even more important perhaps, as the Royal Commission on the Environment would like. That Royal Commission recommended that, on good general environmental grounds, there should be a terminal date of five years for the burning of straw and stubble. They applied that principle across the board. Whoever the polluter may be, they believe that a terminal date concentrates the mind and encourages the scientists to effect the cure which would otherwise not be effected unless there was this terminal state. However, having said that, I must, of course, accept that any legislation is the art of the possible.

I should like to comment on Amendment No. 3. I, too, am confused about the use of the word "shall" in subsection (1), especially when one looks to the new subsection (2A). Under the clause as drafted, the local authority "shall" grant a licence and then subsection (2A) says that the local authority may have: failed or refused to issue a licence". How can we reconcile "shall" grant a licence with failing or refusing? They seem to me to be irreconcilable. 1 suppose that the object of this is that they are empowered not to grant a licence if they have good reason to believe that the applicant, under paragraphs (a) to (e), has not come within those provisions. However, there seems to be this contradiction between "shall" in the first part of Clause 2, (1) and the licence that the local authority has to fail or refuse to grant in subsection (2A).

There is one further point that I should like to make, which is purely drafting. I entirely agree with the first two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, about the insertion of the word "unbaled". It seems to me that in line 3 of subsection (2) of Amendment No. 3 the word "unbaled" should be inserted before the word "straw". There is another consequential amendment to that effect later on. However, that is pure drafting.

Perhaps I may just ask the noble Lord the Minister about paragraph (c), which speaks of, "the safety of the public". From the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, I presume that his intention is that those words should include highways. I see him nodding his head. I have given the noble Lord the Minister notice of this next point. I consider that it would be highly advantageous if the statutory regulations in regard to the burning of straw and stubble, and the obligations of those who do so in respect of highways, could somehow or other be incorporated in the new model by-laws. Unless that is done—and I appreciate that there must be some technical difficulty about it, but I think that it is not beyond the ingenuity of draftsmen to do this, perhaps just by way of reference—we shall not have all the relevant regulations in one place. If the statutory requirements in regard to highways were not included, the emphasis would, therefore, be laid solely on the by-laws and not on the statutory laws. That would seem to me to be a great pity.

I hope that something can be done in good time for the straw and stubble burning season, which may well be on us rather sooner than we would normally expect in view of the very good weather that we have recently been having.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, I think that this Clause 2 amendment now incorporates the ingredients of an acceptable licensing method, and I should like to give it my support. However, I should like to make a few remarks about the guidelines which the Minister will be expected to take into account: first, that he should observe "good agricultural practice" is, I think, a meaningful phrase to people like myself who are not farmers. Just because a profession adopts a practice, it does not automatically mean that it is a good one in the sense that it is directly acceptable to society and complies with maximum health standards and minimum nuisance levels. In fact, good practice implies that other factors have been taken into account, such as cost effectiveness, clean technology, and proper resource management, all of which are of just as much concern to society as is the quality of life.

To my mind, burning is a practice, but not a good practice, and until other methods of acceptable disposal can be found, control of burning is vitally necessary. Therefore, I am happy that the phraseology of "good practice" is established in this clause, and ideally at the end of the day I think that "good agricultural practice" surely means practices such as soil incorporation, contained combustion to dry animal food, recycling, or whatever. But it does not mean uncontrolled combustion, which, in the opening words of the NFU code, is considered to be bad husbandry.

Protection is needed for those using public highways, public pathways and wayleaves. Protection is needed for those property owners whose houses and gardens are in or near an arable area. Protection is needed for animals. As I have said before, I believe that the model by-laws cover the methodology of burning, but they do not specifically cover the factors which I have mentioned. Nevertheless, during the Committee stage the Minister assured us that they would be taken into account, and I hope that he can still give such assurances if licences have to be granted. They are factors about which we are all concerned, and there is plenty of evidence to show that they must be taken into account, if not from the safety point of view, then from the point of view of quality of life, of preventing nuisance and damage and thus of avoiding any unnecessary cost.

The Central Electricity Generating Board and area supply boards have to suffer damaged corona insulation rings when flashovers are caused on the grid lines by pockets of intensely hot air that come up from straw burning. Horses and other animals take fright at fire. Buildings caught in a downwind stream of sparks can easily be razed to the ground; and local authorities must give full consideration to these factors in granting any particular licence.

The right of appeal is quite proper and fair, and I hope that sensible legislation taken now may open the door to eventual banning. I would merely remind the House that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution have recently stated that in their view straw burning has become a matter of widespread concern, and they believe that once a target date for the ban could be set the agricultural community would have the necessary incentive to find new ways of disposing of straw.

I have noted with particular interest what the Association of District Councils said in their evidence about pollution on 3rd April to Sub-committee G of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities. They recognise the problems with straw burning, and their members are being advised by them to adopt the new by-laws. They consider that difficulties will persist unless a system of licensing is introduced. They find that this Bill is extremely acceptable, and they feel that it really provides the solution. I support this view.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alport that the amendments which some of us suggested originally have been taken on board, and I think that the Bill has been improved. When it comes to licensing, I am still against it. I do not see the point of it. This point has been exemplified in the last 10 days by our spring drought. We have had fires all round the country in heather burns without a single farmer setting fire to it. In 1981 we had a lot of problems with straw fires, and over 95 per cent. of the fires to which the fire brigades had to be called were started as a result of vandalism or by accident. Is licensing going to solve that problem? I do not believe so.

There was a case last week on the moors in Yorkshire of a fire started by people collecting heather at the side of the road with which to boil their kettle. They knew the moor was dry but, lo and behold!, they went and did it. What is more important is that we educate the public into the potential hazards of the countryside and the trouble that can be caused by a fire.

With regard to highways, the point was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, that they cannot be covered by the model by-laws as they are already covered by the Highways Act 1980, and as I understand it the model by-laws cannot take precedence over an Act of Parliament. I hope that the model by-laws will prove the effective way of dealing with this, rather than a licensing system. That would be bureaucratic and expensive, and would not achieve the aim that is desired.

8.24 p.m.

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in looking at these two amendments, asked why the local authorities should be brought into the matter at all, because the noble Baroness's reading of the amendments was that although the local authorities will, under the Bill, be the licensing authority, the power really had been taken away from them by other provisions in the new wording of the Bill. My answer is that, given either local by-laws or the ministerial regulations for which my noble friend Lord Alport's Bill now provides in these amendments, licensing would serve no useful purpose but would create a bureaucracy, with indeed an appeals procedure thrown in, which I think would be unwelcome to the courts. I am sorry to be unhelpful, but I therefore start by making it clear to your Lordships, and specifically to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that the Government are not disposed in a friendly way towards this Bill, because we believe that it is not necessary.

Several of your Lordships have pointed specifically to the wording of Amendment No. 3—the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson—and particularly the use of the words "shall" and "may". I recognise that in Amendment No. 3 my noble friend Lord Alport has endeavoured to meet various points that were put at earlier stages of the Bill, but I join with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in finding that the amendments before us now add up to an inconsistency in requiring local authorities to grant licences in accordance with regulations whether or not Ministers have exercised the power to make the regulations at all. Secondly, there is an inconsistency in requiring authorities to grant licences with no apparent power to refuse one, but in providing for an appeal against the refusal of a licence. These are drafting points, but they are points which by this Amendment No. 3 leave the Bill with a drafting which is not very satisfactory.

There are three particular questions to which the Government were asked to reply. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asked: who pays for the fire brigades? My noble friend Lord Caithness has answered that question admirably by drawing attention to what has been happening in the dry weather during the last few weeks. Whoever starts fires, be they inadvertent or deliberate, if the fire brigade has to be called then of course the expense falls upon the public purse.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, gave me notice of the question which he asked about highways. In essence, the noble Lord is saying that here is an important point, the protection of people on the highway from smoke when straw burning takes place, and yet it does not appear in the by-laws. Therefore, when people read the by-laws before harvest time they may forget that there is a rule. There is indeed a rule (and the rule is enshrined in the Highways Act 1980) making it an offence to start a fire within 50 feet of the centre of a road so as to injure or endanger passers-by or to damage the road. I should like to repeat what I have said before: that the Department of Transport are considering the scope for strengthening these provisions.

The difficulty, as again my noble friend Lord Caithness said, is that it would not be appropriate to refer to other legislation in the model by-laws. I am advised that it could well mean that the by-laws would be ultra vires if mention was made. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will therefore ask me: what are the Government going to do in order to satisfy the noble Lord's reasonable point? The NFU's revised code of practice, I am advised, is going to contain a reminder about this provision in the Highways Act and about other relevant legislation. Incidentally, I understand that the National Farmers' Union's code of practice is being revised, and therefore it is not a question of digging out the old code from a pigeonhole; people will be looking at the new code to see what is new in it.

There is a second point I should like to put. I give an assurance to your Lordships that the Ministry of Agriculture and those of us who work there will pay attention to these important considerations in the publicity we shall be giving to the new by-laws before we get to harvest time. Of course, we shall be giving publicity because it is our duty to do so. I know that that does not wholly meet the point of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. He would have liked specific mention to be made in the by-laws. My advice is that we really cannot do this, but I hope I may have gone a considerable distance towards satisfying the noble Lord.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I think I might at this juncture thank the Minister. I am satisfied and grateful for what he has said in that respect.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. The third aspect on which the Government were asked to provide an answer was really a set of questions from my noble friend Lord Ironside, who has been entirely consistent throughout these proceedings on the Bill in pointing to the general problems which he feels derive from straw and stubble burning, and pointing in a very helpful way to specific matters which he believes are of public concern. This evening my noble friend Lord Ironside pointed to the question of public health from pollution from burning, and also to the danger, amongst other things, to people who use public footpaths and to public services which are carried on telegraph poles of various kinds.

Perhaps I may take those three points. The noble Lord was very fair in mentioning the word "incorporation", and indeed because these by-laws now make it a duty on a farmer—subject to the defence of reasonable excuse—to incorporate ash within 36 hours, and also because there are really quite tight restrictions on the area which can be burnt by a farmer at any one time, we believe that after harvest time there will now be every hope that ash and smuts will not blow about after burning. We believe that because of the restrictions on the area to be burnt there will be a lesser effect of hot thermal air carrying the ash and smuts very great distances.

So far as danger to people on footpaths is concerned, it is the case that we have not got a specific provision about this in the Government by-laws. I should just make the point to my noble friend Lord Ironside that, as footpaths almost invariably run along the sides of fields, the increased fire breaks which are provided for in certain very wide circumstances in the by-laws will, I think, benefit the safety of people using footpaths and certainly any scorching damage to footpaths.

Finally, my noble friend made the point about public services being carried on telegraph poles. May I make the point to him that in by-law No. 4(1)(b) there is a provision for an increased distance which has to be left around trees, telegraph poles and between the area being burnt and hedges? I hope that will go some way towards meeting the very valid points that my noble friends have made. I am sorry to have gone on for so long—

Lord Ironside

My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord the Minister for one moment, what I was talking about was the grid supply lines rather than telegraph poles or anything else.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as grid supply lines are invariably put at the edges of fields where there are hedges, they will again benefit from exactly the same subsection of the model by-laws as I have mentioned already.

Finally, I come to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. The noble Baroness said that she very much hoped that if things went wrong in next year's harvest the Government would not need to be prodded by a Private Member's Bill. It is not, if I may say so. quite like that. Immediately after last year's harvest, the Government undertook a review of what had happened through our regional organisation. As a result of that, we then very soon started work (and I hope my noble friend Lord Alport will not mind me saying so)—ahead of the publication of his Bill—on a new model by-law, by discussing with very many people on the National Fanners' Union Straw Burning Working Party. I should like to pay tribute to the very responsible part which was played by the National Farmers' Union and others. As a result—as my noble friend Lord Stanley said—the new model by-laws of the Government were published about six weeks ago, in March.

That being so, we have in place now for local authorities to avail themselves of if they wish—and we have every reason to believe that they most certainly do wish—a set of by-laws which my noble friend Lord Stanley says are very strict indeed, and which, of course, carry yet again a double financial penalty for every single breach of the by-laws: in other words up to £2,000—a good deal less than my noble friend Lord Alport is putting in his Bill. It is the maximum sum—we are advised by the Home Office—which it is consonant with the penalties for other offences. It is certainly a very stringent penalty when one bears in mind that it would be for every single offence.

We hope very much that these new by-laws are going to work, but I repeat what I have said before on behalf of the Government: if we find that they do not work, it may indeed be necessary to take stronger action in the future. I feel I owe it to your Lordship's House to make the Governments position perfectly clear on this point in answering this last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol.

I hope I do not appear to be discourteous to my noble friend Lord Alport, but before sitting down I am afraid I should indicate that what my rather lengthy remarks add up to is that the Government still do not support my noble friend's Bill.

Lord Alport

My Lords, my purpose in bringing forward this amendment was twofold. First of all, it was to do what I thought was right in the interests of and out of respect to your Lordships' House, which was for anybody moving a Bill to take into account the detailed discussions and views which were contributed during Committee stage by noble Lords. I have often said—and my noble friend Lord Henderson has said so this evening—that Ministers resist amendments when really they could quite easily accept them, and they do so in the belief that they are showing the strength of the Government's case. I think that anybody who moves a Bill and tries to promote it through this House should take into account the views expressed by noble Lords. The amendments which I introduced at the Committee stage and at this stage were proposed because I have taken into account what I regard to be the legitimate and wise views and advice which have been given to me in the conduct of this Bill.

The second reason—and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, knows of it because he referred to it earlier—is that I realise if I retained the banning provision, not only would I not get it through this House, but there would not be a snowball's hope (if I may put it that way) of getting it through the other place. I therefore decided that the right course was to change the Bill to an extent and exclude the banning provision, but to retain what is in the view of the National Farmers' Union an extremely important element: that is the sanction which is provided by licensing, the withdrawal of a licence in the event of any offence against any of the conditions under which the licence is issued. That is extremely important. It does not exist under the model by-laws; there is no sanction other than the supervision and enforcement of the model by-laws by the district councils. It is quite different, in trying to enforce a sanction of this sort, to rely on a parliamentary regulation rather than on something which has been delegated to a local authority to enforce off its own bat.

There is a great deal of difference between the Bill and the model by-laws. It came out extremely clearly in the statement which my noble friend the Minister made when he was asked about the problem of improving safety on the highways. His argument, so far as I understood it, was that the National Farmers' Union was sending out a reminder relating to its code to ensure that farmers took more account of the danger of smoke over highways, which last season led to the sad death of those two young people in Yorkshire.

We have been relying on the National Farmers' Union code for the last 10 years, and it has not worked. The local authorities and the District Councils' Association are clear in their minds, although a great many will adopt the model by-laws, that they are inadequate in dealing with the problem which the burning of straw and stubble involves. As I said on Second Reading, if local authorities feel that they are not getting support from the ministry in dealing with this problem, as they do. the results will be ineffective.

What has happened is interesting. In the first place the model by-laws were being tossed from one side to another in the discussion, but suddenly they appeared at the beginning of the Committee stage of this Bill. They were circulated to all noble Lords. The Bill did one thing; it made the noble Lord and his colleagues in the ministry concentrate their minds on producing model by-laws. That is something of advantage. But it has done something much more. In his speech a few moments ago, in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the Minister said that if the model by-laws do not work, then we shall have to do something more drastic. What will the noble Lord do? Does that mean that there is a threat to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley that they will ban the practice next year if there is a repetition of what happened during this last season?

This Bill is of help not only to the farming industry—though I am afraid that my noble friends do not always recognise the help I am trying to give them—but also the ministry. It is a help to the ministry because it knows in its heart of hearts, the district authorities know from their own point of view, and the public in the country generally realise that all the action that has been taken so far by my noble friend's department to produce the model by-laws will not be effective. We may get away with it this coming season. We may have a wet season and there may be no burning, but we do not know.

I assure my friends in the farming industry, and I assure my noble friend the Minister, that before five years are out this practice will be banned in this country. Whatever may be the deficiencies of my drafting—I admit that I am not an expert draftsman, though I have occasional help on this matter—and whatever may be the deficiencies of the Bill, it has already had some advantage in concentrating the minds of not only the Minister and perhaps the farming industry, but also the public in general upon this matter during a period when everybody has forgotten what happened last August and September. It has that advantage.

We were told in this House two or three days ago that a Private Member's Bill has a 50 to 1 chance against ever reaching the statute book. This Bill will not be accepted by my noble friend or the Minister of Agriculture. It will have its throat cut when it reaches the House of Commons. I know that perfectly well. But I should like to see it go to the House of Commons because a number of my honourable friends in the House of Commons would be glad to promote it there, if only to keep the subject alight during this period between now and the next harvest—if that is not the right expression, it is jolly nearly the right one.

I hope that the House will approve this amendment. I hope that the Bill may go from this House to another place. What happens there will not be our concern. But if, as a result of both what the Minister has said and the criticism of my noble friend, the Bill were to terminate its existence in this House now, I think that a great deal of the work done by noble Lords on all sides to improve what was not a very good Bill when I introduced it—I accept that, but it is now a very much better Bill—would be lost. I hope that your Lordships will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 6, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment leaves out the definition of "local authority", which is now included in the new clause, headed "Definitions", which I shall move in a moment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 5: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:

(" Definitions.

. In this Act— agriculture Minister" means the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Secretary of State; local authority" means a district council and in Scotland means a district or islands council; person" means the owner or the occupier of the land by whose authority the burning of the straw or stubble is carried out; straw" means cut stalks of barley, oats or wheat.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the new definitions clause.

The description "agriculture Minister" means the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and, of course, the description "Secretary of State" means the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Secretary of State for Wales.

As to the phrase "local authority", that definition is a reproduction of the subsection that we have recently deleted. I admit that I have had problems with the definition of "person". My noble friend the Minister suggested that it was important that there should be some definition of "person" in the Bill. In the by-laws it says: No person shall commence to burn, or cause or permit to commence the burning of, any area of straw or stubble".

I do not think that is a sufficient definition. The definition that I have included is, I hope, clear. It means that the man who gives authority for the burning of straw of stubble is the man who, first, is the licensee, and, secondly, carries the responsibility if the conditions under which the licence is granted are broken.

The last definition is: straw means cut stalks of barley, oats or wheat".

That is a reproduction of an amendment which my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley introduced at an earlier stage.

I hope that this amendment assists in the clarification of the various terms in the Bill, and will be acceptable to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4 [Short Title and Commencement]:

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 13, leave out ("Prohibition") and insert (" (Control and Licensing) ")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this involves a change in the Title of the Bill which is consequential on the changes made earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 7: In the Title, line 1, after ("control") insert ("and licensing")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alport moved Amendment No. 8: In the Title, line 2, leave out from ("burning") to end of line.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this again is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

House adjourned at eleven minutes before nine o'clock.