§ House again in Committee on Clause 12.
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 43:
Page 10, line 13, after ("promotion") insert ("and maintenance").
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 43, it may be convenient if I speak also to Amendment No. 44. The amendments are on slightly different but related points, and it may help us take things more quickly. Amendment No. 43 is simple and it is designed to bring subsection (1)(d), which covers
the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public",
into line with subsection (1)(a), which covers
the promotion … of a stable and efficient agricultural industry".
However, paragraph (a) contains the phrase "promotion and maintenance" of the agricultural industry. As a farmer, I wholeheartedly support that; I make no bones about it. But it would be useful for the same wording to be followed in paragraph (d), otherwise somebody might think that there is a reason for the difference, and I cannot see what it might be. It
is important not just that effort be put into a one-off event to promote the enjoyment of the countryside by the public; it is important also to maintain the facilities that the public use to gain that enjoyment.
§ Amendment No. 44—which should be in my name on the Marshalled List but is not—covers a similar point and extends paragraph (d) a little by drawing attention to the main way in which farmers can help public enjoyment of the countryside by observing the law on public rights of way and in particular by keeping them free of obstruction, by providing new public footpaths and bridleways across their land and by ensuring that such footpaths and bridleways are clearly and discreetly waymarked. I am sure there is no disagreement about that. Waymarking is supported by the Countryside Commission, which produces an attractive leaflet of advice on how footpaths should be waymarked. It is also supported by the CLA, which has produced waymarks which I have seen in use on its members' land, most recently in an area of outstanding natural beauty in North Wales. I hope that it will be helpful in paragraph (d) to be a little more specific about things that the agricultural departments can do to encourage the enjoyment of the countryside. I beg to move.
§ Lord Craigton
I hope that the Minister will agree to the amendment. The addition of the word "maintenance" means something in relation to the whole business of preserving facilities for the enjoyment of the public. But I do not support Amendment No. 44. It seems to pick out one issue when there are so many others that could be picked out. The provision probably loses force by underlining that point.
§ Lord Northbourne
I would make the same point. I support the insertion of the words, "and maintenance"; but I am not happy about the proposal in Amendment No. 44. It selects a partisan interest considerably to the detriment of others. Many groups want access to the countryside for various purposes, quite apart from the farming and forestry communities. The constant emphasis of one interest tends to antagonise the farming community. I hope that the objectives to which the noble Lord so keenly adheres and to which I would claim, even as a farmer, to be an equally ardent adherent can best be achieved by co-operation, and co-operation is not helped by one interest constantly being pressed, particularly that of a group which has shown itself consistently to be against an inherent revision of the provisions for access to the countryside by the public.
There is room for a countryside charter and for provision for integrated access to the countryside for all groups, including those who want to fly model aeroplanes; those who, like me, like butterfles; bird watchers; bicyclists; and short distance as opposed to long distance walkers. All those people ought to be taken into consideration. On those grounds, I urge the Minister not to accept Amendment No. 44.
§ Baroness Nicol
I support both amendments, but particularly No. 44. It will help the farmer. The vast majority of people who go into the countryside to walk use public rights of way. It is entirely in the interests of 661 farmers that they should stick to rights of way. Most of the problems occur because members of the public stray from the way.
I am sorry that there is a history of antagonism. I do not know where or when it began. I wish that we could now end it. It seems to me that a public right of way is what it says it is; a right for the public to walk along it. That right should not be extended to the destruction of the property of the farmer round about. Unless the public right of way is clearly marked and unobstructed, the farmer is in danger. It is entirely sensible to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Northbourne
Perhaps I did not explain sufficiently clearly that the problem to which I allude is the resistance by the Ramblers Association to any variation of rights of way. There is room for variation in the interests of all parties, including the walkers.
§ Baroness Nicol
The amendment does not say what the noble Lord suggests. It refers to established rights of way and the need to keep them unobstructed and clearly marked. That is entirely sensible.
§ Lord John-Mackie
The word "maintenance" to a farmer always means something physical. Amendment No. 44, which talks about:the use of clearly marked and unobstructed public rights of way",seems to me to suggest that there is physical work to be done in the maintenance and the marking of these unobstructed public rights of way. Can the noble Lord clarify what he means?
While we are on the subject of rights of way, on my farm we have a plethora of ancient footpaths which are no longer used. I have lots of meetings with the Ramblers Association and various other conservation bodies about deviating them. But the various conservation societies appear to think that it is the farmer's job to pay the legal fees. I simply tell them that if we agree on the route I shall mark the deviations and carry out any improvements. We have built bridges over ditches to deviate paths around fields and away from crossing areas, which nobody used anyway. There should be a better arrangement. On one occasion the council planning officer said that the legal operation to deviate a footpath would cost £1,000. That seems slightly ridiculous. Will the noble Lord clarify what he means by "maintenance" and deal with the point about deviating footpaths?
§ Lord Melchett
It may be helpful if I respond to that question before the noble Lord replies. On the issue of altering public rights of way, the Ramblers Association and as far as I know other users or footpaths and bridle ways are not opposed to changing the rights of way network. The Ramblers Association is opposed to changing the rights of way network in a way that will make it less convenient or enjoyable for the public. There are public rights of way which are laid down in law as being available to the public. In law, they are as open to the public as the M.1 motorway or the A.1, or whatever it may be. The legal duty not to obstruct them is exactly the same.
In other words, it is as illegal to put a piece of barbed wire across the public footpath as it is to put it across 662 the M.1. I know that the consequences of putting a piece of barbed wire across the M.1 will be more serious and more immediately noticed, but it is the same offence in law. It is unfortunate that that point is not borne more firmly in mind by local highway authorities, on whom the task of enforcing the law rests.
In my experience in Norfolk and throughout the country, from being involved in the Ramblers Association, I know that anyone who proposes a change in the rights of way network which will improve things for walkers and give them the same or a longer footpath will find their proposal readily accepted. It is where someone wants to close footpaths without providing more suitable alternative routes or to reduce the total length of rights of way that there is resistance. The reason for that is that about 20 per cent. of the population goes for a walk of two miles or more once a month in the countryside, according to government statistics. That is about 12.5 million people going for a walk at least once a month in the summer months. The figure does not fall much below that even in the worst months of the year. In February about 14 per cent. or 15 per cent. according to government statistics, go for a walk. That is why changes which reduce the length of rights of way are opposed.
My noble friend asked also about maintenance. I covered that point when I introduced my first amendment. It is important that action taken to promote the public's enjoyment of the countryside should be subject to continued observation and maintenance. In other words, it should not be a one-off effect: consideration should be given to continuing to promote the enjoyment of the countryside and maintaining that enjoyment. That was the purpose of inserting the word in paragraph (d). I assume that is the purpose of inserting it in paragraph (a), as the Government have already done.
§ Lord Northbourne
While I am delighted to hear that the situation in Norfolk is as described by the noble Lord, Lord Melchettt, it is not so, alas, in Kent. A scheme, promulgated by the local authority with the approval of all the local councils and amenity societies, is at the moment being blocked by the Ramblers Association.
§ Lord Melchett
That may be so; but, the noble Lord did not go on to say that the scheme provides a greater length of public footpaths than is currently the case.
§ Lord Melchett
I should be happy to look at the case if that is so. I have seen a proposal for the rationalisation of footpaths in Kent which does the opposite. It would end up with a shorter total length of public rights of way than is currently the case. I do not know whether the noble Lord and I are talking about the same scheme. If we are, our measuring tapes have come to different conclusions.
§ Lord Belstead
It is fair to claim that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has given a good deal 663 of advice and encouragement to farmers who wish to diversify their activities and to provide improved facilities for public recreation on their land. That is why we thought it right to include a reference to the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public in this clause. So far, there is nothing between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in the moving of these. two amendments. I would go further and say that we are very ready to play our part in trying to ensure that the public has reasonable access to the countryside wherever that can be accommodated alongside the maintenance of efficient farming practice.
There is a genuine difficulty with Amendment No. 53. The reference to the maintenance of rights of way is likely to give rise to confusion. Enforcement of the law on rights of way is properly the responsibility of the highway authorities, and any input which agriculture departments can make must of necessity be of a more general nature. Any attempt to imply, as the amendment would if adopted, that agriculture departments and agriculture Ministers have specific responsibilities in that area would undermine the position of the highway authorities and would encourage farmers and others to look to agriculture departments for advice which they are not in a statutory position to give.
My fear is that losers from such a confused state of affairs would inevitably be the public. I have raised the point previously about not duplicating statutory responsibilities. It is a serious point, and it arises again on a subsequent amendment.
As to Amendment No. 44, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is right. I think that to add the additional words in Amendment No. 44 would be adding to paragraph (d) in a way which would be a little difficult to understand for anybody reading the Bill for the first time. I think that the reader would say, "Why has paragraph (d) had those words added; and, having added those words, why are other examples not given of ways in which public enjoyment of the countryside can be fulfilled?"
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will not think that I am taking a legalistic attitude in the first part of my reply to the amendment. It is a serious point that at the end of the day the highway authorities are responsible for public footpaths.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
The noble Lord has a good point on the first amendment. I had intended that the word "maintenance" should be used in the same sense as it is clearly used in paragraph (a). It is possible to misread it in the way the noble Lord suggested. I should be the last person to want to see any diminution in the statutory duty currently placed on highway authorities. I also accept the point he made about the picking out of one interest in my second amendment. I can see the objection to that. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made that point also. He asked about cyclists, and as a cyclist I share that concern.
The argument for doing so would be that walking in the countryside is overwhelmingly the most popular recreation. The number of people who cycle and who take part in the various other activities the noble Lord, 664 Lord Northbourne, suggested are insignificant when compared to the huge proportion of the population which walks regularly in the countryside. Nevertheless, I concede that there would be disadvantages in picking out particular interests, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 44 not moved.]
§ Lord Oram moved Amendment No. 45:
Page 10, line 14, at end insert ("and
( ) the effect of the industry's production levels on world agricultural trade and, in particular, on the agricultural prospects of developing countries.")
§ The noble Lord said: Clause 12 is welcome in its present form in that is recognises that agricultural interests cannot be considered in isolation. It provides for a balanced consideration of other interests. The amendment which I am moving draws attention to another aspect of the balanced development of agriculture—a very important one to my mind—which is the need for balance in international terms. Just as agricultural interests cannot be considered in isolation, so the interests of British agriculture cannot be treated in isolation from the trading and production interests of other countries, particularly the interests of developing countries.
§ Agricultural policy in this country is largely determined by our membership of the European Community. What we do is controlled largely by the common agricultural policy. If it can be established,as I believe it can, that agricultural policies, including our own, are under the requirements of the CAP, deterimental to the interests of the developing countries, then I believe it to be our duty to adapt those policies and to seek to reform the CAP so as to avoid the harm which is done to developing countries. If we do not, surely there is a basic contradiction between our agricultural policies and our declared objective of helping developing countries to overcome their immense problems of poverty and hunger.
§ I believe that there are a number of ways in which our present policies, based as they are on the CAP, are detrimental to the interests of the developing countries. First, the costly production of surplus food in Europe followed by subsidised exports and the disposal of exports through food aid programmes may clearly be justified in meeting short-term needs in famine conditions, as seen recently in the case of Ethiopia. But the long-term effect is often an undue reliance by developing countries on food aid.
§ It is a disincentive to developing countries to pursue effective programmes of food production domestically for their own consumption. That effect is reinforced when subsidised exports from developed countries reduce world prices. In consequence, when developing countries compete in these markets, their export earnings are correspondingly reduced, a most important factor in these days when their debt problem is overwhelming.
§ Of course, the protective measures that are a basic element of the CAP are detrimental particularly to those developing countries that wish either to diversify their agricultural production into products that compete with temperate zone products or those that 665 wish to engage in the processing of their traditional export crops. It is true that under the Lomé 3 Convention, that effect is mitigated. We must remember, however, that the CAP countries, which are concerned in Lomé 3, are limited. The mitigating effect of Lomé 3 does not extend to most important areas of the third world, especially the most populous areas in southern Asia, because they are excluded from the benefits of Lomé.
§ It is in order to meet the problems that I have briefly summarised that I believe it to be desirable that the amendment that I move should be made to the Bill and that the Minister should agree to accept this additional obligation under Clause 12. I recognise fully that it is an obligation that would be most difficult to fulfil because, as is well known, once one enters into the international sphere of agricultural trade policy, one faces a daunting task. But that is no reason, to my mind, why we should not tackle the task, even though it is a difficult one. In the long run, attention to these problems of the developing countries will not only benefit them, although that is my main motivation in moving the amendment, but it will also in the long run, I believe, benefit the developed world as well, including ourselves. I beg to move.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
I am afraid that I do not like the amendment very much. I do not see why we should opt out of all international trade in agricultural products in favour of other nations which go on overproducing—I might say, other developed nations which go on overproducing. This smacks to me, frankly, as the same kind of thinking as unilateral disarmament. I suggest that we should not put anything like this into our own legislation, but that we should leave our Government's hands free to see that if we do anything about these surpluses, other people do so too. It is, I believe, a matter essentially for international agreement. If no adequate agreement can be obtained, we should leave ourselves free to remain in the rat race.
§ Lord John-Mackie
I see this in a slightly different way from the way the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, sees it. We are told by the FAO that there are 800 million people in the world today whose state of nutrition is a disgrace and that half of them are actually on a starvation diet. At the same time, we have surplus food in the world. I know the difficulty that my noble friend Lord Oram has described. This surplus, put on the market or given away free, can have an effect on agriculture in countries that we want to see developing their own agriculture and feeding themselves as much as possible.
I put this point to the Committee. In the 1950s and the early 1960s, we began to have in this country not surplus food but a greater availability of food from other countries. This began to depress the price of our agricultural products. The noble Lord, Lord Soames, was, I believe, Minister at the time. We started a system of deficiency payments to ensure that the effect of imports into this country did not affect the livelihood of farmers here. That is what should be done, I suggest, by countries that are very short of food but whose farmers are affected if food is given free or supplied cheap. That is the way to solve the problem.
666 It seems ridiculous to argue that they should be kept starving and that they will then learn to produce their own food. That is a dreadful thing to suggest. We should be training these countries in how to deal with their farmers in these circumstances while at the same time helping them develop their agriculture. I would not advocate any reduction of food production until people in the world are no longer starving.
§ Lord Belstead
I sympathise with the considerations that have led noble Lords to put down the amendment and with the intention, as the noble Lord, Lord Oram, explained, that underlies it. It is very much the considerations that the noble Lord explained in his speech that lead Her Majesty's Government to argue in the ministerial councils of the European Communities, which determine the Community line taken in the GATT, in favour of policies that encourage the free flow of trade in agricultural products and the participation in that trade of the developing countries. To convert that line of thought—that policy—into this amendment would nonetheless be difficult.
The interests that, by virtue of the clause, must be taken into account are all to a greater or lesser extent within the immediate purview of Her Majesty's Government. That is to say, a considerable degree of freedom exists within which government can determine their own priorities and influence the matters referred to in the four areas which we say that agriculture Ministers should balance in Clause 12. This is less true of world trade where the ground rules for contracting parties are laid down in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and in the European Communities. Here, the principles of trade with the rest of the world are determined not by one country acting unilaterally but by the Community acting in concert. Against this background, it would be very difficult to isolate the trade effects of policies connected with the land in relation to particular trade effects.
In opposing the amendment, I do not for one moment mean to imply that the considerations that motivate it are irrelevant to the determination of agricultural policy. My noble friend Lord Monk Bretton made a plea for fairness if we were to draw in our horns in respect of agricultural production. What my noble friend said, in terms, was that if we were to do that, on the argument that we must not swamp the developing world with surpluses built up within Europe, then other countries in Europe and indeed elsewhere must do the same. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, whose name is attached to this amendment, says that he would not wish to see agricultural production artificially reduced while any people in the world remain starving. It is therefore difficult actually to put down an amendment which says, as this amendment seeks to do, that the effect of agricutural production levels on world trade and in particular on the agricultural prosperity of developing countries must be one of the considerations that government take into account in guiding their actions.
May I add one last point? Some noble Lords have spoken from personal experience, and mine is very slight. It is nothing like that of the noble Lord, Lord Oram, who has a particular interest and experience in 667 this area. I do not know whether the noble Lord will agree, but my impression is that although there is a great deal of debate, sometimes acrimonious, in both Houses of Parliament, about the level of aid which Government give to developing countries, one thing which we do extremely well is to turn the available aid which we have generally into training and support. We try to see that the agricultural structure of developing countries is improved so that the long-term objective of individual countries will be achieved; namely, that they will be able to feed themselves.
I like to think from the little experience that I have of these matters that this is something that we in this country genuinely try to do well, although at the same time we have been ready to send overseas agricultural produce in kind, where there have been disasters; for instance, that which we saw in Ethiopia recently.
I hope that the noble Lord, for the reasons which I gave, will not mind if I resist this amendment on behalf of the Government. I am simply saying that while there is much very sound sense in this amendment, it is difficult to put it into Clause 12. It is a different area from the four areas which we have put into Clause 12. Those four areas are directly under the control of Her Majesty's Government. If we were to put this amendment into the Bill, it would involve something that the Government would have to do by international co-operation.
§ 8.30 p.m.
I anticipated and was therefore not surprised to hear the main argument which the Minister has put forward against my amendment; namely, that the four considerations standing in the clause at the moment are under the direct control of the British Government, whereas the consideration that I have put forward was different in that the British Government were only one authority among many that would have to take policy decisions in the international sphere.
I recognise that as a strong argument against what I have put forward. But I should like to disagree with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, that there was anything unilateralist in what I was proposing. In what I said I recognised that we, as members of the European Community, had those obligations and duties. In pursuing the amendment, if it were to be added to the Bill, it would be through our membership of international organisations that we would act.
For the reasons I have given I shall not press this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, and I put it down to draw attention also to the close link that there is between domestic agricultural policies and the international effects. Having done that, and without any commitment not to bring it forward on other suitable occasions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 not moved.]
§ Clause 12 agreed to.668
Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 48:
After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Capital grants.
§ .—(1) In section 28 of the Agriculture Act 1970, there shall be added to the definition of "agricultural business" the following words: "and, for the purposes of capital grants, includes such ancillary farm-based businesses as the Ministers may, from time to time, by order specify".
§ (2) The Ministers shall have the power to extend the provisions for the making of capital grant payments in respect of farm tourism and crafts to areas beyond the less-favoured areas.
§ (3) Orders made under subsection (1) or (2) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, subject to annulment, in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Earl said: I am sure that everyone will agree that the problems facing farming today and the consequences for the social fabric in the industry are in need of very careful consideration. There is no simple answer to this. However, I am sure that through my new clause we should try to encourage the expansion of rural diversification and ancillary businesses.
§ The 1981 Act, plus Clauses 1 and 12 in this Bill, have considerably widened the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture and the role of ADAS to meet the changing needs and demands of the countryside. However, I believe there are shortcomings with regard to the ministry's ability to grant aid certain ancillary farm-based businesses. I am sure that these should be rectified to allow the ministry to play its role not simply in terms of responsibility and advice but with a full financial back up, as has been the case in the established agricultural practices.
§ Grants available under the current agricultural grants arrangement are, in certain cases, I feel too narrowly defined. These should be widened to include value adding enterprises—enterprises such as processing, preserving, sterilising, freezing, dehydrating (one can go on for ever)—and indeed smoking. In saying "smoking" I refer to smoking of salmon rather than to other activities. Farmers wishing to expand into such diversified schemes could find that they make all the difference to the survival of what are now fairly frail enterprises, either in an individual unit or through co-operative schemes. At the moment these enterprises do not qualify for grant. With particular regard to the small farmer, with the tremendous increase in tourism that is developing the opportunities for selling such products would be very considerable. In addition, opportunities for obtaining jobs in rural areas could well be lost where such enterprises are passed on to retailers outside the rural areas.
§ Furthermore, processing of traditional food and drink products—such as cream, cheese, honey and so on—while qualifying for grant for the conversion or improvement of a building does not qualify in respect of equipment, fixtures and fittings. This amendment would allow the ministry to widen its grant-aiding powers under Section 28 of the 1970 Act to include the type of businesses that I have mentioned and any other that the Minister may wish to include.
A similar amendment was moved in Committee in another place but was withdrawn as there were objections from the Government that the clause was too widely drawn. However, I hope that by including the words,
such ancillary farm-based businesses as the Ministers may, from time to time, by order specify",
I can persuade the Government to agree to this amendment as it overcomes their original objection and gives the Minister the power of discretion that was lacking in the original clause that was moved by Mr. Colin Shepherd.
I think it is fair to say that the objectives behind the original clause had all-party support. Indeed, the Minister himself, Mr. Gummer, when replying, said:
It is too widely drawn—but I hope that my honourable friend will accept that the points he has made strike a chord in our hearts, and that we are trying hard to meet the requirements that he has underlined".
Subsection (2) of this new clause would give the Minister the power to extend grant aid for farm tourism and crafts to outside the less favoured areas. It is therefore simply complementary to the aims of subsection (1). However, I should point out that subsection (2) would be subject to the EC state aid rules, but I am advised that national legislation can be prepared now with a view to it being accepted, one hopes, at a later stage.
§ For farmers to overcome the ever increasing problems within their industry will undoubtedly require imagination and ingenuity. I am sure that they will be able to do that. Indeed, expressions of confidence were put forward by a number of noble Lords on Second Reading. However, I am sure that it is right that as wide a diversification of grant aid should be made available to them as is practicably possible. It would surely seem logical for ADAS to have the financial clout to accompany the advice and services that we hope they will be giving.
§ Since the war the Ministry has proved how successful it can be in meeting the needs of our times: straightforward agricultural output. That has been achieved through a formula of good advice backed up by financial incentives and a corresponding response from the farming industry. Now that same industry and that same Ministry have a new challenge. I believe that this new clause will help or go some way towards providing the Ministry with the wherewithal to face the future with the same enthusiasm and success as it has faced the past. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sandford
I should like to support my noble friend in this amendment because I have long wanted to do anything I can to encourage diversification on the farm. I do so not particularly because I want to see farmers receiving yet more grants, but because I want to see farming making not only a profit for the farmer but a better contribution to the countryside as well.
I want to see farmers and landowners getting out of the mess in which present policies have landed them. I believe that diversification on the farm has a great deal to offer, certainly as much as any of the other changes that are being canvassed.
It was because I thought that diversification on the farm should be encouraged that I caused what has become Clause 41 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to be inserted in that Bill. However, I must say that I have been disappointed at the meagre progress that has been made in the five years since 670 then—meagre progress in the capacity of ADAS to give advice on diversification; meagre progress in the development of policies to support diversification; and relatively few examples of diversification on the farms.
However, I welcome the production of two recent directories for which I think we have to thank the Development Commission: first, a directory of farms that are processing their own products, and secondly a directory of craft workshops in the countryside, the majority of which are in redundant and disused farm buildings. My welcome is particularly because more accurate and more up to date and wider knowledge of diversified farm enterprises are a sine qua non of any further progress, particularly further progress in modifying the land use planning framework that is needed to encourage and not to frustrate farm diversification.
Following the short debate which we had here on 19th February, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, I have recently been talking with my noble friend on the Front Bench in, my capacity as chairman of the South-East Regional Planning Conference about the process of modifying the planning framework (the structure plans and the local plans) and about the machinery we are setting up to get this modification process going in the Home Counties. As part of the process it will be necessary to study cases of successful diversification and to analyse them—to analyse the ingredients of success, to analyse the fruits of success—what it does for the local and for the farmers' economy—and to analyse the causes of frustration, about which the noble Lord was chiefly talking when introducing that debate.
However, we do not need any further study to see that present farming policies are now failing us badly. They are continuing to produce growing surpluses of a growing number of farm products at great cost both to the consumer and to the taxpayer, and with reducing benefit to the farmer. All along there has been a constant loss of jobs in the countryside resulting from these policies and not infrequently damage to landscape and wildlife.
I put it to the Committee that we cannot indefinitely pursue land use planning policies which merely safeguard the best of rural land for types of agricultural production and a set of agricultural policies which continue to serve us all as badly as that. In such circumstances farmers who want to escape the downward slide will be well advised to consider whether it is not possible for them to diversify their farming as much as they possibly can. By that I mean of course processing and adding value to whatever it is they produce; finding their own markets for premium products; and optimising the alternative uses of their land and of their buildings. I am referring to optimising them for recreational uses, for field sports, field study, leisure, holiday uses, tourism uses, the creation of woodlands and water space appropriately to support those uses.
The CLA and the NFU must realise that they have a very considerable duty in the task of helping to modify the present planning processes which would otherwise, in their present unmodified state, stand in their members' way as they set about trying to make this change. My reason for saying that is as follows. 671 The main thrust of planning policy towards agriculture has been and still is safeguarding the best of the rural land for agricultural production. Inevitably that leads to negative controls against any other alternative use.
That is a policy which has yet to be formally reconsidered and changed. What are now needed—and they are still only rarely seen in structure and local plans—are positive inducements to promote other rural uses of farmland and farm buildings besides pure agricultural production.
While agriculture was being claimed—and it went on being claimed long after it ceased to be true—as the reliable mainstay of the rural economy, it was inevitable that structure plans and local plans were silent on any other economic use of the countryside. What is now needed, and has been needed for some time, is recognition of the value of other pillars upon which the rural economy could be based and inducements to development.
Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will look with favour on the general thrust of this amendment, if not on its actual wording, and the broad line of philosophy that lies behind it. I hope that he will indicate to the Committee what measures he contemplates—if not precisely those in the amendment—to encourage and facilitate diversification on the farm, because I believe that that is one of the more promising ways out of the present tribulations which not only beset farmers, but which are frustrating the better uses of land in the countryside.
§ Lord Middleton
Perhaps I may briefly add my support from a slightly different angle. It seems to me that the thinking behind the amendment is very much in line with the efforts which the European Commission is making to devise schemes to encourage the diversification of agriculture in the Community away from the production of commodities now in surplus. As the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, will know very well, they have made draft proposals to give effect to a package of socio-structural measures to re-orientate agricultural production in conjunction with the 1986 CAP price fixing. One proposal is to modify the marketing and processing grant regulation (355/77) to encourage alternative production by providing enhanced assistance and allowing individual projects not falling within existing investment programmes to be aided.
Therefore, if the UK Government are in agreement with such a policy, then surely my noble friend's proposals would be looked on with sympathy. I hope that that will be the case. I support my noble friend in his amendment.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I too should like to support the amendment, but not in quite the same terms as the noble Lord,Lord Sandford, who seems to think that agriculture is not and has not been the mainstay of the countryside. I disagree strongly with that proposition, but I agree strongly with the amendment. If the Government are serious, then of course they must take powers to do this in order to support the further extension of agricultural business from the production to the manufacture, or the treating, of agricultural 672 produce to add value along with tourism. It is a very sensible amendment. I am sure the Government must accept it.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
I should like very strongly to support this amendment. I am chairman of the Agricultural Credit Corporation which gives guarantees to farmers which are backed by public money when they are short of the necessary collateral to get the amount they want from the banks. We are extremely aware of the stresses which the industry is under at the moment, and indeed also of the encouragement that is given by the Ministry of Agriculture that farmers should diversify.
A lot of our clients want backing for tourist enterprises: for example, installing bathrooms for bed and breakfast accommodation, and so on. We cannot help them where capital grants are not available. That is why I am particularly interested in subsection (2) of the suggested new clause. We can give guarantees for tourist development in what used to be called the hill areas and which I see are now called the less-favoured areas. I am strongly in favour of the extension of grants being given to those outside those particular areas in order that we can help as well.
§ Lord Melchett
I should also like very strongly to support this amendment and to take up the point also in subsection (2) about extending grant-aid outside less-favoured areas. Let me say immediately that not enough of the public support available to agriculture currently goes to maintain the incomes of farmers in less-favoured areas who in many circumstances have a very hard time of it compared with those people such as myself found in the South-East.
Nevertheless, I think that there is a very strong argument for encouraging diversification in farming enterprises wherever they might be located—and in particular in some case in areas outside less-favoured areas—for two reasons. The first is that if curbs on production are going to come, in particular in the cereal section, they are mostly going to fall on farmers from farms outside the less-favoured areas, on farmers particularly like myself who farm in East Anglia. Therefore, those farmers are going to face a particular need to diversify their agricultural business.
Secondly, one factor which I think has been overlooked in some of the discussion about future agricultural policy is the importance not just of maintaining the income of farmers but maintaining the income and jobs of farm workers. Many of the agricultural workers will have to be employed by farmers outside the less-favoured areas and again in areas like the South East where agricultural holdings tend to be larger and the number of people employed on farms tends to be higher.
If I can make one final point: I speak as a farmer who is in the process at this moment of converting an unused agricultural building to another purpose. We are converting an old cattle shed to cheap accommodation for people who will be walking the new long-distance footpath in Norfolk, the Peddar Way and the Norfolk coast path. In doing that and in looking at implications for management and the income likely to be derived after the conversion, I have been particularly conscious of the two following things. First, that 673 being able to do this will provide a part-time job for one more person in an area where, like most rural areas, unemployment is distressingly high; secondly, that the conversion would have been quite impossible were it not for very generous grant-aid towards the capital costs, in this case from the Countryside Commission and the Norfolk County Council, grant-aid which was only available because it is an experimental project.
I am quite convinced that capital assistance of that sort can help individual farm businesses diversify. It can help provide new sources of income for people living and working in rural areas, and I believe in the long run it can potentially be a source of new jobs for people living in rural areas. For those reasons, I strongly support the amendment.
§ Lord Belstead
I am bound to say , after listening to all your Lordships saying the same thing, that we are indeed sympathetic to the approach in this amendment. We have actually been carrying out studies in this field and looking at the type of approach embodied in this amendment. May I just say how very encouraged I was to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said about trying to free up the planning attitudes to rural diversification. The difficulty which I have in replying to this is that the following issues are raised, and I do not think they are issues which I have heard in speeches already.
Briefly, first of all I think one has to decide how far it is right to have the Ministry of Agriculture in this field along with the Development Commission, the Department of Industry, the tourist boards and a number of other bodies. Of course, this does not rule out the case for assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture, and this Committee well knows that last year we introduced grants for farm tourism and crafts in the less-favoured areas. But anything more will cost money, and that would have to be taken from the grant-aid which the Ministry of Agriculture has to give which has been very considerably reduced over the past three years. In the present economic circumtances, the only way in which diversification of grants could be funded would be to take money from other grants for these grants. That is the first thing which is in my mind.
The second is that I think it is a serious point as to whether capital grants are the proper mechanism for encouraging diversification. Up to date we have largely concentrated on doing our best to provide interested farmers with advice, encouragement and, indeed, access to the experts in other government departments and agencies concerned. This can very often be more valuable than a government handout. In particular, it enables us to identify those farmers who really have the right skills and qualities to diversify, and I think we ought not to forget that diversification is not the answer to every farmer's problem. Capital grants can thus be a rather blanket form of help which may not always be the most appropriate way, let alone the most cost-effective way, of promoting diversification.
There is a third point. I think this is difficult so far as subsection (2) of the amendment is concerned. The aids proposed in the amendment would have to be approved by the European Commission under the 674 state aid rules of the Treaty. I am not sure that we would get approval on the aid to ancillary farm businesses covered in subsection (1). I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend Lord Stodart in saying this, because my noble friend does such very good work for the Agricultural Credit Corporation and is, I know, very interested that an amendment of this sort should be made. I think it is almost certain that if one looks at the part of the amendment covered by subsection (2) we would not get Commission approval for a general extension of aid to tourism and craft enterprises outside the less-favoured areas.
However, if I may return to a more positive theme, I am in support of the idea behind the amendment. I like to think we have shown our serious intention by taking the power to grant-aid crafts and tourism in less-favoured areas which of course means an enormously extended area of land in England and Wales, and particularly in Scotland, since we had an extension agreed by the Community. But the objections that I have outlined to the amendment are real; and while, as I say, I am in no way dismissing what my noble friend Lord Peel is saying, I think it would be difficult to agree to write this amendment into legislation without solving these objections.
May I make this offer to my noble friend, and indeed to both my noble friends who have spoken on this amendment? If they would be prepared to withdraw the amendment, which has certainly received very strong support from all sides of the Committee, without commitment I shall take it away. I say that in particular in the context that, as my noble friend Lord Peel asserts, it is drawn much more narrowly than the amendments in the House of Commons were drawn. I shall see whether there is anything that I can do—but without commitment—to try and come back with a constructive response at Report stage. If I say that I will do that, I ask my noble friends if they will have a look at what I have sought to say on this amendment. The objections I have raised are real and have to be either overcome or at least answered, or got round in some way, if we are to get anything on the face of the Bill.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
Before my noble friend responds formally to that, may I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether, when he comes back (as I hope he will) with another amendment to cover these points that have been raised from all sides of the Committee, he will also give us an indication whether the Ministry of Agriculture is now prepared to modify, or at least reconsider, the agricultural policies at the moment written into the structure plans, and which in effect preclude movements in the direction we all want to see?
§ Lord Melchett
I am delighted at the noble Lord's reasonably positive response. Will he think before Report stage about one other thing? While he may be right at this moment that going to the European Commission and asking for an extension beyond the less favoured areas of the kind that subsection (2) suggests might meet with a rebuttal, I hope he will remember that the common agricultural policy is changing rapidly. Only a couple of years ago he was 675 himself saying that an approach to the European Commission to ask for the kinds of environmentally sensitive areas that we now propose in this Bill would have met with exactly the same rebuttal.
The noble Lord said in your Lordships' Select Committee upstairs that it would be illegal under the Treaty of Rome to do what we are now doing in this Bill. In other words, agricultural policy in the Community is changing rapidly. I have no doubt—and I am sure this would be a generally accepted view—that diversification of farm enterprise is something that the Commission will rapidly take hold of and that will gain general support throughout Europe. It would therefore be useful to have the provision ready in our domestic legislation; otherwise the noble Lord will be coming back with another agriculture Bill next year to put this clause into our statute law.
§ Lord Belstead
I can hardly wait. I am not sure that I share the optimism of the noble Lord that the Commission will get hold of this objective. The objective is laudable, understandable and desirable, but do not let us fool ourselves. The Commission realises clearly that the agricultural budget has to have a brake put on it; otherwise we shall find the European budget breaking through the ceiling. I shall not go down that road now, but money is very much in the minds of the Commission and the agriculture Ministers. Nevertheless, I take the point on board. The noble Lord has a valid point.
What the noble Lord said about the evidence I gave is true, and I give him that point. May I take away the point that my noble friend made about structures. I think my noble friend Lord Sandford was referring to county structure plans. I should like to have a look at the point, and perhaps have a word with my noble friend subsequently, or maybe write to him.
§ Earl Peel
I have witnessed two fairly unusual things this evening in moving this new clause. First, every person who spoke to it was behind me and supported it. Secondly, I actually heard a farmer say that he was satisfied. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for what he has said, though I was hoping that he might have gone a little further.
He made three points. He said first that he was sympathetic, and I am grateful for that. He also asked how far it is right that the Ministry should be involved with other agencies. This Bill is full of the Ministry getting involved with other agencies. My noble friend talked about capital grants and asked whether they are the right method for diversification. In view of the fact that they have been so successful in the past with established agricultural practices, I see no reason why they should not have the same level of success with any new enterprises that farmers may wish to move into.
On the question of subsection (2), my noble friend said that it is technically unsound. I am not in a position to say whether or not this is the case, but I take heart from the fact that my noble friend said that he was prepared to take this away and look at it. I hope I shall have the opportunity of discussing it further with him and perhaps coming back with something at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.676
Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 51:
After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Keeping of bulls on land crossed by public rights of way.
§ .—(1) Section 59 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (prohibition on keeping bulls on land crossed by public rights of way) shall have effect subject to the amendments provided for by subsections (2) to (4).
§ (2) In subsection (2) paragraph (b) shall be omitted.
§ (3) Subsections (4) and (5) shall be omitted.
(4) After subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsections—
(4) On the application of an occupier who wishes to permit a bull to be at large in a field or enclosure crossed by a right of way to which this Part applies, a council may, subject to subsection (5) below, order the diversion of the right of way for a continuous period of not more than four months.
§ (5) Before making an order under subsection (4) above the council—
- (a) shall consult with any other council, or parish or community council, in whose area the right of way is situated, and with any organisation prescribed to receive copies of public path diversion orders for the area in which the right of way is situated, giving in each case a period of not less than 28 days during which representations or objections to the proposal to divert the right of way may be made;
- (b) shall consider any representations or objections; and
- (c) shall satisfy itself that the diversion is necessary in the interests of good farming and will not cause undue inconvenience to users of the right of way.
§ (6) On the making of the order the council shall forthwith cause a copy of the order, together with a plan at a scale of not less than 1:10,000, to be sent to any council or organisation consulted under subsection (5)(a) above, and to be displayed, and maintained for the period of the diversion, in a prominent position at the ends of the diversion.
§ (7) It shall be the duty of the council to ensure that the diverted right of way is, throughout the period of the diversion, properly signposted throughout its length, and the provision of any necessary signposts may be included in an agreement under subsection (9) below.
§ (8) A council shall, before refusing to make an order under subsection (4) of this section, consult the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
§ (9) An order under this section diverting a right of way—
- (a) shall not affect the line of the right of way on land not occupied by the applicant,
- (b) shall not divert any part of the right of way on to land not occupied by the applicant, unless written consent to the making of the order has been given by the occupier of that land, and by any other person whose consent is needed to obtain access to the land,
- (c) may require as a condition of the taking effect of the order the provision and maintenance, for the duration of the order, of any necessary facilities for the convenient use of the diversion,
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 51, which deals with something about which I hope we shall be able to achieve the same degree of unanimity as on the previous amendment; but I think that may be overoptimistic. In debating the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1981 the Government introduced a provision which allowed farmers to put beef bulls above the age of 10 months running with cows or heifers in a field crossed by a public right of way.
§ May I for a moment go back before 1981 and remind the Committee of the history of that provision? Before 1981 there was a discrepancy round the 677 country because different local by-laws had introduced different controls on the placing of bulls in fields crossed by public rights of way; though I think it is true to say that over the great majority of the countryside in England and Wales it was illegal to put any bull in a field crossed by a public right of way. The law was varied; different local by-laws had different effects. It was generally agreed by all the interests concerned that the law should be changed and that a statute law covering the whole country should be introduced.
§ Before consultations on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill got under way there were extensive discussions between those representing farmers, the National Farmers' Union, and those representing walkers, in particular the Ramblers' Association, about how this could be achieved. For a period at least—it did not last very long—there was agreement. The agreement is more or less embodied in the amendment I move tonight, Amendment No. 51.
§ The agreement was that there should be a general prohibition on the keeping in any circumstances of any bull above a certain age in a field crossed by a public right of way, but there should be a procedure whereby farmers who particularly needed to keep a bull in such a field could go to a local authority and ask for the public right of way to be diverted around the field for the period during which the bull had to be in it.
§ That compromise failed to get into the 1981 Act because it was opposed by the Government. It was not opposed at the time on grounds of practicality; it was not opposed at the time on grounds that it would be unduly onerous or difficult for farmers; it was opposed simply on the grounds that the Government had a general policy not to place new duties upon local authorities, not to give them additional work and not to ask them to incur additional expenditure. That was the basis on which the Government did not accept the compromise, which, as I say, was briefly agreed, and, instead, introduced Section 59, which is now the law and which allows a beef bull over the age of 10 months to be run in a field crossed by a public right of way if it is with cows or heifers.
§ The effect of my amendment would be, as I have said, to revert to the compromise. It would introduce a total ban on the keeping of bulls over that age in fields crossed by public rights of way, but would allow farmers or occupiers who were particularly inconvenienced by a general prohibition to apply for a temporary diversion. I hope at this stage that we can stick to the general principles of this compromise: I see it as a compromise. I am quite happy to agree that the procedure for asking for diversions should be as simple as possible. I should be quite happy if the Government were happy to agree that the costs of applying for diversions should fall on the local authority and not the farmer or landowner. I would think that it would be possible to devise a simple and straightforward procedure and that once it had gone through one year it would happen regularly every year because on the whole farmers would want to use the same field at the same time of the year every year. I should envisage this being a relatively simple procedure and one that a relatively small number of farmers would need to make use of in practice.678
§ The next matter I need to cover is: why change the law? Why suggest changing the law now when it was agreed as recently as 1981? The fact is that the change in 1981 was a disastrous mistake. It has led to numerous incidents in which people have been severely frightened. In at least one case a walker has encountered a bull in circumstances made legal by the 1981 Act and has been seriously injured. He was a walker in Cornwall who was tossed into a river by an Aberdeen Angus bull and severely injured, and is now likely for medical reasons to have to retire early from his job.
§ When we discussed this in 1981 on an amendment moved by, finally, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, we had a fairly hilarious discussion. A lot of jokes were made about bulls and walkers, about bulls getting tents wrapped round their horns, and a great deal of mirth was occasioned on all sides of the Chamber. But since then the matter has become altogether a great deal more serious and the Ramblers Association has been collecting evidence of incidents that have occurred. I hope shortly that the association will be able to provide the Government with a dossier of such incidents.
§ Before giving the committee one or two examples. I should like to make one or two points. First, the Ramblers Association has advised all walkers never to go into a field where there is a bull present whatever sort of bull it is and in whatever circumstances. The advice has been always to trespass, to go round the field and avoid the bull. That advice was given by the Ramblers Association after studying the advice given by the Health and Safety Executive to farmers and farmworkers. It is clear from the guidance note issued by the Health and Safety Executive to farmers and farmworkers that it is totally impossible for walkers to cross a field which contains a bull in circumstances which would be deemed safe by the Health and Safety Executive if that walker were a farmer or farmworker.
§ In those circumstances, it seems to me that the only possible, responsible advice to walkers in such circumstances would be to advise them to trespass. From the letters I have received that is what a large number of walkers are now doing. They are simply not going into fields if they find a bull there; they are going round fields, trespassing on land where there is no public right of way, to avoid the risks that they feel, rightly in my view, they would be incurring in going into the field.
§ But some walkers are more law-abiding. They are not willing to leave the line of right of way even in quite frightening circumstances, and I shall give the Committee a few examples from a number of cases. There was a family of four, including two young children, walking in Oxfordshire. They were walking through one field when a bull emerged from a connecting field pawing the ground and roaring. The family had to retreat through a hedge into the next field, to which the bull still had access, but luckily for them the bull remained behind the hedge knocking and shaking it. Another case some noble Lords will have heard about already on the North Wolds Way, which is a recreation path waymarked by the local authority. A party of eight handicapped walkers had gone for a walk with some adults. The handicapped walkers were young children. They had stopped for a 679 picnic in a field which they assumed to contain a small number of cows a long way away. That is how it continued to be for a considerable period of time. When they were about half way through their picnic lunch a bull emerged from behind the cows and came charging down the field towards them. The adults managed to get the handicapped children out of the field, but they had to leave all their possessions behind, which gives, I hope, some idea of the speed with which they had to get out of the field. They had to scale an embankment to get out and they left behind their clothes, their picnics and their rucksacks, which the bull proceeded to paw and to muck around with.
§ Another adult walking between Reading and Henley was chased by a bull which again had been grazing with cows. This woman made her escape over a stile but the bull remained snorting and bellowing on the other side of it. The incident was reported to the police, who went to the farmer and asked him to remove the bull. There had been a number of complaints to the police about that particular animal from walkers. The farmer, in response to the police, maintained—I am quoting the farmer's words—that the bull was in a legal situation. He therefore did not intend to remove the animal. I understand that the police subsequently attempted to have warning notices erected.
I must pause at that point to draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, particularly to that case, because when he wrote to me recently about this he said in his letter of 27th May:
It seems to me unlikely that a farmer would knowingly turn a dangerous bull out to graze in a field crossed by a public footpath and so leave himself vulnerable to prosecution under the Health and Safety At Work Act".
This was an issue about which I had written to the noble Lord.
§ Here is an example where the farmer, even when contacted by the police after numerous complaints had been made about the bull, relied on the change of the law which was made in 1981 to maintain that he had a legal right to keep the bull in the field whatever the circumstances. A family walking near Daventry—two adults and three young daughters—came face to face with a beef bull grazing with cows. In that case they had to make their escape down the line of the public right of way and found to their horror when they got to the edge of the field that the public right of way had been illegally obstructed with an electric fence and a rickety wooden fence. The electric fence was just in front of the rickety fence, which made it an extremely difficult obstacle even for a fit and healthy adult to get through, let alone three young girls.
§ In that case, the incident was also reported to the police and the Health and Safety Executive. Finally (I could give a number of instances but I do not want to take up too much time) a family of four, including two children under 10, walking in Gwent were chased by a Hereford bull, again grazing quite legally with cows. They had to run to the nearest edge of the field, off the public footpath in that case, and dive through a thorn hedge, a process made more difficult by their discovery halfway through the hedge that there was also a barbed-wire fence where the hedge was.680
§ Their experience may well be typical of many walkers. Their attitude since has been simply to avoid public footpaths or fields where there were bulls, which is something which many walkers are now doing. A number of other instances which have been reported to the Ramblers Association or to me personally involve elderly people or people with a physical handicap; for example, a man who had walked through the Somerset countryside all his life and who 10 years ago had to have one leg amputated. His artificial leg is such that it is not easy for him to walk over rough ground and he therefore walks through the Somerset countryside on crutches. His view about the change in the law is that it has put him into perpetual fear when he is walking across farmland. He feels that he would be completely at the mercy of a bull. He certainly would not be in any position to climb across a rickety wooden fence topped by an electric fence or through a thorn hedge with barbed-wire laced through it.
§ It may be thought that this is simply something that a few who go walking in the countryside are concerned about. But that is not the case. A large number of farmers and farmworkers have had, from personal experience, cause to know how dangerous any bull of any breed in any circumstances can be. I am myself a farmer with beef cattle. We have had somebody injured on the farm by a beef bull in circumstances where it was not confined to a building. Bulls are dangerous. The Health and Safety Executive's advice to farmers includes the phrase, "All bulls are unpredictable". There is no suggestion in its official safety advice to farmers and farmworkers that bulls running with cows and heifers can be treated as not being dangerous; in fact, quite the opposite. It says that all bulls are unpredictable and it gives quite specific advice about not placing bulls in fields with footpaths across them if the footpaths are likely to be used by elderly people or children.
All footpaths may be used by elderly people and children. It seems to me quite clear that the Health and Safety Executive's advice is that the change in the law which the Government made in 1981 was wrong and is not sustained by the facts. I have said that this is not just something which concerns walkers. I had a letter recently from a farmer in Clwyd in North Wales. He is a breeder of pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle and also keeps other livestock. In his letter he says:
As a breeder of bulls for the pedigree and commercial market I will go along with you. No bull is safe".
That is tragically borne out by the number of serious accidents and indeed deaths which continue to occur to farmers and farmworkers, many of which are caused by beef breeds of bull. In the years since 1981 a number of farmers and farmworkers have been killed or seriously injured by beef breeds of bull.
§ I should like to make one other point about the change of the law. It has been suggested by some people that at least this was an improvement in some areas on how the law stood before 1981, because at least all dairy bulls are now prohibited from fields crossed by public rights of way. There is no doubt that if you are likely to be injured by any bull, you are slightly more likely to be injured by many breeds of dairy bull rather than by most breeds of beef bull. I do 681 not think it is possible to generalise any further than that. Unfortunately, walkers in many cases are still finding that dairy bulls are being kept in fields crossed by public rights of way.
§ One of the arguments against the change in the law which was made in 1981 was the suggestion that it would lead to confusion. That is borne out, to give just one example, by a case arising recently in Cumberland, where a woman walked across a field where a Friesian bull was running with cows. She was chased out of the field by the bull, and reported the incident to the police. The police said they had had previous complaints about the same bull running with cows; but a chief superintendent wrote to the person concerned, saying there was nothing he could do about this because the law had been changed in 1981 and it was now legal for bulls to run in fields crossed by public rights of way so long as they were with cows. If a chief superintendent of police can be confused about this, I suggest to the Committee that it is not all that surprising that many farmers are confused, and indeed many walkers also. For example, it is quite legal to run any cross-breed of bull, of which there are some in the countryside, in fields which are crossed by rights of way. In a number of instances where people have written to me it has been quite difficult to determine the breed of bull concerned in a particular incident.
§ I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what has actually happened in the countryside since 1981, that sooner or later somebody is going to be killed by a bull when they are walking along a public right of way. They are going to be killed by a beef bull that has been running with cows and heifers. The question I suggest we need to ask ourselves is whether the certainty that that will happen sooner or later to a handicapped or elderly person or to a child is worth running that risk, in the light of the fact that a compromise is available. That compromise might cause minor inconvenience to a small minority of farmers and it could cause some inconvenience to some walkers who would have to follow diversions rather than rights of way marked on a map. But I would suggest to the Committee that that very small cost in terms of inconvenience would be very minor if we could get rid once and for all of the serious risk of death or injury caused to innocent people walking along rights of way in the countryside. Incidentally, it would also get rid of the inevitable trespass that takes place as people avoid fields with bulls in them, as they do at the moment on a wide scale. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say I have listened with great interest to the stories he has told us tonight. Would he take it from me, as one who lives in one of the Home Counties where there are a great number of rights of way, that the majority of ramblers have no idea of the difference between a bull and a cow?
§ Lord Melchett
No, I would not. In fact there has been one court case where this particular point had to be determined by the court, where a rambler said he had been chased by a bull (in this case, a dairy bull) and the farmer concerned was taken to court. He said 682 that it was not a bull at all but that the particular animal concerned was a cow with a hormone deficiency. The farmer was found guilty and fined by the court. And, if I may, just to wipe the smile off the noble Baroness's face, I ought to say that the particular animal concerned was put down after it had seriously injured one of the farmer's farmworkers.
§ Lord Belstead
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has explained the concerns he has about keeping beef bulls in fields. I will just say that Section 59 represented, five years ago, a compromise between the practical needs of farmers and the legitimate concerns about rights of way. For most farmers raising beef, artificial insemination is simply not a practical alternative. The beef cow, unlike the dairy cow, is not brought in twice a day and may indeed be quartered outside and at some distance from the farm buildings for the greater part of the year. Thus the only way successfully to get cows or heifers into calf is to run a bull with them over a period and in many cases, it may be possible to avoid doing this in fields crossed by rights of way.
I must declare a personal interest in that I keep a beef bull and beef cows. However, I am fortunate in being in the position which I have just explained, where it is possible to avoid keeping them in fields crossed by rights of way, at least when the bull is with them. But in cases where beef is the predominant enterprise, such alterations to farming practice may be difficult or impossible. There may be particular difficulties in the hills; and, or course, if most or all of the farmer's fields are crossed by rights of way, the choice may be restricted or, in extreme cases, non-existent.
That said, the noble Lord has told the Committee that this would be some minor inconyenience but there would be a solution to the problem. With very great respect, I think that the amendment would tie everyone up in miles of red tape. The amendment provides for the possibility of local councils making temporary path diversion orders for periods not exceeding four months, but what hurdles has the farmer to scale in order to persuade the council to make an order?
The farmer must satisfy the council that the keeping of a bull in a field crossed by a right of way is necessary to good farming practice. The council must then consult with other councils who may have an interest and then with other representatives of the user organisations who may very well object. Objections must then be considered, and the council must eventually decide whether or not to make the order and what work ought to be undertaken, either by the occupier of the land concerned or by the council at his expense, to signpost the way and to provide as necessary for the convenience of users. Then the whole process has to be gone through again, year after year.
I am not saying that there is not a matter for concern, and I listened carefully while the noble Lord made his speech. But I really think, when the Government are working hard to try to reduce the burden of bureaucracy and regulation on small businesses, that this would be a very heavy piece of legislation where the heavy hand of bureaucracy is not to this extent required. There are, as I say, competing 683 claims here. There is the need to look carefully at what are the legitimate concerns of rights of way, but there is also the requirement to look at the practical needs of farmers.
§ Lord Kilbracken
I should like to intervene for a moment while my noble friend considers what to do. I speak as a former breeder of Hereford cattle because of what my noble friend has said about beef bulls. I was at one time secretary of a Hereford breeding society, so I have to declare an interest there. I just want to say that, although he has been talking about beef bulls being more dangerous—that means, in principle, the Hereford and the Aberdeen Angus—I have found that the dairy breeds, such as the Friesian and the Jersey, are much more dangerous, and I do not like to hear any slander of the Hereford breed.
§ Lord John-Mackie
Like my noble friend, I do not believe there is any question of bulls being trusted. Years and years ago we had a bull which we thought was as quiet as a lamb. But, suddenly, it broke out on a dairyman in Scotland, and he was fortunate not to have been seriously hurt. On my farm in Essex, I had an Aberdeen Angus bull. He was in the field for a few years and was never any trouble at all. There was a footpath right through the middle of the field. I do not know whether people noticed the bull or whether or not they used the footpath, but somebody left the gate open and the bull got out. They then discovered there was a bull in the field, and I had to remove him.
My noble friend has a serious point here, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is slightly exaggerating the difficulty of putting up signs to deviate walkers around a field. It is not a big job really, particularly if it is a dairy bull, or just a bull—I do not want to miscall the noble Lord's favourite bulls. If it is a bull it might be dangerous, as most of them can be at some time or other. It should be a duty at least to put up a sign and give some pointer to the deviation that could be made.
I must support my noble friend to a considerable extent, although I appreciate that he has gone a long way in making all these rules and regulations which admittedly would be a problem for county councils and district councils. Nevertheless, I think we should take the matter seriously, because it is a problem.
§ 9.30 p.m.
I am bound to say that I accept what the Minister said in reply to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. It would produce a whole lot of bureaucratic entanglements which would be well nigh intolerable for the farmer and the landlord, and also for the local councils which would have to administer it. I accept all that. But it does not seem to me that one necessarily ignores a situation merely because the solution is a difficult one or an awkward one. Perhaps the simplest thing to do would be to go back to the position before the law was changed in 1981. In that connection, perhaps the Minister could tell us what deprivations and what difficulties there really were for farmers and landowners before the change in the law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
§ Lord Belstead
I am not sure that I am equipped to do that this evening. I am not equipped to do that because that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, wants. The noble Lord is not satisfied with the move that was made in 1981 and now wants to move further. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will thank the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, if we return to the law as it was before 1981.
§ Lord Northbourne
The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, emphasise a point I was making earlier this evening that there is a real need for an overall consideration of the problems of access to the countryside and in particular for the re-routing of rights of way to give the same or greater lengths of walk, walks more attractive to all the people who want to have access to the countryside, and at the same time be more convenient to farmers. The reason walks currently go across fields is that they were designed for specific purposes associated with the life of the countryside, many of which no longer exist.
I hate to cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, again on a question of fact, but I have before me a letter from the Cattle Breeders Association. It says, among other things:There is practically no evidence of any damage being caused by bulls to the public on footpaths in the last 10 years. Where reports of bovine interference occur it can rarely be proved that a bull was involved. Interference can be caused by cows, heifers and steers for reasons of curiosity".It might be helpful to the Minister in the context of the identification of bulls to remember the story of the little boy who electrified the guests at his parents' party by piping up and saying, "I know how to tell the difference between a bull and a cow—a bull has a ring in its nose". This might be a useful guideline.
My real point is that the proposed amendment hits particularly hard at exactly the type of farming we are trying to encourage in the context of the reduction in the intensity of agriculture in the present situation of surpluses. In the marginal areas we shall be looking for more extensive systems of agriculture, and those must mean the maintenance of the countryside by extensive grazing by sheep and by cattle—where sheep are not appropriate, grazing has to be carried out by cattle. As the noble Lord said, where enclosures are large, it is exceedingly difficult to pursue a system of beef production which works unless you are able to run bulls with the cows. I believe, therefore, that the only situation lies in the permanent diversion of rights of way and not in this extremely inconvenient procedure of temporary diversion.
§ The Earl of Radnor
There is one very small point which I think should be made but has not been made. I agree with everything that my noble friend on the Front Bench said and I would not want the law altered so quickly after it has been made. The point I make is that if the law is made too hard for farmers they will fence off the rights of way. I cannot think of anything more unattractive to a rambler or anyone walking through the countryside than a footpath, which is very narrow, or a bridlepath, which is not very wide, fenced off with barbed wire or plain wire. That has been done, and if matters become so bureaucratic, so complicated and so aggravating as has been suggested in the face of 685 a risk, though not a huge risk, we might be building a birdcage over certain parts of England. I do not think that is what anyone wants.
The Earl of Enniskillen
I should like to say that it is quite incredible to me, in regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said about this matter, that insufficient reliance is placed on the rambling associations and all these organisations to educate their people. A goose is dangerous. A goat is dangerous. There are many instances. But these unfortunate people are led by others who know nothing whatever about the countryside and they get into trouble.
§ Lord Melchett
As an ex-president of the Ramblers Association, I do not know whether the noble Earl was referring to me; but I earn my living from farming and I dare say that does not necessarily qualify me to talk about cattle and their dangers. Therefore I rest my case largely on the advice given by the Health and Safety Executive, which investigates all deaths caused by livestock to farmers, farmworkers and other people. The noble Earl, if he is a farmer, will no doubt have seen a copy and should look at the advice given. He will see that the Health and Safety Executive, having investigated the actual cause of death, is quite clear in saying that bulls are extremely dangerous, that they are unpredictable and that they should not be trusted.
The Ramblers Association only issued advice to its members after the Health and Safety Executive had issued its advice. As the noble Lord on the Front Bench will know, after the 1981 Act which introduced this law was passed the Government gave a commitment in this Chamber that they would get the Health and Safety Executive to issue advice to walkers. They never did that. They broke their word. The reason they broke their word was that the Health and Safety Executive refused to give advice to walkers. It refused because it disagreed with the change in the law that the Government had made. The executive thought that it was dangerous and it was not prepared to tell walkers what they should do in a field with a bull in it. It would have given the same advice as the Ramblers Association; namely, to trespass around the field. If I may say so to the noble Lord, the Government caused this problem, and the Ramblers Association has simply followed the advice given by the Government's statutory advisers on that point.
My noble friend mentioned beef bulls. I think I said in my speech—and perhaps my noble friend will look at Hansard—that it is true that some breeds of dairy bull are more dangerous than many breeds of beef bull. However, that is not always the case. There have been just as many deaths, I believe I am right in saying, caused to farmers and farmworkers by beef breeds of bull as there have by dairy bulls. It is certainly the case that some of the new Continental breeds of beef—Simmental, Charolais, and so on—are extremely dangerous and are of a size to cause severe physical injury if you come into contact with one that is moving quickly.
The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, talked about fencing and raised a point which I had intended to mention myself; namely, that if a farmer is in a difficult position 686 and cannot find somewhere to divert a footpath, as my amendment suggests he should, then it would be possible to fence the bull from the walker and the walker from the bull. With an electric fence it would not necessarily be a difficult or expensive operation to carry out. It seems to me that that is an argument for saying it is possible to separate walkers from bulls rather than the other way round.
§ The Earl of Radnor
Would the noble Lord give way? I wonder whether the noble Lord would like to think of two sponsored walks meeting head on between two electric fences, each group consisting of 30 or 40 people. I wonder how they would manage to get past each other. That is the kind of situation of which I am thinking. I think it is thoroughly undesirable to fence in rights of way in the countryside from a visual point of view and from a practical point of view so far as concerns the ramblers—and we always talk about ramblers—and anyone else who wants to walk across the countryside. Rights of way were originally not made only for ramblers but for everybody, including hearses and coffins and so on.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
Would the noble Lord help me? I always thought that suckling cows with calves were as dangerous as bulls. How are we to differentiate between the one and the other?
§ Lord Melchett
The only way I suppose it is possible to come to an objective view on this matter is to look at the statistics for deaths and injuries caused to people by various breeds of livestock. If the noble Lord cares to do that, he will see that bulls cause considerably more deaths than other livestock. Did the noble Earl wish me to give way?
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to say that I read his Parliamentary Question the other day and found it quite fascinating. From the Answer I found that over the last five years five people have been killed by bulls, four by sheep and four by cows. Should we ban the sheep as well? In that case, what would your Lordships' grandchildren do for cuddly toys?
Before we leave this matter, I do not honestly think that we should allow the extraordinary intervention of the noble Lord opposite to go unanswered. It appeared to suggest that no one should be allowed on our public footpaths, of which there are a great many, except members of the Ramblers Association. Public footpaths are for the public, and not for people who have been on courses of education to this or that college, or who have undertaken special courses with the Ramblers Association. The idea that the Ramblers Association has some kind of public duty to educate each and every person who wanders on 687 to one of the wonderful public footpaths in our national parks is really absolutely absurd, and I hope that the noble Lord will accept that fact.
The Earl of Enniskillen
Not only do I accept it, but I am sorry that I should have been taken up in that context. I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that he was referring to various instances of guided parties conducted by the Ramblers Association. It seemed to me that that was a fault of the Ramblers Association in conducting those parties and getting them into difficulties which they ought to have been able to avoid.
Of course I appreciate that, but it is a matter of education for all concerned. No countryman is lacking in that education because he grows up with it. No town dweller could be expected to have that education because he has not grown up with it. It is not natural for him to spot a bull among a herd of cows or to suspect danger where he sees none. It is a matter for local council authorities in areas where these things happen to publicise the dangers that exist in the countryside and to issue the necessary legal precautions to people who are going to take the risk. You would not cross the M.1 on foot—at least, I would not.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
I am sure that the Committee is anxious to get on to a number of other amendments that we have to face. I have now been interrupted by Members opposite on four or five occasions, and I have a list of about six points to which those opposite, sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, have asked me to respond, and I am sure that they would want me to do that before I withdraw this amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, mentioned my Question for Written Answer which produced some statistics on deaths caused by livestock, and I took the trouble to investigate a little further. For example, the noble Lord mentioned that four people had been tragically killed by sheep since 1980. I hope that for the sake of the relatives of those people who were killed we can at least discuss that part of the matter without noble Lords opposite laughing too much, particularly given the fact that two of the people who were battered to death by rams were retired farmers' wives.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, that is the most common cause of death caused by sheep. It is the farmer's wife who is elderly and finds it difficult to move quickly, and who has not realised the fact that she is not still as nimble as she was when young, who, when dealing with a ram that she has looked after for many years, finds that the ram suddenly charges her. Usually the ram does not injure the woman very seriously, but these people are of an age where a minor injury can lead to death, and that was certainly the case of two of the people who were killed by rams.
The noble Lord also mentioned the four people killed by cows or heifers. They were mainly killed in circumstances where they were handling cattle and 688 loading them on to a vehicle. For example, in 1980 a farmer was killed loading cattle. A lorry gate gave way and the farmer was crushed to death. In another case a woman catching calves slipped, broke a femur and later died in hospital. That was recorded as a death caused by a cow, but I think that the noble Lord will accept that that is rather a long way from an attack by an animal causing death, which is what we are talking about in this debate, I hope that that will allay the considerable concern of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, for the people who have died according to the Health and Safety Executive statistics through contact with cows or sheep.
A number of noble Lords in writing to me about this suggested that pigs were just as dangerous as bulls. But the noble Lord will have noticed that pigs have not killed anybody in recent years. Indeed, I understand that the provisional statistics for deaths from injuries or attacks caused by livestock in 1985 showed that one person, a farmworker, was killed by a bull and no deaths occurred from contact with cows, heifers, pigs or sheep. I hope that that will assure noble Lords that we are concentrating on the right problem. Bulls are particularly dangerous and the fact that there are a number of tragic deaths through accidents involving other farm livestock should not distract us from that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested that the answer once again was to change the route of paths. But, as I mentioned, a number of the incidents of which we now have evidence occurred on long-distance footpaths. One occurred, for example, on the coast in the north of Cornwall, which is a long-distance path. I also mentioned one in Yorkshire on the World's Way. Those are paths that have been designated by the Secretary of State for the Environment and agreed by the Government, and they receive a lot of public money for maintenance. Nevertheless, they go through fields in which occasionally under the present law bulls are grazed. Because they are used much more frequently than other footpaths, as they are long-distance paths, incidents seem to happen particularly frequently.
The noble Lords, Lord Winstanley and Lord Belstead, suggested that the procedures in the amendment for securing diversions were unduly complicated. A load of red tape, I think the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, suggested, would descend on farmers. I was interested to receive only this morning a brief from the Countryside Commission which made much the same point. In earlier debates on amendments to the Bill the noble Lord has aligned himself firmly with the views of the Countryside Commission and shown considerable anxiety not to cross swords with it in any respect. That is something which I have subsequently learnt it welcomes very much. I think that it would be sensible for me to have further discussions with the Countryside Commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, was a distinguished chairman, to see whether it is possible to redraft the amendment so that its concern about the procedures being unduly complex—which is one shared by a number of noble Lords—can be met. As I said in introducing the amendment, I am particularly 689 concerned that the procedures for obtaining a diversion (which, after all, will be only a temporary diversion) should not be complex or burdensome on farmers. I think that that is right. I have no intention to make life more difficult for farmers than present government policy towards agriculture has already achieved.
The final point that I wanted to make is this. As I said in introducing the amendment, a dossier of cases, of which I have been able to quote only a small number, is currently being prepared at the 690 Government's request. The Ramblers Association recently had a meeting with Mrs. Angela Rumbold, the junior Minister at the Department of the Environment. That department appears to be concerned with the safety of walkers whereas the noble Lord's department is concerned with the interests of farmers. As the Department of the Environment has asked the Ramblers Association for that dossier of cases so that it can evaluate it, I think that it would be helpful that that should be done before we return to the matter at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.691
§ Clause 13 [Designation and management of environmentally sensitive areas]:
Lord Buxton of Alsa moved Amendment No. 52:
Page 10, line 24, leave out ("particularly").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a small matter. It is a tidying-up amendment. I can promise the Committee that I shall be particularly brief. I put it in that way because I think that at the end of the debate there may be a difference of opinion as to whether I have been brief or not. I want to make the point clearly that "particularly" is a matter of opinion, which is why I have put forward the amendment.
§ If an ESA is to be designated, the statutory bodies concerned, with all the qualifications and decades of experience, which are required to give their advice are the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council in England; the Countryside Commission and Nature Conservancy Council in Wales; and the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland. Having reached their conclusion they may decide that designation is desirable or not. They have the perfect right to decide that it is "extremely" desirable or "particularly" desirable. That is their function and duty. They then submit their recommendations to the Minister.
§ It is perhaps only a drafting question that I am putting to my noble friend the Minister. As the provision is drafted it appears that the Minister, having received his advice—and highly professional advice at that; there is probably no better advice that he could obtain in the Kingdom—may then decide whether something is "particularly" desirable or not. That seems to open up an enormous loophole.
§ I venture to suggest with great respect that legislation which is not easy to understand is bad enough but legislation in which we do not know what will happen and cannot understand the result is the worst legislation of all. I strongly urge my noble friend to look carefully at this provision and realise that if we are to have the word "particularly", it should refer to the statutory bodies which have the experience, authority and knowledge to make such a judgment. It should not refer to the Minister, apparently after statutory advice has been given. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
I wish to support the amendment moved by my noble friend, but for slightly different reasons. The word "particularly" in an Act of Parliament is unusual. What does it mean here? Either it merely means "very", in which case it is unnecessary and indeed absurd, or it is a subterfuge intended to enable the Government to designate as few areas as possible so that if they were challenged in the courts they could say, "Oh, but this is something that does not have to be done because we do not think it is `particularly' desirable". Surely it is either desirable or not desirable. Had we not better leave it like that and support my noble friend's amendment?
§ Lord Belstead
The amendment would enable agriculture Ministers to designate large tracts of the countryside as environmentally sensitive. In many 692 ways that is an appetising prospect. The trouble is that we would end up with something that we could not administer. ESAs will require a great deal of personal commitment if they are to work properly. Farmers will need help, advice and encouragement and, for that matter, ministry staff will need to learn a great many new lessons. If we spread all that effort too thinly, we shall not get the results we want. We should have to run the scheme essentially as a desk exercise instead of as a practical course in commitment to conservation. That is why I am most anxious that we do not try to run before we have learned to walk in this matter. We believe that we can have six or so areas out of the £6 million which has been set aside by properly and wholeheartedly administering the first ESAs rather than rushing in without due preparation.
My noble friend Lord Renton was a little suspicious of the Government's motives in including the word "particularly". We have very much in mind the point that although we have expenditure constraints—I do not conceal that from my noble friend—we also know that the European Commission will not approve designation of every area suggested to us. If it did that, it would be giving carte blanche to other member states to use similar measures as a general income subsidy. Indeed, we shall have to be careful and meticulous in putting forward to the Commission our proposals for environmentally sensitive areas so as to avoid any danger that the Commission says that we are getting near to having unacceptable income aids. This idea of ESAs was a British one. We managed to get it in long negotiations with the European Community. We have to prove that these are areas that we believe are particularly desirable to designate. For those reasons, I do not think that this amendment is right.
I accept what my noble friend Lord Buxton says about the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, in putting forward proposals for designation, being expert bodies to whom to go for good advice. But at the end of the day, when one comes to the moment of designation, the statutory responsibility has to be laid on the Government to carry the can in answering the European Commission that what we are doing is designating areas that are particularly in need of conservation. With respect, I am differing from my noble friend Lord Buxton. If we are to have the word "particularly" (and I believe that we have to have it) it is, I believe, in the right place.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
The Minister's argument is particularly weak. It is extraordinary that he should put it. If the Minister thinks that it is desirable and he does not have the money, he will not of course do it. He could well take it out. It is a silly word. The Minister knows, surely, that it is a wholly objective decision anyhow. The word could come out without any trouble at all.
§ Lord Renton
It would seem from what my noble friend has said that the words "particularly desirable" do not truly reflect what the Government have in mind, which seems to be "financially acceptable".
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I was able to agree with almost everything my noble friend the Minister said except his argument against "particularly". I see entirely all the 693 points that he made—that the Government cannot possibly have more ESAs than the country or Europe want or can afford and that several may have to be turned down whatever the Nature Conservancy Council says. I see nothing wrong with the Government saying, "Sorry, we have got too many. Sorry, we cannot afford it. Sorry, the policy has changed". Nor is there anything wrong in the Government saying nothing at all. But to say that something is particularly one thing or the other seems pointless. I hope very much that my noble friend will hear what we say and that he will think hard about it. If that is the case—I would like to assume so—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 53:
Page 10, line 30, at end insert:
(d) to promote and maintain the enjoyment of the countryside by the public,").
The noble Lord said: Clause 12 includes the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public. But the words "enjoyment of the countryside by the public" have been left out of Clause 13, to which I have proposed this amendment. These words having been left out, one can only assume that the public are not supposed to be encouraged to enjoy these environmentally sensitive areas. Yet paragraph (c) of subsection (1) is designed,
to protect buildings or other objects of archaeological, architectural or historic interest in the area".
What on earth is the use of protecting a building of historic interest, spending perhaps a great deal of money on it and then not being able to enjoy it? I realise that visitors might make difficulties. They might trespass and that sort of thing. That aspect is, however, covered by the fact that the whole scheme is approved by the Nature Conservancy Council.
§ I am therefore asking the Minister to put back these words. The amendment that I propose uses the words "promote and maintain" because I had thought that the Minister—I still do not know why he did not—would have agreed to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that has just been turned down, to put in the word "maintain". I shall be very glad of an explanation why this is left out.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
I am delighted to support this amendment. As the noble Lord said, I moved the inclusion of some similar words earlier. It is very important that the new kinds of agricultural support for environmentally sensitive areas (and I hope that we shall soon be able to stop calling them that absurd name) succeed, because this will provide a new source of funds for many people involved in the agricultural industry and one which will be extremely welcome, I have no doubt.
As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said on an earlier amendment, everyone is conscious of the rising expenditure of the common agricultural policy, but 694 bringing that under control will involve bringing surplus production under control, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree. Once we have done that we have to find, in my view, new ways of providing public support for rural communities in general and agriculture in particular. Environmentally sensitive areas and the support which will flow through them to farmers, farmworkers and rural communities will be absolutely vital. If they are going to be vital to farmers it is desperately important that they are popular with the public because it is public money—taxpayers' money, as this Government are constantly reminding us—that will be spent in these areas.
I said earlier that a very high proportion of the public walk in the countryside and enjoy it. I think it is particularly important that where we are opening up new sources of funds for agriculture—which I very warmly welcome—we should do everything in our power to ensure that they have public support now and continue to have public support in the future. That is not a factor which has been notable in all the support for agriculture which we have provided under successive governments in the past.
It is for that reason, in the long-term interests of the farmers who will be farming in these areas and receiving support from the public (which I want to see not only continue but grow), that I think this is an important amendment, and I strongly support it.
§ Lord Belstead
My noble friend Lord Craighton is right to remind us that the introduction of environmentally sensitive areas will make a big contribution to the public's enjoyment of the countryside. Many of the areas proposed for designation are enormously popular with tourists and a source of pride to local people. But I am not so clear what would be gained by specifying enjoyment of the countryside as a separate objective. Indeed, I think it could be counterproductive. Naturally, the public right of access to environmentally sensitive areas has to be maintained, but to say that access to working farms must be promoted as a statutory duty could very well conflict with a desirability to conserve and enhance flora and fauna.
I am grateful to my noble friend for raising what is an important point and drawing our attention through this amendment to the fact that the creation of environmentally sensitive areas ought to contribute to the enjoyment that we all take from the countryside. I am sure that we shall all appreciate the protection of the landscape and wildlife habitats which environmentally sensitive areas will give. At the same time, if we are to succeed in encouraging some rather fragile species in these areas and in maintaining their unspoilt appearance it would be prudent of us not to go too far in the direction of encouraging (as a statutory duty) far greater numbers of people to visit these sensitive areas.
I agree with noble Lords that to see the public coming into the countryside and enjoying it is something that all of us want to attain. The Ministry of Agriculture is involved in that. Indeed, we are delighted to have been involved in the access to the countryside charter which the Countryside Commission has produced. But I am simply saying on this amendment that if one makes the promotion and 695 maintenance of public enjoyment of the countryside a statutory duty one could soon begin to find that the conservation and enhancement of, for instance, flora and fauna could be endangered. Therein lies the difficulty.
§ Lord Craigton
Before I withdraw the amendment, I should like the Minister to look at one point again. As I read the Bill—and I have read a lot of Bills in my life—I took it as a discouragement that we were not intended to look at the Bill in relation to historic interest. Will my noble friend look and see whether it achieves what he has just said—that is, that people can enjoy the buildings and the conservation without the inclusion of some words to that effect? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 10, line 31, at end insert ("and other appropriate").
The noble Lord said: Once again, we are concerned in particular with buildings of historic interest. In Clause 13 it says:
and that the maintenance or adoption of particular agricultural methods is likely to facilitate such conservation, enhancement or protection".
Therefore agricultural methods are supposed to enhance the protection of historic buildings.
I shall not weary the Committee, but let us look at the definition of agriculture as set out in Clause 12(2). The Agriculture Act 1947 (Section 109(3)) says:
'agriculture' includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming and livestock breeding and keeping, the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes, and 'agricultural' shall be construed accordingly;".
Therefore, as I read it, the Minister, or whoever it may be, can only use agricultural methods which are very strictly limited. How on earth do you restore a building of historic interest only by using agricultural methods? I have inserted the words, "and other appropriate" methods to get round the narrow interpretation in the Act of "agriculture".
§ Lord Belstead
My noble friend Lord Craigton indicated on Second Reading that he would be tabling this amendment and Amendment No. 59. I have studied what my noble friend said then and I have listened carefully to his comments today. I believe that it is the duty of the Ministry of Agriculture to work, through agriculture, towards the wider objectives that my noble friend recommends. I think that in that respect I am at one with my noble friend. However, I part company with him on a further point.
My noble friend is right to say that the beauty of the countryside is influenced by factors other than agriculture. On Second Reading my noble friend mentioned commercial forestry and buildings, which is what he has particularly emphasised this evening. One could add a host of other items from public highways to general industrial development, and there lies the problem.
696 Of course the Government as a whole will have to take account of the environmental designation of these areas when planning their policy towards them. However, I do not think that it would be right for the Minister of Agriculture to take decisions about, let us say, the siting of industrial premises within an environmentally sensitive area which, so far as I can see, would fall within the scope of my noble friend's amendment. We may influence some of these decisions through our involvement in planning procedures but we have neither the authority nor the expertise in the Ministry of Agriculture to venture into placing direct controls on, for instance, factory owners.
This clause is not a vehicle for transforming my right honourable friend into a Minister for the countryside; it is supposed to be a clause for harmonising agricultural and environmental interest in certain areas. If we lose sight of that fact we shall, apart from anything else, step quite outside our European Community framework. We must keep reminding ourselves of the need to follow Community rules, particularly if we are to get some funding from the European Community. Those rules do not allow us to go beyond the relationship between agriculture and the environment.
I think my noble friend said that he did not understand how one could have the protection of buildings or other objects of archaeological, architectural or historic interest in an area if one did not then accept the thrust of the amendment which my noble friend is putting forward. I should like to look at that point which my noble friend has put to me, as, indeed, I am certainly prepared to have a look at the previous amendment which my noble friend put forward.
Before I sit down, however, may I reiterate the point I made about the scope of this clause. I ask my noble friend to accept, if he will, that it is a clause not to transform my right honourable friend into the Minister for the countryside but to enable us to try to improve conservation and protection of the things that are listed in the clause by means of the relationship which we have between agriculture and the environment. Under the Community rules we are not supposed to go further than that.
§ Lord Renton
As I think we are supposed to be referring to Amendment No. 55 as well, I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Belstead would be so good to explain what he understands the word "sensitive" to mean.
§ Lord Craigton: No, we are not considering Amendment No. 55.
§ Lord Craigton
I really am very disappointed in my noble friend. He has read out a brief most of which has not in any way referred to the amendment which I seek to move. I am not talking about the Common Market or something wide like that, or about rebuilding factories. What I am saying is that there must be tools, devices and methods for putting right a building of architectural importance, of historic interest, which does not come under the legal description of "architectural", that is all. That is my only point. I can go into 697 a shop and buy all sorts of machinery which, under the law, is not architectural. That is my only point, and that is why I want to put in the words "and other appropriate devices". Would the Minister like to reply to that because I am really not very satisfied?
§ Lord Belstead
The point I am trying to make is that agricultural practices are relevant to the protection of archaeological sites. For instance, field barriers can be damaged by agricultural methods. As my noble friend knows, sites of archaeological interest can be damaged by ploughing; equally, historic buildings can be protected through agricultural use—by using them for the housing of livestock rather than letting them fall into dereliction. These are all things which can fall within the agricultural scope of this particular clause. I repeat that if we start going beyond that, we will be trying to turn the Minister of Agriculture into a Minister for the countryside. He then would be responsible for a much wider range of development, even industrial development, and would have a much wider range of powers than he could possibly have. Once we start to try to do that we shall find that we fall foul of the Community regulations under which we are introducing ESAs.
§ Lord Melchett
I hesitate to intervene in the argument between the two noble Lords opposite. However, it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is answering this amendment as though it related to subsection (5), which prescribes the things which the ministry can do in an area once it has been designated, rather than to subsection (1), which describes the sort of area which is to be designated. Those are two quite separate points. The basis on which you designate the area is one thing; what the ministry then has power to do in the area is a different matter.
If I may have the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I am trying to be helpful. I should have thought that it would be a different matter if the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, had made his amendment to subsection (5). He would then be attempting to give the Ministry of Agriculture power to rehabilitate historic buildings, or something of that sort. What the amendment says is that if there is an area in which these various things are desirable, they do not have to be things which are only capable of resolution through agricultural policy. There may be matters where other policies may also he helpful. Surely that is the distinction. I think the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was directed at subsection (5) and not subsection (1).
§ 10. 15 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
I do not agree. I am looking at line 31. Let me read from paragraph (c). The clause says:If it appears to the Minister that it is particularly desirable—698 Then line 31:
- (a) to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of an area:
- (b) to conserve the flora or fauna …
- (c) to protect buildings or other objects of archaeological, architectural or historic interest in an area".and that the maintenance or adoption of particular agricultural"—and then my noble friend wishes to put in—and other appropriate methods is likely to facilitate such conservation".I am simply saying that my right honourable friend's powers do not extend to other appropriate methods. They extend only to agricultural methods.
§ Lord Melchett
I accept that, but we are not trying to change the noble Lord's right honourable friend's powers. That happens in subsection (5). What we are saying is that it would be unduly restrictive to say that areas where it is desirable to conserve or protect these various things can only be areas where the conserving or protecting is done through the mechanism of agricultural policy. There are very few buildings of architectural merit where agricultural policy is going to make a huge difference to their protection, but they nevertheless may add to the general beauty and importance of the area from a conservation point of view.
That is the decision about designating the area. You then come to what the Ministry of Agriculture do about it. That is subsection (5). There might well be an area with a lot of beautiful buildings in it where it would be nice, for other reasons also covered in Clause 13(1), to maintain the countryside and improve the farming practices. But it might be possible to argue, in the clause as it is drafted, that because the buildings could only be conserved by methods other than agricultural then they could not be designated an environmentally sensitive area.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
The Minister will be pleased to hear that I understand him perfectly and agree with him.
§ Lord Belstead
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. My noble friend Lord Craigton has exactly the same amendment down to subsection (5). It is clear that that amendment, Amendment No. 59, and this amendment stand together. I resist both of them.
§ Lord Craigton
I moved both of them together. I have done my best to help the Minister of Agriculture. I am sorry I have failed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 10, line 33, leave out ("an environmentally sensitive") and insert ("a conservation farming").
§ The noble Lord said: I hope that I am going to be more successful with this amendment. The words used are "an environmentally sensitive area". I feel sure that is the wrong phrase to use. Every SSSI is an environmentally sensitive area. The phrase is far too wide, and it applies to so many different sorts of sites. Looking at it as a conservationist, it really is misleading. It is almost inaccurate, because the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council did not look for the most environmentally sensitive area; they looked for the 699 area that would suit this particular scheme. Therefore one has to find a solution for it.
§ On of the bodies suggested calling it a conservation farming area. I do not know whether the Minister will agree to that phraseology, but I move that we cut out the words "an environmentally sensitive area", which it would be unwise to use, and make it a "conservation farming area". I beg to move.
§ Baroness Nicol
I should like to support this amendment and to quote one small example which I came across only this afternoon when I was reading the Government's deregulation proposals which have just been published. In the planning chapter—I regret I do not have the document with me to quote chapter and verse—the Government refer to the need to maintain planning controls in environmentally sensitive areas. They obviously do not mean "ESAs", with capital letters. To continue with this phrase, unless it is required by the Community legislation (perhaps the Minister will tell us that), will only lead to utter confusion in the end. I support very much the idea of "conservation farming"—a suggestion which I think came from the CPRE.
§ Lord Renton
I think the Government's intentions are probably good, but we have to make sure that the words they are using will fulfil those intentions. I would therefore ask my noble friend Lord Belstead if he would explain what he means by "sensitive" in this context. It could, I suppose, mean vulnerable. Does it mean sensitive to particular farming or forestry practices which might impair the natural beauty of the environment or impair the wildlife? Does it mean, simply, that it is suitable to be designated? Also, we have to consider the other side of the coin. If an area is not designated, does it mean that it is not sensitive?
§ Lord John-Mackie
My noble friend Lady Nicol seemed to suggest that the alteration,by order designate that area as an environmentally sensitive area",is simply an expression and that it will not be an official ESA. I cannot think that that is right, because it is to be designated by order. If it were converted to "a conservation farming area", that would preclude it from getting any help as an ESA. I wonder whether that is correct.
§ Lord Belstead
I appreciate that "environmentally sensitive areas" may not be an ideal name, although I think that the idea of using the word "sensitive" meant very much what my noble friend Lord Renton suggested. "Vulnerable"? Indeed, we have made it quite clear that we believe that the areas we ought to designate are areas that would otherwise be in jeopardy. Certainly we have made it clear that they are areas which, from a national point of view, are important environmentally.
If that is not a very good explanation, may I move on and say that it is the term used in Article 19 of the Community Structures Regulation, which is what the noble Baroness asked me, and so we are familiar with it. Changing it at this late stage would be a little confusing, even though the noble Baroness has asked me a difficult question, which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, pursued, about "environmentally 700 sensitive area" being a term used in connection with deregulation—a matter which I should like to look into if I may.
Finally, I have to look at the amendment. Here my noble friend is putting forward the suggestion of talking about "conservation farming areas". With great respect, I think that sounds to me a little too much like farming museums, and that is certainly something that we do not have in mind. We believe, and believe very deeply, that when these environmentally sensitive areas are designated, farming life will go on in those areas and will continue to develop; but the whole point will be that the methods used must be, in their turn, sensitive to the areas in which the farms are located.
"Environmentally sensitive areas" may not be a perfect name but I ask the Committee to stick with a description which is now familiar to us all. I think that if we changed now we would be in trouble unless we had an alternative which commanded complete support. I have to confess that the one which my noble friend has put forward in this amendment is one that I do not support.
§ Lord Melchett
I think that that is a bitterly disappointing reply. I hope that the noble Lord will think about it again. If he will cast his mind back to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill debates, we discussed the possibility of changing the name of sites of special scientific interest to something that was rather less of a mouthful and rather less intimidating to those who were going to receive notification about it. We were not able to do so in that case mainly because the term "site of special scientific interest" appeared as a sideline to the Bill and, in that position, it was not capable of amendment.
At least we do not face that problem here. But I think it is universally agreed that if something could have been done to simplify SSSI—and anybody who has had to say that repeatedly on a television programme or at public meetings will know what I mean—we should have done it. I am sure that "environmentally sensitive area" is going to hang like a millstone round the neck of everybody involved over the years to come, for two reasons. First of all, I do not agree with the noble Lord that it is a well-known and familiar phrase. The fact that it appears in European Community legislation does not mean that we have to adopt it in our domestic legislation, as the noble Lord knows. We are free to choose any terminology that we wish.
Secondly, the problem with "environmentally sensitive area" is, first, that it describes the area and not what is going to happen there. Surely what is important from the point of view of getting commitment from the farmers and the general public to this new idea is to describe what is going to happen; in other words, to be positive rather than negative. Negative seems to me to describe the restrictions or the limitations of the area which is environmentally sensitive. To be positive is to describe what we are going to do there and why public money is going into the area; and that what is going to happen there is farming which is sensitive to conservation requirements. "Conservation farming area" seems to me to be a quite straightforward description.
§ Earl Peel
Surely the whole idea, as my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, is to try to get a balance on this matter. Farmers are not going to be farming primarily for conservation reasons. They are going to be farming in a way which is going to be sensitive to the environment. To call it conservation farming would imply that the farmer is simply farming for conservation reasons and conservation reasons only. That surely is not the purpose of this exercise.
§ Lord Melchett
It is the purpose of providing public money in these areas, as the noble Earl knows.
§ Lord Melchett
I am well aware of that, but if we were not putting new public money into these areas we would not be bothered with this clause in the Bill. The point of this clause is to provide a new source of money for farming. What I want to see is that being generally accepted by the public at large, unlike most support for farming at the moment. It seems to me that we have designed a phrase to describe these areas which could be really designed to put the public off and put farmers off, rather than to persuade the public that it is a good idea and that their taxes should be spent on supporting farmers in an additional, new way over and above what we do already.
That is what is going to happen in these areas. I think it is very important that the terminology should be changed. I do not believe that ESAs or environmentally sensitive areas—and they are going to be called ESAs, just as sites of special scientific interest are called SSSIs—are really going to be tremendously enthusiastically welcomed by the people there.
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that his main objection was that the farmers' main objective in farming in these areas was not conservation. I certainly accept that. But the main objective of putting new public money into these areas is going to be to encourage farming for conservation. Surely that is the point that we want to get across. I very much hope that the Government will have another think about this. We get landed in these bits of legislation with ridiculous acronyms like SSSIs and ESAs. Anybody sitting down for five minutes could think of something more sensible and much less of a mouthful to call them, something that would be less intimidating and more popular. I do not think that we should miss the opportunity that we have in this Bill of changing the name—to get it changed to something simpler and more sensible.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Craigton
The Committee may be surprised to hear that I agree with my noble friend Lord Peel. I woke up in the middle of last night and thought, "This name is really not exactly what is wanted but I have to move the amendment and there has to be a discussion." I will ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment, but I should like the Minister to consider whether he would like me to put down an amendment containing the words, "environ- 702 mentally sensitive farming area". If that could be the term, there could also be environmentally sensitive wetland areas, and so on. It could bring forward a type of scheme which might be much better. I should like my noble friend to think whether, "environmentally sensitive farming area" would not meet all the points that have been raised both for and against.
§ Lord Belstead
Of course I shall think about that. I feel rather sad because we have gone down the second half of this page of the Marshalled List and it was my intention, when I began going through my noble friend's amendments a few days ago, to see whether there was something which could properly be accepted because my noble friend always has plenty of ideas. He occupies an extremely distinguished position in the conservation world, as chairman of the all-party environmental committee. I was rather sad when I found that I kept having to say no. I must not mislead my noble friend: I think that three words are better than four when you are designating something; and although the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said it had not become all that familiar, I must say that the expression "environmentally sensitive area" is now pretty well known throughout the world which is dealing with this. I shall certainly look at my noble friend's suggestion of "environmentally sensitive farming area"; but I must say I have a hankering after "environmentally sensitive area": indeed, I confess that I rather like it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Buxton of Alsa moved Amendment No. 56:
Page 10, line 36, leave out ("the Treasury have consented to the making of the order and").
§ The noble Lord said: I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will be able to reinforce the points that I want to make. There are certain similarities in aspects of the arguments between this and the amendment that I moved recently, and there is even an aspect, to which my noble friend Lord Renton referred, which also could conceivably be in the back of my mind—a sort of arrière pensée.
§ This seems to me to give the Treasury an authority and power to veto way down the scale in a highly specialised area, in which the Treasury has absolutely no statutory experience or responsibility. We all know that the Treasury control our lives, can cut us off without a shilling and can dictate how the country is to be run, and so forth. In this particular question of ESAs (as I shall call them for the moment) the Treasury can say, "We will have none" or "You can only have six" or "You can have four and you are only going to get a fiver for each". But for the Treasury to consent to the making of an order, implying that they know something about it and more than the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy or the Countryside Commission for Scotland seems to me to be quite incomprehensible. Again, it is perhaps simply a question of drafting and it has not been properly appreciated what the serious implications and the significance are.703
§ I absolutely accept, and I am sure my noble friend the Minister will make the point, that the Treasury must have power to decide what the country can afford in terms of ESAs, designations, or whatever; but for them to seem to have the power to say there is going to be one in Dorset, none in Yorkshire, two or three in Scotland but none in East Anglia seems to me to be quite incomprehensible and entirely beyond what one would expect. I would ask my noble friend to look at this extremely carefully and to say whether he accepts that this does not appear to be exactly in the right order, just as it was not in the right order before. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Nicol
I wish to support the amendment and to make one point, and only one, which the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has not made. We have just had a discussion on an earlier amendment about how very carefully these areas are to be chosen. We had an argument about the fact that they have to be particularly desirable, and this will be the combined opinion of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions. After all these bodies, with their great expertise, have decided that such an area is worthy of designation, it then seems quite wrong that the Treasury should, apparently, just be able to say, "Sorry, you can't have it." I am sure that that is not what is intended by the Bill and I hope that the Minister will spell out what is intended and tell us very clearly why this phrase cannot be left out.
§ Lord Renton
My noble friend Lord Belstead on an earlier amendment revealed the financial reality of this matter. He mentioned that there would be £6 million available for five or six areas. Surely the reality of the matter is that estimates will be laid in the usual way and the Minister of Agriculture will have to keep within those estimates. Therefore, the Treasury will have given their consent a priori. To ask that the Treasury should then have to consent to each order of designation is unnecessary and might cause delay. We have this expression creeping into statutes time and time again when it is totally unnecessary, because, in any event, the responsibility of the Treasury is engaged in the normal course of administration within the government.
§ Lord Melchett
I very strongly agree with what the noble Lord has just said. It is perfectly clear to all of us, whether we have been in government or not, that the Treasury control government expenditure. It is true under governments of all parties and you do not need to write something like this into an Act of Parliament to secure that, much as many spending ministries would wish that you could get round it in some way.
But the weird thing about the Treasury's appearance in this place in this clause is that they are not here to control expenditure. At this point we are not talking about the level of expenditure. You can designate an area and spend 2s.6d. on it. What we have here is the Treasury deciding which bits of the British countryside are—unfortunately, we have to say now—environmentally sensitive and which bits are not.
This is after the advice of the two statutory bodies 704 has been taken into account by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission have been consulted. They have been going through that process. They have consulted not only the two statutory bodies, but farmers, landowners, county councils, archaeologists and all sorts of other interest in the areas that might be subject to designation. Now we have the Treasury coming in, not to decide how much is spent in these areas, not to decide the total limit of expenditure overall in environmentally sensitive areas, but to decide which of these areas chosen by the experts are sensitive enough to be designated.
It is complete and utter nonsense. What has happened is that somebody has been briefed by the Treasury to put some financial control on any new agricultural expenditure and they have put this in the wrong place in the Bill, by mistake. That is the only rational explanation for the appearance of the words here. I hope that the noble Lord can be persuaded that it would be right to take them out, even if he has to lean on the Treasury a little to do it.
§ Lord Belstead
As drafted, this clause envisages that individual environmentally sensitive areas will be designated by statutory instrument. The statutory instruments will be signed by the Minister of Agriculture and by a Treasury Minister. By signing the instrument, the Treasury Minister will simply be confirming that the Treasury has agreed to provide the money to fund the ESA. In short, his signature will simply reassure all concerned that any agreement they enter into will duly attract the promised payment.
If this amendment were passed by the Committee, the ministry would still need to get the Treasury's agreement before spending any money in environmentally sensitive areas. All that the amendment would do would be to remove from the face of the statutory instrument the Treasury's confirmation that funding is guaranteed.
Perhaps I may say something which I think will be rather better received by the Committee. I hope it is clear that the clause does not attempt to give the Treasury any kind of veto over a particular kind of environmentally sensitive area. The consultations will have taken place with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. The Treasury will not be obliged to visit any environmentally sensitive areas or consider the fate of red kites or field barns. It will simply have to decide whether the money is available and ensure that our estimates of costs are sound and sensible.
That is all too well precedented. For example, Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 enables agriculture Ministers to pay capital grants to farmers. That section reads:The appropriate authority may with the approval of the Treasury by scheme provide for … grants … towards expenditure incurred … for the purposes of … the carrying on … of an agricultural business".That, if I remember rightly, comes from a Conservative Government. One which comes to my mind from a Labour Government, Section 61 of the Agriculture Act 1967, requires Treasury approval for 705 grants to agricultural co-operatives. Sections 1 and 9 of the Agriculture Act 1957, to go back to a rather older Conservative one, required Treasury approval for determining guaranteed prices by order for agricultural producers of such things as wool or potatoes.
§ Lord Renton
My noble friend may be interested to know that there are about 100 examples in the statute book of this particular nonsense.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I have a lot to learn from my noble friend Lord Belstead because he made the case for my amendment far better and more eloquently than I did at the start. I am very grateful for that, because it will add weight in Hansard when everybody is able to read what has been said on this amendment.
§ Baroness Nicol
I do not know whether the noble Lord is about to withdraw his amendment, but I should like to ask one more question before he does so. I am not quite sure that I fully grasped the import of some of the things the noble Lord said. May we come at it another way? What could the Treasury not do that it can now do; or what is there that it would want to do that it would be prevented from doing if we remove this clause from the Bill?
§ Lord Belstead
If you removed this provision from the Bill you would be removing from the face of the Bill the recognition that the Treasury's agreement is necessary before spending any money in environmentally sensitive areas. The assurance I have given, however, on this amendment is that this is not some kind of veto of the Treasury to say that a particular environmentally sensitive area is a good thing and another one is not. That is all done, as it is put in the clause, by consultation between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the statutory conservation agencies—the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—and there are other discussions going on as well. That is the answer to what the noble Baroness asked me.
§ Lord Melchett
I should also like to ask a question. The noble Lord seemed to imply that if any order was signed simply by the Minister of Agriculture under which the Ministry was going to incur expenditure, nobody would believe that money was going to be spent. In his original reply he said that the purpose of having the Treasury here was to persuade people that when the order was signed by both the Minister and the Treasury Minister money would actually flow.
That is a constitutional monstrosity. The Minister of Agriculture is in the same Government as the Treasury Minister. They are not divisible. The Minister of Agriculture signs on behalf of the Government, just as a Treasury Minister does. The idea that the Minister of Agriculture is not to be trusted to cough up unless he has a Treasury "minder" signing every piece of paper that he ever signs is patently absurd. There must be hundreds of examples of the Minister of Agriculture signing orders or other matters under which expenditure is going to flow where the Treasury does not insist on putting its name 706 alongside it. That is really ridiculous, if the noble Lord does not mind me saying so.
§ Baroness Nicol
Perhaps I may make a final point. I have said it all before, but it seems to me that if we leave this in as it is it may be perfectly all right with the present Minister, or even with one or two subsequent Ministers, but the day may come when the clause could be abused. As it stands at the moment it means that the Treasury could exercise a veto. It may not be the intention, but certainly that is how it reads. For that reason I hope that the Minister will think again about taking it out.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
May I suggest to the Minister that the statute might at least convey what he has said in Parliament if it said that the Treasury's consent is needed for making an expenditure under the order? The Minister is suggesting to us that the Treasury are not going to consent to the making of one order as against another but simply to the making of expenditure under all these orders. If that is the case why does it not say that in the Bill? What the Bill says is quite different from what the noble Lord is saying.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I did not realise what a hornets' nest we were putting our foot into. We seem to have flushed out an enormous constitutional issue which I find absolutely fascinating.
Far from agreeing to go along with the notion that it should be 101, I think that we should stop it here dead and start working back from 99 all the way down. I have to agree with all noble Lords, the noble Baroness, and the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that this can only be described as a complete nonsense. I am left absolutely convinced, and there is no doubt in my mind, that it is a power of veto by the Treasury. While I have absolute confidence in my noble friend and in this Government, who I support, I have no reason to have any confidence whatever in future governments and in their interpretation of this clause. Therefore, I have to leave it that in withdrawing the amendment I intend to return to the matter with equal or greater vigour at the next stage.
§ Lord Belstead
Before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, may I make two simple points? First, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, there are literally hundreds of examples. Those examples are peppered into legislation for good reason; that is, because this is a normal formulation. The other point is that there is a reason for seeing that you need more than the Minister of Agriculture's signature on the order. In just the same way as we have put into this clause that there shall be consultation with the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, because a great many people felt that that was right, so in this case it is I suggest right that if the Treasury are to provide the money anyway, and it is well precedented, then the Treasury need to sign the order at the same time as the Minister who also has the departmental responsibility.
That is literally all there is to it. I repeat that it does not mean, if I may give an assurance to my noble 707 friend Lord Buxton, that the Treasury will be able to withhold agreement because of the conservation merits of one order against another. There is nothing on the face of the Bill to suggest that.
§ Lord Renton
Will not my noble friend face up to this? In the light of what he says the Treasury will always consent, because if it does not consent it will be exercising a veto. If the Treasury is always going to consent what is the point of writing into the Bill that it requires the consent of the Treasury?
§ Lord Belstead
It may be that the Treasury would not consent if the budget was being overspent—and it is common knowledge what the budget is at the moment; it is £6 million. If the departmental Minister, my right honourable friend or one of his successors, decided that he would deliberately flout the budget, at that moment it would be perfectly proper for the Treasury to withhold consent. Therefore, it would not be automatic.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
On the basis of what I said previously and in anticipation of returning to this subject, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 57:
Page 11, line 9, at end insert ("and
( ) the freehold owners within this area.")
§ The noble Earl said: I sincerely hope that this simple amendment is not a hornets' nest. I cannot possibly see how it should be. In fact, I believe that it does nothing but good to the Bill. It does not in any way alter the thrust of the Bill. I think that it will make it work, on the ground, a great deal better than it will work if it goes through as it stands.
§ First, we have got past the Treasury as having to be consulted, leaving behind whether or not it has the veto. Then we go on to various public bodies who are consulted and have to be consulted. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council are the bodies of people in the three areas. I must say that when I read the Bill I was absolutely staggered that the people in the area were not brought into the picture at that very early stage. If ever there was a recipe for irritation in a situation where co-operation should really be the watchword, this is one. Surely we want these ESAs to be put through with the co-operation of everybody. They will not work terribly well if they are not.
§ I cannot see why the most important people, the ones who might perhaps cause the most trouble if they were annoyed, were left out. I can see no harm in their being consulted at this early stage. In point of fact, I can see a lot of good. One would not dream of suggesting that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council do not know a very great deal about these potential areas, but I think that the people who are actually living there properly in a practical manner would know more. So not only would it be discourteous but it would be rather silly to leave them out at the very beginning of the whole process.708
§ I feel most strongly that this irritation is avoidable and should be avoided in this manner, and if not in this manner, then in the manner which will be suggested later by my noble friend Lord Peel. If anyone thinks that there is no irritation in such situations and that it does not slow up the whole process, I would suggest that in the past it has been most unfortunate that people have gone through the countryside listing buildings and letting the landowners or freeholders or both know of it only later.
§ It has been very irritating to receive through the post something stating that a large area of one's land holding is to be an SSSI. I have never understood why one should not be asked at the very beginning. There is no question of being given the right to overthrow the whole process or anything like that, but it is irritating that nobody acknowledges that the landowner or freeholder might have something to add to the situation that would be of value. I suggest to my noble friend that this amendment is simple, short, and slots in very well here. He really should accept it. I beg to move.
§ Earl Peel
In supporting the amendment of my noble friend, I think it would be appropriate for me to speak at the same time to my own Amendment No. 64. I think I should point out that there is a basic difference between the two amendments. In the case of my noble friend's amendment it would appear to me that when an ESA designation is made it will be the responsibility of the ministry to inform all landowners, or indeed the freehold owners as he refers to them. In my amendment it would only be obligatory on the ministry to inform the landlord if an agreement were to proceed with one of his tenants.
I strongly support what my noble friend has said. I suspect that by not having this provision in the Bill the ministry has formed the principle on the basis of management agreements. But so far as concerns management agreements, one is more often than not talking about relatively small areas of land, whereas of course in the case of an ESA designation one would be talking about whole farms.
These agreements will be of great singificance not only to the tenant but also to the landlord. If a tenant were to proceed with an ESA agreement with the ministry, he may be in breach of his tenancy agreement. Furthermore, he could be asked to meet dilapidation claims at the end of the tenancy. It is absolutely imperative that the landlord is brought in right from the word "go". As things stand, the Government are talking in terms of up to five years. But if the ESAs are to be effective, it must be their intention that they carry on. If that is the case, of course the landlord has to be involved.
The provision is not strong enough. I do not think either of us would wish to press the amendment at this stage, and I am sure that the Committee is delighted to hear it, but I hope very much that the Minister will look upon the amendment favourably with a view to coming back to it at the next stage of the Bill.
§ Lord John-Mackie
We do not know how big these areas will be and how many farms there will be. It may be a major job to consult all the farms. I should have thought that the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is much better. If farmers are notified, they can 709 appeal or discuss the issue, rather than the Government consulting 30, 40 or 50 owners. Then there is the point of where the tenant comes into the picture, as the noble Earl said. I think that his amendment is worth considering and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
§ Lord Belstead
I assure both my noble friends that we have looked with great care at the two amendments. They are very important. Amendment No. 57 would impose an obligation to consult all landowners before an area was designated. That reveals my noble friend's desire to see that as a matter of common courtesy and sensible prudence the Government will listen to people living in the area and find out what they think about the area being designated. The serious point is whether a scheme in a particular area will succeed, and my noble friend put his finger on that.
I would say three things in that connection. First, already through ADAS we hear what farmers say concerning the possibility of an area being designated as an ESA. As there is a short list of 14 areas, the possible areas are well known. We have our ear to the ground in that way.
Secondly, let us not forget that the scheme should be voluntary and not compulsory. When the time comes to ask landowners and farmers whether they will join a scheme they can say yes or no. Together with the Countryside Commission we designated the Norfolk Broads. It was an entirely new idea, and we thought that it was better to do it in co-operation, but also it was the Countryside Commission and not the Government who had the power to do that. We are trying to take our powers from the Bill. We kept our ear to the ground, but we had to do much hard thinking together about the level of payments. Eventually we opted for £50 per acre, provided that the rules of the ESA of the Halvergate grazing marshes were kept. In a sense the Broads area was easier than a lot of the areas now up for designation. It had a particular kind of farming—grazing marshes. In the dales, the Derbyshire peaks or many other areas it may be low fields or high hills, it may be wetland or craggy hills.
We have taken on board what my noble friend Lord Radnor said about the absolute necessity of finding out so far as we possibly can before we designate an area whether we are liable to receive a friendly reception. My noble friend may well say to me, "All right, in that case accept my amendment." It would be a massive task. In Amendment No. 57 my noble friend is saying that the freehold owners within the area should all be consulted. That would, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said, take up quite a bit of time, energy and pen-pushing. It is something that I rather shrink from. The CLA and the NFU are aware both locally and at their headquarters of the ideas that have been proposed for the areas that are under consideration. We are in close touch with them. We shall take proper account of the advice which they are giving to us. Therefore there is no reason to fear that legitimate interests will be overlooked.
I repeat: when the moment comes nobody will be dragooned into doing anything. The scheme will be entirely voluntary. I beg my noble friend to think 710 before he forces us into going through the enormous bureaucratic exercise of consulting all landowners in an area before there is a designation.
The amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peel rightly seeks to protect the landowner's position in environmentally sensitive areas. It is a matter about which my noble friend has spoken to me outside the Chamber. We are most anxious to ensure that tenants do not sign up for this sort of agreement without their landlords' knowledge. In another place my right honourable friend the Minister of State gave an assurance that that would not happen. He said that invitations to join the environmentally sensitive area would normally be sent or taken to the farm and would therefore be received in most cases by the tenant or the owner-occupier. If the applicant were a tenant he would have to sign a declaration stating that he had notified his landlord and shown the agreement to him.
If we went through the exercise, as my noble friend asks us to in Amendment No. 64, of notifying all the landowners and inviting them to participate in drawing up the agreements, that would be the most enormous exercise. It is simpler and more efficient for the tenant to contact the landlord. If the tenant refuses to do so, he will not have his application accepted.
There may be some misunderstanding about the landlord participating in the drawing up of an agreement. All farmers in any one ESA will be offered a standard form of agreement. There is no question of tenants being asked to draw up individual agreements with the ministry. Equally therefore there would be no call for landlords to have the idea of different agreements. The essential point is for the ministry to draw up the standard agreement in a sensible way. We have been having an enormous number of consultations on that. They have included consultations with the CLA, the NFU and many others over the proposals that the NCC and the Countryside Commission have put to us. Those consultations will continue until we are sure that we have reflected all the interests concerned.
I admit openly to both my noble friends that one of the reasons why I feel that I have to resist the amendments is that once again we should be into the most enormous bureaucratic exercise in getting in touch with all landowners in both areas. I have genuinely—the Government are genuinely concerned—taken on board the need to ensure, so far as we can, that those who own land and farm, landowners and tenants, in a particular area which may be designated should be able to get their views through to us or we run the danger of making a designation and then finding that it does not work. We shall do our best to avoid that danger.
I hope that the ways in which I have tried to sketch out that we shall avoid that danger will persuade my noble friends that although the amendments have elicited a great deal of information from me, it is not necessary to press them.
§ 11 p.m.
§ The Earl of Radnor
Like my noble friend Lord Peel, I have no intention of dividing the Committee, although I might reserve the right to bring forward 711 something, should I so wish, in a slightly different form at a later stage of the Bill. The main criticism seems to be that the amendment will cause a great deal of trouble, work and bureacracy. But "consult" is a wide term. I put in the word for that reason. I did not expect that people would be running around and talking to every single person in an area that might become an ESA. I had more in mind the calling of a general public meeting, all done in contact with the NFU and the CLA, at the local hotel where the matter could be thrashed out. That would at least enable people who know the area and who live there to put their views.
I agree that the word "freehold" is perhaps unwise and that "landowners" might be better. I was tempted to suggest "freeholder". According to my reading of the Bill, houses of note, architecture and practically everything seemed to be taken into account in respect of environmentally sensitive areas. I shall say nothing more at the moment. I shall read most carefully what has been said. I do not believe, however, that it is quite the complicated operation that my noble friend feels it is. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave withdrawn.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa moved Amendment No. 58:
Page 11, line 9, at end insert—
("( ) An area designated by order under subsection (1) above shall be managed in accordance with guidelines prepared in England and Wales by the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission, and in Scotland by the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission for Scotland.")
§ The noble Lord said: This is a non-controversial amendment. I hope sincerely that my noble friend the Minister will find it helpful and constructive. Following the designation of an area, one asks what is to happen next. It appears that in a Bill which contains so much that is good and which, on balance, all of us want to reach the statute book there is an omission or a vacuum. There is no reference to the management of what I shall describe as ESAs. There is no provision for statutory bodies to contribute their input. My noble friend the Minister referred to the Broads and to the very effective and efficient follow-up in which the main statutory bodies and scientific bodies were involved. But here in the Bill there appears to be nothing. Without the amendment the vacuum remains.
§ There should be strong management teams, as in the case of the Broads. They should be small but highly effective units that have sufficient staff and resources to make the whole thing a great success. There are obviously such bodies in existence—the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, ADAS and so forth. It is necessary, I believe, to refer to this function in the Bill. I hope that my noble friend will feel that the amendment provides what is required. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Belstead can say whether the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission for Scotland are to be called in to manage. I feel that if they are, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Buxton should be accepted. This should be made clear in the Bill. If they are not to be called in, who is going to manage the areas? Is the 712 Secretary of State, through his officials, going to take it upon himself to manage the areas, which will obviously be quite considerable and will require day-to-day expertise on the spot?
§ Lord John-Mackie
The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, has a very real point here: that there has been very little word on the management of these areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, says, this could be a very big job, if 50 farms in an area are to be managed in this way.
I presume that the amendment of the noble Lord means that the advice on management is coming from these bodies, but the actual management will not be done by them. It will be by somebody from the ministry—ADAS, or some body like that. It would be very interesting to know what the Government's thoughts are on who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of what will be a fairly big job. If the ESAs are going to be managed to the extent that we have heard then it is a big job. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.
§ Lord Melchett
I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench is right that ADAS and the ministry will manage the schemes. However, what is equally important is that the provision in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, is the way that it will work. In other words, the ministry "manage" after taking advice from a number of experts, in particular the two statutory bodies which are responsible for conservation and countryside amenity, and so on. I think that that is what has happened in the Broads. I know that the Countryside Commission staff and the ADAS staff in Norwich have worked very closely together, and have consulted regularly with the Nature Conservancy Council although—rather unusually—that area is not of particular importance from its wildlife conservation interest. It is much more, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, knows, a landscape conservation area. I am quite convinced that if ESAs are to succeed it will be vital to draw on the expertise —although it will be limited initially—of the Nature Conservancy Council and Countryside Commission in drawing up the management guidelines which will then be implemented by ADAS working with the farmers concerned.
I hope that the noble Lord will accept this amendment for that reason, and because I think that it will go a very long way to reassure the many conservation interests outside this Chamber that their interests will be looked after when it comes to drawing up the management guidelines for ESAs.
§ Lord Belstead
This amendment raises a very interesting issue. On various occasions we have been asked to agree that the management prescriptions proposed by the Nature Conservancy Council and Countryside Commission should be implemented without amendment. This amendment of my noble friends Lord Buxton and Lord Onslow is saying that an area designated as an ESA shall be managed in accordance with guidelines prepared by the Nature Conservancy Council or the Countryside Commission in England, Scotland and in Wales.
We have now the recommendations of the NCC and the Countryside Commission. I am full of admiration 713 for the work that they have done to devise realistic and effective schemes of management. We have discussed the recommendations with the agencies, with farmers' representatives and with local ADAS staff. I am almost coming back to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Radnor—Amendment No. 57—in revealing that we have been in close touch with the farming community in certain areas. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council were gestating for many months and finally produced the management prescriptions for us at our request during the month of April. They were up to time and we were enormously grateful to them for doing that. These are the prescriptions as to management for the future.
We have had discussions about these recommendations that have come forward from the two statutory agencies with farmers' representatives and local ADAS staff. In the process it has emerged that, while in general the proposals which have been put forward for management fit the Bill splendidly, some of the recommendations which the NCC and the Countryside Commission have made would perhaps not attract enough farmers for a particular environmentally sensitive area to succeed. If this amendment were to be agreed to, what would we do in those circumstances? Should we leave the recommendations as they stand and accept that farmers would not come forward and voluntarily become members of the environmentally sensitive area? That would be the effect of accepting the amendment.
Turning to the second half of the debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, once the environmentally sensitive areas have been designated, how shall we keep an eye on them and manage them? As regards the Broads, which is the area which has been dealt with, we had a joint team. As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, well knows, the team was based in the ministry divisional office in Norwich; but the team was headed by a Countryside Commission officer. I understand that it worked extremely well. It did just what my noble friends have been proposing: it managed the scheme, keeping in close contact with farmers, and if there were difficulties and problems, it smoothed them out and generally acted as the agent for the givers of the grants.
In this particular case I admit that we have not proceeded as far as that. It seems most sensible for the ministry to discuss with the environmental agencies whether changes can be made to attract the farmers without sacrificing the environmental objectives. That does not mean that we shall try to undermine the proposals which the agencies put forward. On the contrary, we shall be using our good offices to try to build on their work, keeping in close touch with them throughout.
I ask that we be allowed to continue with that approach. I have to say that the NCC and the Countryside Commission are valuing the work that they are doing with us, and we are certainly valuing the work that we are doing with them. I must reveal that my information is that neither the NCC nor the Countryside Commission have pressed for this particular amendment. I hope that we have had a 714 helpful exchange and that the Committee will feel that once again I have given information which has been of some value.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
I am very grateful for that reply. I fully understand the arguments which my noble friend has put forward. However, I have one slight apprehension. I entirely agree with his notion of flexibility in order to make sure that nobody feels that he is being railroaded or overruled. I hope he will keep in mind that there is a danger that once he is seen to be too flexible in one case the buzz will get around that one does not really have to agree with this and that if one kicks up enough fuss they will either go away or change it. There is that slight danger in not having a fairly firm approach to the matter. Nevertheless, I am grateful for all that my noble friend has said and for all that he has in mind. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 59 not moved.]
Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 60:
Page 11, line 26, after ("the") insert ("amendment or")
The noble Lord said: This is purely a drafting amendment. I see nowhere in the clause the ability of the Minister to alter the order once it has been made. We have a precedent in the Wildlife and Countryside Act in Section 37(7)(b) where the Secretary of State may after consultation:
make any such amendments of any byelaws so made as may be specified in the direction.
I ask my noble friend whether there is power to amend the order, if necessary. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
An environmentally sensitive area agreement will constitute a contract between the Minister and the farmer. Contracts can of course normally be varied from time to time, but it would have to be by mutual consent. After all, if it is to be a voluntary scheme, it would have to be even-handed. If the Government were able to alter the contract, then the farmer must be able to opt out too.
Having said that, it is my great hope that we shall not see variations. I say that for these reasons. The farmer surely needs to sign an arrangement which he can be certain will be kept. The onus must surely be on the Minister and indeed the advisory bodies, to whom we have been referring in previous amendments, to get the agreements right in the first place so that farmers know what they are letting themselves in for. That is not a simple task, I know, but I think that we can do it. We have said that the agreements will generally run for about five years, and then will be subject to review. Experience with SSSIs and the like suggests that this is perfectly feasible without undue risk to the environment. Of course, that will give a break clause, as it were.
If I may go back to the beginning, my noble friend asked me a direct question: is there a power? My answer is: these agreements will be contracts. Yes, I suppose it would be possible to vary them provided it was by mutual consent; but I very much hope that we are going to have agreements which we are going to get 715 right and which can last for five-year periods before coming to the break period.
§ Lord Craigton
If the contract can be varied by mutual consent and the way this Bill is drafted that is allowed, then I am quite satisfied and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 61:
Page 11, line 34, after ("he") insert ("from time to time")
The noble Lord said: I take Amendment No. 61 with Amendment No. 62. As I read the Bill, once the NCC and the Countryside Commission have given the Minister the scheme, the NCC and the advisers are out: they have no power to look at anything that is going on; they have no power to interfere; they have no power to advise. That seems to me to be very wrong indeed. Surely, if you are going to employ an expert to lay down a scheme the Bill should enable the expert from time to time to ring up the Minister and say, "Look—this isn't going right here". That is why I put in the phrase,
such provisions as he 'from time to time' considers are likely to facilitate such conservation",
and mention subsections (1) to (3). I am sure my drafting is not perfect, but what I want to be sure is that once this scheme is going the advisers and experts have a say or are able to contact the Minister and have their say with the Minister. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
May I give my noble friend a direct and very brief answer about this? I think I have already revealed that we have not got that far; in other words, I admit to your Lordships quite openly that we have not yet decided what we ought to make arrangements for so far as detailed monitoring and management of ESAs is concerned. We have a lot of ideas so far as monitoring is concerned—for instance, aerial surveys and things of that kind—and obviously we are gradually getting our thoughts together so far as management is concerned, which is really the object of this particular amendment, but we have not got it in detail as yet. The Broads scheme has been a happy example—the co-operation between the Countryside Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture, based, as I have said, on the Norwich office—and obviously we are going to take all the evidence into account in deciding exactly how we are going to manage.
May I just add this. When my noble friend asks what is going to happen to the advisers after environmentally sensitive areas have been designated, do not let us forget that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council are the statutory environmental advisers to the Government, and nothing can take that away or prevent that. Obviously, under those circumstances, the communication between the Ministry of Agriculture—we are not, of course the sponsoring department; the Department of the Environment is—and the statutory advisers on conservation to the Government is going to be very close.
I do not think that at the moment I can be any more specific than that. I am glad my noble friend has moved this particular amendment because I think it is 716 important, and before we go very much further we are going to have to formulate our ideas more accuratly than we have so far.
§ Lord Craigton
I am grateful to my noble friend. As I read the Bill, this does not happen, and if we have his assurance that there will be continuing consultation that, of course, is what we want; that is what this amendment is all about. It is not what the Minister says in the debate; it is what the Bill says, and that the Bill should cover the point that my amendment seeks to make. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 not moved.]
§ Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 64:
Page 11, line 36, at end insert—
("( ) Prior to the making of an agreement other than with the owner of the land, the Minister shall notify the landowners and invite them to participate in drawing up the agreement; and in any event the Minister shall provide the owner with a copy of the agreement.").
§ The noble Earl said: I have spoken to this amendment already, but my noble friend was so quick in withdrawing his amendment that I failed to make one or two points and I should like to make them briefly now. First, I should like to make reference to something that my noble friend the Minister said on the question of signatures. I think my noble friend said that a tenant would be required to get his landlord's signature before an agreement would be acceptable. At what stage will that signature be sought? Will it be at the beginning of the consultation or at the end of the consultation? Obviously there is a tremendous difference between the two.
§ Particularly so far as SSSIs are concerned, the Nature Conservancy Council is obliged to inform the landlord as well as any tenant. That is another reason why in this case the ministry ought to have an obligation to inform the landlord. We have discussed this matter, and I am going to withdraw the amendment, but perhaps my noble friend will respond to those points. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
My noble friend asked me a direct question about what moment in the consultations on ESA designation will the tenant applicant have to sign a declaration stating that he had notified his landlord and shown the agreement to him. The answer to that is that it will be when we approach the tenants before they send back the agreement. If they have not notified their landlord, and have not shown the agreement to the landlord, they will not have their application accepted.
Although my noble friend, because of the time, did not go into it, he is worried about land values and rent levels so far as landlords are concerned. The ESA agreements and the value of the holding are something we do not need to get worried about. Let us remember that these agreements are going to be voluntary. Farmers will enter them only if the terms make good financial sense. In any environmentally sensitive area we shall offer agreements to owner-occupiers as well as tenants. We shall therefore have to make sure that from all angles the terms we devise are financially realistic. Few owner-occupiers are going to volunteer 717 to join a scheme that reduces the value of their land. May I leave it there for this evening?
§ Earl Peel
I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. I think I can speak for my noble friend Lord Radnor in saying that we are not happy about this. We feel that there ought to be an obligation on the Minister to inform the landlord. I am not going to say any more on that now. We shall return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 65:
Page 11, line 38, leave out ("as respects any land") and insert ("with any person interested in any land in England and Wales").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 65 and I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 66. It has been represented to us that for agreements to be binding on successors in title to the land might not cover any person who, say, succeeded to rights in common land. For this reason we are proposing to amend the provision in this clause, in subsection (7), so that the agreement would be binding on any person deriving title under, or from, a person with an interest in the land who had entered into an agreement. This amendment also limits the provisions to England and Wales, as separate parallel provisions for Scotland have been included in the new clause. This is essentially a technical amendment and reflects the provisions of Section 39(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which relate to management agreements. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 66:
§ Page 11, line 39, leave out from ("title") to ("and") in line 40 and insert ("under or from that person")
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I think perhaps we have made enough progress in the Committee for this evening. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes before midnight.