§ 4.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved. That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 13 [Designation and management of environmentally sensitive areas]:
§ Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 67:
Page 11, line 41, at end insert—
("( ) Any person having an interest in agricultural land within an area designated by order under subsection (1), and who wishes to make an application for capital grant, should notify the Minister in writing not less than four weeks before commencement of the eligible works, specifying the nature of the work, and the land on which it is proposed that the works be carried out; and not more than four weeks after receipt of such notification the Minister shall indicate to the applicant in writing whether capital grant shall be made available; and the Minister may reduce or withhold any capital grant if the execution of grant aidable works appears to the Minister to be likely to be contrary to the objectives of an ESA, as laid out in subsection(1) above.")
§ The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendment No. 67 is to require prior notification for capital grants within environmentally sensitive areas. Capital grant aid for certain works will still be available to farmers within ESAs and some of the work which they might do could undermine the integrity of the new environmentally sensitive area criteria. The Minister has power to refuse grant on environmental grounds, but only after the damage has taken place, as I understand it.1048
§ If that is so—and perhaps the Minister will put me right on it—it seems to me that this amendment is essential because it would enable the Minister to assess the impact of proposed works and ensure that they are compatible with the spirit of the ESA before they actually take place. These new designations are of such national importance that I feel that the Minister would want to know about any works that are proposed that could affect the character of the area in which the work takes place. I beg to move.
§ Lord Sandford
Amendment No. 67, which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has just moved, relates to capital grants for farming in ESAs. Most experience in balancing the farming need for such grants with environmental considerations has been acquired so far under the special arrangements for prior notification relating to national parks under the AHGS scheme of 1st October 1980. There has been, as well as the experience, notable success in quickly negotiating in individual cases a balance between what the farmer wants and what the national park authority wants. My belief (and I think it is widely shared) is that that success is due in no small measure to the existence of national park plans; the official, agreed, authoritative background to all such negotiations. Clause 13 is quite different. It relates to grants for farm management agreements in ESAs, not national parks; and I am sure that we all wish them well. There is no experience as vet in negotiating such agreements in the context of an ESA.
For the setting up of ESAs, Clause 13 prescribes at subsection (3) that there should be certain mandatory consultations between MAFF, the Nature Conservation Council and the Countryside Commission, as appropriate. Later on, in subsection (5) it prescribes certain options which are open to MAFF about the prescription of certain practices which they will want to control and limit by way of these agreements. There is nothing yet in the Bill that I can see which anticipates or corresponds to Circular 65/74, which laid down in some detail the purposes with which national park plans were to deal and the procedures of local and national consultation much wider and much more local than those mentioned in the Bill so far, which have been an essential part of the establishment of these plans: consultation and public participation.
I should like to ask my noble friend a question. Perhaps he would find it more convenient if I were to raise it on the Motion that the clause stand part, as there may be some danger of swamping the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. However, this seems to me the moment for posing the question for the first time. The question is: if the ESAs are not all going to be in national parks—and I understand that is not the case—can we have an assurance that guidance of the same order of detail, thoroughness and precision, involving consultations and participation of roughly the same order, will follow this Bill?—because unless plans of that character are on the ground in the ESAs I think the negotiating of those agreements will not be anything like so successful as it has been in the case of capital grants under the AHGS of October 1980.
1049 That is the question which it seems to me is raised in connection with this amendment, but I shall be quite content if my noble friend feels that it would be better to answer it on the Motion that the clause stand part.
§ Lord John-Mackie
Surely if ESAs are to work properly this amendment of my noble friend should not be necessary. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us today how the ESAs are to be managed, and when we know that we shall be able to judge whether this amendment is required. That is the main point I should like to make. This is a perfectly good amendment and will do no harm, but if it is unnecessary and if the management is right there is no sense in cluttering up the Bill more than it is at the present moment.
§ Lord Belstead
I think this amendment raises an important issue and it is one to which we have given a great deal of thought. It is of course to be expected that some farmers within an environmentally sensitive area will wish to carry out improvements to their holdings. Perhaps I may say first of all that the amendment does not seek to prevent capital grants in order to try to make improvements. It tries to ensure that such improvements will be entirely within the spirit of the ESA and will pose no environmental problems.
I should like to make it clear that I entirely share the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in that respect; that grant-aided improvements should not be encouraged. Indeed, on any analysis I am very ready to say that it makes no sense at all for the Ministry to spend money on the one hand to protect an area while simultaneously undermining it with money from the other. I could not defend—nor shall I try—such a contradictory misuse of public funds. I would therefore like to give an assurance to the Committee that we shall do everything within our power to prevent such a conflict arising. On behalf of my right honourable friend, I certainly intend to make sure that those who are responsible for the management of the environmentally sensitive areas are alive to the dangers in this particular respect.
Having said that, with great respect I thought that the noble Baroness was under a misapprehension when she said it was her understanding that under the existing arrangements there was no way of preventing a damaging operation being undertaken before it was done and being able to claim grant. May I make it absolutely clear that under the agriculture improvement scheme almost all investments have to be approved by the Minister before work starts, if capital grant is to be claimed? In other words, the introduction of the AIS has brought us back to prior approval of a scheme. That goes for drainage, farm buildings, roads, fences and all the standard agricultural investments. The only work which does not require such approval is conservation work and some investments in energy-saving devices and horticulture, which are among the very few operations that are left in the national part of the AIS that was introduced at the end of last year.
Therefore in respect of all the investments which are likely to be of the greatest concern we already get prior notice of the work involved, and all the work done 1050 under an investment plan has to be approved in advance. We have specifically asked farmers to say on their approval form whether their work is likely to damage hedges, trees and water features. If we do not like what the farmer has in mind we have legal powers in the statutory instrument to refuse grants under the AIS, on environmental grounds. We shall use those powers wherever necessary in an environmentally sensitive area in order to avoid the misuse of funds to which I have referred.
I must also say that although I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment, I think there are practical difficulties about operating it as it stands. Indeed, if I did not think that, I should not have spent the last few minutes saying what I have said. May I explain what I mean about difficulties? In some cases we would simply be unable to meet the proposed four-week deadline. That is not for bureaucratic reasons but for much more fundamental ones: that is, because it is often sensible, as we all know, to consider with the farmer concerned whether he can achieve similar results without in fact damaging the environment.
My noble friend Lord Sandford spoke about national park authorities. Of course those authorities already do this under Section 41 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act; but it is a process which can sometimes take time. In other respects, too, I think this amendment would lead to difficulties. Farmers already have to pre-notify us of planned investments and if they are in a national park they have to notify the park authority. The amendment does not make clear how such a farmer would fit his various obligations together if his farm were also within an environmentally sensitive area. In other words. I am saying that in a way we are putting another layer of safeguards on top of a layer which already exists if we are talking about farms which are partly in a national park; and I am advised that there would be some other legal difficulties.
Perhaps I may say just two more things, one to the noble Lord opposite, Lord John-Mackie, who said that it really is desirable to consider how environmentally sensitive areas are going to be managed if we are to consider this amendment. If I may say so, we come to that on the next but one amendment, Amendment No. 69, which I think the noble Baroness has agreed might be taken with Amendment No. 68, because in Amendment No. 69 the noble Baroness is providing as a statutory duty that there should be a nominated person to administer an environmentally sensitive area and that he should seek advice from the Secretary of State for the Environment and the NCC and the Countryside Commission.
If the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, will forgive me, I would rather debate that when we come to Amendment No. 69, so may I simply content myself at this moment with saying that so far as the detailed management prescriptions for environmentally sensitive areas are concerned, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the Countryside Commission and the NCC have put up detailed proposals to us, and we are continuing to have some discussion and thinking a great deal about those management prescriptions. We are not yet ready to say how we feel the environmentally sensitive areas ought to be managed in that kind of way. Indeed, I am not sure that we are going to 1051 be able to have a rule of thumb because the environmentally sensitive areas are going to be so different. That is half the point of designating different ones, which may be what the noble Lord is after: is the Ministry going to have one particular officer in charge who will be the lead officer? That is precisely the point which is being made in Amendment No. 69. May I reveal here and now, just before we get to the amendment, that for certain technical reasons we see some difficulty in that particular concept, although we need to have a good idea about exactly how we are going to monitor; but I think to have one particular officer is going to be difficult.
May I say to my noble friend Lord Sandford that he asked me a straight question and I will try, if I may, on the Question whether the clause should stand part, to give him a straight answer. As I understood it, what my noble friend was saying to me in essence was: are we going to provide for exactly the same consultation arrangements when a farmer in a national park wants to apply for a capital grant? Will we impose exactly the same consultation arrangements for the environmentally sensitive areas? As I understood it, that was my noble friend's question.
§ Lord Sandford
I wonder whether I may interrupt my noble friend, because I am sorry if I gave him that impression. The question I was asking was: can we have more information? Can we be told the processes by which the Ministry of Agriculture are going to achieve documents broadly equivalent to the national park plans which have contributed to the rapid and straightforward negotiation of agreements with farmers in national parks, which were set out in Circular No. 6574 and which have led to the production of those plans? That involved consultation between the national parks authority, the NFU, the CLA, district councils, etc., and a fairly extensive degree of public participation, resulting in a plan which is reviewed every five years. Something along those lines, mutatis mutandis, is going to be needed for each ESA if the same rapid success in negotiating agreements, balancing farming and environmental issues, is going to be achieved in the ESAs in respect of management agreements. That is the question, and I will put it again.
§ Lord Belstead
I have to admit to my noble friend that those who advise me are very much quicker on the uptake than I am, and I should like to try to reply to my noble friend in this way. I would agree with my noble friend that in judging the suitability of a grant proposal we shall need to have a proper strategy for each area. My noble friend referred, and has referred again, to national park plans. As to environmentally sensitive areas, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have already provided us with an analysis of each area. This analysis surveys the environmental value of each area—these are the areas which they recommended, of course—and the agricultural threat to each area. Each analysis from the NCC and the Countryside Commission runs to several pages and constitutes a proposed plan for the area. We intend to draw on these in managing the environmentally sensitive area in each case, and we shall be in 1052 constant touch with the statutory conservation advisers.
I should like to give an undertaking, which I had intended to give on the subsequent amendment, that on my right honourable friend's behalf I am going to make sure that from the Ministry point of view we stick to that particular assurance. I think, therefore, that the Ministry is going to have just the sort of plan available which my noble friend is requesting. As the environmentally sensitive areas progress we shall regularly consult local authorities and other bodies in the area. Indeed, we shall be in touch with these organisations before the environmentally sensitive areas come into force, as we draft the designation orders setting out the overall objectives and desired management prescriptions for each ESA.
I hope my noble friend may think that is very much the sort of procedure which he had in mind in asking his question. I am sorry that I made him ask it twice, and I trust that he will find that particular answer reassuring.
§ Lord John-Mackie
I have just a small point. Would it not be nicer to use the words "agricultural change" rather than "agricultural threat"?
§ Lord Belstead
May I just say, before the noble Baroness speaks, that I am grateful to the noble Lord for those words, because in my heart I feel very much as he does; but perhaps I ought to reveal that at least a year ago I remember talking to environmental organisations and one of the obvious questions which came up was, "How are you going to designate?" This was long before we had got down to the short list of 14 which had come from the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. The NCC and the Countryside Commission were still considering matters and had, I know, a list which was very much longer than that. One of the things which I sought to say in reply when I was talking to the voluntary organisations was that I felt the jeopardy of an area was something which would count with us in deciding at the end of the day which areas ought to come up first for designation and which ought not. Having said that, I do not think I can quarrel too much with the word "threat". Nonetheless, I am glad the noble Lord raised the point, but I am glad that I have had an opportunity to explain also what was in the Government's mind so far as jeopardy is concerned.
§ Baroness Nicol
I am almost reassured, but I should like to clear up one or two points. Are there any circumstances in which a retrospective grant might be applied for? There might then be a danger of work being done which would not normally have been approved. Also, is it not so that there will be some ESAs that are outside national parks and areas with other protections? Would it not therefore be sensible to have this other layer of protection in those cases?
I understand the noble Minister's criticism of the wording of the amendment, and perhaps we could forget that for the moment, but if he accepts the principle would he not think it was a good idea to have this other layer of protection for areas outside the national parks?
§ Lord Belstead
If I may try to take the two questions which the noble Baroness has put to me, it is a fact that so far as national parks are concerned, as my noble friend Lord Sandford knows very well, you do get cases where there is a retrospective claim for a grant, and we have to look at them extremely carefully. I should like to think about that one, if I may, before the next stage of the Bill.
So far as the noble Baroness's second question is concerned, I think we come back to the heart of the matter. The noble Baroness is asking me: because some of the environmentally sensitive areas will have nothing to do with national parks—and indeed they will not, I am sure—and large areas of the environmentally sensitive areas will not be designated in any other way, would it not therefore be wise to have the protection of this amendment?
The answer which I have sought to give to the Committee this afternoon is that under the agriculture improvement scheme, the AIS, which was introduced at the very end of last year, we went back to prior approval because it was part of the system which we had to introduce under the regulation. Under the system which we have at the moment, before work starts there has to be approval by the Minister if capital grant is to be claimed.That means that for such things as drainage, farm buildings, roads and fences—all the standard agricultural investments—we have to say when we look at the plan that we are prepared on environmental grounds to give a grant before the work is started. So it is pre hoc, as it were, and not post hoc.
Let me come absolutely clean. There is nothing under the proposals which the Government are putting forward, and nothing in the concept of the environmentally sensitive areas as they have been put into the Bill at the moment, which could prevent somebody from doing something which would be against the objectives of an environmentally sensitive area if he did not claim grant. But the noble Baroness, very fairly, is not seeking to deal with that in her amendment.
§ Baroness Nicol
I accept the answer which the Minister has given. I look forward to reading his reply with care and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 68:
Page 11, line 41, at end insert—
("( ) In consultation with the persons referred to in subsection (3) above, the Minister shall—
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 68, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 69. May I say before I start that the Minister has developed a new and disarming technique of answering one's amendment before it has been moved, which makes it rather difficult when you come on to the moving of it. However, I shall try to take note of some of the things he said.
§ Amendment No. 68 is a probing amendment because, as has already been indicated by several things that have been said this afternoon and earlier, 1054 we are not at all clear about how these areas are to be monitored. But we feel that the monitoring will be necessary to determine whether the schemes are meeting the objectives and that we cannot wait until the end of the scheme, which I understand will be five years in the first instance, before we discover whether or not anything is going wrong. We do not want it to be simply a question of money being paid out at regular intervals without any feedback from what is happening in the area.
§ So we feel that data must be collected on the landscape, wildlife and archaeological interests in the area both before and during the scheme, and that it should be done for farms which are participating as well as for those that are not, so that comparisons can be made about whether or not a scheme is worth while. This amendment makes provision for that arrangement and for consultation with the NCC and the Countryside Commission.
§ On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley drew attention to the need for watching what is happening. In fact he asked for supervision, which was a stronger request than this amendment, which is more modestly simply asking for monitoring. He pointed out that there should be adequate supervision of the payments that were being made and asked for an assurance that supervisory staff would be funded for these areas. I feel it is essential that the progress of the scheme should be watched and that at the end of, say, a year there should be a report available for scrutiny, not just within the department but for those of us who are interested.
§ I should now like to come to Amendment No. 69. There is in fact an area of overlap, because Amendment No. 69 again is concerned with the progress of the ESA and how it shall be managed. This amendment would put an officer in the agriculture department in charge of each ESA to provide a focus of responsibility and guidance during the life of the designation. We feel that this would be of enormous help to farmers who would have a named individual to go to, who would be able to help them to benefit fully from the terms of the ESA. This officer, who should be at a responsible level, would be well placed to balance the objectives of the ESA and perhaps to foresee difficulties.
§ I have specified his duties in paragraphs (a) and (b). Paragraph (b) ensures that the statutory conservation agencies are involved in drawing up management schemes. We have already had an answer from the Minister twice on this and his answers in reply to Amendment No. 58, although we do not like them very much, are perfectly acceptable. But paragraph (b) is a much softer requirement than that of Amendment No. 58. It merely requires that the designated officer should consult with the NCC and with the Countryside Commission as the need arises.
§ I think he may well do this, even without having it on the face of the Bill. Nevertheless, I think it would be useful to make it a statutory requirement. It seems sensible, especially at the very beginning of this scheme, that the enormous expertise of the NCC and the Countryside Commission should be available to make sure that the scheme succeeds. The time may well come when that expertise is in the agriculture department, but that time is probably not yet and I 1055 think that this amendment would meet all those arguments. I beg to move.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I should like to support the noble Baroness's amendment, partly for the reasons she has already mentioned. But may I refer to the broad scheme that has been very successful for a lot of reasons; but possibly the greatest reason is that there was an extremely good person in the form of, I think, Keith Turner, who ran it and co-operated and made sure that all the farmers came in. I am most anxious to see these ESAs getting off the ground, and I go along with my noble friend on the Front Bench in that I would prefer to see fewer rather than more, in order that those we start are properly monitored and controlled. I do not want to see them exploited and I think that the noble Baroness's amendment would help in this way. I am not too worried about whether the detail is right. It is the philosophy behind it which is vitally important.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I too should like to support this amendment. If we do not have something like this amendment, then we shall be like somebody building an aeroplane, letting it fly and leaving out the pilot. I also have some slight hankerings after imperialism and on this occasion it seems that I am a Ministry of Agriculture imperialist. I want them to be the department that has most to do with looking after the countryside and having a countryside policy. If they can show that they can run ESAs well, and if some of their excellent staff can have their minds changed from maximising food production to looking after the countryside at the same time, they are the best people to do it. That is why I support the amendment.
§ The Earl of Radnor
I too should like to support this amendment. If we are going to have ESAs, then obviously it would be a tremendous "miss" not to monitor them, to learn from them and to make them work properly. I enter this debate only to remind my noble friend on the Front Bench of an amendment of mine on Monday, just before we all went home, which was to expand subsection (3). If we are going to have this Amendment No. 68, it becomes even more vital to expand subsection (3) to include either freeholders or landowners. All through this Bill, the farmer and the landowner seem to get pushed into the background and here they are completely left out. If it was discourteous not to have them in at the beginning of subsection (3) to start the ESAs, it must be stupid not to have them in to help tell how things are going.
§ Lord Walston
I cannot allow all the support for the amendment of the noble Baroness to come from the other side of the Committee, so, perhaps somewhat unaccustomedly, I shall join noble Lords opposite in urging the Government to accept both these amendments. They are good in themselves because it is important that the new provisions should be watched carefully to see how they in fact work out. But there is also an additional advantage in that ESAs will undoubtedly—we hope rapidly—be increased, and there will be larger areas. Valuable lessons can be 1056 learned from seeing how it works in the first place and how these various provisions will help the Ministry in that job. Even though it may put an additional burden on an already overstrained service—indeed, it will do so—I hope the Minister will agree that this is a well worth while burden which will have long-lasting effects and will help to promote the objectives of the Bill itself.
§ Lord Melchett
I should like to support both my noble friend's amendments. Amendment No. 68 is so uncontroversial and sensible that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will have no difficulty. I should therefore just like to say a word about Amendment No. 69. The noble Lord has already given us an indication that he is not very happy about the first part of Amendment No. 69—the nominated officer point. I do not know whether my noble friend will agree, but I think there is an important point there. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, said, there should be somebody of reasonable qualification and experience in charge in each ESA so that everyone knows—particularly the farmers and landowners in this case—who is in charge of the operation and who they can get on the phone and talk to if there is some problem.
Amendment No. 69 contains a very important second part—namely, that in managing the ESA those responsible should consult from time to time the advice of people mentioned in subsection (3), which includes the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has let us know that he is not too happy with the first part of Amendment No. 69, I should like to ask him to direct his attention to the second part because, among the various other things with which I strongly agree and which noble Lords on all sides of the Committee have supported in these two amendments, is that it is vital that there should be continuing involvement of the two statutory agencies in management and monitoring as the ESAs go along. We are bound to learn an awful lot as we go on with these. The idea that the Countryside Commission and the NCC should simply have a statutory remit for, as it were, drawing the lines on the map to begin with and then be forgotten about I am sure is not in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and I am sure would not work out, either.
Perhaps I could say one other thing to the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, about the involvement of farmers and landowners. As ESAs are voluntary and people come in only if they agree to it, it is physically impossible to do anything in an ESA from the point of view of managing the land without the farmer and landowner agreeing. So it is a little unnecessary to write them into the Bill. The whole thing happens only if they say it is going to happen and if they agree to it. But that is not of course true of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission when it comes to the management prescriptions. I hope that the second part of Amendment No. 69 will be acceptable.
§ The Earl of Radnor
The amendment does say "consultation". I was thinking of getting their views and making use of the landowners and farmers, and not just of the starkness of an agreement.
§ Lord Melchett
I merely make the point that I think it would be impossible for that not to happen. It is impossible to envisage circumstances where it could not happen. But there is a real worry about the involvement of the NCC and the Countryside Commission, with which Amendment No. 69 would deal.
§ Baroness White
If we are discussing the administration of environmentally sensitive areas, I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten me on subsection (4). Is there any danger under this type of management agreement of the kind of difficulties which have arisen over other management agreements, as now revealed in the Gould Report?
§ Lord Belstead
I must confess to the noble Baroness that I could not hear the question. Will she put it again?
§ Baroness White
I was, just inquiring whether, under the kind of management agreements and the payments made in relation to them under subsection (4), there could be any danger of the kind of difficulties which have arisen over other management agreement arrangements, as reported by Laurence Gould.
§ Lord John-Mackie
As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, we are delighted to have support for my noble friend's amendment from so many noble Lords on the other side of the Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, there is' no sense in having something like this, which is a completely new concept in environmental issues, if we do not know how it is working. Amendment No. 68 is an essential part of it. We look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about Amendment No. 69. As my noble friend said, he has half answered it already but we should like it expanded on a little more.
One point in these two amendments and in Amendment No. 69A rather intrigues me. Subsection (3) speaks about the guidance of persons. Is it not the guidance of bodies, and not persons? It is bodies that are mentioned, not people. I should have thought that "persons" should be "bodies", but I may be wrong.
§ Lord Belstead
Perhaps I may first take Amendment No. 68, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the effect of which will be to monitor the effects of designation as environmentally sensitive areas and to make an annual report to Parliament. I have no trouble at all in giving the noble Baroness an assurance that this is going to happen because, first of all, the European Commission will require us to do so. I have no doubt from the debate we have had in the last 10 minutes or quarter of an hour that Parliament will question the Government regularly on how the matter is going. For our part, we have not entered lightly into the issues which environmentally sensitive areas raise. We are fully aware of the importance which Parliament attaches to this clause and to the principle of Ministers of Agriculture tackling these issues. The clause is 1058 widely seen as a new initiative and we know that our effectiveness in implementing it will be closely scrutinised. We intend to make sure that we pass that scrutiny.
I confess that I should very much like to put on the face of the Bill something to fulfil the proposal which the noble Baroness puts into Amendment No. 68 about monitoring. If when the moment comes the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment with an assurance that I shall use my best endeavours to come forward with something which will futil that assurance, I should be very ready to give it. I must confess that I am not quite so enthusiastic about the reports to Parliament, for a very simple reason. It has nothing to do with trying to prevent Parliament questioning and cross-questioning the particular government department on the issue because clearly Parliament is going to do that. But an annual paper exercise covering each of the designated ESAs is not necessarily the best way to achieve this, and we are going to end up with quite a fairly formal heavy report. Noble Lords have not mentioned this yet in our debates but if, as I know many people hope, it were possible to extend the number of ESAs in future, we should end up with a statutory provision which would lead to an absolutely massive document.
Before I answer the individual questions, perhaps I may go to Amendment No. 69, to which the noble Baroness was speaking as well.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Before my noble friend continues, perhaps I may take him up a little more on this reporting business? It is important that there should be some form of discussion document from the Ministry as to how it sees the ESAs continuing. Perhaps it does not have to be a detailed annual report every time, but there should be something. If my noble friend could see some way of producing some information for us I am sure that most of us would appreciate it.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
I will take that point away and think about it. I have gone quite a long way down the track on Amendment No. 68 by saying that I should like to put something on the face of the Bill to provide that there will be monitoring, so that one will be able to look at the Bill and say, "Yes, there will he monitoring".
The wording I used was that I would use my best endeavours. I do not know yet whether the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will respond favourably. If the Government use their best endeavours and succeed, then that would take us past the position to which several noble Lords have drawn attention, including my noble friend Lord Craigton during a previous sitting of this Committee. On that occasion my noble friend said it seemed that designation was almost the end of the matter and that provisions were not being made after designation.
If I can fulfil an undertaking to the noble Baroness about monitoring, then the Committee will know that there is a genuine intention and indeed a statutory provision that there will be an ongoing look at how the environmentally sensitive areas are working. And let us face it: if there is monitoring then there are bound 1059 to be written reports produced from time to time, without perhaps the rather heavy statutory provision of an annual report to Parliament.
Amendment No. 69 is different, and it is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has drawn particular attention. The effect of Amendment No. 69 would be to place a statutory duty on agricultural Ministers to nominate a particular person to administer each environmentally sensitive area who would seek advice from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Countryside Commission, and the Nature Conservancy Council.
I hope that there is the feeling that I divined once or twice before this Bill came to your Lordships' House—that it is not anybody's intention simply to draw up a set of rules and leave clerical staff to run the schemes. I give an assurance (and this arises particularly from what was said by my noble friend Lord Onslow in his first speech) that we will be actively involved in running the schemes from day to day. Staff from the Ministry will certainly devote very considerable energy to recruiting applicants and helping the farmers concerned to understand and operate the right management methods. We are enormously grateful to the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council for putting proposals to us on statutory prescriptions, about which we are still thinking and having informal discussions.
In general, it would also be our intention to identify a lead officer in the local advisory service to oversee each scheme and to make it work. My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley is absolutely right in saying that that arrangement worked excellently in the case of the Halvergate Marshes area, where the co-operation between the Countryside Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture worked exceedingly well, with a lead officer making it all the more successful.
At this early stage, however, I have to say that to put into the statute that we must have a lead officer when some of the proposed environmentally sensitive areas will possibly be very large, and may encompass very different types of agriculture, would be to try to assume that some of the ESAs will be similar to Halvergate when they are not. Halvergate is likely to be smaller in size by comparison; and there we were aiming to solve one particular problem, which was to see to it that the grazing marsh concept was continued and was not placed in jeopardy. For that reason, I am resistant to the idea of putting into the statute that there shall be a single lead officer.
However, I give the Committee an assurance today in response to this amendment that I shall ensure, on my right honourable friend's behalf, that the officers concerned with the management of environmentally sensitive areas will be in regular contact with the conservation agencies, both statutory and voluntary. Incidentally, if I may say so again rather gently, it would be unusual in primary legislation to specify the way that staff ought to be deployed. That is something that would surprise people in reading an Act, and we ought to think about that point before we press on with Amendment No. 69.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, asked me whether it would be that the payment of moneys under the ESA 1060 concept could run into problems, to which the noble Baroness understood the Laurence Gould Report had drawn attention, in so far as the financing of sites of special scientific interest are concerned. I am by no means sure that the newspaper accounts about the Gould Report are accurate. Indeed, I am fairly certain that they are not. But as a copy of the Gould Report has been placed, I understand, in the Library of both Houses of Parliament, then it will be for the Committee to decide whether or not I am accurate in my remarks. At any rate, we in the Government are still studying the Gould Report.
In essence, the answer to the question of the noble Baroness is that we need not have any fear that there will be problems of the kind that the Gould Report is alleged to have suggested but which I do not think it has—that there may be over-payments. Environmentally sensitive areas are not on the same basis as NCC agreements, to which the Gould Report refers. The ESA payments will be incentives rather than compensation for profits forgone. So the whole basis of the question of the noble Baroness relates to the payment of moneys made on two wholly different bases.
I will give just one example of a large ESA where it would be difficult to have a single lead officer. I will do so because the Committee might think that I was just trying to trot out an excuse. One could take the South Downs, which have been put forward—and I underline the fact that they have not, repeat not, been included in any kind of list that the Ministry may have drawn up, because we have not drawn up any list at the moment. We are still considering the very interesting lists that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have put to us.
If one takes the South Downs area, which appears in those lists, it is one that straddles three counties and more than one office of the Ministry of Agriculture. If one were to start talking about the appointment of just one lead officer in that particular area, he would have a very different job from that of the lead officer who had his hands absolutely full so far as the Halvergate Marshes were concerned. It is for that reason—and I wanted to give that example—that I find some difficulty with Amendment No. 69.
§ Baroness Nicol
Perhaps we may get Amendment No. 68 out of the way first and then return briefly to Amendment No. 69. I am more than happy to accept the Minister's assurance on Amendment No. 68, and beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 69:
Page 12, line 2, at end insert—
("( ) The Minister shall nominate for each area designated by order under this section one member of his staff ("the nominated officer") who shall have special responsibilities for the administration of the provisions and requirements specified in the order, which shall in particular include—
§ The noble Baroness said: I shall move Amendment No. 69 because there are still a few points to be made about it. The Minister has an advantage because most of us have no idea which areas are to be designated, how large they will be, or anything else about them. I know that a list has been discussed and I have heard certain place names mentioned, but I personally have no idea of the size of areas that will be involved.
§ It still seems to me that even in a very large area it would be of benefit to have some point of focus for questions and inquiries of all kinds, as well as for the giving of advice. I see no reason why there should not be a head of a team who could provide an identity for the farmers in his area, and with whom they could get in touch. I will give way to any more experienced Member of the Committee who may wish to speak to this amendment, because there are others here who have much more knowledge than I of the practicalities. I beg to move.
§ Lord Melchett
If I may say so to my noble friend Lady Nicol, the noble Lord the Minister is right to say that it would he unusual to put into the statute how staff at the Ministry should be deployed. There might come a stage where there was an ESA where it would be sensible to split it into two sub-divisions and to have different persons in charge of each part, particularly if the area straddled a county boundary, or something of that kind.
It would be helpful if the noble Lord could go slightly further than he has already and indicate the kind of staff level at the Ministry who will be responsible for managing the ESAs. As the noble Lord knows, there was some concern—and he repeated it earlier this afternoon—that it would simply be a question of leaving a couple of clerical officers (I have nothing against clerical officers) to look at the forms and put a stamp on them as they came in from farmers. I think that everyone agrees that much more sophisticated management of ESAs will be needed, with more skilled and experienced people involved in them.
On a second point, again I am grateful for the assurance given by the noble Lord—I think it is the first time such an assurance has been given on behalf of the Government—that the NCC and the Countryside Commission will be consulted on the continuing management of ESAs. I do not want to make a big issue on this, but will the Minister consider between now and Report whether it might be useful to have that narrow point—not the point about staff—about consultation with the NCC and the Countryside Commission on the face of the Bill?
§ Lord Belstead
As regards the second point, I shall think about that and perhaps the noble Lord would like to do so too. I gave an assurance though I did not say that I felt this ought to be written into the Bill. The noble Lord was good enough to say that he felt it was a valuable assurance. Perhaps I can think about the matter between now and Report and possibly the noble Lord and I can have a discussion.
The noble Lord asked what the level of management would be so far as the Ministry is concerned. Normally a senior surveyor or a divisional surveyor would be involved. That is at least the level we appointed for the 1062 Broads. May I say that I know, because I visited the area, that it was because of the co-operation between the surveying side in the Ministry and the lead side in the Countryside Commission that Halvergate has been the success that it has.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I support my friend—my political and real noble friend—on this matter. Once we have had the assertion from him that he will put on the face of the Bill that there is going to be proper supervision of these ESAs it follows, as night follows day, that there will be some human being, a Sir Humphrey or Humphreyette, in the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for them.
§ Baroness Nicol
I think we must all do more thinking before we come to the Report stage. I am reassured to a large extent by what the Minister said but I should like to consider more carefully the suggestions he made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Moran moved Amendment No, 69A:
Page 12, line 2, at end insert—
("( ) Where an application for grant under a forestry grant scheme made under the Forestry Acts 1967–79 is made as respects expenditure to be incurred within an area designated by Order under subsection (1) above the appropriate Minister shall consult with the persons mentioned in subsection (3) as to the desirability of the forestry proposal and its compatibility with the maintenance and enhancement of the interest by reason of which the area was so designated.
( ) Where in the opinion of one or more of the persons mentioned in subsection (3) the forestry proposal will have an adverse effect on the interest by reason of which the area was so designated the Minister shall not make the grant.").
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this amendment is to try to ensure that any grant-aided forestry operations in environmentally sensitive areas do not conflict with the declared purposes of those areas. It seeks to make grant aid for forestry subject to consultation with, and the approval of, the persons listed in Clause 13(3)—that is, principally the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. It aims to ensure that any forestry carried out would not be damaging to the landscape or to nature conservation in an ESA and it provides that where the Government's own advisory bodies consider that any particular forestry proposals would be damaging the Minister should withhold grant.
§ Forestry is at present briefly mentioned in Clause 13(8). However, as I read it, this only deals with the dedication schemes which I believe were closed to new entrants in 1981. Since then I think only the forestry grant scheme has been available to new applicants, though existing dedication schemes can continue and can be renewed. Therefore Clause 13 does not at present cover new planting proposals. I think that it should.
§ Unless something on the lines of this amendment can be included we shall be leaving a serious loophole which might permit uncontrolled afforestation in some ESAs which could do serious damage to them and, indeed, to the whole concept. If, say, an area of 1063 open heather-covered moorland should be designated as an ESA I take it that farming in such an area would be managed in such a way as to avoid changing its character, damaging its scenery or its nature conservation importance. It seems to me important that there should be at least equal restraints on forestry operations.
§ Commercial forestry can and does change landscapes beyond recognition. It too involves ploughing and draining land and often converts semi-natural upland heather or grass moors into dense stands of alien conifers. The merlins, golden plover and ring ouzels all disappear. In some of the areas at present shortlisted for likely designations as ESAs, the most significant threat to wildlife and landscape may come from afforestation. For example, all the shortlisted areas in Wales could be affected by forestry. In the Cambrian mountains forestry grant applications have been coming forward at the rate of almost one a month. The benefits derived from farming practices encouraged by the Bill may, if we are not careful, be outweighed by large-scale forestry activities.
§ New developments since the debates in another place suggest that the assurances then given, that the Forestry Commission would treat ESAs in the same way as SSSIs or national parks, may not be quite enough. These assurances will not cover the actions of the private sector where forestry companies will have the option of avoiding any scrutiny by the Forestry Commission by planting without grant. This has happened already and could happen again.
§ The safeguards offered are the same procedures which have, I understand, allowed some 20 per cent. of the Northumberland National Park to be afforested. These procedures do not appear to be fully satisfactory. They are not, I suggest, good enough as a safeguard for the ESAs—hence my amendment. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I do not think it is possible to support this amendment more strongly. To think that there could be an environmentally sensitive area and then, without any by your leave or with your leave, you can plonk down barracks of grant-aided conifer trees which are only profitable because of the tax allowances seems to me to make it totally impossible to run an environmentally sensitive area unless forestry is included, and included right up to the hilt.
Last weekend I saw some really mind-blowingly beautiful forests: 10,000 hectares of old beech and oak forests in Normandy. If we were to have that I would say that it almost does not need any kind of control, but those are not the forests we get here. We have blocks of conifer timbers and all are planted with straight wire fences down them. If my noble friend visits the strath of Sutherland he will see some of the worst examples of this which have almost mutilated a beautiful strath. The whole Committee should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for tabling this amendment.
§ Lord John-Mackie
There are different views, as I think I said two or three days ago, about forestry. I should point out that the Forestry Commission has local regional advisory committees. These committees 1064 have been operating for a very long time and some figures were quoted at our previous Sitting—I do not want to repeat them—of how few of the decisions it took ever went to appeal. I think it was something like 1 per cent. of the 10,000 applications. There is no doubt that no one wants to see forestry spoiling an ESA but this would clash with RACs and some further arrangement would be needed.
The point made by the noble Lord about non-grant-aided forestry planting is one that we must carefully watch. I do not think that any of the grant-aided forestry, with the Forestry Commission's remit on amenities or planting, should now be considered. But I admit that any non-grant aided forestry is a danger. However, things have changed recently and the amount of non-grant aided forestry that has been planted is now minimal because the tax situation has altered.
I think that the noble Lord's criticism of forestry sometimes is not as accurate as it should be. There are 20 million acres of rough land in Britain and 30 million acres of arable land. The maximum that has been planned forward for forestry is somewhere around 8 million acres, leaving 12 million acres of open space, which I think should satisfy not only the environmentalists but all the birds, bees and butterflies as well.
I told the story yesterday—and the noble Lord need not sit there making faces but should rather face a few facts—of when I was in the commission and I was asked if it were true that planting in North Wales was doing away with the kites. I thought it was my duty to go there and try to find out the position. I found that the ranger had been there for a long time, and during the whole of the major planting, and he said to me, "Mr. Mackie, all I can say is that there are more kites now than there were when we started planting". There are a host of stories about the destruction of the ecological balance by forestry which sometimes do not bear close examination.
Although I appreciate the noble Lord's amendment, I think that the Committee should look at it very carefully and remember that the commission, through the RACs, has a duty to attend to what he wants done.
§ Lord Melchett
I might have misheard my noble friend but I think he suggested that non-grant aided forestry was on the decrease. In fact, as I understand it, the position is exactly the opposite, and until very recently there have not been any cases of non-grant aided afforestation taking place.
Recently—and my noble friend might remember this because it happened in the constituency of one of our honourable friends who represents a Scottish seat—two areas of farmland which were not cleared for forestry by the Department of Agriculture in Scotland were planted without grant. I think there is very widespread concern, not least in the Forestry Commission, that non-grant aided planting is likely to be on the increase, precisely because this is taxation forestry and not forestry for timber, as my noble friend knows. That is why our party supports the extension of the planning control system to cover forestry. We went into the last election with that as our pledge and no doubt we shall go into the next election with that as our policy, which I know that my noble friend on the 1065 Front Bench will warmly support. It might help him to support that policy if he were to get some further information about what has happened to the birds in Wales, because, as I understand it, while kites are certainly holding their own, they are doing so from a very low level—the population level that they were driven to through persecution by gamekeepers, and incidentally egg collectors—and not because of land changes.
The same is not true of much of the other wild life in Wales and in Scotland. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, mentioned that the spread of afforestation was having absolutely catastrophic consequences in Sutherland and Caithness. For example, dippers and peregrines are declining very rapidly in Wales, the decline in numbers being attributed to the effects of afforestation. As my noble friend will remember from debates that we had in this Chamber during the passage of the Salmon Bill, salmon are also declining in Wales and in other parts of the United Kingdom because of the increased acidification of fresh waters and the effect on the salmon's spawning grounds caused by increased afforestation in the hills and the disruption of the run off of water. So afforestation is causing quite appalling ecological damage to many of the upland areas and many of the other interests that have previously co-existed quite happily in upland areas, and I think it would be a great pity if we introduced a new designation into the countryside ESAs and left them vulnerable to exactly the same sort of disruption.
There is no doubt that planting without grant will become an increasing threat in the future. That is why I understand the Forestry Commission recently recommended to the Government that they should have complete control over planting through the power to grant planting licences. I understand that this was a proposal from the Forestry Commission which did not find favour with the Government. Nevertheless, I hope it will convince Members on all sides of the Committee that the forestry industry itself is worried by uncontrolled new afforestation, and I think that we should be worried about it in ESAs.
§ Lord Belstead
In this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is saying that forestry development within an environmentally sensitive area must be subject to consultation with the appropriate Minister and also with the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, whether it is in England, Scotland or Wales; but the amendment also gives a right of veto to any one of the bodies consulted, including incidentally my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment as well as my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, if any of the bodies concerned consider that the proposal for forestry will adversely affect the objectives of the environmentally sensitive area. So this is quite a draconian amendment with a veto in it.
I must come to a point which none of the Members of the Committee have mentioned in this short debate: this clause is of course implementing Article 19 of the Community Regulation 797/85, under which we are able to introduce environmentally sensitive areas. That article specifically relates to agricultural production practices and as a result its 1066 coverage is limited by the common agricultural policy rules which define agriculture in relation to a list of products. That list, which is in Annex II of the Treaty, does not include forestry products, so we should be going outside the scope of the authorising Community regulation for environmentally sensitive areas if we included forestry on the face of the statute.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I am sorry to interrupt but am I following what the Minister is saying? Is he actually saying that it would be illegal under the Treaty of Rome for us to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, or something very like it? If that is the case, I am almost prepared to say. "To hell with the Treaty of Rome".
§ Lord Belstead
My answer to the first part of my noble friend's question is yes; my answer to the second part of his question is that I think that would be a great pity. My noble friend has highlighted the fact that there is a real difficulty with this amendment, quite apart from the merits—and there are different views about the merits. Indeed my advice is that it would put us in breach of the Treaty, if we were to accept this particular amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, may well ask, "What is being done about it? Is anything being done?" And the answer is that quite a lot is being done. Ever since this matter was focused on when the legislation was being prepared, the Forestry Commission's longstanding and well tried system of consultations over grant and felling licence applications were considered.
I think that nobody in this Chamber has more experience of the forestry industry and forestry generally than the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie. It was interesting that the noble Lord sitting on the Front Bench opposite immediately referred to the important consultation procedures of the Forestry Conmmission, because under these procedures the appropriate statutory authorities are asked what they think. This ensures that the interests of the environment, especially in designated areas, are fully taken into account. When the noble Lord said that very few, or comparatively few, cases become disputed cases and eventually go to Ministers, he was absolutely right. So these are procedures which work pretty well.
But in the context of these consultation procedures, the Forestry Commission decided that it must take an initiative and it has indicated that it will be agreeing appropriate consultation arrangements with local authorities, the NCC and the two Countryside Commissions in respect of planting and felling proposals within ESAs, in order to ensure that only those planting or felling proposals are agreed which would be compatible with the special status of an environmentally sensitive area. My information is that the Forestry Commission has already reached agreement with the Countryside Commission concerning consultations over forestry proposals in ESAs in England and Wales. Where consultations with those bodies give rise to objections which cannot be resolved, the commission has also said that it will not accept the planting or felling proposals without the agreement of Ministers, including in England my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the 1067 Environment. There is already a ministerial direction to that effect.
That is going as far as anybody humanly could to meet a point which, because of the way in which the Treaty of Rome is drawn, cannot be put on the face of the Bill. That is an argument which ought to appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, with his diplomatic background.
Several noble Lords referred to the loophole of planting without grant. That is true. But, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, the two cases to which he referred, which I think were both in Scotland, were not necessarily endangering the environment. My advice has always been that in one case clearance for planting had been refused on the grounds of land quality, and that was not an environmental matter. In the other case, it was likely that part of the land would have been cleared for planting after consultation, but the scheme went forward without grant. We ought not to go away with the idea that in those two cases there were great environmental concerns.
I must meet this point straight on. It will be possible to plant without grant but it will also be possible to do other things without grant in an ESA. If we live in a free country and believe in the voluntary principle, we cannot tie everybody up in red tape all the time.
Before I sit down I ought to correct one matter. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, probably knows that I put a foot wrong. I ought not to have said that the amendment would break the treaty. I am advised that what we cannot do is to pay money for forestry under the ESA regulation because of the wording of the treaty. Forestry cannot be fully in ESAs and cannot therefore be part of the clause.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Baroness White
Can we get it a little more straight? There is nothing to prevent the Government using their own money or the taxpayers' money; it is just that they cannot use Community money. Is that the point that the Minister is trying to make?
§ Lord Belstead
With great respect, that is not the case. We are using our money and only our money in order to set up the provisions under this clause. No Community money at the moment will flow into the provision in order to set up ESAs. But every time that we designate an ESA—and I hope that if Parliament agrees to the Bill that will be before not too many months have gone by—we shall have to show the Commission what we intend to designate so that it may be assured that we are not indulging in illegal state aid under the guise of an ESA. If we put forestry into the provisions of the clause, it is at that moment that the Commission would say to us, "Look at the Treaty and you will find that you are doing something which you ought not to do".
§ Baroness White
I believe that the sub-committee of our environmental scrutiny committee which reports to your Lordships' House is shortly to examine the question of forestry and its relation to the EC. If we are to wait for some time, we may be enlightened by the 1068 time that we are ready to do something about designating an ESA.
§ Lord Melchett
The future of forestry policy in the EC is interesting but I cannot see what on earth it has to do with the amendment. The amendment does not suggest making payments for planting trees or not planting trees in ESAs. It would simply give Ministers power to prevent a damaging operation going ahead in an ESA if that operation was afforestation. As the noble Lord clearly said for the second time round, that is not affected by the Treaty of Rome. Given that we should not be making any payments under the amendment, I cannot see what it would have to do with the European Commission. It is an entirely domestic matter. Several other European countries have strict controls over both new afforestation and the maintenance of existing woodlands within the Community and under the CAP. None of that is prevented. I cannot see what the noble Lord's argument has to do with the amendment.
§ Lord Belstead
Let me repeat what I said, because I think that it is important that I should. I have apologised to the Committee, and the amendment, as such, would not break the treaty. But we cannot pay money for forestry under the ESA regulation. That means that forestry cannot be fully in ESAs. The amendment brings forestry within ESAs. The effect would be that forestry developments within an ESA would be subject to consultation and ultimately to possible veto.
§ The Earl of Onslow
We have become slightly sidetracked by the European Community and I may be partly responsible. It seems to me totally impossible to have an ESA policy and yet somebody can plonk 600 or 1,000 acres of conifers in the middle of it, without ruining both the environment and its sensitivity. If that is the case, it is almost pointless having ESAs. I urge my noble friend to try to find a way round the dilemma. It strikes me as a major flaw in what is otherwise an excellent scheme.
§ Lord Annan
I did not quite follow what the noble Lord was saying about the cases that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, mentioned in Scotland being irrelevant. But, if so, I can give him another case in Scotland where such planting has done great damage. It is at the source of the river Annan, which, as the noble Lord will know, is contiguous to the source of the rivers Clyde and Tweed and is one of the most beautiful parts of southern Scotland. Extensive planting has taken place to the great detriment of the landscape.
§ Lord Moran
Let me refer first to the point about the European Community which the Minister mentioned on Second Reading and explained at greater length today. As I understand it, when the matter was discussed in another place the Government admitted that they were largely instrumental in ensuring that forestry did not fall within the EC definition of agriculture. I do not know whether that is right, but it seems to have been the British Government who brought that provision about. As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said, that is not relevant to my amendment, 1069 which is concerned with preventing an ESA from being radically changed and, in effect, destroyed by large-scale commercial afforestation, and is not concerned with financial grants to forestry.
I was encouraged by what the Minister said about the consultations that the Forestry Commission has been having with other bodies. I should like to study carefully in Hansard what he said. I am worried that the procedures, though excellent as far as they go, may not manage to prevent a cowboy commercial operator from planting without grant, as he can at the moment without consulting anyone. However elaborate the procedures worked out with the other bodies, they may not be enough to prevent the kind of forestry that would be damaging to an area which in the Government's own words is sensitive.
That is extremely important matter, and I should like to study it. I realise that the amendment is fairly tough. It is perhaps too tough, but I believe that, in some circumstances, it is necessary to be tough to prevent the destruction of what are, after all, going to be very special areas indeed. Subject to that, I may feel it necessary to raise the matter again at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 13, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Sandford
I should like to take this opportunity to thank my noble friend for responding, when we were discussing Amendment No. 67, to the questions that I asked him then. I did not speak at that point because I did not want to add to the number of topics that we were already discussing on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol.
I wish to support my noble friend in resisting the suggestion that very much more should be put in primary legislation about the management regimes in ESAs and the process of setting them up. When the national parks were set up in their present form in 1974, there were only two short paragraphs in primary legislation. A circular of 10 pages and 40 paragraphs followed somewhat later. That is, I believe, the appropriate setting for them. To that extent, I agree with my noble friend. On the other hand, having heard what he had to say—I shall want to study his remarks more carefully—my first reaction is that what he has spelt out will not prove sufficiently comprehensive or thorough, first, for the management of the ESAs to work out correctly, or, secondly, to provide a sufficiently firm and agreed authoritative background under which to negotiate all the various management agreements.
I listened to the list of people he will consult. 1 did not think it sufficient. I listened to what my noble friend said about staffing. I do not think that the proposal goes far enough. It is most important that each ESA has a single authorised officer, although such provision is appropriate for a circular. I hope that, in setting up a new regime for managing land and countryside, the Ministry of Agriculture will draw on the extensive experience already available in the Department of the Environment and particularly in the national parks.
1070 I should like therefore to study what my noble friend has said, and I reserve the right to come hack to this point at Report stage either separately or in conjunction with amendments that other noble Lords have indicated they wish to move. The clause deals with management agreements. As the Gould Report has been mentioned, I take this opportunity of saying that I received yesterday the Answer to a Written Question that I had put down. This says, among other things, that the report would be published and copies laid in the Library of both Houses. I have checked and there is indeed a copy in the Library of our House. I thought that the Committee would like to know that.
I am prompted to speak briefly on the basis of several of the remarks that the Minister has made in dealing with some of the amendments. I was delighted to hear the Minister, in dealing with Amendment No. 68, take, as an illustration, the South Downs as a possible designated area. My delight arises from the fact that I have the privilege of being the president of the Society of Sussex Downsmen. The fact that the South Downs came so readily to the Minister's mind encourages me to think that this area is possibly not only on the short list about which we know, but perhaps even on a shorter list. I hope that this is so.
I trust that this is the case because we missed out in 1947 when the national parks were set up. Although we were recommended by the Hobhouse Committee as a national park, it was said that so little open downland remained after the ploughing-up during the war that there was not sufficient area for it to be a recreational area. What was a disqualification then may well be considered to be a qualification in respect of an environmentally sensitive area. I am not expecting the Minister to respond positively to my hints; I am simply expressing a hope.
I was glad to hear the Minister, in his references to monitoring, say that he would bear in mind voluntary organisations as participants in monitoring. I hope that this will be so. I hope that consideration will be given to the kind of organisation of which I have the privilege to be president. I wonder, however, whether we have allowed to pass too easily consideration of how the Minister should reach conclusions about designation. I wonder whether the degree of consultation set out in the Bill is sufficient and whether there should not be provision for consultation with voluntary bodies beyond the consultation with statutory bodies indicated in the Bill as it stands. Those are thoughts that have occurred to me while listening to the debate, and I thought it worthwhile putting them on the record.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
It is, I believe, important for me to make clear that the short list has been in existence ever since my right honourable friend the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, in another place on 21st January, listed them (at column 187 of the proceedings in Standing Committee B). Of course, the South Downs was one of the areas on the list. I simply drew one out of the list to make my point. I mentioned the South Downs for that reason, and for that reason only.
1071 I should perhaps mention one other matter so that there is no misunderstanding. Indeed, should Hansard show that I am wrong, I apologise in advance. Looking at my notes, I believe that what I said was that I would make absolutely sure, on my right honourable friend's behalf, that the officers concerned in the management of each environmentally sensitive area would be in regular contact with the statutory conservation agencies. Indeed, we would be in touch with voluntary organisations as well. In giving my undertaking about looking as helpfully as I could, using my best endeavours, to meet that part of Amendment No. 68 of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that relates to monitoring, I do not think that I gave an undertaking that our monitoring would necessarily be attached to consultation. I simply said that I would do my best to meet that amendment so far as putting something on the face of the Bill was concerned to say that we will monitor. The Committee would then be assured of ongoing care of the environmentally sensitive area concept. I felt that I should say that in order that there should be no misunderstanding.
§ Lord Hardinge of Penshurst
In supporting the noble Lord, Lord Oram, may I express the hope that the quality of the South Downs will be held in the same regard as the quantity of them—a matter to which the Minister referred earlier—when it comes to choosing ESAs?
§ Lord John-Mackie
I should like to take the opportunity of correcting my noble friend who sits behind me on the issue of non-grant-aided forestry. I was talking about numbers while he was talking about acres. From my most recent discussions with my friends in the Forestry Commission, I understand the system is that the conservators' report relates to very small areas here and there that are planted. An estimate is made of how many cases there are. The acreage has been increased by the two cases in Scotland, consisting of over 100 hectars each, which makes my noble friend's point in acreage. But as to numbers, the Commission thinks that these are going down. However, because of these two cases, the acreages are going up.
§ Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lord Gray of Contin moved Amendment No. 70:
After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:
("Supplementary provisions regarding agreements in Scotland.
—(1) Where a person having an interest of a kind described in section 13(4) above in land in Scotland, being an interest which enables him to bind the land, enters into an agreement under that subsection—
(2) An agreement registered or recorded under subsection (1) above shall be enforceable at the instance of the Secretary of State against pesons deriving title to the land (including any person acquiring right to a tenancy by assignation or succession) from the person who entered into the agreement; provided that such an agreement shall not be enforceable against a third party who shall have in good faith and for value acquired right (whether completed by infeftment or not) to the land prior to the agreement being registered or recorded as aforesaid, or against any person deriving title from such third party.
(3) Notwithstanding the terms of any agreement registered or recorded under subsection (1) above, the parties to the agreement or any person deriving title from them may at any time agree to terminate it; and such an agreement to terminate it shall be registered or recorded in the same manner as was the original agreement.
(4) A grazings committee appointed under section 24 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1955 may, with the consent of a majority of the crofters ordinarily resident in the township, enter into an agreement under section 13(4) above in relation to any part of the common grazings and may agree to the revocation or variation of any such agreement, and such agreement, revocation or variation shall be binding upon all their successors.
(5) In the case of an agreement of a kind referred to in subsection (4) above, the payments by the Secretary of State shall be made to the grazings committee and shall be applied by them either—
(6) A grazings committee to whom such a payment as is referred to in subsection (5) above has been made and who are proposing to apply the payment in carrying out works in accordance with paragraph (b) of that subsection shall give notice in writing to each crofter sharing in the common grazings of their proposals: and any such crofter may within one month of that date of such notice make representations in respect of the proposals to the Crofters Commission who may approve them with or without modification or reject them.
(7) "Crofter" and other expressions used in any of subsections (4) to (6) above and in section 3 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1955 have the same meaning in this section as they have in that section as read with section 15(6) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1961.".)
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 70, after Clause 13, to insert the new clause in accordance with the words on the Marshalled List. Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 75. This clause has two objectives. In the first place, our aim is that where an ESA agreement is made with the owner of any land, that agreement should continue to be binding on successive owners and occupiers for the duration of the agreement.
§ Clause 13(7) of the Bill provides for agreements to be binding on successors deriving title to the land. This would not achieve the desired results in Scotland since under Scots law it is possible to make agreements binding only by establishing a burden on the land. This in turn can be satisfactorily achieved only by ensuring that agreements are registered in the Land Register of Scotland or recorded in the General Register of Sasines, whichever is appropriate. Accordingly, subsection (1) of the clause requires for the registration or recording of agreements, and subsection (2) for the agreements to be enforceable against successive owners and their tenants by the Secretary of State.
§ Subsection (3) allows for the termination of agreements by mutual consent, this in turn to be registered or recorded. Subsections (4) to (6) deal with the second objective of the new clause: the application of agreements in the crofting areas of Scotland where there are common grazings. Subsection (4) allows for grazing committees to enter into agreements which would be binding on all the crofters who share in the common grazings and their successors. Subsection (5) specifies how ESA payments in these circumstances should be made and used. Subsection (6) provides a machinery for resolving any disputes.1073
§ These provisions, which are paralleled in other countryside legislation, will enable crofters, where appropriate, to participate in ESA agreements in full measure. This is essentially a technical clause and I commend it to the Committee.
§ I should like also briefly to refer to Amendment No. 75. This is a purely technical consequential amendment to Amendment No. 70. It disapplies Section 13(7) in Scotland as this is superseded by this new Scottish clause. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 71:
§ insert the following new clause:
§ "(2A) Where any land has been notified under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to the drainage authority by reason of its special scientific interest, or where land has been designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area under section 13 of the Agriculture Act 1986, a drainage authority shall not undertake any improvement or construction under paragraph (b) or (c) of subsection (1) above unless it has been approved by the Minister.
§ In granting approval under this subsection the Minister may make it subject to such provisions as he thinks fit.".")
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 71, which deals in a slightly different way with a very similar problem to that dealt with in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on forestry.
§ In this instance my concern is that there is a real danger of environmentally sensitive areas being damaged by drainage works. At the present, as noble Lords will know, drainage works are exempt from planning control, and this is a matter that we shall come on to in a later amendment. The only land drainage projects which receive external scrutiny—in other words, external to the organisation which will carry them out—are capital projects; those that are classified as new or improvement works as opposed to maintenance. In the case of the capital projects the drainage authority applies for grant to the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, and the Ministry assess the project according to economic, technical and environmental criteria and so on. That is a matter that we have debated at great length in this Chamber over the years. Many regional water authorities in the past have passed resolutions stating that they will not proceed with capital schemes unless they receive the Ministry grant aid, and therefore in effect have given the Ministry of Agriculture an effective veto over drainage schemes.
§ However, this situation is now changing. Even if we can argue about whether it is changing in the case of forestry I do not think that there is any argument when it comes to land drainage. With recent cuts in percentage levels of grant aid for arterial land drainage works—something which on the whole conservationists have welcomed, and which has been beneficial to wildlife as well as helping not to increase surplus agricultural production—the significance of grant aid has now been reduced. Some capital drainage schemes have been undertaken without grant aid from the Ministry. Indeed, now some water authorities are considering adopting a more general policy. My 1074 understanding is that very recently a number have done so. The general policy is not to apply for grant aid for schemes exceeding a certain capital cost. For example, the South-West Water Authority has decided to allocate money to schemes which may not attract grant aid. The Severn/Trent Water Authority has recently decided to spend up to a million pounds on capital land drainage schemes without applying for grant aid from the Ministry. I have no doubt that the Treasury will be pleased to hear that. I do not know about the Ministry's view, but I know that conservationists are very worried about it. I think that farmers and landowners in environmentally sensitive areas should also be worried.
§ The crucial point is this. Unless grant aid is applied for the land drainage scheme will receive no external scrutiny for its technical suitability, its economic viability and, most importantly in the context of ESAs, its environmental acceptability. Schemes are frequently subject to informal consultations between water authorities and conservation bodies, but conservation bodies, needless to say, unfortunately have no power to stop a water authority going ahead with a scheme. Neither do the statutory agencies—the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. Water authorities are obliged to consult the NCC only if a scheme is likely to affect a statutory nature reserve or a site of special scientific interest. The NCC has no power of veto, as the Ministry of Agriculture used to have when grant aid was regularly applied for.
This mechanism for filtering schemes, which the previous regular application for grant aid provided, has been accorded great importance and significance by the Government. In a speech last autumn to launch a wetlands conservation campaign the Secretary of State for the Environment, in claiming that no land drainage schemes which damaged conservation areas had been undertaken for two years, said:
We shall continue to ensure that grant aid applications are examined rigorously with conservation considerations very much in mind".
That commitment is meaningless if water authorities do not apply for grant aid, as a number have now decided not to do.
§ This amendment would require drainage authorities to obtain approval from the Ministry of Agriculture before undertaking any capital projects. I believe that this would simply have the effect of maintaining the status quo which existed, certainly when the Secretary of State for the Environment made his speech last October, and until very recently indeed.
§ I hope, therefore, that it will be welcome to the Government and will help to ensure that environmentally sensitive areas which are environmentally sensitive because of their high water table or particular drainage pattern will continue to be so, and that no drainage scheme can be undertaken which would damage the areas and therefore reduce the income available to the farmers and landlowners in the ESA. I beg to move.
§ Lord John-Mackie
I have considerable sympathy with the point that my noble friend is making about the reduction of water levels in areas which are environmentally sensitive. He has put forward the case 1075 for more control over that. If the Minister accepts this point some cover will need to be provided where a drainage river takes water further back on genuine arable land. Unless the level is kept below the drain mouth of these areas, the drainage is useless. That situation would need to be covered somehow, although I quite appreciate that there are areas where the water level might be brought down below the level that my noble friend would like. However, I do not think that we can endanger areas of genuine agricultural drainage further up the river.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
At the risk of exhibiting my ignorance, I should like to ask two questions, First, what is the situation of a farmer in an ESA who wishes to undertake some personal drainage? I am not referring to a drainage authority. I am referring to a farmer who simply wishes to drain a damp corner of a field or even a meadow which has some significance or which may eventually be classified as having some significance. Is he at present free to drain land in an ESA if he so wishes?
My second question concerns the overall water table and water authorities. I live in an area where drainage is no problem at all. What we want to do is to retain water. In our area there are very big aquifers in the chalk which are understandably being exploited by the water authority for the water supply of London and other urban areas. It has the effect of lowering the water table by several feet throughout a very large area. That can and does have—and it will continue to do so unless remedial steps are taken—the effect of altering the flora in certain areas normally known as wetlands and of destroying a large part of the environment. The amendment quite clearly does not affect those operations at all.
From my experience, in general the water authorities are extremely public spirited about this situation and do their best to minimise any damage which might accrue from this abstraction. However, without trespassing on rather more delicate ground, in the future we may not find that form of co-operation quite so forthcoming. I do not know whether the noble Lord has any views on this matter or whether he thinks that it is already adequately taken care of at least in ESAs.
§ Lord Belstead
Perhaps I may begin by referring to the two questions which have been put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, one of which I can answer and the other of which I am afraid I cannot. The noble Lord's second question was about the situation of water authorities which take their water from deep in the ground, thus generally affecting the water table in the locality—which could be an environmentally sensitive area—and therefore affecting the area concerned. This is a matter to which I have not given the thought that I should have done. Moreover, I do not know what the water legislation says so far as this particular danger is concerned. I am sure that it is a matter which water authorities have very much in mind when they are making their plans. However, I shall have to look into it and write to the noble Lord.
1076 The noble Lord's first question concerned the position of a farmer who wished to put in some field drainage in an environmentally sensitive area. This is ground which we covered on the first amendment this afternoon. The answer is that, under the Agricultural Improvement Scheme which was introduced at the end of last year, he must, if he wishes to do it with grant, apply for prior approval, to the Ministry of Agriculture. We shall look at the particular operation that he wants to do—which includes field drainage—and if we believe that such action will be environmentally damaging we shall say that we shall not pay grant. Of course if the farmer wishes to drain without grant that is a different matter, because we cannot forbid all farmers in an area to drain their land. Again, that is ground which we covered earlier this afternoon.
If I may say so, this is an ingenious amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that grants for arterial drainage have been very much reduced, and that is true. Indeed, it is welcomed by those who are interested in environmental topics. However, the noble Lord went on to say that because grant aid had been cut, drainage authorities are resorting to drainage works without grant. The noble Lord therefore reached the conclusion, which he has put into his amendment, that in an environmentally sensitive area or, indeed, an SSSI, drainage operations will require ministerial approval of the proposals for improvement of existing or the construction of new drainage works, and therefore the Minister can have a veto.
I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, on two grounds. First, the noble Lord is being a little dismissive of the effects of grant aid. There is still a very large sum of money flowing into drainage. Under Section 48 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 there is the duty placed on drainage authorities that they shall further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of flora, fauna and features of special interest of the particular area.
As your Lordships may remember, the environment committee of another place examined how Section 48 was working early last year and came to the conclusion that it was generally satisfied with the drainage authorities' response although some internal drainage boards were criticised. My right honourable friend therefore undertook to strengthen the guidelines to internal drainage boards so far as their responsibilities under Section 48 are concerned.
The guidelines were issued jointly with the Department of the Environment three years ago. Their revision is now very well advanced and the revised version will advocate that all drainage authorities should consult annually with the Nature Conservancy Council on maintenance operations and more frequently on specific areas of importance to the council. The guidelines will also recommend that special consultation should be carried out at the earliest possible stage of planning the construction of new or improvement works and that environmentally sensitive areas should receive special consideration. There is of course already a statutory obligation to consult the NCC where drainage operations might affect SSSIs.
In considering applications for grant aid, my right honourable friend insists that those applications must 1077 provide evidence of the views of the NCC, or other appropriate organisations, on the scheme, unless there is no possible conservation interest.
In essence, what I am saying, with respect to the noble Lord, is that it is a little dismissive to say that nobody is applying for grant and therefore Section 48 does not come into it. I do not think that that is so. Leaving that matter aside, there is in addition a great deal going on of a voluntary nature. I have given one example; namely, that the guidelines issued under Section 48 by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment are being strengthened.
However, there is a better example. Quite independently of all that, the Association of Drainage Authorities has got together with the NCC to prepare joint guidelines on the upkeep and improvement of internal drainage board watercourses particularly in sensitive areas. I understand that this work is progressing well.
The association has also recently launched a scheme with the NCC to develop watercourses of minor importance to drainage and flood relief specifically for conservation and environmental purposes. I am told that this is attracting substantial interest. I think that that strengthens the view of the environment committee in another place that there has been a significant change in the attitude of drainage authorities towards the environment. The Government have encouraged this co-operation as we believe that it is the best means of ensuring the right balance between the different users of our countryside, and of encouraging all to understand each other's point of view and to work together. What we have been doing, I think successfully, is to provide the framework for such co-operation.
These are matters for local co-operation and not central direction by ministerial decision. It is true that at the end of the day if there is a disagreed grant-aided proposal on drainage under Section 48, then it comes to Ministers, and the decisions are always taken by joint agreement between my right honourable friend and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is central direction there. But I think that this is an amendment which disregards the good work now going on more locally, particularly between the Association of Drainage Authorities and the NCC; a co-operation which I welcome.
§ Lord Melchett
First, the noble Lord suggested that I had said that nobody was claiming grant-aid any more. That would be a strange thing to see and an even stranger thing to say, and I did not say it. I said that some water authorities—and I understand an increasing number recently—have decided for the first time to go ahead with quite major drainage programmes without seeking grant-aid. I have a cutting from the Water Bulletin of 17th January this year which, under a headline, "Land Drainage Funding Move", says this:For the first time South West Water's Regional Land Drainage Committee has agreed to allocate money to schemes that may not attract grant aid".I understand that more recently the Severn Trent Water Authority has decided to spend up to £1 million on capital schemes without applying for grant-aid. My 1078 understanding is that a number of other water authorities have recently taken decisions of the same sort. I am not saying that nobody is applying for grant-aid, but that a lot of water authorities are no longer applying for grant-aid for some of the schemes they undertake; and over those the noble Lord has no control. The noble Lord mentioned the guidelines being prepared for internal drainage boards. I would say, "Not a moment too soon". But I would be doubtful whether they will affect some IDBs one jot.
The noble Lord said there was a lot going on of a voluntary nature, and I wonder whether he had in mind the activities of a particular internal drainage board on the Somerset Levels. This IDB decided to halt the flooding of Southlake Moor on the Somerset Levels. This is a wetland site, a site of special scientific interest of international importance because of wintering wildfowl, which include widgeon and Bewick swans, and it has a rich plant community including marsh marigold, water violet, flowering rush, and a particular dragonfly called the Hairy Dragonfly.
All this wildlife is dependent on an extensive ditch system being penned at a high level in summer, and unusually, and for a long period historically, the land has been flooded quite deliberately in winter. That system has carried on for centuries and has created an area rich in wildlife where farming and conservation go hand in hand. The IDB's idea of local co-operation, and of a lot going on of a voluntary nature, was to decide on its own account, without talking to anybody, to stop the traditional flooding in winter of this moor. It took that decision against the original recommendation of the catchment committee—the Southlake Catchment Committee—which advises the IDB on these matters.
To get around that and to avoid any question of there being local co-operation or not, the IDB simply changed the membership of the catchment committee. This was a criminal offence, as I understand it. It was a breach of the 1830 Act of Parliament by which the catchment committee is constituted. It was done at an unconstitutionally-held meeting. I hope that gives the noble Lord some idea of the sort of local co-operation that is going on in the case of the Somerset Moors and Levels and this particular internal drainage board.
The decision flew in the face of the new statutory duty on internal drainage boards to have regard to conservation. It is particularly ironic that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned the importance of consulting with the Nature Conservancy Council. In this area, where the IDB has decided to change the water regime and destroy the wildlife interests, the Nature Conservancy Council recently bought some land with public money to set up a national nature reserve. The cessation of flooding that the IDB has carried out will mean that the land loses its wildlife interests. The wintering birds will not come there, and the public money spent on buying the land will have been wasted.
That is what is happening in the Somerset Moors and Levels at the moment. As the noble Lord will know, the Somerset Moors and Levels is one of the areas proposed for an ESA designation. I should like to know what the noble Lord thinks it is possible to do to stop an IDB ignoring its statutory duties, ignoring local 1079 consultation, illegally changing the composition of the committee that is meant to give it advice, and whether he seriously thinks that the new guidance notes to IDBs are going to make the slightest difference. Would it not be much simpler for everybody, including particularly the farmers who are going to be receiving income in ESAs, which will rely in somewhere like the Somerset Levels on a high water level being maintained—for all those interests—to accept this amendment now?
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
The answer is, no; I do not think so. The particular case the noble Lord cited is a case in which the Minister of Agriculture does not have any statutory powers to intervene. The allegations that the noble Lord has made, and which I have read in the press, are being investigated, but the legal advice I have had so far is that we do not have any powers of direct intervention. The noble Lord says: in that case why not accept his amendment? My answer is that I genuinely believe that in this country you get the best out of people, particularly in the countryside, if you can try to get them to do things in a voluntary way.
We have come a long way in the past few years, and not least since the 1981 Act. When, as I went out of my way 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour ago to say, the Association of Drainage Authorities—which is the particular association to which this IDB will belong—has got together with the NCC to prepare joint guidelines, I should have thought that this is the road to go down rather than to try to hit people on the head by putting a central direction into an Act so far as countryside matters are concerned. I am sorry, but there is a basic and philosophical difference between the noble Lord and me. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and I agree on quite a lot of things, but there is a basic and philosophical difference of view on this point. I have to say it, and I stick by what I am saying.
§ Lord Melchett
I agree that there is a basic philosophical difference between those of us on this side of the Committee and those opposite. I hope we can explore that in a little more detail on the next amendment. The noble Lord says that we do not want to hit people on the head. The question is whether we should try to stop this IDB going around mugging the landowners and wildfowl of Somerset, because that is what they have been doing. They have destroyed an area that has been farmed in a particular way for centuries, where public money has been spent buying a national nature reserve, and is listed as a potential environmentally sensitive area. They are vandals on the loose, and the noble Lord is saying, "Jolly good; let them go on voluntarily doing what they want to do". He makes a particular point of not having any statutory controls over these rural vandals, and he is pleased about it. That is a scandal and it is deplorable.
If that is the noble Lord's attitude it is going to be difficult to make environmentally sensitive areas work to the benefit of the farming community, as all of us in this Committee want them to do. As the noble Lord said, we come to a philosophical divide on these 1080 matters, which I hope we can look at in more detail on the next amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 14 [EEC farm grants relating to areas of special scientific interest or National Parks etc.]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Moran
I should like to raise at this point a question of which I have given the Minister notice. It concerns conditions on tax relief for forestry. Reference has already been made to two recent cases in South-East Scotland where private forestry companies have undertaken upland afforestation projects despite these projects being refused grant-aid by the Forestry Commission and, as I understand it, against the wishes of the Department of Agriculture.
It is not illegal for landowners to carry out these activities. Approval from the Forestry Commission is only necessary where grant-aid is sought. Landowners, I suppose, proceed on occasion without Forestry Commission grant-aid because they know that they will still benefit substantially from tax reliefs made available for forestry establishments. These contribute up to 60 per cent. of the establishment costs, which may be £1,000 per hectare. No assessment, so far as I know, is made of whether tax relief granted in this way is in the public interest, either environmentally or economically. These actions have led to widespread criticism not only from conservationists and planners but from the Forestry Commission and timber growers in the UK.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for drawing my attention to an article in the Economist on 10th May which I commend to the Committee and which sets out very clearly the essence of the argument. If I may, I shall read a short paragraph from that article. It reads:it might make sense to subsidise more tree-planting. So argue the Ministry of Agriculture, the Forestry Commission and the private forestry companies which now account for most new planting.Not so, say more and more conservationists. The main incentive for planting trees is simply to dodge tax. Britain is still cutting down fine old forests of deciduous trees. New planting is creating factory forests: 97 per cent. of new planting last year was of conifers, and 89 per cent. was of conifers planted in Scotland, mainly in dense-packed swathes across bare hillsides. Great tracts of ecologically important wild land are being damaged irreversibly, say conservationists—simply to provide wealthy individuals, who may never set eyes on their investment, with a way of reducing their tax liability.Thus reads the Economist.
There is, I believe, widespread concern that the small amount of control which exists over afforestation is being circumvented. I had in mind therefore to propose an amendment in the form of a new clause designed to ensure that private investors should be eligible for tax reliefs if their forestry schemes met with the approval of the Forestry Commission and only if they did. This measure would not have affected any forestry operations which are currently being carried out with Forestry Commission approval, as the majority are, and would simply serve to bring back under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Commission those operations which currently choose 1081 to ignore the procedures generally accepted by forestry interests. I have not moved such an amendment lest it should be thought to be encroaching on tax matters which are the concern of another place. But I am raising the point now because I think it is important and I should very much like to know what is the Government's view on this question.
§ Lord Belstead
As the noble Lord says in speaking to Clause 14 stand part, tax matters are for Treasury Ministers. But the noble Lord, who was good enough to give me notice that he wished to raise this matter, is really concerned about uncontrolled planting and would like to get at it by the withholding of forestry tax benefits from owners who plant without having obtained clearance from the Forestry Commission.
I ought to say first that this would represent a major departure from established fiscal policy and precedent, especially as regards personal income tax allowances. But I am troubled by what the noble Lord is putting forward because I think it is very draconian and, with respect to the noble Lord, I think it would have very uneven effects. When I say it is "very draconian", what I have in mind is that I think we need to keep firmly in mind that the planting of trees without the benefit of Government grants is not an offence. I very much hope that it will not become an offence.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said earlier this afternoon about the few cases that there are of disputed grant cases coming to Ministers. That is so and it is also true that there have been very few cases as far as we know of planting going ahead without grant, although it is a loophole. It is a loophole in the careful procedures run by the Forestry Commission, I do not deny that.
But, as I say, the case being put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, would have uneven effects. It would be extremely difficult to ensure that the right weight of penalty was applied in each and every case. Presumably the tax benefits ought to be withheld only in relation to new unapproved planting (that is the thesis) whereas much of an owner's expenditure can be ascribed to the maintenance and protection of existing plantations which may not have offended in any way, bearing in mind that many operations such as fencing and draining can relate to both new and established planting. Where one would draw the line on this thesis is extremely difficult, but crucial, to decide.
Although the noble Lord quoted from an article which seemed to refer to all who have an interest in trees as being wealthy individuals, that is not the case, as all of us know. A significant amount of planting is carried out on behalf of pension funds, which cannot claim the same tax advantages as an individual who has a high rate of income. The disincentive of the noble Lord's idea would not therefore be of uniform application, nor would it bear uniformly on those cases where it applied.
Therefore for those reasons I must say that I find this case that the noble Lord is putting forward worrying. It worries me very much that we should say simply that if someone plants without grant he should have tax advantages removed from him completely. Speaking from this side of the Committee that is something that I do not like the idea of at all. But the 1082 argument that may appeal to the noble Lord, who is essentially fair-minded, is that it is also a thesis which would have very uneven effects in its application.
§ The Earl of Onslow
What is worrying large numbers of people on both sides of the Committee is this uneven effect, as my noble friend says, of the fairly large visual destruction. My noble friend Lord Caithness used a mellifluous phrase the other day about helicopters; large chunks of these forests are what are known as "visually intrusive". We are worried about these and something ought to be done about them. It has been pointed out from the jobs point of view that the planting of forest does not create a lot of jobs because the people who have to look after the trees then displace either grouse keepers or sheep keepers. It possibly can be argued that those activities in the countryside produce more long-term jobs, but not only that for people are then employed in the tourist industry. People do not want to go to look at a large chunk of dark green trees blotting out the whole of a strath. But they do want to see a varied and sensitive Highland landscape.
This is of concern to a large number of people. Whether the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, of removing tax advantages is right I do not know, but I have a terrible feeling that the Ministry of Agriculture, which has made so many major advances in conservation—that has a lot to do with my noble friend—seems to have felt that it has gone far enough and that it has to sit down for a breather before it goes on a little further. I believe it has to take more courage in its hands and understand that there are points which we all feel strongly about on this matter.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Radnor
Briefly, I should like to argue with my noble friend Lord Onslow about this viewpoint as regards trees. Everyone can have his own opinion about whether they are ugly in large blocks or whether they should be pine or another species. I believe that at one time Scotland was covered with pine trees and there was a fire and the whole lot was burnt down. That is what one speaks of a "forest" where no trees are.
However, I should like to do battle with the noble Lord on employment. We are thinking so much in this debate again and again about the environment—and fair enough. But we very often completely forget people. I believe it to be—I was always told so—that over a period trees employ as many people as what I call proper farming, rather than keeping grouse or keeping hill sheep. Perhaps we are not talking only of those areas. So as we leave this clause I would put in a plea that we should all keep in mind rural unemployment at a time when the business of the countryside is anticipated to go downhill and at a time when in point of fact commercial forestry (agroforestry, I believe they call it) is being produced as a very serious answer to that problem.
§ Lord John-Mackie
May I just make the point that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, was right to be worried that the tax situation in forestry, where you are making profits in another business and can invest them in forestry over a period, creates a very good tax situation for the individual concerned. I think he linked that 1083 with the fact that because of this they planted trees without grants, with the result that they do not have them under any control, even by the RACs or anyone else. I think that was the point he was making.
I would agree with him that, of course, as far as the Forestry Commission is concerned, with my fellow commissioners, at the time when this scheme was evolved, we all deprecated it considerably, as I think it has done quite a lot of harm to forestry. It is not a tax-evasion scheme but a tax-avoidance scheme which has created a lot of planting. But I would point out to the noble Lord that a great many acres are planted with the grants, not only without the grants, on the same scheme, so that doing anything about the grant situation would not necessarily stop the tax situation. I thought that I should point that out to the noble Lord.
The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, mentioned the remark of somebody (I forget who) that a forest was visually intrusive. I cannot imagine that a forest could be anything but visually intrusive. I would point out that there are about 20 to 24 million visits in a year to the Forestry Commission's forests, which, as he and everyone else has pointed out, are mainly conifers in this country. So somebody likes to go and see these dark green, intrusive forests about which he speaks.
§ Lord Moyne
It has been rather implied that the Forestry Commission would discourage the planting of conifers, whereas, after a good many years of observation, I have noticed that the Forestry Commission plant a great many conifers. That is why I would hate to put into their hands, with possibly changing fashions and views, the power to stop me planting trees—the oaks, the ashes and trees that grow naturally in the English countryside, which is often unsuitable for conifers.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
As regards employment by the Forestry Commission, I know that, for instance, in certain areas they are not even felling the first thinnings now. If they are felling the first thinnings, they are leaving them to rot because there is no pulp mill anywhere nearby. Of course, any thinnings they harvest are now going to Norway, where they are made into pulp and re-imported here, which seems an extraordinary way to make money.
However, the Forestry Commission have not always been the blue-eyed boys that some people seem to think. Certainly early on they planted these vast areas of sitka spruce in completely straight lines which, to a great extent, have rather spoilt certain aspects of the countryside. Regarding the planting of amenity timber to beautify the countryside, if he knows his job the private landowner does far better.
§ Lord Moran
May I say with reference to what the noble Lord the Minister said that I should like to emphasise that I was not in any sense arguing against tax relief for forestry generally, still less was I suggesting that it should be an offence to plant a tree because, heaven knows, I plant quite a number of trees myself. I stressed in my remarks that the great majority of planting takes place with the approval of the Forestry Commission, and I think that tax relief 1084 should certainly be available to those who plant under those arrangements. I was only suggesting that the very small number of people who go ahead against the wishes of the Forestry Commission and plant anyway should not then enjoy tax benefits.
I understand the point that the Minister made about the way this might operate unevenly, and I realise that that may be so. But I believe that there is a problem, and although at the moment it may be a small one I fear it may grow, and it is something the Government may need to think about in due course.
§ Clause 14 agreed to.
§ Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 72:
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Agricultural development and development control.
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment 72. This would have the effect of removing the general statutory exemption of the use of land for agricultural purposes from the definition of development under the Town and Country Planning Act. The removal would not of course be complete; minor and temporary operations, according to recent court decisions, would not count as development, and in any event the Town and Country Planning Act provides the Government with extensive powers: the use of the Use Classes Order and the General Development Order, for example, to ensure that planning permission would be required only—and this is my intention—for those uses which would have a significant and permanent environmental effect on the countryside.
§ In moving this amendment, I am conscious that, as with the amendment the other night about bulls in fields crossed by footpaths, we are returning to a matter covered at some length during debates on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, where I moved a similar amendment, and indeed pressed it to a division and lost. At that stage, we were having a debate, rather as we were on the amendment which I moved earlier this afternoon, between the Opposition and the Government, the noble Lords opposite, about the philosophy of who should take decisions on the future of our countryside. I think, to put it at its mildest, that it is a difference between those of us who believe that the people of this country, through democratically elected institutions, should have the right to take those decisions, and noble Lords opposite who believe that it should be a matter for those who own and control the land. That is the philosophical divide.
§ But in practice, things have not turned out to be quite that simple. I think, in the light of experience, it is worth looking at what has actually happened as a result of the legislation the Government put in the Wildlife and Countryside Act enshrining this voluntary principle. What is called politely "the voluntary principle" has, in my view, turned out to be a combination of bribery and fraud for those involved in trying to destroy the countryside. I appreciate that those are harsh words, but they are justified by the Laurence Gould report which has already been referred to in debates during the Committee stage.
§ I should like to make one point, first of all, about the Laurence Gould report, which the Government 1085 commissioned to look at the operation of the financial side of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The point I want to make is that the Government quite deliberately and determinedly decided to suppress this report. Any suggestion to the contrary is not borne out by parliamentary answers which have been provided by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in this House and by a junior Minister at the Department of the Environment in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will remember that as long ago as last summer, I think in July, I asked a Question for Written Answer in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord answered me on 31st July 1985 (at col. 330 of Hansard).
§ The noble Lord said then that the Laurence Gould final report, had not been received but that the Government would consider whether it would be appropriate to place a copy of the report in the Library of your Lordships' House when they had received it. The noble Lord and I corresponded about this in a fairly desultory fashion with letters from me to the noble Lord getting mislaid in the bowels of the Department of the Environment for several months.
In the meantime, my honourable friend Dr. David Clark asked a rather similar Question much more recently in another place. On the 24th March, in another place, Mrs. Angela Rumbold, Junior Minister at the Department of the Environment, said that the consultants' report on financial guidelines for management agreements was received in September 1985.
It is currently being considered in detail and I shall be making an announcement and publishing the appropriate background information in due course.
In other words, the Government had decided not to publish the Laurence Gould Report but only appropriate background information. That is on record in Hansard of the other place. When one of the Government Ministers, appearing on television after the report has been leaked, suggested that it was the intention to publish it all along, that was misleading. It was not the case. The Government intended to suppress the consultants' report. Unfortunately for them, as noble Lords no doubt will be aware, the report was leaked and the contents are now available in your Lordships' Library. I do not know how many noble Lords have had a chance to study the report. It is a fairly voluminous document.
§ But it is clear that the Government decided to suppress this report because it was extremely embarrassing to them and undermined their policies for protecting the British countryside, and in particular they were determined that not even the relevant background material that they were going selectively to cull from this report should be made available to either House of Parliament while this particular Bill was going through; because if that material had been made available before the Bill started its progress in another place, and if it had been available to members of the other place and to Members of your Lordships' House in time for it to be carefully considered before the debates on this Bill had taken place, I have no doubt that there would have been massive pressure on the Government to make the provisions of this Bill much stronger than they are.1086
§ Governments can attempt to suppress undesirable information, but I do not think that it is the job of Parliament to help them in that. I want briefly therefore to quote some of the contents of this interesting report. The Committee will remember that the philosophical divide about which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has just reminded us between this side of the Chamber and noble Lords opposite in how we protect the countryside, rested on whether we should have democratically elected local authorities taking decisions (as this amendment suggests) or whether we should have a voluntary system backed up by payments to those who wanted to destroy something in the countryside in a site of special scientific interest. This was not a voluntary system. It was a voluntary system with bribes, as I have said; and the cost of those bribes is considerable.
§ The Laurence Gould Report says that it is expected to rise from £4.4 million in 1985–86 to about £18.4 million in 1989–90. It is interesting to note that the democratically elected local authorities will probably account for 1 per cent. of that expenditure. Organisations which are subject to the electorate apparently have little sympathy with the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act—and these financial arrangements in particular—because of their high and unjustified cost. The agency which will be bearing most of the cost will be the Nature Conservancy Council.
In making general points at the start of the report. the consultants go on to say—and I am quoting from paragraph 46—that they believe that,
many of the improvements claimed in negotiation a management agreement would not have been undertaken but for the opportunity, to claim under the Guidelines".
To translate that into simple English, the consultants are saying that a number of the claims made under the procedures provided by the Wildlife and Countryside Act are not genuine claims at all. The consultants, also in their introductory remarks, say that to change the system which the Government have endorsed and which was put in the Wildlife and Countryside Bill with strong support from the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association will not be easy.
Paragraphs 48 and 49 of the report say:
In retaining a system of annual payments based on net profits foregone, a much greater degree of substantiation and disclosure of supporting information should be required of the claimant … Refinement of the calulations of the net profit foregone approach will exacerbate the problems of complexity and increase the amount of professional time and expertise involved".
In other words, to try to make the system less subject to fraud and abuse will make it even more costly and bureaucratic to operate. The consultants also comment on the voluntary principle which the noble Lord mentioned in the previous amendment and laid some stress on. They say in paragraph 2.33:
The powers for redress where either party fails to abide by the voluntary principle' are limited … Potentially, the 1981 Act [the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act] together with the Financial guidelines place a price on virtually all destructible features of scientific or landscape interest, which the owner or occupier may claim on threat of destroying it".
It is against that background that which the consultants look at the future costs in more detail. As I say, they expect the costs to rise to about £18.4
million in 1989–90, but if the full public authority administration costs are included, that figure goes up to £19.2 million on 1989–90. The administrative costs are expected, incidentally, to treble in those few years from half a million pounds to £1½ million. The consultants say that the total could go up as high as £31 million annually in compensation payments plus £52 million in lump-sum payments. At an annual rate, that would be nearly £40 million at its highest.
§ Noble Lords with an interest in private forestry might be interested to know that that is over double the total public support for the private forestry industry in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is a very substantial sum of money, indeed—over 10 times and nearly 20 times the total costs in the present financial year.
This point was made to the Government at the time that we were debating the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, and, to be fair, it was made by a number of Members opposite as well as by all of us on this side. Indeed, it was made to the Government in a meeting I had with a National Farmers' Union representative with Mr. Michael Heseltine, who was then Secretary of State for the Environment, shortly after the Bill has passed. Mr. Heseltine said that owners and occupiers of sites of special scientific interest had been stewards of them for many years, and he did not believe that very many of them would claim compensation under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He thought that that was a totally unreasonable view of landowners and farmers. They were stewards of the land. After all, the NFU a year or two before had actually brought out a document about how much farmers and landowners voluntarily cared for the countryside. Laurence Gould Consultants say in paragraph 306:
The (re)notification process"—
that is the process of re-notifying SSSIs—
required under the 1981 Act is acting as a trigger for the initiation of claims, with about one-third of (re)notifications currently prompting claims".
So we are a long way from the tiny minority that the then Secretary of State thought would want to claim under the Act. The consultants say that there is worse to come. They say in paragraph 3.09:
With the completion of Heath and Moorland maps and increasing awareness of the opportunity to obtain payments, it is possible that a rapid expansion will occur in the number of claims".
The Committee may be upset to hear that that rapid expansion has not been taken into account by the consultants in arriving at the very high figures that I gave a few moments ago. We are spending a lot of public money. I suppose that the next question which the consultants had to consider, and which I suggest should consider in looking at my amendment to this Bill, is whether this public money is being spent to good cause. We may be spending too much; but is it working? The consultants say in paragraph 407:
Management agreements rarely specifically require the claimant to play any role in monitoring and reporting changes on the site".
That is, the site which is meant to be protected. In paragraph 4.08 they say:
Most management agreements prepared to date demand no positive contribution on the part of the claimant towards the management of the site".
In paragraph 4.10 they say:
The claimant has no responsibility for preserving the feature of conservation interest".
I pause there to remind the Committee that the whole point of this system is meant to be to ensure that features of conservation interest are preserved. That, apparently, is not an outcome. In paragraph 4.11, the consultants say:
The restriction of activities on many sites results in changes to the ecology of the site and may possibly enhance, alter or even threaten the conservation interest".
We may end up paying over £50 million a year to landowners and farmers and some of the sites on which the money has been paid will actually be damaged as a result, and not benefit at all, because of the particular nature of these payments and the way that they are agreed with farmers and landowners. The consultants sum this up by saying:
On more vulnerable sites the use of management agreements may prove inadequate to protect the conservation interest".
They add later in the report that the periods for which management agreements are being entered into are too short.
That is the effect on conservation interests; but the consultants were looking in particular at the financial arrangements of these guidelines and they comment quite extensively on that subject. It might be thought that with all this money being spent and the conservation benefit suspect, at least the financial side would be working OK, but apparently it is not. In paragraph 6.18 the consultants say:
The proposal for indexation in the Guidelines, without the subsequent production of indices"—
these were indices that the Ministry of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was supposed to prepare and apparently has not—
has led to the parties to some management agreements devising their own indices based on existing published information".
They then say:
there are a small number of notable exceptions where wholly inappropriate indices have been used. Examples would be the indexation of large annual payments for net profit forgone to agricultural wages or to the Retail Price Index".
Any landowner or farmer who had his management agreement index-linked to agricultural wages last year certainly got a bonanza. I do not suppose they did quite so well this year, although they are still beating the rate of inflation and certainly beating the rate of any increase in agricultural profits by a factor of several hundred, I would guess.
§ The report goes on to look at abuses; and this was the area where the Government were particularly told in your Lordships' Chamber in 1981 that the system stank: it was wide open to abuse and would be abused. The Government Minister then said firmly, clearly and repeatedly that that was nonsense: farmers and landowners were responsible people and honourable people who cared for the countryside and there would not be any abuse.
Under the heading "Test of genuine intent" in paragraph 6.22, the consultants say:
There is a reliance on the claimant to be honest in submitting proposals for reclamation works and to only put forward plans for work which he genuinely would have undertaken. A major weakness is that it is impossible to test the genuineness of an individual's intention without putting the site at risk".
The consultants' assessment, having looked at claims made since the 1981 Act was passed, is this:
The circumstances of some individual claims strongly suggest that but for the 1981 Act and the Guidelines the improvement schemes they now propose would never have seriously been contemplated".
In other words, the system is being fraudulently abused, as noble Lords in this Chamber said it would be when the Government insisted on putting these provisions into the Act at that time.
The consultants go on to give some examples of how this actually happens, and they put some flesh on the bones. In paragraph 6.26 they say:
Some claimants have during the process of negotiation modified their plans for improving land subject to conservation restrictions. On occasions this has involved changes to cropping and farming systems which are alien to the background and experience of the claimant and his staff".
I interject here because I think this is known among Ministry of Agriculture officials as "the field of celery syndrome". If something is not looking potentially profitable enough you bung a field of celery into your cost-benefit anaylsis. That increases the profits enormously and, under this system, increases the compensation the taxpayers have to pay you enormously. The consultants continue in the same paragraph:
In a minority of cases the timing of such changes of plan has given rise to suspicion that they are solely motivated by the claimant's desire to increase payments and do not reflect any real intent to adopt the proposals put forward.
§ This might not be of any great concern if we were talking only of small sums of money, but the consultants provide some interesting figures which show that a small number of individuals are receiving very high payments per annum indeed as a result of this system that they say is so riddled with fraud and abuse. Between £100 and £1,000 per annum for the 100-plus claims so far completed are going to about 56 people—a relatively small amount, but certain individuals have got between £5,000 and £20,000-plus per annum as a result of this appalling system.
§ The consultants then go on to say what the public are actually buying for their money and they end up by telling us what we are not buying. They say in paragraph 7.07, for example, that annual payments which are made under this procedure allow a payment for time and effort which is not incurred. In other words, the taxpayers are paying farmers or landowners for things they have not done.
In paragraph 7.08 the consultants continue:
in accepting annual payments under the Guidelines the farmer is in principle accepting compensation for the full potential loss without incurring the initial detriment to his cash flow.
In other words, a major advantage to the cash flow of the farmer is being provided by the taxpayer. In paragraph 7.13 they say:
The net profit forgone basis of calculation established in the Guidelines imposes no obligation on the claimant to make any long-term effort to mitigate his loss by making adjustments to his business as opportunities arise.
In the next paragraph they say:
In principle it could be argued that when a loss arises the claimant should make a payment to the public conservation authority.
The consultants pause there for a moment, because that really seems a radical suggestion—that the
claimants should start paying the conservation body because they were not making the loss which they would have made had they gone along with the development. The consultants say—I think probably reasonably when you look at the sort of rip-off this system represents—that this would not be a realistic proposition. On woodlands and forestry, to which these arrangements were voluntarily extended by the Nature Conservancy Council and the Government, they say in paragraph 7.20:
in many cases it is probable that the claimant is receiving a cash benefit which would otherwise have been left for future generations to realise.
§ Your Lordships will appreciate that this is a lengthy report and I have been able to quote only parts of it, and I have only been able to read it once since it was made available. I am sorry that other noble Lords have not had longer to study it, because I think it might have made a considerable difference to the debates we have had on this Bill. I have no doubt that is why the Government decided to try to suppress it. I appreciate that time is getting on, and I come to a conclusion from this report—the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, is laughing about this: I am glad he thinks it is funny that the taxpayer is being ripped off. If I may finish the point I will then gladly give way to the noble Lord. I am glad he thinks it is so funny that the taxpayers are being ripped off to this extent.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I wonder whether the noble Lord would give way. I deeply regret that he should burden the Committee with now 21 minutes of a report which 90 per cent. of your Lordships have not seen. Certainly I will look at it, but for the noble Lord to read out only parts of it when the majority of noble Lords have not seen it is, I think, totally irresponsible, if I may say so.
§ Lord Melchett
I strongly agree with the noble Lord. It is totally irresponsible; but it is not my report. It is the Government's report. They have had it since June in draft and since September in final form. Who is being irresponsible, I ask the noble Lord, in not releasing this report to this Chamber and to another place? If the noble Lord wants to intervene again, I will gladly give way but, if not, I will come to a conclusion.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Since the noble Lord asks me, yes, I will intervene. I think the noble Lord opposite is being irresponsible. No doubt the Government will publish this report in due course and we shall he able to have a debate on it in due course when we can all give our views. This is the Committee stage, believe it or not, of the Agriculture Bill, and I think we should try to address ourselves to that.
§ Lord Melchett
I am addressing myself to my amendment. As the noble Lord said, no doubt the Government will now publish the report—indeed, they have done so, and in considerable confusion and disarray a few days ago after it had been leaked. The noble Lord may decide that the timing was determined by the Government in the light of all the considerations but I have to say to him that I have been waiting for a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about this report from 17th March. It was with some considerable surprise that I received a 1091 reply from the noble Lord last Saturday morning. My surprise was somewhat relieved when I opened the Observer on the following Sunday morning and found that the report had been leaked to the press and that was why I had had a reply so suddenly and unexpectedly from the noble Lord after such a long wait. If the Government had released this report after they had had a reasonable time to study it, every one of your Lordships could have read it and I would not then have felt it was my duty to read out parts of it so that your Lordships could be at least informed of those parts of it before coming to a decision on my amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said there is a philosophical divide between that side of the Committee and this side of the Committee on an earlier amendment, and I want to end by saying, in the words of the consultants, what the philosophy of noble Lords opposite in managing and protecting our countryside since 1981 has led to. In paragraph 7.38 of the report the consultants say:Many of the claims submitted"—that is, the claims submitted under the 1981 Act—exaggerate the extent of the losses".In paragraph 7.39 they say:Exaggeration takes a number of forms including: Lack of Genuine Intent and Failure to Mitigate…A lack of genuine intent is impossible to prove in very many cases".They go on with another heading of exaggeration:Phasing. The rate at which improvements will be introduced on to a farm, and the rate of increase in yields and profits following an improvement to land can be difficult to predict, and this allows scope for adjustment in the claimant's favour which can be difficult to dispute.Under "Marginality of Fixed Costs" the consultants say:Verifiable information is rarely available and allows scope for exaggerating the claim.Under "Crops Yields and Other Physical Performance Factors"—and here the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and I think any farmer in the Committee may hear something they would be familiar with—they say:Farmers' perceptions of their crop yields tend to be coloured by the results of better fields and better seasons … on many farms even the farmers own assessment of them, without reference to accurate records, can be grossly misleading.On minor variation in claims, the consultants say in the same paragraph:With little difficulty it is possible to adjust these figures by small amounts (say 10 per cent.) in favour of the claimant. Individually the differences are small but when accumulated they amount to substantial exaggeration which is difficult to refute.That is what has happened as a result of the voluntary principle favoured by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and the Government.
The consultants sum it up by saying:Because of the … scope for exaggeration, and the difficulties in countering it, exaggerated claims are resulting in exaggerated settlements.If we had adopted the proposals put forward by this side of the Committee in the 1981 Act, and which are repeated in the amendment I have tabled today, we should not be facing this massive misuse of public money, these exaggerated claims and exaggerated settlements. I beg to move.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Moyne
Might I make the briefest of comments on this Amendment No. 72, and also on No. 49? While not discussing the merits of what the noble Lord has so painstakingly said in his exposition, it seems to me that it is a wrong way to legislate to refer to a word or two in another Act which is not before us. Admittedly, it can be looked up, but it is very hard on the public to have this legislation by reference to other Acts. It seems to me that the right way would be to amend the Town and Country Planning Act and the Highways Act.
§ The Earl of Onslow
As one of the people who, with ineffable smugness, forecast this was going to happen, I rise to oppose Lord Melchett's amendment, though not because I do not think that he was right to quote some of the Gould Report which most of the others of us have not seen. I think, with respect to him, he did go on for a little too long, but it was an absolutely foreseeable game that was going to be played. My only regret is—I say this in all honesty—that I have not got an SSSI, because if I had I would be ripping them off with the best, without any shadow of doubt at all. As Clive said when accused of bribery, "Gentlemen, I stand astonished at my own moderation!". I really think that the landowning community can be congratulated on being astonished at its own moderation.
The abuse that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has pointed out has to be seriously addressed. My noble friend Lord Stanley is right. It would have been much better if we could have read the report. It is a great pity that it had to be prised out of my noble friend's department, because it was going to come out in the end; so why not let it come out, and face up to the music?
I still think that to put blanket planning permission on to the land is not the right way to do it. If I had any position of authority or power I would suggest to this Chamber that the way to do it would be by tree preservation order method; in other words, to preserve a thing and say that you cannot do something to it. But to produce what they did in the Wildlife and Countryside Act and then be surprised if people are given a trough that they do not put their snouts in it, is a very odd way to behave. I still think it is wrong to put blanket planning consents on the whole countryside.
§ Lord John-Mackie
Although I also, privately at least, felt that this would be abused, or at least that it was not a good way of doing it, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I have never thought about how one could do it and how one could defeat the authorities. I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for reading out how it could be done. He could have done this in a little less time, although I agree with what he was saying. It is rather disappointing that we did not have this report. I gather that it was only put in the Library a few days ago, and it would have been better if we had had it.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I do not think that blanket planning on agriculture and forestry would solve the problem. We need to leave it to the Government to see that this sort of thing does not go on, and we are obliged to my noble friend, in spite of 1093 the length of his speech and his amendment, for bringing it up so forcibly. I am sure the Government will have to look at it very closely indeed.
§ Lord Walston
In spite of the comments that have been made about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, which I share to some extent, he has made out his case. He has brought to our attention abuses of which we have heard rumours both by word of mouth and in the newspapers, which have now been substantiated. These are abuses on a very substantial scale. I do not think anybody who has listened to him or who has read the report (which I have not), can have any doubt that this has gone too far. If one were charitable, one could say it was a valiant attempt that has failed.
Where I found Lord Melchett's speech disappointing was that having made out his case that something should be done about it, he did not make any case for suggesting that his amendment was the only way, the right way, or the best way, of doing something about it. From the arguments that I have heard so far, I am certainly not convinced that this amendment will put right the abuse which undoubtedly exists. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will be able to come up with some suggestions. I hope that he will admit that the experiment, not of his department, but of the Department of the Environment, has failed and has been a costly failure and should be brought to an end as quickly as is practicable. I hope that he will give us some indication as to how the Government, whether it is his department or the Department of the Environment. will deal with it.
§ Lord Belstead
Lord Melchett's rhetoric conceals the fact that we cannot discuss the merits of this particular amendment because it has no merit. It is an amendment which seeks to bring agricultural land in its use within the scope of planning control. I should have thought that that was something which would dismay not just the farming community but anyone who has lived in and loved the countryside over the years. I leave aside the really extraordinary complexities and anomalies which that would raise. I simply content myself this evening with saying that I would have thought on all sides of the Committee we have reached a position now in public life where we all agree that in our small island there are cases where it is right to protect the land from some farming operations because they may damage its special character or scientific value.
That is the reason why, on top of the voluntary principle of the 1981 Act, where a site is particularly sensitive it can be protected by SSSI designation; where the landscape is of national importance it can have the status of national park designation. Now in this Bill we are wishing to add environmentally sensitive area designation, in order to protect areas by encouraging the use of environmentally sympathetic farming practice. But that is light years away from the effects of this amendment.
The noble Lord calls in aid of his case for the amendment the fact that there has been the Laurence Gould report and has charged the Government with suppressing the report. As right honourable and honourable friends of mine in the Government have 1094 made clear, it has always been the Government's intention to publish the report prepared by Laurence Gould, consultants, commissioned, of course, by the Government into the review of financial guidelines for management agreements. We felt that it would be necessary to postpone publication until we had our own reaction ready, which it is not. But in the light of misconceived press comment, we have decided to place copies of the report in the Libraries of both houses; and there it is—and it is a very large volume indeed, in both cases.
I am not going to follow the noble Lord through the labyrinth of the paragraphs from which he quoted. but I must confess my surprise that, among the innuendo, the charges, the suggestions and the downright open allegations that the noble Lord made, there was no mention of the true costs of management agreements. If the Committee is interested, in the current financial year the Nature Conservancy Council expects to spend some £8.6 million on payments under management agreements and that would involve an average payment of some £33 per hectare. I do not think that is a basis for corruption and deliberate mismanagement.
I was surprised that, from somebody with the experience of the noble Lord, there was not one word about the need for positive management in the concept of management agreements; the need for the individual farmer or landowner in many cases to see that he manages the land in a sensitive way, in order that the objectives of a site of special scientific interest can really be attained. The noble Lord has been good enough to nod, because he knows that that is true.
In the noble Lord's speech there was no mention of why the Laurence Gould report was commissioned. It was commissioned to see whether there was any way of running the present management agreements at a better cost and, if one looks at the report, one sees that the answer to that, broadly speaking, is that there is not an easy way to find.
There was no mention in the speech as to whether the report feels that any changes to the guidelines might yield savings. If we look at the report, we find that any proposed amendments would in fact result initially in increases in the costs of operating the guidelines. There are of course many interesting aspects of the report and we shall certainly be giving our reactions to it, from the Government's point of view, when we have had time finally to finish our study of it.
But the noble Lord moved from that superficial run-over of the report to the conclusion that there should be blanket planning controls placed on agriculture. That will dismay the vast majority of people who will have the benefit of seeing reports of the noble Lord's speech in the Committee this afternoon. It dismays me and it dismays the Government and we have no intention of accepting this amendment.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
The noble Lord, in describing as superficial the account of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, could have taken the opportunity—as I assume that he has read the report—of showing us how that was a superficial view. 1095 He chose not to do so, and I assume that that was because the clock is not with us. But the clock could have been with us if the Government had let us have the report earlier, because they knew that this Bill was coming up.
This is not just a matter of listening to farmers and people interested in the land and finding excuses for not doing something in this Bill. The fundamental philosophical divide between that movement and these Benches is a very important one. We are not really talking about the motives of people who, to quote the Minister, wish to manage in the best interests of the land. I wish I could believe that every farmer in this country was concerned only with managing in the best interests of the land and of the community. Is that true? I do not believe it is.
Most farmers in this country are in the business of farming to make money and, as the noble Lord opposite pointed out, the Government were advised well in advance that the farmers would do just that—make money. So the political divide is a very real one. It is not just a question of whether or not we apply planning permission to the whole of agriculture. The fundamental divide is about whether people who control the destiny of our land are locally or nationally elected, or whether they are in the private sector. That has been pointed out already. If this were left to the private sector, those people would go to the deepest pocket.
I half suspected that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, would be advised to withdraw the amendment. I hope that he does not, because it is time that everybody stood up to be counted. We are either voting for public control of the land, which is the one asset that cannot be changed, or we are voting for private control with a regard only for making money out of it, as has been so amply demonstrated in the report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I should like to point out to the noble Lord who has just spoken that in countries where land has been nationalised the returns from it have been, on the whole, extremely poor, but where land has been in private hands the productivity has been far greater. I know of several instances in this country where a socialist government nationalised the land. The excuse was that it was for research stations, but they often never issued reports and eventually they ran up huge debts. They certainly employed quite a lot of people. But they made very great losses and by so doing impoverished the economy of the country.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for demonstrating quite clearly his acknowledgment that it is a question of how much money you can get out of it.
§ Baroness White
I have no doubt that, after this brief discussion, we wholeheartedly support the amendment which is before the Committee. On the other hand, it is extremely disturbing that we have had no adequate explanation from the Government of how the comments in this report could affect the matters before us. I raised this point originally on the environmentally 1096 sensitive areas, and I was given an assurance by the Minister a couple of hours ago that I need have no concern about the environmentally sensitive areas, because the arrangements for management agreements coming under those provisions did not include calculations of net profit forgone, which is one of the matters that is particularly scathingly described in this report, which points out that the scope for error and manipulation in the calculation of net profit forgone is excessive and should not be regarded as acceptable to public authorities.
Obviously I take the word of the Minister that this matter does not arise over the arrangements proposed for environmentally sensitive areas, though some of the other decisions in the report might well be applicable. But could he tell us on Clause 14, which refers to EC farm grants relating to areas of special scientific interest or national parks, whether there will be no element of net profit forgone in these situations? If so, that may be reassuring. But as the matter had already been raised the Minister must have known that many people in the Chamber would be concerned, even if we have not had time to read it. I looked at the report in the Library yesterday. I cannot pretend that I have taken both volumes in, but there has been serious criticism, and the Minister should at least have shown sufficient respect for the feelings of the Committee—or of those who are concerned about this—to have reassured us (if reassurance is applicable to, for example, Clause 14) about any part of the Bill to which the serious criticism in the report might properly apply.
§ Lord Belstead
If I may say so, I think I replied to the noble Baroness, Lady White, about a couple of hours ago. I have given a pretty full reply to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and we have disposed of Clause 14.
§ Baroness White
But on Clause 14 I should think that the Minister might have thought it proper. I did not know that my noble friend was going to raise this matter; otherwise, I think I might have raised it myself when we were discussing Clause 14. But as it has now been raised, at least we should be told. I should have thought that the Minister would have been politically well advised to have taken the initiative in giving us reassurance on Clause 14 if that reassurance could properly be given.
§ Lord Belstead
If anybody needs to be politically well advised on this amendment, the Labour Party needs to remember that it is being told from its Back-Benches that blanket planning controls should be imposed for the first time ever upon the whole of the agricultural community. Let that go out from this Committee stage. This is a most ill-advised amendment.
§ Lord Belstead
I am not dodging the question at all. The noble Baroness is seeking to go back to a clause of which we have disposed.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
It must be more than six months since this problem was raised from the Liberal Benches. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, getting up to support the point and demanding that action should be taken. There was a further strength from the Conservative Benches. On that occasion the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made one of his typical, rumbustious speeches and said that something ought to be done about it. Every part of the Chamber was concerned about the scandal of the rip off. It is not good enough for the Minister to come along and say, "We don't like this amendment". What is he going to do about the problem?
We do not have an Agriculture Bill every day. We created this problem by unwise statutory action about six years ago. Yet the Minister is prepared to dodge the question and use parliamentary procedures, saying, "The Labour Party …", and so on. One puts down an amendment to draw attention to a problem and to try to get the Government's ideas on what they are going to do about the problem. As I see it, the Minister is not going to do anything about it. To anyone who suggests that we should wait and have another amendment and another debate I say, "When will we have another Agriculture Bill?"
This is happening in Scotland as well. Anyone who has had contact with nature conservancy over the years will know this. It had difficulty spending money, but my goodness, how it is getting the money now to spend on different purposes. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is quite right: it is a rip off for people not doing something which they had no intention of doing anyway. From that point of view it is most unsatisfactory that the Government have not given us an indication of how they are going to deal with it.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
The noble Lord referred to me, or looked at me. As I understand it, ESAs are going to be funded in a way totally different from sites of special scientific interest, which my noble friend mentioned when he replied earlier to the noble Baroness, Lady White. Therefore, this report as such does not bear on this amendment. What we are discussing is whether this amendment is the right way forward. When we come to that report at another time, no doubt we can deal with it. But here we are dealing with blanket planning in the countryside, which I, with my noble friend, oppose totally because we run a rather successful business. If anybody who has been in the countryside this weekend says that we are ruining the country, he must be out of his mind.
§ The Earl of Onslow
It seems to me that the most sensible thing is, first, completely to oppose what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is doing, and, secondly, to suggest to my noble friend that it would be much more appropriate for somebody to ask an Unstarred Question on the whole subject of the Gould Report. Then we can talk about it. It is not going to go away; we must talk about it. It is better to face up to things. It seems to me that it is being used much too narrowly on this amendment, and is therefore not completely appropriate.
§ Lord Melchett
The reason why the report, which I gave the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, notice I was going to raise, is relevant to this amendment is because, as 1098 the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, himself said, there is a philosophical divide between the two sides of the Committee. There are two approaches to protecting the British countryside. One is reported on in the Laurence Gould Report and was the one adopted by the Government, largely at the insistence of the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union when we were debating the Wildlife and Countryside Bill: the other was embodied in the amendment which I moved from the Labour Front Bench to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1981. It was moved by the Labour Front Bench in another place as well. It advocated exactly the same proposal as I am now making in this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead—and, if I may say so, just occasionally my noble friend on the Front Bench—seemed to think there was something new in this Labour Party policy, but it has been Labour Party policy for at least five or six years. We debated the reason why it was a sensible and effective policy very fully in 1981. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, suggested that I should have gone on for another 20 minutes explaining it all again, but I think that would have tried the Committee's patience, and so I do not intend to do so.
I should like to pick up four points made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. First, as he knows, this blanket planning control is a nonsense, and I said so in moving the amendment. The intention is, and Labour Party policy has for many years been, to control significant developments in the countryside. I used the phrase,that would cause permanent damage to conservation of landscape interests".We are not talking about blanket planning controls, and nobody ever has.
The noble Lord said that there has been misconceived press comment on this report. I think that is right: the press comment was misconceived. The misconception was that the report was a good deal milder than it actually is. I do not think any of the press reports have done the Laurence Gould Report justice. I do not think any of them have picked up the full scale and scope of the criticism of the Government's current policy in their reports. I hope this debate will help to put that right.
The noble Lord said that I did not mention positive management in my initial speech. I appreciate it was a long one, and I explained the reason for that—the Government supressed the report, and that is their fault. But I did mention positive management because Laurence Gould mentioned it a number of times in the report. The report says that the current Government policy and the management agreements which are being entered into under it encourage only negative management and do not encourage the positive management on which, I am delighted to hear, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and I, and the Labour Party, are so keen. Now that he knows that his policy is not doing that, I hope he will change his mind and support the amendment.
The noble Lord also said that I did not talk about the changes that Laurence Gould recommended. I really felt that that would be adding insult to sufficient injury. The report makes a number of recommendations for changes. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, 1099 said, all of them would add to the cost of the present system. That does not seem to me to be a recipe for success and harmony in the future.
It would be sensible to press this amendment to a Division for this reason. As I said before, the report describes the current Government policy for protecting the British countryside as being subject to the following problem:Because of the … scope for exaggeration and the difficulties in countering it, exaggerated claims are resulting in exaggerated settlements".It was put more succinctly and a good deal more colourfully by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. The noble Earl called it:Troughs for people to put their snouts in".A vote against this amendment is a vote for troughs to put the snouts of some very rich and well off people in. I ask your Lordships to support it.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 72) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 29; Not-Contents, 87.1100
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Melchett, L. [Teller.]|
|Blease, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Nicol, B. [Teller.]|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|David, B.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Denington, B.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Donegall, M.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Dormer, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Elton, L.|
|Annandale and Hartfell, E.||Faithfull, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Feversham, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gray, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Grey, E.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Harvington, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Henley, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Hives, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Hood, V.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hooper, B.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Killearn, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Denham, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Denning, L.||Layton, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Radnor, E.|
|Long, V. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|McNair, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Savile, L.|
|Marley, L.||Seear, B.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Skelmersdale, L. [Teller.]|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Molson, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Munster, E.||Walston, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Wise, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Orkney, E.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord Moran moved Amendment No. 72A:
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
§ In section 22(2)(e) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and in section 19(2)(e) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, after the words "forestry (including afforestation)" there shall be inserted—
"other than forestry of a type specified by the Secretary of State by Order".).
§ The noble Lord said: After that spirited exchange I feel rather abashed to be bringing in another amendment dealing with planning procedures. I listened very carefully to the Minister's very eloquent defence of the voluntary approach. I myself expressed some doubts about it when we debated the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill. But I hope that we may now put behind us the philosophical arguments that we have just been discussing and that we can consider my amendment on its merits as a practical step.
§ I must make it clear at the start that I am not proposing that all forestry should be subjected to planning control. The amendment—and I am afraid that in it I have put in error "the Secretary of State"; perhaps I have promoted the Minister's right honourable friend and, if so, that shows my high regard for him—should have spoken of "the appropriate Minister". At any rate, the amendment proposes to give the appropriate Minister power and full discretion to specify what types of forestry should be made subject to planning. My amendment, by allowing certain forestry operations to be brought within the Town and Country Planning Act's definition of "development", would bring these operations within the scope of planning controls.
Forestry, including afforestation, is at present, as the Committee will know, specifically exempted from the Town and Country Planning Act's definition of "development". The wording of the amendment,
other than forestry of a type specified",
by the Minister by order, ensures that only specific forestry activities, to be later specified by the Minister, are brought under planning controls.
§ I believe that there is increasing support for a measure of this sort. It ought in my view to be applied to two types of forestry activity—major new 1101 afforestation and the destruction of ancient woodlands. To deal first with the planting of open country with new afforestation, it has been calculated by the NCC that one-third of this country's open moorland has been destroyed since 1947, much of it lost to intensive commercial forestry. The current rate of loss to both forestry operations and intensive agriculture in England and Wales has been estimated by Dr. Parry of Birmingham University at 12,000 acres a year, the rate being much higher in Scotland.
§ The planting up with alien species of conifers on open upland country brings about, as we all know, major landscape change. It makes access difficult and transforms the wildlife characteristics of an area. Afforestation can also have damaging effects on water quality, stream life and fisheries. That is giving concern to a number of water authorities. I live in Wales and I know that it is an anxiety on the upper Irfon where run-off from conifer forests has destroyed the invertebrate and fish life. Bird life has now been adversely affected. I understand that the Government's own countryside agency, the Countryside Commission, now advocates the extension of planning controls over new afforestation. It did so in its uplands report of 1983.
§ On the question of damage to ancient woodlands, one-half of Britain's ancient and semi-natural woodlands—a total of 300,000 hectares—has been destroyed since 1947—more than in the previous four centuries. It has been estimated that 70 per cent. of this destruction has been caused by forestry operations, including replanting with conifers.
§ The Forestry Commission's new broadleaf woodland policy is something that we can all welcome, but in its present form it cannot prevent the destruction of ancient woodlands, whether it be by their conversion to conifers, by excessive grazing or by the conversion of coppice woodland to agriculture. However, afforestation may change the face of large parts of the countryside for generations. Planning procedures are open and fair and give the public, local authorities and interested organisations an opportunity to know precisely what is proposed and to make their views known.
§ At present, if an owner-occupier decides to go ahead and plant without grant, he can successfully avoid consulting anyone. It seems inherently unreasonable that we should apply planning controls to minute items, such as a small extension to a house or a new private garage but have no control over plantings which make vast changes to the landscape. I am sure it is right that the Minister should have the power to make planning procedures cover major forestry operations. I beg to move.
§ Baroness White
May I, briefly, support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord,Lord Moran? I do so as president of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales. Everything that the noble Lord said about our anxieties is well-founded. Therefore, I support the proposed amendment and the arguments adduced by the noble Lord.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
I, too, support the amendment, as will have been obvious from my moving of the 1102 previous amendment. I simply want to emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the Government's own statutory advisers, the Countryside Commission, support the extension of development control to major new conifer afforestation schemes. Not only has this been Labour Party policy for many years, it is now supported by at least one of the Government's statutory advisers. Indeed, it is a body with which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has been particularly keen to align himself during our debates on this Bill. I hope he will stay in that position on this amendment.
§ Lord Belstead
That may well be, but we did not accept the Countryside Commission's recommendation for extending planning control to the uplands, as the noble Lord knows very well. It was a good report, A Better Future for the Uplands, but that was one of the aspects we did not think was right. Therefore, I have to say that I start off with a predilection against this amendment, as I believe the Government revealed in their response to that report.
May I briefly say that I am somewhat mystified as to why the felling permissions do not meet the case which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. We have, of course, consultation procedures for forestry grants and felling permissions and the reason I have put the emphasis on the felling permissions is that this afternoon we have already spoken a great deal about planting. The point has been made—and I shall not go over it again—that you do not always have to plant with grant; but so far as felling is concerned, there has to be a felling licence. I understand that over the past decade some 9,000 forestry planting proposals have been made and some 18,000 felling licence applications. By and large, they have been dealt with successfully and there has rarely been the need to go further and obtain ministerial approval.
I am sorry to tell the noble Lord that I do not see that the case has been made out for going beyond that system and bringing in planning permission. It is on those grounds that I resist this amendment.
§ Lord John-Mackie
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, my noble friend Lady White and my noble friend Lord Melchett seem to me as if they do not want an afforestation policy in this country. If that is the case, they should say so. The areas that they are speaking about will only grow coniferous trees—or at least most of them, because there are some small areas in the hills that may grow scrub oak, and so on; but on the whole it has to be conifers.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned alien trees. I do not know whether or not a Scots pine is an alien tree but I can say that most of our deciduous trees are alien and for the noble Lord to use that expression is quite wrong.
Do we want an afforestation programme? Most of us know that we are importing £4.5 billion-worth of wood and wood products and that trees of the world are being cut down at the rate of 50 acres a minute. We must therefore look to the future. As I said earlier, the programme up to about 2020 is to seek to get afforestation up to 8 million or 8.5 million acres in this country. That also includes low ground woodlands. I feel that the balance should be sufficient to satisfy 1103 those people who want open spaces in this country, which cover about 12 million acres. I should like to know whether or not those people want an afforestation programme.
§ The Earl of Radnor
I follow the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, by asking whether or not they want rural unemployment.
§ Lord Melchett
I think that is a question that should not be left unanswered as it was directed specifically at my noble friend Lady White and myself. There is ample evidence to show—and I should have thought farmers would be the first to recognise it—that the spread of conifer afforestation in the uplands has led to a decrease in jobs and not an increase. What few jobs have been provided have been provided at centres a long way from where afforestation takes place. For example, there is ample evidence to show that as the acreage of conifer planting owned by the Forestry Commission goes up, the number of jobs actually goes down. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, gave one of the reasons for that situation. Modern techniques of planting allow for self-thinning, so that no labour is required on the newly-afforested area if it is done with alien conifers, as it is now to the extent of over 90 per cent. or more of new planting, for the first 20 years or more of the new plantation's life.
These are extremely capital intensive operations which involve virtually no labour—certainly no local labour, and certainly there are no local permanently employed people. Nearly all the planting is done with sitka spruce and lodgepole pine and by the private sector of forestry in Scotland. My noble friend asked, "What sort of forestry policy do we want in the Labour Party?" I am happy to tell him. We want to increase the amount of planting that is undertaken. He is quite right to say that there is a deficit in our timber production; but he will also know that the main deficit in years ahead will be in hardwood timber and not softwood.
The prospects for softwood timber production in North America and Scandinavia for the foreseeable future are relatively good. The long-term outlook for hardwood timber production world-wide is very bad and it is getting worse all the time because tropical rain forests are disappearing. We want to see a considerable increase in hardwood planting; a far greater planting programme than has ever been contemplated before in the country would in my view be justified, particularly on better quality ground because surplus agricultural production means that it is not needed for agriculture at the moment.
If we used native hardwood trees it would create far more jobs than would conifer planting; it would be of far greater long-term economic benefit to this country, both in terms of the resources available and the jobs provided; and of course it would create no arguments with those interested in the landscape, in access or in wildlife conservation. That is the planting and forestry that we want to see. But we want it to be subject to local democratic control, because the Labour Party believes in decisions being taken in that way rather than decisions being taken by people who are trying to 1104 avoid tax or who happen to own large chunks of our countryside.
§ Baroness White
As my name has been mentioned again, I should like to say that I have lived for 16 years in the Dovey Forest in mid-Wales and I know a little about the kind and quantity of labour that in fact is used locally. Certainly there is a certain amount of contract labour but forestry has become a highly mechanised industry. I do not say that it makes no contribution to local employment; of course it makes some contribution, but it is marginal, as my noble friend recognises. I do not go all the way along with him as regards some of his philosophy but to suggest that we are not interested in having tree planting is quite incorrect. Indeed, we are; but we want the right trees in the right place.
§ Lord John-Mackie
I should reply to some of the statements that have been made. All the figures that I have (and unfortunately I do not have them at my fingertips) show that forestry compared with hill farming employs people in the ratio of three-to-one. That is for the whole process of forestry. My noble friend Lord Melchett said that at the moment private forestry was in the ascendant. I know that private forestry goes in for a lot of gang labour brought in from outside the area; and certainly that does not help rural employment, though it is employment as such. I am prepared to look up the figures and provide them to my noble friend.
As regards the question of the kind of trees to be planted, again it is not easy to always have the figures in one's head but I think that roughly half the 4½ billion that comes in is in wood pulp for paper and so on, and that is all from softwood. Admittedly hardwood is scarce because we have not been planting in the past the trees which our forefathers planted 10 years ago.
The noble Lord is using the argument that a lot of land has to be taken from agriculture. It has been worked out—I have worked it out—how much arable lowland we can afford to take out to deal with the surplus. It is a minuscule amount and will not make much difference to the hardwood planting. I emphasise again that hardwood can only be planted in these areas and not in the hill areas.
§ Lord Moran
Perhaps I may just answer two questions which were put to me. The first one was put to me by the Minister on the question of felling licences. I accept that this is a valid point but there are exceptions. For example, there is the case of coppiced woodland. A farmer can quite legitimately cut coppice in the normal way and he is then left with the coppice stools which only stand about knee high, and as the felling licence mechanism is only triggered at 1.3 metres above ground, the coppice stools can then quite legitimately be grubbed up with impunity. I understand that there have been cases of this in East Sussex, and that is one loophole in the felling licence mechanism.
The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked whether I was against afforestation altogether. Of course I am not. In this amendment I am concerned to allow the Minister to exercise some control. I think that very often it is a matter of where forests are to be planted.
1105 It may be a case of not planting trees right on top of a heather moorland but on the side somewhere. Very often it is a situation in which the word "sensitivity" applies; trees may perfectly well be planted in one place without doing very much damage while in another place they would do an enormous amount of damage. I think that if the Minister had this power, he could do a great deal of good for the countryside.
If I may, I should like to ask him whether, if he does not like this particular procedure, he thinks that anything else would help. He has turned down the taxation proposal. I am asking whether he thinks there is a problem and whether it is a matter to which the Government should address themselves.
§ Lord Belstead
No, quite frankly I do not think there is a problem. I was interested in the first example that was given by the noble Lord. I am speaking from memory and without advice, and if I am wrong I shall write to the noble Lord and put the matter right; but if my memory serves me correctly, about a year ago—or perhaps a little more—we made sure that with Government money no longer could there be the breaking up of the ground following the cutting down of trees—and the noble Lord gave the example of coppicing—so that the land could be returned to agriculture.
I am saying that if you take into account the fact that one would have to find out of one's own pocket entirely the costs of returning into arable land the land which has been put into trees and also take into account the falling price of cereals at the moment, I do not think that the example which the noble Lord attributed to East Sussex is one such as would be happening now. I say that quite seriously. I do not think that there is a problem of that kind there for the reason that I have given.
That is only a partial answer, but I hope I have made it clear that from the Government side we do not think that there is the problem which the noble Lord puts forward, at least not to the extent that it would allow for the imposition of planning controls, which, about a year ago, the Government made clear that they did not like so far as the uplands were concerned.
§ Lord Moran
I find that reply disappointing because I myself think that there is a problem and a growing problem and that sooner or later it will have to be addressed. However, it cannot be addressed tonight, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 49:
§ After Clause 14 insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment of section 134 of Highways Act 1980.
§ . In subsection (6) of section 134 of the Highways Act 1980 (ploughing of footpaths and bridleways) the words after the words "highway authority", where they appear for the second time, shall be omitted.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment will remove the restrictions on prosecuting farmers who plough public rights of way when they have no right to do so—in other words, when they break the law—or when they fail to restore the surface of a path which has been legally ploughed but then illegally leave it ploughed 1106 and do not restore it. The restrictions that currently apply allow for prosecutions to be undertaken only by a local authority, which of course includes a parish council or a community council.
§ The problems associated with illegally ploughing rights of way have been very well documented in a recent study undertaken by a team from the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester and the Joint Centre for Land Development Studies at the University of Reading. There was a steering committee for this study which included the National Farmers' Union, representatives of local authorities, the Countryside Commission and the Ramblers Association. They looked at six specimen areas of the countryside and their results make fairly depressing reading.
§ The study found that for paths that went across arable fields 91 per cent. of the fields were categorised in the report as not having a path; in other words, the line of the path was not discernible at all. In only 8.8 per cent. of the cases was the path all right when it was inspected. That does not mean that in 91 per cent. of the cases the law was necessarily being broken. In a few cases the path might have been restored subsequently and within the time limits provided by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but it is still an extraordinarily and appallingly high percentage of paths across fields.
§ The study also looked at headland paths where there is no legal right to plough the footpath. It found that 32.6 per cent. of those paths were either ploughed or obstructed and 63.7 per cent. were all right. There was a high percentage of illegal ploughing or obstruction of headland paths where there is no legal right to plough or to obstruct the path at all. It is against the criminal law. And there was an extraordinarily high percentage for the paths going across fields.
§ The problem is being addressed by the Government, or at least by the Ministry of Agriculture and other interests, by providing a code of practice for farmers to encourage them to obey the law. That is welcome. I understand that the code of practice is to be launched shortly, I think at the Royal Agricultural Show.
§ Nevertheless, I still think, and I am sure that Members of the Committee would agree, that the criminal law as passed by Parliament should be enforced and that lawbreaking on that scale should not be condoned. We all believe in law and order. The problem is that there is nobody to enforce that law, because county, metropolitan district and London borough councils, as highway authorities which have the duty to enforce the law, do not do so.
§ The only remedy that a member of the public is left with is the expensive one of an application to the High Court for judicial review. That is available. In Scotland, a member of the public who was inconvenienced by that criminal activity would have a right to bring a prosecution. Just as if he was mugged and the police failed to bring a prosecution. the individual attacked can bring a prosecution in Scotland if he is inconvenienced by an illegally ploughed or obstructed footpath. That applies in England and Wales so far as other obstructions are concerned but not so far as ploughing is concerned.
§ My amendment would bring the law in England and Wales into line with that of Scotland and I think 1107 provide a useful back-up to ensure that the law is obeyed, with the important launching of this new code of practice which is about to take place. I beg to move.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
For once I can agree with the noble Lord to start with. Those who break the law and obstruct footpaths should be brought to court and the situation should be put right. The trouble is how to do it. That is where we disagree entirely. I remind the Committee that rights of way are in the same category as highways; they are highways.
It is surely the duty of the local authority to keep those rights of way in order and not that of every Tom, Dick and Harry who goes down them. Anyone who is aggrieved can go to the local authority and report that the path has been obstructed. The local authority is in the best position either to restore the path, which is the object of the exercise at the end of the day, by charging the farmer for doing so, or, if it feels so inclined, it can take the farmer to court. In most cases the local authority is able to persuade the farmer without taking him to court. That is the way forward and not the way that the noble Lord suggests.
§ Lord Belstead
I am inclined to agree with my noble friend. The power that the noble Lord is seeking to take in the amendment could lead to time-consuming and unproductive litigation. Individual walkers may disagree with the restoration work, even where the local authority is content that the law has been met. It is worth recalling that under the law as it stands local authorities can restore the surface of a path or way and subsequently recover the cost from the responsible farmer.
I agree also with my noble friend that when I take that view I do not in any way seek to defend those who flout the law. On the contrary, I am concerned that occupiers of land crossed by public rights of way should be made fully aware of their responsibilities. To that end I was grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning that the agricultural departments in England and Wales and the Countryside Commission are issuing a code of guidance on the restoration of rights of way after ploughing.
I have it in my hand. It has a triangular sign on the front, with feet walking across the ground and a horseshoe, which presumably is something that a walker will carry in his or her hand in case one of the bulls which the noble Lord is so worried about should happen to come along. It is a guide designed to leave farmers in no doubt as to the present position under the law. I hope that we can at least all agree that it will be a valuable publication.
§ Lord Melchett
I was interested to see that the noble Lord has a copy of the final guide, which I had not seen. No doubt a copy will be put in the Library as soon as Friends of the Earth have got hold of it and leaked it to the Observer. I am grateful to both noble Lords for their condemnation of those farmers and landowners who break the law. I hope that they will agree that the statistics that that independent and carefully carried out survey collected are depressing.
I have to differ over the fact that there may be a danger of vexatious or time-wasting prosecutions. I do 1108 not know whether either of them has ever been involved in bringing a prosecution for obstruction, as I have as a member of the executive committee of the Ramblers Association. There is power at the moment to bring private prosecutions for obstruction when the path is obstructed with a crop, fence, padlocked gate or a whole host of other things. It is only where the path is ploughed that that right does not exist.
It is an expensive business as a private individual or a voluntary organisation to finance an individual to bring a prosecution. The potential liability if a case goes on appeal to the High Court and costs are awarded against you can run into thousands and thousands of pounds. It is not something which an ordinary walker would undertake on his own and it is not something that anybody with any sense would undertake without being as certain as it is possible to be that he will win the case. I do not think that that is a serious danger, unless there are a lot of much richer walkers tramping the countryside than I have come across. It is something that will be undertaken only if the person has thought carefully about it and thinks that he will win.
The problem at the moment is that, while local authorities have the duty, as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, they simply are not exercising it. There have been no prosecutions, yet in the study area 90 per cent. of paths across fields are illegally ploughed, or potentially illegally ploughed. The scale of lawbreaking is massive and yet there is no enforcement whatsoever. I hope that the code will improve the situation, but I am sure that it will be necessary for some farmers to be taken to court either by local authorities, or, if the law were changed in the way that I want, by private individuals, before we get the standard of law and order which I know Members of the Committee opposite would want to see. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 50:
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment of section 135 of Highways Act 1980.
§ . In subsection (1) of section 135 of the Highways Act 1980 (temporary diversion of path or way ploughed up under section 134) for the words "3 weeks", in each place where they appear, there shall be substituted the words "2 weeks".").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment and my brief from the Ramblers Association says, "I defy the Government to come up with a reason for not accepting it". It would remedy an oversight in the law on ploughing contained in Sections 134 and 135 of the Highways Act 1980 which was amended by Section 61 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The amendment made by the 1981 Act was not complete. I hope that, as this is the last of my amendments, the noble Lord may at least be able to accept this one. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
In the context of that act of defiance from the noble Lord, I have this to say. I am grateful to him for drawing the point to our attention. Her Majesty's Government are very pleased to accept the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1109
§ The Earl of Onslow moved Amendment No. 72B:
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Landscape Conservation Order.
.—(1) Where the local planning authority is of the opinion that any part of their area is of special interest by reason of its landscape the character, existence or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance, they may for that purpose make a Landscape Conservation Order.
(2) Provision may be made by any such order—
- (a) for prohibiting (subject to any exemptions for which provision may he made by the Order) any operations appearing to the local planning authority to be likely to damage the character, existence or appearance of the landscape of the area specified in the Order, except with the consent of the local planning authority, and for enabling that authority to give their consent subject to conditions;
- (b) for applying, in relation to the consent under the Order and to applications for such consent, any of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 referred to in Subsection (2) of section 60 of that Act.
(3) A Landscape Conservation Order shall take effect immediately and shall be confirmed by the local planning authority within six weeks and the local planning authority may confirm any such Order either without modification or subject to such modifications as they consider expedient.
(4) Provision may be made by regulations under this Act with respect to the form of Landscape Conservation Orders, and the procedure to be followed in connection with the submission, confirmation, variation, and cancellation, of such orders; and regulations may (without prejudice to the generality of this subsection) make provision as follows—
- (a) that before a Landscape Conservation Order is confirmed by the local planning authority notice of the making of the Order shall be given to the owners and occupiers of land affected by the Order and to such other person, if any, as may be specified in the regulations;
- (b) that objections and representations with respect to the Order, if duly made in accordance with the regulations, shall be considered before the Order is confirmed by the local planning authority; and
- (c) that copies of the Order, when confirmed by the authority, shall be served on such persons as may be specified in the regulations.
(5) While a Landscape Conservation Order remains in force, a person served with a copy of the Order who carries out or causes or permits to be carried out any operation in contravention of a Landscape Conservation Order shall be subject to the following subsection, be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.
(6) It shall be a defence to a person charged with an offence under this section to prove—
- (a) that the operation specified in the charge was done in an emergency and that as soon as reasonably practicable after it was done particulars of the operation were furnished to the local planning authority in whose area the operation was done; or
- (b) the operation was authorised by a planning permission granted on an application under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971; or
- (c) the operation was authorised by some other statutory authorisation of a type specified by regulations made under this Act.
(7) The functions of a local planning authority under this section shall be exercisable—
- (a) in a London borough by the council of that borough,
- (b) in a metropolitan district or borough outside a National Park by the council of that district or borough,
- (c) in any part of a National Park by the National Park Authority or Planning Board,
- (d) elsewhere by a county council.").
§ The noble Earl said: I move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Buxton. I shall do so as quickly as possible. Had it been earlier, I would have taken a greater amount of time. I saw, however, from the face of my noble friend Lord Denham when he came into the Chamber that he is extremely worried 1110 about the time—it is rather a long time—that we have spent on this Bill. The amendment is designed to extract from the Government their thoughts on landscape conservation orders. The new clause is modelled on the tree preservation order principle. All of us know—I do not have to go into too great a detail—of the pressures on the countryside. With falling cereal prices, there will be pressure to extract the maximum production, which will make surpluses worse. Alternatively, in the less favoured areas land can be allowed to go back to scrub that is of no benefit visually or in terms of wildlife. One has only to look at the land around London airport to see an example of this at its absolute worst.
§ We have had what could be classed as a spirited debate on the Gould Report. That generated a certain amount of heat but very little knowledge of what the report says. There was, however, general enjoyment all round, I suspect. The tree preservation order, which is the model for the landscape conservation order, allows one to preserve trees but not, for some extraordinary reason, hedges. After all, hedges are only mini-trees laid down and half cut. The landscape is, to a large extent, modelled on hedges, stone walls and copses, certainly in lowland farming parts of the world. It is important that these should be conserved and looked after. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give the Committee some insight into the Government's view of landscape conservation orders. I beg to move.
§ Lord John-Mackie
We have SSSIs and now ESAs. We should wait a little while, I believe, before having anything like LCOs. Much as I appreciate the noble Earl's wish to protect the landscape, we should see how we get on with ESAs before going any further.
§ Baroness White
That is all very well, but there has recently been a statement by the junior Minister in the Department of the Environment that the Government are seriously proposing to study this matter further. My noble friend on the Front Bench was probably not aware of that statement. My understanding is that the Government are persuaded that there is possibly great benefit in certain circumstances from having the type of order to which the amendment refers.
I should like to say that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is not able to be present. As the Committee knows, he is an authority on, in particular, the national parks. I am a vice-president of the council of national parks. The noble Lord has asked me if I would be good enough to say that had he been here he would have supported the proposed amendment. This leads me to a question that I should like to put to the Minister. The amendment is drafted without particular reference to national parks. Most of us who support it hope that the Government will take the view that landscape conservation orders could be of great value in certain areas that are not necessarily designated. After all, national parks have a certain protection of their own by their very nature and constitution. But there are landscape areas, not only other designated areas, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty and, in the future, a small number of environmentally sensitive areas, where such orders might be extremely valuable.
I mentioned in the environment debate yesterday the concern that is felt about the press statement issued 1111 on behalf of Mrs. Angela Rumbold which indicated that the department was thinking possibly of confining its investigation into such orders to national parks. That was the only reference in her press statement. It implied that the Government were to investigate and consult only about landscape conservation orders in national parks. I hope very much that this is not so. The park officers have advised me that it would help them if such orders could be made in national parks, but I hope that the Government's intentions are not exclusively confined to those areas.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
In view of the late hour, I should like to make two quick points. The Minister referred earlier to the damage that could not be controlled if a grant was not applied for. There is no way of stopping this at the moment. I understand that a landscape order such as we are discussing would control it, and for that reason I support the amendment.
The lack of this kind of control also means that a higher price can be extracted on management agreements than is justified. I do not want to re-open the debate that has just taken place, except to say that, in his long speech, my noble friend Lord Melchett referred to 30 per cent. possible abuse. This means I would point out, that 70 per cent. is not abused. I should like to try to rebuild the fragile bridges that have been constructed between the farming community and the conservation community. I hope that these bridges will be sustained and that tonight's debate has not damaged them. I believe, like Mr. William Waldegrave, that the only way forward for conservationists and farmers is together.
§ Lord Moran
I support the amendment. I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, one question. He mentioned tree preservation orders. There was a report in the Daily Telegraph of 7th June concerning a preservation order made by Canterbury City Council to prevent someone grubbing up 39 acres of woodland. As a result, the Lands Tribunal announced that the farmer is to have £46,000 compensation not only in respect of the money that he might have gained by converting the woodlands to arable but also in respect of depreciation of a bulldozer and Common Market grants that he might have received. I hope that some way can be found, if landscape conservation orders are introduced, of avoiding similar claims being made under them.
§ The Earl of Radnor
As my noble friend has said that this is only a probing amendment, one should not perhaps take it too seriously. If, however, it is a serious piece of drafting, I have to admit that I find it, in a way, quite repugnant. There are two reasons. The first is that a person who is subject to a conservation order is allowed to object only, and there seems to be no right of appeal. The objection has to be lodged with the very people who have ordered how he should conduct himself. Secondly, there seems to be power, on the face of it, to disrupt a person's business for which that person would get no compensation.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, knows that I am on the opposite side of the divide which he keeps talking 1112 about and sees so clearly but which, unfortunately, I do not see nearly so clearly. I do not see life in those terms. However, for the two reasons that I have mentioned, as well as others, the proposal is wrong in every way. I assume, however, that it is a probing amendment and that my noble friend rushed it out, so to speak.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I should like to answer those two points straightaway. I am advised that there is buried somewhere in the new clause a right of appeal. Secondly, I have always found rather hollow the argument in favour of compensation for not ruining something. If one has a Grade I listed building one cannot pull it down and put up a chocolate factory. One cannot then apply for planning permission to pull down one's Grade I listed building and put up a chocolate factory and when one is refused permission say, "Can I please have some money for not making money out of chocolate?" That was tried under the 1949 planning Act. I think I am right in saying that Boodles applied to pull down their club and put up a new building and got £60,000 for it in compensation under the Silkin Act. White's were to slow and did not get it.
We have had this principle argued out before. I think that it is a thoroughly unsound principle to say, "I can do something which the community says that you should not do, so please can I have compensation for not doing it?" I find that a very unhealthy argument.
§ Lord Walston
Fortunately people are getting more and more concerned with the appearance of the countryside as a whole. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has pointed out that we became concerned about houses and have the various schedulings of houses. It is very valuable and important that we should have those. We are now getting increasingly concerned, not simply about SSSIs and the preservation of habitat, flora and fauna, but the appearance of the countryside. I think that in general, while the countryside is well maintained and very often improved by those who are responsible for it, there are occasions when it is not. There are acts of vandalism which take place from time to time. I think that this amendment makes provision—without being unduly bureaucratic or unduly inhibiting—to stop this kind of thing happening. I therefore support it in principle. So far as I can see it is good, though it may be that there are ways in which it can be improved.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for her last remark—that the way forward is co-operation. I could not agree more. There is one point which I would query with my noble friend on the Front Bench over these landscape conservation orders. There is a danger, if they are used in conjunction with ESAs, of taking away the voluntary side of it. The whole principle of ESAs is voluntary co-operation. If there is a threat of a landscape conservation order coming in behind it may well destroy this voluntary approach. I would regret that very much.
§ Lord Melchett
I should also like very briefly to support this amendment. If the Government and the 1113 Committee are not prepared to accept the amendment I moved on planning controls, this might well provide a middle course on which a number of people could agree that it would provide a step forward.
While I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, about the fear that this might interfere with what is seen as a voluntary approach of the ESAs—it will be voluntarily accepting some additional money, of course—I think we must accept that there is an equal and opposite danger that the whole concept of ESAs will be discredited if some of the areas are damaged while public money is being paid to other farmers and landowners to maintain them. I see that as a greater risk, as a farmer, because I see ESAs providing a new source of public support for agriculture and the countryside. I want to see that new source of finance being successful. I think that this power would help secure that despite the danger that the noble Lord sees in it.
§ Lord Belstead
The noble Baroness, Lady White, was indeed correct that on 5th June the Government announced that we would issue a consultation paper later this year to seek public views on a possible order-making scheme for landscape conservation orders. It would clearly be wrong to pre-empt the results of that consultation exercise by introducing in this Bill a provision such as the one proposed in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Onslow.
The powers to make orders which could significantly affect the rights and obligations of landowners and occupiers must be subject to widespread consultation. Therefore it will not surprise the Committee when I say that I feel that the consultation has started by having the opportunity to listen to all noble Lords who have been taking part in this afternoon's proceedings on what is really the last of the substantive amendments with which we shall be dealing.
My noble friend made clear that it was a probing amendment. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, thought that postponement should be the order of the day. The noble Baronesses, Lady White and Lady Nicol, embraced the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was interested about compensation, and he also liked the amendment. My noble friend Lord Radnor found it repugnant. The noble Lords, Lord Walston and Lord Melchett, both supported it. My noble friend Lord Stanley said that it seemed all right but not in ESAs..
If I may pick up that last point, indeed it is a fact—the noble Baroness, Lady White, asked me about this matter—that the Government statement made it clear that our intention is to look at this from the point of view of national park authorities and not outside the national park areas, and therefore not the environmentally sensitive areas as such, though of course an environmentally sensitive area may include a part of a national park.
I hope that noble Lords will not think that I am being evasive if I say that I do not think I should say any more. I have listened carefully to what has been said. As I say, this is for me the beginning of the consultation. I shall answer one question. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, put a direct question to me about a difficult case in the county of Kent. The answer is 1114 that the Department of the Environment is considering it, but it does not yet have the text of the legal decision.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I am pleased that the idea is being pursued in national parks. I am sad that it is not being pursued outside national parks. I have a feeling that eventually we shall have some provision like this because it would take away the element of the trough about which we have talked before. It is something which would imply positive land management rather than negative encouragement with big bribes.
My noble friend has known my views on the system of compensation under the Wildlife and Countryside Act for a long time. I am quite enormously enjoying saying, "I told you so" because it is one of the most fun things to say but one of the most irritating things to have said to one. However, having expressed my sadness that this matter will not be considered other than in the national parks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 15 agreed to.
§ Clause 16 [Short title, commencement, consequential amendments, repeals and extent]:
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment Nos. 73 and 74:
§ Page 14, line 28, leave out "and 11' and insert "11 and [Scotland: Compensation to outgoing tenants for milk quota] above".
§ Page 14, line 29, after ("10") insert ("above").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment Nos. 73 and 74 were dealt with by my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin when he spoke to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40. I beg to more.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 75:
§ Page 15, line 4, leave out ("and 11") and insert (", 11 and 13(7)").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential upon Amendment No. 70 moved by my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 39:
§ Before Schedule 2, insert the following new schedule: