HL Deb 09 February 1995 vol 561 cc391-430

8.39 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 79 [Hedgerows]:

Lord Wade of Chorlton moved Amendment No. 309C:

Page 86, line 33, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsections (1A) and (1B) below").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 311B. We now reach that stage of the Bill where we begin to speak about hedgerows. This Bill lays down that, The appropriate Ministers may by regulations make provision for, or in connection with, the protection of important hedgerows in England or Wales". I am sure that all Members of the Committee will agree with me that most of the hedgerows which we see are part of someone's farming business and, as such, they can be an important management tool in the effective running of the farm. I accept that there are now many people who are concerned over the loss of certain hedgerows. In certain parts of Britain there has been a great loss of hedgerows. In the north-west, which is my part of the country, there has been very little change in the hedgerows for hundreds of years in certain livestock farming areas. I have to declare an interest in farming although I have never made any pecuniary gain from it.

I am worried that the legislation will impose unnecessary regulations upon people who are trying to run a legitimate business and give regulatory bodies the right to look over farms and take action against farmers who are trying to run a legitimate business.

What is a hedgerow? What is "important"? And important to whom? There will clearly be enormous differences of opinion about what is important or who sees it as important. Our amendments propose that before Ministers make regulations in accordance with the clause they should, consult with such organisations as appear to them to be representative of interests substantially affected by their proposals; and consult such other persons as they consider appropriate", and: If it appears to the Ministers, as a result of the consultation required by subsection (1A) above, that it is appropriate to vary the whole or any part of their proposals, they shall undertake such further consultation with respect to the variations as appears to them to be approriate".

By the amendments we are trying to insert on the face of the Bill a requirement that the Minister consult all those involved—representatives of the industry and the farmers involved—and appreciate that their views need to be taken into consideration. Whatever business we may be in, we are all aware of the problems caused by over-zealous regulatory bodies.

What worries me about the proposals in the Bill is that they may do exactly that: create another over-zealous organisation made up of local people whose idea of what might be important may be entirely different and impact seriously upon a farmer's business. Fanning is still the greatest and most important industry in this country. We need to consider the impact the Bill will have on that industry.

I hope that the Government will respond positively to the amendments. I want the Government to appreciate how important these issues are to those who live and work in the countryside. I hope they will take into account what I and others say on this matter and will include a sensible consultation procedure which will avoid unnecessarily over-zealous regulation. I beg to move.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 309D, 311C, and 323A. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about the importance of consultation, I disagree about the people who should be consulted about hedgerows. This is clearly an enabling clause and therefore extremely weak. We have had enabling clauses in previous Bills, which have never come into effect. The amendments try to put rather more solid flesh upon the bones of this clause.

Amendment No. 309D sets a deadline for the Minister to make regulations for the protection of hedgerows. Although I agree with the noble Lord that there should be consultation, Amendment No. 311C suggests that the definition of "important hedgerows" should be set out in regulations by the Minister after he has consulted the local authorities which represent local people who may have ideas about which hedgerows in their locality are the important ones. Amendment No. 323A is consequential upon that consultation with local authorities.

In the next group of amendments we shall discuss in greater detail why hedgerows should be considered important, but in this group of amendments the intention is to shore up the clause by setting a deadline for the Minister and setting down that there should be consultation with local authorities before the important hedgerows are defined.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I added my name to Amendment No. 309C, because the whole clause seemed to me to be reminiscent of that lovely clerihew that was reported by the learned Sir Robert Megarry in his wonderful book Miscellany-at-Law. He wrote: If anything shall seem, then the Minister may deem: A certificate of demption provides completion exemption". The clause can mean anything or nothing. Before it means anything, and before anyone will do anything, it is incumbent upon the authorities to consult the people who will be affected. If the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, had- really wanted to alarm the agricultural industry, she could hardly have done it more effectively. She thinks that the most important people to be concerned about this are the local authorities. Anyone who has suffered at the hands of local authority planning departments, and the somewhat junior and often completely unskilled clerks who determine what the size of a window shall be, how high a roof shall be, or what sort of material the building should be constructed of, realise that people will have no confidence in them whatsoever.

If the clause is not implemented carefully it will drive an awful web of discord among the agricultural industry, nature lovers, local authorities and all the parties who have an interest in the well being and conservation of the countryside. When my noble friend said that the most important thing needed is a process of consultation, I cheerfully added my name to his amendments. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us some comfort.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

I support Amendment No. 309C. I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding at the prospect of the local authority being the most important body to be involved. I think it is probably the least important. After all, the regulations will be detailed. They impose onerous requirements upon the agricultural industry. Before they are expressed, there should be close consultation with those who will be most affected—the farmers and the landowners. I hope that that idea will be taken on board. I support the amendment wholeheartedly.

Lord Renton

The consultation must be conducted thoroughly and adequately. However, I believe that a better way of doing it would be to amplify Clause 81. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, suggested that one step towards doing that would be to add Clause 79 to Clause 81(3) (b). That would be essential, but other parts of Clause 81 need to be amplified. I do not see why we should not include a reference there to representatives of farmers, landowners, conservationists, and whoever else we care to name. In my opinion, it is not enough just to say that the quangos mentioned in Clause 81(2:1 should be consulted.

Perhaps I may refer to some other matters that arise on this issue. I hope not to detain the Committee much longer. In Huntingdonshire we have lost about 2,000 miles of hedgerows since the war. That is due largely to the fact that since we entered the CAP there has been a radical change in fanning practice. Instead of having good mixed farms with plenty of stock we now have huge areas growing wheat and root crops.

I understand the farmers' point of view. Some of my neighbours felt strongly that they had to get rid of the hedgerows that were expensive to maintain and no longer needed for stock. They pulled them down, and I hope that they will be encouraged to use the existing powers to replace them.

The provision is to be confined to "important hedgerows" and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, that that will be difficult to define. What is an important hedgerow? Hedgerows which have not been properly maintained and which have gaps that can be filled—and there are many such hedgerows—are worthy of consideration and should be referred to in any regulations that are to be made. If the word "important" is to be stressed, such diminished hedgerows may not be included, which would be a great opportunity missed.

The phrase "countryside features", which the noble Baroness wishes to have inserted in the Bill, is much too vague—

Lord Williams of Elvel

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. I understand that we are speaking to the group of amendments headed by Amendment No. 309C, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton. The phrases "important" and "countryside features" appear in the next group of amendments.

Lord Renton

The noble Lord is right, but I was hoping to save time by dealing with the matter in a general way. I shall not continue with that theme and I have said all that needs to be said about consultation.

The Earl of Onslow

My idea of heaven is green fields, cut and laid hedges and falling off the other side. The English hedgerows are a great tradition. One does not see them in the rest of Europe—only in a small part of the world. Many hedgerows were planted as a result of the Enclosure Acts. If one looked at the Enclosure Act which entitled the land to be enclosed, one would find that it was illegal to take out some of the hedges that were removed. Furthermore, until recently a grant was given for the removal of hedges; but now a grant is given to put them back again. Certainly, grant is paid to cut and lay them. I hope that I shall be lucky and receive a grant for a hedge I planted 15 years ago and which is due to be cut and laid on Friday. I am looking forward to that.

It is odd that the Minister should be the person to decide what is an important hedge somewhere in the back end of Cumberland or Devon. There is also force in what was said by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. Sometimes local authorities will act as a result of the pressure put on them, which is not fair to the person concerned because those applying the pressure have no financial interests and wish merely to see the result as they drive by in their car. All those interests must be balanced.

There is force in what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, that the decision should be taken at local level. It is not sensible for it to be taken by the Minister. However, there is equal and valid force in what was said by my noble friend Lord Wade, that the people on the ground who have a debt should, by statute, he consulted. That is self-evident.

The Committee may be interested to know that in June I was in Normandy. It is the one place in France where there are hedges and it is called the bocage country. The French pay grants to bulldoze out the bocage and now, just like us, they are paying grants to have them put back again. Obviously, hedges can be in or out of fashion. They can be re-created relatively easily and quickly and easily made stock-proof. They should be looked after and encouraged. However, I am not sure that the clause is the right way to do that.

Lord Monk Bretton

I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Wade. I am heavily involved in the subject and must declare an interest. During the past 20 years I have removed three out of 12 miles of hedge. I probably have not taken out enough and I am interested in the need to take out more. Consultation with those who manage agricultural land is vital. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, that certain people will need to be consulted. Consultation must be widened and it must be right, which is why I support the amendment.

I wish to refer to the Written Question tabled last July by my noble friend Lord Lye11. It was answered by my noble friend the Minister. The Written Answer indicated that in recent times more hedges had been planted out than had been removed. However, a more serious problem is the growth in the number of what are referred to as relict hedges. They are those which are no longer in reasonable order, are gappy and so forth. It is now more important to consider the way in which hedgerows are to be maintained and how many hedgerows can be maintained with the limited number of farm staff that now exist. We must do that before concentrating on a possibly costly and elaborate bureaucratic control exercise on hedge removals.

I am not sure whether we are going down the right road and I believe that consultation with the industry will help. The industry will be able to make a considerable contribution to the deliberations.

On the financial front, the present agricultural scene is buoyed up by CAP subsidies, probably accounting for some 60 per cent. of profitability. The policy appears to be to reduce those subsidies and to get nearer to world prices. World prices may rise but possibly only a little.

The ability to continue to maintain hedges is likely to be reduced. That is a strong argument for the need for a carrot rather than a stick. I do not believe that it would be ill regarded if a reward were provided for those who try to keep hedges. But in the end, one wonders how it is to be paid for by the industry without help.

9 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

Amendments Nos. 309C and 311B moved by my noble friend Lord Wade seek to impose a requirement on Ministers, before making regulations for the protection of important hedgerows, to consult organisations whose interests are likely to be "substantially affected". Amendment No. 311B includes a further requirement on Ministers, if as a result of consultation they consider it appropriate to vary their proposals, to undertake further consultation on those variations.

Amendment No. 311C, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, also seeks to impose a requirement on Ministers to consult before making hedgerow regulations: in this case, to consult the same bodies that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food must consult under Clause 81. Those are the Countryside Commission, English Nature and English Heritage.

It is an established practice of government to consult organisations whose interests are affected by subordinate legislation, and the comments submitted by those organisations are given careful consideration.

There will be no exception to that practice in respect of regulations made under this clause. Indeed, I envisage a wide-ranging consultation; but not as wide-ranging as that provided for in Amendment No. 311 B which, I am advised, places on us a virtually impossible task. I am nevertheless happy to give my assurance to my noble friends, Lord Wade and Lord Jenkin, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, that we will of course consult the statutory agencies, the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners' Association as well as other representative organisations. I hope that will reassure my noble friend that the interests of farming and the agriculture industry will he consulted properly.

I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton. He is quite right; I said on Second Reading that more hedges were being planted than those being taken out. But that was in numerical terms and I made the point that they were not being replaced in terms of quality. That is why we have introduced this clause.

I have listened carefully to the views expressed today on such consultation being enshrined in legislation. I note and shall reflect on the apparent strength of feeling on this issue. We must, however, reserve our position in respect of further rounds of consultation should Ministers decide to vary their proposals.

Amendment No. 323A places a similar requirement to consult the statutory agencies in Clause 81 itself. There are, however, significant differences between the purposes of Clauses 79 and 81 and between the hedgerows regulations under Clause 79 and the subordinate legislation mentioned in Clause 81.

Members of the Committee will note that the requirement under Clause 81 relates to subordinate legislation made solely by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Clause 79, on the other hand, in so far as it relates to England, provides for the hedgerow regulations to be made jointly by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Clause 79(3) makes that clear. In addition, Clause 81 is intended specifically to extend the type of consultation arrangements which already operate successfully in setting up environmentally sensitive areas to other voluntary incentive schemes designed to promote countryside conservation. However, regulations under Clause 79 are concerned with the protection of important hedgerows and not the payment of grants or other incentives. I do not therefore consider it right to apply formal consultation arrangements under Clause 81 to the hedgerow provisions.

Amendment No. 309D imposes a duty on Ministers to bring forward hedgerows regulations by 1st January 1996. I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, that the Government are committed to introducing hedgerow regulations, and shall waste no time in doing so following the enactment of this Bill.

I do not believe that the making of these regulations will be a long drawn out process; but the process must follow a logical course if we are to get them right. Interested parties and organisations must then be given a reasonable time to consider them and submit their comments. After that, Ministers also will need sufficient time to prepare the final regulations in the light of responses to consultation; and the regulations themselves must be laid before Parliament in the usual way before they come into effect. This process could be jeopardised if Ministers were bound to work within the constraints of a predetermined timescale. On that basis, I do not consider it desirable to set a statutory deadline for bringing the regulations into effect.

On Second Reading I indicated the scope of the scheme which I expected to bring forward in due course. It would be right to say that we need time to develop that; but in the light of what I have said, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

The Minister has accepted that there is a need to consult. Why does he not then accept the amendment? We really cannot go on dithering like that from one thing to another and putting the matter off until the next stage. Why cannot my noble friend accept the amendment? That can be amended again later on, but it is crazy not to accept the amendment. Although I understand fully that what my noble friend says on the Floor of the House and indeed what government say in guidelines carries some weight, it does not carry the weight of law. I beg my noble friend to accept the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Wade.

The Earl of Lytton

Before the noble Lord, Lord Wade, replies, perhaps I may ask the Minister one question. I understand from my investigations that there are proposals, which I believe are well advanced, to investigate what should properly be regarded as "important" hedgerows by establishing a method of assessing their quality. It seems to me—arid in part this is in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton—that it would probably be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of those critically important research activities by setting too narrow a timetable.

I am strongly of the view that in relation to the protection and conservation of features of all kinds, whether they happen to be listed buildings, conservation areas or ancient monuments, there needs to be some common ownership and sense of identity by those who have the first line of duty to protect and nurture those features. It cannot be otherwise.

It is vitally important that local interests play a part in that. Where I farm on Exmoor the hedges are quite different—and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, made that point very convincingly—from those in Sussex in relation to species, structure and the socio-economic background which gave birth to them in the first place. All those matters should be taken into account.

Earl Peel

Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I may make a general point to the Minister. I am very much in favour of the principle of conserving important hedgerows although, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, the definition of "important" needs to be qualified.

However, as a general point, does my noble friend on the Front Bench agree that protecting hedgerows per se will really not achieve the purpose of what we want? An unprotected, unmanaged hedgerow is a sterile object. Unless that is accompanied by positive management incentives I do not believe that we will achieve anything worth while in conservation terms. Does my noble friend further agree that, if we are to have hedgerow protection, it should be accompanied by positive management assistance to those who actually have to look after hedgerows?

Lord Elton

Will my noble friend make clear for what reason hedgerows are to be conserved? That is something that has not yet been mentioned. Is it a question of preserving the countryside in aspic? If that is the case, I should remind Members of the Committee that this country was forested for the first 1,000 years and it has changed constantly as a result o f agriculture. Indeed, agriculture has been the determining factor in the appearance of our landscape and the only one until very recently. It is a new concept that the countryside should be preserved for purposes other than agriculture.

The countryside has changed as a result of the enclosure Act. Before that hedgerows were a rarity. There were boundaries between parishes and more often between counties. A hedgerow was a novelty at that time. I hope that my noble friend has his hedgerows staked and bound rather than cut and laid because it is much neater and more stock proof. Drainage also changed the face of the country, as did the Corn Laws, but the agricultural recession put it back under grass. However, the ploughing up grants in 1939 turned it back into arable land. Indeed, I could go on. It is a process that cannot be stopped. If it a question of preserving hedgerows for the sake of the flora and fauna, they too have been changing. If we are to put into the legislation a power to preserve hedgerows, we ought to state somewhere why we are doing so. That would give us some idea as to who ought to be consulted.

The Earl of Onslow

I know that I am just about in order to intervene twice in a debate. However, taking up the remarks made by my noble friend, Lord Elton, until between the wars the only power in the countryside was the horse. Hedges were cut, laid or staked and bound by people with sickles, walking around during the winter. The ditches were dug by hand. It goes without saying that what has changed everything miles more quickly is the fact that you can stick a six-furrow reversible plough with one man on it behind a big caterpillar tractor which can plough up anything. It needs a large acreage of space.

I believe that we have now changed. The countryside is not just man made; indeed, it is machine made. New interests have arisen other than farming. Of course, farming is vital. It is the only way that you can look after the countryside. However, I suggest that we need to add something slightly more. There are now other interests to be considered. We farmers who have our grants paid for by taxpayers' money should take into account the other things that taxpayers may wish us to do.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I should begin by declaring an interest as someone who has four-and-a-half miles of hedge. Therefore, I have a commercial interest in the subject. I believe that we need to treat the whole area with considerable caution. The reason why hedges were removed at a rapid rate—and I accept the capacity of machinery—was because men directed the machines. However, men did so because, for a long period of time, it was deliberate government policy, for vital national needs, to encourage the removal of hedges. That is why very specific grants at high rates as regards proportion of costs were paid.

The tide has turned and now we see the reverse of the situation. Grants are being paid for the restoration of hedges. I have a feeling about the proposed legislation. In a sense, I believe that it is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted or, shall we say, after the essential necessary action has been taken which will reverse a situation that was clearly becoming politically untenable.

On the question as to whether or not a hedge is important, I should like to refer to two of my own hedges. The species within those hedges are virtually identical. One hedge borders a ditch which leads away from the farmhouse and farmstead where I live. The farmhouse dates from the 14th century. Because the site is moated, almost certainly it goes back to Saxon times, or perhaps even beyond that. That farm must have been drained for it to have been lived in. The ditch besides which the hedge runs is probably of Saxon origin, if not more ancient. It is an originally Roman-settled area.

The other hedge, which is identical from the point of view of species, borders what used to be—and is on the maps as—a Roman road, but it is a very good reproduction. Of course, from the point of view of those who drive along the road it is significant, but historically and archaeologically it is a forgery. Who is to say which of those two hedges should be preserved? Unless the landowner has a valid economic reason—or he is a fool like me who happens to like hedges—there will be no future for either hedge. But for as long as it is in the interests of the landowner, or because he loves them, those hedges will remain. The legislation will have nothing to do with it. My experience of the law is that if there is a need to find a way round it, somebody will.

9.15 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley asked why we could not simply accept the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Wade. I indicated when I made my first reply that I believed the amendment was defective. I also said that I would consider the strength of feeling expressed by the House this evening and see whether or not such consultation should be placed on the face of the Bill. I do not believe that I can go any further than that.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked whether there was a need for some research into what was an important hedge. Research is in hand to test workable criteria. We proposed a scheme based on a system of notification. I believe that the detailed arrangements must be settled in the light of the results of that research. My noble friend Lord Elton asks what is an important hedge. In part, that is what the research will discover. Obviously, we are looking at the biodiversity of various hedges. At Second Reading I mentioned parish boundary hedges as an example of those that might be considered to be important.

I believe that we are in the area of protection rather than preservation, and that the scheme I identified at Second Reading, which the regulations in Clause 79 will bring forward, is one that should be supported by all noble Lords.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

I thank my noble friend for his reply. Like my noble friend Lord Stanley, I am disappointed that this has not been accepted. I think the Minister will agree, judging from the feelings expressed around the House, that this is a matter of extreme importance, that clearly the Government have not got it right in this Bill and some change needs to be made. I was gratified to hear that the Minister would consider it. Clearly, we would very much like to be involved in discussions. It is a matter that I wish to bring forward again unless we can arrange a convenient—

Lord Williams of Elvel

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I should like to address a question to the Minister rather than the noble Lord, Lord Wade.

Is the undertaking that consultation should be considered by the Minister to be extended to local authorities as well?

Viscount Ullswater

I indicated that the consultation that we planned would be wide-ranging and would take in other representative organisations. I do not see that representative organisations can exclude a local authority.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

The wording used in the amendment is that used in the deregulation Act of 1994. Quite clearly, the Government must feel that such a system is workable; otherwise it would not have been used there. That drew attention to the fact that, particularly where people's businesses could be placed in a very serious situation, proper consultative procedures should be laid down. What we tried to achieve in the deregulation Act, as my noble friend will be aware, was a fairer balance between the regulated and the regulator. That is the purpose of my amendment.

I am sure that my noble friend has listened carefully to what all noble Lords have said. Clearly, this matter is of great importance to many people. I hope that he will be able to come forward with a satisfactory solution at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 309D not moved.]

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 309E:

Page 86, line 34, leave out (Important").

The noble Baroness said: We seem to have strayed into discussion of this group of amendments during the discussion of the previous group. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked why hedgerows were important. That is the issue we address in this group of amendments. I shall address Amendments Nos. 309E, 310, 311, 312 and 313, and also I support Amendments Nos. 311A and 313A which will be spoken to by my noble friend Lady Nicol.

Amendment No. 309E seeks to delete the word "important". We have already heard that it is difficult to define which hedgerows are important. There is a sense in which all hedgerows are important. They are important not only for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned; namely, that he loves them and some of them are historic. They also contribute to the visual landscape. They are extremely important from the point of view of biodiversity.

The loss of hedgerows has been a serious depletion of our wildlife habitats in this country over the past 30 years. They provide vital corridors along which many species, some of which are rare, are able to extend their range. The destruction of hedgerows has led to the restriction and isolation of many such species. Sometimes that produces interesting effects. I gather that there is an isolated group of melanistic squirrels. They are black squirrels. They continue to be black because they cannot mix with red squirrels. That is one of the curious consequences of species developing in isolation.

Therefore, hedgerows are important not only because within them breed many varieties of birds, butterflies and insects, but because they also provide important corridors between woodlands and means of escaping predators and getting round fields between other areas which are important to wildlife.

There has been an astonishing depletion of butterfly species over the past 20 years. For example, there has been a catastrophic decline among some fritillaries. The high brown fritillary has declined by 94 per cent. and other fritillaries have declined by more than 40 per cent. in the past 30 to 40 years.

Similarly, many birds have vanished. That is partly due to intensive farming methods. For example, grey partridges, which I remember as a common bird of the countryside in my childhood, have declined by 75 per cent. since 1970. That is in part due to the extensive use of pesticides on our agricultural land, but hedgerows and other areas such as set-aside and isolated promontories within farming areas would provide places where they could continue to breed and develop. In that way they would still be around for noble Lords' children, grandchildren and generations to come.

In those respects hedges are extremely important. They are also important for a variety of economic reasons. East Anglia is in danger of becoming a dust bowl like some parts of central America through the loss of topsoil, which is blown away because there are no hedges to act as wind traps. If one has seen soil erosion in some parts of the world, particularly the Far East, often due to water rather than wind erosion, one knows how astonishingly rapidly agricultural land can vanish. Therefore there is a certain element of enlightened self-interest for farmers in preserving hedgerows. There are therefore important reasons for retaining hedges. It is not only a matter of aesthetics.

I turn now to Amendment No. 310, which may appear on the face of it not to be specific in that it allows the Minister to make regulations relating to landscape features in general. Here we enter the area of such items as stone barns and other aspects of our landscape such as archaeological sites, barrows and so on, which may also be in need of preservation.

Particularly close to my heart are the amendments which relate to ponds, where again grants for drainage have meant that large numbers of ponds have vanished from the countryside over the past 20 or 30 years. Species such as great crested newts, glutinous snails and starfruit are now increasingly scarce.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Has the noble Baroness considered the figures on ponds? I believe that she will find that ponds have been made in vast numbers. Perhaps I could ask her to make one small alteration to her speech. She referred to hedgerows. Can she possibly say, "Some hedgerows are of no value and some are"?

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

That point would obviously be defined as a result of the consultation to which we referred in the previous group of amendments regarding which hedgerows were valuable. However, in my view almost all hedgerows are valuable. I disagree with those who say that hedgerows can be easily reinstated. The tendency is to reinstate with hawthorn alone rather than with the variety of species which produces the biodiversity about which I speak.

The Earl of Onslow

It is simply not true to say that it is difficult to reinstate hedges. There was a famous case recently of someone who went to a farm and said, "This is the most marvellous hedgerow. It dates back to Anglo-Saxon times becomes of all the different plants in it". The reply was, "No, it does not. I planted it 15 years ago". If you know what you are doing, it is perfectly possible to plant a hedge. One can put all kinds of plants in it. As my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said, it is extremely easy to produce a Roman hedge with the right plants. After about 15 years it will look like a Roman hedge.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I am sure that it is possible; I did not say that it was not. However, it is clearly more expensive to plant such a hedge than a straightforward hawthorn hedge. Often the reinstated hedges are far too narrow to be nesting sites for birds and to provide habitat for the biodiversity that we wish to see in our countryside. Hedgerows are important, as are ponds and other aspects of our countryside.

Lord Crickhowell

The more I listen to the debate, the more unhappy I am that we should be passing legislation of this kind. I have every possible sympathy with the objective. I should like to see hedges preserved. But we have a series of amendments which ask us what a hedge is. Is it a Pembrokeshire hedgebank built of earth and stone with thorn and suchlike on top? Is it the kind of hedgebank about which we have heard in the West Country? Is it the kind of hedge that some of my neighbours have in Wales? Such hedges are a curious mixture today of binder twine, old sticks, corrugated iron and uncut original hedge.

What do we mean by "protect"? My noble friend gave a distinction between "protect" and "preserve". I entirely understand the point. Indeed, from the point of view of the NRA, I am anxious to see wind erosion eliminated. I should like to see many hedges protected. But what happens if it is said, "We have a regulation: we shall make it difficult for you to plough up the hedge", but one does not cut the hedge, lay it, and do all the other things that have to be done?

The regulations may tell us all those things. Perhaps they will give a clear definition of how to preserve a hedge, what one has to do with it, how often one has to cut it and what one does when one's Pembrokeshire hedgebank is walked over by tourists travelling the coast path. Perhaps we shall have all the answers. But we are being asked to pass a blank cheque regarding some future regulations which we shall never have an opportunity properly to debate in this Chamber. That is the truth of the matter. I believe that it is a great mistake.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

We seem to be abandoning common sense in this debate. If anyone, wherever he or she comes from, sets out to discuss whether or not a hedge is important and worth protection, there is no mystery about it; he or she can quickly tell whether it is worth protection. The hotchpotch hedges to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred, obviously do not come into that category unless, as has happened with many so-called hedges that I have seen, they happen to have Victorian brass bedsteads in them—in which case, of course, they have a considerable value!

There is no doubt that many hedgerows are important. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that, in addition to the need to protect biodiversity—to which the Government are committed, and I see no sign that they are withdrawing from that commitment—there is also the question of our responsibilities under the habitats and species directive. Hedgerows are an important element in the responsibilities of the Government and we must try to treat the matter seriously. I sympathise with those farmers who feel that we are treading on their toes, but I hope that when the regulations and the consultation process are in place many of the difficulties will be easy to overcome.

The Countryside Commission provides us with figures. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, seemed to question whether ponds were disappearing. The commission tells us that between 1984 and 1990 England lost 10,000 ponds. That is a serious loss in terms of wildlife protection and, I should have thought, in other terms as well.

I wish to speak to my amendments which propose the inclusion of dry stone walls in the countryside features which need to be protected. The Countryside Commission estimates that during that same period, 1984 to 1990, England lost 4,000 kilometres of dry stone walls. Many of the remaining walls are in poor condition. We have an estimated 112,500 kilometres left, only 4,500 kilometres of which are in anything like reasonable condition. The remainder are in various stages of deterioration and no doubt some are beyond hope.

Surely no Members of the Committee would dispute that dry stone walling is very important in some parts of the country. I do not suggest that we introduce dry stone walls in Kent, Norfolk or even Cambridgeshire, much as I would like to see them there. But they are extremely important in some areas of the country where they are traditional. The landscape would be greatly destroyed if dry stone walls disappeared. The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain has written to me in moving terms. It is struggling to remedy the situation. It says that it is not anxious to encumber the farming communities with excessive legislation but it supports the amendments. I am authorised to say that, had he been able to remain this evening, the chairman of the National Trust would have supported them. Hedgerow protection is also supported by the British Horse Society. If we reach the stage of having a list of consultees, I hope that that society will be considered as being worthy of consultation because, in its sphere of operations, the hedgerows are important. The British Horse Society would like to see the word "important" in regard to hedgerows removed from the Bill. I am sorry that we have had to blur the discussion between the two groups of amendments, but that is how it has happened. The society is concerned—as were earlier speakers—that when consultations take place they should be as wide as possible. I do not wish to prolong the debate; I hope that we shall not be carried away with too much detail but retain our common sense.

Earl Peel

We are moving into the world of preserving the countryside in aspic. I fully understand the reasons behind the noble Baroness's amendments. However, speaking personally, I have just sold a large estate in the north of England where stone walls were and still are a major feature of the landscape. I can assure her that the maintenance of those stone walls is an extremely expensive operation. Frankly, if the noble Baroness honestly believes that the best way to preserve the stone walls is to impose a protection order, she has the wrong end of the stick.

Baroness Nicol

If the noble Earl will give way, I assume, and I hope we shall make clear, that all the operations will attract financial support. I would not have it otherwise.

Earl Peel

I am interested to hear the noble Baroness say that, because it does not appear in any of the amendments that are under her name, as I understand it. But certainly, she is absolutely right. I entirely endorse what she says. If we are to go forward with the conservation and management of the countryside, it perhaps has to be encompassed with incentives for people to do the work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, mentioned partridges. As the recently elected chairman of the Game Conservancy, I endorse much of what she said. She mentioned Norfolk specifically. It is perhaps worth noting that there are still areas in Norfolk where there are great numbers of partridges. The partridges have acted as an incentive to the maintenance of the hedgerows that are still there. It is not simply that the hedgerows encourage the partridges; it is a result of the management of those hedgerows, plus of course the conservation headlands which the Game Conservancy initiated and in which it plays such an important part. Another essential element in the success of the partridge has been proper predator control. I want to move away from that subject, but it is an important point to make.

What concerns me about these amendments is that we are asking farmers to try to preserve and conserve things which perhaps no longer have any value so far as agriculture is concerned. If that is the case, I am sorry to have to say that the public purse must play a major part. You really cannot expect farmers to be involved in maintaining aspects and features of the countryside which are no longer part and parcel of their well-being.

It always amuses me that a great feature in the North of England is the Settle to Carlisle railway and all the marvellous viaducts and bridges that were constructed. But can one imagine what would happen nowadays if somebody sought planning permission for a project like that? They would be laughed out of court. Yet here we are, trying to protect something which we know was accepted in those days but for which nowadays we would never get planning permission. We really must try to take a much more realistic approach to all this. By all means let us protect, and let us conserve. But we must accept that if these features are no longer a viable aspect of farming they must be supported from the public purse.

Lord Moran

We must bear in mind that the whole of this discussion is going on against a background of a great deal of public interest and concern in relation to the enormous loss of hedgerows that has occurred in recent years. The Government's own countryside survey in 1990 pointed out that between 1984 and 1990 the loss every year—the complete removal—of hedges was 5,900 miles. Although that rate has gone down more recently, the hedgerows survey that was commissioned by the Department of the Environment from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology showed that the complete removal of hedgerows between 1990 and 1993 still amounted to 2,200 miles a year. That is the basis of public concern.

I fully agree with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, about the need for money to be made available from the public purse if protection for hedgerows is to be written into this Bill. We are to talk about grants a little later. We must bear in mind that only 1 per cent. of the UK budget for the common agricultural policy is allocated to environmental schemes for farmers and land managers. That is where the money needs to be increased.

I should like to say a brief word about Wales in relation to these particular amendments. The Countryside Council for Wales welcomes them because they seek to broaden the scope of the clauses to a wider range of countryside features. We must bear in mind that all that Clause 79 does is to allow the two Secretaries of State—for the environment and for Wales—to make provision for the protection of important hedgerows. I believe that the Countryside Council for Wales is right in talking not about hedgerows but about traditional field boundaries. It points out that in Wales there are hedges; dry-stone walls; earth banks, which are sometimes stone faced; slate fences; ditches; and that many of these traditional boundaries have a wider historical significance as parish boundaries or represent ancient systems of agriculture. The pattern of traditional field boundaries can tell us much about historic land use changes. They mention such features as Offa's Dike. I must declare a non-financial interest as the president of the Offa's Dike Association. They also mention prehistoric field patterns and mediaeval strip fields in other parts of Wales and the mediaeval open field system. It is very important that they should be preserved, and clearly they will be important under the definition of this Bill.

The protection of traditional field boundaries has been one of the objectives of the environmentally sensitive areas programme in Wales and of the Countryside Council for Wales Tir Cymen experimental agri-environmental scheme. In 1992 the CCW introduced the hedgerow renovation scheme for the purpose of protecting, enhancing and securing the effective management of dilapidated hedgerows. It has concluded 227 agreements with farmers and landowners. I am sure that that is the way forward. I have confidence in the department's capacity to work out arrangements under this Bill.

Obviously it is very difficult to prescribe all the details in a Bill of this kind. But the lines on which I think it is working seem to me to be sensible and I personally welcome it.

Lord Renton

Perhaps I may refer to an amendment which seems to me to create great confusion: namely, Amendment No. 310, which is supported by noble Lords from all parties, including a noble friend on this side of the Committee. To leave out "hedgerows" and insert "countryside features" would cause great confusion. This clause naturally focuses attention on hedgerows, which constitute the main problem that we have to consider. Quite frankly, "countryside features" is incapable of any useful definition.

Let me say a few brief words about the next amendment, which relates to ponds. Many ponds, especially in East Anglia, have disappeared from farms for good reason. One reason that there has been a great improvement is field drainage, especially tile drainage. If tile drainage is carried out properly, a number of old ponds are bound to disappear and have indeed done so. They are not so much needed now that there is very little stock on the farms. I do not feel that we can expect to have those ponds protected or preserved any longer.

The big, worthwhile ponds—those that carry fish and do not dry up in a dry season—are still there. We should not confuse the issue by giving serious attention to the suggestion that "ponds" should be added to "hedgerows".

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Moran, might like to look at the Answer regarding hedgerows given by my noble friend Lord Ullswater on 22nd July. The noble Lord told the Committee how many hedgerows were taken out, but he did not say how many were put back. He should read that Answer. I think he will find that more were put back than were taken out.

There is another point over which I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, made a mistake. He said that the public were prepared to pay. The public will not be prepared to pay when they are asked to pay for this. In the sheltered life of this Chamber, one may think otherwise. But when you ask the public to pay, they will not do so. It is just like asking them to pay the difference in price between free-range eggs and battery laid eggs. They will go for the battery eggs because they are cheaper.

Finally, I understand what the noble Baroness says. But I hope that the Committee will bear in mind all the time that it is absolutely pointless to try to preserve something that is not of some use. I can tell her, with great feeling—I have seen this over 40 years—that if you try to do that, you will find that the farmer or owner does not have enough time to look after it. He is asked to do so much all the time on the farm. He will just forget to put up the gutter or forget to do the stone walling. We must not preserve something which does not have some use, because it will just fall into decay.

The Duke of Somerset

To emphasise one or two of those points, while I am in general agreement with those noble Lords who wish to see hedgerows, ponds and walls preserved—and indeed other countryside features--these amendments are not the best way of going about that.

It is no good just preserving them in the proverbial aspic. If they have lost their economic agricultural function, the regulatory route will not be effective in their preservation. They need to be managed by encouraging their original worthwhile use. This sort of less modern management costs money. A number of management schemes and incentives already exist, such. as the countryside stewardship scheme, the ESAs, and others, which contribute towards this sort of costly management, and those are the sort of schemes that should be extended. That, surely, is the way forward, not the fossilisation of these items. The countryside is primarily a workplace; a place where livings are earned. As we have just heard, the repair of stone walls has a very high labour cost; it is very expensive. Although they are very desirable, that factor has to be recognised, and, most importantly, paid towards by those who wish to enjoy other people's property.

The Earl of Onslow

We must also bear in mind that the whole of the countryside is, at the moment, supported by public money in one way or another. It is the common agricultural policy which has formed the shape of the countryside recently; and it is the common agricultural policy which has destroyed the mixed farm. It is the common agricultural policy which is responsible for the fact that we now have the ridiculous situation where there is too little milk in this country for what we want and yet we are not allowed to produce any more because of the quota system. It is the common agricultural policy which is responsible for the ridiculous system whereby I am paid £129 an acre by you generous taxpayers to do nothing with land.

It is much more sensible that this money should not go on the ridiculous distortions of the common agricultural policy but should be used to encourage people, for want of a better word, to garden and gamekeep. Gardening and gamekeeping in the countryside means what the public want to look at. It does not mean a barbed wire fence, but that somebody should be given encouragement to build a proper, nice, stockproof stake-and-bound hedge. It does mean that dry stone walling should be encouraged and looked after.

In Wales there is a place called the Crimea Pass. It is called the Crimea Pass because all the stone walls were built by Russian prisoners-of-war captured at Inkerman and Balaclava. That source of labour for repair is no longer available. We must have a policy which looks at the countryside as a whole, looks at it properly, and looks at it as other than just a farming industry based on subsidy.

We have already taken the view that we will give grants for the native species of English woodlands rather than conifers—consider the terrible damage the conifer grants have done to vast areas of Scotland and Wales. I beg the Committee to look at it in that way.

As to the clause, I am in agreement with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I am not happy about it. I think we know, more or less what we want to do, but I do not think that this is the right way of going about it.

Lord Monk Bretton

I wonder how necessary these amendments really are. Supporters of these amendments would gain some hope if they were to realise that help is already available. Farmers can be assisted over management of stone walls and ponds under existing land management schemes. The most important ponds are also covered by the SSSI system. I hope it will be found that perhaps these amendments are not as vitally necessary as might appear.

Baroness David

I was under the impression that these are probing amendments which would show that the clause is totally unsatisfactory. That has been quite clear from the long time we have been talking about it. We do not have the regulations so we do not know what the Government are going to put into them. But there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with what is there and it seems to me that the amendments are trying to find out and show where the worries are.

Why do we have all these conservation bodies? We give a lot of money to English Nature. We give money to the Countryside Commission, to the Countryside Commission for Wales, to Scottish Heritage, and so on. More than just agriculture is involved, although I totally sympathise with much of what has been said. I was very much in agreement with what the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said a minute or two ago.

My name is attached to one of the amendments and I meant to put it to another. I am particularly interested in dry stone walls. I spend a good deal of time in the Yorkshire Dales where they are a very important feature. They are very expensive to keep up and a lot of them are being broken down. But a certain amount of public money is going into them from the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Peel, is still on the council of that national park, but he must know all about that. I understand that, although a good deal of public money in the shape of grants has gone into trying to restore some of these walls, only 30.5 kilometres of wall were rebuilt last year. The scale of the problem is illustrated by the fact that this amounts to just 0.4 per cent. of the total length of walling. There is a great deal to be done.

I wanted to say a good deal more about the Yorkshire Dales and dry stone walling but I do not think it would be very popular at this time of night. I hope that enough has been said for the Government to think again about this clause. Perhaps we can come back with amendments that are more acceptable or the Government will come back, having listened to all that has been said tonight, with the clause redrawn.

Earl Peel

The noble Baroness raised the question of finance, which is what it is all about. English Nature has a budget of just under £40 million. The Countryside Commission has a budget of just over £40 million. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has a budget of around £3.2 million. However, they are simply not able to deal with this problem because they are committed to a whole range and multitude of other things.

The noble Baroness has perhaps inadvertently illustrated exactly the point we are talking about. If we want to preserve these features in the way Members of the Committee seem to want, the amount of money involved will be huge. I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who was absolutely right. If we are to deal with this problem in a meaningful and significant way, we have to change the emphasis of how the CAP is orchestrated at the moment and we have to move away from agricultural output and start moving towards the environment. That is the only way that this problem will be sorted out.

Lord Williams of Elvel

I hesitated to intervene in this debate until now because I have a pecuniary interest, as it seems many noble Lords opposite have. I own a hedge which has a bedstead in. I own 33 acres of grassland in mid-Wales and I own some stone walls. Like the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I receive grant for what in mid-Wales we call pleaching hedges.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, put his finger on the fact that in the end it comes down to money. However, one must sympathise with farmers who are trying to make a living in very difficult conditions—that is particularly so in my part of the world in Wales—and who are being asked, or being told, to do something that is wholly uneconomic and wholly contrary to what they are used to doing. Again, I join with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in saying that if we can reform the CAP legislation, let us do it for goodness sake. But as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, we must look at the concept of an environmentally sensitive area. We are in one in Radnor and I have signed a contract under an ESA agreement to get money to maintain the countryside features which are identified by the Welsh Office.

That is the way in which we have to move. When one considers the amendments which my noble friend has moved and spoken to and also by my noble friend Lady Nicol, and Clause 80 which gives grants, when taken as an ensemble one gets very close to the ESA type of scheme. As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has quite rightly said, unfortunately the money is simply not there to make the whole of England and Wales an ESA. That is something which the Government will have to address before we get much further in the Bill. There is an illogicality here which many Members of the Committee have pointed out.

Viscount Ullswater

The words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, are very good ones on which to start my reply. If the illogicality exists, then it is effectively demonstrated by these amendments. With this clause we are trying to identify important hedgerows. The amendments spread the matter very widely without really a thought as to how the provision is going to be funded. I shall come to funding later.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, said that there was something wrong with the clause. My own view is that it is all right; it is just the amendments which are being added that is making a very difficult position. As drafted, Clause 79 confers power to make regulations for the protection of important hedgerows. Amendment No. 309E moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, seeks to leave out the word "important" and the effect would be to substitute the more general power.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, quoted from the research that the DoE published in July last year, but he quoted to suit his own argument. As my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley pointed out to the Committee, he quoted only the fact that 2,200 miles of hedgerows—I am not sure that that is the correct figure, but I take it from the noble Lord—had been lost. The research indicated that more hedgerows were planted in England and Wales than were removed during the period 1990 to 1993. Therefore to quote only one side of the argument is to mislead the Committee in some way.

The trend is welcome, reflecting further links between conservation and land management. However, we recognise that new planting cannot substitute for the loss of some hedgerows—I made that point when speaking to a previous amendment—such as the ancient parish or community boundary hedge. It is the protection of important hedgerows that this clause sets out to achieve, and I consider it reasonable to focus the clause in that way.

The purpose of the rest of the amendments in this group is to extend the scope of Clause 79 which makes specific provision for the protection of important hedgerows to encompass countryside features, drystone walls and ponds.

Amendments Nos. 310 and 312 would enable Ministers to bring forward regulations to protect important countryside features. That is a term which is not defined by the amendments but it is presumably intended to include hedgerows and other field boundaries such as walls, banks, dykes and, quite possibly, other features as well.

Amendments Nos. 311, 311A, 313 and 313A would similarly enable Ministers to make regulations to protect important ponds and drystone walls respectively. Clause 79 is intended to focus on the specific problem of hedgerow removal. It honours a longstanding government commitment to bring forward statutory controls. Hedgerows can make a unique contribution to the landscape. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell described one which is perhaps not unique because I believe it was recognised by many Members of the Committee as being quite a feature of the landscape.

They can also support an extremely rich range of flora and fauna and make a significant contribution to biodiversity. They may in addition mark the boundaries of early settlements and have other particular historical significance. Our commitment to protect important hedgerows has been made in the light of their unique qualities and vulnerability as indicated by the results of detailed research documenting the rates of hedgerow losses between 1984 and 1993.

As regards other countryside features, including dry-stone walls, the 1990 Countryside Survey provided some evidence that their numbers had declined during the period 1984 to 1990. But that research is now somewhat out of date. Developments during the 1990s generally suggest downward trends in removal of countryside features. In particular, changes in agricultural policies have placed greater emphasis on conservation. Conservation advice to land managers is increasingly accessible. I must tell my noble friend Lord Peel that more management grants are now available to help land managers restore neglected countryside features: Countryside Stewardship in England and the equivalent scheme in Wales, for example, launched in the 1990s, offer assistance for the restoration of boundary features such as stone walls, earth banks and stone-faced hedge banks as well as hedgerows. These are just two of a range of initiatives—environmentally sensitive areas and the farm and conservation grant scheme are others—which encourage the creation of new countryside features and the management of existing ones.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

Is it right that the farm conservation scheme has recently been reduced from 40 per cent. to 25 per cent.?

Viscount Ullswater

I am advised that pollution grants have been reduced but not countryside feature grants. My noble friend Lord Peel said that nothing would happen unless it was supported by some financial incentive. We promote the planting and management of hedgerows through a range of incentives, including Countryside Stewardship, which incorporates the hedgerow incentive scheme, and MAFF's farm and conservation grant scheme in environmentally sensitive areas. Those schemes are unaffected by the hedgerow protection scheme and there is no direct linkage between them.

Turning to the question of ponds, we have in fact looked again at the figures from the 1990 Countryside Survey, which indicated a maximum reduction of 11.5 per cent. in the number of ponds between 1984 and 1990 in Great Britain. We wanted to analyse this data further because 1990 was a year of drought conditions in the south and to the east of Great Britain. It was unclear how many of the ponds "lost" in that year had in fact only dried out temporarily. The results of our modest re-survey, which were published by my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside in December 1994, confirmed that a number of the small ponds which were dry in 1990 had been reinstated by 1993. The best estimate of the rate of pond loss between 1984 and 1990 was revised to within the range of 4 per cent. to 9 per cent. The re-survey also provided some limited evidence that new ponds created for farming and wildlife reasons are beginning to offset earlier losses. Detailed research is needed to verify more recent trends, and the Government intend to carry out a further national survey of ponds in 1996.

Leaving aside the question of research, the Committee will not need reminding that the most important countryside features and ponds will continue to enjoy protection through our system of designated sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), which ensures that the nature conservation interest is taken fully into account before development and changes in management practice that would cause damage are permitted. Promoting nature conservation is not an objective which applies only in SSSIs, and the Government look to local authorities to include in their development plans policies for the protection of habitats, including non-statutory sites of local importance.

In view of the protection that already exists, the range of incentives already available to maintain our range of countryside features, and the lack of current research that presents a compelling case for new controls in 1995, I do not believe that the special measures as proposed here are currently necessary to protect features other than hedgerows, and we must not impose the burden of new regulations unless we are satisfied that there are sound reasons for doing so.

My noble friend Lord Renton said that we should allow the clause to concentrate on important hedgerows and I believe that to be correct. Having said that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Moran

I fully accept the Minister's rebuke about my failure to mention the hedges replanted between 1990 and 1993. I agree that there were slightly more than the total number taken out and I have no wish to mislead the Committee. Does the Minister agree that the ITE report to which we referred quoted an overall loss of 45,000 kilometres because of lines of bushes that had fallen out of the classification of hedgerow as a result of the lack of management?

Viscount Ullswater

We shall be consulting on what we consider to be important hedges. Our research will indicate the suitable criteria for the notification scheme. I do not believe that I need comment further.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

I am somewhat comforted by the enthusiasm with which the Minister speaks of hedges. It encourages me to believe that the regulations, when they appear, may go some way towards protecting them. I am less reassured as regards ponds but, clearly, the department has at least considered them and perhaps we are seeing a reversal of the trend towards their disappearance.

The amendment was intended as a probing amendment partly because we had no indication of when the regulations would appear and partly because we considered that the clause was too narrowly drawn and that landscape features other than hedgerows might be considered. We will consider the matter further, together with the Minister's reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 310 to 313A not moved.]

The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 313AZA:

Page 87, line 2 leave out from ("shall") to end of line 4 and insert ("not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: Having regard to the hour, I shall be as brief as possible. I hope that my amendment represents a partial answer to some of the anxieties expressed by Members of the Committee. It suggests that the regulations under Clause 79 shall be made by affirmative instrument and therefore come before both Houses of Parliament for further consideration. That will tie in the result of the Government's investigations, research and consultation.

Clause 79 provides that such regulations shall be made subject to negative procedure only and I believe that to be inadequate. I believe that we have heard enough in Committee tonight to justify that conclusion. There are issues that must be discussed by Parliament before any regulations come into force.

I believe that, if we are not careful, land managers will consider the system proposed in certain quarters of the Committee to be unfairly loaded against them. They may come to the conclusion that the local authorities are under no duty to take into account their interests as farmers and land managers. Therefore, any system of protection must be based on a certain degree of mutual trust and goodwill. I alluded to that earlier when referring to the common ownership and identity with policies. I cannot stress that point too strongly.

A negative regulatory approach under which those interests are ignored would be disastrous. If land managers must constantly appeal against decisions to protect hedgerows, in particular if the appeals system is long-winded, that will be highly damaging to the long-term prospects for hedges. I submit that the sustainable development principle requires an element of equal weighting to be given to environmental protection on the one hand and legitimate socio-economic development considerations on the other. Any regulations need to flag that issue with local authorities.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will confirm that in due course, when the notification scheme comes into being, it will require local authorities, in deciding what action to take with regard to protecting hedgerows, to have due regard to the socio-economic business and operational reasons of land managers and that it must balance those fairly with other considerations.

Reference has been made to the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has just commented on loss through lack of management. That underscores more compellingly than anything that the real problems arise in relation to non-management. That is the biggest loss and is far and away in excess of damage caused. There is also a great loss as regards biodiversity. I can say with some feeling from my experiences in Exmoor that, while I have some hedges which are well managed, others have long since become mere vestiges of a bank with a few trees left to mark where the hedge once was. Therefore, it is vital that we have active management and I should like to flag that in particular.

On Second Reading the Minister commented on the hedgerows of particular historic interest or those which make an especially valuable contribution to the wildlife or landscape of an area. It must be remembered that every time, in the course of normal management, a hedge is cut and laid by whatever particular technique one wishes to use, its visual appearance is altered immediately and for some time. Nevertheless, it is an essential part of management; it cannot be otherwise. Therefore, there must be a proper balance between landscape, management and ecology.

I believe that the solution is to provide some sort of management agreement. There must be an incentive to encourage land managers to maintain those important structures in the countryside. There must be a direct link between the protection of hedgerows and the offer of some sort of management agreement to help with that process; in other words, no designation without contribution.

My experience from Exmoor is that there is no money for extra conservation work. Whether it relates to SSSIs or Section 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act, it seems that all the agencies are saying to me, "I am sorry. We have no money. Our budget is fully spoken for. There is nothing for this purpose". That must change because, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said earlier, it boils down to money. It cannot be done without paying real people to wield real tools in order to lay hedges and maintain them.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is the intention of the Government that local authorities will be required to offer agreements to land managers as part and parcel of that protection process. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

The Duke of Somerset

I should like to express my support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lytton. As a landowner, I am very keen to see important hedgerows preserved. However, that must be done through full consultation and scrutiny both inside and outside Parliament—and, thus, by affirmative resolution. The general provisions are too vague. We have not yet even considered the economic effect on rural businesses. If people in the upland hills were to get into financial difficulties, we would quickly see the degradation of the countryside along with the hedgerows. Therefore, the regulations must be debated in both Houses; this matter must not be left to unscrutinised regulation. As I said, I support the amendment.

The Earl of Onslow

It is absolutely vital that such regulations should be debated before they become law. I know that we have a great problem in that respect. Regulations, whether they be subject to the negative or affirmative procedure, are always unamendable. I suggest that it would be much better if the Government tabled the regulations for discussion. The regulations could be imposed following a debate. Once they have been debated and the Government have listened to what people say, I do not believe it matters whether the regulations are subject to the negative or the affirmative resolution procedure. It is vitally important that they should be debated and that we do not have to accept them lock, stock and barrel. That is the difficulty. Judging by the vagueness of Clause 79, it seems to me that the regulations will run into very many pages. That must be an unsatisfactory method of proceeding.

Earl Peel

If my noble friend is saying that there needs to be full debate in both Houses of Parliament as well as consultation, I entirely agree with him.

Viscount Ullswater

The amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, seeks to provide that the hedgerow regulations made under the clause are laid before both Houses of Parliament, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I can assure Members of the Committee that we intend to bring forward regulations under the clause which will reflect the views of Parliament and the outcome of separate consultation. As drafted, Clause 79(4) provides that the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure.

However, notwithstanding the absence of any adverse comment in the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, I have listened carefully to what has been said not only on this amendment but also on the previous amendment (Amendment No. 309C) moved by my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. At that time I indicated that I would consider carefully whether some form of statutory consultation process should take place. We now have before us another suggested method which I should like to consider alongside the one previously discussed. Having said that, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Crickhowell

I wanted to hear my noble friend's response before speaking to the amendment. I should like to reinforce the point that I made earlier. I may have given the impression—I hope I did not—that I am not anxious to protect hedgerows. I am. I live near Offa's Dyke. I am surrounded by quite important old hedgerows, some of which are in bad condition. Moreover, I should like to preserve many dry stone walls that are falling down. I believe that the clause is most unsatisfactory. The very length of our debate and what has been said indicates that Parliament must have an opportunity thoroughly to examine the matter.

There are two alternatives before us. There is the approach that is about to be discussed in connection with the following group of amendments in which we have an immensely long schedule that Parliament can approve as part of the Bill; or we have a system whereby we have regulations which Parliament would have the opportunity to influence and alter. It would be intolerable if such regulations which could have an enormous impact on people who live in the countryside were passed without proper debate in Parliament.

The Earl of Lytton

I was greatly heartened by the Minister's response. Like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I am a great believer in hedges; indeed, on top of Exmoor one has to be a believer in hedges because otherwise one's livestock would get blown away. As someone who planted about 500 yards of hedges last winter, I am very much committed to them. However, I believe that I have to give the Government the benefit of the doubt.

I am grateful for the careful way in which the Minister addressed the problem. I look forward to seeing what the noble Viscount brings forward at a later stage. While reserving my position, and subject to what the Minster may bring forward, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 313AA:

Leave out Clause 79 and insert the following new clause:


.Schedule (Hedgerows) to this Act, which makes provision for the protection of hedgerows, shall have effect.").

The noble Lord said: I, too, have a variety of interests to declare. I also am a farmer. Unlike my noble friend Lord Wade, I make a profit on my farm. I am sorry that he has gone, as this is probably the only time that I shall be able to claim to be a better businessman than he is. Even so, I am rather doubtful about making such a claim. I have also removed hedges when I should not have done, have perhaps reasonably removed others and have planted some too. I am a member of the CLA and also chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

A procedural problem has arisen this evening. This was almost hinted at by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. It might have been helpful if this particular amendment had been dealt with at an earlier stage in the debate. I say that, not because there is anything special about what I have to say, but because your Lordships' House has turned its attention to the subject. The Government, which I am proud to support, has had a commitment to hedgerow legislation since the 1990 White Paper on the environment five years ago. Two years ago, in May 1993, my honourable friend Mr. Peter Ainsworth in another place introduced legislation that went through Committee stage but, being a Private Member's Bill, fell at Report because of lack of time. In order to help both the Committee and the Government, I tabled as an amendment the Ainsworth Bill as far as it got, as amended in line with helpful suggestions made by the Government at various stages since that time. For example, my noble friend will recognise that the amendment now excludes young hedges, unless they have been paid for by public money. I hope that noble Lords will feel it worth looking at it. One knows how tiresome it is to look at long schedules. However, this schedule is in a sense a Bill that seeks to replace Clause 79. I do not for a moment say that this is the end of the discussion. However, having listened to the debate, it appears that your Lordships are united on two matters. I believe that all noble Lords are fairly pro hedges to a greater or lesser extent. Equally, almost everyone feels that the clause as now drafted is, to put it politely, somewhat imperfect. That does not mean that the Government's heart is not absolutely in the right place. The question is where the balance should lie between what is in the Bill and what is done by regulation. No one pretends that the whole thing should be done in either way.

Perhaps I may quickly run through the main features of the amendment. Paragraph 1 creates the offence of uprooting a hedge. Paragraph 2 sets out the notification procedure to be followed before someone may carry out work that causes the destruction or impairment of a protected hedge. Paragraph 3 is supplementary and provides for notice of any proposals from tenant or owner. Paragraph 4 describes the appeal procedure. It states that the Secretary of State may in certain cases— this meets the most important point raised by several of your Lordships—where the economic operation of a farm is seriously impaired, allow the hedge to be removed.

Paragraph 5 lists certain categories of work which are permitted under the Bill and not subject to the notification requirements. Paragraph 6 deals with the duty to reinstate in certain circumstances. Paragraph 7 deals with the enforcement of the duty to reinstate. Paragraph 8 provides an appeal mechanism against hedgerow enforcement and sets out grounds for appeals to the Secretary of State against an enforcement notice served by a local planning authority. Paragraph 9 provides for the offence of failing to comply with an enforcement notice. Paragraph 10 deals with the execution of work by a local planning authority and gives the authority power to do the necessary reinstatement where the work specified in an enforcement notice has not been done. Paragraph 11 deals with certain records.

With that description, I have galloped through a Bill which was the subject of many hours of discussion in another place.

At this stage I hope that the Government will recognise that the clause as drafted is not adequate. I do not ask my noble friend to say that the Government will accept the Ainsworth Bill, but I hope that at least in bringing forward as a result of this evening's debate amendments which may already have been suggested as possible, the Government will take it into account.

We should accept that hedges have been quite well looked after in certain cases and that in other cases they have not. In general, private landowners and farmers have looked after hedges well. I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton comes into that category. Certainly my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith does. My noble friend Lord Tollemache, who was here a few moments ago, has hedges which are well worth a visit. They are worth at least two stars in the Michelin guide, or perhaps three stars—vaut le voyage.

The greatest damage to hedges probably occurred in the 1980s, when it became fashionable for fund managers to seek to include agricultural land in their portfolios. It was a small amount of land in terms of investment, but a large amount of land in terms of area. Much of it was in East Anglia. They paid much too much for the land. I am glad to say that in real terms they still show a substantial loss on their investments. They put in managers with instructions to get a return. That resulted in the massacring of many features of the landscape, particularly hedges. That was a period of serious loss. The noble Lord, Lord Moran. referred to the ITE survey, which showed that in the period 1990–93 each year 14,000 miles of hedges had to be classified as no longer being worthy of being called hedges. By any standards that is a significant loss of hedges.

One must recognise that some of the assumptions about hedges are myths. My noble friend Lord Elton said that many hedges are not particularly old. The authority before whom I would bow is Mr. Oliver Rackham, who, in his seminal history of the English countryside, says that about half of Britain's hedges today originate from prehistoric, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, mediaeval and 16th and 17th century times. The other half were planted between 1750 and 1850 as a result of the great enclosures. Until about 1945 there was very little loss of hedges. Mr. Rackham writes: The loss of hedges began after World War H and is now the most familiar aspect of the destruction of the English countryside. It has affected mainly the eastern counties, where some areas richly hedged … are now as featureless as any desert; but the west and even Cornwall, has not entirely escaped".

I believe that the Committee generally believes that legislation along these lines is necessary. There are, of course, reservations on four or five points, which I shall deal with briefly. First, there is the need not to have more regulation. No one wants regulations if they can be avoided. The second relates to the question of definition. One cannot have a universal definition of hedges. It clearly has to be done by region; and that has to be by regulation and not by provisions in the Bill.

The cost of maintenance has been referred to a number of times. My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley said that the public will not pay—almost as though the public would be asked to "ante-up" 50p. The public will not pay for the Armed Forces if they are asked to ante-up 50p. But the simple fact is that the public want and need the defence of the realm and they want a beautiful, enjoyable and accessible countryside. They will therefore pay; and I believe that they would far prefer that money which is currently used to produce surplus food which is then stored or dumped should be used for the conservation of such things as hedges. That point has been made by a number of noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber.

No one should neglect the importance of farming. I am a medium-sized farmer by Suffolk standards. It is possible to farm profitably and yet with the conservation and maintenance of hedges in mind. Finally, I do not believe that any of us wishes to fossilise the countryside. It would not be possible even if we wished to do so.

I apologise because I have rather galloped through what I wished to say because of the lateness of the hour. At least what I have said is rather shorter than my amendment. I shall be interested to hear my noble friend's reply to the debate. I hope that we shall be able to move forward from Clause 79 as it now stands. I beg to move.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Perhaps I may—

10.30 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

I have put my name to the amendment, if the noble Lord will allow me to speak.

For better or worse, we are moving towards the end of the topic for tonight, and possibly for another fortnight or three weeks. I have refrained from intervening in the earlier debate on the subject, largely because I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that it was a pity that the amendment could not be taken earlier. We need an overall approach to the issue. It is not that I did not have views about which I might have intervened. In the debate between stake and bound, and cut and laid, I must confess that I am on the side of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. I believe that cut and laid is considerably more elegant. If one grows hedgerows and does not look after them in those areas of England where growth is considerable, one ends up with a bullfinch. That is an even greater challenge to someone like the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who likes jumping over or through them.

We do not know how the agricultural scene and the countryside will develop over the next few years. If we had made a forecast five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago, we would probably have got it wrong. In the new world of sustainable development, living in an over-populated country, we do not know what the pattern of agriculture will be. I suspect that most of the forecasts made this evening will be proved wrong.

My party has produced a paper on agriculture which has come to a conclusion rather along the lines referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moran: that probably in the future there will be individual contracts with individual farmers. In that way one can avoid the suspicion of the general public that some farmers are making an enormous amount of money while others are almost starving. One is able to tailor the provisions to the individual farm. It will be immensely complicated, but it may be the way in which what is happening at the moment will develop. If that is so, surely with hedges we do not want suddenly to pursue one course or the other. We have had enough of that and it has been too drastic over the past 25 or 30 years. We want to see a way of stabilising and making certain that change—which must of course happen; we do not want the countryside kept in aspic, as speakers have said—is managed over time. In order to do that, we need an overall approach. The new Bill with this amendment incorporated has been discussed over a long time and it stands a better chance of being successful than the present clause. That is why I hope that the Government will seriously consider taking that road.

Lord Bridges

I support the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I am attracted by it for three reasons. First, it seems to me to be an excellent idea to build upon the work already done in another place. It offers a practical and sensible way forward, illustrating co-operation between the two Houses which we are not often able to achieve.

A second advantage which seems to me significant is that the noble Lord's solution avoids the necessity to attempt to define an important hedgerow. Listening to the discussion earlier this evening, I had nightmares of meetings of Whitehall committees between distracted officials and Ministers trying to find a proper definition. I believe that that is not the line we should pursue.

Thirdly, I happen to come from the same draughty corner of East Anglia as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. We need hedges there, the loss of them over the past 20 years has been severe. It is true that recently some have been put back in considerable numbers, but we have lost much soil. This is the time of year when a dry spring and a newly sown crop can be blown away and I am sure that the loss. of our hedges has caused the loss of a great deal of soil. I therefore hope that the amendment will find favour with the Committee.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

At some stage I must break cover and make my views clear about the amendment and the clause. I dislike the amendment intensely and I dislike Clause 75 intensely. Both tell or order farmers to preserve something—in this case hedgerows. If there is one way not to preserve something, it is to tell or order farmers to do something when, in practice, no money or influence will make them do it. We will not be able to stop them destroying the hedgerows if they so wish. From these comfortable Benches, Members of the Committee may think they can, but they cannot. If we really want hedgerows to be preserved—and I happen to believe that some should be—the correct way is with the carrot, as many speakers have said. Sadly, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, clearly pointed out, there is not enough money to pay for the carrot. That is the great trouble.

Lastly, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Marlesford does not address the vital point of management. We shall have to address that if we want to keep the hedgerows, but to make laws about preserving them is a total and utter waste of time.

Earl Peel

My noble friend Lord Marlesford said that we needed to seek a balance. I had the feeling that we had already sought it through what the Government propose in the clause and the vague acceptance of my noble friend on the Front Bench of the two amendments of my noble friend Lord Wade and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lytton. I am convinced that if the Government were persuaded to accept the principle of those two, this balance has been achieved.

The noble Lord has overstretched the "aspic" argument on this matter. We are looking at a grand preservation scheme. It is a "Fortnum & Mason" amendment. There is no consultation procedure. We have not addressed the problem of what is an important hedge. Will local authorities—if indeed they are to be the authorities involved—operate consistently throughout the country? These issues have to be addressed, and they can only be addressed through the process of the regulations, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Wade.

Finally, my noble friend said that his clause was very similar (more or less identical) to that which was introduced in another place by Mr. Ainsworth. But he also went on to say that that particular Bill did not succeed through lack of time. With the best will in the world, I think that is a euphemism for the fact that the other place did not accept it. I see no reason why, if it was not accepted then, it should be accepted by another place now. That alone is, quite honestly, as good a reason as any to reject my-noble friend's amendment.

Viscount Ullswater

Amendment No. 313AA, tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and Amendment No. 335ZBC, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, place detailed provisions for the protection of hedgerows on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 313AA replaces the present Clause 79 with a brief clause giving effect to a new schedule. The new schedule, which is set out in Amendment No. 335ZBC, broadly corresponds with the provisions of the Private Member's Bill brought before another place by my honourable friend Peter Ainsworth in 1992–93. I have noted that my noble friend has made a number of revisions to reflect comments that I made during the Second Reading debate, which he acknowledged.

Two years ago, the Government supported the Private Member's Bill to which I have referred and which these amendments seek to carry forward. I made clear during the Second Reading of this Bill that we envisage bringing forward in regulations a notification scheme similar to the one proposed in these amendments, but that such a proposal should first be the subject of prior consultation both in and outside Parliament.

Members of the Committee will also note, if they glance through Amendment No. 335ZBC, that these provisions attempt to settle not only the general principles of a notification scheme but more or less all of its detailed arrangements. We believe that all these matters, the general principles and the detailed arrangements, should be the subject of wider consultation.

I should like to outline two reasons for this approach. First, the Private Member's Bill was promoted in the light of the 1990 countryside survey; and we know, following our further hedgerow survey published in July last year, that the average annual removal between 1990 and 1993 fell significantly to some 3,600 kilometres.

Although we remain committed to introducing measures for the protection of important hedgerows, and consider that this is best achieved by a notification scheme, we must ensure that the final scheme reflects the scale of the problem as we perceive it in 1995. It does not necessarily follow that all the provisions of a Private Member's Bill introduced two years ago and based on research carried out five years ago are suitable for inclusion in legislation today.

Secondly, I should point out to the Committee that the Private Member's Bill was itself subject to wide-ranging debate before its fall in another place. Almost every aspect of the Bill attracted amendments, as I think my noble friend Lord Peel indicated. The debates reflected the real difficulties that must be addressed if a proper balance is to be struck between the concerns of the public at large who wish to see important hedgerows protected effectively, and the interests of the individual who wishes to ensure that any controls which are placed on his or her daily life or business are limited to those that are necessary and fair.

For these reasons, we believe that all details of the hedgerow protection scheme should be brought forward only after we have listened to views expressed not only in this Chamber and in another place as the Bill makes its way towards the statute book, but also following wider consultation.

The effect of these amendments would be to pre-empt such consultation, although that seemed to be quite all right in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. But my noble friend Lord Peel quite rightly stressed that this would be without any consultation. Therefore, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Norrie

Before the noble Viscount sits down, does he agree that secondary legislation introduces too great an element of uncertainty? Amendment No. 313A would avoid any uncertainty by incorporating the hedgerow notification directly into the Bill.

Viscount Ullswater

I indicated at a much earlier stage that this would be subject to a great deal of consultation. I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that we would be considering whether we should put that consultation in a statutory way on the face of the Bill. I also said that we may even consider whether it should be subject to affirmative resolution. I believe that that dispenses with the fact that it is a known scheme. There is no uncertainty.

Lord Marlesford

I believe that the sense of the Committee overall this evening has been that significant modifications to Clause 79 in the Bill as it stands are needed. There have been certain indications of where those modifications may be made. Obviously, this evening I shall not press the amendment, which puts forward some rather detailed modifications. We shall be able to return to this subject on Report with whatever further amendments seem appropriate. In the meantime, I ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 [Grants for purposes conducive to conservation]:

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 313B:

Page 87, line 5, leave out from ("Treasury") to ("conducive") in line 8 and insert ("shall by regulation ensure that all agriculture and forestry payments are").

The noble Baroness said: At this late hour I do not propose to employ any arguments or illustrations in support of these amendments. I shall simply call them so that the Minister can give us the answer, which we are all very anxious to hear.

I simply wish to say that all these amendments provide in Clauses 80 and 81 an opportunity to improve the level of care for environmental considerations in farming and forestry practices. Too many of the present policies are not designed to include those issues.

Amendment No. 313B would put a duty on MAFF to consider such issues when designing or modifying farming and forestry schemes. Amendments Nos. 314A and 314C highlight the importance of cultural and historical landscape features and buildings in all such schemes. For the benefit of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, I consider grants to farmers to conserve such important buildings are essential. The changes proposed in those three amendments are echoed in Amendments Nos. 324B, 324C and 324D.

Amendment No. 314B would ensure that all schemes designed for the public enjoyment of the countryside are consistent with conservation needs.

Amendment No. 314D puts responsibility on the Minister to give due regard to locally important landscapes. I underline the word "locally" in that context. I am sure that the Minister will respond to it.

Amendment No. 315B would require all payments made under this clause to be the subject of environmental assessment.

Finally, Amendment No. 315A addresses the specific problem in national parks and seeks to make the park authorities responsible for the administration of grants for purposes conducive to conservation. I beg to move Amendment No. 313B.

Lord Walpole

Perhaps I may say very briefly, in view of the time, that I obviously support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has just said. It widens out the measure to the more cultural, archaeological aspects and so on. I am afraid that that is what the Committee would expect me to say at this hour of the night. I strongly support the amendments.

Earl Peel

Unless I am very much mistaken, Amendment No. 313B, taken in isolation, would remove the ability of the Minister to make any provision for grants under this clause at all. So from that point of view alone, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, I feel that the amendment is rather strangely worded.

Equally, as I see it, Amendment No. 315A, as worded, would give the national parks a monopoly of providing grants throughout the countryside. I am sure that even my noble friend Lord Norrie would not want to see that happen.

As to Amendment No 315A, it would be a mistake if we were to pass over to the national park authorities the grant-making ability from the Government organisations and departments that have the expertise and the specialist knowledge to award them. I hope that the Committee will reject at least those two amendments

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

I want to speak briefly to Amendment No. 314, which has been grouped with these amendments but has not yet been mentioned. I shall not go any further with it tonight because to a certain extent it is about organic farming. The noble Lord who is the expert on organic farming on the opposite Benches is not with us this evening, so I shall wait until the next stage to discuss it.

There is a need for a wide ability to give grants, which help move agriculture in the right direction at the same time as preserving the countryside, and which produce the necessary amounts of carrots and sticks. That is the purpose of that amendment, and no doubt we shall come back to it on Report.

Lord Wise

My noble friend Viscount Addison was going to move Amendment No. 315A and he asked me if I would support it, so I shall speak, very briefly, to that Amendment.

I cannot entirely agree with my noble friend Earl Peel regarding this. Grant making to farmers and landowners for conservational and recreational purposes underlies the management strategies across the national parks. It also provides positive incentives for land management to achieve the national park purposes of conservation and promotion of enjoyment. There is no distinction to be drawn between the objectives of the schemes described in this clause and much of the work already carried out by the national park authorities.

In some cases this work is carried out through agency agreements relating to national schemes. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, has already referred to the Countryside Council for Wales, Tir Cymen, and its agency agreement with the Snowdonian National Park Authority is highly successful. Agreements are negotiated by the park staff, who provide a valuable local liaison service for the farming community. This amendment will enable that relationship to continue if Tir Cymen is handed over to the Welsh Office in the same way that Countryside Stewardship is to be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England.

The amendment would also enable Ministers in England and Wales to adopt national park schemes where appropriate. All the national parks have farm and countryside services, and some operate innovative farm schemes as part of those services. The successful North Yorkshire moors farm scheme, for instance, provides support for environmentally friendly farming practices in an area which does not benefit from having Environmentally Sensitive Area status.

Enabling national funds to be channelled into such schemes, with the park authority acting as agents for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, would only be beneficial.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

These amendments all relate to the powers in Clause 80 under which my right honourable friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland would be empowered to make grants for purposes conducive to conservation. I should declare an interest as the current recipient of a grant under the hedgerow incentive scheme.

Amendment No. 313B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, would require these Ministers to regulate to ensure that all payments which they make are conducive to conservation of the countryside. The Government fully recognise the need for conservation implications to be taken into account in all payment schemes, not only those whose principal purpose is environmental. However, we do not consider that this amendment is necessary given the duty which already applies to the relevant Ministers under Section 17 of the Agriculture Act 1986 to achieve a reasonable balance between conservation, public enjoyment of the countryside and other interests in exercising any functions connected with agriculture. We believe that this duty is sufficient to ensure that Ministers must take conservation interests into account in all policy areas, and indeed the wording of Clause 80(1) of the Bill was drawn directly from Section 17 of the 1986 Act.

My noble friend Lord Peel pointed out something very important about the amendment, which is that it is undesirable. It would leave out the wording in Clause 80 which enables the relevant Ministers to introduce new conservation grant schemes. I am sure that that was not the noble Baroness's intention. Specifically, the clause empowers the Minister of Agriculture, in particular, to operate countryside stewardship. The amendment would thereby undermine the original intention of the clause.

Amendment No. 314, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, will ensure that the conservation grant-making powers provided for in Clause 80 may be used to promote environmentally friendly farming methods. The Government fully support that intention. The countryside has been shaped by agriculture and its future conservation is dependent on farming methods taking full account of the needs of the environment. To this end, we have introduced a range of conservation schemes for farmers and indeed the central purpose of the clause is to enable the Minister of Agriculture to offer incentives to encourage environmentally sensitive farming on key landscape types in England as part of the countryside stewardship scheme.

However, while we endorse the intention of the amendment, we consider that the existing wording of Clause 80 is fully adequate. This enables the relevant Ministers to make grants for anything conducive to, the conservation or enhancement of the natural beauty… of the countryside (including its flora and fauna and geological and physiographical features) or of any features of archaeological interest". We are satisfied that this will enable Ministers to make a wide range of payments, as they consider appropriate, to promote environmentally sensitive farming.

Amendments Nos. 314A, 314C, 314D, 324B and 324D, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, seek to extend the scope of Clauses 80 and 81 to include grants concerned with conservation of cultural or historic features and, specifically, the protection of buildings of cultural or historic interest.

First, with regard to buildings, we do not consider that it is appropriate or necessary to extend the grant-making powers of the relevant Ministers. To do so would extend unnecessarily the overlap with the extensive grant-making powers which English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw/Welsh Historic Monuments already have in relation to historic buildings and monuments.

Lord Walpole

That refers to listed buildings only. We were trying to take it slightly further than that and to take a lot of buildings around the countryside which are unlisted but which are desperately important in the countryside scene.

Earl Howe

Some elements of schemes which are or will in future be operated by agriculture departments involve the conservation of historic landscapes such as parkland—for example, the historic landscape option of Countryside Stewardship—or the preservation of archaeological and historic features such as earthworks and stone walls under the environmentally sensitive areas scheme. The Bill was drafted with that in mind and Clause 80 allows the relevant Ministers to make grants for anything which is conducive to the conservation or enhancement of the natural beauty or amenity of the countryside. We believe that this is fully sufficient to allow payments to be made for the conservation of historic landscapes and the preservation of historic and archaeological features. We do not believe that it is appropriate to go further than that in the context of this Bill.

My noble friend Lord Wise referred to farm conservation schemes run by national parks. I note the suggestion that the Government might want to adopt the conservation schemes run by national park authorities. I should be grateful if my noble friend will send me details of the schemes to which he referred.

Amendment No. 315A, spoken to by my noble friend, seeks to provide powers for the making of regulations to allow national park authorities to administer conservation grant schemes, such as Countryside Stewardship, on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Wales. The Government do not consider that this is necessary since, in practice, such powers already exist.

If a scheme introduced under Clause 80 were specific to a national park and it was agreed that the national park authority should act as the Minister or Secretary of State's agent in administering the scheme, there would be no difficulty in providing for this under current legislation. Similarly, there would be no difficulty in the Minister or Secretary of State designating another body as his agent if he deemed it appropriate.

I have gone slightly out of order for which I apologise.

Amendments Nos. 314B and 324C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, are intended to ensure that payments to promote public enjoyment of the countryside may only be made by the relevant Ministers where such enjoyment is consistent with the interests of conservation. The Government believe that properly managed public access can in many instances be fully compatible with conservation of the rural environment and that access should only be promoted where this is the case. However, we consider that it is unnecessary to include this principle as a requirement in the Bill because of the duty of balance under the Agriculture Act 1986 to which I have already referred. We believe that this duty is sufficient to ensure that Ministers will in practice take conservation into account in promoting public access.

This group of amendments also includes that tabled by my noble friend Lord Peel, but I do not believe that he spoke to it. If he agrees, I shall not reply to it at this stage in view of the lateness of the hour.

Earl Peel

I am very grateful to my noble friend.

Earl Howe

Amendment No. 315B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, seeks to make all conservation payments under the schemes covered by Clause 80 subject to a strategic assessment of their likely environmental effects. The Government do not consider that this is necessary since the primary purpose of all of these schemes is to address specific environmental needs and priorities, or to promote public enjoyment of the countryside in a way which is compatible with environmental protection. We already monitor carefully the environmental effects of each of them and monitoring reports are published as appropriate. A requirement to carry out strategic assessments on all conservation grants would, we believe, lead to unnecessary bureaucracy and delays in getting desirable conservation work under way.

I recognise that all of these amendments in their several ways are intended to be helpful. The fact that-many seek to widen the scope of the clause is, I believe, a sign of the very high regard in which incentive schemes such as Countryside Stewardship are held. The clause has deliberately been drafted to allow Ministers to make a wide range of payments related to different aspects of environmental land management. I am confident that it provides a sound basis for the future promotion of environmentally friendly farming in Great Britain.

With those rather lengthy words of explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his careful answer. The amendments have been brought forward because of the concern expressed by CPRE about some areas which have continued to deteriorate despite the 1986 Act. There is very much to consider in what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 314 to 314D not moved.]

Earl Peel moved Amendment No. 315:

Page 87, line 32, at end insert: ("( ) make provision for grants to be paid, where appropriate, to both the owner of any land and the occupier of that land where the owner is not also the occupier.").

The noble Earl said: I deliberately did not speak to this amendment in the previous grouping because it covers a different subject. The objective behind the amendment is to try to clarify that both landlords and tenants can be joint participants in environmental land management schemes introduced under this clause, where it is appropriate. As currently drafted, it is not clear that payments could be made to both the owner and the tenant under such schemes.

Clearly there are cases where the needs of environmental land management will require both the landowner and the tenant to be participants in the scheme for it to be really effective. For example, landowners could be responsible, as in the Yorkshire Dales ESA, for the upkeep of barns, which is not a tenant's responsibility, and yet the tenant is responsible for the conservation and management of the surrounding hay meadows.

We are talking about integrated management, which incorporates both landlord and tenant. I can think of woodlands being another example. I could go on, but because of the lateness of the hour I shall not. I am merely trying to establish from my noble friend the Minister whether this scheme will be payable to both landlords and tenants.

There is one specific point that I should like to make here, because it has occurred quite often in the past. Will a landlord who does not have a holding number qualify for grant under this scheme? I can think of a number of occasions in the past with different grants where it has been difficult for the landlord to obtain the grant even though he is the person who will put up the money. It is a complex business, as I am sure the Committee will appreciate, but I should be grateful if my noble friend could give me an answer to that question and ensure that both landlords and tenants will qualify for payments under this clause. I beg to move.

Earl Howe

My noble friend has explained that the amendment is designed to enable the appropriate Ministers to make conservation grants to both the landlord and the tenant in cases where they might participate jointly in environmental schemes. That might arise where, for example, the tenant has day-to-day control over normal farm management, but the landlord is responsible for features such as field boundaries. The Government entirely agree that in such circumstances the Minister should be able to make payments to both the landlord and the tenant, and indeed the central purpose of Clause 80 is to enable the Minister of Agriculture to operate countryside stewardship which already includes such joint agreements. For that reason Clause 80 was drafted carefully to allow the Minister to make grants to any persons who do, or who undertake to do, anything conducive to conservation or public enjoyment of the countryside.

We believe that this wording is fully sufficient to allow the relevant Ministers to make payments to both a landowner and a tenant as part of the same agreement where appropriate.

My noble friend asked me whether the recipient of the grant needed to have an agricultural holding number. Perhaps I may write to him about that as I would not wish to mislead the Committee on that point of detail. I hope that with that general explanation my noble friend will be somewhat reassured and feel that the amendment is unnecessary.

Earl Peel

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 315A and 315B not moved.]

Clause 80 agreed to.

The Earl of Lindsay

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at ten minutes past eleven o'clock.