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8.3 p.m.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. Perhaps in these days of aspersions I should say that it is a wholly unremunerated position.

My noble friend must be very pleased with the weight of welcome which the Bill has received. It is as great as the weight of the Bill itself. Indeed, it is another step in the long stage of progress which the Government, in the 15 years they have been in power, have taken in making improvements to the environment of this country. They started with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We have had a rather remarkable set of Secretaries of State for the Environment. If I were to pick out four of them, I should choose Mr. Michael Heseltine, Mr. Nicholas Ridley, Mr. Chris Patten and the present holder, Mr. John Gummer.

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But the improvements which the Government have made--I believe that we should look at this in a non-party spirit--follow in the tradition of the way in which we in this country have protected the environment. In particular, I think of the 1945-50 Labour Government who gave us a series of planning laws without which I do not believe our country would be anything like as beautiful as it is today. Indeed, I believe that it is one of the reasons why it is the envy of Europe.

Baroness David: Hear, hear!

Lord Marlesford: It may be useful, in view of the comments made by some of my noble friends about some aspects of the Bill, to consider how the measure and its proposals fit in with the mainstream of Tory philosophy. I believe that, in the tradition of Edmund Burke, where the role of the state is to hold the ring that means ensuring that those who, quite properly and certainly predictably, seek to maximise what they see as their own advantage do not at the same time exploit others and in particular do not exploit employees, consumers, investors or, in this case, the environment.

Some comments have been made about cost benefits. I recognise the difficulties in relation to cost-benefit analysis and the misleading results that that can lead to. In my view, it would have been desirable to have a more realistic cost-benefit analysis of some of the actions of the Health and Safety Executive, with which we are not directly concerned this evening, before they were imposed at great cost upon those affected.

On the other hand, the use of cost-benefit analysis for the sort of matters with which this Bill is concerned is rather more difficult if only because so many of the matters which concern people like myself are exceedingly difficult to attribute a monetary value to. Of course, it is all a matter of balancing rights. One of the rights that is most relevant to the part of the Bill which deals with the countryside is the property rights of those who own the countryside. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester reminded us that, however long our families may or may not have owned a piece of land, we are only life tenants. I believe that, in a literal as well as a moral sense, those of us who have the privilege to own or occupy land have a real stewardship obligation.

Therefore, in my opinion, that does not give us the right to do anything we wish with our own land if it changes it in a way which is seen to be against the public interest in terms of the nature of the land. We acquire land either by inheritance or gift, or we purchase it in a certain state, perhaps as forest, moorland or wetland or as grazing or arable land. We do not have an unfettered right to change it where it is against the public interest to do so. It is one of the core functions of Parliament to set the parameters in which social and economic activities can take place. Those can range widely; for example, from smoking restrictions in public places to the safety of nuclear power stations. The stewardship of the countryside comes into that.

The parameters are constantly shifting through demographic, social and economic change. It is for the political process to adapt a legal framework for that

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purpose. That is what the Bill does and, if I may say so, does courageously. In general, I do not believe that compensation should be paid for restrictions on change in landscape which are seen by Parliament to be against the public interest.

It is a long time since the taxpayer enriched the members of Brooks's Club by yielding to the threat that, unless compensated, they would tear down that venerable building--a threat which, of course, they never had the slightest intention of carrying out. However, it is not so long ago that, under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, farmers were paid not to plough up moorland or not to fell woodlands such as those in SSSIs.

However, we have advanced since then. The principle that the polluter should pay the cost of not polluting is, I believe, generally accepted. But that does not mean that grants of money should not be made to get people to maintain the countryside in the condition the public wishes to see it. The ESA system and other policies introduced under the stewardship scheme of the Countryside Commission have been highly successful.

Such interventions will change. There was a time, for a long while, when the prime purpose was seen to be preserving the countryside for food production. The White Paper, which was one of those papers and which had the clearest objective, entitled Food from our own Resources, was not replaced until long after it had actually been made obsolete by the effects of the common agricultural policy. More recently, in the words of Nicholas Ridley, which I believe still to be tremendously important and relevant, we have been urged,

    "to preserve the countryside for its own sake".

That was a very big step forward. The strategy needs developing. We are promised, or threatened with--I am not sure which phrase one should use--a rural White Paper some time next year. Indeed, it was referred to by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell in his interesting speech. I very much agree with my noble friend. I believe he said that that White Paper must deal with all government departments and not just MAFF and the DoE, even though they may have set it up. But more important still is the fact--it astonished me--that it is apparently proposed that the White Paper should only refer to England. I believe that it should refer to England, Scotland and Wales.

I wish now to look specifically at the Bill. I shall not take too long in doing so because so many points have already been made. Of course we all welcome what will be done to implement the Edwards Report on national parks. The "old Silkin test", as it was called, lasted very well; indeed, it lasted 40 years. It was at least clear. It has been succeeded by PPGs which are rather less inspiring and, very often, rather less clear. The Bill does not appear to have arrived at a clear alternative for the major development of--that rather unfortunate or inadequate phrase--"quiet enjoyment". Perhaps we should all turn our minds to finding a better phrase.

I am especially enthusiastic about the Government's courageous decision, opposed, one knows, in certain areas, to introduce Clause 79 with the protection for

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English hedges. The idea that 11,000 miles of English hedges disappeared each year between 1990 and 1993 is far more than a cold statistic. In about 1992, I shall never forget being in the small Suffolk parish of Benhall along with representatives of the county council, the Suffolk Preservation Society and the Countryside Commission in Cambridge begging the owners not to tear down a particularly ancient hedge. We watched in dismay as the hedge was bulldozed savagely in front of our eyes. That is the reality of the situation. It is something that I am so glad the Bill will begin to tackle. However, like others, I am rather unhappy that that appears to be the subject of secondary legislation. During the weeks that will elapse before the Bill leaves this House, I very much hope that we may persuade the Government to spell out more clearly how they intend to tackle the process in practice.

There are one or two other matters I should like to mention. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, pointed out, by fortunate design or mistake--I do not know which--the Long Title of the Bill appears to give scope for a number of other things to be done. I should like rapidly to mention one or two which I believe we should at least consider in the coming weeks. First, more is needed to be done to control the wind power in places where it would be unsuitable. It is very easy to say that it is a renewable and that it is marvellous; but, in practice, an awful lot of windy places, especially national parks, will be greatly damaged by the erection of wind turbines. When one bears in mind the fact that to produce only 10 per cent. of the total electricity requirement of this country one needs some 15,000 wind turbines of the biggest possible size in existence at present, I believe that the point is emphasised.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and I hope that we may be able in Committee to do something to preserve the countryside in particular from pollution by excessive light at night. The night sky is a precious asset. All too often --one of the main culprits is the Department of Transport --road lighting is often installed or switched on with pretty spurious justification.

Thirdly, we need to pay more attention to better management of water. Many of us have seen the effect of the emptying of rivers, the lowering of the water table in the countryside and trees dying from thirst. Again, that is a reality. Fourthly, waste management has been mentioned by many speakers. One aspect of waste management that I should like to see is a system which was originally introduced in the state of Oregon whereby non-biodegradeable containers sold to the public for things like Coca-Cola are made to be returnable. Of course, there is a cost involved, but it does at least mean that if such items are discarded by the affluent, the less affluent will pick them up. If one travels around Oregon and some other states, it will be seen that that has worked extremely well; it has been going on for a long time. Perhaps we could look at that system.

Finally, I should like to see something done about the design of garages in the countryside. They seem to have almost totally escaped the planning rules. They are extremely ugly and quite unjustifiably so.

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I believe that the Bill should receive enthusiastic support from all sides of the Houses of Parliament. There is a very happy precedent. I conclude by reading an extract from a letter to the editor of The Times dated 8th May 1929 which was just about three weeks before the 1929 election. The letter comes from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, as it was called in those days. It says:

    "During the next few weeks we shall differ on so many problems of public importance, that we gladly take an opportunity of showing that on one subject we speak with a united voice--namely, in advocating the preservation of our countryside in its rich personality and character.

    "We do this with full consideration that the development which is requisite in many forms can, and should be directed with thoughtful and scrupulous attention to the charm of our land. Apart from the natural beauties of hill and plain, of cliff, river, and lake, much of this beauty is the direct result of bygone development and enterprise: and in these days when methods of planning and the appreciation of trees and landscape are more widely studied than ever before, we ought to be able so to effect necessary changes as to avoid injuring a precious heritage".

The signatories of that letter are Stanley Baldwin, J. Ramsay MacDonald and David Lloyd George.

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