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Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for the points that they have raised. Perhaps I may turn first to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Addison and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, who made similar points. Both expressed their disappointment that the grants have been withdrawn. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked whether we might consider reinstating the grant, either on a discretionary basis or more generally. Even my noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked me to keep an open mind about doing that.

As I have explained, farm waste grants have been available for something like five years. That, we feel, has been long enough to allow farmers generally to have an opportunity to apply for grants. Many of them have done so. The number of serious incidents—which is a telling measure of how the industry is responding to the threat of pollution—has dropped considerably. Farmers are now much more aware than they were. But we recognise that farmers in nitrate vulnerable zones will face an essentially new situation. For that reason we believe that it is reasonable to provide a special dispensation and extend the provision of grant for those farmers. I shall comment on nitrate vulnerable zones in a little more detail in a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked what the Government would still be doing to address the threat of pollution. We have a comprehensive range of measures to tackle pollution. First and foremost there are the farm waste storage regulations, which set minimum construction standards for new or substantially altered farm waste storage installations, and indeed existing ones which the NRA considers present a significant pollution risk. There are penalties for non-compliance.

MAFF has published the codes of good agricultural practice that I mentioned. Those are available free. They give advice to farmers and growers on how to plan and manage the disposal of farm wastes to avoid pollution.

Free pollution advisory visits are still available from ADAS. Farmers can choose between a general visit covering advice on pollution related matters or assistance in the preparation of a farm waste management plan. Those are still proving very valuable to many farmers.

MAFF works closely with the NRA in targeting selected river catchments for intensive farm waste management plan campaigns to encourage farmers to draw up their own farm waste management plans. One should not omit to mention the penalties that are available in magistrates' courts for the pollution of water courses which act as a considerable incentive not to do any such thing. The maximum fine is £20,000.

Finally, MAFF has an extensive research and development programme in place to tackle the problem of farm waste pollution.

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The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked about a review of the farm conservation grant scheme. All conservation grants will be reviewed as part of the wider review of environmental schemes. Naturally we will keep the position under close scrutiny.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked what the savings will be from withdrawing waste grants. I can tell him that the expected savings in the United Kingdom in 1995-96 will be £8 million; in 1996-97 £17 million; and the same figure, £17 million, for 1997-98.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell expressed his fears for the future of investment in waste handling facilities by farmers now that the grant has been withdrawn. I can assure my noble friend that we will keep a very close eye on the number of pollution incidents that occur and the way in which farmers respond to what is undoubtedly an ever present threat.

A base-line study was carried out three years ago in order to determine the extent of the agriculture pollution control problem in Britain. A follow-up study is now under way which will evaluate whether there has been any change in pollution risk. It will assess to what extent the waste grants that are offered under the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme have contributed to any change.

The withdrawal of waste handling grants under the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme should also be seen in the wider context of public expenditure plans, as I have mentioned. UK domestic expenditure for agriculture in cash terms, is due to rise from an anticipated £1,080 million for the current financial year to £1,100 million for 1995-96. Within this we have shifted resources and although farm waste grants are withdrawn, over the next three years we are able to provide £43 million for measures to assist farmers in the six Objective 5(b) areas in England. Measures include assistance for processing and marketing produce, including the marketing and promotion of speciality food products with a local image, the development of novel agricultural produce and farm-based tourism—measures which I am sure noble Lords will consider to be as important as we do, and which reflect our wish to target assistance towards areas of specific need. That is a theme that underlies much of the agri-environment programme. In that context the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made particular mention of ESAs.

One such example of targeting is the nitrate vulnerable zones. Although, as I mentioned, grant assistance has been withdrawn under the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme throughout the UK we shall restore the provision of assistance for waste handling measures in any area which is designated as a vulnerable zone under the EC nitrate directive. The proposed designations in Scotland, England and Wales have been the subject of a public consultation exercise, and the responses are currently being considered. It is expected that the designation will be made some time later this year, followed by regulations to apply in the zones at some point before the end of 1999. This means that in a certain number of clearly defined areas farmers will be facing more explicit restrictions, with a view to reducing the impact of nitrate on water there.

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These restrictions are likely to include manure limits expressed as maximum amounts of nitrogen per hectare, together with periods when manure may not be spread. This means that the farmers concerned will be facing new restrictions and they may have to improve their waste storage and handling facilities in order to be able to comply. It is in recognition of these additional obligations that we intend to provide those farmers with assistance in the form of eligibility for grant aid.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. Does he have any idea of the grant level that may be applied in those areas? Up until November 1994 it had been reduced to 25 per cent.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I would like to help the noble Lord but unfortunately no decision has yet been reached. Discussions are in hand to determine the most appropriate way to provide assistance for items of this kind in NVZs. I am afraid that we are some way away from reaching a conclusion.

Pollution risks have become more widely recognised over the period in which farm waste grants operated—a period during which I believe government help was more than generous. It is pleasing to record that the number of farm pollution incidents over the same period has declined. I feel confident that farmers will continue to respond responsibly, even though grant aid is no longer available.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.5 p.m.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.31 until 8.5 p.m.]

Environment Bill [H.L.]

House again in Committee on Clause 6.

Lord Greenway moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 7, line 8, at end insert:
("( ) It shall be the duty of the Agency to maintain, improve and develop for recreational and navigational purposes the waterways in respect of which the Agency exercises functions as a navigation authority, harbour authority or conservancy authority.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, which brings us back to navigational matters, it may be convenient if I give a few notes on the background of what I am trying to achieve in a number of amendments connected with navigation.

It is estimated that there are about 7 million casual visits by people to the British Waterways' canal and river system and an equivalent number of casual visits or day trips to the River Thames and the National Rivers Authority waterways. The recreational use of the waterways is not just by those who own or hire a boat. It includes those who come down to the water's edge to picnic or walk and those who take trips on passenger boats or day launches. They enjoy the visits because of the combination of the management of the waterway and

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the spectacle of boats and their movements. I do not feel that many people would wish to make a visit to a waterway that was derelict.

The three organisations which look after the interests of those to whom I should like to refer as the navigators are: the British Marine Industries Federation, the Royal Yachting Association and the Inland Waterways Association. Those three organisations have sought to look after their interests in a responsible way and to recognise the quality of the management of the waterways by the NRA on the Thames, the Fens and its other navigations. However, they are concerned that navigation is a very small part of the activities of the NRA, even though it has benefited from a rather higher profile than the situation would warrant.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is not still in his place. I should like to have paid a tribute to him on behalf of the boating interests. Co-operation with the NRA has been extremely good, especially at regional and lower levels. I believe that quite recently they have been given an even higher profile in that organisation.

With regard to the proposals for the range of activities, staff structure and management structure of the new agency, there is a genuine concern that navigation will form an even smaller part of those activities. With that in mind, I seek to raise the profile of navigation and give better representation and contact with the management in the new environment agency, without making any fundamental change to the Bill.

I turn to the amendment itself. Noble Lords will be well aware that a considerable number of government Acts contain special provision for salmon and freshwater fisheries. The amendment aims to provide a duty to improve and develop recreation and navigation similar to that which is already provided for fisheries in the Bill. I feel it is important that there is a provision to develop rather than just maintain recreation and navigation, which follows earlier provision in the original Water Act of 1889.

I do not seek any special priority provision for those who use the navigations. I merely seek parity with the fishing interests. The Minister was kind enough to accept my first amendment at a late hour the other night, for which I am exceedingly grateful. I shall be interested to hear his reply on this matter. I beg to move.

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