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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

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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) 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 farming 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

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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, be 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 Lyell. 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.

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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. 311B 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 be 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.

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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.

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