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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,

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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—and 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 of 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

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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

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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—

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