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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.

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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

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£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

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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

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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.


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