Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Onslow: It is absolutely vital that such regulations should be debated before they become law. I know that we have a great problem in that respect. Regulations, whether they be subject to the negative or affirmative procedure, are always unamendable. I suggest that it would be much better if the Government tabled the regulations for discussion. The regulations could be imposed following a debate. Once they have been debated and the Government have listened to what people say, I do not believe it matters whether the regulations are subject to the negative or the affirmative resolution procedure. It is vitally important that they should be debated and that we do not have to accept them lock, stock and barrel. That is the difficulty. Judging by the vagueness of Clause 79, it seems to me that the regulations will run into very many pages. That must be an unsatisfactory method of proceeding.

Earl Peel: If my noble friend is saying that there needs to be full debate in both Houses of Parliament as well as consultation, I entirely agree with him.

9 Feb 1995 : Column 416

Viscount Ullswater: The amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, seeks to provide that the hedgerow regulations made under the clause are laid before both Houses of Parliament, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I can assure Members of the Committee that we intend to bring forward regulations under the clause which will reflect the views of Parliament and the outcome of separate consultation. As drafted, Clause 79(4) provides that the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure.

However, notwithstanding the absence of any adverse comment in the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, I have listened carefully to what has been said not only on this amendment but also on the previous amendment (Amendment No. 309C) moved by my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. At that time I indicated that I would consider carefully whether some form of statutory consultation process should take place. We now have before us another suggested method which I should like to consider alongside the one previously discussed. Having said that, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Crickhowell: I wanted to hear my noble friend's response before speaking to the amendment. I should like to reinforce the point that I made earlier. I may have given the impression—I hope I did not—that I am not anxious to protect hedgerows. I am. I live near Offa's Dyke. I am surrounded by quite important old hedgerows, some of which are in bad condition. Moreover, I should like to preserve many dry stone walls that are falling down. I believe that the clause is most unsatisfactory. The very length of our debate and what has been said indicates that Parliament must have an opportunity thoroughly to examine the matter.

There are two alternatives before us. There is the approach that is about to be discussed in connection with the following group of amendments in which we have an immensely long schedule that Parliament can approve as part of the Bill; or we have a system whereby we have regulations which Parliament would have the opportunity to influence and alter. It would be intolerable if such regulations which could have an enormous impact on people who live in the countryside were passed without proper debate in Parliament.

The Earl of Lytton: I was greatly heartened by the Minister's response. Like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I am a great believer in hedges; indeed, on top of Exmoor one has to be a believer in hedges because otherwise one's livestock would get blown away. As someone who planted about 500 yards of hedges last winter, I am very much committed to them. However, I believe that I have to give the Government the benefit of the doubt.

I am grateful for the careful way in which the Minister addressed the problem. I look forward to seeing what the noble Viscount brings forward at a later stage. While reserving my position, and subject to what the Minster may bring forward, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 Feb 1995 : Column 417

Lord Marlesford moved Amendment No. 313AA:


Leave out Clause 79 and insert the following new clause:

("Hedgerows

. Schedule (Hedgerows) to this Act, which makes provision for the protection of hedgerows, shall have effect.").

The noble Lord said: I, too, have a variety of interests to declare. I also am a farmer. Unlike my noble friend Lord Wade, I make a profit on my farm. I am sorry that he has gone, as this is probably the only time that I shall be able to claim to be a better businessman than he is. Even so, I am rather doubtful about making such a claim. I have also removed hedges when I should not have done, have perhaps reasonably removed others and have planted some too. I am a member of the CLA and also chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

A procedural problem has arisen this evening. This was almost hinted at by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. It might have been helpful if this particular amendment had been dealt with at an earlier stage in the debate. I say that, not because there is anything special about what I have to say, but because your Lordships' House has turned its attention to hedges only now, while another place has given a very considerable amount of attention to the subject. The Government, which I am proud to support, has had a commitment to hedgerow legislation since the 1990 White Paper on the environment five years ago. Two years ago, in May 1993, my honourable friend Mr. Peter Ainsworth in another place introduced legislation that went through Committee stage but, being a Private Member's Bill, fell at Report because of lack of time. In order to help both the Committee and the Government, I tabled as an amendment the Ainsworth Bill as far as it got, as amended in line with helpful suggestions made by the Government at various stages since that time. For example, my noble friend will recognise that the amendment now excludes young hedges, unless they have been paid for by public money. I hope that noble Lords will feel it worth looking at it. One knows how tiresome it is to look at long schedules. However, this schedule is in a sense a Bill that seeks to replace Clause 79. I do not for a moment say that this is the end of the discussion. However, having listened to the debate, it appears that your Lordships are united on two matters. I believe that all noble Lords are fairly pro hedges to a greater or lesser extent. Equally, almost everyone feels that the clause as now drafted is, to put it politely, somewhat imperfect. That does not mean that the Government's heart is not absolutely in the right place. The question is where the balance should lie between what is in the Bill and what is done by regulation. No one pretends that the whole thing should be done in either way.

Perhaps I may quickly run through the main features of the amendment. Paragraph 1 creates the offence of uprooting a hedge. Paragraph 2 sets out the notification procedure to be followed before someone may carry out work that causes the destruction or impairment of a protected hedge. Paragraph 3 is supplementary and provides for notice of any proposals from tenant or owner. Paragraph 4 describes the appeal procedure. It states that the Secretary of State may in certain cases—

9 Feb 1995 : Column 418

this meets the most important point raised by several of your Lordships—where the economic operation of a farm is seriously impaired, allow the hedge to be removed.

Paragraph 5 lists certain categories of work which are permitted under the Bill and not subject to the notification requirements. Paragraph 6 deals with the duty to reinstate in certain circumstances. Paragraph 7 deals with the enforcement of the duty to reinstate. Paragraph 8 provides an appeal mechanism against hedgerow enforcement and sets out grounds for appeals to the Secretary of State against an enforcement notice served by a local planning authority. Paragraph 9 provides for the offence of failing to comply with an enforcement notice. Paragraph 10 deals with the execution of work by a local planning authority and gives the authority power to do the necessary reinstatement where the work specified in an enforcement notice has not been done. Paragraph 11 deals with certain records.

With that description, I have galloped through a Bill which was the subject of many hours of discussion in another place.

At this stage I hope that the Government will recognise that the clause as drafted is not adequate. I do not ask my noble friend to say that the Government will accept the Ainsworth Bill, but I hope that at least in bringing forward as a result of this evening's debate amendments which may already have been suggested as possible, the Government will take it into account.

We should accept that hedges have been quite well looked after in certain cases and that in other cases they have not. In general, private landowners and farmers have looked after hedges well. I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton comes into that category. Certainly my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith does. My noble friend Lord Tollemache, who was here a few moments ago, has hedges which are well worth a visit. They are worth at least two stars in the Michelin guide, or perhaps three stars—vaut le voyage.

The greatest damage to hedges probably occurred in the 1980s, when it became fashionable for fund managers to seek to include agricultural land in their portfolios. It was a small amount of land in terms of investment, but a large amount of land in terms of area. Much of it was in East Anglia. They paid much too much for the land. I am glad to say that in real terms they still show a substantial loss on their investments. They put in managers with instructions to get a return. That resulted in the massacring of many features of the landscape, particularly hedges. That was a period of serious loss. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to the ITE survey, which showed that in the period 1990-93 each year 14,000 miles of hedges had to be classified as no longer being worthy of being called hedges. By any standards that is a significant loss of hedges.

One must recognise that some of the assumptions about hedges are myths. My noble friend Lord Elton said that many hedges are not particularly old. The authority before whom I would bow is Mr. Oliver Rackham, who, in his seminal history of the English countryside, says that about half of Britain's hedges

9 Feb 1995 : Column 419

today originate from prehistoric, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, mediaeval and 16th and 17th century times. The other half were planted between 1750 and 1850 as a result of the great enclosures. Until about 1945 there was very little loss of hedges. Mr. Rackham writes:


    "The loss of hedges began after World War II and is now the most familiar aspect of the destruction of the English countryside. It has affected mainly the eastern counties, where some areas richly hedged ... are now as featureless as any desert; but the west and even Cornwall, has not entirely escaped".

I believe that the Committee generally believes that legislation along these lines is necessary. There are, of course, reservations on four or five points, which I shall deal with briefly. First, there is the need not to have more regulation. No one wants regulations if they can be avoided. The second relates to the question of definition. One cannot have a universal definition of hedges. It clearly has to be done by region; and that has to be by regulation and not by provisions in the Bill.

The cost of maintenance has been referred to a number of times. My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley said that the public will not pay—almost as though the public would be asked to "ante-up" 50p. The public will not pay for the Armed Forces if they are asked to ante-up 50p. But the simple fact is that the public want and need the defence of the realm and they want a beautiful, enjoyable and accessible countryside. They will therefore pay; and I believe that they would far prefer that money which is currently used to produce surplus food which is then stored or dumped should be used for the conservation of such things as hedges. That point has been made by a number of noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber.

No one should neglect the importance of farming. I am a medium-sized farmer by Suffolk standards. It is possible to farm profitably and yet with the conservation and maintenance of hedges in mind. Finally, I do not believe that any of us wishes to fossilise the countryside. It would not be possible even if we wished to do so.

I apologise because I have rather galloped through what I wished to say because of the lateness of the hour. At least what I have said is rather shorter than my amendment. I shall be interested to hear my noble friend's reply to the debate. I hope that we shall be able to move forward from Clause 79 as it now stands. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page