Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Stanley of Alderley: Perhaps I may—

10.30 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I have put my name to the amendment, if the noble Lord will allow me to speak.

For better or worse, we are moving towards the end of the topic for tonight, and possibly for another fortnight or three weeks. I have refrained from intervening in the earlier debate on the subject, largely because I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that it was a pity that the amendment could not be taken earlier. We need an overall approach to the issue. It is not that I did not have views about which I might have intervened. In the debate between stake and bound, and

9 Feb 1995 : Column 420

cut and laid, I must confess that I am on the side of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. I believe that cut and laid is considerably more elegant. If one grows hedgerows and does not look after them in those areas of England where growth is considerable, one ends up with a bullfinch. That is an even greater challenge to someone like the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who likes jumping over or through them.

We do not know how the agricultural scene and the countryside will develop over the next few years. If we had made a forecast five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago, we would probably have got it wrong. In the new world of sustainable development, living in an over-populated country, we do not know what the pattern of agriculture will be. I suspect that most of the forecasts made this evening will be proved wrong.

My party has produced a paper on agriculture which has come to a conclusion rather along the lines referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moran: that probably in the future there will be individual contracts with individual farmers. In that way one can avoid the suspicion of the general public that some farmers are making an enormous amount of money while others are almost starving. One is able to tailor the provisions to the individual farm. It will be immensely complicated, but it may be the way in which what is happening at the moment will develop. If that is so, surely with hedges we do not want suddenly to pursue one course or the other. We have had enough of that and it has been too drastic over the past 25 or 30 years. We want to see a way of stabilising and making certain that change—which must of course happen; we do not want the countryside kept in aspic, as speakers have said—is managed over time. In order to do that, we need an overall approach. The new Bill with this amendment incorporated has been discussed over a long time and it stands a better chance of being successful than the present clause. That is why I hope that the Government will seriously consider taking that road.

Lord Bridges: I support the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I am attracted by it for three reasons. First, it seems to me to be an excellent idea to build upon the work already done in another place. It offers a practical and sensible way forward, illustrating co-operation between the two Houses which we are not often able to achieve.

A second advantage which seems to me significant is that the noble Lord's solution avoids the necessity to attempt to define an important hedgerow. Listening to the discussion earlier this evening, I had nightmares of meetings of Whitehall committees between distracted officials and Ministers trying to find a proper definition. I believe that that is not the line we should pursue.

Thirdly, I happen to come from the same draughty corner of East Anglia as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. We need hedges there, the loss of them over the past 20 years has been severe. It is true that recently some have been put back in considerable numbers, but we have lost much soil. This is the time of year when a dry spring and a newly sown crop can be blown away

9 Feb 1995 : Column 421

and I am sure that the loss of our hedges has caused the loss of a great deal of soil. I therefore hope that the amendment will find favour with the Committee.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: At some stage I must break cover and make my views clear about the amendment and the clause. I dislike the amendment intensely and I dislike Clause 75 intensely. Both tell or order farmers to preserve something—in this case hedgerows. If there is one way not to preserve something, it is to tell or order farmers to do something when, in practice, no money or influence will make them do it. We will not be able to stop them destroying the hedgerows if they so wish. From these comfortable Benches, Members of the Committee may think they can, but they cannot. If we really want hedgerows to be preserved—and I happen to believe that some should be—the correct way is with the carrot, as many speakers have said. Sadly, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, clearly pointed out, there is not enough money to pay for the carrot. That is the great trouble.

Lastly, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Marlesford does not address the vital point of management. We shall have to address that if we want to keep the hedgerows, but to make laws about preserving them is a total and utter waste of time.

Earl Peel: My noble friend Lord Marlesford said that we needed to seek a balance. I had the feeling that we had already sought it through what the Government propose in the clause and the vague acceptance of my noble friend on the Front Bench of the two amendments of my noble friend Lord Wade and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lytton. I am convinced that if the Government were persuaded to accept the principle of those two, this balance has been achieved.

The noble Lord has overstretched the "aspic" argument on this matter. We are looking at a grand preservation scheme. It is a "Fortnum & Mason" amendment. There is no consultation procedure. We have not addressed the problem of what is an important hedge. Will local authorities—if indeed they are to be the authorities involved—operate consistently throughout the country? These issues have to be addressed, and they can only be addressed through the process of the regulations, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Wade.

Finally, my noble friend said that his clause was very similar (more or less identical) to that which was introduced in another place by Mr. Ainsworth. But he also went on to say that that particular Bill did not succeed through lack of time. With the best will in the world, I think that is a euphemism for the fact that the other place did not accept it. I see no reason why, if it was not accepted then, it should be accepted by another place now. That alone is, quite honestly, as good a reason as any to reject my noble friend's amendment.

Viscount Ullswater: Amendment No. 313AA, tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and Amendment No. 335ZBC, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, place detailed provisions for the protection of hedgerows on the face of the Bill.

9 Feb 1995 : Column 422

Amendment No. 313AA replaces the present Clause 79 with a brief clause giving effect to a new schedule. The new schedule, which is set out in Amendment No. 335ZBC, broadly corresponds with the provisions of the Private Member's Bill brought before another place by my honourable friend Peter Ainsworth in 1992-93. I have noted that my noble friend has made a number of revisions to reflect comments that I made during the Second Reading debate, which he acknowledged.

Two years ago, the Government supported the Private Member's Bill to which I have referred and which these amendments seek to carry forward. I made clear during the Second Reading of this Bill that we envisage bringing forward in regulations a notification scheme similar to the one proposed in these amendments, but that such a proposal should first be the subject of prior consultation both in and outside Parliament.

Members of the Committee will also note, if they glance through Amendment No. 335ZBC, that these provisions attempt to settle not only the general principles of a notification scheme but more or less all of its detailed arrangements. We believe that all these matters, the general principles and the detailed arrangements, should be the subject of wider consultation.

I should like to outline two reasons for this approach. First, the Private Member's Bill was promoted in the light of the 1990 countryside survey; and we know, following our further hedgerow survey published in July last year, that the average annual removal between 1990 and 1993 fell significantly to some 3,600 kilometres.

Although we remain committed to introducing measures for the protection of important hedgerows, and consider that this is best achieved by a notification scheme, we must ensure that the final scheme reflects the scale of the problem as we perceive it in 1995. It does not necessarily follow that all the provisions of a Private Member's Bill introduced two years ago and based on research carried out five years ago are suitable for inclusion in legislation today.

Secondly, I should point out to the Committee that the Private Member's Bill was itself subject to wide-ranging debate before its fall in another place. Almost every aspect of the Bill attracted amendments, as I think my noble friend Lord Peel indicated. The debates reflected the real difficulties that must be addressed if a proper balance is to be struck between the concerns of the public at large who wish to see important hedgerows protected effectively, and the interests of the individual who wishes to ensure that any controls which are placed on his or her daily life or business are limited to those that are necessary and fair.

For these reasons, we believe that all details of the hedgerow protection scheme should be brought forward only after we have listened to views expressed not only in this Chamber and in another place as the Bill makes its way towards the statute book, but also following wider consultation.

The effect of these amendments would be to pre-empt such consultation, although that seemed to be quite all right in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. But

9 Feb 1995 : Column 423

my noble friend Lord Peel quite rightly stressed that this would be without any consultation. Therefore, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Norrie: Before the noble Viscount sits down, does he agree that secondary legislation introduces too great an element of uncertainty? Amendment No. 313A would avoid any uncertainty by incorporating the hedgerow notification directly into the Bill.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page