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The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, when is that expected?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I shall come to that in a moment. We hope by the summer. The law alone cannot provide full protection. For example, much hedgerow loss is due to hedges becoming derelict. It is difficult to legislate to prevent that. Incentive schemes, advice and information have a key role to play in encouraging active management of hedgerows. That is why, as a result of the comprehensive spending review, the Government have increased provision for agri-environment schemes in England. The sums available for the major schemes will be increased by £40 million over the next three years,

New funding of £12.4 million (including running costs) will also be made available during the same period for Tir Gofal in Wales. That will be of enormous importance.

My noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath referred to the importance of hedgerows and their management. We agree that there is a problem with the over-management of hedgerows and neglect. We believe that the issue is addressed in part through free initial on-farm consultation advice and incentive schemes. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to the importance of the agricultural voice and the needs of the farming industry. Organisations such as ADAS, the farming wildlife advisory group and the countryside and agricultural information advisory service give advice on sympathetic management of field boundaries; and MAFF is also funding research into the attitudes of farmers and contractors to see how best we can deal with the issue of inappropriate management of the resource.

The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and others raised the issue of cross-compliance, We agree that cross-compliance may be useful where environmental problems are directly related to agricultural activity, such as over-grazing. But our experience to date has been that such provisions can be costly and difficult to administer on a significant scale. Any further use of cross-compliance would need to take account of that earlier experience. We are considering all the options, including cross-compliance, in the light of the overall CAP agreement and the responses to the Minister of Agriculture's consultation exercise on Agenda 2000. Interested parties will have an opportunity to contribute their views on that process.

The possibility of new primary legislation on hedgerows was raised by my noble friend Lord Hardy and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. We have not ruled out new primary legislation to secure stronger protection for important hedgerows in England and Wales. We shall reflect on the review group's suggestions that further consideration be given to altering Section 97 of the Environment Act 1995. My noble friend Lord Grantchester and other noble Lords referred to the CPRE report, Hedging Your Bets. We

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have read with interest the results of the CPRE survey of local authorities on the operation of the current hedgerows regulations. It is important that we continue to work with the CPRE and other bodies which share our concern in this area.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred to experience of the existing regulations. We believe that the hedgerows regulations need revising to provide stronger protection. Therefore we have not gathered data on how they are working in practice at present. The review group has worked with the Local Government Association on this issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, referred to the protection of hedgerows. Section 97 of the Environment Act contains the powers enabling Ministers to introduce regulations to protect important hedgerows in England and Wales. In particular, it confers on Ministers the responsibility for prescribing criteria which define what makes hedgerows important. Any approach which allows local authorities to determine which hedgerows in their area are important and worthy of protection would require amendment of the primary legislation. However, the noble Baroness's points are extremely valid and we shall consider them in detail.

The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, referred to the valuable work undertaken by the national parks. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, spoke of the diversity of stone walls and hedgerows in our national parks. The point was well made. The Government will consider the need for legislative protection of all field boundaries in the light of forthcoming research, including up-to-date information on the state of field boundaries, when we receive the Countryside Survey 2000.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop or Hereford and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, spoke in detail and with great knowledge about landscape value criterion and its importance. The review group spent some time grappling with that issue and found it difficult to identify a specific criterion to cover it but put forward some proposals such as a separate list of locally distinctive hedgerows. However, that tends to militate against the simple system which many speakers today stressed they would prefer.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, spoke of regulatory burdens on farmers. We shall seek to keep them to the necessary minimum, proportionate to the need to take account of research and consultation with other interests.

My noble friend Lord Hardy, and the noble Lords, Lord Stanley and Lord Middleton, spoke of the enclosure Acts. The Flamborough case suggested that obligations arising under the old enclosure Acts and awards may still be enforceable. It is extremely important for me to make the point that the obligations contained in the enclosure Acts and awards are enforceable as between private persons and are civil disputes. Neither the Government nor local authorities have a power to intervene or enforce on these matters. However, should there be further detailed information, I shall write to noble Lords.

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The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and my noble friend Lord Grantchester spoke of the effect of the CAP subsidy on the environment. We are committed to pressing for radical reform of the subsidy system. We argued for a progressive reduction in production subsidy and in compensation paid to farmers and a switch towards paying for environmental goods. The reform measures agreed in Birmingham did not go as far as we would wish. We are currently consulting widely on how to implement the reforms and will take careful account of noble Lords' views, in particular those of the right reverend Prelate. We are working on a draft code of good agricultural practice for conservation. It would include advice and guidance on the protection of the environment in hedgerows.

In response to the issue of finance, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, among others, for England the additional £40 million for the agri-environment fund is an important part of the Government's approach. It is the Government's clear objective to increase targeted payments for environmental projects.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, referred to the overall impression of the countryside. The Countryside Survey 2000 will provide the information we need to be aware of any changes, removal, planting, construction, replacement and dereliction. That is important. She also raised the issue of leylandii and other high hedges. We know that many people are affected by the problems which they can cause and feel strongly about the issue. We are sympathetic to those who suffer and are considering whether there is anything we should do to address the matter. We have not yet concluded whether any form of legislative action is to be taken.

As regards urban hedges and the Hedgerows Regulations 1997, the review group supported inclusion within the scope of the regulations garden hedges which adjoin countryside land uses. That would extend protection to potentially important hedgerows which mark historic boundaries between villages and open countryside. They are currently excluded under paragraph 3(3).

I was asked about genetically modified crops and the evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation is to address the concerns raised by English Nature and other bodies that the widespread introduction of some types of genetically modified crops could bring changes to the agricultural environment which could be damaging to farm life. The process will include an assessment of the impact of GM crops on field margins, including hedgerows. If there is evidence of harm the Government can act accordingly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about local discretion over which hedges are important and the penalties. The maximum £5,000 penalty refers only to cases brought before magistrates. For those heard in higher courts the fine is unlimited.

Progress is being made on hedgerow diversity action plans. The steering group set up to take forward the UK biodiversity action plan for ancient and/or species rich

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hedgerows met for a third time on 22nd April. All actions set out in the plan are being addressed. We will use on-going data to continue.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, with his introduction of the capercaillie, managed to worry me considerably by making me believe that I would have to answer two debates. However, his point was important because there is a connection. The deer fences to protect the woodland, which are being demanded by some environmentalists, are creating the problem for the capercaillie. I was reminded of previous Questions asked in your Lordships' House on red squirrels and the kind of trees they like.

The debate has shown the strength of feeling that the subject of hedgerow protection arouses as well as the complexity of the issues involved. Noble Lords from a strong farming and agricultural background, in particular the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to the need for those involved in agriculture to act quickly and the possible destruction of things which are of value in order to prevent future problems. My limited experience of those whose lives and work centre around agriculture is that they are too committed to the environment to behave as vandals on this issue.

I conclude by saying that I shall write to all noble Lords who asked detailed questions to which I have been unable to reply in the time available. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, I do not understand the changing language in agriculture. Whatever happened to mutton? I picked up his point about animals and, yes, sheep and lambs end up in butchers. But where has mutton gone? Again, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister. I shall read her substantial speech with interest tomorrow. I am sure that other noble Lords will also do so, and will recognise that she covered a substantial number of points very thoroughly.

I shall not take long; indeed, I do not have long. But a number of points need to be made. First, I was particularly grateful to both right reverend Prelates. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford gave me great encouragement when I learnt of the efficiency of his local authority. I very much agreed with his comment about the need to support agriculture on an acreage rather than a headage basis. I first made a speech calling for that in the House of Commons 15 years ago. I hope, too, that my noble friend the Minister will pay particular attention to the approach made by her fellow Lancastrian, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn.

I should like to make one or two points in my own defence in response to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. He seemed to think that anyone with an interest in natural history and the countryside would be a townie who ought not to interfere in agriculture, but I should like to interfere in agriculture on behalf of many of the small farmers whom I represented for a very long time in the other place and who did not like the fact that a very tiny

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proportion of farmers received a huge proportion of the very substantial sums that agriculture received from the public purse. They cannot be subsidised as heavily as they have been and be completely exempt from the consideration of the rest of the community.

The noble Lord seemed to be objecting to my point that people who own land were given the land on certain conditions, broke the conditions, may have been given subsidy by the taxpayer to act illegally in breaking those conditions, and then perhaps expect to receive grants to put right the wrong-doing for which they were subsidised. That is completely illogical.

I know that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, could not give way because of pressure of time, but he asked me a question, in effect. He seemed to suggest that I would have voted against the Enclosure Acts in the 18th and 19th centuries, if I had had the choice. No one with any knowledge of history could have objected to the enclosure Acts, because they were designed to ensure that food production massively increased in order to feed the burgeoning population in the industrial areas. The difference between that and hedgerow removal is that in the past 25 years we have been grubbing out hedgerows not to produce food to feed people, but to build surpluses at great cost. We have been destroying the natural history of Britain for no useful purpose.

I also accept the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that the hedgerow regulations were ridiculously complicated. I hope that the call for simplicity, which has been echoed throughout the debate, will receive proper attention from the Government.

I was particularly grateful for comments from my noble friend Lord Grantchester and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, which reminded me of a grave omission from my speech. I should have declared an interest, being president of the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and Peak District branch of the CPRE, an honour that I accepted last year. I should have referred to it, although, apart from planting hedges in what was once upon a time my constituency, I have not been involved in its tremendous work on hedgerows, which has been proceeding for some time.

As regards my own credentials, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, may like to note that I come from the same community as the late Lord Williams of Barnburgh. He was a far better Minister of Agriculture than any of the distinguished Ministers of Agriculture produced from the other side. As a young man, I received enormous assistance from him, to the point that many of my constituents felt that I spent rather a disproportionate time seeking to assist and be on good terms with the farmers in the constituency that I was proud to represent.

I may have lived in and represented a metropolitan area, but it was rich in fields, woods and natural features. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, referred to the inspiration that this provides. It is essential that that inspiration be available for future generations. I hope that the present Government will earn the regard not only of the present generation, but of many more as a result of their commitment to the green priorities which seem to be clear within the manifesto. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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