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Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I can help the noble Lord on a point of current procedure. It is true that in the majority of cases English Nature does consult at the pre-notification stage. It is only on the very rare occasion when there is a real threat to a site that that does not happen. But the whole process is amply surrounded by consultative processes and opportunities for landowners to comment. So even on the very rare occasion when a notification is made without consultation with the land- owner in difficult circumstances where there might be damage to a site, there is an opportunity for the landowner to comment at a stage after the notification has been served and before the confirmation is made. It is not that land owners have been locked out of this process; it is simply a matter of timing and when they are brought into the consultation.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is overlooking the question of trust. It is all very well to say that there are lots of experts at English Nature--there might be. Equally, the landowner might have experts who take a totally contrary view. It would be quite wrong for this Bill to proceed and become an Act without there being a requirement on the face of the Bill for English Nature--except in exceptional circumstances--to consult the owners and occupiers of land.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: These provisions have been in existence for almost 20 years. When they were originally written in the form that the amendment would provide--in other words, that there had to be consultation before notification--that did not work, and they had to be rewritten in 1985. If anyone can write to us citing specific examples where trust has broken down between a landowner and English Nature because of a lack of consultation in advance, we shall reconsider the matter. But I do not believe that that is the case. I believe, as I said originally and as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, confirmed, that in the vast majority of cases the agency does enter into pre-notification discussions. I am not aware of any difficulties. The amendment is unacceptable because it
The Earl of Caithness: The noble Lord has answered the point with regard to the amendment. He has not answered my point about the possibility of refining the amendment so that a requirement for consultation, save in exceptional circumstances, is written on the face of the Bill. That is different from the 1981 Act, and it is a step forward. It takes us up to the position as it was remedied in the 1985 Act.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: First, that would be an invitation to have recourse to the courts, as only the courts can decide what are "exceptional circumstances". Secondly, show me that it is necessary. No one is showing me that there is a problem and that such a provision is necessary.
Lord Glentoran: This has been a somewhat disjointed discussion. I do not think that I was out of order at the beginning, with all due respect to my noble friend Lord Caithness. On this side of the Committee we are not totally happy with the explanations. However, the two key points have been well made. At this stage, we shall read Hansard and re-think the matter. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
We have here another example of the Government trying to change the law--this time rather surreptitiously--and weight the current situation more against the landlord and the occupier of land. Let us be clear about this. It is a deliberate rather than surreptitious attempt by the Government to impose further burdens on landowners and occupiers of land when it comes to SSSIs.
Under the current law there is no requirement for a landlord to enhance an SSSI. If there were, it would be clearly stated on the face of the Bill. This is a slightly duplicitous way of ensuring that this extra requirement on a landlord is on the face of the Bill.
Should the provision go through into law, it is clear what would happen. English Nature would think that an SSSI needed to be enhanced; it would say so in a management agreement; and the landlord would be forced to meet the extra costs involved. Who would decide what was right in terms of an SSSI being enhanced or restored? What discussion would take place? The matter is fraught with difficulties and should be re-examined. It is an area where a lot of trust that has developed in the past and been built up could quite easily be shattered by an arrogant attitude on the part of one of the conservation authorities. I beg to move.
Baroness Byford: The reason that this difficulty has arisen is due to the fact that Amendment No. 458A appeared grouped with the previous set of amendments. That was an error. That is why my noble friend was mentioned in that respect. In other words, the amendment appears twice on the groupings list in that it is also grouped with Amendments Nos. 457B, 458, 459 and 460. As I said, that is a mistake and the amendment should only be listed in this group, containing Amendments 486A and 487B. I hope that that clarifies the situation.
The amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friend deal with the question of enhancement. It is not a case of our being against enhancement but, if landowners are required to enhance their land, there must be requisite cash payments to go with it. It is not unreasonable to expect a land manager to conserve the features of an SSSI, but to ask him to enhance the land without a financial agreement is too much. Therefore, I support my noble friend's very good introduction to Amendment No. 458A.
I turn now to the remaining two amendments in this group. Amendment No. 486A deals with the removal of the provision for a management scheme set out in provisions for restoring SSSIs. Although it is reasonable for management schemes to set out the management required for conserving the features of an SSSI, it is not reasonable to require management to restore SSSIs. However, if it is, the Government need to indicate to the Committee at what stage that restoration should start. It would seem illogical to ask a landowner, for example, to restore a site to perhaps 1949 conditions, or whatever. But if we are talking about much more up-to-date times, this is perhaps acceptable.
There is a practical objection here. There is nothing in the Bill to state where any bench-mark would lie for assessing what "restoration" might be required. For example, should the site be restored to its condition on notification--which is one matter--or to its condition at any other time, assuming that there is some reliable information available on its connection with either date? Alternatively, is the restoration to be carried out to the state to which English Nature--
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: To enable me to understand fully what she is explaining, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could include in her remarks how this fits in with her earlier amendment
Baroness Byford: I am afraid that, at the end of the day, this takes us back to the question of money. I do not have that amendment to hand at the moment, but I believe that the noble Baroness is talking about the biodiversity group of amendments.
Clearly the argument that both my noble friend and I are advancing is that to expect people to restore or enhance their land without giving any financial support is asking more than should be expected of landowners. Therefore, I do not have a difficulty with either of those issues because they both come back to the question of money in support of these schemes. That is what I am trying to convey. I must apologise to the noble Baroness. It is getting late, and I am probably not quite as clear in my delivery as I was when we started today.
We are talking about the requirement that an owner should be asked to improve or restore the land to a level at which it was not originally and, in fact, to enhance it. Unless some financial support is forthcoming, we believe that is an unreasonable imposition on land managers. As I say, it is not clear what bench-mark is established with regard to the conditions under which an SSSI should be restored. It is surely reasonable to be told those conditions prior to notification.
Previous amendments have argued that management schemes should not provide for SSSIs to be restored but simply conserved. To require private owners to restore SSSIs--even provided that a reasonable bench-mark condition for restoration could be established--would amount to an undue, inequitable and unjustifiable burden on owners and occupiers. As I said clearly initially, we are not against the measure but it should not impose an extra financial burden on landowners.
Lord Rotherwick: As a land manager and owner of an SSSI I have had some interesting discussions with English Nature. I enjoy participating in those discussions. English Nature suggested that we restore the SSSI to the condition it was nearly 100 years ago. The area is an ancient forest. Over a century ago cattle would have grazed underneath the trees. However, an Act of Parliament was passed to stop that activity because of the damage that resulted to the SSSI. That seems to us justification for not returning the site to its former state.
I refer to the position of the landowner or land manager vis-a-vis English Nature. In the case I am discussing I believe that the landowner or land manager should not have to restore the site. The landowner has the quiet enjoyment of the land. If English Nature had insisted that we restored the site to its state of 100 years ago, we would not have that quiet enjoyment of the land. I believe that it is not just a matter of ensuring that English Nature provides
I do not wish to cause controversy here as I have a good relationship with English Nature. However, it would be a sad day if more draconian management measures were imposed on landowners and many of them lost the incentive to care for the land as the majority of them do.
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