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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches are concerned that the land used for growing grass crops does not have a closer definition. Indeed, on behalf of the Government in Committee the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that he recognised the concern of noble Lords. He acknowledged that access to fields could cause damage and went on to say that,
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, first, I apologise for not having been here for the earlier stages of the Bill. I support these amendments. At my home, groups of people ask permission to walk across our land and on many occasions we permit them to do so. However, people must be kept away from standing crops of hay which are to be cut for silage. Many people wonder what happens to the crops if they are walked on. Quite simply, they end up on the ground and the machinery cannot pick them up.
Although normally seen in grain, an indication of the damage that is done can be seen when flying into London airport in the summer over areas where standing grain grows in fields close to houses. It is possible to see from the air the amount of damage that is caused, even in areas where people do not necessarily have a right of access. One can see the damage caused to great swathes of crops which have been tracked through, let alone the damage created by crop circles. If one flies over the affected area a few weeks later after the crops have been cut, it is possible to see areas which have been left uncut purely because people have wandered through them. Therefore, I support the amendments.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, my mind was working on exactly the same point as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, when he talked about the Redesdale Farm in Northumberland, with which I am familiar. I remember visiting that particular experimental farm when I was a Minister in MAFF a good many years ago.
I remember talking to people during that visit about hill farming in the north of England. It was put to me in strong terms that one of the greatest inhibitions for a hill farmer is his capacity to over-winter his sheep. I was told that there was always plenty of keep in the summer on the hill and moor but that it was difficult to conserve enough material, whether hay, silage or whatever, for keeping the stock over winter.
If the Minister wants an example of that I invite him to ask for advice about the demand from hill farmers for their sheep to go to the lowlands during the winter and to eat sugar beet tops. After the sugar beet has been removed, the tops keep sheep effectively for considerable lengths of time during the depths of winter. Many farmers cannot keep enough sheep to provide them with a reasonable livelihood during the winter because of the difficulty of providing enough winter keep for them from their farms. Therefore, I believe that these amendments are exceptionally important and I hope that the Government will take them seriously.
I want to make another point which I believe has been half made already. However, I should like to express it a little more fully. One thinks of lush meadows in the lowlands which are about to be cut for hay or silage, but on the uplands the crops are very much thinner. Often, people who visit the countryside do not know as much about the ways of the countryside as many of us would wish. I believe that in many upland areas a rambler could mistake a hay or silage crop for grazing land. It is possible that he would not realise that grass was being grown for conservation. Therefore, unless farmers can fall back on an Act of Parliament which states that land is excepted from the right to roam, it will be extremely difficult for them to keep the public off land where grass is being grown for conservation.
I plead with the Minister to take on board the points that have been made on all sides of the House. I hope that he will either accept the amendments or return at Third Reading with other amendments to deal with this practical problem for upland farmers.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly as a landowner and manager who no longer makes silage, hay or haylage. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord on my right and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said. However, a point which no one has yet raised is that of safety. I speak as someone who has grown such crops in the past. They are harvested with fast-moving, sharp-cutting, knived machines. The crops can be three feet high and it is not easy to see if anything is lying in them. Surely it cannot be right to allow people to have access to crops when they are being cut by dangerous machinery.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I wish to make a tiny point. These fields contain food. They are not places in which to walk; they are growing food for sheep. It would be just the same if people had the right to roam in a restaurant and walk about on the tables all over the dishes.
The Minister will be well aware of the feeling around the House this afternoon on the practicalities of the Bill's implications if we do not look at this issue in all seriousness. We refer particularly to the hill farmers who are struggling to survive at the moment. If these additional restrictions are not made, I fear that it will become worse and more difficult for them. I hope that the Minister will consider these matters very seriously.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we gave assurances in Committee and assurances were given in another place that the criteria adopted by the countryside bodies for the mapping of open country will exclude improved agricultural land from maps of open country. We had said repeatedly that this land will fall outside the criteria which the countryside bodies are adopting for mapping open country. We wrote recently to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to explain that the Countryside Agency has already issued a paper for consideration by the National Countryside Access Forum setting out its initial views on the criteria it should adopt in mapping open country. If that paper was not copied to any noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I should be happy to do that.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. What is the definition of "improved"? We have land at home that we wanted to plant out with trees. We obtained one level of grant for improved land and one level for unimproved land as defined by the Ministry of Agriculture. For improved land there has to be a certain percentage of certain types of grasses. There is very good unimproved land--by the definition the Ministry gives--which is used for cropping, grass, haylage and silage. Therefore, much of it would fall outside what the Minister just said.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I had better pursue my argument which has to be seen as a whole rather than intervene in negotiations between the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture. Clearly, whatever definitions are used for grant purposes, they are not the same as the definitions that the Countryside Agency will draw up for the purposes of this Act.
The criteria are not complete. They will be developed and refined and subject to consultation. They will include a working methodology as part of the pilot mapping exercise in respect of which a contract will be let later this year.
The Government endorse the selection of criteria that excludes these types of land. We can assure all who have taken part in this debate that the purposes for which these amendments have been tabled will be achieved by the Bill, and plans are being put in place for their implementation.
I deal with the amendments in turn. Amendment No. 3 would exclude from the definition of "open country" land which is habitually--and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is right in taking the word "habitually" from Amendment Nos. 14 and 17--used for the making of hay, silage or haylage. It is drafted more narrowly than Amendment No. 58 which is on a similar subject but which is to be taken separately. It deals particularly with grassland capable of producing a commercial crop. The use of the word "habitually" should avoid the unnecessary exclusion of extensive areas of downland from maps of open country. It would still leave considerable doubt about the status of downland from which a hay cut is often taken. Much traditional downland is capable of providing a crop of hay in a good year. We do not believe that the potential for generating a crop of hay on downland makes it inconsistent with rights of access.
There may be a need at times to protect grass from trampling, and that point has been made very effectively this afternoon. I want to give three answers to that. First, it can often be achieved by encouraging the use of paths. Secondly, where restrictions are required, entitled persons will be able to close the land or restrict access using their discretion under Clause 21 which is enhanced by our Amendment No. 117 or, thirdly, to apply to the relevant authority for a
Where a hay crop is regularly taken from the land, the relevant authority can make a direction that has effect for the appropriate period in every spring or early summer. I accept that if the Bill were to cover Scotland, the spring might go through to later than early summer.
How would the farmer demonstrate to the satisfaction of the countryside bodies or the Secretary of State his habitual practice of taking a cut of hay from the land? An amendment along these lines would be very difficult to apply in practice.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 13 represent an alternative approach in that they add provisions similar to Amendment No. 3 to the categories of excepted land in Schedule 1. Amendment No. 7 would simply exclude agricultural land rather than rough grazing.
Both the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, talked about the need for clarity. I agree with them. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, spoke about the need for clarity in the appeals process. The need for clarity goes further than that. We explained in detail in Committee that it would be unhelpful to introduce into Schedule 1 any exception of land that was not readily identifiable by the public and by farmers. No walker could be expected to identify land that was habitually used for the making of hay, silage or haylage unless he were accompanied by a team of agricultural consultants; nor would a walker be any better informed about whether land was rough grazing.
It is much more sensible that land inappropriate to the right of access is excluded at the mapping stage. The process set out in the Bill, with the assurances that I have given, will achieve this objective.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others referred to the definition used in earlier legislation of exclusion of agricultural land by reason only that it affords rough grazing for livestock. That test has not worked very often. It has rarely, if ever, been necessary to use the test for exactly the reason that applies in this case because under the earlier legislation improved and semi-improved pastures were excluded from agreement land in the first place. In this legislation we have always made it clear that mountain, moor, heath and down are intended only to include agricultural land used for rough grazing. It is in the mapping process that this land will be identified and other agricultural land excluded.
The noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Jopling, mentioned in-bye land referring in particular to Northumberland. It is unlikely that much in-bye land would be mapped as open country as it is very rarely mountain, moor, heath or down. One must remember that that is the overriding control on what is included in mapping. Some land of this kind has long since ceased to be managed and has resumed characteristics typically of moorland, and surely that should be mapped as open country if it is so.
The noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, talked about improved and reseeded fields. These lands are unlikely to be mapped as open country as they will not be mountain, moor, heath or down. The question of exception of this land in Schedule 1 does not arise.
I recognise that there is strong feeling around the House. We believe that the Bill as drafted provides the protection sought for hill farmers. But in the light of the strength of feeling which has been expressed, I am certainly willing to explore what more can be done on the face of the Bill to ensure that "open country" can be better defined so as to exclude land regularly used for the making of hay or silage.
If we can conclude a form of words which is satisfactory and which does not exclude large areas of downland which really should be covered by the Bill--and I can give no commitment on that point--then we shall consider whether, under those circumstances, we could table an amendment to that effect at Third Reading.
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