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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that invitation. But I was also making a general point because, although I use the Montgomery Canal, I was emphasising the need to get this balance right in other cases as well.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I was about to go on to say that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made the important point that in particular areas there must be sensitive and careful handling of conflicts of interest and conflicts of use. But it is impossible for me to respond to the specific example that he gave.
My noble friend Lord Simon asked a question about possible Stansted airport expansions affecting the Hatfield Forest SSSI. Under the overarching Section 28G duty, it is important to recognise that there is a duty to conserve and enhance SSSIs. If consent for any proposal is to be considered, it will need first to go through the consultation process to which I have just referred. English Nature would be required to provide advice on the impact of the proposal and the public body would have to show how it had taken account of that advice. Ultimately, if English Nature felt that its advice had not been given due weight, it could request that the matter be called in by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to changes under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act which include provisions that English Nature exercises greater control over activities that may affect SSSIs by refusing, modifying or applying conditions to consents as appropriate. An important duty is to be taken into account within that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, asked whether further revision of the code was to take place. We believe that new legislation needs to bed in, but we take heed of the point that she raised.
The allegation of watering down PSA targets is incorrect. Favourable conditions include "favourable maintained", "favourable recovered" and "unfavourable recovering" as three scientific categories in the common standards monitoring system, as technical notes on this target made clear from the start in 2000.
Whether or not owners or occupiers choose to apply for planning consent or to appeal to the Secretary of State is, of course, at the discretion of the owner or occupier. But the code promotes a climate in which we
The noble Baroness also asked whether there was sufficient funding. The code does not place any significant new burdens on English Nature. It advises on the way that English Nature should behave in carrying out its functions required under the legislation. English Nature's funding needs to carry out its duties are considered very fully in the context of annual spending rounds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the issue of the statement of views on management. The statement is advisory and is meant to provide a brief and helpful summary for owners and occupiers. Where specific measures are necessary to manage the land, English Nature can enter into agreements or use more robust powers. The right to roam issues are covered in the code. If noble Lords wish to raise more detailed questions, they may of course write to me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, also raised the issue of commoners. We recognise that matters concerning common land are particularly complex. In July last year, following a lengthy review, we published our common land policy statement. It outlines our proposals for changes to the legislation governing common land, including development and better land management agreements and arrangements. At present, there are no plans to issue specific SSSI guidance concerning commoners. However, we shall give this matter further consideration in the light of experience in applying the current regime and the emerging proposals for the future management of commons.
Several noble Lords referred to the progress being made towards meeting the targets set. English Nature publishes annual reports and it has always been clear that those sites classified as in good condition and meeting the target include those sites which are recovering. The target establishes the baseline for the target at the time it was set at 60 per cent. If any of those sites classified as favourably maintained or favourably recovered had been included, that figure would have been much lower.
Baroness Byford: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. One of the questions asked was why the wording was changed from "favourable condition" to "unfavourable condition". It would be helpful to noble Lords if the Minister could tell the House the reason for that.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my understanding is that it was changed in order to be more sensitive to the different categories. The point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who asked whether it would be possible to distinguish between sites which were unfavourable but improving
A question was raised as to the role of the Audit Commission. I shall look into the question of whether the Audit Commission should be made aware of the importance of good work in this field. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, raised the issues of by-laws and the importance of publishing them. DEFRA is due to produce model by-laws to inform English Nature. Public consultation over models, which will include how those should be published, will take place as part of that. English Nature will have to consider how to publicise any by-laws it makes. It could use its regular Sitelines magazine or its Internet site. The department would also consider whether it could publicise any by-laws, for example on the DEFRA website, which was a point raised.
Earl Peel: My Lords, publishing the by-laws on a website is all very well, but clearly they will reach only a relatively small number of people. The concern I raised is how on earth the Government will equate the introduction of by-laws on to SSSIs through English Nature. Great attention is paid to the importance of such by-laws and the fact that many of the public who enter access lands simply will not be aware of them because there is no statutory obligation on the public to enter access land via an access point. That is the problem, and it is one with which, frankly, the Government are failing to deal.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I recall, perhaps not with quite the same degree of pleasure as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the long debates we had on this subject when the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill passed through your Lordships' House. I take on board the fact that the noble Earl is concerned about this issue. I hope that he will respond to the consultation by raising these points with regard to how publicity can best be given to protect these sites.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may follow up the point raised by the noble Earl. I was giving the noble Baroness the opportunity to reach the noble Earl's second and, I believe, most important point. That concerns not just people's welfare but the welfare of wildlife. One of the long debates we had in this House concerned the whole question of access points, which my noble friend has raised again. I really must request the Ministerit would not be fair to expect her to respond nowto take this matter away and consider it with a degree of urgency. It is now nearly two years since we took the Bill through this House. Fairly soon these issues will raise their head. So far as I am aware the Government have not addressed the matter. My noble friend is right to say that people will have no idea. There is no one point of information. It is two years down the line and we are no further forward. I shall not press the point further at this stage.
Ironically, when we took the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill through this House I was lobbied heavily by a wildlife group, which stated, "You don't want this. You don't understand. We need to have greater protection". Yet, one of the first groups to write to me when it realised the implications of the Bill was one such group. The point has been raised, not just by us but by the groups which realise there will be difficulties. I suggest that the noble Baroness takes the matter away and comes back later with a reply.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am aware that the concern was raised. I was present in your Lordships' House and there was a conflict of interest. It was debated at some length as to whether there should be strictly and narrowly defined access points or whether they should be less strictly controlled. Decisions were taken in the passage of that legislation. My response to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, was that where by-laws are being produced to protect SSSI sites, among other places, the issue of how to publicise them in order to protect and inform the public is one that I think should be taken into account. We are consulting on that.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on 6th February we considered this code in some detail alongside the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 and the code of recommendations for the welfare of pigs. We withdrew the cattle code because it contained two drafting errors.
The errors in paragraphs 23 and 40 of the code, where the word "pigs" needed to be replaced with "cattle", have now been rectified. In addition to some minor punctuation and formatting alterations, the only other substantive change is an amendment to paragraph 137. Following an exchange in the other place on 4th February an undertaking was given that the paragraph would be amended to make it clearer. The wording now used in the first sentence makes it clear that dairy cows should be given more forage than they would be expected to eat each day. That is to ensure that there is always sufficient forage available to satisfy the needs of all the cows in the herd and to minimise competition. The advice in the second sentence of the paragraph that farmers should remove surplus food every day has now been deleted on
Moved, That the draft code of recommendations laid before the House on 26th February be approved. [12th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)
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