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"( ) A protected right that has been unused for four years shall not cease under subsection (4) above if the licence holder can demonstrate that his pattern of abstraction is or has been over a longer cycle."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with apologies to the House, I shall take a little longer on this amendment. At the end of our previous debate on this matter, the Minister said that,


She went on to say,


    "We will therefore bring forward a suitable government amendment to cater for this situation".—[Official Report, 12/6/03; cols. 406-407.]

Unfortunately, although I have looked, I have not managed to find that amendment.

This is a most important issue. It relates to the needs of modern farming methods, to crop rotation patterns that extend for as long as seven years, and to the reduction in the use of plant protection chemicals and the upsurge in organic produce. The NFU is greatly concerned that an arbitrary reduction of all protected rights to a maximum of four years, if they are unused, would damage the progress of modern agriculture. The technical word used here is "phytosanitary", relating to the use of natural methods to control the damage inflicted by various pests.

I remind the House that this Government came into power on the back of a number of mantras or oft-repeated sayings, one of which was "joined-up government". Where is the joined-up government when one part of Defra is campaigning for curbs on pesticides while those responsible for this Bill are laying down conditions which can only result in an increase in their use?

In his letter dated 30th June, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, stated that over the past four years there has been only one revocation owing to non-use but that there are over 2,600 licences against which there have been no abstractions in each case over the past four years. I accept that, but I think that the figure goes some way to explain the Government's wish to reduce the compensation period from seven to four years.

I know that the hour is late and that we have reached Third Reading, but I hope that the Government will take this amendment seriously. I beg to move.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I support my noble friend. I do so because another mantra adopted by this Government is to encourage organics and greater diversity in farm crops. Given that, flexibility is very necessary.

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One does not realise the time-scales involved in converting from working as a basic intervention-type supported crop provider to diversification into horticulture and other forms of organic production. It is very important that this should be taken into account.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I add my support to the amendment. It is extremely important to provide flexibility. Not to allow for such flexibility by restricting the four-year rule here is truly unimaginative, not least because it flies in the face of the need for environmental sustainability. Those of us who have been intimately involved in farming over the years know that sound farming practice, in particular the control of pests and weeds in environmentally friendly ways, often depends on longer rotations than four years. It also means that the crop itself will give a better yield over the longer period as well as breaking the cycle of pest infestations.

So there are many reasons why the Government should accept what is in my view a very reasonable amendment. It would boost their credibility in terms of their sensitivity towards environmental sustainability and it would enlighten those away from this House that they understand the meaning of what is sound farming practice.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I support the amendment on the basis that the issue in principle applies also with the mutatis mutandis to the quarrying industry. I declare an interest as non-executive chairman of Quarry Products Association.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, perhaps I may illustrate the depth of the problem. I used to be a potato grower; I am not any longer. One of the reasons I am not is because I had an outbreak of potato eel worm on my farm. The isolation period before you can grow potatoes again, if you ever want to export potatoes, is 10 years for that particular crop. There is not a crop of potatoes in this country now that is not grown without irrigation. If you have an outbreak of eel worm you may well be unable to grow potatoes on your ground for 10 years. That is a farming fact of life that illustrates in a classic way the need for the amendment.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, this part of the Bill deals with protected rights rather than with abstraction licences. It is therefore a question of whether you can remove the protected right, which will accrue only to old licence holders.

We believe that we have dealt with the problem to which noble Lords have referred. The grouping of the amendments may be slightly odd in this respect. Amendment No. 18, which we have just passed, and Amendment No. 16, to which we have yet to come, deal with a situation which provides for exceptions,


    "if the abstractions authorised under the old licence were abstractions planned to be carried out at intervals of more than four years"—

for example, the rotation system—

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    "or for emergency purposes only, such longer period as the Agency may determine on the application of the holder of the old licence".

Therefore, in the previous position where the protected right related to rotation or similar interval usage, the clause could provide for a longer period than four years. Amendments Nos. 18 and 16, to a large extent, already meet the situation which is of concern to noble Lords.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I listened carefully to the Minister's response. His phraseology—I shall check in Hansard tomorrow—was "may deliver". The amendment requires that it "shall not cease under subsection (4)". I am not satisfied. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, what I said, which is the phraseology of the amendment, is that:


    "if the abstractions authorised under the old licence were abstractions planned to be carried out at intervals of more than four years, or for emergency purposes only, such longer period as the Agency may determine on the application of the holder of the old licence".

So it is decided on the basis of the application for a period for longer than four years.

We should bear in mind that we are not talking about abstraction rights but about protected rights and preserving the position of the protected rights of existing licence holders. We are not talking about the licensing system.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I know that it is late but I cannot see how the issue we have raised is covered in the amendments to which the Minister referred. I am quite happy to give him a second chance to respond—I know that it is not normal—but, if he does not wish to, I shall beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

10.23 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 19) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 63.

Division No. 3

CONTENTS

Addington, L.
Alderdice, L.
Attlee, E.
Blatch, B.
Byford, B.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Dixon-Smith, L. [Teller]
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Ferrers, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lyell, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Mancroft, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Montrose, D.
Noakes, B.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Renton, L.
Saatchi, L.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Trumpington, B.
Wilcox, B.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Borrie, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Chandos, V.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Dubs, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hayman, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Judd, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan, L.
Nicol, B.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Simon, V.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thornton, B.
Turnberg, L.
Warner, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord President of the Council)
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9 Jul 2003 : Column 397

10.32 p.m.

Clause 21 [Form, contents and effect of licences]:


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