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Lord Willoughby de Broke: Is it right that the farm conservation scheme has recently been reduced from 40 per cent. to 25 per cent.?

Viscount Ullswater: I am advised that pollution grants have been reduced but not countryside feature grants. My noble friend Lord Peel said that nothing would happen unless it was supported by some financial incentive. We promote the planting and management of hedgerows through a range of incentives, including Countryside Stewardship, which incorporates the hedgerow incentive scheme, and MAFF's farm and conservation grant scheme in environmentally sensitive areas. Those schemes are unaffected by the hedgerow protection scheme and there is no direct linkage between them.

Turning to the question of ponds, we have in fact looked again at the figures from the 1990 Countryside Survey, which indicated a maximum reduction of 11.5 per cent. in the number of ponds between 1984 and 1990 in Great Britain. We wanted to analyse this data further because 1990 was a year of drought conditions in the south and to the east of Great Britain. It was unclear how many of the ponds "lost" in that year had in fact only dried out temporarily. The results of our modest re-survey, which were published by my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside in December 1994, confirmed that a number of the small ponds which were dry in 1990 had been reinstated by 1993. The best estimate of the rate of pond loss between 1984 and 1990 was revised to within the range of 4 per cent. to 9 per cent. The re-survey also provided some limited evidence that new ponds created for farming and wildlife reasons are beginning to offset earlier losses. Detailed research is needed to verify more recent trends, and the Government intend to carry out a further national survey of ponds in 1996.

Leaving aside the question of research, the Committee will not need reminding that the most important countryside features and ponds will continue to enjoy protection through our system of designated sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), which ensures that the nature conservation interest is taken fully into account before development and changes in management practice that would cause damage are permitted. Promoting nature conservation is not an objective which applies only in SSSIs, and the

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Government look to local authorities to include in their development plans policies for the protection of habitats, including non-statutory sites of local importance.

In view of the protection that already exists, the range of incentives already available to maintain our range of countryside features, and the lack of current research that presents a compelling case for new controls in 1995, I do not believe that the special measures as proposed here are currently necessary to protect features other than hedgerows, and we must not impose the burden of new regulations unless we are satisfied that there are sound reasons for doing so.

My noble friend Lord Renton said that we should allow the clause to concentrate on important hedgerows and I believe that to be correct. Having said that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Moran: I fully accept the Minister's rebuke about my failure to mention the hedges replanted between 1990 and 1993. I agree that there were slightly more than the total number taken out and I have no wish to mislead the Committee. Does the Minister agree that the ITE report to which we referred quoted an overall loss of 45,000 kilometres because of lines of bushes that had fallen out of the classification of hedgerow as a result of the lack of management?

Viscount Ullswater: We shall be consulting on what we consider to be important hedges. Our research will indicate the suitable criteria for the notification scheme. I do not believe that I need comment further.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I am somewhat comforted by the enthusiasm with which the Minister speaks of hedges. It encourages me to believe that the regulations, when they appear, may go some way towards protecting them. I am less reassured as regards ponds but, clearly, the department has at least considered them and perhaps we are seeing a reversal of the trend towards their disappearance.

The amendment was intended as a probing amendment partly because we had no indication of when the regulations would appear and partly because we considered that the clause was too narrowly drawn and that landscape features other than hedgerows might be considered. We will consider the matter further, together with the Minister's reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 310 to 313A not moved.]

The Earl of Lytton moved Amendment No. 313AZA:

Page 87, line 2 leave out from ("shall") to end of line 4 and insert ("not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: Having regard to the hour, I shall be as brief as possible. I hope that my amendment represents a partial answer to some of the anxieties expressed by Members of the Committee. It suggests that the regulations under Clause 79 shall be made by affirmative instrument and therefore come before both

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Houses of Parliament for further consideration. That will tie in the result of the Government's investigations, research and consultation.

Clause 79 provides that such regulations shall be made subject to negative procedure only and I believe that to be inadequate. I believe that we have heard enough in Committee tonight to justify that conclusion. There are issues that must be discussed by Parliament before any regulations come into force.

I believe that, if we are not careful, land managers will consider the system proposed in certain quarters of the Committee to be unfairly loaded against them. They may come to the conclusion that the local authorities are under no duty to take into account their interests as farmers and land managers. Therefore, any system of protection must be based on a certain degree of mutual trust and goodwill. I alluded to that earlier when referring to the common ownership and identity with policies. I cannot stress that point too strongly.

A negative regulatory approach under which those interests are ignored would be disastrous. If land managers must constantly appeal against decisions to protect hedgerows, in particular if the appeals system is long-winded, that will be highly damaging to the long-term prospects for hedges. I submit that the sustainable development principle requires an element of equal weighting to be given to environmental protection on the one hand and legitimate socio-economic development considerations on the other. Any regulations need to flag that issue with local authorities.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will confirm that in due course, when the notification scheme comes into being, it will require local authorities, in deciding what action to take with regard to protecting hedgerows, to have due regard to the socio-economic business and operational reasons of land managers and that it must balance those fairly with other considerations.

Reference has been made to the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has just commented on loss through lack of management. That underscores more compellingly than anything that the real problems arise in relation to non-management. That is the biggest loss and is far and away in excess of damage caused. There is also a great loss as regards biodiversity. I can say with some feeling from my experiences in Exmoor that, while I have some hedges which are well managed, others have long since become mere vestiges of a bank with a few trees left to mark where the hedge once was. Therefore, it is vital that we have active management and I should like to flag that in particular.

On Second Reading the Minister commented on the hedgerows of particular historic interest or those which make an especially valuable contribution to the wildlife or landscape of an area. It must be remembered that every time, in the course of normal management, a hedge is cut and laid by whatever particular technique one wishes to use, its visual appearance is altered immediately and for some time. Nevertheless, it is an essential part of management; it cannot be otherwise. Therefore, there must be a proper balance between landscape, management and ecology.

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I believe that the solution is to provide some sort of management agreement. There must be an incentive to encourage land managers to maintain those important structures in the countryside. There must be a direct link between the protection of hedgerows and the offer of some sort of management agreement to help with that process; in other words, no designation without contribution.

My experience from Exmoor is that there is no money for extra conservation work. Whether it relates to SSSIs or Section 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act, it seems that all the agencies are saying to me, "I am sorry. We have no money. Our budget is fully spoken for. There is nothing for this purpose". That must change because, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said earlier, it boils down to money. It cannot be done without paying real people to wield real tools in order to lay hedges and maintain them.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is the intention of the Government that local authorities will be required to offer agreements to land managers as part and parcel of that protection process. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

The Duke of Somerset: I should like to express my support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lytton. As a landowner, I am very keen to see important hedgerows preserved. However, that must be done through full consultation and scrutiny both inside and outside Parliament—and, thus, by affirmative resolution. The general provisions are too vague. We have not yet even considered the economic effect on rural businesses. If people in the upland hills were to get into financial difficulties, we would quickly see the degradation of the countryside along with the hedgerows. Therefore, the regulations must be debated in both Houses; this matter must not be left to unscrutinised regulation. As I said, I support the amendment.

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