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The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, obviously I do not intend to press the amendment. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, for their support.

I am sorry if the Minister thought that I was on a speculative fishing expedition as to what might come out of the consultation process. That was not my intention. However, I believe that to some extent we need to know what will emerge from that process before we can make a reasoned comment.

All I can do at this juncture is to keep my powder dry, thank the noble Viscount for his comments and indicate that I shall consider the matter further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 240:

Page 87, line 27, at end insert:
(""environmental conservation" means conservation—
(a) of the natural beauty or amenity, or flora or fauna, of England or Wales; or
(b) of features of archaeological or historic interest in England or Wales;
"local authority" means—
(a) the council of a county, county borough, district, London borough, parish or community;
(b) the Common Council of the City of London;
(c) the Council of the Isles of Scilly;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 240A not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 241:

Page 87, line 29, at end insert:
(""statutory functions" means functions conferred or imposed by or under any enactment.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 242 not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 243:

Page 87, line 30, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, my noble friend spoke to Amendment No. 243 with Amendment No. 239. I beg to move.

9 Mar 1995 : Column 497

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 243A:

Before Clause 80, insert the following new clause:

("Integration of environmental protection requirements into agriculture policy

.—(1) The appropriate Minister shall integrate requirements for environmental protection into agriculture policy mechanisms.
(2) Requirements for environmental protection can be anything which in the opinion of the Minister is conducive to—
(a) the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty or amenity of the countryside (including its flora and fauna and geological and physiological features) or of any features of archaeological interest there; or
(b) the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public; or
(c) the protection of buildings or other objects of archaeological, architectural, cultural or historic interest; or
(d) the fulfilment of any other environmental objective the Minister believes to be appropriate.
(3) The power to make regulations under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument; and a statutory instrument containing any such regulations shall be subject to annulment pursuant to a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(4) The powers conferred by this section are in addition to any other powers of the Secretary of State or the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
(5) In this section "the appropriate Minister" means—
(a) as respects England, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food;
(b) as respects Wales, the Secretary of State;
(c) as respects Scotland, the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to put a duty on the Government to integrate environmental protection requirements into all agriculture policy measures. I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the useful and helpful meeting which the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, and I had with him. It helped us to understand a great deal more about the Government's intentions.

The amendment is in line with the Government's stated policy to put environmental thinking into every department. We all know that farming can cause significant environmental damage. The Government's own countryside survey in 1990 showed that. Current agriculture policy does not address that worry.

Most public financial support to farmers is allocated in the form of direct support or compensation payments. I understand that £125 million was paid to farmers last year through the set-aside scheme out of a total of £759 million for the arable area payment scheme. Direct payments to livestock and arable farmers combined last year were estimated by the CPRE to be over £1 billion. So it does not seem unreasonable to expect agreement on certain environmental standards.

I welcome the Government's commitment in their Sustainable Development Strategy to integrate environmental consideration into the CAP, but only about 1 per cent. of CAP expenditure is allocated to green farming schemes. The majority of farmers are not able to benefit from green farming payments. What is needed is for all agricultural policy mechanisms to be designed with environmental considerations in mind.

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Many farmers manage their land in that way and we are all appreciative of that; but many do not. The amendment would give the Government the means of designing a more sustainable approach to farming generally. I beg to move.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, the amendment is very much in line with what your Lordships' Sub-Committee D recommended after its consideration of the common agricultural policy. Money should not just be dished out to the farmer for doing nothing; it should be dished out for helpful activities towards protecting or improving the environment.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to require the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales to integrate environmental protection requirements into agriculture policy mechanisms. I have a great deal of sympathy with the idea behind the amendment. The need for a better integration of environmental considerations into agriculture policy is something that the Government have accepted and have been promoting for some years. There are a number of ways in which we are working to achieve that.

We are, for example, greatly expanding the range of voluntary incentive schemes to promote environmentally sensitive farming. Many of the new schemes are now getting under way and by next year we shall be spending over £100 million on them in the UK. We also provide advice to farmers on how to make the most of conservation opportunities on their land both as an integral part of our incentive schemes and separately through free advisory visits from ADAS and Farming and Wildlife Advisory Groups.

We have also made progress in integrating environmental aspects into other payments under the common agricultural policy. For example, permanent grassland, moorland and heathland are excluded from eligibility for arable area payments, reducing the incentive to plough up those valuable habitats. We have developed management rules for set-aside land designed to help maximise its environmental potential; and we have attached conditions to the main livestock support schemes to discourage over-grazing.

However, much as I sympathise with the spirit of the amendment, I do have problems with it in practice. The general duty on Ministers in relation to existing powers proposed in subsection (1) is broadly similar to the statutory duty that is already in place under Section 17 of the Agriculture Act 1986 which requires the relevant Ministers to endeavour to achieve a reasonable balance between conservation, public enjoyment of the countryside and other interests in exercising any functions connected with agriculture.

The power to make regulations in subsection (3) would introduce a new element. However, this would not be an effective means of achieving the integration of environmental considerations that we want to see. The overwhelming majority of the relevant policy

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mechanisms form part of the common agricultural policy and are therefore not susceptible to unilateral amendment by statutory instrument.

It is in the Council of Ministers when the relevant Community laws are made that we have to argue the case for integration of environmental concerns. There is already a general duty on the Community institutions under Article 130r of the treaty to integrate environmental protection requirements into the definition and implementation of other Community policies such as the CAP. We need to ensure that this is put into practice. That is not always an easy task, but we are continuing to press the case.

The Government remain committed to working for further improvements in the CAP and, in particular, for further reductions in support levels; a higher proportion of EC expenditure on direct payments to farmers to be applied to encouraging more environmentally sensitive farming; the application wherever appropriate of environmental conditions to support payments; and for the EC to give more attention to environmental considerations in deciding how to implement the various support mechanisms.

Although further progress is needed, we have had some notable successes in recent years, most recently in persuading the European Commission to propose that arable land taken out of production under forestry and environmental schemes should be allowed to count towards farmers' set-aside requirements.

Therefore the noble Baroness and the Government are moving forward very much in the same spirit. I have given a fairly full reply in order to demonstrate the scope of the Government's commitment to the principles underlying this amendment and the goals towards which we are working. I hope that that has been of sufficient reassurance to enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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