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Lord Winston: My Lords, the noble Lord has referred to a newspaper comment. I have never accepted that human cloning is either necessary or desirable, in spite of what has been said in this debate. But the technology is valuable and it is the technology that I would protect and support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood; the noble Earl, Lord Howe; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, speaking from their Front Benches and on behalf of their parties, dealt with great political questions which will be increasingly important to their parties in the future. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford made a speech which I found extremely disappointing. But there are first-class Anglican theologians such as Oliver O'Donovan, Professor Torrance and Michael Banner to whom I would refer him. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, said that cloning human beings would be unethical and carry risks. I agree with him.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate an issue which is interesting to many Members of your Lordships' House and to not a few million people concerned about our natural inheritance and landscape. It will give my noble friend Lady Farrington the opportunity to explain the Government's position and to indicate the improvement which must be made to the flawed 1996 hedgerow regulations. It would be useful to have an indication of the Government's thinking on the matter.
My interest in conservation and hedgerows extends over a long period. I served as chairman of the Natural Environment Sub-Committee and the Environment Committee of the Council of Europe. I was frequently rapporteur--on one occasion before the Council of Europe Convention on Wildlife and Habitat. I welcome the fact that the Government swiftly acceded to that convention. I was delighted when they sought to put their obligations into practice by the introduction of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Bill. It was a measure of considerable importance, but it offered no advantage to hedgerows.
Therefore, in 1982, with the invaluable assistance of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and with support from parties across the Commons, I presented the Hedgerows Bill. The Government blocked it and used as their reason their belief that the destruction of hedgerows had virtually ended. That was not so.
At about the same time I realised that enclosure awards in South Yorkshire, where I live, usually provided protection for hedgerows in former common land. The South Yorkshire enclosure awards spelt out that the fields formed from the common land should be perpetually surrounded by fences, in most cases fences protected by oak palings. I could see no reason to doubt that that legal perpetual obligation continued to apply.
I was advised by Mr. Colin Seymour, who lived in West Yorkshire and whom I shall mention again, that the same conditions applied there. I found enclosure awards in East Anglia covering thousands of acres. All of them had the requirement that hedgerows or other field boundaries--walls or dykes--had to be maintained forever as an obligation and condition of the possession of the land. I may be accused of making a revolutionary proposal if I say that if the individual who possesses the land breaches the conditions on which that possession is based it might not be a bad idea to suggest that he should lose possession. However, perhaps your Lordships would not go quite so far as that.
When I realised that such protective arrangements were relatively comprehensive, I wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for confirmation that the law still existed. I suggested that substantial sums of taxpayers' money might have been spent on grants to encourage grubbing out of hedgerows. I suggested too that the Ministry had taken no steps to ensure that grant
However, one continued to press for progress. The Government made it clear in the following years that they did not want another Bill, but in 1987 I received some encouragement. At that time I was serving on the Council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It was celebrating its centenary. The celebration commenced at King's Cross Station, where the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as Prime Minister, was the guest speaker. It was an important occasion for the RSPB, a very large body with more members than all the political parties in England put together.
I was not an enthusiastic fan of the then Prime Minister. I was delighted, however, that she made a splendid speech calling specifically and clearly for the protection of hedgerows and urging us to act as guardians and trustees of our natural heritage. It was a slight disappointment to me that I could not join in the rest of the celebrations. I was on my way to the House of Commons to present the 1987 Hedgerows Bill, which met the wishes passed to me of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners' Association. I amended the 1982 Bill to meet their requirement that they should have the right to demolish part of a hedgerow for reasons of access. That seemed to me entirely reasonable.
The Bill was supported across the Floor of the House, but on the Friday when we hoped to secure Second Reading it was blocked. I do not blame the Government Whips who blocked it; they were doing their job having been ordered to do so by the Government and by No. 10, Downing Street. The noble Baroness said, in some rather acrimonious correspondence, that the Government had other things to think of as well as conservation. Some of us have been thinking of conservation since then, as we did before.
I suggested that the national conservation bodies should seek to pursue the matter by bringing a test case to protect the enclosure hedgerows, but they were very slow to do so. However, our Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, a splendid regional trust, maintained a keen interest and protected hedgerows in some areas under threat. In some instances it was successful in stopping destruction.
Mr. Colin Seymour, who by then had moved to Flamborough, raised the proposed destruction of an enclosure hedgerow by Flamborough Parish Council. With the support of our trust and my own express support, the matter proceeded to court in 1996. The court accepted that the case was good. I advised the Government, who were then preparing the hedgerow regulations in fulfilment of a clear 1992 manifesto promise, that it would be wise for them to ensure that nothing in the regulations would embarrass or imperil the decisions that might accrue from the Flamborough judgment or indeed any other.
The regulations placed local authorities in an impossible position. If someone wishes to pull down a hedgerow the local authority in effect has four weeks to carry out a very detailed ecological assessment. It needs to count the plants in the hedgerow. I do not suppose it occurred to Ministers of the day, or even to some civil servants, who should know better, that during the winter months many of the plants which might grow in the hedgerow and which the local authority is supposed to count cannot be seen. In any case, in the winter months--although perhaps less so in the more salubrious south--snow is frequently encountered. Even with global warming, snow can last for quite a few days, especially if it drifts along hedgerows in hilly areas. It is not possible for a local government officer to count plants in a hedgerow which might have a couple of feet of snow upon it.
More foolish, and what annoyed me most, was the attempt by the Ministry to say which plants were native English species. Someone must have delved deep into pre-history to ascertain how long plants had been growing in this country. Some plants that we regard as an essential part of the English scene were not approved in the Government's regulations, which were badly flawed. Since it is now two years since the Government took office, I hope that it will not be long before we have the improvements that are so greatly needed. Those improvements should in no way weaken the protection by which so much of British land is possessed.
I had taken the view that protection under the enclosure awards applied to the 4,000 Acts of enclosure enacted before 1840. I understand that the splendid recent work of the House of Commons Environment Select Committee on field boundaries has established that the protection may have come much more recently than 1840. For example, many measures, such as the turnpike measures, passed after that time require large areas of hedgerows to be perpetually maintained. Unfortunately, turnpikes have served their social purpose. The obligations placed upon those responsible for them have passed to the local authorities, some of which appear to have been unaware of the responsibilities devolved upon them.
It is a very complex area, but the value of our landscape and the importance of our habitat are issues to which conservationists will be giving much greater attention at as the years pass. My noble friend the Minister will be aware that there are two cases before the courts which may well extend the protective cloak of law provided by the Flamborough judgment. That judgment was a masterly piece of historic and legal work. I remember feeling somewhat restive because the judge seemed to be taking a long time. However, when the judgment appeared it was obvious that it had been reached on the basis of a very skilled, highly
I hope that in many cases that will not be necessary, but I should like my noble friend to confirm that the parish councils and all other local authorities have obligations in this matter. Parish councils may be very small. They may not have much money and they may not have many responsibilities, but they have an obligation to look after the local interest, and if there is a measure in their area which protects the landscape it is reasonable to suggest that they have an obligation to have regard for that particular matter. It could be seen as a duty.
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has recently raised another matter. If a hedgerow lies between fields owned by two different people, one may protect the hedge. If the hedge is by the side of a road, the local highways authority is responsible for one side of the hedge and can ensure that the hedge is protected. That is an obligation of which local authorities need to be reminded because sometimes they have neglected to ensure that they act properly in that regard.
It is a great deal more complicated than the approach which I adopted in 1982 because the Hedgerows Bill which I proposed, at a time of vast and rapid destruction, was extremely simple. I proposed that the Government should protect and that Parliament should enact the protection of hedgerows forming the boundary of farm and parish and those beside highways, footpaths and bridleways. That is a much smaller degree of protection than the Government may now like but it would have taken us a considerable way forward and it is a pity that it was not enacted.
I hope that we can have not merely good sense but also the imaginative approach now required. I urge the Government to adopt the reassuring approach adopted in the last manifesto. I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, some 26 years ago, I made my maiden speech on fencing and hedgerows while my noble friend Lord Ferrers was sitting on the Front Bench as Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture. Shortly after that, a fencing grant was introduced which also gave grants for removing hedgerows, to which the noble Lord has just referred.
I admit, with no sense of guilt whatever, to removing quite a few hedgerows, but I admit also, with a certain amount of embarrassment, I am sorry to say, that I have won two awards for my remaining hedges.
I make that introduction to point out the difficult decision as regards what should and should not be an important hedgerow; who is to make that judgment; and on what grounds it should be made. I must tell your Lordships that I am fed up to the back teeth with being told how to manage my farm by those who have no practical experience of having to make a living from farming. Indeed, it is my view that those who like to order my--our--affairs, be they various quangos or voluntary green organisations, consist of members who
I raised objection to the hedgerows legislation in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and again in a classically humorous yet very serious debate on the laying of the order, in which I had to divert the wrath of my noble friend Lord Ferrers on to my noble and green friend Lord Marlesford. In company with others, he criticised my noble friend Lord Ferrers for bringing forward regulations which were pathetic and weak. I, of course, criticised my noble friend because his regulations were too severe.
The problem is that it is extremely difficult to try to legislate on what is or is not an important hedgerow. I am glad to say that that difficulty is illustrated by the fact that the Government, although promising to bring forward a revised order in the autumn of 1997, have not yet done that. I congratulate the Government on that. It is, indeed, strange for the Government to think before they act.
Your Lordships will no doubt say that I am an arch farmer--I am--driven by greed and thoughtlessness. In mitigation, I say that it is only when one becomes deeply involved in the day-to-day practical work of running a farm, which I have done for 50 years, rather than viewing it from the comfort of some quango boardroom et al that one realises that nature forces itself upon one. As the right reverend Prelate is in his place, perhaps I may be so bold to say that "Nature" is God. One must reconcile one's efforts to her ways. But that certainly does not mean submission--God never meant that--to her, or, more importantly, to stupid legislation. I am sure that the noble Baroness will make sure that it is not stupid.
Perhaps I may say a few words to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, about the ruling. As I understand it, the legal case in relation to the enclosure matter to which he referred was a very narrow ruling on an entirely geographical matter. Therefore, it is not nationwide.
I suppose that today, if I am going to be hung for a lamb, I may as well be hung for a sheep. Perhaps it is the other way round, but as a sheep is worth nothing, it must be for a lamb! Whatever happens, the farmer's view really must be paramount. If it is not, no regulation will work. Non-co-operation is the worst scenario, for there are many more ways of destroying a hedgerow than using a bulldozer. Keeping stock is one of them.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, on introducing this subject in your Lordships' House today. I first got to know him when we were both on the Council of Europe together. That is now an admirable body celebrating its 50th year. The work which he did then was extremely valuable. I congratulate him on that and on what he has been doing ever since in this field.
There is obviously a need for farm boundaries and for boundaries in the countryside, for obvious reasons, the most obvious being the keeping in or out of various livestock, although that is less and less important these days as there is less and less livestock mixed farming in the countryside.
However, it is important that there should be appropriate boundaries. Barbed wire will not always do. It is not always the most appropriate option. It is not at all sightly, but that is not necessarily the main point. There is a need to resist soil loss by wind blow, and with climate change that may become much more important than it is at present.
There is a need for boundaries to provide homes for wildlife, and with the growing loss of wildlife, particularly of birds, in the countryside that becomes more and more important. There is also a need for boundaries which do not provide hazards to either wildlife or human beings. I draw attention to the Unstarred Question which is being asked this evening by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford about the fate of the capercaillie. To a certain extent, that is governed by the fact that enormous losses are caused because that stupid bird flies into deer fences and injures or kills itself. We therefore have a need to produce not only field boundaries but appropriate field boundaries.
We have at last stopped paying people to grub out hedges; we now even pay them to plant them. There is one major point I should like to make. Although I do not go a very great deal of the way with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, as noble Lords can imagine, nevertheless I join with him on this matter, as I think he will with me. I refer to the fact that we must be aware of the need to subsidise the continuing care of field boundaries. Money is not just needed to plant them; it is needed in order to look after them.
I know people who are members of the Family Farms Association or the Small Farms Alliance who would very much like to plant more hedges and to look after them. They do not complain at the amount of subsidy they receive for planting hedges, but say they cannot afford to look after them.
We all know that looking after a hedge by staking and binding it, or by cutting and laying it, is heavily labour-costed. The same is true of dry-stone walls in appropriate areas. Help must be given. In the present appalling state of farm finances--here, I entirely sympathise with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley--we cannot expect the very people who would willingly look after farm boundaries to plant more unless they know that they will not incur great losses by so doing. That is not the case at present.
In certain areas it is much easier. I have the honour to be on the governing body, as vice president, of National Parks, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. That organisation manages to maintain the skills needed for the preservation of field boundaries and is to be congratulated on so doing. The Government need to consider this whole matter. They need to provide money to enable those farmers who really want to do their duty in this particular area--I entirely agree with
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, first, perhaps I may declare an interest in so far as I have been involved with agriculture all my life. Like my noble friend Lord Stanley, I have also pulled up hedges and, like him, I do not regret having done so because that was in the nature of the farming enterprise.
Secondly, and possibly more importantly, perhaps I may apologise to your Lordships, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, for the fact that I was not in my place for the earlier part of his speech. I am afraid to say that I was stuck in traffic and could not get here.
The subject of hedgerows is always a deeply sensitive matter because people have wildly differing views. Sometimes it does not do any harm to remember that in the days before enclosures there were not many hedges. Then we had the enclosures, and we had lots of hedges. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley stated, they are the habitat for wildlife.
As agriculture has increased and changed its methods, as has every other industry during the past 50 years, it has been necessary to make fields larger. Similarly, people now want to go to great big supermarkets and those have squeezed out the village shops. That is a great sorrow. In the same way, so I believe large farms have, up to a point, tended to make small fields a thing of the past. At any rate, small fields have become uneconomical. Therefore, it is perfectly justifiable to make them more economical. Curiously, many people do not realise that, despite all the row about pulling up hedges, more hedges are planted each year than are pulled up. Folk do not always get the credit for that.
There is a great move to try to regulate everything, which I believe is a great mistake. Many people say that they are conservationists. This debate is almost the conservationist versus the agriculturist argument; but it should not be so. The majority of farmers and agriculturists are also great conservationists. It is they who have the responsibility of trying to look after the land, which means looking after the hedges and everything else that goes on the land.
However, there has been a great move to try to have some form of regulation for hedges. The great conservation bodies are great pressure groups, and pressure was put on the previous government, as I have no doubt that it is being put on this Government.
I had the privilege of serving in the Department of the Environment when the subject of hedgerows came up. Perhaps I can let your Lordships into a little secret. When you are a Minister in a department, some issues are at the top of the list of things you are keen on and some are at the bottom. The implementing of hedgerow regulations was at the bottom of my list of priorities. I was not at all enamoured with the idea and I tried to persuade my colleagues of that; but, as they say in the current jargon, "You lose some and you win some". I did not find that I won very many.
At any rate, it was determined that there should be regulations. These blessed regulations had to come through my patch. I was disturbed about that. I thought that they were deeply bureaucratic and almost unintelligible. I said to those with whom I had the privilege of working that I thought it embarrassing to put on the statute book something that you could not understand. I said that if I, as a Minister with the privilege of civil servants to draft regulations, could not understand them, I wondered how others would do so. I am not, I hope, being at all condemnatory of the officials who did wonderful work. However, it is a complicated subject. The trouble with any regulations is that as soon as you try to make them easier, you are taken down further paths and they become more complicated.
Eventually, some 15 pages of regulations were produced on how one should or should not pull out hedgerows. Suddenly, the election was called. "Hurray, hurrah" some of us said because all business was guillotined. If certain Bills were not passed by the time of the election, they were dropped--and the regulations were to be dropped. I had the greatest sympathy for other Ministers in my department who were keen on this issue, but I thought, "Thank goodness. These regulations will now fall". However, much to my horror, they appeared like a big whale, leaping out of the water. The day before Parliament was dissolved I was told that I had to take the regulations through your Lordships' House. They were my last piece of business ever from the Front Bench in your Lordships' House. I was disturbed at that prospect.
However, the regulations were passed. Your Lordships charmingly approved them and we are now lumbered with those 15 pages of regulations. The upshot of all this, as I hope that your Lordships will understand, is not that I intend to be disloyal to my colleagues or to the officials who worked wonderfully on this issue, but, to return to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, these regulations are very complicated. If the noble Baroness can do anything within her department to stop people making regulations, she should do it; it does not matter what they are about. For goodness sake, let us not have any more. They make life too complicated.