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The Earl of Caithness: Amendment No. 497A is grouped with Amendment No. 467. The amendment seeks to ensure that owners and occupiers who are farming in accordance with a statement given under new Section 28(4) are not subject to prosecution. As the Bill stands, it appears that they might do so quite unwittingly in carrying out normal farming occupations; for instance, making hay from a flower meadow, grazing livestock or heather burning. It would be wrong for owners and occupiers to be put in jeopardy of prosecution for carrying out something perfectly normal. Inevitably, the mere fact of burning heather will damage the SSSI temporarily, but the result will be much better, stronger and newer heather in the future.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 497A adds, for owners, an excuse of acting in accordance with the statement of views about management of the land issued with the SSSI notification. It is unlikely that the activities would be on the list of operations likely to damage the site. It would be odd if they were. It is also inappropriate to add this proviso since the statement of management views is a broad, high-level statement which will not be sufficiently comprehensive to describe individual operations. It is not intended to constitute a consent for activities, and there may be a question of degree which would need to be determined. That should be the subject of discussion between the parties.

While I would not rule out the use of new Section 28M(6) against an owner or occupier who exceeded the authorisation given to him, in most cases it would be unreasonable for the conservation agency to assume that if a prosecution could not be made under new Section 28M(1), because of reasonable excuse, then it could take action under new Section 28M(6). I hope the noble Earl is following that. I am not entirely sure that I am.

I turn to Amendment No. 497B. With regard to the commission of an offence where a damaging activity is taking place under the terms of an agreement, such

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matters should have been the subject of separate consideration by the conservation agencies. If they have not consented, individually or through the terms of a management scheme, to the terms of the operation, or if it is being carried out in a way which damages the special interest, that is not a good reason to provide a defence against prosecution.

But we can look further at the question of agreements reached with other public bodies. I am aware that liaison takes place at various levels between the agencies and MAFF and its agencies and local officers. That includes consideration at a strategic level, when developing the schemes; at a local level, where officials from relevant bodies meet to discuss regional conservation issues; and at an individual level on particular agreements. We want to encourage that. I am also clear that the conservation agencies will be seeking to reduce the number of occasions on which formal consent will be required. That is in their interest, as well as the interests of owners and occupiers.

I hope I can assure noble Lords that Ministers will be encouraging the agencies to minimise the amount of time lost on bureaucratic discussions and maximise the time spent on actually improving the condition. We need to minimise the scope for disagreement and uncertainty here, as well as to avoid undertaking prosecutions where that can possibly be achieved.

We shall consider the arguments that have been put forward, but I hope that noble Lords will not seek to press these amendments.

Baroness Byford: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 468:

    Page 93, line 43, leave out from first ("to") to end of line 44 and insert ("every owner and occupier of any of the land included in the site of special scientific interest, or the part of it to which the consent relates--").

The noble Lord said: This government amendment is clarificatory, along with its associated amendments, Amendments Nos. 469, 471, 472 and 473. These amendments concern the situation where an owner or occupier has given notice to the agency that they wish to carry out operations on the list of potentially damaging operations which accompanies the notification of a SSSI. If the agency refuses consent or grants a consent with conditions which are not acceptable to the applicant, then an appeal may be made to the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 468 and 469 relate to the situation where consent has been granted in the past, but the conservation agency now considers that the operation is too damaging and should not be permitted or that it should be modified. This may be due to changed circumstances, or the long-term effects of the operation may be more damaging than the agency previously thought. The agency must then serve the notice withdrawing or modifying the consent on all of the present owners and occupiers of the land covered by the consent.

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Noble Lords will appreciate that the original notice of intent to carry out the operation may have been given by a previous owner or occupier. Amendment No. 469 specifies all of the information that owners and occupiers must be given with the notice withdrawing or modifying the consent. That explains their rights of appeal, when the notice comes into effect, and, where a person incurs loss as a consequence of the withdrawal or modification, that the agency shall make a payment.

Amendments Nos. 471, 472 and 473 alter the reference to "a person" to read "an owner or occupier". That has been done for internal consistency. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: Perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendment No. 476. This seeks to ensure that inspectors hearing appeals should have appropriate land management experience. We feel that it is important for the effective hearing of appeals that those appointed not only understand the legislation relating to SSSIs but also understand the management issues arising out of SSSIs. This could require an understanding, for example, of farming or forestry issues or perhaps one of the many other scientific disciplines which we discussed in an earlier debate.

The amendment would require the person hearing the appeal to have such expertise.

Lord Whitty: Of course we all wish to ensure that those hearing appeals are in a position to make a considered judgment. The Secretary of State has at his disposal the whole of the planning inspectorate, which can call upon a wide variety of qualifications. Many of its members are land agents or qualified in the environmental sciences and so forth. For each appeal, an inspector with the relevant expertise will be allocated to it. I believe therefore that the objectives of the noble Lord's amendment will be met by the procedures that are to be put in place.

The noble Lord may also be relieved to know that the Bill already allows the Secretary of State to appoint an assessor to sit with the inspector if that proves to be necessary. That would cover any other problems which may arise, because the assessor would be fully competent to cover any further technical issues. I hope that that meets the noble Lord's requirements.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for that reassurance. We hope that, when drafting the regulations relating to appeals, the Government will agree to take these points on board.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 469:

    Page 94, leave out lines 2 to 5 and insert ("matters set out in subsection (7A).

(7A) The matters referred to in subsection (7) are--
(a) the rights of appeal under section 28D;
(b) the effect of subsection (8); and
(c) in the case of a notice under subsection (6), the effect of section 28K.").

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 470 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 471 to 473:

    Page 94, line 14, leave out ("a person") and insert ("an owner or occupier").

    Page 94, line 16, leave out ("a person") and insert ("an owner or occupier").

    Page 94, leave out lines 20 to 22 and insert--

("(c) an owner or occupier who is aggrieved by the modification of a consent;
(d) an owner or occupier who is aggrieved by the withdrawal of a consent,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 474 to 476A not moved.]

12.30 a.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 476B:

    Page 95, line 54, at end insert--

("(3) Unless otherwise required pursuant to the provisions of another statutory provision, the duty to further the enhancement of flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features in subsection (2) shall not require a statutory undertaker to remove or alter any apparatus, plant or equipment whatsoever installed or kept installed by that statutory undertaker pursuant to its statutory obligations, powers or duties over, under, in or on any ground where the ground is within a site of special scientific interest or where the ground is in the vicinity of such a site.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment intended to elicit confirmation from the Government that the obligation on companies holding licences under the Electricity Act as Section 28E authorities to further the conservation and enhancement of the features of an SSSI will not require them to move their electric lines and electrical plant to another location or to place the lines or plant underground. I do not think there is any doubt that a company holding one or more licences under the Electricity Act 1989 will be a statutory undertaker and so will be a Section 28E authority.

The concern of the companies arises from the use of the word "enhancement" in Section 28E and how it may be interpreted. The ordinary meaning of the word implies an increase in the obligations which the companies currently have to preserve SSSIs and the imposition of a positive obligation on them to improve the appearance of the SSSI. This is likely to result in claims that the companies should remove lines on or in the vicinity of SSSIs or place them underground.

I understand that the Department of the Environment has said that there was no intention that companies should have to remove their electric lines or place them underground. The amendment qualifies the word "enhance" so that it is clear that there is no requirement for a company, as a statutory undertaker, to remove any of its overhead or underground electric lines or electrical plant on, under or over an SSSI or in the vicinity of an SSSI.

The amendment recognises that there may be grounds in a particular case for an electric line to be moved. In such circumstances, the same principle should apply as in any other case where there is a

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request to remove an electric line and the procedures in the Electricity Act 1989 for considering such a request should apply. The qualification of the duty to enhance an SSSI is made subject, therefore, to a limitation that it does not prevent the consideration of the merits of retaining a line in situ under Schedule 4 to the Electricity Act 1989 or any other statute. I beg to move.

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