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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the scheme and sympathise with her that she had to go through so many different sorts of woodland scheme. I should like to take up where the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, left off. Although we are talking about trees, it seems curious that the Forestry Commission will be the administrator of the scheme when, presumably, the point of the scheme is to encourage more biodiversity. I welcome the continuation of the idea that set-aside will be used for something more constructive, such as the growing of woodland.
However, in pursuing Natural England's objective, which is to encourage biodiversity and ensure that various species have what is increasingly understood to be necessarynot only wildlife corridors but large areas in which they can survive and breedthat approach is important. So, as the noble Baroness said, including the Forestry Commission here may be an impediment, unless the relationship is very close.
We understand that the money is now to come from Pillar 2. The scheme will eventually be in competition with all the other rural development schemes. As I see it, there is no guarantee that the scheme will continue beyond 2013. However, at present, we welcome the scheme and the fact that farm woodland will be supported, at least in the near future, and look forward to Natural England strongly supporting the further establishment of this essential habitat.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I start
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with the issue that they both raised. We have a statutory obligation under the Farmland and Rural Development Act 1988 to review payment rates under the farm woodland premium schemes and their predecessor, the farm woodland scheme, at least every five years, and to lay a report before Parliament. The most recent such report was laid in July 2001. The introduction of the single payment scheme will be one of the factors that we will take into account in the new review that has just started.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about financial disadvantages as a result of the scheme. Farmers will not be disadvantaged. The reduction to the farm woodland scheme payment will be offset by the set-aside payment but, in any event, any decision to use FWPS land as set-aside is entirely voluntary.
I was asked about the role of the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission will continue to run English woodland grant schemes even following the creation of Natural England. Ministerial responsibility will remain with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as the agreements will continue to be governed by the provisions of the farm woodland premium scheme and the farm woodland scheme statutory instruments.
Current plans are that day-to-day administration of the existing farm woodland premium scheme agreements and ongoing agreements under the predecessor scheme, the farm woodland scheme, will transfer to the Forestry Commission in 2006. However, that is subject to all the operational issues associated with such a transfer being satisfactorily resolved. I am conscious that I have not given the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, an answer on the average value of the scheme. I do not have that figure to hand. I will write to her and send a copy of the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I also failed to ask whether the Government are confident that the new arrangement will work as well as the encouragement given in the past to farmers to promote woodland areasthe noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, also raised that. I think that the noble Baroness has covered it but, if not, she might do so in her letter. Will any of the new money be ring fenced longer term, because that is a very important aspect? I apologise for coming back; I should have thought of that at the time.
and, in particular, the question of determining culpability between owner and driver. Despite having probed the Minister extensively in Committee, we remain troubled still about the potential impact of this clause on people whose work necessitates that they drive vehicles owned by their employers. As noble Lords will recall, the clause is designed to change the penalty for committing a second offence from one of discretionary disqualification for the courts to that of obligatory disqualification if the offence is,
We are concerned that the reality of this change could be disproportionate discrimination against employees who drive vehicles owned by their employers. The Minister sought to allay our fears in Committee. In his attempts to persuade us of the equitability of the provision, he said that,
"existing legislation provides for the fact that if the driver can demonstrate that he drove the vehicle on the basis of assurances from the employer that it was a safe vehicle, but it proved not to be, the driver would not be prosecuted; rather the owner of the vehicle would be".[Official Report, 4/7/05; col. 528.]
However, the central problem remains. Once the second offence renders disqualification obligatory rather than discretionary, the option is removed from the hands of the court to apportion blame between the employer and the employee.
In its current form, despite the Minister's assurances, the clause does not explicitly account for the very serious scenario where an employee could unwittingly be driving a vehicle which was unsafe. To try to make clear blue water between the employer and the employee in this part of the Bill, I beg to move.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend on the Front Bench to which my name is added. I understand the mischief that the Minister seeks to remedy; that is, predominantly youngsters who drive wrecks of cars. They need to be deterred from doing that. The first time that they get convicted of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition, their legal advisers, and certainly the court, will point out to them that if they do it again, they will be disqualified. That is the mischief that the
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Minister is targeting. But I do not think that he intends to target a professional lorry driverthe most likelyor a travelling salesman who inadvertently finds out that he has used a vehicle in a dangerous condition.
Yes, it may be that the employer should have known that the vehicle was dangerous and the driver may not know, but there are some things you can do when using a vehicle in a dangerous condition that the driver would not be aware of. I do not believe that the Minister wants inadvertently to ban from driving a professional lorry driver. My noble friend's amendment would deal with that, while the Minister would still be able to meet his objective of dealing with the mischief of a youngster driving around in a wreck of a car. No one is employed to drive a wreck; employed drivers normally use vehicles in a much better condition. I urge the Minister to consider this point very carefully.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I am not convinced by the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness and the noble Earl in that it is the responsibility of the driver, before he starts any journey, to make sure that his vehicle is in reasonable condition. That applies equally to an employee and to someone who is self-employed. It would not be fair to remove the obligation from an employee to ensure that the vehicle is in good condition. It is also his responsibility to make sure that he is not overloaded because the employer is often not in the place in which goods are loaded on to a vehicle. He must check that his load has been properly distributed on the vehicle. It is also his responsibility to ensure that he is sober, that he has not taken drugs and, beyond all else, he must ensure that he can meet the drivers' hours regulations.
The Minister will recall his Written Answer to my Question concerning vehicles on the A55 in Wales. We found that, in the case of vehicles from the Republic of Ireland, some 55 per cent of those stopped in an extensive check were in breach of the regulations. If the employer is in Ireland, he will not be supervising his employees on the A55 in North Wales. It is dangerous to go down the road to accepting that an employee is somehow exempted from taking responsibility for the condition of his vehicle and the way it is used.
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