Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 3:45 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, my mind was working on exactly the same point as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, when he talked about the Redesdale Farm in Northumberland, with which I am familiar. I remember visiting that particular experimental farm when I was a Minister in MAFF a good many years ago.

I remember talking to people during that visit about hill farming in the north of England. It was put to me in strong terms that one of the greatest inhibitions for a hill farmer is his capacity to over-winter his sheep. I was told that there was always plenty of keep in the summer on the hill and moor but that it was difficult to conserve enough material, whether hay, silage or whatever, for keeping the stock over winter.

If the Minister wants an example of that I invite him to ask for advice about the demand from hill farmers for their sheep to go to the lowlands during the winter and to eat sugar beet tops. After the sugar beet has been removed, the tops keep sheep effectively for considerable lengths of time during the depths of winter. Many farmers cannot keep enough sheep to provide them with a reasonable livelihood during the winter because of the difficulty of providing enough winter keep for them from their farms. Therefore, I believe that these amendments are exceptionally important and I hope that the Government will take them seriously.

I want to make another point which I believe has been half made already. However, I should like to express it a little more fully. One thinks of lush meadows in the lowlands which are about to be cut for hay or silage, but on the uplands the crops are very much thinner. Often, people who visit the countryside do not know as much about the ways of the countryside as many of us would wish. I believe that in many upland areas a rambler could mistake a hay or silage crop for grazing land. It is possible that he would not realise that grass was being grown for conservation. Therefore, unless farmers can fall back on an Act of Parliament which states that land is excepted from the right to roam, it will be extremely difficult for them to keep the public off land where grass is being grown for conservation.

I plead with the Minister to take on board the points that have been made on all sides of the House. I hope that he will either accept the amendments or return at Third Reading with other amendments to deal with this practical problem for upland farmers.