Moved by Lord Redesdale
59: Clause 7, page 5, line 17, at end insert—“(5A) It may also set out steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to improve the conservation of land environments of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, including improving people’s enjoyment of them (and if it does so references in this Part to improving the natural environment, in relation to that plan, include conservation of land environments of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, including improving people’s enjoyment of them).”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 59, I will speak also to Amendments 61, 72, 102 and 111, which are in my name.
Before I go through each individual amendment, let me start by saying that these amendments were brought forward by the Heritage Alliance, which is made up of all the bodies that are involved in heritage. There is a very close link between heritage and the environment. The Minister has talked a number of times about the environmental plan. I also listened to a speech about the problem of overgrazing in the New Forest through cattle and ponies; having lived in the New Forest in the past, I can quite see that that is a major problem.
However, there is also a link between well-managed heritage sites and important habitats, especially for things such as bats and other flora and fauna. Having been on many archaeological sites where there are digs—I speak not as a trained archaeologist but as somebody who took an archaeological degree; there is a difference—I can say that you can see a preponderance of species that are not on many other sites that have been under the plough or suffered a great deal of intensive agriculture. So the purpose of these amendments is to look at how heritage can be included in the Bill.
The rather depressing fact is that, when we looked at the Bill, we saw that the only mention of heritage was to exclude heritage from it, in the environmental improvement plans. That seems to be the wrong way round. Although I know that the Minister and his officials will fight tooth and nail not to add a single sentence to the Bill if it is avoidable, I believe that there is a problem here with the fact that heritage is often seen as the responsibility of DCMS rather than Defra. I believe that, if there had been discussions between DCMS and Defra at an earlier stage, heritage would have been included in, rather than excluded from, the Bill.
This is a massive Bill, of course. It has a number of excellent clauses, but drawing a narrow position without including heritage could pose problems. In the amendments, we are looking as much as anything at how to include heritage in the environmental improvement plans rather than excluding it. The Government undertook to include heritage in the environmental improvement plans in goal 6, but the problem is that, by excluding heritage specifically, the environmental improvement plans will have major effects on funding and monitoring. If a scheme comes forward and needs funding or monitoring going forward, heritage could—indeed, will—be excluded, because there would be a cost implication in doing so.
I very much hope that the Government could look at these amendments. We have set them out at this stage to test whether the Minister is minded to look at accepting them. I would, of course, after 30 years in this place, fall over at that point, because I have never had a Minister accept any of my hundreds of amendments —but one can only hope. And I hope the Minister could think about maybe having a meeting with us to discuss whether it is possible that these proposals could be included, because they have cross-party support, and I think it would enrich the Bill.
Amendment 59 invites the Government to consider heritage in the environmental improvement plans. Amendment 61 includes heritage in line with goal six of the 25-year environmental plan, and Amendment 111 widens the definition of “natural environment” to include heritage. I ask the Minister if it would be possible to talk to his officials and see whether we can move forward on this. I have no intention, of course, of pressing these amendments tonight, but that is the assurance I would hope he can give. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken in this debate so I point first to my interests in the register. Specifically, I point out that I own land of environmental and historic significance. My comments are essentially probing ones attached to amendments in this grouping and relate to the Bill more generally.
My starting point is supporting the general gist of what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has said. In particular, I would like to reiterate comments I made briefly during the Agriculture Act, where I sensed that some of your Lordships were a little bit sceptical about the point I was making, but I believe they were not right in that. It is commonplace to say that all landscape in the UK is, in one shape or another, made land by man. But there is a category—I am specifically referring to landscape parks and gardens—in which the natural and deliberately planned fuse in a kind of hybrid, because humans deploy natural materials to create a work of art. They range in scale from being only a few acres to being what Stephen Switzer, the 18th century designer and author, described as
“aiming at an incomprehensible Vastness, and attempting at Things beyond the reach of Nature”.
To use a contemporary form of words, they are a form of land art.
Our great parks and gardens are probably this country’s greatest distinctive contribution to 18th century visual culture and possibly to global visual culture more generally. I hasten to add that “landscaping” is not used in its general contemporary sense of hard or soft landscaping. “Park” in this context does not have its general contemporary meaning of urban or country and, for that matter, “garden” does not merely mean what it means these days, although it may include them. All these are conceived with a complicated and important cultural, philosophical and intellectual framework which links them to all kinds of other disciplines and art forms. Probably the best-known practitioner is Capability Brown, but he has many predecessors and successors from Charles Bridgeman at the beginning of that century to Humphry Repton at the end of it.
These are landscapes that are incredibly fragile and inherently physically unstable. There is a matter of course because of the inevitability of plants dying. This, though, in some senses, paradoxically, can help to preserve them, but they are easily swept away by changes in taste and in rural land use—things like golf courses and urban development, which, in turn, often lead to physical disintegration and dismemberment. Quite how many there are I do not really know, and I dare say not more, anyway, than 1,000. Sometimes, they can suddenly come out of the undergrowth, like, for example, the well-known Lost Gardens of Heligan. Or, equally, they can disappear more or less completely, like Eastbury in Dorset, designed by Vanbrugh and now green fields. As Sir Thomas Browne put it, “green grass grows where Troy town stood”.
The purpose of these remarks is simply to seek confirmation from the Minister of reassurance that such things as these, which are neither solely natural nor solely manmade, but a hybrid, will be given the highest consideration in the context of what this Bill does in respect of land. They are, after all, one of our nation’s glories and give a large number of people in our country both pleasure and inspiration.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow both the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and my noble friend Lord Inglewood. We owe a great deal to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for putting down these amendments, drafted, as he said, by the Heritage Alliance, which represents so many heritage organisations in this country.
The poetic speech of my noble friend Lord Inglewood inspires me to think of so many of the landscape gardens I know and love. In my own former constituency of South Staffordshire, we had Chillington, one of the masterpieces of Capability Brown, with its wonderful lake, its Palladian bridges and its marvellous vistas. Just a few miles ago, there is Weston Park, the home of the Earls of Bradford through the centuries. But there are so many, many more, such as Studley Royal around Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. I could dredge my mind and memory and go on, but I do not want to detain the House for too long at this stage of the evening.
Our landscape—my noble friend Lord Inglewood referred to this—is largely manmade and, even in its wilder aspects, man-moulded. It is a real deficiency in this Bill, which calls itself the Environment Bill, if some of the most memorable and vulnerable parts of our environment are excluded. I talked briefly on this on Second Reading, when I referred to parish churches, which are the centre of most of our villages. I am not suggesting that every historic building be brought within the compass of this Bill, but I believe it is important that we recognise the built environment, which is part of the environment. One thinks of hill forts, some of them dating back to the Bronze Age. One thinks of the canals of this country—manmade. One thinks of dovecotes; there is a particularly beautiful one not far from my former constituency that is owned and protected by the National Trust. These are all parts of our built environment, our environment and our heritage.
I would ask my noble friend, following what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said a few moments ago: would he please convene a meeting of those of us who are particularly concerned about this? I speak as president of the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group, which I founded with the late Andrew Faulds way back in 1974, and which has attracted the support of many of your Lordships over many years.
I think we really do need to try to ensure that this Bill is as all-encompassing as we were led to suppose it would be, and that it does indeed act as a protector of our environment, in its totality, through the centuries. If we are going to have a landmark Bill—and we have referred to this many time during the debates, on Monday and again today—it must be a Bill that includes all our landscape. So while I would not expect my noble friend to give a definitive answer this evening, he did make some encouraging comments in his speech on Second Reading. I hope we can have a meeting with him, and perhaps bring one or two representatives from the Heritage Alliance with us, to talk these things through. I hope that my noble friend will be able, even at this late stage in the evening, to encourage us to do precisely that, so that when it comes to Report, we can indeed have a Bill which we all feel we can be very proud of.
My Lords, I declare my environmental interests as on the register. This is a very important amendment which I am proud to support, and I urge my noble friend the Minister to agree to it, or at least to some variation of it if it is deemed to be technically deficient. What is not deficient is the concept; it is absolutely right that the cultural heritage of our landscape should be included as part of the definition of “natural environment”, as Amendment 111 seeks to do. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that his request to the Minister was very modest, in my opinion. I am fairly certain I can say to my noble friend the Minister that, when it comes to Report, unless there is progress on this, there will be quite a few loyal friends behind him who will wish to push an amendment of this sort ourselves.
The case for inclusion has been very eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and my noble friend Lord Cormack, and in the inspirational speech by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. I have been privileged over the last 30 years to live a few miles away from my noble friend Lord Inglewood’s home and gardens, the parkland, the ponds and the well-farmed estate. It is a perfect example of the historical and cultural heritage of this country. Looking at his home, one can see how it has been changed over the years—I think the Scots had some part in changing the configuration of it at one point—and rebuilt according to different architectural styles. The land and the farm have been managed differently over hundreds of years. It is a perfect example of what this amendment is about.
I simply say that if those noble Lords who have spoken, and those who are about speak again—such as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who made this point at Second Reading—who are landowners, and who know all about the management of historic countryside, are in favour of this amendment, then a wise Government should listen carefully to what they say.
Rather than be a poor echo of what those noble Lords have said, I want to put before the House the most brilliant description of the English countryside I have ever read. I regard this amendment as The Road to Little Dribbling amendment—the name of the 2015 book by the American writer Bill Bryson. If Peers have not read it, then I commend it to them. It describes in witty form everything that is so special about rural England. I simply want to put on the record two paragraphs. He writes:
“Nothing—and I mean, really, absolutely nothing—is more extraordinary in Britain than the beauty of the countryside. Nowhere in the world is there a landscape that has been more intensively utilized—more mined, farmed, quarried, covered with cities and clanging factories, threaded with motorways and railway lines—and yet remains so comprehensively and reliably lovely over most of its extent. It is the happiest accident in history. In terms of natural wonders, you know, Britain is a pretty unspectacular place. It has no alpine peaks or broad rift valleys, no mighty gorges or thundering cataracts. It is built to really quite a modest scale. And yet with a few unassuming natural endowments, a great deal of time, and an unfailing instinct for improvement, the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily-spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply-hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 88,386 square miles the world has ever known—almost none of it undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is, quite often, perfect. What an achievement that is.”
So says an American writer. Is that not the most magical statement on the English countryside you have ever heard? It is also a definitive description of what this amendment is all about. I am certain that the Public Bill Office and parliamentary drafters would not allow it, but I would love to have that description added to the Bill as an amendment—I would not get away with it.
For the sake of completeness, I said that I would quote a second paragraph, so I must also give the House this one. Bill Bryson writes:
“And what a joy it is to walk in it. England and Wales have 130,000 miles of footpaths, about 2.2 miles of path for every square mile of area. People in Britain don’t realise how extraordinary that is. If you told someone in Midwest America, where I come from, that you intended to spend the weekend walking across farmland, they would look at you as if you were out of your mind. You couldn’t do it anyway. Every field you crossed would end in a barrier of barbed wire. You would find no helpful stiles, no kissing gates, no beckoning wooden footpath posts to guide you on your way. All you would get would be a farmer with a shotgun wondering what the hell you were doing blundering around in his alfalfa.”
Since I am sitting behind the Bishops’ Bench, perhaps I may be forgiven for using the word “hell”, although I do so in a non-biblical sense. I hope that it is not a microaggression to use such a word these days. And I hope, of course, that the Bishops believe in such a place as hell.
The Bill Bryson description makes the perfect case for these amendments. There is nothing more I can usefully add. I rest my case.
I declare my interests as set out in the register and add that I am custodian—I use that word on purpose—while alive, of historic monuments on my land. I support the amendments in this group, commencing with Amendment 59 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Blencathra and Lord Cormack, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I hope that I will not cover too much of the same ground that has been so ably covered by them.
My concern is the considerable lack of clarity on eligibility for, and funding of, this all-important man-made heritage. I understand that heritage is included as part of the specific goals in the 25-year environment plan, and that funding could well be part of the environmental land management schemes to be introduced under the Agriculture Act. But that is all vague, and surely we need the certainty of measurement, reporting and funding that would be achieved by these amendments. After all, a plan is just a plan, and the fact that the Agriculture Act enables heritage to be funded is not an actual promise of funding.
It would obviously help if we had some details of the elusive ELMS, but this is still perhaps two years away. But early reaction from the farming community is underwhelming, particularly at a time of respectable prices for livestock and arable crops. If this continues, and the financial viability of ELMS for farmers is not sufficiently attractive, the laudable aims of encouraging biodiversity, funding heritage, planting trees and much more will not be fulfilled. Surely that is a powerful reason for these amendments.
It might help to give a specific example. Where I live, according to the Domesday Book, there was a bloody battle between the Saxons and the Danes, currently undated, which resulted in a series of barrows—burial mounds—and ancient fortifications and a huge chalk cross carved into the hill, which was once visible from many miles away. There is also the site of a Roman villa nearby. All these monuments are in overgrown scrubland, and invisible. They all have permitted access, so there is no problem in that respect. None is an SSSI, they do not form part of farmland registered for the basic payment, and they are not within any managed woodland scheme. Hence there is no current source of funds from any relevant scheme.
For those important archaeological features, there is neither carrot nor stick available to encourage necessary maintenance. Please will the Minister tell us how those monuments, and many others like them, can be preserved and funded, without the assurance that would be given by the inclusion of heritage in the Bill, as well as much-needed clarification of the funding available through the 25-year environmental improvement plan—and, of course, the environmental land management schemes—identified by the Government for this cause?
My Lords, there are now very few true wildernesses left on earth. The vast majority of landscapes are the result of millennia of human interaction with the natural world. So when we think of the environment we should not just bring to mind an untouched pastureland; there is no such thing. As we know, the way fields have been laid out has varied constantly throughout the ages; the same is true of gardens.
These acres are also where people have lived, worked and played, and the environment cannot be considered apart from them. The land still betrays the marks of the past, as is dramatically illustrated by the finds at Sutton Hoo, and, to take one example, in the way the great tower of Ely Cathedral rises above the Fens.
I strongly associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who was ably followed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. When we are thinking about the environment, what we are really thinking about is a fusion of the natural world and human creativity over many centuries. I therefore very much welcome this group of amendments, especially the inclusion of the words
“beauty, heritage, and people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”
These words matter, because they concern the environment, which is of value in itself, but also because they have to do with human well-being—physical, aesthetic, and, yes, spiritual. They bring out the fact that being human involves being aware of our past and of the way we are shaped by it.
I also note the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about the fact that there are also in the landscape people who have to make a living there. They, too, need to be taken into account.
The word “beauty” is not fashionable among philosophers or art historians today, but, as the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote about beauty:
“We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name, as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past, whether he admits it or not, can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.”
To put it more prosaically, most ordinary people do know that something meaningful is conveyed by the word “beauty”—and, more than anywhere else, they look for it in the natural world, that creative fusion of nature and human creativity over many centuries.
I hope the Minister will look favourably on these amendments, and that, if he cannot accept them in their present form, he will come back with revised wording that meets their main thrust.
My Lords, the Committee appears to be in complete consensus on these amendments; I too am concerned about the gaping hole where heritage should sit within this Bill. Therefore, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the various amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and would have added my name to them were they not so heavily oversubscribed. It is essential for heritage to be in the Bill to ensure that man’s many historic and essential interventions in the landscape can be preserved and enjoyed for centuries to come.
In his response to these comments at Second Reading, the Minister pointed to the presence of heritage in the 25-year environment plan—our first EIP—but without heritage being in the Bill, there is no requirement that it will be included in the second EIP or any later ones. If it is anything, heritage is a long-term concern and that needs permanent status within this legislation.
As to why heritage is so important, we need look no further than the Exminster Marshes, about which I spoke earlier. The entirety of this SSSI Ramsar landscape is manmade, originally by the engineers and builders of the Exeter canal, which is England’s earliest. Latterly those marshes were extended by Brunel’s atmospheric South Devon Railway and the embankment that carries it alongside the estuary. Further drainage ditches and levees maintain this internationally important habitat and it is nonsensical to separate the heritage infrastructure and origins from this essential natural environment. I should note for the record that Powderham’s ancient deer park is entirely manmade as well.
Finally, I note that the principal aim of the environmental targets in Clause 1(1)(b) is to address people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. Ever since the paintings of John Constable, and doubtless earlier, our enjoyment of the natural environment has been deeply entwined with our appreciation for our historic interventions within it. Those church spires, canal locks, follies, weirs and hedgerows so evocatively recalled by the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood, Lord Cormack and Lord Blencathra, are the objects through which we read and see ourselves within our landscape. They are what draw us to it for our well-being and our enjoyment. If we do not preserve them, we will lose that landscape and our relationship with it.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I also want to say how impressed I was by my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s rendering of the impressive prose of the American author Bill Bryson. I declare my interest as trustee of the Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire and as former chairman of Endsleigh Fishing Club in Devon.
I will speak in favour of Amendment 59 and the other amendments in this group tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and others. As I said at Second Reading, quoting the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham,
“our attitudes to nature are being kidnapped by the dogma that nature is good and man is bad.”—[
This might explain why the Bill at present includes nothing built by man, although it purports to set targets with respect to people’s enjoyment of the natural environment. Apart from the difficulty of measuring in a scientific way people’s enjoyment of anything, it is obvious that a large part of the beauty of our rural environment depends on traditional farm buildings, stone walls and other archaeological features. Ancient tithe barns and other buildings have been or need to be restored and repurposed in order to accommodate the increased numbers of visitors to the countryside.
I do not think it is possible to set targets for the natural environment without including this aspect. Indeed, the sixth goal of 10 listed in the Government’s 25-year plan is to achieve:
“Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.”
Why is this the only goal of that plan on which this Bill is silent? My noble friend may say that this is because existing UK legislation, which is derived from EU legislation, specifically excluded heritage, but the Prime Minister last week welcomed the excellent report from the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform chaired by my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, who rightly said:
“Now that the UK has left the EU it is important to change our approach to regulation which reflects the needs of the UK. This report shows the way ahead with the move to the proportionality principle setting a more flexible and balanced approach to future regulations and changes to existing regulations.”
Heritage is a key environmental public good and it makes no sense to introduce this important Bill without covering its needs. There is no time to lose as more than half of our traditional farm buildings have already been lost. Will my noble friend confirm that he recognises this? Will he commit to adopt Amendments 61 and 72, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to include heritage in his annual reports and to monitor progress made towards targets covering heritage, both of which are obviously necessary?
Similarly, the OEP cannot carry out its objectives without monitoring heritage as an integral part of our rural environment. Amendment 43 seeks to change the definition of “natural environment” to include heritage buildings in so far as they form part of the landscape, which they clearly do. To accept this change would simplify the task of making other changes to the Bill.
My noble friend will doubtless say that, since heritage is already included in the 25-year plan, it is taken care of and does not need to be covered in the Bill. If inclusion in the plan is enough, why do we need the Bill at all? If heritage is not covered in the Bill, that makes it less likely that it will be covered under the ELM schemes. It will be deprioritised and in practice remain unfunded, leading to its progressive deterioration and disappearance. These amendments are crucial and I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I put my name to these amendments entirely to speak to Amendments 290 and 291 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton—but, as they have not been moved, proposed or spoken to, and nor do they fit at all within this group, I will leave my remarks on them to another time when, hopefully, they will be raised in the right place.
So I had not intended to speak on the other amendments in this grouping, but I will say in passing that I support them all. As a Scotsman from the highlands, I have always really loved the English countryside just because it is man-made. Every tree, hedge, field and parkland—every aspect of it—is the result of some historical figure, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, contributing to the countryside out of their love of that countryside at the time.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, quoted Bill Bryson. Bryson also said that one of the outstanding features of the English countryside that is different from the rest of the world is that it is loved to death by every inhabitant within the country. As a statement with which to promote these amendments, you could not find anything better.
My Lords, through this group of amendments my noble friend Lord Redesdale has set out the case for heritage assets to be included in the definition of the natural environment. Heritage assets are often the natural home of many varied animal, insect and bird species. My noble friend has been eloquently supported by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Blencathra.
Given the hour, I will be brief. Others have made the case extremely well and I fully support their comments. We debated on Monday the enjoyment that the public get from the natural environment, whether that be by walking in the fells, swimming in rivers or picnicking on grassy open spaces. The benefits to their physical and mental health are well documented. This group of amendments seeks to extend the same benefits to archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural and historic interests. Families’ and people’s enjoyment of all these is important, and in many cases it is the paying visitors who keep these iconic attractions economically viable.
The amendments wish to ensure that the EIPs include natural and built heritage in all its forms, thus preserving them for the future. Many of these iconic structures are well-known to all of us, from Badbury Rings and the Minack Theatre in Cornwall to the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney and perhaps Powderham Castle. Some are inaccessible to those families who are on low incomes but, whatever form they take, they have a fascination and a spellbinding quality that hold us all enthralled at the skill of the men and women who constructed them. Visiting them is definitely life-enhancing and enriching.
Some will have been part of the City of Culture’s categories around the country. It is many years since I last went to Coventry, but I look forward to returning to see how it is faring now that it is the City of Culture. I remember going to Glasgow when it was the European City of Culture. I was amazed as it was very different from my expectations—stunning and beautiful.
I am sure the Minister will agree that many of the examples given during the debate fall into the category of the natural environment, and I look forward to hearing how he sees the EIPs covering them.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority. Given the lateness of the hour, I intend to speak briefly.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate for their generous and vivid descriptions of the art and beauty of the place that they hold dear. Each noble Lord, in their own different way, has had a story to tell. In combination, they have made a persuasive point that heritage and historic buildings are a fundamental part of our natural environment.
As the National Trust made clear in its briefing, and as noble Lords have beautifully illustrated this evening, none of our landscapes is completely natural. They are all the consequence of human interaction with the landscape during thousands of years. The variety of ways in which the land has been farmed and grazed, together with the pockets of communities around it—each very different—are a precious part of our English heritage. Everything from dry stone walls and stone circles, to farm buildings and historic churches, tells a story about our history.
The South Downs has had its own settlements for more than 6,000 years. You can still see the remains of the Iron Age fort at Cissbury Ring or admire the mosaics in Bignor Roman Villa. The great estates of places such as Firle, Glynde and Petworth House still enhance our landscape today. We need to value them for their intrinsic contribution to the living landscape and recognise their attraction to visitors, providing welcome jobs in the heart of the countryside. They clearly have a role to play in enhancing public enjoyment of the countryside.
As a number of noble Lords have said, this is already goal 6 of the 25-year environment plan which talks about enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery, while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage. This was echoed by the Minister in his response to the Second Reading debate:
“The 25-year plan explicitly recognises the link between the natural environment and heritage.”—[Official Report, 7/6/21; col. 1307.]
However, as noble Lords have said, these aims are not reflected in the Bill as it stands. As we move to future iterations of the targets and environmental improvement plans, it is important that these elements are not forgotten.
The importance of heritage was rightly included in the Agriculture Act as a public good that can receive financial support. It is important that the Government act consistently and cross-reference that into this Bill as well. I hope that, in his response, the Minister can provide some reassurance that this omission will be addressed in some way—perhaps by meeting noble Lords, as has been suggested.
I was sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was unable to speak to Amendments 290 and 291, addressing the economic role of the national parks. The parks have a central role to play in delivering the objectives of the Environment Bill. I hope to return to this issue later in the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for tabling his amendments to include references to heritage and cultural matters in Part 1 of the Bill. I very much enjoyed his speech. I should be happy to meet and will be in touch with him via our office tomorrow.
I will focus first on the legal definitions. The definition of “natural environment” in the Bill, as opposed to in common parlance, was created with two specific aims in mind: to define the scope of the OEP’s enforcement function and to underpin the purpose and scope of the environment improvement plans. This definition, therefore, has specific legal effects which are confined to this Bill. It is not intended to have a wider application.
I worry that, if we were to include heritage in the definition of environmental law, as set out in the Bill, this would then become part of the enforcement remit of the OEP. It would mean that the OEP would have an enforcement remit over such areas as listed buildings—which the Government do not want. I do not think this is what stakeholders want either. This is not the impression I have had from speeches today or from my discussions with stakeholders.
However, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—I pay tribute to his speech, which was beautifully delivered and crafted—and others who raised the same issue can be assured that the historical environment will nevertheless be considered when the Government prepare environmental improvement plans for the natural environment. We recognise the important links between our natural and historical environments, of course, for all the reasons so eloquently laid out today and more—for example, from a purely nature point of view, the peregrine falcons that have made Ely Cathedral their home.
I will address some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on the new ELM system. Both noble Lords were keen to see ELM used to fund monuments, architectural features and the like—cultural landmarks—that need protection or investment. The problem with that is that ELM is a replacement of the common agricultural policy. It exists to support land use. Initially, it was all about agriculture and food production. We are expanding it to cover things that the market does not recognise, but it is not a limitless fund that can be used to fund things the CAP was not funding, outside the remit of land use.
There are many things that we would like to see funded. Everyone in this Chamber could fill reams of paper with things they would like to see the Government funding, but we cannot squeeze everything into ELM. If we did, ELM would simply not be able to do the job it is supposed to do. My worry and concern is that ELM, despite being a pretty hefty pot, based on the budgets set by the common agricultural policy—we are keeping the same level of funding—will be stretched when it comes to the monumental task we have of restoring the British countryside and biodiversity.
When it comes to funding, I do not see any mechanism that would enable Defra, with its limited budget, to pick up this vastly important but very expensive area of activity. It is not something that Defra has done or can do. It is very much a job and a responsibility for the DCMS. The Government are very aware of the impact that Covid has had on heritage organisations, businesses and pretty much every sector in our economy, which is why the DCMS, with the Treasury, created a cultural support package of £1.57 billion. That was not a Defra fund but a DCMS fund controlled by the DCMS—not that we have not attempted at times to influence the manner in which that money has been spent.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made the additional point that the incentives in ELM may not be sufficiently attractive to encourage productive farms to dip into ELM. That is not a problem. He may be right or wrong—we will see where the market goes—but it does not matter. If a productive farm does not want to take full advantage of ELM, that is the choice of that productive farm. There is still a baseline of regulatory protections that would prevent any farm doing things to the environment that we do not want to see happen. Not every farm has to take full advantage of ELM. However, a vast number of farms are dependent—some are completely dependent for almost all their income—on subsidies. Those farms and areas of land, and the landowners who control them, will absolutely be dipping into ELM and delivering public goods of the sort that have not been delivered to date. I do not see that as a problem. We are creating an incentive and signals, and it will be for landowners to decide how they wish to respond to that.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for reading that absolutely wonderful passage by Bill Bryson. I cannot add anything to something as beautifully written —or read, in fact—as that. I appreciate his having read it; it was a wonderful addition to this very long, marathon session we are having.
To continue, our 25-year environment plan committed the Government, as I said earlier, to
“safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage.”
Under the Bill, the 25-year environment plan will be adopted as our first statutory environmental improvement plan, which means that the recognition of the value of heritage is effectively part of the Bill through this plan. We hope that this will set the benchmark for future plans, including how to balance environmental and heritage considerations going forward. As part of developing future environmental improvement plans, we will also work with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—DCMS—to identify areas where we can drive mutually positive impacts on the natural environment and heritage.
Finally, I turn to Amendments 290 and 291, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I assume that it is okay to comment on them, given that they were not formally moved. They are important amendments, so I would like to, unless someone objects. I am sure he had in mind when tabling those amendments the significant contributions that our national parks have made to local economies through visitor numbers, particularly during the pandemic, when access to nature has become much more valued than perhaps it was. The recent independent Landscapes Review made several recommendations, including a new statutory purpose for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to
“foster the economic and community vitality of their area”.
Therefore, we will consult on draft proposals in response to this review later this year.
The Government are continuing to work with stakeholders to better understand both the benefits and implications of a new statutory purpose for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. There are differences of opinion on both sides of the argument about whether national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty should have an additional statutory purpose. That is why the Government believe that they should consult widely before making a final decision on whether to amend either the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act or the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, as currently proposed.
I hope I have addressed all the questions raised by noble Lords. On that basis, I ask them to either withdraw or not move their amendments.
I am sorry, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, wants to speak. That has not reached me yet. Is the noble Earl there? No? Perhaps we shall continue with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, then.
I am terribly sorry, my Lords. The Minister says it is not for Defra to handle the funding of heritage restoration, and he directs our attention to DCMS and says that it should handle it instead. But Natural England has long contributed substantial capital grants for existing heritage restoration works. Indeed, this is under the HLS programme. An example would be the award-winning restoration of the belvedere overlooking the Exminster marshes, which was substantially repaired thanks to an HLS and Natural England grant as a historic natural landscape feature. Could the Minister comment on that? I think Defra and Natural England are very capable in this regard.
The examples the noble Earl provided are areas where there is a direct biodiversity value. Not all the examples we have been given today have a direct biodiversity value. I am not suggesting that they have no value; of course they do. But, if we were to squeeze into ELM all the concerns, priorities and projects that have been listed today, it would need to be significantly expanded from what it is, and it is just not practical or possible.
My Lords, it is always an indicator when the doorkeepers are standing looking at you purposefully that a speech must be very brief at this point. But I will make just one point. The purpose of the amendments was not to open a massive income stream towards heritage; I do not think that was the intention of the amendments in any form. I quite agree about ELM: it is a pot that, however large, will be spent. I should declare an interest as a landowner who has had HLS and ELS funding, which went to my tenants. Some of that was to deal with access to heritage sites.
I would like to raise the point that we are moving into a different form of agriculture from the European system of funding. In the discussion with the Minister and his officials, I would like to talk not about a new form of funding, or Defra taking on the responsibilities of DCMS, but about making sure that, in any monitoring going forward, heritage could be included, as was set out in the 25-year plan. The problem is that we are ending up with silos.
I finish on the fact that I received a grant from the Northumberland National Park for doing up a stable to retain as an agricultural building. The importance of that for biodiversity is that holes were left in the walls, specifically so that birds could nest—they have been nesting this spring. It is bat friendly, and two types of bat have returned; we have a red squirrel feeding station in one of the last woodlands in Northumberland still to have red squirrels; and I had to get rid of a rather belligerent hedgehog. That is a rather clear example of how a building which has been renovated in accordance with environmental principles can be a haven for biodiversity. If there had just been a DCMS grant, it would have been done but many of those features would have been removed. I think that noble Lords around the House support the idea, not of opening a new funding stream but of looking at how we can, without cost, or without significant cost, look at including heritage in certain aspects of the Bill. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8: Annual reports on environmental improvement plans