§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 48—Highways.
Government amendment No. 297.
Government amendment No. 166, in clause 66, page 56, line 8, at end insert—'(8A) Section 80 of that Act (power of highway authority to fence highways) shall have effect in relation to any area in the countryside of which walls of a particular construction are a feature, as if references to fences included references to walls of that construction; and in exercising their powers under that section in relation to any such area, a highway authority shall have regard to the desirability of exercising the powers conferred by the foregoing provisions of this subsection.'and the following amendments thereto:
- (a), in section (8A), after first 'construction', insert 'or hedges of a particular type'.
- (b), in section (8A), after second 'construction', insert 'or hedges of that type'.
§ Mr. Bennett
I appreciate that the Government have done better than my new clause 18 in amendment No. 297. It was encouraging in Committee that in many areas, although perhaps fairly minor ones, the Government listened to us. Early on, we mounted a major debate on the problems of burning moorland—the destruction of heather and particularly the damage to nesting birds. We drew attention to the fact that there seemed to be a large amount of illegal burning, some perhaps by accident and some deliberately. I proposed that the fine should be increased from £25 to £100, but the Government's proposal is £200.
On 17 July I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment—although the reply came from the Home Office—how many people were prosecuted in England and Wales for illegally burning heather or moorland in the most recent period for which figures are available; what is the maximum fine for such an offence; and when the level of fine was last increased.The answer was:The latest records available … for 1979 show one person proceeded against in England and Wales for burning grass without a licence, contrary to section 20 of the Hill Farming Act".—[Official Report, 17 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 509.]1247 We are all aware that there are far more offences committed than that. I welcome the Government's proposal to increase the fine, but I hope that they can tell us that there will be effective enforcement. It does not matter how big the fine is; if it is not enforced, it will have little or no effect.
The Government have also sought to meet us on the question of walls and hedges alongside new roads or road improvements. We argued strongly in Committee that where new roads were built or roads were straightened or widened it was important that the replacement boundaries be traditional, whether stone or hedges. There is a new clause in the name of the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Williams), new clause 48, which the Government have sought to meet with their amendment No. 166.
I have tabled two small amendments to the Government amendment to add "hedges" to the Government's reference to "walls". I hope that the Government will accept those amendments or that the Minister can say that they are not necessary, and that his term "wall" covers the appropriate boundary, whether a stone wall, a turf bank or a hedge, as appropriate for that part of the countryside.
I shall not press the clause to a vote as I prefer Government amendment No. 297.
§ Mr. Monro
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) for moving his new clause. As he said, Government amendment No. 297 goes much further than his clause, with the much higher penalty of £200. The penalty is currently £200 for stubble-burning, and it is right that it should be the same for muirburn.
I take the point about enforcement. No doubt the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary question earlier this month will have brought the need home to chief officers of police.
Government amendment No. 166 fulfils a promise that the Government made in Committee about boundaries being replaced after road improvements and so on. It helps considerably to provide the right type of boundary when an old hedge or stone wall has been taken down. Our amendment gives the owner the right to decide whether he should receive compensation or the authority should replace the wall if appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned his amendments (a) and (b) to amendment No. 166. Our amendment is a further extension of section 80 of the Highways Act 1980. To include power to provide hedges would duplicate the power in section 96 of that Act, which allows the highway authority to plant shrubs beside the highway. Such duplication would be undesirable.
There is the further point that fencing, particularly of motorways, is to prevent access by people or animals. Hedges are slow-growing and would not be an effective "fence" for some time. It might be 10 years before a beech or thorn hedge was effective.
There is no reason why the Department of Transport or the responsible highway authority should not plant a hedge alongside a post and wire fence, so that the hedge develops in time. I am told that the Department of Transport has its own corps of landscape experts who make great efforts to see that this is done in appropriate places. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's amendments, being covered by legislation and by the will of the Department, are unnecessary. The two Government amendments more than cover his other two major points.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am pleased to accept his assurances about the amendments.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.