Debates between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Carrington during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 23rd Jun 2021

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Carrington
Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a daunting task to follow the splendid oratory of not only the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, but the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Cormack and Lord Inglewood. I will do my best.

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?

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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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.