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Column 570altered structures, and those involving leisure and sporting activities can be extraordinarily ugly. The pressures continue to increase.
In my constituency, one of the most important industries is horticulture, which presents the familiar problems involving acres of derelict glasshouses, and land clearance. In horticulture, the influence of the main retailers--the large supermarkets--has been significant. They require produce to be packed under set conditions and delivered direct within a specified period, and the costs of meeting their requirements, as well as the introduction of tougher hygiene regulations over the years, have been prohibitive for smaller agricultural holdings. That has resulted in the rise of specialists providing facilities to wash, pack and distribute not only their own produce but that of other holdings.
Now, however, it seems that diversification is going back the other way. For example, because of demands to decrease the amount of handling of tomatoes, the tendency is to move back to the holding where the tomatoes are grown, and to do the handling and packing there, which will increase demand for buildings and new structures in more areas.
Similarly, it was common practice for most holdings to own vehicles for use in the distribution of their produce. Use of such vehicles was ancillary to the operation of the holdings, and therefore did not require planning permission. The move towards greater efficiency has led to an increase in the numbers of haulage contractors who primarily transport agricultural produce but may not themselves own land.
The number of farm holdings that use their vehicles to transport not only produce grown on their land but that grown on other holdings is increasing. That leads to enormous rows about planning permission, about which I have had endless nightmares over the past couple of years. There is a clear and obvious need for small industrial estates to accommodate hauliers and others close to the main roads, but also close to the farms that they serve.
That is difficult to achieve even under the revised green belt regulations, if I understand them rightly. Moreover, confusions in the wording of the original PPG2 and the resulting court cases, especially concerning alternative uses for agricultural buildings, have soured relationships and in some cases set for local farmers and landowners what they take to be precedents. The precedents are still there for local planning authorities to tackle, even now that the revised PPG2 has been published.
The more careful wording in the new version will help planners, but will hardly prevent the rows stemming from those precedents. Regulations concerning agricultural building for housing for essential workers have been mightily abused in the green belt. I could take hon. Members to see great mansions. No doubt the Minister will be seeing some of those--or at least, whoever defeats him in South Ribble will see them--because his constituency will inherit large sections of the territory that I am describing. I could take the Minister to mansions resembling Southfork, which technically are agricultural dwellings.
It is appalling, and the new annexe D in PPG2 is welcome, as is the inclusion of hospitals in paragraphs 3.8 and 3.9. That would solve many wrangles, such as at Greaves Hall, where we are dealing not only with the
Column 571hospital but with the local authority and the health authority, which is not even in Lancashire. The new annexe on white land is also welcome.
I have some questions for the Minister, which I shall rattle through. This is a little unfair, as I have not given her notice of my questions, but I would welcome an answer at any time. What is the precise meaning of the phrase in paragraph 1.7 of the new PPG2 which states that the purposes of including land in green belt are of paramount importance to their continued protection and should take precedence over land use objectives? Frankly, I cannot explain that. Will the Minister also look at the extra difficulties caused by the sections of document that deal with the height of buildings and their visual impact? In an excessively flat area, such as the area that I represent, those buildings can cause enormous problems. One can sometimes see a house with a new roof from four or five miles away, and planners and inspectors have often said that someone cannot have a development in an area because it can be seen from five miles away.
On the question of sports facilities, the document says that possible examples of facilities include small changing rooms or unobtrusive spectator accommodation for outdoor sport, or small stables for outdoor sport and recreation. I can see what it is getting at, but most sports facilities require to be underpinned by a clubhouse or bar. There is tremendous pressure not just to develop a sports facility in a rural area, but to build a bar or a similar facility as well.
What does the Minister think the new policies--either those in the White Paper or those in the green belt document that I have been talking about-- will do about farm fragmentation, which presents us with a terrible problem? The pressure to break up a farm is followed by the pressure to put a new building on each of the fragments of that farm.
It is possible to detect in the slow changes evidenced in planning policy guidelines, Department of the Environment circulars and subjects connected with the White Paper the evolution of an integrated approach to green belt policy, which will be enhanced by sensible district, strategic and structural plans, and by imaginative proactive policies that are emerging in some areas.
I read an imaginative document published by Halton borough council in Cheshire, which the Minister might like to look at. The document suggested- -among other things--that rundown rural railway stations might be revitalised by planning proposals that allowed the reasonable development of affordable housing in the area of railway stations, in return for developer input into modernising the stations. That could include-- crucially, in my area--raising platforms to allow people to get on to trains.
There will always be a problem in finding flexibility to allow the development of small businesses in the green belt. At some point, the problems of regulating farm shops must be sorted out, as must the problems of allowing non-agricultural businesses to occupy agricultural buildings. In the northern half of my constituency, the local economy depends to an enormous extent on such small enterprises.
The farmers and landowners of west Lancashire retain the sympathy and support of the rest of the population because the people in general like the countryside that has
Column 572been constructed--to an enormous extent--by farming practices during the centuries. The people of the area enjoy their access to the countryside for leisure activities, but they also enjoy their footpath access. Many farmers accommodate such access easily and with total co-operation. The other day, a farmer complained to me about the amount of time that he wasted talking to the nice people who walk along the path close to his land. Many other farmers are more hostile and sometimes actively obstruct footpaths.
The Minister was right to say that the countryside is a working and a living area and not merely a "chocolate box picture" for visitors to enjoy. I recall with pleasure the former Minister responsible for food saying that one should not set the countryside in aspic. One of my hon. Friends retorted, "If it was, you'd bloody well eat it." While we recognise that the countryside is a working and a living area, we must also acknowledge that there is poverty and isolation--I was pleased that Conservative Members also acknowledged that. Most rural areas suffer from homelessness, overcrowded homes and a drastic shortage of some services. If those issues are dealt with seriously in the White Paper, it may well gather widespread support--including support from Opposition Members--but if it does not, it will descend into platitudes and irrelevance, which will not help the future of rural England.
When we listened to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) outline Labour's plans, we had a fascinating insight into what the Opposition would do for the countryside. He spoke for approximately half an hour--indeed, for more than half an hour--but he did not say one word about farming. How can the Labour party construct a rural policy without mentioning farming once, when they know that it is the bedrock of our rural life?
The hon. Member for Leicester, East listed a heap of new regulations. He seems to want a new Domesday book, a tougher environment protection agency, more national parks bringing more regulation, a policy for woodlands and a legal right of access to roam on common land, moorland, mountains, woodlands and heaths, which would destroy many country jobs, especially those that depend on grouse shooting, and affect the status of many wild birds for which privacy and quiet are essential.
To cap it all, in between talking about telecottages--I thought that I knew what a cottager was, but I am not entirely sure what they are--the hon. Member for Leicester, East proposed a ban on hunting. In my constituency--I also defer to your opinion on such matters, Madam Speaker--there are seven packs of hounds and the local hunts provide a social life and dances, and are an integral part of the community, but the hon. Member for Leicester, East wants to ban them. In contrast, my hon. Friend the Minister produced some good ideas, and showed his firm commitment to the countryside, and his understanding that it is not a plaything for urban people, but predominantly a place where people work and live.
Column 573The countryside has manifest problems. First, there is far too much bureaucracy. Interestingly, my county of Northumberland has a population of just over 300,000, but it has no fewer than six district councils, one county council and one national park with planning powers. Now, the hon. Member for Leicester, East wants to add a regional development agency and the north of England assembly, on which the Labour party is especially keen. The poor Northumbrians would sink under that weight of bureaucracy.
The countryside already has too much bureaucracy. There are Ministries, organisations such as the Countryside Commission, English Nature and English Heritage, which are all valuable in their way, countless protection agencies, such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and animal welfare organisations, such as the League against Cruel Sports and others that want to stop us enjoying ourselves. The countryside is over- managed and, in many respects, over-governed.
I believe that the environmentally sensitive areas programme has been successful, but it gives rise to a problem. The danger is that the ESAs create environmental ghettos in parts of the countryside. Jobs inside the ESAs are slowly being destroyed. As farmers in those areas get more funds for not doing various things on their farms, so they have more money to spend renting grazing land in countryside belonging to other farmers who do not get the benefit of such grants. That is causing serious problems on the edges of the ESAs. People who have listened to this debate have had a warning about the kind of countryside that there would be if the Labour party were in power--one run by urban busybodies wanting to tell rural people how to live their lives. If we ever had a Labour Government it would be a case not of merry England, but of a very dreary countryside indeed. 9.25 pm
Although I am a Scot, I have the privilege of representing a Hampshire constituency which is the epitome of what rural England is all about-- beautiful, vibrant, productive, historic, well conserved, but probably over -gentrified by townspeople who have come to live there. It is certainly facing enormous pressures from nearby conurbations and from the spread of the concrete jungle.
I have an interest to declare, as a farmer. I get a slice of my income, and probably of my losses, from farming. I am also a member of the National Farmers Union, of the Country Landowners Association and of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. I acknowledge that there can be conflicts between the former and the latter. They may not always march in step, but they march towards the same objective: a viable rural economy. That is how they will achieve what they both want, and perhaps people like me can be a bridge between the organisations.
Rural England is not just fields, woods, valleys and rivers. It is nearly a quarter of the nation's resident population. They live there, but they do not all work there. This evening, I shall try to suggest one or two items that
Column 574the Government should consider for their forthcoming White Paper. That paper is timely, because another debate is under way about the common agricultural policy--the so-called CAP 3. It has been interesting to hear what hon. Members have to say about it this evening.
I hope that CAP 3 will be much more about the whole rural economy, not just about agriculture. Farmers and landowners are not only responsible for our food production; they are also the stewards of the nation's land and as such they must remain the focus of countryside policy. Farming remains the dominant land use in rural areas. CAP 3 must embrace agriculture but must also have clear objectives for the rural environment and for rural social economies. A sustainable rural policy for the United Kingdom must be the objective for CAP 3. In that way, we shall get a better return from the European Union and from the Commission than we have hitherto enjoyed.
Agriculture has already moved closer to the marketplace, but I should like it to reduce still further its reliance on supply control, and on subsidy payments. As a farmer I am only too well aware that my activities are already subject to many environmental regulations, because of the impact of agriculture on the environment, but I resent the compulsion of what is known as cross-compliance, which attaches conditions to subsidies or grants under the CAP.
For example, the small print on the back of the IACS--integrated administration and control system--forms says that farmers will receive no set-aside payments unless, for instance, they retain ponds and stone walls. The CAP insists on retention only: there is nothing to help with maintenance. It would be better to have separate, positive incentives for landowners and managers to maintain ponds and walls, and the moss roads to which the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) referred, so as to deliver the clean, attractive countryside, rich in wildlife, historic features and recreational opportunities, that we all want. At present, only 1 per cent. of last year's CAP budget of 36.5 billion ecu was devoted to agri-environment measures.
What about the workers in the countryside? Only a small proportion of that growing quarter of the nation's population who live in the countryside actually works there. Structural changes in farming have radically reduced the agricultural work force, while improved transport has extended from the cities the distances that people are now able to commute. Twenty years ago, only people like Sir Cedric Brown could commute to London from my home town. Now, the car park at the station holds 200 commuters' cars. Over the past decade, both population and employment have grown faster in rural areas than in urban areas, in spite of poor local communications and services, and higher infrastructure costs.
What about diversification? That is the way in which we shall retain the viability of our rural economies. My accountant constantly reminds me that the current tax rules are hideously complex and a real deterrent to farmers and landowners who wish to diversify. Two years ago, the Country Landowners Association proposed the idea of the rural business unit, which would allow all those commercial activities traditionally associated with a rural estate, with those that are being integrated, to be assessed as one trading unit for tax purposes. That is something that my right hon. and learned Friend the
Column 575Chancellor really should look at, because it would not only help the rural economy, but could also increase his tax revenues. For most people, the countryside will be seen as a place for recreation, and therefore good access is essential. We are all pleased to see what has already been done to make the countryside easier to enter and enjoy for those who are welcome, and more difficult to invade for those who are not.
Forestry has been mentioned. I am sorry that it will not be part of the White Paper. It took a terrible knock in the 1988 Budget. We have now seen a welcome trend towards broadleaf woodlands rather than conifers, thanks to the Government's woodland grants schemes, but there is a need to increase our woodland cover and also manage our existing woodland better than we are doing. We must look again at the tax provisions for woodland owners and forestry. If we do not, although we may well continue to see an increase in woodland planting, we may see less proper maintenance of existing woodlands, and we want them to be maintained so that they can be enjoyed in the way that we are accustomed to.
It is unlikely that we would have much woodland were it not for countryside sports, which have been mentioned by a number of hon. Members this evening. It would be a dreadful omission if, during a debate on rural England, we did not mention the financial and amenity benefits of field sports. The Cobham report, sponsored by the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports and updated three years ago, estimates that field sports generate £2.7 billion-worth of business and give recreation to more than 5 million people, of whom some 3.9 million are fishermen. Perhaps that is the only reason why the Labour party supports fishing. Field sports are estimated to support some 65,000 jobs. They improve access to the countryside. Those who manage them help to keep Britain beautiful and rich in wildlife, and they also assist in maintaining employment in both urban and rural areas. There is no doubt that, if one is to be able to diversify out of agriculture, the planning process must make it possible. At present, I do not believe that the development control system can do that. We must see a proper balance. I wish that other counties would take an example from Hampshire, which some time ago set up its Committee for Rural Hampshire, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord the Earl of Selborne, to address the problems of reaching balanced decisions on planning matters.
The committee's membership is drawn from councils at all levels--county, district and parish, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Hampshire Council of Community Service, the Hampshire Wildlife Trust, MAFF, the National Farmers Union and the Rural Development Commission. It brings together all those bodies to
"promote a just and fair balance in the use and management of Hampshire's rural resources and sustain the well-being of balanced rural communities."
It will make a submission on what it thinks should go in the White Paper. It will be extremely valuable. If only other counties around the country had similar committees, it would be extremely useful. Much has been said about the countryside, but one important subject that has not been touched on is rural crime. I am glad to see farm watch schemes springing up
Column 576everywhere, as criminals go for what they imagine will be easy pickings in the countryside. We have some schemes around us. I have put down a few markers for CAP 3, which is crucial and should be part of what is considered within the rural White Paper. I particularly welcome the Agricultural Tenancies Bill, which we shall be debating on Monday week and I look forward to the levelling of the European playing field.
It is with some authority that I can say that British farmers and landowners, together with many other people, will ensure that the rural England remains not only economically viable but the green and pleasant land that we want to see.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): This has been an important debate. I am only sorry that many of my colleagues from rural constituencies in the north of England have had to return home tonight because of the deplorable weather conditions of which the Minister will be aware.
However, they have made it clear that they give me their full support, along with those of my hon. Friends who are here, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) who made an excellent contribution on behalf of his constituents. Not all Opposition Members can afford to live full-time in London, so they go home to their constituencies as soon as they can.
In Britain, 23 per cent. of the population live in rural England. When it comes to the way in which they are treated, they sometimes rightly think that they are the forgotten people. Many live in what some Conservative Members might regard as Conservative fiefdoms, but a great deal of good that has done them. We have seen their response to that in the verdicts delivered by local people in the recent county council elections.
Many British people have the same needs wherever they live, but the rural areas result in different emphases and circumstances. As has been said by some hon. Members tonight, not everything in the country is rosy. For example, 8.1 per cent. of the rural population is over 75--a higher percentage than in urban areas.
The elderly have particular needs. For example, they rely on rural sub-post offices. Despite what has been said today, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made it clear that it is still his intention to privatise the Post Office. The privatisation of the Post Office is bound to affect the range of services provided by sub-post offices.
Even now, the move to have pensions paid directly into bank accounts is affecting the viability of many sub-post offices.There is no doubt that a privatised Post Office would ultimately lead to two-tier pricing for postal services, with higher charges for those who live in rural communities.
Some Conservative Members might say that that guarantees have been given and that there will be protection in law for single pricing for the postal service, but similar guarantees were given with regard to single pricing for the delivery of gas. That is no longer the case. The further away one lives from the points of entry in Britain, the higher the gas charge will be.
Column 577With regard to health, 74 per cent. of parishes have no general practitioner practices to which they need access.
Transport has been mentioned. The deregulation of buses has been a disaster for country areas. My village used to have an early morning work service going into the town. Now, some people who live in villages in my constituency are asked when they go for a job interview whether they have a car. Employers want to ensure that they can get into work. They do not have a car because they do not have a job and cannot buy one. They cannot get into work because there is no bus service. There is no bus service so they cannot get a job. That is the situation in many rural villages.
What new services there have been as a result of deregulation have not been extra services on Sundays or services to the more remote areas. They have been provided by the odd bloke in the second-hand coach with a bit of cardboard in the windscreen saying where he is going.
Mr. Morley: I see that in the rural areas in my constituency. Such people do not provide a comprehensive service; they move in on the peaks. Many long-standing small private operators who have provided a good service should not have to face such unfair competition. A quarter of all women living in rural areas have no access to a car, and 73 per cent. of parishes have no bus service. I see no Government policies to help that.
The trains are under threat. I do not believe that the rural train service in my constituency will survive if British Rail is privatised. I hope that the Government will see sense in the matter and recognise the feeling of people who live in rural areas who do not want to see British Rail privatised and who fear for the future.
I was amazed by the comments of the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who said that there were enough empty homes to meet the needs of the homeless and that Government policies would help. Government policy, however, has moved towards market rents, which are not much different from mortgage repayments in many parts of the country. If people cannot make mortgage repayments, they can hardly pay market rents. The Government have accepted that in recognising the increasing cost of housing benefit, which they intend to cut, placing more strain on those who must find the shortfall. Moreover, those who lose their jobs will no longer receive as much mortgage support, which will increase homelessness and other problems.
A large proportion of people living in rural areas are self-employed--16.6 per cent.--and there is a wide variation in unemployment statistics. Wages tend to be lower in the country: 55 per cent. of workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing earn less than £200 a week. A minimum wage policy would therefore be very welcome in rural areas.
Low pay means that affordable housing is needed. People are being priced out of rural areas; they are being forced to leave the villages for the towns. Between 1990 and 1993, only 8,800 public sector homes were provided
Column 578in rural areas, meeting only 11 per cent. of housing need. The Housing Corporation target in 1994 was 1,850 new homes, 6 per cent. of the total need.
The right to buy has been a disaster in rural areas. Even Glanford borough council, in my constituency--which is
Conservative-controlled--has complained bitterly about what it has done in the countryside, removing affordable homes and not giving local councils, whether Labour or Conservative, an opportunity to replace them because of Government restrictions. Some members of Conservative local authorities, however, do not recognise the problem. When challenged about homelessness, Glanford borough council's Tory housing chairman said that there was no homelessness in the area: he had asked persistently for the names and addresses of those involved, and no one had been able to give them to him. In 1992-93, 46,270 adults and children were accepted as homeless. In January 1993, 4,542 families were in temporary accommodation. No one can deny that there are positive aspects of living in the community; it is often a nice place in which to live. As someone who lives in a village, I feel that the greatest advantage is the strength of the local community, shown in community action and village hall committees. I am proud to have played a modest part in the provision of a village hall in my own community. Good work is also done by parish and town councils, women's institutes, community councils, Action for Communities in Rural England and the Coalfields Communities Campaign. There is huge support for the voluntary sector--more than £20 billion worth, according to an estimate by the Centre for Policy Studies.
Football and other sporting clubs, such as Winterton Rangers, have applied for rate relief. As the Minister will know, it is discretionary. Winterton Rangers complained to the ombudsman about Glanford borough council, and the ombudsman criticised the council-- [Interruption.] As the Minister suggests, it is a local authority decision, but he should realise that some borough councils--such as Scunthorpe--give 100 per cent. rate relief, while others such as Glanford are very difficult about it. Community organisations are being treated unfairly, and I hope that the Government will do something about it.
The problem may, in fact, be solved. Glanford and Scunthorpe are being amalgamated along with part of Boothferry, to form a new authority. The difference in political control will affect the situation, and I hope that all the rural football clubs who want their rate relief will support the establishment of a
Labour-controlled North Lincolnshire authority. That will certainly provide better quality services.
There is no point in trying to duck the issue of Government policy towards the shire counties. We have heard about the problems of rural schools. Many shire counties have done badly out of the standard spending assessment calculation. A great deal of money has been shifted to the south-east, so it is little wonder that many rural schools are under threat. Labour- controlled councils, such as that in Humberside, have an excellent record of providing nursery facilities and of supporting tiny rural schools in my constituency. I doubt whether those schools would survive under any other political control.
Under Nicholas Ridley there was a huge growth in out-of-town planning and that had an impact on village and town shops. It will be said that people have a right to go to supermarkets and that is a fair point, but there should be balanced out-of-town development and a central
Column 579balance, and the impact that too much out-of -town development can have on rural shops and small towns and their centres must be recognised. We are currently experiencing that impact and there is a need for greater awareness. I hope that the Minister will confirm that planning systems within strong structural plans will be the principal future means of resolving land use conflicts. I hope he will recognise that planning in particular should meet local needs and should not be market driven.
We need a sensible roads policy, but if road building is reduced--and there are arguments for that--people must be provided with an alternative, and that must be public transport. Policies such as the privatisation of the railways and bus deregulation will not provide that alternative. Bus deregulation has led to higher fares, fewer services and a falling number of passengers.
Agriculture has an important influence on the countryside. Sadly, only about 3 per cent. of the population are employed in agriculture, and that percentage is declining. Between 1987 and 1998, it is projected that 38,000 full-time agricultural workers will be made redundant. In that period 20,000 farmers will leave farming. We must meet that challenge and the impact that it will have on the rural economy.
We must tackle the issue of the common agricultural policy which urgently needs reform. I pay tribute to the National Farmers Union, which produced an excellent document entitled "Real Choices", for recognising these changes and challenges. Support for agriculture has an important part to play in terms of agri-environment policy. We must support new entrants even in a declining market.
I am sure that the Minister has read, as I have, the 1993 report on agriculture in the European Union which contains some interesting statistics. For example, Britain is at the bottom of the European league for support given to entrants to farming. We are even below Luxembourg. Support has declined from 159,000 ecu in 1991 to 127,000 ecu. We should compare that with France, which supported new entrants to the tune of 100 million ecu. That is a considerable difference. I recognise the impact of farming on the landscape and on recreation and leisure, nature conservation and jobs. There must be a balance between those, and schemes such as those for set-aside are especially important in that regard. The countryside is important to everyone in England and everyone pays for supporting it through taxes, the common agricultural policy and other schemes. The importance of tourism and recreation in supporting the countryside must not be underestimated.
There is great scope for agricultural reform that will support new access and diversification. We must support farmers in adapting farm buildings so that they can be used for businesses such as farm shops which sell everything from meat to ice cream.
The right to roam has been mentioned. I am strongly in favour of what most people see as a popular and sensible policy which applies only to uncultivated and common land. It is unacceptable for people such as the Duke of Westminster, who owns large areas of Bowland, to restrict access for millions of responsible people who simply want to walk on the land. There is no point in the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) saying that that would destroy nature conservation when I know that many birds, such as the hen harrier, are being illegally destroyed in that
Column 580area by gamekeepers. When there is better nature conservation, I might have more sympathy with restricting access.
Conservation is an important issue, but time does not allow me to deal with it now. Indeed, it is worthy of a debate in its own right. The Minister will have seen the recent report called "The Bio-Diversity Challenge", produced by the Butterfly Conservation Group, Friends of the Earth, Plant Life, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildlife Trust and the World Wide Fund for Nature. I know that he will welcome it, as I do. I hope that he recognises the targets set in the report as being achievable and important. Above all, I hope that he recognises that rural policy needs an integrated and balanced approach. All Government policies are relevant to both rural and urban areas and many of our people in both those communities feel that the Government have failed them miserably.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning): As my hon. Friend the Minister explained at the beginning of the debate, it has come at an opportune time. It is important that at the start of an exercise such as the production of a White Paper we establish the views of all those with an interest and identify the issues that are important to them. It has been helpful to hear the views of hon. Members tonight, especially those who represent truly rural constituencies. They have spoken with the depth of knowledge that that representation brings to them.
Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene at this early stage of her remarks, especially with the short time that is available to her. Does she agree that the speech that we heard for 26 minutes from the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) was a diatribe of nothing but ignorance and prejudice? Does she further agree that his absence from the Chamber during the winding-up speeches is discourteous not only to the House but to the rural residents of Leicestershire and the country?
Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I had intended to draw attention to the fact that the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) was based on his experience of travelling on and looking through the windows of InterCity trains at night. Speaking as a truly rural Member representing a constituency in the heart of Devon, I can tell him that people there would have sussed him out in a couple of minutes. He certainly does not have any real muck on his boots at home. In fact, I would be surprised if he even possessed a pair of boots. His knowledge of working life in the rural communities is somewhat suspect. However, he made a good try, given the fact that behind him were the massed ranks of Labour Members who show great interest in rural communities and the important issues that the House has discussed tonight.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) was the one token representative of the Liberal Democrat party, which trumpets its support for and knowledge of rural life throughout the country. However, even the hon. Gentleman is not here for the end of the debate.
Column 581Democratic spokesman for the wind-up of the debate. Some of us have sat through the debate but not had an opportunity to speak, so we consider that to be a gross discourtesy.
Had the hon. Gentleman stayed, he might have had an opportunity to comment on the issue of rural schools, which he has said are so important to the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps he could have told us why, last Thursday evening, Liberal Democratic councillors in my constituency went around a village with a small school threatened with closure promising that the school would be safe in their hands, yet the next morning they voted with the Labour group to close the school. Only the Conservative group opposed it.
Mrs. Browning: I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents will be glad that he has put that fact on the record. As we all know, the difficulty with the Liberal Democrats is that they say what people want to hear, but when they go to another area or when they have an opportunity to vote they speak or vote in a different way. The rural areas have come to understand their tactics.
We welcome the fact not only that the White Paper will be produced for England, but that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced today that the Scottish Office will embark upon a similar procedure for Scotland. I know from conversation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales that the Welsh Office is also showing great interest and has done some work in that area.
Many Conservative Members made significant speeches, talking with the knowledge of the issues that affect their constituents in rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), speaking not only as a rural Member of Parliament, but with the background knowledge that he gained as a Minister, raised many issues appertaining to his constituency, such as the military, housing, law and order, special constables, the pattern of agriculture, tenancy and derelict land.
All those issues are for debate and discussion. The Government hope that hon. Members who have spoken, including my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, are happy that the White Paper, when it is produced, will not simply be an introspective look at what is going on. It will be a way of taking forward and fashioning policy. That is in stark contrast to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), who again played the politics of fear with post offices, and other policies that affect people in rural areas, who are genuinely worried when the facts are not put to them, and when they are frightened into thinking that somehow they will be deprived of their post offices and other facilities. Playing the politics of fear is cynical. Many hon. Members mentioned that many people in rural areas are vulnerable and elderly. That tactic is especially deplorable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) raised many issues. I can give him some positive answers to the specific issues that he raised. One concerned the case of Colonel Owen. I assure him that the guidelines on purchasing property will be amended following the Court of Appeal judgment. The matter is in hand, and I hope that he will be reassured.
Column 582So far, no planning application has been made to Solihull metropolitan borough council to build a new football stadium in the green belt. I am aware, however, that the matter has been discussed. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden heard hon. Members raise other issues, and I hope that he will allow me to pursue them. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) raised many issues, but especially referred to several points in planning policy guidance note 2, which we welcome. I am grateful for the support that he gave to it. He raised specific issues and I assure him that I will draw them to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister, who will write to him. They are technical and detailed and I cannot cover them all this evening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), again speaking with the knowledge of a rural Member, raised the issue of CAP 3. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister has asked a panel of people to consider specifically the future of the common agricultural policy. My hon. Friend was especially anxious that environmental issues should be taken into account in fashioning the future of CAP. I assure him that the panel that has been appointed by my right hon. Friend will consider that.
Many hon. Members said that agriculture is still at the heart of rural life, although we understand the changes that agriculture has undergone. It is important, both for this country and for our role in the European Community, that we press on with reform of CAP and that we get it right. The introduction of new member states, many of which expect to enter the Community by the year 2000, will pose a great challenge to the CAP. That policy would not bear the additional costs and strains of widening the Community, although we support that widening.
I assure hon. Members that we want to influence our European partners so that the CAP will be reformed. We do not always have the support of all our partners, which is needed, but it is no good just saying that reform must be introduced. We must tell our partners how we believe it should be done and we should set out a strategy. It is for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Minister has formed the committee, which I hope will report with a positive and practical structure for reform.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside mentioned his support for rural business units. The House will be aware that the Bunbury report was presented to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The issues are being dealt with and they have been discussed. I am sympathetic to suggestions for rationalisation of rural taxation, but those are matters for my right hon. and learned Friend.
I am grateful to the truly rural hon. Members who did not allow a little snow to prevent them from being here this evening. Those of us who live in rural areas are not put off by the elements; we get on with life just the same. I am grateful for their contributions, and I am sure that the White Paper will benefit from the suggestions that we have heard tonight.
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Dr. Liam Fox.]