Members present:
              Mr Andrew F Bennett, in the Chair
              Mr Hilary Benn
              Mr Crispin Blunt
              Mr Tom Brake
              Mr Brian H Donohoe
              Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody
              Mrs Louise Ellman
              Dr Stephen Ladyman
              Miss Anne McIntosh
              Mr Bill Olner
              Mr George Stevenson
                 RT HON MICHAEL MEACHER, a Member of the House, (Minister for the
           Environment), and MR HENRY CLEARY, Divisional Manager, Rural
           Development Division, Department of the Environment, Transport and
           the Regions, examined.
        1.    Can I welcome you back to the full Committee today. Could I ask
  you to identify yourself and your colleague for the record, please?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes, indeed, Chairman. Still, since yesterday, Michael
  Meacher, Minister for the Environment and on my left Henry Cleary, who is Head
  of the Rural Development Division of the DETR.
        2.    Now I know you normally do not want to make an opening statement. 
  Do you want to on this occasion?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think opening statements are a way of distracting
  essentially from your priorities, which I prefer to concentrate on. I will
  make one sentence though which I think I should perhaps put up front. We
  intend to publish an implementation plan for the delivery of the White Paper
  early in the New Year.
        3.    Can I press you as to what "early in the New Year" is?
        (Mr Meacher)   We did have a lengthy discussion at the beginning on the
  word "soon" yesterday.
        4.    I assumed you picked that with care from this lexicon of words.
        (Mr Meacher)   I think you exaggerate my solicitude for terminology. I
  would hope in January. Is there any reason why we should not?
        (Mr Cleary) We need to consult with partners. It is going to be shared
  with a number of partners who are going to implement.
        (Mr Meacher)   It is other departments.
        Mr Blunt:   That is May.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        5.    So "soon" is not a very accurate account?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think soon remains pretty accurate.
        6.    Your hope is January?
        (Mr Meacher)   My hope is January, yes.
        Dr Ladyman: He has not said which New Year.
                               Mr Blunt
        7.    Minister, why does the White Paper assume that a considerable
  number of "executive homes" will continue to be built in villages? How many
  new executive homes do you expect to be built in villages over the next 20
        (Mr Meacher)   The thrust of the Rural White Paper is to increase the
  number of affordable homes that are being built.  We propose to double the
  Housing Corporation Approved Development Programme which will increase the
  affordable home build from 800 to 1,600 a year.  It increases under that
  Approved Development Programme the percentage of affordable homes from 3.4 to
  6.4 per cent.  In addition, there is the increase in local authority social
  housing grants which we estimate will provide, also, something of the order
  of another thousand a year.  We will continue with the Rural Exceptions
  Policy.  We believe, also, that the exercise of existing planning powers
  should increase something of the order perhaps of another 500 affordable
  homes, a total of around 3,000 homes.  Now, combined with that, there can be
  some increase in executive homes. I think it will be small. We are drawing
  attention of local authorities, to the fact that the exercise of planning
  powers is in their hands. It is perfectly possible in the light of need in
  their area to have a one for one policy, namely for each market or executive
  home, if you call it that, there could be one affordable home. 
        8.    Does that not lead then to rather more the incentive to grant
  planning permission for executive homes? If you are doing one for one then
  that means every time you put up an executive home, you need one of them to
  get an affordable home.
        (Mr Meacher)   Against the background where in the past, in the last
  couple of decades we have sometimes had 25 executive homes for every
  affordable home, if it is one for one that is a dramatic change in the other
  direction.  We do not believe that in the light of housing deprivation the
  numbers are very large that need to be met but we believe that a build in
  small communities of less than 3,000 population, very small communities,
  doubling the number and getting it to a total of about 3,000, or if you look
  at all rural districts about 9,000 a year, that will meet the need. In
  addition, if there is some demand for executive homes, we believe that can be
  met consistent with our overriding objective for affordable homes.
        9.    What impact do you expect your proposed house building rates
  firstly in villages and secondly in market towns to have on outward migration
  of households from urban to rural areas?
        (Mr Meacher)   The aim is to concentrate the build of affordable homes
  in market towns.  Increasingly, we believe it should be concentrated in market
  towns. They are intended to be the focus for regeneration, the provider for
  services within the area.
        10.      That is what you mean, is it?  You say in Chapter 9 of the Rural
  White Paper that it should be market towns, as you have just said. Of course
  what you say in Chapter 5 on affordable housing is significant numbers of
  affordable houses can be built in villages specifically in association with
  at least as many private houses.  Which do you mean?
        (Mr Meacher)   You did not give me a chance to finish my sentence. I am
  saying that it should increasingly be concentrated in market towns but we do
  recognise that there is a particular need in some areas for some increase in
  build in small villages.  It would be in small numbers and only compatible
  with the characterisation of the village. There is some need, some young
  people growing up, marrying, wanting a house, at the moment not able to buy
  one.  Now we do intend to try and meet that need.
        11.      If these houses go on being built in the countryside, in the
  South East of England the Government signed up to these huge numbers in
  opposition to local authorities and local authorities collectively, surely all
  you are going to do is continue the motion we have had before, the migration
  from towns and cities into the countryside? This policy will not stop that,
  will it?
        (Mr Meacher)   There are several points there, very political issues
  about this question of build on the countryside.  First of all, we are not
  increasing the build in the countryside at all as a result of the Rural White
  Paper, we are simply concentrating on a greater proportion of the build being
  affordable homes.  That is the thrust of the paper.  You raise also the wider
  question of what you call, I cannot remember your adjective but extensive
  build on the countryside in the South East.
        12.      Concreting over the countryside.
        (Mr Meacher)   We have made repeatedly clear that as a result of using
  increased density we are not using any more land than under the SERPLAN
  proposal. There is not, contrary to what you say, an increased concreting over
  or building on the countryside, that is not the case. The Rural White Paper
  is not about that more general issue, it is about meeting specific and
  targeted need in specific areas, mainly in market towns but also in some
        13.      SERPLAN are only responding to the central government's own
  figures.  It is a complicated negotiation.  The local authorities in the South
  East and so on are just seeing how low they can get this figure to have some
  form of agreement with you and your Department.  These are not the numbers the
  people in the South East want that SERPLAN represent, so to then say we are
  going to represent no more land than SERPLAN are allocating, if you are trying
  to say that represents the views of local people, it does not. You know it
  does not because you know how the system works.
        (Mr Meacher)   Chairman, this is going rather wider than the Rural White
  Paper. I am perfectly prepared to go down this avenue but I think this is a
  broader issue. The fact is the Government is required - all governments are
  required - to take account of the demographic demand for new house build. That
  is a figure which is regularly updated every five years. Once we have that
  figure, and we try to make it as reliable as possible, we then have to
  allocate that across different regions of the country and through local
  authorities or through regional planning guidance.  That is exactly what we
  have done.  The fact is there is a demand for new housing and one cannot get
  away from that. There are changes in demographic structures, more elderly
  people, more young people preferring to live alone for longer periods before
  they may marry or live together. The fact is there are more refugees from
  marriages.  All of those are true and they increase the demand for housing.
        14.      There are not more people.  It would seem rather sensible to look
  at some of the social issues which underlie that in order to address the
  household arrangements.  How will you ensure that the affordable homes, the
  executive homes and everything else are going to be primarily for people from
  that region, from the countryside, rather than at the end incomers perhaps who
  may buy them and be the second owners of those homes?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.  This is, of course, a matter primarily for local
  authorities. They are building in response to evidence of local need. The
  properties are intended for people who have lived in the area for a long time
  and who can demonstrate that. With regard to the right to buy, of course,
  which has in the past substantially reduced the availability of affordable
  homes, we have new rules now which require a right to buy which is not
  restricted. We are not proposing to restrict it in rural areas but the right
  to resell is restricted in the sense that it has to go back to the local
  authorities and registered social landlord within ten years or if it is being
  sold on after that period it has to go to someone who has lived and worked in
  the area for at least three years. The main point is we are building more
  houses. The pressure, the reduction in the availability of affordable homes,
  was mainly because of the effect of very little build over the last decade,
  in conjunction with the cumulative impact of the right to buy.
        15.      Can I just ask you, are you sure you are not pressing for more
  executive homes to pay for the social housing?
        (Mr Meacher)   No, we are not doing that. I think there is a demand for
  executive homes. I think many people would like to live in the countryside.
  Although we are trying to address that by reducing that demand by making
  living in urban areas more attractive.  Of course the whole of the Urban White
  Paper is about trying to produce the conditions: better quality services,
  better transport, less crime.  Now these things are not easy to deliver, as
  we all know, but the intention is to improve quality in urban areas to reduce
  the flight to the countryside.
                               Mr Olner
        16.      On farm diversification, Minister, are you happy that the
  planning system that you are going to put in is robust enough or are we just
  playing with minor tweaks at it?
        (Mr Meacher)   This is a major issue. There is no doubt that the
  interface between the planning system and the farming community has not always
  worked well in the past.  We have looked at this very carefully. Nick
  Raynsford, my colleague, has certainly discussed this. He has had major
  meetings with the various stakeholders. The general view which we share is
  that it is not the planning system as such which has to bring together
  conflicting interests which is always difficult to reconcile but it is the
  manner in which it is managed and delivered which is at fault.  First of all,
  the planning system often appears unduly rigid and bureaucratic.
        17.      But is that not always the case?  If you do not get what you want
  it is rigid and bureaucratic, if it gives you what you want it is nice and
        (Mr Meacher)   That is true. That does influence perceptions, of course. 
  The point I am making is that even when you are saying no to someone, which
  you have to do, for good reasons that are set down, there are ways of doing
  it. You either just say "no" in a forbidding and prohibitive manner or you say
  "Well, we cannot provide what you want in that location for these reasons but
  have you actually thought about alternatives at another location or in a
  different way or modified in a certain way which if you were to look at we
  might be able to take a different view?". That is a much more consumer
  friendly planning system. I  think on the other side, farmers who are
  notoriously rugged and individualistic people who do not brook much
  interference with what is a pretty tough life for them and do not easily react
  to officialdom, I think we can do more to assess them, either for the small
  business service providing more assistance, perhaps someone to hold their
  hand, if you like, in their relations with the planning system.
                               Mr Olner
        18.      Is not the planning system a soft target in the Rural White
  Paper?  We are looking at the Rural White Paper to give more financial
  assistance and advice and training to farmers.
        (Mr Meacher)   I am not sure the problem with the planning system is a
  question of money. We are looking at the question of agricultural permitted
  development rights, but only after discussion with the interested parties, and
  now is not the best time in view of the state of the agricultural community.
  We are proposing to update planning guidance. If there is a need for more
  financial support in this area I think we will look at it. I do not think that
  is the real problem, it is a relational issue and the manner in which farmers,
  when they need to diversify, perfectly properly, we are encouraging them to
  do so.
        19.      How do we measure the environmental impact of some of these
  changes within the farming community, Minister?
        (Mr Meacher)   That, of course, is exactly what the duty of planning
  officers is to do. The planning department does have to look at farm
  diversification because we are issuing new planning guidance to encourage more
  farm diversification but in a manner which does not undermine the basic
  character of the countryside.  You can only make that judgment on the merits
  of each case. It is a judgment which can be made, I think.
        20.      Surely you accept that rural areas could easily and very quickly
  be spoilt if inappropriate industry is allowed to develop in the countryside,
  particularly on farmers' land?
        (Mr Meacher)   Absolutely. We are not suggesting a major factory should
  suddenly spring up around the countryside, it has to be compatible with the
  general character of the countryside, that is absolutely right. That is why
  planning departments do have to say no. Some proposals are, frankly,
  unacceptable.  As I say, it is the manner in which you say it. If you explain
  to the applicant, to the potential developer, to the farmer, as to why it is
  not appropriate, what are the limitations of acceptability, try to get him to
  understand, hopefully he will look at alternatives.
        21.      Having seen in the past some agricultural workers' residencies
  built as executive homes, as Crispin was talking about earlier, when we build
  these executive homes in the countryside should we not be laying rules down
  as to where these executives work? Certainly with agricultural workers'
  residencies there were strict regulations that they were for agricultural
  workers only. Should we not be looking at strengthening that on the question
  of executive homes?
        (Mr Meacher)   My understanding is that planning departments would look
  at the location of a proposed executive home. You could not suddenly turn a
  barn out in a field into a massive new executive home. I imagine in almost all
  cases that would be turned down, that is not an appropriate development.
                              Mr Donohoe
        22.      There are a number of reports of fairly major programmes on road
  bypasses. Can you just confirm, I know in the White Paper it says something
  like a billion pounds over the next three years, is that a figure which you
  would suggest is accurate?
        (Mr Meacher)   It is part of the ten year transport plan. We do
  anticipate, I think, about 50 rural bypasses.
        23.      Over the period of ten years?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
        24.      But over the next three years is that expenditure in the order
  of a billion pounds?
        (Mr Meacher)   A billion pounds? I thought it was over ten, but correct
  me if I am wrong.
        25.      The White Paper states that you are allocating a billion pounds
  over the next three years on rural programmes.
        (Mr Meacher)   If the Rural White Paper says it, it must be right.
        26.      You agree with that then?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes, I do.
        27.      That is a step in the right direction,  is it not?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
        28.      Can I just ask in connection with the situation of bypasses, I
  have visited a number of bypasses recently built and there are a number of
  issues, not least the environmental impact that they are making. Just what are
  you taking into account as far as that situation is concerned?
        (Mr Meacher)   All new roads, including rural bypasses, are subject to
  the Government's new approach to appraisal which includes the five headings:
  safety, environment, which is the point that you have just raised, economy,
  integration, and one that I cannot recall. Those five tests have to be applied
  and they have to pass on each of those tests before the road can go ahead.
  There is no question that there would be a presumption against any new road
  development which in any significant way adversely affected environmentally
  sensitive sites.
        29.      You are going to lay down, are you, specifications for the type
  of surface on these roads as well as everything else? Some of these roads are
  built of concrete which is absolutely unbelievably noisy. They will be laid
  down as well as everything else as far as conditions are concerned. You will
  also create a situation where if a bypass needs to be built near to a home,
  say within half a mile of that home, automatically they will be given grants
  to double glaze and triple glaze their properties, will they?
        (Mr Meacher)   On the question of road noise, we are proposing, if I
  recall, 60 per cent of trunk roads will be resurfaced over the next ten years
  with, I think in most cases, low noise porous asphalt.  With regard to double
  glazing where people are living within a certain distance of, say, roads which
  have a concrete surface, I think those are normally granted. I cannot remember
  the conditions, whether it is automatic.  Certainly on the basis of
  application and certainly within half a mile, depending again on the contours
  of the land, I would expect grants for double glazing to be given. If you want
  a further note I would be glad to give it.
        30.      Can I take you back to this question about industry development
  in rural areas. How do you get over the problem that very often you start with
  a small industry development which is perfectly appropriate for the rural
  scene but then it starts to get bigger and bigger?
        (Mr Meacher)   You are raising a question of whether further planning
  permission is required if it is going to be turned from an acceptable small
  development into a possibly unacceptable large development. Again, I think it
  is true that - I am trying to think of the rules - there is no requirement for
  new planning permission for larger development or, indeed, for change of use.
        (Mr Cleary) I think we come here to one of the objectives of the White
  Paper which is to strike a balance between the need to achieve the level of
  business activity which will support rural communities, whether it is in
  market towns or on farms and, as you say, development which is contrary to the
  character of either the town or the open countryside. What the White Paper
  does is to illustrate some of the ways in which that balance will be achieved.
  Part of it is in relation to agricultural diversification, as we have heard
  already, part of it is in relation to market towns.  For example, one of the
  changes which is heralded in the White Paper, is the changes to PPG13 which
  will aim to strike a balance between, for example, the demands that transport
  places on the rural infrastructure and the need to ensure healthy growth in
  towns but also in farms, which increasingly are going to have to diversify in
  order to survive as viable units.
        (Mr Meacher)   The question, I think, Chairman, if I can say it is if you
  have a small development which has been approved how do we prevent it growing
  into a larger one which is unacceptable? I am not absolutely certain of the
  answer to that since I am not the planning minister.
        (Mr Cleary) I think the answer to that is that if you are on a farm,
  for example, if you want to change use from agriculture into an alternative
  use you must apply for planning permission. 
        31.      I understand that.
        (Mr Cleary) Part of that planning permission is actually setting
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        32.      The difficulty about that, I mean I have an instance, is that
  farmers are caught in this Catch 22 situation. If they try to diversify and
  they attract a certain amount of support then they are in danger of tipping
  over into a real industrial development and they become very unpopular not
  only with their neighbours but with everybody else. Certainly I have one unit
  which has consistently grown and it is right out in the countryside and it is
  now very specifically industrial development. Frankly no-one has put workable
  limits on that, so every time planning permission is refused they simply
  appeal and get it on the grounds that if someone else has done it so should
        (Mr Meacher)   It is the case that original planning applications, if
  approved, are subject to certain limits.
        33.      I understand the limit but the problem is that a firm sets up in
  an area, it employs perhaps 20 people locally, then there is the opportunity
  to expand to employ 40 people.
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
        34.      The pressure on the local authority is very considerable. They
  say "if you turn it down and we cannot have permission to go up to 40 we will
  move away to somewhere else and you will lose the 20 local jobs".  The
  temptation is to allow it to grow and to grow.  In fact, most of our big
  companies in this country started off as small ones. 
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes, I do understand that, but it is also the case that
  if there is a limit on the size of the development which is approved, you
  cannot go over that without putting the matter back to the planning
        35.      I understand that. Can I take you on to the rural enterprise
  scheme and the small business advice service. How far do they really give
  people advice and are they good at giving advice on what is an appropriate
  development on a farm to avoid these sort of problems coming along?
        (Mr Meacher)   We are proposing, as I did say, to issue new planning
  guidance precisely to show how we are proposing to ease the problem of farm
  diversification but also to show the limits within which it will be allowed,
  namely that there is a need to maintain the basic character of the
                              Dr Ladyman
        36.      I would like to explore some issues about wildlife and habitat,
  if I may, Minister.  We have seen a lot of habitat lost, we have seen
  intensive farming and as a consequence we have lost a lot of bird species. How
  are you going to go about reversing the decline in farmland birds?
        (Mr Meacher)   I am glad to say that we have begun to have some success
  and these things are long term, so I am not saying it is all this Government. 
  I do think some of the proposals that we have put in place in the last few
  years are beginning to have an effect. In the last headline indicator on
  farmland bird population, I was able to announce that there has been a four
  to five per cent increase in bird populations, including some rare species
  like the Red Kite and the White Tailed Eagle, which is the first time we have
  been able to announce that.  The basic causes are, I think, very widespread,
  basically to do with the intensification of agriculture over the last 50
  years, changes from spring to autumn sowing which reduces stubble rich fields
  for birds because it is not available during the winter, the reduction in
  field margins, the extensive reduction of hedgerows and, over the last 50
  years again, there is evidence that appears to have been arrested in the
  course of the 1990s and is gradually now increasing.  It is a matter of
  addressing those basic causes. We are taking powers, and have taken powers,
  in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, as it now is, to protect wildlife
  in sites of special scientific interest. We have given statutory underpinning
  to biodiversity action plans for the first time. We have laid an obligation
  on Government departments and local authorities to take account of
  biodiversity in planning their policies.  This is, I think, a collection of
  policies which is more extensive and goes further than ever before. I
  appreciate there is still a problem, I think we have turned the bottom but we
  have a long way to go up. 
        37.      The Government has decided not to go down the route of a
  pesticide tax.  We know the agri-environment payments will cover a minority
  of parkland areas.  Is that something that you regret? Is it something you
  will look at again?
        (Mr Meacher)   On agri-environment we have, as you know - Nick Brown did
  make an announcement about a year ago, I think, as I am sure you are all aware
  - the England Rural Development Programme, the switch from the production of
  subsidies to agri-environment schemes amounting to 1.6 billion over seven
  years, so that is very considerable.
        38.      It is not that considerable, is it, compared with the whole of
  the expenditure on the CAP?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is perfectly correct. The amount which is paid to
  this country in CAP terms is about 2 billion a year and the proportion of
  switch increases from two and a half per cent to four and a half per cent over
  those seven years.  I do understand, and I think the Minister of Agriculture
  would also agree, that we do need to go further. The point is modulation, as
  it is technically called, does produce substantial gainers and losers at a
  time when farm incomes are extremely low and in some cases still going down.
  It is very difficult to get a greater switch at this time. We do need to go
  further, I agree. On the pesticides issue, Government's clear position is that
  we want to reduce the adverse environmental impacts from excess pesticide use. 
  The question is whether that is done through taxation or whether it is done
  through a voluntary approach. We have not excluded at some point the
  possibility of a tax if the voluntary approach does not produce the necessary
  result. We have been in touch with the British Agri Chemical Association - it
  is now I think the Crop Protection Association - who are, of course, opposed
  to the tax and asked them to produce their proposals on a voluntary basis to
  achieve that objective.  I think it is fair to say that their first set of
  proposals were rather feeble, that is certainly my view. They consulted the
  relevant interests who took a similar view.  They then produced a further set
  of proposals which we are currently examining which are better, but in my view
  still not adequate.  As the Chancellor indicated in the Pre-Budget Report last
  month, we are having very serious discussions with them in the context of the
  period leading up to the Budget.  That is as far as I can take it.
        Chairman:   It is fairly blunt. 
                              Dr Ladyman
        39.      The Government has responsibilities under the Common Rules
  Regulations to try and focus more of our agricultural subsidies on
  environmental protection. Are you confident that you are going to be able to
  fulfil your requirements? Have you drawn any conclusions on how you will move
  that in the right direction?
        (Mr Meacher)   This does come back to the intention to make this switch
  to support the Rural Development Programme which I have already referred to.
  Others may take the view it is still not adequate. It is a watershed in my
  view.  It is a very significant switch, a significant switch in the direction
  of CAP funds away from production subsidies to the whole area issue of agri-
  environment, as I say, 1.6 billion over seven years. We would like to build
  on that but it does involve significant redistribution of subsidies which
  would otherwise go to farmers. I repeat there are substantial gainers and
        40.      Are not most of the gainers those who are small hill farmers in
  the parts of the countryside where landscape is most important to protect?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think it is the losers, of course, who are going to be
  the ones who complain most bitterly. As we know, politically the gainers tend
  to say little and just pocket the proceeds.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        41.      That is hardly unusual in politics, is it, Minister, not
  necessarily restricted to the environment and agriculture?
        (Mr Meacher)   Absolutely, Mrs Dunwoody. I would say that it is
  universal. It is a fact of life that we have to take into account.
                              Dr Ladyman
        42.      Surely any form of social engineering requires there to be
  winners and losers otherwise it would not be social engineering?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is true, but what I am saying is that some poorer
  farmers are going to lose out as a result of this.  It is for Ministry of
  Agriculture ministers to determine how far they can press this at this time.
  I do believe they want to take this further as soon as they can. It did cause
  considerable unrest.  Nick Brown did not increase his popularity in general
  by doing this. I think it was a brave act, I think it was right, but we do
  have to take account of the politics of all this.
        43.      Can I bring you to the question of best and most versatile land?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
        44.      It is implied, I think, that might not always be the most
  critical point when considering how to develop in rural areas. If best and
  most versatile land is not going to be the most critical factor in deciding
  on development, what is?  How are we going to control it?
        (Mr Meacher)   What we have said is that whilst it was the case in the
  aftermath of war that the nation was, understandably, overwhelmingly concerned
  about the security of its food supply and best and most versatile land was
  therefore reserved, unquestionably, for agricultural use. Now, 50 years on,
  when there is over-capacity and those issues no longer apply with the same
  intensity at all, and other issues like the quality of the environment have
  come much more to the fore, it does make sense to reduce the rigidities of the
  previous process and to allow best and most versatile land in appropriate
  cases to be considered for other uses. Now that does not mean, I underline six
  times, there is suddenly going to be a massive sale of prime agricultural land
  in the South East for development all over the place. I am sorry that some
  Members of the Committee who might be thinking that are not here. I hope they
  read this. This is not the intention. I do not expect this to happen to any
  significant degree. The planning rules, of course, still have to be met and
  the planners, I am quite sure, will not allow this process of building on
  prime agricultural land to proceed to any significant degree. It is just
  removing the rigidity is what is the aim.  If you do preserve best and most
  versatile land purely for agriculture, it does mean the development will then
  take place, perhaps, on land which is environmentally very sensitive. We do
  need to take account of that balance, that is all we are trying to do.
        45.      What about wildlife protection and protecting wildlife habitats,
  how is that going to be given an appropriate level of priority?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think the Countryside and Rights of Way Act certainly
  does that for all the reasons I said in answer to your earlier question. There
  are much greater protections for sites of special scientific interest. There
  is greater protection of wildlife at local sites outside SSSIs and there is
  this statutory underpinning which we were pressed to deliver, and did deliver,
  in regard to biodiversity action plans. The main problem now I think is not
  the powers, it is the availability of personnel to deliver those plans on the
  ground and inevitably probably more money. The one other aspect of this which
  we have brought into play is the National Biodiversity Network which is a
  computerisation of data which is collected on the ground so that anyone, once
  it is up and running - we will put a quarter of a million into it this year
  and it will be half a million next year - on the ground who wants to know the
  incidence of species in any part of the country should be able to get it at
  the flick of a switch.
        46.      One of the things that concerns me is that soil quality and soil
  development is something which is pretty poorly understood at the best of
  times. How are we going to protect the soil quality in all this?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is another very good question. I have been looking
  for some time at not just one but more than one draft of the soil strategy
  which has been delivered to me by my own officials and those from MAFF. I have
  not been satisfied with it and I have asked for some significant changes. I
  recognise that after the Royal Commission Report on soils we do need to come
  forward with a strategy. We intend to do so and I hope, dare I say, Chairman,
        47.      I will not ask you when.
        (Mr Meacher)   On this occasion, I am not able to say when because this
  is an issue of some contention within the Department, but let me be on the
  safe side and say within the next three months we will publish a consultation
  paper on soil strategy. 
                              Dr Ladyman
        48.      A final question then.  In the study which in the West we call
  ecology, in the old days, certainly in Russia, they used to call bio-geo-
  scenicology - I will explain the etymology of it later - the reason being that
  they understood the importance of geology on the formation of soil as well as
  the importance of wildlife on the development of soil, they saw the whole
  ecological niche from geology through to wildlife. It is a very, very complex
  understanding of the way habitats develop. How are you going to reflect that
  sort of complexity in decisions about development on the land which we now
  call the best and most versatile land? Given that I do not know of a single
  local authority that employs an ecologist, how are we going to make sure that
  planning bodies are actually taking informed decisions in these very
  complicated areas?
        (Mr Meacher)   When I go to public meetings and someone asks me a
  question like that I immediately assume that they know far more about the
  subject than I do and I immediately invite them to write to me because they
  are asking a question of which they have a very clear idea of the answer and
  almost certainly I do not. That exactly applies on this occasion. I have not
  given thought, I am not sure whether the Department has given thought, to this
  question of the relationship between ecology and habitats.
        49.      Would you like to give it some thought and perhaps send a note?
        (Mr Meacher)   Henry, do you want to say something?
        (Mr Cleary) It may help the Committee if I say there are a number of
  techniques which are being trialled and explored by some very innovative
  authorities.  We mentioned some of those in the White Paper, whether it is
  countryside character or environmental character. One of the features of the
  new regime, as the Minister said, which is after all to develop a more
  holistic approach in relation to landscape, is that we will be issuing best
  practice guidance on the way in which you take account of the environmental
  value in all its diversities you have mentioned, and the countryside character
  so that people can take a more integrated approach to planning decisions in
  the new order following the changes on BMV.  
        (Mr Meacher)   However, I think it would be a very good idea if we did
  give further thought to this and gave you a written response in the light of
  further consideration.
                              Dr Ladyman
        50.      Can I just ask you to consider one element in this. They used to
  be called town and country planners, I notice more and more these days they
  are just called town planners.  Maybe one of the things in the guidance should
  be that an ecologist be employed by local authorities. There should be a
  country planner on every local authority that has to make these sorts of
        (Mr Meacher)   I am not sure if, Dr Ladyman, you were an ecologist before
  you came here or whether you are just speaking on behalf of others but we will
  take that on board.  We have noted it.
                             Miss McIntosh
        51.      Minister, in the White Paper on page seven you have announced 37
  million to strengthen market town generation. Then you go on to say through
  a 100 million programme in 100 towns.  Is it 37 million or 100 million?
        (Mr Meacher)   37 million is the input which Government is proposing
  under this White Paper. We are saying if you add in partnership funds which
  are complimentary and have a similar purpose it is about 100 million extra
  in the package and it would apply in the first instance to about 100 market
  towns. I think there are about 800/900 market towns.
        (Mr Cleary) A thousand.
        (Mr Meacher)   A thousand, yes, within the general definition of market
  towns. This is the first tranche.
        52.      Are you proposing to spend those additional funds purely in
  market towns? What proportion will be spent in market towns?  A lot of the
  partnership money is the RDA funds?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
        53.      Which presumably will be meant to be spent in the hinterland
  rather than the market town itself?
        (Mr Meacher)   Indeed. The proposal is that it would be used for such
  purposes as restoring high streets, improving local amenities, providing new
  work spaces, access to training, better transport links, etc.  You talked
  about RDAs. We are proposing, also, as part of this initiative, and this comes
  from I think the American concept of charettes, that there should be
  consultation with local leaders and local people involving outside experts and
  the drawing up of plans by consultation between all the relevant parties as
  to how the role of the market town could be better developed as a focus for
  regeneration and as a provider of services, not just for the market town but
  for the hinterland. Action programmes would then be drawn up and RDA money
  would be used in conjunction with money from local companies, if we can lever
  that in, and also from European and Lottery sources.
        54.      Effectively, if I have grasped it, only 100 towns will be helped?
        (Mr Meacher)   In the first instance.
        55.      There will be 900 who do not receive anything?
        (Mr Meacher)   In the first instance.
        Chairman:   You want to ask if Thirsk is one of them.
                             Miss McIntosh
        56.      None of my market towns benefit. I just wonder if it is Labour
  held seats which benefit, just being a complete cynic.  Can I just ask, you
  have mentioned the European Regional Development Fund and also the
  Government's Single Regeneration Budget and also the Rural Development Fund,
  now my concern is I know North Yorkshire does have access to a sizeable amount
  of farms but the farming community in particular seem bedazzled as to who they
  should apply to.  What information are you putting out as to who should apply
  to which agency for which fund?
        (Mr Meacher)   Can I take up firstly your point, slightly pejorative,
  that it is only 100, what about the other 800 or 900? I do repeat that this
  is in the first instance. I think it is sensible for public bodies and
  Government, or indeed private bodies, when you are looking at a major new
  initiative to have a test run, see if it works, learn the lessons before
  moving on.  Certainly if it does work, and we expect it will in the light of
  American and other experience, then we would certainly wish to expand it
  further.  We are selecting the towns initially on the basis of their potential
  as a focus for growth and as a service centre. On your question of where you
  get information, well that should, of course, come from the local authority,
  also from websites. I do not know how many of your North Yorkshire farmers are
  on-line but certainly a lot of this information is provided on-line.  Do you
  want to add to that, Henry?
        (Mr Cleary) Only to say, increasingly, as you say, the providers of
  support funds, whether it is coming through the England Rural Development
  Programme, which is obviously a growing area of support particularly in
  farming, or from the RDAs, are working together in providing information.  It
  is going to take time to get that to happen right across the piece. You have
  got a large number of funds targeting these areas. As you say, the RDAs are
  spending something in the order of 90/100 million in rural areas generally,
  even before the market town initiative, and that will continue.  The provision
  of advice increasingly will be integrated between the major rural agencies,
  whether it is MAFF operating the RDP, or the RDAs, or the Countryside Agency
  advising people on programmes that they run.
        (Mr Meacher)   This is excellent for officialdom in Whitehall.  I think
  the question, which I have some sympathy with, is how does the farmer in an
  outlying area of North Yorkshire know about this and how do we get that
  information to such people better?
        (Mr Cleary) Can I just give two illustrations from the Rural White
  Paper.  Both of these are areas which fall under the MAFF responsibility.  One
  is the Farm Business Advisory Service which has just been set up which offers
  three days of free business advice to farmers who are looking at business
  development.  Secondly, MAFF have also announced the Rural Portal Initiative
  which is an integrated website which will give access to all sources of
  support and assistance to farmers.  That is currently the subject of a
  feasibility study but it is intended to roll out and apply right across the
  rural spectrum.
        57.      Can I ask about PPG13 and when it might finally be adopted?  Will
  it ensure that appropriate services are located in the centre of market towns
  rather than on the outskirts?  As you will be aware, towns like Thirsk,
  Boroughbridge and Easingwold have a problem with the increasing use of charity
  shops which are filling vacancies where a lower business rate applies, or no
  business rate applies.  Will that be addressed by the PPG?
        (Mr Meacher)   On PPG13, I know it has taken some time ---
        58.      Can you just confirm that there is not a Treasury veto on it?
        (Mr Meacher)   There is not a Treasury veto on it.  As is often the case
  there are discussions, to put it politely, between departments about some of
  the details.  There is not a Treasury veto.  The aim of PPG13 on transport is
  to implement the policy to make market towns the focus of development and,
  therefore, the intention is to concentrate, as I said, not just housing but
  other kinds of development on market towns.  And as well to ensure that new
  employment opportunities are not ruled out simply because they are in less
  accessible locations.  On your point about charity shops, again I am not the
  Minister responsible for PPGs, again it is Nick Raynsford, I am not sure
  whether they are dealt with specifically in PPG13 and I suggest we perhaps
  give you a note on that.
        59.      Can I turn to the main problem in the countryside which is the
  collapse of farm incomes.  A conservative estimate is that probably over the
  course of this Government 50,000 farmers will have gone out of making a living
  in farming.  Does this concern the Government and what are you proposing to
  do about it?
        (Mr Meacher)   It massively concerns us, as I think we have made
  abundantly clear.  There is a very, very deep and profound crisis in farming. 
  It did not begin under this Government, and I think we should be very careful
  not to be party political about this.  There was a growth in farm income, a
  substantial growth in 1995, and an almost equivalent reduction in incomes on
  average between 1995 and the present day.  It is very severe.  It is also, for
  reasons that go much wider than national policy, largely to do with
  overcapacity, low prices for farm products across the world and, therefore,
  level of imports.  We are trying to address it, as I am sure Miss McIntosh
  does know very well, firstly by the Prime Minister's Action Plan for Farming,
  which was announced in March, an immediate 200 million which was designed to
  tide over farmers until the effect of the Rural Development Programme begins
  to come through over the current couple of years.  We have added to that a new
  Framework for Farming, another 300 million, and that of course is in addition
  to the CAP benefits of 2.5 billion.  I recognise that is not solving the
  problem, there are large numbers of people who continue to lose their jobs. 
  We are doing whatever we can to tide  over those who can remain on the land
  by giving immediate financial assistance, by expanding for some of the poorest
  farmers, those who live and work in the hills, agri-environment scheme
  payments, countryside stewardship, environmentally sensitive area payments,
  all of these are being increased, as well as an expansion, for example, of
  funding for organic conversion, for the growing of energy crops.  These are
  small measures but collectively I think can make some difference.  I think it
  is quite wrong, and I am not suggesting that you were suggesting otherwise,
  to suggest that the Government is able to wave a wand and resolve a crisis
  which is very deep and has extremely deep roots, most of which stretch well
  beyond this country.
        Miss McIntosh: As long as we are going to have the same approach to
  farming that we take to the motoring industry I think I would agree.
        Mr Olner:   What?
        Miss McIntosh: The biggest way to encourage farmers to farm in an
  environmental way ---
        Mrs Dunwoody:  I think it is called capitalism.
                             Miss McIntosh
        60.      ---- is to have a tranche of CAP reform which is going to have
  to happen before enlargement.  When does the Government envisage that the next
  round of CAP reform will take place?
        (Mr Meacher)   Agenda 2000 was the proposals for major CAP reform which,
  again, you will know well, the Government was very disappointed with.  We did
  not get the depth or extent of change in CAP subsidies that we wanted.  There
  was virtually no agreement - to use an ugly CAP word - of degressivity on
  production subsidies.  We want to return to this issue as soon as we can.  I
  repeat, we are only now past what was intended to be a major change of
  direction.  It fizzled out and there were rather little changes, for the very
  simple reason that some of the big countries, like France and Germany as well
  as several of the smaller ones, were adamant that they were not prepared to
  change.  I think the UK and Sweden have been in the lead on this, we will
  continue to be in the lead.  It is a bipartisan policy also within the UK. 
  We need further and massive change in the CAP and we will return to this as
  soon as we can.
                               Mr Olner
        61.      You mentioned the multitude of schemes for assistance to farmers
  and what have you in reply to Miss McIntosh's question.  One of the
  difficulties is getting farmers to understand all of those, which is the
  scheme they may get help and assistance on.  In your mind, is there a
  differentiation between the big farmer and the small farmer? The big farmers
  are well managed, they know where all the pots of money are but very often the
  small farmers do not.
        (Mr Meacher)   That is perfectly true.  My colleague here, Henry Cleary,
  did indicate the sources of information and those are new and important.  It
  is true that, for example, we are consulting on relief on further rural
  diversification grants.  Making sure that small farmers get information about
  that is crucial.  It is difficult to ensure unless MAFF is prepared to send
  out the details to every farmer on their books and that is an expensive and
  time-consuming bureaucratic exercise.  It is very important that we
  communicate to the smallest farmers, you are quite right.
        62.      I am worried about the time, so some fairly short answers,
  please.  The Haskins Report,  Environmental Regulation and Farmers, you put
  that in the wastepaper bin, did you not?
        (Mr Meacher)   I am sorry, what is the question?
        63.      The Haskins Report you have put in the wastepaper bin, have you
        (Mr Meacher)   When can we get a response?
        64.      No, you have put in the wastepaper bin.
        (Mr Meacher)   Oh, I am sorry.  Absolutely not.  We shall be responding
  to this formally next month, I think I can make a commitment on that.  We have
  already raised the question of pesticides and there was also a question of
  hedgerows but there were other recommendations.  We regard it as a useful,
  important report which made clear that contrary to the views of many there is
  not gold plating of environmental regulation, there are good reasons behind
  environmental regulation, but if it can be reduced while still achieving the
  effective purpose it will be.
        65.      So you have not put the report in the wastepaper bin, he has
  persuaded you to put your proposals on hedgerows in the wastepaper bin?
        (Mr Meacher)   No, he certainly has not.  The position, briefly, on
  hedgerows is that I came in ----
        66.      You promised this Committee two years ago that there would be
  some urgent action on hedgerows.
        (Mr Meacher)   You are quite right, and I am embarrassed by the delay,
  let me put that on the record.  I did say soon after coming into office that
  the hedgerow regulations which we inherited from the last government were
  wholly inadequate in my view and that we would review them.  We did review
  them, particularly in two respects: one, the notification period which was
  previously 28 days before action could be taken that we thought too short;
  secondly, as to what was meant by an important hedgerow, one that merited
  being preserved.  There has been, and this is a major reason for the delay,
  not surprisingly, a substantial difference of view between the farming
  community and the conservation community and the NGOs as to what is an
  important hedgerow, in particular as to how to handle the whole concept of
  landscape.  I think we have now resolved that.  There was the proposal which
  Haskins was recommending that there should be discretion to local authorities
  about handling this, but on the basis of an increasing number of hedges to be
  covered.  There has been one further element in this issue which is the
  Countryside Survey 2000 which I published a couple of weeks ago.  We are
  having a further look at the criteria in the light of that latest information
  which it has taken years to collect.  I repeat that I am very keen to produce
  - you have heard this before - revised hedgerow regulations and I think I
  should say it is still probably a few months away but it will be in the first
  half of next year, whether or not before an election, if one were to occur.
                                Mr Benn
        67.      Could we turn to supermarkets?
        (Mr Meacher)   Gladly.
        Mrs Dunwoody:  He is not embarrassed about supermarkets.
                                Mr Benn
        68.      Why did the White Paper not propose any measures to require
  supermarkets - not encourage but require supermarkets - to take local sourcing
  of products more seriously?  
        (Mr Meacher)   This is a fundamental political question.  There is a
  question how far Government should intervene in the operation of the market. 
  After all, if local people are using a supermarket and they believe there is
  benefit to them from using a supermarket on the basis of which it runs, one
  has to be on very sure ground to try to reduce that.  The question you have
  asked is slightly different, which is about local sourcing.  We are trying to
  achieve that.  The Ministry of Agriculture and the organisation called Food
  for Britain, I think it is called, are encouraging - which I know is not the
  word you used - supermarkets to introduce regional sourcing.  We do say
  something about this in chapter eight of the Rural White Paper which is about
  local sourcing, it is about help for small abattoirs, which has not been
  mentioned this year, and improved marketing for local produce.  The question
  is whether you should require it, whether that is an intervention in the
  normal operation of the market which goes too far.  You have to ask the
  question whether the local produce that you want is available locally, and
  whether that can be determined by regulation is difficult.
        69.      Clearly there are environmental consequences to food buyers,
  which is partly what we are talking about here.  Why do you not consider
  giving local authorities the power to make that a requirement of granting
  planning permission, subject clearly to negotiation with developers about
  precisely what that might mean in  a particular context?  In other words, it
  would not be a national requirement, it would be a permission for a local
  authority to take that on board in deciding whether to give planning
        (Mr Meacher)   Presumably the planning permission would be that as far
  as practicable the requirement would be that the supermarket should source
  locally, subject to the range of produce you wish to sell and the availability
  of that produce whatever is meant by locally, within a certain distance.  That
  is, of course, still open to any local authority to do.  It is really a matter
  for local authorities to determine.  Whether Government should by dictat set
  that down centrally is more questionable.  We are keen to see this happen. 
  Certainly we would support local authorities which use their powers to secure
  that objective.  There has been a reference to the Competition Commission
  about supermarkets taking advantage of suppliers and small rural retailers
  and, again, the Competition Commission has proposed a Code of Practice which
  is binding on supermarkets, which goes some way, I think, in your direction.
        70.      If one takes the specific example of apples, one can go into a
  lot of supermarkets and I am sure Members can recite a number of brands that
  are likely to be found:  Cox, Gala, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Golden
  Delicious, which is a bit of a misnomer as in my experience it is neither
  golden nor particularly tasty.  If one takes that as a practical example, one
  can have a very wide range of apple varieties but actually a minute proportion
  gets through to consumers.  Is that not a practical area where if you happen
  to be a supermarket within, I do not know, Kent, there would be a case for the
  local authority saying only local produce where it can be achieved?
        (Mr Meacher)   I think there is a case for that.  Of course, we are
  talking about new approvals.  I am perfectly happy to consider that further. 
  As I say, there is nothing to stop local authorities doing that already, the
  question is whether Central Government should prompt them to use their powers
  more than they are already entitled to do.
        71.      Tourist tax, what is happening about it?
        (Mr Meacher)   There has been a proposal about a voluntary tourism charge
  or payback scheme in order to enable hotels, guesthouses and other tourism
  development businesses to receive payment for the purposes of conserving the
  environment on which, indeed, their business depends.  We are in favour of
  that, we would like to see it expanded.  If one is talking about a tax, those
  who are in the tourism business are opposed, even though it could work to
  their gain, because they think it could have a competitive disadvantage to
  tourism in this country and I think we have to take account of their views.
        72.      But tourists do cost quite a lot of money to rural areas, do they
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes, that is indeed the justification for imposing some
  charge and in encouraging it, but it is a question as to whether one, again,
  should require it as mandatory.
        73.      You just want it as voluntary?
        (Mr Meacher)   We believe that is the best way of getting the balance
  between a charge being put in place in many cases without disadvantaging the
  industry, which would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.
        74.      Council Tax on second homes, this is put off until after the
  election, is that it?
        (Mr Meacher)   No, it is not put off until after the election, whenever
  that might be.  The intention is to move as quickly as we can on several items
  within the Rural White Paper.  As I say, we shall publish an implementation
  plan early in the new year.  It does require primary legislation to do this
  and, therefore, it does require a parliamentary slot.  If it is possible to
  get one in this next year we will proceed.  We are not dragging our feet in
  any way at all.
        75.      Why are you leaving discretion for local authorities?
        (Mr Meacher)   Because some local authorities - and we are thinking not
  just about rural areas, we are thinking about Westminster and Chelsea, for
  example - would choose not to exercise that.  Therefore, it is an issue which
  goes rather wider than rural regeneration.  We are motivated also by the
  precedent which already exists in Wales, where the option was given to local
  authorities and all but two took it up.  Again, we think it better that it can
  be done on the basis of local discretion rather than enforced from above.
                              Mrs Ellman
        76.      How many shops will benefit from rate relief?
        (Mr Meacher)   From the increased rate relief?
        77.      Yes.
        (Mr Meacher)   The existing rules were that there was 50 per cent
  mandatory relief in respect of a sole shop or post office in a settlement with
  a population under 3,000.  We have now increased the threshold for mandatory
  relief from 5,000 to 6,000 and for discretionary relief from 10,000 to 12,000. 
  That is in line with the revaluation of all non-domestic properties.  We are
  not consulting about extending it to food shops, to garages and to pubs.  That
  again will require primary legislation.  When you say what is the extra
  number, I cannot give an immediate figure.
        (Mr Cleary) It is likely to be several thousand.  It depends on
  precisely where you set the limits.  If we think in terms of the number of
  settlements of that size, each of them may have one or two extra food shops
  that will benefit, some of them may have the garage, many of them will have
  perhaps one or two pubs.  It is in the order of thousands.  We cannot be
  precise until we have actually got a specific proposal following consultation.
        78.      Is there going to be an assessment of the viability of those
  shops?  How many of them would be viable even with the rate relief you are
  thinking about?
        (Mr Meacher)   If currently they are operating viable entities then we
  would not do an analysis of their long-term commercial viabilities.  As I say,
  if they are operating at the present moment commercially, as long as they fall
  within the parameters, we would regard that as justification for extending the
        79.      Do you have any proposals on encouraging local people to use
  local shops?
        (Mr Meacher)   We hope that the whole thrust of the White Paper is going
  to lead to increased economic viability in these small settlements and in
  market towns.  It is not through any single measure but it is the collection
  of measures in terms of more homes, better transport links, improved
  amenities, use of post offices as access to Government services.  It is the
  combined effect of all of these that I think will increase the viability of
  these areas and, hence, automatically the use of these basic services.
        80.      Do you have any idea of how much time will be involved in seeing
  this change before shops have actually gone out of business?
        (Mr Meacher)   How much more time?
        81.      How much more time will it take for the impact of the changes
  that you have described to take place?
        (Mr Meacher)   That is very difficult to answer.  How long is a piece of
  string?  This is a gradual process which is not completing at one point, it
  is a momentum and it is an even process.  I would certainly hope that in the
  next two or three years one is going to see a change of tempo in these areas,
  I think that is reasonable.
        (Mr Cleary) I think it is worth adding that there are schemes at the
  moment which we are actually expanding in the White Paper.  For example, the
  Countryside Agency run an existing village shop scheme which has already made
  a big difference to a number of village stores.  The White Paper proposes that
  is extended into a new community service fund which will cover projects to re-
  establish its services.  The money is there from next April.  There is some
  money there already in the current year, the money is being increased from
  next April, so benefits should start to flow through over the next two years,
  as the Minister has said.
        82.      How many rural shops were saved by that Countryside Agency
        (Mr Cleary) There are many hundreds of grants.  We will have to write
  to you with the precise details but it has already worked for many hundreds.
        83.      Speeding traffic:  you were quite hopeful that you were going to
  do something about it in the White Paper when you came before the Committee
  originally.  Why have you come up with such a damp squib on speeding traffic?
        (Mr Meacher)   I do not think that is a fair description.  We do
  recognise this is a problem, quite a severe problem, over-speeding in country
  lanes as well as village roads or high streets.  We are encouraging local
  authorities to take action, including new local speed limits on rural roads
  where problems exist.  What the Road Safety Survey and the research which it
  has commissioned has shown is that it is not just lowering the speed limit
  nationally but an overall provision.  It is finding ways to control a
  vehicle's speed at hazardous points like bends or junctions where it is likely
  to be far more effective in reducing casualties on rural main roads than
  reducing the national speed limit.  I would not rule out lower speed limits,
  that may well be appropriate.  Certainly we are looking to 30 miles per hour
  as a limit in villages, but at the same time the more effective way of
  reducing the causes of accidents is trying to find ways of slowing cars down
  at difficult points.  Maybe that is road calming measures as one is coming up
  to those points.
        84.      We know that speed cameras actually work, why not let local
  authorities keep the speeding fines so that they can put up more cameras, or
  more boxes actually to have cameras in them?
        (Mr Meacher)   Again, DETR genuinely has sympathy for that policy of, in
  effect, hypothecation - to use another ugly word.  The rules, of course, have
  always traditionally been that it is the Treasury which collects the revenues
  and then decides ----
        85.      I think the Deputy Prime Minister usually says that is another
  one we have lost.
        (Mr Meacher)   The fact is the Deputy Prime Minister has won so many with
  the Treasury on this issue and on a much bigger scale, that I think he has got
  a rather good record.  There is a genuine point here.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        86.      It is all right, you are safe, we know you are good.
        (Mr Meacher)   I think that point is known.  We would like to see greater
  flexibility over local authorities in terms of, for example, fining people for
  speeding or for other offences, being able to retain that money and then put
  it into improved services to reduce those effects in the first place. 
  Certainly that is something we would favour.
        87.      This question of the 10,000 that parishes can apply for to buy
  a car for the village, presumably to go speeding in, is it going to work?
        (Mr Meacher)    I think it will.  I think this proposal of 5 million is
  a small sum of money but, considering just how small these settlements are,
  I think it is ----
        88.      Five or 15?
        (Mr Meacher)   I beg your pardon, it is 15.  Let me not under-sell.  It
  is 15 million which is designed to help parishes in conjunction with the
  principal authorities, the counties and the districts, to enable them to take
  initiatives, as I say improving their high street, providing a car park,
  providing new facilities for old people or young people, CAB facilities,
  whatever may be appropriate.  I think it cuts through the bureaucracy and it
  cuts through the ----  I am sorry, I thought you were talking about the Parish
  Community Fund.
        89.      Yes.
        (Mr Cleary) I am sorry.
        (Mr Meacher)   I think this is exciting and useful.  It gives more
  opportunity directly to parishes and town councils to plan their own future. 
  I think often they feel that they have very limited opportunities, they are
  dependent on the speed of operation of their principal authority, and I think
  it will be of very much value.
        90.      What, 10,000 for a car?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.  This is the Parish Transport Fund.
        91.      Yes.
        (Mr Meacher)   Again, I was struck in the course of the consultation that
  we did have extensively in the production of this White Paper that when I said
  - as I often did as a good, loyal Minister - that we had produced 170 million
  for improving rural bus services and there were 1,800 new or enhanced
  services, I had it all as a mantra regularly repeated, it was remarkably
  ineffective in the sense that people felt it still did not apply to them, it
  still was not sufficiently appropriate, it was not locally determined enough
  and that there was specialist provision of transport which people needed which
  was not met by improved bus services.  I do think improved bus services are
  very important and I think they under-estimate all this.  We are putting
  another 239 million into improved and better bus services over the current
  three years, but what we are trying to do is to say to these people in very
  small settlements "you can have up to 10,000 to decide yourselves how you
  want to see better provision of transport, whether that is in car pooling,
  taxi services, whether it is buying something like a minibus for community
  transport, whatever it is provided you show that there is a need for it on the
  basis of some kind of transport survey, provided there is matched funding, for
  example through levying a precept, and provided it fits in with existing
  transport provision".
                               Mr Brake
        92.      On that point, wearing your climate change hat, Minister, are you
  happy that there are environmental safeguards in place, in other words that
  a parish is not going to buy up ten old bangers at 1,000 a go and clog up the
  streets and pollute the atmosphere?
        (Mr Meacher)   As I have said, there are conditions on this and certainly
  one would be to look at what the parish was proposing.  I doubt it would have
  the money to buy up ten, but even if it bought up a handful of old bangers
  which were old cars, fuel inefficient and discharged noxious vapours, I
  certainly think we would advise them that was not appropriate.  This is not
  given, as I say, unconditionally.  We want to increase the discretion and
  powers of parishes, but within limits.
        93.      So each application will be reviewed and assessed?
        (Mr Meacher)   Yes.
                              Mrs Ellman
        94.      Do you think the Universal Bank project to save rural post
  offices will work?
        (Mr Meacher)   I hope so.  I think it stands a very good chance.  What
  we are proposing, as you know, is we are offering basic bank accounts without
  overdraft or borrowing facilities which will enable customers to access
  benefits in cash without charge at post offices in a way that without the post
  office access and the large network availability, the use of banks' basic bank
  accounts, the so-called PAT14 accounts, would not work, they would not really
  address the issue of financial exclusion.  We certainly are hoping that all
  the banks will participate if they are going to demonstrate their
  responsibility to the wider community.  I think this is a very important part
  of improving the attractiveness of the Post Office network.  We have already
  put 480 million into automating the entire Post Office network to develop
  universal banking and access to Government services.  I think this is the best
  way forward, attracting new customers and new services.
        95.      You said that you hope that it will happen.  Whose responsibility
  is it to make it happen?
        (Mr Meacher)   It does span several departments.  I have attended a
  number of inter-departmental Cabinet sub-committees which deal with this
  issue.  The DTI, of course, is in the lead.  DTI has an interest because of
  rural post offices, but so, of course, does the Treasury have an interest in
  this, as does the Home Office.  We are keeping a very close eye on this.  It
  is being driven forward as a major part of the Rural White Paper, it is a
  central plank.  It will certainly be reported on as part of the State of the
  Countryside reports which are going to be undertaken every year by the
  Countryside Agency.  It will be looking at access to services, the
  availability of services.  We will be monitored year by year and I am sure we
  will be criticised if we do not achieve our objective, which is the avoidance
  of all avoidable closures.
        96.      Would you be made aware if the DTI were running into difficulties
  on this one?  After all, the banks are not known for showing social
        (Mr Meacher)   That is why I do use words like "hope".  We do require co-
  operation from partners and these things cannot, nor should be done entirely
  by Government.  We are certainly - I am not sure if I am allowed to say
  pressurising the banks - putting a lot of influence, to use another more
  neutral word, on banks to participate.  I believe that they will.  I think it
  would act against their reputation if they were seen to stand out on this.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        97.      When has that ever upset banks?
        (Mr Meacher)   My colleague, Chris Mullin, upset banks recently, I seem
  to recall, and in my view was probably quite right to do so, by talking about
  banks' responsibilities.  This is another instance of the responsibility of
  banks.  I do not think we can require them.  It is always easy to say that
  governments should require this, that or another body or persons to do such
  and such, but I do not think that is the way to operate.  I have no reason to
  believe that the banks will not co-operate on this.
                               Mr Brake
        98.      On that point, Minister, I do not see why you have this
  confidence.  There is a bank closure in my High Street that is just going
  ahead now.  I do not see why they would be willing, in the way that you are
  outlining, to back this proposal, particularly if you have no powers to
  require them to do so.
        (Mr Meacher)   We perhaps take a different view on this.  We have had
  extensive discussions with the banks.  The Government is already putting in
  substantial funds, I mentioned 480 million in capital costs, in terms of a
  further contribution.  We have said that will be determined when the business
  case is approved but, of course, part of the Government's commitment to
  putting further funds in is that we get an equivalent commitment from the
  banks that they are going to play their part.
        99.      Rural proofing, do you believe in it?
        (Mr Meacher)   Rural proofing is an essential part of this White Paper. 
  We already have the Cabinet Committee on Rural Affairs.
        100.     When did it meet?
        (Mr Meacher)   When does it meet?
        101.     I asked you when did it meet because I understand it has only
  met once.
        (Mr Meacher)   No, that is not true.  I have attended several meetings
  myself.  I would say I have attended at least three or four meetings.  It
  meets when there is a reason to meet.  It is not a body which meets regularly
  just for the sake of it.  That was already in place but, in addition, the
  Rural White Paper is proposing that we set up national and regional rural
  sounding boards.  I was impressed by the sounding board which advised me in
  the preparation of this White Paper, which I think did a very good job, was
  very imaginative, and came up with a lot of good ideas which are incorporated
  in this White Paper, and we want that process to continue.  We are also
  setting up a rural advocate who will be the Chair of the Countryside Agency,
  Ewen Cameron, who will have access into Government, including into the Cabinet
  Committee on Rural Affairs.  The Countryside Agency is going to have a central
  role here because of the State of the Countryside Report which will set out
  the rural headline indicators, such as the state of the countryside, access
  to services, transport provision, all the key sensitive indicators, and look
  at what progress going forward or backward has occurred in the last year. 
  That will be made public.  The State of the Countryside Report will certainly
  be discussed in the Cabinet Committee.  It may well be, I hope, discussed in
  the House.  We are providing very full information about the state of the
  countryside in a quantified form which will enable Government to be held to
        102.     Do you see the Countryside Agency as being much more
  important than the Environment Agency or English Nature in this rural
        (Mr Meacher)   I think for the purposes of rural proofing of countryside
  issues, the Countryside Agency is, indeed, in the lead.  Those three bodies,
  of course, have to work very closely together, but for the purposes we are
  talking about here, yes, I think the Countryside Agency is in the lead.  It
  does give me an opportunity to say I think they have performed very well in
  the period since they have been set up.  I think they have been bold, I think
  they have been imaginative, and I think they have been effective.
        Chairman:   On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.
                             Mrs Dunwoody
        103.     A special vote of thanks to the Minister.
        (Mr Meacher)   I shall miss you over Christmas, although I am seeing you
        Mrs Dunwoody:  And a Happy Christmas.
        Chairman:   Thank you.