Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
600. Can I pursue that point? In the large land
mass there is a desire to go back to the wilderness. I just want
to press both of you on this notion of attractive versus unattractive
countryside. I think there is a case to go back to some wilderness.
We have talked about that. Would the public accept this? Do they
want a manicured countryside in, say, the hill and upland areas?
(Mr Wynne) In a sense, that was part of what informed
my answer. I think again, if we are asking the public to pay,
those views would have to be taken into account. My suspicion
is that there is part of the countryside which, through time,
the public would value being in a wilder state. I think the initial
assumption would be that we would try to have the farm landscape
managed in a more sympathetic manner.
(Mr Barrett) From our perspective, I think we are
thinking this through. We have never assumed that a protected
and enhanced environmental landscape meant one that is necessarily
manicured from all over the place. Indeed, I think people entering
the countryside for the purposes of recreation might enjoy a bit
more wilderness out there.
601. Could I press you on a point you made earlier
when you were talking about the fragmented nature of agri-environment
schemes for the countryside, such as the woodland premium? You
say in your evidence that we can do better than that. Presumably,
in terms of cost benefit, you also argue for a single scheme.
Can you take us through the arguments there?
(Mr Barrett) Yes, I can. We did some research on agri-environment
schemes and their impact on public access and were pretty under-whelmed
by what we found. I think one of our reports memorably says "scrap
the Countryside Stewardship Scheme now". In a sense, we did
not feel it was delivering value for money. These schemes are
difficult to access if you are a farmer. They do not seem to be
producing new access or only a little bit at any rate. They are
often very poorly promoted and so that does not seem to be working
terribly successfully. Again, thinking it through, what struck
me was how unambitious these schemes were and how fragmented,
dotted around the country and delivering, or arguably not delivering,
very much in patches around the place. The more ambitious agri-environment
scheme should be the ambition really. On top of that, I think
the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and the ESA scheme cost annually
something like £90 million. We have just heard from the Countryside
Agency that £69 million is all that is required to make all
the rights of way open. I think that is an agri-environment scheme
of ambition and scope in the sense that it would provide the public
with what it wants; it is of economic significance. Again, that
is a public good.
602. I think you also argue that the administrative
costsand I think this is an RSPB point as wellof
such schemes are relatively high because in a way they try to
micro-manage the countryside. I think both of you made comments
about the need for a broad and shallow schemeit is amazing
how these words come into the parlance across the countryside
- and an elite scheme built on the top. Presumably there is a
value-for-money consideration in that. I think the schemes themselves
are going to be expensive to administer.
(Mr Wynne) "Expensive" is again a relative
concept. People seem to be horrified that the total administrative
cost of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme is something like 25
per cent at the moment, including the advice to the farmers. I
would like that to be lower, and I think there is some streamlining
that could be achieved there. Actually, for a suite of schemes
which is targeted at some of our most endangered wildlife, and
we know that it is a big and difficult job to bring that back,
it shows that there is a very important role for those kinds of
schemes. The weakness with them is that they are not underpinned
by the broad and shallow scheme, which ought to be able to come
in at a very much lower level of administrative costs. I would
be very careful about rubbishing the target schemes we have got.
They can be improved. I can think of one very specific example:
tier 1 of the ESA currently I think is very poor value for money
in the main. Some of the higher tiers in ESAs are delivering a
lot on the ground. Some of the targeted Countryside Stewardship
schemes really are delivering for wildlife. They may not be delivering
as much for access. These schemes take a long while to develop
and put in place. I would be very cautious about throwing babies
out with the bathwater.
(Ms Swales) May I make a quick additional point on
that in terms of how to deliver these schemes? In terms of the
broad and shallow, obviously a lot of the detail has to be worked
up, but we suggested, for example, that you could link it with
the current IACS payment system. So there is already a lot of
information recorded. Farmers already fill in all these forms.
If you can layer agri-environment schemes on to that system and
also use current GIS methods, which are being improved all the
time, we think you can cut the administrative costs quite significantly
and come up with a much simpler scheme to administer.
603. I ramble frequently, both in the chamber
and in rural Leicestershire! I am a member of the Ramblers' Association,
Friends of the Earth, CPRE but not yet of the RSPB. I may join
later. I am looking at the RA submission, paragraph 10, and Paddy
referred to the assertion that there was a case for a stewardship
framework. Just prior to that there is a comment that I heartily
endorse: ". . . we would like to see this scheme reformed
so that grants were made conditional upon the landowner's observance
of their statutory duties in respect of rights of way." I
certainly hope there are no grants going into the purses of a
cause célêbre likeand so on. Do you
have much evidence indeed that grants are going, not in that particular
case, to landowners who are not doing this?
(Mr Barrett) Yes, on the issue of cross-compliance,
there is public money going in. You want to see public goods and
at the very least you expect there is an argument to be made for
more rigid enforcement of cross-compliance. Nothing enrages a
rambler moreand we have a good line on outragethan
to see his money in the form of taxes being given to farmers who
plough, crop or otherwise block a legal right of way. That is
not uncommon at all. The recent Countryside Agency conditions
survey came to the conclusion that you would expect to run into
a serious obstruction on rights of way once every one and a quarter
miles. There are, in effect, therefore thousands of miles of public
rights of way which are in some way seriously obstructed or basically
unuseable as a result of modern farming methods. The notion of
cross-compliance here enforcing those obligations is close to
604. I do not dispute the principle but do you
have evidence that some of the worst offenders are in receipt
of grants of that type referred to in your submission?
(Ms Fewster) We have not done any research to get
hard figures on that but we have anecdotal reports from walkers
that that is the case up and down the country.
605. I am not sure I know how they know about
government receipts. One final question to the RSPB: you talk
about public benefits being delivered as a by-product of farming
systems for centuries. Do either of the RSPB representatives have
a vision of what the landscape might look like without such agricultural
support? Would there be thousands of acres of prairies dotted
with clusters of lovely industrial buildings where intensive production
is taking place? I do not know. What is your view about that?
(Mr Wynne) I think our concern is that if subsidies
are removed and they are not replaced by public payments, then
it is likely to be a polarised landscape between very intensive
on the one hand and semi-dereliction and abandonment on other.
I paint a simplified picture. We think that would be wrong and
that is why we think there is very strong justification for public
payments in order to deliver the environmental and other public
elements of the countryside management right across the landscape.
Chairman: I think I should declare that my wife
is Chairman of the Footpaths Association, since you are all in
this confessional mode. She is wandering around the countryside
with a sledgehammer to hammer in signs for the footpaths. I have
to say that it gives me very limited pleasure, but there we are.
I get to carry the sledgehammer.
606. I am totally against this confessional
mode. Whatever confessions I have to make are between me and my
whip! I have within my constituency an area of the Marshes which
seems to be in a very good relationship between the community
and the RSPB. It is a wonderful area. The thrust of the questions
and your answers has very much been about the balance between
how do you protect and develop the environment for the public
and at the same time preserve farming, although we are not quite
certain what we mean by "farming". My questions are
specifically aimed at the RSPB but I would be very happy if representatives
of the ramblers gave us their views. In the RSPB submission to
this Committee, you proposed that UK agricultural authorities
should define and enforce a minimum environmental standard for
agriculture. If you define the minimum environmental standards
for agriculture, what would they actually be?
(Ms Swales) We would like to see a minimum environmental
standard which starts out with the current codes of good agricultural
practice, which relate to soil, air and water and taking elements
of those, but also building in some aspects which relate to biodiveristy
issues, because those codes really do not cover biodiveristy issues
as they currently stand. We think an environmental standard needs
to be realistic; it has to be enforceable and monitorable. You
have to have a balance between what costs you impose on a farm
business and what protection of the environment you are going
to deliver. There has been quite a lot of work done in looking
at what the environment standards might be. There are various
ways of delivering that and in terms we would like to see, for
example, more farmers having to complete a farm audit which would
look at the resources on the farm and say, "Yes, they are
complying with legislation which relates to handling slurry and
storage", those sorts of things, for example, and use and
handling of pesticides. Another way of delivering that might be
to say, "Are you are a member of a recognised assurance scheme,
like the Little Red Tractor?" If we can get the environmental
standards right in that assurance scheme, that would be another
way of saying, "OK, you are a member of that so, yes, you
have met these minimum environmental standards".
607. You talked about encouraging good practice.
It seems to me that we would be slipping inevitably towards more
legislation, either UK legislation or indeed EU legislation. In
the standard which you have outlined, how would you actually police
these? If they are not legal, if they are merely good standards,
would you imagine that being policed by DEFRA, or by the Environment
Agency. In practical terms, how would it be policed?
(Mr Wynne) That is a very good question. Certainly
in the interim, as we introduce these, we would like to see market
mechanisms used in this as much as possible as well. I would certainly
like to see assurance schemes explored to the full extent to see
whether we can get the right standards in the assurance schemes,
and then entry into the assurance scheme would be a way of this
being checked so that the burden did not entirely fall on the
regulatory system. I think that needs to be explored. Whether
or not that will work, I do not know. Other than that, I think
the Environment Agency and the other statutory organisations like
English Nature would have to take the brunt. There has been a
lot of debate recently about trying to do that in a collaborative
fashion with individual farmers and taking a risk assessment approach
rather than just the use of a very blunt instrument. I think that
is very interesting as well. If we want land managers to buy in,
which is what we are asking them to do, then trying to enforce
the regulation in a collaborative fashion is quite important.
608. Do you think the regulations and the good
practice we have at the moment are rational?
(Mr Wynne) I think they are not irrational. I think
they are incomplete and they are almost certainly too heavy-handed
in some areas and too light in others, but that is not to say
they are irrational.
609. I find it interesting when you talk to
people on the ground, farmers, NGOs of one kind or another, that
the main problems as they see them are that often there are competing
institutions and organisations coming out with contradictory advice
or applying one law for which there are two or three different
interpretations. For example, even the farmers who are at the
best practice end of the market are sometimes driven into the
ground by this. The objective must surely be to encourage what
is being practised by the best farmers, by those members of the
farming community who are perhaps for one reason or another reluctant
to carry out best practice.
(Mr Wynne) I could not agree with you more. Effectively,
that was the substance of my previous answer. I do not think this
is a uniform application of rules. It has to be an interpretation
of the person who has to deliver on the ground.
610. Who should take the lead?
(Mr Wynne) If I may finish, I am not sure of the extent
to which there is contradictory advice out there. I think what
is happening is that the individual farmer and land manager is
visited by different agencies on different days of the week asking
him to do different things, some of which are complementary and
some of which do not initially appear to be complementary. I think
streamlining the system, bringing it together, is very important
611. Who should take the lead on this? Is this
something where there should be a lead ministry and should DEFRA
basically be the lead organisation?
(Mr Wynne) I would have thought the logic of setting
up DEFRA was in order that it could fulfil this role. It has the
key agencies under its wing and it has the responsibility for
delivery of key European Directives as part of its remit, so I
think it has to be DEFRA that takes the lead on this.
(Mr Barrett) Can I backtrack a fraction on that. I
would not like the Committee to go away thinking that we were
only here talking about the environmental standards. Those are
really important but I think the access element to that is not
an add-on, it should be a compulsory part of what you are looking
at here in the broad and shallow schemes in as much as the people
who I feel I am here representing do not just want minimum environmental
standards, they do not just want a countryside which is enhanced,
they also want to be able to get into it and access is quite easily
audited in that effect. The Rights of Way Network has been audited
three times by the Countryside Agency over the last 18 years or
so, so that element of environmental and access standards can
be quite specifically and accurately monitored.
612. My final question to you is given the outline
of minimum environmental standards for agriculture, have you worked
out what the cost is likely to be and who should bear the brunt
of those costs? Certainly if we had here the Chief Secretary to
the Treasury he would be looking rather po-faced at this point
and saying that there is a cost factor involved in all of this
and he would not wish that that cost factor fell heavily in the
area of public expenditure.
(Mr Wynne) I will start on that one. No, nobody has
worked out the costs. Rightly or wrongly, we have entered into
legislative commitments without knowing what the costs of implementation
are. Part of the logic of the Curry Report recommendation on the
broad and shallow scheme is that in order that all of those costs
do not fall on the farmer, entry into that scheme would assist
them with compliance with the legislation which is in the pipeline
now and is going to fall on them. Secondly, that is an even stronger
reason for starting the movement now from payment through production
subsidies to payment through the environmental scheme, the broad
and shallow scheme, in order to help farmers. That is the argument
for introducing modulation at the minimum of ten per cent as soon
as possible. If I could just build on that to make the point that
the failures of current policy seem to be very well rehearsed,
the impediments to reform of current policy seem to be very well
rehearsed, what seems to be less well rehearsed is how do we make
progress forward now to assist the farmer and the environment
and the consumer. I would really make a plea that the Curry Report
recommendation for movement to ten per cent modulation as soon
as possible does seem to be, if not the only show in the town,
the main one to start making progress now. I think if we balk
at that we are all going to be sitting in this room in five years'
time rehearsing exactly the same issues.
Mr Simpson: I am sure the Chancellor will listen
very carefully to your plea.
613. We have talked essentially about public
money paying for public goods and I would like to bring that down
more to the specifics. If the tourism industry wants an attractive
landscape, should it not be for the tourism industry as a whole
to contribute to that? If that is the case, how might that be
done? Secondly, in terms of footpaths, rights of way, we are all
familiar in our own areas with the costs of doing it and the difficulties,
some of the things that you explained in terms of barriers and
so on, which conflict with farming practices. If the ramblers
do want to use these should they not make some contribution and
should not those who ramble make some contribution?
(Mr Barrett) We already do is the answer to that via
614. Are we coming down more to the specifics?
We have talked about the public goods and the public paying but
I am coming down more to the specifics of the tourism industry
paying for farmers to have the attractive landscape and for ramblers
and such who want to use footpaths paying towards specifically
the maintenance of footpaths.
(Mr Barrett) The maintenance of footpaths is a statutory
obligation, a legal requirement. We are ramblers, walkers, there
are millions of us, it is the nation's favourite pastime. They
already pay in the form of their taxes for
615. Do you think you get value for money?
(Mr Barrett) No, absolutely not, I do not think we
get value for money. As I said, for probably every one and a quarter
miles there are thousands of miles in effect unusable, we do not
get very good value for money at all. It is a frustration from
our perspective. Not an awful lot of extra money in the great
scheme of things is needed in order to put it right. Your broader
question, should the tourism industry pay for
616. The landscape which is going to attract
their business essentially. If you are in the tourism industry,
in my area in the South West people do come down for the attractive
landscape and, therefore, in a way they are providing the backcloth
for the potential business that they are going to achieve. Should
tourism not in some way pay for farmers who are creating the landscape
which enables them to have a business?
(Mr Wynne) If I could just add to that. It seems to
me that one way could be to tax the tourist industry specifically
but surely the larger contribution, even in those parts of the
world where there is such a tax, of the tourist industry is through
the local economy and the money it generates into the local economy
is fed back into the economy. Surely the market to some extent
does do this.
617. We must move on. The idea of having swipe
machines on the turnstiles is fascinating.
(Mr Wynne) Can I just add that it does also pay through
people's membership of organisations like the RSPB. We are now
managing 300,000 acres of amenity land for the public paid for
almost entirely from voluntary contributions from the million
618. I find it very difficult to come to terms
with the idea that because we are talking about the countryside
and we want to make a nice tourist industry in the countryside
Her Majesty's Government should pay direct, but if I go to Scarborough,
or I go to Blackpool, or I go to Brighton, the local authority
and the tourist industry in those areas pick up the tab for ensuring
that those places are nice places to visit rather than Central
Government. I just wonder why the financing mechanism for the
amenity value of the countryside should come from Central Government
rather than either directly from the industries that benefit or
from the local communities through local taxation? Why is it a
Central Government function because it is in rural areas whereas
in urban areas making it very nice is a local problem.
(Mr Wynne) We believe that the agricultural industry
is inherently different from other sectors of the economy in that
it is responsible for managing 80 per cent of the landscape and
has a huge impact on the quality of soil, air and water to a much
greater extent than other industries do. There are two ways that
the public can ensure that the quality of that management of such
a huge fundamental resource to the nation is achieved. One is
through regulation, so we could regulate farmers until they would
go out of existence. Two is we can help pay for some of those
public benefits. We would advocate a combination of those two
has to be the logical way forward. Sorry, there is a third which
is trying to get the market to deliver as much as possible as
619. Would it not be more efficient simply to
pay landowners for maintaining footpaths to an acceptable standard
on their property, the stiles and so on, rather than applying
it through, as you have said, the taxation system and the obligations
on small local authorities with many other tasks to bother them?
I should say that I do have a footpath on my property so I ought
to declare that interest.
(Mr Barrett) Not blocked, I trust.