Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-168)|
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
160. No, we are talking about regional assemblies,
when the decision-making moves elsewhere; at the moment, the decision-making
is still in the middle?
(Mr Burton) But the decisions that DEFRA are trying
to influence, they are not just within Government at the moment,
DEFRA is there trying to change the decisions of thousands of
farmers; you could say, well, you cannot directly control those,
but, clearly, what it does is it sets the policy framework, provides
funding arrangements, provides leadership, within which a whole
myriad of people, whether they are regional assemblies, farmers,
the National Trust, other organisations, are making decisions.
So I do not see that the regional assemblies, essentially, are
different from the vast number of organisations and individuals
that DEFRA is trying to shape.
Mrs Shephard: Thank you. Clearly you do not
see that; so, thank you very much.
161. I just wanted to ask, really, for my own
information, in case I have missed it, because the word "rural"
obviously keeps cropping up. I received an answer to a Parliamentary
Question some time ago, indicating that the work was beginning
on trying to establish a common definition across Government as
to what they mean by the word "rural". Have you any
idea what has happened to that exercise?
(Mr Burton) As I understand it, it is not felt to
be a particularly useful exercise; the Countryside Agency is working
on seeking to help respond to a very specific question. But I
think we would question the value of finding a simple distinction
between urban and rural, not least because rural is itself, the
diversity of what you mean by rural is enormously complicated.
And, certainly, in the process of drawing up the Rural White Paper,
it was very clear that that would not be a helpful, one size fits
all definition to which you could apply policies. The countryside
of mid Berkshire is very different from the countryside of north
Mr Jack: And I would not disagree with that.
The only reason I ask this is that, in terms of the way in which
resources are disposed of, disposal policies usually require some
definition of who the recipients are, and things like sparsity
measures have, up to now, perhaps helped to inform what has been
defined as rural. I have sympathy with what you are saying, because,
as far as I am concerned, rural, in my constituency of the Fylde,
begins roughly where urban ends, because the people a mile away
from an urban community think that they are in the countryside,
because that is where they are, and yet, by the official measures,
they are not, they are in some kind of sort of no-man's land,
they are not rural and they are not urban, they are sort of in-between.
We do not have a definition for in-between.
Mrs Shephard: Sub-urban.
162. Sub-urban; well, no, suburban is sort of,
I will take you and show you what I mean. I think I know what
the definition in my own mind is of suburban, but it is quite
interesting that there is this sort of, sometimes, cliff-edge
view, where there is a field in-between one settlement and another,
as to whether, in fact, one is countryside and one is urban; it
does actually affect a lot of the policy areas that DEFRA operates
(Mr Burton) It does, and it is not just a physical
distinction either, because it is as much about how the dynamics
of how the place works, where people work, how the economies interact,
is going to be as important to those judgements as whether or
not it is physically developed, or looks nice.
163. I wanted really to ask you a question about
research and development and DEFRA. Can I just ask how you, as
the National Trust, monitor what DEFRA is doing, in terms of its
(Mr Burton) It is very ad hoc, and we do not
have a clear picture of DEFRA's research or its research priorities.
We will tend to bump up against it when DEFRA is wanting information,
wanting advice, wanting us to get engaged, but we do not have
a strategic sense of how it is deploying those resources, although
we recognise those resources are very considerable and could be
a very important way of helping drive the kind of changes that
we have been talking about.
164. The reason I asked that question was because,
as you rightly allude to, in paragraph 13 of your evidence, you
say the Department "has a large research budget, which it
should ensure is deployed to full effect so that it makes an innovative
contribution to policy development and delivery." And I thought
that that phrase might have been founded on some kind of assessment
of the way that the current resources were deployed; but I think,
if I have understood you correctly, it is an aspiration on your
part, as opposed to an outcome of a piece of detailed analysis?
(Mr Burton) It is an aspiration, but I would say that
we do not see particularly visible the research that is not just
about collecting information and facts and the science of a lot
of the policy debates which were involved; we would like to see
more visible research on how to go about an engaging in policy
development, how to go out and bring other values into the process.
Because DEFRA is a Department with responsibilities which are
going to be political judgements, based on an assessment of a
range of different factors, and we do not see that approach to
policy development in the way in which the research is coming
165. Given that this Committee has conducted
inquiries into sensitive areas, such as nuclear waste disposal
and genetically modified crops, and in both instances we have
heard of a lot of work that has already been done on innovative
ways in engaging the wider community, in many ways, in public
debates on sensitive issues, do you really think there is any
need for DEFRA to use money which already appears, again, from
other inquiries, we have heard about, for example, shortages of
resources for investigating bovine TB, transmissible spongiform
encephalopathies, and the whole raft of science-based activity
which DEFRA is currently involved in? Do you think it is sensible,
given the other work that has been done, to divert resources to
the objective which you have just enunciated, given the problems
they have, seemingly, in meeting the other science objectives
that they are already struggling with?
(Mr Burton) Providing DEFRA is using that research
and using that information, there is always, as with many Departments,
a sort of "not made here" mentality, it means that it
does not necessarily attach the importance, or, indeed, the awareness
levels are not as high as they need to be about the other research
which is being done, and that research will tend to continue to
feel associated with those discreet areas in which it has been
developed, rather than being a more generic application.
166. Do you have any examples of projects which
you would like to see DEFRA doing, which they are not at the moment,
which are not, if you like, described in the general terms that
you introduced remarks in, but which are specific projects; if
you could nominate three, what would they be, for example?
(Ms Robinson) One is related to testing approaches
and how they deliver; it has been said that understanding science
is a key challenge, but equally how do you deliver is a very big
one that they are working on at the moment. And one of the things
that we really would like to see is how, at regional level in
particular, they engage with a variety of stakeholders; taking
farming as an example, I mentioned earlier about integrated business
advice and information, and what would be really good is if they
started testing how to bring together all the different players
in the public, private, voluntary sectors who give advice, who
are sources of expertise and information, and to model on one
region how that could be much better integrated, tailored to meet
the needs of businesses in that region. But it is that kind of
thing. I do not know whether you are aware of the Bodmin and Bowland
experiments in upland agriculture in integrated rural development;
that is a different type of research budget that is yielding results
over a three-year period, but it is really trying to break apart
and understand much better how things work at local level, and
it is ground-treating a lot of what their delivery models are
going to have to cope with. So that is one of the areas we would
like see some very practical work on.
167. Have you done any analysis on, if you like,
MAFF versus DEFRA, in terms of levels of expenditure in areas
that you would like to see work undertaken in, comparing historically,
say, five, ten, 15 years ago with now; have you done any work
in that area?
(Mr Burton) We have not, but it sounds like a worthy
area of exploration.
168. Your resources, no doubt, are as stretched
as DEFRA's are, as far as that is concerned. You have touched
on the subject earlier in your evidence, about the sort of non-departmental
public bodies, of which there are a lot, that report to DEFRA;
what are the ones that you do not think are relevant to their
work in the future, or will the National Trust cull this?
(Mr Burton) It is always invidious to
sort of name names, and I am sure that if you went to any of these
individual organisations there would be a very good reason why
they were not the one that should be subject to change and to
review. So it is a wider point we are making, rather than fingering
individual organisations. But we do think that a fresh look at
the executive NDPBs that report to DEFRA, and considering what
DEFRA believes it to be about, would say that, if you were starting
from a clean sheet of paper, which, of course, you are not, this
is not what should be happening. Now one example of that, which
there is already progress on and which we have strongly supported
and welcomed, has been the repositioning of food from Britain,
from being how can we market the UK's products overseas to how
can we develop and deliver on the local food agenda. That is an
example of, essentially, a repositioning of the presentation of
those resources to deliver a different agenda. Now it could be
in other areas, the sort of fragmentation between apples and potatoes
and cereals and horticulture and meat and milk, and all these
separate sections, into separate councils and separate bodies,
does that feel right, given the kind of approach that DEFRA is
now trying to introduce. So we would like to see a fresh look
across the piece, rather than a piece-by-piece look at individual
agencies and bodies.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.