Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-190)



Paddy Tipping

  180. You made some comments in your evidence about the historic environment and how well DEFRA are equipped to deal with that, and I think you say that the number of landscape architects has reduced, there are very few archeologists in the Department; that does kind of highlight difficulties in work, for example, around historic parkland, or the creation of heathland, or the Fens. Is there a debate taking place with the Department about this?
  (Mr Trow) Yes, it is a mixed picture. We have been pleased to see, in fact, the number of archeologists within the Department enhanced, and that was as a result of direct lobbying and persuasion on our part. We would have liked to see that process go further, and there is every indication it may have done were it not for some of the financial problems relating to foot and mouth disease. We are disappointed perhaps that landscape architects, as a discipline, are declining within the Department. The Department has a major role to play in the preservation of a whole series of aspects of the historic environment, including historic parkland, through the agri-environment schemes, and other rural development schemes. So it is an issue on which we continue to press the Department. They are well aware of our views, and we feel it is a gradually opening door, I think.

  181. It has got a low priority, but it is increasing?
  (Mr Trow) I think it has got a low priority; perhaps what is missing within the Department, in terms of the historic environment, is a strategic appreciation of how it fits into their work, rather than an operational appreciation. At officer level, they are well seized of the fact it is something they do, it is an important part of their work and, indeed, a statutory requirement on them, in terms of the Agriculture Act.[4] I think, at a higher level, there is no strategic view on what they should be doing about the historic environment and what their objectives and their targets might be. And I think one thing we would welcome from DEFRA is some sort of statement of their role in that respect.

  182. So it is much more across the board thinking, linking this together?
  (Mr Trow) Yes. It is also fair to say that this influence has largely been restricted to the Land Use and Rural Affairs Directorate, and we feel perhaps has not been recognised in the Environmental Protection Directorate.

Mr Mitchell

  183. You urged the Department to wider consultation and more effective relationships across the range of Government, particularly on planning and tourism matters. Is the relationship presently unsatisfactory?
  (Mr West) It could certainly be better. We have always been in a very interesting position in our role supporting the historic environment, because the things we are interested in, and interested to see promoted within Government, spread right across the responsibilities of a large number of Government Departments. That has always been the case (and, in practice, however the Whitehall cake is cut, it is bound to continue to be the case), there can be no one Department that has overall, complete responsibility for all the various policies that can impact very directly on the historic environment. So the need to join up thinking and to improve interdepartmental co-ordination and to get obviously the things we are concerned with up the overall Whitehall agenda is, for us, always critical. So I would not say that DEFRA have been particularly poor on that front, and I certainly have seen a general improvement across Whitehall, as I said, over the last three or four years; but there is still a lot further to go. We were disappointed, for example, after our evidence went into the Committee, with the publication of DEFRA's Sustainable Development Strategy, that although there was a clear opportunity to say something really quite interesting about the historic environment, DEFRA, as I said, had signed up to "A Force for our Future", the Government statement on the historic environment, there is very little reference to it in here at all. It is not a huge setback but it is a missed opportunity, and I think that is characteristic of where we are with the Department at the present.

  184. I wonder, would you be better yourselves as an agency of DEFRA than an agency of Culture, Media and Sport?
  (Mr West) I think, probably not, for exactly the same reason. I think all the agencies which have to take this across the Whitehall view, in a sense, have to work, and it is true of DEFRA's agencies, it is true of English Nature and the Countryside Agency and the Environment Agency, as well as us, we all have to work with a whole lot of Departments, not just a single sponsoring Department. We are in the process of our Quinquennial Review, at the moment, the Stage One Report was published earlier this year, and it did actually address this issue, and said clearly that, at the moment, although clearly we needed to continue to work and improve our relationships with a whole range of Government Departments, including DEFRA, client sponsorship was not and should not be an issue at the moment, that we were rightly sponsored by DCMS, but this is something that would need to be kept under review in the future, and I am sure that is something we are very happy with and are very comfortable with.

Paddy Tipping

  185. You described "Foundations for our Future" as a lost opportunity, a missed opportunity; what input did you have into the creation of that document?
  (Mr West) Very little.
  (Mr Trow) I think, like our colleagues in the National Trust, we did not feel involved in the production of that; whether that is because we missed the relevant opportunity, we certainly were not aware of it, it may well be a reflection of where it originated in DEFRA, perhaps.

  186. And what have you done since the publication of the report, because you have picked it up and you have opened it and you have seen glaring holes in it, what have you done now?
  (Mr West) The first thing we are doing, in a sense, is appear before this Committee, it is very recent. But we are certainly following that up with the Department, and indeed with our sponsor Department, because, again, it has been recognised in the Quinquennial Review, as I am sure, rightly, that DCMS have actually got to, as it were, fight the corner for the historic environment within Whitehall, and not just leave it to us to fight from slightly outside. So I hope very much that DCMS will be following up the same issues. DCMS, I should say, is very active at the moment in considering its own Sustainable Development Strategy and with the whole issue of sustainable development, and we have been very closely involved with that, I have been involved personally with that, and we are very confident that we shall get something really quite positive out of DCMS on sustainable development, and I know they are talking to colleagues across Whitehall about that.

  187. So are you telling us that progress about the historic environment is being made across Whitehall, but it is slow and it is attritional; how would you put sustainability as a kind of agency that is a little bit removed from Whitehall, what would your prescription be to put sustainability more at the heart of Government?
  (Mr West) I think it has to be at the heart of Government, for all the obvious reasons; the long-term view is essential, the need to address social and environmental concerns which are so critical to quality of life, as well as purely economic ones, and to reconcile the obvious conflicts that may emerge, has to be central to the whole of decision-making. I think a witness earlier today, I think I heard them say that it was important that the lead on this, the priority within Government on these issues, really had to come from Downing Street, both from No.10 and from No.11. It is beginning to happen, but, I think, until and unless the whole idea of sustainability and sustainable development is seen as important as, for example, addressing the competitiveness agenda, it will always be down the agendas and the priorities of individual Departments, and it really does have to be at least as important as competitiveness, not to the exclusion of that, but they have to run side by side.

Diana Organ

  188. An interesting comment you made there about the fact that DCMS itself is making great steps forward on its part to play in sustainability, and yet DEFRA is saying that they are the ones that are leading across Government. How much do you think there is interaction between this unit in DCMS that says, "We're leading the way on sustainability," and DEFRA; is it coming from DEFRA, or are they all acting, going back to the silos, into the silo mentality?
  (Mr West) I am sorry; if I gave the impression that they were acting in silos then I should retract that, I certainly did not mean to give that impression. All Government Departments are being asked and expected to look at their own policies from the point of view of sustainability and sustainable development, and all of them are being asked to produce their own strategies, that is common across Whitehall. DCMS are playing their part in that, they are looking at us, they are looking at all the other things that they are concerned with. Most relevantly to DEFRA, of course, they are looking at the whole question of sustainable tourism, in which we have an interest, but it is an aspect of sustainability which very much affects DEFRA's rural agenda as well. So all that is being looked at, as it should be, within DCMS, but, as I understand it, I know for a fact, they are talking to colleagues across Whitehall about that.

  189. And just to go back, because I was interested in your comment that you made about "Foundations for our Future", were you asked to take part in that?
  (Mr West) As Steve said, if we were, we missed it. We were not aware that we were being asked.


  190. You are to be congratulated as the only witnesses up to now, in this inquiry, who have not come in waving the Curry Report as a Book of Revelations. The Curry Report does, of course, lay out a sort of project for the achievement of "public goods" in agriculture policy, and since then the Fischler recommendations for the mid-term review of the CAP are following down a similar line, of linking the payments to the achievement of certain environmental protection, and other things. Surely, this is rather a good opportunity for you to start to introduce into this debate your concept of your particular public good; what sort of public good? If I wanted to go back to my farmers in the Yorkshire Dales and I wanted to explain to them the sort of public goods which we wanted preserved, and I invited you to come along, how would you describe to them, in the way they farm, the sorts of things that you would want them to do and you would want them to preserve, and for which they would receive some sort of acknowledgement?
  (Mr Trow) I think the overarching concept has to be the beauty of landscape quality, and under that the whole issue of diversity. I think there is a great danger of the homogenisation of the landscape generally. We see the historic environment as playing a vital role in underpinning that diversity. In terms of particulars, in terms of archeological sites, for example, farming is probably now the single greatest cause of loss of archeological sites of any agent; and the agri-environment schemes that we are engaged with, with DEFRA, are an ideal way of assisting farmers to take sites out of cultivation, for example, and manage them appropriately. We are equally interested in issues pertaining to the traditional rural building stock. As you can imagine, with Lord Haskins' suggestions about the numbers of farm units that may disappear over the next 20 years, there is a major question about what the future of this important vernacular building stock is and how it can be most usefully used both by farmers and by the wider rural community in the future; and some quite important unanswered questions about how landscape and quality of landscape actually act as a motor for tourism, and for other forms of economic development in the rural environment. So I think the argument is a circular one. I think we want to see farmers rewarded for land management, of course, both for archeology and the built environment, and we feel that this will actually bring rewards in turn through improved rural development and improved tourism, back to those communities.

  Chairman: I hope that you will make quite strong representations in that regard, because otherwise we are going to end up with a whole series of badly-defined environmental schemes which are extremely intensive in resources to manage and deliver and rather difficult to calculate the public good, so the more we can actually start having public goods we can see and feel and know they are there then the better it will all be for all of us, in my view. But I hope it has not been too painful, escaping from the protective wing of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and whatever else it does; but thank you very much for coming to this Committee today, it has been brief but very helpful.

4   Note by Witness: The Secretary of State has a duty under Section 17 of the 1986 Agriculture Act to achieve "a reasonable balance" between "a) the promotion and maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural industry; b) the economic and social interests of rural areas; the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside (including its flora and fauna and geological and physiographical features) and of any features of archaeological interest there; and d) the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public." Back

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