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12 Dec 2002 : Column 428—continued

Mr. Weir: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that to get bioethanol off the ground, as it were, there will need to be substantial investment? Farmers, after experience with some other crops, will not go into growing non-

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food crops in a large way until processing plant is available. Investment must be made in the plant in the first place.

Paddy Tipping: I agree entirely with that. That is why, fairly recently, I took British Sugar and Cargill to meet Treasury Ministers. I will not divulge detail, but both British Sugar and Cargill put concrete proposals on the table at the Treasury to show how the necessary investment and infrastructure could be built. In a sense, the ball is now in the Treasury's court. If it wants us to achieve our targets for renewables and if it wants to see investment in manufacturing, it must examine closely the proposals that have been put forward. In fairness to the Treasury, we have seen some movement, but it has been piecemeal, rather than the step change that we need to take the industry forward.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The hon. Gentleman has made a compelling case for biocrops. I know that he has a long history of doing so. He says that the problem is a piecemeal approach and a lack of interdepartmental work. In a sense, does that not lie at the nub of the problem in terms of this morning's announcement? Some of it is interesting and parts of it are welcome, but it is not really a strategy in the sense that he identifies.

Paddy Tipping: The Treasury's strategy is straightforward. It would like to see biofuels take off, but it would like that to happen for nothing. What is new? We are talking about the Treasury. We are climbing the steps of the mountain and eventually we shall get the Treasury to the peak, when the vision will become clear to it. However, those of us who have worked on these issues for many years know that these things take time. I merely say that we are getting there.

My right. Hon Friend the Minister for the Environment, who was in his place on the Government Front Bench for the early part of the debate, has been a leading advocate to take us forward. I think that we shall achieve that.

In relative terms, the strategy set out this morning is weak when it comes to pollution issues. There is no doubt in my mind—I know that there is denial in the industry—that farming is a big polluter. The strategy sets out little about that. I am disappointed that more is not said about how we can use the land for flood prevention. That is the soft flood-plain approach or the water meadow approach. These are things that we can make progress towards and build upon.

In a real way, there are two themes in this morning's announcement that spring from the Curry report. First, we must link farming and food much more closely. I am amazed when I talk to farming friends to find that few of them have a business plan. I am amazed also when I find how few of them are aware of their marketing strategy. Similarly, I am amazed at how far many of the producers are from the marketplace, from the consumers. It seems that more and more people buy ready-made goods, convenience goods from the

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supermarket. We must connect the chain. One of the strengths of this morning's report is a recognition that investment is needed to enable these things to be done.

Andrew George: If the hon. Gentleman believes that the most important thing is to connect food production with sale, does he agree that having a rural recovery co-ordinator who comes from the processing sector preaching at farmers will not necessarily be the best approach?

Paddy Tipping: I sometimes think that prophets are not recognised in this context. If we are talking about a farmer in his own right, he will have a robust view of life. I agree that if we are to compete—allegedly we have the most efficient farmers in Europe—we shall have to see further efficiency gains. To take up the point made by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Currie), we see larger and larger holdings. I am concerned about traditional family farmers and tenant farmers. The scenario looks bleak for them unless they can find niche markets or specialist markets, and they do not exist for everybody. Only a small sector of farming can turn to them.

I therefore commend the second part of the strategy on the importance of the environment. That springs from the Curry report, and was well documented in this morning's strategy statement. The message that I took from the foot and mouth outbreak was the importance to the rural economy of people visiting the countryside. Of course farmers suffered, but when the rights of way network shut, the countryside was closed to people. Bed-and-breakfasts and tourist attractions, and thus the rural economy, genuinely suffered.

People want to visit the countryside because of the landscape and the environment. There is nothing wrong with asking whether that is the sort of countryside that we want and for which we are prepared to pay. Should we pay farmers to provide such a countryside? Those matters are well documented in the Curry report.

An entry scheme and the review of agri-environment schemes constitute an important way forward. I counsel my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that it is not an easy road. Different members of the public define public good differently. What is good for a member of the RSPB may not be good for a member of the Ramblers Association. There is potential for conflict, and we must therefore work matters out carefully. We must also be careful that the entry scheme and agri-environment payments are not subsidies by another name. The World Trade Organisation and other bodies will consider that carefully. We need a strategy for answering their questions.

I am also worried about value for money. One of the reviews of the agri-environment scheme examines the fact that some schemes cost more to deliver and administer than to operate. If we are not careful, we could find ourselves trying to micro-manage the environment. The needs in the Yorkshire dales are different from those in the Lincolnshire fens. We need a scheme that is sufficiently flexible but careful enough to achieve our ends. Most important, we need to understand the consequences of the switch from

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subsidies on production to payment for public and environmental goods. In so far as I can ascertain, no modelling has been done on that.

Mr. Jack: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that we are clear about the environmental goods that we would like to buy?

Paddy Tipping: There needs to be a vigorous debate about that and the entry scheme that will soon start. I believe that we are moving in the right direction and I am pleased that the schemes will be piloted for two years. However, there is a limited number of pilot schemes, and I have the impression that the piloting will consider the administration and operation of the scheme rather than the output. If so, we should be worried. Ministers have said that they do not want to be too restrictive and prescriptive about the scheme. However, we will pay public money for public goods and we must be able to define the reward clearly and carefully. I am not persuaded that we have such a definition yet.

I am not sure whether the timetable is right. I understand that there is a two-year trial period followed by a national roll-out. Given the pressures on the industry, I do not believe that we are sufficiently clear about the time scale.

Mr. Paice: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on an exceptional speech, which is seriously addressing the subject. On public goods, did he read the article in last week's Farmers Weekly, entitled XFirst Glimpse of Flagship Green Scheme—how the broad and shallow scheme will work"? It went into immense detail about, for example, the number of points that farmers would receive for all sorts of different details. What is his opinion of that? I should also like a Minister to pick up the point and say in the winding-up speech whether the sort of scheme outlined in Farmers Weekly will be effected.

Paddy Tipping: I saw the article, which reassured me a little. However, my point is slightly different. I guess that the audience for Farmers Weekly is fairly self-selecting. That publication is not a big seller. There should be a wider public debate about the entry scheme and what we want from it. I am not clear that we have reached that point. I am not sure that we have got the administration right. My preference is to move to a whole-farm approach for inspection. There is a strong case for registering the keeping of livestock. I should like to reach a position where one body inspected and advised farmers annually or more regularly. I hope that we can move towards that, and hold discussions with the NFU and others about doing so.

I have already mentioned access. The motion mentions people's desire to visit the countryside. The Secretary of State can be proud of what has been achieved. After 100 years of struggling, we have a right to roam freely in the open countryside: true Labour values delivered by a modern Labour Government. We should not be afraid to tell people about such achievements.

We should also not be afraid to implement measures. Parts of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will not come into force until 2005. I am delighted that

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the Minister for Rural Affairs, who is enthusiastic—perhaps sometimes over-enthusiastic—has concluded that we can allow access on a regional basis. That is good news for those of us who want to visit the countryside. I am also pleased that the Act provides for rights-of-way improvement plans. Arguments in the Ramblers Association mirror those in the Labour party between traditionalists and modernisers. Some people say that the directions of footpaths can never change because they are our historic legacy; others want a rights-of-way network that fulfils present local needs. Some exciting work can be carried out under the Act.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act must allow people from the town to visit the countryside. I despair of those throughout the country, but especially in the countryside, who try to drive a wedge between urban and rural dwellers. That is a recipe for disaster. The rural and urban White Papers are two bookends on the same shelf. We need to be clear about the reciprocal relationship between town and country. I shall give two examples.

Earlier, I mentioned the benefits to the countryside of visitors, and the tragedy when they were not able to visit post-foot and mouth. Let us consider farmers' markets—parts of the countryside brought to the town. They are valuable to both communities.

Another, starker example is the need for more housing. We must build sustainable housing. We need small dwellings in town centres and to move away from the trend of building five-bedroomed, executive ranches in the countryside. We need to work for reciprocity in Government policy.

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