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Mr. Roger Williams : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are responsible users of motor cycles and four-wheel-drive vehicles. Surely part of the answer to the problem is to provide facilities so that they can enjoy their activities without destroying the tracks that they use.
That is right, and it brings us to the issue of the recreational use of farmland. We have had our little arguments with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about that, and we have come
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to a sensible compromise. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that there are alternative routes and my county council has spent a lot of money preparing basic gravel and stone tracks that are more appropriate. We must be sensible, and I hope that the riders will be sensible too. I believe and hope that they will be.
I broadly welcome the Bill and will fight in Committee to see whether we can make changes. I am sure that the Minister is keen to reciprocate our good will, so I shall finish my short speech by saying that we shall return to these issues. Whenever the Government decide that it is time to change structures for delivery, it is reasonable to assume that, within a few years, they will want to change them again. Let us not kid ourselves that we are writing anything in stone with the creation of these agencies. However, the Bill represents a good start. I wish it well.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Noting the packed Labour Benches behind me and given the intense competition that will ensue, I humbly offer my services as a member of the Committee that will consider the Bill. I trust that it will be considered in Committee.
There are matters that the Government could consider adding to the Bill. I echo the comments that have been made about the importance of local democracyfor example, the points made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) about the importance of parish councils. In constituencies of all sorts where parish councils existthere are more than 60 in my constituencyit is clear that their remit and role is too small. They should be given greater powers. However, we may differ when I say that that move should be twinned with a coherence of local government structure that removes the duality of district and county councils in areas such as the one that I represent. In the context of rural communitiesin England, my Labour constituency has the most trees in its 500 square milesthe Government may wish to consider that we might be better served by the abolition of the two-tier system of local government and the introduction of unitary authorities, allowing parish councils a greater say over the longer term. There would be a coherence in the strength of local government rather than the paper chase that I have witnessed on many issues between district and county. I am sure that, if not during consideration of the Bill, sense will prevail at some stage during this Parliament and we shall consider the financial savings to council tax payers in Bassetlaw and elsewhere that would result in the implementation of such a sensible proposition.
As for clause 78, it would perhaps take not only a leap of logic but also some bravery on the part of the Government to see whether one of the new boards should consider one of the changing features of the rural landscape, and that is the labour market. I had an interesting meeting with the National Farmers Union during the general election. It wished to talk to me about immigration problems. It said that it was facing difficulties because of the ever stricter controls on work permits that were being introduced by the Government. In the heat of the general election, I encouraged the NFU in a considered way to raise the issue in public debate.
Some newspapers and some parties were concerned to ensure that a vigorous debate should take place on immigration issues. I trust that we can now have a
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considered and continuing debate on the issue. In the area that I represent, it is estimated that 3,000 migrant workers work in farms every summer. During the four years of my incumbency, there has been a move from fairly large-scale unemployment to full employment. There is an unskilled labour shortage for the first time for 40 to 50 years. There will be increasing demands from farmers in my area to build to access the Iraqis, for example, who are here at the moment. There are also the Poles, the Ukrainians and the Malaysians who were here last summer. There are members of other nationalities who are contributing to the profitability and the sustainability of key sections of English agriculture.
It is incumbent on various bodies, not least the NFU, to highlight exactly how they see the future of labour markets for the agricultural work force. I do not believe that in a community such as the one that I represent we shall be able to provide sufficient peopleour youthto volunteer to work the fields, picking peas and strawberries, for example, in the way in which people have done for centuries. If we are to sustain an English agriculture industryI am sure that this applies also to Wales and Scotlandwe are faced with a key issue. The conditions in which people are working and living become paramount because there is a great difference between the enlightened employer and others.
Enlightened employers offer a modicum of reasonable payment, relatively good living conditions and a social programme. For example, there are farmers who partake of the opportunity to visit the Palace of Westminster on day trips every summer, which I have facilitated for them. There are other employers who are much less convinced of the need to look after their work force in terms of the pay, conditions and opportunities that they grant their employees. The issue will continue to return on the agenda, although perhaps not too directly because it is not spoken about as often as it should by members of the farming community. That is because in my constituency, as in others, there are many wanderers. They may be described in terms that are less endearing than those that are applied to legally and gainfully employed agricultural workers. They are described as asylum seekers, for example. The approach is sometimes rather hostile in their presence.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I accept some of the things that the hon. Gentleman is saying about work permits. Does he agree that a proper system of work permits is entirely reliant upon a proper system of border controls?
A work permit system needs to ensure that people are able to work in the UK if there is a demand for them, and that those people are working legally. It is not only farmers in the rural section of my constituency who demand this. Horse traders, for example, are demanding the ability to bring in jockeys from Mauritius, but they have been barred from doing so by the Home Office. The trainers' case is that there are not enough small men in England to train the future
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Derby and Grand National winners, for example. There should be a board to examine the pay and conditions of such people to ensure that they are here legally and properly remunerated. That may go beyond the scope of the Bill, but I am sure that there will be the opportunity to consider such matters in greater detail in Committee.
I am more confident that the Government will be prepared to examine that issue than the next matter that I raise, which is land ownership. I spent a rather pleasant three days in the Brecon Beacons. I am not sure whether I was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams). I saw his rather garish orange-bedecked office while I was there. During more pleasant times in the past few days, I took the opportunity legally to trample on some of the land now open to us mere commoners. I noted that some of the routes that have historic rights, which could previously be walked, were the coffin roads. These roads took people from the collieries of south Wales back to agricultural lands. These were the bodies of people who died in the early days of the mining industry. They worked in terrible conditions.
In my constituency, the dukeries had many such collieries. There were the four dukes who owned, and still own, most of the land. They profited greatly. A modest contribution that the Government could contemplate would be to take the ethos of private ownership and emancipation a stage further by allowing tenant farmers, who for centuries have farmed the land in my area, the opportunity to buy the landfor a modest, reasonable and perhaps peppercorn pricethat they and their families have farmed so that they may become farmer owners rather than farmer tenants.
In some ways, that was a demand of the original Labour party in its early days and going back to the 1890s. The third-term Labour Government have an opportunity to examine issues of land ownership and to show that our party is the friend of the farmer, particularly the tenant farmer. Such people should be given the opportunity of ownership and entrepreneurship. Their land should not able to be disposed of by the diktat of a landowner; they should be able to benefit their families by bequeathing their landnot just the tenancyfrom father to son or father to daughter. Judging by the nods I see from Opposition Back Benchers, I am sure that such a proposal would have all-party support.
It seems to me that there could be no more populist cry from all quarters of the House than the right to gas. In my four years in Parliament, I have been amazed that the House has not promoted the right to gas more strongly. We know much about the subject4.5 million of our constituents across Britain do not have a gas supply. I hope that the Labour party will have the wisdom to include such a right in our next election manifesto, if it cannot be squeezed into the Bill or some other measure. To give people in all parts of the country, and particularly in areas such as mine, the right to gas would be a very popular move, especially in rural communities and mining villages that do not have access to a gas supply. It is clear that suppliers in the so-called competitive gas market are not interested in extending their supply to more remote villages, but are content merely to compete in areas that already have a supply or new estates. We should give the whole population the right to gas.
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Part 6 deals with an issue that I have raised many times. Many right hon. and hon. Members signed my early-day motion on the subject[Interruption.]and I am sure that the hon. Members heckling me were among the first to sign it when I resubmitted it in this Parliament. It urges the Government to tackle the menace of motor bikes and quad bikes on our bridleways and footpaths. We raised the problem in an unsuccessful ten-minute Bill in the last Parliament, early-day motions, Adjournment debates and contributions to other debates. I spoke about it on many occasions and raised it privately with Ministers. We have to deal with the legal anomaly that has allowed organised groupsin particular, the Trail Riders Fellowship and the Land Access and Recreation Associationto submit thousands of applications to upgrade a bridleway or footpath to a byway open to all traffic, based merely on the existence of an historical right for horses and carts to use them. In the Littleborough area of my constituency, that historical right is based on the route of a Roman road. If such a right is deemed to exist, an application can lead to a route being upgraded automatically, with no other factorsopposition to the application, environmental damage, present land use, other uses of the footpath or bridleway, or changes in the built environmentbeing taken into consideration. After such an upgrade, any motorised vehicle can be used on the route.
That loophole needs to be closed and I am pleased to see that action is being taken. I hope that the Standing Committee will examine the matter in minute detail to ensure that in closing one loophole, we do not open another. The problems do not arise from nowhere. Highly organised groups are involved. Their websites contain clear advice from solicitors and others on how to submit an application or applications to cover every part of an area. In some areas in my constituency, 20 or 30 applications have been made in respect of land that completely surrounds a village. That has happened before many of the historical maps have been fully examined; the applications submitted so far are the easy ones.
The public meetings that I held in my constituency during the election campaign and will continue to hold attracted mass turnouts and strong views were expressedpeople are demanding action. Horse riders told of their horses being spooked by a quad bike, motor bike or four-wheel drive vehicle. The idea that the drivers of such vehicles are present in the area at random is false. My investigations in the Warsop area in my constituencya group of mining villages plagued by the problemrevealed an organised competitive sport. White vans appear, motor bikes and scrambling bikes without number plates are taken out and raced around for an hour or two, then they are put back in the van and off they go. People are paying to be taken to my constituency and elsewhere to conduct their activities.
I urge caution regarding the concept of organised places for such activities. In my experience, people who want to go off road do not want to go to organised sites. In Nottinghamshire, we have the desertan organised site for driving quad bike and four-by-fours. The problem is the illegal activity that takes place in an 80-mile radius around the desert. People might dip into the legal or semi-legal site, but then they leave it.
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