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I turn now to the “Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy” report. The evaluation of the CAP has taken major steps in the right direction since 2003. We believe that it still lacks a clear and justifiable long-term goal, however, and our “Vision” paper was designed to underpin a European farming industry that is profitable, competitive in its own right and more sustainable, and one that is rewarded for delivering genuine public good and benefits that give the developing world a chance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) said.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Will the Minister give way?

Jonathan Shaw: I do not have very long; I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

To achieve such a farming industry, the report advocates a manageable period over 10 to 15 years. Important protections should be progressively aligned with the much lower level prevailing in the rest of the economy, in relation to export subsidies. Pillar one domestic support should be phased out, leaving the CAP as a framework for safeguarding a fair regulatory trading framework. Public spending should be based solely on pillar two-type public benefits such as the environmental schemes that hon. Members have mentioned.

I am pleased that the Committee’s report supports those goals. There can be no doubt that our vision represents a radical transformation of the CAP. Such changes would free farming from the heavy market control, bureaucracy and regulation of the CAP so that it could make the most of the new opportunities provided by growing global demand. In that regard, there is a good story to tell.

There are now 28,000 environmental stewardship agreements in place, covering nearly 4 million hectares of the country. The new rural development programme for England provides £3.9 billion over a seven-year period—more than double the budget for the previous programme—and £3.3 billion of that will be devoted to the schemes that enhance and protect the environment. That includes transferring or modulating up to 14 per cent. of the budget from pillar one of the CAP to help to fund environmental land management schemes and providing more than £700 million of national co-financing to accompany those modulated funds.

Our vision involves moving the farming sector forward yet further in that direction. It also has the potential to bring real savings for consumers and taxpayers, and economic benefits for society. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the CAP currently costs €1,000 a year for a family of four, and will leave the EU economy €100 billion poorer over the period from 2007 to 2013— [ Interruption. ]

That is what we have set out in our vision. More widely, it would have significant benefits for the developing countries. Agriculture is extremely important to developing countries, accounting for 60 per cent. of employment and 25 per cent. of gross domestic product—even more for some of the poorest countries. Agricultural protection of the sort needed to support the CAP seriously distorts world markets and effectively excludes exports from
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many developing countries. Net welfare benefits to the developing countries from CAP reform are estimated to range between $24 billion and $43 billion annually. The Government have promoted those objectives for several years, which is in line with our ambition for farming, the environment, trade and development.

Let me deal with some of the issues raised— [Interruption.] It is a fly; the environment is bad. [Interruption.] I have never been heckled by a fly before, but there we are. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) said that we had sidestepped issues and that our “Vision” was not visionary. Well, we were the first Government anywhere in Europe to set out a future for the common agricultural policy—no Government had ever done it before—and it has succeeded in generating debate. Previously, we had been going from one step to the next, but we were the first Government to set out a programme of radical reform. It was designed not to be a road map but to stimulate debate—and that is exactly what it has done both here and in the rest of Europe. Criticism was made of the publication date. Yes, it was a risk—a calculated risk—in order to generate debate. Criticism was also made of the research, but we used OECD statistics and we were commended by the OECD for using its data.

During the debate on the Rural Payments Agency and the single payment scheme criticism was levelled at personalities—both Ministers and officials. In our response to the Select Committee, we will make it clear that we were disappointed that new territory was entered into by naming officials in that way. I understand the feelings and anger expressed on behalf of the rural community, but that was a departure from usual practice and the same rules should apply to this Government as to other Governments.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire expressed concern about remapping and its impact on the 2008 scheme. It will not impact on that scheme. When we remap, we will involve all stakeholders to ensure that it is timely and that it does not cause further difficulties. We understand the concerns and we are anxious to ensure that this does not happen again.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) asked whether agriculture would survive. We think that farming has a bright future. Enormous change is happening across the world. America, for example, is developing bioethanol plants at a rate of one per week, which will have a significant impact on the amount of grain exported. Where we see the economies of China and India rising and developing, it will mean further opportunities for Britain.

In our “Vision” document we set out our plans to move Britain from subsidising production to providing subsidies for environmental good. We want farming to seize the opportunities that the global world offers and we want to ensure that developing countries are able to access the markets. That is our vision for the future.

Where I have been unable to respond to right hon. and hon. Members’ points, I will write to them. I am thinking particularly of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, who speaks for the official Opposition. I apologise for being unable to respond to all his points, but I will correspond with him.

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We are clear about where we want to go in the future. If in five, 10 or 15 years’ time a future Labour Government can look back on this Labour Government’s achievements and say, “We set out that vision and it was realised”—meaning the vision of a European farming policy in line with what the Select Committee proposed—we will both be pleased.

It being Ten o’clock, Mr. Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54( 1 ) and ( 4 ) ( Questions on voting on estimates, etc. ).







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Jane Kennedy accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the year ending with 31st March 2008; to appropriate the supply authorised in this Session of Parliament for the service of the year ending with 31st March 2008; and to repeal certain Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Acts; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 141].






Environmental Audit


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Coastal Access (England)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mark Tami.]

10.2 pm

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): I am extremely grateful for the chance to debate this matter, albeit briefly. I see that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner)—who, as the former Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is responsible for much of the legislation to which I shall refer—is now leaving the Chamber.

I represent a constituency with a stunning coastline. We have rocks, cliff faces, secluded coves, sandy beaches and a whole lot of history. There are breathtaking views and wildlife galore. On the coastline of Bridgwater and west Somerset, it is possible to marvel at all the greater wonders of nature. It is no accident that Samuel Taylor Coleridge chose the little port of Watchet in west Somerset from which to gaze out at the wider reaches of the Bristol channel and compose these famous lines: “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I need is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” But if poor old Coleridge were alive today he might have found it a little more difficult, with the whole effort riddled with mindless political correctness. The result would also have been rather harder to scan: “And all I need is a five-year strategy, a report from Natural England, and a huge consultation document to steer her by.” I am afraid that that does not have quite the same ring to it.

Coleridge, as a great man, did not have all this trouble with coastal access. In truth, very few people do. It is not an issue that exercises the hearts and minds of my constituents—it never has—and I doubt that the Minister’s postbag is crammed with letters about it either. Yes, there are probably a handful of super-keen explorers who want to leg it up every cliff and sniff every bit of fresh air, but the fact is that there is no overwhelming demand for unrestricted coastal access. That is because there is already plenty of access, as the Minister is well aware: 70 per cent. of the coastline of Great Britain is open, with unrestricted access owing to some form of legal right or formal agreement. Of the remainder, 10 per cent. is owned by the Ministry of Defence, which likes to let off rather large rockets and test things that go bang. I suggest that only masochists of a certain kind would want to have access to an MOD site—as someone who used to be in the MOD, I certainly would not want to walk on the wrong end of such a rocket. Therefore, discussions about extending coastline access would concern only a small proportion of coastal land.

We must not ignore the views of the people who want complete access to everything—access to everywhere at all times. If they hold that view, that is fine. However, my argument is that we must examine and take into account the genuine extent of the pressure for change. How much real demand is there for coastal access? The available evidence suggests that there is no great demand. The Government asked Natural England to examine the case in detail, and it commissioned in-depth independent research. The Minister knows that we have been in this situation before in respect of the original proposals. The
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Government rightly withdrew them and proposed that there should be a consultation period, and I accept that. Most people questioned believed that there were automatic rights to coastal access. Interestingly, most people did not therefore regard access as an issue because there was thought to be such an automatic right.

The Country Land and Business Association ordered research of its own, and 74 per cent. of those interviewed thought that there was already enough access to the coastline. I suspect that that is a lower proportion than it should be, but I am prepared to take that up with the association. However, it is a fact that trips to the English seaside have declined by almost a half within a few years, partly because of the delights of easyJet and cheap flights overseas. My point is not partisan; it is that the nature of democracy is that public pressure—the voice of the people—helps to dictate change. There is a big coastline in my constituency, and I am unconvinced that the clamour for change in this case is sufficiently loud.

There was a small pledge in the Labour manifesto to give

I do not intend to disrespect anyone, but apart from anoraks, who reads our party manifestos? That was not much of a commitment in any case; it was carefully worded and it did not promise specific legislation—it was an aspiration. It did not say that a Labour Government would fix things fast—and credit is due to the Government as that has not been done quickly—and it did not say how and when it would be fixed. The former Prime Minister and right hon. Member for Sedgefield did not go around the nation crying, “Coastal access, coastal access, coastal access.” So how did this situation come about?

Seven years ago, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 was passed under the guidance of the current Minister for the South West, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw). It was a political minefield at the time, and the Government recognised that dealing with the coast would probably prove to be particularly difficult because of vested interests. The organisations involved would include the MOD and nuclear power stations.

When someone does not know what to do, they ask someone else to tell them. The Government asked Natural England to examine the arguments and make recommendations. The beauty of asking someone else to look at such a situation first is that the person who asks can say that they have done exactly what they said they would do without actually doing anything—it kicks the issue into the long grass for a long time.

Natural England eventually concluded that coastal access was a complicated matter that might require another chunk—horrible word—of law. A problem therefore arises. Does DEFRA want a new slice of legislation on its plate? I would like to think not, and I will explain why. Where should the law fit?

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