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4.55 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I must declare an interest. Unfortunately, the Onslow estates are not nearly as big as they used to be--we seem to have dissipated them--but I am a landowner and today I hope that I can draw your Lordships' attention to what I believe is the countryside's greatest need. We need a multi-use countryside. What the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, has said about riding schools is only too true. Others have referred to shooting and to the other activities that take place in the countryside. We must have a multi-use countryside. We must get away from the idea that the countryside is merely a prairie producer of grain. The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, told us a horrifying story of a farmer behaving completely and utterly legitimately, but in a way which must run counter to the public interest.

One of my noble kinsmen owns about 20,000 acres of Suffolk. His set-aside payment on that was in excess of 1 million quid. As he owns chunks of Vancouver and a large number of Guinness shares, I am not totally sure that he needs that payment. I cast no aspersion on him and say merely that he should kick his advisers to make sure that he gets the cheque earlier. No blame attaches to him; it is the system which is absolutely crazy. It is a system which makes life more difficult for hill farmers and which makes it more difficult for us to keep the countryside populated.

The common agricultural policy has failed completely--not only in this country, but in France and Germany also. Parts of Burgundy are depopulated. In the Beauce and the Ile-de-France one sees mile after mile of cereal monoculture, which puts large sums of money into the pockets of the Alsace grain barons. I have no objection to them claiming their subsidy. However, it is a totally silly way of spending public money because not only is public money being used to enrich the rich, but the system also taxes the poor. If you want to buy margarine because you cannot afford butter, you encounter the import tax of £2,000 per tonne. It is crazy to run a system of agricultural support which does not support the countryside and which penalises the poor who wish to buy cheaply. It is madness to a previously unparalleled degree.

We must ensure that subsidies in the countryside are not directed towards food production. For want of a better phrase, they should be directed towards "gardening and gamekeeping"--that is, they should be paid to those who look after the place, make it look right, and maintain its appearance and its biodiversity. Subsidies should be directed at keeping the ecology of the countryside sound. They should not be directed only at the grain barons.

I had an environmental assessment carried out, and the assessor's comment on a barley field was that it was an environmental desert. That is because a good barley field contains nothing but barley plants. Nobody is denying that it is essential that we have food, but food should be produced in a free market and without subsidy. It is the things that we care about in the countryside, such as protecting the environment, that need economic subsidies. We must also ensure that

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maximum use is made of the countryside by the maximum number and in the maximum number of activities compatible with good biodiversity and sound ecology.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Norton: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for bringing this important and much neglected issue to the attention of the House. First, I declare an interest. I have a small estate. Therefore, I understand people's problems in trying to work and live in what can be described as a harsh environment. I say "harsh" because those who live and work in the countryside have a very limited choice of jobs, public transport, shops and schools. Frequently the villages in which people have grown up are places in which they can no longer afford to buy houses because of pressure from second home buyers. This threatens the whole community.

Some years ago I kept bees in the second most productive area of the country. I regularly obtained over a hundred pounds of honey from each hive. The bees were in a good environment. It was warm and relatively pollution-free. I was keeping them in the centre of London. On this morning's "Today" programme we heard that there are more species of birds in urban areas than in the countryside.

Society's perception of the countryside and what many expect from it is, I believe, totally confused. Although I have described it as harsh, it is perceived by many as a good place in which to live; it is quiet, scenic and less polluted. The people who do not have some of that--there are now many--want it. At one moment we say that we need 4.4 million new homes and we should build 2.2 million in the countryside, but where are the figures which state how many are to be created in the 60,000 hectares of vacant urban land and from the currently estimated 1.5 million dwellings that are unfit for human habitation? Where are the figures to show how many dwellings are to be created from offices that are no longer required?

The countryside is also under threat from building on green belt land. The present Government show no signs of being sympathetic about that threat. Recently the Deputy Prime Minister overturned a public inquiry decision and allowed 140 acres of building at Peddimore in the West Midlands. That land is said to be worth £28 million and the new Labour local authorities will benefit from the sale. To demonstrate that point further, we have spent the past 15 years putting shops in big lumps in rural areas so that we can ruin the countryside and finish off market towns at the same time. What are we trying to achieve? We have dying city centres and a dying countryside. There are obvious countryside issues such as the saving of hedgerows, but the countryside is a complex resultant of all factors of living, be it the netting of salmon in the North Sea or education policies.

It is natural that people wish to escape from an urban environment that is stereotyped and boring but this in turn imposes unrealistic pressure on the remaining countryside. It is said that 300 people a day leave the towns. In conclusion, I argue for a rural urban

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environment rather than an urban rural environment. That will ease the great pressures on land use in the countryside.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I declare an interest in the countryside as a landowner and farmer in an area of outstanding beauty. I am also a member of the CLA and the NFU. Sadly, this is such a short debate that one can hardly cover some of the more interesting subjects. I would have very much liked to debate the waste disposal problems in the countryside as well as access, which I should now like to cover.

The countryside is home to 25 per cent. of the population and it must also answer the recreational demands of many sports and hobbies. It does so on a day-to-day basis and also at weekends and during holiday periods. Many types of activities occur in the countryside. Some of the main activities, such as angling, cycling, golf, model aircraft flying (believe it or not), motor cycle sports, parachuting, rambling, riding and shooting, all take place in the countryside. If one gave an advantage to one of those it would perhaps be incorrect. For example, to give a right to roam would mean that walkers were accorded preference over other groups. Arguably, it would damage our patchwork country, but that is a long argument on which we do not have time to expand today.

I suggest that the best way to increase access to the countryside is by negotiation. I also believe, like many bodies such as English Nature, the RSPB, the CPRE, the CLA, the NFU and--I say to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton--the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Association of County Councils and many others, that the best way forward is to manage and increase access by negotiation. I believe that there is a problem in this route and that a lot of work can be done to improve the framework of negotiation. We should be able to make the negotiation process easier and more constructive.

Some of the problems that need to be addressed relate to management. It is essential that management of access is environmentally and economically sustainable. Resources are required to cover the cost of providing and managing high quality public access and public rights of way in other forms. Perhaps most importantly, especially from my perspective as a landowner, there is a need to remove the barriers that hinder positive action by owners to improve access. I refer for example to concern over occupiers' liability, dogs and litter. One should be able to have a sensible discussion with groups of people to provide new footpaths without owners being worried that once footpaths are drawn on a map they can never be removed or altered even if faults come to light at a later date. It is interesting that negotiation has worked well for the hunting fraternity. It has access to large areas of the countryside as a result of negotiation, not legislation.

I observe that I have run out of time so I shall cease. I hope that the House can have another debate on this topic another time. There is much more to talk about.

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5.8 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, noble Lords have heard a number of emotive speeches today and a good number of alarming statistics on the projected pressures on the countryside from increased housing and traffic flows. Clearly, there were a number of disastrous housing developments in the countryside in the 1980s. In many cases local authorities had no statutory obligation to take design into account when considering planning applications. It was encouraging that in February of this year the Department of the Environment issued planning policy guidance which formally recognised design as a vital criterion in planning applications.

In the few minutes available to me I should like to explore possible constructive solutions to sustainable development. To that end I simply focus on the subject of responsible planning and development. If rural England is to absorb a share of the millions of new homes that are planned by the Government over the next 20 years detailed consideration must be given to architectural character, local culture, the impact of traffic flows, the provision of employment and support services and the vitally important aspect of reliable public transport in rural areas.

The planning system, wisely used, should and can be a driving force to enable and encourage change to the benefit of the nation as a whole. Both the public and private sectors should play a far more active role in ensuring responsible planning. I favour a system of developers undertaking a village audit of urban, and more specifically, rural developments. Moreover, with large developments, it should be the developer's responsibility to provide good and reliable public transport for the area.

If the Government are looking seriously at the regeneration of town centres to try to stem the flow of people leaving our major cities for the countryside, it is vital that good public spaces and sports fields be provided in urban areas.

The problem of compatibility between growing urbanisation and the preservation of the countryside is common to almost all over-populated European countries. New roads, new business parks, and new houses are needed in many parts of the countryside where there is poverty and high unemployment. I do not mean to say that I subscribe to the adage of urban solutions for rural problems. I hope that sustainable development can be achieved through responsible and consultative planning and development.

5.12 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, demands from the whole population for convenience foods and shopping have combined to cement the intensive farming scene in this country. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, the farming community has been depopulated by some half a million people over the past 50 years. There is no likelihood of solving that problem by intensive farming.

It is the CAP which is at fault. It has become a kind of incurable disease. Farmers are paid £2.3 billion a year and the housewife pays £20 a week more on her

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shopping bill. There is something arcanely ridiculous about that. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, mentioned Dr. Miriam Rothschild who says also in her book published today:

    "Nature cannot just survive in reserves. It depends upon what farmers are paid to do in the wider countryside".
If we can alter some of that, we shall have much better intensive farming.

Your Lordships would expect me to make one plea for consideration of a serious attempt to increase the area of land farmed organically in the UK. The Soil Association reports that the level is static at 50,000 hectares. That is a derisory 0.3 per cent. of UK farmland. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said also that intensive farming would never be able to cope with the nation's total demand for food. That is true. There is an enormous demand for organic food which is not satisfied by the organic market; two-thirds of the organic food sold by the supermarkets in this country is imported.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on his maiden speech, and in particular on his excellent reference to the anomaly which arises from the difference in support prices for oil seed rape and organic farming. I thank him for that remark. As a member of the Soil Association, I hope that he will join us. Perhaps he is already a member.

Demands for access to the countryside present a serious problem not just from urban incomers who need a manicured vista of pastoral bliss to satisfy their politically correct ideas of the countryside but from the urban motorist who has a similar agenda. The urban motorist needs more and more roads. I recognise that the construction industry would be hard put to turn an honest penny if there were not a considerable road-building programme, but motorists will not have a chance to enjoy the freedom of the road. That is a joke if ever there were one.

5.15 p.m.

The Earl of Macclesfield: My Lords, I, too, have an interest to declare as one of a family of landowners. I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for introducing this debate, and inviting the countryside to town. We all turned up in force in July. I am sure that other speakers today would agree that reservations about the future of the countryside which have been expressed today were the reason for the presence of the vast number of people who filled Hyde Park in July. It is reasonable to point out that we did not just fill it, we behaved in a thoroughly responsible fashion when demonstrating all our reservations about the future of the countryside. We left Hyde Park in a state fit for someone else to come in an hour later.

We left the police sitting in their minibuses doing whatever they wanted for the day. There was the delightful sight of two coppers wandering in shirtsleeves around what, in theory, was a protesting group of people 100,000 strong. That says an awful lot for the values of the countryside. I hope that the Minister will take into account today that sort of thing and what we heard from

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the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, in his excellent maiden speech when he said that we do not like being talked to by townsmen who do not really know what they are talking about.

It is a great sadness that the governing party has no support on its Back Benches. They will presumably be coming forward with legislation in due course. At the beginning of December about three years ago there was a debate in your Lordships' House on a White Paper on the countryside. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will recall it. She opened it in those days for Her Majesty's Opposition. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, closed the debate for the Opposition. Unfortunately, the noble Lord found himself at the wrong end of the words of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who pointed out that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, had no supporters, presumably because they had all gone roaming.

It is a sad reflection of what is going on today. I felt that that was what was going to happen from that day onwards; the countryside was going to face legislation brought in by those who have not tried to understand the countryside. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, issued an invitation to Ministers to come to the countryside to learn. That would be a nice thought. Would not just Ministers, but Back Benchers and others like to spend time in the countryside? We have some time for the subject today. We do not have enough of it. The countryside does not clockwatch. It is no good coming to the countryside for three minutes or three days. The minimum cycle will be a week. Would the governing party of this country care to come out, look around, talk to those who live and work in the countryside and who understand the countryside, and learn about the problems? Instead of concentrating quite so much on the three Rs, would they give a little thought to the fourth R and biology? If a great deal more biology were taught, we should not be faced with quite so many silly ideas about the countryside. If we dealt with the fourth R, the problems would not arise anyway. What is the fourth R? It is the reason for this building--responsibility.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Milverton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the Motion tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I do so because I studied agriculture in Kenya and a good part of my ministry in the Church of England was in rural areas. When we observe the countryside, we are struck by the differences in its appearance. The contrast is sometimes distinct. The way land is being used will indicate the care that is being taken and the purpose for the land use. Is it just to gain the necessities we need or is the work done in harmony with our knowledge of nature so that the riches of nature are preserved rather than merely taken out? Are we leaving nature less healthy and without any replenishment? That is something that we can see clearly if land is over-grazed or over-cropped. We can see that on even the slightest of slopes or hillsides where there is erosion. Heavy equipment with massive towers must cause a wearing away of important topsoil into powder. We know that thousands of feet trampling in areas of public access on

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open ground--parks, trust land and so forth--wear away the surface. That is the problem which must be tackled.

The sight of hedges having gone is a sad one, bearing in mind how they protect the land and provide a habitat for birds, other creatures and animals. Hedges, where they are still kept, are lovely and beautiful, and that goes also for trees. Both enhance the landscape. They are a necessary, wise protection, as I saw from a farmer on Points West. They are a positive protection for nature's life.

Set-aside, if not done with thought and planning, can be useless if the area is just left with no positive ideas, with no purpose. The need is for an attractive, useful area rather than just an untidy mess and the possibility of controlled pastures of mixed grasses and flowers. There is a need for the encouragement of art and craft enterprises as well as light industries and also sports facilities. Helping the young to stay in the countryside is necessary. One knows that many would like to do so, but financial reasons do not make it easy. Why should there be unkept, dirty land?

If people are to have the right to move over and roam over the countryside, as one has read in newspaper articles, they may need to think not only of rights but to think in greater depth. They should ask themselves in what way they can take part in creativity and help promote respect for the land. Respect for the land goes with respect of the landowners.

That is the crux of the matter for all. Are we going to participate in the work of creation's creativity so that the countryside can be a wholesome place in which to live and work for the harmony of all elements of nature, including ourselves? That includes the young, many of whom would like to be able to live in the countryside if it were possible and many of whom have a real desire to preserve it. That is what many young people have told me. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to be positive for the countryside.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the problems of many thousands of people living and working in the vicinity of the beautiful Cotswold rivers, the Churn, the Coln, Ampney Brook and, more particularly, the Windrush. I declare an interest as a house owner on that river.

The local media have recently highlighted a campaign aimed at the Secretary of State to give special protection to the River Windrush. Continual complaint over the past five years has led to assurances from the Environment Agency and Thames Water but they have been unable to identify the cause of what they describe as a very complex problem, let alone implement a satisfactory solution.

The thousands of people who enjoy the river for its wildlife, fishing, history and recreational activities agree that it is dying--not because of the recent droughts, but because of the amount of water being abstracted at various levels. The Cotswold town of Witney's wealth

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as a centre for wool was due to the sparkling, fast running waters of the river. That water is now being diverted to supply many thousands of households.

Although the river is now less than half its former size, the Environment Agency maintains that flow gauge readings have not significantly changed over 20 years. Statements it has made in the River Windrush Catchment Water Resources and Abstraction Licensing Policy in 1992 and in the Local Environment Agency Plan in 1996 are directly contradictory.

During very low flows, abstraction can be as much as 30 per cent. of the total river flow. Thames Water blames the restricted rainfall, but the problem goes back 20 years and the permanent effect on the river's ecology is largely due to constant abstraction. Flow levels are also affected by the large scale gravel abstraction where very often water which leaks into gravel pits is not returned to the river but is pumped into nearby brooks which have been dry for many years.

The licensed low flow rate states that water cannot be abstracted if the flow is less than three million gallons per day. Given that the average daily flow is 63 million gallons, it theoretically allows Thames Water to abstract when there is only 4.7 per cent. of the average flow. The Environment Agency puts all its emphasis on averages when it is obvious to conservationists that it is the data on low flows which need to be scrutinised.

Since everyone who knows the river estimates that it now flows at less than one quarter of its original volume, I ask the noble Baroness to seek assurances from the Environment Agency that it will have another look at the matter.

I know that the Secretary of State has been contacted and I hope the noble Baroness will also be able to ensure that the Environment Agency takes proper account of the important issues when formulating its action plan for the Windrush. Can it look carefully at the plan to spend £9 million on a new treatment works at Worsham? If water has to be taken from these rivers, does it not make more sense to take it at its confluence with the Thames, thus maintaining levels upstream?

Under the Government's new guidelines, all abstraction licences issued in the 1960s have to be reviewed. I would ask the Minister to take notice that the abstraction licences affecting the Windrush are carefully considered and that she recommend that a low flow study is implemented for the Windrush as it has been for other local rivers.

5.26 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, first, I apologise to the House for being unable to be in the Chamber for much of the debate. I have been attending a meeting of the Procedure Committee in the Moses Room. However, I was lucky enough to be present for the two notable maiden speeches. I was not, as some of your Lordships might have thought, in the Prince's Chamber auctioning some of my minutes.

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During the three minutes allowed, it is difficult to deal sensibly with many of the issues raised by the topic. The title of the debate is to call attention

    "to land use in"--
perhaps "of"--

    "the countryside and to the demands placed on it by society".
I thank the noble Earl for drawing your Lordships' attention to those two aspects. As regards the demands of society, one might say that the topic can be dealt with in two words; cui bono, for whose benefit?

One cannot deal separately with issues raised narrowly, at any rate geographically in the countryside, without also being aware of pressures on other parts of our society, particularly in urban areas. Town dwellers have interests in the countryside, too--not only food production but development. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked what is to be treated as brownfield land and how it is to be dealt with. There are issues of town planning, and town dwellers reap great value from the countryside by being able to visit it. I believe that there are approximately 1.3 billion daily visits each year. I am a tourist to the countryside and recently in the north I came across a sign directing travellers to the Lakeland Oasis Farm Village. I believe that it is a commercial enterprise which seems to be an interesting conjunction of characteristics. Perhaps it satisfies town dwellers in achieving everything in one visit.

My noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley referred to the need to move away from seeing the countryside as something set in amber. He talked about it in terms of the social hierarchy. It is all too easy for NIMBY characteristics--no development in my back yard, which are all too obvious in towns--also to apply in the countryside. The countryside as it is today is not entirely natural; it is the product of development over many centuries. I refer to enclosures and the industrial revolution. Many of the distinctive features of the countryside include those which are man made. I mention that because I believe that one cannot resist all change. I suggest that the context for change should be a respect for tradition but coupled with productive use of the countryside and the need for new ventures. One cannot expect landowners simply to preserve. That is not an end of it. They have interests, very supportive interests, and they have to make sure that they can survive. Preservation or conservation cannot happen as though there are no economic factors surrounding it.

In other words, regeneration is a rural as well as an urban issue. We need to plan for it, possibly or probably at regional level. We need to plan for the needs of our regions. We need a strong regional planning framework, observing the need to integrate economic, environmental and social issues.

There is a major demand--and reference has been made to it--for affordable housing. There is an argument for good country houses, which I support, as good examples of architecture and for modern houses which add to our historical heritage. But that is irrelevant to many who are in need. I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley referred to demands for new settlements. I do not believe that the need for new settlements can be ruled out. But it is

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important that the new settlements should comply with agreed and strict criteria--criteria of design, sustainability with regard to individual buildings and the facilities which new settlements should provide for businesses and for services, not least to minimise the need to transport people from a new settlement to other settlements.

New settlements probably will have to be located away from areas of major employment if only to discourage commuting. I do not suggest that all that needs to be imposed from one centralised master plan. The need for partnership has been referred to and there are many partners who can be a part of that process. There is a need for participation and democracy. I look forward to debates in your Lordships' House on regional identity when we come to consider the proposed new regional development agencies. However, I should like to see the place of regional government discussed and I believe that that would have a role in assisting the countryside.

The countryside is a resource to be cared for as well as exploited. It is a home to communities which are to be nurtured. But it is also the bedrock of economies. They need hard work and innovation to sustain them. It comprises also an environment which we must respect. But it is not a museum piece. We could fight every new development, tolerate every vested interest and, as a consequence, suffer, for example, a lack of affordable housing and appropriate services. Or we could--and I suggest we should--shift our perspective to the regeneration of the countryside to fit the new world.

5.33 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, this has been a very stimulating debate and, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, in his opening remarks, it has attracted a large number of distinguished speakers. I compliment the noble Earl on initiating the debate and giving us such a thought-provoking and wide-ranging introduction to what is an immense subject.

There is little that has not been touched upon by someone. I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, speak on brownfield sites. I believe that we should have more specific debates on the subject of brownfield sites and contaminated land in the near future. We had some tremendous contributions on forestry from the noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Nathan, and my noble friend Lord Astor. There were some very good contributions on planning from the noble Lords, Lord Bridges and Lord St. John, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford. We went on through the index of rural issues even as far as the rabbits of my noble friend Lady Strange. Our discussion has extended from riding schools to the bees of the noble Lord, Lord Norton.

I am delighted that the excellent performance based on the accumulated experience of this House provided such a good setting for two excellent maiden speeches. My noble friend Lord De Ramsey, who has established an impressive reputation as chairman of the Environment Agency, made a long-awaited maiden speech and a very good one at that. He was cleverly

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away from his seat when my noble friend Lord Colwyn put in a plea for the Environment Agency to attend to the River Windrush. I was delighted to hear also the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells. He gave us some interesting thoughts for debate, not least about the word "stewardship" which has been a theme running through much of the debate.

The Government are very keen on focus groups. I believe that this debate alone has, in an informal way, gathered a focus group of extremely wide experience and expertise with a large number of informed comments and expert opinions. I hope that the Minister and her advisers and colleagues will consider what has been said. I share the regret of many that the time limit on today's debate has been so punitive on those who had so much to contribute. However, I believe that the prize goes to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for squeezing the maximum number of words into the legal time limit.

We have covered the sheer diversity of the countryside, economic viability, enterprise and opportunity. We have covered the prosperity of the countryside not only in its economic sense but in its environmental and social sense. We have covered environmental stewardship, housing, and, in many different ways, we have covered the options available to management. The diversity of this debate is a true reflection of the diversity of the countryside. It is not just a diversity of landscape or topography; it is a diversity of people, varying aspirations and traditions. It is thus a fear of many noble Lords who have taken part in the debate that the countryside is subject increasingly to simplistic and misleading generalisations. It is increasingly vulnerable to prescriptive edicts and formulae, regardless of the sheer diversity of circumstances which lie out there.

Most vulnerable in terms of misconceptions about the countryside is the role of economic enterprise in our rural areas. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the distinctive features of our countryside are not necessarily God given--and I say that with respect to the right reverend Prelate. It is not a museum. Much of what is there owes its existence and final shape to the hard work of man. The countryside is merely a series of working landscapes. It is the scene for seven-days-a-week and 52-weeks-per-year industries and enterprises. Those land-based enterprises in the countryside form a considerable economic element not only of rural Britain but, indeed, of our whole national economy.

I do not say that from quaint, rose-tinted, rustic sentiment. The employment statistics, up and downstream, of all our major land-based economic activities are considerable. There is a fashion to focus on the fall in on-farm employment since the Second World War. But if one looks at the increase in employment of up and downstream industries to agriculture since the Second World War, it can be seen that agriculture still comprises a huge industry and a very important part of the landscape in every sense.

The CAP and the problems that its subsidies have presented to land use were touched on widely by my noble friends Lord Renton of Mount Harry,

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Lord Onslow, Lord Clanwilliam, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. As many noble Lords will know, the CAP is up for reform in the very near future. The one issue which must be guarded against by the Government in the negotiations is that of modulation.

A number of speakers today complained about large farms, about the rich becoming richer and, indeed, about the need for small-scale family operations. However, we must be very careful in our negotiations in Europe to ensure that the consensus across the Channel for modulation does not disadvantage farmers in the United Kingdom unnecessarily. The average farm size on the Continent--indeed, across the whole of the EU as a statistic--is half the average farm size in the UK. Moreover, the average farm size in Scotland is twice that of the United Kingdom. Therefore, modulation, which is something that the last Government fought very hard to prevent in 1992, is something which must not be imposed upon us. It is not a matter of simply stopping the rich becoming richer; it is a matter of protecting the average-sized family farming unit in this country. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that modulation is something that the Government will do everything they can to prevent in negotiations.

There is a very strong link between economic prosperity and environmental prosperity. The myth has for too long been that if land use is economic and successful, surely it is environmentally damaged. There is a second myth in parallel; namely, that the interests of land management and the interests of natural heritage inevitably conflict. Neither of those myths is borne out in reality. It is the farmer, it is the woodland manager, and it is the land user who is economically viable who is able to incorporate environmental value adding stewardship into his operations. In his very strong opening remarks the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, dealt extremely well with that fundamental economic reality and the environmental benefits which accrue.

The most eye-catching and vivid manifestation of society's demands and the pressures that they place on land use in the countryside involve the huge explosion of tourism and the desire for greater access. The noble Lords, Lord Cobbold and Lord Rotherwick, dealt with those issues. However, that is another subject which I believe would be best handled as a separate debate. But those whose livelihoods are based in the countryside should welcome the interest that those based in urban and suburban areas are showing in the countryside. It is an enthusiasm for the countryside which can bring great benefits. The sheer and straightforward economic opportunities provided by tourism represent one obvious symptom of the benefits that can accrue from people taking a greater interest in our rural areas.

There are also educational opportunities which I hope will be grasped. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about the gap in understanding and my noble friend Lady Sharples mentioned the disappointment that urban and suburban people feel when they see a tree that has been felled in the countryside, simply because they do not necessarily understand how the countryside

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operates. It is not just a matter of managing the visitors; it is also a matter of educating them so that they understand why some rural activities have to be managed in a certain way.

There are some contentious aspects to rural activities. The management of wild deer is just one. Similarly, the 130 million activity days devoted to country sports of various sorts, the near 100,000 full-time or full-time equivalent jobs which depend upon country sports and the £6 billion in direct and indirect expenditure from those traditions are all vital elements of our countryside.

When considering what has been said in today's debate, I hope that the Minister will do her utmost to take on board some of the hard-earned experience which has been outlined. I also hope that she will take note of the pleas for partnership approaches to policy making and decision making as far as possible and of the need to be sensitive to the needs and desires of the countryside, especially when it comes to such contentious single-issue themes.

I also hope that the Minister and her colleagues will recognise the benefits that can come from working with land managers rather than in a way which alienates them. Land managers can bring a commitment, they can bring energy and resources, and they can work with rather than against in a rather neutral and unconstructive format. I hope that the Minister will be able to take away with her the points so well made by speakers from all parts of the House.

5.43 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as the noble Earl said, we have indeed had a fascinating and constructive debate today. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, both on the very lucid and considered way in which he introduced such a wide-ranging and diverse subject and on choosing a subject which has attracted such a long and star-studded cast of contributors in your Lordships' House. I have to say that it also gives the person concluding the debate from the Government Front Bench what I believe would be described in current parlance as a challenging task. However, I shall do my best to respond to the points raised.

As many noble Lords said, today's debate has provided us with two outstanding maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, gave us a speech of great wit as well as great eloquence and indeed of passion. That is a very good combination for a maiden speech and of course for any speech made in this House. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing from him in the future. Equally, the right reverend Prelate gave us a wonderful balance between the spiritual and the practical. If I may say so, it is not many Members of your Lordships' House who have their maiden speech trailed on the "Today" programme for them. Perhaps it gave us all expectations which were not in the least disappointed by listening to the right reverend Prelate. It is possible that the timing of today's speeches and contributions were such that we all ought to have practised for the format of the "Thought for the day" slot and then we would all have got the timing absolutely right.

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As I said, today's debate has been extremely wide ranging. Although I shall not be able to cover everything that was said, I shall do my best to write to noble Lords on specific subjects. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, about the River Windrush, although I was tempted to suggest that we simply cut out the middle man and that I refer him immediately to the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, in his position as chair of the Environment Agency.

The only aspect of today's debate which somewhat concerned me was the suggestion that the Government represent only urban interests. I should point out to the House that after 1st May the Government--and, indeed, Members in another place--now also represent a wide swathe of rural interests. The responsibilities of representing those interests--that fourth "R" of responsibility and one that the Prime Minister himself has emphasised many times--is something that we take most seriously. We have to be a government of the whole nation and that involves listening carefully. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, that we will listen to what has been said today. Indeed, we do want to know about and hear from those who have an enormous contribution to make from their own experience. However, I do not believe that it does any of us any good to categorise the other side of the argument either as distant and unknowing members of the countryside who do not recognise the problems of urban deprivation or vice versa in terms of people who live within towns and cities having no feeling for the problems or respect for the values of the countryside.

The need for partnership was an aspect stressed by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. I should like to endorse that. Indeed, we do need partnership which brings together the very considerable devotion of skill and effort which will be needed if we are to formulate policies which will actually tackle some of the very real problems which were so eloquently outlined today.

Several speakers today pointed out that we need to have an integrated approach. We made clear our intention to place the environment at the heart of government policy, to pay our duty to eretz in its widest sense. But today we have also been talking about eretz, as the right reverend Prelate said, in its narrower sense in terms of the specifics of land use. Many strands of government policy have an impact on rural areas. It is vital that we take an integrated approach to address those distinctive needs. My noble friend Lady Nicol made that point. Matters such as jobs and transport--as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and the noble Lord, St. John of Bletso--housing and employment in rural areas and the protection of and access to the countryside are all closely linked. I stress that we are committed to considering them in the round. It is only through a genuinely integrated approach that we can aim to consider the issues that have been raised by noble Lords tonight.

The countryside and rural policy have been considered as part of the Government's comprehensive spending review. The aim will be to set priorities for rural policy for the medium and for the long term. The need for a long term view, as expressed today, is something that we take seriously. We need to consider

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the best means of delivering those policies in institutional terms. I believe that the noble Earl made that point in his introductory speech. The review is being jointly conducted by my department, the DETR, and by MAFF and is taking into account other departmental interests. In areas such as transport the work that we are doing on an integrated transport policy must have at its heart the needs of people in rural communities and must recognise that the solutions that we find for congested inner cities will not be appropriate for isolated rural areas. We have also invited comments on this process from others interested in countryside issues.

As one would expect, several speakers such as the noble Lords, Lord Gisborough, Lord Milverton, Lord Rotherwick and others, referred to our manifesto commitment on access to open countryside. We shall publish a consultation paper setting out how this matter is to be taken forward. I hope that my next point will reassure some noble Lords who have spoken today. The consultation paper will recognise that legitimate aspirations to walk more widely in the countryside need to be set against other legitimate concerns. It will strike a balance between rights and responsibilities of walkers and landowners including respect for wildlife and the natural environment. We are firm in our intention to enable more people to enjoy the countryside but we are equally determined to respect the rights of those who live and work there. We shall keep compulsion to the minimum necessary to meet our objectives and we shall encourage the use of voluntary agreements. That issue was mentioned today. I hope that noble Lords will find that the consultation paper covers their concerns and allows them the opportunity to contribute. We look forward to drawing on the long experience of land management in this House and elsewhere to develop practical proposals for legislation.

On a specific issue, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, asked for reassurance on the consultation exercise on vehicles on byways. The Government have considered the results of that consultation exercise. We expect to make an announcement shortly. I return to the substantive issue of the debate, land use in the countryside and the demands placed on it by society. The countryside is a vital national resource and a key part of the economy where many people live and work. Our countryside must be a living countryside with a defined purpose as important as that of towns and cities but where non-renewable resources are carefully managed to preserve them for future generations. If we are to balance these needs, we must foster an attitude to development which ensures that it enhances or preserves the character of the countryside, its market towns and villages. Sustainable development is a cornerstone of the Government's rural and planning polices.

Revised national planning guidance for the countryside was published earlier this year by the previous government. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, emphasised the importance not only of having the right planning policies but also of having streamlined and effective procedures. That is something we have already debated in this House. We are considering proposals for

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speeding up the planning system as part of the comprehensive review. We shall bring forward proposals in the light of that. As regards funds for the Countryside Commission to appear at public inquiries, I understand that the commission has had to consider carefully its priorities in relation to individual development proposals. I am afraid that determining priorities is something that all public bodies, like all government departments, have to do.

I have already said that our countryside must be a living countryside. It has been said this evening that the countryside cannot be embalmed and kept as it is. There are many reasons why it is important that our countryside is a living countryside. That helps to contribute to general economic growth and to support conservation. It can combat social exclusion and the poverty that is often not recognised but which still exists within the countryside. We have talked about dying cities as well as dying countryside. Government planning policy aims to revitalise our towns and cities while maintaining and enhancing the environmental quality of urban areas. That is important not only for its own sake but to stem migration of people from towns and cities which increases the pressure for new development in the countryside. I welcome the thoughtful remarks of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, on quality as an important ingredient of sustainable development. It is that issue of the need for more housing and the growth in the number of households that poses one of the big challenges. Many speakers mentioned it in the debate today including my noble friend Lady Nicol, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

It has been mentioned today that 4.4 million new households are expected to form in England alone between the years 1991 and 2016. Noble Lords are no doubt familiar with that statistic. I know that there has been some debate about the methodology for calculating that figure of 4.4. million. The methodology is set out in the 1996 Green Paper Household Growth: Where Shall We Live? We believe that the methodology is robust. I remind noble Lords that household growth is not a new phenomenon. It has been evident since the 1920s and particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. All previous forecasts have proved to be under estimates rather than over estimates. Of course much of this growth is already accommodated in regional planning guidance and structure plans and many of the houses needed have already been built. However, making further adequate provision for these households locally will not be easy. They will all generate pressure on transport, the utilities, water resources, energy and on both urban areas and the countryside. We shall give careful consideration to the responses to the previous government's consultation paper before deciding what the next steps should be.

We are committed to re-using previously developed land, particularly in urban areas, to assist urban regeneration and to create more sustainable patterns of development. The current national target is for at least half of these new homes to be built on previously used sites--the "brownfield" land that has been alluded to today--and these might include former MoD sites

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where a sustainable mixture of residential and other uses can be achieved. Recent statistics indicate that nationally local authorities are now close to meeting this target. The Government's planning policy guidance clearly states that authorities should make the most effective use of "brownfield" sites for housing. But it is inevitable that some greenfield sites will be needed. We are of course still considering definitions and targets for the re-use of "brownfield" land as we consider responses, in consultation, to the household growth Green Paper.

A number of noble Lords referred to the importance of making substantial changes in the operation of the common agricultural policy, particularly if the more remote farms are to remain viable. Reforming the CAP is a major Government priority. Although a key objective is to secure substantial budgetary savings in due course and benefits for consumers, we recognise that in the past too little agricultural support has been linked to measures which actively improve the rural environment. Radical reform of the present CAP would bring substantial budgetary savings, and we want to divert some of those savings to positive measures for rural development and for the enhancement of the environment.

The Government fully understand the needs of small farmers, a subject so eloquently argued by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The Government's aim is to promote an efficient, prosperous and outward-looking agricultural industry which makes a positive contribution to the rural economy. That policy is pursued for agriculture as a whole and helps smaller farms. Measures such as the environmentally sensitive areas scheme and farm woodlands scheme acknowledge the important role of family farmers in a rural economy. They will be of considerable benefit to smaller farmers. As the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, said, farming is the most significant contributor to the appearance and character of the landscape. In particular, in remote areas those small family farms play the biggest part of all.

Farms need to respond to changing marketplaces, but consumers' expectations, as well as expectations for the environment and recreation, have to be recognised. However, those demands do not need to be at odds. I indeed expected that the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, would raise the benefit of organic farming. I take much to heart the points he made about the extent to which we rely on imports for the demand that is already there nationally for organic products. Environmentally friendly production methods can add value to farm produce, although UK farmers do not yet satisfy market demand for organic food. We are carefully considering how to encourage an expansion of organic farming. The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, also raised the issue of flax grown on SSSIs. We are looking at this matter urgently in order to close the loopholes to which he alluded. I hope that he will be

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reassured that we are looking at it seriously. We hope to come to some conclusions soon.

Of course, the pressures on the countryside vary, depending on a number of different factors, although the common thread throughout is the need to safeguard the environment. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to the problems faced by upland areas in particular. There are voluntary support schemes of payments available to farmers under England's agri-environment programme, mainly through the countryside stewardship scheme and the environmentally sensitive areas scheme.

Those schemes are subject to regular review in the light of experience and environmental needs. For example, the schemes are, where relevant, being adapted to help achieve biodiversity targets. We work closely with non-governmental organisations in monitoring and developing these schemes through the National Agri-environment Forum and Regional Agri-environment Consultation Groups, public consultation exercises and formal and informal contact with relevant organisations. This reflects the importance--it is a theme running through tonight's debate--placed by the Government on consultation and the open exchange of views.

Of course in recent years, farmers across the board have looked increasingly to supplement their incomes from non-agricultural alternatives. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, talked about the multi-use countryside. Much farm-based work now features activities such as woodland management, equestrian businesses--referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham--sporting facilities and tourism generally. National planning guidance for the countryside recognises the potential benefits of farm diversification to individual rural businesses and the wider rural community and encourages local planning authorities to take a positive approach to such development. I mentioned woodland management as one form of farm diversification. The management and creation of woodland also affect, and are affected by, many of the other issues to which I have alluded. Woodland offers recreational opportunities, landscape diversity and wildlife habitats. The Government support a steady expansion of woodland cover and the sustainable management of our existing woodland resource.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, asked about farm woodland grant rates. The Government increased the grant rates under the farm woodland premium scheme in April this year. In the period to the end of June 1997, over 6,000 applications to convert 37,500 hectares of agricultural land to woodland have been approved under the scheme.

Several noble Lords raised the issue of forestry, including the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe. The Government are considering how best to progress woodland expansion in England, taking account of responses to last year's

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consultation by the Forestry Commission and the Countryside Commission which were published recently.

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