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The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, I merely wish to correct some arithmetic by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. The Chamber is not three-quarters empty; it is over 90 per cent. empty.

1.52 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have known, admired and considered a friend over a long period of time my noble friend Lord Archer. On the subject of this Bill my noble friend has been consistent, persevering and tenacious. I know that he feels deeply that there should be no sexual discrimination when determining the line of succession to the Crown. I hope therefore that my noble friend will respect the way in which I intend to respond to this Bill because I, too, do not wish to argue the merits or demerits of the Bill. I cannot, however, support addressing a subject of such profound constitutional significance on the basis of what may be passing mores that insist on placing a strict sexual egalitarianism above custom and tradition by way of a Private Member's Bill. There are certain institutions, of which the monarchy is most emphatically one--I would argue that the House of Lords is another--that should be beyond revision and reformation by Private Members' Bills or narrow sectional interests. Such proposed constitutional change, I believe, should be subject to a long period of reflection, deeper analysis which takes into account the historical perspective and contemporary thinking and should consider the consequences and impact of any changes for the future of the nation. If, following such a prolonged and in-depth consideration, reform is proposed, I hope that a much wider consensus across the political and social spectrum could be secured.

Under the present system of succession our country has had the good fortune to be ruled exceptionally wisely by women for 109 of the past 161 years. I, for one, am content to be guided by divine providence that under the tradition of centuries has given us remarkable sovereign queens, rather than to set aside our ancient customs using this parliamentary device which ignores possible constitutional ramifications.

We read in the newspapers--I know that we should not believe all that we read in the newspapers--that the Government wish to see this Bill, or such a Bill as this, enacted. It will therefore be interesting to hear from the Minister on this point when he replies to the debate. If, however, reports are correct, I hope the Government will

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not follow the example they have set on other constitutional changes, for example devolution for England and Wales, the removal of hereditary peers from this House; and indeed the future of this House, which is being proceeded with with indecent haste, is ill thought through and is totally lacking in any period of reflection and intellectual analysis. Nor are such constitutional matters being considered in their proper historical context and with all the constitutional knock-on effects being taken into account. Indeed my noble friend has conceded the thin end of the wedge argument by indicating in his speech today that there is a real probability that legislation affecting all hereditary peers would follow this Bill.

I know my noble friend will be disappointed in my response to this Bill. I do not wish in any way to argue with my noble friend that this is not a serious issue, nor that it is not an issue which has its devotees. I make only two points. First, I point out to my noble friend with some diffidence that my influence in this Parliament under a Labour Government is not great. Therefore the responsibility for the progress and survival of this Bill, or any other such Bill on this issue, is a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and his colleagues in another place.

Secondly, I feel very strongly indeed that constitutional changes should not be made lightly. They should be the subject of wider, deeper, thoughtful and intellectual consideration. It is therefore the means by which we are being asked to consider succession arrangements to the Crown, taken together with the plethora of legislation which is dismantling centuries of tradition, which I find deeply disturbing. I will, however, honour the convention of this House by not opposing the Bill's Second Reading.

1.57 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. Noble Lords have raised issues which are related to the subject of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, but which are not covered specifically by its provisions. I do not propose to deal with those now. I want simply to explain to the House what view the Government take about the noble Lord's Bill.

I should make it clear straight away that before reaching a view the Government of course consulted the Queen. Her Majesty had no objection to the Government's view that in determining the line of succession to the throne daughters and sons should be treated in the same way. There can be no real reason for not giving equal treatment to men and women in this respect.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, on a point of order, I had always understood that in this House it was not normal to make known the views of the monarch on legislation before the House. I thought that was a pretty fundamental precept.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if I may be allowed to respond, this text has been specifically

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cleared with those to whom reference has been made. I therefore resent any suggestion that I have done anything improper. I therefore continue. There can be no real reason for not giving equal treatment to men and women in this respect.

We do not think that, whatever its merits, a Private Peer's Bill is an appropriate vehicle for so important a change as the one we have been debating. A major constitutional measure of this sort ought properly to be the subject of a government Bill. We shall be considering how best to carry this forward within government and in consultation with the Royal Family.

Under the Statute of Westminster 1931, before any alteration in the law touching the succession to the Throne can take effect the assent of all those countries of which Her Majesty is Queen is required. The United Kingdom cannot act unilaterally. That is another good reason for introducing a government measure. It would seem very odd to the legislatures of the 15 Realms to be invited to consider assenting to legislation instigated by an individual Member of your Lordships' House.

I cannot tell noble Lords today precisely how we shall be taking this forward. A number of suggestions have been made today for further changes in the law governing succession to the Throne. We shall of course look at these--in consultation of course with the Royal Family--but the only issue on which a decision has been taken is that which is the subject of the noble Lord's Bill: equality of treatment for men and women in relation to the succession to the Throne.

I do not think that I need say more at this stage. We have had our debate and I am grateful to all those noble Lords who have participated in it. I welcome the support which has been expressed for the principle behind the noble Lord's Bill and I trust that he will understand why we cannot support the Bill itself.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before my noble friend rises, perhaps I may put a question on the record. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me and other Members of the House. Is there any precedent whatsoever in the life of Parliament in this country for the definitive view of the Sovereign on the outcome of any Bill being announced to this House in advance of the Bill being considered by both Houses of Parliament?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall write to the noble Baroness and ensure that a copy of such letter, after appropriate consultations with those affected, is placed in the Library.

2.2 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset that I, too, was surprised by the statement. I shall be interested to read the letter.

I thank the Minister for taking the Bill so seriously. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, for supporting me on this occasion. He is a man with a distinguished record in the constitution. For the noble and learned Lord to have backed the Bill was pleasing.

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I understand fully the position of my noble friend Lady Blatch. Indeed, she was kind enough to say that we had been friends for many years and have supported many causes together. I understand fully her reasons for the conduct of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Lauderdale said that he would be shouting "Not-Content". Perhaps in passing I may say how much I admired the excellent role my noble friend's daughter played in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament.

I have listened carefully to what the Minister said. I hear that the Government take the issue very seriously. I take the point of the noble Lord who said that it was too big an issue to be debated in this way. Indeed some noble Lords suggested that the matter should be given more thought. I take that on board.

I hope that those Members who have for a long time opposed me on the Bill will not doubt my sincerity or my hope that I shall live to see such legislation as part of the law of this land. However, I hear clearly what the Minister said. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Second Reading.

Motion for Second Reading, by leave, withdrawn.

Countryside Policy

2.4 p.m.

Lord Patten rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that their policies work to the benefit of people who live and work in the countryside.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to ask this Question. I am glad that Members of all major political parties, the Cross-Benches, and the Bench of Bishops are present to speak today. Perhaps I may begin by saying how much we look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, a notably rural diocese. I understand that beacons and bonfires were to be seen last night from north to south and east to west of his bishopric.

I am also extremely glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will answer the debate. I understand that he knows a great deal about agriculture and the countryside. Like all chief whips he is known for his great subtlety, and for his absolute forthrightness in speaking, and in answering questions. I know that he will seek to answer in a straightforward way what seems to be the most important question to be asked today in your Lordships' House. If all is well in the countryside why do we have tens of thousands of discontented people in the countryside? We have the promise of I know not how many people marching for the first time ever in an unprecedented gathering in the streets of the capital. They are not just from rural areas but from the cities. They are unhappy with the way in which countryside matters are being handled. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will be able to answer that question head-on in his normal much appreciated way. In the closing moments of my speech, I shall have a helpful suggestion for him.

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Rural discontent is not a matter of hunting, fishing or shooting. It is not all about farming. It is not about beef bones. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no interest to declare today in respect of any of those matters. The issues go far wider. I know that others, on all Benches in this House, will pick on particular issues during the course of this brief debate.

Perhaps I may illustrate my argument from three areas where there is widespread concern, above and beyond the burning issues of hunting, shooting, fishing, farming, beef bones and related matters. I take those matters seriously, and share the concern of those of your Lordships who, in turn, share the concern of country people in relation to them. However, I leave those points to be debated by later speakers. I prefer to turn first to the obvious concern that exists in the countryside as to the rate, nature and pace of the building of roads and homes.

Country people are very sensible. They want to get from A to B, so they do not mind new roads and by-passes being built from time to time. They know that their sons and daughters will have to live in houses, and therefore fully understand that homes should be built in the countryside as much as in the town. But it is the nature and scale of much of the development that has happened in the past and is feared for the future, and its disruptive effect on sometimes fragile communities, that causes so much concern in so many rural areas. That is one theme that unites many in the countryside--and many in the towns, who wish to go out from the towns to "recreate" themselves, to enjoy the countryside and meet with country people. Townspeople and country people should not be part of two nations. They need each other, and should learn more about each other.

Secondly, there is the issue of the right to roam, which seems very much to have crystallised rural discontent. It causes concern because country people think that it is a one-way street--perhaps one might call it a one-way lane, or a one-way bridle-path. I recently asked Her Majesty's Government whether they had any intention of being even-handed on the issue of the right to roam, and whether they would provide that right for rural people in urban areas as they propose to for urban people in rural areas. I received an ever helpful reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which I have taken the precaution of bringing with me. It states that the Government do not have any intention of extending the right to roam into urban areas. One cannot therefore blame country people for feeling that the very symbol, the icon, of the right to roam shows that the Government have less than even-handed intentions towards country people.

Thirdly, there is the matter of the preservation of village life in this country. The decline of the English village goes back many decades. However, it is clear that in rural areas there is severe deprivation among a small number of not very vocal people who cannot sometimes, for example, easily get to a doctor or a shop. They cannot take for granted the privilege of easy access to services which people in towns, and increasingly in suburban areas, experience. I suppose that in this country we are mostly suburban now; that is where the

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majority of people live. That is why so many villages seem to be dying on their feet. It is peculiarly poignant that the model of the self-supporting, self-sustaining English village community, for so long prayed in aid by observers of social policy, and indeed by the Church of England in some of its important reports in the 1980s, as the very way in which the inner city might be revitalised, should itself be slowly dying--it is death by a thousand cuts. Those are three examples of how the issue of the countryside and the fate of those who live and work there is very much more than hunting, shooting, fishing, farming, beef bones and all the rest--although I have very deep sympathy with those who are concerned about those issues.

I would say to country people that their organising of themselves has begun to produce results. We have had three important government Statements within the past week of which noble Lords are well aware. They are announcements which, had I still been in another place and full of the bad habits of another place, I should have referred to as U-turns. But I have learnt the more polite parlance of this House, and therefore say that these are welcome re-evaluations of government policy and revisions of pre-existing of government Statements in order to clarify the situation.

I shall not say that the countryside has tasted blood. That would be inappropriate. But now that the Countryside Alliance and the countryside movement generally has seen that well-organised pressure, and the careful and moderate arguing of the countryside's case, can produce these results, I hope that the countryside will continue to organise itself in the way that it has done. I believe that the manifestation of the Countryside Alliance's march this Sunday will be repeated in future years and I hope that at long last we shall see the Government take seriously rural problems.

It is on that point that I conclude, for I wish, as I promised the noble Lord, Lord Carter, at the beginning of my remarks, to be constructive. It is a matter of fact that approximately 150 different government working parties and working groups have been set up since the present Government assumed office on 1st May last year. I believe that the last body count was 147; others may have been created since that I have missed. Not one of those working parties or working groups is concerned specifically with rural matters. That seems to me an extraordinary reflection on the Government's attitude towards the countryside. I am sure that it is an oversight; it needs to be put right. It is clear that there is no one in charge of rural policy in Her Majesty's Government.

The turf wars between different ministries over rural matters have been endemic over many decades. We have the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. There is, however, no one to take charge of rural matters. That must be put right. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that he should pass on to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister the suggestion that, following the good example of the Social Exclusion Unit, the Government should immediately set up a rural exclusion unit, located in 10 Downing Street, to begin to look across government at the problems facing rural areas. I hope that the noble

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Lord, Lord Carter, will pass on that suggestion to his right honourable friend in the constructive spirit in which it is meant.

Unless something is done, we are in grave danger of having two nations in this country: an overweening, overwhelming, over-mighty, un-understanding urban majority and a small, fragile and increasingly threatened and excluded rural minority. That would be a tragedy. We must not allow an iron curtain of misunderstanding to come down permanently between town and country.

2.15 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for initiating this more than timely debate. I too am particularly glad that the response for the Government is to come from my noble friend Lord Carter, who, I think it is fair to say, is in a very real sense acknowledged to be a true friend of the countryside.

We have five minutes in which to speak, but five hours would not be sufficient. Last night's beacons and next Sunday's march are the public displays of a crisis in our land which no one in Parliament should overlook, underestimate or try to belittle. I have never known such fear, such anger, such sadness and such frustration as I have encountered over the past year almost wherever country people are gathered together. "We feel totally disenfranchised", are words which I have heard from Wales to Scotland, from Somerset to Yorkshire, from everywhere.

The problems stem from long before the general election. This is not simply a financial crisis in agriculture, although when farming is in crisis so is much of the rest of the rural economy. There is a deeper and even more difficult crisis for the Government to face. It is one caused by pressure of population from urban Britain. It comes from those who wish to use the countryside as a recreation area, those who wish to use it as a dormitory for the town, those who wish to retire there and those who seek to change its ways to suit different urban tastes. It is that pressure, sometimes combined with intolerance, which has made those who live and work in rural Britain feel under threat as never before.

Of course, country people want many of the same things from their government as do those in the town: they want affordable houses, jobs, good education, good healthcare and security from crime. In short, they want the opportunity to enjoy their lives to the full. Policies and attitudes to meet those requirements which are appropriate for the town may often be harmful when applied in the same way to the countryside. To give one example, measures to limit car use may be good for the town but may result in there being no affordable means of transport and loss of jobs in the countryside.

This debate is about government policies. As the noble Lord fairly conceded in asking his Question, three major steps forward for the countryside were taken last week. The Deputy Prime Minister's announcement on housing development on Monday, the Minister for the Environment's announcement on access on Wednesday and the new package of assistance for the very

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hardest-hit livestock farmers announced by the Minister of Agriculture deserve universal acknowledgement and the gratitude of rural Britain. The Government have clearly begun to listen and respond to those worries. So far, so good. But I echo what the noble Lord opposite said. What is needed is one government department to speak for the rural minority and to ensure that all government policy takes account of their very different needs and problems.

On Sunday country people, frightened for their future, will come to London in their thousands. There will be many different priorities, many different reasons for their being there, but they will be united by one thing--their opposition to the current Bill to ban hunting which is before Parliament in another place.

A vast amount of money--an estimated £2.5 million--has so far been spent by supporters of that Bill in mounting an advertising campaign, political lobbying and public relations designed to whip up hatred in our largely urban population against a rural minority in the name of animal welfare. Ironically, those on the receiving end of the abuse and vilification are those who own and care for most of the animals and look after the countryside and its wildlife for all to enjoy.

The feeling of unity, anticipation and hope which was felt throughout our country in May this year when many rural areas elected Labour MPs was severely damaged by the vote at the Second Reading of the Bill. Our Government--I pay tribute to them--have not given support to that measure which many of us believe would be bad for animals, bad for people, bad for freedom and in the long term disastrous for our countryside. Let those who disagree try to persuade others by force of argument. But do not try to pass legislation to send those to prison whom you fail to convince.

The very diversity of our nation is its strength and richness. We ask our Government to protect that diversity and lead the way in tolerance of minorities, of which rural people are perhaps the largest in our land. Tolerance means tolerating things we may not like. Give us, both town and country people, the chance to do more with our lives. Do not spend your precious time in government passing legislation to restrict, control and ban. The countryside wants you to succeed; let us work with you.

2.21 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate and am grateful to the noble Lord who introduced it for weaving into his remarks a reference to Salisbury. He will understand if I speak from experience of that rural part of the world which is the southern part of Wiltshire and Dorset, but I speak also out of the Church's commitment, which it shares with government, to build strong communities.

In my part of the world rural communities feel under threat. Their integrated way of life, with its close links between land use, housing, schools, shops and transport, does not feel understood or appreciated for the contribution it wants to make. Let me rehearse one or two of those concerns.

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First, there is real poverty and deprivation in many of our rural areas. The picture of the countryside as a rural playground protected for the wealthy is unreal. In real life it is the smell of slurry that competes with the roses over the cottage door. There is a village in our diocese, which is not untypical, where one-third of the population earn over £40,000 per annum but another third earn less than £6,000. The average income figures paint a rosy picture but conceal a real poverty. To build strong rural communities in England, we need a realistic picture of our rural and social economy.

Secondly, the question of housing arises. Some recent government changes seem welcome--the recent announcement of the reduction in the total number of houses to be built and the shift in the balance towards building on brownfield sites. But in our diocese there is an enormous lack of brownfield sites and those that exist are often expensive to develop. Recently a village in Wiltshire wanted to build just 12 houses on one of those sites. It had been used for waste infill. It cost more than £250,000 to prepare the site for building and that put the cost of each house up to a level beyond the reach of many of those in the local community. Where there is no brownfield site available, the imposition of VAT on greenfield sites will make village development much more expensive.

What makes this worse is that regulations prevent district councils from specifying a proportion of affordable houses on small scale developments. But it is this small-scale development that we most need in our village communities--affordable houses that could be bought or rented by the young first-time house owners or by people in later life coming back to their rural roots, not the executive-style properties that are so often built and sold to wealthy weekenders or commuters. That is why our diocese has a policy of releasing glebe land for social housing. We have housing developments in villages, mostly with houses or flats to rent or for equity sharing, most of which are only six or at the most eight houses. All tenancies are made to local people and it is part of the scheme that covenants on those houses can control their future use.

If there is no affordable housing, young families on low incomes cannot get into the villages and school numbers fall. Pride in your local school is an important factor in generating a sense of being part of a community that has a future. With so many signals of uncertainty about the future of the farming industry, institutions that represent a commitment to the future are immensely important for morale.

The issue of rural transport is key. Both the young and the old are particularly hard hit by a lack of it. It also affects who can shop where. A recent report showed that 83 per cent. of villages in Wiltshire and an astonishing 88 per cent. in Dorset have no bus service at all. But where there is a bus service, it is very important that it is integrated and is one that meets the needs of local people. I came across a village near Devizes where the locals could get into town by bus on market day but could not get back in time to meet their children out of school. It is a question of co-ordination. Without incentives like this, people will continue to use

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their cars. I know that many are concerned about the reported intention of the Government to raise petrol prices by a substantial amount. That may help control urban pollution but it does a grave disservice to the country.

I am telling your Lordships what it feels like to work in a largely rural area where we want to encourage the Government to appreciate the distinctive contribution which the rural way of life offers. In the countryside our lives are constrained by a variety of natural factors, from the seasons of the year to the vagaries of the climate, from the geophysical structure to the inherited patterns of land use and management. We in the countryside need the chance to develop our distinctive contribution and then to contribute to the national agenda on the crucial question of what makes strong community.

A major part of the Church's task is to create community, models of people in relationship with one another. We are willing partners with a government who seek to build community at all levels. But strong community needs social policies to back it. What the life of the countryside reveals is that such social policies need to be integrated, not contrived piecemeal and developed unrelated to one another; and to have integrated social and economic policies, you need a vision of what community means. That vision springs out of the conviction, which I believe the Church shares with the Government, that neither dependence nor independence is the key, but interdependence. Interdependence is what life in the countryside models. So I hope we will cherish that vision which the countryside offers as its contribution to our common life.

2.28 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. Time will not allow me to pay as much care and attention to his many attributes as I would like, but certainly the feelings he expressed for his community are well appreciated by your Lordships. We look forward very much indeed to hearing the right reverend Prelate again in the future.

I thank my noble friend Lord Patten for initiating this debate. I think it is too early to tell whether the Government's policies are having an adverse effect on those who live and work in the countryside, with the exception perhaps of beef on the bone, which was quite frankly a bad mistake. I think the Government now appreciate that. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, indicated, there is real hostility building in the countryside. People do not like what they see. They do not like the pointers that are coming from the Government on rural issues.

In new Labour we have a government who appear--for the time being at any rate--to have shed the profligate images of their predecessors. But one cannot help feeling that in their attempt to placate their Left wing the Government are eyeing up the countryside as what they see as the soft belly of privilege and traditionalism, which is there to be dismembered purely

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on the back of political dogma. I believe that that would be dangerous and foolish. I hope that those prognostications do not turn out to be true.

New Labour has few rural roots. That is not a criticism, but simply a fact. There are, of course, exceptions and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is a very good exception. We all know that his rural credentials are as good as anybody's. But it is for that very reason that I believe that this Government should listen and learn from the countryside if we are to have a government, as the Prime Minister has said, that is going to govern for everybody and not just for their chosen few or chosen many, as the case may be.

As someone who lives, works and owns land in the countryside, I appreciate the wonders of the countryside, but I also understand the difficulties, such as poverty, crime and--something which I feel strongly about--the imbalance that exists at the moment between agriculture and the environment. But whether we like it or not, the countryside has been, and will continue to be, shaped by those who live, work and invest there. The Government must work with those people if they are to gain their confidence.

I believe that what those whose responsibility it is to manage the countryside object to most is the criticism that comes from those who have no practical experience of rural matters. They are what one might term the armchair critics; those who venture out from time to time and then try to tell us how we should run our affairs. Every sector of society has its ways and traditions and some of those associated with the countryside may indeed seem strange. But, generally speaking, there are very good reasons for these traditions. They have been born out of trial, error and practice by good, honest citizens and not simply devised on the back of some whim or by some spin doctor. So what we seek is tolerance and understanding. We expect people to find out about things before they start condemning the countryside.

An example of that is that it is no coincidence that two of the recent chief executives of the League Against Cruel Sports have changed their attitude towards hunting having separated the emotional from the practical, the fact from the fiction. Hypocrisy, too, clouds our thinking and I suppose it is fair to say that we are all guilty of that to a greater or lesser extent. I find it difficult to understand, for example, those who condemn field sports, but at the same time keep cats. Killing is part of the field sports ethos for there is a net gain for the countryside through habitat management, employment, and so on. Yet in a recent report by Mick Fox, I see that there are 9 million cats in this country which account for the indiscriminate death of at least 88 million birds and 164 million mammals annually. Many of those deaths are hardly instantaneous: I suspect that they are rather cruel and lengthy. But we do not ban cats for the simple reason that we are tolerant towards those who get pleasure from them.

In conclusion, Sunday's March--which, I suspect, is really why we are discussing these issues at the moment--is not anti-Government: it is pro-countryside. But it is not the sanitised theme park-type countryside

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that some would envisage. We are talking about the real, living countryside. The march is about jobs and communities' traditions, which many of us feel very strongly and passionately about. It is about farming, forestry and field sports, but above all it is about freedom and liberty.

Let us not forget one thing. Perhaps not all those marching on Sunday--however many they be--participate in hunting. But they will be there because there is an anti-hunting Bill in the other place at the moment, and all of those people marching on Sunday see hunting as part of the fabric of the British countryside which they wish to preserve.

2.35 p.m.

Lord Dulverton: My Lords, it is with much trepidation that I rise to address this august House and I must ask your Lordships' indulgence for my maiden speech. I was intrigued when I learned that I was to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I do not know whether he knows that my grandfather succeeded to his seat in Parliament when his grandfather was elevated to this House.

I started farming on my own account 25 years ago, having first attended agriculture college, and then spent a year and a half in a City merchant bank to broaden my perspective. It is poignant with regard to today's debate that the ex-farm price of corn is now the same as it was then, 25 years ago. How many people and their products could compete on the basis of such prices?

I am now more involved with industry than agriculture, and my remaining farming interests are run by professional advisers who farm on their own account. I am chairman of a Warwickshire-based firm of leading manufacturers to the construction industry.

Today, those who live and work in the countryside make up less than 10 per cent. of the population. Those in agriculture make up 2 per cent. of the workforce in employment. Against that background there has to be, by definition, far fewer people who can understand the predicament of farmers today. Theirs is indeed a perilous one. Out of a total of about 200,000 farmers, nearly 30 per cent.--or 60,000--face the possibility of losing their livelihood; of those, half are at risk from the borrowings that they undertook in order to better their farms; the others are at risk from the fact that their farm is of an uneconomic size.

Perhaps I may take a local farmer as an example. His 300-acre farm used to support three families, yet his son now wonders whether the farm will be viable in the future for his family alone. No grass has been ploughed for 50 years. The farm uses little chemicals. The farmer works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and he last left his farm for a holiday 24 years ago. In the past 12 months he has seen his income fall by 50 per cent. He wants no sympathy. He merely wonders whether, when his time is up, anyone will be willing or able to take on that land.

That farmer is based in the more prosperous Midlands. How much more serious must the situation be for those hardy folk, the upland farmers? Do we want those farms turned into a wilderness area? They look

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as they do today because they have been cared for by succeeding generations for hundreds of years. Many upland farmers must be wondering how long they can carry on.

In the past few days, we have heard of the new initiatives being implemented by the Government pledging £85 million to aid livestock farmers. I fear that more will be required.

The situation in the countryside today is very serious. Sadly, with fewer than one person in 10 now living in a non-urban environment, few people can comprehend that fact. Let us hope that a caring government will be able to resolve the situation by their initiatives. It occurred to me as an afterthought that perhaps the £800 million Dome should contain a model of a real hill farm, which will perhaps one day have a tomb on it with "RIP hill farmers" engraved upon it.

2.40 p.m.

Lord Annaly: My Lords, it falls upon my shoulders to congratulate on behalf of the whole House--I do it with pleasure--the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, on his maiden speech. In the few minutes allowed to him the noble Lord displayed his knowledge and depth of experience of the countryside. I hope that in the months and years ahead we in this House can put the noble Lord's experience to great benefit, if we are still here.

This is a timely debate, for which I thank my noble friend Lord Patten. It follows a night when over 5,500 bonfires were lit across the full length and breadth of the country and before the countryside march in London to be held the day after tomorrow. It is very likely that the numbers of people who descend upon London on Sunday will exceed the 120,000 who attended the countryside rally in Hyde Park on 10th July. Surely, this carries a strong message to the Government from many who live and work in the countryside. It is simply: listen to us, listen to us.

There is growing concern among many thousands of people, albeit a minority in national terms, that their way of life and in many cases their livelihoods are under threat. While there are many issues of concern to people who live and work in the country--to farmers it is the strength of the pound and the fall in their incomes, but there are also issues such as transport, education, housing and development in the countryside, all of which are areas of great importance--it is the Foster anti-hunting Bill which is about to reach its Report stage in another place that has been the catalyst to bring together country sportsmen, farmers and others who feel threatened and frustrated by the Government's attitude to them.

After the Hyde Park rally last July the Government indicated that they might include an anti-hunting amendment as part of a government Bill at a future stage. Britain has always prided itself on its freedom of speech and tolerance of minority groups and interests. Surely that is something for which some of your Lordships, and for some of us our fathers, fought and won the last war. There are at last some encouraging signs that the Government are beginning to listen to

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some of the concerns of the country dweller and worker. In their recent consultation document Access to the Countryside the Government have stepped back from legislation on the right to roam in favour of voluntary agreements. This must be the preferable route to go down. It would be quite wrong to enforce public access. If the Labour Party truly believes in voluntary access, it should drop the threat of coercion. Voluntary agreements between landowners and government agencies have been responsible for creating new opportunities for access to over 250,000 acres of land since 1990, according to the Countryside Commission survey. A recent Gallup poll of 5th February published by the CLA showed that, while a large percentage of the public would prefer to see greater access to the countryside, nearly two-thirds preferred to follow way-marked paths rather than choose their own route.

Another issue of concern to many people living in the country is the threat of development in the countryside seemingly at an ever-increasing pace. The countryside is a scarce resource and once it has been developed we cannot get it back. This is why I am concerned by several recent decisions by the Government, one of them being the development of up to 10,000 homes on the green belt between Hitchin and Stevenage. The new measures announced by the Government on 23rd February regarding 60 per cent. of new development in the countryside being on brownfield sites are certainly a step in the right direction, for which they should have full credit. I would, however, like to see the 60 per cent. increased to at least 66 per cent. Some so-called brownfield sites might be set in unspoilt countryside. If they were to be developed all the upgrading to the roads in the area and the increase in traffic, not to mention the light pollution, would totally change the character of the area for the worse. Can the Minister confirm that there will be a halt to the adoption of further county structure plans until the Government's new policies have been clarified?

2.45 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, in joining noble Lords who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for introducing the debate, I should declare an interest. I live in a national park; indeed, I own all of two-thirds or three-quarters of an acre. I also join noble Lords who have expressed reassurance that my noble friend Lord Carter is replying to the debate. It is difficult to think of anyone with a more convincing commitment to and knowledge of the countryside and its needs.

Reference has been made to the forthcoming demonstration this weekend. I am afraid that one characteristic of the demonstration which concerns me is the confusion, manipulation and emotionalism which surrounds it. I believe that the Ministers who are preparing to identify themselves with the demonstration need to be very careful. They need to be careful about what they are standing for in going to the demonstration lest they end up being associated with things in which they have no interest whatever.

With characteristic candour, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu referred to hunting. We all know that concerns about hunting have been central to the motivation for

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the demonstration. But I must say to my noble friend that there has been too much confusion about the issue. Many are, like me, totally convinced that wildlife must be managed. The argument as we see it is about what is the most decent, humane and civilised way to achieve that without pandering to baser and on occasions sick elements in human character, not least among morbid, bloodthirsty spectators.

Another characteristic of the demonstration which concerns me is its social divisiveness. I ask myself where was the concern of those involved when the technological revolution, asset stripping and the de-industrialisation of Britain were decimating living urban communities and causing grave physical and mental health problems for hundreds of thousands of displaced workers and management and their families? All that change was justified in the name of economic progress from which many landowners were able to benefit and upon which many farming communities depended for their subsidies.

The truth is that there is a complex inter-relationship between urban and rural life. I think also of the nightmare of accumulating waste and its disposal, or of pollution and its implication for the climate. It is clear to me that the market alone will never find the solutions. Government, as always, is about intervention for the common good; establishing the central strategic balance between market forces and the long-term benefit of sustainability for society as a whole.

I will have good friends and neighbours participating in the demonstration, but there are very many rural dwellers who will not be there. I refer to the rural poor and underpaid; the frail and elderly in their isolation; the rural unemployed, not least the young; and the rural homeless. I hope that my noble friend will have something convincing to say about them. There are other urgent needs--

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