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Earl Peel: My Lords, what makes the noble Lord believe that the rural underpaid will not be at the march on Sunday?

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl will agree that even more rural underpaid people will not be participating in the demonstration on Sunday.

I think also of the need for reliable--and it is even more important than frequent--public transport and of housing for indigenous rural populations as distinct from overspill housing for people from the cities, which leads to the continuing decline of urban communities. We are glad to see that the Government are now tackling that.

There is the whole issue of the nonsensical counter-productive subsidies with their emphasis on set-aside and all the resentment that causes, and in relation to stock there is the consequent over-grazing, particularly in marginal hilly areas, which results in serious degradation of the environment.

If there is one justification for the emotional outburst this weekend, I believe it to be the absence of a convincing, positive, integrated strategy for the countryside; a strategy which recognises both the countryside's interdependence with urban society and

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the needs of people who live and work in the countryside; a strategy which sees the countryside as literally the indispensable lungs of the nation as a whole, hence, incidentally, the crucial importance of the integrity of remaining open spaces; a strategy which establishes the priority of resources and subsidies for the qualitative and positive management of that precious national asset--for example, by the redevelopment of skills like dry-stone walling, hedging, ditching, coppicing, thatching and managing moorland and by the preservation of pathways and the prevention of erosion.

I, for one, hope that we can celebrate the new millennium by the imaginative reassertion of the priceless significance of the countryside as a vital part of the nation as a whole. It is an asset which all can enjoy and in which all can take pride. It is by the generation of a sense of involvement and responsibility in the nation as a whole that the wellbeing of the countryside will best be protected.

2.50 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, I should declare an interest as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks. The high environmental quality of the national parks is dependent on the nature of human interaction with them. People have lived in the areas now designated for thousands of years. Successive governments have made it clear that there is no incompatibility between conserving and enhancing our national parks and their remaining as living and working communities. For example, Circular 12/96 says that:

    "the qualities for which the Parks have been designated are as much the products of man's hand as of nature. It is in the interests of the conservation of those qualities that the National Park Authorities now have a duty to work with and for their local communities".

Data collected by the Council for National Parks during its major National Parks for Life project on the sustainable use of national parks shows that across the parks the percentage of the male population of working age which is economically active is 79 per cent. The research project showed that the employment structure of national parks, perhaps not surprisingly, showed a great reliance on the tourism, service and agriculture industries. This reliance strongly suggests that protecting the environment of national parks may be significant in protecting the social and economic well-being of park communities.

Good quality countryside also attracts inward investment by way of high technology industry. Development of modern communication systems has enabled individuals and small companies to set up new computer-led business opportunities in several national parks. Location in such an environmentally attractive area is undoubtedly a factor in attracting customers.

Agri-environment schemes provide an important boost to the local economy. This is clearly demonstrated by the Tir Cymen scheme in Wales. A socio-economic evaluation of Tir Cymen, undertaken by ADAS in 1995, revealed that the scheme supports not only farm incomes and employment but the wider rural economy with benefits to contractors, suppliers and new enterprises. The ADAS study showed that Tir Cymen had generated about 200 casual jobs within the three pilot areas.

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Twenty-nine out of the 35 businesses surveyed reported an increase in demand for their businesses as a result of Tir Cymen. We hope that this success will be repeated when the all-Wales agri-environment scheme comes on line in the summer.

The relationship between environmental quality and social and economic well-being is recognised by the Government. For example, PPG 7 states that,

    "wealth creation and environmental quality are increasingly interconnected. The appeal of the countryside is central to its economic prosperity, and healthy economic activity in rural areas facilitates investment to protect and improve the countryside".

The consultation processes that underpin planning in the parks also help to ensure local participation. National Park local plans and the new tranche of management plans are all subject to extensive and open consultation with local people. For example, the Planning for Real exercise in the Brecon Beacons National Park saw officers hold local workshops all over the park to gauge the views of local people.

Section 62 of the 1995 Environment Act places a duty on national park authorities to seek to foster the social and economic well-being of their local communities in ways that are compatible with their pursuit of national park purposes. That new duty reinforces the need for the authorities to take a positive view of the well-being of their local communities.

National park authorities have made a clear commitment to working with people through the Local Agenda 21 process. For example, in 1995 the Peak District National Park Authority agreed to set up a Local Agenda 21 project at Tideswell village. The project is a partnership of county and district councils, the Rural Development Commission, East Midlands Electricity and North Derbyshire Health Authority. By kick-starting this Local Agenda 21 initiative, the Peak Park Authority has demonstrated a key role for national part authorities in working towards a more sustainable development.

The Government recognise the important role that national parks play as test beds for the sustainable management of whole countryside. How wonderful it would be if this could be even more widely applied. But application needs funding. I was interested to note the Prime Minister's commitment to increased funding for the shires, as expressed in Country Life magazine on 26th February. On 5th November last, during a debate on environmental protection and enhancement, I informed the House that in 1996 national parks received funding of 16p. per acre, compared with the figure of £137 per acre for arable area or set-aside payments. I should welcome the Minister's assurance that the funding of the jewels in countryside's crown will receive as much attention as the financial needs of the shires in order that they will be adequately protected and meet sustainability objectives.

2.56 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, I, too, join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for introducing this important topic at a crucial time for the countryside: just 48 hours before

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hundreds of thousands of people will be expressing their concerns here in the capital in the clearest and most forthright way to the Government:

    "Stop attacking the countryside. Take the trouble to understand. Listen to us!".

Nothing could be clearer than that.

The elected Members of the other place have overwhelmingly voted to ban hunting with dogs, but they have failed to recognise the crucial service that is given to the care of the countryside by the landowners, the farmers and the rural communities themselves. If we are not very careful,

    "England's green and pleasant land",

to quote William Blake, will become a concrete jungle and an ecological wasteland.

Many figures and statistics have been widely misleading and misquoted. I should like briefly to put the figures into perspective by looking at a typical part of our countryside--the Border area. In particular, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to a recently completed study undertaken for the Borders Foundation for Rural Sustainability. The report, which is entitled The Economic Contribution of Hunting within the Scottish and Northumberland Borders, covers an area hunted by seven packs of foxhounds. The gross contribution to the economy of this very rural region is about £3.5 million; £1.3 million is specific to hunting, while a further £1.2 million is spent on other goods and services such as farriers, veterinarians, maintenance, welfare and horse livery, to quote just a few of the things upon which the money is spent.

The total employment deriving from the Borders hunting is nearly equivalent to 350 full-time jobs, which will go if hunting is banned. Rural businesses are run on small profit margins. For example, if this step is taken, 10 out of the 11 farriers in the Borders would lose their business and the remaining farrier would lose his apprentice--a loss of some 11 jobs.

A traditional service provided by hunts to farmers in their hunting country has been the collection of fallen stock. This may be humane slaughter and collection of sick or injured animals or just the disposal of dead animals delivered to them. In the past a service was offered by local "knackermen" who would similarly collect fallen stock. However, recent government legislation has effectively closed the knacker trade as the cost of offal disposal soars. The whole of the Border region has now only one knacker business left.

Within the past 12 months the seven hunts to which I have referred handled over 6,000 head of stock. Added to this, from 1st April knackermen will be subjected to a further cost rise as a result of skip cost increases. The problems of fallen stock are numerous and could lead to illegal burying of dead animals. Will the Minister give us some indication what plans there are as regards the disposal of fallen stock when he replies to the debate?

The Borders Foundation report on rural sustainability concludes,

    "That the abolition of hunting would have economic and social implications way beyond the approximate 350 jobs it currently generates".

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Country sports, particularly hunting, provide a focus of interest for rural communities which both enriches and enlivens them and provides the basis for cultural and traditional practices.

The Rio declaration on the environment and development in 1992--having been formulated at the United Nations conference on the environment and development--proclaims a key principle (known as principle 22) that

    "local communities have a vital role to environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognise and duly support their identity, culture and interest and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development".

Do the Government accept this principle, and do they intend to keep to it in the future?

The consultation paper, Access to the Open Countryside, is clearly giving this Government a breathing space and is a concealed attempt to force landowners to open up their property to society generally, to enable people to do whatever they want and to go wherever they want. If landowners do not comply with the Government's wishes, the paper contains clear threats of legislation to open up the countryside. This threat has already caused deep concern among those who live in and depend on the countryside for their livelihood. The very realistic fear among country folk is that if the right to roam is imposed, their rights as owners and managers will be trampled underfoot. I am concerned about the welfare of animals, which could well be affected by those who will roam by right in the future.

I note the list of consultees at annex 1 of the consultation paper which at first glance looks impressive. However, when you look more closely you can see there are many important bodies of opinion which do not appear to have been consulted. I ask the Government whether animals will be protected, and in particular breeding animals. I take two examples. As regards horse stud farms, I note that neither the British Racing Board nor the British Thoroughbred Breeders' Association appear on the list. I refer to pig breeding on open ground, which I know is a matter which interests the noble Lord, Lord Carter. What do the British pig breeders have to say? There are many questions to be answered, but it would be helpful if the Minister in his reply could give us some assurance that the welfare of animals will be properly catered for in the future.

I have highlighted just two areas in an attempt to show that the countryside is under severe threat at the present time. The Government have great responsibility not to fritter away the country's assets in high profile projects to retain public popularity. As we have heard so clearly, farmers are in desperate need of help and those in the countryside need the assurance that their livelihood and way of life are secure in this Government's hands.

3.4 p.m.

Lord Luke: My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Patten for tabling this Question. As many noble Lords have said, he could not have chosen a better day for it. I add my congratulations--however improper it

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is for me to do so--to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, on their excellent maiden speeches.

I have to declare an interest. I live in the countryside. I used to work in the countryside; I do not do so now. We on these Benches have a great regard for the expertise, fairmindedness and good nature of the noble Lord the Chief Whip. I feel rather sorry for him in having to reply to the debate. I wish to ask him this question. When the countryside and those who live and work there are occupying such a prominent place in the media and will be, shortly, on the streets, why have they failed totally to attract the attention of those planning the contents of the Millennium Dome? As it is clear that urban dwellers are failing entirely to understand rural affairs, why not use that opportunity to try to change the situation?

Ten months ago the single overwhelming reason that the Labour Party gained such a massive majority in another place was its success in winning a large number of seats in rural areas. In my opinion, voters fell hook, line and sinker for a brilliantly executed ploy that Labour was not dangerous, it would be more efficient, and it would be fairer generally. Let us consider what has happened.

I have not heard of any of those ladies and gentlemen who so unexpectedly won those old Tory strongholds. Have they contributed to debates on rural affairs in another place? I do not know.

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