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Lord Whitty: My Lords, clearly the future of the countryside in part depends on the revival of agriculture and its ability to make the changes required of it. The very large sums of money which the Government and the EU have put into rural areas to support agriculture and the new provisions which were announced earlier this year and those in relation to support for diversification for farming incomes are an important part of that. Agriculture must change but, as the noble Lord said, it is absolutely key to the future.
The only point I make, which I made earlier, is that there are, and will increasingly be, many other entrepreneurial successes in the countryside which already provide positive prosperity and employment for our rural citizens. Therefore, while it is vital that we continue to support agriculture, forestry and so on, those other industries also require encouragement.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that as the policies are announced and the commitments realised, this White Paper will come to be seen as a historic landmark which is perhaps deserving of rather more time than is available today? In particular, I commend the environmental interest which was illustrated also by the announcement on field boundaries, which has not yet been appreciated by the House.
I welcome my noble friend's comment about brownfield sites as an alternative to greenfield sites. That is highly desirable. But would it not be possible for the department to ensure that where achievement is either under way or already attained in regard to brownfield development, more and more attention is given to the possibilities which such development can provide?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, yes. The development of brownfield sites must be part of the diversification of the rural economy. We have a lot to learn from the successful innovations which have already taken place in many of our rural areas.
I wish that I had seen a copy of this White Paper a lot earlier. I am interested in trains and not only in ensuring that trains run. Obviously, they do not always compete directly with buses. I believe that in Norfolk, we should re-open some of those lines which Dr Beeching manged to close. If that is done, an enormous amount of transport is taken off the roads. I am involved with people who are doing that at the moment. Many heavy goods vehicles can be taken off the roads, especially those transporting sugar beet.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have no doubt that in some cases an extension of the rural train service would be possible and would meet some of those needs. But more important is the provision of rural bus services and what are regarded as more flexible, on-demand services, somewhere between a taxi and a bus, which will meet most of the demands of rural dwellers.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I was glad to hear the Minister admit that agriculture has a part to play in the countryside. I am sorry to hear him go on again about diversification because people must produce potatoes, milk and fruit. It is primarily the marketing with which the producers need help. I did not hear any word about that in the Statement. Marketing has broken down since the abolition of the Potato Marketing Board, and with the curtailment of the Milk Marque, prices have dropped by over 20 per cent. Is that not a cause for alarm?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Statement recognises the need for local markets to be revived and for there to be an increase in the number of local markets. Better distribution facilities need to be provided for farmers. It is certainly the case that agriculture requires a distribution network and a system which is more appropriate to the needs of agriculture.
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