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House of Lords

Wednesday, 21 April 2004.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Rural Delivery Review

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following their acceptance of the Lord Haskins's report, when they will announce in detail their changes to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Countryside Agency and English Nature; and whether these changes require primary legislation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Secretary of State intends to publish a refreshed rural strategy for England in the spring, which will include a full response to the recommendations coming out of the Rural Delivery Review undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. The work being undertaken to develop that plan includes consideration of the detailed legal implications of the proposals, and changes to legislation will need to be addressed as part of the implementation plan.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that interesting reply. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of my interest in this matter. I am chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. Does the Minister agree that the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, are of considerable complexity and possibly of great opportunity? Given the reform in the common agricultural policy, will it be necessary for single-farm payments to be tied in with environmental targets? Will they be able to avoid the Byzantine bureaucracy which often requires farmers to have nerves of steel to fill in the application forms when asking for a grant or a subsidy? Is Defra up to such a complex task?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the time and care that we are taking to study the detailed recommendations—33 of them—is evidence of our commitment to ensure that implementation runs smoothly. I cannot but agree with the noble Lord's first statement about the importance of ensuring full integration of all aspects of Defra policy in this area in order to make sense of the remarkably sound and far-seeing work of my noble friend Lord Haskins.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the noble Baroness indicate whether the delay in the implementation of the Haskins report is due to its proposals to reduce the number of civil servants, or is there departmental

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resistance to the good recommendations in the report to give the administration of Defra services to the region where they will be more accessible to the public and to the farming community alike?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, on the contrary, we are taking time because of the depth of the issues and the importance of ensuring that we tackle them all together and at the same time. At this stage the staffing implications cannot be known in detail. I share the support of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for the proposal that is fundamental to this review, which is that there must be greater co-ordination and, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, that we must ensure that we minimise bureaucracy. Farmers do not have time to deal with a myriad of different bureaucracies.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many people are controlled by rural affairs or the countryside? These days how many people who live in the countryside are rural?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it depends what one means by "rural". I have seen a reply to an article by Roger Skrewton which referred to the importance of someone who lives in a rural community eating pests that abound in the countryside. The follow-up letter asked what one did with the leftovers; for example, the Barbour jackets, the four-wheel drives and the green wellingtons. In such a complex area, I cannot possibly answer the noble Lord.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I can tempt the Minister to say whether she agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, who, when he gave evidence to the EFRA Select Committee on 17 December, said that,

    "if you cannot implement big chunks of my proposals you will not be able to deliver Curry and you will not be able to deliver CAP reform".

While Defra dithers, does the Minister accept that the report was due to be out on 1 April? That date has passed, so how long will it be before the consultation concludes and how long will it be before the department puts those proposals into effect?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already started to deal with some of the recommendations in the report. I cannot possibly agree that we are dithering. Were the Secretary of State not to receive views from those most affected by some of the proposals, I am sure that there would be the opposite criticism from the Opposition Benches that we were not listening to stakeholders' views with regard to implementation. We shall act as speedily as we can, consequent on the need to ensure that we have sound policy judgment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that inevitably this will involve primary legislation?

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, were the Government to decide to implement in full all the proposals contained in the report, the answer would be yes. The degree to which primary legislation is involved will depend on the detailed scrutiny of proposals affecting statutory agencies and some of their statutory duties; but that must await the outcome of consideration.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, lest my noble friend appears to be friendless on this side, could I ask her when she is deliberating the Haskins report not to become obsessed with the idea that the common agricultural policy reforms, as they are called, have gone anything like far enough? It is only a staging post to the present realm of reforms. What we really need to see is reform that shows significant changes in the common agricultural policy budget, so that we do not continue to spend approximately 50 per cent of the budget on such a wasteful process as that by comparison with all the other demands made upon it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I agree with almost everything that my noble friend Lord Tomlinson has said, and bow to his even greater knowledge than that of most noble Lords, and especially my own, with regard to EU budgets. It may be a staging post, but it is one that is on a road which at long last is going in the right direction—that is, away from stimulating overproduction and into regard for the countryside and the environment. I know that all noble Lords share that aim.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, the description given by the Minister is that the Government Front Bench may pretend to be rather picky and choosy about which recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, they will follow up and which they will not. Can she give us an assurance that at the end of the day at least the whole system will be more efficient, much more streamlined and less bureaucratic than it is at present?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, far from being picky, the Government wish to ensure that we achieve the objectives outlined by the noble Lord.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

2.45 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the economic and statistical work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are satisfied that the economic and statistical work of the IPCC is the most comprehensive assessment available. We note that it represents consensus between governments based on careful analysis.

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Lord Taverne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that forecasts of global warming depend not only on scientific forecasts but on economic forecasts? Is the department aware that some extremely pertinent criticisms have been made of the special report and emissions scenarios by two very distinguished economists—Mr Ian Castles, the former head of Australia's Bureau of Statistics, and Mr David Henderson, the former head of the economic division of the OECD? They point out that the measure used—the market exchange rate—is quite inappropriate for measuring the difference between rich and poor countries: it exaggerates them. Some questionable assumptions are also made about the rate of closure of the gap between rich and poor nations.

As that will affect policy and is very important in relation to future policy, will the Minister urge her colleagues at the Treasury to get involved in the process of economic forecasting? At the moment something is very wrong.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot agree with the basic premise of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. The result of the report and the views expressed by Mr Castles and Mr Henderson were considered extremely carefully both by the Government and by the IPCC. I note the noble Lord's view about the MEX form of analysis as opposed to PPP.

The difficulty that everyone has is that we are inevitably in an imprecise area because we are looking at long-range forecasting over the next century. However, we owe it to future generations to ensure that we err on the side of caution. The noble Lord's reference to Castles and Henderson would lead us in the direction of perhaps being far too laid back in our attitude towards the future and of failing to take steps now with devastating environmental results.

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