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This means that local people simply cannot afford to live in the area in which they were born and brought up. It is not for nothing that the area around Polzeath is known as “Fulham and Chelsea-on-Sea”. The Rural Housing Commission does not realise, even yet, the seriousness of the situation. The problem will not come in the future, it is with us now. It is breaking up rural communities as well as families, as younger families are simply being forced to leave, causing bitterness and division. Ultimately, this may lead to the death—as we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—of rural communities. This is already particularly noticeable where there are small village schools threatened with closure. Often, too, people with essential jobs—police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers—simply cannot afford to live in these rural areas. They are all ultimately needed if we are to sustain an organic community in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts.

A solution to the lack of affordable housing in rural areas might be the widespread adoption of community land trusts, which have been developed so that housing can be kept for the benefit of the community rather than sold for a profit. The Church of England, like other landowners, has an essential role—a duty—to bring forward land for development. The organisation Housing Justice is currently working with the Arthur Rank Centre and others to develop ways in which church land can be more easily used for the provision of affordable housing.

We all know that there are profound divisions of opinion over the green belt and its place in planning. However, it is clear that there must be vigorous debate in which all the issues and priorities are understood and appreciated by as many people as possible. We welcome plans to make new housing more environmentally friendly, because we have a duty to be good stewards and care for the environment. Because of this, we must improve the existing housing stock and ensure that

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everything is done to make it more environmentally friendly. We hope that people already living in this housing stock can be given incentives to improve their own homes in ways that make them more eco-friendly.

On their own, however, good new houses are not enough. The necessary infrastructure must be thought about and developed at the same time as the housing, as we have already heard. We must understand that, if we are going to help to create sustainable, organic communities, there need to be facilities such as schools, medical centres, shops, pubs, halls and churches; all of them are an essential part of the whole enterprise and cannot be added later as a kind of afterthought.

As we are thinking about sustainable communities and new housing, we must simultaneously consider—as we have heard once this evening—the needs of Gypsies and Travellers, who are on the edge of all sorts of communities and are often misunderstood and even hated. Perhaps there needs to be a real effort to address their needs, and the Government could take a lead in encouraging local authorities to carry out their duties to assess need and find appropriate sites. In other words, this is a good curate’s egg.

7.55 pm

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I warmly welcome the government programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech, but there are missed opportunities which might usefully fill the two weeks for which we are laid off yet again like seasonal workers—pear-pickers or pea-podders—and cannot do the proper job of scrutinising the Government.

I will suggest some legislation on local authorities’ responsibilities on transport and the Fire Service, but I begin with regulating street trading in our city centres. Too often now, it is abused by those who take out pedlars’ licences. I make this point because I chaired the ninth local government private Bill which has tried to rectify matters. Would it not save an awful lot of time if the Government brought forward a Bill to help local authorities get into a regulated system to deny these pedlars who are abusing their licences?

I move on to commercial advertising billboards, which so besmirch our motorway sides. They are unsightly, are undoubtedly breaking planning permission and are a danger to traffic. This was debated in June 2005; the then Minister, Yvette Cooper, asked local authorities to do something about it, and some have. I understand that a database of motorway ad prosecutions announced in 2007 is coming into effect soon, although it is only voluntary. Can the Minister tell us whether that database is up and running? Is it helpful and effective in coming down on those who transgress the law?

Since that debate two years ago, research from Brunel University by Dr Young demonstrates the detrimental effect of billboards on the performance and attention of drivers on motorways, making it more likely that they will crash as they try to understand or write down a telephone number displayed on the side of the motorway. Will the Government accept an amendment to the Local Transport Bill, for instance,

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to increase local authorities’ powers to interview, prosecute or fine those who transgress? Or should it be—as I believe is a better way of dealing with this—a duty to be placed on the Highways Agency? Local authorities are overburdened as it is.

The Fire Service must clean up the motorways when such accidents happen, and I want to talk about the recent tragic warehouse fire in Warwickshire, where four firefighters died. They were found by comrades from Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service, who had gone down to Warwickshire to help. Indeed, we in Cheshire have suffered from warehouses which do not have sprinklers attached to them to douse fires when they start. We should legislate for sprinklers being part of our public buildings and important warehouses, such as the one that went up in flames yesterday in London. When we are talking about the effect on the environment, I wonder in passing whether we could work harder at reducing the way in which we pollute the sky with the smoke from these incidents by introducing sprinklers more widely, thereby reducing the pollution and the environmental footprint that we currently leave.

Next Wednesday, I shall ask a Question about the self-extinguishing fire-safe cigarette. We recently discovered through the EU consumer protection commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, that some 2,000 deaths a year in 14 of the 27 member states of the European Union occur when people fall asleep smoking a cigarette or are too drunk to notice. Self-extinguishing cigarettes would save those deaths, the thousands more who are injured and the millions of euros and pounds that literally go up in smoke as a result of people starting fires in that way.

Finally, I cannot resist the opportunity to say that the fire service in Cheshire, Warrington and Halton is run by one authority, and long may it remain so. Just look at the difficulties involved in the Secretary of State’s decision to split Cheshire into two separate unitary authorities. We are going in the reverse direction to bringing local authorities closer to the people when west Cheshire will be moved to become part of Merseyside and east Cheshire will become part of a large area called Manshire. Can we resist this? Can we come back to some common sense and keep Cheshire for the people of Cheshire?

8.01 pm

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare my interests as a partner with my husband in our small mixed family farm in Worcestershire, a member of the ethics committee of Micropathology Ltd and an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and of the British Veterinary Association.

In her gracious Speech, Her Majesty confirmed Her Government's commitment,

As my noble friend Lord Haskins made clear, we are beginning to see some of the knock-on effects of measures that have already been taken in an attempt to secure sustainable green energy supplies in the form of biofuels. World prices for grain and oilseeds have soared in the past year, partly because of drought in

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grain-producing areas, partly because increased wealth has stimulated grain consumption by China and other developing countries, but also because grain for human and animal consumption has been diverted to production of biofuels. This has had effects so dire that we are in danger of losing most of our pig producers very soon, and the poultry industry will not be far behind them.

This is a problem that is arising on our own territory. Disquiet is being expressed by those who are directly concerned with indigenous populations in South America, Africa and Indonesia, where land dedicated to food production is in danger of being bought by industrialists able to take advantage of the new market. The displaced natives in rural areas will inevitably starve, as will many of the urban population to whom they supply food. In our consideration of the proposed legislation, we must never lose sight of its wider implications. I am sure the Minister has taken note of the speeches of my noble friends Lord Haskins and Lord Cameron.

Her Majesty's Government's commitment to pursue a stable and strong economy does not seem to extend to the agricultural industry. They have presided over the decimation of what was once the most efficient and respected agricultural sector in the world and have totally failed to grasp the importance of the continuity and stability that hold the rural community together and provide food and amenities for our urban counterparts. Agriculture has sunk so low in this Government's estimation that it no longer warrants so much as a word in the departmental title. Is it true, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, that this multi-faceted department requires only a part-time Permanent Secretary? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had many of the core activities of government concerned with agriculture hived off to agencies or other arm's-length organisations that appear to be answerable to nobody. I am reminded of the mythical Hydra which had numerous heads but none that stood above the others as their leader. The department is crying out for strong leadership.

In my preparation for this speech, I have reread parts of the report Foot and Mouth Disease 2001: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry. That inquiry was chaired by Dr Iain Anderson. I hasten to say that I do not intend to pre-empt his follow-up on the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak, though I will have something to say about the science that was or was not used. In the foreword to the report of the 2001 inquiry, Anderson wrote:

May I ask the Minister what has changed? Decisions are still made by committee, although they are now called stakeholder groups. What frequently emerges from their deliberations is neither well defined nor

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constructive but is imprecise and, on occasion, positively unhelpful. The flurry of instructions that emerged from the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, closely followed by those for the control of bluetongue and now those for the prevention of the spread of avian influenza contained some sensible and practical advice, but there were also some extraordinarily impractical and scientifically baseless exhortations, such as that to bring semi-wild animals from extensive hill farms under cover every night to stop bluetongue-virus-carrying midges biting them.

Throughout the recent foot and mouth disease outbreak Ministers have assured us that they are relying upon the best scientific advice. To an outsider, it seems that the science has been made to fit the policies rather than the policies made to fit the science. Why has there been no overall review by Defra of the scientific advances and publications relating to foot and mouth disease since 2001? I suggest that the second eruption of the disease in Surrey would not have occurred and the slaughter of hundreds of uninfected stock could have been prevented had those who advise Government been aware of current scientific knowledge.

The psycho-social effects of slaughter as a means of disease control must never be underestimated; no one could fail to be moved by the stoicism of the couple who featured in the BBC programme “On your Farm” recently. They had lost their much loved livestock under one of the many categories that allow slaughter without accurate confirmation of disease—“slaughter on suspicion”, in this case. Their underlying distress was palpable, and rightly so, as all their animals proved to be uninfected.

It seems extraordinary that what some in authority might regard as a little local difficulty in Surrey can bring farming throughout the UK to its knees. Surely it is time to introduce more humane control policies. Sir David King, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, has set out a universal ethical code for scientists. One of the seven principles is to,

If that means anything, it must surely include other, kinder options, such as vaccination to kill off the virus, instead of the current obsession with killing the host.

The Government seem to have forgotten the disgust that was provoked by the destruction of thousands of healthy animals on welfare grounds during the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic. The same problems have arisen again this time—made worse by the fact that the Surrey outbreak occurred at a time when stock are traditionally moved from the uplands and marshes to their winter keep in the lowlands, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, reminded us. The loss of the export market also led to thousands of light lambs that would normally have gone to the Continent being incinerated. What a waste, when a little enterprise and planning between Government, producers and the trade earlier on could well have created an outlet for the meat from those animals.

This year has proved to be pretty disastrous for many in the rural community. They have not been helped by an apparent lack of comprehension of how

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the countryside works; by a lack of accountability and scientific integrity; and, above all, by a lack of informed and strong leadership. With the departure of the Chief Veterinary Officer, the imminent retirement of her deputy and the appointment of a new scientific adviser to Defra, animal health is currently in a state of renewal—I was going to say “upheaval”. I wonder whether the Minister would consider this an appropriate time for the composition, management and policies of Defra to be reviewed and reformulated. In particular, with climate change high on its agenda, the scientific base of the department needs to be strengthened. The risk of an increasing number of exotic animal diseases coming to the UK is high and we really need to be prepared—and that includes utilising the veterinary expertise that is available beyond our shores.

Finally, I make a plea: can we have a few fewer visions and much more practical progress?

8.10 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to return to this important subject, on which I gave my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House at about the same time last year. Our stewardship of the environment is one of the most pressing concerns of the present time and we must ensure that we take great care not to make mistakes that will prove damaging and dangerous.

The global concern about climate change is embodied in the Kyoto Protocol, yet, as a mechanism for achieving emissions reduction, it can only be judged a failure. There has been no real reduction in emissions and it does not adequately deal with the need of societies to adapt to climate change.

It is the Opposition who have led the national debate on the safe management of our environment. As David Cameron has said, this issue,

It has been David Cameron who has led the charge for a Climate Change Bill; the Government have responded and the Bill will be introduced.

Scientists may argue about the underlying causes of climate change, but it is widely acknowledged that the temperature of the earth is rising and most agree that we should focus our policy debate on what action we can take to address the issues that those changes raise for us. In regard to problems relating to climate change, we have not seen the emergence of a global price for carbon and it is unlikely that one will develop in the next five to 10 years. Even if it were to be established, we are unlikely to see it deliver much more than an incentive towards efficiency gains.

We must take action to ensure that man-made carbon emissions peak by 2015 and reduce steadily thereafter. Without such action, it is likely that we will be unable to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. I welcome the introduction of a Climate Change Bill and hope to see it crafted into a thoroughly effective piece of legislation. This country must be at the forefront of the global conversion to a decarbonised economy.

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On that basis, it is important that the Bill contains a legal framework to underpin our national contribution to tackling climate change. I welcome the creation of an independent committee on climate change, but I want the Government to consider whether advice from the committee could be provided on five-year carbon budgets and whether the national target should be strengthened as progress occurs. I want an annual report from the Government to Parliament on progress and a statutory target reduction in carbon dioxide emissions monitored on a five-year basis. There should be a new carbon trading scheme for large and medium-sized firms to cut more than 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2020. We should also consider whether we can introduce the concept of carbon trading in other sectors of the economy.

The suggestion that the Government will include powers for local authorities to introduce financial incentives to promote recycling merits further examination. I would welcome more from the Minister on how the Bill will ensure that the renewable transport fuel obligation will be enhanced. The European solution offers some promise. One of the most advanced examples of harnessing market power to address the problem is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. It is essential, however, if we are to make this work, that we ensure that it becomes more open, transparent and accountable, issuing permits by auction rather than through the present approach.

There is much more work to be done. Even if the Climate Change Bill proves to be effective, it will still be only the start of a very long journey and we need to be ready to commit to the task that will present itself during that exercise. The sensible stewardship of the earth is a duty that we need adequately to answer. As an insurance broker, I would like to say that some insurance companies are considering introducing schemes whereby premium reductions can be granted to companies that manage waste better and take measures to reduce pollution and emissions. The insurance industry is therefore taking the environment seriously and will play a positive role in improving the position.

Finally, as chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, I shall quote the holy Prophet Mohammed—peace be upon him. He said that the earth is green and beautiful and that God has appointed us his stewards over it. We must therefore be responsible for the safe and sensible management of our planet.

8.16 pm

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have retired from farming but my family are deeply involved in farming in Scotland and elsewhere, so I have a definite interest in farming to declare. The world population has, as has been said many times in this debate, expanded enormously, much of it due to people living a long time. I am now 88, and one might say that I should have been shot some time ago, but at the moment I am hanging on. Given the present way of farming, the population all over the world is now really beyond feeding itself and we must seriously consider how this will be coped with.

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The question of land is very important. In this country and all over Europe, people—rich people, farmers and anyone who can grab a small piece of land—are buying land because they think that it will rise in price, which it has been doing. I have some shares in a company that dealt in precious metal. It has now been liquidated, with a good profit, and is going into buying land. It is a pretty serious business when land goes to £5,000 an acre; at 5 per cent, the rent is £250. Not many farmers can afford to pay that, so we are left with a situation in which people own the land but do not farm it; they simply hold it for its capital appreciation.

The farmers who buy most of the land for sale are in the main big farmers who want to reduce their overheads. They are farming extensively. They are growing good crops of grain. But if this country is to feed itself, which I think it can, it will need land to be properly managed and a lot of small farmers on the land to take up new and intensive forms of producing food. To do that, a method will need to be found of discouraging the buying of land or of seeing that that does not make a profit. This is an impossible problem, but it has to be tackled.

The production of food in the world depends largely on artificial fertilisers, which produce the necessary nitrogen, phosphates and potash. Artificial manure comes largely from oil, so oil is again vital for the production of the artificial manures that are needed to grow big crops. Organic farming often produces very good and tasty food, but it does not produce a lot of food per acre. We will depend largely on commercial farming for growing the wheat, oats and other straightforward crops that we need. I do not suggest that this cannot be done. This country could feed itself, but land has to be taken care of. For example, the green belt must be preserved for farming as well as for a certain amount of show. It is very important that we use all the land in this country.

Many interesting things are going on in the production of power. It is said that the way to produce enormous amounts of power is to cover deserts with solar panels. All these things need to be investigated on an international scale, but our Government need to look at agriculture at home and ensure that it is efficient, properly managed and properly protected from the eagles that surround the business.

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