HC Deb 18 April 1980 vol 982 cc1631-99 9.35 am
Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

I beg to move: That this House, recognising the need for the tourist industry and agriculture to expand profitability, is nevertheless determined to ensure that at the same time the environment shall be protected so that the land which provides the living is not destroyed or contaminated in the process. I do not know what causes such levity at a such an early hour, unless it is my continued fortune in the ballot, which enables me to address the House more frequently than one of my seniority might feel is right. Wherever I travel in England…I see that men, wherever they can reach, destroy all beauty. Every perfect and lovely spot which they can touch they defile, said John Ruskin 120 years ago.

A nation that is not prosperous cannot afford to look after its own interests and its own environment. The sight of any country in the Third world, where subsistence argriculture and poverty go hand in hand, indicates the fears and dangers to the economy. The need for prosperity is paramount in country areas such as North Devon, where agriculture and tourism, both highly efficient, go hand in hand. Yet, too often, the mailbag from my constiteuncy is filled with letters representing two different sides. The conservation side attacks the farmer the hotelier and the caterer. The hotelier, the caterer and the farmer attack the conservationist, the planner and the councillor. The conservationist does not see an identity of interests whereby the farmer has to be the man most interested in conservation. The farmer does not always see that the conservationist, in the end, seeks only the same thing but perhaps does not realise the need for profit.

In 1978, the Strutt report on agriculture and the countryside recommended that landscape and wildlife criteria be built into relevant grant-aided schemes as a condition of eligibility and that farmers or landowners should be able to obtain specific grant aid additional to the basic scheme when these criteria were met. If I speak of tourism and agriculture mostly in relation to the West Country, it is because this is the area that I know best. Other hon. Members will speak of alternative sources of energy and the many diverse sides of the ecological argument and the economic argument. I confine myself to bringing us from the water on to the beach and from the beach on to the land to see where the best solution can be found.

Starting on the water, I choose the Bristol Channel. There exists the problem of waterborne pollution, mostly oil, it is believed, although many other noxious substances are discharged into the channel. The oil, however, can be seen. We see dead sea birds lying on the coastline and the children with dirty feet and the fury caused to parents as they try to clean oil-stained bathing costumes. There are demands for heavy penalties on the wicked tankers that clean out their tanks at sea. I am not certain that we are blaming the right people. To the best of my knowledge, only Milford Haven has facilities for cleaning out tanks along the south-western shores of the Western Approaches. If this is the case, it is hard to blame the man who must ply his living on the sea and who must clean the ship's tank somewhere. I suspect that we are getting the worst of all worlds. I understand that, in the past, when tanks were cleaned they were flushed at the top of the tide so that the effluent was carried out to deep waters. Now, tanks are flushed more covertly, in the dark, to avoid detection. The pollution goes where it may.

On the sands, with or without oil pollution, one sees the next side. On headlands, one sees some most ugly sights —caravan and camping sites, totally unprotected and unscreened. There, too, lies pollution. Government aid to assist tourism should not necessarily be spent on expanding bedroom accommodation or further building. It could help local authorities to provide services and so enable sites to be better screened and better planned. We must have such sites.

Expansion will bring prosperity, but we must also have screening, proper water supplies and decent sewerage, in places where annoyance is not caused to the year-round residents. I trust that we shall be able to avoid all types of pollution, but prosperity is the key. Without prosperity for the hotelier, there is no prospect of our being able to afford the resources needed to keep him happily and prosperously in business, to keep the native inhabitants happy, and to keep tourists happy and willing to return.

There is an identity of interests here. Those who worry about conservation along the coast are particularly concerned about dirt, pollution and wildlife. The hotelier also worries about those problems —perhaps for a different reason, but there is still an identity of interest.

If we do not have the prosperity to clean the beaches and to provide means for small tankers to clean out their tanks in ports, we shall surely eventually lose the holiday industry, which works so hard and represents, at least in the West Country, our greatest earner of overseas currency.

In North Devon, more than 80 per cent. of the land is moor or agricultural land. Many more people live on agriculture than have ever lived on a farm. The prosperity of the areas behind the coast depends on prosperous agriculture, which must mean chemical and machine-intensive agriculture.

We accept that chemicals have to be used. Indeed, we use them in our own gardens. I wonder how many of us know that the pellet that kills the slug can also kill the family pet. It is one of the problems of overkill. I sometimes wonder whether we know what we are doing when we seek to destroy one form of life for which we do not care, and perhaps endanger many others. I have seen the dusting of trees in Forestry Commission plantations. The powder that falls from the heavens brings no goodness if the wind shifts, or if a farmer has some ewes nearby.

There is a good scheme that ensures that farmers must have their chemicals properly vetted, but the concentrations tend to be irregular. One might think that sheep dipping presented no major problems, but it is fortunate that sheep dip is expensive and potent; otherwise farmers might be tempted to use more, and there are cases where the necessary potency of the dip can cause damage to the flock and even, it is suggested, to the successor flock. There are dangers in the toxicity and residues that are used as part of sensible and worthy agriculture.

As we go inland, we should look at the good organisations. The National Farmers Union is conscious of the problems, but those who visit us are equally aware of the difficulties. I was fascinated to learn, when preparing for the debate, that the Caravan Club has 134 caravan sites in this country and that all are landscaped. The Caravan Club has taken over and converted redundant land, including eight old railway stations, seven old quarries, three refuse tips, four ex-Service camps and two sites on reclaimed land. That waste and desolate land has been brought back into commercial use, which is useful to the community and pleasing to the eye.

I commend the Caravan Club as an excellent example of a tourist organisation. I also commend the English Tourist Board, which has a simple motto, namely to maintain a proper balance between the growth of tourism and the capacity and types of tourist facilities, while working to conserve the environment and heritage of England.

I have spoken of the danger of chemicals and the importance of their wise use. It is no part of my thesis that the environmental lobby requires us to cease using modern methods. The problems of the Third world demonstrate what happens when one operates subsistence farming with none of the modern machinery or methods. However, it is my thesis that, if we are to be successful, we cannot say only "Let business prosper" or "Let the conservationists reign."

I remember a song from "Oklahoma". I shall not attempt to sing it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not know why hon. Members say "Hear, hear." For all they know, I may have a good, powerful voice. Certainly it is powerful. The theme of that song was that the cowboy and the farmer must be friends. That is precisely my case, though I am referring not to cowboys but to those who insist that the land should be open to all and should be untrammelled by fence or farm. That is not possible, or even desirable.

Equally, the farmer, who was said in that song to wish to fence off all the ranges and dig up all the pastures, must realise that that is not possible. We have to seek a sensible compromise. The farmer wishes to hand on his farm to succeeding generations, and he must be the person most interested in conservation. The hotelier has to preserve the environment in which his hotel operates, at least outside this fine city, because if he does not the tourist will not return. There is an identity of interest.

I regret the drawing up of battle lines where there are only rights and wrongs, but no grey areas. It is becoming a particular problem in my part of the country, perhaps because many folk who retire to live among us have little experience of the land and a certain distaste for the tourist industry, since they seek quiet rather than an excess of prosperity, having perhaps acquired that prosperity elsewhere and brought some of it down to us.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to one local problem and to another of national importance. The first is the availability of weapons that kill without a cartridge. In order to obtain a shotgun one must prove that one is a person of reasonable standing and pro- bity, and must tell the local constabulary where the shotgun is kept. That is a reasonable requirement.

However, the air rifle of today is a potent weapon, and air pistols and crossbows are deadly weapons, which can be purchased by anyone over the age of 16. In fact, there is no legislation on crossbows. Air rifles and crossbows can be handed on, perhaps to younger members of the family.

A few weeks ago, aswan was killed on its nest, in my constituency. It was shot with many pellets, because it would not leave its nest. We all know that youngsters shoot out the glass in bus shelters and take shots at cats. I suppose that many of us in our youth used a Diana airgun and felt quite wicked and pleased with our marksmanship. The air rifle of today is a different weapon. One could probably hit a barn door with the old. Diana, but it was not much more accurate than that.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he is considering simple legislation to ensure that any weapon that can kill or maim is under at least the same control as the shotgun. I support that view.

The national and international matter to which I wish to refer is energy. Many of those who complain to me on conservation issues feel strongly about nuclear energy, which they say, reasonably, has all the dangers of pollution and pollutants. They do not seem to see any great problem in coal miners grubbing away under the earth with all the dangers involved to their health and lives.

There is another area at which I believe we should look. We should consider all forms of alternative energy. I do not know whether those present today share my view, but I have yet to be convinced that the nuclear way is the only way. We could use our resources much better to search out whether nuclear energy is the only alternative source of energy to keep us going. I have an interest, in one area on the coast, in water power. I have seen so much energy produced by the clean method of water power. Again, I wonder, as the majority of the population wonders, whether we are backing the right horse or whether it is wise to back only one horse and not spread our bets when we are not too sure of the race.

The growth of tourism, and the massive demands for more energy and for more water for use in machines and labour-saving devices, are a constant drain on our national resources. Down that drain go the resources received from taxation. That is why it is essential to accept the need for prosperity in all industries. I am speaking for my farmers, horticulturists, and the tourist industry in all its facets. Together with that we need sensible planning and screening of chalet parks. We all know that, on whatever side of these ridiculous battle lines we stand.

We know that there must be scope for compromise. I stress profit first, followed by fair taxes to provide that compromise. All too often progress seems to be considered synonymous with destruction. Yet even now, almost in the centre of the constituency of North Devon, to the north of a village called Chulmleigh, one can stand on a hill and look northwards and see Exmoor; to the south one can see Dartmoor; and looking in a westerly direction towards the Bristol Channel, one can see the sea. Everything that one sees is not dissimilar to the view that must have been seen centuries ago. It is vital that we ensure that in 500 years' time our descendants will enjoy that view. We shall achieve that only by sensible compromise.

We are the tenants of this planet, not the freeholders. If anyone evicts us from it, I suspect it will be ourselves. I do not think that it will be man against man, although that may be conventional wisdom. I believe that we shall destroy ourselves by the waste of our resources and through our insistence on commercial profit today against the future of our land tomorrow.

I do not wish this to happen. That is why I have brought before the House the need to see that tourism and agriculture are prosperous. At the same time, the environment must be conserved at all times so that we can continue in prosperity throughout my generation and those that follow.

9.55 am
Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

Thank you for calling me so early, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this important debate. We have a wide choice of subjects this morning, ranging from tourism to the environment. Although the tourist in- dustry has its problems, the agricultural industry also has its own particular problems. Therefore this morning I shall confine my remarks to the environment.

One of the biggest problems and worries that we have in Wales at present is the proposed dumping of nuclear waste. Modern man has been conditioned to expect progress and to believe that it is entirely necessary and beneficial. However, in many circumstances, progress brings with it its own problems and dilemmas.

We all live in comfortable, heated houses and rarely do we give a thought to the energy that we consume relentlessly day by day. We accept it as a fact of life. The truth is, though, that we are eating up scarce resources at a tremendous rate and our scientists are engaged in the difficult task of finding alternative sources of energy.

Nuclear energy was hailed as one of the great miracles of the twentieth century and looked as though it would provide all the answers. But, alas, everyone glossed over the waste material that would be produced, and its disposal has become one of the most persistent environmental problems of the century. I can well understand the feelings of the people of Mid-Wales on learning that their bit of the country—the wild and beautiful hills of Powys, and possibly the counties of Gwynedd and Dyfed, could well become nuclear dumping grounds and spoil the beautiful environment of that part of Wales.

We all realise that nuclear waste must go somewhere, but the assumption that the hills of Wales will do nicely irritates and alarms us and demonstrates only too well the insensitivity of Governments and bureaucrats alike to the feelings of those who live in rural areas of Wales. There is also a feeling that knowledge about the dangers of nuclear waste, and the methods of disposal, is limited. The thought that, once buried, there could be no retrieval is extremely frightening.

I am as ignorant as the next man about the danger factor involved. I am sure that many hon. Members will agree with me on this issue. I realise that we must depend heavily on the expertise of the scientists and engineers. But what I must have, along with the rest of the population of mid-Wales, is a more convincing reassurance that the dangers are minimal before I withdraw my opposition to the test boring scheme in the area concerned. I hope that the Minister will give us that assurance when he winds up. I have raised this matter before on the Floor of the House, and I hope that the Minister will give an assurance to the people of Wales that a full public inquiry will be held into the whole matter.

Such an inquiry should be thorough, and expert opinion should be sought from both sides. The views of the public should be given more than the usual consideration in proportion to the gravity of the dangers involved. If there is any uncertainty about the danger of the methods used for dumping, clearly it is the duty of those responsible to seek alternative methods.

In the long term, it is only right to concentrate our efforts as a nation on seeking alternative sources of energy to obviate the necessity of further dumping. It may well prove inevitable that we should depend more heavily on nuclear energy in future, but we should not take it for granted and rush into a concentrated nuclear programme without first taking into account the environmental problems such a programme would bring. We should take appropriate action to alleviate those problems. Above all, the public should be kept fully informed at all stages of development, and their views and opinions should be properly considered.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Many of us share the concern of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) about nuclear waste dumping. The difficulty is that there is bound to be some element of risk. I do not think that anyone believes that risk can be entirely eliminated. Does the hon. Member accept that? What kind of risk does he believe is acceptable?

Mr. Howells

I am as ignorant of the facts as the next man. That is the main reason why I have pressed for a public inquiry, to explain to the public what it is all about. One of the. questions the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) raised will be raised at the public inquiry if the Government grant the people of Wales such an inquiry.

One other small problem which was raised by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller)—I compliment him on his speech—concerned the national parks.

In my view, too many acres of land in Wales, and in other parts of Britain, are designated to the national parks. The areas are too large. Many people who live in our cities, such as London and Birmingham, rightly love to visit the countryside. Facilities exist in the parks within our cities, such as Hyde Park, Regents Park and others, and when people visit a national park, be it in Devon, Wales, Scotland or any other part of the country, they expect the same facilities. Unfortunately, they do not exist. As a result, problems are created and relationships between the farmer and the public sometimes tend to get out of hand.

I have always held the view that there should be small parks of about 20 or 30 acres close to the towns in which all the facilities are provided which are essential for people to enjoy themselves, be it by a river or brook. I am sure that many hon. Members are aware that nearly three-quarters of Wales is designated as a national park. In my view, that is too much. I hope that the Minister will look into the problems facing agriculture as well as those who look after the national parks in Wales. Although relationships are good, I believe that too many acres of Wales come under the jurisdiction of the national parks.

10.2 am

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me and to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) for arranging for this three-pronged debate.

I propose to concentrate my brief remarks upon the first and third of the three prongs, namely, tourism and the environment. I should like to preface what I have to say with a declaration of interest in the subject, because in what I shall say I shall be critical of certain widespread assumptions about the tourist industry, particularly some assumptions and the received wisdom which I think are accepted on the Conservative Benches.

When I was a student, I worked for some years during my vacations for the tourist industry. I have been, and remain, a keen tourist myself, and I support the concept that, within reason, travel broadens the mind as well as the bottom. There is no doubt that in tourism we have a major industry. The number of overseas visitors has increased from 483,000 in 1950, to 1,285,000 in 1960, to 4,500,000 in 1970 and to 12,000,000 or more in 1980. That dramatic rise has been accompanied by a substantial growth of tourism within the country by British people. It has had an equally dramatic effect upon the environment. My contention is that, before encouraging any further growth in mass tourism, we should carefully consider the implications for our environment.

Although we call tourism an industry, it is quite unlike any other, in that it feeds upon the environment itself. Without places to look at, or country or town to enjoy, there will be no tourist industry. Unlike any other industry, we see only one side of the balance sheet. We are told that last year overseas visitors spent £3½billion in the United Kingdom. But the cost side of the account is never calculated. For example, how much of our substantial burden of imports is sucked into this country to cater for our overseas visitors? What are the total costs of importing labour, which we do, particularly into London, to service the hotels and restaurants? How much of their wages are properly and understandably repatriated to their countries of origin? None of those questions has ever been seriously considered.

As I have said, the development of mass tourism has a substantial effect upon the environment. To an extent, we can never measure the true cost. Some of the infrastructure costs to which I have referred can be measured. For example, there is the provision of extra runways at London Airport, the provision of extra roads and the loss of agricultural land. Those can be assessed, although the loss of agricultural land, which we have been losing at a rate of about 60,000 green acres a year, is difficult to quantify. I believe that all those costs should be calculated on the debit side of the balance sheet when looking at mass tourism.

In a curious way, this issue unites parts of the country as beautiful as North Dorset and London, and to a lesser extent our major cities. In Dorset, increased traffic flows arising only partly from mass tourism shake Wimborne's Minster and make the £5 million bypass essential. Parts of the Dorset coast are now so full of caravans that in summer the Isle of Purbeck is submerged by a forest of caravans, making it almost physically impossible for anyone else to get into the area. Bradbury Rings is being worn away by the tread of visitors' feet. I do not begrudge visitors the desire to enjoy the amenities of our beautiful country. I want them to do so. I simply point out that beyond a certain amount of attention, the amenities themselves are threatened.

All of us in this House are London dwellers midweek. Over the years, the decline in London's environment at the hands of tourism has been sad to see and much worse to experience. Much of the dirt, untidiness and low health standards in London are associated with restaurants and facilities which are primarily designed to cater for the tourist trade. Indeed, such is the standard of cleanliness in London now that I am very surprised that tourists still wish to visit London in the numbers which they do.

More serious than the visible effects of mass tourism upon the capital city are the underlying changes in London's character. Encouraged by the disastrous sections 7 to 12 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, hotels have dramatically increased in number, and whole streets of what were once residential areas have become dormitories for those who come to see disappearing London. Curiously, according to a recent poll, when asked what they most enjoyed about their stay in the United Kingdom, most tourists replied "The British people." Yet it is the people who have been forced out of London by high rents, housing costs, late night noise, occasional violence and the charabanc. As hotels have increased in number in Kensington and Westminster, people have voted with their feet. Some of the failure of the inner city, which I believe is a central, social problem, arises from the development of mass tourism.

Of course, I wish the British Tourist Authority well in its efforts to spread tourists around Britain, and I hope that it will be successful in doing so. Perhaps the best thing which has happened to London recently, in its deplorable state, is the appointment of my namesake, Mrs. Mary Baker, as chairman of the London Tourist Board. I congratulate her on her appointment, and I trust that she will not be lacking in advice on the present state of London from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker). My advice to her, perhaps presumptuous, is to remember that London depends for its attraction upon the people who live there and that as a museum it is becoming dead and uninteresting to those who want to visit it.

The streets should be cleaned, and there should be more police out of their cars and policing the streets. We should encourage the use and enjoyment of London's forgotten river. I should like parking restrictions to be enforced, especially restrictions on coaches, which the police say cannot be opened, and also against cars parking on pavements. At the structural level, planning authorities should oppose any increase in the numbers of hotels. In an age of concern about pollution we should realise that the greatest pollutant is man himself. One has only to look at London today for evidence of that. The Government are and will be taking important decisions about expansion of airports and the provision of roads. They should first make a detailed analysis of the cost of the mass tourist industry—both the financial and, so far as it can be calculated, the environmental cost. We shall derive greater benefits from the quality end of the tourist trade than from the mass package and quantity end, where the customers often do not see the British people whom they want to meet. The myth that the continuous and mindless expansion of mass tourism is bound to be good for Britain is as false as it is outdated. If we want to protect our environment, both rural and urban, that myth should be exploded immediately.

10.11 am
Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) for giving us an opportunity to discuss the important matters of tourism, agriculture and the environment. I am strongly tempted to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) down the path of nuclear waste disposal, which is an issue that strongly affects my constituency. However, I should prefer to confine my remarks to the broader issues. If I harbour some minor reservations about the balance of the terms of the motion, it in no way detracts from my warm support for its underlying sentiments, so ably and sympathetically put by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North.

The motion suggests that the development of tourism and agriculture could harm the environment. That may be true, but it is my contention that in most cases their development should enhance the environment. It certainly has the capacity to do so. For example, the National Trust in Scotland has restored many houses, castles and gardens, and it has developed parks with taste and imagination and with a high quality of craftsmanship, which helps to maintain traditional crafts. The guiding force of that is the hope that people will visit and appreciate these beautiful places—which they do in increasing numbers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North drew attention to London and its problems. He made a number of practical suggestions, which I warmly support. I refer to this Palace of Westminster, which has enormous and evident appeal to the tourist trade—and rightly so. It is a magnificent monument to the self-confidence and style of the early Victorian age, and it embodies centuries of our history. However, its exterior, like that of Westminster Abbey—on which a start has happily been made—and St. Margaret's Westminster, needs cleaning badly.

Rightly, we do not make a charge for admission to this building to citizens visiting their Members of Parliament. Nor do we make any attempt to take money from the many thousands of tourists who visit the Palace of Westminster. But the time is far off when the Government are likely to be able to raise the money that is needed to clean the exterior. I wonder whether a solution would be to establish some kind of fabric fund for this purpose, to which all who visit the Palace could contribute. I am sure that many people would contribute gladly and generously, so that the work of cleaning—there are new and efficient processes available—could begin, and thus tourism could enhance the environment.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

My hon. Friend is right. I am informed that the question of restoring this building is not simply a matter of cleaning; in many cases it is a matter of replacing the stonework. The suggestion of setting up a fabric fund is good.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. What taxes, if any, do we charge to visitors to Britain at airports and other ports of entry? Other countries are not slow to make such charges, and they do not deter tourism. It might be a valuable source of revenue from which to fund those bodies that can best maintain and develop the heritage that tourists come to see. There may be a long history of debates on these issues, of which I am in blissful ignorance, but I shall be interested to hear the comments of the Minister.

By staying in and around London, many tourists miss much of what Britain has to offer. There is a great need for the dispersal of tourists away from the densely populated South-East. I am sure that the British Tourist Authority is alert to this problem. In Scotland, only 10 per cent. of the tourists come from abroad, yet they account for about one-third of the total revenue. It can be seen how important it is to the tourist industry in Scotland that we should try to increase the proportion of visitors from abroad. The possibility of the Scottish Tourist Board's being allowed to advertise directly abroad is a subject of discussion at the moment. I hope that something will develop along those lines. Perhaps we should try to persuade the travel industry to encourage round-trip holidays covering not simply one port of entry but arrival at one port and departure from another, further out of London. In that way we could encourage tourists to travel around the country.

There is a need for cash to develop the resources of tourism. I hope that every effort is being made to obtain as much as possible from the Common Market in this sphere, particularly to develop the infrastructure. I have in mind roads in general, and particularly the A75, in my constituency. With the change in regional development status in many parts of the country, some other qualifications for grants may be lost. I hope that tourism may be protected from any such changes, so that we can continue to obtain help from the EEC for tourism in areas which might not otherwise qualify for development area status.

The package of reforms for businesses announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor in his Budget will be of great help to the industry. In my constituency—the quiet country, as it is called—agriculture and tourism are two major industries. Nature has endowed the area with great natural beauty and variety of scenery. But agriculture, far from jeopardising that, has enhanced and created much of the area's appeal. Nature provided the framework, but farming has coloured and shaped the land, its patterns and its scales.

Galloway is the base of the Dry-Stone Walling Association. Dry-stone walling is an ancient craft, which, happily, is being revived, and standards are being established. I hope that the Scottish Development Agency will help to establish apprenticeships in this trade, thus creating a new source of employment in country areas. Now, as at the time of its inception, dry-stone dyking—as it is known in Scotland—is a practical byproduct and prerequisite of farming. Everyone will agree that it enhances the environment.

Farming, especially hill farming, has had its problems. There is a need for prosperity to fence and drain the land, and to maintain it. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for his help with the substantial increase in the hill-stock compensatory allowances, although the problems of high interest rates are still a burden with which farmers are much concerned. I hope that the commitment to the maintenance of our hill farming will continue in the future. The Scottish Tourist Board is trying to assist with imaginative plans for the conversion of old farm cottages, which will provide new income and restore the environment, and thus replace the sad loss of the labouring jobs that once gave rise to the building of those cottages. The board is encouraging farmers to establish open days so that the public can become more acquainted with farming.

I welcome the co-operation between the National Farmers Union in Scotland and the Forestry Commission on the integration of forestry and agriculture. It is a particularly important development, not simply for those industries but for the maintenance of the environment. It offers us the possibility not just of blanket planting of timber but of combined, integrated approaches to policies of planting that will continue to allow access to the hilltop for the sheep farmer while also establishing the increased forestry plantation that our country so badly needs.

The great advantage of forestry is that it brings employment to country areas, because the most blighted environment of all is one with no jobs, in which villages are falling into decay and depopulation. This is one of the attractive and encouraging things about the development of forestry in my part of Scotland. The shortening of the cycle of tree growth, with the use of chemicals, leads to the growth of bigger trees growing more quickly. Thus, not only is it economically desirable; it reduces destructive and unsightly wind hazard, which can adversely affect the timber crop.

I pay tribute to the Forestry Commission for its attempts to open up its forests to visitors, for the marking out and clearing of routes for visitors to go through the forests, and for the establishment of picnic areas. I pay tribute to the commission also for its concern for wildlife. In Glen Trool forest, four pairs of eagles are now established. The commission has recently re-established pine martens, which have been extinct in the area for more than 100 years. A number have recently been released into the forest, and it is hoped that they will become established.

Another development that is of increasing importance in country areas is the sport of orienteering. This is a young sport, which I believe originated in Scandinavia. It is a sort of mixture of jogging, map reading and a family country ramble. It can be done at all levels of age and skill. Over Easter, as my hon. Friend the Minister will testify, about 3,000 orienteers, including many foreign visitors, took part in glorious sunshine in an international orienteering competition. The effect of this was that the hotels and the boarding-houses and shops were all able to do a roaring trade. Three areas of forest, farmland and rough country were used, having been spruced up and put into good order for the occasion. New facilities were provided, and maps were made of the areas. Most important, all taking part gained a new appreciation of the beauty and variety of the countryside.

That is one sport. Pony trekking is another. There is also skiing in the Scottish Highlands in winter, and sailing, which can restore our harbours. All these activities can combine and reconcile the interests of tourism, farming and forestry—not to threaten or damage the land and the environment but to restore and revitalise it, and ultimately to enhance it.

I welcome the concern expressed in the motion that our precious heritage should not he destroyed. Given that concern, and provided that we adopt the proper measures, there are many grounds for a more robust hope and optimism about the future.

10.22 am
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

I feel a little like part of a desert surrounding an oasis of woodland and pasture, for, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I represent a very urban constituency. I note that on the Government Benches I have at least one hon. Friend who is in a similar situation. It may seem strange that an hon. Member for such a constituency should come to this House to speak on this excellent subject.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

I am sure that my hon. Friend, in error, has perhaps led the House to believe that his constituency, which I know well, and my own, are the desert surrounding the oasis. Would he not agree that we have something to offer in regard to the balance between the rural communities and the urban communities, and that the borough of Luton is something of an oasis, in many ways, in the middle of Bedfordshire?

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and would remind him that I always consider my constituency, being north of Watford, to have a certain advantage over his. There are parts which are in the nature of an oasis, and over the next few minutes I may be able to develop that aspect.

It is one of the problems and responsibilities of new Members to say how beautiful their constituencies are compared with those of everybody else. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) would agree that we have certain difficulties when surrounded by hon. Members representing such lovely parts of the country.

In supporting the motion, I declare an immediate interest in that I am a farmer's son and very proud to be so. I have spent all my working life, before I came to this House—and, to a very limited extent, since being in this House—involved in the agricultural trade. That involves a certain responsibility, upon which I shall try to enlarge. I have also been concerned with the protection of the environment.

My constituency is surrounded by some very good agricultural land. It contains some agricultural land which, regrettably, is now being built upon. I have no doubt that by the time we come to the next general election there will be no green fields in my constituency. Nevertheless, many of us welcome the debate, which has been so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller), coming, as he does, from such a beautiful part of the country, in which I have enjoyed many holidays. I have great sympathy with him concerning the protection of his part of the country, so that people such as myself and other hon. Members can enjoy their holidays there—and the well-deserved rest that we shall need when we arrive at the second or third week of August, after a very long Session.

I should like to talk about the complete change of environment that has come over my part of the world and over East Anglia. I do not see any hon. Members from East Anglia present in the Chamber. The whole pattern of farming has changed in that part of the country. It has changed as a result of a fairly severe economic necessity.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

I have been in the House since 1951 as an East Anglian Member. I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not recognise me. It is possibly because I was technically outside the Chamber. But will he please revise his hint to the Government that they should not let us rise until the second or third week in August?

Mr. Carlisle

I am sure that we ought to pass those comments to our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I apologise for not having seen my hon. Friend. But when one is standing up here in the fog before half-past Ten on a Friday morning—which is incredibly early, even for country-lovers—I suppose that it is possible not to notice the presence of another hon. Member. I had not noticed my hon. Friend behind the Bench.

I represent the edge of what has become known as the bread-basket of England, where, over the last couple of decades, the change in the pattern of farming has been quite dramatic. The growing of large acres of cereals has changed the environment completely compared with what it was in the 1950s. As I mentioned earlier, this has come about because of economic necessity and reality. It started in the 1950s with the deficiency payments scheme, particularly for cereals. This resulted in the emergence of those who became known, towards the end of that decade, as the barley barons. It has been a very dramatic change in an area in which formerly many acres of green vegetables were produced. That acreage has been considerably reduced. I come from a county which used to grow the majority of the brussels sprouts produced in this country. The amount of farming stock has also been reduced. There are fewer pigs in the area, and the milk producers are also going.

The whole area, having once been what might be called a dog-and-stick type of area—particularly in the middle—has become one in which there is a very large cereal acreage. The incentives which have come from the EEC, as well as from this Government and previous Governments, have hastened that process. The change of character has meant that the countryside is now completely different. We have lost many miles of hedges, which have been cropped out by the farmers and landowners. Many ditches have disappeared because of the economic necessity that they should be piped. The number of small fields is diminishing, as farmers move with larger equipment into much larger fields. The provision of gateways seems to have completely disappeared. We now seem to burn our stubbles rather than to bale the straw. This has meant that there are large black areas at certain times of the year.

Change has been hastened by recent dramatic advances in the chemical industry, providing probably the greatest single boost to progress in the growth of cereal crops in Britain. The techniques of husbandry have been advanced by the use of larger equipment. Mechanical progress has meant that the green fields of East Anglia that one saw in the 1950s are now green only in the autumn and spring, as they are used for cereals.

It is with some reservation that I say that that area has also suffered from a great increase in the building of roads. I have some sympathy with the hunting profession, and I am sorry that the major road that now runs between London and Cambridge has cut through some of the finest coverts in that area. In addition, we have seen the great natural disaster of Dutch elm disease, which has led to the loss of millions of trees and the desecration of our villages. That disease contains a message for those who realise that it came into England through lack of control. We should all be warned, and that should never be allowed to happen again.

Those interested in shooting are among the few who have maintained an interest in providing cover and in planting trees and bushes. I pay tribute to them. Despite opposition—including political opposition—from urban dwellers, they have increased the amount of cover and have improved the environment.

As a result of changes in the pattern of farming, we have witnessed the near disappearance—and the disappearance—of many species, particularly of bird life. Those of us who do a bit of shooting find it sad that the number of partridge, especially in my area, have diminished. Further, it is rare to see a water rat on the river bank, let alone an otter or nearby badger. Indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) spoke on that subject yesterday.

Yesterday I spoke to a friend from Hampstead Heath who was thrilled that a pair of great crested grebe had appeared on one of the ponds. We used to have regular visits from great crested grebe on my farm. However, they have become a virtual rarity. The fox has become almost an urban pest in some areas, because it has been driven out of the countryside through lack of cover. The pattern of insects has changed. The ladybird has virtually disappeared, and that has led to increased pests on cereal and vegetable crops.

There has been a change in the pattern of farming. One deterioration following another has changed the face of East Anglia and a large part of this country. As the motion rightly states, we must accept a certain economic reality. Much as we might like to preserve the beautiful environment in which we live—and of which we are tenants, not landlords—we must accept that reality. Urban areas are spreading and encroaching daily on our lives. Many hon. Members will know that if we continue to build roads and houses at the present rate, the entire country will be covered by concrete within the space of about 200 years.

Farmers have been forced to face economic reality. For many years they have sought—now successfully—to obtain high cereal yields in East Anglia. Techniques of husbandry have improved. The varieties of grain now grown are producing crops of great potential, thanks largely to the Government-supported National Institute of Agricultural Botany. Concentrated fertilisers have been produced that are easy to apply and efficient. There has been a revolution in the chemical trade and, as a result, the farmer gains enormous protection for his crops. Providing the weather remains reasonably kind, the farmer is virtually guaranteed a large cereal yield. That will bring its own problems. There is now a surplus of cereals in the world, hastened by President Carter's correct decision to place an embargo on American sales of grain to Russia. That surplus has been hastened also by the four devaluations in the green pound this year which have encouraged the cultivation of cereals. Farmers have gained a high return per acre. However, farmers may find difficulty in selling their crops. Many acres of land have been put down to cereals. I wonder whether the pattern in East Anglia will change during the next three to 10 years. Perhaps the large areas that have been put down to cereals, and which have had a tremendous effect on the character of that part of the world, will begin to diminish.

We should ensure also that the farmer gets a decent return. There should be co-operation with the urban environment. The motion is essentially about protection. The provision of footpaths should be encouraged. Perhaps I may put in a plug for my wife's riding school. One should consider the provision of more bridleways so that more urban dwellers —who are always welcome in our countryside—can use the countryside that we love so much. Those of us who live and farm on the edge of large towns have our own problems. Perhaps society has not educated the public as well as it might. The behaviour of those who come out of the towns and into the countryside leaves much to be desired.

I do not wish to make too much of a political point, but the taxation system—particularly that of the previous Labour Administration—represents a threat to the landowner and to the farmer, and has led to the break-up of large estates and farms. It has also broken up the continuity of a farmer handing on the land that he loves so much to his son. It represents a threat to family businesses. The threat of the wealth tax and the very existence of the higher rates of capital transfer tax discourage those who are intent on preserving our land. It costs money to put up such schemes. I think that the Government will sympathise with my hope that the amount of taxation levied on landowners and farmers, who are protecting our environment, should be reduced.

It is sad that during a recent debate on leisure, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said that he believed that vast tracks of land, particularly around Luton Hoo—which surrounds my constituency—should be opened up virtually regardless of the feelings of landowners. I apologise if I have misquoted him, but the tone of his remarks suggested that the landowner had an obvious commitment to open his land to all and sundry. Many landowners would agree with that but, at the same time, seek some protection.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the strength of the concern felt by the Opposition about the environment, tourism, agriculture and the other subjects under discussion? Only one Opposition Member is in the Chamber.

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend has advanced a valid argument. I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), who occupies the Opposition Front Bench, has to say. I think that the hon. Gentleman, like me, represents an area more full of houses and concrete than green fields and golden wheat.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I think that my hon. Friends are away from the Chamber because of the nonsense that we have been hearing in the past few minutes. The first part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was splendid, but that standard was not maintained. Did I hear him say that the previous Labour Government discouraged continuity in agriculture? Is he not aware that there was a considerable row with the then Conservative Opposition when the previous Labour Government sought to make it possible for tenant farmers to pass on their farms to their sons or daughters?

Mr. Carlisle

I said that the threat of a wealth tax, which presumably will still be present if, God forbid, we have another Labour Administration—it was very much a part of one of the various manifestos that parts of the Labour Party put forward—was a great discouragement to the purchase of more land and the preservation of land. That had a detrimental effect on family businesses and on large owners.

We all have a responsibility to protect the environment. It is the farmers' job to preserve and protect in an economic climate that, I hope, is conducive to that approach. If they find it necessary for good husbandry reasons to get rid of trees and hedges, they should think more of replacement, even if it is on a smaller scale. I pay tribute to local authorities for the work that they have done in that regard. Farmers must always be conscious that the scars on the landscape, especially those created by Dutch elm disease, must be healed. It is pleasing to report that most farmers have entered into replanting schemes, which have been encouraged by local authorities.

Farmers have a duty to use chemicals extremely carefully, especially when their land is near an urban environment. There are too many cases and complaints against farmers who have sprayed in windy conditions. In some instances they have taken little account of those around them. Some of the chemicals that farmers are using now are extremely dangerous and toxic.

Farmers should be encouraged to try to retain ditches and not to pipe. They should also be encouraged to retain the small banks and copses around some fields. These are easy to push down to gain a few extra hectares or acres, but they contain a tremendous amount of insect life and bird life. When they have to burn their stubble, they should keep strictly to the codes which the NFU has issued. They should be extremely careful when burning near an urban environment. I am beginning to doubt whether it is necessary to burn the stubble.

The business man, too, has a responsibility. I include myself in that category. There is also a responsibility on the scientist whose research over the years has led to great advance in agriculture technology. They must be extremely careful to ensure that the products that they market do not have a detrimental effect upon wildlife and upon the environment in which they are sprayed. The need for care may mean more years of research, but that is a small price to pay as we attempt to protect the environmen that we love.

I know that there is meticulous screening of products so that they do not come on the market until there is certainty that they will not have a harmful effect. The products must be accompanied by clear instructions for those who use them. In some instances, the method of operation and application is intricate and some users do not have quite the intelligence of those who researched and made them to ensure that they are applied properly. We must be alert to the tremendous dangers of air and water pollution that some chemicals bring. If it is felt, as in the past, that certain chemicals are polluting the atmosphere, it is only right that the courts should be brought heavily to bear upon offenders.

The third category of responsibility lies with the urban dweller. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) said, that includes most hon. Members between Mondays and Fridays. We must impress upon urban dwellers that they must respect the property of others, however that might upset them politically. They must learn to protect what others have and to respect their property. For example, their pets must be kept on leads and they should not leave rubbish in the countryside. The farmer must be given protection from the urban dweller whom he rightly welcomes on his farm on many days of the week.

The fourth responsibility inevitably lies with the Government and local authorities, which must give sympathetic financial consideration, when finance is available, to the provision of facilities such as picnic areas. Care must be given to the framing of legislation. That legislation must control, for example, the siting of advertisement hoardings. There are many examples of downright bad planning decisions. Decisions were taken many years ago when, perhaps, many of us were not so concerned about the protection of the environment as we are today. It was good that the Government received encouragement from both sides of the House during the passage through the House of the National Heritage Bill. Much interest was shown in our works of art. However, the land is our national heritage, and it should take as much priority as anything else.

Above all, we must protect those who farm and own the land. I am talking of those with a direct and "sharp-end" responsibility for ensuring that the rural environment is there for all to use. It is good that the Government have paid attention to increasing the prosperity of farmers by various means. I hope that that can be taken even further by our colleagues in Brussels. Farmers will need price support so that they may make a reasonable living for themselves and provide the facilities that we all want.

We must continue to preserve the fabric of country life in the village, which has deteriorated so much over the years. Village schools, pubs, shops and churches have suffered through people leaving the villages and through a lack of financial help. There has been a lack of support for those living in such areas. Villages must be preserved if we are to keep the way of life that we enjoy so much.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North on bringing these matters to the attention of the House. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says when he replies.

10.50 am
Mr. Jack Aspinwall (Kingswood)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on what seems to be his perpetual luck in drawing a place in the ballot for Private Members' motions. I think that this is the third occasion on which he has achieved that privilege. That must be an all-time record in the House. I congratulate him also on his choice of motion. It gives me the opportunity to stress to the Government two important points and projects that affect our daily lives—pollution and the production of energy by tidal power, both of which relate strongly to the motion.

This morning, I looked over the balcony on the Terrace of the House to see the grossly polluted Thames surging its heavily-laden waters towards the sea, with samples of commodities in modern use from paper to metal cans, plastics and other objects—a clear indication of our inability to control matters of pollution. The main environmental pollution occurs as a result of man's activities, when enough of a substance is present to have harmful effects, and when we overload the natural resources—air or water—by means of which waste materials and energy are diffused or transported.

There are too many agencies responsible for the monitoring and prevention of pollution. Too often, they are uncoordinated and ineffective. When proceedings are taken against offenders, the penalties are often minimal. Our right to breathe clean air is controlled by the county and district councils' public protection and environmental health committees, and in a minor way by the Alkali Inspectorate. The function of assessing and controlling air pollution is exceptionally difficult, as pollutants take the form of liquid droplets or small solid particles in the air. The most familiar air pollutant is often the product of combustion.

I recall the case last year of a constituent who took his car to work every day and left it in a car park fairly close to an industrial complex. It was not long before the vehicle was speckled with a substance which ate into the paintwork. That happened to dozens of cars. In some cases responsibility was accepted by a local company, and the cars were resprayed. Extensive inquiries were made through the environmental health department and the public analyst in the county, but no firm solution was found.

The point that I wish to make is that if there is an atmospheric pollution of such strength, I wonder, when it is breathed, what damage is caused to human tissue? Where metals are concerned the effect may not be immediate, but may be cumulative over a long period. The Royal Commission on environmental pollution, in its report, proposed that air quality guidelines would be more suitable than precisely designed standards, and that target levels should be adopted by local authorities. That implies that there is still a great deal of atmospheric pollution that is beyond the control of any authority.

There should be national air quality standards from which environment health departments can decide whether the range of concentrations is safe from an environmental health aspect. I have been talking about the Thames, but there are many rivers in this country that are grossly polluted, and many of these water courses are close to large cities and concentrations of pollution. Traditionally, water courses have been used to dispose of human and animal sewage, but the capacity of rivers if often exceeded. The added pollution of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers reaches into rivers that hitherto have had a fairly high degree of purity.

The environmental impact is familiar—deterioration in appearance, increased turbidity, a change in flora, the death of fauna, silting and smell. In these days of increased leisure activities there is also the loss of much-needed amenities. Rivers are truly sources of leisure and pleasure, and are used by the growing numbers in the boating and angling fraternities—the latter having the largest number of participants of any sport in the country.

On the edge of my constituency runs the River Avon, and at Conham, an area of some beauty, the river is classified as heavily polluted. That means that if someone fell in and swallowed some water, he would need a stomach pump and a course of treatment to survive because the pollution is so bad. I understand that the same applies to certain reaches of the Thames. Any aspiring swimmers from the House who took an early-morning swim would reach the other side of the Thames purely to go to St. Thomas's hospital. The River Avon flows through the city of Bristol, causing offence to residents and an obvious danger to health.

Since the Water Act 1973, active campaigns have been mounted to improve rivers affected by pollution. There has been some improvement, and there has been evidence even of the presence of some fish species in the lower reaches of the Thames, the Avon and other rivers. But there remains the basic problem of heavy pollution. While improvements, however small, are welcome, there still remains a great deal to be done. That is a problem that the Government must tackle swiftly and efficiently, bringing together comprehensive data to formulate an overall policy.

The last, but not least, source of pollution is noise, whose three main sources are road traffic, air traffic and neighbourhood noise. Many people suffer immense inconvenience and danger to health by the noise and general pollution characteristics of heavy traffic. There should be a fair balance between the objects of industry and commerce, personal mobility and the environmental impact on our citizens. Too often, major road schemes have been designed with some sections not completed for many years. That subjects people who have previously lived in comparatively peaceful circumstances to the rigours of heavy traffic noise pollution.

In my constituency, the completion of the Avon ring road depends entirely on the ability of developers to pay for piecemeal sections. Their phasing arrangements are entirely out of phase with the wishes and needs of the community. One example concerns the pension fund of a large national concern which has bought tracts of land in the north of my constituency which expects ultimately to develop. Because it is currently developing another site a few miles away, it is unlikely to become involved at present except to hold the land for future developments.

The problems that that is creating, albeit unintentionally, are enormous. Sections of the strategic Avon ring road will run through that land, but will not be developed. Other sections will be developed, and that will cause the feeding of traffic into bottlenecks, very often in villages where the roads are already heavily used by commercial vehicles, which makes life miserable and unbearable for a large number of people.

Planning permissions for industrial and housing developments are often granted without thought for the infrastructure implications. They, in their way, help to create pollution because there is no hope of public funds being made available to provide the resource for these works. There is often a reduction in the quality of life of the indigenous population, and a general falling of standards. The Government must give the matter considerable thought. I am advocating not an increase in public expenditure, but that a greater contribution of resources must come from developers to redress the imbalance. A great deal of thought has been given to pollution, reclamation, recycling of materials, waste disposal and the preservation of the countryside and of the rivers and water courses. We must be eternally vigilant to maintain and improve the quality of life and the standards to which we are all entitled.

I turn to my second point, namely, the use of tidal energy. I wish to add my support—and to seek the support of the House—for the Severn barrage scheme. In the whole of the United Kingdom the Severn estuary has attracted the most attention because of its suitability for that purpose. An official study group was established as long ago as 1925, which reported with customary speed in 1933 that a scheme appeared technically feasible. It was said then that there was no economic justification for proceeding with it.

In 1974, the Central Electricty Generating Board's conclusion was that a Severn tidal barrage offered no prospect of producing electricity more cheaply than by other means. I call that restrictive and unimaginative thinking. I am sure that when the Severn barrage committee reports finally, a scheme would be viable. Having studied the brief of that committee, I find it sound and reasonable.

In reply to a recent parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), there were hopeful signs expressed by the Minister on the interim report of the Severn barrage committee. The official conclusion is that it is technically feasible to build a barrage at a range of positions in the Severn estuary and that two possible barrage site-lines for single-basin ebb generation schemes have been selected. It would be wrong to assume that in such an immense project there will be quick or simple solutions. There are large uncertainties on the economic valuation. There are environmental and engineering problems of a gigantic nature to be overcome, the size which has never been attempted before. Putting all that to one side, and despite the Government's recent decision on nuclear power generation, the basic facts are that a tidal barrage has no reactor pressure vessels to crack and no fuel costs. Compared to a nuclear power station, designed to last 25 years, the main structure of a barrage would last indefinitely and supply as much as 10 per cent. of the nation's present energy needs, completely unmoved by the revolutions of the Arab world or the whims of an ayatollah. I am pleased to add my support to this imaginative and worthwhile scheme, which. I am sure, has the support of many hon. Members. When completed it will, I am sure, be looked back on as one of the major achievements of this century.

I referred earlier to the reduction of pollution from whatever source. I also referred to the building of the Severn barrage. Both those propositions will enable agriculture to expand profitably and give clear aid to the tourist industry in the provision of new and innovative amenities, while ensuring that the environment is protected and land is not destroyed or contaminated in the process.

I am indeed pleased to support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North.

11 am

Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies (Caerphilly)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) for introducing this topic, which is of immense importance. My personal interest is more to do with the relationship between tourism and the environment than with agriculture and the environment. Not many hon. Members may be interested in tourism, but there is a great deal of sympathy on both sides of the House for the subject. As secretary of the all-party tourism committee, I remind the House of the harmonious, non-partisan way in which tourism is viewed by most hon. Members.

In passing, I convey the apologies of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), the chairman of the all-party tourism committee, who wished to be here this morning but is attending a tourism conference in Guernsey. The hon. Gentleman has asked me to convey his apologies. This morning I speak on his behalf and on behalf of the active members of the committee.

There are naturally some fears, often misplaced, about the effect of tourism on the environment and life of a society. Outside London, Edinburgh and certain key centres such as Stratford, most tourist activity occurs in beautiful, remote rural areas, which by their nature are often areas of low income and high unemployment. Looking back over 10 or 15 years, we can see that tourism has made an enormous contribution to the quality of life in many remote areas.

About 17 or 18 years ago I had the opportunity to work in Wales in the preparation of a television programme. It was one of the first lengthy documentaries made in Wales in the early days of television, and concerned the state of the economy of mid-Wales. It was a depressing programme. It presented a scene of desolution and decay, of outward migration, with houses and farmhouses falling into decay, young people moving away and high levels of unemployment. It was called "Ill Fares the Land". Recently I had occasion to look at a transcript of the discussions that took place in that programme dealing with what mid-Wales needed. There was much talk of light industry. However, hardly anyone mentioned tourism as part of the possible salvation of mid-Wales—and that was less than 20 years ago. In the event, if anything has refurbished the economy of mid-Wales it has been the growth and development of tourism. A great revolution has taken place.

The incursion, as some see it, of tourists during the summer months makes possible the maintenance of a high level of existence for local residents throughout the year. Fifteen or 20 years ago shops and garages were closing in rural Wales. The whole economy was running down. However, that trend has been completely reversed.

I am told, for instance, that in Pembrokeshire, which is an area greatly dependent on tourism, three-quarters of the annual petrol sales occur during the three months of summer. In other words, for the remaining three-quarters of the year, the local people account for only a quarter of the demand for petrol. Small garages would, therefore, not be open but for the trade that they derive from tourists in the summer.

Perhaps the most dramatic and valuable change in rural areas has been the development of farm tourism. At one time the visitor and farmer were traditional enemies, with a great deal of mutual suspicion and misunderstanding. Nowadays several thousand farms in Wales are actively involved in tourism. During the proceedings of the House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities, in evidence on the question of policies for rural areas, a submission was made by the Snowdonia national park authority. I quote one sentence with regard to the farmers in the park area: It is estimated that perhaps half of the farmers rely to a greater or lesser extent on subsidiary income, usually derived from tourism. I refer hon. Members to the Welsh Office digest of Welsh statistics dealing with the population in rural areas in Wales. I take Wales as an example, because I know it better than the rest of Britain, but I am sure that the same is true for the rest of Britain. Up to 1975 there had been a decline in the number of people involved in agriculture. In wales the number went down to 52,000. Since 1975 there has been a modest but significant increase, and the figure is now about 56,000. The Wales Tourist Board would assert that the change is largely attributable to the development of farm tourism in Wales.

We hear a great deal in Wales about holiday homes. Certain people within the Principality resent what they view as an intrusion of outsiders. However, I remind those who have misgivings about tourism, and even retirement, in Wales, that before the development of tourism Welsh rural areas were in decline, and would not have revived but for the development of tourism. The small minority who have such misgivings are shortsighted. Conservation concerns a living economy and society. A small number of people think of conservation as maintaining a static, dead condition. That is not conservation, but calcification or mummification. To conserve is to keep alive, and what is alive is organic and changes. There will be changes, and we cannot keep Welsh rural areas unchanged. Those who believe that we can would, in the end, see areas denuded of tourism and agriculture, with no life and nothing worth preserving. Tourism can enhance and make a great contribution to the life of an area.

I turn now to whether there is a danger that the development of tourism may, in the end, destroy the amenities that people come to see. Is too great a head of steam building up? In the 1960s, people thought in those terms. They could see a grave danger in tourism from overseas increasing every year and they began to worry about congestion, pressure and overcrowded beaches. But that is not how it has turned out, although the numbers of visitors have increased dramatically.

One hears a great deal about the pressure on London, but even there the case is often over-stated. A recent policy statement on tourism by the GLC said in paragraph 3.9: Congestion caused by visitors, although widely publicised, is really restricted to a relatively small number of locations and to the peak third quarter of the year. Even in London things are nothing like as bad as some have held them to be.

Outside London, although numbers have increased dramatically, there has been an enormous spreading of the load. I speak as a previous member of the board of the British Tourist Authority and as a former chairman of the Wales Tourist Board.

The three national boards, the regional boards within the three countries and the British Tourist Authority have been greatly involved for a decade in trying to ensure a spread of tourism throughout Britain. It is very much the policy of the BTA today, not only to optimise foreign currency earnings through tourism—the figures are dramatic: £3,500 million last year—but to see that as far as possible visitors are spread to the remote areas of Britain, where often the natural and only successful industry would be tourism, because they are not suited to manufacturing industry. That policy has succeeded very well. The policy of the national boards has been one of increasing the range of tourist products and attractions. It is not a case of trying to push more and more people every year into the same bottle. The spread of new facilities is enormous.

Mr. John Carlisle

The hon Member's point follows on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) about the spread of tourism. and he is quite right. On that basis, would the hon. Gentleman agree that the policy of siting another large airport in the South is against his own theory? If it were sited further from London would it not attract tourists, mainly from America, to other areas, such as the North and the Midlands, rather than concentrating the vast majority, whose stay is probably short, in the South-East where the pressure is greatest?

Mr. Hudson Davies

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I do not wish to be drawn into the issue of the siting of a further London airport, but I feel strongly about the regional airports. Some time ago, Cardiff airport was designated as one of the important regional airports.

There is far more to this matter than merely airport facilities. There must be a change of attitude by tourist operators and airline companies. Many people on their first visit to Britain still want to go to London. We have to accept that. It is not easy to get people to visit Britain without coming to London at all, but it is possible to get them out of London after a brief stay. It is increasingly evident that on second and subsequent visits people are much more amenable to persuasion to move out of London. The fact remains that, however much London is played down, it still figures large in the world image of Britain. It is difficult, although desirable, to try to change that image.

I was speaking of the way in which the range of tourist activities had increased enormously and I mentioned farm tourism. Historic houses are another example. Although they have existed for a long time, it is only in recent years that they have been centres of tourist activity. In 1978, the last year for which figures are available, more than 55 million visits were made to historic houses, compared with 29 million in 1970. So this area absorbs many tourist activities. Some of the historic houses—Woburn, Longleat and Beaulieu, for example—would be rated now as tourist attractions probably comparable to a whole national park in the 1960s.

Then there is the development of activity holidays—canoeing, climbing, walking and riding, all of which lead to a spread, rather than to congestion. We should pay tribute to the contribution to tourism by the Forestry Commission. Hundreds of forestry trails, totalling thousands of miles, have been opened up by the Commission, which also has about 250,000 car parking spaces.

The Central Electricity Generating Board has appreciated that there is a great interest in its more imaginative generating stations. Recently, I visited the staggering underground caverns of the pumped storage scheme now being constructed at Dinorwic. That will be an enormous tourist attraction in North Wales, especially coupled with the new interpretation centre at Llanberis.

Local authorities, the Forestry Commission, the CEGB and many other bodies are now opening interpretation centres so that visitors can get an insight into the total activity of the area—its flora and fauna, its population structure and its industry. This gives a whole new perspective to visiting an area.

One staggering change in the British tourist picture is the development of industrial tourism. For instance, the town of Blaenau Festiniog became a depresed town with the decline of the slate quarrying industry—depressed both economically and visually, with its great mounds of slate slag. Then, only 10 years ago, a regional officer of the Wales Tourist Board suggested that some of the mines could be opened to tourists. Two have been, at Llechwedd and Gloddfa Ganol. They, along with the Festiniog railway, on which 400,000 people a year ride, have made the town one of the centres of British tourism. An equal number of people visit the two slate quarries which are open to the public, and which show how this difficult industry was operating a century ago. We have hopes that a similar development will take place in Blaenafon, where a pit called the"Big Pit"is reaching the end of its working life. That can be opened as a tourist attraction.

People in the valleys of South Wales have been astonished to find that overseas visitors as well as people from other parts of Britain do not simply wish to drive to the coast of Pembrokeshire, thus avoiding the valleys of South Wales. They are interested in what happened in the valleys in the coal and iron industries.

A great deal has been done to re-beautify the valleys. A lot of Government money has been spent productively in removing coal slag. That has given a tremendous boost to my constituency. which is one of the valleys. It has meant that the people who live in those areas now realise that they have something to offer to tourists. That realisation has enhanced their sense of appreciation of their own environment and has, indirectly, enriched the quality of their lives. Every penny that is spent in creating a tourist amenity generates improved amenities for the population of the area.

I remind the Minister, and the House, that it is the task of the three national tourist boards not only to promote tourism along with the British Tourist Authority but to promote their individual countries. It is also the task of those boards to channel Government funds through grants and loans under powers given in section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 to create and improve the tourist product and finance tourist development.

Lord Parry, who succeeded me as chairman of the Wales Tourist Board, recently said in the House of Lords that the Wales Tourist Board was able to service only 28 per cent. of the requests made for assistance for developing tourist projects in Wales. That is a bad rate, but that is all the money that is available.

Tourism brings in foreign currency amounting to £3,500 million. We should add to that about £250 million a year which tourists were paying in taxation before VAT was increased. On the new levels of VAT that figure could be substantially increased. Yet total Government input to cover all the work of the tourist boards is, in round figures, £30 million. I do not say that is a paltry sum; it is a significant sum. But against £3,500 million it is a small sum. Every penny spent on promoting tourism is not lost. That spending brings an immediate dividend. It generates income within the economy and it also generates foreign currency earnings.

I appeal to the Government when they consider—as they naturally do as part of their policy—further curtailment of public expenditure to bear in mind that tourism is an industry in which Government investment is repaid many times over. I ask the Minister and his colleagues to bear that in mind when they consider the contribution of tourism to the quality of life in this country.

11.24 am
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

I shall not detain the House for long, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) has an important debate listed to follow this one.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) not only for his good fortune in the ballot but for raising this important subject. I am particularly glad that I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Hudson Davies), because he touched on many of the points that I wished to raise. My remarks are directed mainly to the tourist industry, and in particular to the tourist industry in Wales. I was pleased to hear someone of the known standing and knowledge of the hon. Member speaking on that issue.

Before coming to the matter of tourism, I make a general point and pick up the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle). My constituency, like Luton, is something of an oasis in an agricultural county. I say that advisedly, because one of the most important points to emerge from this debate is the need for balance in all things.

My constituents enjoy and appreciate the facilities for leisure that they find in rural Hertfordshire. Along with my colleagues, I had the pleasure of congratutating the magazine Hertfordshire Countryside on its 250th issue and was able to say, with my constituents in Watford, that facilities provided by a rural county were a source of constant delight and enjoyment.

Howevel, it is worth saying that the borough of Watford also provides those people who live in country areas in Hertfordshire with a number of important facilities, not the least of which is one of the most important shopping centres in North London. An excellent theatre, as well as an excellent sports centre, is subsidised by the ratepayers of Watford, and all those amenities provide the right sort of balance between the rural and urban communities in the county. We are particularly fortunate in Hertfordshire.

Mr. John Carlisle

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. GarelJones) must not be allowed to get away with the claim that his shopping centre is the finest in North London. The Arndale shopping centre in Luton is one of the largest in Europe. It attracts many customers, including, we hope, thousands of my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. Perhaps we could get back to tourism, agriculture and protection of the environment.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I shall return to the main purpose of my brief remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Caerphilly has drawn the attention of the House more ably than I could to the importance to the tourist industry. I wish to refer to tourism in Wales.

The tourist industry in Wales employs no fewer than 90,000 people. That figure underlines the importance of the industry, because it represents more employees than currently are working for the Britsih Steel Corporation and the National Coal Board in Wales—and that at a time when Government policies are certain to produce higher unemployment in Wales. That unemployment will cause some difficulty in the Principality. I believe that we should be looking at alternative ways of creating employment, such as tourism.

In 1978 tourism earned £425 million in Wales, and since its inception the Wales Tourist Board has created no fewer than 7,500 jobs. It is worth mentioning that those jobs were created at a cost of £1,200 per job. That is considerably less than it costs to create a new job in industry.

The Wales Tourist Board believes that revenue from tourism can be boosted to £1,000 million by 1985, creating no fewer than 25,000 new jobs in the Principality. I do not need to emphasise the importance of that to Wales. I go further, and say that for every visitor to Wales who is attracted there from this country instead of going abroad, there is a saving of about £100 to the Exchequer in that area.

There is one aspect of the tourist industry in Wales that must be emphasised, and it applies largely to the tourist industry throughout the country. I refer to the standard of many hotels. Only 23 per cent. of hotel bedrooms in Wales have private bathrooms and only 40 per cent. Have central heating. The problem of outdated accommodation and uncomfortable, cold boarding houses and hotels is a great disincentive to the sort of sophisticated tourist that Wales, and Britain as a whole, should be attracting. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), who said that there was a need not so much for building new hotels, as for raising the standard of many of those that already exist.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly referred at some length—I shall not develop the point too much—to the farming aspect of tourism in Wales. Suffice it to say that there are about 4,000 farmers involved in the scheme, and it is estimated that the income from this part of the tourist industry is worth about £2,500 to each farmer. The most important point that the hon. Member made was when he spoke of the new facilities that would emerge when the works were finished in Dinorwic. He also mentioned what had been done in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The idea that the Wales Tourist Board should promote the worked-out pit at Blaenafon is exceedingly important, not only because it develops a new kind of tourism, centred on the industrial history of Wales, but particularly because it does so in South Wales—an area that is undergoing great stress and change at present. Many traditional industries are in great difficulty and are shedding labour. It is particularly important and encouraging that a scheme of this kind should get off the ground in South Wales.

There is one other point that I wish to make about tourism in Wales—the question of the Welsh language. I believe that it is part of our heritage and environment, and part of what makes Wales an attractive and unique place to visit. There are two hon. Members in the Chamber who represent Welsh constituencies, so I shall speak with some diffidence. I must point out that I regard myself as a Welsh Member although I represent Watford. There has been some controversy about the fourth television channel in Wales, but I do not propose to discuss that matter today. I hope that the hon. Member for Caerphilly and the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) will recognise that those of us on the Government Benches who are Welsh take a certain amount of pride in what the Government have done in other fields for the promotion of the Welsh language.

One of the first things that the Government did was to confirm the £500,000 that was available in May last year for bilingual education in Wales, and to make the highest grants ever to the National Eisteddfod and the Mudiad Ysgolian Meithrin. More important, hon. Members will be aware of the recent announcement by the Secretary of State of an additional £1 million of expenditure for the Welsh language. From now on, for the first time, the Welsh public expenditure programme will contain that as a separate and identifiable item in spending programmes.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I know that the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) is a staunch Welshman, even though he represents Watford. Therefore, I am sure that he will agree that the Welsh people were misled by the Government over the fourth television channel. This was promised in the Conservative manifesto, in the Queen's Speech, and then by the Secretary of State on the Floor of the House. It is a great pity that the Home Secretary made a U-turn after this promise had been made to the nation and to the Welsh people.

Mr. Garel-Jones

The hon. Member will be aware that I opened my remarks by saying that I knew that this was a controversial issue and that I would prefer not to comment on it. Although I take a continuing interest in Welsh affairs, as a Member representing an English constituency I feel that when there are matters of controversy confined specifically to the Principality it is better for me, by and large, to keep my head down. Certainly, I regret the fact that the fourth television channel did not succeed in the way that we hoped. However, the Home Secretary was quite frank about the reasons why the decision on this matter had to be altered.

My view of politics and political life in general is that manifestos and their contents should not be held up as being tablets of stone. In the real world and in real life people have to alter decisions in the light of the facts put before them. The Home Secretary was honest, open and frank about this. I know that there are many who disagree with his decision, but it is not for me, as a non-Welsh Member, to become involved in that controversy.

Nevertheless, I hope that hon. Members will take my point about the pride and satisfaction that I feel in what this Government have done. They have taken perhaps the most significant step in my lifetime in supporting the Welsh language, with all that that means for Wales as a nation and as a tourist attraction. I quote from the remarks made recently by the Secretary of State when he spoke about the future of the Welsh language: You will notice immediately that I speak about its future, not about its survival. I start from the assumption that it is the will and the wish of the people of Wales that the language should survive as a living tongue, and that far from letting it die they will breathe new life into it. I hope and believe that the actions that my right hon. Friend has taken for the Welsh language will do just that, and in doing so will add yet another ingredient in the contribution to the growth of the tourist industry in Wales that is so important for the future of the Principality.

11.40 am
Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) will recall that we were at a meeting in Trafalgar Square last July, where we talked about the other whales. I would feel more at home talking about whales and whaling than about the Principality, about which I do not propose to say very much. I wish, however, to congratulate the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on his good fortune in securing this place in the ballot and his choice of subject. It commands serious and growing interest. I believe that our debate has been interesting, even if it has ranged rather wildly, as well as widely.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are deeply concerned about various relevant problems. Both sides of the House wish to retain the advantages that are available from our superb natural heritage, whether in Devon and the coastal areas of the South-West, the Principality, or the South-West of Scotland, about which the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) was, with justification, most loquacious, and which is also represented by his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Munro), who is to reply to the debate. Other hon. Members represent areas that are not entirely rural and perhaps, in Conservative eyes—as the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) suggested—re largely industrial, although I intend to say a brief word about my constituency to contradict that impression.

Many hon. Members recognise that while the attractions of our country please millions, and should continue to do so, our country is small and has to feed those millions and provide them with opportunities for recreation and occupation. It has to be recognised that occupation and economic benefit can come from the increasing recognition of the value and quality of our environment and heritage.

The attractions of our heritage are appreciated increasingly far beyong our own shores. The tourist industry can become increasingly significant. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Hudson Davies), with his deep knowledge of the tourist industry, justify that assumption. It is right to recognise that the leaders of the tourist industry, both the public bodies and organisations such as the Caravan Club, should have our commendation. The hon. Member for Devon, North paid tribute to those bodies and to the Caravan Club for their responsible view and the steps that they have taken that provide an example for the future management of our tourist resorts.

As the hon. Member for Watford said, the debate is to a large extent about balance. Entering largely into that balance is the importance of agriculture. Hon. Members cannot neglect agricultural needs or neglect to consider them. We are 55 per cent. self-sufficient in food production. It would be desirable to improve that percentage even further, although, given the limit of our land resource and the problems of our climate, we cannot seek to be wholy self-sufficient.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Why not?

Mr. Hardy

The hon. Gentleman asks "Why not?" It is possible that the Welsh are prepared to subsist on a diet of leeks, mutton and whatever else may be grown in the valleys of the Principality, but people in my part of the country occasionally like to eat tropical products that cannot be grown commercially unless we are to indulge in an enormous waste of energy. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) suggested that we pursue a more sensible energy policy. We have to import substantial quantities of food, even if we maximise the production of those items of food that we can properly grow and should increasingly grow ourselves.

The Labour Government recognised the need to promote agricultural production in "Food from Our Own Resources" That pointed the way toward the policy that the Government should pursue. But there would, rightly, be a massive outcry if short-term food production was the only priority. I am delighted that the House has been given an opportunity to consider how we can attain the balanced situation that is so necessary.

I was also delighted to hear tribute paid to the Forestry Commission, both for its commercial activity and for the increasing consideration that it has given to provision for tourism. I hope that the Government will allow the Forestry Commission the resources that it requires both for the increased planting in the public sector that is neccessary and for the enhancement of its leisure contribution.

We can and must maintain increased food production. We often grossly disregard the increase that has already been achieved. Too few people in Britain are aware that in recent decades the food production increase has been almost revolutionary. It should not be assumed that we have reached the limits of our productive capacity. I recall, 17 years ago, as a young Labour candidate in the Yorkshire coastal area, that I had arranged for the late Lord Williams of Barnburgh to address a meeting. Hon. Members may recall that Lord Williams—Tom Williams as he was better known—was perhaps the most outstanding Minister of Agriculture in the history of this country. Tom Williams was from my part of South Yorkshire. That was why I hoped he would speak at the meeting on my behalf. Unfortunately, for health reasons, he was unable to attend but, instead, sent me his speech. I did not know at the time so much about agriculture as I now know, although I do not profess to great knowledge.

I was astonished to find that Tom Williams' speech was a catalogue of agricultural achievement over the previous 20 years. The speech mentioned, for example, that the average dairy cow in Britain in 1960 yielded 200 gallons of milk a year more than the average dairy cow 20 years earlier. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) will be aware that in the 20 years that have elapsed since then further improvement has been achieved. As hon. Members will appreciate, that achievement does not depend entirely on the increased use of artificial fertiliser. I believe that the advance can be maintained. The advance has not been restricted to the United Kingdom. There has been a green revolution. Japan, a crowded island with little arable land, has managed to make itself self-sufficient in rice.

There is a danger in assuming that agricultural production can be maintained without limit. There is a danger that people will take a far too relaxed view about a problem to which several hon. Members have referred—the consumption of good agricultural land and the urbanising sprawl. If too complacent a view is taken of improved agricultural production, I suppose there is a danger that urban sprawl could be seen as more acceptable. That should be resisted.

My party does not wish to see a Britain fit only for speculators. We have to ensure that protection of the environment is maintained. None of us, I think, wishes to see a Britain that lacks the hedges that may have been the parish boundaries since Saxon times. None of us wishes to see the wealth of ancient woodland, so often threatened today, turned into a featureless sterility that will neither satisfy the British eye nor help us to maintain the tourist earnings that are so valuable. Natural habitat is essential. I should hate the only bird song in Britain to be that of the budgerigar in further urban development. We need to confer privilege and priority to food production, but not to make that priority absolute.

There are several reasons for urban sprawl. Urban renewal may be less attractive and less easy for the individual than removal to a rural scene. In some areas, such removal is far too easy to effect. Some local authorities are perhaps not as vigilant as they might be. I welcome, for this reason, the concern and the increasing attention that organisations and individuals who wish to protect the green belt are currently displaying. I appreciate the arguments of those who feel that land should be better safeguarded. One way of doing that would be to make development within towns more likely, but there may be severe restrictions on that worthwhile course as a result of reductions in the Government's housing investment programme. It would be desirable for them to review that policy.

As the motion says, we need to protect land that provides a living, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Devon, North will agree that there are other areas that may not be fertile or provide much of a living, but on which thrive those aspects and items of our natural heritage that make life worth living for millions.

The Nature Conservancy Council regards it as essential that 2 per cent. of our land surface should be devoted to nature conservation. Sooner or later we shall have to recognise that perception, and ensure that such areas are secured and that such localities are recognised as serving a priority other than food production. We cannot expect to effect that change simply by making it obligatory upon individual farmers to safeguard the character of their holdings. Sooner or later, small commitments of public expenditure will be required and I recognise that, unfortunately, the Government will not regard that, or almost any other item of public expenditure, with favour.

Fortunately, there is enormous private commitment in these areas of concern, with a variety of voluntary interests and extensive individual involvement. Some of the agencies, such as County Naturalists Trust, are well aware of tourist potential and are serving that cause with vigour and imagination.

Public bodies also have a vital role to play. Many people of all shades of view were anxious about the future of public bodies when the quangos were being abolished. I was relieved that the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission survived, but it was a pity that bodies such as the advisory committee on birds in London parks, which cost little more than the price of the cups of tea with which its members were provided, should have been slaughtered in the cause of individual publicity.

It would be wrong of me to press that point, but it would be right for the House to pay tribute to those who serve on public bodies and to the work of voluntary agencies. Nor should we overlook the work and record of local authorities. Some have great cause for pride. I am delighted that the South Yorkshire county council plays a leading role in conservation endeavour among local authorities. It was a cause for satisfaction that the experience of the county council was presented at a recent meeting of the all-party conservation committee.

Too tight a squeeze on local authority finance will endanger local aspirations and threaten the capacity of the local authority to fulfil its prime aim of the co-ordination of voluntary endeavour, which is one role that can be properly accepted by forward-looking local government, regardless of political shade.

In paying tribute to those who serve on various bodies and to the thousands of citizens who devote their leisure to conservation, we should recognise that it is not a new development. Only a fortnight ago I spoke at a dinner commemorating the centenary of a local naturalists' society. When one considers the challenges faced by those individuals, one recognises the enormity of the problem facing them compared with that which faced those who shared their interest 100 years ago.

While the interest is not new, recent years have brought a perception of enormous problems, and it is right that the House should consider the world conservation strategy, which was launched last month after co-operation between individual, international and voluntary organisations.

The strategy recognises that human survival depends upon ecological processes and seeks to respond to the developing threats, which are extremely serious. As one hon. Member pointed out, at current rates of activity one-third of the world's arable land will be lost within the next 30 years. What is left of the world's forests will be halved by the end of this century, the genetic base of the world's food crops is narrowing dangerously, and over-fishing, pollution and bad management are diminishing our oceanic resources. The House should consider that a response to those problems is essential. It seems to me to follow naturally from the consideration that we have been giving to the motion.

On tourism, I go a long way with the hon. Member for Devon, North. The beauties of Britain are diverse and attractive and they attract far beyond our own shores. Our rich patchwork of countryside and natural habitat refreshes alien eyes as well as our own, and we cannot sneeze at the economic benefits which that confers.

Tourists could be more important still. Perhaps, given the dreadful pressures in London and the appalling prices of hotels in this city, it would be commercially prudent to steer the tourist away from the Metropolis to the environments of beauty that some hon. Members feel that they have in their constituencies—or perhaps, as I suggested to the English Tourist Board three or four years ago, many from remote and rural areas would welcome a visit to a steelworks or a coal mine and could be hospitably accommodated in the hotels of the Peak District and South Yorkshire. We have not yet seen much development in that direction. Perhaps the tourists will go to the Principality, which, I gather, is seeking to pursue a similar course.

Whether the tourists come to my area or not, it is essential that they come to Britain. Thousands can come here, perhaps because they have an opportunity to watch birds that may have long since disappeared from their own lands.

To be honest, I must admit that I wish to see the environment safeguarded not so much to accommodate the foreigner as to ensure that my children and I and my constituents can maintain our enjoyment.

I have a further anxiety. I do not wish to strike too partisan a note, but it would be wrong of me not to refer a little critically to the Government's record and changes of plan in this Session. Last year, I was looking forward to participating in the debates that we expected on the promised wildlife and countryside Bill.

The environmentalists of Britain were eager to see that Bill, and it is a great pity that much less wholesome legislation was preferred and that that potentially beneficial Bill has been delayed. One hon. Member has suggested that we are likely to sit into the second or third week of August. Many people outside would not mind our sitting until then if we were passing helpful legislation of the sort that we were promised. The prospect of not having that Bill and not having a recess either is dreadful.

The Bill has been seriously delayed and is another example of the unfortunate timing of last year's general election. As chairman of the Council of Europe committee concerned with the natural environment, I regret the absence of the Bill. It would have maintained our position among the international leaders of conservation and would have enabled us to ratify and implement the European Convention on wildlife and habitat.

That progress would have been appropriate and the maintenance of that lead justified since to a large extent the approach of that convention and of similar international initiatives has been modelled upon legislation provided by this House.

The delay is regretted, and I hope that all hon. Members will agree that it should not be protracted and that the Bill, when it reaches us, will not have been diluted, because I gather there is a risk of a dilution which would help neither us nor the tourist industry.

However, it would be churlish of me to dwell upon that, not least because the Minister is not personally responsible for that disappointment. If the Bill is not brought forward soon, the Minister should recognise that not only millions of anglers in this country are interested in conservation but a large number of other people. Indeed, there may be more people interested in conservation than are interested in football or party politics, and they will become increasingly angry if the Government do not fulfil their commitment to serve the national interest by bringing forth the Bill they promised last year.

I do not suggest that the Minister should seek to satisfy all those interested in conservation. As he will be aware, some of them are not entirely free from eccentricity and could not be satisfied no matter what the Government did. But there is urgent need for progress in this area. I believe that need is felt on the Government as well as on the Opposition Benches.

Bringing the Bill forth will help fulfill the aspirations of the hon. Member for Devon, North, who admirably put forward his feelings in his motion and in his speech. I hope that the Government's consideration of his argument will be serious. It should have the cordial support of the House.

12.1 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hector Monro)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) on initiating this important debate. He is assiduous in looking after his constituents and the West Country generally. Through raising what is basically a constituency matter, my hon. Friend has given hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and England a chance to widen the debate and bring out matters relevant to his motion. I gladly accept his motion, because it is in tune with the thinking of the Government.

A great deal of knowledge has been deployed by all hon. Members today. I am glad that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) wound up the debate for the Opposition, because he has great knowledge of this subject and because of the work he does in the Council of Europe. He is a good disciple of Tom Williams, which must be a good basis from which to start. I share his words of praise for the voluntary bodies and agencies that are so interested in the environment and the heritage. I share with him such determination to promote the voluntary endeavours of such bodies. They deserve credit, as do those hon. Members who have told us about their own constituencies and also given us many interesting facts about tourism and agriculture.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North was right to draw attention to the importance of the tourist industry and agriculture and the need for both to expand profitably. Both these industries are essential to rural areas, but in accepting that we must not overlook the fact that they can, and sometimes do, present dangers to the environment. My hon. Friend is quite right, therefore, to draw attention also to the need to protect the environment so that we do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

I am glad that so many hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle), raised the problem of urban sprawl, which is at the heart of the destruction of much good agricultural land, sometimes perhaps without the careful thought that is required before such a drastic step is taken. I am sure that my hon. Friend the member for Luton, West will pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), who has looked carefully at the problem of the loss of agricultural land. I hope that his work bears fruit with local authorities when they make planning decisions involving the use of good agricultural land.

My Department has a co-ordinating role over environmental matters as a whole, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, myself and my colleagues attach major significance to it. The functional duties of the Department include land use and planning, pollution, countryside affairs, environmental affairs and environmental protection, conservation areas, national parks, and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

As we see it, the Government's task must be to take the lead and settle their own pholosophy on these matters and then, as far as possible, ensure that that philosophy is made as widely known as possible. We must then do all that we can to convince people who make the individual decisions—the vast majority of which are taken outside Government—that our policy is the right one.

The Government believe profoundly in the maintenance of the earth's resources. The basis of our approach rests on conservation, good husbandry and wise use of resources. This does not mean that development is taboo; far from it. We recognise fully that development is the key to economic survival and advance. What we must try to achieve is a sense of balance. Almost every decision in the environmental area involves balancing a developing need, often with a clearly-defined economic advantage, against a potential conservation loss, with perhaps no conceivable economic gain. It is essential that the various possible effects of development are weighed carefully so that any decision makes sound conservation sense while at the same time making the best possible use of our natural resources.

I turn now to tourism. We were glad to have the knowledge of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Hudson Davies), who is a previous chairman of the Wales Tourist Board, and the contributions of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) and my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). Sometimes one feels that the fulcrum of such debates is Watford—that everything north of Watford is a little different from everything south of Watford. However, those of us who live far north of Watford know that this is not so.

Tourism is an important industry, and it is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North should call attention to it. It is one of the success stories of recent years. It has played a crucial role in the economic life of the country, providing employment, directly or indirectly, for more than 1 million people. It has been among our top invisible earners. Last year, as all hon. Members have said, overseas visitors brought in about £2¾ billion. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) also highlighted the substantial earnings from overseas visitors.

I am well aware that it would be wrong to depict tourism as bringing all benefits and no disadvantages. Of course, there will be drawbacks. The most obvious of these is the effect on the environment of increased congestion in the popular holiday areas or at sites of scenic beauty or historical importance. This point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North and others. We have to be extremely careful to balance the expansion of tourist opportunities with the ability of the area to receive them. The hon. Member for Caerphilly highlighted the congestion in Wales.

Last Sunday, I spoke to voluntary wardens in the Lake District, who said that the British Tourist Authority was publishing material about the attractions of the Lake District. Yet at peak periods one can hardly move in the area. We must consider whether it is right to send tourists to such areas when they do not have the facilities to receive them. That is a matter upon which we must all dwell. I am sure that the tourist boards, as well as the British Tourist Authority, give it considerable thought.

The British Tourist Authority, which, as we all know, is concerned with attracting tourists from overseas, and the three national boards, which look after tourism within the country, are the Government's executive arm in tourist matters. They have now been established for more than 10 years. They are held in high regard. They are recognised as experts, and are consulted by Government and public bodies on matters of policy.

They know—I think that we all know instinctively—that it is our countryside and its varied scenery that draws so many visitors from home and abroad and that leaves a lasting impression on them. The boards are not out for "development at any price". Taking the English Tourist Board as an example, included among its long-term objectives is the maintenance of a proper balance between the growth of tourism and the capacity and types of tourist facilities, while working to conserve the environment and heritage of England.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) was present, for a number of reasons that I shall come to later. He recorded his interest in the Scottish Tourist Board. It does good work. I particularly think about improvements to the roads in South-West Scotland, which are so important. In addition, I note the board's keen desire, about which I am sure discussions are taking place at present, to be allowed an overseas advertising project. With its Scottish advocacy—I have no doubt that the Welsh would say the same—I am sure it feels that it has a lot to offer in its own publicity material.

I was glad that there was a contribution from the hon. Member for Caerphilly, because he and I served on the Committee that considered the National Heritage Bill. He drew attention to the importance of the historic houses movement, which has a significant impact on tourism. To the Historic Houses Association and the National Trusts of the three countries we say "Well done, indeed, for what you have done to promote tourism through giving people the opportunity to see the outstanding houses that exist in this country."

I also liked the way in which the hon. Gentleman referred to developments in Wales, such as those at Blaenau Ffestiniog. I have been on the railway, have looked at the old slate quarries and have realised the great potential that there is. Again, I say "Well done" to all those who are working so constructively.

The boards maintain close contact with other organisations concerned with en- vironmental protection. For instance, the ETB has established a formal agreement with the Countryside Commission on the importance of protecting natural beauty and providing areas where peace and quiet predominate. They have agreed that tourist use of such areas should be controlled so as not to spoil their natural beauty. I believe that more work will need to be done to overcome a lot of the pressures that exist.

My hon. Friend drew particular attention to the environmental aspects of self-catering accommodation, such as caravans—I pay tribute to the Caravan Club and to all those interested in that movement—chalets and the like in the West Country. He acknowledged that that type of holiday is now a way of life. Indeed it is, and rightly so. We can all appreciate the freedom which it brings, and so often it is the holidaymaker who particularly values the countryside—which is the concern of this debate—who goes in for that type of holiday.

My hon. Friend's part of the country is England's most popular holiday destination and has the highest proportion of visitors using self-catering facilities. Indeed, the West Country tourist board, which is one of the 12 official regional boards that the ETB has fostered, is acutely aware of the environmental problems which those types of facilities can cause. It is concerned particularly with improvements in the appearance of sites and to the facilities provided, which are obviously crucial in a properly managed site.

Another of the board's objectives, which I am sure will commend itself to my hon. Friend, is to encourage the conversion of redundant farm buildings into top-quality, self-catering units that will attract high-spending visitors, particularly from overseas. In that respect, I believe that there must be some imagination from planning committees, which must grasp this nettle. Too often it is all too easy for a planning committee to say "No." I know that there are subsequent appeal procedures, but I feel that greater coordination and co-operation between an applicant and a planning authority might resolve some of the problems more fruitfully than frequently takes place.

Mr. John Carlisle

I agree that it is important to encourage the taking over of redundant farm buildings. Apart from improving the environment, it also provides some employment in areas where employment is probably diminishing Therefore, I am pleased that my hon. Friend made that point, and I hope that the local authorities will take note of what he has said.

Mr. Monro

I thank my hon. Friend. It is a problem, even for the planning authority. In such cases there is a change of use from agriculture to industry, although basically it is the development of a countryside project. I am very keen indeed that we look as broadly and as favourably as possible upon the right type of development in that sphere, which helps a rural community maintain its employment and productivity in all sorts of ways.

My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway quite rightly referred to South-West Scotland, which is a lovely part of the world. I am sure that he is aware of the work that has been done by the National Trust for Scotland, which, coincidentally, is holding its annual general meeting in Dumfries this weekend. I am sure that it will see some of the advantages of the area about which he talked.

I should like to say a further word about tourism. I should like to point out the relationship that exists between the regional councils for sport and recreation, and tourism. The regional councils were established in 1976 to promote public participation in sport and physical recreation and also the provision of facilities for informal outdoor recreation. In doing that, the regional councils must have regard, among other things, to the needs of agriculture, the preservation of the environment, and tourism.

A representative from each regional tourist board sits on each regional council. Mr. T. Chester, director of the West Country tourist board, is a member of the South-West Council for Sport and Recreation. Of course, other members represent many other organisations, including farming and the local authorities. When they meet, I am sure that they bear in mind the requirements of their areas, be they picnic sites or national parks. In many ways, the local authorities are the largest providers of all those facilities, and co-operation with the regional coun- cils is most important.

I turn to agriculture. I am sure that the hon. Member for Cardigan will sit up because, like myself, he is a keen farmer, who apreciates the importance of profitability in farming. We often use the words "prosperous" and "prosperity", but those who actually work the land feel that word "profitability" is much more applicable. They want a fair return on their capital. I do not think that they expect to be prosperous, but they expect an opportunity to make profits, which is the objective of all industry in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway also referred to agriculture in his area. I appreciate its importance. I know about the importance that his area attaches to dry-stone dyking. If any of his constituents wish to practise dry-stone dyking on broken ground, they can come to my farm tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West and many other hon. Members spoke about the importance of agriculture, which was highlighted by the hon. Member for Rother Valley, who realises the necessity for greater food production in the United Kingdom.

Agriculture is the major primary industry in rural areas, and the need to keep farming healthy and efficient is fundamental to the standard and quality of rural life, as it is for the economy as a whole.

In seeking to preserve agricultural prosperity, the Government have taken prompt and effective action. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been in office for less than a year, and during that time he has helped agriculture in many important ways.

First, there have been three green pound devaluations, which add about £340 million to producers' revenue in a full year, after taking account of extra feed costs. Recently the strengthening of sterling has led to a small positive MCA of 2.1 per cent. for some commodities. That has been necessary to stabilise United Kingdom food prices in sterling terms.

Secondly, the Minister increased the hill livestock compensatory allowances—important in Cardigan, Galloway and Dumfries—by about £21 million in January. In addition, there were increases in the guaranteed prices for fat sheep and wool of nearly 11 per cent. and 3 per cent., respectively.

Mr. Geraint Howells

I agree entirely with the Under-Secretary. However, does he not agree that unless the common agricultural policy is reformed within the next year or two, the agriculture industry in Britain will not be very prosperous?

Mr. Monro

The hon. Gentleman is pushing me into areas into which I should not wander this morning. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister. Hon. Members and members of the agriculture industry are aware that all is not well with the CAP. We must get it right. We must improve it and keep niggling away at it until it is right. No one knows that better than my right hon. Friend.

Thirdly, my right hon. Friend has increased milk prices twice during the period in which he has been in office. There was an increase of 1½p in June 1979 and 1½p in February this year. That has raised the price of milk by 22 per cent. in the interests of the industry. Unusually, and to help further, maximum wholesale prices for milk set for the winter period will continue throughout the summer to the considerable benefit of milk producers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West spoke about taxation. While the Budget Statement did not contain measures specifically aimed at the agriculture industry, many changes will affect farmers and landlords, in common with other businesses. Apart from general income tax changes, farmers will benefit from improved pension relief provisions. Growth of small farming companies may be encouraged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's measures to help small businesses. The capital taxation threshold has been doubled and the threshold for capital gains tax raised.

I appreciate—I know that the hon. Member for Cardigan will agree—that costs have risen substantially this year and that interest rates are higher than anyone in the farming industry wishes to see them. The prime aim of the Government has been to contain rising inflation, and we have to bear these difficulties and handicaps while that is being achieved. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will ease interest rates as soon as possible, but it is not for me to speculate when.

I mention in passing the role the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and the part played by it in conservation under the terms of the Countryside Act 1968. When advising farmers, it has to bear in mind possible repercussions on the environment. I should like to recall its service to agriculture.

I turn now to proposed legislation on wildlife and the countryside. The hon. Member for Rother Valley was anxious that this legislation should be introduced in this Session of Parliament. It was purely because of congestion in the legislative programme that it had to be postponed. The hon. Gentleman said that all the agencies were looking forward to the legislation and that they had considered all the consultative papers on it. However, sometimes when one hears their comments, one wonders whether they want the legislation. The time that was available because of the delay has not been wasted. We have continued our consultations, and we shall publish papers this spring on the proposals.

There was concern among people who wanted this legislation about our proposals for moorland conservation, and the way in which they differed from the proposals in the previous Government's Bill on the subject. This is an area where the farmers' natural wish to improve the productivity of their holdings has caused some controversy in Exmoor. The Porchester report dealt with the subject. We have said that we regard the conservation of Exmoor's characteristic moorland scenery as very important, but we have not seen the need to seek compulsory powers. The moorland has relatively few owners and occupiers, and after meeting some of them last July I was convinced that they would respond to voluntary management agreements. I understand that the National Park Authority will be publishing a schedule showing all the notifications that farmers or land owners have made of their wish to improve moorland since the Porchester report. This will also show that since last July there has been no further ploughing of the moorland without the agreement of the National Park Authority.

That is most encouraging, and very much the trend I hoped we would achieve. It is a convincing indication of our belief that the farmers and landowners of Exmoor can be relied upon not to destroy the moor, without any need for compulsory action by the Government.

There are a number of management agreements under negotiation, although no fresh ones have been signed in recent months. To highlight the strength of our feelings about the critical areas of Exmoor, I should record our announcemitt some weeks ago that we were assisting the National Park Authority to buy 880 acres of land at Larkbarrow, on Exmoor. The intention is to ensure the retention in perpetuity of this area in the heart of one of the most extensive areas of remaining moorland, which Lord Porchester regarded as essential to the char-acted of Exmoor. That will be a valuable step forward. I say that we are assisting the National Park Authority to buy this land because our role is essentially a bridging role. Once we have acquired the land it will be resold to the National Park Authority and leased back to the present owner, with suitable arrangements to ensure that while the moorland is retained and the public given unrestricted access for the first time this century, there will be continuing use of the land for agriculture. We have backed up our good intentions by action.

A number of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway, spoke about forestry. No debate concerned with tourism and the environment would be complete without a reference to forestry and its place in the countryside. In the past, foresters were encouraged to maximise planting. This was done in a way that did not always sit easily in the landscape. Attitudes have changed over the past two decades, and foresters are now very conscious of the visual impact that new planting can have, and of the need to ensure that it is done in a way which will enhance rather than detract from the beauty of our countryside.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West raised several important points, in particular about elm disease. That was a tragedy that probably could not have been avoided. The Countryside Commission has done its best, through a planting scheme, to see that as many as possible of the elms are replaced by other deciduous trees. That activity has been restricted only by lack of resources. Con- siderable care is taken, through consultation with planning authorities and the agriculture Departments, to ensure that afforestation proposals are compatible with the natural environment as well as with agricultural and other land uses.

The Forestry Commission retains the services of an independent landscape architect as its consultant and also employs a small team of landscape architects. It promotes the principles of good design throughout the forestry service, and in assessing grant-aid proposals from private woodland owners, to ensure that care for the landscape is a normal part of forestry practice.

Forestry can make a significant contribution to tourism and public recreation. That has been highlighted by hon. Members. Forests provide unique opportunities for peace and tranquility and can absorb people in a way that open land cannot. They also afford opportunities for nature study, walking, camping and picnicking, as well as for more strenuous pursuits such as riding and orienteering.

My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and I were present at the orienteering competition last weekend, in South-West Scotland. We were greatly impressed by the organisation of the event. Many tourists had come to watch, and there were 3,000 competitors, together with their friends and relatives. This made a tremendous impact in a rural area, and no doubt substantially helped the local economy. Private woodland owners and the Forestry Commission work together to provide the opportunity for this very healthy and desirable sport.

My hon. Friend will agree with me, I am sure, when I say that we are luckier than many hon. Members because of the forward-looking attitudes of Conservatives in the South-West of Scotland, who have encouraged all forms of recreation —walking, sport, and so on. The facilities in that fine part of the world are freely available to the people of this land and to the tourists to enjoy as much as possible. I commend their efforts, and those of the Forestry Commission, to the House. The latest figure available to me shows that about 24 million visits were made to Forestry Commission forests during 1977.

Before leaving forestry, I should like to mention the visit that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and I made to South House Moor, in Yorkshire, last month. This is an area of outstanding beauty which many feared was liable to be planted in the near future. The fact that my hon. Friend and I went there together indicates the great co-operation and co-ordination which exists between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment. We wanted to make a decision ourselves on whether it was a suitable site for afforestation. After looking at it we decided that it was not, and that a grant would not be made available for planting this area. That shows the strength of feeling within the Government on the question of conservation. The decision won wide approval from conservation societies and others who take such a close interest in any decision that is made affecting the countryside.

Hon. Members have rightly raised the question of environmental pollution and agriculture—particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, North and for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall). There has been an increasing tendency towards environmental pollution. We all know the problems involved in the use of fertilisers and sprays. There is no doubt that the country is well aware of these arguments and that they are being looked at very carefully indeed. We hope that conclusions will be reached that will enable us to look after this whole problem area. It is not one that is being pushed under the carpet and forgotten. It is recognised that it is of great importance.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West gave me an opportunity to talk about recreation in the countryside, particularly relative to country pursuits, which include field sports, which he and others mentioned. Those landowners, farmers and others who look after the habitat for game also provide the right conditions for conservation —the small plantations, the coppices, the corners that can be fenced off and planted with shrubs and deciduous trees. There are also the ponds which they look after. This is ideal ground for breeding purposes for animals and birds of all kinds. I commend their great efforts in the interests of conservation in every possible way.

It should be recognised that they are the same people who are likely to be careful with sprays in the countryside and with the application of fertiliser. They are likely to be careful about the hacking out of hedgerows and hedgerow timbers, which is so important to the nesting of birds and to the preservation of cover in the countryside for the life and development of mammals of all sorts. They are also the people who will keep down vermin, for very good reason. Obviously, we want to have an ecological balance in the countryside. Too much vermin will affect the habitat and the life of birds and mammals living therein.

Again, they are the people who enjoy fishing and look after the river banks. They keep an eye on pollution; they report about it. It is right that fishermen should take these steps and indicate to those who are supposed to control pollution where it is taking place. They work in harmony with gamekeepers and with water bailiffs.

In the world of sport, the whole countryside provides an immense amount of employment throughout the United Kingdom and is of great importance in terms of the rural economy. The work done by the many associations and societies interested in field sports generally does a tremendous amount for conservation and in the preservation of our countryside. It is right that this should be recorded.

The Countryside Review Committee has produced four papers—three during the period of the previous Government and one under this Government—all of which were of immense interest to those concerned with the countryside. But the last paper, No. 4—which was of as high a standard as the rest—included a suggestion that the designation of national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty might be looked at in a fresh light. That was the thinking of the committee, comprised of highly distinguished civil and public servants. It was very right that they should pose questions such as this for Ministers and Members of Parliament to think about. But I stress that at this stage these are only their thoughts. It is a valuable paper, but I should not like anyone to think that at this stage it represents Government or ministerial thinking.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the subject of areas of outstanding natural beauty, which we discussed in the House a week or two ago, but will he bear in mind that, with the way in which the policy is developing, we are beginning to give to any and every part of the country that has any beauty at all the designation of an area of outstanding natural beauty? As it has no possible significance for planning purposes, I hope that he will consider very carefully the policy of spreading these areas throughout the country.

Mr. Monro

How right my hon. Friend is. He clearly and correctly made the point that these areas can be designated, but that when one gets down to brass tacks one realises that a local authority may appreciate that it is an area of outstanding beauty but that it makes little difference to the planning powers. That should be borne in mind in future thinking.

Many hon Members have at heart the interests of those who live in the countryside, and are concerned for the rural economy. They wish to keep the village alive. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North said, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental services discussed this subject in some detail a few weeks ago.

I do not apologise for referring to the recent article by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which appeared in The Countryman magazine. She wrote: We intend to do all we can, including a new flexible approach to planning, to help conserve the countryside and to promote not only its traditional industries—agriculture, forestry and food processing—but also small businesses which can play a key role in generating new jobs. How right she is. If agriculture flourishes, the rural community will flourish. The smithy, the agricultural engineer, the feed merchant, the fertiliser merchant, and the shopkeeper—to whom those who live in the countryside come for their supplies—will flourish. The hon. Member for Caerphilly made an apposite remark about the loss of rural filling stations. If the rural economy prospers, filling stations will be less likely to close as a result of relatively low throughputs of traffic and low profits. That is an important point.

We are conscious that too many villages have been losing their schools, shops and other facilities. As more of those essential services have been withdrawn, and as public transport links have deteriorated, it has become more and more difficult for many people to remain. The old, the poor and the young are often particularly affected. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North when he says that it is essential to introduce village industry in order to help stop the drift away to the towns.

In this respect, I should mention the part played by the Development Commission and by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas in providing factories for small firms in rural areas. More than 800 factories have so far been approved, of which 260 have been completed. A further 290 are under construction, or planned to start this year. Two factories are scheduled for South Molton, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North. Subject to successful letting, a further four have been approved for future years.

It is encouraging that virtually all factories are let as soon as they are built. As the House will know, we are reviewing the work of those two bodies, and shall be making our views known very shortly. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services has already made clear that the Government see a continuing role for both bodies in their important task of helping the economy of rural areas.

I wish to put down two more markers, because they are important to those who live in the countryside. First, I refer to the misleading affair of rural post offices. We all recognise the importance of rural post offices to village life. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services made clear the Government's position in the debate on rural communities. We recognise their importance and we regret the trend towards closures in recent years. However, the report that caused alarm was not a Government report, and the Government have not made a decision on it.

Secondly, we hear a lot about the closure of village schools and the effect that that can have on the viability of rural communities. Shortly after taking office, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government should have regard to the need to keep village schools. Together with the Department of Education and Science, my Department is sponsoring a research project into the effect of the closure of rural schools on rural communities. We hope to have the results of that project later this year. I hope that authorities will not come to any hasty conclusions before having the advantage of that report.

It should be realised that the closure of schools is not the Government's responsibility. The local education authority is responsible for promoting closure if it has received confirmation and observed the proper procedures.

Mr. Hardy

I recognise that the Under-Secretary is not responsible for education. However, this is an important subject. If local authorities feel that they have to close schools—particularly small village schools—partly because of inadequate Government support, the Secretary of State should have a substantial amount to say.

Mr. Monro

Having been a Minister of State with responsibilities for education and science in Scotland, I am well aware that there is sometimes pressure from certain areas to close rural schools. I accept that resources are limited in all spheres, including education. However, I hope that no closures will take place without careful thought being given to the impact that that will have on the rural community. That is most important.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for intervening yet again. Does he agree that local education authorities should be more prepared to accept help in the form of time, services and money from the parents and teachers of schools that are threatened with closure, thereby ensuring that those schools survive?

Mr. Monro

It is a valuable coincidence that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is in the Chamber and will have heard the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North. I am sure that he will bear in mind the strength of feeling of those Members of Parliament who represent rural constituencies about the closure of village schools.

Mr. Geraint Howells

All hon. Members are in agreement this morning and we are all sympathetic towards rural schools. However, the Minister is well aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said a few months ago that thousands of schools would be closed within the next year or two.

Mr. Monro

I shall not get into a detailed debate on this issue. I have made clear my strength of feeling—and that of the House—and I hope that that will be borne in mind when decisions are made by local authorities and by the Secretary of State.

I was glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford was pleased about the substantial sum of money that has been made available by the Secretary of State for Wales for the promotion of the Welsh language. I am sure that all hon. Members are pleased about that.

In his original remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North spoke about air rifles, bows and crossbows. I share his concern about the misuse of bows and air weapons against wildlife. Misuse of those weapons nearly always involves commission of an offence under existing legislation. It is, for example an offence to carry any loaded firearm. including an air weapon, in a public place or to trespass with a firearm on private land. It is an offence to sell an air weapon to a person under 17 years of age, or for such a person to buy an air weapon or possess one in a public place, unless it is securely fastened in a gun cover so that it may not be fired.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of the problems caused by the misuse of air weapons, especially by young people, and is considering ways of reducing the risk to the general public arising from such misuse.

The use of bows and crossbows is not controlled by the firearm legislation, but as with air weapons, misuse usually involves commission of an offence under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which prohibits possession in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, of any offensive weapon. It would undoubtedly be difficult to devise effective new controls on the general use of these weapons. The difficulty and expense of enforcing controls might not be justified by the results. However, the Government have proposals to restrict their use against wild life. These proposals will come within the wildlife and countryside Bill.

I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is considering the issue carefully. I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber and all who love wildlife are greatly concerned about reports of the shooting of swans with airguns and the use of crossbows against mammals of any sort.

It is right that I should reply especially to the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North who initiated the debate. He referred to oil pollution under three headings. He expressed his feelings about seeing birds polluted with oil, the impact on children when beaches are coated with oil and, similarly, the impact on visitors. I share fully his concern about the problem nationally and internationally.

The emphasis must be on prevention. The control of operational discharges is regulated by international conventions which are given effect in the United Kingdom by the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971. The Act allows the courts to impose a fine not exceeding £50,000 on summary conviction, which is a pretty high limit, or an unlimited fine on indictment. Current controls will be strengthened and effect will be given to the 1973 international convention on the prevention of pollution from ships, which is modified by the 1978 protocol. The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation has set a target of June 1981. I hope that there will then be much stricter control on what is going on.

My hon. Friend referred rightly to the washing of tanks in ports. We must accept that that is an expensive operation however desirable it may be. My hon Friend is equally concerned about contingency arrangements for oil spills. Under the arrangements for dealing with oil spills at sea the Department of Trade has identified in major ports all round the coast vessels suitable for counter-pollution work, which can be mobilised at short notice. There is a marine pollution control unit within the Department of Trade, which would take charge of operations in the event of a major pollution incident.

Responsibility for dealing with pollution on the beaches rests with the maritime lacal authorities, which have their own contingency plans and their own resources for clean up. Where necessary, the local authorities can draw on additional resources, including the central Government stock pile of specialised anti-oil pollution equipment. There is an office at Bristol that will look after that procedure, where there is a stock pile of special equipment.

The House is aware that the Royal Commission on environmental pollution is studying all aspects of marine oil pollution. We hope that it will come forward with some valuable advice.

The last important issue was raised and taken up by the hon. Member for Cardigan and my hon. Friends the Members for Devon, North and for Kings-wood. The attention of the House was drawn to the generation of power through tidal flow generation and barrages. We all understand the problems that are ahead of us in providing energy in future. However, careful consideration is being given to the barrage scheme, and there will be a report in the not too distant future under the chairmanship of Sir Hermann Bondi. I am sure that it will be a most interesting report.

About 15 years ago I considered with my colleagues a barrage across the Solway for the tidal flow generation of electricity. We considered that project before the oil crisis hit us. The indications were that the expense of the barrage and the drainage problems that it would create meant that it would not be as advantageous as it appeared on first sight.

We have had a most valuable debate. We have covered a tremendously wide area and a large number of subjects. I gladly accept the views set out in the motion. It highlights the wish of all hon. Members and of everyone who lives in Britain—namely, to maintain and enhance what we have and to ensure that the heritage that we pass on to future generations is even better than the one that we inherited years ago.

An immense amount of work is being undertaken by Government and voluntary agencies. I am confident that we shall not let anything slip through the net that will be detrimental in any way to our future and succeeding generations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved. That this House, recognising the need for the tourist industry and agriculture to expand profitably, is nevertheless determined to ensure that at the same time the environment shall be protected so that the land which provides the living is not destroyed or contaminated in the process.