HC Deb 10 June 1982 vol 25 cc384-5
16. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what impact the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has so far had on agriculture.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

Not all of the provisions of the Act are as yet in force. It is therefore too early to assess its impact on agriculture. But it is already providing a stimulus for much constructive debate in the countryside and I believe that full co-operation by all concerned will ensure its success.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister accept that, so far, the Act has actually been a disappointment to all those who wanted to stop the destruction of a great deal of Britain's countryside and to ensure that it was preserved? Does she realise that we want action from the Government and not excuses for failing to protect Britain's countryside?

Mrs. Fenner

I am sure that that is a great exaggeration. I have pointed out that some parts of the legislation have not yet come into full effect, so the hon. Gentleman cannot say that the Act has been a disappointment. Indeed, all the signs are that the contrary will be the case.

Sir Albert Contain

Is the Minister satisfied that enough publicity has been given to the contents of the Act? Should not more publicity be given in schools, for instance, about the purpose of the Act and the need to make the countryside a better place?

Mrs. Fenner

My hon. Friend will be aware that this is primarily a matter for the Department of the Environment. Nevertheless, with regard to my Ministry, ADAS is doing a great deal to ensure that there is publicity about the Act and we shall be constantly watching its implementation. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is made aware of my hon. Friend's concern about publicity.

Mr. Spearing

In paying tribute to the efficiency of farmers and, particularly, plant breeders, may I ask the Minister to confirm that, as well as paying high costs, high levies and high export refunds for food, it will be possible under the Act for the public to pay farmers for not producing food? Is that one of the provisions of the Act? Does she agree that such a precedent must be examined very closely?

Mrs. Fenner

No, I do not agree that that will be an effect of the Act, any more than I agree with the hon. Gentleman's exaggerated comments about the increases in food prices in the CAP review.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my hon. Friend agree that the helpful approach of the National Farmers Union, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council has made farmers well aware of their responsibility for conservation? Does she also agree that the confrontation forecast by the Labour Party has not taken place?

Mrs. Fenner

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, a major role is being played by ADAS in encouraging the co-operation of farmers.

Mr. Flannery

Is the Minister aware of the brutal official vandalism of the countryside that is taking place under the Act? Is she aware that in a recent "Farming Today" programme the interviewer said that he was standing in a field of 1,000 acres? Does she realise that that means that ditches, hedgerows and so on have been destroyed and that posterity will agree that the farmers, and not people from the cities, have vandalised the countryside? Is she aware that nothing is being done to prevent this, which is taking place in the interests of immediate profits? Is it not disgraceful that wildlife is suffering dreadfully because of the official despoliation of the countryside, leaving large chunks of it looking like the prairies of Canada?

Mrs. Fenner

I am sorry to disagree so much with the hon. Gentleman, but the contrary is true. Removal of boundary hedges, for instance, has not been eligible for grants since 1974. Moreover, advice from ADAS shows that the rate of hedgerow removal has declined markedly in recent years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like many others, will be delighted to know that.