'After section 41 of the Principal Act, there shall be inserted the following section—
"Further duties of agriculture Ministers with respect to the environment
- 41A. (1) In regard to those functions of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which may affect the physical environment, the Minister shall, so far as may be consistent with the proper discharge of such functions, endeavour to secure a reasonable balance between (a) the promotion and maintenance of a stable and efficient agricultural industry and (b) the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside, the protection of wildlife habitat, and the conservation of flora and fauna and geological, or physiographical features of interest.
- (2) Without prejudice to its generality, the duty under the previous subsection shall apply in particular to—
- (a) the making of a scheme under section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 (farm capital grants) and the exercise of the Minister's functions thereunder.
- (b) the provision of advice under section 1(1)10 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944 to persons carrying on agricultural business.
- (c) the implementation of any Community obligation in relation to the common agricultural policy of the European Economic Community in so far as may be consistent with any such obligation.
- (3) In the application of this section to Scotland, references to the Minister shall, where appropriate, be construed as references to the Secretary of State.".'.—[Dr. David Clark.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.10.26 am
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 15, in Title, line 1, leave out 'sections 28 and 43' and insert 'Part II'.
§ Dr. Clark
I am pleased to give the House another opportunity to discuss a vital issue—the protection of our very beautiful and precious countryside. A similar clause was included in the Bill when it received its Second Reading, but the Standing Committee felt it right to remove that clause. I expressed the view that that was an error and regretted the removal of the clause.
Since then, we have had discussions with a view to producing a clause which would achieve the same object, but without the disadvantages which some people claimed were inherent in the earlier clause. As there was some misapprehension about the earlier clause, and as some of the comment on the radio did not match the reality of the situation, it is important that I should state categorically that the new clause has the wholehearted support of the National Farmers Union. Not only have I seen the NFU press release, but I have been in telephone contact to ensure that there is no confusion.
The new clause is supported not only by people working in agriculture but by the other major organisation in this country—the Country Landowners Association, which this morning issued a statement endorsing the new 1130 clause. I am happy to bring forward a clause on which there is such unity and consensus and I hope that the House will approve it. Many hon. Members have told me that they support it, and I hope that we shall be able to persuade the Government of the error of their ways at an earlier stage.
I felt that I should bring back a clause of this kind because of the strength of feeling throughout the country, from Lands End to John o' Groats, about the changing countryside of Britain. That concern is felt just as strongly in the towns as in the countryside. Strangely enough, the British people care passionately about their landscape and about the flora and fauna thereon. Members of Parliament have probably received more mail on this subject than on any other issue in this Parliament. That confirms the strength of feeling on this issue throughout the country.
Our constituents find the changes that have occurred in agricultural practice very disturbing. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, when he appeared before the Select Committee on the Environment looking into the operation and effectiveness of part II of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, coined the phrase "the engine of destruction". There is no doubt that Ministers appreciate that there are problems, and it is time that we addressed ourselves to these problems and tried to grapple with them. That is why I am introducing the new clause.
I shall highlight some of the key factors that have affected the countryside over the past decade. We have lost 150,000 miles of hedgerows—a quarter of the total of hedgerows in Britain. All of us know that it is not only the visual amenity that has been lost, but the necessary habitat for animals, birds and flowers. The loss of hedgerows has gone too far, and I know that steps have been taken to rectify the situation. However, I recently visited Norfolk, to which I had not been for a while, and I was horrified at the change in the landscape. I had seen the removal of hedgerows from Lincolnshire and other parts of East Anglia, and the landscape is barren there. It is not pleasant to look at, and it does not appear to be part of the British scenery. I saw the same phenomenon in Norfolk, where the banks on which the hedgerows had been planted remain, but are denuded of growth. It is unpleasant to everyone, and we must take some action.
We have lost 50 per cent. of our ancient and semi-natural woodlands. I welcome the moves by the Forestry Commission to rectify that by increased grants for broadleaf planting. We have lost 95 per cent. of our flower-rich meadows and 30 per cent. of our wild and open moors. There is consensus across the Floor of the House that enough is enough and that we have to start working out a way to tackle the problems.
The Labour party recognises the need for a sound and efficient agricultural system. We have this problem today because of the success of the British farming industry. It has done what it was asked to do by Governments of both parties and has produced food. The basis of our agricultural production is the Agriculture Act 1947. It is odd for us to think back and realise that there was a shortage of food then. Quite rightly, it was decided that we should maximise food production. Thanks to modern technology and the EEC, in certain sectors we are over-producing our food. It does not make sense for us to continue to do so, and especially not if we do so at the cost of destroying our environment.
The time has rightly come when we must add another dimension, equal with food production, to our Agriculture 1131 Act, and that is the preservation of our natural environment. With the agreement of the NFU and the CLA, I have introduced a tentative step in this direction by tabling the new clause.
I welcome discussion on this matter, as I think all hon. Members do. I know that the Government are worried about the new clause. They have come up with all sorts of reasons why it should not be passed. I realise that all Government Departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, must have regard to conservation under section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but we must be a little bit more positive than that. Therefore, when we were drawing up the new clause, we went back to the Government's wording in a similar measure on the Forestry Commission. We have adapted that wording to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We felt that if the Government found the Forestry Commission section acceptable, they would presumably find a similar clause applying to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food acceptable as well.
The Government sometimes argue that a measure such as this is unnecessary, but I hope I have shown that, with the best will in the world, and with all the moves in Brussels and the efforts on areas such as the Halvergate marshes, there is still a need for Parliament — it is Parliament which determines the broad direction of national policy — to say that we want to go a little further. We want a national guideline and a national signpost, and a national signal going from the House to the Ministry. We realise that it has been constrained in the past, but now we are asking it to have regard specifically to further conservation. I hope that the Government will accept that.
The Government may say that the new clause is unconstitutional, but that is not so. We have sovereignty of Parliament in this country, and it is Parliament, not Ministers, that makes the law. There are precedents for the new clause. For example, section 54(1) of the Transport Act 1968 directs the Secretary of State for Transport, in considering rail closures, tohave regard to any matters which …appear to him to be relevant, including any social or economic consideration".We are similarly directing the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in this new clause.
The Education Act 1944 was an all-party Act passed by the coalition Government. Section 76 places a duty on the Secretary of State for Education, in providing education to do soso far as is compatible wth the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure."
It is saying there that education must operate under financial constraint. It is laid down in the Act that the Secretary of State for Education must have regard to public expenditure. I can give other examples, but those are two which clearly show Parliament telling a Department to carry on doing its job and meeting its prime responsibility, such as producing food, but at the same time having regard to something else, such as the wider environment.
I hope that what I have said has not been too controversial, and that the House will find the new clause acceptable. I know that there is good will on both sides of the House for this measure, and I hope that we can persuade the Government to accept the new clause.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
I am glad to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. 1132 Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), not least because I felt constrained not to take part in the Second Reading debate. I was asked to stand by to chair all the Bills in Standing Committee C, and the hon. Member and I expected that his Bill would appear before that Committee. He was skilful in getting his Bill into Committee ahead of the line, and into standing Committee E.
§ Mr. Cormack
As my hon. Friend says, the hon. Member for South Shields was not the only hon. Member so skilled.
Now, I do not have to maintain a stance of neutrality, and I am glad to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member not only on his initiative in deciding upon this important subject but on his sensitive persistence. It would have been easy for him, having had an understandable disappointment in Committee, to be aggrieved and obdurate. Instead, realising that what he is dealing with is a matter of great moment, he has been skilful and persistent in his negotiations and has now produced a clause that I hope will meet with widespread and general acceptance. It is no mean feat to produce something that has the backing of both the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union. It is the hon. Gentleman's implicit recognition of the fact that farmers have created the British countryside as we know it and as we love and wish to preserve it that has enabled him to reach a conclusion that is acceptable to these two very important and rightfully powerful lobbying bodies.
One statistic above all illustrates the need for the measure that we are debating: the 150,000 miles of hedgerows to which the hon. Gentleman referred as having been lost in the past decade. As hon. Members know, I have always taken an interest in heritage and conservation matters and I should not like it to be thought that my interest is confined to the "built" environment. —[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) interjects with a most unfair accusation. Most certainly it is not. The fact is that this problem has become worse and worse over the past decade.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I know of my hon. Friend's interest in arboricultural matters. He has requoted the devastating statistic of the uprooting of 150,000 miles of our hedgerows which, as he knows, are the seed bed of much of our rural tree stock. Does he know of another statistic: that it is fairly accurately estimated that during the last 30 years over one third of our ancient woodlands have been felled?
§ Mr. Cormack
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has done a great deal, perhaps more than any other hon. Member, to draw attention to the dangers facing our woodlands. I have done some research into this matter and nine years ago, produced a book entitled, "Heritage in Danger", which dealt with this subject as well as with the threat to our country houses, churches and cathedrals. At that stage it was alarming to have to rehearse the statistics relating to both our broadleaved woodlands and to our hedgerows. The danger is now very much worse. That is why it is necessary for Parliament to take action and for a united message to be sent out from this House.
1133 Not the least of the contributions of the hon. Member for South Shields to our deliberations has been the way in which he has been able to maintain all-party consensus on this issue. Such consensus is absolutely necessary upon matters affecting the arts, the heritage and the preservation of our countryside.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is nodding agreement. Although we differ profoundly on many political issues, we are at one in our regard for these matters. It is important that all-party consensus and all-party determination should be maintained in Parliament.
I commend most warmly the new clause. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will be able to accept it with good grace and, indeed, enthusiasm. It reintroduces the teeth that were extracted from the Bill in Committee. The Bill would otherwise have gone forward as a toothless wonder.
§ Mr. Crouch
I was unable to observe, because of the position that my hon. Friend is occupying, whether our hon. Friends on the Treasury Front Bench nodded at that point. It would help me greatly in my future activities in this debate to know whether they did nod.
§ Mr. Cormack
I must apologise to my hon. Friend for being more visible than other hon. Members and therefore blocking his view. However, I can tell him that both of our hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench are looking, as they always do, good-humoured, benevolent and interested. I am sure that their enthusiasm is mounting. I am not sure whether they are nodding at the moment, but I am sure that they will in a few moments. It is very important that this new clause should be accepted. As I say, it puts back into the Bill the necessary teeth. It would be very much of a toothless wonder if it went forward without the new clause. The hon. Member for South Shields—I nearly called him my hon. Friend, and in this context I regard him as a friend in every possible sense—has performed a great service and I wish him well. I urge my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to accept the new clause.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)
It might be of assistance if I intervened at this stage. Not having been able to catch your eye immediately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has caused difficulty for my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I have to correct what he said. This new clause does not represent the teeth of the Bill. The teeth of the Bill are the elimination of the loopholes in the sites of special scientific interest.
§ Mrs. Fenner
I am sorry; it is the hon. Member's new clause and I must not argue with him about it.
§ Mr. Cormack
There are at least two sets of teeth. This set is a least as important as the other set.
§ Mrs. Fenner
I must accept my hon. Friend's view, just as I must accept the description of the hon. Member 1134 for South Shields (Dr. Clark) of his own clause. I listened with great interest to his introduction. It is a much more sensible measure than clause 4 of the original Bill, which would have caused very severe practical difficulties. I see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding his head and that he is aware of that fact. He has endeavoured generally to follow the wording that was tabled in Committee relating to the Forestry Commission.
Nevertheless, I have to ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause. In the first place, it is defective in a number of respects. It would place a duty upon my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to endeavour to secure a balance —
§ Mrs. Fenner
No, I should like to finish my explanation.
It would place a duty on my right hon. Friend to endeavour to secure a balance between agriculture and conservation in regard to all of his functions which may affect the physical environment. However, some of those functions, such as those dealing with fisheries and forestry, have nothing whatever to do with agriculture. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, to whom this clause would also apply, has an even wider range of responsibilities which affect the physical environment but which do not concern agriculture. Therefore I have to point out the defective nature of its description.
However, it is not only for technical reasons that I must oppose the new clause. The object of the clause, as was made clear in Committee, is based upon the assertion that agriculture Ministers are not sufficiently responsive to the needs of conservation. However, as all the evidence shows, that view of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is quite wrong. The hon. Member for South Shields has tried to undermine that evidence, but the most recent is the very successful attempt of my right hon. Friend in Brussels to make European Community agricultural legislation more sensitive to the environment. As we participate in the common agricultural policy, I am sure that my hon. Friends recognise that this is a very important new initiative.
My right hon. Friend has already begun consultations with the Department of the Environment and the statutory conservation agencies about how the special agricultural measures to be applied in environmentally sensitive areas should be implemented. An experimental scheme for the Broads has recently been announced. This is aimed at safeguarding the Halvergate marshes and their environs and is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Countryside Commission.
I could quote many other examples of the commitment to securing a proper balance between agriculture and conservation which have been demonstrated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The new clause would not create that commitment. It is already there. The new clause is therefore unnecessary and is also anomalous in singling out one Ministry from all the others, many of which doubtless have less commendable records than the Ministry of Agriculture, for special treatment in this way. Basically, it is defective and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Flannery
The question of nodding in the House is assuming titanic proportions. It was singularly absent when the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) was speaking. There were no nods from the Treasury Bench, and it has now emerged why. It is sad that a request has been made to withdraw a necessary clause, on which I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for persistently working towards.
Like the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South I am a conservationist. I am a city man, but I spend my leisure moments in the countryside as a member of the Ramblers Association. I work jealously to preserve what there is in the countryside.
The new clause has wider connections with what is happening and what has happened. I worry, and I hope that all hon. Members worry, about the rain forests of the world. I wonder how many realise how the whole of our planet is being steadily denuded and how deserts are being created where at one time cities existed, many of them now under sand.
We are surely more aware than our ancestors were of the terrible problems that we are facing, not only on the planet as a whole, but in our countryside. The denuding of various aspects of the countryside in the past few years is the biggest event since the enclosures. The destruction of woodlands and trees is possibly the greatest destruction since the Norman Conquest. Somebody must cry halt, and I was hoping that the Government, after watching what has happened, would help us cry halt and lend their immense strength to the cause which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has so persistently and consistently pursued.
I went through east Yorkshire recently, where I was stationed during the war, and I was horrified at what I saw. Areas which I had not visited for many years had literally become prairies. Last time I spoke I said that the "prairieisation" of the British countryside was going on apace. Somebody must stand up and point out regularly, with intensity and conviction, that if it goes on much longer we shall not merely be altering the habitat of many creatures, but that we shall, in the long run, create dust bowls and similar conditions which in time will not be conducive to good agriculture.
Much money has been made from the drive for food, but now we have a surplus. I regret the cash nexus that has developed on a grand scale and made many millionaires out of many farmers. They are not, I hasten to say after my surgery last Saturday, in my constituency, where I have poverty-stricken milk fanners coming to me about milk quotas.
As I went through east Yorkshire I was positively alarmed. The noise of the chain saw has hardly been out of the ears of ramblers in south Yorkshire and Derbyshire —areas which I know and love so well. What my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said about Norfolk is profoundly true, but if one takes the train from King's Cross to Edinburgh one sees vast areas not only in southern England but in Scotland where the drive for food and wealth has had its impact.
I should have thought that my hon. Friend's new clause would be acceptable to all of us. Cross-party consensus has been mentioned and, when protecting our countryside, which is so dear to us, I hope that we can all join hands. I am sad that the new clause is being opposed by the Government Front Bench.
1136 When one thinks of the number of hedgerows which have disappeared which were once so familiar, and the wildlife whose main roads those hedgerows are, the copses and woodlands, the walls and so on, one realises that the situation is appalling and that one must cry halt somewhere.
I beg Conservative Members to join hands with us and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields to defend the countryside by passing the new clause.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
I have great sympathy with the new clause. It is fair to accept that everyone on both sides of the House wishes to seek a better balance between conservation and agriculture. There is certainly a great need for that in our countryside. The destruction of habitat and valued aspects of our landscape has been described on many occasions. Therefore, we all accept the need for action.
In addition, there is a huge feeling around the countryside in support of conservation and further measures to protect our natural heritage. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) was right when he said that that feeling exists not only in the countryside but perhaps even more strongly in urban communities. There has been a huge expansion in interest in wildlife and conservation on television and in the membership of groups such as the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust, which shows how close the subject is to the hearts of people in Britain.
Therefore, I understand why the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has brought forward the new clause. However, I must return, as I did in Committee, to the principle that on a private Member's Bill one must often adopt different tactics. One must be specific and exact and avoid controversy. We must be clear about our objectives. If one tries to make grand gestures in a private Member's Bill, it may become controversial and fail. Therefore, if the House wishes to be effective and practical on private Members' Bills, it has a duty to impose a self-denying ordinance on itself.
Like my right hon. Friend the Minister, I believe that the most important aspect of the Bill is the closure of the two loopholes in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The countryside and habitat are protected by a series of practical measures and, in my heart, I do not see how a vague duty placed on the Minister will make more likely the saving of habitat or the protection of various species. I understand that it will in many ways help the general climate, but the way to make progress in this Bill is by closing two loopholes which will save habitat and protect species.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The Government had the opportunity to close those loopholes 12 months ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) introduced a Bill, but refused to do so. That could have gone through the House quickly, but the Government ignored that opportunity. This Bill was intended to go considerably further, and it is sad that on occasions such as this the farmers on the Conservative Benches are again trying to stop us making major progress in defending the countryside.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. Carlisle
That was an unnecessary and extravagant intervention, introducing the type of emotion and grand gesture that must be avoided in a private Member's Bill if practical advance is to be ensured.
Without any doubt, the loopholes in the Wildlife and Countryside Act have led to the destruction of habitat and to the ploughing up and drainage of sites of special scientific interest and other special sites. We know that; the evidence is catalogued. By closing those loopholes the Bill will protect habitat and take a firm step towards the protection and conservation of the countryside for future generations. I do not want that progress to be put at risk by opening up the Bill to all sorts of objections. That is why I reiterate that it is important for a private Member's Bill to be concise and practical
At the same time, it is fair to accept that there has been a change of attitude in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In the past 18 months it has changed substantially its attitude to farming and conservation. I welcome the various steps—I listed them in Committee — which the Ministry has taken in regard to conservation interests. However, I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take clear note of the new clause, because it represents the strong desire of people throughout the country that he should go even further in recognising the valid interests of conservation and the need for balance in the countryside. There is even more need for that desire to be taken into account by the Scottish Office. Many of its attitudes have been far less progressive than those of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I particularly hope that the debate will be read by the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. Crouch
It is one thing for the Ministers and others to read the debate in the Official Report, but it is what is written into a Bill that eventually becomes good or bad law, is applied in the courts afterwards, and affects the way that we protect the countryside. I recognise the genuine way in which my hon. Friend is speaking, and that he has a great deal of knowledge, but surely it is what is written in the Bill that counts.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Absolutely, but before a Bill becomes law it has to go through Parliament, and there is a danger of not even closing the loopholes which have so often led to the destruction of habitat. Therefore, I emphasise that it is important to be practical if we have a real concern for the needs of the countryside.
§ Mr. Carlisle
No, I am sorry. My hon. Friend has had his chance.
I should like to mention four matters to which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should pay greater attention in the coming year. First, I hope that the Ministry will reintroduce pre-notification for agricultural works which attract grants. Without any doubt, the changes made in 1980 have been detrimental. To bring back the system of pre-notification would not be very bureaucratic, and it would certainly help to protect certain aspects of habitats. I understand that since the change in the system no grants have been refused by the Ministry, yet without any doubt the habitat has been damaged and destroyed by grant-related work.
Secondly, I particularly welcome the consultative paper which the Ministry has produced on drainage, and the 1138 suggestion in it that the cost-benefit analyses for large schemes will be subject to public scrutiny. That is a welcome advance, but it is necessary to go further and not to have grants for drainage, because drainage is destroying habitats and bringing new land under the plough, only to add to surpluses. That is a misuse of public funds. There is further progress to be made in that respect, and I am glad that the Ministry is moving in the right direction.
Thirdly, I welcome the extension of EEC grants to systems which bring about a proper balance between farming and conservation. That policy is in the early stages of development. We shall be watching carefully to see that the grants are used in an imaginative way. Much work has to be done on how to achieve a practical system which balances the interests of farming with those of conservation. It is easy enough to talk about integrated farming, but it is very difficult to achieve it effectively in practice.
Finally, much more needs to be done about the control of chemicals. In the past year I have become convinced that the use of agricultural chemicals is doing more than anything else to damage wildlife in the wider countryside away from the special sites. The Bill deals to a certain extent with the problem of chemicals, but in setting the direction of our research, in the development of new techniques and products, and in the general education of those in the farming industry, we must concentrate especially on the problem of chemicals, because it is the most dangerous problem facing the countryside, and we are too complacent about it.
Clearly, there is much for the Ministry to do. As I wish the Bill to proceed so that the loopholes may be closed, I shall not vote against the Government today, but I remind them that in conservation matters there will be a great deal of public scrutiny. They have much still to do in furthering the genuine wishes of many people in the country.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I found the intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reactionary and appalling. [Interruption.] I say clearly to the hon. Lady that it was totally unacceptable.
The hon. Lady said that there were technical objections to what is already a retreat from the best position, which is that advocated in the Bill as originally drafted. She knows perfectly well that it is a compromise proposal, trying to insist that the Department in which she has ministerial responsibility has a duty to look after the conservation interests set out in the clause.
Even if there are technical objections—if there are, I do not believe that they are overriding or sufficient to make the Bill technically invalid—the hon. Lady could at least have shown some sign that the Department felt the need to respond to the pressures on it. I will tell the hon. Lady why the duty should be imposed on her Department. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for 80 per cent. of the land that we are talking about this morning; it is responsible for what goes on in 80 per cent. of our natural heritage. Therefore, if we are to start with one Department, it is right to start with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There is no argument about that. The House knows my view that agricultural land should also be subject to planning consent and planning control, in the way that all other land should be.
1139 We have to slay the dragons that are emanating from the Ministry, in alliance with the so-called Department of the Environment. It was argued in Committee by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the hon. Lady made the same point this morning—that there is a constitutional objection to imposing on a Government Department duties such as those set out in the new clause. I wonder whether either Minister has considered the role of the Department of the Environment in the Netherlands. That Department sees itself as having a duty to argue for the environment and not to seek to do as little as the Government can get away with, given the pressures from Europe as well as national pressures.
It might be thought that the vested interests—the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association—are the reason for the Ministry being so resistant, but that is not so. Both bodies have said that they are in favour of the clause. It is totally unacceptable that the only remaining vestige of reaction, caution, and unwillingness to respond is to be found in the Ministry of Agriculture. What right has the Ministry to say that it is the best judge of these matters? The unions representing farming interests, the association of those who own much of the land and the conservation groups all agree that the duty should be imposed.
About 53 per cent. of the sites of special scientific interest that have been lost were destroyed by intensive agriculture and the Government did not respond by closing the loophole. Indeed, in May last year the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said that there was not a particularly good case for doing anything about the 1981 Act because it had not been proved to be failing.
It is because of the unwillingness to accept the evidence —Ministers know the statistics and how much of our heritage has been irretrievably lost—that we must act now. I hope that hon. Members will put their duty to the country ahead of the need to bail out the Government when they need support.
The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) has a good record on conservation matters, but it is ludicrous for him to argue that merely because a private Member's Bill does something controversial and important it should be watered down. The history of this place is not that the Government dictate what legislation goes through; Parliament dictates that, and hon. Members have a right to introduce legislation. Private Members' Bills are an important part of our constitution. The fact that the Government may not like them does not mean that controversial matters should not be debated. Some of the best legislation ever passed in this country has got through because of the persistence of Back Benchers.
I pay an unreserved tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). He did not respond to the kicking that he was given by Ministers in Committee by giving up, but sought cautiously and responsibly to ensure that he carried with him as many influential bodies as possible. It is not good enough to say that if the Government say no on a controversial matter, hon. Members should give up.
I do not propose to give up and I think that many other hon. Members will not give up. If this House cannot get what it wants, I am sure that the other place will try to make sure that we get the Bill right.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would return to a subject 1140 that he mentioned earlier and on which I should like clarification. He said that agriculture should be subjected to the full rigours of planning control. I understand that that is Liberal policy. Will the hon. Gentleman expand on that?
§ Mr. Hughes
That is Liberal policy. I know that we have to win the argument with some of the vested interests. The anomaly has existed for a long time. The production of food is an important activity and I pay tribute to our agriculture industry for doing its duty so well. However, I do not agree that that industry should be treated differently from any other.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
I fear that the hon. Gentleman is about to move on without clarifying Liberal party policy. Is he talking only about planning permission for buildings or about planning permission for land use? Will a farmer have to apply for planning permission to change from milk to cereals or when he alters the size of his fields? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what is Liberal party policy?
§ Mr. Hughes
The planning permission requirement would not apply to changes of crop or a change from crops to dairy farming. It would apply to buildings and, for example, to the removal of hedgerows and woodlands. Perhaps I shall excite the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) if I tell him that, although the first arrangements have not been made, I understand that our joint Liberal assembly this year will include a major debate on that, which will put some of the details into our policy. A document that is recognised as valuable and valid by planners throughout the land has been produced and will be the basis of the discussion in September. I shall send the hon. Member for Upminster a copy of the report of that debate and the text of the resolution.
It should be the duty of the Ministry of Agriculture to have an overriding consideration for the whole environment, of which it is a principal steward. That is why the provisions of the Bill, closing the loopholes in the legislation affecting sites of special scientific interest—
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)
The hon. Gentleman has tied up farming with detailed planning controls. As I have some responsibility for rates, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether it is also Liberal policy to re-rate agriculture?
§ Mr. Hughes
In that case, I shall not respond to the Under-Secretary.
The duty to ensure the conservation of our environment cannot be put off any longer. The ravages that have occurred since the war are on the record. I assure the House that the feeling outside is that it is about time that Parliament responded to the increasing desire of our fellow citizens to make sure that conservation is regarded as being as important as any other task of Parliament in 1985.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am privileged to be a sponsor of the Bill and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields 1141 (Dr. Clark) for introducing a sensible and balanced new clause which is an effort to seek reconciliation and the support of many diverse interests.
I declare an interest as president of the Arboriculture Association and vice-chairman of Wildlife Link, an umbrella organisation for 33 environment groups interested in our flora and fauna. I have to add that, using that dreadful modern terminology, they wanted to make me the vice-chair, but I reminded them that I prefer to be called Mr. Chapman than Mr. Chap, and they took the point.
It is a humbling experience to understand the dramatic changes that have taken place in our countryside in the past three decades. We should not preserve our countryside in aspic, because it must respond to changing agricultural demands. However, the frightening pace of the change over the past 30 years has caused justifiable anxiety among many people. Hundreds of thousands of miles of hedgerow have been uprooted, many acres of lowland heaths have disappeared and many upland heaths have been destroyed. More than half our fenland has been drained. The sheer scale of what has happened is frightening.
The Select Committee on the Environment, of which I am a member, investigated the effectiveness of the 1981 Act. We came to conclusions that were reached by the Minister, and part of the present Bill seeks to close the loopholes. We also came to the conclusion that we did not believe that planning controls on land use in the countryside would be relevant. We noted the heartwarming increase in the farming community's awareness of, and co-operation on, conservation matters. It is because of that change that I believe that the new clause nicely anticipates a feeling that is growing among all our constituents, whether they live in the country or the town. This is not just a matter for countrysiders. Sensible conservation of the countryside is a matter of deep concern to urban dwellers too.
If I were less charitable, I might opine that the last refuge of a Minister on a weak case is to say that a clause proposed by someone else—not by the Government; those can be changed in Committee—is defective. If it is—and the last thing that I want to do today is to delay the progress of this modest and sensible Bill—I hope that the Government will use their good offices to try to remedy the defects when the Bill is considered—as I hope that it will be—in another place.
I believe that the new clause reflects what our constituents want to see—all our constituents, as well as those who are farmers and members of the National Farmers Union. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts. If it is necessary to withdraw the clause at this stage, I hope that it will reappear, without defects, at a later stage.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) who is, jointly with me, a vice chairman of Wildlife Link.
I also wish to express support for the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), and my deep sadness that the Parliamentary Secretary felt unable to accept it. The Government have advanced various arguments for not accepting the new clause. First, they spoke about defective legislation. As several hon. 1142 Members have pointed out, that is not an argument against the principle of the clause. It is an argument for tightening up the wording. If the Government had been keen on the principles behind the clause, they could easily have suggested their own phrasing. I hope that if my hon. Friend feels that it is necessary to withdraw the clause because of its technical defects, the matter will be pressed further in another place and the defects remedied.
The Government's second argument was that the teeth of the Bill were designed to deal with the sites of special scientific interest and the closing of loopholes, rather than the principles of conservation as they relate to the Ministry of Agriculture. That is nonsense. Parts of the Bill are about tightening up loopholes, but when the Bill was passing through its earlier stages, with very broad support on both sides of the House, it was regarded as doing more than close some precise loopholes. If the Government had simply been concerned with closing loopholes, they could have done it 12 months ago and some of the 451 SSSIs damaged since my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) introduced his private Member's Bill on the matter could perhaps have been saved. However, the Government did not take that opportunity. That was sad, and for the Government to say now that the Bill was primarily concerned only with that matter is, frankly, cheek.
Thirdly, the Minister complained that her Ministry was being singled out for special treatment. Of course it is. No other Government Department has the same power to have a potentially damaging impact on the countryside heritage. It is precisely because of the power vested in the Minister that the new clause seeks out the Ministry for special treatment. The Minister's argument misses the whole point of the issue of the balance between conservation and food production.
The Minister's fourth and major argument was that the clause had been tabled because it was thought that agriculture Ministers were not being sufficiently responsive to the needs of conservation, and that the commitment was already there and the clause was therefore unnecessary. Again, that is not an argument against the principle of the clause. If the clause was not strictly needed because the work was already being done, the Government could have said that, in order to demonstrate clearly to the people that they were already doing all that was necessary, they would accept the principle of the new clause and the duties that it imposed on them. If they were already carrying out those duties, why should they complain if they were laid down in legislation?
Although there have been dramatic improvements in the past few years in the practice of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the attitudes of the farming community towards conservation and its activities, not enough progress has been made. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment himself, when he addressed the Select Committee, spoke about the engine of destruction. We have only to look at what has been happening on Exmoor, at the ploughing up of wild land and the impact of agriculture on many parts of the countryside, to see that in some respects and in some instances we have not yet got the balance right. That was why my hon. Friend introduced his new clause.
His original new clause was, sadly, deleted in the Standing Committee. It was much stronger. It sought to give the Ministry a firm duty to further the cause of 1143 conservation. My hon. Friend then produced a watered-down version that, in the mildest and most reasonable form, seeks simply to state that the Ministry of Agriculture must preserve "a reasonable balance" between the interests of conservation and agriculture. Nothing could be milder, more responsible or more sensible than that. Yet, even though my hon. Friend has gone to great lengths to make it possible not just for the farming community but for the Ministry to accept the principle of reasonable balance enshrined in his new clause, the Parliamentary Secretary still says that she is unable to accept it.
I am deeply disappointed and saddened by the Government's failure to accept my hon. Friend's proposal. If the new clause, or a similar new clause, is not reinstated in the Bill in another place, it will be a sad day for our countryside. There will be continuing destruction that could perhaps have been prevented if such a clause had been added to the Bill.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) told us that he is a townsman who frequently rambles in the countryside and therefore feels strongly about it. It is a shame that there are not more Opposition Members present to support him.
I also am an urban Member of Parliament and can speak with some feeling because I have received correspondence from constituents on this worthy measure. However, I cannot claim that my postbag has been anywhere near as large as on the Bill presented by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), which we are to discuss next Friday.
Feelings in urban areas about Bills such as this are often mixed and muddled. The conservation lobby, which is worthy but sometimes a tiny bit fanatical, brews up feelings that lead to statements which are essentially overkill. There was recently some correspondence in The Times about the alleged massacre of some hedgerow in East Anglia. The editor of that newspaper received many letters, not least from members of another place and conservation campaigners. Eventually, the farmer under attack listed the conservation measures that he had taken, such as the planting of hedgerows and spinneys and works related to water and wetlands. It would have been gracious of many of the correspondents to return to their pens to congratulate him on what he had done. We should consider this matter rather more coolly than we often do.
Although urban constituents urge on us the need for planning measures, as, it seems, does the Liberal party, they also call for greater and cheaper food supplies. They are thus putting a great onus on farmers to farm as efficiently as possible. There is a muddle and I fear that the new clause is moving in that direction.
It is difficult for any hon. Member to deny that Britain still has the finest and most varied wildlife and countryside in the world. Although I am now an urban Member of Parliament, I was born in rural Warwickshire, which is one of our finest counties. I have spent half of my life in London only because of work, so I suspect that I can speak with as much authority as the hon. Member for Hillsborough.
I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) will consider what he has said and not tend towards planning such as we have heard advocated by the Liberals. I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and his colleagues will make 1144 themselves a bit clearer before next Thursday's county council elections or they might suffer for what they have said in passing this morning.
My hon. Friend the Minister should consider our policies and give greater financial support to the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service and the farming and wildlife advisory groups. We must move forward through co-operation and good will. We must recognise that the farming community has contributed a great deal to conservation. The countryside rests in its hands and it is much more sensitive to these issues than the 85 per cent. of us who live in urban areas but nevertheless scream loudly.
§ Mr. Crouch
Can my hon. Friend advise us what to do about new clause 5? It merely asks for the Minister to have a duty to observe the balance between food production and the conservation of the environment. My hon. Friend has spoken in favour of both. Presumably he wants the balance. Does he not want the new clause? What is wrong with it?
§ Mr. Tracey
I have urged co-operation and good will rather than the slightly rigid ideas in the new clause. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields will accept the drafting advice of the Government once again and will withdraw the new clause, perhaps with a view to provision being made in another place.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) on introducing his new clause. I understand the reasons for it, but I cannot support it because, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, its drafting is defective.
The hon. Gentleman might be a little ambitious in trying to secure a major change of direction in a massive Ministry by adding a clause to a private Member's Bill. Nevertheless, I wish the Bill all good fortune. It was originally a seven-clause Bill, and it is now a five-clause one. The original Bill covered the protection of sites of special scientific interest — we all want that — the mapping of national parks, marine nature reserves, the direction of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which we are discussing now, the role of the Forestry Commission, moorland and badgers.
It is a little ambitious to expect the new clause to be added to the Bill. If there is a case for the role of any major Government Department to change, there can be change only after the preparation of a Green Paper and a White Paper. The role which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food plays today is different from the one that it played yesterday, and it will be different again tomorrow. The type of crop needed today is different from the type of crop needed yesterday, and it will be different again tomorrow. The point is that it is not for any Back Bencher to expect a new clause which seeks to shift the whole balance and direction of a Ministry to be accepted.
There are three or four Bills before us today. We have already talked about the Bill relating to motor cycle crash helmets, and that has made good progress. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who successfully steered it through the House, did not seek to change the whole role of the Department of Transport. Had he sought to do so, he would not have got very far with the Bill. The next Bill for consideration today, the Gaming (Bingo) Bill—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman should wait until we reach that Bill. He must take one Bill at a time, like the rest of us.
§ Sir John Farr
I was merely trying to point out that it is grossly ambitious and imaginative of the hon. Member for South Shields to expect to achieve a major shift in direction in the Ministry via a Bill which fundamentally seeks to achieve the essential protection of SSSIs and of badgers, which we all demand.
I am particularly worried that hon. Members on both sides of the House apparently do not realise what the Ministry is doing for conservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) rightly referred to the tragic loss of many of our forests and broadleaved woodlands. However, I have with me an article from a magazine which he may well take, the London Conserver. Three pages of its May issue are devoted to the work which the Forestry Commission has done for conservation. It is said that its work could not be better. The same applies to the Ministry —
§ Mr. Cormack
I should be the last not to give credit where credit is due, and I have frequently paid tribute to the Ministry and to the Forestry Commission for their achievements, particularly in recent years, but I am a native of Lincolnshire and spent the first 28 years of my life there. In that county I have seen the most terrible despoliation of one of the most beautiful areas of England. Therefore, I do not think that it is over-ambitious of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) to seek to provide some extra powers. There have certainly been good developments during recent years, but we have also lost much that is totally irreplaceable. My hon. Friend must recognise that.
§ Sir John Farr
Once again, I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend has made a sensible intervention, and knowing him as I have done for so long, I know that he treats this matter seriously and is concerned, as we all are, for good reason. However, there are some hon. Members on both sides of the House who have implied that the direction currently taken by the Ministry is hopeless. That direction may need changing, but a private Member's Bill is not the vehicle for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South, must surely accept that.
Much is now being done. However, I shall be brief, as I want the Bill to make progress. Mention has been made of the farming and wildlife advisory groups which have been set up by the CLA and the NFU. There is a network of them, funded entirely by farmers and landowners, and they are working well. For years, farmers have been receiving descriptive leaflets from ADAS on how to make use of the odd, neglected corner of the farm to promote conservation, and I welcome that.
No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will later tell the House in which direction the Ministry is moving, but perhaps now is not the right time.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I am glad that we have had an opportunity to discuss this broad subject, It is right, however, that the House should concentrate on specific issues and that a private Member's Bill should not be over-ambitious. We are looking for practical measures to benefit the environment. Consequently, we must ensure 1146 that this Bill, with its limited objectives, reaches the statute book and achieves them in respect of badgers and, above all, the three-month loophole. We must ensure that it is not lost on the plains of the grand gesture.
The Liberal party has said that it intends to introduce planning controls for farming in relation to buildings, woodlands, and hedgerows. We take note of its approach towards the countryside, but I believe that its attitude is mistaken. We should instead urge the Ministry to accept certain specific points. It is important not that the Ministry should be saddled with more duties that can easily be fudged but that it should take into account certain specific considerations.
I strongly support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), who not only has a good track record on this subject — as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was kind enough to say—but who has promoted some very constructive changes that are likely to have practical effect.
We must return to pre-notification of applications for grants. We cannot have grants going through after the work has been done and after any adverse conservation effects have been felt. Secondly, we must have publicly available cost-benefit analyses in relation to drainage schemes, so that we and interested bodies can check them to see whether we are benefiting farming and the countryside generally, or whether we are continuing to destroy habitat—as we have done far too often in the past—and to increase surpluses in a way that no farmer using his own money without subsidy would do.
Thirdly, we should encourage the Common Market in its provision of grants towards a balanced programme of farming and conservation. Fourthly, we must take action over chemicals. My hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt tell me if I am wrong, but if we are indeed now putting about three times as many chemicals on the land as only four years ago, that should be the subject of urgent and detailed research. Bodies such as the Game Conservancy are carrying out research, and the farming and wildlife advisory groups are also playing an important part. But the problem is so great that it cannot be overcome unless the Ministry takes the lead with a crash programme.
There should be a more specific use of chemicals, and we need to know more about the methods of application so that they can be more effective and so that fewer chemicals are put on the land. In that way, fewer costs need be incurred and less damage will be caused.
There are always fashions in these matters. Although I strongly support the move towards conservation, I do not support the fanner bashing that is becoming far too widespread and indiscriminate.
Farmers are entitled to complain that only 10 years ago everybody thought that they were angels; now everybody thinks that they are devils. They are neither. However, we depend upon the farming community more than on any other to preserve our heritage and to keep a balance in farming and conservation.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all grants should be checked to ensure that they are spent for the purposes for which they were originally given?
§ Mr. Lyell
I have no evidence that they are not, but if there is such evidence I would agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not an expert on that point. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will develop it if he thinks it important.
Most fanners are conservationists. They take an enormous amount of trouble about the landscape. Often, they need to be helped to do so, which is why I pressed the point about research into chemicals. Most farmers care for the countryside. I regret that there are some serious lapses from the generally reasonable and often high standards, and we must discourage such lapses for all we are worth. But the object of the Bill should be to close the three-month loophole and to make other comparatively limited gains. We must not let the Bill founder on the grand gesture. I ask the Minister to take most seriously the points that I have raised. If she has any objection to my comments, perhaps she would write to me.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
I am in some difficulty with the new clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said that it is ambitious and imaginative. It is, and should be. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) suggested that the new clause could, perhaps, be reinstated in another place without its defects. That is an interesting line, but I doubt whether it will happen. The new clause does not deal only with hedgerows, nor is it only about the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Our environmental policy is in some confusion.
The new clause is also about water meadows. We have been told that the public must have access to cost-benefit analysis on drainage schemes. Some of the most ancient traditions in lowland farming are being expunged from the environment before our eyes because of drainage policies and commercial pressures on farmers. Indeed, sometimes the Nature Conservancy Council has turned down requests for the preservation of water meadows on the ground that the land has already been spoiled by the use of herbicides. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) spoke of the attention that we need to give to chemicals used in agriculture. It is absurd that water meadows cannot become sites of special scientific interest because chemicals have destroyed some flora. That is a phoney argument.
Fish farming and chemicals, too, have changed the face of the land. MAFF should have more responsibility for that, and that would be encouraged by the new clause. Although water authorities usually say specifically that no antibiotics may be used in fish farms where water is put back into the drainage system of a valley, in fact fish farmers tell one, "Oh, everyone does it." Antibiotics are used as a preventative measure, not a curative measure, in fish farming.
There is confusion in our environmental policy on trees — for example, our broadleaf policy. We also have difficulty with many other aspects of countryside management. However, for the first time a wide range of interests agree with the aims of the new clause, and have written to us and said so. The Council for the Protection of Rural England, the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association all agree with the aims of the new clause. The farmers are conservationists and farmer bashing is a fruitless activity.
In my part of the world, a large proportion of the land is used as military training areas, which are also important areas of conservation. All areas, whether military, 1148 farming, plain or valley, need a positive environmental policy to protect them. That also applies to land owned by the new National Heritage Commission. I wholly support the steps that it is taking to encourage the National Trust in the protection of Stonehenge. It is all very well The Times today printing emotive pictures on its back page of barbed wire surrounding Stonehenge, but at the Stonehenge so-called free festival last year the free-living, liberal-minded participants cut down more than 1,000 trees on Salisbury plain, no doubt under some misplaced belief in a right-to-fuel argument. I understand that a similar act of vandalism was carried out by the same people at Molesworth.
Is it fair to place responsibility only on MAFF? Perhaps it is not. The Department of the Environment is also involved, and I am glad to see its Minister on the Front Bench today. He has already mentioned rates and his responsibility for that. I must press the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—if I could have his attention for a moment—on his party's policy on rates. Does he speak for the SDP also? This is not some cheap line; it is crucial. If there is to be re-rating of agricultural buildings, let alone woodlands, hedgerows and land, there will be a severe impact on conservation and on the cost of conservation. The new clause would ensure that the Minister takes a positive line.
I repeat that we have a confused environmental policy. I understand that trees, which may have an impact on agricultural policy — there has been a great deal of controversy about that — are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The improvement of marginal land and the conservation of land on the edge of, for example, the New Forest, which we might think would be the responsibility of MAFF, is in fact not its responsibility. I recently tabled a parliamentary question to MAFF on the improvement of marginal land through the use of natural fertilisers such as sewage sludge. The question was transferred to the Department of the Environment, which sent me a letter supposedly telling me what MAFF was doing—except that it did not say what MAFF was doing. The new clause would place a clear and sensible responsibility on one Minister.
I urge conservationists not to pull the rug from under the feet of those who are trying hard to move forward in the cause of conservation. Conservation is not preservation. We must look to the future. The message of the new clause is clear—we must start somewhere. This is a private Member's Bill. I am sorry that MAFF has drawn the short straw, which is of no comfort to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench who I know have moved very far in supporting the Bill. I shall listen to the comments of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) with great interest.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I shall be brief, though that will be difficult, as I am tempted to go into a number of issues because the debate has ranged widely. There were moments when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, seemed to be signalling that it might be getting too wide, so I shall not even mention Liberal policy on re-rating agriculture.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) got involved in a dental argument about whether there were teeth in the Bill. I shall not follow him in his expertise in that matter. It has been fascinating to examine the large volume of correspondence that we have 1149 had about the Bill. The emphasis has shifted from the writers originally expressing views on what they called the "loophole Bill" to what they are now describing as the "MAFF duty Bill." That is fair enough, and there is no reason why the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) should not press for other changes which he wants made. Let us remember that the Bill contains an important central part. Nothing that we do must endanger the loophole-closing aspect of it.
With respect to a number of extremely good speeches, I thought that the most thoughtful was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), because what he did not say was just as interesting as what he did say. He is a powerful representative of agricultural and countryside interests, and he argued against such a duty as the new clause would impose being placed on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
My hon. Friend pointed out—my colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture are well aware of it—that we are at a time of transition and flux in agriculture. It may be that in due course my right hon. and hon. Friends in that Department will present White Papers or Green Papers on the whole subject. I note, for example, that the chairman of the Countryside Commission has urged such a course. It may be that a whole land use or estate use White Paper will be introduced in which we map out the policies towards land use in the round in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough pointed out that, although it is understandable that the House wishes to emphasise aspects of that debate at an early stage, we need to take a more fundamental look, at greater leisure, at the whole issue, and that should involve the whole collective force of the Government over some time to ensure that we get it right. I say that because I am not sure that the best way to proceed is to approach one aspect of it in a private Member's Bill.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) made an attractive reference to his country seat. I hope that he was not thinking of moving to another place, because that would be a great loss to this House. I strongly agreed with him when he said in an eloquent speech—although he was arguing the other side of the case—that he wanted the great strength of the Government, as he described it, to be behind the conservation cause as a whole.
That is part of our argument for saying that the addition of specific duties does not necessarily address the point, because if it is not collective policy, with senior Ministers behind it, it is nothing, whatever duties may be laid on Departments. However, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I are not saying that we do not understand the concerns which led to the introduction of the new clause, and the remarks of my hon. Friends may carry weight with Ministers as they approach these issues.
§ Mr. Cormack
The Parliamentary Secretary made great play of the technical deficiencies of the clause, and I would not challenge what she said. May we take it from what my hon. Friend is now saying that detailed consideration will be given to all the points that have been made today with a view to introducing something in another place?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
No, that is not what I said. I am arguing that if there is a case for making such changes, 1150 there is a case for making them in a wider context than in this Bill. I said that that context might produce documents about the future direction of agriculture and of land use as a whole, the sorts of subjects to which the uplands report of the Countryside Commission addressed itself, and there are other, wider issues to be considered.
The Parliamentary Secretary made the fair point that it is sometimes forgotten that the Ministry of Agriculture is also the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and that the Scottish Office, which is tacked on to the end of the new clause, is an even wider Department. It is equally fair to point out that provisions of this type are extremely difficult to draft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) in a sense made speeches which fitted together. They are all formidable proponents of the countryside and practical measures to improve it, and they all made eloquent speeches.
The Food and Environment Protection Bill, which is at present in Committee, is relevant to some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln. In due course, regulations will be introduced under that Bill and I am sure that he will cross-examine them closely. He and other hon. Members made important points about changes which they would like to see, and their remarks are part of the discussion that we need about environmental policy. Their remarks, in particular the way in which they bite on agricultural policy, were of course heard by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
Although the hon. Member for South Shields and I have been in disagreement about some aspects of what is proposed, we have managed to avoid personalising the matter. I regretted, therefore, the slightly venomous tone of the remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). We were, however, interested in his commitment to planning controls. Poor old Gladstone must be spinning in his grave. But, then, I suppose that he has been spinning ever since his poor Liberal party became a subsidiary of the SDP.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned what he described as his great commitment to conservation, a commitment which I would not dare to challenge when expressed by the hon. Members for South Shields or for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). For that reason, I looked in Dod to find what major contributions the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had made, and I discovered that he has a long list of special interests. Indeed, his interests are much wider than those of anybody else, covering human rights and civil liberties, youth affairs, social injustice, housing, Europe, devolution, Anglo-Irish relations, recreation, music, theatre, history and sport. There was not a mention in that lengthy entry of his interest in today's issues. I thought, therefore, that what I really heard from the hon. Gentleman was the well-known sign of a politician getting on to somebody else's bandwagon.
The hon. Member for Surbiton must be a brave man. He said that he had muddled constituents. I do not have such constituents, nor does anybody else. I am sure that our constituents, like customers in the market place, are always right. However, the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed to the way in which we sometimes have difficulty in explaining to our constituents conflicts that arise, and 1151 on that he made some fair comments, such as the way in which people want cheap and reliable food, but in some cases wish to put constraints on farmers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury made speeches which went well together. Their co-operation on the Select Committee might have been behind their similarity of interests, and we respect their views on those issues. We share their concern for the intentions which lie behind the new clause, although we do not think that this is the right way, or place, to pursue them.
A number of other Departments, from the environmental point of view, have a major impact on the countryside. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey is a great enthusiast for reducing smoke emissions and air pollution. That is why I say that other Departments — responsible for transport, energy and industry, for example — have a major impact on the environment.
In view of the dramatic progress that has been made by Ministers concerned with agriculture in the past two years, it seems unfair to single them out. On those grounds, we do not welcome the new clause and I hope that it will not be forced to a Division.
§ Dr. David Clark
I shall follow the example of the Minister and be brief. Having listened with interest to the remarks made by hon. Members on both sides, it is clear that we have had an interesting and illuminating debate, one which reflects the concern in the country' that we must get the balance right in agriculture, and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, despite what the Under-Secretary said, has an overwhelming interest in the affairs of the countryside.
It is interesting to note that the discussion is taking place not only in what might be called the middle-class and upper-market press but elsewhere. For example, I was delighted in recent weeks to see the involvement of the Daily Mirror with its "Living Britain" campaign. I wish Robert Maxwell as much success with that campaign as he has had with Oxford United. It does an enormous amount of good for such a newspaper to try to sell, in simple terms, interest in the problems that we are now discussing.
I listened closely to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture said. I take on board her point about the defective drafting. It is always a great problem for a private Member in particular to try to draft a complex and detailed clause. I am grateful for the help that I had from the CPRE and also from the National Farmers Union and the CLA.
I hope that the Minister listened to the united message that came from the Opposition. It came in a more or less united form from Conservative Benches. The exception was the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), whose change of attitude was disappointing. However, the almost united message from Conservative Members was that they wanted to have a look at the matter. They wanted some Government action along those lines.
We have talked about reconciliation and co-operation. This is not the last chance for this Parliament to look at the Bill. In view of what the Minister said about the defective drafting, I still maintain that, because of its spirit and purpose, it was right to move it. I should like the Bill eventually to end up with that clause in it. I hope that the Minister has taken note of the messages from both sides 1152 of the House and that in some way or another the Government will look at the matter in the next few months when the Bill is still before Parliament. Personally, I hope that in another place the noble Lords will take note of my comments and that they will wish to discuss the matter again.
In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion. Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.