§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Agriculture and the Environment (20th Report, 1983–84, H.L. 247).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is greatly to our advantage that this evening we can debate these two reports together, one from the Select Committee on the European Communities and the other from the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In my view, these two reports complement each other neatly. I shall, of course, speak only of the European report, and be as brief as I possibly can as the hour is already late and there are well over 20 speakers to come.
The problems of the impact of intensive agricultural practices on the environment, and especially on landscape and wildlife habitat, are attracting considerable interest at the present time, not only from enthusiastic lobbyists and journalists but, more importantly, from a considerable body of reasonable opinion. The media are inclined to represent the argument on both sides as bitter and the conflicting interests as irreconcilable. On the other hand, those who have the time and inclination to study the European report will I believe be struck by the many co-operative forces at work and the general wish of farmers and environmentalists to seek solutions in the general good.
The report from the European Communities Commitee has its origin in a debate in your Lordships' House last year on the socio-structural policy of the Community, and at that time it was felt by many that the environmentalists had not had their fair crack of the whip. An ad hoc committee was therefore set up which included members from Sub-Committee D, which deals with agriculture, and Sub-Committee G, which deals with the environment, as well as others who were judged to be neutral, and in my case were initially uninformed.
The draft regulation issued last year by the European Commission designed to improve the efficiency of agricultural structures in the Community provided a convenient, if somewhat restrictive, peg on which to hang our report. It is, by the standard of your Lordships' House, a long report, but the committee make no apology for that. We believed that it would be useful to discuss fully the detailed and well presented evidence of the highly qualified witnesses who appeared before us and to whom the House must owe thanks. At this point I should also like to thank the clerk of the committee who was new to her task but 84 who behaved excellently, and also our specialist adviser who, for this subject, was rather appropriately named Dr. Rosemary Fennell. The Government departments, MAFF and the DoE were, as always, most co-operative, although at times they must have felt themselves to be an embattled, or even an endangered, species.
The opinions of the committee are given in paragraphs 126 to 139 of the report, and the House will not want me to do more than briefly reiterate some of them. Our objectives in underwriting the inquiry were twofold: first, to examine the draft regulation proposed by the Commission and, if we found it inadequate, which we did, to suggest how representatives of Her Majesty's Government in the Council might ask to amend it to contribute to a more appropriate balance between the claims of agriculture and the environment; and, secondly, to consider the views of witnesses to see how, in a framework wider than the proposed regulation, some of the conflicts of agriculture and the environment might be reconciled.
It was inevitable that conditions in this country rather than in the Community as a whole should have dominated our thoughts. In fact, it is hard to envisage an agricultural regulation of this kind which could be appropriate and acceptable in all the member states of the Community. The Committee were conscious of the pride with which the British regard their countryside. They were also mindful of the achievements of our farmers not only in recent times but over the centuries in which our countryside has been created largely by their handiwork. In paragraph 138 the committee set out six ways in which they think the draft regulation might be usefully amended. The most important effect of these amendments would be that, as an element of the improvement of farming, care of the environment would have comparable status with the production of food.
If the amendments were not made the regulation would allow the present unsatisfactory situation to continue with minimal change, although it must be admitted that the Commission, in its draft, showed welcome signs of recognising that continued emphasis on production of food already in surplus no longer makes sense. The Common Agricultural Policy as at present administered with its high prices and market policies is largely responsible for the pressures on the agricultural industry which have created and exacerbated the environmental problem. The regulation, and hence the report, does not deal with this basic problem, although of course it reflects the anxiety created by it.
Members will see both in the evidence of witnesses and in the opinion of the committee a number of criticisms of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment, which means criticisms of their ministerial direction. These criticisms have attracted attention in the press; and in defence of the departments the committee is very much aware of the financial pressures on them at this time, and we have therefore tried to be fair to all concerned. Nevertheless, the committee conclude that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment do not work together effectively and are insufficiently responsive to reasonable and widespread public feeling. They protect themselves in some 85 measure by unnecessary legal inflexibility to an even greater degree than the Commission itself.
We gained the impression that the Minister of State, who is himself a farmer of substance, recognised the validity of some of these criticisms. If press reports are correct he may have—and I hope that he has—some encouraging developments to report, and if so I hope he can assure us that these are intended to be effective and not cosmetic. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the final paragraph of the committee's report, the words of which were chosen with care. The burden of this paragraph is that Her Majesty's Government should not wait for a lead from the Community but should take their own initiatives. We do not need the Commission to tell us what to do. The care of the countryside in the United Kingdom is first and foremost a national responsibility, and it goes without saying that this care must go on against the background of a prosperous agricultural industry.
The committee sincerely believes that the Government, by a revision of priorities, by a change in administrative attitudes, and by close co-operation with statutory and voluntary bodies, can achieve, with the present level of funding, a more appropriate balance between the needs of agriculture and other environmental interests. This is asking a great deal but it only requires leadership which, in our view, would evoke an immediate response.
If Her Majesty's Government were to act in this way they would be doing what the majority of people want, farmers and town and country dwellers alike. It would at the same time take a great deal of the debilitating and wasteful heat out of an important national argument; an argument which may eventually develop into a divisive party-political issue, and I submit that we already have enough of these. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Agriculture and the Environment.—(Lord Greenhill of Harrow.)
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Adrian
had given notice of his intention to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee on Agricultural and Environmental Research (4th Report, 1983–84, H. L. 272).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to speak about the second of the two reports on the Order Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, has already said that there is advantage in debating these two reports together, and I must say at once how grateful I am to the noble Lord for his agreement on this. But two reports at once is a harsh demand on your Lordships' tolerance, especially at this late hour and I, too, shall do my best to be brief.
My task is to introduce the report of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology, and before doing so I should like to thank the members of he committee and the witnesses who came to see us, those who wrote and our advisers, Professors Smith and Harper.
Our terms of reference were to,consider the case for greater co-ordination between agricultural and environmental research".86 At an early stage we concluded that there was no real overlap between our terms of reference and those of the European committee, whose report the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has just introduced. Our remit was a relatively narrow one, though complementary and important, since, unless research can provide appropriate information, policy in this area and its implementation are likely to be flawed.
Our independent inquiries have much common ground. We both agree that agriculture and the environment are inseparable and important and that concern for the environment is not the monopoly of any one group. It is common ground that economic pressures are causing a pace of change in the countryside which is disturbing to many. Both committees view public opinion as being ahead of Government departments which are seen as slow to recognise the strength of feeling for greater control. Finally, both committees emphasise the importance of more systematic co-ordination and co-operation between the agricultural departments and the Department of the Environment.
The Committee on Science and Technology had no great difficulty in concluding that:in answer to the narrow question posed by their terms of reference they consider that the case for greater co-operation between Agricultural and Environmental research is made out".Numerous witnesses pressed on us the need for more co-ordination, but co-ordination is like virtue: we are all in favour of it, but it is a matter of judgment to know when one has had enough of it. So the first conclusion of your Lordships' Committee is that:greater co-ordination is needed although that need is not in itself sufficient to warrant radical changes in organisation".Our recommendations—many of them too detailed to rehearse here—are designed to improve the existing system by emphasising the inter-relatedness of agricultural and environmental research and the importance of a proper concern for the environment in all departments of Government and in the research councils.
Your Lordships' committee was concerned that the organisers of research investigating environmental impacts of agricultural practices have responded to, rather than anticipated, public anxiety, and I include here the anxieties in the farming community itself. Such research may get done eventually, but the agriculture departments are not seen as having an initiating role. This is particularly true of longer-term applied research, often called strategic research. We recommend that the agriculture departments should significantly increase the commissioning of such strategic research. Problems of this kind which have been identified to us include the nitrogen cycle in the United Kingdom, acid rain, and the fate of trace elements from phosphate fertilisers, among others.
It will be hardly news to your Lordships to hear that all research funding is under severe pressure. We are well aware of the constraints which this puts on both Government departments and research councils. But it is particularly in areas which may be construed as the responsibility of another department or of another research council that cuts come first, and are heaviest. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the environmental impact of agriculture is just such a marginal grey area. We have made several recommendations to 87 try to meet this difficulty, both between the customers for such research—the agriculture departments, the DoE and the Nature Conservancy Council—and the research contractors—the Agricultural and Food Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council.
The Agricultural and Food Research Council stated to us in evidence:that as work most closely relevant to the environment tends to be applied, the scale and nature of this work largely reflects the Ministry's requirements as a customer".It goes on to give the MAFF spend with the AFRC for environmentally related research—some £13 million; a not inconsiderable sum. But its statement illustrates what we have called the "closed loop" between the agriculture departments and the AFRC which may, and indeed does, work well in respect of research directed to increasing agricultural productivity, but is seen by many to exclude other legitimate public concerns.
It is for this reason that we have sought to extend the responsibility of the agricultural departments so that it is their clearly stated duty to promote research on the environmental effects of agriculture; effects which include, but go beyond, pollution. The Government have already gone some way towards this in their response to the Seventh Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, where they agree that the initiative for reducing pollution caused by agriculture should rest with MAFF and the other agriculture departments.
In the course of our meetings the agriculture departments announced the setting up of a Priorities Board for Agricultural Research. In our report we note with regret that there seemed to be no intention to represent environmental interests, either directly or indirectly, on it and we recommend such representation. Recently the Government have appointed Sir Hans Kornberg to the Priorities Board. His experience as chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and particularly for the Seventh Report on Agriculture and Pollution, may well go some way to remind the Priorities Board of its wider environmental obligations.
There are two consequences of placing on the agriculture departments a duty to promote research on the environmental consequences of agricultural practices. First, they will need mechanisms to anticipate and identify those consequences. To this end we suggest that consideration be given to supporting or commissioning some specific and targeted monitoring programmes. They should be directed at the ecology of farmland, rather than of particular species, and should perhaps concentrate on the less visible creatures—invertebrates and soil organisms.
Secondly, thought must be given to the relations between the agriculture departments and the Department of the Environment, the research councils and the Nature Conservancy Council. MAFF and DoE are, and should be, customers for research on the environment, and as such ought, as far as possible, to co-ordinate their programmes. We were assured that a great deal of informal co-ordination does indeed take place between scientists of the Agriculture Research 88 Service, DoE, and NERC. And in this context we much welcome the fact that MAFF and DoE are now talking about exchanging their research programmes, though we were surprised that such an exchange was not already established practice. I understand that there is already increased contact, and this is to be welcomed. But we suggest that there should be, in addition, regular meetings of the chief scientists' groups of DoE and the agriculture departments with representatives of AFRC, NERC, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission to discuss the formulation of research programmes in the area of common interest.
It also appeared to us that the Nature Conservancy Council was both underfunded and over-extended. Its relationship with the DoE seemed to us to need examination and we would welcome a more vigorous role for it in the dialogue with the agriculture departments. We would encourage the NCC's efforts in creative conservation and hope for greater liaison with the agricultural research service for this purpose. Research is less effective than it should be, if its results are not made available in the field. The establishment of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and of county FWAGs is a most welcome development. FWAG, as well as the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS), have important roles in the dissemination of research, as well as in its planning.
Finally, we welcome initiatives from the Economic and Social Research Council and the agriculture departments in socio-economic research in agriculture. This is an important and topical area, especially in the face of possible changes in the common agricultural policy.
My Lords, I believe that this report makes modest and practical proposals, and it is gratifying to be able to report constructive responses from both the National Farmers' Union and the Natural Environment Research Council. I hope that this report will serve to improve our research effort in an area seen by the public, as well as by farmers, to be of great importance, not least because there is a general awareness that many of the ground rules of post-war agricultural practice are at the moment under review.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, the committee of your Lordships' House under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, has (if I may speak to the noble Lord's report first) performed a valuable and timely service. It is valuable because the report has undoubtedly focused attention on issues which are of widespread interest and concern in the United Kingdom and it is timely because we are currently reviewing not only structural policy, but also the future of the uplands and of the common agricultural policy.
First, I welcome the clear recognition in the report of the committee that without farming, the countryside would become a wilderness and rural communities would decline. It is, therefore, vital to continue policies which ensure an efficient and prosperous agriculture. At the same time, I say freely and openly that I accept that we must recognise that there is a widespread concern about the consequences for the environment 89 of changes in agriculture over the last two or three decades, about which the noble Lord spoke. I should like this evening for there to be no doubt on this matter. The Government understand and share that concern. Our objective is to achieve a balance between a healthy agriculture and conservation.
I suppose it is fair to say that it was the shortages of the war years and the rapid mechanisation thereafter which brought about the change from livestock to arable farming which we see today in so many parts of the country. But, as the committee has observed, the rate of change has accelerated, and we have to devise ways of meeting change with safeguards for conservation and the environment.
The noble Lord's committee acknowledges the responsibility shown by the majority of farmers for the care of the countryside, and I am sure that this is the spirit we need to foster. I really do not think that the red tape of regulations and restrictions is the way to tackle rural problems; sympathetic and understanding management of the land is needed.
For that reason, I very much welcome the committee's recognition of the work of ADAS in balancing agricultural and conservation interests. I say this because a key part of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is designed to ensure that Government-sponsored advice should be widely available on how best to integrate wildlife and landscape conservation with successful farming. Thus, a good deal of what the committee suggests is being done by ADAS, a service which stands close to the farming community and which cares and works in harmony with the statutory and voluntary conservation agencies who have such great expertise and whose work is of such value. The committee recommends that this role of ADAS needs to be increased, and despite the manpower limitations we have, I very much hope we can move further in that direction.
However, I think that some of the committee's recommendations were perhaps based on an outdated situation; I have in mind, for instance, the statement that the Ministry of Agriculture's interpretation of the structures measures is too pre-occupied with agricultural production and insufficiently sensitive to the needs of conservation. I do not say this just because I am proud of the ministry in which I work; I naturally react against criticism. I do not think it is that. For some years now the United Kingdom has been carrying out policies designed to assist the environment which only now are finding their way into the structures provisions. When the report says that the Government ought to take their own initiatives—and the noble Lord in his capacity of chairman of the committee repeated this view in his speech this evening—that is good advice. This is precisely what we have done in our own domestic legislation in this country, particularly in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I am surprised that nowhere in their report did the committee mention this important legislation, one of the aims of which is to foster good conservation practice in agriculture through voluntary co-operation. That aside, I am happy to be able to report to your Lordships that I think a good spin off of that legislation is that earlier this month the Ministry of Agriculture concluded new agreements with the NCC on the notification and management of SSSIs on 90 agricultural land to enable, by working together, the fullest use to be made of both ADAS and NCC skills and expertise.
One particular difficulty which the report recognises is that such words as "environment" and "conservation" can mean different things to different people. Public opinion is, of course, a very important factor, and we must always be responsive to it, but it is not always to be gauged by the loudest voices, and it does not by any means always speak with a single voice. So the position that the Government find themselves in is that they have to try to maintain agriculture and the whole rural economy in a healthy state while, at the same time, safeguard the landscape, conserve flora and fauna and provide for access in the countryside wherever that is possible. As we all know, that is not any easy balance to achieve.
So, for example, in the last few years in the Ministry of Agriculture we have made changes to the environmental safeguards in our national grant schemes. we pay grant on conservation expenditure which is part of agricultural investment; we have withdrawn the last vestiges of grant for hedge removal. We have recently increased grant for hedge planting, stone walls and shelter belts, and we withdrew some grants for land reclamation outside the less-favoured areas.
In this context, I have noted from the report and from the minutes of evidence that several witnesses advocated the reintroduction of prior approval. I do not know whether those witnesses appreciated that some 400 extra personnel would almost certainly be needed in the advisory service in order to do this. I am in no doubt that ADAS is occupied to far better advantage in getting out and about and advising farmers on good conservation practice rather than in dealing with forms in offices. That apart, the suggestion was one which does not give credit for the prior notification arrangements which we operate in the most sensitive areas and which I believe are working well. I know that part of what I have just said is rather reactive and defensive; but may I make it clear that I do not believe, and the Ministry in which I work does not believe, that we have in any way reached the end of the need for change. We realise that we have to keep policies under review. This is why this report is so enormously important. I give an assurance this evening that if in the light of all the considerations further changes are needed, we will always do our best to recognise this and to try to see if we can meet the need for change.
I must say in unison with that point that it will not come entirely as a surprise to your Lordships that the Government attach rather more importance to costs in these matters than I would have discerned on a first reading of the Committee's report. However, even with cost implications very much in mind, the Government believe that the draft regulation, which of course is the peg on which the whole report of the Committee is hung, needs to be amended to make it more responsive to environmental concerns. As your Lordships know, in Brussels we have already put forward some amendments; but we think that the time has now come for us to take a major new initiative.
Much attention has been given to the possibilities of using Article 3(5), suitably broadened, but your Lordships will forgive me if I say that the difficulty I 91 foresee there is that Article 3(5) is inevitably bound up with the Less Favoured Areas Directive. The problem, as the committee rightly recognised, is that some of the conservationally sensitive areas are not less favoured. Indeed, quite the reverse is the case. So as my right honourable friend foreshadowed at the last meeting of the Agriculture Council, the Government have decided to seek a more general provision in the draft regulation. We believe that we need a completely new title in the regulation-conveying powers which would enable us in environmentally sensitive areas to encourage farming practices which are consonant with conservation. We will straightaway discuss with the Commission qhow best to give effect to this idea which would herald a totally new policy for balancing agricultural and conservation objectives. It would not be a solution to all the problems although it most certainly would not be cosmetic—if I may answer the noble Lord directly on that point—but it would be a valuable step forward. However, we should be under no illusions. As I think the Committee itself recognised, amendments of this nature may not be acceptable to all other member states. We can only try.
I should like to thank the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, for the work that it did. I welcome wholeheartedly the committee's work. Its essential concern is the same as that of the Government—to ensure that agricultural and environmental research are as well co-ordinated as possible. There is complete agreement on that. I am grateful to the noble Lord and to his committee for having given their attention to this important point. The report notes that environmental research,originates from a polyglot ill-defined entity which ranges widely over a great number of disciplines and is required to satisfy a public interest which may seem nebulous or even contradictory".The Committee was certainly under no illusions about the problems of co-ordination. Then the committee also noted another important aspect of its subject. It recognised that agriculture is part of the environment and it would be wrong to introduce an artificial division of the countryside, despite potential incompatibilities between the objectives of modern agriculture and those relating to the environment. I hope that I am being consistent with the reply which I have tried to give to the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, when I say that it is the aim of the Government and of the research programmes which we fund to overcome or to minimise those incompatibilities so far as possible. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, that the Government will continue to seek improved co-ordination and will consider very positively the suggestions which the Committee made a few weeks ago.
There are one or two points on which I should like to comment immediately. The committee considered that the existing research organisation has not served the country badly although it believes that there has been undue delay in undertaking some environmental research. That rather modest tribute to the existing organisation I take to be in large part an acknowledgement of the good work of scientists in the many and various research centres throughout the country. I should like to support it in that way.
92 The Committee suggested that agricultural departments should be able to identify better the environmental effects of agricultural practices. I referred just now to the committee's comments about environmental research relating to,a public interest which may seem nebulous or even contradictory".We accept therefore that there is a need to bring environmental questions together so far as possible to form an identifiable and coherent subject. In this connection, the Ministry of Agriculture has decided to establish an Environmental Co-ordination Unit. The work of this unit which has now been set up will include co-ordination of the Ministry's interests in respect of the effects of agricultural practices on environmental pollution, conservation and rural diversification, and will also develop and maintain a close liaison between the policy and scientific and technical sides of the Ministry on environmentral issues.
There is however one point in the report with which I should like to express some disagreement—that is, the committee's suggestion, which the noble Lord mentioned in his speech, that public-funded research has been late in looking at environmental questions, and that one reason for this has been what the committee called the "closed loop", "with minimum interference from outside" between the agriculture departments and research contractors. The Ministry's evidence to the committee made clear the importance that we attach to the protection of the environment and the prevention of adverse social effects. The Ministry's list submitted to the committee on research and development work relating to environmental questions was really quite substantial and included research by ADAS which the noble Lord was probably pleased to see because I noticed that at the very end of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, made the point that it is enormously important to see that research is translated into action in the field. In-house research by ADAS over many years on pesticide usage has been concerned with environmental effects. More recently work with environmental objectives has been undertaken. I shall give three examples: on subjects such as hedgerow management, farm buildings in the landscape and farm management at the Ministry's experimental husbandry farms. The Boxworth experiment on pesticides represents a major investment in environmental research which we very much hope will provide insight for future work. I have read the views of the committee about this experiment at Boxworth and I should like to take this opportunity to assure your Lordships that there was consultation about it with the ITE, NCC and AFRC. But certainly I have taken on board what the committee said and we will call together all those concerned to review the experiment before it finally comes to an end. I would suggest however that the charge of a "closed loop" in agricultural research is a little hard; rather, we have formal arrangements for independent inputs into our planning of research programmes and open doors for widespread and less formal contacts. The new Priorities Board is going to be central to these arrangements. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, welcomed the inclusion of Sir Hans Kornberg, formerly the chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, as a member of the board. 93 The report makes many more interesting and important points, but I must end now because of the many speakers which we all wish to hear. However, I should like, just quickly before I sit down, to pick up two other points which are in the report. The Government fully agree about the growing importance of socio-economic issues to farming and rural viability generally, and we are trying to devote more resources to these matters, in close liaison with the other organisations concerned, such as CoSIRA. The Government also wholeheartedly endorse comments in the report on the value of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group. I very much agree with the description as of it as "this excellent development", and we are giving FWAGs the fullest possible support.
Both the reports we are discussing this evening show the enormous amount of work that is being done in this country in environmental matters generally, and perhaps I might end by referring once again to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill's committee. I should like to say one word more about the initiative from the Ministry of Agriculture that we are now determined to take. Of course, I cannot guarantee that the proposal we shall put to our European partners will necessarily be accepted; but I believe that we have reached the point where we need to be able to designate areas outside the LFA's as conservationally sensitive, and within those areas to be able to make payments and impose conditions to ensure that agriculture is carried on in a way which is consistent with conservation objectives. At any rate, that is our intention and we are going to do all we can to succeed.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I am getting a new pair of spectacles and may then be able to do away with the use of this box in due course when the Government introduce cheaper spectacles! We are really very indebted to the noble Lords, Lord Greenhill and Lord Adrian, for introducing the two reports so concisely and so briefly. They did both in 22 minutes. The Minister took slightly longer, and perhaps your Lordships will excuse me if I take a little longer still, but I will try to be as brief as I can.
I should like to say one thing first: that is, that I am not going to argue about the question that the CAP has been the cause of all the environmental problems that have been put forward in various quarters. I should like just to remind your Lordships that Dr. Stapleton did his work away back before the war and far more land in the hilly areas was reseeded, ploughed and improved in every way, at least so far as farmers were concerned, before the CAP was every thought of. I am perfectly certain that in the technological age, with the advances that have been made in agriculture the same would have applied to lowland farming, and that the CAP has nothing to do with the accusations, some of which I completely disagree with, which have been brought forward.
As I sat in my office yesterday with a blank sheet of paper in front of me—and I am sure that many of your Lordships will have done the same—wondering how I would make a start, I looked across the Lea Valley. My office stands at a height of about 300 or 400 feet above sea level, though one would hardly think there was that height in Essex. I looked across the Lea Valley and 94 there, as far as the eye could see, were trees and hedges. As regards hedges, I should like to take this opportunity of publicly apologising to my noble friend Lord Melchett for having accused him during a previous debate of wanting two yards left round all hedges. I do not know where I got that from but he has assured me it is wrong and I apologise to him.
This area that I look on to contains a power station, which is now redundant, and of course the remnants of the glass-house industry in the Lea Valley. Looking a little further west over the beautiful Broxbourne Woods, one can see the roof of Haileybury College, where the late Lord Attlee was educated. He was very interested in the environment and he was not worried so much about what the farmers were doing to the environment as about what the urban litter louts were doing to the countryside. Although he did not have time in his day to bring in the Litter Act, he mooted it back in the 1950s.
I was then tempted out of my office by the fine day to view the east and south sides of the farm. Looking south to the great metropolis first, there I saw St. Paul's, overshadowed by two great tower blocks—a reminder of the urban population's care for the environment. To the east, over the valley between us and Epping Forest is a large farming area, well farmed well treed and well hedged (if that is the right expression) with many trees—and I would stress this to your Lordships—in the middle of fields where the farmers, in removing hedges, had left them. I have done the same. I get into trouble with my son and my foreman because they are awkward, but they are there to stay as mature trees.
On the way back further to contemplate that empty sheet of paper, I met my daughter-in-law, who had just returned from a trip through Essex and Cambridgeshire, showing an Australian visitor our countryside. The Australian lady was rapturous about it and when I asked her whether she saw any signs of destruction of the environment, she just did not know what I was taking about.
I then remembered a trip I made a few years ago with two American friends. I picked them up in Edinburgh and motored down through all the counties that have been accused of "prairie farming": Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. We also did a trip through the Cotswolds and around Wales, and they were impressed more with the eastern counties than with the Cotswolds and Wales. They thought they were better farmed and the amenities of the countryside, so far as they could see, were well preserved.
I mention this to your Lordships because I want to put it to you that the so-called "devastation"—and that is a word which is used loosely: the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned the looseness of some of the language that has been used—of the countryside is a gross exaggeration. In fact, it simply is not true. Of course there are people like Hughie Batchelor in Kent—but how many acres has he actually damaged in this latest row that he is having with the council? I doubt if it is more than one acre, if that. And how soon will it recover? It is amazing how few people realise how quickly things recover.
The Forestry Commission have made a survey of the deciduous and broad-leaved woodlands in this 95 country and they have found that, although there has been a change in the species—for example, more beech, more ash, more sycamore and maples and fewer oaks and, of course, elms—the acreage is virtually the same as it was 50 years ago. Yet in the report the evidence that was given—of course it is not evidence really, but only pinion—suggests the opposite. I think it is just that people see bits and pieces of woodlands being taken down, and really very little damage is done. Let us not forget that a lot of it is planted or allowed to regenerate on its own. I had a note here to mention ancient woodlands, but I will leave that to someone else.
Let me tell your Lordships of two instances that illustrate how people mislead themselves. In the county where I spent the first part of my farming life is the small town of Stonehaven, the county town; and south of it was an area of woodland which everybody enjoyed for many generations and which had beautiful deciduous trees. Just before the war it was sold to be cleared and felled; and all hell was let loose. People wrote to ex-Stonehaven residents abroad to try to raise enough money to buy the woodlands and save them. Of course that was not possible, and the woodlands were cut down. The land was replanted straight away—and of course nowadays we can replant, using the chemicals that we have for killing any diseases that may arise from the stumps—and that woodland today is as beautiful as it was then, and perhaps even more so, in no time at all. Those people simply did not realise what could be done.
May I give you another small instance from my own farm? We were finishing a drainage scheme, the ditch between two fields had to be cleared out and there was a large overgrown hedge which we had to cut fairly far down. A local resident wrote to the papers and said that here were farmers tearing out hedges again. She said that she went there on her favourite walk—and her favourite walk, I may tell your Lordships, is up the avenue of trees that I planted 30 years ago when I went to this farm, but she did not mention that in her letter to the press. The following week another letter appeared which my son took to be slightly different, though putting the same point. He took the trouble to telephone the person and invited him to see what we were doing. He pointed out the necessity of it and said that we had not pulled out the hedge but had just trimmed it down. This chap had never been on a farm; but, if somebody had asked him to join the environmental bodies he would have done so in a flash on the basis of that letter. So many people do not realise the recovery that takes place. That was 18 months ago and that hedge is now growing, and I am sure that the birds and the butterflies are enjoying it. I am certain that people who dislike change—and we are a country of conservatives with a small "c"—convince themselves that the change they dislike is an environmental disaster.
When I was in the Ministry nearly 20 years ago, the same row arose over something and I called for some old maps. There were huge areas of wide open spaces that are now, or were until recently, full of hedges. Someone said that agriculture planted those hedges and agriculture has taken a lot of them out again. When I was in the Forestry Commission, I met an old 96 forester who had started planting a woodland when he was a boy. By then, he was just about retiring age but he remembered the protests about planting that land. He said that later he started to fell the woodland and the protests started again. That is the sort of thing that happens and we should remember that.
That brings me to the subject of forestry and no body has taken more stick from environmentalists than the Forestry Commission, though no body deserves it less. Until about 12 years ago, the Forestry Commission had no environmental remit at all. If the British public wanted the Forestry Commission to do environmental work, they should have got Parliament to put something through. But they appointed Dame Sylvia Crowe in 1963, and she laid the foundation of the Commission's landscaping policy. Forestry Commission woodland attracts over 20 million visits a year. which is probably over 20 times the membership of all the conservation and environmental bodies put together.
I want to mention what the Forestry Commission is doing today to encourage farmers in woodland management. They have given £1,000 a year to the Farming and Wildlife Trust, and have a whole host of plans for helping farmers. I have the press release here about managing farm woodlands, and so on, and if any noble Lord would like to give something to the Woodland Trust's appeal to help FWAG, then they can do so. At the same time, I should like to pay a tribute to ADAS. We have recently had several open days, instigated by FWAG, and ADAS have shown what they are doing.
As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, the criticism is not altogether right. There is a body of opinion, thank goodness small, but vocal—as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead said, these bodies are usually vocal though they are small—who suggest that Britain should not attempt to maximise its production of food and wood. They say that we should buy it all from abroad. How selfish can we be? We buy between £3,000 million and £4,000 million worth of wood and wood products a year and world forests are being cut down at the rate of 50 acres a minute. We produce approaching 75 per cent. of our temperate foods.
In today's copy of The Times, there is a list of surplus foods held in this country. On the next page is a plea by Kenya for food to stave off starvation. The same could apply to a lot of Southern Africa. Anyone who saw shown on television last week the appalling conditions in Ethiopia will surely think that we could sacrifice a few hedges and butterflies to give an extra tonne or two of wheat to send out there. I do not want to go into the details of why it is not sent there; I just put it to your Lordships.
What I have said illustrates the value of these reports in putting things in proper perspective and that is what they have done. I am not suggesting that nothing should be done about Community proposals, and I think that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, is excellent. Nor do I think that there is nothing to be done to help and advise farmers, landowners and foresters to continue to look after the environment in continuing changing circumstances. I am a member of FWAG—a body funded mostly by farmers—and I am president of our local conservation 97 society. But I am first and foremost a farmer and I must make a living for myself and my staff and enough to maintain the environment. There must be compromise, but I cannot agree that care of the environment must have comparable status with food production. I do not wish to expand on this, but in those conditions environmentalists could make life for a farmer almost impossible.
The continuing changing circumstances which I mentioned earlier make the report of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, of immense importance. When I started farming in 1926, the only spray we had was Bordeaux mixture for blight in potatoes; 20 to 30 units of nitrogen on our cereals was being very bold. We fed our animals on food produced on the farm with a modicum of linseed cake added. Every animal and bird we kept was on a litter—slats and cages were unknown. The situation today sometimes appalls me: 200-plus units of nitrogen, some of it pouring into the water supply of the country; spray after spray after spray; pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. I do not know what will be the ultimate effect on our land.
Our animals and birds are kept in a multitude of different ways and we pour into them vitaminised, medicated and goodness knows what kind of food. Straw and hay are processed with chemicals and we implant the animals with growth regulators. So far we have got off with it, and it may be that no harm will be done to the human and animal environment, but I should like to know. Therefore, I welcome the proposal for closer co-ordination between agriculture, the environment and research, and trust that the position will be looked at in the broadest sense, as I have suggested.
May I make one criticism? It seems to me that giving an awful lot of instructions to a great many bodies to liaise with each other—I am now talking about the body of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian—means that they will spend a great deal of time liaising and not enough on research. The recommendations give that impression. I hope that I am wrong, but there it is. I have spoken rather longer than I intended, but I hope that I have put some fresh thoughts into your Lordships' minds on the subject.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I rise to repeat some of the points that my noble kinsman has made because both these reports are enormously valuable. The report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, is particularly valuable in that it draws the teeth from some of the rather ridiculous statements made by bodies who have a small, particular interest and who push it to the absolute limit without a great deal of knowledge of what they are talking about except from their own very narrow view. Also, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has raised the debate above the level of farmer-bashing, which is becoming extraordinarily popular and which has given rise to lots of good stories combined with Irish ones.
The latest story is about the farmer who was rich beyond the dreams of avarice. An Irishman came to him and asked for a small job. The farmer gave him a pot of green paint and told him to go into the back yard and paint the porch. Two hours later the Irishman came back and said, "I've painted the porch, 98 and I ran over the Bentley as well". That is the kind of story which is going around.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, referred to high prices. I would rather talk about adequate prices. That fact is that when we look at the countryside we all look at it with a different eye. Countrymen are inclined to think—no doubt unreasonably—that the countryside is a place for countrymen to live in and in which to make their living. They believe that because they farm there, work there, build there, or whatever they do, they should have the major say about how the countryside is organised.
As has been said, and as is acknowledged in the report, the history of our country is bound up with the transformation of the countryside by the improving landlords and farmers of the past. The description of Aberdeenshire in the early 18th century would delight some of the conservationists. The description of the wetlands, the awful bogs, the frightful screes, the terrible areas of whins, would be a paradise to them. But it was not a paradise to any of the travellers through it. The work that was done in transforming Aberdeenshire into a place where people could live, which is prosperous and which people drive through, as my noble kinsman said, with enormous pleasure, is the result of the agriculture industry at work.
The beauty of what somebody described as "the old meadows of England" is no beauty at all to a farmer. I know exactly what he means. One person actually said that 95 per cent. of the old meadows had been destroyed. They have been destroyed, and an excellent thing, too, because there were acres and acres of English countryside—I am referring only to England, not to Scotland—which were covered by useless grass. I remember a farmer telling me that in Lincolnshire he once rode on a hunt for 15 miles across grass with not a trace of arable there, but that he rode past tumbledown farms and cottages, with nobody in them. Today you could not ride a horse across one mile of that area. Nevertheless, it is an area of tremendous use and of great beauty to the people who go through it.
I believe that there are a number of things for which our community—I say "our community" because I am a farmer—are to blame and which have resulted in the problems we face. One of the worst of them is straw burning. Without any doubt, straw burning has had more effect than anything else on people who like the countryside but who do not live there. Those people have every right to go to the countryside for peace and enjoyment, for they lead busy lives in towns. Straw burning has been one of the worst factors in creating the divergence between town and country. There is no agricultural reason for straw burning. I believe that it should be phased out. The straw should go back to the soil from whence it came in order once again to enrich that soil. It can be done, and it is being done by a great many competent people.
The interest groups complain about over-grazing on the hills, about drainage, about the destruction of the wetlands, the loss of moorland, the removal of hedges, the damage to woodlands, and so on. I am all in favour of fewer grants being made for the improvement of land. The one thing which will put up prices is scarcity. The less that land is improved, the better, perhaps, the 99 price will be for the rest of us. But that is not particularly good for the community as a whole. Although we want to stop the rogues in the farming and landowning community from destroying natural beauty, we have to think of the future.
At the moment there is a surplus of food in Europe, but that surplus may not last for ever. We have already seen odd things happening which have put the price of sugar and wheat, for example, below the world price. This country needs that food. During the last 10 years, agriculture has contributed over £2 billion to the balance of payments by means of extra production. The country cannot do without the contribution which agriculture can make. For that reason, there is no doubt in my mind that greater interest needs to be taken in the environment.
The Department of the Environment is involved in the enormous problems caused by acid rain, by pollution of all kinds and by a whole host of other matters. However, when it comes to countryside planning, this should be done by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If a proper section were devoted to the interests of the environment, there would be legislation and control over the countryside which the farmers and the community there would accept. The two sections need to be married. Therefore, much greater interest needs to be taken in the environment. That is the way to achieve it.
If I may now turn to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. I am wholly in favour of nearly everything that is contained in it. We do not know where we are going. I initiated a debate on the subject in this House in February 1983, and expressed grave doubts about whether we really know what we are doing—my noble kinsman has already mentioned this—about the application of science to agriculture. Chemicals are already being withdrawn. All we have is a voluntary code which controls the issue of chemicals. A tremendous amount of research therefore needs to be done into the long-term effects of chemicalised (if that is the right word) agriculture, for this is now a major part of farming, if not the major part of farming.
In the days when Aberdeenshire was dragged up from the stones, advances were made in such areas as the introduction of wild white clover. This took place in about 1910. It made the most phenomenal difference to Aberdeenshire. It improved the natural fertility of the soil, and it changed its colour. It improved the crops. People knew exactly what they were doing with it. Nowadays, however, we treat the soil as though it were water, as though agriculture was a form of hydroponics. We pour in inputs and we get larger outputs. Then we burn some of the outputs and wonder why disease piles up on disease. We are on the back of a tiger.
There is no doubt at all that more money must be devoted to long-term research into the effects of modern agriculture—not on the beauty spots, but on what chemicals may be doing to the soil. Our soil is the tremendous asset of this country which we have been improving until now but which, for all we know, we may be destroying. We have seen large chemical firms producing cures for morning sickness which have led to the most appalling distortions in the children which have been born. This has happened despite all the 100 research. It highlights the need to look at what we are doing to this great asset of ours—the soil of this country.
I think that these two reports run together, and run together extraordinarily well. I was almost pleased by the Minister's response, but I am sure that after this debate he will go back and try to force perhaps more and more money for research. I was pleased to hear him say that there would be money to support the environment; but I must say that I think we have probably not had two more important reports from our committees in this House for a great number of years.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, the House will have listened, as I have done, to the interesting anecdotes and reminiscences of the noble brothers Mackie and Mackie. But if we were expecting to find on those blank sheets that were mentioned some indications of Labour and Liberal party policy in this difficult matter, I think we have to say that the sheets still look a little blank. I find this a welcome change from the Rates Bill.
Though serving on the committee that produced the red report under the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, I want to make my remarks on the stage set for us by the blue report, which concludes in its main and final finding that more work needs to be done in the socioeconomic dimension, by which I take it that they mean the general welfare and prosperity of the countryside and of the people who live in it.
The first thing I should like to say is what an interesting experience it has been to serve under an eminent civil servant who has just confessed that he has not had much to do with these matters previously. He was not the only senior civil servant added to the ranks of the committee which was otherwise drawn from Sub-Committee D on Agriculture, and G on Environment. I think it was a splendid idea to have these senior civil servants among our members. It has had the interesting effect of bringing down on the two departments chiefly concerned about the heaviest strictures I have ever heard the Select Committee deliver to any United Kingdom department. We are grateful for that to the extent that those strictures were deserved, as I fear they were.
However, I would add the other side of that coin, and express our gratitude to my noble friend for the responses which he has made on behalf of his own department. If they had not come today I do not think they would ever have come; and so they are particularly welcome. Let us hope that this time they will prove adequate, lasting, sufficiently enthusiastic and all-embracing.
I think the experience of us all—and particularly those of us who have been in government—is that the machinery of government can be almost 100 per cent. effective in inhibiting useful change. In this particular case the Strutt Report of 1978 has almost entirely effectively been stifled. The machinery of government is of only limited use in stimulating changes in attitudes and striking better balances between two departments, such as is needed here. Let us hope that this new unit will have some success. As always, for 101 most constructive steps, we need to look to the local level and to consider in the context of this report what hopes we can place there.
I believe that the pattern and procedure, known as notification, established in October 1980 for the limited purpose of administering farm capital grants in the limited areas that were designated as national parks and SSSIs offers us some hope. As your Lordships will recall, the idea then was limited to ensuring balance between farmers' plans in those areas and the conservation policy expressed in the national park plan, which, as your Lordships will recall, is a form of land management plan. This procedure was all that was left of the so-called prior approval which at the same time was elsewhere and in all other respects abandoned. For its limited purpose in the limited areas, this new notification system has worked very well. Up-to-date statistics should be available, but are not. Nevertheless, I think one can say that the extra cost of balancing farmers' plans with conservation policy proves to be minimal. Reference to Ministers with possibilities of compensation having to apply occupied only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the notifications that have been dealt with. The delays have been minimal, and the paperwork has been minimal. A great deal of mutual understanding has been built up in the process.
Readers of our report will have noticed that the NFU has asked for the reintroduction of some form of prior approval. That will be found on page 79, at paragraph 9 of their main evidence. They have not said, and I am not suggesting, that any new form of prior approval or notification should be administered exclusively by the MAFF. Far from it. It is not at the moment, and it works none the worse for that. I think the NFU should have their way. It should be by way of extensions and developments of the form of notification that we have now evolved for farm capital grants in the national parks and SSSIs. But it should go, step by step, further and wider, spread to other grants and subsidies besides farm capital grants, for other purposes, and into other areas outside and beyond the national parks. With what purpose? To strike the right balance between agriculture and the environment, and also between agriculture and the other policies which go to make up the socioeconomic policies of the countryside; and to ensure that there is proper compliance with the United Kingdom law at the very least. I am referring now to the Countryside Act 1968, Sections 11 and 37. Section 11 is that part of the 1968 Act, as your Lordships will remember, which requiresevery Minister, Government department and public body—(including the Forestry Commission; that is where their conservation responsibilities derive from) to have regard—to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty … of the countryside".Section 37 reads:it shall be the duty of every Minister†and local authority to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas".That is where the socio-economic dimension comes in.
Thinking of that now rather old Act—it is nearly 15 years old—our Lordships might ask whether these 102 two rather dead ducks can be revived. I believe that they can. It has been shown in the experience of the notification scheme in the national parks since 1980 that it is possible to set out policy for managing the land of a national park so as to conserve its beauty and amenity. It has been possible to spell out what so many noble Lords say is one thing to one person and something else to another. It is possible to spell out what is meant by the environment in that particular place, and what is meant by conserving it. Under the notification scheme farmer after farmer has been persuaded quickly, easily and without any fuss on how to apply his own capital, his own plans, and his own CAP grant to assist and support that policy.
The same can be done in respect of other forms of public assistance to farmers and in support of other aspects of rural policy, and in areas outside and beyond the national parks, and SSSIs. It certainly requires the concerted effort of a number of public bodies to produce the variants on the national park plan—suitable plans for other areas and for other purposes. The Development Commission has recently indicated its priority areas and the nature of the rural plans it would like to see. It is the local planning authorities alone which, at the end of the day, are responsible for giving statutory force to any such plans by appropriate degrees of "public participation" and by "adoption". That is their regular, familiar work.
I put it that whenever and wherever that is done in sufficient and appropriate detail, it will become possible to adopt the NFU's suggestion and reinstitute new and further forms of prior approval or notification. The Minister's duties under Section 41 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act—which have, to a large extent, remained a dead letter—will enable him (indeed, will require him) working through ADAS to give the advice needed. And with socio-economic research proceeding, if the blue committee's advice is heeded, that will be easier for them. Now the Minister and ADAS are not working on their own; the farming and wildlife advisory groups are there to help them, and a great strength that will be.
Sooner or later there will be a test case for the courts, in the United Kingdom, or in the EEC, or both. Thereafter we shall know whether the legislation we already have in Sections 11 and 37 is enough. I so agree with the committee, and with its chairman in particular, when they say that we ought to be able to solve this ourselves. We shall then know whether the legislation we have in the 1968 Act is enough, or whether we need more. Personally, I would still expect success by the straightforward application of Sections 11 and 37 of the Countryside Act 1968, via more and better advice tendered by ADAS under Section 41 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and in the light of appropriate local land management plans, such as the national park plans which we already have in force and in place.
It could work just as well in the rural development areas and with the rural development plans now being recommended by the Development Commission. Like the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, I see a large role for the farming and wildlife advisory groups in all this, and for rural enterprise trusts on the socio-economic side.
As your Lordships will have seen, the Countryside Commission have given your Committee evidence of 103 the extensive range of farm supports and of the earlier stages to which prior approval or notification can be, and is being. applied in other member states, notably in Holland. The NFU has been perceptive enough to see that it is in its members' interests for its use to be extended in this country. Certain it is to me that the alternative is a progressive application of development control over successive forms of rural land management. This is very much a second best way of striking the balance between agriculture and the environment—and, will not, I hope, ever need to be recommended.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I have to apologise for the fact that when I put my name down for this debate it was the first item on the agenda, if I may put it that way, and I undertook commitments which will not permit me to stay until the end of this debate. I apologise for that and I will be brief.
Many of your Lordships will remember how in Gulliver's Travels the King of Brobdingnag,gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together".As a very young man I remember coming to the conclusion that to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before was perhaps the most useful thing I could do with my own life.
The attaining of virtual self-sufficiency in European agriculture is an enormous achievement. It is an achievement, however, which has to be seen in the context of a world in which the spectre of hunger still hangs over vast sectors of the population. They still have a desperate need for the kind of technological and managerial breakthrough which we have achieved in Europe over the past 40 years.
I should like to join earlier speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, and the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and their respective committees, on their clear and well-balanced reports. Most thoughtful farmers accept, I think, the need to limit production to avoid substantial surpluses in Europe. Most farmers would also accept the need to take steps to preserve the amenity of our countryside and our national heritage of wildlife. Fortunately, these two objectives are not in conflict. The question is: how can we best achieve them, and who is going to pay?
There seem to be, broadly, two approaches. On the one hand, measures could be introduced which would aim to achieve an across-the-board reduction in productivity: a ban on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers altogether has been suggested as an extreme example. Alternatively, measures could be introduced which would have the effect of removing selected areas of agricultural land from intensive production and restoring or retaining them in less intensive systems. I do not believe that a reduction in the levels of production across the board is a realistic alternative. Plant breeding and nitrogenous fertilisers are the prime agencies of agricultural intensification.
104 It has been suggested that nitrogen fertiliser—"bagged" nitrogen, as we call it—should be banned altogether. I suspect that such a ban would be quite impractical, cumbersome and, indeed, probably impossible to administer. It would also certainly increase the cost of food to a point where those increased costs would have to be passed on to the consumer. A tax on nitrogenous fertiliser, if it were sufficiently swingeing to have any effect, would have the same result. It has been suggested that a general reduction in EEC support prices would have the desired effect. Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of research in this area.
I have the privilege of being a governor of Wye College, which is instituting a research programme to look at the economic effects of some of the proposed solutions to the problems of surpluses. The project is a joint venture between the economic and the ecology departments and it is one which Wye is uniquely well equipped to undertake. My own guess would be that a reduction in EEC commodity support prices would not have the effect of reducing levels of production across the board. The likelihood is that on the better soils a high input/high output system would still be the one which would give the lowest unit cost of production and, therefore, the most favourable return. On the other hand, a reduction in the support price of commodities would have a considerable effect on marginal land and would probably tend to mean that some marginal land at least would be withdrawn from intensive production.
Fortunately, it is a fact that the richest diversity of wildlife species is often found on marginal land, on sites of low fertility, poor drainage and with other natural constraints. Often, too, these low fertility sites, such as heath and moorland, are the most attractive for public access. A reduction in commodity support prices, therefore, could probably solve both the wildlife and amenity problem and the surplus problem by taking marginal land out of production or by shifting it from high intensity systems to low intensity systems. However, the effect of this shift would be also to reduce the value of the land and to jeopardise the livelihood of those who work upon it.
What happens to the people whose livelihood is taken away by this disintensification of marginal areas? As long ago as 1968 Dr. Mansholt foresaw that there would be a need for land to be taken out of production. He suggested a figure of 5 million hectares in the period between 1970 and 1980. He made some suggestions to solve the resultant social problems: larger holdings; some farmers leaving the land: rural industries; forestry; and tourism. What is clear is that some of these changes are going to take place. What is important is that the consequential social dislocation (part of which is already taking place on the Continent) must be a charge upon the community as a whole and not on the individuals concerned.
Finally, there are many conservationists who would like to perpetuate, or to reintroduce, the less intensified and better buffered systems of farming which we used to use in the olden days, and about which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, spoke so eloquently. If it be true that a reduction in commodity prices would not reduce the intensity or production on the better land, then other steps will be necessary.
105 In that context I would suggest that consideration should be given to the excellent idea which has been put forward in this House on several occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, of a national land fund. Such a fund could purchase appropriate areas of land, which could be let to tenants. The managers could control the way in which the land is farmed through the kind of restricted covenants in the tenancy agreement which have been a familiar feature of most well-run estates in the past—a covenant not to sell straw or dung off the estate, and not to burn it; a covenant to keep half the farm in grass; a covenant, if 106 one likes, to use a four-course rotation. Where such covenants reduce the potential profitability of the farm, the land fund would have to compensate the tenant by taking less than a full economic rent. I am convinced that on those terms there would be plenty of tenant farmers who would be happy to operate such systems and would enjoy doing so.
And so it may be that some Jonathan Swift of the future will put pen to paper to express his admiration of the farmer who makes two weeds to grow where one blade of grass grew before.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I am sure that we are all much indebted to the noble Lords, Lord Greenhill of Harrow and Lord Adrian, for the reports which they have presented to us, and also, if I may say so, to my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies for having used certain pressure to enable us to discuss the two reports tonight while they are still fresh before us. It is not easy to find time for such debates at this period of the Session, and I fear that we shall run rather late. Nevertheless, I am sure that it was well worth while to secure the debate at this time.
I had the honour of serving on the committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, but I am sure that the main credit for the two reports goes primarily to the chairmen and sometimes to the specialist advisers. I am particularly glad that both reports are outstanding for their clarity and for refusing to fudge issues. Each reaches broadly the same major, and perhaps rather obvious, conclusion that agriculture and the environment are part of a single whole and should be regarded as such without equivocation or buck-passing.
Those of us who have tried for the past decade or more to sustain constructive dialogue between the agricultural and environmental interests have been encouraged in some quarters to believe that we should be tempted today to echo the Reverend Jesse Jackson and proclaim, "Our time is come!" But it does not look quite like that, although undoubtedly we have felt for the past few months that there has been some feeling of change in the air—a new tone perhaps for those who have ears to hear.
Frankly, I doubt whether one would have gathered that from the rather defensive and apologetic way in which the Minister presented his case. He made some interesting, and one or two quite important, announcements, though they did not sound quite as challenging as I had hoped he would make them appear. Nevertheless, I am sure that we shall be very much interested to see what effect the Environment Co-ordination Unit in his department will have. I am sure that we were gratified to learn that the Priorities Board for Agricultural Research has recently included Sir Hans Kornberg, even though some of us who have had the pleasure of working with Sir Hans would regard him as a distinguished applied scientist, rather than an environmentalist. I doubt whether his knowledge of the countryside is very much greater than that of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. Nevertheless, I am sure he will bring an interesting influence to bear upon the research work carried out in the environmental field.
Perhaps even more interesting to some of us than the rather muted ministerial announcements this evening was the report in the Observer newspaper yesterday of a joint statement just issued by the Country Landowners' Association and the Council for the Protection of Rural England. According to this report (and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, will expatiate upon it later on) both organisations are in agreement—I am quoting from their statement—that ways must be found to build environmental objectives into the system of official financial support for agriculture".108 Both organisations advocate,changes in policy which would help end the unfortunate and damaging conflicts over the effect of modern agricultural practices on the countryside".The statement, as I have it here, is cautious, not jubilant.
Problems do not change overnight, but the will to make a serious and concerted attempt to solve them is what matters. It is immensely encouraging to many of us that two such major voluntary organisations should have set their hands to this task. Experience leads one to believe that only a joint approach to Government by the major interests concerned is likely to prevail upon Ministers to pluck up courage to tackle the very real difficulties which lie in the way and to dedicate the necessary resources to their solution.
The main value of the report of the committee which sat under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, apart from the lucidity of its analysis and the clear identification of the deficiencies in co-operation between the Departments of Agriculture and the Environment, is its emphasis on the fact that many of the remedies for the present defects lie in our own hands. There are certainly conflicts of interest in Brussels which will have to be resolved, or perhaps by-passed, but they do not justify the procrastination from which we have suffered in the United Kingdom in our domestic administration.
Legislative and financial changes within our own competence could assuage much of the current dissatisfaction. Most of us have received briefing of some kind from various organisations, most notably the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Nature Conservancy Council, and the Countryside Commission. I shall leave details to other speakers. However, I felt that the Nature Conservancy Council in particular was quite correct in stressing, as the report itself does, that mechanisms can be developed on a national basis without awaiting the final emergence of the directive from the Commission in Brussels.
One of our difficulties arises from the obsession of the present Government with cutting official or quasi-official manpower, regardless of the consequences. Personally, I have no doubt that some of the initial cuts were justified. However, it is not wise, nor statesmanlike to pretend that one can will certain ends and disregard the necessary means. The dialogue between agricultural and environmental interests at detailed local level is time consuming. If mutual understanding is to flourish, it cannot be promoted by officers of MAFF, DAFS and WOAD in England, Scotland and Wales respectively, who are too thin on the ground and are always conscious of work piling up in the office if they stay too long in the field. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, knows my views on ADAS, for which I have the highest regard. I shall not repeat them. They apply equally to the Nature Conservancy Council. They are of the essence of encouraging progress. Unless one has adequate manpower on the ground, one will not achieve the full results of any of the changes in policy that have been proposed in the Greenhill Report.
109 At a lower practical level, the Manpower Services Commission can play a certain part. I was delighted this weekend to see the current news sheet prepared for walkers by the Offa's Dyke Association, of which at least three members of your Lordships' House have the honour of being a past president, praising the MSC helpers who helped to maintain the path but also warning walkers to keep strictly to the paths bordering hay meadows,as trampled grass cannot be gathered and as hay now fetches £1.20 per bale".That is good practical advice for those walking in the countryside.
I welcome particularly the second of the two reports that we are discussing, that on the relationship between agricultural and environmental research. It, too, is lucid, authoritative and pulls no punches, pointing out that co-ordination between agricultural and environmental research occurs in spite of the system rather than because of it. It rightly emphasises what is called the closed loop between the agricultural departments and the Agricultural and Food Research Council although the Minister felt that this criticism was not fully justified. It also mentions the one-way traffic in cross-membership of research bodies, and comments that,the fact that agricultural research can be accused of looking like a closed shop indicates some defect in its organisation.It recommends greater reciprocity between agricultural and environmental interests at departmental and research council level. I would have said that these are matters that have been obvious to many of us for some time. It is heartening to find them so clearly stated by the Select Committee. I hope that the comments have full effect when these matters are discussed departmentally and by the research councils and their advisory board.
I was glad to read of the encouragement by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, to the Nature Conservancy Council to engage in more general "creative conservation"—that is the current phrase—instead of concentrating so strongly on specific and isolated habitats. I do not blame the NCC for the way that it has acted hitherto. All of us understand that it has considerable restraints on its resources. But we must be grateful to the Select Committee for its outspoken comments which, I am sure, will encourage the NCC in the start that it has already made in taking a wider view of its responsibilities.
The blue report is a most valuable one that we have little time to digest. It is of less obvious interest to some of the conservation lobbies. It is however basic to the whole concept of better concerted action in the countryside, not least in its reference to the need for a policy framework for land use, summed up in the plea of Professor Bradshaw, quoted in the report, for a synthesis that, because it is objectively based, is acceptable to both sides. Only a scientifically-based framework detached from direct interests could bring about such a synthesis. It may be unattainable. But this review of science-based activity is most timely. The lead given by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and his colleagues is greatly to be welcomed.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, it has been a great privilege for me to be disciplined under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. Perhaps, before he disappears as vice-chancellor to some university or other in East Anglia, he might like to give the Whips a tutorial on how to discipline reluctant Peers. I noted with regret the press comment on both reports. A number had comments such as, "Peers slam MAFF". I would ask your Lordships to read the reports. Although you may find that some of the witnesses were critical of MAFF, the findings of the committees, particularly that of research and development, do not take such a hostile view.
Perhaps I should say that I disagree with the committee's view that research follows public opinion rather than leads it. Again, if your Lordships read the evidence given by MAFF and, indeed, AFRC, particularly on straw burning, I believe that your Lordships will find to the contrary. Incidentally, I disagree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, on this particular problem. The noble Lord has the unfortunate experience of having to live in the north of Britain and he does not understand other parts.
The report states that farming is in a state of flux and farmers and MAFF are being asked to change course. But such a radical change takes time. Both are and, indeed, have been aware of the problem, and both are reacting to it. But once again I say that we need time. I deplore the fact that the present fashion of "farmer bashing" is now turning irrationally to what I would call "MAFF whacking". It serves no useful purpose; it is an insult to those in MAFF who have worked so hard to deliver the goods for which the country has asked. No other industry has such a good relationship with its Ministry, and that is something of which I am proud.
Anyway, the way to solve the agricultural and environmental problems, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady White, is, I am sure, through ADAS, who are already as it were "drip feeding" farmers with information and help. Moreover, my noble friend who is to reply might care to elaborate on the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Belstead to the Committee in Question 577 on current training courses being carried out for ADAS officers.
There are two areas that concern me that derive from these reports. The first—and this was referred to by my noble friend Lord Belstead in his opening remarks—is that the first priority of any farmer is to make profits in order to support his family, his staff and his village—in that order. Butterflies must inevitably come last—not disregarded, but last. The Committee recognised this, but they do not explain how it will be possible, for if part of the financial cake is given to butterflies and bats, will not the first three —my family, my staff and my village—suffer? I hope that the Government will give this careful, humane and, indeed, unhurried thought. There is, I am sure, a way forward as the noble Baroness, Lady White, has said. But I am not sure—indeed, I am not capable of knowing—where it is. But we now at least see the problem and I am sure that it can be solved.
111 Secondly, the report suggests help for the disadvantaged farmer through the less favoured areas scheme. Here I was particularly interested and welcomed the remarks of my noble friend Lord Belstead about his intended approach to Brussels to extend these areas. This could well lead to some constructive help, particularly to the NCC, in being able to look forward rather than—as I suggest they do on many occasions—looking back. I am of course selfishly in favour of the less favoured areas scheme. But what worries me most is that it ignores the far greater problem of the new entrant to farming suffering unavoidably high costs, particularly in the south of England, whose priority obligation to family, staff and village must, at that age, be even greater than that of an old grandfather like myself, who can now afford to take more time and spend more money on the birds and the bees. I ask Government, I implore Government, always to consider the problems of the newcomer.
Agriculture, is at a T-junction, not a cross-roads. Farmers need time—and so I suggest does the Ministry of Agriculture—to find the correct road. Who knows?—one day we might want food again. These two reports are moderate and sympathetic, and recommend that the way forward is by peaceful, thoughtful co-operation between environmental and agricultural development. Here I am bound to note with dismay the statement by Labour's spokesman on the environment in your Lordships' House, which was reported in the Guardian the other day, that he was in favour of breaking the civil law to protect parts of the natural heritage. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will wish to correct what I am sure must have been a misrepresentation by that paper of what he and, indeed, the Labour Party advocate.
If your Lordships want evidence that farmers are considering the problems enumerated by both committees, I would commend a discussion circular which was sent out to all branches of the National Farmers' Union in April or perhaps May of this year. We all hear the problem. but I know that it cannot be solved overnight.
§ 9.42 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to make it clear at the outset of my few remarks that I shall be speaking to the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, will not misunderstand my reasons. In fact, he will recall from my years as president of the Royal Geographical Society that I am not competent to make sensible comments on most of the recommendations in his report. However, I have of course read it and I shall make passing reference to it at one stage in my remarks.
It is very evident at this stage of our debate that there is a great deal of common ground among nearly all noble Lords who have spoken. In fact, I would say that there is a great deal of common ground among all noble Lords who have spoken. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, because he has done us a service by enlivening our exchanges by 112 introducing a slightly more controversial note, which I think is a very good thing. It invigorates the debate.
However, I hope that the degree of consensus which has emerged from our discussion so far can be said to augur well for the effect that both of these reports will have on the Government. The reports of both committees are presented at an exceptionally opportune time. It is a time when there is a growing concern among those who can claim to be in the know about the inadequacies of the checks and balances of the existing legislation, and in particular the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to provide enough protection for the countryside and for wildlife. The debate on a Motion by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, on 30th June (which unfortunately I missed) certainly pointed that up.
A report on the uplands by the Countryside Commission, which has received a passing reference, is at present under consideration by the Government. This is a time when, as the affair at Halvergate has made clear, it is not only the upland areas and the national parks (which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford) but the marshlands as well, not only the national parks and the SSSIs but the countryside more generally, which are all liable increasingly to come under the threat from intensive and extensive modern farming techniques.
No less important in this issue of timing is a matter which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and the Minister: the fact that there is a growing awareness of the problem among a wider public. This, what I call a climatic change, has no doubt resulted from the publicity which has been given to the damage done by agricultural development, and especially to SSSIs where wildlife—which is an emotive subject—is destroyed, and at a time when—and I think that this has to be mentioned—there is a most welcome attitude displayed within the farming community itself which the select committee has not failed to note at paragraph 137, and which the NFU's response to Lord Greenhill's report has confirmed. This was a most constructive response.
There is one other aspect on this matter of time. At page 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum of the draft regulation we learn:The present communication"—that is the regulation—completes the framework which the Commission envisages for the agricultural structures in the coming decades.I think they meant to put it in the singular. It probably means for the next 10 years. This surely underlines the importance of getting it right.
Against that background there is the drafting of a new regulation whose purpose—albeit, quite properly, to replace and improve the efficiency of current agricultural structure directives—has been seen by many of us as the opportunity for action to bring about a balance of conflicting interests and to bring harmony where there is conflict. For myself, the perceived shortcomings of the draft regulation, which I share with the committee, are more than offset by the constructive use which the committee has chosen to 113 make of its deficiencies in order to create this balance and this harmony.
As the noble Baroness, Lady White, has said—and she was a member of that committee—it is an outstanding report. I only wish that I, who was not a member of that committee, had been the first to make that point. It is succinct, it is frank, and hard-hitting, but it is also fair to all concerned. It is expressed with admirable brevity. I was going on to say that it is one of the most readable reports that I have read in a long while. It is forthright in its criticisms of certain prevailing attitudes which govern policies.
This is not an occasion to dwell on the past, but it was right to point to the continuing sins of omission of both the Government departments principally concerned. MAFF, as is only too obvious from the remarks made so far, is the main target for criticism. I have not read the press reports referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, but I must say to the Minister that notwithstanding his personal charm and his evident sincerity and his honeyed words, MAFF has a long way to go to live down the scepticism of a wide body of public opinion—and that body of opinion was referred to at paragraphs 54 and 58 of the report—about the reality of concern hitherto for the environmental interests in that department of state. Statutory and voluntary bodies have been calling for stronger safeguards and for a change in policies governing grant aid for years. All I say is that the opportunity to make amends by making amendments to the draft regulation must not be missed.
As regards the draft regulation itself, the Explanatory Memorandum claims at page 9:The new policy has been given a decided change of direction.But I agree with the committee at paragraph 134 that it says too little about the environment; that it is still too production orientated and short of innovative features.
The committee propose one major amendment in particular which they consider would be instrumental to this needed change of course. This is the inclusion in the preamble of a reference to the Third Action Programme on the Environment. They make that point at paragraph 78. I hope that I am right in understanding that MAFF has withdrawn its objections on legal grounds to the admissibility of that reference, and that their objection will now be set aside, perhaps in the light of the evidence presented by the report.
But as the committee points out, this inclusion and the several references to environmental protection in the preamble are not enough. The regulation is decidedly short in giving effect in its articles to the good intentions which precede them. Article 3.1(c) is the key to which certain other articles now need to be attuned. The essential need, as the committee has said, is that the regulation should be unambiguous and, as it has stated elsewhere, not cosmetic in regard to protecting the environmental interests.
The committee has made two most important points which have been touched on—and I repeat them briefly—in regard to the power or lack of power of the regulation for solving the problems affecting the environment. The first point is where it is indicated at paragraphs 29 and 130 that the regulation alone, even 114 when amended, cannot be expected to achieve a new status for the care of the countryside as a policy objective.
The second point really stems from the first; it is that Her Majesty's Government should not wait for a lead from the Community—they can, and should, take their own initiative. The chairman of the committee himself, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, have both made that point. I would add that if the Government were to delay action until the lengthy process of endorsement of the regulation by all member states is completed, a great deal more damage would be done to the environment.
So what should, and what can, the Government do without delay? The committee called upon MAFF and the DoE to put their act together; that is in paragraph 135. The committee believes that more common ground can be found if there is a will on the part of MAFF to take a wider view, and, I would add, a longer-term view, and accept the proposition that environmental objectives should have a status comparable with those of agriculture, with both on a level together. The third action programme, together with Article 3.1(c), would, I suggest, provide a text for this change in attitude and course.
To its credit MAFF has already made moves in the desired direction. As the Minister reminded us, ADAS already has a remit to advise on environmental matters; the committee has stated that this needs to be strengthened, and Ministers agree. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has referred to the environmental co-ordinating unit within his Ministry. Perhaps when the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, replies to the debate he will tell us a little more about this because, on the face of it, co-ordination is not merely internal to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but involves that Ministry, the DoE and other departments as well.
According to the committee's evidence, there is no recognised interdepartmental machinery for discussion, let alone co-ordination, either centrally or locally. There is a need for, and opportunities for, co-ordinating research. This is an aspect which features prominently in the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian.
I conclude by saying that the matter is urgent. The countryside and its wildlife in our small, heavily populated, industrialised island are increasingly endangered. The threats to their conservation are from not only modern, intensified farming operations and forestry, but also mining, road building and other communications networks, water storage, hydroelectric schemes and industrial pollution. These can, and do, have a damaging impact on the countryside. This elevates the question of policy to the level of the Cabinet itself. I take heart from the concern which the Prime Minister herself is reported to have expressed about this matter.
The Government must not evade the challenge presented by both these important reports. Public opinion—that,large and reasonable body of opinion",referred to in paragraph 132 of Lord Greenhill's report—has been stirred. It is not fanciful to predict that a very large number of voters will be looking for 115 a reference to environmental policy in future pre-election party manifestos. I say, "Good luck!" to no matter which political party has the courage, the vision and the will to hoist a green pennant at its masthead alongside its traditional party colours.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Lord Middleton
My Lords, there are many noble Lords wishing to speak so I, too, will confine myself to the red report. May I first join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the Select Committee on Agriculture and the Environment on producing a balanced report which is a constructive one in that it makes a series of recommendations for amending the European Commission's draft regulation which it was their task to examine. Secondly, I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for what she kindly said about the CLA. Having finished my presidential term last October, I can claim no personal credit for the initiative that they are now undertaking, but certainly while I was in the saddle we were working on those lines.
To turn back to the report, I should like to make just two comments on the proposed amendments to the draft regulation and then I should like to concentrate on the summary of the committee's views in paragraph 139, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has this evening drawn our attention. First, paragraph 138 (b) says:The Preamble and Articles 1, 2 and 3 should be altered to establish that, as an element of the improvement of farming, care of the environment should have comparable status with the production of food".I think that I know what the committee mean by this, and I think they are right: but I wonder whether any of the member states would understand it. I was glad to hear what my noble friend Lord Belstead had to say about that just now. There would need to be much redrafting and clear explanations as to how the amended sections were to be implemented and administered before there was any hope of achieving general acceptance in the Community. This, of course, is acknowledged by the committee in the first sentence of paragraph 139, and I should like to refer to what seems to follow from that reasoning in a moment.
Secondly—and this is only a small drafting point—I am in favour of paragraph 138(e), which would amend Article 20. Some environmentalists get very confused about forestry techniques and practices. Timber growers would all welcome something better than the very meagre encouragement which the Forestry Commission now gives to the growing of hardwoods, but the words "indigenous species" are unhelpful. The purists tell us that, for instance, the sycamore, which now provides so much tree cover in lowland areas, is not indigenous. It would he a pity to discourage the growing use of some of the faster-growing hardwoods from the American continent, like the American oak and the South American beeches.
I should like to concentrate on paragraph 139. This, I believe, is the most important section in the whole report. The committee takes the wholly realistic view that the most practical way forward is to persuade our own Government to achieve a more appropriate balance between agriculture and other environmental interests. This, I am sure, is right; but it must be 116 acknowledged how far we have progressed already. My noble friend Lord Stanley has spoken up stoutly for MAFF, and it seems that the committee felt that the MAFF evidence was a shade cautious and defensive. Nevertheless, their evidence reminded the committee that Ministers and MAFF have had a duty since 1968 to have regard to Section 11 of the Countryside Act of that year, and, as my noble friend Lord Belstead, too, has reminded us, under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act Ministers have to conform with Section 32 and that very important Section 41. For that section, we have to be grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandford. He made a very notable contribution to that piece of legislation by insisting that that section went into the Act.
In addition there is the whole range of assistance given to farmers in the LFAs, whose area has been greatly extended. So we are already moving down the road envisaged in paragraph 139 but, says the committee, not fast enough, and this is acknowledged by Government. This new unit has been set up in the Ministry which will strengthen the conservation work of MAFF and there are new liaison arrangements, as we have heard just now, between MAFF officers and the NCC. We must certainly welcome the statement this evening of my noble friend Lord Belstead with regard to the Government's proposal for trying to get the draft regulation amended so that more account is taken of environmental matters.
I am sure that we have to raise our sights beyond these very worthwhile and welcome developments. To repeat again the words of paragraph 139, we do indeed need to achievea more appropriate balance between the needs of agriculture and other environmental interests".Whether we require (to quote again from that paragraph):a revision of prioritiesI am not too sure. I have lived through too many ups and downs of farming to be unmindful of the cycles of prosperity and hardship through which we have to earn our living and at the same time try to look after the countryside. As a farmer I have received too many signals from Government in the form of exhortation or by way of cash incentives or by way of disincentives to put my faith in anything but well thought out longterm strategy. I have seen too many revisions of priorities.
I am well aware that the committee is recommending not so much a switch in production priorities as a policy change that is more fundamental than that. Nevertheless, rather than being led into short-term policy making, I think I prefer to heed the advice that is contained in the European Community's Third Action Programme. I am so glad that the committee attach so much importance to it. The aim of that programme is,to ensure that natural resources are well managed, in particular by introducing qualitative considerations into the planning and organisation of economic and social development.That basic human economic activity is agriculture. Agriculture is about feeding people, and this seems to be forgotten in so much of the argument about the environment that has raged during the past three or four years. But it is not the only economic activity. The 117 Third Action Programme goes on to refer to the promotion of,a greater awareness of the environmental dimension, notably in the field of agriculture (including forestries and fisheries), energy, industry, transport and tourism".Surely, if we go along with that aim in mind, we must be led to look at these problems in the overall land use context. The Select Committee treads delicately in just nudging us in that direction. I believe that it could have been bolder.
I was interested to read in the blue report what the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, had to say about the respective roles of the DoE and of MAFF. The DoE has an immense range of responsibilities so many of which are at present in the limelight. Just a few of them have been occupying your Lordships for many long hours this Session. I really do not think that without modifying the role of the DoE in the countryside it can continue to be the Department of State to which we should look for achieving, even if there were close liaison with MAFF, the kind of objectives which this Select Committee has in mind.
I have acknowledged over the years that MAFF has been enlarging its scope beyond its responsibility for food and food production pure and simple; and, as my noble friend Lord Belstead has told us, MAFF are building up their conservation advisory work and generally widening their activities in the environmental field. Nevertheless, I believe that this trend in Government policy should progress well beyond merely, in the words of paragraph 139,a revision of priorities, a change in administrative attitudes and closer co-operation between statutory and voluntary bodies.Eight years ago the CLA (as always, in advance of contemporary thought) were promoting the idea that MAFF should undergo a process of metamorphosis and emerge as a ministry of rural affairs. That idea was then looked on at Westminster and in Whitehall as very far-fetched and impractical. Is it too fanciful now to imagine the DoE keeping, as it were, to the streets and MAFF taking on an increasingly enlarged role in the countryside —taking in, for example, as a start, the NCC, the Countryside Commission and perhaps the Development Commission as well?
Of course, this raises a whole host of difficult questions, not the least being land use planning and the competition between land uses. But perhaps my predecessors who led the CLA in the 1970s might have been on the right track. Does not this report take us, albeit timidly, into a position where we might look down that road again and see where it might take us?
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Lord Northfield
My Lords, as in previous debates of this kind, I declare my interest as one of an international group of four of five special advisers to the Commissioner in Brussels who handles environment policy; but of course in this debate I speak for myself. I say straight away that the Commissioner, Dr. Narjes, was enstranced—if I may use that word—by the red report when I was able to communicate it to him in Brussels. He was very anxious to consider the positive suggestions that are in it.
118 The report will have a considerable effect not merely in this country, as other speakers have pointed out, but also in Brussels, because it is so timely and because it makes these positive suggestions for amending the regulation and because it tries, and succeeds in, reconciling to a great extent the conflict between farming and environmental interests.
I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies and the European Affairs Committee. It was because I criticised her committee in a previous debate on agricultural structures for producing a report which had ignored environmental considerations, that she kindly allowed me to write a suggested brief for this inquiry, and then the committee took it on. So I have a special personal reason to be grateful for the inquiry and also for the privilege of serving on the committee.
I want to say a few words only about the Third Action Programme, and I am so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, commended this so strongly to your Lordships. The problem that became clear—and I have to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—in the early stages of the evidence that the committee took was that the significance—almost the breathtaking significance—of the Third Action Programme did not seem to have percolated down to the Ministry officials who gave evidence. Frankly, it was the case that they were saying in answer to questions at the very first hearings that they thought this directive, with its new environmental considerations, would make very little difference to the way in which the grant schemes were operated; and I am almost quoting this verbatim. There did not seem to be an understanding that this new action programme had to be taken extremely seriously and put on terms of parity with Articles 42 and 43 of the treaty, which refer to agricultural policy.
If I may quote just one witness—and I could give many quotations to prove my point—he said in Question 43:If one is voting money for the purpose of reforming agricultural structures, one wants to know that this is the primary purpose. If one is then told that it is also primarily to serve the purpose of the environment confusion sets in and the situation can only be resolved by a subordinate determination of priorities within that range".What outdated thinking, if I may say so! After all that the third action programme has been trying to educate everyone to accept, and indeed with the glowing report of your Lordships' House on the third action programme itself, how can civil servants give that sort of evidence to a Committee of your Lordships' House on behalf of their departments?
Indeed, the same witness went on to say in question 95:Here one should have a regime for grant-aiding agricultural structures primarily for that purpose with environmental articles in a subordinate sense"—subordinate! I will not weary the House by labouring this any further, because I am glad to say that I hope the effect of the red report will be that this kind of thinking, this wooden thinking, this refusal to accept the importance of the third action programme—I will come to its precise significance in a moment—has now been laid to rest.
I was glad in correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to have his agreement in the end in a 119 letter which reached me a few days ago to a statement that will, I hope, at last mean that that attitude will be finally killed in the departments. The noble Lord said that he could agree to a statement that was produced by Professor Jacobs and circulated by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I hope the House will bear with me when I just read that paragraph with which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, says he can now agree. It is paragraph 13 of Professor Jacob's opinion given to the CPRE, and he said:Such an 'integration' of the environmental dimension into the agricultural policy would, in my opinion, be within the competence of the Council under Articles 42 and 43 and it would be an unduly restrictive view of that competence to suggest that environmental considerations could have only a subordinate or ancillary role.I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I hope that that closes what has been an unhappy chapter.
We seem to have been fighting to get established the parity of environmental considerations with agricultural ones in directives or regulations of this kind. It was made worse by the fact that these same witnesses were reporting that there was no machinery for co-ordinating on a regular basis DoE and MAFF opinions on agriculture and the countryside and conservation. Indeed, they were almost indulging in what the late Professor Laski used to call ladling butter out of each other's tubs, by saying that each was very content with the other one in the way that policy was handled at the moment, and neither had any fault to find. If we can put that one to rest, it is worth finally saying this.
The environment programme of the Community, on which I am engaged part of the time as an adviser, is moving on very rapidly indeed. We have over 50 directives behind us now. In many of the directives we have dealt with pollution, with the outlawing of blacklisted substances, with the quality of the environment around us. However, the significance of the third action programme, which came into existence a year or so ago, is that it says that we must continue to cure pollution wherever we find it but that we must now set out much more deliberately to prevent the pollution and degradation of the environment so that the need for pollution measures does not so naturally arise.
The significance of the statement in the third action programme is that one of the prime areas to be looked at in building environmental considerations into sector policy-making is agriculture, where so much damage can, in many cases inadvertently, be done, often for the best reasons in the world, by the individual farmer. Now that it has been established that the third action programme can be accepted in its entirety and written into all policymaking this may be, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, the most historic aspect of the report. It will make sure that on all future occasions everybody will be looking for the building of environmental considerations into agricultural policymaking and into other sector-making as well.
My final words are directed at what was said this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. Despite his charm, honeyed words, personal courtesy and soft tone, he had very little to tell us. If one looks at the paragraph which makes the main recommendations about the alterations to the draft directive, the noble 120 Lord did not tell us whether the Government intend to accept any part of it. I very much hope that somebody will do so before the debate is ended.
The noble Lord said that a new section of MAFF will look at the co-ordination of environmental problems, but he did not say whether the Government accept paragraph 138(a): that a reference to the third action programme on the environment should be incorporated in the preamble. He did not say whether care of the environment should have comparable status, as in paragraph (b), with the production of food. The noble Lord did not tackle the problem of the uplands nor the suggestion in paragraph (c) of paragraph 138 that Articles 13 to 15 should be altered so that income support to less well-off farmers might be dissociated from levels of production—in other words, lower intensity farming. The noble Lord did not mention any of the practical suggestions which are of fundamental concern to the environmentalists. These are contained in the positive recommendations in the committee's report. In that respect his remarks were rather thin.
What the noble Lord said about Article 3.5 of the existing regulations was very interesting. He said that the British Government would seek a replacement of Article 3.5 to take care of those areas where conservation ought to be practised. There might be some misunderstanding about this. For some years in my work at Brussels I have been active over obtaining agreement—we seem to be very near to obtaining it now—on a draft directive upon environmental impact assessment. We have had to reach agreement with the British Government by means of regular meetings at official level over many years in order to iron out misunderstandings in areas where clarification is needed. I am wondering whether that might be the way in which to move forward in relation to Article 3.5. It would give some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is very passionate about this issue.
While the Government are pursuing the idea of an amended Article 3.5, I am wondering whether or not at an official level we should have meetings in Brussels to try to get down on paper the precise response that they would make under the present regulation to the areas which the noble Lord wants to include for conservation purposes in the structures policy. If the noble Lord thinks that this is a good idea, since we have practised it to good effect in the environmental impact assessment directive, I should be delighted to take a hand in trying to arrange it.
I conclude by saying again what a privilege it was to serve under the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill; what a timely and important report this is; and how important I think it will be historically for showing a first directive, or first regulation, in which we are saving that the environmental dimension must be put on terms of parity with the sector policy-making concern. It is indeed an historic day for those of us who work in the Environment Directorate of the Commission in Brussels.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Sidmouth
My Lords, as a member of his committee I should like to join in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, in steering the committee through what was a rather difficult subject. 121 We were indeed subjected at times to rather extreme views which, to my mind, were typified by a proposition—now rightly relegated to a footnote on page v—which stated:Modern agriculture is incompatible with almost everything else.The obvious exaggeration of this statement seems to stem from a practice which was noticeable among some of the witnesses, I thought, of extrapolating from a narrow base and arriving at conclusions not always tempered by reality.
To those giving evidence, "the environment" clearly meant different things, ranging from amenity, through an ecology untouched by human hands, to the preservation of specific flora or fauna deemed to be threatened. To the man in the street, it is probably amenity which comes most readily to mind. Most British people, especially those who have been expatriates, will have experienced the nostalgia of those calendars illustrated each month or week with scenes from rural Britain. Although, of course, they show natural features such as hills, rivers, coastlines, etc., in almost every case there will be clear evidence of human activity, whether it be villages or churches, but much of it agricultural, as the setting for that amenity. I submit that amenity and agriculture are by no means incompatible, and, indeed, that the one enhances the other. Without human intervention and care, most of our countryside would consist of badly-grown scrub interspersed with tangled woodlands. There is an old saying that "it is a stupid bird that fouls its own nest", and farmers are not so stupid as to foul up the surroundings in which they have to live.
Certainly there is a need for care. and the report lists sonic issues, such as the removal of hedges and stone walls, where amenity can be impaired. The Commission proposes rightly that there should no longer he any grant aid for these activities; and, perhaps more importantly, the great majority of the farming community condemns the type of "prairie farming" which does such things. I believe that care is needed also. on amenity grounds, in the siting and designing of farm buildings. so that silos, for example, are not placed on sky-lines, and utility buildings generally are suitably planted out by trees.
The issues are more complex when it comes to conservation. When the original National Park was set up in the Congo by King Albert of the Belgians he directed that human activity and influence should be totally excluded. This has long since been found impractical, even in Africa, and it is certainly not possible in a country such as Britain. The motive, of course, was that where human interests and those of flora and fauna come into conflict, the former generally prevails. But it is by no means proven that these interests must always be in conflict, especially if you are considering farming as opposed to, say, mining or heavy industry. For example, in this country much farming takes place in national parks, where it is specifically more subject to environmental constraints than elsewhere.
As we heard earlier this evening from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. these farmers had to give prior notification to the national parks authorities regarding improvements they wished to carry out so that the environmental implications could be considered. It is 122 remarkable from the evidence we heard how few cases have been "called in "by the authorities—and of these few, there was no evidence of any of them having been ruled out altogether. This point is relevant when considering the modified system of prior approval recommended by the committee.
To conclude, there is a problem here of reconciliation of interest, and the committee were no doubt right to draw attention to it and to recommend that more attention should be paid officially to the environmental role in agriculture. In my view, the main criticism levelled at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is rather immoderate and not justified by any concrete evidence given to the committee. As we have heard this evening from the noble Lord. Lord Belstead, they have been engaged for some time in giving advice and particularly in research which contains environmental elements. They are quite right to regard it as impractical and unnecessary to try to impose a whole environmental régime on the CAP. Such an attempt would be opposed on both agricultural and financial grounds. Far better to capitalise on the goodwill already there towards environmental matters among the public and the farmers. It would then be found I believe that quite small changes in policy within the means of many farmers could produce a considerable dividend in environmental gain.
The committee were impressed by the evidence of the farming and wildlife advisory groups, who advocated this approach. Reinforced by an enhanced environmental role for ADAS—about which we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, this evening; and it is a concept which he accepted in his evidence to the committee—that way lies the best chance of progress towards the change of heart desired by many conservationists.
§ 10.27 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, in the course of the debate so far this evening one or two hobby horses have been put out to browse within the red leather environment of your Lordships' House, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, has loosed a particularly intriguing hare. On the other hand, as a member of both sub-committees, I feel that I have had the opportunity to voice my opinion in general terms of both inquiries under the very able chairmanship of the two noble Lords, Lord Greenhill and Lord Adrian.
I shall not therefore pick up the general threads; nor shall I indulge myself by responding to any particular issue raised in the debate. I should like to take this opportunity briefly to draw the Government's attention to two single points that are made—one in each report, both of them financial, and both of which I think ought to be registered but which have not hitherto been mentioned this evening.
In the report on the structural directives by the subcommittee of the European Communities committee, in paragraph 60, the issue of costs of the proposed draft regulations was raised, as my noble friend Lord Belstead will remember, for he kindly came to the committee on 10th April. It was pointed out, particularly in paragraphs 598, 613 and 614 of the evidence, that MAFF justifiably opposed additional expenditure placed upon the EEC budget by the proposed 123 regulations. This of course must especially be true when the budget is in fact a set of obligations rather than a fixed sum within which expenditure must be contained. This of course is the essence of the CAP r[...]gime.
However, the report—in paragraph 60 in particular—points out that adoption of a more environmental approach, which has been urged in the report itself and echoed by your Lordships this evening, and adoption of the measures that are specified would, in fact, bring a net increase in the inflow of funds from the Community into this country. I could cite a number of instances in which environmentally beneficial payments are already being made which could perfectly well be brought into the regime of the draft regulations.
For example, at present the Countryside Commission gives grants to farmers for small woodland plantations. These grants nowadays generally require, with respect to the noble Lord. Lord Middleton, that indigenous species—that is, native, broad leaf species—are planted, and there are among us some who regard the sycamore as an alien intruder; and that includes the grey squirrel, who does his best to get rid of it. I see no fundamental objection to the use of European Community agricultural funds by departments of this country which are not actually called the agricultural department. I do not see in other member states any precise parallel to our own MAFF. Not all member states unite food and fisheries with their agricultural departments. So there is no particular reason why these grants should not, in my view, he channelled within our own member state through a department called the Department of the Environment. It is the essence of Community legislation that each member state enacts directives into its national framework through whatever means appear to be appropriate. I believe—and I stress this to my noble friend the Minister—that the United Kingdom is already well placed institutionally to take very quick advantage of many of the "environmental" provisions within the proposed structural regulations.
The Commission has estimated that adoption of the measures will increase the Community's agricultural budget. But if a large proportion, or a larger proportion, of the increase—even if it is only 25 per cent. reimbursement to the United Kingdom—flows into our country as a contribution to United Kingdom projects, then by any way that the figures are calculated that must he good news to the United Kingdom. I believe that if our representatives at Brussels firmly take the new approach of the type promised by my noble friend in his opening speech, it will he to our national advantage. Therefore, I urge him to tell his negotiators to be resolute and to be chauvinistic, because what is beneficial to the environment of the United Kingdom is beneficial to the environment of Europe.
Turning to the second report—the report of the Science and Technology Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian—I again wish to make a financial point. It relates to Recommendation No. 20, which urges the AFRC (the Agricultural and Food Research Committee) and the Natural Environment Research Council to fund a higher proportion of 124 research in universities on agricultural/environmental margin. I am a member of the Natural Environment Research Council and I know that it broadly welcomes all recommendations of this report that affect its function as a research council. But we must be cautious. A general willingness to support university-based research in this field, or in any other. does not automatically herald the start of a multitude of appropriate projects, such as the very long list that was recommended to your Lordships' Select Committee by the various witnesses.
As I hope the Select Committee has stressed with sufficient force, there is at this time intense competition for science Vote funds. That competition exists both between and within research councils and applies to applicants from universities as much as to research programmes within the institutes of those research councils. However strongly it may be urged that research projects in this field—the interface between agriculture and environmental research—should be supported. it would not be beneficial to science on the national scale if mediocre subjects were to be funded simply because the topic was in an area which had become fashionable. It is a fact that today even good scientific projects face increasing difficulties in finding support from the science Vote through the research councils for reasons which in fact are largely financial. There simply is not enough money to fund all research projects that are submitted for support.
In that context I should like to highlight one particular problem which is faced by the research councils: it is the cost of university studentships and of the salaries of research assistants. The same unhappy sequence of events has occurred in the past two years during my membership of the Natural Environment Research Council. In 1983 the Department of Education and Science allowed research councils a 3.5 per cent. cash increase, in particular for the revaluation of research assistant salaries. Subsequently, academic pay awards were negotiated and those gave, on average, a 5.4 per cent. increase. The money had to be found by the research councils from somewhere or other. Inevitably such an increase over and above imposed cash limits simply restricts the funds that are available for new research projects. The same story can be told of 1984, where the cash limits were 4 per cent. The Department of Education and Science has very recently—long after those cash limits were set—announced levels of postgraduate grants which are to apply from September of this year. They range from 5.8 per cent. to 7.3 per cent.
I do not say that graduate students are being over-generously treated: they are not. The annual allowance is £3,170 in London and £2,580 elsewhere for a student who is not living at home. But what response, I ask, was expected of the research councils at this late stage in the year? I do not think that NERC can be blamed if a decision is made to reduce the number of new studentships quite simply to cut the cake that has been given according to the new size of slice. Inevitably, such an increase simply means that there is less research done for the same amount of money. The cash limit system does not seem to me to be working efficiently in that context. The research councils are not party to the negotiations over academic pay, nor to those that come to decisions on student grants. I 125 wonder whether the Department of Education and Science negotiators appreciate the consequences of setting awards at levels which exceed the cash limits.
I do not see that this is an area in which a market economy can work. If our national scientific capacity is to he safeguarded, it is not a matter of market adjustments. The nation needs to support research in new fields, such as those that have been identified by your Lordships' Select Committee. I think that the problem of cash limits in that context is one which must he faced.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Lord Hunter of Newington
My Lords, I too am a member of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. I also start from a keen interest in the quality of the scientific endeavour behind the activities we are discussing and also of course in the research scientists responsible. I visited the Rothamsted Experimental Station and there I was greatly impressed by the quality of the people concerned and the wide vision that many of them have, including a very acute appreciation of many of the environmental problems concerned. I did not visit any NERC institutes so I am unable to comment on them.
However, like the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, I have to ask how far the scientists are able to carry out the research in the way that they would like and the way that most speakers in this debate would like. I am rather doubtful about their chances. There are several factors which restrict them. As we said in Paragraph 3.12 of our report,the customer/contractor principle works imperfectly on the margin of agriculture and environmental research. Slight defects are apparent at the contractor level hut the main failing occurs at the customer level".I will first say something about research council funding. As has been said, this is from the Science Vote, but it is mainly directed to fundamental research. Generally speaking, the research relevant to this debate is not fundamental, it is applied. While some long-term applied research may be funded from the Science Vote, the main responsibility for funding lies with the customer departments who commission applied research in accordance with the Rothschild principle. All research councils are hard pressed by spending cuts and the AFRC has been hit by the need to transfer a significant amount of its resources from agriculture to food research. In such circumstances, it is only to be expected that research council funding is concentrated on mainstream subjects rather than on marginal projects for which perhaps another research council might arguably be responsible.
As your Lordships know, the main paymasters for applied research in agriculture are the agriculture departments. The thrust of their research programmes decides the balance of the national programme. The agricultural departments are also cash limited. Therefore they too concentrate on mainstream projects and especially the more immediate ones. By their own admission in evidence to us, they are underfunding strategic research—that is, long-term but directed research. This is something that concerns me greatly. Strategic research is the area for which the Rothschild principle, as operated, is least well suited 126 and in agriculture it is precisely the sort of research with which this debate is concerned.
The fact that we can debate the science and technology report together with the EEC report is very helpful. It helps to identify an important strand in agricultural policy which directly influences research priorities. In recent years the main research effort in agriculture, as has been said, has concentrated on maximising agricultural production, and it has achieved great successes. But maximum production can no longer be the sole objective of agricultural departments. In some cases it may even be the wrong objective. The growth of public interest in environmental factors, whether it be pesticide levels, conservation or landscape beauty, has to be set alongside agricultural production in determining research priorities. The programme needs to he harmonised. The Government's programme, as seen from a point of advantage such as your Lordships' House. should make sense.
Several recommendations in our report seek to meet this point but I should like to mention only three. The first is the obligation, which we want the agricultural departments to accept. to represent the wider public interest in agriculture, as well as the narrower but of course essential interest in the farming and food industries. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, has already explained the details of this proposal. Secondly, the agricultural departments must fund more strategic research. That is where the main gap in research lies at the moment. To meet the wider public interests to which I have just referred, more emphasis on long-term programmes is required.
The third recommendation suggests a forum in which discussion of research programmes can take place and the interests of agricultural and environmental research can be drawn together. This recommendation is for regular meetings between the chief scientist groups of the agriculture departments and the DoE together with the agricultural and natural environment research councils, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commissions. These are the main bodies responsible for commissioning research and the main research contractors.
How can even modest sums he provided to facilitate this matter? I raised earlier the question of funding. This may be an important contributing factor, but I suspect that it is not the basic one. The Medical Research Council and the Department of Health and Social Security have always been close and have operated successfully the Rothschild principle but they have now changed to a very much more flexible new agreement. The funding is decided once a year at a formal meeting. But to discuss these matters, scientists meet every week. The programme of strategic research is, I believe, going extremely well. Could not others learn from this example?
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, verbal self-discipline is, I feel, essential this evening if we are to make progress. There has been a lot of talking. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has importance far beyond the narrow confines of an EEC directive. When his Committee wrote it, I believe that it realised 127 that. Paragraph 126 of the opinion of the Committee says so. as does paragraph 139, the last paragraph. The report asks us to re-think our countryside policies. On that, it is to be congratulated and its recommendation supported wholeheartedly. It is a true judgment. The report says in paragraph 134 that the draft regulation is too closely production-orientated, and later in the same paragraph, adds:MAFF. by their narrow interpretation of the few innovative features it contains, reinforce this backward-looking tendency".Reading the Ministry's evidence, I am afraid that I draw the same conclusions. I am happy to see that MAFF's view on environmental protection has now been successfully challenged. Both MAFF and the DoE had urged, as some of us had urged previously, that there must be a change. This change is necessitated in part by the success of the agricultural industry. That success has not always increased farmers' incomes. Paragraph 28 says that short-term decisions have produced environmental damage.
This success in response to signals being given by a single-minded Ministry is producing the criticism now being heard, some of it as stated in paragraph 129, often exaggerated. I hope, when I read that the noble Lord. Lord Melchett, has been suggesting that people should tie themsleves to bulldozers at Halvergate, that the noble Lord will dissociate himself from this irresponsible, dangerous and counter-productive behaviour.
Added to the influence and width of the agricultural and environmental report, the fact that the Secretary of State for the Environment has issued an Article 4 directive has probably changed the conception of our countryside policies. If an 1DB was to be refused planning permission to drain after an Article 4 directive, they, having no value in the land, would not receive any compensation. But presumably, even though the adjacent landowners had lost potential value, they would not get compensation because they themselves had not applied for planning permission. In the present case. the landowner, if he is refused planning permission to drain, will get compensation, probably based on a capital sum under the guidelines of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, there is a major difference. The authorities used to creep up to the landowner and say, "How much do you want for not draining the land?" The landowner, before the golden days of management agreements and when he was not going to drain the land anyway, would think of a sum and, when possible, double it. Under the new situation the landowner has to prove loss to the satisfaction of the district valuer. The situation was very different from the present system of management agreements.
I know that so far only one Article 4 direction on land drainage has been issued, but in today's climate, so well illustrated by this report, it cannot be the last. For instance, the Derwent Ings are a very suitable candidate for Article 4 treatment. As it will not be the last. I now suggest that the voluntary concept of the Wildlife and Countryside Act has been undermined nearly to the point of collapse. However, it has been undermined in a haphazard way. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale comes to reply he will enlighten the House on the problems of this Article 4 128 directive. I gave my noble friend warning that I would raise this matter and he said to me, "Does it really come within the concept of this debate?" I looked at the recommendations and at the breadth that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. had given himself, and I think that I persuaded my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale that it came within the concept of this debate.
I hope that the Government will take to heart the major re-think provided by this excellent report. When both the CLA and the Open Spaces Society welcome it, when the CPRE and the CLA issue joint statements, then surely the Government will undertake to review the wildlife Act and to move from a maximum food production policy to a policy for the countryside as a whole. I certainly support what my noble friend Lord Middleton said on the subject of the Ministry of Agriculture doing this and what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said about the use not only of agriculture, but also of roads, water, etc. We need the concept of a "Ministry for the Countryside" as a whole and if the Ministry of Agriculture were given the firm political directions needed. it would be a very good Ministry to carry out that work.
The commitment of my noble friend Lord Belstead to ask Brussels for agricultural money for the environment is a major step forward. I hope that if he does not get it from Brussels he will at least transfer some of his Ministry's money to the environment. I am sure that we can pay my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley to grow butterflies, just as much as we pay him at the moment to grow corn.
Certainly as regards our countryside policy, farming will always play not only the central, but also the pivotal role. But farming policies must be more sensitive to people's aesthetic feelings and more mindful of the different countryside interests. MAFF must realise that conservation and care of the environment is not just a question of planting new hedges, new trees and building new walls—it is also a question of looking after old hedges, old trees and old grazing marshes.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, all my working life I have been a farmer, and my sole income is from farming. I know to my cost that there can be no quicker way of losing money, and so I have a great respect for good farmers who I thought were doing a fair job of husbanding the land, which apart from our lost elms looks more attractive to me than ever I remember. Only last week one of my noble friends, who is not a farmer and who had just "helicoptered" from London to Hereford, told me that he had never seen the countryside looking more marvellous, and that he had felt like God visiting his own country. I admit that that was before the straw burning started!
On the sub-committee on which I served we heard another view—sometimes advanced with passion—that farmers were spoiling the countryside abetted by MAFF, to which the DoE had abdicated its responsibility. I think that I have summed up the situation fairly. There was potential for disagreement and I should like to thank our chairman who lived up 129 to his name by remaining cool and elevated, and very good-humoured as well. Although I am not particularly happy with the report itself, I think that the whole exercise was useful in airing many questions.
However, I felt very strongly that behind many criticisms of farming were other largely unspoken ones which inhibited a constructive dialogue. For instance, there is often a very great reluctance to accept what the report points out; that farming shaped the countryside, which is artificial. In that sense agriculture and the environment are not distinct, but are very much the same, and, with respect, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, made rather heavy going on that point. Indeed, all the specific evidence critical of farming related to change—actual or threatened—from one farming environment to another.
Yet as one who for many years has been heavily involved in urban conservation, where we must get our facts and figures right or be shot down, I was surprised by how little many lobbyists knew of farming—its history, operations, techniques, economics and terminology— or the CAP. That is a deficiency which I hope can he remedied. But there is a further obstacle to understanding which I perceive as the spirit of Rousseau. Your Lordships may remember that he was the Swiss philosopher who promoted the concept of natural man returning to a state of grace amid an idealised nature. This idea swept urban Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and had wide ramifications in the nineteenth century. Marie Antoinette, dressed as a shepherdess, was one product of it, and it led to much of what I have heard charmingly called "peasant fancying". It greatly affected art, and I am indebted to another noble friend for the observation that Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard represents a townsman's thoughts. Nowadays Rousseau is the spirit which takes people on long treks to country cottages of a Friday night. He often pops up on television, where the word "natural" is joined with any product which can possibly he associated with the countryside. There are variations. I have seen "Farmer's Wife Bran", and also a gadget to make "country fresh" air to prevent hay-fever.
For those who can afford to live in the countryside. and who expect a slightly updated version of a homeward-plodding ploughman, to find instead the driveway blocked by a youth on a 200-horsepower tractor with reversible plough, or to have a combine thundering past at night, is not, in their opinion, farming; that is not the real country. It is though, and has been for many years, and it will be for the foreseeable future.
I think that this is the sentiment at the back of the frequent criticism of cereal farmers, although it is not they who have created an intractable surplus; that is milk. To support milk takes half the CAP budget, but dairy farmers have the image of small men with animals in green fields with hedges, and they suit the rustic picture better. In the main, too, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said, those species-rich meadows have yielded not to cereals, but to Sir George Stapleton, the great scientific director at Aberystwyth, who invented ley farming half a century ago.
If I have no sympathy at all for those who do not get their facts together or those who over-romanticise the 130 countryside, I incline to the view mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we should not try too hard to grow food in places least suited to it, such as the hills. That would leave more room for leisure use as well. But if economic agriculture were to retreat from the hills, conservationists would still want to have them farmed, and the question is, by whom and, of course, what happens to the people who are there now?
In the lowlands the problem is even more difficult. Urban conservationists have rescued buildings from the planners only because they have been excellent investments, as we knew that they would be. There is a dictum, too, that if you want to preserve a building, you should find an economic use for it. Country conservationists, though, want farmers to make financial sacrifices towards what is not necessarily a countryman's view of a healthy countryside. In addition, they want farmers to farm a whole lot of wild things they might rather be without. If they are to be induced to do it, it needs reasoned persuasion and a good understanding of the problems.
As the evidence solicited from the conservationists piled up with only a few sheets from the CLA and the NFU on the other side of the fence, I thought it would be helpful to hear from a farmer who was also a keen conservationist. The chairman invited Mr. Oscar Colburn, a well-known farmer, whose evidence begins on page 207. However, your Lordships will see from the top of the page that we missed from the room all my noble colleagues—there were five I can think of—who had pressed for the sub-committee to be set up. I have been wondering about that ever since. I do not want to make too much of the matter because I like them all, but it is yet another factor which shows that this whole subject is more difficult and complex than at first sight it may seem.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ The Earl of Selborne
My Lords, this is an unnaturally late hour for farmers and, I suspect, for environmentalists, so I shall he brief. Like other speakers I shall contain my remarks to just one of the two most important reports. I shall contain my remarks to the blue report on Agricultural and Environmental Research. I do so because I have to declare an interest, in that I am not just a farmer; I am also chairman of the Agricultural Food Research Council, a body which will derive much benefit, I am certain, by this report. I do however speak for myself and not for the council.
This report was rightly concerned to inquire into the interface between agricultural and environmental research to see whether it was the case that somewhere, particularly in times of financial stringency, they were failing to be supported because they appeared not to be sufficiently important to any of the potential contractors. But it is important to point out, as the report fairly does, that much research which is aimed at agricultural objectives is not different in kind from research aimed at environmental objectives. That does not surprise me at all, although I was nevertheless gratified to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, that when the committee visited 131 Rothamstead they found that much good agricultural science there was extremely well based in environmental objectives.
The work that I would refer to which would be common ground—and it amounts to a considerable part of the research portfolio of the Agricultural Research Service—would be particularly concerned with the more strategic and even basic work in the soil sciences, the nitrogen cycle and particularly understanding about living organisms and the systems in which they occur, which are areas of work which must be fundamental to both the agricultural sciences and to an understanding of the environment.
Even when we go a bit further downstream towards the more applied end of the spectrum, I do not quite follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington. as far as he would go in suggesting that until recently the objective of agricultural research has been to increase production. Although that has certainly been the case since the war, it has probably equally been the case since our entry into the EEC and very much more so in recent years that the writing has been on the wall for many to see that the farmer will soon be looking for lower input systems. Certainly to bring us right up to date to the days of quotas for the milk farmer, this has concentrated the mind wonderfully for that particular section of the agricultural industry. Certainly the arable farmer is following closely behind as prices squeeze on his outputs.
There is considerable interest from the farmer as well as the environmentalist to see how inputs can be lessened. Although this can often be work of an applied nature, the objectives, be they agricultural or environmental, march hand in hand to an extent which perhaps might not be readily apparent.
Farmers are at the moment looking at the extension of biological control (used already in the glasshouse, but now. hopefully, to be moved outside) as a system of reducing their inputs—a system which obviously has much attraction to the wider community. The farmer is looking at a very much more efficient control of agro-chemicals, partly because by putting on very much smaller quantities more precisely he is reducing his inputs. The environmentalist, nevertheless, is equally concerned that he should do that and not splash chemicals around in a noxious way. Again, the livestock farmer is looking with great interest at how he can make better use of indigenous grasses, of legumes and the like—all of which is common ground.
However, as the report has emphasised, there will be areas where a customer department will be required for the wider public than the farming industry. I support strongly, as others have from both sides of the House, that it is centrally the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture to represent this wider public. It is a matter of great concern that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others have expressed such misgivings about the commitment of the Ministry of Agriculture in the past. I hope that they will find solace, as I do, from the observations of my noble friend Lord Belstead and that we shall, in turn, find that the Minister can implement the enhanced role of the Ministry just as we would wish.
The role of the Ministry in this area in the blue report is to commission further research at a time, as 132 we have heard from my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, when funds for research councils and for commissioning departments are greatly reduced. It must be of great concern to us tonight to know what chance the Ministry of Agriculture has in being able to hold its own in its research budget, let alone expand it to take on this wider remit which so many of us urge the commissioning departments to underwrite, not only for the farming community but for the wider public.
The Ministry of Agriculture's record in defending itself from the stringent cuts by the Treasury in its research budget have not been very successful to date. All right: the science budget as a whole has been under threat: but it is a matter of particular concern that at a time when the agriculture industry is. in the words of the report, in a state of flux. at a time when the intolerable cost of the common agricultural policy must be reduced— farmers recognise widely that this is the case—the industry has to alter agricultural systems, if not overnight (as in the case of the dairy farmer) certainly over a short timescale. This will create a strong requirement for research results.
The role of research is to give options to industry and the wider public. If systems of support are to be changed for the farmer, great burdens will be placed on the commissioning departments which have undertaken that research work to show the farmer how he will cope in a different financial climate. The fact that we now find that some of the support systems, though not all, for which the CAP has evolved, have led us into something of a blind alley and that farming can perhaps no longer be supported on some sites and on some farms. puts a great onus on the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that the commissioning for the farmer is continually underwritten at a reasonably generous level. I know the constraints under which the Ministry of Agriculture suffers as to the funding of the department, but it simply cannot opt out, when such great changes are being made in agriculture, from the need for applied research and for developing findings for the industry. At the same time, we recognise that it must take on this wider role for the public.
I ask my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, when he replies to the debate, to give us an assurance, not only that the Ministry of Agriculture will undertake the wider brief for commissioning environmental research for the public, but at the same time will fight strenuously to ensure that the support which farmers are entitled to ask for, I think, is maintained. I think that if that assurance cannot be given the only conclusion that can be drawn is that, although there might be a new unit within the Ministry, the environmental co-ordinating unit, without additional funds to support the environmental research it is very difficult to see how much benefit will come for the research service from this wider brief.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, I welcome what I believe are two excellent reports—as I think has been the case with nearly everybody who has spoken. I think that it is worth pointing out that the unanimous conclusions of both probably would have been unthinkable three or four years ago, and it is unfortunately the fact that it was three or four years ago that we were debating 133 and passing the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Attitudes have changed dramatically since then and I think that the conclusions that these two reports reach and the fact that they have received such a widespread welcome—including a welcome, if cautious, from the National Farmers' Union—demonstrates that. The reports have also received, and particularly the European Communities one, a very strong welcome from conservation bodies, which is not surprising, as the Countryside Commission, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Council for the National Parks have pointed out that the reports' conclusions mirror almost exactly the evidence which those organistations gave to the committee.
Looking back on the debate, I must say that I regret that my noble friend Lord John-Mackie and his noble kinsman on the Liberal Front Bench, in their preambles, took us back to attitudes being expressed not three or four years ago when we were debating the Wildlife and Countryside Bill but 30 or 40 years ago. Both noble Lords seemed to me to show an ignorance of what conservationists are on about and what their interests and their attitudes are, and to dismiss the views of millions of people, including many, many farmers, who do show a real concern about the very real changes that have taken place and are taking place in the countryside. I think that that was regrettable. I would not want to dwell on that, because both noble Lords, somewhat paradoxically, went on, as I do, to welcome both reports.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, acknowledged that change is coming to agricultural policy, as many other noble Lords have said, but he pleaded for time for farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture to adjust to this and to adapt. Milk producers faced with quotas might also enter the same plea but to little avail. In the light of that plea for more time. I think that it is worth stressing that the most significant fact that conservationists will have taken from the evidence to these two committees is that given by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to the European Communities Select Committee on page 113, where, using Ministry of Agriculture statistics, they show that the rate of loss of moorland in England, Scotland and Wales has been increasing in recent years—in fact accelerating very rapidly. Indeed, in Scotland the rate of loss has gone up by four times compared with the average rate of loss since the war. So conservationists feel very strongly, in response to what the noble Lord. Lord Stanley, had to say that time is, in fact, running out.
It seems to me that recently Ministers at the Department of the Environment have recognised that fact and have been saying some outstandingly positive things about conservation. For example, the Secretary of State for the Environment said recently—and I quote from Farmers' Weekly, which I hope is a reliable source:A minuscule part of the sums of money which go to the support of agriculture and forestry diverted to the aims of conservation would work wonders".And the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment in another place on 11th July; talking about the Norfolk Broads—to which I hope to return—said: 134We have all learned that we must have a new and more integrated régime on the Norfolk Broads so that we do not continue having absurd arguments".I think that there are many conservationists and many farmers who would strongly agree with that. But it is not enough for the Government to make positive noises either in general terms about conservation or in response to these two reports. While all of us would have wished for rather more positive noises from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, at the start of the debate, the Government will be judged not by the noise they make but by the action they take on the ground.
I should like briefly to mention one or two areas where action is needed. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, mentioned the Derwent Ings. A decision about that now rests with the Government. It is a grade one site of special scientific interest which the local drainage board wants to drain. It is a European Birds Directive special protection area. The Government will be judged on whether they protect that area for conservation or whether they fail to.
In Wales, the Secretary of State has to take a decision about an area of forest at Nant-y-Brain which is threatened with coniferisation—conifer plantations. It is one of the last sections of open moorland in that part of central Wales. The Government will be judged on the decision which the Secretary of State takes in that case. In Scotland, the Government's record since the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act has frankly been deplorable. There have been huge losses of moor and heath on Orkney in recent years and although conservationists are under severe pressure in areas such as that, in sharp contrast to the Department of the Environment in England, the Government in Scotland have not felt able to make any remarks in favour of conservation in attempts to sort out the problem. in sharp contrast to the actions taken, for example, on the Somerset Levels.
On the Islay the Secretary of State for Scotland has just approved a planning application to extract peat from a large area of peat moss. This is an area of international importance for the Greenland white-fronted goose. It is a special protection area under the European Community's Birds Directive. It is the third time that the Government in Scotland will have been taken to the Commission for breaches of the European Birds Directive. That is a deplorable record for a country which prides itself on its conservation of wildlife.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us what these huge losses of moorland amount to? How many acres does this amount to in proportion to the area of moorland in Scotland?
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, the statistics are set out in the evidence to the European Community's report. I am sure that at this time of night the noble Lord will not want me to go through that in a great deal of detail. I have given him the page reference and I am sure that he has the report and has read this evidence in great detail and with great interest himself. The current rate of reduction over the five years from 1976 to 198 I has been 58,073 hectares. That is roughly four times the average rate of loss in the period since the last war. 135 The Secretary of State for Scotland now wishes, as I understand it, to give a grant for planting forests in Creag Meagaidh, another site of special scientific interest. I am glad to say that in that case it appears that the Department of the Environment in England has intervened. but again the Government will be judged on whether the conservationists' case being made from London will overcome the apparently anti-conservationist stance once again being taken by the Scottish Office.
In all these cases the Government will have to be judged by their actions, as they will on their response to these reports. On the Norfolk Broads, a Government Minster, Mr Waldegrave, recently said that the area was safe for a year. Since that time—indeed, within a few weeks—two areas have been destroyed. The Government need to implement the Section 41 designation of the whole area under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, as they have been asked to do for a long time. As the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said, they need to implement an Article 4 directive to stop drainage in that area, and I would agree with him on the Derwent Ings as well.
§ Lord Melchett
I heard the noble Earl say that they have, but only on a very small area of the Broads and not on the area which was being damaged towards the end of last week. The Government should give a commitment that they will give no further agricultural grants for improvement in that area and instead agricultural money should be diverted to support the current livestock farming systems in that area.
I should like to make two final points. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, asked me about a press report. I am happy to correct one aspect of that. I am not an Opposition spokesman in this House on the environment, and have not been in the past. The newspaper was inaccurate in that respect, and nothing that was said in the television programme on which it was based suggested that I was speaking in anything more than a personal capacity.
My second point, and the point I should like to end on, is to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, had to say about the Government's new initiative on Article 3.5 of the less favoured areas directive, and the need to have a new and wider article, as I understood what he said. I think a number of us will want to study that with care, but my first reaction is to say that this is not a new initiative at all. It is in fact a continuation of the Ministry of Agriculture's persistent view that it is impossible under the current less favoured areas directive to do what the Select Committee's report said could be done, and what the Select Committee's report said was already being done in other countries; in other words, a new initiative is simply not necessary.
I am afraid a number of us feel that, in taking an initiative of this sort, the Government are, first of all, putting up a smokescreen to cover the fact that they are not actually accepting what the report says and the clear legal view which has been expressed in the report. Secondly, we feel that, if this initiative is knocked on the head in the Community, the Government will not shed too many tears and, what is more, will then refuse 136 to implement the measures which the committee have clearly said they could implement under the less favoured areas directive. The committee received evidence which clearly said that these measures were already being taken in the Netherlands under existing legislation.
So I hope that the Government will not try to sidetrack those of us who listened to the discussions which the committee had, or those who take an interest in these reports, with new initiatives which are in fact a reflection of their past thinking about the narrow interpretation of the directives, which the committee have said clearly, firmly and unanimously are wrong. If the Ministry of Agriculture is to be shifted from that, the Department of the Environment has a lot of work to do, and I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Skelmersdale, will tell us how they intend to set about it.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I am grateful to him for answering half my question: hut did he, or did he not, say in the interview that he recommended people breaking the civil law?
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords. I was hoping at this time of night that the noble Lord would not sidetrack me into something which does not seem to me to be particularly relevant to the conclusions reached by either of the Select Committees, but since he has, with your Lordships' leave, I feel obliged to answer him. I did say that; and I said it because the Government, when passing the Wildlife and Countryside Act, said that the voluntary restraint system to safeguard wildlife habitats in the countryside would work. They said that very largely on the evidence of farmers such as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, who himself said that a voluntary restraint system would protect the countryside.
That has proved to be totally wrong. In the case of the Norfolk Broads, the Government Minister gave a clear and unequivocal undertaking to Parliament that they were safe for a year. Within weeks, that was shown to be completely wrong. In those circumstances, I think that people who peacefully attempt to protect the countryside, as Friends of the Earth have been doing on the Norfolk Broads, should have the support of all of us who care about the countryside, including the noble Lord.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Viscount Blakenham
My Lords, it is late and I will try to be brief. Two conclusions from the Agricultural and Environmental Research Report are, first, that greater co-ordination between agricultural and environmental research is needed; and, secondly, that the obligation of the agricultural department towards the whole environment must be emphasised. I have taken these two quotations from the second report, because it has not been debated so much and because I was on that committee, which was so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. But they do reflect themes which might equally have arisen from either report.
Agriculture is, to a large extent, our countryside environment. Farmers are, to a lesser or greater degree, environmentalists. The growing success of the 137 voluntary farming and wildlife advisory groups is beginning to reflect this awareness of their responsibilities to the environment by individual farmers. But full integration of environmental and agricultural objectives is what is needed. I do not believe that it is practicable or necessary that the Government should have to increase the overall cost of their support to agriculture and the environment; but there is room, as the report points out, for recasting the present expenditure in the United Kingdom within the total spend to give greater emphasis to environmental measures.
But what worries me greatly, particularly after reading the evidence submitted in these reports, is whether the agricultural departments—I include both MAFF and DAFS— either want or are capable of taking on this responsibility. At page 237 of the red report, my noble friend Lord Belstead in his evidence takes credit for helping the FWAGs in a financial way and that report points out that the Ministry of Agriculture's part shows where his heart lies. What worries me is where the heart of the Minister of Agriculture lies; and I think his attitude tonight, when he said that he assured the House that if further change was needed it would be looked at, is a reflection of that attitude.
Of course change is needed. That is what both reports are about. It may not be enormous change but it is a significant change in attitude. We now have enough evidence from the Countryside Commission, from the NCC and from other bodies, not to be doubtful about changes that are taking place in the agricultural landscape and in the uplands, the wetlands and all over the place. I do not think we need to depend on personal anecdote. Either they will have to change their attitude or some of their present resources should be directed to the Department of the Environment.
Both departments are criticised for being insufficiently responsive to public opinion. The problem has been that when it comes to intensive farm production the Ministry of Agriculture has been too effective, and when it comes to the conservation of the environment the Department of the Environment has not been effective enough. Now may be the opportunity for the Department of the Environment to play a less subordinate role. In either case, the overall value of financial support to the farming community would not decrease.
Finally, a more appropriate balance between the needs of agriculture and other environmental interests must be found, and that the care of the environment should have comparable status with the production of food, when it comes to farming improvement, is perhaps the most important conclusion reached by the report. The recommendations in these reports offer an opportunity for harmony rather than conflict, their conclusions should be welcomed and Her Majesty's Government should do their best to implement them, as is suggested, in an unambiguous and enforceable way. This can be done both by putting forward suitable amendments to the draft regulation at the European Community level, and by acting as soon as possible upon the committees' recommendations in the United Kingdom.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, this somewhat lengthy but never tedious debate has been characterised by the same spirit of restraint and objectivity that one found in the two reports which we are discussing, and I join in the gratitude expressed by other noble Lords to the two chairmen of those committees and to those responsible for these very valuable and important reports. Dealing first with the report from the Committee on Science and Technology, I have nothing but praise for it and I will not detain your Lordships by going through, point by point, all those aspects with which I agree, but would simply pick out two of them. I was very happy to see the criticisms contained in the report of the customer-contractor principle, particularly as it applied to agriculture and the environment. I have never been happy about this principle, although I accept that in certain cases it is of value. However, the report shows how very dangerous it is in matters such as those which we are discussing.
I am glad, too, that they give prominence to their commendation of the farming and wildlife advisory groups. Those groups, which were very recently formed, are enormously valuable, and in my opinion will probably do more to bring together the potentially conflicting interests of conservationists and agriculturists than any other action which could be taken.
The only area in which I find myself in some disagreement with the report is that which criticises the experiment at Boxworth. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred to it; but, with the greatest respect to the members of the committee, I do not believe that it gives a completely fair assessment of what is being attempted in this experiment. I understand that there were informal consultations with the NCC in the very early stages and that the Weed Research Organisation was involved as part of the Agricultural and Food Research Council, though again in an informal manner, which frequently—I believe noble Lords will agree—is more valuable than formally sitting around a table. Monk Wood was also consulted, I am told—again informally—in the preliminary stages of working out the experiment, though they were not party to the actual design of the experiment.
Those who are responsible for it make it very clear that they are not satisfied with the experiment, very largely because it is on too small a scale. I understand that the plots used for this potentially very important experiment are restricted to 40 hectares, whereas they would have greatly preferred 100 hectares in order to obtain adequate results. Birds, particularly, and insects move over quite wide distances, and a 40 hectare plot is not sufficiently large. However, financial and staff constraints made it impossible for them to carry out the kind of experiment which they would have liked to carry out, and with the resources at their disposal this was the best which could be done. It should be regarded not simply as an experiment to give final results but as an experiment to test the very complicated and sophisticated methodology which must be used in work of this kind. However, that is the only item in the report with which I find myself in some disagreement.
If I may turn to the report of the European Communities Committee, I would suggest to your Lordships—having been, I am happy to say, a member 139 of that committee, having listened to the debate. having read the report and discussed these matters with many people, and having thought about them over many years—that it is convenient to divide the problem of environment and agriculture into three headings. The first—the heading which in the most lucid way one can call the aesthetic aspects of it, which include access —relates to what the countryside looks like: whether there are hedges, trees, wide open spaces; whether people can visit and have picnics there or whether there will he "Trespassers will be prosecuted" signs everywhere. The second heading relates to those sites which are of interest to those whom one can call amateur experts—a sizable body of people who enjoy bird watching, who understand about butterflies—even if they do not possess the expertise which the noble Lord. Lord Stanley of Alderley, may have in due course—who enjoy looking for and who are capable of recognising a whole array of wild flowers but who do not pretend that they are expert scientists.
The third group are areas which are of interest not only to the scientists themselves for specific scientific reasons, but also must be regarded as part of our national heritage and which succeeding generations will look at with interest provided that they are preserved. Those are the three general headings under which we should look at this question.
The first—the aesthetic—covers an enormous range of our land: almost all of our rural land. Much of the argument about this is purely subjective. What is more, it changes from generation to generation. What our fathers and grandfathers enjoyed in the countryside many people today do not approve of. As is often quoted, the changes which took place at the time of the enclosures were viewed with horror by many people, but in fact they are responsible for the countryside as we know it today. All one can say therefore is that this is a very objective matter and it is something for which I do not believe one can legislate. We can only have the form of countryside which, over a long period, will give pleasure to a large number of people with the wholehearted co-operation of those who own the land and those who occupy the land: the landowners and the farmers.
When we are discussing this matter, it is worth reminding your Lordships that where it is thought that farming is destroying or harming the countryside, as opposed to beautifying it, farmers are not, even in those cases, the only culprits. The urban sprawl, the spread of the housing estates of developers and of councils, on the outskirts of what used to be small market towns, the motorways, and things of that sort, all play their part in changing the countryside, in making it less attractive to look at to those of us who are already well housed, but which bring many advantages and benefits to those who are not lucky enough to live in such pleasant surroundings.
Nor must we forget that the enormous demand for water by the urban population as well as the rural population has a profound effect upon our countryside and upon the habitat of the flora and fauna which live in it. Abstraction of water lowers the water table and the whole ecology of the area is changed. But in return people are able to have baths, they have lavatories that flush, they can wash their cars, irrigate their 140 lawns—most of the time—and they have many advantages which they would be very loath to give up. We must bring all these factors into the picture when we are discussing the aesthetic aspects of the countryside.
The second—the amateur/expert areas—is undoubtedly far more likely to give rise to conflict of interest between farmers whose interest is in the land and what it produces. and its capability—as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has rightly pointed out, and my noble friend Lord Raglan too—of providing a livelihood to him and his family; a conflict between him and those who enjoy the flora and fauna. The Wildlife and Countryside Act has attempted to bridge the gap between these conflicts of interest. It is still early days. We discussed it not very long ago. I think in general it has succeeded although there are undoubtedly weaknesses in it which in due course—I hope without too much delay—will be dealt with. There is undoubtedly a need for some objective body to hold the balance between those two conflicting interests, be it the Countryside Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of the Environment, or a grouping of all three. Somebody must be the arbiter.
There is one point that we cannot get away from, and it is that conservation. in particular this kind, costs money, and somebody has to pay for it. That somebody is probably the taxpayer.
Third are those areas which are described, perhaps too generously, as sites of special scientific interest. They must be of very special scientific interest, and they must be undoubtedly preserved in their entirety, as they are at the present time. We have not yet found the best means of doing this. I feel (as, I am glad to say, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned) that something of the nature of a national land trust might well be the best body to do this. It would own land and acquire it. too, preferably voluntarily, but if necessary by compulsory purchase. It would run the land in the interest of the particular scientific aspects for which it had been designated. At the same time, it would make such arrangements as were necessary for the proper management of the land.
I must not detain your Lordships very much longer, but to my mind two points stand out from all the discussions we have had and the evidence we have heard. First, there is no longer a need for greater production from our farms at all costs. I have been farming for many years. I do not want to go back over the ground which the noble Lords, Lord John-Mackie and Lord Mackie of Benshie, have covered in respect of the past, but when I started farming the main object of agricultural policy was to keep farmers alive at the minimum cost. Then came the war. when the object was to produce as much food of a bulky nature as possible in order to feed the population and to save our own shipping from having to bring food into this country.
At the end of the war we switched from that policy to producing food of the highest dollar value in order to save our valuable and short-in-supply foreign exchange. So in a relatively short space of time we have had already three shifts of policy. There then followed the fourth shift, that of maximum production, when we joined the Common Market. 141 Those shifts have been achieved relatively painlessly. Now is the time for another shift; a shift away from maximum production and towards the preservation, conservation and enhancement of the environment. On the other hand, conservation in all its forms is an expensive business. Too many conservationists seem to expect that they have a right to enjoy all the advantages of conservation without having to pay a penny for it. It is clearly good to have in our cities municipal parks; but they have to be paid for. They have to be paid for out of the rates; but people appreciate them and enjoy them.
I believe it is good that we should now, by degrees, shift the emphasis from our farms being the kitchen garden of this country to their having a larger and larger area of pleasure gardens—of rose gardens, flower gardens, and lawns. But in doing that we must not imagine that the lawns look after themselves and the roses grow of their own accord; they, too, have to be looked after. That is a job which farmers can do if they are told that that is what is wanted by the country as a whole, and if the country is prepared to pay for it.
I return to the point about paying. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in replying to the point about prior approval, said that 400 more people would be required in order to do that. I do not dispute that figure, but if people want conservation properly carried out they cannot grudge the salaries of those 400 people, and if they do grudge those salaries they cannot complain when they do not get conservation.
My final point—and I apologise for having gone on for so long—is that I believe that the Ministry of Agriculture, particularly through ADAS, is now fully aware of the importance of the environment, and that the work that ADAS is doing is first-class. It has taken some time to get there, but it has got there. I am not so sure that the same feelings permeate throughout the whole of the Ministry of Agriculture, particularly in the higher echelons. I hope that the change which has taken place in ADAS will more rapidly, as the months go by, take place throughout the whole of the Ministry of Agriculture. I hope, too—this is one of the aspects that come out in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill—that the role of the Department of the Environment will be greatly enhanced in the future, and that it will no longer look on itself as the very junior partner in any discussions concerning agricultural land, but will regard itself as the protagonist in the fight for the preservation of the environment in this country. In my opinion, these two reports and this debate are of very great value, and I believe that good will come of them.
§ 11.46 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, my noble friend Lord John-Mackie has spoken with his usual ability on agricultural matters. Of course, he speaks for the Labour Party on these matters, as I do on environmental matters. Although we may not speak with one voice we do not speak with a forked tongue. We both want to see, for all our people, the best from and on our land. What we are both about is marrying imperatives.
142 This is an important debate—timely, apposite, full of rich experience and containing lessons for us all, especially the Government. I have enjoyed and valued every single contribution from all your Lordships, none more so than those from the noble Lords, Lord Greenhill and Lord Adrian. I congratulate them both on their contributions and on their reports.
The whole world is opened up by these reports. It is clear that hitherto there have been two worlds, that dominated by agricultural considerations and that dominated by environmental considerations. The great theme to emerge is surely that in the future it need not be so. It should be possible to achieve a synthesis of aims and accommodation for each other's imperatives.
For those who, like myself, served on the Committee dealing with the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in another place—and, let me add, who recognised fully the crucial part played by your Lordships' House in making modest progress towards a better protection of species, habitat and national beautiful features—this report is enormously encouraging. I will tell your Lordships why. Within its pages we can find evidence, not only of the diligence of the Select Committee but also of the response it received to its willingness both to hear evidence and to receive views. Let me first remind the House of the opinion of the Select Committee, to be found in paragraph 137, which reads:The Committee admire the enthusiasm of the many voluntary bodies seeking to conserve wildlife habitat and the appearance of the landscape. The existence of such bodies providing for the opportunities for the discussion and the pooling of expertise on countryside management by farmers, landowners, scientists and conservation interests is much to be welcomed. The Committee are also encouraged by the increasingly positive attitude of the farming community as shown in the growth of farming and wildlife advisory groups. However"—and here is the vitally important element that rings through much of the report—the Committee are concerned that the activities of such organisations should not he regarded as a substitute for the involvement of Government departments or of agencies such as the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council.That opinion, in my view, is one of the wisest in a catalogue of wisdom. If we are to ensure a bright, as opposed to a bleak, future in this sphere, the Government must shoulder their responsibilities.
We should also acknowledge the fact that without the evidence of groups and individuals, the report would be the poorer. The Essex Naturalists' Trust reminds us dramatically of what has happened—and what can happen in the future—without such firm Government action. It says:In Essex, the loss of grassland habitats and the indirect effects such as hedgerow removal, infilling of ponds, and increased use of chemicals has severely affected all major groups of flora and fauna".It then lists a depressing catalogue of outrages and natural disasters.
I commend the concept of a countryside register—an alternative to planning control in the countryside—as outlined in paragraph 304. I also believe that the memorandum by Joyce Quin, MEP, on page 319, outlining the need for an environmental assessment, is valuable and worthy of closer study and support.
143 The RSPB will certainly welcome the indications given by the Minister that it is the Government's intention to seek to strengthen the regulation with stronger environmental safeguards and thus to redress a major defect in the regulation. It is the RSPB which applauds the report and calls it a landmark in official thinking over agriculture and the countryside. I say, "Amen", to that, as I do when it also welcomes the assertion of the Committee that,care of the environment should have comparable status with the production of food".It is the CPRE which claims that the report endorses every single one of the principal points which it made to the committee, and that the report will reverberate through both Whitehall and Brussels.
I say, all power to the Minister and the Government in their declared intention tonight. The Minister made a major statement, and in that statement he talked about the extension of Article 3(5) to cover areas where conservation constraints could apply. That is very important. I wonder whether the Minister who is to reply is in a position tonight, or by correspondence, to take the statement further by answering the following questions.
Will the provision apply to areas within the existing less favoured areas; for instance, Orkney, where the conflicts, such as ploughing of moorland, are real, or in the Welsh uplands, for example, in the Berwyns? Will the NCC or the Countryside Commission be able to approve form plans within such areas so as to ensure that the best possible result is achieved for conservation? Could such provisions be applied to wetlands, such as the Somerset Levels, or Halvergate, so as to maintain the wetland character: low intensity grazing and high water tables? What about the wider countryside? Is MAFF to abandon positive conservation efforts there? Why cannot prior approval be necessary for grants—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford—for work known to damage wildlife; for example, ploughing of moorland, or wetland drainage? That would ensure that resources are devoted to the real problem areas and are not wasted on uncontentious issues, such as fencing, and so on.
I commend the perception of the Select Committee when it says in paragraph 131 that MAFF and the Department of the Environment are insufficiently responsive to public feeling, especially when one views the rapid pace of change due to agricultural expansion, which has proved unacceptable to sections of public opinion. We fail to recognise and respond to that perception at our cost.
Paragraph 133 is central to the value of the Select Committee report when it asserts that the regulation would permit MAFF and the Department of the Environment to reconcile more harmoniously the requirements of agriculture and the environment. I especially welcome the clear opinion that it is for the Government to take greater account than hitherto of environmental considerations. The Minister tonight acknowledged that this is right and that it is being done.
In one degree or another we are all political animals. We recognise that governments are returned at 144 elections because the electorate is persuaded that they have the best package of proposals to marry potentially conflicting policies. At our peril we have not taken the care to persuade the voter that we care. For instance, the rise of the green parties more swiftly in other countries than here is noted by the Government.
A headline in the Financial Times on 16th July, 1984. said,Tories Seek to Win the Environment Vote".It goes on to say that the Government are to make a determined effort to attract to the Conservative party the votes of the environmental lobby. A special unit is to be set up by the environment department. Its aim will be to co-ordinate Government activity on environmental matters, to alert Ministers to environmental issues affecting their department and to try to identify important issues before they become matters of public concern.
I welcome such agitation. The Labour Party will eagerly engage in public debate as a prelude to our forming the next government.
Free market forces will not work unaided to protect our environment. We must have national and international intervention. Without intervention in economic and industrial development, without proper systematic planning and control over the use of resources such as land, water, energy, the marine environment, the problems of environmental and ecological damage are unlikely to be arrested, let alone eliminated.
The annual report of the NCC last year was prophetically right when it said that there is just about enough habitat left to ensure continuity of Britain's wild plants and animals if it is to be conserved. It said that the danger is that, if it is not wholeheartedly protected now, then in 10 years' time it will be too late.
One cannot escape the feeling that the Department of the Environment seems to have become defensive abouts its role and responsibilities and is being driven by EEC legislation. We want to see Britain taking initiatives and leading the case for improving environmental policy. Agriculture has often been presented as environmentally a benign industry. We must take action to halt the use and abuse of pesticides and fertilisers. The damage done to flora and fauna, top soil and water courses is serious. It is increasingly the physical destruction of heaths, moorlands. marshes, meadows, wetlands, deciduous woods, hedgerows and SSSIs. They all must and should be protected.
The impact of people on their environment is increasing. Demand for sport, recreation and leisure will increase. It will continue to grow and to bring pressure on the countryside. Government funding of the development of leisure facilities must be increased to take account of this situation and to prevent the overuse and damage resulting from too many people with too little access to the areas and facilities that they require.
In conclusion, I say that what the country needs and what the Labour Party has is a positive approach to planning and intervention.These reports point the way. They are a credit to their authors and to the work of select committees. They may even induce in the 145 Government a greater sense of urgency and a recognition that time is not on their or our side. If they do that, this will be a thoroughly well-earned bonus and we can all be grateful for it.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he could tell me what the Orkney farmer is going to do if he is not allowed to improve his grazing. The importation of grain is very expensive and he is hit hard. So is it more important to preserve the moorland in Orkney than to preserve the farmer?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, poses the problem and dilemma not only for the farmer but also for the community. When the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asks me what the Orkney farmer will do, I have a shrewd idea that he knows better than I what the Orkney farmer not only would like to do but what he wants to do.
§ 11.59 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, it is one of the rules of the House that anyone speaking from this Dispatch Box speaks for the Government as a whole. But it is not generally recognised, I believe, that I hold the job which the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, is, in part of its report, calling for, in that I am a spokesman both for the MAFF and the DoE simultaneously. I accept, of course, that I have a minimal role in policy formation but nonetheless my role is to present both sides of the argument, which becomes more like quicksand every day, it seems. Listening to the ups and downs of this debate, I think that that remark, which I penned some hours ago, is probably correct. I see myself a little like mercy on top of the Royal Courts of Justice, with a balance that moves, in that it goes up and down. That is what the weight of argument, occasionally on the side of agricultural interests and occasionally on the side of environmental interests, should do.
Noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Walston. for example—pointed to, one almost might say, the slings and arrows of outrageous agricultural fortune. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord said. Having said that, I welcome on behalf of the Government both reports, because any organisation worth its salt, which my two departments are, is made all the stronger for selective and constructive criticism such as your Lordships have made tonight and such as is made in the two reports that we are debating. Nonetheless, there is a right approach in these matters that depends on consultation and diplomacy and not everyone at the barricades all the time.
Like other noble Lords, I was astounded to read in the Guardian the other day that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was in favour of breaking the civil law to protect parts of the natural heritage threatened with destruction by powerful agricultural interests. Within minutes, I read in the Observer yesterday that the CLA and the CPRE in a joint statement said they had agreed that ways must be found to build environmental objectives into the system of official financial support for agriculture. I side with the noble Baroness, Lady White, on this. There should not be one person 146 in your Lordships' House who would dissent from the view that this latter is the right approach.
§ Lord Melchett
My Lords, as the noble Lord has referred to my remarks again, may I make clear that I also strongly support the approach that the CLA and the CPRE are taking? Had they taken it earlier and had the Government adopted it earlier, direct intervention would not now be necessary. In how many cases have sites of special scientific interest been destroyed as a result of breaches of the criminal law? I have information to suggest that it is around 20. In how many of those cases have prosecutions been undertaken by the Government or by the Government's agencies?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I do not think that this is the time of night to get into an argument with the noble Lord. I would, however, say that it is very difficult to understand how he reconciles the two approaches that he has just adumbrated.
I was talking about what I call the right approach. This forms the background to the thinking behind both Select Committee reports. It is inevitable that when we are debating two reports, however worthy, one of them will be treated as second class. My reading of the report of the Science and Technology Committee is that research is admitted to be going on, albeit slowly. We are already responding with action to points that have been made in the report. I welcome the announcement of the creation of an environment co-ordination unit within the Ministry of Agriculture. To this end, my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment held discussions on 16th July with that Ministry to arrange liaison with his department, which, let no one be in the slightest doubt, will happen.
I am also glad to confirm the statement made by the Chief Scientist at the Department of the Environment in evidence to the committee that we shall exchange research programmes with the agriculture departments. We also accept the recommendation that there should be twice yearly meetings with the interests concerned. I take the point of the noble Lord's committee that it is somewhat surprising that this has not happened up to now, but that is exactly the type of constructive suggestion that I would expect from a committee of your Lordships' House of that eminence. Perhaps I may here report that, as evidence of our recognition of the need to stimulate socioeconomic research in the countryside, officials of my department, together with their colleagues in MAFF, are discussing with the Economic and Social Research Council a seminar which might he held in the autumn of this year to review the impact of changing policies in the countryside and to evaluate the needs for research, especially in the social and economic fields.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I am very interested in this. Would the noble Lord agree that the long-term monitoring research at Rothamsted might he the subject of development in this new co-operation which is taking place?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
Yes, my Lords, indeed it might. This is something which I believe both of my right honourable friends would do well to look into. 147 I am confident that the seminar to which I have just referred will lead to an evaluation of strategic research requirements, and may thus be instrumental in achieving some of the objectives to which the Select Committee have pointed.
In referring, as did many noble Lords, to the role of our agencies—namely, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—my noble friend Lord Belstead indicated that in the past weeks we have seen the publication of the Nature Conservancy Council's document, A Nature Conservation Strategy for Great Britain, at which event I had the honour to be present, and we have received from them the text of their corporate plan. Both make an eloquent case for strengthening resources in this field, and these cases are receiving serious consideration by Ministers. It would be quite wrong for me to pre-judge the outcome of that consideration, but there is one thing that I must say. I do not believe that it would be appropriate to make a specific grant to the Nature Conservancy Council earmarked for research. We have had this argument across this Table on many occasions when the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and I have been speaking on the subject of the proper role of local authorities. It is rather for Government to judge the appropriate total level of funding for the NCC in relation to the case made by that body and the priorities attached to its work and for the council itself to judge the balance of expenditure it should support within the total.
Turning to the Countryside Commission, like the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, I draw the attention of the House to the strong links with agricultural interests developed through farming and wildlife advisory groups—the uglily named FWAGS. The Countryside Commission has earmarked £1 million over the next 10 years to support conservation officers, a large proportion of whom are based on the FWAGS, whose associated trust has already raised over £500,000. The commission can therefore call on considerable local experience in framing its research programme.
But inevitably most of this debate, although, I accept, not all of it, has centred on the other report—the report of the European Communities Committee. With the best will in the world, I do not think that I shall be able to answer all the points that have been made. But some noble Lords have very kindly given me prior warning of the special problems that they see and I shall do my best to answer them. Otherwise, I think that it might be appropriate if I comment on what other noble Lords have said.
I shall deal first with the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. Over the last five years or so the main thrust of work on nitrogen application to agricultural land has been changing from consideration of crop yield responses to broader studies of the balance and fate of nitrogen in the soil. I accept that there is a need for better models to deal with the wide range of soil and fertiliser situations. Both of my departments are discussing the best joint approach. The Department of the Environment's sponsored research spending on acid rain will amount to some £2.3 million in 1984–85, rising slightly in the following year.
However, I disagree with the noble Lord on one point. Of this, ¤650,000 is directly relevant to agriculture. The research will examine the causes of 148 acidification, the atmospheric processes involved in its development and transmission, and the impact of acidification on flora and fauna, lakes, rivers, forests and soils. The results of this research will be of interest to both the departments and, indeed, the House. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment are responding to an EEC request for an evaluation of the trace element, cadmium, and I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased at that. The recent Soil Science Commission Review has recommended that further work should be done to develop predictive models to prescribe pathways and processes in soil. Again, proposals for joint work are being discussed.
The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said that the CAP is not the total cause of changes in the countryside, and, of course, I agree. Furthermore, I have said before from this Box that I should not like to live in a glass-case. I can visualise very clearly the verbal picture that he paints of the view from his office window. I do not know how long the noble Lord has had his office in that position, but I would ask him to compare the view today with the view on his arrival. Since that time I would assume that the Lea Valley Scheme—a mammoth undertaking—which has been good for conservation and not at the expense of agriculture either, has taken place. There is a guide here to the steps that we need to take to clear up, for example, the Mersey.
I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I felt that both the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and his noble kinsman had a rather unusually optimistic approach to this particular problem and I wondered whether, in fact, the noble Lords' glasses were rose-tinted.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, brought up the subject of straw burning. I really cannot agree with the noble Lord that there is no agricultural reason for straw and stubble burning. It is a long-established farm husbandry practice which brings very real benefits in terms of crop yields and farm management practices. Nevertheless, the Government recognise that careless straw burning can cause some serious environmental problems, and research is being entered into to bring this practice, hopefully, to an end. I am sure that the whole House would welcome that.
My noble friend Lord Sandford and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, were unhappy about the subject of prior approval. As the Countryside Commission pointed out in its evidence, this would be a very heavy bureaucratic burden. Even in a simplified form it would be very expensive in terms of manpower, and would necessitate the diversion of staff from other activities.
What really matters—and I am trying to look at it as objectively as I can—is that it is questionable how much additional safeguard it would achieve. The Countryside Commission has undertaken to analyse from 1st April 1983 the results of this notification procedure. Figures for the first six-month period are now available. Of the 2,757 notifications processed, national park authorities had no comment on 86 per cent. and their conditional agreement was given to a further 9 per cent. In only 5 per cent. of the notifications did the authorities seek modifications, and 145 of these were agreed by the farmers, mostly 149 without any financial contribution from the national parks authorities. Thus, at the end of the period there were only six cases where agreement had not been reached between the farmer and the national park authority.
As is well known—indeed, as has been mentioned this evening—national parks and SSSIs already have special agreements. In fact, I remember long debates at the time of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in which my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley was instrumental in bringing this matter before your Lordships. I agree with those noble Lords who said that it was surprising that there was no mention of that Bill in the Select Committee's report.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, for example, spoke about the United Kingdom procrastination in domestic legislation, and that we should take our own initiatives to find balancing mechanisms without waiting for the Economic Community. If she was talking about the last Labour Government, I would agree with her, but her speech does the Government grave injustice. Various forms of national legislation, notably the Wildlife and Countryside Act, do precisely this. This is way ahead of most other member states of the Community.
The advantage of the initiative announced by my noble friend Lord Belstead is that it puts all member states on the same basis—surely a desirable objective. I was rather surprised by some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, in this connection with his experience of advising the Commission, which I know he has done for a good many years. I should have thought that there would have been a little more objectivity—that is the word I would use—in his remarks.
Having said that, I do not rule out further adjustments either to the draft directive that we are discussing or to the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Keeping capital grant schemes under continuous review is obviously something which needs to be done and I have no doubt that they will in due course be changed. It was always understood that they would be. We have made changes in the past and will do so in the future if it seems appropriate.
Several noble Lords have mentioned forestry. I am sympathetic to the committee's wish to protect and encourage indigenous species of trees. This is already policy and practice in the United Kingdom. Because the Commission's afforestation measures, which are of concern to the United Kingdom, are expensive, we have expressed strong reservations. We are ready nevertheless to consider the committee's recommendation, though it is doubtful whether this would attract support from most other member states.
There is a problem here on forestry which is unique to the growing of timber. Local people will remember the row that occurred before the war when the National Trust decided to afforest part of the Quantocks, which of course is in my home area. That, I am assured, is little different now that the time has come to cut the trees down, and they are softwoods.
Time is getting on. My noble friend Lord Stanley mentioned the trainee courses for ADAS. I have said before from this Dispatch Box that the Ministry have 150 been running courses in conservation for ADAS officers for a number of years. These courses not only rely on MAFF's widespread internal expertise but also benefit from the assistance of expertise from the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, and some of the voluntary conservation bodies. The emphasis of these courses has recently been changing from a general introduction to the awareness and understanding of conservation, to training in the practical recognition of conservation interests. I am glad to say that some socio-economic courses have been held.
I am the first to accept that this is a small start in what can only become a big programme when one realises that over the past three years some 283 main courses have been held and there are in the order of 2,000 general ADAS officers. My noble friend Lord Onslow warned me that he was going to bring up the subject of the Article 4 direction made at Limpenhoe by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. This followed a request from the Broads Authority who were concerned that the field was about to be drained.
According to the best information available from the authority, the landowner was not prepared even to consider the offer of a management agreement. The direction is limited to a 12-month period. This limitation was imposed in order to provide a cooling-off time in which the possibility of a management agreement could be pursued in the normal way between the parties. If such an agreement is satisfactorily concluded, the direction will be lifted. Thus the direction made in this case is seen as supplementary to the voluntary approach, rather than undermining it in any way.
There is no intention of imposing Article 4 directives in other circumstances if there is a reasonable prospect of successful negotiation of a management agreement.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I gave my noble friend warning of this: may I ask him to say something about compensation? The other point he has just mentioned seems very important. If there is a reasonable prospect of a management agreement, directions will not be imposed; but if somebody starts mucking about and asking for silly sums, they will be imposed. This is a major shift of policy, and from my point of view it is welcome.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, what I was trying to do was to make the point that we are not seeing the undermining of the voluntary approach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but reinforcement was built into that Act. I accept that Article 4 was not the reinforcement that was envisaged in that Act. As the House well knows it would be the Section 29 arrangements. I think I am right: if not, I shall have to correct that. There must be, to any kind of Act of this nature, some type of back-up powers. I do not particularly like using them, but I can confirm that when they are necessary, they will be used.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, suggested that the Government should give a commitment that no more grants for agricultural improvement should be given, but would divert agricultural funds to support 151 conservationally-acceptable farming. This is not possible under existing arrangements, except in designated less favoured areas. The Netherlands are frequently cited as one, indeed the only, country using Article 3.5 in the manner advocated by the committee. The conditions in the Netherlands are quite different from those in the rest of the Community. The land designated does not have the potential of, for example, Halvergate. This is why the Government see the need for a new approach which does not rely on areas suffering permanent natural handicap.
I understand, and sympathise with, the committee's wish to find a way of preserving areas of particular conservation interest by encouraging continuation of traditional farming practices. I am not, however, convinced that widening the definition of "less favoured areas" by amending Article 32.2(b) is the best way to achieve that objective. There is a genuine problem regarding many such areas, especially lowland ones with considerable productive potential, as less favoured. This is why the United Kingdom is taking the initiative in proposing that the regulation be amended to provide new arrangements for conservationally-sensitive areas. That point was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Belstead in his opening speech.
So far as the Orkneys and the Isle of Islay are concerned, I was rather surprised by those noble Lords who mentioned them because crofters' rights are rights that they have had for generations, and I should like to see them continuing for generations. I know the Island of Islay a little and I am hoping to see first-hand the problems in the Orkneys during the Recess.
In conclusion, the Government welcome the overall thrust of the two reports that we have been debating this evening. We strongly support a positive effort to promote research and development and to further balance the equation between agriculture in it widest sense and the environment, however defined. The research and development influences the whole spread of rural policies from food production, through protective conservation and socio-economics to creative conservation and the creation of new habitats for the wildlife and new features of natural beauty.
The Government appreciate that changes have been sweeping through our countryside and that the impact of some agricultural policies have caused concern. It is reassuring to note the committee's judgment that most of the essential research at the interface between agriculture and the environment does get done at some time. But the other report believes that there is a long way to go to achieve harmony. Yes, my Lords, I certainly agree with that.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, your Lordships will not wish me to prolong the discussion, tempting though it is to take up one or two points. I think I can speak for the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, when I say that both committees will be very satisfied with the debate which these reports have provoked. There is clearly a wide area of agreement on which future policy can be built. I should also like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate and sat until this very late hour. We are very fortunate 152 in this House to have so much informed opinion on which to draw. We shall watch what happens in the future. In thanking the Ministers for their characteristically courteous responses I am sure the House will want the matter left where it is.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.