HL Deb 01 May 1985 vol 463 cc277-312

5.28 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie rose to call attention to the need for a policy for the rural areas which would take account of the needs of farming, forestry, industry and the environment; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Motion I should like first and foremost to say that it is a very large subject and we have two-and-a-half hours in which to discuss it. I see names on the list of speakers who know as much, if not more, about it as I do. However, I shall do my best to keep within my time, which I understand is about 15 minutes, and I shall try to concentrate on farming and industry in the countryside. There are other noble Lords present, including the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, who I am sure will speak about forestry, and there are certainly environmentalists present. I think I saw the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the speakers' list.

However, as regards the environment—and I have made this point before to noble Lords—it is a gross exaggeration to use such expressions as, "the devastation of the countryside" or, as the Economist put it this week, "the mutilation of the landscape" by farmers or, for that matter, by foresters. We should deprecate those expressions, which do not add up in any shape or form. Of course there are black sheep here and there. The other day I motored up the middle of the county to Norwich and back down the coast through Suffolk. Here and there I certainly saw large areas which had been cleared of hedges and in some cases trees, but I came to other areas, such as the area which is the subject of a review by the local farmers, where there were more hedges and trees. The differences, I think, enhanced the situation rather than anything else. It is just not the case that the landscape has been mutilated. Changes there have been, of course, but in the eyes of some people these changes are for the better. Often criticism arises simply because people do not like change. It is quite extraordinary how conservative we all are, with a small "c".

So far as forestry is concerned, I just make the one point that visits to our commission forests and private forests are well over 20 million a year. That speaks for itself, and I shall leave it to someone else perhaps to expand on it.

Now what have we to worry about in the rural scene as we see it today? Do we have to worry? Some people are perfectly satisfied with it, but I do not think that that is the general case, especially over the last few years where in the countryside we have come under considerable criticism.

Over the years rural communities in Britain—and they were mostly wholly agricultural—and their immediate ancillaries, the miller, the blacksmith, the joiner, and many countryside craftsmen have provided not only a large proportion of the urban population's food but also a reservoir of people to man the growing industries from the Industrial Revolution until fairly recently. Of course, the large unemployment situation has altered that.

All over the country these communities were entities in themselves, centred on the village. They had their own food, churches, schools, pubs and post offices, and they provided their own entertainment, such as football, cricket, local dramatics, picnics, fêtes and what have you. I have worked and lived in these rural communities for the last 59½ years, to be exact, and I have seen the changes taking place which have totally altered the situation in the countryside.

I lived and worked for 32 years in the north-east of Scotland, from 1926 to 1958. I started work at the age of 17 in 1926. I ran, with my two brothers-in-law, a farming business in North Lincolnshire for 21 years from 1947 to 1968. We were absentee farmers, but I went down quite a lot, I stayed there quite a lot, and I even played for the village cricket team—mostly scythe strokes and not a straight bat. I have farmed where I now live since 1953, and I have lived there since 1958. So I have a fair experience of varied rural communities.

What are the changes? Let us take the farms first. The two major changes there are the decline in tenant farming and the increase in the size of farming units caused by amalgamations all over the country. I should like to give some examples. I was brought up in the centre of Aberdeenshire at my father's farm, which was a 320-acre farm, where he brought up six of a family. Over the years it was certainly a unit in itself, but it is now amalgamated to make a 600- to 700-acre farm with a neighbouring farm, and my nephew farms there. The two neighbouring farms are also amalgamated. My other nephew farming in Aberdeenshire has two big farms of 400 acres each, coming to 800 acres. When I left Aberdeenshire and went south of Aberdeen the farm that I went to first was 500 acres, my father increased it to 700, and my son has now increased it to 1,000. And so I could go on.

When I went to Lincolnshire we had 1,000 acres, consisting of four farms. Before we left it there were seven farms and 2,000 acres. That is the picture of what is going on all over the country. What effect has this had? First, in my opinion—and having admitted the glasshouse, I can now give an opinion—is the decline in the number of farmers and, at the same time, because of new technology in farming and the emphasis away from horn to corn, a massive decline in the number of farm workers.

I can give two examples. On the farm I started on, a 220-acre farm in Aberdeenshire, there were five men and me, and now there is only one man. Where I now farm, when I came there first I built up quite a business with pigs, poultry and one thing and another and we had 11 men, and now there are three. These two examples give your Lordships the picture of what is happening.

There is great emphasis that we should return to horn and away from corn, but I doubt whether this will make much difference. It may help the aspect of the countryside. There will be more pasture and maybe more hedges for shelter for stock, but it will make little or no difference to an increase in the labour force. Before the war a man and his wife, or a man and a youth, were doing a good job of work if they looked after 40 cows, and even then they required help with the milking, whereas today you will get one man who will look after 120 cows almost by himself. That is the picture there.

People, especially young people, drifted to urban areas, or because of the coming of the small, cheap car, they travelled long distances to find work. The centralisation of education did away with the village school. I do not know whether our children are any better educated because of this. Noble Lords may look at me, a product of village schools, and say, "Yes", but I sometimes wonder.

Churches have suffered as well. In both villages I worked in in Aberdeenshire there were two churches. There is now only one in each, and of the other two one is now a garage and the other a potato store. It is extraordinary that in Lincolnshire all the villages had a church, a vicar, a vicarage, and everything, but before we left there one vicar was looking after three churches. In the village where I am now, the village of Nazeing, the Lord Chancellor cannot find us a vicar, although the church is still there. That is the picture.

Now the supermarket in the nearest town becomes a shopping centre, and away goes the local shop and usually with it the local post office. We have just lost ours in our little village this last year. The importance of the post office is illustrated by the story about the late Gordon Selfridge. He went shooting in Aberdeenshire and stayed at the local pub in the village of Tomintoul and got talking to the local shopkeeper. They discovered that they sold the same things. The shopkeeper said to Mr. Selfridge, "Of course, you will have the post office". Selfridge said, "Good Lord, what would I do with a post office?" The shopkeeper said, "Oh, its no use without the post office". That is right in a village community.

I could go on, but the long and short of it is that the countryside has been urbanised and I think, as do many others, to its detriment. If we are agreed that it would be a good thing to get a million or so more people back into the countryside, is there the will to do it, and how? Agriculture, the main source of employment at the moment, can only do so much. Limiting the size of farms could make a big contribution not only to employing more labour, but as a social contribution. Four or five families with 300 or 400 acres each make a much better social structure than one man farming 2,000 acres, and more so 20 or 30 farmers with that acreage instead of a farming company with probably 12,000 to 20,000 acres, or even more.

I have here a record of a debate on the subject. It was generally agreed there that socially it would be a good thing. There was some doubt whether there would be a great increase in employment, but what was agreed was that it would require drastic fiscal action by way of taxation or some statutory measures to achieve it. I doubt whether there is the will to do either. What I know is that we would have a better countryside if we could do that.

If I may digress, I was interested in the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, telling us about what we are doing in the Falkland Islands; breaking up the estates there into smaller farms in order to make a better social structure. What is good for the Falklands is surely good for this country as well. I should add that the question of limiting the size of farms is very much tied up with an increase in the tenanted sector of the industry as well, but I shall leave that for another day.

What else could agriculture do to help to employ people? There are about 220,000 farms in the country. I am pretty certain—I have been doing a survey of old barns and things recently—that probably about 50,000 of these farms have spare space which could be let to one-man, or two-man, industries. There is certainly a demand for this, as anybody who has consulted CoSIRA would have pointed out to them. I must say that CoSIRA is one of the semi-statutory bodies which does a good job in the countryside, and if anybody likes to consult it, it is a great help on that side of the question. I have heard people say that having other business on your farm creates a situation where the farm is not your own. My landlord took that attitude. I think it is a slightly selfish one, but probably an understandable one. I am sure it would be an added interest on a farm and as well could create quite a lot of jobs in the countryside. It could probably create 50,000 jobs if everybody took it up.

There is much else that could be done in the villages to create industry, but I will leave that to some other speakers. I understand that my noble kinsman has ideas there. There is one thing that is certain; we will not attract people back to the countryside unless we have the proper amenities, particularly in the remoter areas. This includes housing. No young people who have sampled decent housing in the towns are going to go back to hovels in the countryside. Of course, we must have transport, pubs and the post office, as I mentioned earlier.

It also includes treating these as remote areas. At the present moment, the Government have a scheme for flat-rate travel to universities. What is the use of that if the university is 100 miles away, which in many cases it is?

Apart from keeping the environment of the countryside in good order, farmers could do a lot to make the countryside more interesting. They could have open days on the farm; provide picnic sites; take advantage of being allowed to have five caravans on a site without planning permission; or give a field for weekend caravan rallies. I do this, and the caravan clubs have their members well controlled; they leave the place tidy and behave well when they are there. We have no trouble, and these people enjoy a weekend on the farm. As we all know, there is a great demand for accommodation for horses. I think it now has the awful name, "horsiculture". To all that, you can add the selling of produce. All of that would add up to a more active countryside, and it would bring urban and rural populations together, which would be good for both of them.

Before I close, I must ask the Government what attitude they are taking. I have recently read the reports of two meetings. I have them here. I have mentioned one already. One meeting was to discuss the limiting of the size of farms. The report of the other meeting is entitled, Where are We going?; The Future Use of Land. There is a Bill before another place on the future of youth in rural areas. There have been press articles, brochures from the NFU and the CLA, a new charter from the Countryside Commission, a speech by the chairman, Sir Derek Barber, and a headline in the press: "Cereal Quotas in Three Years; Up to 2½ Million Acres out of Production". What are we going to do with that 2½ million, if that is the case?

All of this is expressing in the rural community, in farming and elsewhere, where we are going and what the countryside is going to be like in the future. The Government have issued a consultation paper on the EC structures regulation. That is helpful but not nearly enough. I would therefore appeal to the Government to give some guidance—I suppose by a White Paper—to rural communities as to how they see the future. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.43 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, we are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for initiating this debate, and also for his speech. I have often said that we have in the House of Lords the greatest experts on every subject. I honestly do not think that there are greater experts on farming than the Mackie family; and I include in that the noble Lord who is going to speak later. I have known them for many years and there is no doubt at all that they are some of the leaders and the most successful of the farming community.

My only criticism of this debate is that it has too wide a perspective. We can hardly talk about farming, forestry, industry and the environment in eight minutes. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie will not object if I concentrate on just one or two things. First of all, there are the needs of farming. One cannot control a great many of these needs. The first is the weather. In the middle of hill lambing at home, it snowed every day last week. It is not much fun bringing lambs into the world in snow almost on 1st May. Then there is the other complication which comes from the fact that, with the EC playing an extremely important and I think very valuable part in our community and in the farming area, we are suffering very much from the fact that they will not make up their minds what they are going to do in the next year when they meet. They keep on postponing and postponing, and the plans which they postpone are very detrimental to us farmers because we cannot change our activities in a few weeks. We have to have at least a year in order to change. I hope the Government will continue to try to press the EC and the CAP people to make decisions and to stick to them.

In Committee D, which is the agriculture committee, we have said in almost every one of the reports we have put out that what we want is decisions so that all the farmers, whether in Britain or elsewhere in the EC, will know what is going to happen. I think that the latest document, which the noble Lord has referred to, which came out yesterday—the consultation paper on the implementation of the new EC structures—is extremely interesting, and much of it is very valuable. I should like to ask the Minister whether, in scrapping the capital grants schemes for less favoured areas, which have been running now for a considerable number of years, the Government will replace them by other regulations. I hope the Minister will ensure that the new regulations are as good and as helpful as the old ones have been. I can say that they really have been a tremendous help for any area, whether it is in the North of Scotland, the West of England, the South or any of the other less favoured areas.

As the noble Lord has said—he described it very vividly—the efficiency of our agriculture is terrific. All those figures which he gave us are fantastic. If you have ever had anything to do with it you will realise what it means to cut down from five men to one man, or whatever it may be. It is simply terrific. It is amazing to see the development of land improvement, and the amount of produce we have today compared with 50 years ago. In the 1930s we produced 30 per cent. of our food. Today it is 70 per cent. This is happening all over Europe.

All we have to deal with after that are surpluses. We always think of producing more and more and we do not think enough about how to sell our produce. Some years ago when I went to Brussels as a delegate, in discussion with the Agricultural Commission I asked which experts were considering how to sell the produce that we were all so eagerly producing. The answer was, nobody. In this country we have a great campaign to sell food for Britain. I do not know how successful it is. Different reports appear in the farming papers, and I read them, but I do not have any actual contact with them. The principle is right: find out how to sell the produce both to the advantage of the consumer and the advantage of the producer.

We have all been shocked by the famines in Ethiopia and elsewhere and the poor standard of living in the third world. Yet no one has found the answer, and our surpluses are either curtailed or thrown away or put into store. There has been no concentration, as far as I can see, on what to do in this matter. Yet in this year, 1985, with all the modern inventions, transport and communications, everything is there to help us. I should like to see far more concentration on selling and distribution. We have seen what the retail trade has done: the great firms like Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer, and others. There has been a real revolution which has benefited everybody. Let us try to get a really good policy for selling and distribution as one of the priorities for the future.

The noble Lord has spoken about the environment, and many attacks have been made on farmers who completely alter the landscape by the production of cereals and other crops. I live in a country where this does not happen. The land is more valuable for raising sheep and cattle and the hills and the lowlands can be improved by means other than ploughing and cropping. So we are lucky. There has been considerable environmental change in the last 50 years. I have been farming for 51 years on the same farm so, like the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, I am talking about something I know about.

Although the amount of livestock has doubled more or less, much land has been lost to forestry. Perhaps "lost" is not a word your Lordships would like me to use, because everybody is so anxious and keen about forestry. I shall not talk about forestry because the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, was once chairman of the Forestry Commission and we have experts here. I live in the middle of one of the largest forests in Europe and miles and miles of conifers have not improved the landscape. The grasslands and hills used to carry sheep and cattle for centuries, but forestry is an important industry. Trees must be grown; so I leave it at that. I hold the view that there are ways and ways of developing forestry and in many places in the last 30 or 40 years much land and landscape has been spoiled, though that may not happen now so much.

The last matter I want to put into our policy concerns rural areas. The noble Lord vividly described issues of which I entirely approve. I approve strongly what he said about communities, about preserving the post office, rural schools and transport. All that is vital and is what we want in rural districts today. One of the troubles—though I do not know whether it is such in England; it certainly is in Scotland—is that the reorganisation of local government has made areas so huge that the representatives covering rural areas (of which I was one for 29 years in Roxburghshire) find their areas are so huge that the villages are forgotten because they have to concentrate so much more on the cities and towns. That is a great mistake and I hope the Government will take the advice of the noble Lord to ensure that the rural areas are not swallowed up because the representatives of the district councils and regional councils are so much concentrating on the towns, where much of the population lives. We must keep the rural areas going. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, said.

Of course it is a different kind of rural area. The noble Lord said so, and it is true. When I was at home years ago practically nobody had a motor-car. Today everyone has a motor-car and every boy has a motor-cycle. If they want to go into town to the discos or to the cinema, one cannot stop them, but we could make communities in the villages which would attract those young people as they did in the past. However, it requires the will, the concentration, as well as assistance and help from district and regional councils to keep rural amenities going. I should like to see rural areas, as the noble Lord has said, whether in the Highlands or in the English counties, lived in by people who love the country and their neighbours and who will not just come for weekends. I know that the Minister is as keen as any of us on preserving and using rural areas. He lives in one himself and knows all about it. I am sure that his efforts will be towards preserving and encouraging country life.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I am certain that every Member of your Lordships' House and I believe everybody who lives in this country wants to see a prosperous countryside. We do not want to see deserted villages, empty schools or derelict churches. However, many people consider that this can be achieved only by a prosperous agriculture. If that were so, it would be a poor lookout for the countryside as a whole, because the choices facing agriculture are simple and clear, if we are to maintain the standard of living of those who are engaged in food production compared with those in urban areas. We could have the same number of people employed on the land as we do at present, but producing more, so that we can maintain the relative standard of living; but we do not want to produce more because we are already suffering from surpluses. Alternatively, we could have the same number of people producing the same amount as at present, but we could increase the return that they receive. That we do not want because it will mean that food will cost more. The third possibility is to have fewer people on the land, producing the same amount of food, and therefore having a rather larger slice of the cake. That we do not want because not only would it denude the countryside as it is at present, but it would also swell the numbers of unemployed.

Fortunately it is not on agriculture that the prosperity of the countryside depends. We all know that fewer than 3 per cent. of the total working population is engaged in agriculture. Even in rural East Anglia, for example, one will find few, if any, villages where even 10 per cent. of the working population in those villages is engaged in agriculture. It is misleading to believe that agriculture holds the key, much as I want prosperous agriculture. The key to rural prosperity does not lie with agriculture. The future of rural areas lies in industry, and that includes service industries. I am happy to see that the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, is to speak in this debate. I am sure we will learn much from what he has to say.

In the pre-Industrial Revolution days industry was largely based in the countryside—weavers, cottage industries, craftsmen of different kinds. Some lived in small and market towns, but many lived in the villages. It was only when we had the benefits of steam power and the railways that industry moved inevitably, for economic reasons, into the cities. That had appalling results for many of the people who lived there and appalling results for our countryside, with the destruction of many lovely areas, the creation of vast conurbations, and the poor living conditions and the crime, which in Victorian days were inevitable, and even today are not entirely absent. But now when we have 100 per cent. rural electrification, good communications and far more of our industrial products travel by road and by rail there is no need for industry for economic or social reasons to centre itself in the big cities. It can be just as efficient, and very often more efficient, when it is in rural areas.

However, this presents a grave danger for the countryside. The environmentalists will hold up their hands in horror at this suggestion, or some of them will. But in this context I remind your Lordships that far more destruction of the countryside has been brought about by urban sprawl, by the building of houses for those people who now protest about the desecration of the countryside, than by the ravages of the factory farmers we hear so much about today. Rural industrialisation, I believe, can be carried out provided we have proper, well thought out strategic planning.

For 10 years I was chairman of the East Anglia Economic Planning Council. One of the targets which we set ourselves was to do whatever we could—we did not succeed entirely—to ensure that there was a wide choice of employment within 30 or 40 minutes travelling distance from every village in the East Anglian region. That meant that certain villages—those which were strategically situated, those which perhaps did not have a very great call on preservation because they were particularly beautiful, those which had areas which could be hidden from the rest of the old village—should be designated as expansion centres where more people could live and where light industry and small factories could be set up.

To a certain extent that policy has been followed. It is not perfect by any means, but it has the sort of aim that I believe we should have in mind; we should establish small factories and offices, too, with modern telecommunications. There is no reason why service industries should not be sited just as well in rural areas and in villages as in towns and, in this way, give ample opportunities for a variety of jobs to the young people, the men and women and the girls and the boys of the villages to find all sorts of employment within easy distance of their homes without having to leave their own villages.

In order to achieve this, not only do we need this planning—strategic, wise and far-sighted; we also need good communications. We must maintain and improve existing bus services. I do not want to trespass upon future debates; this is something that we shall be discussing in due course. We must have good bus services and improved bus services and we must ensure that the village schools are kept open, even though at the present time they may have slightly below the normal quota of children going to them. That is the only way in which we can ensure that people will live and bring up their families there. And, as has already been said, we must have the village post offices. These are things which we have to do if we really want a live, vital, rural environment.

I suggest that there should be an improvement in the general administrative machinery and that there should be created at Government level machinery to co-ordinate the policies of a whole variety of ministries which are concerned with this—the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of course, is one; the Department of the Environment is another. And it is good that they are talking rather more with each other now than they did at one time.

In addition to that, we must involve the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Transport, the Department of Health and Social Security, and the Department of Trade and Industry. All these have a vital part to play in keeping our rural environment alive and healthy. And, at Government level, they must work together as, in the days when we had economic planning councils, the officials from all those ministries met together and worked together. I hope that they still do so; I do not know whether they do. To have at the highest level of central Government such an administrative set-up would undoubtedly give a very great incentive to close co-operation at local and regional level.

I beg your Lordships to look on this problem of a healthy rural environment not as one of preserving the status quo, not as one of going in your motor-car from your urban or suburban house to enjoy the thatched cottage and the rilling stream, and not as something which depends solely on agriculture or even mainly upon agriculture; but as something which depends on a balanced and healthy industrial and economic environment in the countryside.

6.4 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, we must be very grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this debate. My only regret is that it was not either in official Opposition time, perhaps to allow more people to put down their names to speak, or, even better, in official Government time—but that is hoping for too much.

I think that I remember the noble Lord, Lord Walston, making a speech in an agricultural debate, drawing the attention of your Lordships a few years ago to the rural dereliction that there was in the countryside in the 1930s—broken down buildings, abandoned houses and really very genuine and rather unpleasant poverty. The problems of the countryside now are surely the problems of success. The success is in raising our production (as my noble friend, Lady Elliot has said) from 30 per cent. of our temperate foodstuffs to 70 per cent. on a much reduced land surface, with a working population reduced from 1½million to about 200,000 and, above all, with food or corn at about two-thirds of the price in real terms that it was in 1935. If all our industries could have done as well as that, we should make the gnomes of Zurich look like poverty-stricken Bangladeshis; but we have not quite done as well as that.

To complicate this thing further, India and China have now both become self-sufficent in food, which is something that we never thought we should see happen. The depopulation of the countryside is really what I think we are now all worried about. It is what has been in the mind, certainly, of French Ministers, with their much bigger countryside and a slightly smaller population than we have. They have been extremely worried about the depopulation of the countryside of France.

The surpluses that we now have to face are a very real problem and I do not know how we are going to do it. I do not think that any of us do. I think that it is reasonable to suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture and all of us in the farming community have become much more conservation-minded and, as the noble Lord who opened the debate has said, I hope that this conservation is not just the dead hand of preserving every single tree. It means cutting down trees and planting new trees and planting new hedges as well as cutting old hedges. It means producing new dry-stone walls as opposed to old dry-stone walls. It means that there shall be change, sensitive and sensible change in the shape of the countryside. Cobbett in his Rural Rides complained of the vicious encroachment of the Enclosure Acts and the planting of hedges. We are now all complaining bitterly about the removal of those same hedges.

My Lords, one thing that I sincerely hope my noble friend will do when he comes to reply is to make sure that the Government do not do what they did with milk quotas. First it was, "Produce, produce!" until the milk was sloshing about in vast lakes and then, suddenly, it was, "Stamp on it! Stop it!" That is not the way to treat any industry. It is a great pity that those milk quotas were not marketable. They could even have been bought in by the EEC; they could have used it as a reserve of milk or the milk could have been marketed. That would have produced much less upheaval than there has been.

The rural economy as a whole is the really important thing which I think we must talk about. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, was so right about the use of small industries in the countryside. This is what is going to give it a much greater vitality. Before the war, most farms had on them a blacksmith and there was a village blacksmith. You plodded your carthorse to the village blacksmith; you took it to the blacksmith's shop and he shod it; and then you plodded it back again. Now, what you do is to get to the telephone and speak to somebody who has a radio telephone in his van. He comes round with a couple of gas bottles and some spares and repairs your agricultural machinery. He is effectively an agricultural worker; certainly he serves the agricultural industry but he is classed as an industrial worker.

Large numbers of those agricultural workers have merely changed classification. One could also almost argue that the person who is producing nitrogen fertiliser really has strongly to do with agriculture and not with industry, although, in fact, his job takes place in an industrial environment. Near to where I live, which is in the suburbs (for want of a better word) there are old agricultural buildings, these are computer firms, dress shops and things like this. This surely is what we have got to do with our countryside.

A DoE circular—I cannot remember the number but it was a planning and advice circular issued in 1980: I am told it is No. 22—does take up this point and it encourages local planning authorities to use redundant agricultural buildings for sensible light industrial use. The use of electronics and electronic communication is going to make it very attractive for firms to set up small units which are easier to manage because people get to know each other and they are not in some vast conglomerate. It is going to be more attractive for everybody concerned to live in a small village rather than in a decaying inner city. So there is a human attraction as well as an economic attraction to it.

What I would really hope is this. I think we really must ask my noble friend and his right honourable friend to issue a White Paper to find out what the Government want from the countryside. The farming community can read the economic signals fairly efficiently, because after all it read the economic signals and, when it was told to produce, it produced. It can see that prices are coming down. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that the price of winter barley at harvest is now about £92, when two years ago it was about £110 at harvest. That is a massive decrease. All the other prices, of course, have gone up. So we can read the economic signals. But I really do beg my noble friend as strongly as I can to recognise that we must have a signal from the Government as to what the Government want us to do with the rural economy.

Above all, they must plan not just for agriculture, not just for the Department of the Environment and not just for the water boards, or whatever it may be. I would hope that they would plan for the countryside as a whole. We must look at it in that way and not just at agriculture, at conservation or buildings. We must look at it as a whole; and, please, may we have a White Paper?

6.12 p.m.

Viscount Hampden

My Lords, this is a short debate. However, I do not think I have ever managed to speak in your Lordships' House for more than five minutes, and I do not intend to test my longevity record tonight. I am a landowner, but, perhaps more importantly, I act as my own land agent; and apart from a having a number of farms and a commercial interest in the property, my estate also owns the village, which consists of some 50 or 60 dwellings, the post office and the local pub. Thus I see every day at first-hand, and hear about, the problems of rural housing and employment.

This evening I want to touch on only two important points, to which other noble Lords have also referred. The first is the environment. I am lucky enough to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and thus am very much concerned with the environment. But I feel that a lot of environmentalists are very short-sighted about their objections to anything being changed at all. As an example, in my part of the world, which is East Sussex, in the 19th century there was a flourishing lime industry which gouged great tracts of chalk out of the Downs, churned up farmlands for clay pits and built tramways all over the place.

The industry is now virtually dead, but there are three important benefits that have come from it. First, the smaller chalk pits and clay pits have now become sanctuaries for wildlife—for birds, butterflies, and flowers. Secondly, the larger pits are being used for refuse tips, and in East Sussex we seem to have an awful lot of refuse. And thirdly, of course, the lime-workers' dwellings were built. They form the nucleus of the village, and now enable us to find reasonably cheap accommodation for agricultural and allied workers. Thus, to some extent, what was a prosperous 19th century activity has turned out to be an amenity benefit for the 20th century; and I think that should be borne in mind when considering the 21st century.

My second point concerns industry and small commercial enterprises in the rural areas, which were touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, mentioned CoSIRA, and I entirely agree with him that that is an excellent organisation. However, the trouble with small businesses is that they are liable to go bust—and I speak from my own experience of having started two of them in the country. One of them is bust, and I expect the other one will be by the end of the month. I feel, again, when considering land-use and when considering what one can do with the land, one should be able to think a bit "bigger" and not rely too much on these little workshops, which in fact run into economic troubles very quickly.

To sum up, I live in a village which we hope will continue into the next century as an economic rural environment, so that we are not all sitting around in our smocks being looked at by the leisure industry.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for bringing up this enormously wide subject in a short debate. I, too, agree absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, that there is really no one more competent to do so. Both he and the noble Baroness told us how long they have been farming. I can only admit to 30 years, so I am really a beginner and probably should not be on my feet at all. This is a wide subject and people have tended to talk about various parts of it. I am going to try—and I have never before spoken in one of these short debates—just to touch on all the various facets which the noble Lord has included in his Motion.

I will start with farming. Farming, as the noble Lord outlined it, is probably in for rather a tough time. There are quotas coming and farmers feel themselves to be, and probably are, under a certain amount of pressure from the animal liberation or protection societies and from the medical people, who do not want the nation to eat polysaturated fats. Rightly or wrongly, there is also pressure from the environmentalists; but, above all, there is the threat of surpluses looming large in front of us. As the head of the Countryside Commission said—I believe somebody quoted him—we can perhaps look forward to quotas in a reasonably short time. He then asked: what will we do with everything that is left over? That is a very good question indeed.

One has heard all sorts of suggestions today, including some very good ones; though I would perhaps disagree with some of them. One which I would not throw out as a proper suggestion but one which it is perhaps worth thinking about is a tax on nitrogenous fertiliser, which might partly reduce yields without perhaps totally destroying profits. The trouble with the farmer today is that he has little to look forward to except reduced profits, and I think he will probably have to put up with that situation.

Forestry has been mentioned (though not here today) in relation to farming as an alternative crop. I wanted particularly to talk about forestry because I feel that this is a matter with which my noble friend on the Front Bench could perhaps help me. He might also be able to tell us something about it. My father was a forestry commissioner for many years; he became deputy chairman and, finally, chairman. I believe that in 1947 he was either a commissioner or the deputy chairman when the dedication scheme came in. I, of course, was forced to dedicate what woodlands were in my ownership; and quite rightly so. He, for his part, thoroughly enjoyed the job and always told me that he worked with very nice people and that trees grew so slowly that he would be dead long before all his mistakes were discovered. I am quite sure that he did not make too many, but I do think he might be turning over in his grave because there was a deal struck, as I saw it at the time, that in return for entering into a working plan with one's forest, one would receive grants. I believe that at the same time the Timber Growers' Association was formed. It was meant to be a loose co-operative affair which would help the marketing situation.

I have telephoned my office and they have managed to find out the kind of costs that have risen since 1947. One can hardly believe it, but the wages of a forestry worker have gone up from £4 to £97 per week, so far as we are concerned. Diesel costs have gone up by 500 per cent. since 1974. It sounds almost too much, but I believe it is right.

In their generosity, the Forestry Commission in 1977 put up our acreage grant from £30 to £42. It probably looks all right presented in that form, but everybody completely disregards the grants. I doubt whether the grants even cover the work that we have to put in on our working plan. I would ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether he thinks that this is honouring that original deal that was struck, and whether he can tell us a little about the Government's policy as regards forestry.

The Forestry Commission have enormous acreages of timber and they have their rules about how to sell it at auctions and so on. But it is felt by many people that they are weak sellers in the market. On top of that, a landowner—not necessarily a large one—is facing an awful depression in the timber business. All the pulp mills are closed. We know that small timber is going to Norway, where fuel costs are lower, and it is then brought back here to make paper. In the South of England the only timber that sells is specialist timber, such as sports ash and so on.

Without being too bold, may I suggest that a degree of protection might be practised at home and that at least Government agencies should be exhorted to use timber a little more than they do now? One thinks of all the motorway fences which come from abroad. That would be a great help. It is hard to see precisely what the TGO does effectively now, but it might be useful if it were used for a generic advertising campaign. If you go to the west coast of Canada they will tell you—and they are absolutely right—that a laminated Scots fir beam is stronger and more flexible than steel and it is perfectly easy to fireproof it completely.

Having perhaps been a little awkward so far, may I come to the environment. The Motion implies to a certain extent that there is not enough Government policy. Having sat through the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and, more recently, the Protection of the Environment Act, to which there were goodness knows how many amendments moved and in which the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, played a considerable part, I would say that the Government are doing very well indeed. "The environment" is a very broad term. You do not alter it in one day, and if the tiller is touched too often it will be rather a pity and of not much help.

I shall have to miss out industry, but I hope that the dreams of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, whose views I respect so much, do not come true in my part of the world. There are other ideas there, though on the whole I agree with the noble Viscount opposite that things do go "bust", and also that Victorian barns do not make very good factories. I should also like, almost inevitably, to mention fish farming which has grown to a certain extent, and to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench what is the Government's policy towards it. I have already declared my interest. Originally, everyone was keen on fish farming, but through a press campaign it is now thought to be a pollutant. There are rumours being put about that there is to be further legislation to do with effluents or the inflow of water, and I should like to know whether that is contemplated.

My time is up, but I should just like to say, so far as employment is concerned, that I began fish farming 14 years ago with 34 acres of surface water which was totally derelict and employed no one. I now employ 13 people on the farm, two lorry drivers and five in the factory where the food is handled. So at least it is a little help.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for raising this issue. It has been an interesting debate and an example of knowledgeable expertise that is worthy of being read in Hansard by people who have not had the opportunity of listening to such splendid speeches. I shall begin with an axiom of John Ruskin and it is a categorical imperative. His famous sentence was, and is, "There is no wealth but life." The entire rural community can be redolent with happiness and life only if the amenities are present for the rural population to enjoy.

High in that prerogative lies the village school and the young married people who wish to live in a rural area. Rural schools serve the community, and for a young married couple to be attracted to a rural area their children must have the amenities to be brought up with a modicum of good education as a start in life. In 1948 a resolution was moved in the United Nations which stated that education of, at least, an elementary standard should be free to all the children of the world. Consequently, we should not neglect our rural schools and look upon them as of secondary importance. To attract young married couples to live in rural areas we need good schools.

I begrudge the cutting down of our railways. In snow, ice and wintry weather there is still nothing that can beat the railway as a method of transport. It is penny wise and pound foolish to reduce our railways. If it is asked how we are to pay for them, I would say that it is axiomatic that part of Britain's defence depends upon the railways and so the Ministry of Defence should combine with the Department of Transport to look at this problem not only as a strategic factor of vital importance for the moving of people in times of crisis, but as a necessity for the defence and security of the nation and, more important, for the happiness and convenience of people living in the rural areas.

Also, it is a sad fact—and I see this in many parts of rural Wales and rural Staffordshire—that village post offices are being closed down. One sees old-age pensioners trying to cadge a lift from farmers who are kind enough to take them to the nearest town several miles away, because there are no longer post offices in the rural areas. It is penny wise and pound foolish to be wasting money and extra grants on transport, without discovering how a local post office can serve a small rural community.

I was delighted to discover that about 85 per cent. of our schools are now equipped with even computer facilities, but most of those schools are not in our rural areas. I should like to see better standards in our village schools. I hope that the teaching profession—and I have been in every branch of it—will see that there is a destiny for the good teachers still in our rural areas.

I should like to pay a tribute to both the television services—the BBC and the ITA—for the excellent talks they now provide for village schools. Modern methods and equipment mean that in schools which have television children now have an opportunity to see and hear experts in all areas of human knowledge.

Finally, what does the village school mean to a community? It is the focal point of many social events. Today the best types of teachers can be found in these schools, with the help of television, and I hope that Ministers of Education will encourage more peripatetic teachers to these areas. I have looked at the clock; I have spoken for five minutes, and that is enough to say for one day.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My Lords, it is very suitable that the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, should have initiated this debate because he is both a practical farmer and a former agriculture Minister. Also, he was the chairman of the Forestry Commission under whom I had the pleasure to serve. Indeed, I still serve on the Forestry Commission and was so glad to hear my noble friend Lord Radnor refer to his late father, because there was nobody who was kinder or who encouraged me more as a young man to pursue forestry.

I am not going to speak much about forestry today, partly because I happen to live in an area where there is the highest density of sheep in the United Kingdom and the lowest density of people. I shall direct my remarks to the problems of those who live in the hill and marginal areas. What I have to say is no doubt applicable to many parts of the United Kingdom, but I can speak only from my own practical experience of having lived the whole of my life in the middle of Wales.

In a world where people travel endlessly and change their homes frequently it is a fact that the people I am talking about—partly because they work pretty hard—remain in their homes with their families far longer than most. Of course, some Scotsmen come south of the Border, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and, I hope, make a good deal of money. But in general the Welsh marginal farmer to whom I am referring is inclined to stay put.

Despite the support of both Governments, there has been a steady drain of the population from these areas, to which reference has been made. Families are smaller and farms are bigger, and most of the farms produce cattle and sheep only. Cereal growing has virtually ceased and, beyond the occasional field of rape, the scene is grass, grass, grass.

Unlike those in other areas, hill farmers cannot suddenly switch to another product, such as oil seed rape, lucerne or maize. The poverty of the soil and the climate in hill and marginal areas makes this impossible. The present fear is, as has been touched on already, that we are likely to suffer the knock-on-effect from the problems of the lowlands, which will come to affect the livestock industry in the areas I am talking about.

We have today the largest sheep industry in Western Europe and we know that the French and others are anxious to overtake us. However, the Government are well aware of this. The problem, as I see it, is much more deep-seated than some people appreciate. Many people are inclined to say that conservation grants will be the alternative. I should like people who think in that way to consider the implications for a moment. Conservation and amenity grants cannot easily be administered and applied, except in a capital way; in an income way it is much more difficult.

Certainly the hills will continue to provide relaxation to the general public; SSSIs and ANOBs and management agreements will continue to be accepted as necessary safeguards for our heritage. But support for cattle and sheep in these areas, in my view, has to remain in some form if families are to stay to work the land and to keep the beauty of the areas to which I am referring.

I cannot say that conservation grants will ever be a big enough alternative, though I may be wrong. I must admit that the Countryside Commission grants for the planting of small woods administered through local councils have been very successful, as have those administered by the Forestry Commission.

The Minister of Agriculture has had a hard task, and most thinking farmers recognise his problems, particularly over the CAP. He has a practical knowledge of farming himself and he knows the hill areas, as indeed do Welsh Office Ministers. The Minister has done particularly well in Brussels over the extension of the less favoured areas to include marginal land. One can take the Welsh situation. In Wales now 977,000 acres have been added to the less favoured areas, making a total of 80 per cent. of land in Wales becoming "less favoured".

The ministry kindly provided me with a copy of the consultation paper it has just issued on the implementation of the new EEC structures regulation. In many ways it is encouraging. I draw attention to paragraph 21 and ask my noble friend to stress the importance of giving grants not just for making stone walls but also for mending them. In my experience I have had refusals about mending stone walls. It is very hard work mending them and very expensive. Possibly the Minister could examine this aspect.

There are very few farmers or foresters who fail to recognise the importance of amenity and conservation. I agree with noble Lords who said that we have come a long way in this respect over the past few years. The beauty that exists there has been created very largely by those who live in those areas.

The integration of farming and forestry in Wales is improving, but we still have a long way to go. Our tradition of forestry is not as old as that in Scotland, but with a rainfall of 50 to 70 inches a year one achieves prodigious growth in the case of conifers. As for broadleaves, that is another matter and we shall undoubtedly hear a good deal more about that subject in future debate. I only want to say that anybody who plants an oak tree is himself, or his son or possibly his grandson, unlikely to see the result. It is a very expensive hobby.

A speech on Welsh hill areas must include a reference to common land. It is a touchy subject, but a subject on which one would hope for all-party agreement before we ever get to legislation. The ghost of the Duke of Sutherland is perhaps in this House as much as it is on the common land. In Wales we have 500,000 acres—far more than the rest of the United Kingdom—and 447,000 of those acres have grazing rights attached to them. I commend the Common Land Forum recently set up by the Countryside Commission with representation from other bodies. I hope that eventually each common will be considered individually for its particular characteristic—be it farming, forestry, tourism, public access, or a combination of them all. I say to your Lordships that one rule for all commons in this country would be doomed to failure. Above all, I hope for the goodwill that will come from all-party agreement.

I conclude by saying that in a grossly overpopulated country—and this is a grossly overpopulated country—with all the problems of our teeming cities, any Government must and should sustain the hill and marginal areas, for it is to the hills that so many of our urban dwellers come to recharge their batteries. For our part, we say that there is a welcome in the hillside and a welcome in the vale.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, noble Lords will, I hope, forgive me for rising to my feet so quickly after my maiden speech, and I must declare my special interest in being chairman of the Development Commission, England's rural development agency, the parent body of CoSIRA. It is not, of course, in that capacity that I speak but as someone who shares with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, a deep concern for those who live in the countryside and a desire to do something about it. I am only sorry that an inescapable long-standing engagement may prevent me from attending the whole debate, but at the rate we are proceeding I may be all right.

Other noble Lords have pointed out that the problems of the countryside are not diminishing; indeed, they are exacerbated by the unprecedented achievement of the agricultural industry in making this country virtually self-sufficient in food. But the natural consequence of this success will mean a lowering of food prices in order to bring supply and demand into balance. This will be good for the consumer but another blow for the rural economy and for those who work in it. We are, then, talking about people and in what ways the Government can help them.

I do not think it is proper for any Government to try to reverse fundamental economic trends, and it would be foolish to attempt to do so. But what Government can do is temper change by softening its cutting edge. So, where change does cause serious problems, Government should help alleviate the hardships that fall on individuals and communities.

The Motion comes at a very appropriate time when the Government are under pressure to rethink their rural policies and the effect these are likely to have on rural communities. Farming, forestry, tourism and conservation all depend on the maintenance of rural communities, and these communities, in turn, depend on the rural economy. So, if agricultural subsidies are reduced, it would seem sensible to continue to channel at least a part of that resource into the rural economy, but by other means. Support for conservation measures alone is not likely to be enough; nor would support that is geared to agriculture or conservation necessarily go to the areas of greatest social and economic need, so the encouragement of other non-farming industries will be crucial.

How, then, can we help establish self-sustaining, viable, alternative forms of employment? If one looks round the countryside and asks where the existing jobs came from, they have more often than not come about as a result of the enterprise and endeavour of local people. It is then important that policies should be framed to encourage this indigenous enterprise; all the more so when the chances of attracting the appropriate foot-loose businesses from outside rural areas are slim due to the competing attractions of urban development incentives.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that rural areas have one particular asset to offer; and that is, in an increasingly urban-dominated and over-populated world, they can be extremely pleasant places in which to live and work. It is, after all, a combination of these two values that makes life fulfilling. Rural areas are also very suitable for modern high-technology, high added value industry; and it is a happy coincidence that communications technology now makes it possible to conduct such businesses from deep in the countryside. But I agree that the danger is that we may destroy the very things that make the countryside what it is. So it is right that the planning authorities should be cautious in their attitudes and only encourage job-creating opportunities where these are on a scale that is harmonious with the countryside and, above all, in balance with the size of the communities that live there.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has so well illustrated that such a policy fits well with the concept of encouraging the conversion of redundant buildings to other economic uses. Such buildings can play a very valuable role in being the birthplace of the indigenous enterprises, often based on the indigenous products, which will provide the employment of tomorrow, be it fish farming or fish canning. It cannot be said too often that Governments do not provide jobs; jobs come through supplying and making things that people want to buy.

However, I should like to draw attention to one major social deprivation that is often overlooked. It is one that is an inescapable and not often recognised fact of country life; namely, the high cost of travel. There is a substantial extra cost to the rural dweller, not only in reaching essential services like schools and hospitals but in simply going to see the doctor and even reaching the more everyday necessities town-dwellers take for granted, like shopping or getting a haircut. There never has been much public transport in rural areas, and round trips of 100 miles or more by car, for example, to visit a relation in hospital are commonplace and are a real burden on the lower paid.

What are needed are policies which are framed to recognise the remoteness of many rural dwellers and which seek to maintain and even improve the services available to them—services which are on hand for the rest of the community. We need to apply rural solutions to rural problems, and there are already many examples of how this can be activated. So I hope that any reduction of those subsidies that have hitherto flowed into rural areas via agriculture will provide an opportunity for re-directing Government aid to both stimulate alternative forms of employment and assist rural services—the two together. Schools, houses and public transport all need to be treated differently in rural areas, and the fact that a minority of the population live there is beside the point. We can, I believe, all agree that rural deprivation is no more pleasant just because it comes thatched. I hope this message can be borne very much in mind by those framing policy.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for this Motion which refers to four facets of rural life—farming, forestry, the environment, and industry. But over the past 40 years there has been only one overriding policy for the use of land in the rural areas and that is agriculture; farming—farming, relieved of rates, unrestricted by planning, supported by subsidy, selling into a managed market, supervised by its own single-minded Ministry, untouched by any of the other changes in the machinery of Government that have swept through Whitehall in those past 40 years. That policy has been that there should be the maximum production of food from our own resources; and a very good policy it has been. There is nothing wrong with it at all. It has stood us, and is standing us, in very good stead. It is certainly not to be abandoned now just because a number of commodities have gone into surplus.

However, I suggest that the time has come to harness this great engine, with its huge momentum, to other purposes besides farming, as my noble friend Lord Vinson has just said. And it is necessary to check the harm that has been done as this monster has gone on its way; the harm it has done, though inadvertently, by shedding labour, as the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, explained by reference to his own career; the harm it has done in damaging the environment—I entirely agree that that aspect should not be exaggerated, but nor can it be ignored—and the harm it has done in standing in the way of other profitable and productive activities and uses of rural land, of which growing timber is one which has already been mentioned by more than one noble Lord.

More important than restrictive policies of that kind are the policies which would harness this great agricultural engine to other purposes, equally or even more profitable to farmers, good for the whole rural economy, enhancing to the environment and more beneficial to the citizens at large; citizens who now have enough to eat, look to the countryside for food, but also for more than food. As has been said in another place, "man does not live by bread alone".

So I agree with the thrust of this Motion but I think it is an illusion, despite what my noble friend Lord Onslow said, to try to give effect to the Motion, as the Motion suggests, by formulating a single policy—a single charter, a single White Paper—such as some of the countryside chairmen have been suggesting in The Times, though not my noble friend Lord Vinson.

If it was a good idea to have a single rural policy, it would certainly require very firm application of structure plans and development control over agriculture and forestry to give effect to it. Yet following the upland debate, no less a person than Sir Derek Barber, with all his experience in agriculture, has recommended such planning control over farming and forestry, at least in the hills. However, I certainly do not, and for three reasons.

First, the glory of rural Britain is its diversity. No single plan or set of plans could ever do it justice or get the best from it. I was very glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt the point that he was making about the management of commons. Whatever the Common Land Forum might come up with, it will never come up with a model for application to all commons. Each one will have to be handled separately. The Dartmoor Commons Bill going into Committee here on 10th June is an example of that. No single plan or policy could ever get the best out of the land in the way that its occupiers and owners do now. The second reason why I do not want to see anything like planning control over farming and forestry is that we have close to hand better, tried and far more sophisticated ways of guiding the changes in the countryside. The third reason is that, in my view, it has become more important to regenerate the rural economies than it is either to grow yet more food or to give yet more care to conservation, though both those policies must of course continue to be pursued.

With the speech that we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Vinson, I do not need to say very much more about regenerating the local economy, but I am glad that he mentioned the importance of rural enterprise agencies and trusts. The most useful way forward, and the one that I think we all want most to see, is by way of profitable policies worked out by local people to develop their own indigenous resources in their own particular way.

In that connection, I think that the Ministry of Agriculture has useful powers which I should like to see it using more—and perhaps my noble friend can comment on that—in giving advice to farmers on how to diversify and in carrying out their duty to give advice to rural agencies on how to combine their roles to that same end. I think that there is tremendous scope for diversification by farmers into other enterprises besides their standard one of growing food. We have heard about the possibility of more woodlands on farms; of processing and marketing, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Elliot, adding value at the farm; of farm gate sales and "pick your own"; of farm tourism, which the noble Viscount Lord Hampden, mentioned; and of field sports and recreation of every sort.

It makes me sad to hear so much talk of merely reducing inputs and outputs. That is no doubt necessary if one is faced with a milk quota, but there are more and wider options than that, I feel sure.

I should like to end with a final word on conservation. This summer we have to consider three consultation papers all bearing on that. There is the consultation paper issued this week on the new structures directive, which my noble friend will no doubt be talking about; there is another consultation paper issued the previous week about the extension of the Landscape Area Special Development Order to all the national parks, and I would hope beyond them; and there is the consultation paper about which we were given an undertaking in this House during the passage of the Town and Country Planning (Compensation) Bill. All those bear on the system of prior notification by farmers to the planners of their development proposals. That system is the one that has succeeded prior approval and is much to be desired as compared with development control. It has now been tested for four and a half years in the national parks and the time has come for its extension beyond them.

The purpose for which it was introduced was in order to make the national park authorities aware and able to give advice and guidance to farmers about schemes for which they wanted capital grant. But the most useful purpose which it has in fact served has been to bring farmers and planners in touch with each other over all the farmers' plans and proposals. LASDO is another system of prior notification and is now due for extension into all the national parks. The Association of District Councils will, I feel sure, be recommending that both systems should be extended into other areas besides, notably the areas of outstanding natural beauty, which I assume will correspond quite closely to the "environmentally sensitive areas" of the new structures directive.

I hope that we shall see these innovations taking effect in the course of the next few years. In addition to providing an appropriately mild measure of guidance over farming and forestry, the main benefit of it is that it will bring more farmers and more planners into a constructive relationship. I believe that that will stand the countryside in good stead at the outset of the next 40 years—an era, I hope, of much more diverse activity on the farm.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, clearly I owe the House an apology. I put my name down on the list of speakers after it had been drawn up. In addition, I am speaking with half a voice—a handicap for an Englishman but a tragedy for a Welshman. I was right, however, to put down my name because I feared when I saw the Motion that it would lead to an imbalance, and there has been, despite the excellence of the debate—and I express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord John-Mackie for putting down the Motion—an imbalance in what has emerged and what has been said by so many noble Lords speaking from their own expertise. They have totally underestimated and under-stated the revolution that is already taking place and the reconstruction that is already happening in the rural economy of Great Britain.

The references to tourism ranged from the gentle fears of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, who talked about the leisure industry viewing the agriculturists as running around in smocks, to the tacit admission from the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that there was room for the services in the regeneration of the economy of the rural areas. But a service-based evolution has been taking place for the past 25 years in the rural economy. It has been led by tourism. I shall not anticipate the debate which I have learned since I sat in the Chamber that I am able to generate on the 21st or 22nd May on a Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. But the importance of tourism and what it is doing for the regeneration of the rural economy should be understood and should be underlined in a debate of this importance.

We have talked about sheep in mid-Wales. The population of Wales is 2,780,000 people. Its sheep population is some 6 million. The number of summer visitors in a good year exceeds 12 million, and, increasingly, those visitors are coming throughout the year. For 25 years now, with increasing vigour, they have been pouring into the economy of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland money which equals the total revenue from offshore oil. We are talking about an investment in the economy of Great Britain greater than the revenues from offshore oil. The revenues from tourism circulate almost totally within the economy where they are generated. It is so good for the economy that I find it amazing that no speaker in this debate has promoted it, and so it has fallen to me to do that.

It has fallen to me to do that because over the past seven years I have had the pleasure of working in one statutory body—the Wales Tourist Board. I no longer have to plead the rules because I am now freed from the obligation to do so. But it was the most rewarding period of my life. For the first time I saw evidence that the rot in and the drift from the rural areas of Wales was being held. There is hard evidence that the drift from the farmlands—the lands that many noble Lords and their families before them have served with distinction—is being halted and perhaps even reversed.

We talk about services and the presence of various facilities, including schools, in the rural areas. In many places there would be no services—there would be no petrol station, there would be no cinema and there would be no road or bus service—if it were not for the fact that the tourists make it essential, and they pay the bill for it.

What I want to say in this debate is this. There are good things to be said by both sides of the House. One of the joys of this story is that both sides of the House can claim credit, because through the tourism industry there has been a continued and sustained investment of public funds essential to the development of all the things about which noble Lords have been talking. But, more importantly, the small amount of money given by the public authorities for investment in tourism has generated a ratio far higher than that in any other industry.

I am grateful to those noble Lords who have in passing mentioned tourism as being basic to the economy. I am sure that in a further debate specifically on tourism many more noble Lords will have good things to say. However, I want to say this. The leisure industry is as vital to the rural areas of Britain as the farming industry is, and it is a part of it. It is vital to conservation and preservation, and is funding them. These days it works with the grain of the community, realising that if rural tourists kill the rural areas, or if the wrong emphases take the value off the culture and the language, then we are killing not only the culture but the goose that lays the golden egg that will fund that culture in the future. I thank your Lordships for hearing me.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, was not in full voice. I hate to think what he would have done if he had been. However, he mentioned a vital area on which I was going to touch. For part of this debate, I should like to go back to originals. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was the first speaker to raise this. I am referring to the fact that the revolution in the production of food in the Western world and in certain parts of the developing world is quite astonishing. We now can grow the food we need on a very much smaller area than previously. The NFU has recognised this and the Government have recognised it. All the political parties are now producing papers on what we are going to do with the land and what we are going to do in the new situation. This new situation was quite obvious to Sub-Committee D of the EC scrutiny committee seven or eight years ago, but apparently was missed by practically everybody else in the countryside. We have come to a position where we really cannot stop the surpluses without some price disaster.

Thus here we are. We are in the farming industry. I cannot help identifying myself with it. My noble kinsman, who started this debate, and I are unmistakably of the land. We are farmers. We have to start with that. It must remain the basis of rural life because, as far as one can see ahead, there can be no environment without agriculture. Overall, without it you really cannot preserve things like some of the beautiful Cotswold villages, which today look more like museum pieces than part of rural life. They are indeed beautiful, but when you go through them they do not exactly give the picture of a thrusting, happy, live community.

The Government are now in the position of regarding agriculture as a mistress they have discarded or are discarding, or as a wife they are divorcing, and they want to keep the alimony down. I was very grateful to the Minister for drawing my attention to the discussion paper on the EC and Government grants. I note that in it they say that hedges, dry stone walls and other traditional field boundaries, heather regeneration, shelter belts—apparently everything except grubbing out hedges—will be grant-aided in the interests of the environment. I think this is right and proper. However, they also say in the consultation paper that everything paid out will have to come off something else and that no more money will be available.

I think that the need for the countryside as a live, good place is so great that the Government will have to shell out a little more than they intend. The hills and the uplands will be very hard hit because of the large expenses and the fact that the customers down the country may or may not be willing to pay so much for stock. At the present moment there is no sign of it from the sales that I have seen. I like to buy stock a little cheaper than it is going at the present. It is a difficult area. It is an area which, if one is going to keep people there, will require support.

I should now like to turn to the countryside as a holiday place, as a place for a holiday home. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, was quite right to point to the enormous income which we receive from tourism. However, I think I should point out something that he already knows; that is, that most of that money goes to London, Edinburgh and other places. Not nearly enough of it goes into the countryside. I have a good deal of experience of my old constituency, Caithness and Sutherland. A very large number of people who came there came back again and again, not only because it was a beautiful area with lovely hills and wide horizons which were attractive to people but also because they felt they could take part in the rural life. They were welcome on the crofts and on the farms. It was not a conventional holiday area, and because of that they enjoyed it much more than they would have enjoyed a holiday area.

We need to have more holiday homes in the countryside. In Norway they are of the most enormous help, because people extend them, people build them and they maintain the local population in all kinds of ways—both the schools and the local tradesmen. I am sure it would help the troubles in Wales if more planning permission were given for holiday homes in areas where there has been life before. Certainly anyone who has a holiday home in the country will know that the children want to come back and they want to live in the country. They often come to love their holiday home a great deal more than the home in which they live in the city or the suburbs. Thus I think that in that area we must look again at planning. More permission must be given for holiday homes.

Everyone is saying that we must have industry in the countryside. I know a little about this because I have taken part in the building up of industries, some successful and one or two unsuccessful (though I do not want to be reminded of them). I was for more than 20 years chairman of Caithness Glass, which has devoloped quite well in the country areas. One of the things that was against us was the simple matter of communication. Communication is vitally important. If we had not by chance had a good aerodrome at Wick we could not have operated. However, there was an aerodrome left over from wartime and that communication, although expensive, was extremely useful.

I think that a number of noble Lords have mentioned this matter. We are now in an era of communication and development which might well reverse the process of manufacture in factories in large groups. The other day I had an example through the post of British Telecom trying to sell a facility called Facts. The fact about it—and that is not meant to be a pun—is that for £2,000 you can buy a machine which will print through to all the connected machines in the countryside. In 30 seconds it will print a blueprint all over the world. That is the kind of communication which should make it possible for an individual craftsman to live in the countryside and receive orders of a highly technical nature to send back straightaway to his customers.

Again, the new revolution in communications should enable us to have on a computer, in respect of some of the services we now have, a simple punch-in facility which will give the names of the nearest craftsman, the nearest printer, or whoever it may be. Anyone in the country would be able to punch-in to find out where there was someone to carry out his requirements. We, in farming, are frequently told by the Consumers Association and other consumer bodies how terrible we are if we put up the price of food. In fact, food price increases are much more the responsibility of our highly lauded retail and wholesale systems than they are due to the basic price paid to the farmer. I am certain that home preparation of really good food to be distributed by post, if postal rates are reasonable, could enable a range of developments, which have been discussed in this House, which would enable people to add value to their basic produce.

In the development of rural industries we have to be absolutely certain that government bodies such as the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, the Highlands and Islands Development Board and others do things that are successful. The Highlands and Islands Development Board has nearly 20 years' experience. It should have a fair knowlege of what is needed to build a successful rural industry. The same is true, probably to a larger and wider degree, of the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas. This knowledge should be collated. We should be examining what exactly makes success.

My time has elapsed, but there is still some time in hand. I shall therefore steal another minute to say that the cause advocated in the debate brought forward in so timely a manner by my noble kinsman is one that cannot be done on the cheap. It will need a great deal of research. It will need a lot of support. It will not be enough for the Government to say that they simply cannot spend any more money. They will need to spend some more money. It will not be a handout. The fabric of communication, of transport and of all the services—education and everything else—in the rural areas must be maintained; otherwise, we shall never have the live, rural environment that all of us want to see.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, this debate has covered a wide area, as inevitably it had to do, having regard to the breadth of the subject matter included in the Motion. All of us are indebted, as already stated, to my noble friend Lord John-Mackie not merely for putting down the Motion but also for introducing it in the manner that he did. In our determination to find a suitable policy for rural areas, we must not forget those who live in urban areas. For them, the rural enivironment is important if only because, in so many instances, the urban environment is something to get away from. Those of us who have lived and worked in towns all our lives are disappointed that after so many years of prosperity the approach by train, for example, to many of our towns and cities can still be a depressing experience in spite of the importance of town and country planning legislation. Indeed, planning consent can sometimes be construed as a licence to do what one likes after one has got it.

The problem, as we see it, is the reconciliation of the needs of those who live and work in rural areas and those who wish to enjoy leisure in the countryside. Much of what has been stated in this afternoon's debate has indicated that although there are problems in that reconciliation, considerable progress has been made, and is being made, for which we should be grateful and which should be placed on record. I believe that farmers in general have not been too successful in the art of public relations in explaining to the community at large what they have been doing and are doing. As a result, in recent months, they have taken a fair amount of stick, much of it not particularly justified.

We are at the point of decision regarding the future of agriculture. It is important to say loud and clear that the nation should accept that the depression of farming success is unlikely to improve the rural environment. Although reference has been made to the inter-war years, those of us who remember those years know that in many instances the countryside was a fairly sorry place at that time. If farmers are successful and profitable, reasonable demands can be made upon them on environmental grounds. If they are depressed, the environment is likely to be an early and perhaps almost total casualty.

I do not believe that on a Motion of this kind we can discuss at any length the whole question without some reference to the common agricultural policy. Since we joined the European Community, the CAP—still in effect the Community itself—has been at the heart of the agricultural issue. The system of guarantee prices and of buying into intervention was not the basis on which the United Kingdom conducted its farm policy prior to our joining the Community. Yet, strangely enough, there is little apparent support in the United Kingdom at present for any return to deficiency payments or even any propaganda for a return to such payments in the negotiations taking place in Brussels, except, that is, for the variable premia for beef and sheep meat which, I am glad to say, the Minister of Agriculture obtained in Brussels and continues to ask for on an on-going annual basis.

Apart from prices, the success of the common agricultural policy for farmers has reduced the farm labour force. There has been reference in statistical terms to the effect of this in regard to the depopulation of the countryside. Another aspect, not touched upon, has been the effect of farming success and prosperity on land prices. One must also mention the effect of country planning legislation on land prices for housing and other developments even where these are permitted in the countryside. In certain parts of England, particularly the South-East, the ratio of the plot to the house has now put even a modest house well beyond the means of all but the wealthiest people. However important wealthy people are to the countryside, one cannot see a rural environment being built around fairly expensive houses, sometimes bought at considerable cost, simply because there was a house standing there virtually reconstructed and thus obviating the problems of planning consent.

In considering the future of the rural environment, we need to ask ourselves seriously whether town and country planning, and in particular country planning, needs to be eased so far as limited development in rural areas is concerned. If, however, in our consideration of the future of the CAP we follow the advice, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, from Sub-Committee D of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities, of reducing production on a five-year rolling programme, using the price mechanism as the means, we have to ask ourselves whether that policy, even if accepted, is really practicable across the board for farming.

If, as a result of such policies, small farmers are forced out of farming or their scale of farming is reduced to such an extent that it becomes uneconomic for them, driving them into the arms of the social and regional funds of the European Community—even though the amount taken from those funds may be available and may be administered nationally and sensibly—it may not prove, at the end of the day, as great a policy as we imagine, even though, on the face of it, it seems a logical and reasonable development, given the nature of the surpluses. For that reason I do not believe that we should rule out of consideration entirely the question of quotas, particularly on commodities suitable for them, even though we have had the unhappy experience of milk quotas which were, I agree, arbitrarily imposed and which have created untold difficulties for the dairy farming industry in this country. It is a measure of dairy farmers' resilience that they have coped as well as they have with something which was sprung upon them in a manner which I do not think was at all appropriate and which clearly shows that Brussels still does not understand the cyclical nature of farming and the long-term planning which necessarily goes into it.

Lower prices could have the paradoxical effect of stimulating output, particularly by those larger farmers who are in a position to stimulate output. For that reason, too, I do not think that we should—out of hand at least—reject the quota concept.

To turn to the idea of low input, which has been advocated, particularly by environmentalists, if that means low output there is no price relief in prospect for consumers as a result of such policies. Although my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, not unexpectedly accused wholesalers and retailers of making inordinate profits at the expense of the farmer, it is a fact that in the present economic climate no one would wish to see food prices arbitrarily increased to consumers, particularly those who are unemployed or low paid.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I did not accuse the wholesalers and retailers of making inordinate profits; I accused them of having inordinate costs.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, I am grateful for that explanation, and I can assure the noble Lord that what he said has been taken down and may be used in evidence against him in another place. Therefore, I think that the review of the common agricultural policy, which is now in prospect and which Sub-Committee D has in hand as part of the decisions taken in relation to this year's Price Review, which has not yet been completed, is a considerably important review and one which I hope in due course will come before your Lordships' House. If it does so, I hope—indeed I know—that it will be debated seriously because of the importance of the document.

I have said that in my opinion if there is to be a reduction in farming as an activity, I should prefer the easement to take place by way of planning consents to allow limited housing and other development in rural areas. To some extent this may solve the problem of depopulation and indeed ease the problem of compensation for farmers who are obliged, as a result of changes in the common agricultural policy, to reduce production. In this connection I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will have serious discussions with his colleagues at the Department of the Environment about the whole question of country planning regulations.

Reference has been made to the problems of living in the countryside, and particularly to school closures. I endorse all that was said by my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek on that subject. The rural school is not merely a place for innovation; in many instances it is also at the centre of village life, particularly where it serves in lieu of the village hall or as well as the village hall. The bus services are of vital importance to rural areas. Although we must not anticipate pain to come, it is a fact that a Bill is proceeding through another place, and I understand that there is serious concern about the impact on bus services of the measures proposed in that Bill.

There is the question of shop closures, which undoubtedly has been aggravated by the development of supermarkets in rural areas and on edge-of-town sites. There is the loss of the sub-post offices. I always think it is a great shame that the community which should be served by sub-post offices is losing them simply because those who control their destiny are laying down targets for them which can be met only by reducing their number and by doing so at a time of considerable unemployment; whereas in point of fact, apart from the convenience for users, the employment opportunities which post office work offers are being lost quite arbitrarily.

Then there are the petrol stations where the oil companies, in pursuit of through-put, are drastically reducing their number in countryside areas. The same goes for tied houses and public houses owned by the breweries where through-put is considered vital to their profitable operation.

In conclusion, I have one suggestion to make in this regard. To some extent community co-operatives might be seriously considered by the Minister of Agriculture as a possible way in which to encourage the vitality of community life in rural areas. This suggestion has the added merit, which I am sure will appeal to the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply to the discussion, that it does not call upon the Government to expend any money whatever, but merely calls upon them to make better use of the facilities which are already available.

I would envisage community co-operatives using the excellent model rules which have recently been produced for community co-operatives by the Cooperative Development Agency. Having obtained the model rules, that body should bring them into effect and breathe life into them by way of experimental developments in selected areas. Here I would suggest that the co-operative development division of the Food from Britain Organisation, formerly the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Cooperation, has a vast range of experience in setting up co-operative societies—admittedly mainly marketing societies, large and small—over a wide range of functions. It understands co-operative societies intimately, and I feel certain that, given the resources that it already has which are provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, in suitable areas it could try the experiment. The great thing about a successful cooperative is that its success can be imitated in other areas. In this way I can see a bus service, a village shop, a village post office, a village petrol station and perhaps even a village pub all being part and parcel of a single community co-operative exercise, which may lead to considerable vitality so far as the regeneration of rural life is concerned.

We have had an excellent discussion. We are obliged to my noble friend Lord John-Mackie for introducing the debate and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to it.

7.26 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for giving us the opportunity to debate the important and wide-ranging subject of rural policy. At the beginning of his speech my noble friend Lord Onslow made the point that the problem of surpluses is the problem of success. I do not think it is altogether surprising that people point out these days that the surpluses, which we all know exist in so many commodities, and the high cost of the common agricultural policy are evidence that the policy needs to be changed.

The Government have been arguing for a reduction in the cost of this common agricultural policy for some years. However, let us not overlook the achievements of European agriculture, and British agriculture in particular. We no longer have to worry about shortages of food; that is not true in many parts of the world today. Our balance of payments has benefited enormously from our greater degree of self-sufficiency; that has not always been the case. The cost of food to consumers has actually fallen by about 5 per cent. in real terms over the last 10 years. All this has been achieved with reduced farm-gate prices, which have gone down by about 25 per cent. in real terms in the last decade.

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, who has just dealt very interestingly with a whole variety of points, said that farmers have perhaps been too silent about what they have achieved. What I have just referred to are major achievements of British agriculture, but at the same time the Government are working for changes which we believe are desirable for the industry and for the rural economy in general.

Recently agriculture ministers of the Community agreed a new structures regulation which will form the basis of our capital grant arrangements for several years to come. Some of your Lordships have mentioned the consultation document which the Ministry of Agriculture sent out last week to a very wide range of interested organisations. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the consultations on that document, but I can say that we have clearly stated in it that the support measures for farm improvement should be implemented in ways which will maintain the rural economy, especially in the uplands, and which are sympathetic to the environment. The attainment of these objectives will, I believe, be helped in forthcoming years because small farmers, under the new structures regulation, will benefit in particular from the less restrictive eligibility conditions of the new arrangements which have been worked out in Europe.

An essential feature of any rural policy is support for the hills. Since 1975 in this country we have operated Community measures directed at ensuring the continuation of agriculture in the less favoured areas. I believe that the LFA grants have been highly successful in ensuring the continuation of many businesses in the areas designated in the United Kingdom as being less favoured.

Then, of course, last year my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture achieved a notable success in securing agreement to a large extension of our less favoured areas. This was something that my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt mentioned. In expressing my thanks to my noble friend for what he said I should like to make the point that of course a significant differential so far as capital grants are concerned exists between the less favoured areas and the lowlands, and I should like to assure him and my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood that we intend to retain the valuable system of hill livestock compensatory allowances for the hills. If I may say so, I can think of no better way of demonstrating our determination to protect the future of remote rural areas.

We have also announced our intention to provide grants for farm tourism and craft industries in the less favoured areas. I agree with those of your Lordships who have said in this debate that there is obviously potential still for farmers to diversify their businesses. I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Sandford that the Ministry of Agriculture's advisory service, ADAS, will of course be available to advise on this. Indeed, the report which was presented last September by the Director of ADAS specifically recommended that so far as conservation and socio-economic advice are concerned, within available resources additional emphasis should be devoted to those subjects within the advisory services, and in broad terms my right honourable friend accepted that recommendation.

In working away at this I am most anxious to make the point that we realise in the Ministry of Agriculture that we need to keep in close contact with the tourist boards (and how much I enjoyed the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, made, on that particular subject!) and we need to keep in close touch with the Development Commission and CoSIRA. May I, on a general point at this stage, say that I think it is right to recognise that the Development Commission is giving priority assistance through its rural development areas policy to most of the uplands area, and that the Manpower Services Commission has committed £2¼million to upland areas through the Community programme since that programme was started in October 1982.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend before he moves on, as I think we have time? That, of course, is welcome news, but my noble friend would have to agree, would he not, that the power to assist in these ways has been in the directive for the last ten years? It would have been much more helpful if the Ministry of Agriculture had made use of it a good many years earlier than this.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, would the noble Lord comment at the same time on the value of the assistance to the hill ewe and the hill cow? Has the value in real terms not gone down greatly in the last ten years?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, these are two separate points. May I first answer my noble friend Lord Sandford? The reason why the Ministry of Agriculture did not make use of the article in the European structures directive over the last five to ten years—

Lord Sandford

Ten years.

Lord Belstead

—ten years so far as farm tourism and craft industries are concerned—is that it had to be part of an improvement plan, and it was not as easy as it is going to be now to get an improvement plan if you were a farmer. The other important point is that the maximum investment which could be aided was £9,000 and the maximum investment which can be aided now is £25,000. A third point, which is persuasive and to which I think I am right in remembering the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment drew attention, is that the English Tourist Authority, having given grants for this form of diversification so far as farms are concerned, have withdrawn that particular form of grant aid, and we therefore think that this is the right moment to embark on giving those forms of grant.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, asked me about the help under hill livestock compensatory allowances for both cattle and sheep. The noble Lord asked me whether the help had not gone down in real terms. May I say two things so far as this is concerned? It is the case that we look annually—all Governments do—at the hill livestock compensatory allowances to see whether there is a need for them to be increased. Sometimes the HLCAs are increased and sometimes they are not. This coming autumn will be the time for yet another review.

As to whether or not the value of the allowances has kept pace with inflation, that is a matter for argument, and I do not have the detailed figures with me here. But this I would say: there is absolutely no question at all, borne out by the statistics, that if it was not for the LFA policy, which both the previous Government and the present Government have been putting into effect, there are many businesses in the hills which would have been in danger of going out of business. I should like to repeat the assurance that I gave just now to my noble friend Lady Elliot that it is the firm intention of my right honourable friend, particularly since he has managed to extend the LFA concept to extra areas, to maintain these grants in the future.

May I go on to a completely separate point? There is no better demonstration of the Government's readiness to strive for rural harmony than the new structures directive itself, and the environmental measures which my right honourable friend secured within that new directive. The provision I refer to is the one which will allow the Minister of Agriculture to designate environmentally sensitive areas and then to make payments to encourage farming practices which are sympathetic to the environment. The Government will be consulting widely before drawing up proposals for implementation. It is then hoped to seek enabling powers from Parliament at an early opportunity.

Meanwhile, however, a new experimental scheme has already been launched, using powers available to the Countryside Commission, to help safeguard the unique landscape of the Broads grazing marshes, and this scheme is being funded jointly by the Countryside Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me here? We have under Article 21 something saying "heather regeneration". With heather regeneration in the hills and the uplands, this, presumably, apart from benefiting my noble friend Lord Swinton's grouse, is going to make sure that there is going to be rather less sheep. Is there not going to be a clash between the headage payment system and the grants for heather regeneration? How is that clash going to be sorted out?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that there is any clash there, but we must wait to see what the consultation period on the document brings forward by way of views which are given. My noble friend has given his views. Perhaps I may have a look at the Hansard report and see whether I ought to perhaps add something and write to my noble friend on this point.

Like agriculture, forestry is a major land user with over 2 million hectares in productive use. 'We have had a lot of expert advice on this today. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, himself is of course a former chairman of the commission, and my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt a serving commissioner at the present time. I think probably your Lordships would agree that in Europe we are, comparatively, a poorly afforested country. Government policy is therefore that forestry should continue to expand to provide employment and timber, and that it should remain a prime example of a mixed economy; and an increasing share of expansion, though by no means all, should be undertaken by the private sector with the help of grants from the Forestry Commission.

My noble friend Lord Radnor specifically asked me again about the way grants have moved compared with the rate of inflation. If my noble friend will forgive me, I will say simply that forestry grants are being reviewed at the present time.

My noble friend went on in his speech to make the point that he felt that the commission had been what he called a weak seller in the market. I am very anxious here to make the point that the market is recovering, I believe, and recovering fast from the mill closures and the setbacks that there were in 1980. There is little surplus timber about and exports are dropping off as the home market improves. There are some local problems, but the overall picture is an encouraging one. The Government are exceedingly pleased that it is encouraging, because both the commission and the private growers are contributing to the timber market.

Perhaps I may now turn to the subject which really all your Lordships have spoken about in a most interesting way; that is, the question of industry diversification, because of course this Motion of the noble Lord's draws attention to the needs of industry in rural areas. If I may say so, I think that there is very little need for me to add to my noble friend Lord Vinson's eloquent exposition of the Development Commission's work, except to acknowledge the valuable contribution it has made in maintaining the vitality of rural areas. The point I should like to reiterate is that the commission deals not only with economic issues but also with the social problems facing rural areas, such as housing, services and transport, about which so many of your Lordships spoke eloquently, including the noble Lords, Lord John-Mackie, Lord Walston, my noble friend Lord Onslow, the noble Viscount, Lord Hampden, who told us a rather sorry story about some of his exploits in this particular field, and my noble friend Lord Sandford.

There is just one thing I should like to say about this in passing. I say no more about it because I felt that as chairman of the Development Commission my noble friend Lord Vinson perhaps said as much as should be said at the present time. I know he was exceedingly sorry that he was not able to stay until the end of the debate today. My noble friend drew attention to the high costs that exist so far as rural transport is concerned. Some of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, mentioned the fact that the Government Transport Bill will be coming to your Lordships' House soon. There is one point I should like to make on this—and no doubt we shall be pursuing it at very considerable length in the coming months. It is that it is my hope and belief on behalf of the Government that the Transport Bill, so far as bus services in rural areas are concerned, will lower fares by increasing competition. This is something to which we can return, and I am sure will return, at some length.

I come to environmental matters. There is great interest in this. Scarcely a week passes without media comment on the dangers, real or imaginary, to the countryside. I think this concern is healthy, but I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, in deprecating the tendency to play up the idea of conflict, to portray the countryside as being a sort of battleground between conservation and agriculture—though the noble Lord did not put it in quite those dramatic terms—and to suggest that crisis measures are needed. Of course, we have to take care, and we have to take very seriously any criticisms, but I genuinely believe that the Government's record has been a good one. I also believe that the contribution of farmers to conservation should not be understated. In turn, the Government have a duty to ensure that their countryside policies strike the right balance. I very strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that a prosperous agriculture is necessary for the right environmental policies.

In recent months there has been a series of significant developments in our policies to try to get that balance absolutely right. Last September the report on ADAS by the Director General recommended that within available resources increased priority should be given to advisory effort on conservation, and, as I have said, in broad terms my right honourable friend accepted that recommendation. In December changes to the Ministry's farm capital grant schemes were announced, which built on earlier ones in tilting the emphasis of the schemes further in favour of environmentally sympathetic agricultural operations. As I have said, we have just issued the consultation paper inviting comments on new farm capital grant arrangements which give some additional emphasis to grants for environmental purposes.

Finally, last month we initiated from the Ministry of Agriculture a survey of environmental topics on farms. There is a serious intent here. I very much hope that this survey will provide both reliable and up-to-date information on what changes are actually taking place in the countryside, and indeed a comprehensive view of farmers' attitudes towards conservation, because armed with this information we will be in a better position to pursue balanced and effective countryside policies in the future.

Perhaps in the time available I may quickly answer one or two questions. My noble friend Lord Radnor asked about Government policy on fish farming. Fish farming is currently grant-aided under the AHDS—the European Community Schemes only. A decision on grant eligibility in future will depend partly on the outcome of results of consultation on the policy document which we have been talking about today.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, will my noble friend give way for a moment? The question I really asked was whether the Government contemplated any future legislation on fish farms polluting rivers, or extraction of water from rivers in relation, obviously, to the growth of fish farms over the country, and employment and so on. It was not on the grant question.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am sorry, but on that particular subject I have no news for my noble friend today. I know it is an important subject, but I have no statement that I can make today on behalf of the Government on that particular issue.

My noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt put a point which I have heard on not a few occasions when visiting parts of the uplands concerning the necessity to mend walls as well as to build them. I have to say to my noble friend that under the terms of the Community regulation on grants we are not permitted to pay on maintenance, but we do already pay grants for reconditioning or restoring stone walls as well as building new ones. If my noble friend would like to discern the difference between those two, perhaps he will use his customary acumen in finding where the right answer exactly lies. The fact of the matter is that if you can get the grants, the existing rates are 60 per cent. in the LFAs and 30 per cent. in the lowlands.

My noble friend Lord Sandford particularly mentioned the questions of prior notification and the landscape area special development order. My noble friend said that the Association of District Councils was making the case that prior notification should be extended to areas of outstanding natural beauty. I believe that the prior notification arrangements for national parks really have worked well. There have been very few applications for grant in the national parks using the prior notification arrangements which in fact have been disagreed. What we have to consider with care is whether an extension of these arrangements is really necessary and would be cost effective and make the best use of available resources. What the arrangements do is to make a demand on manpower. But what is certain is that we are intending, because we have gone out to consultation on it, to extend the landscape area special development order concept to all national parks.

The Countryside Commission's report on the uplands drew attention to the need for new measures to help safeguard national park landscapes and we believe that LASDO provides a flexible and effective mechanism for achieving this without imposing upon farmers and foresters the full burden of the planning machine. As my noble friend knows, it will enable the national parks authorities to influence the siting and design of farms and forest roads and buildings in those parts of the parks where they consider it appropriate, but it will be limited by the need to avoid substantially detracting from the GDO permission to develop. The authorities will also be able, if they choose, to offer compensation in appropriate circumstances for additional expenditure incurred in meeting any conditions they require.

I recall that my noble friend Lord Onslow called for a White Paper. Clearly agriculture is now going through a period of change. The House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment recommended a White Paper and the Government expect to reply to the Select Committee's report in the near future. But if I cannot say any more about this today, I shall express the hope that your Lordships feel that I have endeavoured, in response to the call from my noble friend, to set out the Government's policies for the countryside as a whole.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, it is left to me to wind up. I could comment on many things, but I think that is completely unnecessary. What has delighted me about this debate is that it has been conducted in what I might call an atmosphere of consensus from all sides. I simply want to thank all noble Lords who have taken part for their contributions and to thank the Minister for his. I hope that he will be able to carry out not the promises but the statements he has made, and with that I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.