HL Deb 12 June 1986 vol 476 cc417-47

5.8 p.m.

House again in Committee, on Clause 1.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 11, after ("countryside;") insert—

("( ) the promotion of public enjoyment of the countryside;")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 4. I think it would be convenient to take with this amendment, Amendment No. 77, which has the same effect as regards Scotland as would Amendment No. 4 for England and Wales. I hope that we can take this and the next two lots of amendments in my name rather more speedily than was the case with Amendment No. 3. As noble Lords will know, Clause 12 gives the Minister of Agriculture a new and, I must say for my part, very welcome duty to have regard to the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public and to endeavour to achieve a reasonable balance between that and a number of other considerations—the promotion of a healthy agricultural industry, conservation and so on.

As I say, that is very welcome and I have no complaints about the range of new duties which Clause 12 will introduce. But I am concerned that the same recognition of the importance of promoting public enjoyment of the countryside has not been carried into Clause 1 of the Bill. It seems to me that, however we draw the line and whether there is a duty or a power, and so on, the Ministry's advisory service will be one of the principal means through which it implements the new duties that are placed on the Minister by Clause 12. It therefore seems to me important that in Clause 1, when we look at the remit of the advisory service, it should be at least as wide as the new duties placed on the Minister by Clause 12. That is what this amendment and Amendment No. 77 would do. They would include in Clause 1 (though it is not included at the moment) the promotion of the public enjoyment of the countryside. It seems to me that unless I have misunderstood Clause 1, at the moment the way it is drafted would mean that, for example, if ADAS was visiting a farm to advise on conservation and the amenity of the farm, it would be outside its statutory remit to provide some literature about increasing access on that farm and providing facilities for people wishing to enjoy the countryside, such as picnic sites and so on.

I am sure that is not the intention and that ADAS will want to be involved in that field as it is becoming involved in the giving of conservation advice. This amendment would ensure that that was a possibility. Whether it actually did it of course would be up to the Minister, because it would be a discretionary power. I beg to move.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I wish to support this amendment. I believe that the enjoyment of the countryside will become of greater importance as the years go by. I think this whole question of land use and the rights of the public to have access to the countryside will become a major social and political issue. Surely before very long the present madness of growing to excess cereal crops that apparently are going to benefit nobody but the Russians will have to come to an end. The question of land use will arise when cereal growing has ceased to be the prevailing economic lunacy. Then the time will come when either we have alternative crops or we find alternative uses for our land.

When you come to think of it, it is rather disgraceful, however angry we may feel about the hippy convoy, that we have to push people from place to place because there is no land upon which they can go temporarily, even to follow the mode of life they feel they want to follow. We are horrible to the gypsies; we are beastly to the hippy convoy. We think that everyone should live in houses, but we do not make it our business to see that they are there to live in. We are really a quite ridiculous people when it comes to matters of this kind.

So far as the use of land is concerned there ought to be a wider recreational use of the land by people. Every beauty spot is overcrowded; motorcars go into open gates; litter is left all over the countryside. There is nowhere to go. Notices say that trespassers will be prosecuted and you must not go on to the land. Footpaths are obscured and wheat crops are grown so that you do not know where the paths are. Urban dwellers have a respect for the land and they do not like wandering through growing crops even to reestablish their right to a footpath.

We must now recognise that the enjoyment of the countryside by the people—a growing population—including those who want more recreational opportunities and more relaxation from the pressures of life is going to be of much greater value than large parts of the National Health Service, which is not a health service but a sickness service. I believe the health of the country is going to lie in wider, fresh opportunities to regard the land as our own, and if it is not used for vital food production, it should be turned over to those of us who can enjoy it much better than we now have the opportunity to do.

Lord Craigton

I rise to support this amendment because I think that without expert advice the enjoyment of the countryside can do more harm than good. The farmer has to have some expert advice on how people should enjoy it and where they should go. Left to himself, he might do more damage conservationwise than with the advice of ADAS. For that reason I support the amendment.

The Earl of Onslow

I should like to support the amendment for two reasons. First, Clause 12 refers to the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public, and surely ADAS should be used to support that. Secondly, it is infinitely better that people should have access, and it is, after all, everybody's countryside. Even though I own some land, I am quite happy for people to enjoy my little bit. But I should like other people who live in the crowded south-east of England where I live to enjoy it responsibly and to keep to public footpaths. I want to get advice because there is room for all people to enjoy the land. As amended—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will appreciate this—I think the provision means that as fox hunting folk we can ask for advice on covers and how to make hunt ditches. I am sure beyond peradventure that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would love that.

Lord Walston

All I wish to do from these Benches is to give our support and my personal support to this amendment. The principle, as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has pointed out, is established in Clause 12(1)(d), and when we come to that it will be worthy of complete support. This amendment does no more than make it easier for farmers to fulfil one of the objectives of the occupation or ownershiup of agricultural land.

5.15 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

We certainly support my noble friend's amendment, but I hope he does not wish ADAS to be chivvying people into the countryside and forcing them to enjoy it. It rather gives me that impression; nevertheless we support it.

When I first came to this Chamber I was not very sure of the procedure and I followed the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on something. I criticised what he had said and that brought him to his feet again and he spoke for another 10 to 15 minutes when we were rather wanting to get away home. So I got up and was going to apologise for doing that, but I was shouted down because I was not supposed to speak a second time. I am rather tempted to say something about what the noble Lord said in regard to wheat growers when he turned to the economic side of farming. However, I think I had better refrain at the moment. There will be an opportunity at a later stage of the Bill.

Lord Belstead

This is an interesting amendment, and once again it has received much support. It is unusual in such circumstances for a Minister to turn down an invitation to extend the Government's powers, but I am going to make a case for doing so. I would remind your Lordships that Clause 1 of the Bill already provides powers for advice to be given to any person on a very wide range of issues, including those relating to the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside and any other agricultural activity or enterprise of benefit to the rural economy. As the noble Lord, Lord Walston, quite rightly said, the requirements of Clause 12 to have regard to and endeavour to balance all the considerations set out in that clause, including the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public, apply as much to ADAS as they do to other statutory activities and, I contend, would adequately meet the concerns which have been expressed.

I am saying this because I think a difficulty would arise if this amendment were to be accepted, to the extent that the powers it would give would impinge on the responsibilities of existing statutory and other bodies with interests in this area. I am glad to say that ADAS enjoys good working relations with such bodies as the Countryside Commission, the Development Commission and so on. And of course there are voluntary bodies doing an excellent job. I am simply saying that I do not think it would be a good idea if it were to appear that the statutory remit of ADAS was being constantly and specifically extended when other agencies already have a statutory responsibility.

The Committee may ask: what am I getting at? I am getting at the fact that the Countryside Commission is after all under a statutory remit under the Countryside Act 1968 to encourage the provision and improvement, for persons resorting to the countryside, of facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside and of open air recreation in the countryside. Excellent though working relations are with the Countryside Commission and ADAS, I am not entirely sure that the commission would welcome with open arms the news that quite suddenly an exactly parallel statutory responsibility had been laid on the Ministry of Agriculture. The Countryside Commission could quite reasonably pick up the telephone and say to my right honourable friend, "It is all very well. We thought we worked well with you. Are you now trying to take a statutory responsibility from us?"

Not very long ago—about six months or more ago—the Countryside Commission produced an absolutely excellent pamphlet on access to the countryside. It was launched by the chairman, Sir Derek Barber, at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' headquarters. On that occasion I was privileged to be there representing the Ministry of Agriculture and my right honourable friend Mr. Waldegrave was there representing the Department of the Environment.

I thought when I attended that launch that this surely was exactly the way that we ought to go about things in this country, with that now highly respected statutory agency—the Countryside Commission—taking the lead in this particular matter (access to the countryside) and the two government departments there and represented in order to show that we were all working together. I seriously say that if the amendment were to be put into statute the Countryside Commission would ask some direct questions as to what it was the Ministry of Agriculture wanted to do in statute. In practice, we are determined to work as closely as we possibly can with the Countryside Commission and with the Nature Conservancy Council, but we are not trying to take over their statutory functions.

Baroness White

For once I want to help the Minister. One could perhaps add the national park authorities because they have certain duties in this direction. I know that they work with ADAS at present, but whether ADAS should be given a specific remit is at least open to discussion.

Earl Peel

I should like to support what was said by my noble friend on the Front Bench. The position at the moment is such that the Countryside Commission has this responsibility, and to try to bring it on to the Ministry of Agriculture at this stage would be misleading.

I should like to pick up something said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. He described as ridiculous—and think I am quoting correctly—people who are nasty to hippies. I can only assume therefore that if this amendment were to be accepted by the Committee he would expect the Ministry of Agriculture to take the side of the hippies against the farmer in incidents such as the unfortunate one that took place the other day.

Lord Melchett

So that we do not repeat earlier experiences, it may be helpful if we stick to the amendment. That is what I should like to do. I am delighted, incidentally, that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, enjoyed so much as he did the Countryside Commission's launch of its access charter with Mr. Waldegrave and Sir Derek Barber. I am not sure whether he was aware that the access charter was produced by the Countryside Commission as a result of an amendment made to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act through the Wildlife and Countryside Act in your Lordships' Chamber, an amendment which I moved against the Government's wishes and had placed in the Bill. I am delighted that the outcome has been to give the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, a good party at the Countryside Commission's expense.

Unless I misunderstood it, I am not at all happy with what the noble Lord said in reply to the amendment. First, he said that if the amendment went into the Bill ADAS would have powers which overlap with those of the Countryside Commission. Clause 1 already gives it powers which mean that the remit of ADAS overlaps with those of a number of other statutory bodies. It overlaps with the Development Commission and CoSIRA under subsection (1)(c); it overlaps with the Nature Conservancy Council, another statutory body, under subsection (1)(b), because ADAS has a remit for conservation. It overlaps with the Countryside Commission already in subsection 1(b) because one of its primary statutory functions is to safeguard the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. If I may say so to the noble Lord, that is no answer at all.

Clause 1 already has ADAS overlapping with all sorts of other statutory bodies. Indeed, as I understand it, that is what all of us want to see. We want to see ADAS being able to give advice to farmers about a wide range of matters simply because the number of times a member of staff from the Countryside Commission, of whom there are very few indeed, turns up at a farm and starts talking to a farmer and where in the course of conversation some issue comes up and advice can be given is perhaps once in a thousand years on the average farm and may be less frequently than that, whereas ADAS is there more regularly.

That is why ADAS—as we have all been arguing (and the Government now accept it)—should have a remit for giving advice on conservation, on natural beauty and on amenity. If it is right for ADAS to have a remit to give advice on all those matters because its people are in regular contact with farmers, why is it suddenly wrong for ADAS to have a remit to give advice on access? With respect to the noble Lord, it cannot be on the grounds that he mainly advanced, that this would mean an overlap with the Countryside Commission.

This amendment has been on a little longer than some, but the noble Lord may not have had a chance to consult the Countryside Commission formally. My understanding was that the commission would not have any serious reservations about the amendment. The noble Lord has much faster and more efficient communication with the commission than I have. I wonder whether he has managed to ask the commission its view, and if he has not whether he will consider, if I withdraw the amendment, doing so between now and Report stage.

Secondly, the noble Lord said that the new duty on the Ministry of Agriculture in Clause 12, which includes the words in my amendment, would be sufficient statutory cover to allow ADAS to do what my amendment says it should do. I am not sure whether or not that is right. But if I have understood the noble Lord correctly, what he nearly said (and what I frankly expected him to say) is that my amendment is unncecessary. Clause 12 will give the statutory power for ADAS to give advice along the lines I am suggesting in my amendment. I want to ask the noble Lord whether I have understood that correctly.

For example, if a farmer has an area of high wildlife interest—a farmer, let us say, farming in an ESA and receiving money from the Government to maintain the environment, the wildlife interest, of his land—and he wants to talk to ADAS about allowing more visitors on to that land—about whether it would be sensible; about how he would do it; about what times of year to encourage visitors and what times of year to discourage them because of the wild flowers on the site—would ADAS be able to give advice on those issues under the Bill as it stands? That is the kind of question in my mind.

Lord Belstead

The noble Lord asked me whether I have consulted with the Countryside Commission. No, I have not—though I should be very pleased to do so. It is true that there is overlap between Ministry functions in Clause 1(1) and other statutory functions, but this would be an absolutely direct duplication of another statutory function. It would be very questionable whether that would be desirable—whether it is desirable from a statutory point of view and whether it is desirable as a matter of practice in our public life to lay duplicating duties on two bodies or more than two bodies.

The noble Lord asked me a final question about Clause 12. We must wait until we get to Clause 12, a clause which has been widely welcomed. Indeed, the noble Lord himself has welcomed it on other occasions. I simply said in my original remarks that the requirements of Clause 12 to have regard to an endeavour to balance all the considerations set out in that clause including, the promotion of the enjoyment of the countryside by the public apply as much to the advisory service as they do to other Ministry activities.

As we have tried to make clear, we have been putting into statutory form in Clause 12 what we believe the Ministry has been trying to do now for quite a few years. I do not think that at this stage, before we get to Clause 12, I would want to go further than that. I certainly do not want to get into the particular example that the noble Lord put to me.

The Earl of Onslow

I am sorry. When my noble friend first spoke I was totally satisfied with his answer. But now he says that ADAS should not have a statutory duty because it overlaps with the Countryside Commission and that would be a bad idea. He then says, "But actually it does have one anyway in Clause 12 but I do not want to discuss it yet". I am sorry. I am in a terrible muddle as to what he actually means.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Melchett

I was going to make precisely the same point. The Government themselves have laid this power on the Minister. They have taken to the Minister of Agriculture the Countryside Commission's remit. To say that it is all right to take it to the Minister of Agriculture, who has to balance these matters, but that it is not all right to take it to ADAS—and one should remember that it is a powers and not a duty on ADAS, that can be exercised if they want to exercise it—is something that I find impossible to follow. It is made even more difficult by the point that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has raised, when he said that one cannot do that for ADAS because that will overlap with the Countryside Commission, but one should not worry because Clause 12 does it anyway. Those two statements are not logically consistent.

I appreciate the noble Lord's anxiety to move on to Clause 12, but we are dealing in Clause 1 with the remit of ADAS. When we are dealing with the remit of ADAS, the Minister should either answer now, or say that he will let me know, whether its remit includes giving advice in the kind of circumstances I have mentioned and in the circumstances spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, when he spoke in support of the amendment.

If a matter concerning public access arises and an ADAS adviser is giving advice on conservation or diversification, for example, then will ADAS be statutorily empowered to do that because of Clause 12, or will it need of more specific remit in Clause 1? That is the question.

Lord Belstead

Clause 12, as its sidenote says, deals with a duty to balance interests in the exercise of the Ministry's agricultural functions. I believe that the four ways in which that ought to be done, which include the promotion and enjoyment of the countryside by the public, are right. However, Clause 1, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, says is different. It concerns a direct power inviting the Ministry to give advice which, in this particular amendment, would relate to the promotion of public enjoyment of the countryside. That would mean such things as drafting and giving out pamphlets and literature on public access. I am clear in my own mind that if we do that, then it would be a direct duplication of the duty that is laid on the Countryside Commission by the Countryside Act 1968. I do not believe that would be right.

I believe that it is right that the Ministry of Agriculture should at all times work in very close collaboration with the statutory agencies—that is to say, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council—which are charged by statute to give particular advice to the Government, and also with the voluntary agencies. I do not believe, however, that the proposed amendment would be right, for the reasons that I have tried to deploy.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, exactly what he means. I am all for promoting enjoyment of the countryside, but I would have thought that the advice I would get would be where to site car parks when people come to look at the daffodils that I have planted by the roadside through my farm. But they would not, I imagine, give me advice as to how I should advertise that the daffodils were there. That would be someody else's duty. The advice that ADAS would give would be how to site the car parks or how to point visitors to the high chairs to see the deer that we have about us.

Lord Melchett

I agree with the noble Lord; that is the kind of advice I should like to see ADAS being able to give. The Government's point of view, as I understand it, is that ADAS should not do so because it might upset the Countryside Commission. My information is that the Countryside Commission would welcome the amendment I have tabled, which is in sharp contrast to what has been said by the Minister. I do not have the Commission's view in writing—it is simply an informal view. So that we do not prolong the debate, I suggest that the noble Lord should agree to consult the Countryside Commission between now and the next stage of the Bill, and have a discussion about it. Naturally, I shall try to get something definite from the commission itself. If it would welcome such a power, and if the Minister and myself could both obtain its view, then we could return at Report stage with more informed advice from the statutory body whose remit, as the Minister has said, this is. If the noble Lord is prepared to agree to doing that. I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Belstead

I do not want to appear unhelpful or taciturn, but I am not going to have other people making statue law for the Government. I do not believe that the amendment is right, and I have given my reasons. I am delighted to talk to anybody but I do not think that further discussion would make the Government change their mind on this point.

Lord Melchett

In that case, it would have short-circuited matters a little if the Minister had said so in the first place, rather than base his whole argument on what he suggested would be the view of the Countryside Commission, which is what he spent several minutes telling the Committee. Nevertheless, even if the Minister will not speak to the commission between now and Report stage, I shall do so. That will at least remove what the Minister said was his main argument against the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 4, at end insert—

("( ) the giving of information or advice, or the performance of any service required to prevent the pollution of any body of fresh water or ground water.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 15. The amendment would ensure that in giving information or advice to farmers on the steps that they should take to avoid polluting fresh water or ground water, ADAS will give advice free of charge. This is simply a probing amendment and I hope that on this occasion the noble Lord will at least be able to reassure me that it is not needed.

I put down this amendment because the Water Authorities Association suggested that water authorities are particularly concerned about the changes that are being made in the remit of ADAS, and are worried, in their position as the statutory bodies responsible for pollution control, that any advice ADAS may give about measures to avoid pollution of water should remain outside the charging scheme and should be given free of charge. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The giving of information and advice is already covered by paragraph (a), and it is clear from subsection (1) that such advice may cover any matters relating to conservation. With respect to the noble Lord, I do not see therefore that the proposed new paragraph would add anything significant, and I do not believe that it would be helpful or necessary to single out one particular aspect of conservation in that way. It might create the impression that water pollution ought to receive some special degree of priority over all other environmental matters.

I recognise that water pollution is enormously important, and we have put a lot of effort into trying to prevent pollution, so far as the Ministry of Agriculture is concerned—and the noble Lord is good enough to be nodding his head. An advisory leaflet was issued last year which I believe has been very widely read. However, other environmental issues also are important. The list of matters in subsection (2) is only intended to illustrate the kind of broad areas in which ADAS is likely to be operating. We could create all kinds of distinctions and impressions if we started adding in detailed subjects and leaving others out.

The amendment seeks to establish whether pollution advice is covered by general undertakings that the Government have given on charges for conservation advice. Although the noble Lord did not get into that area, maybe it is part and parcel of the amendment. I hope that the general guidelines that I tried to explain when speaking to the very first amendment that the noble Lord moved about conservation show that the Government's intentions to keep environmental advice free of charge would apply to pollution advice, including advice concerning water pollution. Although it is a subject on which the noble Lord and I are not in agreement at the present time, I hope that shows that the Government, for their part, intend that my right honourable friend's undertaking of 7th November last about free advice for conservation matters will extend to pollution advice.

Lord Melchett

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am sure the Water Authorities Association, which apparently has not previously received such a clear assurance on the matter, will be encouraged. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 4, at end insert— ("( ) the undertaking of research and development of organic agriculture; ( ) the supply to any person of any services or goods relating to the production and marketing of organic agricultural produce and other organic food.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is also a probing amendment which I do not intend to press. It is tabled merely to give me an opportunity to ask the noble Lord what are the Government's intentions in giving advice and undertaking research on organic agriculture.

My reason for singling out this aspect of farming in particular and asking the noble Lord whether the Government are going to take the subject seriously, do some research and give advice, is because I think it is fair to say that there is widespread concern at the moment that organic agriculture has been given the cold shoulder by the noble Lord's department. For example, in an editorial in March this year the Farmers Weekly noted that farmers were being encouraged by everyone, including the noble Lord and his ministerial colleagues, to diversify and take notice of the market place. However, the editorial noted that the Ministry apparently did not apply this creed to their own research and advisory services and that the Ministry had suppressed a report on organic agriculture.

In fact, my understanding is that two senior members of staff in the Ministry of Agriculture went to West Germany and Holland and in a report made a number of recommendations on organic farming to the Ministry. According to the Farmers Weekly that report has been ignored—indeed, suppressed. The report apparently states that in both Holland and West Germany investment in organic research was seen by the governments concerned as money well spent. Organic methods in both countries were attracting an increasing number of farmers and growers. Indeed, I understand that there are about 3,000 farms in West Germany which are fully organic compared with probably a thousand or so organic farmers and growers, many on a small scale, in the United Kingdom. The ADAS report, which I understand the Ministry has not published or responded to publicly, states that crops grown organically can command a high premium.

I mentioned on Second Reading that, as a farmer, I find it very disturbing that other countries in Europe within the CAP are taking organic agriculture very seriously. For example, in West Germany three state farms have already been converted to organic agriculture. The West Germans employ specialist advisers who are experts on organic agriculture. Universities and research stations are spending considerable sums of money on it. Even with 3,000 farms producing organic output in West Germany the supply is far exceeded by demand.

In those circumstances, it seem to me particularly unfortunate that the Ministry has none of the experimental husbandry farms doing any work on organic agriculture. I believe that the Government have claimed to be involved in one farm where research on organic farming is carried out but I understand they intend to pull out of that project within the next six months so so. It is disappointing that where there is one sector of demand for agricultural produce which is expanding rapidly, where at least one supermarket chain is buying organic output and another is seriously investigating it, and where at some times of the year up to 90 per cent. of the demand for organically-grown vegetables has to be met by imports from the rest of Europe, the Ministry is not taking this matter more seriously and diverting resources into research, thus allowing its advisers to gain some scientific background and expertise so that they can give advice on the subject.

I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure me and the many others concerned that the Ministry is taking this issue more seriously than appears from what has been said in many quarters. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness White

I support my noble friend. There is considerable interest in parts of Wales in the development of what is commonly called organic agriculture; that is to say, relatively low input and relatively low output. After all, the problems in agriculture today are costly input and over-large output. I am not sure whether it was to our particular pioneer that my noble friend Lord Melchett was referring when he spoke of marketing the products. It so happens that there is an extremely entrepreneurial and imaginative marketing scheme for these products with some of the large supermarkets. It is therefore no longer to be regarded as a rather cranky form of food production. It is undoubtedly of some importance for the future and I hope very much that we can have some reassurance on the Ministry's attitude towards this matter.

The Earl of Radnor

I think that this amendment should be resisted, though I am not in any way against organic farming or the pursuit of research into that subject. I believe that it should not be put into statute in the same way that water should not be in statute. It is possible for advice to be given within the Bill as it stands. It would be a pity to include research specifically because I do not believe, as perhaps do some noble Lords opposite, that organic farming is a subject on its own.

The definition causes some of us a great deal of trouble. All farming is a little blurred at the edges and it would be a pity to put organic farming on to one side. I know that organic farmers must have their land free of chemical fertilisers for two years, and so on, but there are degrees of organic farming. It can be combined with other forms of farming—I will not say traditional farming because organic farming is probably more traditional than what we do now—and for those reasons I believe that the amendment should not be taken on board.

Lord Melchett

I entirely agree with everything that the noble Earl said, and I said so in introducing the amendment. It is possible in Committee to introduce probing amendments so that subjects can be raised for debate. I explicitly said that that was my intention. I agree that it would be wrong to put this amendment in the Bill, but I hope the noble Lord the Minister will be able to give us some information on what the Government are doing in this respect.

The Earl of Onslow

I could not tell an organically-grown swede from a non-organically grown swede if they were dished up on my plate, but that is another matter. Some people, however, like the idea of an organically-grown swede, or whatever. Organic farming is, as my noble friend Lord Radnor said, extremely difficult to define, and there is a problem. If ADAS gives advice on organic farming, is that conservation farming or is it increased-profit farming? It produces yet another muddle as regards the ADAS charge.

If it is said to be conservation farming, and if this lovely organically grown swede is then flogged by a supermarket at double the price of the swede which is fattened on nitrogen which comes from an oil company as opposed to a pile of horse manure, there would seem to be something odd in the idea of charging at all; but we may get to that later.

Lord John-Mackie

My noble friend has raised an interesting point. As he said, he raised it for discussion and he does not feel that the amendment should be put into the Bill.

Along with one of my sons, I investigated organic farming. There is a private organisation that advises on it. We found the conditions so severe that in considering the situation we felt that if it was carried out on any great scale the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would not have to complain about surpluses in any shape or form—that is for certain.

I want to make the point that the Association of Agriculture also carries out research into organic farming. Does the Minister know whether that association receives any assistance? I have a feeling that it does, and, if so, that may satisfy my noble friend; so the Minister may not be quite so bad as my noble friend suggests.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I try to practise a mixture of farming. Certainly I would not burn the straw and regard people who do as evil, and I also keep fattened cattle and that sort of thing. I think there is rightly a tremendous interest in organic food. A lot of the food that we eat is rather dull and certain ways of producing it make it taste better. However, because there is a big demand for it, I should have thought that it would be right and proper for the Government to do some research, if only to expose what is phoney and to praise what is genuine. There is a big demand and people do think in this way. The more accidents that occur and the more people become frightened of nuclear power, the more they want to go back to nature. I think that the Government ought to undertake at least to see that the claims can be backed up and are correct in this case.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may first of all say that ADAS is taking an increasing interest in organic methods of farming. We already provide advice and we have plans to designate a number of advisers with specialised interests in organic issues to help us respond to the industry on this matter. I am not sure that we have said this publicly before, but I am saying it now. This is one reason for having a probing amendment.

In that context I think we should like to think about what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has said. If I may say so on behalf of the Government, I think that it is very important that the best practices of organic growing and the best prospects for marketing should be pursued and indeed supported so far as possible, because obviously at its best, for those who want organic produce, organic growing is a very interesting sector of the agricultural industry.

I should like to go on from there and say that we are funding research into organic farming. We are monitoring a farm in Wiltshire, which I have had the pleasure of visiting, and we have awarded a research contract to the University of Wales to undertake a three-year study of the nitrogen balance and nitrogen cycle in organic farming systems. I am not quite sure when that research contract comes to an end but it is a three-year study and, so I am advised, not a study which will suddenly end.

ADAS is always prepared to consider undertaking research projects that are commissioned and paid for by the industry or by particular sections of the industry, and I can confirm that the service is willing to assist organic farmers and those wishing to convert to this system in the same way as it assists farmers with other systems of farming. Organic farm businesses come within the scope of the agricultural improvements scheme which, as the Committee will know, is the new form of capital grant which came into effect at the end of last year. Grants are available to organic farmers on a wide range of investments, including organic irrigation and the storage of farm waste.

I shall just add that Food from Britain is conscious of the development of markets for organically grown food. Food from Britain has recently received a report that it had commissioned on the future of organically grown produce. I realise that it will need to study the report before deciding what action to take but that locus is there for our main marketing arm in this country.

Having said that, I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Radnor about this particular amendment. What worries my noble friend—and it worries me too—is the implication that research into organic farming methods in some way is different and special. Though I think it is an extremely interesting area, I do not think it is different. Indeed, many organic farmers would say that they are doing in the most natural way what they believe farmers have been doing over the centuries.

If we were to accept the amendment, I think that we would create the impression that this is an entirely specific sector with specific methods and we should then end up with a very much larger clause or we should find that we have picked out just one or two items from the whole of the agricultural industry for no really very logical reason. So I hope that the noble Lord will feel that, even though I am resisting the amendment for reasons which are shared by my noble friend Lord Radnor, what I have been able to say in reply to this brief exchange has made the tabling of this amendment worth while.

Lord Melchett

I was very interested in what the noble Lord had to say. I think that organic farming is different and special in two respects. First, it represents one of the only areas in UK agriculture where there is a rapidly growing market and where there is no sign of that market being met from domestic production even though it could be met from domestic production. That makes it rather different and rather special; but I do not think that it makes it sufficiently different or special to warrant a particular mention in the Bill.

The other respect in which it has been different and special, up to now at least, is because the Ministry has shown very little enthusiasm for giving advice or doing research on the subject, and in that sense it has been different and special compared with other forms of agriculture. The statement of the noble Lord that some ADAS officers were being designated to develop particular expertise is very welcome indeed. I am sure that all those involved in the organic farming movement will welcome it, as will many farmers who are thinking of converting some or all of their enterprise to organic farming.

I wonder whether I may just ask the noble Lord one further question. He mentioned a farm in Wiltshire. That was the farm where I understood that the Ministry intended to pull out of the research project in a few months' time—indeed, my understanding was that it would be in about three months from now. I do not know whether or not that is correct but I think that while it is very useful to have some advisers with expertise, it would also be useful either for some work to be done on an experimental husbandry farm (of which there are many very good ones around the country) or for the Ministry to continue to monitor organic farming on an existing organic farm such as the one in Wiltshire. Can the noble Lord give me some information on how long that project will continue?

Lord Belstead

I should like to give a straight answer to the first question. I think that it was two years ago that I had the opportunity to pay a visit to that particular farm in Wiltshire. There were two members of the agricultural science service who were monitoring the pests and diseases in the organically grown crops on that particular farm. Incidentally, as a matter of interest, my visit took place about three weeks before harvest started in July, and it really was something I shall never forget. On that particular farm the crops were entirely clean. They were wholly free from disease of any kind. It is certainly an abiding memory for me. I am sure that the farmer concerned would have been the first to have pointed out that whereas the corn crops in the first year after the land had been laid down to grass—it was being done on that cycle—were producing really quite heavy crops, when one reached the second year of corn, of course the crops were less thick, and no doubt this has some bearing on their freedom from disease. Nonetheless, there were some very good crops of winter and spring wheat the first year after being laid down to grass and all the fields—the whole lot—were absolutely clean. I think that is something on which our minds need to dwell.

The Ministry's mind has dwelt on it—the noble Lord is right—for a period of three years. Indeed, after I had had the pleasure of visiting the farm, we brought in a research student from the University of Bristol to do a project there, and so we increased the Ministry's input into the farm. I am now speaking off the cuff but I think that if the noble Lord is right and that project is due to be coming to an end because we have finished a three year study, we really ought to be thinking at least of moving our focus of attention. As I tried to show, it is a farm which is enormously interesting, but I am sure that the farmer himself would probably say that it is right that in the cause of research and development one should also look elsewhere.

I seize this opportunity just to say that perhaps we have somewhat hidden our light under a bushel, in the sense that the three-year project of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth that I mentioned is having its work planned and monitored with the assistance of a steering group which includes senior representatives of the organic farming sector. I like to feel therefore that the Ministry and the organic farmers have been in fruitful co-operation.

6 p.m.

Lord Moran

May I ask the Minister whether it is intended to publish this study by the University of Wales, when it is completed?

Lord Belstead

I must write to the noble Lord on that matter. I am sure the answer will be yes; but as I am not briefed on this question I shall write to him.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

If the noble Lord cares to look at the records for the North of Scotland College he will find that Aberdeenshire was farmed in precisely that way for 100 years before the war.

Lord Melchett

I think that the noble Lord is wrong. It is a common misapprehension that modern organic farming simply involves turning the clock back 100 years. Perhaps he should take the opportunity to see some of the detailed research work that is being done in West Germany, for example, on flame weeding, using quite sophisticated, modern equipment. I doubt whether that was available even in Aberdeenshire 100 years ago. This is one of the areas—modern equipment for modern organic farming—where I am afraid that our rivals in the rest of Europe (although we are all in the EC) will be stealing a march. British agricultural machinery manufacturers will be suffering from even more imports as organic farming grows throughout Europe, as it will. The EC is considering setting a European-wide standard for organic farming produce.

That is another reason why it is important that we should take it seriously, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, obviously is. I am encouraged by what he said. I agree that it would be wise to look at another area and another farming system after the research in Wiltshire. If the ministry is to do that, that would be widely welcomed.

I do not think that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was that concerned whether his swedes were organically grown, but a lot of people are. It seems to me to be a source of considerable shame to British agriculture that even in the swedes market most are being imported by the entrepreneurs in Wales that my noble friend Lady White mentioned. We cannot even produce enough organic swedes in this country to satisfy our market. There is a lot of work still to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has been extremely encouraging. I am grateful to him for what he said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Boothby

Does the noble Lord realise that, whatever he may say, farming in Aberdeenshire remains the best in Europe?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Stanley of Alderley had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 4, at end insert— ("(2A) the Minister shall from time to time consult with such persons appearing to him to represent the interests of producers in the agricultural industry and to represent other interests concerned as he considers appropriate, regarding the provision of any goods or services which are supplied to any person, or for which provision is contemplated, by virtue of this section.").

The noble Lord said: I explained this amendment when I spoke to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. My noble friend made sympathetic noises. I take his point that the amendment might suggest that the Minister must consult all and sundry and that might cause inefficiency. Like him, I hope that it may be possible before Report to ensure that the Minister has a less onerous and difficult job. I hoped that my amendment said that he should consult only those whom he wished to consult. I thank my noble friend for his offer of help, and I hope that he will be in contact with me before the Report stage.

Lord Belstead

I give my noble friend an undertaking on those last words of his. I shall be in contact with him on the amendment before the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I therefore shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Lord John-Mackie moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 5, leave out ("or goods").

The noble Lord said: First, I want to apologise for the stupid way that I put down the amendment. Instead of asking for the subsection to be withdrawn and rewriting it, I tried to amend it by Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11. They are really only one amendment. The provision would read: Any services provided by this section will be provided free of charge and all"— and I think that the "all" should have been "any", but let us leave it there for now— goods provided by virtue of these services will be charged for at a reasonable cost".

I put in the last part of the provision because I would be prepared to say that farmers should pay for goods, although I am not quite sure, and I should like the Minister's enlightenment when he replies as to what goods he was considering other than veterinary medicines and so on. I can think of no goods that ADAS provides other than those.

As usual, I must declare an interest. I am a farmer and use ADAS liberally. I first used the advisory service in Scotland 56 years ago. I remember the occasion well. I had heard from somebody that sulphuric acid could be used on cereal crops to kill weeds. (Do I hear a murmur against spraying already?) I asked the college adviser whether he could find out about that. He discovered that it had been used in France quite a lot, and he went to no amount of trouble to get me the advice. I used sulphuric acid and it had to be carefully done. It was valuable information. That has been my experience in Scotland and in England ever since, and I have farmed in both countries.

I should like to emphasise that the advice has always been unbiased, free and in 99 cases out of 100 (or on ever larger odds) correct. That free and unbiased advice has been a major factor in the unprecedented increase in the efficiency and productivity of British farms and has resulted in an increased supply of food to the British people, which not only feeds them better but effects enormous savings on imports. Because of that I do not believe that the British taxpayer would grudge that free service to his farmers. I believe that the saving target is about £6 million, or 10p per person, but I may not be correct here.

As I said earlier, in his Second Reading speech the Minister catalogued all the changes and difficulties, including reduced incomes, but he ends up by implying that the best way to help farmers is to charge them for advice which they have had free for so long. Not only that, but the number of advisers has been cut. Although the extent of the cuts has been reduced recently, there will still have been a reduction of about 750 posts in the service in the past five years. That is equivalent to about 20 per cent. With all the difficulties and changes in our industry this is surely the time for more free advice and not less and more expensive advice.

I return to the Minister's words on Second Reading (at col. 621 of Hansard): This will enable farmers to have the clearest possible say in the kinds of services they receive. That is crucial, at a time when the agricultural industry is facing a period of unprecedented change. There is no point in providing services that farmers do not value or which are no longer relevant to their needs". I should like the Committee to look at that carefully. Quite frankly, when I consider what the Minister said it seems to me to be a strong slur on ADAS to suggest that because the advice was free over past years ADAS did not keep up to date and provided services which farmers did not value and which were no longer relevant to their needs. I beg to differ strongly. I think that on reflection he may wish to drop that argument.

What will the reaction of farmers be? Times are hard and they look like getting harder still. My bet is that the small farmer especially will not pay ADAS for advice. The likelihood is that commercial advisers will go to them. However unbiased a commercial adviser tries to be, his advice is tied up with selling something. I have a lot of friends in the commercial advisory service and get on well with them, but I have had various experiences.

I had a young farm manager who had many attributes, but dealing with salesmen was not one of them. He was persuaded to spray quite a large field of wheat to kill black grass. I looked at the field and could find no black grass. I had a big row with the company about that. That is the sort of thing that happens.

My son had another experience. I wish to illustrate the difference in the experience of using ADAS. As we know, we are now looking for ways to reduce expenditure. He was being advised about a fertiliser that he should put on his wheat for next year, looking well forward. He took the advice that he had received from a commercial company to ADAS. ADAS pointed out to him that if he had his soil analysed and he found that his phosphate and his potash were above a certain figure, he need not use any fertiliser. I looked through all the commercial literature to see whether I could find that advice, but it was not there. That is the type of thing that one must remember when considering charging farmers for advice.

The great advantage at the moment is that one can go to ADAS and obtain advice and have matters that I have described confirmed. That will no longer be the case if the Government have their way. ADAS does a great deal more than just go to farms and give advice on the spot. It provides demonstrations, meetings and pamphlets. I have an excellent pamphlet which arrived just the other day. It gives clear advice about what to do when diseases hit crops. I wonder whether we shall have to pay for all that advice which is so helpful when we do our jobs.

The noble Lord told us that there is to be no charge for advice on conservation. The argument on that point that we had earlier, on my noble friend's amendment, has almost taken the wind out of my sails. Apparently advice on conservation, rural diversification and animal welfare is to be free. We received an explanation of that from the noble Lord the Minister earlier, but I do not think that it satisfied the Committee. Why make such advice free and confuse farmers and advisers? That point was brought out in our earlier discussion. What does "animal welfare" cover? It is a wide subject. If a sick cow requires welfare, will that be free? What does "rural diversification" mean? Farmers are not fools. If they realise that environmental advice is free they will make the case that everything that they are doing is environmental. There could be diversification through new crops. Will that be free?

I make those points to show that there will probably be a muddle if ADAS is put on a semi-commercial basis. I cannot emphasise too much the muddle that there will be. That point was also brought out in our earlier discussion.

The staff at ADAS do not like the proposal. I have discussed it often. The noble Lord said he was at a demonstration and that some ADAS staff were there. They feel that the good relationship with farmers that they have built up over the years will be put under a considerable strain. That will be to the great detriment of both. I appeal to the noble Lord the Minister and the Government to accept the amendment.

There is another similar amendment, and I shall be interested to know what the noble Lord will say about it. The industry is worried about the Government's treatment of ADAS. There is a great deal of stick going about just now, and I do not want to see headlines such as, "ADAS bleeds to death" in the agricultural press again. That is the sort of headline that the Government are creating. I hold no brief for the press, but that headline is in a widely-read agricultural paper. I plead with the noble Lord to ensure that such a thing does not happen again. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Buxton of Alsa

I had intended to move Amendment No. 13, which relates to charges by ADAS, but if I speak now I shall not have to introduce that amendment. I had intended to say a great deal about ADAS and the subject of charges, but almost all of it has been said. I should like to underline the fact that I feel deeply and am as worried as anybody about the prospects for ADAS and the dangers, implications and consequences that may arise from the proposed charges for advice.

I am puzzled because I have not heard in this Chamber, in the other place or even in a public statement any reason given for making charges. Will my noble friend the Minister make it clear why these charges are suddenly thought to be necessary and to be a good idea? They seem to be completely illogical. If it is argued that there is an economic or financial basis for them, before the Bill's next stage I urge him to tell us the figures, what the Ministry's revenue estimates are and how it thinks the charges will help.

I feel that the proposal is an ill-thought-out and unfortunate insertion into the Bill which cannot be justified on any basis. I believe that the exemption for conservation advice is an afterthought. Although my noble friend has eloquently described how that provision will work, it will never be like that in practice. I can only describe the whole idea as a nonsense.

I hate to criticise my noble friend the Minister because of the marvellous part he has played over the past year or two in agriculture and conservation, and I pay tribute to him. Nevertheless, the brilliant and eloquent way in which my noble friend described how things would work between an ADAS adviser and a farmer sounded like a first-class lecture to a new squad of students at ADAS. After half a century as a landowner, farmer and conservationist, I know that that does not happen. It is manifestly impossible to stand with a man in the middle of a farm and decide whether one is talking about agriculture or conservation because the two matters are one and are indivisible.

The whole basis of the Government's policy, which we all applaud and welcome, is to proclaim that agriculture and conservation are one and are indivisible. That is the direction in which we are supposed to be moving. I cannot therefore understand how at this stage one can take one pace forward and three paces backwards and start dividing the two again. The ways around the provision are absolutely legion. There will be abuse, certainly by me. Every time I receive advice about agriculture I shall draw the adviser's attention to a blue tit sitting on a hedge. We shall discuss that for a few minutes and then continue with the agricultural discussion. I shall then say, "Why do you not stay on and catch a trout?" It is impossible to deal with matters in that way. It will lead to a great deal of unnecessary bureaucracy, form filling, arguments, correspondence and complaints from farmers saying that that was not what they agreed.

My amendment seeks to have no charges, not to argue about what should be charged and what should not. Anything else would lead to serious consequences for ADAS. I can see that after two or three years the Treasury will say, "How much revenue did we get last year from ADAS? How much did it charge?" Of course there will not be much, and the Treasury will probably then say, "ADAS is not earning enough. It is not earning its keep. It is about time we started to wind it up". The consequences of the proposal are serious and the idea of charging should be dropped and forgotten.

I implore my noble friend to realise that the charging proposal is completely inconsistent with the splendid way that he has carried forward the whole idea of integrating agriculture, conservation and the countryside. To go into reverse and to start trying to separate them will lead to nothing but chaos and trouble.

Baroness Nicol

If it was possible to separate the functions in the way that the noble Lord describes, there would be an even greater danger that ADAS would not be on the farm in the first place. If the farmer has to decide about advice and is offered free advice by commercial companies wanting to sell their products, the ADAS man will not be there. Much of the conservation advice given in the past has been incidental advice to the more technical advice that ADAS was called in to give.

It might be useful to give the Committee my list of a number of associations that have expressed anxiety over the question of ADAS charges. There is the World Wildlife fund, and then the RSPB, which has said: The RSPB believes that opportunities to influence farmers and encourage conservation will be reduced because farmers will increasingly reject the ministry's services in favour of free advice offered by manufacturers of pesticides, chemicals and farm machinery". I believe that that is so. It is a point raised by a number of other organisations. The Water Authorities Association, to which my noble friend Lord Melchett has already referred, thinks that the same will happen in regard to pollution of water supplies. It points out that ADAS already gives advice on pollution of water supplies. This has proved very useful. The association fears, too, that farmers will be disinclined to seek help from ADAS if there will be a cost to them in the long run.

The noble Lord. Lord Buxton, asked how much the ministry hopes to raise from these charges. I should like to ask the Minister whether a cost benefit analysis was done at the beginning of the exercise, or whether it amounts really to the pursuit of a dogmatic approach in respect of charging. It is awfully difficult to see how any true profit can be made at the end of the exercise. The noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, pointed out at Second Reading that when charges for soil analysis were introduced in Scotland some time ago there was a substantial reduction in the number of soil analyses requested. There is a great danger that this may happen in the case of all services offered by ADAS. I hope that the Minister will think again on the question of charges and that he will decide that the game is not worth the candle.

The Earl of Onslow

I must support my noble friend Lord Buxton and the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, to the greatest of my power. I cannot conceive of an exercise that is going to cause more muddle than trying to separate conservation charges, animal welfare charges and profit charges. I asked my noble friend on an earlier amendment whether organic farming was conservation or profit making, and answer came there none. If an ADAS officer was to advise that the use of spray X meant that while one's yield of weeds might be slightly higher, there would be more partridges and there would still more or less be the same yield of wheat, is that conservation or agricultural advice? It is impossible to separate.

If the ministry was to say that it would form a Royal agricultural advisory service to be made into a company that would function as a paying concern, there might be some logic in the proposal. I suspect, however, that the six million quid—the figure that one has heard mentioned—that will be raised will simply disappear into the great bowels of the Treasury without touching the sides on its way down. No one will hear of it at all. It will have no effect whatever on the public sector borrowing requirement. It will simply vanish, and we shall have done a terrible damage to the agricultural industry and to an excellent service that is under pressure and where morale is low. That would be a very retrograde step, especially when the Government, as my noble friend Lord Buxton said, are now coming round to the right and sensible policy for the countryside which pleases those who care passionately about it.

The Government's thoughts are as plain as a pikestaff. Their reasoning is that farmers are a bit unpopular, that "green" people are nice, and that they will therefore charge farmers who are in any case producing too much food. However, they have not actually thought the whole operation through. They have come up with an illogical proposal for trying to raise six million quid extra in tax. In the same process they will wreck the ADAS service. That is not a good step for them to take.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I should like to add my tuppenceworth. I have nothing new to say. My noble kinsman, for once, was talking complete common sense. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, was eloquent and exposed how ludicrous is the double charge or no-charge charge and the glorious opportunity that this will afford hirers of bluetits for the afternoon. The whole idea is quite ludicrous. It would be funny if it were not so serious. The fact is that the colleges in Scotland are suffering a severe drain of very good people. Some are going out of farming altogether and others are going to commercial firms. The commercial firms will be employed by those who do not need them, the good farmers on the good farms. Those who really need them but who cannot afford to pay will not have an advisory service.

The noble Lord the Minister has been offered a way out. The money could be raised with great ease through levies on various bodies. There could then be a free service. This would be logical and would permit advice to be given on both conservation and farming. After all, farming is still very important. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, talked about these ridiculous people who cover the countryside with unwanted cereals. We also feed the people of this country to the extent of almost 100 per cent of their needs in terms of temperate products and save an enormous amount of money. It is still quite important that these people are kept going. I admit that is is important to get rid of the surpluses, but it is also important to consider the other side. The Minister has been offered a logical way out from all sides of the Committee. I see no disagreement around. Maybe some loyal chap will get up and defend the Minister; I hope not.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I am going to defend my noble friend, who seems to be under great stress. It is most complimentary that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, should remember what I said on Second Reading. It is perfectly true that I started by saying—I say it again—that I believe that advice for which you are asked to pay is probably treated as more valuable than that which you get for nothing; I firmly believe that. The crux of the matter is what the charge will be. This is, I am bound to say, an unfortunate time to introduce a charge. The farming industry is under considerable stress. Yet, throughout what one might call the good years, during which I watched carefully, as did nearly every farmer north of the Border, what the Mackies were doing on their respective farms, we discovered that provided we followed what they were doing, we made a little money as well. I suggest that they could have afforded, out of the fairly substantial profits that I believe they made, to pay for the advice that they received.

Most of the farm buildings that one sees, put up to the great benefit of the industry and provided under the farm capital grant scheme, were designed by architects of the advisory services totally free of charge. I have often wondered why an industry that claimed to be the greatest in the country should expect to get totally free services of that kind.

I come back to what the charges will be. I think that it is an immensely difficult question. I know that my noble friend was sitting on the Front Bench last night when the noble Lord had a certain success with an amendment of his. One of the most learned of the Law Lords made the observation that it was most unwise to introduce into any statute the word "reasonable" because it was almost hopeless for anyone to interpret what the word "reasonable" means.

I hope that my noble friend will tell us what some of these charges will be. I shall also ask him whether he will let me into a secret. Are the words in his brief those that were in my brief when the word "reasonable" came up in a Ministry of Agriculture matter 12 years ago? The brief said, "If asked what 'reasonable' means, to be reasonable is to take an action that a reasonable Minister would find it reasonable to take."

Lord John-Mackie

I hope that the noble Lord is not suggesting that the farm building service provides an architectural service as well as a design service. It can give only a design service, not an architectural service.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

I fully accept that.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Melchett

I was waiting for the noble Lord to do what he said he was going to do—spring to the defence of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I was waiting with interest to hear him defend the indefensible. However, he never got round to it.

The objection to charging which has mainly been raised in this debate is the impossibility of drawing distinctions between those matters which the Government will charge for and those that they will not. A number of people have illustrated how one aspect might be seen as conservation or diversification or might be seen as normal agricultural advice. It seem to me that there is another twist to this. The same project can quite happily jump from one category to the other depending on how the conversation goes. For example, if I were to ask ADAS to give me advice on providing a farm pond for the benefit of wildlife—as many farmers are now doing—it would come along and give me free conservation advice. But at some point in the discussion, as always happens in these instances, the ADAS officer would be duty bound to remind me that if I called this farm pond a reservoir it would be eligible for grant-aid from the Ministry.

At the point that the ADAS officer says that, our discussion becomes one about agricultural development and not conservation, because otherwise I am not eligible for the grant. I suppose that we would slip in and out of this—sometimes with free advice, sometimes not—depending on whether we were talking about the species of trees we were going to plant around the pond or the quantity of water that it was going to hold for emergency fire-fighting purposes, which would make it eligible for grant-aid.

Perhaps we may take another less common example, but one certainly on my mind as I watched my sugarbeet crop blow out of the ground in northwest Norfolk at least three times this spring. If I were to ask ADAS to come along and give me advice on erosion and on reducing the damage caused to sugar beet by strong spring winds and dry weather, I suppose that would be agricultural and I would expect to pay a charge. We would look at the soil structure and matters of that kind. Those would all be matters of agricultural advice. That is money ticking away. However, the ADAS officer might then reasonably come up with a solution that a shelter belt or a hedge might be desirable to reduce this problem. We then go straight into conservation advice. That would be free advice. Would all the previous work that he had done on looking at the soil profile become free of charge as a result or would it not?

I think that that is the nub of the problem. It is a totally illogical and impossible split. As the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, said, it moves directly against what for the past seven years the Government in every department have been urging all of us—conservationists, environmentalists and farmers—to do: namely, to draw these interests together, integrate them and reconcile them in the countryside. This is a deliberate attempt to stop that process and reverse it. It will have damaging effects on conservation. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said, it will make sure that those who most need advice, and therefore can least afford it, do not get advice. But those (and I would include myself) farming larger farms who do not need the advice so badly can afford to pay for it and get it mostly, I have no doubt, from private consultants.

It would be a total disaster. To my mind, the end result would quite clearly be that ADAS will cease altogether to give advice on conservation. While farmers will want to get advice on conservation and will dress matters up to pretend that they are conservation so that the advice is free, the relentless pressure on ADAS is to raise the money. That pressure is against the background of an industry facing rising costs and falling prices year by year. There is pressure to raise the money, against stiff competition from private consultants, against a background where they are losing staff, expertise and, sadly, competence because the best people are going. They face a quite impossible job. They will be forced to try to do everything on a commercial basis to meet their target. They will fail. The Treasury will impose further cuts. This is undoubtedly, to my mind, the beginning of the end of ADAS.

Lord Forbes

I simply do not believe that this will save, or bring in, £6 million if ADAS make any charge. It might bring in a thousand or two at best. What will happen is that the ADAS man—who obviously wants to keep his job—will come to one's farm and investigate, say, a piggery. The first thing he will say is, "Let us look at what effect this alteration will have on duck flighting onto a nearby pond because if I do that then I do not have to charge for it". That is what will happen. The ADAS man will bend over backwards so that there is no charge. By doing that he will have a job. In the end it will be complete nonsense. It is simply not worth making any charge at all because one will get nothing out of it if one does make a charge.

Earl Peel

In speaking to this amendment I must say that I feel rather a turncoat because—I make no bones about it—I had every intention of speaking along the lines of my noble friends Lord Onslow and Lord Buxton. However, I have to say, having listened to the arguments on both sides, that I am not convinced by theirs.

Everybody has explained that the complications of trying to define what is conservation and what is not will be extremely difficult to solve. That is no doubt right. I would say to my noble friend Lord Onslow that if he wants advice on partridges he should go to the game conservancy and not to ADAS. He will be charged but he will get first-class advice.

I am extremely concerned that conservation matters and matters relating to the diversification of farm industries should be free. In this respect I am concerned in particular for those farmers in the less favoured areas. However, my noble friend has given us his assurance that these services will be free. I am certainly not against the basic principles of charging for certain advice and services. Indeed, I very much welcome the widening that the clause gives to ADAS. I believe that it would be far too complicated to try to incorporate in a Bill of this nature what should be charged for and what should not. Either one scraps ADAS charges altogether—as has been recommended by most people in this Chamber—or one has an order which dictates quite clearly what should be charged for and what should not.

However, I believe that in view of the widening of the ADAS remit and its further responsibilities on giving advice (some of which, as I have already said, should be charged for), on balance I come down in favour of the arguments that my noble friend on the Front Bench has given. I would go further in saying that by not charging for certain ADAS services it is possible that we may be eliminating the advance of ADAS.

It is absolutely imperative that the Ministry remains highly flexible in these matters in view of the uncertainty of farming in the future. That is a point that has been made by many noble Lords. I believe that it could be very restraining on the Ministry if it was tied by specifics in the Bill. Certain noble Lords have mentioned the free advice that would be given by chemical companies. They include the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. Surely farmers realise that the advice they will receive from chemical companies will be one-sided, and that the advice which they will receive from ADAS will be impartial advice. Of course they will have the sense to differentiate between the two.

This is a very thorny subject, and I quite freely admit that I have changed my view about it. That perhaps is due to the advantage of being able to come here and listen to the debate. However, after considerable thought I have changed my mind and I support my noble friend.

Lord Belstead

This has been an interesting debate and I have also listened carefully to it and learned something from it. The first reason I say that it is interesting is that the effect of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, would be that advisory services were provided entirely free. However, interestingly enough, the noble Lord is more draconian than the Government in that the amendment says that there should be a charge of a reasonable amount for any goods provided as part of an advisory service. There, of course, the Government want to keep more flexibility. For instance, we think that advisory publications or emergency vaccines, which the noble Lord mentioned, could in some cases be free as well as being charged for. So there are quite interesting cross-currents in relation to this amendment.

Nonetheless, the main thrust of this debate has been that Members of the Committee think that the advisory services should continue to be entirely free of charge. My noble friend Lord Buxton asked me why the Government think that they should start charging for the advisory services. My noble friend was indeed generous in the remarks that he made but, uncharacteristically, perhaps not quite fair when he said that he felt that it was a sudden, last-minute decision.

The reasons were clearly set out in Professor Bell's report, which was published in November 1984, and, as I made clear earlier this afternoon, in November last year my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture gave his assurance about intending to see that advice on diversification, animal welfare and conservation should be free. Therefore, I think it is fair for me to claim that for some time we have been thinking about these matters and gradually trying to develop our thoughts.

Nonetheless, my noble friend asked why we wanted to charge. It was my noble friend Lord Stodart who really gave the answer. We genuinely believe that, at a time when we are looking very carefully at every penny in the agricultural budget, it really will give the opportunity for both the agricultural industry and the Ministry to decide between themselves what is of most value in the services which ADAS provides and how, over the years, these services can best be developed for the future.

However, we also believe—and I shall not disguise this from Members of the Committee—that it is not unreasonable to say that, where an industry benefits from a public service, it ought to contribute to the cost. Do not let us forget that on the present proposals the Government will still be paying over 80 per cent. of the cost of ADAS, which is in the region of £100 million.

I was interested that my noble friend Lord Peel, who yields to no one in wanting to ensure that the right advice gets through not only in husbandry matters but also in conservation matters, came out straight and said that, although he was absolutely determined that environmental advice should be free, he believed that the Government were on the right track in introducing charges. I was interested in that remark of my noble friend and, indeed, in my noble friend Lord Stodart taking a friendly attitude on the general thrust of the Government's policy, because if we look at Europe we will see that we do not stand alone.

We find that the agricultural industry contributes about 40 per cent. of the cost of advice in Germany. Indeed, two years ago I had the opportunity to visit Schleswig-Holstein and I was told that there it was being carried out on a Läander basis; that farmers were contributing 50 per cent. and the state the other 50 per cent. Farmers in France are contributing not far short of half of the cost of the advisory services; and I am told that nearly 80 per cent. is contributed by farmers in Denmark to their advisory services. I understand that an average charge per farmer off £1,000 is made in Denmark where the average sized farm, at about 30 hectares, is less than half the United Kingdom average. In the Netherlands discussions are continuing in the expectation of a greater contribution from the farmer, but there is a move to 50/50 funding for research and for some animal health functions, including tuberculosis and brucellosis work. Therefore, with respect we do not stand alone in Europe. Indeed, other countries have moved ahead of us in this particular matter.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Can the noble Lord tell us how the services are paid for in Denmark and Holland? Is it by contribution or by individual charges for advice?

6.45 p.m.

Lord Belstead

I am very sorry, but I do not have that information. I shall have to come back on that to the noble Lord. When I visited Germany my understanding was that it was on a subscription basis at the beginning of the year, but I shall come back to the noble Lord on that. However, the noble Lord's question leads me to try to answer a question which was put to me by my noble friend Lord Stodart, who said that, while we are on this subject, we ought now to know exactly what it is that the Government are putting before the Committee as regards charging.

If the Members of the Committee will bear with me for a moment—again, this is a prepared statement and, again, we have not said this elsewhere—I think that in this Committee stage in your Lordships' House I ought to say this. We currently envisage, if Parliament agrees to charging coming into effect for ADAS, providing four broad categories of service. Firstly, we would envisage that there would be two annual subscription schemes under which farmers would receive free advisory literature and regular information about ADAS services and, for the higher priced scheme, some advisory visits.

We are still working out the precise details of these two annual subscription schemes, but the aim would be to provide a straightforward service at a reasonable charge aimed at those farmers who have relatively modest information demands but who nevertheless value the contact with ADAS, and those who may take up more complex specialist advice but who wish to establish a longer-term contact with ADAS than that provided by purchasing advice only when it is needed. Detailed costings, cannot yet be made, but we would envisage two standard charges for two different levels of service: something in the region of £50 a year for the simpler service and about £150 for a service offering advisory visits. These prices, which exclude VAT, are still very provisional, but they give an indication of the levels that we would be considering.

Secondly, we intend to offer advice on a time-related basis at a standard charge per hour. This is likely to be of the order of £25 or £30, excluding VAT, for the majority of ADAS advisers. We are also considering whether a higher charge would be appropriate for national or other specialists. Thirdly, we would intend offering a number of special advisory packages, ranging from a financial review of the farm business to compehensive recording and advisory schemes to help farmers manage specialist enterprises.

I shall not weary the Committee by trying to describe those in detail, but we shall be publishing a series of leaflets describing these packages in outline within the next few weeks, and I shall arrange for copies to be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House in due course. It would also be possible for farmers to purchase individually tailored packages.

Finally, we would intend to offer special contracts for farmers or groups of farmers whose needs are not covered by the schemes in the other groups that I have described. These contracts would provide whatever advisory services are needed, including research and development, which ADAS can provide at a price which will have to be negotiated for each contract. In parenthesis, perhaps I may say that that does not of course mean that ADAS R and D will not be made publicly available. I am simply saying that there may be occasions when these may be particular contract R and D work which certain farmers or groups of farmers would want to commission with ADAS.

May I just end by making a general point or two. We envisage these categories of services as being independent. For example, a farmer would not have to join a subscription scheme before being able to buy advice by the hour. Farmers certainly would not have to pay to find out what ADAS can offer by way of changeable services and should not be afraid to discuss matters with their ADAS advisers. Farmers will always be told beforehand whether they are incurring charges. I should not like it to be thought that these proposals are in any way our last thoughts and I should not like it to be thought that this Committee would allow them to be.

If it becomes clear following introduction that a demand for particular services is lower than anticipated—and I listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lord Forbes has just said—we will examine critically whether the services are too elaborate and expensive, and will try to make necessary changes. Opportunities will also be taken to introduce further services.

The prices for ADAS' services will have a major influence on demand; of course we realise that. The prices of ADAS' services will be set at levels which cover the direct cost of the service and make an appropriate contribution to the overhead costs properly attributable to the service, having regard to what the market will bear. We will continue to keep under review the scope for improving efficiency within ADAS and hence reduce the cost of ADAS services, and will give careful consideration to the overhead costs appropriate to the chargeable services that ADAS is providing. It is important that I say that because we are talking about the interests of others who are in the market as well.

Perhaps I may add a final word. I am not worried about how ADAS will be competing in the market. Working in the Ministry of Agriculture I can say that I believe ADAS will succeed well in the market place because it has a lot of expertise, a lot of skills to offer and great integrity. That is known and accepted. I should like to pay tribute to the professionalism and dedication of the officers of the service.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me for having been rather long-winded, but I felt that it was important that this statement about ADAS charging should be laid before the Committee at this stage.

Earl Peel

May I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether, in view of the particular hardships that occur in the less favoured areas, he would consider a reduced charge for farmers in those places?

Lord Belstead

I should like to look at that and perhaps have a word with my noble friend between now and the next stage of the Bill. There are problems as to where one would draw the dividing lines in this particular matter. It was because I was bearing in mind the sort of point my noble friend has just put to me that I started my statement by pointing out that we will have two levels of subscriptions, and the first will be at a very reasonable level indeed.

Lord Melchett

Before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him whether he will say anything more about the other important problem raised by noble Lords on all sides in this debate about distinguishing between conservation and other free advice and advice which will be charged for? Can he say something more about what happens if a project turns from one thing into another in the course of discussion? The noble Lord the Minister told us how he saw the dividing line working on an earlier amendment, but it clearly did not satisfy noble Lords on either side. Is the noble Lord able to respond to any of those criticisms which have arisen despite the long statement he has made on another matter just now?

The Earl of Onslow

I especially underline that point because the noble Lord the Minister has just said to my noble friend Lord Peel that dividing lines are difficult to arrive at.

Lord Belstead

With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, we had a long debate on his Amendment No. 3, and this was exactly what we discussed and I had hoped that we had moved on from that. May be we differ on this, but we can agree to differ. I do not see that there is much point in going over all the ground again, if I may say so.

However, I would say just one thing to my noble friend Lord Onslow. My noble friend said that he had not had a reply about whether organic farming would fall within the definition of conservation. When making the statement about not charging for conservation I endeavoured to say that we would feel that environmental matters would mean anything primarily designed to conserve or enhance the natural beauty of an area or its flora or fauna, or its biological, geological or geographical features, or to prevent environmental pollution. If I may say so, I do not think that organic farming would fall within that category. My noble friend Lord Radnor said he did not feel, and I said I did not feel, either, that organic farming should be treated as something separate and apart. It is admirable when done well, but something which is not separate and apart. Therefore, I do not think there will be a case for saying that organic farming will be a sort of conservation.

Lord John-Mackie

I do not want to delay the Committee, but nothing that the noble Lord the Minister has said has changed my mind in any shape or form. May I point out that the mix-up between conservation and commercial advice is not one of my main points, although it is an important one.

My main point is that farmers, in particular the farmers the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has mentioned, in the less favoured areas, will not go to ADAS if the charges are what the noble Lord says. I think the figure is £25 to £35 per hour and more, and if it is a specialist it will be £150. I am not quite sure what that covered, but I think it covered obtaining literature, etc. I feel that will bear very hardly on small farmers. The average small farm is only about 160 acres; I am sorry, but I cannot convert that into hectares. Bearing in mind the debate and the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, did not have a lot of support (at least, it was limited support as was that for the noble Earl, Lord Peel) I think we should test the feeling of the Committee.

6.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 53; Not-Contents, 81.

Airedale, L. Grey, E.
Attlee, E. Hanworth, V.
Banks, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Birk, B. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Heycock, L.
Briginshaw, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Broadbridge, L. Jacques, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Jeger, B.
Craigavon, V. John-Mackie, L.
David, B. Kilmarnock, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Kirkhill, L.
Falkender, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Falkland, V. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. McNair, L.
Foot, L. Melchett, L.
Forbes, L. Molloy, L.
Gallacher, L. Mountevans, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nicol, B. [Teller.]
Onslow, E. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Oram, L. Underhill, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. White, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Wigoder, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L. Willis, L.
Seear, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L. Wise, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Amptill, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Ashbourne, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Auckland, L. Maude of Stratford-upon- Avon, L.
Bauer, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Merrivale, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Mersey, V.
Belstead, L. Middleton, L.
Bessborough, E. Morris, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mottistone, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Butterworth, L. Northbourne, L.
Caithness, E. Peel, E.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Penrhyn, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Radnor, E.
Carnock, L. Rankeillour, L.
Clinton, L. Reay, L.
Coleraine, L. Reigate, L.
Craigmyle, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Davidson, V. Salisbury, M.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Savile, L.
Denning, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L. Swansea, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Swinfen, L.
Glanusk, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Glenarthur, L. Teviot, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Tranmire, L.
Greenway, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Trumpington, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Ullswater, V.
Hives, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hooper, B. Vickers, B.
Inglewood, L. Vivian, L.
Kitchener, E. Ward of Witley, V.
Lane-Fox, B. Whitelaw, V.
Layton, L. Wynford, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Ypres, E.
Long, V. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

The Earl of Swinton

This might be a convenient time to postpone the Committee stage of this Bill. In doing so, may I suggest that we do not return to the Committee stage on the Agriculture Bill before five minutes past eight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.