§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether the farming and wildlife advisory groups are supported by the statutory conservation bodies and if so, by what means.
My Lords, the farming and wildlife advisory groups are supported by the statutory conservation bodies. Most of this support comes in the form of grant-in-aid towards the salary costs of adviser posts. Support is also given in the form of ecological advice and grant-in-aid for specific projects. In addition to this, three of the conservation bodies are subscribing partners to the national Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that very full Answer. Is it not the case that when the farming and wildlife advisory groups began they had 50 per cent. of their costs paid by the Countryside Commission on a diminishing scale to end in six years' time? That six-year period is now over. Is it not a fact that the replacement grants come to only 33 per cent. of the groups' present costs? In view of the fact that farmers are in some difficulty at the moment and that ADAS, which used to give free environmental advice to farmers, no longer does so and farmers have to pay for it, does he agree that it would be a very good environmental gesture for the Government to ensure that a grant of at least 50 per cent. of the costs was maintained?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to say that the Countryside Commission grants have decreased over a period. The grant was intended to help establish new adviser posts in England. As she said, there was no commitment to support the ongoing running costs of those posts. Payment levels for each new post decline over a six-year period. There are no plans to end or decrease other forms of support currently given by the statutory conservation bodies and the Government will continue to support the provision of free conservation advice, currently provided through the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and through ADAS. We shall be considering further funding requests for 1992, 1993 and beyond.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, the noble Viscount referred to the free advice given by ADAS. My understanding is that it has ended and that now all advice from ADAS must be paid for. Will he also take on board the fact that lack of security is the cause of a great deal of the problem? Apparently no grant is guaranteed from one year to the next.
My Lords, we must look at funding commitments year by year as they are met. We are also examining this whole matter in view of where we wish to make advice available for farmers and in which area. As I said, we provide substantial sums. The budget of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group is over £1 million a year and we shall continue to support it.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, from the Minister's Answer, I am not clear whether the Government are fully committed to keeping up the payments so that the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, which is very much respected and very much needed, particularly at the moment, will continue to operate to the same extent as before. Does he agree that if the Government want to keep their good name for environmental protection in the countryside, they should be willing to make that commitment?
My Lords, as I said, we provide substantial funds. In fact we provide over half the budget of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and that budget is over £1 million. The Countryside Commission deal with specific grants to help establish regional advisers and those decline over the years. 225 That is a small sum in comparison with the large amount of money given directly by the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a good deal of concern about the operation of the policies that he kindly sought to explain to the House? Is he further aware that ADAS, which I had the privilege to set up, was intended to help with advice in this field? Indeed, over a long period of years it gave advice which was appreciated throughout the farming community and by all those interested in the heritage. Could the Minister say specifically what assistance now comes from ADAS for that purpose?
My Lords, I do not have before me the detailed figures for ADAS as the Question related to the farming and wildlife advisory groups rather than to that service. However, we are looking at the whole matter. We have commissioned a report to examine how the two interact and we shall be considering it in order to find appropriate mechanisms for continuing conservation advice.