HL Deb 10 May 1995 vol 564 cc68-113

3.9 p.m.

Lord Carter rose to draw attention to the case for coherent policies affecting the social, economic and environmental needs of rural areas; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion on the Order Paper in my name calls for a coherent array of policies embracing the social, economic and environmental needs of rural areas. The speeches in today's debate will, I am sure, range widely over this broad canvas, but no speech will be more welcome than the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

It was just over two years ago, in March 1993, that I opened a debate in your Lordships' House on a very similar Motion. The main change in the two years since that debate is that the need for a coherent rural policy is now firmly on the political agenda. The Government are to produce a White Paper in September on rural policy, while in the Labour Party we have produced a consultation paper entitled A working countryside, with an excellent analysis of the problems of rural areas and a wide range of proposals for comment and consultation.

Rural problems are substantial by any reckoning. Around one-quarter of rural households live on or below the margin of poverty. The earnings gap between rural areas and the national mean has widened since 1979. Those who are living in poverty in rural areas are predominantly the elderly poor, who comprise some 60 per cent. of poor households. Unemployment increased between 1990 and 1995 by 51 per cent. in urban areas compared with 74 per cent. in rural areas. Recorded crime in Great Britain increased by 111 per cent. between 1979 and 1993, with an 87 per cent. increase in the metropolitan counties and a 144 per cent. increase in the shire counties.

We know that agriculture is no longer the major employer in the countryside. Nearly 100,000 jobs for farmers and farm workers have gone in the past 10 years and another 100,000 may go by the end of the decade. However, the less than 3 per cent. of the population engaged in agriculture and forestry are the custodians of the visual and environmental aspects of the 80 per cent. of the British land mass which is rural.

Alongside the stark facts of the rural social problems, there is the paradox that some 13 million people now living in towns and cities expressed the wish to live in the countryside in a recent survey, with 45 per cent. of those interviewed longing for the rural lifestyle. A Gallup poll showed that "the countryside" ranks second only to freedom of speech as the best aspect of life in Britain. When we take all those facts together, we can understand what Professor Howard Newby meant when he referred to, two nations in one village".

There is a real social stratification in rural society, with one part of the rural population having less need of jobs, schools and public transport, while others have to struggle with problems of unemployment, bad housing, lack of transport, lack of childcare and many other social problems. There is an underclass in rural areas just as in urban areas, but it is more hidden. Significantly, only 28 per cent. of those defined as "poor" in a recent study actually admitted to the existence of deprivation in their area. They seemed almost to be taking their relative poverty for granted.

I turn now to some of the problems facing rural areas. The National Federation of Women's Institutes said that its members identified the village shop and/or post office as the most highly desired amenity in rural areas; the Village Retail Services Association (VIRSA) claims that one-third of village shopkeepers are pessimistic about the future of their businesses, with incomes well below £10,000 per annum. One shopkeeper said that there were three Peers of the Realm in his parish, all of whom used his shop, but that he never saw a parish councillor from one year's end to the other.

The two-car family (or even the one-car family) can get into town to visit the supermarket or hospital—if there still is one—but 25 per cent. of rural families in Wiltshire have no car. The National Association of Health Authorities & Trusts recently staged a rural health conference. The conclusions of that conference make extremely interesting reading because they concentrate on social rather than health problems as such. The conference concluded that poverty was seen as the key dimension in rural health problems; that the influence of car ownership was crucial; that the current health efficiency measures (based on the internal market) are not fair to rural areas because higher costs and a lower population density mean that the cost per case or per visit is bound to be higher than in urban areas; and finally, that mental health, alcohol and drug problems have specific rural dimensions although most current health service models are based on urban assumptions.

Turning to education, the Association of County Councils argues persuasively that the range of educational provision in rural areas is kept low because the standard spending assessment does not take sufficient account of increased travel costs or the diseconomies of scale in providing for smaller groups. The National Association for the Support of Small Schools has pointed out that, some LEAs, pushed hard by the DIE to remove surplus places, tend to target the small rural schools where there are usually few, if any, surplus places. It results in the closing of village schools and the bussing of children from their homes and communities. Children inevitably never again feel any strong link with their village … Village schools usually cost a little more but parents and their communities give freely and support their schools very readily".

If proper provision of education and associated services for rural areas is to be encouraged, there needs to be some explicit weighting for the costs of rurality in the standard spending assessment, going beyond the present limited allowance towards certain school-related costs. If total spending levels are tightly constrained—they are—and there is no allowance for the costs of rurality, there is bound to be an inequity in funding between urban and rural areas.

Of course, it is not only the village school that is disadvantaged. In rural areas, it is that much more difficult to sustain a full range of adult education, youth and community services, and leisure provision. The English metropolitan districts offer twice as much pre-primary and four times as much local authority day care as the English counties. One rural parent has put it graphically: I have to travel 12 miles—a 24 mile round trip—to get to a playgroup. No sooner do I get home than it is time to go back and pick him up".

There are many and varied analyses of rural problems—I have touched on only a few—but virtually all reports and surveys show that the two major problems, from which so many other problems flow, are jobs and housing. The greater relative degree of unemployment in rural areas and the lack of affordable homes to rent or buy are central to the problems of rural areas. The lack of affordable homes to rent or buy is a major social problem in rural areas, and has been recorded and emphasised by virtually every recent report on rural areas, including by the Duke of Westminster's study group; the Rural Development Commission; the Housing Corporation; the Association of County Councils; the Rural Housing Trust; the Archbishop's Commission and Report entitled Faith in the Countryside and our own Select Committee Report on The Future of Rural Societies.

That situation is the direct result of the Government's right-to-buy policy for local authority housing, accompanied by the refusal to allow local authorities, either as enablers or providers, to replace the lost houses and so maintain the stock of affordable housing. If rural houses, as they become available, are snapped up by rural incomers, even the most modest homes are priced way beyond the reach of the working population. In that case, the absence of a replacement supply of affordable housing can only increase the social divisions and stratification in rural areas.

The Government's right-to-buy scheme is a classic example of a popular, successful and vote-winning policy resulting in major socially undesirable results. The tragedy is that the Government could have achieved their political objective and at the same time prevented the worst social effects if they had allowed the local authorities, either as enablers or providers, to replace the stock. We have made it clear that the Labour Government will allow a phased-in release of the receipts from the sales of council houses to be used to build more houses.

Turning to employment, it is clear that more jobs will not be forthcoming from any reform of the existing common agricultural policy that is likely to take place. Every attempt to increase agricultural efficiency and to get our farm prices closer to world prices must exert further downward pressure on agricultural employment. There needs to be a radical redirection of the CAP towards a comprehensive policy for rural development, embracing the role of farming and other rural activities, the protection of the environment and the maintenance of socially viable rural areas.

An excellent Chatham House paper entitled Making the CAP Fit the Future argues that such a rural development policy should assume a political importance which is comparable to that which the CAP has occupied. It also suggests that member states should have greater freedom to pursue locally adapted social and environmental schemes, provided that they are fully decoupled from production and are strictly controlled and monitored to prevent the distortion of competition.

I have already mentioned the Labour Party's consultation document, A working countryside, which places a heavy emphasis on job creation in rural areas. The document sets out three broad objectives for the rural policy of the Labour Government: economic renewal (to ensure a broad range of job opportunities); social and democratic renewal (to strengthen rural communities); and the protection and enhancement of the countryside environment.

There is a curious idea abroad that the Labour Party lacks specific policy proposals. The document A working countryside lists no fewer than 47 policy proposals, and invites consultation on them all. Time does not allow me to list them all, but they all relate directly to the three broad strands of rural policy for the Labour Government: rebuilding the rural economy; renewing rural communities; and respecting the rural environment.

If I pick out just a few of the proposals, your Lordships will appreciate the wide-ranging nature of the document and the work that has gone into it. It suggests extending opportunity with a partnership with the private sector to ensure that rural communities have access to the information superhighway, which will increase job opportunities in the countryside; environmental initiatives to create jobs, to save energy and to improve water quality and the local environment; improvements in nursery education and childcare provision, a particular problem in rural areas; a partnership between local councils, local business and voluntary organisations to serve the community; building thousands of new homes with the millions of pounds from council house sales which Labour will allow local authorities to spend on a phased basis; partnership with housing associations to build affordable homes to rent; ensuring land for social housing in local plans; a police service accountable to local people, matched by an effective crime prevention strategy.

That is a selection only of the proposals contained in the document. They include also maintaining the network of rural post offices and strengthening them by giving them much greater commercial freedom; the stopping of rail privatisation and a much greater degree of regulation of the private bus companies, whose privatisation has, in many cases, wrecked the rural transport system. Each health authority will be required to develop a rural health care plan. There will be a statutory responsibility for local councils to develop their cultural policies; the retention of playing fields for the public good; linking rural schools to the information superhighway, thus giving access to new educational opportunities; a judgment of all policies for rebuilding the rural economy and renewing rural communities on criteria of environmental sustainability; a moratorium on new road schemes pending a full review on environmental and economic criteria; a target of increasing Britain's tree cover by 50 per cent. by 2010; existing SSSIs, special protection areas and Ramsar sites (the wetlands) to become sites of national importance with stronger protection; sites of local importance established with local plan protection; and the designation of more parts of Britain with national park status. That is only a selection of our proposals.

To conclude, I suspect that there will be fairly wide agreement all around the House on what needs to be done. I am convinced that the Labour Government will set about the task with new ideas and a fresh approach to rural policy, and will recognise the force of the remark made by the Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, in January 1991: We do not want to see a population exchange with the less well off in rural areas being driven into the cities by the absence of affordable housing and jobs in the countryside". That might be taken to be fairly good description of the results of current government policies.

Mr. Jacques Delors, the former president of the European Commission, put it much better when he said: Rural development is a public good which corresponds to a fundamental need of society as a whole". I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 p.m.

Lord Shuttleworth

My Lords, I must first declare an interest. Many of your Lordships know that I am chairman of the Rural Development Commission, the government agency concerned with the well-being of the people who live and work in rural England. I welcome today's debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for giving us an opportunity to consider the issues. There is, as he suggested, much common ground between us on the issues concerning the future of our rural areas. The debate takes place in the context of the Government's announcement that they intend to publish a rural White Paper in the late summer. What I believe should be at the heart of that White Paper must be the needs of the people who live and work in rural England. Without policies which recognise and enable rural areas to be places which provide jobs, homes and services for a mix of people in differing circumstances, we shall see a decline in rural communities and the loss of much of what we value and enjoy in the countryside.

I say that against a backcloth of great change in rural areas in recent years. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, painted a picture of poverty and deprivation. In some cases that is true, but it must be seen in context. Many areas have prospered and grown, and have out-performed urban areas economically. Growing numbers of people now choose to live in the countryside. Many more want to. Some people argue that the growth has been too great; that we should now take steps to stop further development; that we must put the countryside into wraps to ensure its survival.

I believe that calls for blanket policies to safeguard the countryside must be treated with caution for they overlook four crucial factors. First, the countryside, especially the more accessible parts, is where businesses want to locate and grow. If prevented from doing so, they will not automatically go to the towns or cities, and their benefits may be lost.

Secondly, the economic dynamism we see in many rural areas is now an engine of national economic growth. So the continued success of the rural economy is essential to the future prosperity of the country as a whole. Thirdly, some 10 million people already live in rural England. They need jobs, homes, services, especially those who are less well off, are elderly or disadvantaged in some way. They should be able to choose to remain in the countryside: it must not become simply the province of the more affluent and more mobile. A mix of people of different ages and circumstances is essential to healthy and balanced rural communities.

Finally—I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter—not all rural areas have benefited from economic growth. Some, generally the remoter and more peripheral areas, are suffering economically—traditional employment, such as agriculture, mining, seaside tourism, is declining and services are disappearing—and these areas need support and assistance. In particular, they need policies which provide a framework for, and stimulate, economic and social growth.

None of that means that I do not recognise and value the importance of the environment. I do not want the countryside destroyed by inappropriate or excessive development or made indistinguishable from the towns. On the contrary, a strong rural economy and balanced and flourishing communities are essential prerequisites for achieving other objectives for the countryside, including enhancing the environment. That means not just the landscape, but the built environment in the countryside: the street scene, the villages, and the community buildings. Without continuing adaptation as economic and social circumstances require, the countryside will at best become a museum of nostalgia; at worst it will wither and die.

I have listened with some concern to recent debates about sustainable development, and I share the worries of others about the plethora of definitions. It is in danger of becoming all things to all people. My main concern, however, stems from the view held in some quarters that sustainable development means no development in the countryside. The reverse must be true. Continuing appropriate rural development can make a contribution to the objectives of reducing the use of non-renewable resources and protecting the global and local environment.

Development which enables people in the countryside to find jobs near where they live, and to have access to services near where they live, will help to reduce travel, pollution, and congestion. Otherwise, if future development is concentrated only in the towns, it will increase commuting and the demands on those areas.

I welcome, among other things, the various measures that the Government have introduced to increase the supply of affordable rural housing. I hope that they will continue to give this high priority. More can be done to increase the supply. It is essential that the Housing Corporation's special rural programme is continued and, preferably, its size increased to reflect the size of the rural population. It should also continue to be concentrated on the smaller settlements rather than dispersed more widely just because that is easier. The needs are most acute in the smaller villages.

In my experience, government departments, agencies, local authorities and private-sector and voluntary bodies develop and implement policies and programmes with insufficient regard to their effect on rural areas. This is particularly so for the provision of rural services. The Commission recently published its second survey of rural services within four years. It showed that provision is poor and in some cases it is still deteriorating.

More attention needs to be given to improving accessibility to services and to delivering them nearer to the users by using branch and part-time offices, outreach, mobiles or the imaginative development of new technology. That has the potential to help rural areas to be the highways of the next century and will overcome many of the problems currently associated with distance and remoteness. Government must ensure that unnecessary regulatory burdens do not prevent this.

In conclusion, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who proposed the Motion, that I listened most carefully to what he said. I have also studied carefully his party's recent document, A Working Countryside. I know that he will not be surprised to hear that I agree with practically everything he and it had to say about the problems and difficulties facing the countryside. Indeed, I take it as a compliment that the Labour Party's recently stated objectives for rural areas have now become almost indistinguishable from the long-established objectives of the Rural Development Commission.

What worries me about the document is the easy assumption that every problem in rural England is caused by government and can be cured by government. Government interference and more regulation are not usually the answer. Change is necessary to the countryside. The most effective engine of change is a strong rural economy. There is no easy route to a quick fix.

3.32 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I too welcome the debate on the rural areas. I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. He comes from one of the most important dioceses in the country, combining as it does both rural affairs and industry.

I welcome the debate, first, because there is a crying need for a coherent and ideologically consistent policy in this area. I welcome it, secondly, because I believe that my party has such a policy and indeed, historically speaking, has always understood the necessary revolution which has to happen in English thought—though not so much in Welsh or Scottish thinking—on this matter. I welcome it, thirdly, because it is the subject on which in your Lordships' House I feel most at home because it is closest to my heart. Therefore, it is with more than ordinary enthusiasm that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for initiating the debate.

A great deal of the running in this area has been left to the party opposite largely because it has been the source of power in the countryside, and it must be said that a pretty hash it has made of it. There are two conflicting political ideologies of the countryside which the Government have nurtured over a long period. Essentially, each is an enemy to the other, although they overlap at the edges and some individual noble Lords opposite seem to be able to combine them both without breaking down into raving schizophrenia.

As regards the first ideology, I have only to go back to the picture of my childhood. It is of a small village with a large house; a simple social structure; the squire and his family; a parson and a schoolmistress appointed by the squire; eight or nine tenant farmers; and a couple of hundred other rather poorer people. The staff at the big house were drawn from the village although, as noble Lords opposite will know, one must import gamekeepers from Scotland since locals in that profession become corrupted. I nearly said "seduced", but this was not Lady Chatterley country.

When there was high agriculture and a decent squire—and often there was a decent squire—the system worked rather well. However, it was never right that one man should have so much power and secretly it was immensely resented. That was one ideology. In those days, the only possible alternative was peasant farming, as practised on the Continent, preached by eccentrics such as G. K. Chesterton and espoused only by radical Liberals.

But since then, there has grown up another ideology held by the party opposite. It is founded on the idea that agriculture is an industry like any other and that if you cut down the manpower, pour in the fertiliser and change the genes of your pigs and cows you can feed the world and make a handsome profit. The suicide rate among farmers will be high and the life of the countryside will be destroyed, but that fine old Englishman, Ricardo, would have approved.

Those policies were viable while food prices were high. However, now that food prices are low—and GATT is ensuring that they will stay low for some time—both policies have ceased to be viable. But at least while food prices are low we have a chance to build a humane society in the countryside. Shortly, by which I mean some time in the next 50 years as anyone who studies population and production trends on a global scale will confirm, food prices will rocket again and the devotees of agriculture-as-an-industry will have their chance again.

They must be forestalled. We who care for the countryside—and I know that that includes all noble Lords in the Chamber—must take advantage of the breathing space that we have to put in place policies which will be sustainable and humane. They will not be cheap, but then we have allowed our mishandling of externalities and our failure to recognise true social and ecological costs to blind us to the fact that we are declining from being a rich country to being a poor one. We must come to terms with that.

We must deal with the situation as we find it. We must work for the replacement of the common agricultural policy by a common rural policy and in the short to medium-term that will entail a system of indirect price management, which will provide a programme of direct payments for economic, environmental and social goals that will benefit the wider community as well as farmers, in particular small farmers.

At national level that will take the form of a series of individual contracts between farmers and the wider community. If the immediate reaction to that is that it will be impossible to handle and appallingly bureaucratic my answer is that, first, in these days of computers it is not impossible to handle and, secondly, individual tailor-made arrangements are the opposite of bureaucracy, which involves making individuals fit into general moulds.

We will strive for environmental sustainability; we will encourage the extensification of farming; and we will encourage organic farming. I am pleased to see our great champion of organic farming in the Chamber. We will also encourage the local processing of farm produce and the building up of producers' marketing co-operatives. We aim to encourage the movement of people to the countryside and we guarantee a basic minimum level of services to rural communities. I join the previous speakers in their support of that aim. The devotees of Flora Thompson will recognise what I mean if I say that while we cannot necessarily guarantee all services to Lark Rise we certainly can to Candleford and probably also to Candleford Green.

We would wish to return to the local councils many of the powers that have been taken away from them and, of course, ensure that there is proportional representation in local government, where it is badly needed. For once I am able to point out that that would probably benefit the party opposite more than my own.

Councils are the best judges of housing need and there is no reason why they should not be the providers of much-needed social housing. Healthcare should be delivered as far as possible through small community hospitals and peripatetic primary and community services. In an age when we are trying to cut down travel and when we have the advantages of distance teaching, it makes sense to keep local schools open and in addition, as far as possible to make their facilities open to the local community. Rural post offices should be exempt from business rates; and police officers should be stationed in large villages although probably under slightly closer supervision than devotees of Hamish MacBeth would recognise.

In short, we shall operate on the presumption that to be part of the countryside is not only something which many people in this country want, but it is also something which is healthy for them personally and for the community as a whole. If we are to work for a sustainable future in the world, we must achieve a healthy rural economy in this over-populated country of ours.

3.40 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Durham

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned in passing the report Faith in the Countryside. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that, as I am for his introduction to this useful and timely debate. Your Lordships will remember that Faith in the Countryside was a report of a commission set up by the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Prior, published in 1990. Since the publication of that report, there can be no doubt in the country as a whole about the Church of England's commitment to rural areas.

There are some 5,500 Anglican churches in rural areas. If one adds to that another 5,000 churches and chapels of other denominations, the Christian Church as a whole in this country represents the most ubiquitous, widespread and numerous community commitment of all voluntary agencies. Nationally, there is a new ecumenical Churches Rural Group under the auspices of Churches Together in England. The National Rural Officer, working from the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh Park, has established an active network of regional rural officers whose work enables local churches to address the social, economic and environmental needs of rural areas.

My work has taken me into many different aspects of rural life—from the intensive fruit farms of Kent to remote Pennine sheep farms. Indeed "Bishop in Garden of Eden" has been a frequent headline in local newspapers, although I was rather alarmed when it formed the caption for a picture of me taking an apple. On a recent visit to one of the highest parts of Weardale, I was impressed by a farmer who not only kept thousands of sheep but also managed to find time to be a lecturer in the local agricultural college and to be a churchwarden in his local parish. Such community involvement is not unusual from those who, for generations, have made our countryside productive and have also preserved its amenities.

Moreover, I believe that "rural" should not be a word reserved for the most beautiful and attractive parts of our nation. In County Durham there are now many villages, ex-mining communities, which can properly be described as "rural". They are finding new roles slowly and sometimes painfully. But the social and economic problems with which they are faced are very different from those faced by the dales villages only half an hour away from them.

In all those very different settings, the Church is there. In spite of the changing financial structures of the Church—and we are making those changes in a very positive mood—and in spite of many questions concerning the deployment of the clergy of the Church of England, that Church intends to remain a living presence in every community. The Church believes that it would be abdicating its responsibilities if it did not make a significant contribution to the maintenance of a lively rural economy and community life. Such a commitment finds its way into clergy training and the encouragement of fine young priests to make rural ministry no less demanding than that in an urban setting. It finds its way into an acceptance that financial responsibilities within the Church are shifting from central to local communities.

Ethical questions which arise in rural areas are of course a priority for the Church. Animal welfare, the distribution of wealth, the stewardship of natural resources and the place of the natural world in the philosophical hierarchy, are all concerns which demand theology being worked out on the ground.

The churches are crucially involved in the social implications of current trends in the development of rural life. For young people to be able to stay in the rural area, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said, housing, employment and training are required. I am glad to hear that those are agreed policies across party boundaries. It attempts to provide affordable housing and the provision of care for the elderly and infirm. Local churches are frequently in the forefront of providing transport and ensuring the retention of the village shop and post office.

I am pleased to report that there is a growing collaboration between the Church and rural community councils. They are natural allies in working towards the vision of wholesome rural life. Together they have been responsible for many village appraisals and housing needs surveys. It is in the worship and prayers of the Church that some of the inherent conflicts between groups in the community can be transformed into what we are seeking to achieve—a coherent community plan.

The Church frequently takes the lead in the debates about the retention of educational facilities in rural areas. A village school, which often because of its quality and convenience is preferred to a large area school, is usually the centre of community life and its buildings are used for long hours, including the evenings, when many activities take place which cultivate community life. It is frequently the local vicar who is the chairman or member of the school management body.

I mentioned the importance of Christian worship as the occasion when many aspirations and reconciliations are brought together. That leads me to say something briefly about church buildings. Vital as they are for practical use, as a lasting symbol and as heritage to be treasured, they often present a dilemma for the members of the rural Christian community. They cannot, and I am sure will not, leave our church buildings to deteriorate. Indeed, it is arguable that they are in a better shape now than ever before. But buildings absorb a disproportionate part of the energy and finance at the disposal of small communities. The continuance of value added tax on the repair of listed buildings causes deep and lasting resentment. The Church looks for a growth in partnership with heritage societies and local authorities to ensure that village churches are maintained as part of our unique heritage and at the same time are usable for worship and other public occasions.

In our rural areas there are many things to treasure and conserve; but they are, first and foremost, places where people live and work and have their being. But one of the sadder features of the rural scene is its tendency to fragment. Those concerned with environment are often at variance with the farmers; newcomers can be resented by the indigenous population; those with visions of development are mistrusted by those whose viewpoint is more conservationist. It is vital that those different approaches are brought together and the Church is in a strong position to do that. For the Church embraces them all, affirms their good aspirations and believes that rural life can live with diversity while, at the same time, building a cohesive approach to its problems and its potential.

The conventions of a maiden speech require me to be brief and non-controversial. I assure your Lordships that as one who preaches three or four times a week, I am used to working within the constraints of those expectations. But I hope that I shall not be interpreted as being bland and generalist. For example, I am currently involved in a sharp dispute between a mineral extraction company and the local rural community. The problem is in relation to the use of recycled fuels. The company is a good employer which is sensitive and generous to the local community and which contributes significantly to the economy. But the local people are understandably alarmed by the possibility of toxic pollution. The Church's role here is vital: to recognise the concerns, to decipher the underlying questions and to be the place where a diversity of interests can be reconciled. To that process, the Church is totally and irreversibly committed. In that way, we are ready and equipped to further the contribution which rural areas can make to the whole of our national life.

3.50 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. He comes to this House with a reputation for personal courage and frankness which is much admired. His valuable contribution to today's debate, in which he drew upon a wealth of experience from both rural and urban parishes, has been great. We hope that the right reverend Prelate's contribution will be the first of many.

The excellent Motion of my noble friend Lord Carter leaves someone in my position in a serious dilemma. I live in a country, some of the time on Exmoor but most of the time on a small sheep farm in Buckinghamshire. After 16 years of a government who profess to speak for the rural community, almost every area of the fabric of rural life is in need of urgent repair. I have never before heard, as I now hear at home, such universal expressions of frustration and despair with any government from country people and from many of those who were formerly their most loyal supporters.

My noble friend Lord Carter has already spoken about a number of serious problems, and other speakers will no doubt do the same. I could have spoken about rural unemployment and low pay as did my noble friend, or about rural homelessness—the lack of affordable housing in rural areas which means that in areas such as Buckinghamshire, where I live, village people, born and bred, have had to leave the villages to live in the towns, while the houses are filled by townspeople who can afford them. I could have spoken about rural crime. The party of law and order has put paid, in its days in office by its inactivity, to the days when a car could be left unlocked outside the village shop and when the front door of one's home was never secured at night.

I hope that other speakers will concentrate on the need for better local services, better local health care, local schools and even, perhaps, speak about the wilder excesses of the common agricultural policy which continue to leave me, as a small farmer, breathless with astonishment. Alternatively, I could have spoken about rural transport, if indeed anyone can remember what that was, or about the complete or virtual absence of rural childcare, which prevents so many countrywomen from obtaining work.

Any one of those subjects would merit a debate on its own. What is urgently needed is a decisive government who will rebuild and renew after years of neglect. However, I shall leave those topics to others because I should like to talk quite briefly about something wholly different and which is, in its own way and in my view, an equally serious threat to rural communities and rural life. I refer to the effects of the animal rights movement on this and future governments' policy. I do not believe that I exaggerate when I say that there is a deep-rooted feeling of alienation which I find beginning to be expressed in rural areas the length of the country, from Buckinghamshire to Yorkshire and from the west country to Cumbria.

There is a growing belief that Parliament is no longer listening to the views and experience of rural England and that policies for the countryside are increasingly being determined by the wishes of the often uninformed, urban and suburban majority who have different requirements and different objectives. Those groups are assisted by pressure groups with, apparently, limitless funds to try to achieve their objective. There is a feeling of frustration in some places which borders on despair for the future—a feeling that the whole of the rural community and a way of life which many people hold dear is on the brink of being destroyed. Nowhere is that sense of frustration and conflict more keenly felt than over the issue of the care and management of both wild and domestic animals.

Perhaps I may give the House two examples of what is troubling those to whom I speak almost daily. Shortly before Christmas, animal rights protesters launched an attack on the offices of the Humane Slaughter Association in Potters Bar. That charity has worked for more than 80 years to encourage practices which save food animals from suffering stress, fear or pain in transit at markets and in slaughter houses both here and abroad. Part of the association's work has been to develop mobile slaughter houses with the aim of trying to ensure that animals are slaughtered in familiar surroundings instead of being subjected to long and stressful journeys to distant abattoirs. In short, it was an attack by the animal rights movement on an organisation which has done much to advance animal welfare.

Shortly after Christmas, as your Lordships will know— and continuing now—animal rights protesters continued to block, attack and shout at lorries loaded with calves and sheep for export. I personally find that trade repugnant. For 15 years I have avoided any of my animals travelling abroad. But, having said that, anyone who understands farm animals knows that that shouting and that noise, is, perhaps, subjecting those animals inside the trucks to the greatest trauma that they are likely to experience.

I cannot believe that I am alone in your Lordships' House in thinking that something has gone very wrong somewhere along the line. On the plus side, there is enormous public interest in the countryside, a desire by people to spend time in the country and a concern for birds and animals which has grown beyond all expectation. Young people in particular are troubled by animal suffering, perhaps more than they are by human suffering. That interest has been stimulated in schools, especially urban ones, and the public is constantly being urged to play an active part in the conservation of the countryside and its animals. Some of that interest is well informed, but some of it is not. The end result is that there is an increasing lack of understanding that animals do not share human feelings, human values or hold human views and opinions.

There is a basic lack of understanding that, in nature, every animal is in effect another animal's breakfast. That is translated in adulthood into the foundation of well-funded groups lobbying for total protection for all wild animals and birds and pressure to preserve in aspic the countryside as it is now. Many people no longer understand that those who shoot, fish, hunt and rear animals for food care greatly for the animals and birds and probably understand them better than those who regard them sentimentally as human equivalents.

The time has come—there has, perhaps, never been a more important time—for those who now manage our countryside to get the message across to the largely urban and suburban electorate, and those who are likely to govern us, that management of the countryside—because it must be managed—should not lightly be taken away from those who live in and understand the countryside and entrusted to the mercies of political correctness. Because they do not understand those things, or want to hear them, there is widespread condemnation of country sports and pursuits. In many of the places, including Exmoor where I live, not only are they a way of life but they also provide a livelihood for many people. Whatever personal views one holds on the rights or wrongs of hunting, it is a fact that a ban on hound sports would, at a stroke, put 16,500 people out of full-time employment and a similar number out of part-time employment. Many of them and their families are in tied accommodation.

The farming industry and the countryside have much to look forward to from a future Labour Government, not least people in charge who actually know about agriculture. Coherent policies are needed in just about every area, but rural policies must also reflect the views of those whose lives are directly affected by them. In formulating those policies, those views must be listened to.

4 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggests to me a prescription given by a doctor to prevent a deterioration in a patient's health. I thank the noble Lord for bringing it to your Lordships' attention. The problem, of course, is what should the medicine be. I subscribe to the view that the nastier the medicine, the better the chance of a long-term cure.

The noble Lord's Motion covers a wide range of subjects such as low cost rural housing which he mentioned. At least your Lordships were instrumental in getting the staircasing arrangements changed. The noble Lord was very much involved in that. I was pleased to hear of the right reverend Prelate's commitment to rural areas, and his commitment, too, to the village school and the village hall, which has not always been apparent in this House. However, I doubt whether anyone would not argue that a healthy, prosperous agriculture will continue to be an essential factor in the social, economic and environmental needs of rural areas. I wish to concentrate on agriculture. My medicine is tailored to the effect on British agriculture of, first, the GATT agreements and, secondly, eastern European countries' accession to the European Union, both of which will make the present CAP support untenable in the 21st century. The noble Baroness said that it leaves her breathless already. It does me too.

There appears to be a choice of medicine. Either we continue with the present policy of production controls, and support such as set-aside, quotas, and cross-compliance, or we move towards a more competitive international agriculture which inevitably means the devil will take the hindmost. Unpleasant though the second course may sound, I believe it to be the right long-term course for British farmers. It can be made less unpleasant by carefully monitored decoupled help and strict anti-dumping controls. But what this help must not do is to affect sound commercial decisions on the farm. For instance, there must be no cross-compliance, no direct production based support for non-viable farmers to remain in business, and there must be no special help for the new entrant.

I realise that such a course would be unpopular, particularly in areas such as Wales where I live where the vast majority of farms are uneconomic. The course to which I refer would be considered in a similar light to the Highland Clearances. However, I believe it is a more effective and kinder medicine than encouraging the non-viable farmer to stay in business, and it is far better than encouraging a young farmer to start on a farm that can never be economic, only to find himself bankrupt aged 40 with a wife and two children.

I was surprised therefore to read in this week's Farmers Weekly leader that the Government should be encouraged to give special help to new entrants. A few pages later it was pointed out in another article that farms must become larger, fewer, and more competitive. To my mind that was something of a non-sequitur. I speak with feeling as I had to enter farming as a tenant with no help or patronage. I would say to those who understand primogeniture that I was a third son of a third son of a third son. Such people do not get much money. I had one advantage which was quite a big one in that I was fortunate in marrying a farmer's daughter who understood and who had been brought up to be a slave to the farm.

Of course I shall be accused of adopting a ruthless approach but nature is ruthless, as the noble Baroness said. Although we should always try to co-operate with nature, she demands and respects a certain ruthlessness on the fanner's behalf. Unless we adopt such a policy, we shall become even more demoralised, destitute peasants expected to dress up in smocks to amuse our suburban cousins. I much admired the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on the subject of animal welfare and rights. They are very much in line with these thoughts.

That is the medicine I would prescribe to deal with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. It can be sugared by providing alternative work and development, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth, and of course by part-time farming. I am aware that I have been called—particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie,—an arch farmer. I am not ashamed of that, far from it, for unless farmers are encouraged to do what they know best, which is to farm, then they and the area in which they work will be the poorer, and so, too, will be our well cared for countryside.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I add my thanks to those of other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for enabling us to discuss this important topic today.

As has been said, our subject matter is hugely wide. One must therefore be selective. My interest, both personally and as chairman of the National Trust, whose interests lie at the heart of the topic, is how we obtain those policies which are needed to ensure a prosperous and vibrant rural economy without doing damage to the quality of our countryside—or, perhaps more positively, while at the same time enhancing the quality of our countryside.

I start with three preliminary points. The first is to note that the proposed White Paper is to be a joint affair of the DoE and the Ministry of Agriculture. That is important. It may be stating the obvious, in that how could a White Paper in this area be effective unless it were joint? However, of course logic does not always inform the actions of Government.

My second point is that a healthy, sound economy must be one in which change is accepted, and an economy in which dynamic development is encouraged. A countryside which is a rural museum, with people playing at farming, a Rousseauesque countryside, is not a healthy countryside. In my view it is possible, although not necessarily easy, to achieve a healthy rural market economy within the constraints of a strong sustainable development policy framework; a framework which will include many features of our existing planning system.

My third point is that you cannot divorce rural policies and practices from urban policies. If we want an attractive and healthy countryside we also need a healthy and attractive urban environment because of the consequential effect on house prices of immigrants—or perhaps I should say emigrants—moving from urban and suburban areas. We need to avoid rural areas becoming dormitories for urban workers with the consequential effect on house prices. That point was well made by the CPRE in its recent pamphlet Urban Footprints.

It seems to me that the two key ingredients are those of rural communities and land use, and farming has to be the starting point. However, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, will not be surprised to hear that my recipe is somewhat different from his. Farming has to be the starting point as most of today's problems stem from the huge changes that are going on—and will continue to go on—in agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, mentioned the eastern European countries, for example, in this regard. How we farm and what we produce (or do not produce) profoundly affects our countryside. Because, even in the uplands, almost all our landscape—everything we think of as quintessentially English, or Welsh or Scottish—has been made by man. I do not need to labour the point.

Yet much of our finest landscape, our countryside, is in agricultural terms marginal land—economically low quality land. The regime of Countryside Stewardship and of ESAs is, therefore, crucial. I therefore welcome these measures. But we have to ensure not only that agri-environmental measures are strengthened in the CAP, but also that production based subsidies, for example the HLCA regime, are phased out or at any rate reduced because they have resulted in overstocking and damage to upland habitats. There is also the problem of ewe premium quotas, which we debated a year or two ago. We need more flexible tenancy arrangements, and the Agricultural Tenancies Bill, which we dealt with last autumn and winter is something which will be helpful, and which I support.

Even so, the economics of the farmer on this marginal land will remain a problem. On our tenanted upland farms the National Trust estimates that the typical farmer requires a subsidy of £15,000 a year to achieve the modest income of £10,000 a year. That is not healthy. It is sometimes suggested, and PPG7 is an example, that the solution to falling farm incomes and employment lies in farm diversification. The work of people like Professor Richard Munton and others suggests that that is not the case. He shows that there is no empirical evidence to substantiate the claim that a lower financial dependency on farm income is likely to result in systems of production which have less impact on the landscape.

A related issue is the extent to which, if financial resources are shifted towards environmental management, local considerations should be allowed to influence the use of those resources to achieve local environmental objectives. Those expenditures need to be consistent with other policy objectives and processes, such as English Nature's natural habitats initiative and also local plans. Here I also draw attention to the Countryside Council for Wales's Tyr Cymen scheme—the whole farm approach. We also need to adjust our policies to link in with the European Union structural funds.

We must also recognise that competition and technology will inexorably increase the pressures on farm employment and the economic viability of rural communities—the villages and small towns—whose historical basis has, directly or indirectly, been agriculture. As the noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, in particular, said, other sources of employment will need to emerge. In our national parks tourism may appear to be the answer. However, that, too, can be unhealthy if carried to excess. As I said earlier, nor do I find much comfort in our village economies being based on dormitories for urban commuters or for tele-workers—a fashionable but, in my view, much overworked solution.

What is needed is small-scale local enterprises. This is where the work of the RDC is important. I acknowledge and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, on the effectiveness of the RDC. This is where a bit of pump-priming of the kind that the RDC undertakes can be effective in initiating enterprise. It is very difficult to anticipate the enterprises that will emerge. From our experience in the trust we know that a great variety of enterprises can grow up successfully.

I am acutely conscious that I am only scratching the surface of one or two aspects of the rural economy and the relevant policies to support it. I have not dealt with, for example, rural infrastructures, the problems of affordable housing, new buildings or of adapting existing buildings and, for example, the effect of listing buildings. Then there is the problem of public transport and roads. All these are vital. I merely note, en passant, that while there is a great deal on rural transport in the recent report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution it had little to say on the particular problem of rural communities.

I conclude by reiterating what seem to me to be the two key points: the need to enhance policies which ensure environmentally friendly farming to protect our landscape; and the need to ensure the economic and hence social viability of our villages through policies which encourage local employment.

4.13 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, last summer I read a pamphlet called Off our Trolleys, which I found not only a good title but a very interesting and indeed alarming read. It dealt with the effect of the growing number and power of supermarkets, mostly out of town and in the countryside, their effect on UK horticulture and the increasing difficulties for the small and medium growers and shopkeepers to compete and stay in business. It also dealt with the effect on road transport. The pamphlet was written by Hugh Raven and Tim Lang. Hugh is co-ordinator of Safe Alliance, a coalition of 35 conservation and environment groups, and Tim is Professor of Food Policy at Thames Valley University.

The pamphlet came about as a result of a report they wrote on the implications for the UK economy of retail concentration. The Select Committee in another place found that, the UK highly organised retail sector has a greater percentage of overall turnover concentrated in fewer hands than in other EC countries". In the light of that, they examined whether the free market applied to food retailing and researched into the extent of food import penetration and the impact of unnecessary transportation of food.

What has been found is the decline of traditional outlets for UK horticultural produce, particularly wholesale and retail markets. And here the Association of County Councils' submission to the Government's White Paper team makes the point: Even within rural areas, there are complex relationships between one locality and another. This is true especially as between market towns and their hinterlands. These towns, typically between 3,000 and 12,000 in population, came into existence to service the agricultural economy, and still play an essential part in, and depend largely upon, the economic activities of the areas which surround them. Today their economic survival can often be threatened, just as much as that of major town centres, by the expansion of out-of-town commercial developments". Of course, there have been advantages to the consumer in buying fresh fruit and vegetables from big retailers as prices have tumbled in real terms. Supermarkets may claim that they are responding to consumer demand, but they are also responsible for the moulding of consumer expectations. But these savings and changes in tastes have costs elsewhere. Suppliers' margins are squeezed and growers bankrupted by supermarkets' capricious use of their buying power. Specifications can be very tight. Such is the power of the buyers and the fear of their sanction of "delisting" that comment by growers on supermarket buying policy is usually given only on condition of anonymity. Demand for large quantities of uniform products cannot be met without significant external costs measured in terms of pesticides and fertiliser residues and run-off, the by-products of heavy energy use, the loss of genetic diversity and the external effects of long-distance transport.

During the 1980s, the share of the sales of fresh fruit and vegetables shifted markedly between types of outlet. In 1984 the multiples enjoyed 24 per cent. of the market. By 1991 this had increased to 47.6 per cent., while over the same period independent greengrocers saw their share sink from a third to less than a quarter. The multiples' share is now about 50 per cent. and is predicted to rise to 70 per cent. by the end of the decade. For some products, such as apples, dominance is already overwhelming.

This is killing off alternative forms of distribution, including wholesale markets. According to the NFU, many growers are, concerned about having a viable alternative to the multiples". The big stores all carry very similar ranges and will not deal with suppliers under a given size, which has disadvantaged small suppliers and makes it difficult for new firms to start. Those growers who opt to supply the multiples find they are dictated to about their methods of production. They are given specifications for each crop, the approved seed supplier, how to treat the growing crop and the method and timing of harvest.

The multiples' penetration of the fresh produce market has been highly profitable for them. That is reflected in where fresh fruit and vegetables are put—the prime site just inside the entrance where they cannot be missed by any shopper.

There are environmental costs. As I said, genetic diversity is sacrificed; seasonal produce is globally sourced, increasing the demand for freight transport; crop seasons are artificially extended by intensive energy use in protected cropping; and agrochemical inputs are required to ensure uniform and unblemished produce. The natural process of growth is moulded and manipulated to achieve a predictable and stable throughput.

Standardisation has resulted in a huge loss of genetic variation in our main food crops. Apples are an excellent example. Of 2,000 varieties on the National Apple Register, only nine dominate commercial outlets. I am lucky enough to live in Cambridge, near enough to bike to the market, where I can still buy small Cox's which have far more flavour than the large shiny ones on offer in the big stores and—an additional advantage if you have a family of children—you get more to the pound.

Demand for seasonal produce out of season has led to an increase both in the inter-continental transport of perishable fresh foods and in glass-houses, or more usually poly-tunnel growing—both having very significant effects on road use and energy use. For supermarkets, seasonality is no longer a consideration. Being able to supply fresh seasonal foods from around the world has been one of the supermarkets' proudest boasts, with very prominent and expensive advertising campaigns, like Safeway's "Picked yesterday in Kilimanjaro". As the price of transport falls, larger quantities come from farther afield, encroaching into markets traditionally supplied domestically and costing rural jobs as large areas of land formerly growing labour-intensive, high value horticultural crops revert to agricultural pursuits and fewer jobs. Import penetration can be rapid and on a large scale. The Financial Times reported: Spanish shipments of iceberg lettuce are expected to rise —this year to 79,000 tonnes. This compares to 1,600 in '85, causing British growers to dump large quantities of produce". Some of the imported supplies are provided by domestic producers, importing to make sure that they can offer continuity of supply. It is a high risk strategy. Supermarkets themselves import produce at exorbitant rates, yet retail it at the same low price as the available home-grown version, subsidising foreign imports out of the UK growers' margin. This is done with iceberg lettuce, celery, broccoli and cauliflower—all expensive, bulky produce, air-freighted from as far as California.

So what are we to make of all this? It is difficult to see a lot of consumers giving up the convenience of the weekly shop at one site. But I do think that the public should be made much more aware than they seem to be of the very large costs involved to UK horticulture, to the reduction of employment in rural areas, and of the reduction in the number of small markets and shopkeepers, vital for the elderly and the poor, the increased use of energy, and in particular the cost of increasing traffic and road use. As supermarkets tighten their grip on grocery sales, centralised distribution will add another twist to the road miles spiral. More than 95 per cent. of goods are delivered to stores via regional distribution centres, on average a 90-mile round trip by lorry, compared with less than 20 miles for some street markets. The newest stores have no storage space and are serviced entirely by lorry. It is small wonder that Sainsbury's and Safeway's trucks cover about 40 million miles per year.

I am of course aware that the DoE has recently tightened the relevant planning guidelines, which should slow down the proliferation of out-of-town stores. Thank goodness for that! There has been public pressure reflected in the Environment Select Committee report into retailing and the Royal Commission report on transport. I welcome all that. However, what we want to hear from the Minister is that the department is not only fully aware of all the implications, but that it also intends to take further action in co-operation with MAFF to make some positive changes. Education of the public, so that they are aware of what is happening, is very important.

Could there not be a Green Paper on food retailing, as part of a review of the food economy as a whole—or at least, could it be a part of the rural policy White Paper which I understand is expected in September?

4.23 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

We are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for introducing this debate. As several noble Lords said, it is particularly appropriate because we expect the rural White Paper in September. Certainly the Government should be very grateful for this opportunity, as the debate may well produce ideas that will be helpful. I suggest that what that White Paper must not contain is a collection of un-thought-out, put-together ideas which seem vaguely relevant to the countryside.

Although I say this with great affection and esteem for the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I was rather worried when he produced the shopping-list that the Labour Party has just produced in its, as it were, rural White Paper. The noble Lord mentioned the example of tree growing. I looked it up because I thought that I must have misheard the percentage. I quote: Labour is committed to setting targets for increasing tree cover. A 50 per cent increase by 2010 would be a challenging but achievable target". Assuming—as I do not—that the noble Lord's party is in power in 1997, if my arithmetic is right, that gives him precisely 13 years to achieve a 50 per cent. increase in tree cover in Britain. I suggest that even Chairman Mao would have shrunk from the implications of such a pledge. However, I shall leave that point aside.

Of course we must try to get a balance in the rural population. As my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth said, it is a matter of the people who work, as well as live, in the countryside. What we cannot have is a countryside inhabited by retired people and commuters. Quite apart from anything else, the constraints on transport that will come about within the lifetime of most of us will make that impossible. I believe that many of us—I say this happily—will end up cycling a great deal more in the countryside. I do not believe it is possible to say that we shall have a population that constantly commutes by car.

Rural land is a scarce resource. But that does not necessarily mean that there is an inadequate supply of land for economic development and affordable housing. In other words, it is possible for land to be made available for the kind of countryside to which my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth referred. But the Government cannot merely predict demands on the countryside and then say that they will provide for those needs. "Predict and provide" is not an answer. I believe—and it may be easier for me to say this than it is for Members on the other side—that market forces must be allowed to ration, by price where necessary, the land that is available for both development and housing. But of course those market forces must be modified to some extent by intervention in matters such as affordable housing. I certainly go along with much of what the Labour document says about housing. However, I would make one particular comment to the Government in relation to something I heard the other day that disturbed me. It is important that affordable housing, particularly when provided by housing associations—and let us be frank, in a sense it is council housing by another name—must not be sold. It must be kept as part of the affordable stock for rent.

I also suggest that developers would be wise to ensure that there is a demand before they develop. We have all heard of new golf courses being built which may take up a hundred acres each and which suddenly go bust because there is no proper demand. I always think of the example set by the late Hong Kong shipping tycoon, Y.K. Pao. He was very wise. He never ordered a ship to be built until he had a long charter that would repay him completely. So when many other shipowners went bust, he did not.

The noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Chorley, referred to the pressures caused by people coming into the countryside from the towns. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was kind enough to refer to the study by the CPRE, Urban Footprints. The countryside must not become an easy escape route from the towns. We should look at the detail of those urban pressures. That is the subject of the CPRE's study. It will be enormously valuable to the Government. One could almost say that it is work that the Government should themselves have done. It will cost quite a lot: £110,000. That is peanuts to the Government but mega-bucks to us. I do not object at all to CPRE brains being used to carry out this policy work. However, it would be rather nice if my noble friend the Minister were to suggest that the Government might make a small contribution towards it!

I move on to the crucial issue of planning which is controversial. I am worried about two problems. The first is the extent to which councils can be intimidated by developers who threaten to sue them for costs if they refuse planning permission and if that refusal is subsequently reversed on appeal. I quite understand why sometimes councils give way under such pressure. I do not know the answer, but maybe my noble friend could give some thought to it. Secondly, I advise councils not to be seduced, indeed one might almost say corrupted, by the concept of planning gain. Planning gain may be a good idea, but there is the danger that a clever developer will propose something which ought not to be allowed. However, he may attach to it as an inducement a cherished plan of a councillor or a council official.

Incidentally, I believe that the role of parish councils is crucial. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned three Members of your Lordships' House who used a shop, while no parish councillor did so. I believe that the most important post that I am honoured to hold is as chairman of my parish council. Parish councils have a crucial role, as the foundation of local government.

One factor which will add to pressures on the countryside is migration within Europe. We have far better countryside than most countries in Europe and we must not allow the golden goose to be destroyed. I totally understand why people wish to move, but we cannot afford everyone moving to the English countryside who wishes to do so. I believe that we have a great deal to teach Europe about both rural economic development and environmental conservation. Let us not forget that the environmentally sensitive area is a major innovation and one of the better ways of spending CAP money. It was invented in Britain originally at Halvergate in Norfolk to preserve the marshes around the Broads from being ploughed up.

In conclusion, I suggest that for many of these questions to be answered we will depend on the Government producing a good rural affairs White Paper in September.

4.32 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for initiating this valuable debate. I must declare an interest as I wish to give an example of a tragic incident which happened last Thursday and which has happened to many people. I should like to suggest to your Lordships some ideas that might help.

I own a small, well bred pedigree accredited flock of Texel sheep as well as some other breeds. Last Thursday, my farm man was returning from the vet when he saw two people with leads in their hands, looking for their dogs which they said had run away. Our man suddenly thought of my lambs and rushed back to the field to see two red setter type dogs disappearing through the hedge. The two dogs had killed one lamb, having bitten through its jugular vein. Another lamb had been severely mauled, its ear bitten off, its throat ripped and back and neck mauled. That lamb was still alive. The vet was called and he put the severely distressed lamb out of its misery. It was a really well grown excellent tup lamb. Even the vet was shocked to see such mutilation. The shepherd was totally dismayed after all the work that had gone into rearing the lambs and his female helper was in tears. The poor ewes were left in a very stressed state. It was not the first time that the dogs had killed; the owner had been in court only a month before the incident.

Out of control dogs rampaging over the countryside worrying sheep do not endear their owners to farmers. I also read last week that many dogs belonging to New Age travellers were spreading the parvovirus because the dogs had not been vaccinated. Is it not time for us to take seriously the problem of out of control dogs? For example, what happens if rabies arrives in this country? There is now an identichip which can be implanted into dogs to avoid loss. It is a microchip about the size of a grain of rice and the pet is identified with an alphanumeric code. The identichip is recorded on the central computer database with complete details of the owner. A network of scanners covers the country in such places as kennels for strays, with dog wardens, with the Cat Protection League, with the cruelty and welfare societies, the RSPCA and the SSPCA homes. The Kennel Club supports the proposal, as do vets. I should be interested to hear what the Government think and whether they intend to do anything about the registration of dogs.

If there is to be harmony in rural areas, then people who come to live in the countryside should abide by the rules. On the land I farm I work closely with the Countryside Commission. We want people to enjoy pleasant walks by the burn. We provide stiles. The Countryside Commission provides signs saying "Please keep your dog on a lead". However, the signs are being ignored and even torn down. We have to chain and padlock gates, as no respect is being given to stock and the gates are left open. More and more people flood into the countryside, abusing and flouting the rules with which farming and country people have grown up and which they respect.

The Government's target, in the White Paper Health of the Nation, to reduce suicides by 15 per cent. was welcomed by many people. It has been found that suicide is almost twice as common among farmers as it is among the public in general. A survey commissioned by the Farmers Weekly found that 36 per cent. of the fanners responding were unhappy or depressed. A survey of farmers around Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire—near where I live—found that 19 per cent. of farmers were anxious or depressed but that very few had told their GPs of those feelings. MAFF figures show that there are about 10,000 farms in North Yorkshire. A report entitled Farming under Stress revealed that hill fanners felt not wanted by society nor listened to by the Government. They are faced with difficult working conditions caused by the weather, long hours of work and administrative paperwork, low income and uncertainty about the continuation of subsidies and allowances.

Because of that information and the concern of many people, the North Yorkshire Rural Initiative was formed last year. It is a coherent group, working together with representatives from agriculture, public bodies and voluntary agencies. The initiative has brought together the Samaritans, the citizens advice bureaux, the health authorities and farming bodies such as the NFU and the Young Farmers, the Church, the police and many other bodies. The aims are to publicise the difficulties facing farmers and to alert them to the help available to them from the Samaritans and the citizens advice bureaux.

I serve on the Family Health Service Authority (FHSA) for North Yorkshire and know at first hand how easy it is to be isolated on farms and in little villages in rural areas, cut off and with no public transport. The distance to the nearest hospital can be 40 miles and bringing care into the community is not an easy matter. With an aging population, many cases of mental or physical ill health can mean difficulties. Health authorities, social services and voluntary agencies need to come together with shared initiatives.

The extra expense of living in the countryside should not be forgotten. The time taken by statutory staff, such as district nurses and home care providers, means that much time is spent in cars. Getting services to the people in the isolated rural areas is expensive. Just to go shopping can be a major operation.

The spread of crime in rural areas has been another anxiety. The police are another service which is expensive. Villages which for years had a local policeman living in and serving the community no longer feel secure without their local bobby. Only last week the grass-cutting equipment and mowing machines were stolen from the parish church in Masham, where I live. Even with community watch schemes, these things are happening under people's noses. With the spread of drug abuse, things could get much worse. I have felt for some time that the growth of car boot sales, and the like, provide easy outlets for encouraging that form of crime. Should not boot sales be registered with local authorities?

With so many people coming into the countryside, I feel that it is important to give them recreational facilities. Here, I must again declare an interest. There is some concern felt by riding establishments that they may be taxed out of existence. To run a small riding school or trekking centre, which give opportunities for people to enjoy the countryside and do something healthy, is expensive for the owners. They have many expenses in providing that service, such as blacksmiths' bills, vets' bills, employing staff, providing and feeding the animals, providing the stables and facilities needed, paying for licensing, and the many other expenses, which all add up. A heavy community tax could be the last straw. I hope that that will be understood by the Government and local government. Services such as riding for the disabled, which is often run with the help of those establishments, could also suffer as a result of that. A workable balance has to be found if there is to be successful social, economic and environmental well-being for all those living in and coming into the rural areas.

Much progress has been made in North Yorkshire, with approximately 14 local development agencies coming together in the Forum for Voluntary Organisations. That network must be a good way to stop too much wastage of valuable resources. Nowadays, voluntary organisations have to be efficient and well organised. They need the support and co-operation of the statutory agencies. Good communication links in the rural areas are vital, as are friendly co-operation and respect for one another's needs, living as we do in a very competitive society where everyone is trying to raise funds.

4.42 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, before I turn to the main subject of our debate this afternoon, perhaps I may pick up one point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham; namely, the need for a dog registration scheme. Your Lordships may remember that it was the wish of this House that there should be such a scheme. To that end, we succeeded in inserting a clause in an earlier environment Bill—it may have been the 1990 environment protection Bill, but I am not absolutely certain—and that clause is still there. It requires only that the Minister should make up his mind and act. I am very pleased to hear a little pressure coming from the noble Baroness again this afternoon. I know that my party intends to use that clause when it has the opportunity.

During the debates on the Environment Bill that is presently going through both Houses, we said a considerable amount on the economic and social needs of rural areas. But at that time we were discussing only the areas in national parks. Therefore it became obvious that we would need a debate of this kind, so that we could deal with the other areas outside the national parks. I am very grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to do so.

Both the Government and Opposition are now formally committed to the principle of attaining environmental sustainability. Therefore, ways must be found to meet the social and economic needs of rural communities consistent with that commitment. I believe that it is quite possible without damage—or at least significant damage—to either. As we have heard, public use of the countryside continues to grow. It is used more and more for recreation and relaxation. Some of the effects are very undesirable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, indicated, but the majority of people want to use the countryside in a peaceful and quiet way. They simply want to enjoy it as it is.

The interaction between human activity and the rural environment has been much more intense recently. The damage to traditional landscapes and wildlife has caused widespread public concern. I shall speak about the social and economic development shortly, but I should like the House to think for a moment about the amount of degradation that has taken place in the countryside.

Bird populations are a significant measure of the degree of degradation that has occurred. The RSPB reports a serious decline in recent years of many once common species. For example, skylarks have declined by 54 per cent. in the past 25 years; corn buntings have declined by 32 per cent. and grey partridge by 73 per cent. in the same period. But increasing membership of the RSPB and other conservation organisations reflects the public concern. My noble friend Lord Carter mentioned a Gallup poll which recorded a very high number of people who were concerned about the countryside. He went on to say that there were many millions of people who wanted to enjoy a country lifestyle. I sometimes wonder, if they really knew what a country lifestyle involved in some parts of the country, whether they would want to take part in it. However, that is their dream and it is a dream that we must cater for in the sense that, if we allow all those people to pursue that dream, they could well ruin the very thing that has become their goal.

Rural areas did relatively well in economic terms during the 1980s in comparison with urban areas and with the national average. But, with the rest of the country, they have suffered from the effects of recession. Of course, there are variations between areas. However, as we heard, they are facing particular social and economic problems in housing, low wages and so on. They lack transport and access to facilities which urban dwellers take for granted but which, in scattered, less populated communities become more difficult and expensive to provide—for example, childcare.

Those problems have been exacerbated by government policies. The Rural Development Commission's strategy for the 1990s stated: The extension of privatisation to public services such as rail transport and the Post Office and tight financial constraints on the public and voluntary sectors could lead to a further loss of services". As we know, the threat to the Post Office has receded, at least for the time being. But if the ethics of privatisation continue to be pursued even within the Post Office, it could be just as damaging in rural conditions. It seemed from our discussions on the Environment Bill that residents in rural areas felt that there was a general lack of understanding of their problems and lack of sympathy with their needs. They felt that conservationists and planners were aligned against them to prevent any development which might help them in their present difficulties. But, in the long run, surely rural dwellers would not welcome the downside of over-development. Therefore, guided solutions must be sought.

If the White Paper that the Government is to produce in the autumn is to lead to an effective policy for rural areas, it will need to embrace a new, integrated approach to all the components of rural life, which is based on better information about social and economic conditions in rural areas, including rural labour markets. We have heard a great deal from other speakers about the need for integrated policies and I support that view. There will have to be policy intervention where there is clear evidence of market failure, for example, provision of transport for those without cars and, where desirable, support for farmers for environmental management. In its document called A Rural Policy, the Country Landowners' Association supports that view.

The noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, said that the Government could not do it all. That is quite right; they cannot. But the Government have a duty to ensure that the essential structure is maintained, which includes the kind of things that have been mentioned this afternoon; otherwise, there is no hope of recovery for some rural areas. Policies and resources should be aimed at real rather than perceived causes of social and economic problems.

Protection and enhancement of the rural environment are important to urban and rural dwellers alike. Unless we give adequate weight to environmental interests while pursuing social and economic aims, we shall be failing to meet the needs not only of this generation, but also of generations to come. I am sure that everyone in this House understands the need for social and economic development in rural areas. But it must be achieved in an integrated way and with guidance. I hesitate to use the word "planning" because it is not a popular one in an agricultural context. Nevertheless, something like planning is what we need.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for presenting to us today the Labour Party's proposals for the countryside. I agree with everything he said regarding the problems that confront the countryside. I agree with him in regard to the need for further economic activity and growth to replace the jobs being lost in agriculture. I agree with him in regard to the need for a communications highway. That is an important point and I hope that the Government will address it. I agree with the noble Lord when he talks of the need in rural economies for there to be opportunities for people who use their motorcars. It is an essential part of country living. I agree with him in all the aspects he identified as serious problems for those who live and work in and want to use the countryside.

However, I disagree with the noble Lord entirely when he condemns the Government's policy on deregulation. I believe that it will bring a lot of benefits. I disagree entirely when he suggests that it is wrong to privatise many of the bus services and the railways. I believe that that will bring greater economic activity and I welcome a situation where a railway company has a vested interest in extending the economic opportunities of a specific region and will be an "engine" for such activity—if I can use that word in relation to the railways. I therefore welcome all those opportunities.

Where I am further unhappy about the noble Lord's Motion is that it contains an underlying assumption that the problems can only be solved by more detailed planning, regulation and control. I want to see, as the noble Lord wants to see, a much improved economic and diverse rural area. I believe very strongly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said, that it is possible to maintain a high quality environment and provide opportunities to increase the economic values of what we can do in the rural economy. But we do that by allowing people the freedom to do it; not by telling them how to do it, by regulating how they should do it or by imposing restrictions on which way they can jump. That is not the way. It is clear from the activities taking place in those areas where it is possible for them to take place that a great desire and entrepreneurial spirit exists in those who operate within the rural economy to do a great many things which will bring enormous benefit to the general economy of the country.

The right reverend Prelate made a marvellous maiden speech, for which I am most grateful. He laid out many things of concern to us all; that many decisions regarding the economy and rural areas are not made with a determination to offer more job opportunities, which is what should be happening. Many other noble Lords made exactly the same point. But they did not say what may be the key to some of those problems, which is surely the planning system. How often do we want to see in place that which the majority believe should be in place, and yet how often are such projects turned down by the shortsighted view of the few? Our planning system seems to be dominated by what the minority do not want rather than what the majority need. That is something we must all address. If this Government or the Opposition have the opportunity to be involved in those issues, they will find that it is through a more relaxed, sensible and practical planning approach that they will be resolved.

I agree wholeheartedly with the views of the Church on this matter, illustrated in the paper it recently published and recited in the views given by the right reverend Prelate today, that it could take a more active role in the development of structural and local plans; that it could put forward more forcibly the arguments the right reverend Prelate stated today regarding the need for more people to be provided with job opportunities.

Mention was made of the CLA. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, I recently read the CLA's proposals for an economic and rural policy for the EU. I wholeheartedly support its approach. If we are to look at the future of our rural areas, we must look at them in a much more whole way. We can no longer depend upon the continuation of the CAP and the enormous cost that that imposes upon everybody. The way in which our agriculture and other economic activities move within rural areas must be looked at as a whole. The quicker the points of view put forward by the CLA in its paper are understood by Europe, the better it will be.

Recently the rural economy group, of which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and many others in this House and in the other place are members, put forward its proposals to the Government on issues they would like to address in their coming White Paper. I should like to raise one or two issues referred to in those proposals. First, if sustainability is to mean anything it must mean sustainability for the people and the communities living in the rural areas. It is important to have a sustainable economic climate in which people can live. We cannot have a position where other aspects of our rural life become more important than the people who live there and whose future lies there. Therefore, if sustainability means anything it means a developing economy which will allow for the sustainability of those communities.

Secondly, we must look at the benefits that will be achieved from improving technology. It is interesting that the Department of Trade and Industry spends a great deal on improving the technological opportunities for industry but that the CAP puts nothing into improving the technology of rural areas and the rural economy. We have seen the benefits that accrue from finding solutions using technology rather than saying that such-and-such is a problem and cannot be solved. A more realistic view is to find a solution to the problem. Clearly, the opportunities to do that will arise more frequently.

Today a scientist gave me a figure which I found to be quite mind-boggling. He said that research in America shows that what we know today is only 1 percent, of what we will know in the year 2050. The rate of growth in our knowledge therefore is mind-boggling. We must understand a little bit more about how many problems which today we regard as impossible to contemplate will be able to be resolved in the years ahead.

I want briefly to refer to forestry. Recent figures indicate that our forestry investment has gone down. There is an enormous need for new investment in forestry and we should encourage individual investors to take a much more active role. It would help if, by coming together and investing as companies, they were able to obtain the same benefits as they achieve as individual investors. I hope that the Government will look into that.

I want to leave your Lordships with one more story. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, mentioned G. K. Chesterton. My grandfather was a horse dealer and was approached by J. B. Priestley to provide some horses for a farm in which J. B. Priestley had decided to invest. In the course of the negotiations over the horses Mr. Priestley mentioned the fact that he intended to bring a new approach to fanning because he intended to share the profits with his workers. My grandfather said, "Who are you are going to share the losses with, Mr. Priestley?" That is a story we should keep in mind because the more we invest, the higher will be the tab that somebody has to pick up. I agree with many of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. But somebody will have to pick up the tab. A more market-led and deregulation approach will be much more successful.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I was delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, had set down this Motion today. The fact that the Government are themselves preparing a White Paper on the subject and are conscious that there are problems in the countryside and, on the other hand, the fact that the Opposition are setting down this Motion today is most encouraging for those of us who are concerned about the welfare of the countryside.

The point I want to stress is that we are facing entirely new problems in the countryside. The situation is absolutely and totally different from what it was 50 years ago. I want to talk today about access to the countryside, something which has not been touched on by any of your Lordships so far. The main force for change in the economic and social situation in the countryside today is, of course, the internal combustion engine. It is because of the internal combustion engine that we are able to achieve enormously greater efficiencies in our agriculture by farming large areas with large machines. It is because of the internal combustion engine that people are able to work in the towns and live in the countryside—the incomers. It is because of the internal combustion engine that people are able to come out from the towns on bank holidays and the weekends to seek enjoyment in the countryside. That may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. It is a fact.

We have to accept that because of the internal combustion engine there are many fewer workers on farms; because of the internal combustion engine there are lots of cottages now lived in by people who work in towns or occupied by retired people; and because of the internal combustion engine there will be more and more visitors to the countryside. These incomers bring different attitudes to the countryside. Their needs are different from those of traditional country dwellers. It is sometimes tempting to think that what they really want is an urban environment in a country setting, with all the amenities and conveniences and the countryside suitably manicured to suit their needs.

As far as concerns access, here again there is an enormous need for adaption. In talking about problems of access to the countryside we are not just talking about the good old chestnut of the battle between farmers and the ramblers. There are today quite a lot of different people who want access to the countryside in one form or another. Just in terms of rights of way, there are walkers, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and people with four wheel drive vehicles. The interests of many of those users conflict with one another. It is very difficult to ride a bicycle along a path which has just been churned up by a hunter, and so on. The interests of all those groups may conflict with those of the landowners and the farmers. We have to try to create win-win situations. That will mean restructuring the legal framework within which we are trying to provide access to the countryside to all those people who want it.

I have been lucky. I have lived in the countryside and grew up there. I used to walk in order to get from one place to another—across a field or a moor, through a forest, or whatever it might be. More recently my wife has become a keen walker. We have had great fun from that. I, too, have walked. We have made new friends and I have learnt the joys of walking over a wider countryside through beautiful unspoilt country. I have to admit that sometimes, when the group wants a chauffeur to pick them up at the end of the walk, I volunteer, but I also go on some of the walks. What we shall need is a flexible and relevant legal structure for rights of way and access to the countryside. This we do not have today—very far from it. The structure we have is based on past needs which in many cases no longer exist, and it is based on a highly inflexible legal structure.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example. Eleven years ago I was approached by a member of the district council—he was also a member of the parish council— who said to me, "Would you mind? We want to try to create two circular walks, a long one and a short one, both terminating at the new village hall car park. Will you co-operate?" I said, "Of course I will. Naturally, if you are going to ask me to give you some more rights of way, I would like perhaps some of the anomalies of rights of way that are going diagonally across fields sorted out and a bit of diversion". Over a long period of negotiation we thrashed out an acceptable solution to the problem, with lots of give and take. It was then taken away by the council and discussed with the local amenity authorities. It was discussed with the parish council, with the county council and with goodness knows who. Now, 11 years later, I have received a letter from the county council saying that omnibus schemes of that kind are not acceptable, that each case will have to be put forward independently and that I shall have to pay for it. Your Lordships may be able to guess what I replied to that.

I do not think it was entirely the fault of the county council. It told me that it had 312 schemes backed up in its system and that it is so difficult to get schemes through that it can anticipate achieving only about 30 or 40 a year. So the county council has 10 years of schemes ahead of it anyway; it is rather glad to see mine slip off the end of the list. I believe that changes in the law could be justified in this area. The objective must be to try to create a win-win situation, one where everyone involved is happy with the answer. That is not impossible.

Perhaps I may make some suggestions as to what seems to me a workable possible solution. Why should not the highway authority, which is already responsible for rights of way, have discretion to vary or close or divert rights of way in the best interests of all the parties who would have the right to make representations? The views of local people, and especially those likely to use the right of way, would be given precedence over those who have no such interest. One of the problems at the moment is that if two or more people write in from anywhere across the country and object to a scheme there has to be a public inquiry. That is one of the reasons why the procedure is so slow and so costly. There are one or two cranks around the country who make it their business to object to all proposals for the diversion of rights of way. The authority should have power to purchase new rights of way and, where appropriate, to accept money for the closure of existing rights of way when they are no longer needed. Finally, there should be a right of appeal, but only if it can be shown that the authority is behaving unreasonably.

With these small changes, the interests of all involved could be better served and there could be an end to the damaging and unnecessary bitterness between farmers and ramblers.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, does great service to this House and to rural England in bringing this Motion before us at this time. I join happily in the thanks already expressed. However, I hope that both he and the House will forgive me if I have to slip away before the end of the debate. I regret to say that I accepted an invitation elsewhere before I knew that this debate was taking place.

Although I count myself a farmer, I spent the greater part of my working life away from the farm. When my friends ask me how I managed, my customary answer, which was most unfair to my employees—the two men who work for me—used to be that the good Lord looked after the farm for 23 hours and 50 minutes every day and he tolerated me for the other 10. That sufficed until one day an acquaintance said, "But Bill, have you considered what the farm was like when the good Lord had it all on his own?" In its natural state it was oak forest and it produced almost nothing.

The truth is that, except for a few areas of residual ancient forest and woodland, some areas of heath and marsh and some of the highlands and moorlands, rural England is a man-made creation. Its character is formed by the productive industries of agriculture and forestry, moderated by urban development. Paradoxically, as numbers employed in these rural industries diminish, so too man's capacity to change the countryside increases, a point picked up just a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Northbourne.

What is "rural England"? The notion that existed when I was young of communities largely based on agriculture and forestry has long disappeared. In those days large numbers of people worked the land and their friends and relations formed the village community and there was a strong natural sympathy and understanding between the two. Today, what do we see? Agricultural employment is a tithe of its former self and the village has become a dormitory for the neighbouring town. The old relationships are gone and with them sympathy and understanding. Instead, well-intentioned but alien bodies, which are essentially urban in nature and origin, vie to impose their views on those who must live and work the land.

This might be considered a gloomy picture, but consider my own county of Essex. Probably no more than 20,000 people, including wives and families, have direct contact with the land out of a population well in excess of 1.5 million. The proportions are only slightly better in so-called rural counties. At the same time the car has improved access for everyone so that what is the countryman's and the nation's food "manufacturory" has become everyone else's playground and idealized landscape. In those circumstances, perhaps it is remarkable that relationships remain as good as they are, for rural England now is countryside with small urban communities randomly dispersed within it.

Just as the traditional rural employment base has diminished, the idealised view of the countryside has constrained development, both residential and commercial, in villages and outside, forcing those who have grown up in particular communities to look elsewhere for employment. Increasing urban prosperity too has at the same time enabled urban man to move out from the towns into rural areas, intensifying the squeeze on families who find that they can no longer afford to settle in the community of their birth. Restrictive planning policies, all proposed with the best possible intentions, have done their work and have separated village communities from those responsible for the countryside surrounding them.

At this stage in the debate there is little point in repeating arguments which have already been well rehearsed. Rural deprivation is no less harsh to those who suffer it because it happens in beautiful surroundings. I have only ever heard of one cure for deprivation and that is to increase prosperity. Increased prosperity only comes from useful employment so that I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister that the coming rural White Paper will specifically address this issue with a view to expanding, with suitable types of enterprise, the economic base of rural areas. That is the sole key which is required if we are in fact to produce a more prosperous countryside. It has implications for the planning system, which will require to be adjusted accordingly through the policy planning guidance notes. We should not shrink from that.

I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as he opened this debate. As others have said, his analysis of the problem is good, but his solution caused me some qualms. It is only recently that this House spent considerable time dealing with the farm business tenancy legislation which was the final step in dismantling the protective landlord and tenant laws and in fact virtually killed the agricultural tenancy system. The noble Lord's solution reminded me of the drug addict who is proposing his next fix as a cure because the noble Lord appeared to be proposing more and more regulation, control and interference.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was equally interesting. I hope that somebody will produce a tape of it and play it at every National Farmers Union branch in the land. The political effects of that would be very interesting for those of us who sit on this side of the House. I agree completely with what my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth had to say about the way ahead being less regulation and more enterprise. His civilised and enterprising approach to the countryside and rural areas is in very marked contrast to the approach that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and should be commended. I look forward to the coming White Paper, and I hope that it will address this issue, particularly the rural economy.

5.15 p.m.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, I welcome this debate which is very timely and which raises a number of important issues. It is timely, as we have heard, because the Government are currently in the process of preparing a White Paper on the future of rural areas. It is important because the future of rural areas is a matter of interest to people throughout the country, whether they live in urban or rural areas.

A number of noble Lords have referred to the need to address social and economic problems in rural areas. I strongly support that view, but in my contribution to the debate I wish to set the issue of rural needs in a slightly wider context and, in particular, to emphasise the importance of environmental sustainability in any debate about the future of rural areas.

Rural areas are currently undergoing profound social, economic and demographic changes. These changes are the result of many factors. They include structural changes in the national and international economy, including the continuing decline in agricultural employment; rapid technological changes, in particular developments in information technology, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth; and the increased personal mobility brought about by increased car ownership and expansion of the trunk roads network.

The changes being experienced in rural areas are unavoidable and often desirable. But I believe that there is mounting public anxiety about what we may be losing in rural areas as a result of these changes. Different people talk of what we are losing in different ways. Some talk of "community" or "a way of life"; some of "landscape" or "local distinctiveness", and others of "habitats" or "biodiversity". Whatever words are used, the concern is the same. We are allowing things to be lost or destroyed which we value and which we should be trying to protect and enhance, both for our own sakes and for those generations yet to come.

I wish to focus on one particular issue—the migration of people from urban to rural areas. Between 1981 and 1991, the population of metropolitan districts fell by 5.2 per cent. but grew 2.7 per cent. in non-metropolitan districts and 6.4 per cent. in remote areas. That represents nearly 100 people leaving metropolitan areas every day of the week over the period. Such major movement of population has social, economic and environmental implications for both urban and rural areas. It implies the abandonment of the social and physical infrastructure of our cities; it implies major pressures on the social and physical infrastructure of our countryside.

According to recent research published by the Department of the Environment, a majority of those founding firms in rural areas are urban migrants. At first glance, therefore, it may appear that urban out-migration is a welcome development in rural areas, particularly where they are experiencing problems of unemployment, lack of housing and so on. In fact the situation is not so straightforward. There is some evidence that new jobs in rural areas do not go to local people, particularly when the skills required do not match those available locally. People move in to take up these new jobs, often from urban areas. They buy up local housing and hence compound existing local problems of unemployment and lack of affordable housing.

The DoE research I mentioned also found, not surprisingly, that the main reason new firm founders move to rural areas is because of the environmental quality of the countryside. This suggests that there are therefore important economic as well as environmental reasons for protecting the countryside.

What can we say about the best way to achieve coherent policies for meeting social and economic needs in rural areas while taking full account of the environment? First, such policies must look at both urban and rural areas. Our urban and rural areas are more inextricably linked than ever. The current shift away from urban areas is unsustainable in the long term if we are to avoid an American-style abandonment of the cities, not least because of the increasing dependence on the private car as the main means of transport. We therefore have to find ways of encouraging people and businesses to remain in or relocate to urban areas.

Secondly, we have to recognise the crucial importance of protecting and enhancing the countryside, both to people who live and work in it, but also to the millions of people who visit it every year, whether from this country or abroad. The agricultural industry has a crucial role to play in this process. It is vital that we have a viable agriculture industry but also one that is encouraged to farm in an environmentally friendly way. An increase in the resources available for "green" farming schemes would be an important step forward.

Thirdly, we have to recognise that the causes of social and economic problems in rural areas are complex. Their solutions are therefore unlikely to be simple. I have heard it argued that the solution to rural problems lies in liberalising the land-use planning system on the ground that it is restricting new development in rural areas. While that view is intuitively plausible, I believe it is mistaken for a number of reasons. I do not believe there to be any compelling evidence that planners are unnecessarily restricting development or that firms themselves regard planning as a significant constraint on their activities. There are, of course, examples of poor decisions, but I do not believe that the system as a whole is hindering development for nearly 90 per cent. of planning applications are granted.

But perhaps most importantly, the planning system has been one of the main things which has kept the countryside rural. Agriculture, of course, manages 80 per cent. of the land area. But by preventing urban sprawl, the planning system has allowed us to retain a relatively sharp distinction between town and country. Clearly, we must meet the social and economic needs of those living and working in the countryside. We must also accept the need for new economic development in rural areas. But we must ensure that we do these things in ways and in places which allow us to protect the glory and tranquillity of the countryside.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I rise to speak conscious that I have heard a great deal about rural England, which is indeed a very beautiful place. But the problem extends beyond rural England. It is particularly acute in Europe, especially in Hungary and in Poland where the overstaffed state farms have had to be cut down to a reasonably economic size. Those countries have a real problem on their hands in trying to find work for the people displaced from those farms. In many cases, the state farms played a big social role and provided both housing and nursery schools. Poland faces less of a job than Hungary because that country retains 80 per cent. of the land in the hands of small farmers. That provides a social stability which is much to be desired.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that arch-farmer—that was meant as a compliment—said, one of the problems is that such countries obviously ought to be in the European Union, yet the financing of agriculture is one of the biggest drawbacks to their entry. In a speech in Berlin to the Foreign Affairs Association there, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said clearly that the subsidies must go before such countries can join and that although the recipients of the subsidies would squeal, they would have to grin and bear it. I trust, therefore, that in this important matter the Minister will be able to assure us that he believes in the principles of the common agricultural policy and that a certain stability is essential for the primary producer. Nobody can possibly ignore the fact that mistakes have been made in the CAP when year after year the Council of Ministers has totally ignored the advice of the Commission and has put up prices for purely political reasons.

The question of stability needs to be addressed. I hope that the Minister will give us his views because agriculture is still the mainstay of the countryside and cannot be ignored in any policy. We can look to certain places on the continent for a solution. I am thinking particularly of the Black Forest which has many small farms. They look well farmed and pleasant. Outside each house are two motorcars that have been paid for—not by the CAP—but through the industrial employment that is available to the local people. Part-time farming is a very important factor in any thinking about the countryside because the provision of extra employment will enable those who keep farms to make not only a useful contribution, but a decent living.

We have very good examples in our own country—in my country of Scotland, anyhow. They were introduced by the Labour Government some years ago and have been continued by the Tory Government. I am referring to the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which is now Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, will know about that because he is in a somewhat similar position as regards encouraging enterprise and job creation. The HIDB did a remarkable job in the Highlands. I know quite a lot about it because I was once the Member of Parliament for Caithness and Sutherland. The HIDB is an example that should be followed and not forgotten. Its work depends entirely on the money that it gets from the Government. If the Government do not give it any money, it cannot do its job.

In Caithness particularly there are some remarkable examples of how local enterprise can flourish. The late Lord Thurso, Robin Sinclair, raised £50,000 to start a glass factory. It encountered many vicissitudes but to this day it is providing good employment up there and elsewhere in the Highlands. An even more extraordinary example is that of a couple who started a firm called Norfrost. They began by making deep freezers in a place called Castletown in Caithness. Their success was due to the fact that the husband was an engineering genius while the wife, as is often the case, was an organiser and a very energetic lady. Between the two of them, they have created a firm in the far north of Scotland which employs 360 people in Castletown and which exports to 110 countries. It does things such as provide coolers for Coca Cola, for which it obtained a contract. That is an example of how enterprise can be fostered, but it needs the state to take some part. I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that it does not move entirely on its own. It needs the community to play a part. That is one of the factors that the Government must keep to the forefront of their minds. They must keep the money going towards all of those enterprises in the countryside, whether they be in rural England or Scotland.

Hill farming is another story. We must maintain hill farming. It needs subsidies. It does not cost a great deal of money. It keeps people in the hills. We must surely think of people as well as the rest of the ecology. We need to restrict the number of sheep. We have all probably seen areas which have been over-grazed. They are full of bad grass. Over the dyke or the fence one finds good heather which gets a lot of money from rich people who want to shoot grouse. That is not something to be ignored in the Highlands of Scotland.

There has been a great deal of talk on all sides of the House, and rightly so, about sustainable enterprise in the countryside. We need to look at it. I do not agree with those who say that modern farming is ruining the countryside. I left home at 7 o'clock this morning, I drove along the edge of the Howe in Strathmore. I have never seen the countryside looking better. It does not come from poisoned land; it comes from many years of looking after it.

A great deal of research on the subject is needed, because until now the fertility of the soil has been maintained by rotational farming. Single culture farming can maintain the humus but research is needed into how that is done. I know that it can be done. It must be done in areas because there is no longer the same amount of stock around the countryside. The Government must keep up the research. Decisions must be based on scientific information backed up by research, and not purely on prejudice, of which we have plenty both with professional farmers and professional conservationists. The Government must consider what has been done successfully. Having considered that, and having examined the evidence, they must put their money in that direction if we are to have a good and sustainable rural policy.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, the intensity of the lobbying that we have had in connection with the debate confirms its importance. It confirmed also the wisdom of my noble friend Lord Carter in persuading the powers that be on this side of the House that it was an appropriate subject for this afternoon. Much of the lobbying comes from organisations wholly or substantially publicly funded, but it comes also from voluntary bodies. It is no less effective on that account.

There are some contradictions in the representations and recommendations which we have received. Agriculture is at the heart of rural affairs. The CAP necessarily dominates farming practice. That is not always recognised. The UK has a voice in the CAP, but one voice only. That fact of life is not fully appreciated by certain lobbyists on rural matters.

Shared responsibility for rural affairs between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to some extent within our control, but not much discussed in Parliament. Departmental assurances about "working in harmony" are easily come by. The reality in a changing rural scene may be different, and for that reason alone we welcome the fact that the White Paper is to be a joint one, and we look forward to it.

Advocates in rural affairs often differ in their diagnoses. Some say changes in farming ways cause a decline in the numbers employed. Unemployment created as a result is not then alleviated by planning restrictions on new development or change of use for farm buildings. There is some truth in that.

A related argument is that intensive farming is detrimental to the environment. That is associated usually with pleas for financial help for organic production to reduce comparative shop prices. No lobby has yet got round to the new Agricultural Tenancies Act, designed to bring more land into production at market rents. Whether that legislation will increase the volume of farmed land to the extent supporters claim remains to be seen. So too does the question of how easily consequential increases in production can be accommodated in a currently restricted CAP regime, but set-aside still looks like outstripping sliced bread as one of the wonders of the world.

Other countryside socio-economic problems are connected with the influx of non-rural workers or weekenders, as has already been pointed out by several speakers. They usually commute by car and force up house prices at the expense of locally born people. There is a shortage of economic rentable housing in many villages, as there is in our towns. Consequential problems are shop closures, including sub-post offices, as well as reduced public transport. That is sometimes the result of local authorities reducing subsidies, and a general debility affects old and young alike.

Political parties are sensitive to the issues involved, and we have heard much about that today. Of course the Government's appreciation of the problem is, as I say, highlighted by the White Paper promised for later this year. Television programmes make periodic use of rural problems. The right reverend Prelate referred rightly to the Church of England's important study produced in recent years. Certainly landowners and land users, as well as surveyors, have been forthcoming with the submission of views as to what they believe should be the future of the rural countryside and rural economic affairs.

Analysis abounds. Specific proposals for change, especially their funding, are less easily come by. One has to be wary of attempting solutions on a national scale. The four countries comprising the UK are different, and within each of them are further rural diversities, including land values, ownership patterns, weather conditions and farming styles.

Much is being attempted to improve aspects of country living, and there are successes. There is some fragmentation of effort so that collective local endeavour is less than would be the case if experiments with consolidated schemes could be attempted on a modest scale.

In that context, the community co-operative appeals to me. Most of the problems of a rural village could come under the auspices of a voluntary local society which would have the advantage of allowing some degree of cross-subsidisation of results from particular activities, always assuming of course that the results themselves allowed that. Thus the shop, including the sub-post office, the pub, village hall, community bus, petrol station, pharmacy, and even medical care, could form the basis of collective endeavour by a single non-profit-making corporate enterprise in the ownership of members.

I exclude housing and schools as those are areas where existing statutory bodies have both responsibilities and powers. Land acquisition, for example, is both a key and a controversial question in the countryside, as is planning consent. The kind of co-operative I have in mind is neither an Owenite community on land nor its lineal descendant, the kibbutz. With a little drafting skill all or part of the community society could be treated as charitable with some tax exemption. Certainly such a society should be allowed to add to reserves free of tax provided distributions are not made subsequently from reserves to shareholders.

Providing adequate capital resources would be the biggest challenge facing a village community co-operative of a mini-conglomerate type. However, already certain village shops have been kept open by customers financing stocks; so we have a precedent of sorts. Village halls have received grants from the Rural Development Commission, which has also part funded business ventures of varying kinds. Grants from local and central government ought to be possible, or at least loan guarantees could be made by government. The European Union has shown itself willing to be financially innovative in areas such as those and, most importantly, it has the resources.

Most of the areas of activity that I have suggested for a village community co-operative are within the present range of operations of many retail societies within the United Kingdom, all of which are in membership of the Co-operative Union in Manchester. The expertise is already there; the problem is to tap it. An exploratory meeting between the Rural Development Commission and the Co-operative Union would cost nothing and would be capable of achieving much. It would be a welcome stimulus if Her Majesty's Government were to encourage such a meeting, even if not going beyond encouragement.

We have had a useful and all-embracing discussion on this important question. I do not wish to stand between the Minister and his attentive audience.

5.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, we have had an interesting and timely debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for giving us an opportunity to discuss these issues today. I am grateful in particular to all noble Lords whose experience of and care for countryside issues has made today's debate an important contribution to our White Paper considerations.

I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his exceptionally good maiden speech. At the outset, he mentioned Faith in the Countryside and indicated the commitment of the Church of England to rural areas. He said that there are some 5,000 churches. I am fortunate because I live in an old rectory. I know at least one of those churches extremely well.

What was important was his firsthand experience of the Church's involvement, in particular in the changes in villages. He mentioned coalmining in Durham. He said that it was important to find new roles for villages now in the rural community. The Church is involved in social changes in the countryside, in particular with young people. I am sure that everything the right reverend Prelate said deserves our consideration. I hope that he will join in many other deliberations.

Thinking back to the VE celebrations two days ago has made me realise how much our countryside has changed since the Second World War. Traditional rural industries such as forestry and agriculture are no longer the major employers they used to be 50 years ago. The rural population is also changing and growing as more people move to rural areas and we now have one of the fastest growing rural populations in Europe. My noble friend Lord Addison drew that to our attention when quoting statistics. In some European countries the rural population is actually declining. The countryside is also under increasing pressure from day visitors. I could go on.

In many ways, the countryside is now at a turning point. That is why we have decided that the time is right to take stock of where we are, where we want to be and what policies we need to have in place to get there. We want to look ahead to the next century to ensure that our countryside will still be a place in which people can live and work. That is why my department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have announced that later this year we will jointly produce a rural White Paper for England. The Scottish Office also announced in January that it will be producing this year a rural White Paper for Scotland.

The rural White Paper for England will take stock of existing policies, examining the current pressures on the countryside and how the Government respond to those pressures. It will make sure that all government departments have a consistent strategy to take our rural areas into the next century with optimism and pride.

The Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture announced the intention to produce a rural White Paper in October last year. We have sought the views of some 450 organisations and individuals on what they thought the White Paper should contain. We wanted to hear from everyone with a stake in the future of our countryside. We also publicised the White Paper through the national and regional press because we particularly wanted to hear what rural people had to say and not just the large national organisations and lobbyists. More than 360 organisations and individuals have responded to that exercise. Some have written more than once. The majority of responses were very detailed and carefully considered. My ministerial colleagues in DoE and MAFF have also chaired a number of seminars around the country to hear what is important to people on the ground.

I would like to state from the outset that the countryside is very much a success story. Unlike many of our European neighbours, people in England are leaving the towns because they want to live in the countryside, as my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth said. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, indicated that he thought that it was divisive. I cannot agree with him. I believe that our rural areas have many strengths: the quality of life and of the environment, and the sense of community and identity. Our rural areas are are also a success because of the policies which this Government have put in place. Rural areas have lower crime rates, lower unemployment and higher economic activity. Our policies give people the freedom and opportunity to choose where they want to live and work.

However, we are not complacent about our successes. We recognise that because so many people now want to live in the countryside that itself can lead to problems. For example, rising house prices in some rural areas can make it more difficult for people on lower wages to stay in their villages.

That is the kind of issue that the White Paper will explore. People are vital to the sustainability of small rural communities—both incomers and long standing residents. I state firmly to my noble friends Lord Wade, Lord Shuttleworth and Lord Dixon-Smith, that people will be at the heart of the White Paper. We want to ensure that towns and villages in the countryside continue to provide homes and jobs for rural people, for their children and their grandchildren.

The rural economy has been a success story over recent years. It is becoming increasingly diverse and therefore more akin to the urban economy, although there are still important differences. It is, however, the rural areas that have fared better in recent years. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, was most anxious about jobs in rural areas. I believe that he quoted misleading figures relating to increases in unemployment. Rural labour markets have a slightly higher level of economic activity than in urban markets and there is a greater number of small businesses, the self-employed and part-time workers. Unemployment and long-term unemployment is lower than the average for England. The average unemployment rate in the Rural Development Commission's rural development areas in October 1994 was only 7.1 per cent. compared to 8.4 per cent. in England as a whole. And self-employment accounts for 20 per cent. of the economically active population in RDAs compared with an average of 12 per cent. for England.

This success is due in part to the changes which have taken place since the Second World War, from the reduction in traditional rural employment areas such as agriculture and forestry to the rise of manufacturing and the service sector. Government policy, for example, through the Rural Development Commission's programmes, has helped rural people to adapt to these changes. Tourism and leisure play an increasingly important part in the rural economy.

In recent years, rural areas, because of the quality of life and the pleasant surroundings, have become particularly attractive to new hi-tech firms. My noble friend Lord Wade said that the key to improving rural prosperity is through the planning system. In many ways, I agree with him. New technology means that firms do not have to be in urban centres to be near to their customers as the fax, electronic mail and video conferencing make it easier to communicate with customers who may be some miles away or even in another country. Indeed, a number of the responses to our consultation exercise mentioned the potential of teleworking and telecottages as a new method of working in rural areas. That was drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, my noble friends Lord Shuttleworth and Lord Wade, and by many other noble Lords. That is something at which we shall be looking in the White Paper. The rural White Paper will set out how Government can build on those successes and encourage further economic growth in the countryside by utilising the natural strengths of the people who live there—their independence, motivation and entrepreneurial skills.

Of course, that is not just about what Government can do. We must work in partnership with local government, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, with the private sector and with rural communities to achieve the best future for the people who live in our countryside.

Rural Challenge is a good example of the partnership approach. The first round was a great success, with many innovative ideas on how to tackle social and economic decline. The second round is now under way and we hope that those bids will meet the high standards of the first round. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth, as chairman of the RDC, will also be looking forward to examining the bids later this summer.

I should now like to turn to agriculture because many noble Lords have said that farming is no longer a major employer in the countryside. But it is important to remember that some 76 per cent. of the land surface of England is farmed. The nature of land use and policies for agriculture are very important for our rural areas.

Over recent years environmental measures have become an increasingly important part of the common agricultural policy. The UK has played a leading role in bringing this about and the Government are committed to continuing to press for further integration of environmental objectives into European agricultural policy. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, perhaps has not noticed that this Government have moved with the times, as they always have done. My noble friend Lord Stanley recommended taking strong medicine. In particular, we will press for further reduction in support levels and for a higher proportion of CAP expenditure on direct payments for farmers to be applied to encouraging more environmentally sensitive farming.

The White Paper will need to take account of the likely future course of the common agricultural policy. It is inevitable that further reform of the CAP will be on the agenda of the European Community within the next few years, particularly as the Community prepares for enlargement to include central and eastern European countries with important agricultural sectors. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, rightly drew our attention to the problems posed by such commitments in Europe. That is why the Minister of Agriculture has brought together a group of people with practical experience in these areas to advise him on the kind of policy for which the UK should be pressing. The group's remit covers all areas of European agricultural policy, including environmental considerations and the negotiability of UK aims in Brussels. The Minister intends to announce his conclusions from the group's deliberations this summer.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, will agree with me that nowhere is our commitment to countryside conservation more clearly demonstrated than in the wide range of environmental incentive schemes which are now available to farmers and landowners in the UK. For example, environmentally sensitive areas and Countryside Stewardship seek to promote the conservation of valuable landscapes and habitats by offering a range of payments, including incentives for the restoration of hedges and traditional stone walls. The noble Lord mentioned the Tyr Cymen scheme. The success of those schemes is now widely acknowledged and over the past year we have introduced a number of new measures which will bring our annual expenditure on environmental schemes to over £100 million per annum.

The White Paper will recognise that rural areas do not exist in isolation. We have a very densely populated country and our rural areas have a close relationship with our urban centres. Traditionally, our smaller villages have depended on the larger market towns and that is no less true today. However, rural areas do have their own needs, especially in the remoter areas, such as access to public transport and services. That is why, in framing policies, we need to make sure that they are not dominated by an urban view of the world.

To ensure that our towns and villages remain viable and provide a good quality of life for local people, I can tell the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that the White Paper will be looking at the services which small communities need, such as access to shops and post offices, schools and doctors, and access to transport and leisure facilities, because, in their speeches, they drew attention to the need for those local services. They are important for everyone, rural and urban dwellers alike, but in smaller communities it can be more difficult to maintain services. The village shop, for example, has disappeared from some small communities and that is often a reflection of people's decision to shop in larger supermarkets where the food is cheaper and there is a greater choice.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, gave a very interesting analysis of the great improvements made by the retail industry and how the customer benefits from the amazing range of fresh food made available by the supermarkets. The noble Baroness asked for a Green Paper and I wondered whether she was going to ask for a greengrocers' paper. Certainly, that is an interesting thought. More people have access to their own transport and arc able to travel some distances to shop elsewhere. While everyone welcomes the freedom that personal mobility has brought to many people we must all recognise that it does have its price.

What we need to do is examine what existing services and facilities are in place and how we can make greater use of them. For example, the Post Office has the largest national network of outlets in the UK with half of the 19,700 post offices in rural areas. We are working closely with Post Office Counters Ltd. to see how further diversification can enable more services to be delivered to rural areas. Your Lordships may be aware that the Post Office recently announced that it is now the largest bureau de change chain, with foreign currency exchange facilities available at nearly 19,000 outlets.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, drew attention to the need for an increased transport facility. Over the past 27 years, the Post Office has helped to provide transport for people in rural areas through its network of Post Buses. Each year 150,000 people in the UK use the Post Bus network, which is now at some 4.5 million miles. In the past four years, the number of routes has increased from 170 to 228 and I understand that a further 50 routes are planned. Through its rural transport development fund, the RDC has provided £150,000 since 1991 to help to establish 31 new routes.

To most people when we mention the countryside we think of trees and hedgerows, of landscapes and wildlife. I have concentrated so far on the social and economic aspects of life in the countryside but we should not forget that what makes the countryside so different and special is the environment. The environment is why people want to live and work in the countryside, spend holidays there and visit at weekends. Indeed, some 590 million journeys were made in the UK to the countryside last year. The countryside is a national resource, and tourism is vital for the economy of many rural areas. But the countryside is under great pressure, especially in the so-called "honey pot" areas where the numbers of visitors may be threatening the very countryside they came to enjoy. The White Paper will be looking at how to meet those pressures so that we can manage the countryside in a sustainable way. But first and foremost we need to make sure that visitors to our countryside realise that it is not just an idealised picture—a Constable landscape perhaps—hut that it is a living, working environment. We need to protect the environment but we must also protect the livelihoods of the people who live there.

I shall mention only briefly the Environment Bill, as we have spent much time in this House debating the provisions within the Bill now in another place. There was much concern felt in the House about local communities and we therefore strengthened our duty on national parks authorities to, seek to foster the economic and social well-being of the local community within the National Park", as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, mentioned. We were pleased to accept an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Wade which provided that the Environment Agency should take account of the economic and social well-being of rural communities. The depth of feeling expressed in this House on those issues reflected, I believe, an increasing concern more generally about the needs of rural people. The Bill is now being debated in another place. I shall be keeping a careful eye on what happens there.

The Government continue to strengthen the rights of way network which allows people to visit the countryside and enjoy its beauty and tranquillity. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Marlesford and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will welcome the Government's endorsement of the target for the whole network in England to be in good order by the year 2000. We have also supported the Parish Paths Partnership to inspire action by parish councils and volunteers to keep paths open. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested the need to restructure the legal framework for sorting out problems with realignment, and so on, of footpaths. The noble Lord suggested a new scheme which I should certainly like to look at and consider. We believe in opening up the countryside through voluntary agreements, built on the experience of those who own and manage the land. I am convinced that, in the longer term, that will be more effective than the imposition of a "right to roam".

I turn briefly to answer one or two specific points raised during the debate. Having recounted a number of subjects upon which she would not speak, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, then launched on an extraordinarily brave speech about the effects of the animal rights movement. The noble Baroness indicated the growing belief that Parliament is not listening to rural England and that the rural community were frustrated that urban man and pressure groups were dictating policy. I thought the noble Baroness made a most interesting speech coming, as it did, from her side of the House. One reason for the rural White Paper is to ensure the needs of rural people are not overtaken by the urban lobby and by those organisations whose members do not live and work in the countryside. I should add that farm animal welfare, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, is protected in this country by a strong framework of legislation, welfare codes and by giving practical advice to farmers. With the thoughts that the noble Baroness has in mind, I hope that she will be prepared to lobby her own side to drop some of the policies in A working countryside.I know the noble Baroness's thoughts on some of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford were concerned about the lack of affordable houses in rural areas. The Housing Corporation's rural programme is working well. Between 1989–90 and the end of 1994–95 over 10,800 units were approved in rural areas, some 1,600 above target. In this financial year, the rural programme will be some 6 per cent. of the Housing Corporation's new development programme.

I could continue, but I believe that I should stop now. To sum up, I want to emphasis that the rural White Paper is, like our debate today, about the social, economic and environmental needs of our rural areas. The White Paper is not intended to be the final word but the start of a dialogue. The countryside is not a museum; it is a living, working environment, and the Government's emphasis will therefore be on the people who live and work there. We will ensure that all of Government have a coherent strategy for rural areas to safeguard the future of rural people, their children and grandchildren as well as safeguarding the environment in which we would like our children to grow up. However, it will not be about government policy alone as everyone has a part to play—local communities, local authorities and the private and voluntary sectors. We must all work together.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, according to the Clock, I believe that I have about six minutes in which to reply to the debate. However, noble Lords can relax because I am aware of the conventions and I shall, therefore, only take a few minutes to thank all those who took part. There is just one point that I should like to make. There seemed to be a certain symmetry in one or two of the speeches from the Benches opposite in response to the Labour party document, A working countryside. The document expressly does not argue that rural policy should all be left to central government and regulation. Renewing local democracy is a continuing theme as is partnership—as was said by the Minister—among central government, local authorities and the private sector, as appropriate.

I should like to thank all speakers who took part in our debate. We heard many notable speeches but none more so than the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. We all look forward to hearing his future contributions to our deliberations. A fact not known to your Lordships is that, with myself, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, no less than one-sixth of the speeches in today's debate were made by former students of Writtle College of Agriculture. We have had a very good debate and received a full answer from the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. I shall merely repeat my thanks to all speakers who took part. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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