HL Deb 13 November 1984 vol 457 cc307-8WA
Lord Sandys

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make a statement about the future of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service.

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

When Professor Ronald Bell joined my department as the new director general of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, we asked him to give particular attention during his first six months to developing his views on the future shape and direction of ADAS. We asked him in particular to consider whether present ADAS priorities needed to be revised; whether some services could satisfactorily be provided by the private sector; and whether and how far there is scope for transferring to the user the cost of the services provided.

Professor Bell has consulted widely with interested organisations and individuals in the industry as well as in the Ministry, and his report, which is published today, provides a clear view of the way in which the service should develop over the next decade.

He concluded that ADAS was an effective and dedicated service held in high esteem by the industry, to which it had rendered valuable service, but that certain changes of approach and style of operation are now needed. In particular he recommended:

  1. (i) a refocusing of the ADAS effort at present devoted to research and development so as particularly to concentrate on the development end of the spectrum;
  2. (ii) a commitment to the use of computer-based information technology as the method by which a great deal of information and advice is provided to the industry in the late 1980s;
  3. (iii) consideration should be given to the possibilities of charging users for part or all of any service (including work under statutory schemes) where there is an identifiable benefit to the customer.
  4. (iv) greater emphasis should be given to conservation and animal welfare work.

We endorse Professor Bell's view of the value of the work ADAS has done, and we believe he has correctly identified the direction in which ADAS should move in the future. We therefore intend to proceed to a detailed examination of what would be involved in the implementation of his recommendations. The report raises a number of substantial questions which will need careful consideration. In particular, we endorse the conclusion that in principle it seems entirely appropriate that farmers and others in the industry who avail themselves of these services should contribute to their cost, and we believe that, if Parliament approved the necessary legislation in time, it would be reasonable to envisage roughly 20 per cent. of the total cost of ADAS being met in this way by 1987–88. But the necessity for primary legislation to give effect to this emphasises the need for further work before detailed and final decisions can be taken. Adequate time will be allowed for this and for the necessary consultations with the many interests concerned.

We are having this further work put in hand immediately, and will welcome the views of the interests concerned so that these can be taken into account in the final decisions on the implementation of this report. I have arranged for copies of the report to be deposited in the Library of the House, and copies will also be available in the Printed Paper Office.