§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call upon the Minister to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I must announce that I have selected the amendment in the names of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)
I wonder whether I might begin my speech, Mr. Speaker, with the happy task of wishing you a happy birthday. I have never thought of you as an old-age pensioner, and I do not think that I ever shall.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill seeks to reinforce the partnership between the Government and the agriculture industry, which w e in the Conservative party have always sought to develop. It represents a further step in the development of our agricultural policies.
For many years, Governments of all parties have provided a range of regulatory, advisory and research services to the farming industry. In more recent times, and bearing particularly in mind the increasing problem of over-production within Europe, we have encouraged the farming industry to respond more than before to the needs of the market. The creation of Food from Britain and of a strengthened framework for establishing research and development priorities in agriculture have been major steps that the Government have taken towards that end. The Bill further develops those policies.
Similarly, the Government have sought in many ways over recent years to encourage the farming industry to develop a new approach to the environment. I am glad to be able to record that the industry has in all but a tiny minority of cases responded positively to the initiatives that my Ministry has taken, often in co-operation with others, to protect the environment. The rapid development of farming and wildlife advisory groups and the Broads experimental scheme are but two examples of that trend.
Building on the voluntary approach, we shall under the Bill be able to designate certain parts of the country as environmentally sensitive areas and in such areas offer to farmers agreements aimed at conserving, enhancing or protecting the environment. The Bill is structured, not to coerce the industry, but to provide a framework within which the industry can voluntarily influence in new ways the provision of advisory, research and marketing services and respond to the needs of the environment.
The need for Government advisory services to respond more closely to the needs of the industry was a recurring theme in the report of the then new director general of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, which I accepted a year ago, in November 1984.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Clause 9 is welcome to many of us, but how much money will be available to implement it?
§ Mr. Jopling
I shall come back to the detail of this later in my speech, but, speaking off the top of my head, I think 615 that around £5 million or £6 million has been set aside to begin with. If my head deceives me, I shall correct that later if the hon. Gentleman will allow me.
Seeking a more positive approach to ADAS activities, the new director general of ADAS argued that ADAS's approach should be based on what the customer wants. If ADAS is to provide the services that the industry wants efficiently and economically, it needs clear signals from the industry. What farmers and growers and others are prepared to pay for is the clearest possible signal. However, I must make it clear at this stage that I do not plan to charge for the kind of advice now given to farmers on conservation, rural diversification or animal welfare matters.
It was against that background that we invited comments in July on ideas about charging for a range of services, including not only advice but some of the other services to which ADAS contributes. Those functions benefit the recipients, even where they also involve legal obligations. As I announced on 7 November, I believe it right in principle to introduce charges in those cases also.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I apologise for interrupting him so early, but it is important. Is he really saying that, since many of those legal obligations will involve the protection of the food chain and those who are dealing with communicable diseases, such as brucellosis, all that matters is that because they are legal undertakings it will be in the farmers' interests to pay for those services? Surely it is a two-way traffic?
§ Mr. Jopling
I am afraid that the hon. Lady has not been able to see some of the press notices which my Department has put out lately. She has obviously missed the point that it is not my intention to charge for the testing of brucellosis and tuberculosis, on which great importance was put by many of those whom we consulted. I have told the House that before.
The same approach applies to research and development. In this area we are inviting the industry, by whatever means each sector of the industry considers appropriate, to commission research and development.
The Government will still fund a large proportion of research and development work relevant to agriculture and food, through the science budget, through specific commissions from the Agriculture Departments to the Agricultural and Food Research Council and other research contractors, and within ADAS. Even after the changes have been made, total spending on agriculture and food research will be nearly £200 million in 1987–88. This money must be concentrated increasingly in areas which only the Government can fund.
§ Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that his Department does not intend to stop brucellosis research, because of legal obligations and because it is necessary. How can he reconcile that with telling me that he intends to close the laboratory in my constituency which last year conducted over 800 brucellosis tests? Is not that closure inconsistent with his comments today?
§ Mr. Jopling
The closing of that establishment follows an efficiency survey by the Government. The tests will be 616 done elsewhere. I know that the hon. Gentleman is defending his constituency, but the Government have a responsibility to ensure that such work is carried out as efficiently as possible. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is worried because of the impact on his constituency, but we took the decision in the interest of efficiency.
We believe that the industry recognises the value of research and development and that it will take up the challenge of helping to ensure that research services respond to the genuine needs of the industry. I stress that we are not looking to the industry to fund each and every project from which the Government have decided to withdraw.
In May I said that I saw advantage in making it possible for each sector of the industry to contribute to research and development, either voluntarily or by means of sectoral levies operated by the appropriate statutory bodies. Discussions on the details are still underway.
In the sugar sector, the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee has for many years operated smoothly to provide industry funds for relevant research work. We have had many debates in the House on that. In that sector, and in the milk sector, no new powers are needed to operate sectoral levy systems.
For cereals and livestock, we have included in the Bill changes in the constitutional arrangements of the Home Grown Cereals Authority and of the Meat and Livestock Commission which will enable each of those bodies, if the relevant sector wishes, to raise additional levy funds for research and development purposes and to decide how any such funds should be spent.
The Bill will also make it possible, should it be the preferred option of the oilseeds and protein crops sectors, for that part of the industry to come under the wing of the Home Grown Cereals Authority.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
Given the controversy about straw and stubble burning, it is vital that considerable resources continue to be provided for new processes. The industry is worried that the Home Grown Cereals Authority might have to meet research costs out of the levies envisaged in clause 5. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the industry about that and confirm that it will be more closely involved in the authority?
§ Mr. Jopling
Yes. Provision is made for that in clauses 4 to 6. We are discussing changing the authority's size to deal with my hon. Friend's anxiety.
Dealing next with horticulture, the representatives of the industry have, I am pleased to say, already shown themselves prepared to make a substantial contribution to research and development in this sector. In the absence of an existing body to collect and disburse funds, it would be possible to set up a horticultural development council for the purpose under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. In response to a request from the National Farmers Union I shall be instituting a poll of the industry early in the new year to determine the degree of support. If the vote is in favour, I shall lay a statutory instrument for affirmative resolution by both Houses before the summer recess, so that the new arrangement could take effect in 1987–88.
Today I am announcing my decision to accept the recommendation of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Peyton to abolish the Eggs Authority. At an appropriate stage I shall bring forward a Government amendment to 617 the Bill to implement that decision. After the abolition of the Eggs Authority that sector may prefer voluntary arrangements, but I have also made it clear that I would be prepared to consider the creation of an industrial development council for eggs if producers favour raising levies to fund appropriate research and development.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
As the Secretary of State is making announcements, will he say when an announcement is to be made about aid to farmers in the west of Scotland, who have been adversely affected by this summer's weather? The right hon. Gentleman will know that a delegation of Ayrshire Members of Parliament met the Minister of State, Scottish Office earlier this month. We were told that the announcement had been delayed because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was overseas. He has manifestly returned, so may we be told whether the announcement is to be made later in his speech, at some point during the debate, before the end of the month, or before the end of the year? The situation is desperate.
§ Mr. Jopling
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place on Thursday when I answered—
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Gentleman will therefore recall that I then said that we hoped to make an announcement very shortly—
§ Mr. Jopling
I quite understand the urgency of the matter. However, I must make it clear that I shall not be making an announcement today, as it is obviously not relevant to the details of the Bill. I shall try to pacify the hon. Gentleman by saying that I have taken on board his point. I know how urgent the issue is, and I shall make an announcement as soon as I can.
When my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Energy set up Food from Britain, he announced that the Government would provide initial funding for five years but looked to the industry to come forward with longer-term financial assistance. Food from Britain has made an excellent start and I am delighted that both the farmers unions and the Food and Drink Federation are supporting its continuation.
I was therefore pleased to announce that when the Government's initial pump-priming funds of £14 million ran out in 1987–88, additional funds of up to £2.5 million annually for a further three years would be made available to FFB, provided that industry support was also at a sufficient level. If the relevant sectors wish to provide funds through sectorial levies, the mechanisms that I mentioned earlier in relation to research—including those in the Bill—could also be brought into play for that purpose.
Both on research and development and marketing, the approach that we are adopting is a voluntary one. We are not requiring any sector to contribute. It is for them to decide, but I hope and believe that most sectors will contribute to both, and in my view it would be in their interest to do so.
I shall now outline the various specific features of the Bill. Clause 1 deals with advisory and related services. Existing legislation is complicated and, to some extent, divergent. Different kinds of advice must be provided to 618 different categories of persons. Some is free, but, of course, some is not. I therefore concluded that we should take the opportunity of simplifying the current powers, adopting a uniform category of persons eligible to receive advice and providing a greater degree of flexibility to enable ADAS to respond efficiently to the changing needs of both industry and the market.
The Bill will replace those existing measures with a single, straightforward authority to maintain an appropriate advisory organisation and to provide services—including advice—and goods relating to agricultural matters, including conservation and diversification.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
My right hon. Friend is explaining the effects of clause 1, and I do not object to them. However, he said earlier that research and development should be aimed at meeting the genuine needs of industry. Some of us are concerned that there will not be sufficient basic research into the future uses and needs of industry. I am thinking especially of research into alternative uses of agricultural products. I am worried that there will not be sufficient money to pay for that aspect.
§ Mr. Jopling
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. He must appreciate that it was entirely to deal with such matters that I set up the Priorities Board for Research and Development in Agriculture and Food, under Sir Kenneth Durham, about a year ago, and following the report of the Select Committee. We wanted a much better direction for agricltural research at a very high-powered level. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was a member of that Committee—
§ Mr. Jopling
It was very much in response to the report of the Select Committee that I felt that we had to ensure that agricultural research was directed towards the greatest priorities.
The amount of money that the Government will be spending on agriculture and food research, even after the changes have been made in 1987–88, will still amount to £200 million, which is a great deal of money. That should allay my hon. Friend's fears.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about research and wanting it to proceed in the right direction. Why did he, therefore, decide to cut £16.5 million off the budget without waiting for the report?
§ Mr. Jopling
That question is simply to answer. We wanted to make adjustments in 1986–87, and we have done so. We consulted the priorities board for advice on those changes, which were then endorsed and accepted by the board.
§ Mr. Jopling
I really must continue. I have already given way twice, having uttered hardly a word of my speech.
Clause 2 will make it possible for the cost of enforcing seeds regulations to be taken into account when fees are set to recoup the cost of official seed certification services. Such certification is the buyer's guarantee of quality seed. All the costs that we incur in certifying seeds have always been recovered in full. The important task of enforcing the 619 marketing rules adds rather more than 10 per cent. of the cost of certification, and that expenditure, too, should be recovered.
Clause 3 deals with the powers that I am seeking to charge for certain plant health work. Producers already make a contribution to the cost of plant health work—which benefits the environment as well as the farming industry—by taking their own preventative measures and by bearing the costs when a pest or disease is found and a crop has to be destroyed.
There are, however, two areas of plant health work where we are providing services which are of clear benefit to growers and others. Accordingly, clause 3 seeks to amend the Plant Health Act 1967 by inserting a new clause which gives the power to set fees and charges to pay for export certification and import licensing work.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
My right hon. Friend dealt with the setting fees under the first three clauses without saying what control the House would have over the levels of fees that he sets. Before going further, will he say in each case, as he comes to each clause, what control the House will have? The legislation is all by reference to other measures, and one cannot, by looking at the face of the Bill, answer that question.
§ Mr. Jopling
In general, many of the levels of fees will be set by statutory instrument, as it is not possible to set fees in primary legislation. [Interruption.] I recall that when Labour Members were in power and we were discussing fees for various matters it was agreed that the size of fees could not be put in primary legislation. This is the customary way of dealing with these matters, partly because the fees change from year to year, and partly because we cannot have primary legislation of this type each year.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Where in clause 1 does it say that the charges will be set by statutory instrument? As I read the provision, it is to be done arbitrarily, without the control of the House.
§ Mr. Jopling
I was careful not to say that all fees would be set that way. The advisory services will be organised on exactly the same basis as the existing fees are set. They are set at a fair level, and I am not aware that this has given rise to difficulty in the past or that the way in which ADAS has been able to charge fees has caused serious difficulties.
Clauses 4, 5 and 6 amend the Cereals Marketing Act 1965, which established the Home Grown Cereals Authority and gave the authority the role of improving the marketing of home grown cereals. Incidentally, the Second Reading of that measure on 22 December 1964 gave me and my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) the opportunity of making our maiden speeches. Sadly, my hon. Friend is prevented by illness from being here today. I am sure that the whole House joins me in sending him good wishes for a speedy return to his duties with us.
Since the United Kingdom's entry into the Community, the role of the Home Grown Cereals Authority has centred on the specialist areas of market intelligence and financial support for certain low-budget research projects funded by a small levy on firsthand sales of home grown cereals. The 620 authority also provides an agency service to the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce for the operation of the intervention system.
The changes embodied in clauses 4 to 6 are designed to make it possible for the authority to play a wider role in research and development and promotion, if that is what the industry wants. There is also provision for the coverage of the authority to be extended by order to certain other arable crops, if the sectors concerned wish to provide industry funds through the Home Grown Cereals Authority, and I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that the Bill also provides for a new flexibility as to the numbers of members of the authority, while preserving a balance between the representation of growers, dealers and processors.
Clause 7 amends the constitution and levy-raising powers of the Meat and Livestock Commission in two ways. The most important change is the introduction of new flexibility into the commission's levy-raising powers. The main purpose is to enable the commission to implement the plans developed by the industry to raise new funds from livestock producers specifically for the theme and species promotion of meat. I am pleased to be able to bring forward the necessary amendments in this Bill.
The new flexibility will also enable the MLC to collect contributions from the livestock and meat sectors for research and development and Food from Britain, if the industry decides that that is both desirable and appropriate. Clause 7 will increase the maximum membership of the commission from 10 to 11, to give us extra flexibility in appointing commissioners with the very wide range of experience appropriate to the work of the MLC.
Clause 8 provides for certain amendments to be made to the Agricultural Marketing Act 1983 which set up Food from Britain. In the expectation that industry will take on a greater share of the financing of Food from Britain, it may be appropriate for Minsters to draw on a wider cross-section of interests in appointing members to that body's council. Clause 8 therefore provides for the maximum size of the council to be increased from 15 to 21 in due course. When the Government contribute a significantly smaller proportion, it would also be right to relax, at an appropriate time in the future, the present statutory constraints on Food from Britain payments to members and staff, while at the same time ensuring that public funds are properly protected.
Clause 9 for me represents the latest stage of an initiative that I launched in the European Community more than a year ago. In brief, I persuaded the Community to strengthen its recognition of the vital relationship between agriculture and the environment. Our efforts bore fruits in the farm structures regulation agreed by the Council of Ministers in March of this year. Article 19 of that regulation permits members states to afford new protection to areas of national environmental importance. Clause 9 will empower the Government to implement this major development.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
My right hon. Friend will know that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was followed by a number of disagreeable misunderstandings between farmers and environmentalists on the Somerset Levels and other matters. It has taken many years to repair that damage. Will my right hon. 621 Friend assure the House that, to prevent that from happening again, those who use the land will be extensively consulted before an environmentally sensitive area is designated? The Bill is silent on that point.
§ Mr. Jopling
I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that everyone has learnt a good deal from the disagreements about the Somerset Levels. My Department has learnt a good deal. My advisory staff have played an important role during the past few years in mending the fences broken during that period.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the intervention by the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) justifies the suggestion that it would be highly desirable to recognise that, if rumour is right and the right hon. Gentleman is to select only five or six areas, when a much larger number may require the same treatment, he will cause the degree of misunderstanding and discord to which his hon. Friend referred?
§ Mr. Jopling
All I can say is that this is a new scheme. For the first time we are embarking on a move to get the European Community to recognise something which many hon. Members—the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) is a distinguished member of that band—have recognised for a long time. I hope that, having got this far, I shall not be criticised for starting warily at the beginning. It would be a great mistake to start with a huge number of new areas. We should go gently to begin with and see how it works, lest we fall into the sort of difficulties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) drew attention.
§ Mr. Jopling
I have given way once already to the hon. Gentleman. I must continue, because many hon. Members—
§ Mr. Dalyell
Why did the parliamentary draftsmen insert the phraseunless the Treasury have consented to the making of the order?It is unusual for that phrase to appear in a Bill. What exactly is the crucial role, as always, of the Treasury? Why is this unusual phrase in the Bill?
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for too long to make such an innocent-sounding intervention. He knows that it is not unusual for the Treasury to be concerned with these matters. He has been here long enough to know that Ministers do little in life without the Treasury's consent. My hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is sitting beside me, and, in those circumstances, I must be careful about what I say.
Clause 9 authorises the Government to designate environmentally sensitive areas and to draw up contracts with farmers in those areas which would offer payments to those farmers who follow farming practices which respect the environmental needs of their area. The clause has been widely drafted so as to provide the flexibility needed to protect the diverse landscape, wildlife and other features of our countryside.
Most farmers are willing custodians of the beauty and welfare of the countryside. They look to the Government 622 for advice and encouragement in the best ways of pursuing this important role. Clause 9 will provide that advice and encouragement in important areas of the country where uncontrolled agricultural change could put at risk our rural heritage. The theme of the clause is a partnership between the Government and the farmers. That partnership will embrace the statutory conservation bodies and, in England, the Secretary of State for the Environment. I greatly value this visible sign of the shared interests of myself and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is clear evidence of the importance that my Department attaches to the responsible development of farming in the wider community.
Under the terms of the Community's regulation, environmentally sensitive areas will have to be approved in Brussels. Farmers within an area will then be encouraged to enter a standard agreement. This will offer the farmer a payment, in return for following beneficial practices.
§ Mr. Jopling
Clauses 10 and 11 are financial and supplemental, setting the Bill into the normal framework of public finance, and making provision for commencement, consequential amendments and repeals, and its application in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I am sure that we shall hear critical voices. The opposition spokesman—the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John)—was reported as worrying that the industry might not actually contribute to the work of ADAS or the research services on the scale that the Government hoped to see. He said that we would have to cut and cut again as a result. Then Farming News claimed last week, quite falsely, that I am already considering further cuts. Why do they so lack confidence? I believe in the agriculture industry. I am sure that, given a continuing partnership, the industry can and will rise to the challenges that it faces, just as it has risen to the challenges of changing circumstances over the decades.
§ Mr. Jopling
I expect that we shall also hear those who argue that the industry needs to be dragooned into respecting the environment and that more bureaucratic controls are the answer. We shall be told that our policies do not go far enough. I reject that. I have confidence in the industry's respect for the environment. The countryside of this country as we see it has been created largely by the activities of farmers over the centuries. Farmers have responded and are responding to the needs of the environment. With a little help from the Government, the industry can make an even larger contribution to the sort of environment which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I and the people of this country, want to see around them.
In recent months, many people in the industry have told me how much they value the work of my advisory staff and of research scientists. Both have contributed greatly to the enormous strides which the agriculture industry has taken since the second world war. They are successful services, which farmers value and want to keep. That is their strength and the best guarantee of their future. I have confidence in their future. Of course, like the industry itself, the research and advisory services must adapt to changing circumstances and ensure that their knowledge 623 and expertise is directed where it will be of most benefit. The Bill provides a framework for this purpose, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
When candidates are being sought for political "Mary Poppins" the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not obviously spring to mind. However, in this curiously assembled Bill he shows himself to be a thorough apostle of the song:Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down".In this Bill he has included a series of measures which the Opposition emphatically dislike but he has also included clause 9, which is the key to future development, which a number of hon. Members have worked so hard to achieve. Therefore the Opposition do not wish to be seen, however indirectly, to be voting against that key clause.
That is why the alliance amendment is a fundamental error. It does not mention clause 9. To that extent it throws out the baby with the bath water, although the alliance has the great advantage of being able to ask Mr. Des Wilson to explain its attitude towards that clause to the environmental groups that have expressed approval.
We shall not vote against the Bill on Second Reading, but I promise the Minister that wherever clause 1 can be separated from the rest of the clauses—in Committee and on Report—we shall subject them to the greatest possible attack, to the closest scrutiny and to the most searching debate.
Since it is the key to our attitude towards the Bill, may I begin by welcoming clause 9. However, it makes immediately possible only the designation of five or six sites as environmentally sensitive areas. In this part of the structures agreement the Government have secured the principle that grants can be paid for reasons other than the maximisation of production. It ensures that farmers who, in the interests of securing the common heritage of the countryside, have to modify their farming practices can be compensated. That is important not only for the farming industry but for the whole community.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government deserve credit for giving a lead to Europe? We have to work within the context of the European Community. This Government fought for the principle that grants can be used for conserving the countryside, and they won their case in Europe.
§ Mr. John
I had hoped that I had come as near to congratulating the Government as the hon. Gentleman could expect me to come. The Government reflected faithfully the views on all sides of the House. That is considerably in advance of the views of many European Community countries. The Bill provides a structure upon which much more can be based, but many hon. Members want that to be achieved as quickly as possible. Therefore I want to ask the Minister of State who is to wind up a number of questions without the answers to which fine feathers will be unable to make fine birds. First, will only £6 million be devoted to environmentally sensitive areas in the first year? During the lifetime of this Government capital grants amounting to £75 million have been taken away from farmers. Capital grants should be given to farmers on environmental criteria. What the Government 624 have given in pence on the one had they have taken away in pounds on the other. I hope that the Minister of State will also be able to say what the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was unable to say: that in subsequent discussions in the European Community on the environmental structure this Government will press for European Community money so that the inadequate sum of £6 million can be augmented by European Community funds for the protection of environmentally sensitive areas.
Secondly, may I press the Minister of State to tell us when the sums of money will be payable? Will they be paid quickly? I was dismayed to read in Big Farm Weekly that 1987 is the earliest date by which it is expected that payments will be made under this agreement and that the five or six sites will not be chosen until December 1986. Cannot this payment be accelerated? As soon as we have decided in favour of these areas, as we shall when the Bill is passed, we ought to press on with them as soon as possible.
Thirdly, are the five or six sites the limit of the Government's ambition? I was not reassured by the Minister's answers. He referred to going slowly. I understand the need for initial caution, but we shall not be satisfied with only five or six sites. The Countryside Commission has already identified 46 sites in England and Wales alone which meet the criteria. Its Scottish counterpart has identified 17 other sites. If the Bill is to be of anything other than cosmetic value it is imperative that the original list of five or six sites should be increased as quickly as possible. At the risk of seeming to hint at impoliteness towards the Financial Secretary, who is the "minder" of clause 9, I must point out that there are churlish people who doubt the devotion of the Treasury towards expenditure for this purpose. The only way in which that doubt can be silenced is by announcing a programme of further works. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said when he intervened, subsection (2) of clause 9 contains a provision that is almost unparalleled. Hon. Members accept that the Treasury has to license the spending Departments, but what is so novel and sinister and why even a smiling and genial Financial Secretary has to be feared is that a power of veto is to be given to the Treasury over environmentally sensitive areas. This is without precedent and is potentially sinister.
As for the practicalities of the scheme, will the amounts payable to farmers and institutions be realistic? Will they provide incentives? How will ESAs work in practice? What staff will be available? About 100 farmers and institutions are involved in the Halvergate marshes scheme, but there are only two full-time staff. Is that the kind of staffing level that can be expected in environmentally sensitive areas? Will the Nature Conservancy Council or the Countryside Commission be consulted over the management package? Who will act for the Minister? As for monitoring the scheme, will it be an Agricultural Development and Advisory Service scheme or, in deference to clause 1, will the monitoring be privatised, too? The Opposition welcome clause 9 but expect many more details from the Government on Second Reading and in Committee before we shall say that our welcome is unqualified.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
Before my hon. Friend leaves clause 9, will he comment on the practice, which will be enshrined in the Bill, whereby the Ministry of 625 Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will continue to pay production grants to farmers who are operating within ESAs? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is inconsistent for the Government to say that they will pay grants to encourage environmentally good practices but continue to pay grants not only to farmers but to the Forestry Commission and others for projects which will be environmentally disastrous?
§ Mr. John
I was about to deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend. He is right. On a number of points in the Bill, the Government seem to be willing the means without having any clear idea what the ends will be. In clause 9 the Government have no genuine overview as yet about the environmental dimension of agriculture and forestry. Therefore, anomalous practices remain and the Opposition would expect the Government to exclude and eliminate them in Committee.
In dealing with the fairly neutral parts of the Bill I refer now to clause 7, which deals with the membership of the Meat and Livestock Commission. That membership is increased by one, ostensibly, according to the notes, to allow more sectors to be represented on the commission. However, since the present commission is equally representative of producers and traders, I wonder which side will be favoured? Unfortunately, the Opposition do not know and neither do the Government, because—if the Library note is correct, as it generally is—the Government are still negotiating. That is another example of the Government's willing the means by an extension of the commission, without having any clear idea of why they want that extension.
Clauses 4 to 6 reduce the potential size of the Home Grown Cereals Authority, and that was the subject of an intervention by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). The Government are following the suggestions of that authority but I wonder whether, in practice, there will be any significant difference in its size. As the Minister acknowledged, the Bill adds a large number of extra powers to the authority's remit. Where that happens it is dangerous—perhaps that is too strong a word; certainly undesirable—for more powers to be controlled by a smaller board. I hope that the Minister of State will confirm when he replies that in practice the number of representatives on the Home Grown Cereals Authority will be at the upper end of the scale provided.
Having passed from forward gear to neutral, we now come to reverse gear. The positive parts of the Bill throw into reverse most of the advances made in agriculture and agricultural research and advice in the past 40 years. I should like to remind the Minister of something that he glossed over in his opening speech—the fact that what was a duty has now become a permissive power. That is a worrying trend. The Minister said that we are striking up a partnership between the nation and the Government when he was talking about clause 9. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said, he could not have been thinking of clause 1, because in that clause the Government are taking away that partnership. The Government are removing state funding of agricultural advice and development and are creating a statutory framework which is much less desirable than the one that has served us so well since the war.
The Bell committee report states in paragraph 31 that farmers and growers may be expected to have even greater need of expert advice of the kind that ADAS is well 626 equipped to provide. We know that farming is no longer interested in maximum production and that the period of adjustment from producing more and more to controlling what and how much we produce, will be a painful one for many farmers and particularly for small producers.
The financial remit and structure of ADAS should not be changed but it should be set different objectives when it provides advice. That would avoid one of the worst features of clause 1—the danger that the very people who need agricultural advice most will be those who are least likely to be able to afford it under a charging structure. The Minister lamely, if not openly, admitted that the real reason for clause 1 is the a priori objective of saving £16—5 million from the public expenditure budget. That might seem a sizeable sum, but it should be considered against two figures. In the "Play School" economics which were called the autumn economic statement, we were told that the total value of the Government's budget this year is £134 billion. The sum of £16.5 million which is being saved by the Bill is less than one-eightieth of 1 per cent. of the total Government budget. That is hardly the magic ingredient that will lead to the long-promised tax cuts that we have all expected for so long.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
The Government will get the money for that from the sale of British Gas.
§ Mr. John
That autumn economic statement revealed that the intervention body last year spent £1,900 million and the rise in its spending this year is £450 million. The sum to be saved by the Bill is dwarfed more than 25 times over by the increase in spending by the intervention body. That is truly the economics of the madhouse and that is wholly undesirable.
§ Mr. John Watson (Skipton and Ripon)
Is the hon. Member aware that since the autumn economic statement there have been 14 major speeches from the Opposition Front Bench, that in every one there has been a pledge to increase public expenditure and that each one has been justified on the ground that such an increase represented only a tiny proportion of the sum involved in the autumn economic statement?
§ Mr. John
The hon. Gentleman should go into agricultural constituencies and justify the mutilation of ADAS. Less than one-eightieth of 1 per cent. of the total Government budget is allocated to a body that is necessary to this country's farming health and food health which has been built up over 40 years. He should explain why that is being jeopardised in pursuit of monetary objectives. It is no wonder that the farming press is so unkind to the Minister when he has friends like the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson). The hon. Member really ought to think before he rises. [Interruption.] I understand that the Oxford Union has just woken up but the Minister of State appears to be going back to sleep again now. My points were acceptable to all hon. Members except the Secretary of State for Wales. However, as the Opposition know from Welsh history, the Secretary of State for Wales is a slow learner.
Will the Minister tell us the details of the charging structure? We are being asked to vote for a pig in a poke tonight. We have no idea what the charges are, but we have a clear idea that no parliamentary control or scrutiny will be imposed upon those charges.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about small farmers. Does he agree that at least some assurance should be given to those small farmers who—I accept the point that he makes—will be hardest hit, that the charges will be based on acreage rather than any other factor?
§ Mr. John
The debate should be based upon information. Here, the legislation is the meat in the sandwich. There have been consultations before today and there will be consultations after today. Today, we have to pass the Bill in complete ignorance of the final structure that the Minister will impose. We do not know whether he will listen to the second round of consultation and whether, as the hon. Gentleman said, he will exempt or lessen the burden upon small farmers. It is not so much giving the Government a blank cheque as giving them a blank certified cheque. They can cash whatever the House gives them. When we can isolate this clause in Committee, my hon. Friends and I hope to emasculate it completely. It is a thoroughly undesirable piece of legislation.
As the Minister said, there are two prime considerations to which the House should devote itself. The first relates to the amount of the charges. We do not know how much hardship is involved until we know the amount of the charges. Secondly, we should have something other than the halting and enfeebled explanation of the Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food about what he proposes to do with regard to the House when the second round of consultations is complete. At the moment, there is no provision for Parliament to consider those charges. The Government can impose them without a statutory instrument, a statement in the House or any parliamentary control. That is treating the House and the farming community with contempt. In Committee, the Government must alter the ill-considered drafting of that clause.
We are ill prepared to consider the charges, but I believe that ADAS is scarcely more prepared to impose them. Even after the Minister's speech, we have no details of how the hoped-for income of over £5 million is to be achieved by a service which has not yet had to charge. No training has yet been given to any member of ADAS in preparation for that charging role. There is no mechanism for collecting the statutory charges at the moment.
Does the Minister know how the scheme will work? What damage is likely to be inflicted? The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, who is now leaving the Chamber, intervened movingly about the great feat of saving £16.5 million. First, severe damage will be caused to the morale of the ADAS staff, although I do not suppose that loyalty rings any cash registers with this money-obsessed Government. The Government admit to 380 redundancies but the Institution of Professional Civil Servants calculates that with the closure of some of the research functions and stations there will be over 800 redundancies by 1987. That is a cut of 15 per cent.
If that were coming from a completely cold start, it would be bad enough, but it comes at the end of five years during which the total ADAS staff has already been cut by 12 per cent., and the front-line advisers have been cut by no less than 14 per cent. If, the base date is put back a year to 1981, there has been a manpower cut of 18 per cent. There has been a cut of 18 per cent. over five years and there will be a further cut of 15 per cent. in the period up to 1987.
628 Those cuts will mean that significant teams of agricultural experts are being dispersed and the quality of service available to agriculture will be made immeasurably worse because farmers will be unable to afford the service and ADAS will be unable to provide services which have hitherto been provided.
Let no one be under any misapprehension. That is not merely a cosy or even a contractual relationship between agriculture and the Government. Everyone in the country has as large a stake in the nature and quality of advice given to farmers as farmers themselves. We believe that because we are all consumers and because the history of British food health is a proud one.
The independent, impartial and comprehensive nature of the advice which ADAS has given has been valued. The smaller service ADAS now envisages will mean that much of its time will be distracted by the need to market, and collect charges. If, as I expect—the Minister disagreed with me but did not justify his disagreement—the income which it is hoped to obtain by charges is not achieved, the cuts will have to go deeper. There will have to be even more redundancies at ADAS and an even more sketchy service will be provided with fewer visits and less advice. Anyone who is not obsessed with monetarist goals will conclude that the proposal does not make sense. The damage being inflicted is out of all proportion to the tiny sum being saved.
The key to British agriculture's post-war success has been a partnership. The Minister was correct when he referred to that partnership between the nation and agriculture in relation to clause 9, but what applies to clause 9 applies equally to clause 1. To abandon that partnership because of a blind hatred of public expenditure means abandoning the reconstruction of agriculture.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
The hon. Gentleman has rightly spoken of the partnership that has existed for many years. Does he also accept that as we move into a time of structural surpluses people are worried about the volumes of money that are being invested in the production of goods that are already in surplus?
§ Mr. John
I appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman has made. I tried to deal with that matter earlier. In an era of transition, there may be a need for advice on how to produce differently, but the amount of advice needed will be hardly any less. Agriculture is moving through an era of profound change. The Minister is hazarding the safe navigation of that period of change. We believe that action to be completely unjustified.
The Labour party gives notice that, if returned to government, it would not persist with these charges, and would undertake a major restructuring of ADAS and research and development so that it would be able to fulfil more sensitively the long-term needs of agriculture and the nation. We should also recognise the importance and dedication of those undertaking the tasks whom this heedless Government are bidding fair to destroy.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I beg to move,
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which provides the means seriously to cut the Agricultural Development and Advisory Services (ADAS), and to force an agriculture industry in which there are already increasing financial problems to pay an extra £11 million for advisory 629 approval and inspection work, and which will seriously damage long-term agricultural development by reducing funds for Government-backed independent agricultural research.Right hon. and hon. Members will see that the amendment is in the names of my right hon. Friends the Members for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen).
§ Mr. Maclennan
Where is the Prime Minister?
The Bill, as is often the case, is an agricultural miscellaneous provisions Bill, and it is good in parts, but most of its clauses are so seriously defective that it is inappropriate for the House to give it a Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) has formed the judgment that, because he thinks that there is much that is good in clause 9, he and his hon. Friends can overlook the deficiencies of the first eight clauses and give it a vote of approval in principle. Members of the alliance regard the Bill as bad in principle.
§ Mr. Maclennan
They do not therefore regard it as appropriate to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Clause 9 gives effect to a desirable regulation. The Government are required to give effect to it. The regulation, issued on 31 March, is automatically effective in Britain, although it does not provide for Community spending. The clause has been introduced to enable the Minister to spend. That little exercise could have been done without delaying the House for long and would still have enjoyed the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Similar support cannot be given to the rest of the Bill.
Before I discuss the controversial parts of the Bill, I welcome clause 9, which implements article 19 of regulation EC 797/85. It is welcome that moneys may be made available, although the Minister was coy about revealing the amount, to environmentally sensitive areas. He said so little that if we had to rely on his comments alone, perhaps we should need a further delay to enable the Minister to decide what the Government intend to do under the enabling provision.
In answer to an intervention, the Minister said that perhaps there was £6 million around somewhere that might be used over an unspecified period to give effect to the clause. He did not say how many schemes might be approved, but said that he would have to be extremely cautious. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have already proposed 43 schemes. It is clear that the Minister has a different scale and order of magnitude in mind.
§ Mr. Jopling
I am sorry if the hon. Member thinks that I was coy in my reply. I gave a figure off the top of my head about how much might be available. I said £5 million or £6 million, and I have since discovered that the accurate figure is £6 million. I was not asked how many areas would be affected. In his normal stumbling way, the hon. Gentleman has been less than fair.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I remind the Minister that he is responsible for the Bill. I find it remarkable that he should produce a figure off the top of his head with an error margin of a million or two. Without a little prompting, he is unable to tell us how much he has in his pocket. That is not good enough. It is clear that the Minister is unprepared to introduce the Bill today. If he had been able 630 to say how many schemes he had in mind, we would have been better placed to judge the importance of this sweetener that is tacked on to an otherwise sour measure.
§ Mr. John
Does the hon. Member recognise that there are subsequent stages for consideration of the Bill when we can take a hack at the unpleasant parts without damaging the potentially advantageous ones? That is the course that I recommend to my hon. Friends. Even in the hon. Member's convoluted logic, that could not be described as approval of the other sour clauses.
§ Mr. Maclennan
It is awkward for the hon. Member to be as partisan as he tries to be. If the hon. Member believes that he will succeed in excising clauses 1 to 8 in Committee with the Government enjoying their present majority, he is more of an optimist than I take him to be.
The most important issue is the imposts that the Bill enables the Government to put on agriculture for advice and research. Apart from the substance and size of the imposts, one must question the timing. It is extraordinary that the Government should introduce the Bill when the industry is reeling from one of the worst harvests for many years. The Minister still cannot say whether he has anything in his pocket for that, and now he produces some further hammer blows.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
The hon. Member has been criticising the Government for introducing the Bill in a year that has been unfavourable to agriculture. Does that mean that last year, which was favourable to agriculture, he would have welcomed the Bill?
§ Mr. MacLennan
I would not. I would not welcome it next year, when I hope that the harvest will be better, or at any time.
The Bill appears to implement the Government's intention to extract from the farming industry an additional £16.5 million by contributions to the cost of agricultural research and advice. The Minister has rightly pointed out the amount of public funds available. At this point in the history of British agriculture additional assistance, not less, should be made available to the industry.
The industry is under several pressures. I refer not to the problems of the harvest but to the Government's switch in policy from increasing agricultural output, referred to by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), to bringing output under control and possibly switching it into other productive exercises. That cannot be done without great difficulty, not only because of the loss of income that farmers must sustain as a result of the unheralded change of Government policy but because of the technical difficulties. Advice and research is required on the changing uses of products traditionally used for other purposes. None of that is recognised in the Minister's proposals. The Minister is oblivious not only to the changed direction of agriculture but to the need for changes in animal welfare regulations to meet new and higher standards. The Minister is also oblivious to the public's recognition that more must be spent by the Government and farmers on environmental conservation.
All these matters place new and unavoidable additional burdens on the industry. The Government's proposal to extract from farmers, by way of charges, an additional £5 million for advice that hitherto has been free and a further £6 million for work to be carried out because of the statutory responsibilities of ADAS seems not merely 631 insensitive but positively damaging to the industry. Of course, the high quality advice that has been available in the past will continue to be sought, particularly by those who will find it easiest to bear the cost.
One of the Minister's greatest shortcomings is his unwillingness to recognise the enormous differences between agricultural enterprises and the capacity of various farmers to meet the new charges. Some will find it no problem to pay the charges, but others will have difficulty—not only the small farmers and those in less-favoured areas, but especially those who are following the previous Minister's exhortations to boost production to the ceiling and have got themselves into considerable difficulties with the banks. No provision is made in the Bill for those in difficulties to receive the assistance and advice that could be the difference between salvation and going under.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
The hon. Gentleman says that those facing the greatest difficulty are those who will have to change their methods of production or find alternative sources. Surely those difficulties can be summed up by the phrase "rural diversification". As the Minister said, advice and guidance about diversification and finding alternative methods of production in the countryside will continue to be free.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The Bill does not say that. The Minister said that he would bear that in mind when he produced his scheme, but he has not given us the assurance that the hon. Gentleman suggests has been given.
One of the main complaints about clause 1 is that it is an enabling provision of the widest kind. It allows the Minister to charge for the functions that he told us he does not intend to charge for. That must give cause for concern. If the Minister does not wish to have the power to charge for advice on the improvement of conservation techniques, why does he seek that power? I hope that the Bill will be amended in Committee to make it impossible for the Minister to charge for such advice.
An important issue of principle is involved in the Bill. The Minister has tried to pray in aid for the Bill the recommendations of Professor Bell. To do him justice, the professor never made the recommendation—on which the Minister seems to be relying—that the industry should be charged for advice. I do not think that Professor Bell would be so inept or unwise as to make such a recommendation.
The Minister should have discussed with the industry and all those affected not only the general principle of charging and announcing a global sum that the Treasury required the industry to disgorge but the best way of working out an equitable system of charging which would be accepted by the industry and would not impose the burdens that the Bill will impose.
I believe that advice will still be sought from ADAS, but advice will also be offered by those with a commercial interest in giving expensive advice. Those who supply farmers with fertilisers and pesticides—
§ Mr. Maclennan
That matter was investigated by the Price Commission, which revealed a not entirely healthy 632 situation. If the Government believed in competition and there were effective measures to encourage competition, one might not feel so worried. But even if there are several suppliers, it should not be thought that they do not all have the same interest in selling information and advice which, in a sense, backs up the arguments of the others.
Such advice is not disinterested. Often it is advice to use pesticides that may be unnecessary or environmentally damaging or to use fertilizers that are undesirable if we are seeking to lower the input costs of farming. The trend towards using the advice of commercial suppliers in preference to that of ADAS is likely to be given a considerable fillip by the Bill. That is highly undesirable.
I turn briefly to other matters in the Bill. I cannot get too worked up about whether the membership of the Meat and Livestock Commission should be 10 or 11, though the Minister should have done more to justify the proposed change.
A more important matter arises in clause 8, which makes certain provisions for Food from Britain and gives the Minister power to impose conditions on grants and loans made by Food from Britain. The establishment of that organisation was a desirable step, but there is increasing discontent about how it is expected to operate. The promotion of agricultural development, exports and sales is ripe for a more fundamental review than the Bill suggests that the Minister has in hand.
In particular, we need the widest possible consultation with all sectors of the industry that are to be required to raise levies. It is important that there should be a ballot of farmers and traders, suitably weighted to take account of their stakes in the industry, before the levies are imposed. If the industry has to pay levies to finance its promotional activities, it should be brought under greater democratic control than Food from Britain or any of its offshoots appears to have in mind.
It is not good enough that a few people selected by the Minister—the establishment—should decide what is good for farmers and how the industry's money should be spent. The time has come to recognise that the job of Food from Britain is vital. The Government's funding of £2 million is derisory compared with the French Government's expenditure of well over £100 million per annum. A new structure is necessary to ensure that the money to be drawn from the industry is properly spent.
The Bill is unwelcome. I hope that, if we are not joined by Labour Members and enough of the Conservative Members who purport to be interested in the future of agriculture to defeat the Bill, it will be radically amended in Committee and will return to the House as a quite different creature.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has some effrontery to move an amendment in the names of the leaders of the SDP and the Liberal party, when only he and one other alliance Member are present. That shows a flippant attitude to agriculture. No doubt all farmers are beginning to realise that the alliance parties will do all sorts of unnecessary things, including introducing planning into agriculture and, no doubt, rating agricultural buildings and land. I hope that their amendment, if it is put to the vote tonight, will be heavily defeated.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the hon. Member for Dumfries 633 (Sir H. Monro) accept that he has made a totally inaccurate statement regarding the alliance's policy? It is not our policy—
§ Sir Hector Monro
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) may catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and correct anything that I may have said, but the information that I have is up to date.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, I am deeply concerned about our farmers, who have been badly affected by the bad weather this autumn. As I said to him and to the Secretary of State for Scotland, we had the wettest August and September that anyone remembers in the north of England and Scotland, which caused havoc to hay, silage and the harvest.
Long-term damage has been inflicted on fields by poaching and by wheeled vehicles. The effects of the bad weather covered all sections of the industry. Dairying, livestock and arable, including potatoes, all went through a disastrous period. I know that my right hon. Friend is giving every conceivable thought to providing the additional payments that he announced in October, but if he can make a further announcement soon it will be extremely welcome, as farmers have to plan ahead over the next three or four months for how they will provide fodder for their livestock.
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has never been especially complimentary to landlords, but three of the largest landlords in my constituency have granted a reduction in rent to their tenants on account of the bad weather, which shows how well the landlord-tenant system works when it is run by enlightened landowners.
I know that my right hon. Friend is doing all that he can to deal with the urgent issue of the clawback on the export of ewes. This is a serious problem, especially for hill farmers. I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill, and the bad weather highlights the necessity for high-quality advice when one is facing adversity. I know that ADAS in England and Wales and the colleges in Scotland will play their part, and I am glad to note that the Minister responsible for the environment and local government in Scotland is here.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will do what he can to ensure that there is a great deal of effort in the promotion of research directed to agriculture in the future, which will mean changes in cropping and marketing. Marketing will be the key for agriculture of the future. Those in this House who are interested in agriculture will recognise that good wholesome food has never hurt anybody, and we must fight those who wish to prevent us from eating butter, drinking milk and eating beef, all of which can do only good for the health of the nation.
Clause 9 deals with conservation, in which I am interested. I was involved with what is now the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and with the national parks and the Countryside Commission. I am a member of the Nature Conservancy Council. I warmly welcome the Government's decision to assist Parliament to maintain and enhance conservation and to look after the scenic beauty of the countryside. I am glad that the Government 634 are to do so by voluntary methods and through co-operation, unlike the Bill that was introduced by the Labour party in 1978–79 to deal with Exmoor, by compulsory methods.
I am sure that was the wrong policy, because we should involve farmers and landowners when dealing with conservation. Management agreements will produce results. The various schemes as laid down in the financial guidelines for SSSIs to deal with special scientific interests, when translated into dealing with the countryside relative to clause 9, will provide an adequate set of rules to introduce financial assistance for conservation. It will take time to establish, but substantial progress is being made.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the voluntary agreement idea has not been satisfactory over the past few years? He referred to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and he will recall that it had to be amended this year because the system of voluntary agreement has not protected SSSIs. Before the hon. Gentleman feels too proud about the record of his party, either in terms of legislation or by its presence today, he should reflect that, in proportion, there are fewer Members of his party in the Chamber than there are of my party, and that my party's representation this afternoon is the best, both now and when my two other colleagues were here a moment ago.
§ Sir Hector Monro
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his facts. I am a member of the Nature Conservancy Council and we are responsible for introducing management agreements, an enormous number of which have been achieved and are working satisfactorily. The Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill, as it then was, was designed to take up a measure which was omitted from the original Act, which affected very few sites. I am glad that the loophole has been plugged, but it never prevented us from pressing on with management agreements.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had had the courtesy to be in the Chamber earlier, he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister answer that question admirably.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
Before my hon. Friend continues, will he take up the point of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), that the Liberal party has the best representation in the Chamber this afternoon. On 26 April he said:agricultural land should also be subject to planning consent and planning control".—[Official Report, 26 April 1985; Vol 77, c. 1136.]Apparently that is Liberal policy.
§ Sir Hector Monro
The SDP compounded that. I think that it would be better for the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to leave the Chamber before he comments on something about which he knows nothing. If he waits long enough he might be called, but I suspect that he will leave the Chamber within the next five minutes and disappear, never to be seen again.
The financial guidelines have worked well. The Nature Conservancy Council, under the chairmanship of Mr. William Wilkinson, and the Countryside Commission, under the effective leadership of Sir Derek Barber, have 635 an enlightened attitude on bringing harmony to the countryside, including those who sometimes disagree with what is taking place.
There is great enthusiasm for the countryside and a unity of purpose to achieve the ideals that my right hon. Friend has set out. The National Farmers Union has given an exceptionally good lead, and the farming, forestry and wildlife advisory groups have set high standards and given a great deal of information to farmers to help them to develop conservation on their farms. That must be welcomed, along with the attitude of the timber growers who, along with the Forestry Commission, are so keen to develop broadleaved trees.
Many conservation groups are playing a valuable role, but we must try to create good will in the countryside, which will not be done if there is too much concentration on, securing headlines in local newspapers. Frequently, there is over-reaction to what is happening. Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I travel a vast mileage in cars and trains throughout the year, and on the whole, I find that the British landscape is in magnificent condition. The extent of the damage to the national scenery is remarkably small, and we must keep these matters in perspective.
I must accept that, sadly, some damage has occurred to the countryside, but at the same time there are many estates and farms where conservation is being improved all the time. On balance, the condition of the countryside is as good now as it has been for many years.
I am slightly worried about clause 9. The principle does not cause me concern, but the scale does. It is important that it should not be thought that there will be conservation grants everywhere for those who want to amend their farming policies to obtain management agreements. This must be made clear, so that farmers are not disappointed. It must be realised that assistance will be directed to environmentally sensitive areas. The layman might understand that vast areas will come into that category, but they will not.
Let us consider the areas that might be encompassed by these provisions. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have been making recommendations to my right hon. Friend, and rumour has it that they have submitted 56 recommendations. Lord Belstead said during the summer that about six areas would be chosen. I hazard a guess that that will mean three in England, two in Scotland and one in Wales. These areas will include national parks and many SSSIs. The land upon which my right hon. Friend will be able to offer assistance will not be over-wide. Some of the areas that have been recommended vary between 10,000 and 50,000 acres. I look forward to my right hon. Friend expanding the scheme as we move forward, increase our experience and make more resources available.
I am not critical of my right hon. Friend for providing that £6 million shall be spent in the first year. In getting a scheme of this scale off the ground, and in moving smoothly with the involvement of advisers and other officials who are equipped to assess grant applications and to negotiate management schemes, an enormous amount of effort will have to be expended even to spend £6 million in the first year. I think that my right hon. Friend has probably set himself the right target. As more resources become available we can go further.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman spent about 100 hours in Committee when he was the Minister responsible for piloting the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, as it then was, through the House. With all his experience, can he shed any light on the extraordinary insertion that reads:unless the Treasury have consented to the making of the order"?If the Bill were the hon. Gentleman's, would he be content with that insertion? What is his explanation of its being there?
§ Sir Hector Monro
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving that valuable information. I am sure that the passage would not appear in the Bill if it were not required. The applications must be compatible with the financial guidelines which have been laid down by the Treasury, certainly in terms of management agreements for SSSIs. The provision to which our attention has been drawn is nothing more serious than that. It is right that the matter should have been raised, and I am glad that it has been clarified by my right hon. Friend.
I am especially pleased that a voluntary system has been proposed. There are compulsory powers of notification behind SSSIs, and lists are given of potentially damaging operations. Help will be given only if a request is made positively by the farmer or landowner. There will not be notification, as with an SSSI, and argument later. The voluntary approach is crucial, and that is how we should proceed.
I am glad that there will be enhanced co-ordination and co-operation between the Ministry and the Department of the Environment, the NCC and the Countryside Commission. All four organisations will be immersed in trying to produce a scheme that will not involve farmers being faced with lists of bureaucratic questions. That sort of approach would turn the heads of farmers away from what we are trying to achieve. The scheme must be simple and must be seen to work with the least inconvenience to those who wish to receive assistance. It is so easy to turn people off a scheme. If they lose heart, the momentum of the scheme will be lost. We must not allow it to become wrapped in what farmers would describe as red tape.
Over the past five or six years we have had the pleasure of seeing the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment come together. I hope that they and the Scottish and Welsh Offices will be able to produce a properly co-ordinated and easily understood scheme.
The Bill highlights the Government's commitment to the environment, our heritage and our habitat. Any enthusiast for the countryside, such as myself, should welcome it.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
The impact of the Bill and the Minister's written statement on 7 November on the farming community and consumers will be immense. It is certain that both the Bill and the statement will have a great impact on scientists and 637 agriculture advisers who work for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in various capacities. About 20 per cent. of them will be placed upon the scrap heap in the next two years to provide for the £40 million of public expenditure cuts that will be made by the Government over that period.
The Bill makes provision for the Minister to make reasonable charges for services to the farming community. It allows for unspecified charges to be made in all areas of agriculture advice and research and development. Most important, this is to be done without further recourse to this democratic House.
The Bill sets out a major change in Government policy towards agricultural research, which has been built up over the past 40 years. The Government have no mandate to make such changes and I challenge their right to do so. The speed with which the measure is being raced through will present many more difficulties for farmers, and the people who have to implement it will have no time to consider alternative arrangements. I believe that the Minister, in his indecent haste to do the bidding of the Treasury to cut and cut again regardless of the effect on our people, has acted first and thought afterwards.
Agriculture is an industry vital to the economy of Britain. Food production will always suffer from forces outside man's control. In milk production farmers are faced with problems created by man—not British man but foreign man in other words, the Economic Community. As well as those problems and the problems of high interest charges caused by machinery purchases to make farming more efficient, farmers must now face charges for advice, research and so on, or do without. Many farmers will be forced into that position, particularly the smaller farmers who require that help the most. They need help with the prevention of diseases among farm animals and help safely to eradicate pests.
That brings me to the immense amount of research work that is done to prevent the import of such diseases as rabies, Dutch elm and foot and mouth, and such pests as the Colorado beetle. Research helps animal welfare, checks the safety of animal medicines, inspects abattoirs, prevents the return of brucellosis and controls and checks the quality and safety of foods such as fruit, vegetables and milk.
The Minister said that he does not intend to charge for animal welfare or for steps to fight the return of brucellosis. Ministers come and go, as we all know and see in the House, but nothing is written into the Bill to implement the promises that the Minister has made. Whatever charges the Minister makes are not to be vetted by the House as they should be. Who knows what a future Agriculture Minister, egged on by the Treasury, may do with those promises? The promises made from the Dispatch Box are not worth the paper that they were written on.
There is another aspect of the work where research can be of help. In the United Kingdom there is a massive surplus of cereals. Apart from paying the farmer the cost of producing a huge grain mountain, the taxpayer is footing the bill for storing it—around £150 million. The Select Committee was told last week that the grain is uesless and that nobody wants it. The Committee was also told that we shall have to import 3 million tonnes of wheat during the next few months costing around £200 million. 638 Despite the massive amount of grain in store, for which the taxpayer is paying, we have to import wheat to make bread because the wheat in store is no good for that.
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what he has just said is untrue? We have to import 3 million tonnes simply because this year's weather altered the quality of British wheat. It has nothing to do with what is in store.
§ Mr. Torney
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does more research. According to the United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association, not me, the wheat in store is useless. In this country we are not producing the type of wheat that we need to make our bread, and it is an acknowledged fact that we have to import it. I believe that even the Minister will agree with that.
The point I am making is that the Select Committee was told that there is definitely an urgent need for cereals research. It is witnesses to the Committee—not me—who have said that. We need research into how we can grow different varieties that meet the different market and consumer needs in the United Kingdom and abroad. We should have research into production so that we can produce more cheaply and compete in the world markets.
The Select Committee was told that we cannot sell our wheat abroad because it is not the sort that the people abroad want. How the Dickens can we have research when the Minister will charge for it? He has already closed some research establishments, putting people out of work and making research less capable of doing its job. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) said earlier, what we need is a reorganisation of our research establishments, not the cutting down of them. If anything, they should be increased. There is plenty of research to be done—not research into greater production, but research into producing less but ensuring that farmers still make a decent living.
With the Bill, the Government are reducing research capability and ensuring that farmers will continue to produce cereals that no one requires and that taxpayers foot the massive bill for the useless cereals in storage. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts. I hope, for instance, that they will implement some of the exceptions to charging that the Minister has mentioned. I hope that in Committee he will put them in black and white in the Bill. That is his opportunity to prove that he means what he says. He should do it in such a way that any Agriculture Minister who might follow him cannot simply make the charges that he seems to agree should not be made. We want the Bill massively amended in Committee, and I hope that the Minister will concede some of our requests.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
One of the things that I most dislike, and that is most inconvenient to persons and bodies outside the House, is legislation by reference—legislation one cannot read and know what it means. I regret to have to say that the Bill is a conspicuously bad example of that. I have a pile of bound volumes with me. In those volumes are only five of the 14 Acts of Parliament and one Order in Council that it is necessary to have at hand to know what the Bill means.
In many cases the explanatory and financial memorandum does not answer the questions to which the 639 House needs to know the answers. It is never seen again after the Second Reading. When a Bill comes to the House after Committee for Report and Third Reading there is no longer any explanatory and financial memorandum on it. It is disgraceful that the Department is unable to legislate without doing so by reference. It is a constant source of trouble. Although I am not a lawyer, I read in Appeal Court cases how often it is deprecated by the courts of justice.
I will start with clause 1(3) which says:Any services or goods provided by virtue of this section may be provided free of charge or for such reasonable charge as the Ministers may determine.How do Ministers determine it? We cannot see it from the face of the Bill, nor can we see it from the explanatory and financial memorandum. We do not know. Then we come to clause 2 and see:in determining any fees to be charged under seeds regulations the Minister may have regard to the costs incurred by him in connection with the enforcement of the regulations.But where are those costs defined?
When, a few years ago, my Select Committee had cause to look at the certification of the seaworthiness of vessels, which even applied to small barges on canals, we found that the Department was charging £40 an hour for the surveyors' time for travelling to and fro, and enormous sums by way of the overheads on its headquarters in London.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Not in all cases. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Lady may have difficulty in standing up, but if she wants to intervene, I shall give way.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was reminding him that Ministers did not ensure that the procedure was always applied. He should read the case of the Marques and the evidence that has been given in Plymouth. The Ministers waived the evidence and the use of Board of Trade inspectors on that occasion.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I was giving the House examples of what was relevant, rather than irrelevant, to the matter in hand. If the hon. Lady had been following the proceedings, she would know that what is of concern to hon. Members is not that the proposed charges may be waived, but that they may be heavy—something that appears to have escaped her.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
I would go further than that. We have been told by the Minister that there will be no charge for conservation, animal welfare and rural diversification, but one could stretch the concept of a reasonable charge so far as to include the overall cost of providing ADAS, which would include precisely the specific charges that he mentioned.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That is my worry. Seeing how the word costs has been employed in other such situations, I would have hoped for greater precision as well as a mechanism by which the House can check abuse. It is that which is so conspicuously absent.
Moreover, one has to look at the 14 Acts and one Order in Council without which the Bill is meaningless, to discern what the parliamentary processes are, if indeed 640 they exist. I have not been through all the 14 Acts, but I have yet to discover one, although it may exist, which involves the affirmative resolution procedure, which I so greatly prefer to the negative resolution procedure, because the latter cannot function unless the parliamentary time can be found within the permitted period. That applies not only to clause 1. When we reach clause 3, we read:Without prejudice to section 4(1) above,"—that is, of the Plant Health Act 1967—an order under this Act may impose such reasonable fees or other charges as the competent authority may, with the consent of the Treasury, prescribe".How do we discern, on the face of the Bill, who the competent authority is so that we can decide whether it is reasonable to leave that important matter to the competent authority? We do not find out by looking at the explanatory and financial memorandum. It does not tell us who the competent authority is or whether there is any parliamentary redress if we think that the competent authority has extravagant overheads and is loading too great a proportion of them on to its charges. It is such imprecision that I find so intolerable in the Bill.
Again, when we come to clause 7, concerning the Meat and Livestock Commission, we find, in subsection (2)(a):and a levy scheme may make different provision in relation to charges to be imposed to meet expenses incurred by the Commission for different purposes.For which different purposes? Obviously, the amount of charges that will have to be levied to meet expenses incurred by the Commission will depend on the different purposes for which those expenses are incurred. We cannot find out on the face of the Bill what the different purposes are, and therefore even form a broad guess as to what the magnitude or quantum of the charges is likely to be.
We seem to go through cycles of such legislation which, when it becomes unendurable, has a consolidation Bill after it, which does what the original Act should have done. I should like to say to my right hon. Friend that Dick Turpin's blunderbuss was a precision instrument compared with the Bill. My right hon. Friend would have done much better to look carefully at the Bill's drafting before bringing it to the House for Second Reading. I have not the slightest doubt that in general it would have been possible to set out in the Bill what it means instead of indulging so heavily in the nefarious process of legislation by reference. It is that to which I have particular objection.
Other hon. Members on both sides of the House have already commented—and I do not doubt will comment again in the debate—on other implications of the Bill, but that is the point of substance that I wanted to leave with my right hon. Friend, because I believe that so much of it is avoidable if Ministers say to their draftsmen in advance, "I shall not present such a Bill to the House. You must present to the House a Bill that says on its face as nearly as possible what it does."
§ Mr. Maclennan
I agree with the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman says, but reverting to clause 1 and the provision to which he drew specific attention, under which the Minister is allowed to make such reasonable charges as he may determine, does he have any reason to doubt that that means anything other than what it states, that the Minister has complete discretion to charge what he likes provided that it is reasonable?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Exactly. What are the criteria by which that is to be judged? We are left unknowing. We may even think that we know the present Minister, but in two or three—
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion because I wanted to share with the House only the shortcomings of the decisions taken about the nature of the Bill rather than go exhaustively through its detail. That is a point of such severity that my right hon. Friend the Minister would be perfectly justified in saying to the House not that he no longer intends to do what he is doing in the Bill—although I disagree with much of it—but that, on reflection, he will take the Bill away; in other words he will not ask the House to give it a Second Reading, but will re-present it later in the Session, redrafted, so that it says on its face what it does. He should do that instead of leaving so much to the happenstance of the judgment—good, ill, benevolent or malevolent—of bodies specified and unspecified at some unknown date in the future.
§ Miss Joan Maynard (Sheffield, Brightside)
I welcome clause 9 because I am concerned about conservation, but I hope that it is not a cosmetic. I am a bit alarmed when the Minister says that he intends to start in a small way. The truth is that if we do not make a start we will be too late altogether. A tremendous amount of irreparable damage has already been done. It is true that some farmers are concerned about conservation and the environment, but some pretty horrendous things have been done in our countryside over recent years in the drive for profit. We need to get a move on, not start in a small way.
The Minister said that the purpose of the Bill is to target on the priority areas. When I hear the word "target", I think about cuts. Targeting is a euphemism for cuts. The world needs more and better food. How can we justify reducing our research and development when thousands of people are dying of hunger? Does it matter whether food for human beings is grown in Kent, Yorkshire, Ethiopia or Kenya? Are we not one human race? It is ironic, or madness, that at the same time as we propose to reduce our expenditure on research and development into the provision of more and better food, we increase our expenditure on the means to destroy the human race.
In a recent broadcast the Minister said that the Government were cutting expenditure on research and development from £220 million to £200 million. It is now costing us some £2 billion a year to take surplus food into intervention and store it. As was said earlier, is that not the economics of madness? At Question Time last Thursday the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) described those vast surpluses as valueless. The Minister said that they were not, but they are, because we cannot sell them, and in that sense they are of no value. Therefore, would it not be far better and less costly to send them to the starving populations of the African countries? Is it not immoral, or sheer greed, to keep food stored while children go hungry and die of starvation? Is there not one whit of compassion in the Government? Why should we 642 not guarantee to send, say 2 million tonnes a year for the next five years to one of the African countries? [Interruption.] We should send stocks wherever the need is greatest.
Research into and the improvement of agricultural production in African countries is also badly needed. We have the expertise and the facilities, so why not concentrate some of those resources on that work? Bob Geldof is a marvellous man, but he rose to prominence because of the failure of this and other Governments to respond to human suffering. We spend a lot of our resources, and rightly so, trying to cure cancer and other malignant diseases, but we do not seem to spend as much on prevention. We are all products of what we eat and drink, and it should be possible to find and grow crops which are anti-cancer and other diseases. We need to do a great deal of work on research and development into that, and I urge the Minister to undertake it. Cannot some of the profits from the sale of the "family silver" be devoted to that work, instead of being handed over to those who are already rich?
During the last war we were desperatley near to starvation, and those of us who were working on the farms were urged to increase output by every possible means. It was quantity that was required. Agriculture students, teachers, professors and all those with scientific knowledge were recruited. They were not always very good. An officer of one agricultural executive committee decided whether land required lime by smelling it. He would pick up a handful of soil, smell it and declare that it needed 2 tonnes of lime to the acre. As nearly all land at that time required lime, he was seldom wrong. We have come a long way since then.
In the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, a nucleus of knowledge and ability second to none in the world has been built up. Farmers have come to recognise the value of scientific research and have turned more and more to the Ministry's officers for advice. It would be foolish, indeed wicked, to reduce that bank of expertise. Nor are young people likely to be attracted into the service if they know programmes are to be run down. I am reliably informed that morale in the Ministry has never been so low. What a record for the Minister to take back to Yorkshire. Yorkshire people were proud of such Ministers as Tom Williams and Thomas Dugdale, but they will not be proud of Michael Jopling.
§ Mr. Maclean
How proud does the hon. Lady think the agriculture industry will be of the Opposition spokesman who said on 24 September 1985 that agriculture is one of the industries having one of the most malign effects on the environment? Does the hon. Lady agree with that?
§ Mr. Maclean
I was referring to the Opposition spokesman on the environment. I apologise if I said agriculture.
§ Miss Maynard
I tried to make the point at the beginning of my speech that a great deal of damage has been done to the environment by agriculture. That is one of the things that worries me when I hear the Minister say that clause 9 will be used in only a limited way. If we are to save what is left, we shall have to get a move on.
643 We are no longer as concerned about the quantity of production as we once were, but it would be a mistake to think that further improvements cannot be made. Improvements have come about by a variety of means. The first improvement, and perhaps the most important, has been in the varieties of grain. Those have been stimulated by more fertilisers and protected by almost endless varieties of insecticides and herbicides—too many insecticides and herbicides. They are planted, sprayed and harvested by greatly improved machinery. Much of all that is expensive, and with lower prices in the offing farmers are looking for ways and means of maintaining their output with even better varieties, with fewer fertilisers, and, I hope, by returning to more traditional methods of farming. This applies not only to field crops, but to animal products and, in particular, to horticulture. We must bear in mind that shortly Spain and Portugal will be members of the EEC, and Spain will have a traumatic effect on our horticulture industry.
Opportunities for improvement are many, not least in machinery. Competition is fierce from manufacturers in other countries. If we are to hold our own, we need to keep up our research and development projects. The Minister expects to get money from farmers and companies to finance some of the research that he hopes to retain. That must be a threat to the independence of Ministry advice. That independence has always been strongly defended, and rightly so. It has been the very basis of the confidence that farmers have acquired in the Ministry's advice over the years. Why now throw it away? Does the Minister believe—indeed, can he expect—that a company such as ICI will pay for research for the general good in preference to ensuring its own profits?
The Bill gives the Minister power to impose a reasonable charge for research and development, but, as has been said, what is a reasonable charge? It is certainly not defined in the Bill, which makes an exception for conservation, but no exception for less favoured areas or small farmers. However, it does make an exception for animal welfare. The charges will be imposed without further report to either House for their views. The changes are being made in the absence of an overall policy for agriculture, for the rural economy or for wider land use.
The Select Committee on Agriculture is opposed to any cut in research and development. I hope that the Minister will note the Select Committee's views on that important matter. There is no machinery to collect the charges. No figures have been produced for the full recuperation costs, the cost of raising the charges or the manpower implications. The changes and proposed cuts will do nothing to rationalise the common agricultural policy or commodity production levels, but they will make it more difficult for the industry to adapt and survive.
The speed at which the Bill will be considered means that there will be no opportunity for public debate on the issues. It will result in the imposition of severe and damaging constraints on the farming community at a time of great change.
Research and development has three functions—advisory, development and statutory. The advisory function not only covers advice given to farmers individually and in groups, but encompasses advice to all sectors of the industry and to the Government themselves.
644 The cost of developing new technology to the point of application is always more expensive than the original research work. However, ADAS development work costs only one quarter of the total Government-funded agricultural research and development budget of £161 million. Such efficiency is achieved through a close working relationship with farmers and their facilities, along with largely self-financed experimental centres.
Advice is often given during statutory visits. Increased contact with farmers through statutory visits increases knowlege of the industry, reveals new problems and identifies research and development needs. Such benefits are about to be lost.
The strength and efficiency of ADAS evolves through its multi-functional, multi-disciplinary role, its close ties with all sectors of the industry, its ability to give unbiased advice and to develop a wide range of systems and techniques, some of which have little interest to the commercial sector.
In terms of increasing self-sufficiency in its products and in overall increases in productivity, no sector in the United Kingdom economy has consistently matched that performance. Yet the cost of the advisory and development work of ADAS in relation to both the increases and the overall agricultural output is fractional at 0.1 per cent. of gross output.
If, as a result of the Bill, the industry is thrown back on relying on commercial advice only, United States experience shows just how biased such advice can be—something that we cannot afford at the present time.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
Does the hon. Lady's union sponsors know that she is reading its brief with such little effort or interest?
§ Miss Maynard
Everybody is entitled to his opinion.
We might be 80 per cent. self-sufficient in indigenous foods now, as a result of the 40-year partnership, but this could soon change as our EEC competitors flood our market with their surpluses. Our economy cannot afford a reversal of the balance of payments contribution made by agriculture.
How are we to close the trade gap when the oil disappears? To cut agriculture's contribution to the balance of payments would be a serious step. The cost of ADAS is a small fraction of the total cost of Government support to the agriculture industry, but its contribution could be significant in sustaining the industry's future, the rural economy and all that depends upon it. The nation cannot afford to lose the expertise and the facilities provided by the industry. Action is required before final decisions are made. I appeal to the Minister. He has time to think again. I urge him to do so in the interests of the community at large.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I congratulate the Minister on managing to persuade the EC to agree to the most important part of the Bill—clause 9. It is a starting point for a new departure in farming that is necessary and that can be expanded to be of immense help.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) who is not here. We entered the House together and ever since he has been present at every agriculture debate. His country voice will be much missed until he returns.
645 The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) is a good representative of the agriculture workers union with which I have had close ties. However, she is mistaken to say that immense damage has been done by the farming community. The farming community has had to move with the times, to use bigger machines and to change some methods.
Norfolk is often criticised. If the hon. Lady comes to my constituency, which she knows well, she will not be able to go 100 yards without seeing trees and good farming which create the landscape of our country. The worst blots on the landscape are caused by developers of massive bungalow growths near our small towns and villages.
The hon. Lady said that a friend of hers could pick up the soil, smell it and tell whether it contained plenty of lime. In my younger days I could pick up the soil and know whether it had a good dressing of farmyard manure.
The Bill heralds a great change in emphasis and direction for the agricultural industry. That industry has to change from managing shortages to managing surpluses. The farming community—workers, farmers, landowners, researchers and plant and animal breeders—have, since 1939, done a remarkable job feeding us. In foodstuffs, they have got to work another miracle by changing direction without losing heart. It will be just as difficult a task as it was feeding us during and after the war.
Yet all this must be done at a time when the population of the village has completely changed. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must address himself to that problem under clause 9. At present every conceivable and inconceivable sort of attack is being made against the agriculture industry by those who have the ear of the press. I refer to extremists such as animal welfare supporters, environmental lobbyists and so on.
Clause 9 is the most radical clause and, properly used, should ease the transition. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to use it, although I entirely agree with him that the measure must be introduced gradually. We shall have to learn from the mistakes that we are sure to make, and must not involve an enormous number of new areas at the start. Nevertheless, with vigour and imagination, the rural communities could be recreated and revitalised.
I well remember returning to Britain in 1945 and being joined by my family who had been sent to Australia during the war. I recall having to go to the butcher to pick up my meat ration, which was very small for the four of us. Unfortunately, I put it on the car roof and drove up a hill. When I arrived home, I found that although a dog was undoubtedly enjoying it, I was in the doghouse. We must look at what the farming community did after the war to produce surpluses. Those surpluses may be criticised now, but who would not rather live in Britain with plenty of supplies in the supermarkets, butchers' shops and grocers than live in Poland with rationing?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Last week I was in Swaffham in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and heard some opinions being voiced about the Bill. Incidentally, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I hold him in high regard. He has spoken of revitalising the rural communities under clause 9, but that cannot be done with £6 million. Much more money is needed. What comment does he have to make about the inadequacy of the sum to be made available to meet his own stated objectives?
§ Sir Paul Hawkins
That £6 million will go a long way towards making a start. As long as we are in the House, the hon. Gentleman and I will no doubt demand more money from successive Ministers. Nevertheless, I am quite prepared to tell my constituents that it is a good start.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle
Is it not relevant to cite the example of the Nature Conservancy Council? Only three years ago it had a budget of £12 million, yet that has now increased to £22 million, and we may see a 40 per cent. increase this year. Thus, if an organisation proves itself, the Government will back it with money.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins
I thank my hon. Friend for that example. I do not have the exact figures with me, but I know that the sums are increasing and that example proves my point.
In the light of facts that I was given a few years ago, I believed that due to an increase in population and a backward system of agriculture in many areas, we would not be able to produce enough food to feed the people. Yet the change is there for all to see. India provided more food for Ethiopia than all the Iron Curtain countries put together. China is now exporting food, and under its new direction, we must expect Russian agriculture to be self-sufficient soon.
The Bill sets out a few guidelines for the future, but much more needs to be done to encourage farmers and all those who live in the country to follow the road signposted by it. There is no doubt that we must look for wider markets. Consequently, I am pleased to see the clauses that will encourage Food From Britain. Even if there are food surpluses in France, Germany or Holland, we cart sell properly packaged and marketed food into surplus markets.
The only thing that worries me is that we are only 80 per cent. self-sufficient in dairy products and are not allowed by the EEC to fill the gap. We are not self-sufficient in sugar even if cane sugar, which is laundered in this country, is taken into account. We badly need an increased B quota, as that can be grown here. I know that Ministers are doing their best to fight our corner in Brussels, but the task is difficult, and I can only hope that they will succeed.
I believe that some cuts in research were necessary. Our research has stagnated during the past 10 years, and researchers have become hidebound and sterile instead of considering the dangerous plight of agriculture, which will only become worse between now and the year 2000. I am not against charging farmers for some research, and greatly welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister that he does not intend to charge for certain services about which many people were worried. However, I am alarmed that new research so badly needed for the future will be lacking in terms of new crops, new ways of adding value to food, and new means of utilising the land, whether it be for growing food or grass or for providing recreation for the masses who live in the towns. Such research is vital for the nation and should be paid for by the nation.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I entirely agree with that point. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the money comes from the industry and not from taxation through central Government, research will become commercially self-serving? New products may be marketed to agriculture although they are not the best for 647 the purpose in mind. There might be a willing response to research initiatives, but those initiatives would be better funded by an impartial national source than by competitors in the market place, who may not have anything other than their own interests at heart.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins
It is a great pity that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, who made a rather long speech at a time when many other hon. Members wish to speak.
We shall not do away with all research. Indeed, there will be a lot of research, but it will be better directed. If farmers and agriculturists have to pay for it, they will take more interest in it and will ensure that we get the sort of research that we need.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will have a word in the ear of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It is a pity that research institutes should be funded by the Department of Education and Science. I fear that few in that Department understand the future needs of agriculture, and I should like our smaller farmers to be given some hope that charges will not be put beyond their reach. I hope that within the charging system it may be possible to give advice about research and other matters to a group of county council smallholders, either through a committee of smallholders or through county council smallholding officers.
Near my home town there is an area of fenland with a large number of smallholding farmers who are currently under great pressure. Their main profits have always come from growing potatoes and strawberries, as those are the crops for which their land is most suited. Unfortunately, the price of potatoes and strawberries has dropped during the past few years, and those smallholders, with only 40 or 50 acres each, are now under great pressure from the banks. Research should be carried out on a similar area to determine what crops could be substituted for potatoes and strawberries. The smallholders should be given advice on a group basis, as individual advice is a great deal more costly.
If we allow good research workers to leave the industry, there will not be enough of them when we really need them in the years up to the year 2000. In most agricultural debates hon. Members do not make party political points, I am glad to say. However, I must say that I hope that the Government will not follow the lead of the Labour party, whose Home Secretary in the 1970s allowed the police force to shrivel and its best men to leave—men who are now so much wanted today.
I urge Ministers constantly to think of how all parts of the countryside can be encouraged to work together. Only 15 or 20 years ago, country villages were filled with people whose livelihoods came from the land—there were farmers, landlords and farm workers in great numbers. Now there are no farmers in some of the villages in my constituency, only farm managers. The farming industry now has too many large groups. There are few farm workers and practically no agricultural engineers, blacksmiths or the local industries that build around a farming community.
Many of the villages in my constituency are two thirds populated by retired people from the towns, and the majority of the remaining population work in local towns. I welcome those people, of course, because it is good to have villages with people living in them. However, the 648 whole outlook has changed. Everyone wants prosperous villages, well cultivated land, more amenities and more opportunities for a few people to work in the villages by utilising out-of-date farm buildings. I praise my branch of the Country Landowners Association. It has set up courses on the utilisation of farm buildings and has attempted to obtain planning approval for their use as centres of small village industries that will not annoy those who have come to live in the quiet of the countryside.
Unfortunately, those who have come to live in our villages want them to stay exactly as they found them. They want only to get rid of the smelly pigs—a subject that causes me much trouble. However, the pigs were probably there before they came to live in the villages. Those people must be encouraged to realise how vital it is for them, as well as for those who work on the land, that the countryside is profitable and providing work. Farmers must be urged to make wider use of land and buildings, and planners must be more helpful.
I remind the Prime Minister and the Cabinet—my right hon. Friend does not need reminding—that only 1 or 2 per cent. of those employed work in agriculture in the countryside, which is unhealthy for the nation. Until the last decade there was always a reservoir of healthy people living and working in the countryside. We must not drive more working people into the towns and factories to become prey to drug pushers and extreme political agents. We must provide work in the villages so that we can breathe a wholesome atmosphere into the nation.
I am convinced that there is room in every county and almost every village for part-time farmers. Two thirds of Austrian farms are manned by part-time farmers, and many other continental countries have large numbers of part-time farmers. Britain is inclined to discourage part-time farmers, but under the new arrangements we should encourage them so that a great deal of land could be used that would otherwise become derelict.
I urge my right hon. Friend and his Ministers to have a quiet word with the banks. I have heard disturbing stories of banks having encouraged farmers to expand, to spend and to buy large new tractors—when second-hand tractors would have done just as well—but which, now that the price of land has eased, have suddenly turned around and stopped people from spending and drawn in loans. I believe that to be disastrous, not only for the farming communities but for the banks, because their actions are encouraging—as I fear Opposition Members have encouraged in their speeches—a wave of pessimism in the countryside.
I believe that we can surmount the difficulties. The Bill is a great spur to those taking a real interest in the countryside and it will draw people together, I hope that it will be passed unanimously.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) into the highways and byways of Norfolk, as they do not appear to compare favourably with the rural areas of south-west Wales.
The discussion and controversy about the Bill will centre on the opening and closing closing clauses. The kernel of the terms of reference given by the Minister to the director general of ADAS was to ascertain whether there was scope for passing on all or part of the costs of ADAS to the user rather than to the taxpayer. The director 649 general's report will be quoted as evidence both for the status quo—maintaining a service free at the point of use—and for abandoning that and setting up what the Bill's preamble describes in the most vague terms as "reasonable fees".
Hon. Members will recall that ADAS was set up under the Administration headed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1971. The Bill is another example of the dismantling of work done in that era. For example, the Health Service and the local government organisation of that era have already been dismantled.
Despite a certain ambiguity about ADAS, it has been successful and widely appreciated by the agriculture industry. Therefore, we must question the rationality of its widespread demolition by stealth. People both inside and outside the industry regard the move with some trepidation.
The question that the Bell inquiry had to face was whether an appreciably smaller public sector involvement would result in a less efficient and less used service. I suggest, having read the report in detail, that that question was not faced or analysed adequately.
Bell emphasises the need for a substantial public service, with no offer being made to define, let alone quantify, "substantial". However, Bell records that the public sector involvement must be substantial to counter the benefits of support given to fellow member states of the EC, to maintain the element of impartiality of advice, to allow for the widespread and disparate nature of farming activity, and to accommodate environmental and general public interests, not forgetting the high content of statutory and regulatory work that the present ADAS set-up contributes to the agricultural life of the nation.
Much apprehension is being expressed in many quarters about the diminished public financing of agricultural research and development. This reduction is taking place against a background of mounting competitiveness, mounting surpluses and a determination on the part of other countries not to slacken their support but, rather, to make their support more direct and more unashamedly purposeful and effective.
What remains of the 1980s for our agriculture is uncertain and unpredictable in all aspects other than continuing nationalistic domination, whereas co-operation should be the universal ingredient of a Community of member states. Our relatively inexpensive, impartial and environmentally tuned input for advances, allied with innovation flowing from ADAS, ensures that the disadvantaged are not left floundering.
Wider national needs—for example, animal husbandry, health, the safety of man and animal, particularly when socio-economic crises develop—can be coped with adequately only by Government funding, free from commercial interests. The livelihood and basic interests of far too many people are involved to sacrifice that aspect of the work of ADAS on the altar of reducing Government public spending.
It cannot be over-emphasised that small farmers, hard pushed financially—we have them by the score in south-west Wales—will cut corners and find themselves refraining from seeking ADAS support, as the charges will be an unequivocal deterrent.
So far in the 1980s the farming industry has been under pressure. But for ADAS, the effects, bad though they are, would have been worse and more widespread. Surpluses 650 may have to be reduced to a certain extent by methods that hitherto have shown a complete lack of ingenuity. We have witnessed in farming as never before the weak, the poor at adaptation and the inefficient going to the wall.
That has happened despite solid and easily available advice of which farmers could take the utmost advantage. Although that advice is becoming more difficult to get, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the challenges facing British agriculture in the coming three or four years will in any way lessen. Farmers and growers, the Bell report admits, will be expected to have a greater need for the level of expert advice of the kind that ADAS has hitherto been providing.
Even those with distant knowledge of the devastation caused by the introduction of milk quotas in April 1984 cannot but have appreciated the sterling work of ADAS in that crisis. I remind the Minister—I regret that the Secretary of State for Wales, who was with us earlier, is no longer in his place—that for a substantial percentage of milk producers in south-west Wales, the crisis is by no means over. The bankruptcies are continuing and the sums of money owing to the banks are as high as ever. Adaptation was difficult even with ADAS to help and supervise every move. Making the availability of such help more remote and dependent on a fee per item of service will tip the balance of survival and viability for hundreds of Welsh families.
The Minister said that certain areas would be protected. These areas have been defined as conservation, animal welfare and rural diversification. However, when will a person seeking advice be told whether the exact terms of the matters for which advice and guidance are being sought fall within, rather than outside, those definitions? There will be continuing wrangling and, in such circumstances, frustration will follow. There will be a loss of determination on the part of farmers to seek advice. Farmers deserve better than being placed on the horns of that dilemma.
Advisory work charging could, apparently, lead to an income of £5 million. The rates are yet to be worked out. Everybody who uses the service—small farmers trying to eke out a living under disadvantaged conditions, or people forced to diversify under severe financial perils—will be expected to pay up. Obviously there are important exclusions, but for how long will they remain exclusions? Should the income estimated from charges prove to be a serious over-estimate, there will be further cuts, and they will be at a deeper level, affecting far more of the farming population.
It is difficult to estimate, as part of the public spending exercises, whether even those concessions will not one clay be brought within what is called the target area. Much is left undefined, such as the method of collection, what manpower will be involved in the collecting procedure and whether penalties will be imposed for evasion.
In the years that ADAS has existed, our food self-sufficiency has increased from 66 to nearly 80 per cent. Without ADAS, that would never have been achieved. Better yields and productivity can be linked directly to ADAS and its steadfast support. Now, access to ADAS is being made less freely available, and this at a time when criticism of the cost of agricultural support and the production of commodity surpluses cannot easily be countered.
Agriculture in Britain has never functioned in a more competitive situation, yet the Bill lessens the support given 651 to it quantitatively and relative to that offered by our major competitors. How will the implementation of reasonable charges affect the present unrivalled opportunities for advisers to influence and maintain the efficiency of the industry and the high standards of animal health and surveillance? Bell underlines the way in which the integration of policy-making and execution make for efficient administration.
With the proposed changes, much of that attainment and mutual trust will be placed in jeopardy. Will the modest financial savings be too high a price to pay for such major readjustments? An opinion from the fanning community, particularly from the farmers of west Wales, would be helpful. I assure the Minister that their overwhelming answer would be non-acceptance of the proposed changes.
The present service guarantees the optimum adoption of existing and new technology. While, in general, the Bell report is at best tentative and in some respects hesitant, it makes some occasional outspoken comments. The report states that the Government wish to establish a favourable climate so that the private sector can be involved in producing advice for the agriculture industry.
There appears to be a great parallel between what is happening in the Health Service and what is happening in the agriculture industry. The Government are paving the way for a smaller bill to be paid by the public sector. The result will be a general deterioration for the people least able to afford it.
ADAS is mildly criticised for being a reactive and negative organisation—that is fair comment. It is feasible, but unlikely, that reasonable charges will correct that aspect. Bell courageously states that charges imposed on a service that has been free of charges for so long, will be bound to have undesirable effects. Good features such as the splendid relationship between clients and advisers will very likely be lost forever. As commercial advice is often given with commercial ulterior motives surfacing, despite the best of basic intentions, the trust between the needy and the suppliers of independent impartial service will go, probably for ever.
In a written reply on 7 November the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food catalogued in as exact a manner as possible, in what was obviously a vague exercise, where he hoped to save the £6 million in 1987–88 through increased statutory charges. We still await his full shopping list. The list included milk and dairy inspections, pig and poultry health schemes, approval of pesticides and the enforcement of seed regulations. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that hard-pressed farmers in my rural constituency will not be happy to face increased and fresh charges. This additional layer of bureaucracy on top of what farmers have been tolerating in the past two years will not be relished.
§ Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)
I must correct one point. The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to the Health Service and agriculture. They are very different animals, because the agricultural industry is an industry, and the Health Service is a service. The hon. Gentleman also talked about the problems in south Wales. There must be some ordinary businesses, as opposed to farming industries, in south Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman expect all industry to have free advice?
§ Dr. Thomas
Perhaps when the hon. Gentleman has time he will conduct a survey in my constituency. He will see that it is a predominantly rural constituency. The Labour party does not hold many predominantly rural seats, but mine is an exception.
§ Dr. Thomas
Clause 9 brings respectability and, possibly, an important vote-catching element to the Bill. The potential of the Green vote and Green representation in the Federal Republic of Germany has not gone unnoticed here. We are well aware that the Green party, in combination with the Social Democratic party, now rules in the Land of Hesse in West Germany and that there is a possibility that at the next Federal election the Green party will oust the Free Democratic party as the third party in the Republic and form a coalition with the Social Democrats. Perhaps the Germans have the advantage of a fairer electoral system than ours.
§ Dr. Thomas
It is a long-held view.
Clause 9 is a limited move, but one in the right direction. It is little more than testing the water. It is a pilot scheme, but its implications will know no bounds. At the very heart of clause 9 is an admission of great public restiveness, reservation and, indeed, challenge to modern expansive agricultural practices. This will be reflected in the ballot box of 1987 and 1988 as never before. Any party not offering a deep, dedicated, understanding response to this problem will suffer at that ballot box.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) spoke as though we intended to dismiss everyone in ADAS and close every establishment engaged in agricultural research. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) was not much better. It is no good their complaining about increasing food surpluses, as I do, and at the same time expecting research establishments to go on as they have been for the past 30 years.
Those of us who have had the advice of ADAS—I have been grateful for that advice—and of its predecessor, the National Agricultural Advisory Service, know that its paramount objective has been to increase production. All its thinking in the past 30 years has been along those lines. It is difficult to change direction, but ADAS will do so and at a smaller cost to the taxpayer than the cost in the past 30 years.
The same can be said of agricultural research establishments. For 30 years, they too have been directed towards one end—increasing output—and they have been marvellously successful. We now want a different type of research. It will be less expensive but just as important.
I cannot find words to describe my pleasure at supporting the Bill. I feel over the moon. Since 1968, I have been a critic of our agricultural policy, as my right hon. Friend the Minister is only too well aware. It has been uncomfortable and disagreeable. Because 28 per cent. of my electorate is directly engaged in farming, I have had to do a great deal of explaining. The Bill transforms all that. I am more than delighted by it.
653 I was a critic also of the Labour Government. They were worse. They started it. All parties put our farmers on a treadmill which began as soon as we established a system of guaranteed prices. It sent out a signal to the then puny industries that supplied agriculture. The industries saw the signal and began a great research programme which has cost hundreds of millions of pounds supplemented by further hundreds of millions of pounds of public money. All that research has been directed towards increasing the use of inputs on the farm. Those inputs have increased output and, with increases in output, farm gate prices have decreased in a steady downward trend. Each time farm gate prices have gone down, farmers have been pushed into increasing output still more and into calling for research to enable them to produce more with still more inputs. Every time that that treadmill has gone round, the input-output ratio has gone up a peg.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Is my hon. Friend saying that a policy that was designed to increase self-sufficiency was wrong in its objective and concept?
§ Mr. Body
Yes, I would, but I do not want to travel down that avenue, and I should be out of order if I tried to do so. I have argued at great length that this was not in the long-term interests of either our country or our farmers. The policy has caused many thousands of farmers to leave the land. As the input-output ratio increased, only those farmers who had the size of farm upon which output could be increased were able to go on standing on the treadmill. One by one the smaller farmers fell off it. They have fallen off it at the rate of 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 a year.
There has been a fall in the number of farmers in my constituency from 5,000 when I first became a Member of Parliament to 1,000. It is that fall which made me question our agricultural policy and study it; and with great reluctance I became a critic of what had been done by successive Governments.
This policy cannot continue. The leaders of the National Farmers Union have connived at it. One understands their reasons, but farmers have no influence upon NFU policy unless they sit on the national council.
One needs to be a large scale farmer with a son or a farm manager to look after the farm to be able to afford the time to travel to London on three or four days each week. The beneficiaries of the present system are the farmers who have places on the NFU's national council. Certain quarters of the farming press also support this policy. They depend upon the advertisements provided by those companies with an interest in a high input-output policy.
We have reached such a level of output that, for every commodity that has the questionable advantage of a guaranteed price, there is a structural surplus. The one exception is lamb. Although this country is reaching self-sufficiency, it is still not self-sufficient in lamb. But there would be a surplus were it not our consumers prevented from buying the quantities of lamb from New Zealand that they wish to have.
Clause 9 is superb. This morning I took down from the bookshelf a book that I wrote some years ago "Farming in the Clouds". At page 156, I saw that I had argued for a new Agriculture Act which contained something very similar to the marvellous clause 9 that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has inserted in the Bill. It seems to be word for word what I 654 wrote. [Interruption.] Yes. Perhaps there is a breach of copyright, but I am all for that. My thoughts can be plagiarisd by my right hon. Friend as much as he wishes.
We shall argue in Committee about how to decide whether a certain part of a county should or should not be inside one of these environmentally sensitive areas. We shall not find a satisfactory answer, no matter how hard we try. However, this is a beginning. It is almost an experiment. We are doing what other countries have not even attempted to do. Therefore, it is wise to begin in a limited way. We shall be spending a derisory £6 million. Many hon. Members wish that it was a much larger sum of money than that, and I do not doubt that eventually it will be.
By making progress towards that end we shall put farming in balance again. It is woefully out of balance. Our supplies of food must be brought into balance with demand. We must also return to the kind of balance to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) referred: a balance in the population of our countryside. It is dreadful that so many tens of thousands of people in the farming industry have gone to work in market towns or factory areas. If we proceed along the path outlined in the Bill, I am certain that many thousands of small farmers who are now in danger of going out of business will be able to survive.
The Bill will also bring to an end two evils that have cursed our countryside: first, the exodus from the land and, secondly, the way in which too much of our countryside has suffered from the obsession about growing far too much wheat and far too many other crops which are unsuitable for the soil or for our climate. This was proved by the last harvest. If we can bring that to an end. which I believe the Bill will be able to achieve, especially when further areas are included, we shall have done a great service to agriculture. Every farmer and every farm worker in the country will then say that this was a thoroughly good measure.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
This debate has been full of revelations. I had not realised that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had been plagiarising the work of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for generating the idea that has been incorporated in the Bill, be it ever so timidly and inadequately. The inclusion of clause 9 makes it difficult for any member of the Opposition to vote against the Bill. Clause 9 is a beginning and we should like to build upon it.
The hon. Gentleman said that British agriculture has changed tremendously during the last 40 years. When I took over a very large part of rural Cheshire I did not look with great favour upon the acres that were coming into my nicely compact constituency. Then I studied the census and realised the practical results of precisely the kind of changes to which the hon. Gentlman has referred.
Fewer than 3 per cent. of my constituents are now employed in agriculture. Many of the small businesses that were essential satellites of the agricultural industry have also disappeared. The change has been dramatic. The dependence of villagers upon agriculture for their employment has completely changed. They are becoming increasingly dependent upon town workers who buy houses in the country. Under this Government they are 655 also losing their other services—their buses and schools and many of the other facilities that make it possible for people to live in villages. However, that needs to be spelt out in considerable detail.
It is vital to refer to the implications of the loss of very important research facilities. Agriculture changed, developed and reached a much higher level of productivity by using the highly skilled and very carefully established abilities of the agricultural advisory services.
That service began early in the last war and change and development went hand in hand with increasing agricultural productivity. Unfortunately, the common agricultural policy has, for the first time in centuries, changed the country's entire land use. Cheshire has good grasslands and is capable of producing high milk yields yet it is now locked into a position where outside forces are putting enormous pressure on the farming community.
I have been involved in agriculture all my life and have not always felt warm sympathy for the farming community. However, the farmers in my constituency are now suffering under the milk quota system in a marked and unacceptable way. I undertook some research into that matter. I studied the figures and discovered that in almost 90 per cent. of the cases, the people who suffered most were the small farmers—the tenants, those with holdings from the county, the young people coming in who had perforce to undertake heavy bank loans and those who had come into the industry able only to establish themselves on a smallish farm. The people who have benefited from the changes made by the Government have been those in agricultural businesses. The large farm institutions have taken over more and more acres, particularly since the institution of the milk quotas. That has not been done without causing great and positive harm to the people involved. Some of my constituents have suffered nervous breakdowns and there have been increasing numbers of bankruptcies. The personal tragedies revealed by the figures are real.
I am worried that under the Bill we shall change ADAS in a way that will make the position even worse. After all, the person who needs highly skilled advice is the person who is running a small unit on his own or with the assistance of one other person. He cannot go out and find a consultant, and he will not be able to write off that help against his business interests for taxation purposes or employ someone to rejig his entire liability. It is wrong to tell a farmer in Cheshire who is running a small but successful herd that he should now lose a percentage of his herd—that may make the difference between viability and non-viability—and should look for alternatives in agriculture when there is no alternative. I hope that I do not sound like one famous lady when I say that, in Cheshire, there is no alternative. There is no alternative if one already has a high bank overdraft and pressure is being put on one to give guarantees somehow to find the money to service the loan and repay it before too long.
Tenant and small farmers are in the front line and have been savagely squeezed, but the position is far worse than that. In today's debate, hon. Members have referred to ADAS as a one-way street, as if it were only the expertise flowing from that body to the farmer that was important. The intelligence that the body gathers in its constant day-to-day contact with the farming community is vital.
656 When I intervened earlier, the Minister seized upon a part of my remarks and said that the Government had made it clear that they would not charge farmers for any brucellosis measures. I should like to remind the Minister that when I first came to the House brucellosis was not a recognised disease. Brucellosis causes great difficulty to many farming communities because it is a recurrent and nasty disease, even if it is not lethal. The then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did not accept that fact.
My ex-husband and I pursued that matter at considerable length because we had been involved in a farming community, and with the discovery of diseases at an early stage. We knew the effects that disease had upon the people in our practice who lived on small farms. We witnessed the difficulties that arose when there was an interplay between animal disease and human beings. It is not the Opposition's intention, whether with regard to a notifiable disease—statutory involvement—or a difficulty, to charge the farming community for those services. I can assure the Minister that in some respects cows are like people, even like Members of Parliament. They are capable of getting diseases and of transmitting those diseases. They transmit the diseases to the people we should be most concerned with—the farmers.
Before the expertise of ADAS is dissipated, we must be sure that the same levels of animal husbandry, safety standards and research can be maintained. That is absolutely essential to the agricultural industry. I do not believe for one moment that we can maintain those levels. The Bill does not say how long it will take to raise alternative moneys or how much will be needed. The Bill is a device to reduce the numbers of people involved in services at present. It will cut the services used and move further and faster towards a position where those who are directly involved in commerce—I make no criticism of that—will do in the agriculture industry precisely what they have done in the National Health Service.
One need only consider the amount of money spent by the pharmaceutical companies on advertising drugs. Such spending will increase when the only services that are freely available are those that are tied directly to some commercial input or output. That is obvious and we should take account of it.
The Bill will destroy an established and effective service that may perhaps be described as a little conservative. That is being replaced by the suggestion that if farmers can pay for it they may have access to high standards of research and development, although there is no hint of where the money will come from. Research and development cannot be maintained without considerable input and that is another aspect of ADAS's work that will suffer under the Bill.
There is no evidence of examination of input in the Bill. Professor Bell's report has been prayed in aid throughout the debate but I do not believe that there was anything in it to suggest that we should entertain the major changes proposed by the Bill. The Bill moves rapidly towards a system which, far from assisting the agriculture industry, will cause us in 10 years' time to recreate advisory services that will by then have lost many talented, hard-working and committed people. We shall find that those people are not easy to replace.
The Opposition will not vote against the Bill tonight because of clause 9. I trust that the Bill will not create another set of initials. I believe that there should be an organisation set up to protect the public from those who 657 use jargon. If we go any further down the road of ESAs and SSSIs, perhaps we ought to consider returning to the point where we say what we mean. I do not join the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) in his condemnation of the Bill except in one regard. The hon. Gentleman did not understand that the Ministry and the parliamentary draftsmen have drawn the Bill in such a confusing way that the only inference can be that they do not want the House to understand it. The draftsmen certainly do not want the agriculture industry to understand what is involved or the charges that will be laid at its door. It would be an uncomfortabled an unfortunate event if that were known before the Bill had been passed.
The Bill is yet another step down the road to the destruction of an agricultural policy that was dictated by climate, geography and the needs of the people, towards an agricultural industry that responds only to the highly dubious stimuli of the profit motive, in the narrowest and most unacceptable sense. I hope that the Minister will think again before he pushes through this damaging change in the ADAS service.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
The Bill proposes important changes in the pattern of the funding of research, and it is to that subject that I shall address my remarks.
The Government are entirely right to set out to reorganise what had become an excessively elaborate structure of agricultural research and to seek to achieve some economies in the process. It is also right, in principle, that the growers should contribute to the costs of applied research in which there is an identifiable benefit for them.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) that those who pay for a service tend to value it rather more. If the growers contribute to the cost of research, they will attend to the findings of that research and apply them with greater interest. I am sure that it is also beneficial to find ways to bring about a closer relationship between business men and academics.
If the strategy has much to commend it, the implementation of that strategy has, hitherto, been problematic. The time scale and phasing by which changes have been introduced have created great difficulties. A fundamental rethink of the purpose of research, its organisation and funding take time to carry out and it then takes time to implement the findings. The Government have rushed that process. They have cut the funding before they have answered some essential questions. They have done much transitional damage in the process.
Since 1980, there has been a string of successive policies—nil growth, the switch from volume planning to cash planning, the transfer of resources from the Agricultural and Food Research Council to other research councils, and a drop in Ministry commissioning—and the cumulative effect of those policies has been that by 1986–87 the AFRC will have had to find savings of about £6 million. There has been a substantial reduction in total funding and there has also been further disruption arising from the redistribution of £7 million of remaining resources as a result of the AFRC's new corporate plan.
It was therefore late in the day when the priorities board was established in the summer of 1984. In January 1985, long before it reported, my right hon. Friend announced 658 that he proposed to cut funds for agricultural research by £10 million in 1986–87 and by another £10 million in 1987–88. There were to be further cuts but, at the same time, uncertainty remained. His figures were qualified as being provisional and uncertainty has continued through this year, as shown, for example, in his written answers of 24 May and 23 July.
It was only in the summer, as we understand it, that the interim report from the priorities board was made to him, and even then it was not published. The final report from the priorities board has yet to be made. Nonetheless, cuts continue. In October, for example, nearly half of the staff of the Soil Survey received redundancy notices. During the autumn of this year, redundancy notices have had to be served thoughout the service to implement the cuts that are due to fall in 1986–87.
Time was needed to achieve that process of change—which, in principle, could be justified—in a way that did not cause damage in the process. The NFU was willing to respond. Its principal commodity committees have been meeting to consider the possibilities of a levy and contributions from the growers, but they need time to think that through and they are not due to have a meeting to make a decision in principle until January 1986. The growers have needed time to consider the new world that the Government propose. It has taken time. It was bound to take time for growers and academics to come together. They have lived in different worlds. Even after a consensus is reached, there are many practical issues to be sorted out.
My criticism is that cuts have been introduced ahead of the establishment of rational priorities. It has been an unhappy and unnecessary way in which to proceed. It has been arbitrary. What ever may or may not be the merits of the Soil Survey, for example—and I believe that they are great—it cannot have become 50 per cent less valuable overnight. Decisions have been made amid uncertainty and confusion about priorities, funding and relative responsibilities.
That is the atmosphere that has persisted in recent years and caused great demoralisation among research staff. They remain demoralised. Morale is important. Research is a creative activity that depends upon confidence, enthusiasm, full concentration and morale, and it is impossible for research to be carried out creatively in an atmosphere in which research teams do not know whether they will even exist the following year and in which, rather than concentrate upon their research, the members of those teams wonder whether they can find new jobs. A consequence of that is that good projects have been scrapped and other projects are at present disintegrating or deteriorating in quality. It is worth adding that much personal disappointment, anxiety and distress have been caused by all those factors.
What has happened at the national vegetable research station at Wellesbourne illustrates the point. Between 1982–83 and 1985–86, the station will have lost 20 per cent. of its manpower and 30 per cent. of its graduate scientists. A further cut of 4 per cent is anticipated from April 1987 in consequence of reductions in MAFF commissioning and DES requirements, and the typical 2 to 3 per cent. erosion of real funding caused by cash planning.
Work of proven value has therefore been aborted. It is of proven value. The funding put into the national vegetable research station has been an investment. The 659 result has been improved efficiency among vegetable growers with lower inputs a reduction of imports, an improvement in exports and benefits to the economy the environment and the housewife. The economic benefits of the work carried out at Wellesbourne over the past 15 years have been demonstrated to be worth cumulatively £52 million a year. The cost of vegetable research is £4 million a year at the NVRS £4 million a year at ADAS. If we achieve a return of £52 million per annum on an investment of £8 million per annum, it is a return of 650 per cent. It is good value. That is one sector only to illustrate the point.
The Government approach has not been sensible. It is derived from a Treasury imperative to make economies. My criticism is not of my right hon. Friend or of this Government; it is of the processes of Government in this country. In the way we review public expenditure, we seem unable to achieve a rational ordering of priorities. We are unwilling to recognise that in public expenditure, as in private, we may need to spend money and invest to save money later.
§ Mr. Howarth
My hon. Friend is correct. Through the capacities of those research teams, we can move the frontiers of agriculture in better directions. It is worth adding, in response to what my hon. Friend said, that Wellesbourne can contribute to the needs of the Third world.
The Government have been right to attempt to cut waste in all departments. However, it is sad that research should be cheese pared. These cuts are minuscule in relation to total Government expenditure, but they are of great importance to the research institutions. If the Government instead devoted still more of their energies to identifying scope for further economies in areas of Government activity and Government processes, everybody would be better off.
Science is an investment for Britain. It is essential and it is the basis of advance. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) that advance should not be crudely equated with increased output. But we shall develop only on the basis of good science. With the pace of change as fast as it is, it is necessary to have good science in Britain.
Every British Government have failed science. OECD figures show that in 1981 Government funding of civil research and development was 0.81 per cent. of GDP in France and 1.05 per cent. in Germany. In the United Kingdom, it was only 0.64 per cent. of GDP. Those other countries and the United States have been increasing their public expenditure on research. The British Government have been planning a 10 per cent. reduction in the volume of research in the 1980s. As the Advisory Board for the Research Councils has warned, the effects on industries of all kinds could be grave and even irreversible.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has found an additional £15 million 660 in successive years for science, but, welcome though it is, I fear that it is only a small offset in a long process of deterioration.
The Government should not have withdrawn their funding for agricultural research before establishing priorities for the future, the division of responsibilities and new sources of funding.
I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us the Government's thinking on these questions and also the thinking of the priorities board. We are debating in ignorance of expert consideration that has been given to these important matters. Hon. Members are not the only ones debating in ignorance. Directors of research establishments and unions are also in ignorance of that useful advice.
What is the Government's view on the appropriate minimum level of agricultural research? Do the Government intend that the industry should fill the whole gap between their contribution and what they regard as the minimum acceptable level? The AFRC hopes to increase its receipts from the industry by 1989 to £7 million, but that would leave a shortfall in the meantime. The sum of £7 million will eventually be only a partial replacement of the lost Government funding.
I recognise that the Government must proceed by consent and that it would not be practical to impose a levy. However, the Government should hold a view about the volume, scale and pattern of research that is required.
Do the Government believe that only the growers should contribute? Other industries, such as the agricultural equipment and food processing industries, are beneficiaries of applied research. Does the legislation allow for them to contribute? I do not believe that it does, but it should.
We must also consider the impact on research of the introduction of private contributions. The growers and the private industrial contributors will want a say in the allocation of their money. The NFU, not surprisingly, and reasonably enough, talks of accountability. We should recognise that farmers will not be interested in long-term or even medium-term research with uncertain outcomes. They are involved in a day-to-day fight to hold their share of a static market. They will want research that is specifically aimed at finding cheaper processes and finding them rapidly.
The Government must take a view on the appropriate proportion of commercially orientated and short-term research. There is nothing wrong with that type of research, but it should be a limited part of the whole. If the proportion of total research were 10 per cent., I believe that many of the research institutions would accept that. That would be about right; it would be a tonic and a stimulus. If the proportion were 20 per cent., that might be excessive. If it were 50 per cent., it would be a gross distortion of research priorities and a grave danger to the programme of basic research. The Government must accept that they have a duty to preserve the integrity of research as a public service and to maintain a body of disinterested research. In certain circumstances, the AFRC has to be a watchdog for the community against commercial interests.
I am worried about the weed research organisation being wound up. I question whether it is wise to leave a whole area of agricultural research to the agro-chemical industry. It is surely up to the Government to express society's priorities. I do not wish to speculate about the 661 nature of the levy and what the precise administrative mechanisms should be, but there is a case that deserves consideration for the levy to take the form of a tax on nitrogen fertilisers.
Consideration of those matters has not taken place, and the debate has been inadequate. Meanwhile, there are pressing political and administrative necessities. We must relieve the uncertainty that afflicts research establishments. It is in the nature of their work to live with uncertainty, but it is unfair to ask them to live with additional Government-imposed uncertainty.
We need a sensible timetable. If we accept that private contributions to the cost of research must come, I beg the Minister to get them into place before he removes Government funding. Let us not put at further risk research capabilities that are fragile, precious and irreplaceable—or if replaceable, only after a long time and too late.
We must clarify the relative responsibilities of the Government, the growers, other industries, charities such as the Wellcome foundation—which may have considerable extra resources to allocate to research work—and international bodies. Above all, the Government must make a commitment to maintain their share, in relevant purchasing power terms. They must stabilise their appropriate contribution. Without stability, it will be impossible to achieve a satisfactory administrative structure and for research to be carried on with confidence and creativity. The growers are worried that the Government will progressively withdraw their funding support. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944 states that the Government "shall" provide a certain range of advisory and research services. This Bill in 1985 is permissive only and says that the Government "may make provision". If the growers are to contribute, as I believe that they will, the Government should demonstrate their own good faith.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merionnydd Nant Conwy)
I endorse almost everything that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) has said, and I thank him for the clarity of his summary of the issues that affect research. Our experience of the Welsh plant breeding station at Aberystwyth confirms the hon. Member's argument. I especially echo his point about the uncertainty for researchers' careers, their employment and morale arising out of the cuts.
Most of the debate has been about the relationship between the Bill and agricultural policy. That is right. It is a measure of the inadequacy of the Bill that it addresses those issues only in a negative way. As other hon. Members have argued, it is precisely the wrong time to make cuts or to raise charges in the advisory services for agriculture, because of the crisis that agriculture is going though. The debate is taking place against the background of the European Commission's Green Paper on the common agricultural policy. This was an issue in the last agriculture Question Time and, ever since the Green Paper's publication, it has been an issue for farm unions, farmers and conservationists and those involved in regional development.
The European community is considering closely the various choices for a long-term agricultural policy. New methods for market prices, the rejection of quotas and the need to pursue goals of economic production that are radically different from those laid down by the 662 Government. When such changes are being brought about, that is precisely the time that agriculture requires more advice and specialised support, and not less.
The European Commission's Green Paper examined the factors that determine the rate of change in productive farming and gave priority to the technical and economic effectiveness of research and counselling services. In the Commission's assessment, that factor was more important than market demands and the extent of guaranteed support for lines of production.
In this critical time for the farming community, the last thing that we should be doing is to introduce charges that may deter people from using the advice service. Those of us who have been closely involved with the work of ADAS in the hill and less-favoured areas of mid-Wales and other parts are worried about the already low take-up of advice services. That is referred to in the reports that are the background to our debate.
The Minister said in his statement on 7 November, and repeated today, that there will be no charges for conservation measures, for animal welfare or for the diversification of the rural economy. However, he needs to reconsider charges in less-favoured areas. What is the point of not charging for some parts of the advice package if he is charging for other parts? It makes sense to exempt less-favoured areas from all charges.
I tried to raise that point in an intervention during the Minister's speech, but he failed to respond. Now he is leaving the Chamber. I hope that the Minister of State, who is to reply, will deal with that matter, even if he neglects my other comments.
The structural changes do not involve only levels of production. They involve other aspects of the Bill, including the relationship between agriculture and the rest of the rural economy and the rural environment. All Opposition Members welcome the consolidation of measures from the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and previous Agriculture Acts which stress the role of the advisory services in advising on other enterprises of benefit to the rural economy.
The Commission's Green Paper stressed the need for the fuller integration of agriculture into the general economy and the need for regional development plans in rural zones in the Community. When agricultural enterprise has to relate to other enterprises, we need more detailed advice, not less. We also need a linking of the advice proposed for the agricultural part of the enterprise with the advice for those working in agriculture but seeking other activities.
The Commission emphasised that job creation outside agriculture would become a key issue for many agricultural problem regions. In those areas, it is essential to have available as much support as possible. We need precisely the multi-sector and multi-discipline approaches to agricultural advice that ADAS has been able to offer.
I echo the arguments of the farmers union in Wales and the National Farmers Union that when the high productivity and efficiency of food production is to be replaced with other public objectives for agriculture, this is precisely the time when we need to ensure that advice is available to make the transition effective.
The co-ordination and linking of agriculture with other enterprises is important. I have debated the issue on a number of occasions with the appropriate Welsh Office Minister, and I put to him the need for the Welsh Office to reconsider the co-ordination of rural policy. If there is 663 to be effective advice for an enterprise, surely there needs to be a framework of policy at national level in Wales and the rest of Britain.
The Secretary of State for Wales has responsibility for the Forestry Commission, the water authority, tourism, the development agencies, national parks and local authorities, all of which are involved in some of the objectives for rural enterprise set out in clause 1.
If diversification of the rural economy is to be one of the major objectives of agriculture policy, much more coordination will be required and we shall need a more positive response from the Government to the work of the Countryside Commission, and particularly to its study on the future of the uplands. A long written answer in Hansard is not an adequate response to the years of work that the Countryside Commission put into that study or to the trust that those of us who attended the public hearings put in the discussion process. That was the most important consultation about the future of the uplands in recent times. The Government dismissed it in one written answer—albeit a long one—in Hansard. That was an inadequate response to a serious consultation document. When the Government look again at the integration of rural policy, I hope that they will look at that matter.
As I keep reminding the House, I represent most of the Snowdonia national park. I am well aware of the environmental sensitivities in the park; I have to live with them almost daily. I note that 10 areas in Wales are designated as potential environmentally sensitive agricultural areas. I hope that the appropriate Welsh Office Minister will read this speech in Hansard and will respond to the issue of the interrelationship between environmentally sensitive areas and the other environmental designations, such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest. We must look carefully at the various designations and how they interrelate, and particularly at existing expenditure on environmental work taking place in, for example, the national parks and the SSSIs—or not taking place, in the case of agriculture.
I hope that the Standing Committee will consider introducing an independent arbitration or appeals procedure. Those of us who are keen to establish a consensus on environmental and farming issues within the national parks and other areas have pressed the Government to establish such a procedure. Whenever I and others have conciliated between landowners and conservationists in sensitive areas of the national parks, we have succeeded because our intervention was regarded as an independent arbitration. It is time for the Government to set up a procedure to ensure an independent assessment of not only compensation, but the whole procedure of designation. Environmentally sensitive areas should not be subject to the executive order of the Secretary of State. There ought to be local consultation.
I should be failing to represent the large parts of the Snowdonia national park and the farmers there if I did not point out that there is still much ill feeling about the change that farmers are being compelled to make from production—particularly bringing the hills into production—to ensuring conservation objectives. If those objectives are to be realised, the farmers need more advice and support, 664 not less. They also need to be assured that there will be an independent element of assessment whenever their traditional practices are under threat.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) has properly concentrated on the main part of the Bill, which is the provision in clause 1 which enables the Government to charge for advisory services. I, too, wish to concentrate on that aspect of the Bill.
Hon. Members have outlined the many causes of anxiety that stem from that policy change. It is right that at a time of increasing surplus there is likely to be constraints on the real incomes of farmers. It is right that we see a high level of borrowing on the part of agriculture which is matched by diminution of land values. There will be further problems in future. As there are surpluses, it is inevitable that farmers will seek fresh products. It is inevitable that they will seek to identify further alternative uses for their land. In addition, there is much more cost-consciousness now than five or 10 years ago.
There are anxieties and it is right that they are brought to the attention of the Minister, but there is another issue which we cannot overlook. We are in a time of surplus, and it would be surprising if policies appropriate to times of scarcity were not reviewed. Surplus is a reason for reassessing our charging policy, and that is a powerful consideration. We must not forget that we are dealing with commercial activities.
I have listened to Opposition Members and it seems that they regard agriculture as a form of public service, which it is in one sense for what the farmers do for the nation is essential. However, we are talking about commercial activities, and I find nothing inappropriate in the concept that commercial activities should be prepared to shoulder some of the costs of development, research and advice.
There are many farmers in my constituency and, although I am conscious that there are those who find it difficult to meet some of the levels of charges, there are many profitable and successful farms. I find it difficult to say that they should not contribute to the costs of advice, development and research. Therefore, I cannot oppose the concept of shifting some of the responsibilities for financing these services to the producers.
It is desirable to study clause 1. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is not present, I feel that I should say that I share some of his anxieties. It is a somewhat dangerous part of the Bill. To begin with, it is an enabling clause, and no more than that. It enables the Minister to impose reasonable charges. What do we mean by "reasonable charges"? It has no meaning as a concept unless we apply criteria. If we defined that the charge should reflect a proportion of the cost of providing a specific service, that would be a yardstick. We might say that the charge should reflect a proportion of the overall cost of funding ADAS. To say simply that the Minister has the power to impose a reasonable charge is meaningless. I have always been against enabling legislation, so I should like to see a tighter definition of what we mean by "reasonable charges".
The Minister has told us today and on previous occasions that he does not propose to charge for animal welfare, conservation and rural diversification measures. I am glad of that. However, that restraint is no more than a self-imposed prohibition. As hon. Members have said, 665 Ministers are ephemeral beings—they come and go. No Minister can commit his successors. No Parliament can commit its successor. If it is right to exclude particular areas from charging, it is right to give statutory expression to that inhibition.
A proper distinction is to be drawn between charges which are for services redounding to the national welfare and which are justified on those grounds, and charges which are directed through the commercial profit of the producer. As for the former—charges which are justified by public interest—I do not see why the producer should pay them. Charges which are justified by recourse to the commercial prospects of the producer should be paid by the producer.
Clause 1(1)(b) gives the Minister power to provide services relating tothe conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.Clause 2 states that the Minister has power to charge for that service. These are services which are justifiable in terms of public interest, and I should like to see such services excluded from the charging power. I am adamantly opposed to delegating to any Minister the power to impose charges. We in the House have no control. We are surrendering control over charges. We are giving to the Minister, nice man as he is—the Minister of State is a charming fellow—
§ Mr. Hogg
Withdraw, no. I do not wish to embarrass my right hon. Friend. We are giving the Minister power to impose any charge which he may wish to levy and, because we are not setting out the criteria, the imposition cannot be challenged. This is dangerous, because Ministers have an unhappy habit of using user charges as a covert form of taxation. Water charges are an example. We have debated them in the past and I wager that we shall do so again fairly soon—too soon, no doubt.
I am against covert taxation. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that the exercise of the charging policy should be by way of statutory instrument. I would not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, who spoke of the affirmative procedure. The statutory instrument is the appropriate way of dealing with charges.
Clause 9 is an imaginative step forward and one which obviously commends itself to the entire House.
§ Mr. Hogg
Well, the Liberal party is the exception to most things. It will vote against the Bill on that ground, yet there is only one Liberal Member present; it will be a solitary vote.
I favour clause 9, and the Department is right to proceed with the voluntary approach. As the Minister said, the farming community is by far the best custodian of the interests of the countryside. However, I fear that the Bill does not take full account of the landlord-tenant position. My interpretation of the Bill is that it would be possible for the Minister to enter into a management agreement with one or other party to a leasing agreement. But the other party would not be party to the management agreement. We might find that an agreement between the landlord and the Minister or the tenant and the Minister redounded to the disadvantage of the other party who was 666 in no sense privy to the agreement. That is a technical matter that I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider in Committee.
Broadly, my right hon. Friend the Minister is right. The Bill marks an important step forward, and I am glad that it has the whole-hearted support of the House with the exception of the Liberal party, which for these purposes I do not count very high. I have reservations about the Bill which concern largely the lack of parliamentary control. However, it is an important measure and one that is justifiable on its merits. I hope that the House will give it a welcome.
§ Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)
In the short time that is at my disposal I shall take up three issues that have been referred to by the hon. Members for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins), for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the last named having been in his place until a short time ago.
The value of any Agriculture Bill must be assessed according to two main criteria. The first objective is whether it makes any contribution to reducing the high cost of agricultural support from public funds. That should be one of the main purposes of such a Bill. Secondly, and more important, we must consider the extent to which any such Bill helps to evolve an agriculture and countryside policy, as opposed merely to a farming and food policy. These criteria represent two important strategic considerations.
That agricultural support is expensive on public funds is beyond dispute. In 1984. British agriculture produced £12.5 billion worth of output, but 25 per cent. of it was accounted for by public subsidy, and that was a great deal. In 1984–85, direct Exchequer support was over £1 billion. If the effect of the common agricultural policy, including the impact on consumer prices, is taken into account, the total subsidy to agriculture was £22,000 per farmer, or £7,000 per job in agriculture. I take these figures from The Economist of 3 November 1984.
Much of the subsidy has helped to inflate land values, thus making entry into farming more difficult. It has encouraged East Anglian grain prairies, to the detriment of conservation and the environment. The hon. Member for Dumfries told us about his journeys through the countryside, and wished to assure us that the land is in great shape. In 1946 there were 23,000 miles of hedgerow in East Anglia, but in 1985 only 9,000 miles remain. That is a serious statistic, and there are others to accompany it.
Our long-standing and expensive framework of support maintains farming as a section of the British economy that is responsible for employing only 2.7 per cent. of the labour force and producing 2.5 per cent. of gross domestic product. It is evident to me that public support cannot continue on this scale under any Government. There is bound to be retrenchment and adaptation to new circumstances.
The trick that must be worked is to reduce the large sums, both direct and indirect, under the CAP that are spent on producing surpluses. Increasingly, money must be channelled into the preservation, improvement and employment capacities of the countryside. If this can be done with the minimum of dislocation, it will be to the benefit of British agriculture and the economy.
As I read it, the Bill does two things. It enables the Minister to charge for certain services. Secondly, it 667 empowers Ministers to designate certain environmentally sensitive areas within which grants may be paid to farmers who agree to adopt farming practices that are consistent with conservation. In effect, the Bill aims at paying farmers to love the land, as opposed to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which subsidises farmers for not being subsidised. I believe that the latter approach should be supported and that the former should be rejected emphatically.
I shall cut through the part of the Bill that deals with charges because the arguments have already been advanced by others and more effectively and eloquently than any rehearsal on my part could achieve. It is bound to be the responsibility of a Government to look for economies in any service. Any Government must try to ensure that there are lower costs at all times, while maintaining efficiency. However, if there are savings to be made in the agriculture budget, the service area is not the place to look. That is wrong in principle. We must look elsewhere. Many farmers who rarely use the services that we are discussing, but who need to do so from time to time, will be less inclined to use the independent service than ever before. What is to happen to the less well-off farmer who can ill afford to buy advice on the commercial market?
An opportunity has been lost fundamentally to reexamine the research and advice service and to adapt it to agriculture, which must adjust its capacity in a market where supply has increased faster than demand. A valuable opportunity has been lost. There is no longer pressure on farmers to maintain ever-increasing levels of production.
The new need is to adjust, diversify and conserve. The farming community will need every ounce of guidance and independent advice. The changes proposed in clause 1 will be an obstacle to that end.
When I read clause 9(1)(a), I found that the Minister would have the power to designate certain areas. Subparagraph (a) states:to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of an area".That gives the Minister power to do almost anything if he wishes to intervene. Subsection (2) states that no order can be made unless it has the Treasury's consent. That consent will not be given very often. There will be a period of controversy between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Treasury on the one side, while on the other there will be controversy between the Ministry and the conservation organisations. I welcome clause 9, but I think that subsection (2) puts the damper on it, as the Treasury will put a damper on anything.
The initiative is long overdue, especially for East Anglia. I have quoted a statistic to show how the East Anglian countryside has altered.
I must stress that it has altered significantly, and for the worse. In fact, things have gone too far. Larger and larger farms use larger and larger quantities of nitrogen fertilisers, which create unsaleable surpluses, pollute the water, endanger health and threaten wildlife. As I have said, thousands of miles of hedgerows have been removed. Hundreds of acres of semi-natural woodlands have been grubbed out. There has been massive damage to the Broads, which damage has been well documented. If the trend continues, it may pass the point of no return. In both Norfolk and Suffolk, species of wildlife have declined. 668 There is no doubt that the growth and spread of commercial agriculture in East Anglia has had an extremely serious impact on the countryside.
That is why I welcome clause 9. It would be churlish now to point out its imperfections; the time to do so will be in Committee. The valuable principle behind the clause is that at last we have found a way of channelling into the countryside money which is divorced from food production and the creation of unsaleable surpluses. That is a valuable point.
I have dealt with what I consider to be the disadvantages in the first half of clause 1 on services and the necessary environmental changes. British agriculture has changed fundamentally. We have to adapt to a new future, and I believe that agriculture has to adjust to a new market place. Inevitably there will be some dislocation as that adjustment is made. One cannot encourage farmers from producing and then suddenly bring down the curtain and say, "That is enough." That is why we need the advisory services and the other powers to expand employment in the countryside without expanding food production for a market that is already satiated.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
This is an important Bill for the countryside and agriculture. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), I believe that the heart of it lies not in clause 1 but in clause 9, which deals with the environmentally sensitive areas. That is the most significant step in the Bill. The Bill starkly demonstrates the dilemma that now faces agriculture as it struggles to redefine its purpose and to find its way in an age of agricultural surpluses.
All farmers know the dilemma that is facing them. They can no longer expect to be subsidised for producing products that are already in growing surplus and for which there are no markets. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) dwelt on the point that farmers are being subsidised for surpluses. They must be helped to find a way through that dilemma. Farmers also know that they must use their skill to conserve and enhance the wildlife and landscape of their farms. It is true that there has been considerable progress towards their being more sensitive to the environment. At the same time as finding a new way, farmers must maintain prosperity in the countryside in the interests of the rural community and of conservation.
The problem has arisen of how to blend the different aims and problems that are facing farmers. The market, conservation and prosperity have become uneasy allies. Clause 9 is a bold attempt towards that objective. It seeks to find harmony in farming in special areas. The Minister deserves praise for getting clause 9 and for winning support from the Common Market. That is a great achievement for the Government and for the Ministry. We should recognise and welcome it.
At the same time, the Minister has presided over a period of huge transformation not only in farming in Britain but in the Ministry. It is no longer the myopic producer of food. It is moving towards a better balance. During the past two years, we have seen a big step towards a wiser Ministry with a wider role. I hope that it can develop that trend of stewardship in the countryside. Who knows, perhaps one day we may see it as a Ministry for countryside affairs.
669 Before looking closely at clause 9, it is worth recording the history leading to that clause, because it is significant. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was a landmark in the progress of our attitude towards the countryside and towards clause 9. It arose largely from the growing concern that we all share about the destruction of habitat in the countryside. There is no need to repeat some of the statistics, because they are well known. Paradoxically, by concentrating on the best sites, the 1981 Act drew our attention to the need for conservation in the wider countryside. It also concentrated the mind on how to pay for such conservation. I think that all of us agree that the provisions in the Act were over-generous.
The burden of surpluses, to which I have already referred, threw the subsidies that sustain and encourage those surpluses into disrepute. That led to the imaginative and important step being taken in the scheme to protect the Broads. The Broads cover a far wider area than the sites of special scientific interest envisaged in the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The scheme was a move towards a far more sensible type of protection and management agreement that could be paid for. The significant point about the Broads scheme is that it brought together the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment for the first time in looking at how to conserve the countryside and enhance traditional farming.
Support will be given in the Bill, not just to agricultural output but to conserving the most valued qualities of the environmentally sensitive areas. At this point I make a plea, which was raised by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). It is ridiculous that we should be landed with jargon in the words "environmentally sensitive areas". We should use more imagination and gusto in finding names. Why not call them "heritage" or "stewardship" areas? [Interruption.] We are talking about a proper balance of stewardship in the countryside. If the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) can think of something better, let him have a go, or does he prefer "ESAs"?
Several points in clause 9 need attention. All of us would expect to have more sites than the five or six proposed sites. It is sensible to have a trial in a few areas so that we can work out what arrangements will be best for them. We do not want that trial to last too long. We want it to be pursued vigorously so that we can have a significant number of sites. For example, why should we not also have a site in Scotland and in the Western Isles where there is a conflict between land improvement and conservation?
The problem of funding has been mentioned. Initially, it is not the level of funding that matters but the guarantee of continuity. When we are launched into the programme I should like the Government to ensure that the measures are carried through over a long period. That is what is needed. At the same time, we need to know what will be the role of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. It is important that they are fully consulted in the selection of the sites.
The management package is most important. We shall have to ensure that the sites are positively managed with effective measures. Management will have to vary between the different sites. For example, the requirements for grazing on the Broads are different from the 670 requirements of the Somerset levels. We shall have to look closely at each site to ascertain the best management methods.
We need to consider what should happen if farmers within the area opt out. We have to deal with that and win their approval and support. If we cannot do that, we must ensure that measures are taken so that the integrity of the area is preserved. We also need to have penalties for when agreements are broken.
At the same time we have to consider what will happen to our ordinary agriculture grants. If a farmer in a sensitive area wishes to go ahead with drainage or some other agricultural method that would be bad for what we are trying to achieve, we should have to give clear directions about agriculture grants.
Those are specifically matters for the Committee, but they need to be mentioned now. The practical problems have to be thought through if the ESAs are to flourish.
I should like to refer to the relationship of the ES As with agriculture outside those areas. There is no doubt that farming is going through a massive change in its prospects and attitudes. It is facing a crisis. Farming has had to change and will have to change further, but that change is all the harder for having been too long delayed. A new framework for farming has to be evolved. As we all know, there have been numerous suggestions on the routes and methods that farming should take. However, it is fair to state, with some humility, that none of us quite knows how to proceed or the route that farming should take. How do we control surpluses and yet retain fair prosperity in the countryside? The answer eludes us as yet. I believe that it eludes the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Our torch is dim in that uncertain area and we must edge our way forward. The importance of the ESAs is that they give a direction in which we can go.
I should like to ask for two things in a new agriculture policy. We must have open debate from the Government as well as a competent and rigorous examination of all the options for the future of farming. However, today we have an easier task. We can all welcome the concept of the ESAs. We must all act effectively to turn that concept into reality. There will be a lesson to be learnt from the way in which we do that—the way in which we put clause 9 into effect. The lesson from what we do will be for the rest of agriculture in the wider countryside.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I am hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye during the Northern Ireland debate, so I shall be brief.
Fortunately, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) made a speech that makes it possible for me to be even briefer. One of the litmus tests of the Conservative Front Bench's good faith is whether the hon. Gentleman will be a member of the Committee. Having heard his speech, I believe that it would be absolutely scandalous if he were kept off the Committee. He has raised many matters of cross-party interest that worry a great many people. I hope that I do not do him too much damage by saying that.
I should like to return to the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch)—clause 9. We welcome "environmentally sensitive areas", but there is the question of money. I agree that £6 million is not to be sneezed at, but what about the continuity of 671 funding and the need to maintain farm landscapes? It is no earthly good having any sort of stop-go attitude to the matter.
The Minister intervened when I was intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro). Clause 9 contains the words:No area shall be designated … unless the Treasury have consented".What is the mechanism? Do Treasury Ministers solemnly veto sites that Agriculture Ministers, after consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council, believe merit ESA treatment? The Minister, who is always very quick, referred me to the Agriculture Act 1957 and to the Agriculture Act 1970. Clause 29 of the 1970 Act states:The appropriate authority may with the approval of the Treasury by scheme provide for the making … of grants".However, the Act is referring to farm capital grants. That is general approval of a scheme and not, as it says in our Bill, particular Treasury approval to projects.
If the Minister interrupted, he must have the 1957 Act in front of him. I have, and I cannot for the life of me find which part of the Act he is referring to. If the right hon. Gentleman has it in front of him, perhaps he can explain his intervention. The Minister does not give way. That is the difficulty. He gets a note from the clever civil servant in the Box—
§ Mr. Gummer
I have reserved a long section of my speech to deal not only with that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech but the rest, and I should like him to wait until then.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall hold the Minister to that arid listen with attention to his explanation because my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich and many others are extremely curious about an extraordinary Treasury concern. There may be an explanation for it.
The question of advice on conservation matters being free of charge is a grey area. My worry is that farmers will break the habit of going to ADAS. In practice too often they will go for advice to chemicals, pesticides and other related firms. That is likely to happen. If charges are levied for one thing, they will spill over into other areas. Small farmers in particular will get out of the habit of going to ADAS. My question is: do Ministers see that there is any danger in the scenario that I have described, in farmers becoming more dependent on chemicals and pesticides firms, which understandably have axes to grind?
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend is a farmer, and a very good farmer, too.
I ask the Government: should agriculture research priorities by much less closely coupled with the priorities of the agriculture and food industries? Publicly funded research is independent of unwelcome pressures to which privately funded research can be subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) has gone on endlessly and rightly about Lasswade. That is an example of what we are getting at.
Another example is the break-up of the Soil Survey of England and Wales. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon referred to it. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will remember that I asked her at Question Time about 27 posts in the Soil 672 Survey. One cannot just take away 27 posts and expect them to be put back later when they are needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) made it clear, as all of us know, that once one breaks up organisations such as the Soil Survey, one cannot expect them to be put back easily. I hope that we shall not have a system of "research capacity for sale". It is a completely different type of organisation. That is not what has benefited British agriculture over decades.
Finally, I do not believe in contract work by contract staff and short-term appointees. I think that all of us have had a good briefing from Wendi Harrison of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants. I do not doubt that Wendi Harrison and others have already argued with Ministry officials that research taken on can best be carried out by properly managed and deployed permanent staff. Do Ministers agree?
Having been so brief, I hope that a good word will be put in to the Speaker for me for the Northern Ireland debate.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)
It is always a pleasure to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not take up too many of his arguments, although some of my later comments will touch on matters that he raised.
When the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) referred to morale in the Ministry, I cast my mind back to the state of morale in agriculture in 1979 when the Conservatives came to power and a dynamic, aggressive Minister took over responsibility for it. In the intervening years, there has been an immense change in the industry. In 1979, people were asking, "Do this Government want an agriculture industry?" My constituents wanted to know whether the Government wanted an apple industry. The incoming Minister replied, in effect, "Yes we do. Do you want to be it? If so, get on with it. If not, get out." The industry took the hint, changed its attitude, became constructive and started to work, and it achieved such enormous success that we now have other problems for which the industry cannot be blamed.
Since then, however, the industry has suffered another loss of confidence and morale which tempted an arable farmer in my constituency to write to me at the weekend. The letter does not relate to the Bill, but it illustrates current feelings in agriculture. He reminds me of
the unpalatable fact that agriculture is going into a very deep and potentially disastrous recession, and with it will fall the ancillary industries supporting agriculture—which in percentage terms is a significant part of the population and again will lead to depopulation of the rural areas and increase unemployment as well.My constituent is a good farmer and he echoes my own sentiments. One recalls the damage that was done in the late 1970s when the Labour Government played the green pound issue to the detriment of agriculture, the spin-off being the virtual loss of the agricultural implement and tractor business, with enormous consequences in employment for the brass and iron founding industries and the steel forging businesses in the west midlands which have still not been retrieved.
The general discussion of the Bill today has overlooked the nub of the matter. It is a marketing Bill which seeks to give the industry a recharge, a kick in the direction of positive thought which may have been forgotten when the 673 industry wondered where it was going. Let the House be under no illusions about this. There is immense scope for the development of the industry. On import substitution, one has only to look on the shelves of the shops and supermarkets and consider the origins of the products on sale.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Gentleman rightly says, "Hear, hear." One recalls the demise of the canned pigmeat and cooked ham industry. All those products are now imported. There is an enormous potential increase for the British agriculture and food industry working in harmony and bending its mind constructively to that approach. There has been a great improvement in British bacon since the charter bacon scheme was introduced, but the galling fact is that we are still only 44 per cent. self-sufficient in bacon, which means that we are 56 per cent. importers. We tend to take that situation for granted. There is a huge amount of work to be done not in abstract research but in getting the commodity right so that people buy it in preference to the imported product.
Due to the other problems that existed, it is perhaps insufficiently appreciated that my right hon. Friend the Minister has sought to sustain, and seeks through the Bill to sustain, the marketing impulse given to the industry by his predecessor in office. I congratulate him on that and on taking the opportunity of this important Bill to carry that process forward. I hope that the industry, through the Food from Britain organisation, which is modified in the Bill, will take up the baton and run with all the constructiveness that it can mount because it is vital that in its present dilemma the industry should turn its mind constructively to ways in which it can better satisfy its markets at home and the export opportunities which undoubtedly exist. This relates not just to agricultural production from the fields but to the need for an integrated structure for the production of foodstuffs that people want to buy.
Today's debate has centred mainly on clause 1, in largely negative terms, and I understand the basic negativity with which a change of this kind can be addressed. To find out what my constituents thought, I conducted a straw poll in my area and I found a refreshing air of realism in the bazaars. There is a feeling that it is reasonable to pay for advice which leads to commercial enhancement. The advice sought is often used to crosscheck advice from other sources. There was a distinct air or realism in that respect. I am glad, however, that my right hon. Friend the Minister clarified the position in relation to non-wealth-enhancing, change-facilitating advice—on conservation, rural diversification, and so on—as I was worried about that aspect on first reading the Bill. Nevertheless, I repeat the question asked with such great eloquence by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). Why does the Bill provide that the Minister may bring forward charges for that type of service? It worries me that that should be so.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Minister decides on his charging policies he will bear in mind the position of the people at the sharp end of the changes—small farmers at the marginal end of the business, farmers in the hills and in the less-favoured areas—because those people are most at risk. For some time it has almost seemed that the law for the agriculture industry is: 674Unto every one that hath shall be given … but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hathI am worried by that situation and by the continued drift of the industry into ever larger units because I believe that the basic health of the country lies in recognition of the fact that one does not harvest before one has sown, and the further we take people away from the source of sowing, the less that fact will be realised. We need to have people connected with the land who understand that basic truth about where things come from and how.
The Agricultural and Food Research Council has been ably led by Lord Selborne in this period of change, but he has a reasonable complaint that the priorities board did not report before he and his advisers had to decide which way the research industry should go. I hope that we can be given some idea today of when the priorities board will report as it seems to have been in cogitation for aeons. I believe that that is unreasonable at a time when changes have to be planned and major decisions taken about the future of research.
I hope that the Government will also bear in mind the very reasonable question raised by the National Farmers Union. The AFRC has been most constructive in setting out to win funds from industry to create what I suspect will be a far more market-oriented and practical research programme related to the need of industry to sell its products. The NFU would like an assurance that if the AFRC is successful in getting industry to cough up for the cost of applied research, Government funding will not he equivalently reduced. That would be demoralising, and if the NFU steps in to fill the gap, it is only reasonable that it should not be asked to fill an ever larger gap.
I thank my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on what he has achieved in respect of structures, directives and regulations as proposed in clause 9. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) has already referred to the importance of this matter, and any scheme that emerges must be simple and straightforward. Such schemes should not become a bureaucratic stranglehold an those who are trying to operate their businesses in these areas.
The industry must declare its own commitment to the future and put its money where its mouth is. It will not be good enough simply to participate on the side—there must be total involvement. That will lead to an agriculture industry which, with the help of the Bill, will be far better able to cope with the changes and to chart its way forward into the future.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
I should first declare an interest, albeit tenuous, in that at one time I was a member of a commercial firm that advised the Minister about 20 years ago.
Liberal Members welcome clause 9, but our main thrust is against clause 1, particularly as it affects research, advice and development. It is fair to ask what the Government's strategy is, what the plan is, w here agricultural research is heading and what will happen to leading research. The rationale behind those questions is difficult to ferret out, but ferret it out we must. Is it the result of a policy of cash limits and indiscriminate cuts, or have these moves been carefully planned and selected by the Government in order to cut specific research? 675 Reference has already been made to the priorities board and the inability to obtain information that it undoubtedly holds.
It is forecast that between 1985–86 and 1986–87 there will be a decrease of 482 people employed in agricultural research. I estimate that there will be a net reduction of £5.6 million as a result of the application of cash limits on research, and other hon. Members have already referred to cuts amounting to £10 million or to research funding from private sources.
Those factors are known, but it is equally valid to refer to a number of instances in which research is being, and has been, affected. There have been cuts at the Compton research station, which has lost all its research on metabolic profiles even though on a world basis it was outstanding in that regard. We have now seen the loss of the liver fluke research programme, even though this is the worst year for liver fluke for 15 years. The research programme on anabolic steroids at the Bristol food research institute has been terminated, and fruit storage research work at East Mailing has also been stopped.
There have been cuts at the Welsh plant breeding station, with the elimination of the barley breeding programme and the chemistry department, and the loss of 23 posts. The plant breeding institute at Cambridge has until now been carrying out invaluable work on drought-resistant varieties of wheat, and that has been extremely relevant to the problems of the Third world. That programme has been completely cut. There has been the proposed closure of the Lasswade veterinary investigation centre, and 75 jobs will disappear on 1 April 1986. Only 15 per cent. of the work at Lasswade comprises research and development, and 85 per cent. is statutory business such as testing for brucella, maedi-visna and sheep scab as well as protein and salmonella. There have been other closures at Shardlow Hall, and other hon. Members have already referred to the fact that the Soil Survey budget has been cut by half. That is totally unacceptable. The Soil Survey is for all time, and it is important to know what is happening in soil research in the interests of agriculture and other industries.
There will be closures at Llanishen, Cardiff with a complete termination of scientific research. The same applies to Bangor, with a loss in total by 1 April 1986 of 200 ADAS scientific and support staff. That is the tip of the iceberg. I have learnt from the veterinary profession of the possible closure of veterinary investigation centres at Cardiff, Gloucester, Chester, Northampton and Leeds. If that happens, we shall see the demise of a great service.
There are at present tremendous options for research, and we have heard about contracts for agricultural research. We do not believe that that is the right way to proceed. The plant breeding institute at Cambridge is at present up for grabs, probably to the chemical industries associated with agriculture. A much more acceptable option is the maintenance of independently based research.
What has happened to the possibility of using our expertise on Third world research, where there is great scope for low technology agriculture to assist Third-world countries? International co-operation is a worthwhile objective, although that is not necessarily specific to many farming areas of Britain.
676 As for ADAS, there will be immediate cuts of £4 million, and 145 posts will go by March 1986. It is forecast that the cuts will rise to £8 million by 1987–88, with a reduction of 480 staff in the next 15 months. That is a 17 per cent. staffing reduction. ADAS is under severe strain, and we should reject the rationalisation proposed in clause 1.
The Government hope to raise £16.5 million in 1986–87, but their own advisers now say that it will be possible to raise only £11 million. It is hoped to raise that money at a time when farm incomes nationally are forecast to drop by 35 per cent. this year. This cannot be the time to try to raise money from advice. The wealthier farmer will be able to pay for it, but the smaller family farmer who really needs it will be unable to afford it. There must be special dispensation for small farms in the less-favoured areas.
We support the proposals on Food from Britain but feel that not enough financial support is being given in that direction. The proposed £2.5 million a year for three years is totally inadequate compared with the support given by other European countries, particularly France, to the marketing of food.
We must make a positive effort to attract more labour in the countryside and more workers in rural industries. If the Bill will enable that it should be welcomed.
It is not our policy to rate land or buildings and I refute that. I support the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) who has drawn attention to the need for independent arbitration in national parks. A great part of my constituency is national park and many problems are coming up there which need independent arbitration.
Some mention has been made of environmentally sensitive areas. Obviously those are very important, but we should not lose sight of the fact that the farmers in those areas have cared for the countryside and are good custodians of it. We also need to look at "environment development areas" in some of those wastelands which are agricultural and farming black spots of Britain where perhaps some positive efforts could be made to improve the environment.
§ Mr. Gummer
Will the hon. Gentleman explain whether what he has just told the House about Liberal party policy is Liberal party policy? Was the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) wrong when he said that agricultural land should also be subject to planning consent and control; that that is Liberal policy; that the anomalies have existed for a long time; and that the planning permission requirement would apply to buildings and, for example, to the removal of hedgerows and woodland? Is it the hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey who makes the policy?
§ Mr. Livsey
That is certainly not Liberal party agricultural policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) may have been expressing a view.
Our amendment refers to research and advice. We welcome clause 9 on environmental matters. We do not want to preside over the decimation of a world-renowned research service and advisory service which is of great excellence with highly qualified scientists, some of whom have already emigrated to strengthen research efforts in other countries. Farming is at the crossroads. According 677 to the Green Paper which has been published in Europe we are to look at new crops, enterprises and directions for agriculture. This is no time to cut our research and development programmes. We should maintain and improve farm profits, perhaps through lower input farming systems, and we will not have the research facilities to research that type of agriculture. In particular, we need research in environmentally sensitive areas to find out what systems we can promote for that.
France is increasing its agricultural research programme by 10 per cent. and, in particular, putting large efforts into biotechnology. In comparison, our response is to cut back on research. This is not the time to do that and that is why we have tabled our amendments.
§ Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)
I shall be brief so that my hon. Friends will have an opportunity to speak. I am happy to follow what the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) said in his concluding phrases about a crossroads in agriculture, perhaps a watershed. Britain and the rest of Europe are reaching a point in agriculture where change is happening increasingly rapidly. The change can be summed up—whether it comes about by supply control, as in the dairy sector, or by price support reductions in other sectors—as a contraction of the markets for many traditional agricultural products. There has been a consensus in this debate that, in these circumstances, there will be a need for new products, for lower input-cost systems in agriculture, for greater emphasis on marketing and on value added products. Moreover, as the Bill makes clear, all these economic changes are happening in a period of growing concern about the relationship between agriculture and the environment.
What will be the Bill's impact on this situation? I am bound to add my voice to the concern expressed by several hon. Members about one particular aspect of the Bill—the funding of agricultural research and development. I follow closely the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), and I also follow what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins). This represents a broad range of criticism, to which I hope the Government will be sensitive.
It is surely obvious that in rapid structural change in agriculture there is a need for a strong research and development contribution in order to help us through the necessary adjustments. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) was correct in what he said about the role of agricultural research and development in the expansion of output since the war. But it must be remembered that this exploitation of agricultural research and development occurred because of the high support prices that were being provided. Now that this is being withdrawn it does not follow that we must also cut back on agricultural research and development—rather, we should strengthen it to help us cope with the new situations in which agriculture finds itself.
My right hon. Friend the Minister made great play of the fact that Britain spends £200 million a year on agricultural research and development. I must make it clear that I support the concept of charging which is embodied in the Bill, mainly because it will bring about a closer link between the scientists and the industry, which will be in the interests of both sides. The figure of £200 678 million sounds a large sum, but how do we know that it is enough? How do we know that it is not perhaps too much? None of us in this House is in a scientific position to define which lines of agricultural research and development we should pursue, so I shall not follow hon. Members who have come up with their favourite projects, usually from their constituencies—indeed, I have no particular constituency interest in what I am saying.
It is notoriously difficult to decide the size and direction of research and development budgets, but we can apply three external indicators which I tried to define when I spoke in our debate on science policy in June.
The first indicator that we could use to guide us is how current and projected spending on research and development compares with our past spending. In this respect we have recently seen two major cuts in the AFRC—first, the cut in DES funding, and now the cut in commissioned research funding, amounting in the period 1983–88 to a cut of the order of one quarter. The consequences have been pointed out and they are serious—disorganisation and demoralisation. I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the serious consequences of a similar process in universities in the early 1980s. For I fear that the Government are making the same mistake again. The question that the Government have to face is this—if it was necessary to spend X in 1983 on agricultural research and development, how can circumstances have changed so much as to justify X minus 25 per cent. only five years later?
A second possible way of answering the question how much we should spend on agricultural research and development is to ask what proportion of the GDP is being spent on research and development in that sector and how it compares with the share of GDP contributed by that sector. The annual review of Government-funded research and development for 1984 suggests that this consideration has been a factor behind the Government's policy. That review, based on OECD figures, claimed:The United Kingdom spends more in GDP terms than other countries on agricultural research and development.There has been a hot and furious debate about this in Government and academic circles and the claim made in the annual review has, I believe, been successfully rebutted—and I challenge the compilers of the annual review which is now being put together to stand by their words of last year or to retreat from them.
A third indicator for research and development budgets is provided by our competitors: how does our spending compare with that of others?
A recent editorial in Nature records recent developments in France, including an increase in agricultural research and development funding. The article states:The French policy seems to be that farmers should be helped to greater productivity and flexibility in the face of the threatened reduction of an admittedly artificial demand for food; the British, on the other hand, think that farmers should not be helped to be more efficient, or to be able to ring the changes on the crops they grow—or that they should pay the cost of the research that will enable them to remain competitive. The truth is that while the technology of agriculture is on the threshold of changes more radical than there have been since neolithic times, the French line is by far the safest.I agree with that analysis.
Agriculture is moving into a new era. It will need all the intellectual resources that it can obtain to help it face new circumstances and the redoubled competition. I 679 welcome the opportunity that the Bill affords for the introduction of such new resources, but I remain deeply concerned about the pace and the scale of the current reductions in the Government's contribution to agricultural research and development.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), because I can make up for a slight offence in September when I went to his constituency to campaign with the prospective Labour candidate. My experience in the hon. Gentleman's constituency illustrates the developing problems in rural Britain.
The Labour party campaign bus was a double-decker vehicle. As we drove along the bus routes in Wantage, we learned to duck, for fear of our heads being cut off. The top deck of the bus was full of the fruits of British trees—conkers, berries, nuts, branches and the occasional spot of blood from those who came into collision by seeking to address the hon. Gentleman's constituents when not looking where the bus was going. So rare was it for a bus to travel those leafy lanes that the trees had grown to become an obstruction. In south Yorkshire I have watched the decline of transport services, and I shudder at that graphic illustration. I regret that I did not let the hon. Gentleman know that I was to visit his constituency, but it was a last-minute arrangement.
I shall not join those who fawned upon the Minister and congratulated him with effusion. Reluctantly, I accept that we shall not go into the Lobby tonight to vote, but I hope that my hon. Friends who serve on the Standing Committee will demand more information. I regret that I shall probably not serve on that Committee because I have other fish to fry and I am interested in other matters, but I hope that my hon. Friends will obtain the details that the House should have been given today.
The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and others spoke of their hesitation about and dislike of enabling legislation. They are right. The Minister can tell us that £5 million or £6 million will result from the charges, but he cannot say what the charges will be. Something is wrong with the Department's mathematics. If the final sum is known, the Department must have some idea of the charges that will produce that total. The hon. Member for Grantham is right to attack enabling legislation. We are right to demand that the Minister gives the House the information.
What charges do the Government have in mind? Early in the last general election campaign I was in a thinly populated part of my constituency when a farmer said: "Peter, I am not going to vote for thee." I was deeply distressed, because I think that some farmers in my constituency vote for me. I asked him why, and he said that one of my hon. Friends had said on a radio programme that the average net farm income in 1982 had increased by about 43 per cent. My farmer was cross that a Labour politician should say that average farm incomes had increased by 43 per cent., until I explained that some farmers' incomes had increased by 86 per cent., but that the incomes of others like himself had not increased. That seemed to mollify him.
That dairy farmer had a relatively small holding on the urban fringe. The Minister should be aware of the 680 problems of such farmers consequent upon the devastation of our industrial economy. If our young people have nowhere to work and little opportunity, they will become a nuisance. They will commit crimes. The Minister has seen the effect on some farms of the wholesale destruction of youth employment. That should be commanding the Government's attention. They should not be fiddling about with charges for farm advisers, who are desperately needed by the lower income agriculturists, who might otherwise have to rely on advice from chemical companies, for example.
Perhaps light-heartedly, it has been said that the Government should put a tax on nitrogenous fertilisers. That might be useful. It would reduce costs and might produce a surplus! We should be concerned, not about charges for advice, but about the enormous and rapidly accelerating cost of intervention. The amount for which the Minister is scratching, and for which the House is providing in enabling legislation, is neglible compared with the enormous cost of surpluses. The Government's priorities are misplaced.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) talked about the massive increase in exports. British food is good, and our food distribution industry has enormous potential. The Minister should develop the temporary interest which his predecessor displayed. If he does, he will come up against the rock which the hon. Member for Hereford failed to perceive—that competing countries have Governments who are much more concerned about their own economic interests than this Government are. My experience in my constituency bears out that opinion. If the British Government were as keen as the French Government, they would not be cutting research, but would be developing our commercial prospects.
I bitterly regret the choice of the title "environmentally sensitive areas". It is as if only a few selected parts of Britain are environmentally important. The Standing Committee's first task will be to persuade the Government that it is a clumsy, manipulative title which reveals the Government as cynical. Comments have been made by Government Members, but I have no faith that they will follow their voices with votes in Committee.
This is a sop to the environment lobby. If it were not, the Minister would have had much more to say about the change of heart and the new priority. I have not forgotten the fact that the Government have been eager to get in the headlines, claiming to be the Green party and the people who care about conservation, but in reality they have blocked more moves than they have initiated—[Interruption.] That is true, but I shall not expand on it as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. If the Minister wants to demonstrate that the Government have given priority to conservation, he should give us some evidence of it.
I have some questions for the Minister. First, if a landowner or farmer decides not to agree with the Government in seeking to protect an environmentally sensitive area, will he still be able to obtain one of the gamut of grants that have helped to disfigure and destroy much of our ecological heritage? Secondly, will the Minister be prepared to take a more generous view, or to persuade the Treasury to take a more generous view, of proposals from the NCC and the Countryside Commission? I believe that we may be establishing a trigger mechanism for areas that are currently or 681 immediately in danger but the small scale that the Minister apparently envisages will not give nature conservation the vision or capacity to apply long-term considerations.
In so far as the measure represents an advance, I welcome it. That is why I shall join my hon. Friends in refraining from voting against it. Although I may not serve on the Standing Committee, I and thousands of people who are concerned about conservation will read its reports in order to glean the facts that have not yet been presented tonight and to hear the Minister's defence of a proposition in the Bill that will represent a valuable step forward only if it is backed by the finance and sense of priority that are desperately needed.
If the measure founders, it will embarrass the Government. That would not cause me much regret, but it would imperil the new dialogue and improved relationship that has been developed during the past few years between those who subscribe to the cause of conservation and our agriculture industry. We must ensure that rural depopulation is brought to an end and that our landscape and ecology are further protected. If the Bill helps us to do that it will deserve our support, but we must first hear much more about it.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I am happy to support the Bill, but I hope to speak as briefly as possible so that Conservative Members who have a genuine constituency interest and who wish to raise points on behalf of their constituents can contribute to the debate.
I particularly welcome the assurance from my right hon. Friend the Minister that there will be no charges for conservation, rural diversification and animal welfare advice. When I met my Shropshire NFU county executive on Friday afternoon, it was clear that there was concern about the way that charge levels would be introduced and further monitored. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has noted the concern expressed by hon. Members. I agree with them when they say that they hope that in future a statutory instrument will be used instead of leaving things open-ended.
With regard to the funding of the AFRC, many of the farming interests feel that the industry's practical needs are not adequately represented, particularly on the policy review body. I hope that that point will be considered seriously. If cuts are to be applied, it is essential that bodies such as the Royal Agricultural Society and United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association Ltd. should be consulted. When it comes to adjusting the way that agricultural research is conducted, it is vital to consider the research values of individual projects and to ensure that we do not go for convenience cuts just because they fit a particular block of expenditure.
It is equally important that the Government should deliver their promise to those of us who support the Bill that the science Vote will not be eroded and that the research that is publicly funded through universities and MAFF stations will not be cut. That would belie agriculture's contribution to applied research. It needs to see the Government keeping faith with scientific research in such stations.
I am particularly concerned about access to advice and information for small farmers. Those of us with agricultural constituencies will want to compare the services offered by MAFF with those offered by the Department of Trade and Industry. I understand that 682 advice is offered to the small entrepreneur free of charge, and that should also apply to the small farmer. Some sort of acreage relativity would not go amiss in many rural areas. I welcome the Bill and the diversification of incentives. I hope that the Treasury has taken that on board, particularly with regard to business expansion schemes.
Much criticism has been levelled at agriculture, particularly in relation to the environment. However, having viewed some of the more wayward television programmes, I suspect that one or two bad farmers have been singled out as against the many thousands who contribute substantially to the betterment of our environment. In my county, the Country Landowners Association has gone a long way towards providing private conservation specialists to advise farmers who look after the countryside. Admittedly, many of those farmers have inherited their land but many of them are conscious of the need to pass on to their descendents the very countryside that we all enjoy. In that respect, the assurance given by my right hon. Friend that the Government will tread carefully over the establishment of environmentally sensitive areas is welcome. We do not want to plunge in and place an unnatural burden on the industry.
My speech has had to be brief because of the pressure of time and, sadly, the wasting of time by some hon. Members. I shall conclude so as to allow Conservative Members who have genuine agricultural concerns to speak.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I hope that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) will accept that the debate involves not only agriculture but the environment. Consequently, there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who are genuinely concerned.
When I saw the amendment on the Order Paper I thought that the Liberal party had had a temporary aberration. There are Liberal Members who have cause to support environmental issues, but I was very disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey). The cause of conservation and the environment has suffered a severe setback because of the Liberal party's apparent desertion—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can read his speech tomorrow and judge it, just as we did when we listened to it.
I happen to think that clause 9 represents a major advance. I understand that the Secretary of State put up a brave fight. He had to compromise, but I join other hon. Members in congratulating him on his success. I should not like him to think that we regard that victory as one that he took upon himself to achieve without any coercion. There has been considerable debate during the past couple of years on the issues of environment and agriculture.
I wish to remind the House of a few conclusions published during the past couple of years. The House of Lords Select Committee on European Communities in the 1983–84 Session, concluded:
modern agriculture is incompatible with almost everything else.
The Countryside Commission, in its annual report last year, said:the revision of policies of agricultural support so that they favour, rather than thwart, conservation is long overdue.The Country Landowners Association said last year:Agricultural policy is no longer seen as tenable on economic, social, environmental and political grounds.683 The National Farmers Union, in its document "The Way Forward", called upon the agricultural industry and Governmentto face up to the problems of rural areas and the public demands for high standards of conservation in the countryside.
The House of Commons Select Committee, which has considered the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, earlier this year made 18 recommendations, nine of which dealt directly with agricultural policy. It was told by the chairman of Nature Conservancy Council:The financial structure of agriculture is hostile to nature conservation",while the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment referred to agricultural policy as "the engine of destruction."
Those are the pressures that have been exerted on the Minister. I think that we all recognise that what he has brought to the House goes at least some way towards recognising those pressures.
In essence, the problem is recognised widely—it is the destruction of our environment by agriculture. We now have the generation of surpluses through a system of agriculture supported and directed by the common agricultural policy under successive Governments, not only this Government. Both the destruction of the environment and the generation of surpluses have been funded at substantial cost to public funds. Welcome as clause 9 is, the Government's response to the problem is inadequate.
I can understand why the Government want to introduce charges under clause 1. They are motivated by ideological reasons. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) that charges levied where the activity is purely commercial are acceptable. However, I accept that argument only if it relates solely to charges on the commercial aspect of farming. But the imposition of charges will affect not only the commercial aspect—it will affect a whole area of public life. It will affect standards of public hygiene and public health, the maintenance of food supplies and, above all, environmental issues. No longer will there be any direct statutory responsibility on the Minister to give advice and guidance on environmental issues. Whatever he said in his opening speech, under the Bill he can impose charges. He is taking upon himself the power to levy a charge for advice on environmental issues, and the price that we are being asked to pay is heavy.
Although I welcome the major change in policy encompassed in clause 9, there are considerable doubts about the scope of the environmentally sensitive areas, their management, their funding, and how they will be selected, and about the dead hand of the Treasury.
Another aspect that causes me some concern is the operation of the Forestry Commission, especially in my area of Mid-Glamorgan and Gwent, where we have seen the destruction of the environment in key and sensitive areas by the use of agricultural subsidies. How on earth can the Minister justify the continued payment of subsidies in environmentally sensitive areas? One scheme may receive public funds for the development of practices that are both at variance with the Minister's stated objective and destructive of the environment, while in the next field, 684 farm or valley, grants will be paid to prohibit or discourage certain agricultural practices. That is a major flaw in the Bill.
It is not a good Bill, and it will go into its Committee stage with reservations. I hope that when it leaves Committee, it will be a better Bill.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
Today we are debating the Second Reading of a Bill whose purpose, in the long term, is to signify fundamental change in the direction of British agriculture. It has been brought about because agriculture, unlike many other industries, has been far too successful. Politicians, from the Prime Minister downwards, tell the same story when addressing farming audiences—that, if only every industry in Britain had applied new technology and increased its productivity as agriculture has done, Britain's position would be quite different today.
With this unanimous recognition, why the need for a change, which, at a stroke, will increase costs to the industry, a change away from the concept and well-proven benefits to the nation of the famous 1948 Act—a change encouraged by those who carp incessantly, from the feeling of a full belly, about the wilful destruction of the countryside by farmers who, when all is said and done, have only been fulfilling their side of a bargain with successive Governments in producing food for the nation at a price people can afford?
The reason for the change is primarily twofold: first, the over-production of agricultural produce in the European Community, and, secondly, the inability of politicians to react to this situation by reforming the CAP or even applying the principles, originally laid down in the Treaty of Rome, which gave each country the right to a reasonable return for its indigenous crops. Our Mediterranean partners, who have the advantage of giving us the wine and olive oil lakes, have cashed in on the dairy industry at the expense of the British milk producer.
A financial crisis in the Community 18 months ago gave us milk quotas, the repurcussions of which are still being felt throughout the nation, not only by dairy farmers but by creameries which are now closing for good.
The Bill contains a clause to amend the Agricultural Marketing Act 1983 by allowing higher levies to be collected for use in promoting better marketing and research. The latest cliché of "getting added value from your product" is frequently used, but the dairy farmer would like to know how this will be possible with quotas restricting them to 80 per cent. of the British market.
Agriculture welcomes the need for research into the alternative uses of crops, particularly in sugar and cereals. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give the House an assurance that when we find commercial alternatives, they will not be traded with our European partners. British sugar growers are already incensed that a potential market of half a million tonnes of sugar required for the chemical industry is possibly about to be given to the French.
I also share the NFU view that the membership of the Home Grown Cereals Authority and of the Meat and Livestock Commission should be democratic and equally balanced by those who pay the levies. The consequences of taxation without representation are well known.
I welcome the introduction, for the first time, of charges for certain advice and related services from the Agricultural Development Advisory Service, but I predict 685 that the budgeted income from this service will not reach 25 per cent. of the total, because farmers will not pay for ADAS advice as a second opinion.
Clause 9 is welcomed by all who love our countryside. That applies particularly to the designation of environmentally sensitive areas and, within those areas, the need to encourage farming practices which will conserve those features by means of management agreements. Many believe that what they see in the countryside has been created by God. That is right, but let them remember that the spadework is done by farmers. If they remember that, they will find that all the co-operation that is necessary to maintain it is forthcoming from willing partners.
The major criticism of the Bill is not about what it contains but about what is omitted. There is no mention of how to solve the impending crisis facing cereal growers from over-production. However, what is known is that co-responsibility levies with price restraint will not work because every percentage point reduction in price will be met by a corresponding percentage increase in yield.
I commend to my right hon. Friend the NFU initiative on cereal quotas and acreage set-aside, which, if implemented, would eliminate storage charges for surpluses and release billions of pounds with which to pay farmers more for producing less and also give the community much-needed funds for job creation. We cannot afford not to have a viable alternative when the next financial crisis faces the European Community. The last solution hastily imposed on milk producers, without detailed consultation, is not a road that the British farmer will ever travel again.
Farmers, like sailors, can sail through the stormiest waters so long as they have a chart to follow. But what they are having to do now is sail through those waters not knowing when they will hit the next submerged obstacle.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
I have nothing in common politically with the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) but it is a pleasure to follow him, partly because, like him, I have a background in the Scottish farming industry. If he had still been farming in Scotland this year, his comparison with life at sea would not have been so far off the mark. We were both educated at the west of Scotland college of agriculture, which is one of the institutions that is hit by the regime of cuts that the Government are imposing.
I am, by nature, a generous man. I always like to start my speeches with the good news. We give our whole hearted welcome to clause 9 and the provision for environmentally sensitive areas. This is a constructive measure, which has been endorsed by agricultural and conservation interests. We wish it well. No doubt, if our queries are not answered tonight, they will be answered in Committee. They include the question about the number of sites and the question of the security of this provision from possible Treasury veto. We shall have much more to say in Committee.
Clause 1 will enable the Minister to charge for advisory services and for statutory services provided by his Department. In the past few months, there has been much coded humbug about industry funding for these services. One of the many press releases which we received from the Department—we are grateful for them—dated 7 November refers to what are cryptically described as 686discussions with the agricultural industry about the scope for raising revenue for services provided to them by Government as a contribution to the planned public expenditure cuts"—as though the industry were wildly enthusiastic about paying more money into the Treasury! Of course, we all know what is going on. This is part of the contribution by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Government's cuts programme. The nation is suffering from a Government-inflicted wasting disease. Every Department has to make its contribution towards the general misery.
I suppose that we should never be surprised by the loyalty of the National Farmers Union to the Conservative party. The NFU says that it supports the intentions of the Bill and then lists a large number of reservations. That loyalty has been stretched to masochism. The NFU says that it supports the principle of charges. To say that at a time like this must be loyalty beyond the call of duty.
The Minister has limited control over his budget, as he has acknowledged. About two thirds of the total budget is dictated by people from faraway places who know little about this country. I think particularly of people such as Ignaz Kiechle who seem to think that the intervention system and food mountains are a good thing.
We learn from yet another of the Department's press releases—this one on 12 October—that what was described asinescapable expenditure under present Community policieswould be £460 million more than was originally budgeted for 1985–86. That is all going towards those notorious intervention stores and food mountains.
A Minister with that sort of "inescapable expenditure" handicap before he starts obviously has considerable difficulty in earning Brownie points for cutting his overall spending. When this Minister has to make a choice between defending the valuable parts of his Department's spending or currying favour with the Chancellor, he has no hesitation in opting for the Chancellor. The right hon. Gentleman is going ahead with a 5.6 per cent. cut in those parts of his budget that he can control during the coming year.
Spending on intervention and other commitments under the common agricultural policy will be increased by 3.2 per cent. to £1.9 billion this year, but in the coming year the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will cut the remainder of his budget by 5.6 per cent. to £830 million. Much of it will come from a series of mean cuts and adjustments to the advisory, research and development services. An extra £450 million will be spent on the grain mountains, while £16.5 million will come off research and advice and guidance for the industry. The hon. Member for Stratford on Avon (Mr. Howarth) described this as cheese-paring. I agree with him.
The principle of a freely available, state-funded advisory service for agriculture was established in 1944 with all-party support. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) was a Member of Parliament in 1944. If he was, he would have opposed the establishment of this principle, just as he opposes so many other matters.
During the past 40 years, ADAS and the Scottish agricultural colleges have built up a research aid advisory service which is second to none. This point was highlighted in her speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard). This service provides a contact between industry and the research 687 organisations that has helped to make British agriculture into a world leader. All aspects of crop and livestock husbandry have been developed. This process has been too successful. It has improved techniques and output. The production incentives of the common agricultural policy have led to the generation of massive surpluses of food that would have been unimaginable not so very long ago.
Agriculture is now at a turning point. It is facing a crisis and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not know what to do about it. He and his hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston think that this, of all times, is the moment drastically to cut the advisory services. The Opposition say that the advisory services should provide a different kind of research and advice to help the industry to come through this difficult time.
During the past year a drastic set of quota restrictions has been imposed without warning on the dairy sector. Large numbers of farmers have had to give up milk production. This raises serious problems both for those who stay in the industry and for those who come out of it. The outgoers need guidance about alternative uses for their land. There is evidence that too many of them are turning to the production of cereals and beef, commodities already in surplus. ADAS could help to resolve this problem. It is attempting to do so, but its efforts are being undermined by uncertainty. Therefore, the work that ought to be done is not being done.
Those who stay in the dairy industry also face a problem. They need advice on how to sustain income and employment while producing less milk. That important and serious point was raised by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas). It is an apt example. It demonstrates the need for a new type of advice for the industry. Instead of maximising production, we should seek ways of sustaining rural employment and protecting the environment while producing fewer crops and less meat. That will be a difficult and disruptive process for the industry. It will require the best advice that is available and a new approach to the agricultural economy.
In conjunction with the Minister's statements about the imposition of charges and a reduction in overall expenditure, clause 1 means that the advisory services will be slashed. Research and development has already taken a hammering. There have been major reductions in the funding of the Agricultural and Food Research Council. The research and development budget of ADAS has already been cut by £4 million, even before publication of the priorities board report. As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon explained, and as hon. Members know, that involves the closure of three agricultural science service laboratories, one at Shardlow hall in Derby, another at Llanishen, Wales, and the third at Bangor, also in Wales. It also involves the closure of the department of the central veterinary laboratory at Lasswade in Midlothian on 1 April next year.
Research and development cuts, overall, are to be £10 million in 1986–87 and a further £20 million in 1987–88. Clause 1 will lead to a £16.5 million cut. That is a 20 per cent. in the ADAS advisory budget. That cut will be made up as follows: the first element will be £6 million of charges to be levied on statutory work. That work is considered to be so essential that Parliament requires it to be carried out. It will be charged for in future. The second 688 element is a further £5.5 million of cuts, which means at least 380 fewer staff in ADAS and a proportionately greater loss of staff in Scottish agricultural colleges. Finally, there is the Minister's "guesstimate" of £5 million to be raised by charges for the advisory services.
We still do not know whether that sum can possibly be realised. Obviously, the transition will cause a deal of chaos, and it spells massive uncertainty in the agricultural research and advisory services.
The Opposition are always thankful for small mercies. We welcome the Government's action to take brucellosis and tuberculosis testing and certain other things out of the proposed charges net. However, that merely removes the immediate threat. A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out that those powers are discretionary. There is nothing to prevent either this Minister of Agriculture or any future Minister of Agriculture extending the scope of the charges to other aspects of ADAS and there is nothing to determine the scale of the charges. The Bill will leave the Minister and successive Ministers absolutely free to impose charges across the board if they so wish.
§ Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that farmers should make some contribution for the advice they receive?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
There may be an argument for such charges. I do not necessarily rule out charges. What worries me is that any Minister from now on, under these powers and without recourse to Parliament, can apply such charges.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I do not want to give way. I have already given up some of my time. The Minister is demanding 30 minutes for his speech. However, if the hon. Member has an important point, I shall give way.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This will be the last time that I shall rise during his speech. Will he answer the direct question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord)?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) made it abundantly clear that it is the Opposition's intention to scrap these charges. I can understand that there might be an intellectual case for imposing charges, but I am personally opposed to charges, and so is the Labour party.
Clause 1 does not cover Scotland, because at present there is no statutory provision requiring free advisory services in Scotland. Nevertheless, the advisory services have always been free in Scotland. Scotland is being used as the guinea pig for the cuts that the Bill will impose on agricultural advisory and research services in England and Wales.
The Government are treating rural Scotland and the rest of rural Britain with characteristic contempt. Hard-hit livestock producers are still waiting for the special aid that the Minister promised after our disastrous summer weather. It looks as if the producers will have to wait until the snow melts before they see any cash from the Government.
Scottish farmers face unprecedented problems, not just because of the bad weather but because of the general uncertainty that is being raised by the changing priorities 689 for agriculture. Farmers need the best advice that they can obtain at a time like this, but the Government are slashing a massive 41 per cent. from the budget for advisory services in Scotland and imposing £3.4 million in charges for advice.
The Government consultative paper on charges for advisory services in Scotland acknowledges the growing need for sound advice for farmers. Paragraph 3.2 of that document states:
It is highly likely that the pace of change will increase in the years ahead, flowing from changes in the political and economic context in which agriculture is practised, and from changing perceptions in the community at large about the nature of that practice, the relationship between agriculture and the environment and animal welfare. These changing circumstances and perceptions are bound to have a significant impact on advisory services.
The consultative document gives the game away in paragraph 3.4, which states:However, the key factor impelling change in the advisory services at the present time is the Government's decision to reduce public expenditure on these services by £3.4 million … (a reduction of 41.53 per cent.) as from April 1987.The cuts have nothing to do with needs or the merits of the case. The key factor behind the package is the need to cut Government expenditure.
I recommend that hon. Members representing English and Welsh constituencies study that consultative document. It gives the proposed range of charges for services in Scotland. No doubt, under this Bill, they will be extended to England and Wales.
There is no doubt that the new charges will reduce the take-up of advisory services. ADAS's consultants persuaded the Government to reduce the target for income from charges from £10 million to £5 million. There must be a risk that fertiliser and pesticide companies as well as feed compounders will offer their own free advisory services. I stress the word "free" because those companies will no doubt get their money back in one way or another. They will offer their own free advisory services, but they will generally include pressure to buy that firm's products. That happened when charges were introduced for soil analyses. The headline in the Farming News of 15 November is:Feed firm is gearing up.That refers to BOCM Silcock. The report states:National feed compounders are expecting a big upsurge in demand for their advisory services when ADAS starts putting up the price tags. ADAS will soon be charging for services, such as forage analysis, say the compounders. But they will be able to do the job free.I wonder. The news item continued:So it's a fair bet that a growing number of farmers will make use of the feed company's technical sales specialists."Sales" is probably the operative word.
Conservation organisations may be correct to fear that that intrusion by commercial interests into advisory services could undermine the new conservation element in the official ADAS advisory system. I am worried that those farmers who will be most deterred by those charges are those who have the greatest need for sound advice. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch). No doubt big agri-business operators will get their information and research work done for them whenever they want it one way or another.
I fear that small farmers who urgently need sound advice on how to cope with quotas and the changing 690 agricultural scene may try to do without specialist advice because of the charges. They may be driven to ruin by that understandable false economy.
The most disturbing thing that I have read recently on this subject was the report in the Farming News of 22 November. It referred to an internal Ministry paper which suggested that those cuts and charges could lead ADAS to be so understaffed that it would not be able to cope with essential work and statutory commitments. That suggests that the system could break down at some point despite the ministerial assurances given in this debate and earlier.
Farmers will be paying for a reduced and unreliable service. That is a matter for grave concern. There is a risk that revenue from charges could be low initially as farmers try to do without the services. How can ADAS survive through the lean time, when the income from charges may be low, and still provide a service in the long term?
The Government are taking a terrible risk by imposing this new regime at such short notice. There is a risk that efficient teams of advisers, economists and scientists could be broken up. It could take years to repair the ensuing damage and destruction. That point was made by several of my hon. Friends but also by the hon. Members for Stratford-on-Avon and for Wantage (Mr. Jackson).
The House will gather that we are opposed to clause I and we dislike the policies behind it. We shall vote against clause 1 in Committee and, if we fail, we shall oppose it on Report. However, we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We recognise that clause 9, which we wholeheartedly support, may be a delicate infant. That is why we shall not divide the House on Second Reading and we shall not support the alliance amendment which would kill the environmentally sensitive area initiative. It was pure gimmickry for the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) to commit the serried ranks of two alliance Members present for his speech to vote against Second Reading. I am interested to see how the alliance will explain this to the conservation lobby. They may even have difficulty explaining it to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).
The charges in clause 1 are discretionary. We support the principle of free advice and guidance for agriculture. Happily, even with clause 1 on the statute book, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) will be able to fulfil the undertaking that he gave at the beginning of the debate to get rid of the charges as part of a review of the structure of ADAS as soon as he takes over as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That will be a happy day for agriculture.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)
I welcome the generous terms in which the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) welcomed clause 9. The hon. Gentleman raised several points which I hope to deal with as I reach the relevant point in the Bill. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has not been present very often today, so perhaps he should wait until he has something to laugh at.
The amendment is rather odd. It was proposed by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who left soon afterwards and returned for the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey)—the other bit of the alliance—to 691 make sure that he said the same things. He left the House again and came back only then he thought that the windup would begin. That suggests that the amendment is a gimmick and has nothing to do with agricultural policy. The hon. Member has not even been here to hear what the agricultural policy is. He has not been here long enough to understand that there is a split on agricultural policy in the Liberal party.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) told us that Liberal party policy was to take severe powers to control buildings and land used for farming in a tough way. It would even cover hedgerows. I would be interested to see the planning committee of the Suffolk Coastal district council going on its hedgerow look if we ever have an alliance Government. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor put us out of our misery by saying that that was not the Liberal party policy that he supported. I should have liked the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland to tell us whether there was a third policy—held by the SDP—within the alliance. Unfortunately, there was no such opportunity, because the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland was not present.
Another serious point is that, in the early part of the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, he referred to "we". It must have been the royal "we", because no other hon. Member from his party or from the SDP was present in the Chamber.
The amendment is a got-up job. It is a disgrace to produce the amendment merely for the purpose of saying, "Just in case anyone has forgotten us, we are still here. We have come in with an amendment so that we can have a little vote. We want to show that the alliance"—I understand that following the most recent speech by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, it is to be known as the fixed link—"is still here." I hope that the House will not pay too much attention to what the alliance has said. It could have been said in Committee. The only reason why it was not is that alliance Members never go to Committees—unless the broadcasting light is on, when they are very quick to get to their feet. They are here to get a bit of publicity. For that reason, we can leave the alliance Members and such arguments as they put forward.
I come to the serious opposition to the Bill. I shall try to help the hon. Member for East Lothian, who adopted a reasonable position. He disagrees with a number of provisions in the Bill and I shall deal with them. However, it was a bit hard for the hon. Gentleman to say that Government policy was dictated by people from faraway places. I suppose that the hon. Gentleman meant 22 miles across the channel. I seem to remember that the Labour Government's policy was dictated by the IMF, which came from a long way away.
Given the proposals made by the hon. Gentleman, we must ask him to look at the Bill again. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch), who is my parliamentary neighbour and whose constituents use much of my constituency for their leisure pursuits, said that the Bill had two parts—clause 9 and clause 1. He left out the middle bit. The hon. Member for East Lothian did the same. Having dealt with clause 9, he referred to the other objective and left out the centre part of the Bill. That shows that Labour Members have not thought out the fundamental problem facing British agriculture.
692 As my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said clearly, we have moved from a position in which agriculture was dominated by the need to avoid scarcity to a situation where we have politically to manage plenty. That is a major change which we cannot ignore.
I do not wish to swap quotations with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), but we are being given food ingood measure, pressed down … and running over.That is why we must seek a different policy from that followed while scarcity was our main problem.
In those circumstances, marketing is at least one of the components with which we ought to be concerned. We ought to try to sell the products that we produce. We cannot pretend that the Home Grown Cereals Authority has nothing to do with dealing with the problem or refuse to mention the Meat and Livestock Commission.
There was hardly a mention of Food from Britain. There was one—from the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who said that this year the French are spending £100 million on their equivalent organisation. I have checked, because I thought that the hon. Gentleman was wrong. The French are spending 300 million francs, which, even, at only 10 francs to the pound, means that the hon. Gentleman was as inaccurate about that as he was about everything else in his speech.
The hon. Member for East Lothian rightly said that the problems of agriculture ought to be met, at least in part, by the marketing of products through the Food from Britain. He said that we are not spending enough. Perhaps we are not, but we are spending very much more than anything that the previous Labour Government spent. While the French were increasing their expenditure year by year, did we have a single peep about Food from Britain from the Labour party? All we had from it were attacks on those producing the food.
When reference was made to the comment of the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on the Environment, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), there was a frisson on the Opposition Front Bench. Its occupants became extremely worried and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) rose quickly, saying, "It wasn't me. Honestly, it wasn't me." He did so because his hon. Friend had said something that no self-respecting Opposition spokesman would want to have fathered on him. He said that agriculture is one of the industries that is having one of the most malign effects on the environment. I am not surprised that the Opposition are not voting against the Bill tonight. They have a long way to go to make it up with the agricultural community.
§ Mr. Gummer
I shall be happy to answer. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that, he was wrong. I invite the hon. Member for Pontypridd to say that the hon. Member for Copeland was wrong. I shall happily give way. It seems that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to, and I know why. It is because the statement of the Opposition's environment spokesman reflects the central 693 attitude of the Labour party to agriculture, and that cannot be defended by using a stray comment that has been taken out of context.
§ Mr. Torney
Can we get away from this rhetoric? We shall have great fun in Committee if this rhetoric continues. Will the right hon. Gentleman get down to the nitty-gritty and tell us what is meant by "reasonable charges"? What "reasonable charges" mean to his right hon. Friend the Minister, who is a rich man, may be quite different from what "reasonable charges" mean to me, a poor man.
§ Mr. Gummer
If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself for a moment and listen to my answer, I am sure that he will be happy. However, the serious opposition to this Bill, muted though it may have been, on the part of the official Opposition comes from fear of the changes that are bound to come. It is the fear of those who have to hold on to the present lest anything different should be worse. It is not surprising—
§ Mr. Gummer
I will put it more simply for the hon. Gentleman. The argument which the Oppositon Front Bench has tried to advance is that farmers, if deprived of an entirely free service, will go to those whose services are bound to be improper and unsuitable. That shows a contempt for the farming industry and it is a curious view. Those who attack the French farming industry—the bête noire of those who feel that anybody beyond these shores somehow has two heads and fuzzy hair—fail to notice that nearly 50 per cent. of all advice given to the farmers of France is paid for by the farmers.
An important argument has been advanced on competition. It has been said that the Bill will make our stance less competitive. I venture to suggest that a more direct connection between research and the industry would be likely to make us more competitive, especially in a Community in which—
§ Mr. Gummer
I must continue, because the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) is longing to hear my reply to his intervention.
The hon. Member for East Lothian, who replied for the Opposition, appeared to be making policy on the hoof. He was asked about the charges. The hon. Gentleman was asked whether he thought that all charges were unacceptable and he replied, "There may be an argument for them." When he had had the opportunity to think about that, he added, "There may be an intellectual argument for them." I do not know what other kind of argument there could be for them. Was the hon. Gentleman saying that there may be an intellectual argument for charges but that there is no practical argument for them? Alternatively, was he saying that the Labour party does not accept intellectual arguments of that sort but only arguments which it thinks will result in it gaining the odd vote?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he did not make a case. In the end, he did not dare talk about the ADAS charges. Instead, he told us that the Labour party would withdraw ADAS. He did not say that a Labour Government would ask for some payments to be made to support ADAS or that they would continue to provide most 694 of the funding. That was not his line. He told us that a Labour Government would withdraw ADAS, and no doubt the research facilities would go with it.
The hon. Gentleman realised then that he had not said the right thing, and so he added that farmers, who represent a commercial enterprise, should not pay something towards the commercial advice that they receive. It is not meant that everything should be free and we are not saying that the full cost of research should be borne by farmers. We are merely saying that is reasonable that some part of the research costs should be paid by farmers.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, talked about ADAS and his policy for the future. Evidently he would withdraw the charges that we propose and initiate a major restructuring of ADAS. He made much of the concern about ADAS and expressed worry about its morale. How would anyone feel about a major restructuring that is initiated by a party which believes that farmers are a malign influence in the countryside? If I were to be worried, I would be worried about the hon. Gentleman and not about anyone on the Conservative Benches.
§ Mr. Hind
Will my right hon. Friend take on board many of the comments that have been made about small farmers? Will he note the criticism that has been expressed that many of these farmers, because of the expense of seeking the advice of ADAS, will be driven to taking advice where it is free? Will he respond to the problem by introducing a scale of charges that will ensure that the small farmer will pay far less on an acreage basis than those with much larger farms?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am glad that my hon. Friend is, because I take his intervention seriously. My hon. Friend is right to observe that it is important that we ensure that the scale of charges meets the market. That is what it will be there to do. I understand the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) about "reasonable charges". The House will be aware that "reasonable" is used in the Agriculture Act 1947. It has caused no problems since then, so I doubt whether it will in future. Extra protection is provided by "reasonable" because the charges will have to operate in the market place. To that extent, reasonableness has a real meaning, which will be reflected in the market place.
I do not want to miss the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland about how sad he was at the timing of the changes. I hope that the House will remember that at the beginning of his speech he said that it was all a matter of timing. He was then asked whether he would have minded the changes last year when the farmers had a good year. He said that he would not have wanted the changes last year, nor does he want them next year. I wonder when the time will be right. Is he opposed to the changes altogether for the reason that I suspect, that he is hoping to pick up the odd vote or two, and this seems to be a convenient moment to do so?
The hon. Member for East Lothian made generous comments about clause 9. He said that it met a great need. I hope that he will agree that it was grossly unfair of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, first, not to give credit to my right hon. Friend the Minister for having 695 put the Bill forward, having won over the European Community, getting a directive from it and bringing it to the House. Secondly—[Interruption.] That is the point. It is a regulation and the hon. Gentleman was wholly wrong when he said that the change would have to happen anyway. It can happen only if it is brought before the House because we have to pay for it. The hon. Gentleman did less than justice to my right hon. Friend in making that point.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a point of great importance. I have gone to some trouble, as I promised I would, to answer that question. Such a phrase has been used not only in previous Bills presented by the Government but in the Agriculture Act 1970, which was put forward by the Labour Government. I shall read the phrase:The appropriate authority may with the approval of the Treasury by scheme provide for the making, subject to such exceptions or restrictions as may be provided for by the scheme, of grants of amounts determined in such manner … as may be provided …
The hon. Gentleman then made the point about money. I am sure that he would not like to mislead the House. The point is an important one in favour of the scheme, not against it. We are saying that the Treasury gives its permission at the point at which the decision is made to designate an area for that purpose. The management discussions can then go on aware of the fact that the money is there to pay for it. If it were not in that form, one might declare the area to be environmentally sensitive and go through all the negotiations and discussions and then the Treasury might say that the money is not available. It is there to make it clear.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we all know that the Treasury takes an active part in the spending of money in this country. We know that that happened under the previous Government as under this Government, except that under the previous Labour Government the IMF took a more active role. The reality is that it would not be unfair to say, as has been said in previous agriculture Acts, that once the Treasury gives its permission, the scheme could go ahead.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am not clear about who in the Treasury makes the decision. Is the Treasury equipped to go into that form of agricultural value judgment?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that in all such circumstances when money is to be spent, the Ministers make the case for the money. The Treasury is therefore able to judge that against other priorities and make a judgment about priorities within the amount of money available. It would be an odd Treasury that did not do that.
Clause 9 is a most important part of the proposals. It is important because there have been proper complaints and real fears that modern methods of agriculture in certain circumstances are environmentally harmful. It is therefore necessary to ensure that farmers can have a reasonable income from their land and at the same time farm in a way that is environmentally acceptable. That seems to be accepted on both sides. The matter has be given real thought for the first time in the House.
It is true that £6 million will be available for that purpose in the initial stage. It is absolutely true, too, that 696 we have said that we want to go slowly to start with to make sure that we meet the very points that hon. Members on both sides of the House have pressed, but it is a complicated matter: for example, not least the relationship between landlord and tenant—who will be able to carry out the bargain that is made—not least the problems of ensuring that we have a scheme that works within the European context, and not least ensuring that we do not have the problems that we had with the Wildlife and Countryside Act, when there was criticism of the way in which it operated and the way in which some farmers benefited from it.
All those things argue caution. All those things argue that we should seek to take a small number of sites to start with. It was unfair of the hon. Member for Pontypridd to talk about the number of sites that have been proposed. He mentioned 45 sites, but he also said that 12 sites were the most important and the ones that we should deal with first. We have talked about five or six sites. That is a reasonable number to start with and to check. It is from those sites that we shall gain the experience.
The reality is that the Government have proposed this major change for the first time and provided the money for it. We should not have carping nonsense from the Opposition, who complain only that there is not enough money. There may not be as much as they would like or as many sites as they would like, but there are infinitely more sites and more money than anything that the Labour Government managed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir. H. Monro), whose long-standing support for conservation we all recognise, raised several conservation issues which will have to come up in Committee. However, I hope that he will allow me to underline the point that he made, which was that this is not the first measure but one of a series of measures that have come from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over the past two or three years. I say this in reply to some of the comments by the hon. Member for Ipswich, who is not here. This year's environment survey made it clear that in one year 7 million trees have been planted and 2,000 new ponds have been created for the countryside. For the first time for a long time we are beginning to see a major improvement in the environment through working with the farmers instead of accusing them of being a malign influence on the countryside.
When we come to the point about ADAS and research, which many Opposition Members made, I suggest two things. If one wants an agriculture that can sell the products that it produces, one must bring it much closer to the market than it has been heretofore. The industry has been too production-oriented—not marketing-oriented enough. The Government are determined to take the unpopular measures—[Interruption.] Of course people do not want to pay for that which previously they have had for free, but the Government are prepared to ask for that payment because only by making it will there be a closer relationship, particularly with the research that will be carried out.
When Opposition Members say that all research that is paid for is somehow inferior, I can tell them that the vast majority of the research will still be funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or other Government organisations. In the end, the taxpayer will still pay for the overwhelming majority. The remaining small part will enable the industry to have direct influence on and control over what the research shall be.
697 The Bill is part and parcel of the major lead that the Government are giving to agriculture for the changed circumstances of the politics of plenty. It is not just clause 9 but the whole Bill, and it is with great pleasure that Conservative Members support it.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 23, Noes 179.698
|Division No. 10]||[10 pm|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Skinner, Dennis|
|Beith, A. J.||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Freud, Clement||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Hancock, Mr. Michael||Wainwright, R.|
|Howells, Geraint||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Wilson, Gordon|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Livsey, Richard||Mr. David Alton and|
|Maclennan, Robert||Mr. James Wallace.|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Ancram, Michael||Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Hayes, J.|
|Bellingham, Henry||Hayward, Robert|
|Bendall, Vivian||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Body, Richard||Heddle, John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Henderson, Barry|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hickmet, Richard|
|Budgen, Nick||Hind, Kenneth|
|Butcher, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Holt, Richard|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Howard, Michael|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Conway, Derek||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)|
|Coombs, Simon||Hunter, Andrew|
|Cope, John||Jackson, Robert|
|Corrie, John||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Jessel, Toby|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Durant, Tony||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Key, Robert|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Fallon, Michael||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Knox, David|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lang, Ian|
|Forth, Eric||Latham, Michael|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Franks, Cecil||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Lester, Jim|
|Freeman, Roger||Lightbown, David|
|Gale, Roger||Lilley, Peter|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lord, Michael|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Luce, Richard|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Gow, Ian||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Gregory, Conal||Maclean, David John|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Major, John|
|Grist, Ian||Malins, Humfrey|
|Ground, Patrick||Malone, Gerald|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John S||Marland, Paul|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Marlow, Antony|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Hannam, John||Mather, Carol|
|Harris, David||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Harvey, Robert||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Mellor, David|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Merchant, Piers|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Speed, Keith|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Speller, Tony|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Spence, John|
|Moate, Roger||Spencer, Derek|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Stern, Michael|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Neubert, Michael||Sumberg, David|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Osborn, Sir John||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Porter, Barry||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Portillo, Michael||Tracey, Richard|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Trippier, David|
|Price, Sir David||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Raffan, Keith||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Rathbone, Tim||Walden, George|
|Renton, Tim||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Waller, Gary|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Watson, John|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Watts, John|
|Rowe, Andrew||Wheeler, John|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Whitfield, John|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wilkinson, John|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Wood, Timothy|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Woodcock, Michael|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Yeo, Tim|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Mr. Donald Thompson and|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Mr. Peter Lloyd.|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).