§ 3.21 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood rose to call attention to the need for a strategy for the recovery of the countryside, tourism and rural businesses; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, as noble Lords may know, the debate was originally in the name of my noble friend Lord Geddes, but he has handed it over to 596 me. While some of your Lordships may feel that they have come under false pretences, I hope that they will not also be disappointed.
§ In March and April this year I spoke in your Lordships' House about the impact of foot and mouth disease in my home county of Cumbria. I shall not repeat what I said then, but I must begin by once more declaring the interest I declared on those occasions. Indeed, I do not want to speak specifically much about foot and mouth, although on one of the occasions to which I referred a personal friend who sits on the Benches opposite said to me that he thought I had been a bit unfair to the Government in my remarks. I have since thought about that criticism and must say that on the basis of my own experience and those of my neighbours I do not believe that I was.
§ What has occurred in Cumbria is, in economic terms, dire and there has been enormous destruction of assets and wealth. It has been calculated by Cumbria County Council's rural task force that approximately 5 per cent of the county's total GDP has been destroyed.
§ Metaphorically, we are at war. For that reason, I and many others want to put aside party differences to unite in the process of reconstruction. Against that background, I want to repeat today what the Minister has heard me say elsewhere; that I regret that there will not be a full public inquiry. Many Cumbrians believe that the Government have something to cover up. Understandably, after what they have gone through, that is causing real resentment.
§ When I was talking to the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, about the problems we both agreed that foot and mouth disease did not fundamentally change the problems facing the areas affected; it merely vastly accelerated the pace of many of the changes which were happening anyway. In this debate I want to speak generally about the problems facing rural Britain today. And I want to emphasise that it is not only about farming; it is about tourism, rural businesses, services, communities and the environment. One cannot pick and mix between them because they are all a seamless piece.
§ I hope that I shall set a framework within which others, who have less time to speak, will be able to make their particular points. And as we have many a true expert in the list I anticipate some telling points being made, not least from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, whose maiden speech we await with anticipation. The diocese of Peterborough is some distance from the diocese of Carlisle, in which I live, but my mother's family live not far from the city and I was confirmed by one of his predecessors, Cyril Easthaugh. But of course he can in no way be held responsible for anything I might have said or done since.
§ I want to begin by talking about what I have christened the "Great Mistake", the "Great Myth" and the "Great Error". The "Great Mistake" is the land use policy, accepted by all political parties for many years, that agriculture and forestry are probably the only two "proper" activities in the countryside. 597 That idea became entrenched at the heart of the way in which the town and country planning system was applied in this country from at least the 1940s. It certainly does not represent the reality of 18th or 19th century Britain where the countryside was the location of a wide range of activities. While the rationale for that approach is understandable, especially with hindsight, it is clear that it was mistaken.
§ The "Great Myth" is that farmers are the last of the John Bull breed; sturdy, independent yeomen working their land in splendid individual isolation; the archetypal businessmen beholden to no one; and the direct spiritual descendent of William Cobbett. The reality is that in all western countries there are complicated systems of agricultural support which are invariably politically sensitive. The farmer is penned in on all sides by policy and is permitted to do little other than farming with his land. In reality, he is operating within a set of narrowly drawn parameters and in fact agriculture is one of the most heavily regulated industries that we have.
§ The "Great Error" is the approach we have had for many years of supporting rural Britain by supporting agricultural output more or less to the exclusion of everything else. That goes back long before the CAP, deep into the traditions of domestic United Kingdom agriculture support.
§ For far too long, rural Britain has too often been seen as synonymous with agricultural Britain. It is not. And agriculture has been perceived as a single output activity when in fact it is multifunctional. It is not and never should be seen simply as an industry which produces mere food. It could and should produce inter alia the environment, the raw material of rural tourism, much of the fabric of rural society, the setting for suitable rural business as well as being the site of the production of what I call high quality food as opposed to human fodder. By focusing too much support and placing too much emphasis on production, agriculture has lost its bearings and with it rural Britain has lost its way.
§ I do not believe that there will be much disagreement around the Chamber about that analysis and I believe that that general consensus is important, as I shall explain in a moment. I, and I suspect a number of other noble Lords, walked across to the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in July to listen to the "Two Feisty Ladies"—the right honourable Member for Derby South and Mrs Renate Kunast, the German Green Minister for agriculture, when they spoke at a conference. The general thrust of their approach was one with which I had considerable sympathy, although I had a number of disagreements on emphasis and detail. Nevertheless, the points of agreement seemed to be greater than those of disagreement.
§ As I shall explain in a moment, it follows that the political problems of agriculture and rural Britain should not be and are not domestic party political divisions. After all, the hurdles in the way of progress are the CAP reform and the World Trade Organisation. Since the Berlin Summit 2000 we have seen a formal change in emphasis at European Union 598 level. It is what the right honourable Member for Derby South called the second pillar of the CAP; the development of rural development policies. The change of emphasis is, of course, too slow and the myriad of outstanding problems cannot be resolved in the 2002 review, but we are on the move and evolution of the concept of national envelopes in the way in which the CAP is delivered, and giving more and more discretion to member state's governments in delivering the policy, has the potential to be helpful.
§ One must also remember that, especially as regards some of the southern European countries, the CAP is a kind of sacrament and that this special quality is not only associated with the policy itself but is in equal measure attached to its outdated delivery systems. An ally in the assault of the sacred CAP is the World Trade Organisation, which for good reasons has its targets focused on trade distorting output encouraging subsidies.
§ What is required is the drawing together of the various potential allies in a united coalition to move the argument on and to develop policies which flow from them in a direction in which we in Britain as a whole want to see. I believe that there are many shared fundamental views between all political sides in the debate. I want to know what steps the Government are taking to ensure that politicians who are not of their party—for example, Commissioner Chris Patten or me and my Conservative MEP colleagues—have some ownership and participation in these policies and that we all advocate the kind of changes that we desire to see in the international fora where many of the decisions which matter will be taken. In those the divide is essentially along national, not ideological, lines. I have seen at first hand the way in which the Germans do this very effectively. The German Government know that they cannot themselves do the kinds of things that they want. I should like to know how the Government propose to draw all of us into this campaign.
Farming is a very circumscribed industry. Under Article 33(1)(b) of the European treaty the Government have a duty to,
ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture".
§ I should, therefore, like to ask the Minister how that squares with current net farm incomes which, as can be seen from official figures, corroborated by the recently published Deloitte Touche report, are in some sectors below the level of the minimum wage. Can the Minister explain to the House how farm incomes should be allowed to drop below a level which the Government consider to be too low for an employer to offer when they have a treaty obligation to increase them? If I may describe myself as a simple Cumbrian farmer, it does not appear to stack up.
§ Probably the single most important factor in this decline is the strength of the pound against the euro. There is absolutely no need to join the euro to iron out the distortion and injustices that it has caused. Agrimonetary provisions are available, but why have they not been used? To have done so certainly would 599 have helped to ease, but only eased, the plight of the countryside and, to some extent, helped the Government to honour their obligations. I hope that the Minister will not give us the old chestnut about agricultural support being manifested straight away in increased land values. After all, there is no direct correlation between them, as can be clearly seen from the recent relevant figures.
§ I referred earlier in my remarks to the Cumbria task force which is now looking at means of reviving the devastated Cumbrian economy. Increasingly, it is clear that however laudable may be the aims of policy—there is a great deal of common ground between all sides about what the Government aspire to for the countryside—the means to get there are not in place. Just as derelict inner city areas require, and have in the past received, massive sums of money to pick themselves up by their bootstraps—a number of them have been conspicuously successful—how will we enable rural Britain to move forward having haemorrhaged for so long? After all, bankrupt peasants cannot do it.
§ As a measure of the importance of this matter it is now public knowledge that the Cumbria task force estimates that it needs about £¼ billion to get itself going again. I shall not even ask the Minister to give an undertaking that the Treasury will not make that money available; I am sure that he can give a commitment to that effect with total confidence. But I ask the noble Lord to give the Government's view on how the actual implementation for their aspirations for rural Britain can be brought about. What we need now are not necessarily new policies but new enabling measures.
§ Earlier in my remarks I referred to the "Great Mistake", namely the policy of a single land use—agriculture—in the countryside. As we move into a world of greater leisure and mobility the tourist industry in general, and rural tourism in particular, becomes of increasing importance to our country and the countryside. Figures issued recently by the British Tourist Association about the impact of foot and mouth and the atrocities in New York show how important this sector of the rural economy has now become.
§ In developing rural tourism and suitable businesses located in the countryside it is of paramount importance not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. After all, one of the reasons for the expulsion of non-agricultural uses from the countryside was their generally intrusive appearance, and visual and physical degradation and dereliction must not be allowed to happen. The way to avoid that is to insist on a high standard of development, but in turn that is expensive. Currently, a rural economy on its knees is in no position to achieve that, so how is it to be brought about?
§ Probably the greatest single cause of inner urban decline and dereliction was the failure of business to make its own way there under its own steam. The economic haemorrhaging of much of rural Britain— 600 not only England but also Wales and Scotland—is propelling these areas towards the same problems of a downward economic spiral.
§ It is sound policy to attack the provisions of the discredited common agricultural policy for it wastes millions of pounds on doing the wrong things and fails to provide for the things that it should pay for, but, however attractive it may appear to the Treasury to believe it, it may be a mistake to assume that the conclusion to be drawn is that no public money should be spent on rural Britain. Over the past half-century the amount of public money spent on agriculture in this country has more or less halved as a percentage of GDP. We all know that we cannot get something for nothing for long.
§ Rural Britain contributes a lot to this country and for years much of that has not been paid for properly. The working capital is now running out, and unless it is replenished and a proper return is received the whole thing will seize up. The Government do not want that to happen; they have said so, and I believe them. But good intentions are in themselves insufficient. What we need is a framework that positively promotes the right thing: a policy to get things done and a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. In that regard the Government have European obligations. How are they to meet them? In short, we need means, not dreams. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Geddes, for the opportunity to debate this subject this afternoon. If the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, will forgive my saying so, his speech today was all the more effective because of the moderation and thoughtful way in which it was presented, in contrast to the noble Lord's intervention on foot and mouth.
If we look to a strategy for the future—I declare an interest as vice-president of the Council for National Parks and member of the north west regional committee of the National Trust—we must address some practical issues which now confront farmers. First, farmers find the existing arrangements hard to operate. The paperwork is onerous and takes up at least a day per week, and obviously the amount of time that is being spent on it is increasing. There is an emphasis on policing with penalties, which does not leave much room for encouraging positive thought and ideas about future action. Farmers are ageing, which raises the question of who will be there to do the innovation. With average subsidies of some £30,000 and incomes of some £6,000 a year, or less in many instances, inevitably that greatly influences agricultural performance. Farmers concentrate on what attracts the subsidy as distinct from what the market might otherwise really demand.
Underlying all this are the distortions introduced by the common agricultural policy. Pillar 1, which represents 90 per cent of what is available, emphasises production; pillar 2, with only 10 per cent, is for the 601 management of the environment and related issues. That results in over-production and over-grazing. Where I live—the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, will know it well—there are severe problems of over-grazing on the fells. Beyond that, it also undermines the attention which should be paid to quality, fattening stock and the rest. We are now reaching the stage where environmental considerations are so crucial to the future of humanity that we must have a change of mindset whereby we begin to regard management of the environment as the dominating concern and talk about how to fit agriculture into that, rather than carry on as in the past by emphasising agriculture and talking about some environmental responsibilities which have to be taken into account in the agricultural priority.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was absolutely right to emphasise that we must not concentrate simply on the farming community and that there must be an integrated approach—the recent crisis has underlined that beyond any doubt—to tourism, rural businesses, environment and biodiversity.
There is one practical observation that I should like to make to the Minister. I hope that the noble Lord and his colleagues will be able to look at the matter. In the areas where we have national parks we have an ideal opportunity to present model schemes for an integrated approach to meet the reality of the interdependence which is there and to produce practical policies which may turn this to an advantage rather than seeing it as a problem to be contained.
Lastly, I hope that we do not drift into a situation in this country where we begin to see an adversarial relationship between the interests of the countryside and those of urban areas. The countryside is tremendously dependent—consumers, wealth production and the rest—on urban communities. Urban communities are desperately dependent on the countryside, not least for recreation and regeneration, but also for what it produces. We need integrated policies that recognise this, stress the inter-dependence and make an advantage of it. I hope that we shall not simply try to return to the situation that existed before the awful food and mouth experiences, but that we shall treat the severity of those experiences as an opportunity for some genuine new thinking about new strategies to meet the century ahead.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I do not want to talk a great deal about the strategy. That has been put over quite well. I agree that agriculture is not everything in the countryside. In fact tourism has probably suffered more. However, I want agriculture still to be considered for what it is—an extremely important industry. It is one which has done this country a great deal of good in the past and could well do it a good deal of good in the future.
I have just been to the national fruit show in Kent. It is a great pity that the noble Lord and the Minister could not go. I understand of course that they are extremely busy. It was fascinating. The industry is 602 doing all the things that it should. It is looking at the breeding of new fruits to counter the various diseases that attack them. It is talking about organic fruit. It is marketing. It is introducing new machinery. Everything that an industry should do to improve itself in marketing and the production of the goods is being done. It has not fallen into the error such as one sees with imported strawberries where most of them look beautiful but have the consistency of a carrot and the taste of a turnip. That industry has gone solidly for the strawberry that we used to like. It is a very important part of industry. It is an example. It is not heavily supported at all. However, it is doing extremely well.
The Government must look in any future reorganisation at imports. So far as we know, foot and mouth came from imports and their control. There is no question that many of the practices abroad when producing agricultural produce lower the costs of our competitors enormously, providing them with an unfair advantage over our farmers. The Government must look at that.
The main point I wish to make concerns the foot and mouth epidemic. We must learn the lessons from that. The biggest lesson that the Government must learn is that we need more official vets. Half the trouble was caused by the slowness in analysing the outbreaks because of an enormous shortage of vets. We had to appeal for vets from all over the world. I am afraid that we must spend more money on a more competent and larger official veterinary body looking after the health of the cattle and sheep and the animals of this country.
In the countryside as a whole I agree that agriculture has to be replaced in many cases by tourism, small industry or bigger industry, whatever it may be. There is one factor that stands against people working in the countryside. That is the business of houses which were built to let being sold to the children of elderly people who then sell them. They are bought by people who want to live in the country as a second, or as a first home. People—decent chaps—who want to work in the country cannot get a house. The Government must stop the sale of these houses which are built and subsidised publicly and keep them for letting for which they were meant.
One other matter that the Government might look at is the offering to farmers in the hills of £10 for a lamb. If one cut off the hind legs and sold them separately one would get £10. However, to buy them at a tenner and destroy them is not good policy.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Skidelsky
My Lords, I recognise that this will be a wide-ranging debate because, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, countryside issues form a seamless web. I recognise that the health of the countryside is about much more than the health of farming. Nevertheless, I want to concentrate on farming in the short time available to me. In particular, I should like to make four propositions about farming which, from an economic point of view. I think I am in a position to make.
603 The first is perhaps the most unusual. We can no longer safely rely on foreign imports for all our food requirements. That has been a long-standing security argument for a country growing its own food. It has been strengthened by the events of 11th September. I do not want to make too much of that argument, but, undoubtedly, transport costs have increased as a result of the outrages of that date. Therefore, the argument for growing as much of one's food as possible, and in particular the argument for local markets, has been strengthened and the consumer's perspective on these matters is no longer the only one to adopt if we are thinking about the future.
The second argument is also a familiar one but needs to be emphasised. A vibrant national society needs its citizens to develop the full range of their natural talents and interests. An over-specialised society is one that is impoverished, spiritually and intellectually. That is an argument for preserving a variety of activities in a country and not adopting an exclusively urban or an exclusively industrial perspective. One does not have to say that rural life is healthier than urban life, although many of the statistics suggest that it is; it is just a necessary component of a varied life.
A third argument is that a countryside confers benefits on visitors whether they come from England or abroad. They cannot readily be charged for those benefits. One can charge someone for a room in a hotel, a meal or a visit to a historic house. One cannot charge them for most of the settings which make these amenities attractive to people. Those settings are essentially provided by the landscaped countryside which is and has been the work of farmers over the centuries. That is a familiar argument for subsidy.
Finally, there is no doubt that most people in this country strongly want the countryside to be preserved, even if they do not visit it or experience it that much. It is a value. It is part of what Britishness is about. For that reason, I am pleased that the Government have set up the new DEFRA to supervise the affairs of the countryside. I hope that the Secretary of State will not be invisible and that she will soon make her own views and those of the Government known.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Peterborough
My Lords, I speak in the debate not only from knowledge of my own diocese, which extends across the whole of rural Northamptonshire and the county of Rutland, but also from four years' experience as Bishop of Lewes in Sussex and with long-standing knowledge of Cumbria, where my father still lives. I was in the north Pennines when the last cluster of outbreaks of foot and mouth disease occurred in Allendale at the end of August. For the first time in my life, I found myself living within the "blue box".
604 In the short time available this afternoon I can touch on only a few of the range of issues which were raised by members of the General Synod in its moving debate held in July. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has already indicated, the effects of foot and mouth disease on the farming and tourism industries have been devastating, but they have only accelerated processes that were already under way. The economic shape of agriculture will inevitably change. Indeed, the pattern of subsidies has already changed to encourage a lower level of stocking and to promote an environmentally friendly approach.
I believe that farmers deserve our thanks more than our criticism for their care of the environment, but so-called green farming must be profitable if it is to survive. Farm gate prices must reflect more closely the price we pay in our supermarket-driven economy. Farmers tell me that those who can sustain their incomes from a variety of sources will survive. I fear that many smaller tenant farmers may not. There is an urgent need both for alternative employment to subsidise farm incomes and for affordable rented housing for those who, with heavy hearts, decide to leave the livelihood they have known and loved.
The Church-led initiative, the ARC-Addington Fund, supported by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, has been able to offer some help. To date it has raised over £10.5 million and has distributed some £8.6 million through our agricultural chaplains and the Farm Crisis Network to over 18,000 applicants.
But if regeneration is to take place, we must restore a sense of confidence, both that the interconnectedness of farming, tourism and rural businesses is understood and that the need for a vibrant and profitable agriculture remains part of the strategy for the recovery of which the noble Lord has spoken. That is particularly true for hill farmers, many of whom are not members of the National Farmers Union, and who sometimes feel that neither their interests nor their experience is being heard.
Last November's White Paper, written of course before the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, recognised that rural life and the rural environment as we know it would not exist without farming. A vibrant countryside needs a vibrant agricultural industry. The unique character of our rural areas which is so attractive to tourists is a managed character—centuries of agricultural practice and experience have made it the place we value.
Therefore we must seize the opportunity to address certain fundamental questions. What is the nature of our countryside and what is it for? How can we be good stewards rather than exploiters of its resources and its beauty? How can we rebuild lives and an economy which will sustain families and our rural communities?
The Churches see themselves as active partners in that process. They value the countryside as a spiritual resource as well as the base for a vital industry. Church buildings in themselves are major tourist attractions, as well as key centres for the community. But local initiatives need support. The economic downturn and 605 the devastation in our sheep and cattle, as well as the international situation, mean that rural communities need financial help as well as our active encouragement. Whatever support the Treasury can give will not be wasted. To quote a Cumbrian farmer:Government support for the recovery programme will be fully repaid in the rebirth of a new and active rural economy delivering the products and environmental goods which are demanded today".That must be our aim.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
My Lords, it is a great honour to extend the congratulations of the whole House to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough on his maiden speech. In my brief career in this House, it was one of the most stimulating maiden speeches that I have had the honour to hear.
If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate has gained a reputation in the Church of England for a combination of scholarship and pastoral care. He served his time—perhaps I may put it like that—as a suffragan bishop and his promotion to a diocesan bishop was welcomed, I understand, with undiluted enthusiasm by all those who know him. The right reverend Prelate carries with him a reputation for not being shy of controversy. I am sure that all Members of this House hope that he will endorse that reputation in his future contributions to our debates.
I begin by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Geddes, for tabling this subject for debate today. I want to concentrate on a wide-ranging strategy for our countryside which was published last November in the Government's rural White Paper. At the time it was widely recognised as a ground-breaking document. No previous government have ever made such a comprehensive commitment to our rural communities. As someone who comes from and has lived most of my life in a rural area, I certainly recognise its importance. I also know at first hand how rural communities declined over the 20 years prior to 1997. Indeed, the electorate also recognised that. That is why, since 1997, it is Labour Members of the other place who represent more rural seats than any other party.
There will not be time today to outline all the Government's strategies, so I have chosen what I believe to be the key ones. The first is the revitalisation of market towns. The Government have pledged to speed up revitalisation and to ensure that they are vibrant places in which to live. Major initiatives relate to good quality public transport, affordable housing, more power to local communities and parishes to ensure that their voices are heard in local government, as well as more support for farmers and local businesses.
Secondly, the Government have made pledges to rural transport, which is so vital, for example, to the elderly, to those with disabilities, to people with young families and to those who need to use public transport to travel to work. Recognising that a good number of families living in rural areas do not own a car, the 606 Government have allocated £62 million to improve rural bus services. Contrast that with the previous administration's rundown over two decades of local public services.
I turn next to housing—a further must if our rural areas are to retain younger people and our retired folk. Such housing must be affordable and be located in local villages and towns. The Housing Corporation has already announced that it will double its provision of such homes by 2004.
As regards schools, between 1983 and 1997, over 25 local schools were closed each year. In contrast with that policy, the Government have pledged an extra £180 million to help small schools. M y daughter works as a school secretary in a lovely village in Suffolk. I know at first hand how the Government's measures are helping villages to retain and improve local schools, which are a vital part of the rural way of life.
Lastly, I turn to health. So many local hospitals were closed and their remits changed in the 1980s and early 1990s, with the result that vast numbers of people living in rural areas now have to travel many miles to their nearest hospitals. That is why the new mobile units, hospital tele-links and primecare centres, proposed by the Government in the NHS Plan, are so welcome.
I could go on, but time does not permit. I hope that, in this brief outline of the Government's initiatives, I have been able to demonstrate the Government's commitment to and strategy for the countryside as a whole. As Margaret Beckett said in a recent speech:Initiatives taken by this Government represent the most substantial and sustained investment in rural areas that we have seen by any government";and that is how it should be.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I should declare an interest in that I have been involved in agriculture all of my life.
It is often said nowadays that the countryside is going through the worst depression since the 1930s and before. So it is. I agree with my noble friend Lord Inglewood that the problems being faced by rural communities were there before foot and mouth and that the disease has merely exacerbated and accelerated them.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough when he said, in a notable maiden speech, that the heart of a successful countryside must be a successful agriculture. He is completely right. The prosperity of the countryside, of the environment, of the villages, of the country towns, of the many manufacturing companies and distributors who operate there, and of the many people who work within them, depends on a vibrant and successful agriculture.
Of course, agriculture has been smitten recently by salmonella, swine fever, BSE and foot and mouth, together with the collapse in corn prices and milk prices. Average farm incomes—excluding hill farmers and intensive pig and poultry farmers—are apparently now £2,500 a year. No industry—indeed, no individual 607 business or individual person—can stick that kind of thing for long; and they have not. Some 50,000 people have left agriculture this year.
I want to make two points. The first is that confidence must be brought back into agriculture. It is, of course, easy to say that; it is much more difficult to do. But as long as the countryside is considered to be a place full of disease and burning carcasses, where walking is restricted and "keep-out" notices abound, no one will want to visit it. Tourism will suffer, as indeed will agriculture.
We all know that foot and mouth has caused the most unbelievable devastation. People have seen their life's work destroyed and animals they have loved—sometimes even their pets—killed. We know the reason. It is the slaughter and compensation policy of which I have always, up until now, been in favour. Whether we should continue with that policy or move to another is a deeply complicated scientific matter. Personal views should not muddy the waters until such time as a review has been undertaken in the aftermath, as it were, of the battle. I agree with my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, when they express surprise that the Government have so far rejected a full public inquiry. Like them, I urge the Government to hold one into the current foot and mouth epidemic.
As my noble friend said, we are left with the inescapable feeling that the Government are afraid of a public inquiry, either for what it will say or because they may have something to hide. I cannot believe that they have anything to hide. Everyone involved in the epidemic worked their hardest and to the best of their ability for the public benefit. The point of an inquiry would be not to criticise, to blame or to carry out a witch-hunt, but to try to learn, in the aftermath of this devastating outbreak, what went right and what went wrong in order that we might be better placed to deal with any future outbreak should it occur.
After all, one way or another, this disease has cost £5,000 million pounds. That really does deserve an inquiry. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can give us some encouragement that a public inquiry will take place. The Government have set up some eight inquiries into all kinds of different matters, but I do not think that they will be suitable because they either overlap or are not extensive enough.
My second point is one with which I have assailed your Lordships before. On the grounds that I will be flattered if your Lordships remember anything that I have said by the end of the debate, I should like to say it once again. The Government have made it fairly clear that, in their view, what matters in the countryside and the environment are the birds and the bees, the wildlife, the flora, the fauna and the visitors. The production of food is de minimis; we can get that elsewhere.
I do not have time to dilate on that subject. However, I should like to remind your Lordships that in 1960 there were 3,000 million people in the world. That figure has doubled in the past 40 years to 6,000 million; and in the next 25 years it is likely to double 608 again to 12,000 million. So some people will in the course of their life have seen the population of the world multiply four-fold. That is a devastating thought.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that we should be a supplier of food. We cannot afford to say, "The production of food does not matter. We can get it elsewhere". In the short term we may be able to; in the long term we may not.
Agriculture has been one of the strategic defences of this country. In their desire to "modernise" everything, I hope that the Government will not make the mistake of making impotent that particular line of defence or of making impotent agriculture's traditional—and still hugely important—role of providing food. On that depends so much the health of the countryside as a whole.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for his succinct and realistic appraisal of the crisis currently being experienced by all those involved in the rural economy. As other noble Lords have said, it must not be forgotten that this deep, deep depression was well and truly rooted prior to the ugly appearance of foot and mouth disease.
I must, as always, declare an interest as someone who tries to farm and as president of the British Association of Biofuels. I also share my home and gardens with the visiting public and I am heavily involved in all aspects of rural tourism.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on 19th August:This Government is fully committed to a viable, vibrant and sustainable British agricultural sector containing both livestock and arable farms".Those words should be music to all of those involved in the rural economy, especially when he went on to add, much to the amazement of many,This Government is in the business of construction not demolition".It is time for plain speaking on countryside matters and also time for new ideas and solutions. The countryside is our main food factory. It is also the backdrop for much of our tourist industry and a playground for many.
Our farmers currently produce 80 per cent of the temperate food which can be grown here, and they do so to the highest possible standards. This work has not been helped in the past by the activities of MAFF. Let us hope that DEFRA shows more knowledge and sense. But the DEFRA official who recently asked an acquaintance of mine what sex his bull was does not exactly inspire confidence.
However, we now have more land than is currently needed for food production, although that may not always be the case. Fuel, however, is another mainstream product essential to our survival. The time has come to get road fuel from spare farmland, and so help safeguard our whole economic system.
Old MAFF policy on energy is in disarray and ridicule. For all the talk of biomass and electricity generation, only some 1,500 hectares of biomass 609 coppice has been planted—0.01 per cent of UK farmland. It is hard to believe that civil servants have so misguided Ministers that where road transport and rural policy come together the results have been so totally pathetic—a market share of only 0.01 per cent for road gas and 0.01 per cent of farmland for energy.
There is, however, a clear and logical way forward. I believe that our farmers should be turned from fuel protestors to fuel producers. British agriculture could within 10 years be producing 10 per cent of our road transport fuel, in the form of biodiesel and bioethanol, from 10 per cent of our farmland. That surely must be attractive to the Government now that Saudi and other oil supplies are in doubt. The biofuels are particularly clean, both on tailpipe emissions and on greenhouse gas emissions. They also add greatly to biodiversity.
How can this most attractive state of affairs be brought about? Very simply. Just give the biofuels, bioethanol and biodiesel, the same duty rebate as has already been given to the gas fuels—that is, 4.5p per litre. At that duty rate the industry will spring into life and rapidly eclipse the misguided gas and biomass policies of the old DETR and MAFF. Major companies with world experience and fully adequate capital are waiting in the wings to revitalise British agriculture and the rural economy with a brand new business—the "British Agricultural Energy Industry".
I beg the Chancellor in his November Statement to take this route, which will ensure safer and sustainable fuel supplies and a revitalised agricultural industry. It will produce exactly what the Government and the nation want and need—that is, worthwhile amounts of clean, green road transport fuels.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Greaves
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on initiating the debate. Not for the first time, I have been overwhelmed by the amazing amount of good sense in remarks from all corners of the House.
I want to refer to one group of people who use the countryside; namely, hill-walkers and climbers—those who might generally be described as mountaineers—and the contribution that we can make to the future, particularly of the upland areas of this country which are in many cases in the most need and suffer the greatest deprivation.
As has been said, the foot and mouth outbreak has pinpointed the close relationship between farming and recreation in rural areas. The balance varies. It is claimed that in the Lake District the ratio of GDP from tourism as opposed to agriculture is 10:1. In other areas the importance of tourism lies in topping up local economies and helping them to stay afloat. If they were dependent solely on farming they might not be able to survive.
Tourism providers have suffered in ways that have been an eye-opener to many people, particularly in the uplands. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, the 610 position in the Lake District is still dire. Many guesthouse owners have not paid their mortgages since March and are wondering what the banks are now going to do.
But the countryside covers diverse areas. I shall refer to the hill country in England and Wales, where farming has always been hard. In some places there is a great deal of tourism; in others—for example, in parts of mid-Wales and the Pennines—there is little other economic activity. Certainly, without farming subsidies, such areas would have closed down.
The closure of the mountain areas and hills during the foot and mouth outbreak has shown the importance to the local economy, even in the more peripheral areas, of visits by hill-walkers and climbers. But the extent of that contribution is not well documented. Some research has been done in the north-west Highlands of Scotland, in Wester Ross and in Cromarty. In a more lowland area, it is estimated that the long-distance Pembroke coastal path, which I know well, brings in some £14 million per annum from walkers, so that is important.
The British Mountaineering Council, of which I am a member, has proposed a research project to determine just how much hill-walkers and mountaineers contribute to the rural economy in such areas and, more importantly, how much more could be contributed if modest, small-scale local and national projects were put in hand. As someone who visits the upland areas frequently as a day-tripper, I can drive into these areas, parking is free, I can go climbing or walking, and then go home again. We may then have a meal at the pub near my home. I am always conscious of the question: what have I contributed to that part of the Pennines or the Peak District in so doing?
I commend to the Government the paper produced by the British Mountaineering Council. It has already been presented to the National Access Forum for Wales. I shall be happy to provide the Minister with a copy. I ask him to give a. commitment that he will at least read it and respond to the BMC's proposals.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for introducing the debate. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough on his excellent maiden speech. It is good to have another person on these Benches who understands, and cares and speaks about, rural issues.
The dark shadow of foot and mouth is still present. The Prime Minister has talked about it having a silver lining. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough spoke about the work of the ARC-Addington fund in terms of the financial help that it has brought to many people in desperate straits. Such help will continue. ARC-Addington has also started a fodder bank which is helping to meet the needs of those who run out of supplies or are likely to do so very soon as a result of the movement restrictions and the desperate welfare problems still faced by many livestock farmers. The Church will continue to 611 maintain a presence and a ministry, even in the deepest countryside—a ministry increasingly shared between clergy and lay people.
What is needed is a strategy that recognises the interdependence of farming and local business and tourism. We need viable communities able to sustain schools, shops, pubs and social life. The strategy must allow some degree of continuity and stability. Farming works on a four- to seven-year cycle. It cannot survive without a steady, coherent government policy. The loss of expertise and skill over recent years has been deeply serious: 41,000 people left the farming industry in the two years before foot and mouth struck. In almost every case that represented an individual personal tragedy involving a sense of failure and betrayal of a tradition stretching back over generations. The personal human cost of that change has been very high and is seldom recognised.
I fervently hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that the Government do indeed have a strategy or at the very least that they intend to have a strategy. The rural White Paper was alarmingly vague about the strategy for farming, and recent signs have been distinctly mixed. The Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, spoke honeyed words at the conference to which the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, referred and at which I was present. However, her speech did not compare favourably with that given by the German Minister, Renata Kunast, which was clear, coherent, passionate and highly specific, inspiring confidence that she knows how to navigate the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Brussels. I am not sure that our own Government have those skills.
Yet although the words at the conference were encouraging—and other speakers have referred to "encouraging" statements by the Government—at the Labour Party conference there was what was received by the farming community as an abrasive, even hostile, catalogue delivered by the Secretary of State of criticisms of farmers, of their unwillingness to change, and of their obsession with—believe it or not—high prices for food. How ironic, and how profoundly unfair, with farm gate prices at their lowest in real terms for generations and general popular spending on food less than half in percentage terms of income compared with 40 years ago. How can the Minister talk about high prices and criticise farmers for not being willing to change when most of them have been changing as fast as they can in recent years?
Certainly, we need more change. We need a tripling of organic production. Those noble Lords who were up with the lark this morning listening to "Farming Today" will have heard a wonderful item about organic cider in Herefordshire. But let us have a tripling of all kinds of organic production, more energy crops—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, as usual—but also the generating capacity to make use of them if they are for energy generation; more emphasis on integrated crop management; truly intelligent farming; and consistently high animal welfare standards. In addition, I beg for a menu of environmental and social benefits into which farmers 612 can buy, according to a sliding scale of easily intelligible and carefully targeted financial support. We need countryside stewardship for everyone, without the hurdles that must presently be jumped in order to get into such schemes.
There are many excellent farmers—imaginative, highly skilled and extremely hard-working. Many care deeply about social and environmental benefits. Last week, I had the privilege to be present at the Silver Lapwing Award ceremony where three farmers received rewards for splendid performance for farming commercially but with excellent environmental results. There are farmers who are willing to change and willing to work. We must have a strategy. I hope that the Minister will give us real assurances about that.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Plumb
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the right reverend Prelate and to listen to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough.
I thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood for initiating the debate and I thank those who have spoken for their broadmindedness in looking at the whole situation while we await the report of the Rural Task Force. Obviously the full impact on rural businesses following foot and mouth and the dramatic fall in income for farmers, tourism and all who live in the countryside will take time to become apparent as debts increase. Some estimates show a figure in excess of £3 billion and a survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche shows a fall in profits of £2,500 a year for an average 500-acre farm.
It is a tribute to many farmers that they have trimmed their costs in order to live, but there is no room for investment. I follow five generations of farmers. I have not seen a time like this in my memory of farming, and the motto of my family is, "You will leave this earth in better shape than you found it". We find that difficult to accept at this time.
Both the arable and livestock sectors of farming are existing on subsistence returns, and for many the future looks bleak. However, 15 days without an outbreak of foot and mouth disease is a relief and a hopeful sign. When the Minister replies, can he say, in reply to the question of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, what action the Government will take to ease the animal welfare problem that will become apparent in the next few weeks and months? It must be realised that cattle require housing, bedding and fodder and that although the RSPCA, the Addington Farm, the RABI and other charitable organisations are doing their best financially to help areas of need, a hard winter can create real problems for stock and for stock keepers. Now is the time, I submit, for the Government to give help in addition to that voluntary help.
Before the committees of inquiry which are sitting issue their reports, will the Government give an assurance that they are willing to stop imports of meat from countries where foot and mouth disease exists? Over the past two and a half years, 37,000 tonnes of pig 613 meat have come in from 26 countries where foot and mouth disease exists or is endemic. The phyto-sanitary measures do exist, as approved by the World Trade Organisation, but we should surely take some stringent food security measures, as is done in Australia and the United States of America. I know that measures have been taken but they are not tough enough. That is the only way that we can move towards satisfaction in the future.
In the wider field the reasons why the economic fortunes of British agriculture are tied to the exchange rate are well rehearsed. In the past five years farmers were eligible for more than £2 billion in compensation, while only £783 million has been paid out. Fifty-seven million pounds is currently available for the arable sector: that is, if it is applied for before the end of this month. The system is destined to cease at the end of this year. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood said, it ought not to be necessary. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will at least apply for the amount due before it is too late?
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for introducing the debate but I challenge the first point that he made. I think that agriculture has been, and is, the basic occupation of the countryside. I should like to see the noble Lord's evidence that in the 17th and 18th centuries this was not so. The fact remains that one of the most important things that any government can and must do is to feed their people, and if they are going to do so they must ensure food security. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, is not in his place because he made that point very strongly; and in case he was short of a political party, I was going to offer him a place on these Benches. I should like also to welcome the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough. It is good to have another clerical voice in this Chamber speaking such sensible words.
Having made my first point, which is that agriculture is central to the countryside and that all the other things by way of adding to it are useful, helpful and worthy in their own right but are not central to the main point, I need to make my second point. The way to improve rural life is to repopulate it with working people. That means far more farms and smaller farms. More farms mean more food produced per acre and more food per person working on them. The one important area where more is not produced is per pound invested. That is one of the places where we have gone wrong over the years. These days that is always ignored in favour of monetary capital. The most important factors are food per acre and food per person, particularly if the land is looked after, as it always is, by small farmers who have their emotional capital invested in the countryside in a way that the big farms which are run by companies in London do not.
The solution for producing more farms and more farmers is obvious, though not simple to provide. It is to abandon the doctrine of free trade, which is a con trick thought up by Liberal politicians, I regret to say, 614 to feed the urban masses cheaply at the expense of the farmers. Such bribes always bring in their wake a vengeance, and we have vengeance at the moment. It is that farmers are suffering, the countryside is suffering and we are all suffering. We must turn back from our tracks.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, your Lordships are aware of the great problems caused by foot and mouth disease, particularly to the tourist industry. Indeed, those problems have been referred to by more than one speaker. I wish to draw attention to the particular additional difficulties being experienced in the North East of England, and in doing so I declare an interest as vice-president of the Northumbria Tourist Board.
Tourism in the region generates in excess of £1.5 billion and employs more than 60,000 people, which is seven per cent of the area's workforce. I have drawn attention many times in your Lordships' House and in another place to the fact that the North East continues to have the highest rate of unemployment in the United Kingdom. I say "continues" because the region has had the highest rate of unemployment—ever since such statistics were first compiled. The devastation of coalmining, shipbuilding and the steel industry were blows from which we all knew it would take years to recover.
Tourism is now at the heart of the North East's economy. Then came foot and mouth disease, which was a serious setback to the progress which had been achieved. Then came a second calamity—the resurgence of foot and mouth disease which, as your Lordships will know, is centred in Northumberland and Durham. So the fight has begun all over again. Although tremendous efforts have been made by the Northumbria Tourist Board and many other organisations in the region, it is essential that the Government should increase their contribution to the area's recovery. Can they, for example, make much more use of Section 10 of the Development of Tourism Act to develop and improve hotels in the region? We believe that our assets, character, identity and culture are different from those of other areas. I hesitate to say that they are better but they are certainly different and are worthy of maximum assistance from the Government in retaining that character.
To recover from the two body blows which I have described there will need to be large-scale advertising and large-scale marketing campaigns, both of which will be expensive. I have spoken of special problems affecting tourism in the North East. I hope that the Government appreciate, therefore, that special and urgent measures are necessary to deal with them.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Vinson
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow so many knowledgeable speakers. I should declare a particular interest in the subject in that I farm in Northumberland, a county that has been badly hit 615 by foot and mouth and I am also a past chairman of the Rural Development Commission which has now been absorbed into the Countryside Agency.
I wish to make two points. The first reiterates one made by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb. I suggest that before any programme for rural economic regeneration is introduced the first thing to do is to take steps to prevent a further outbreak of foot and mouth. The present outbreak was not caused by some poor pig farmer feeding swill. There is nothing inherently wrong in feeding swill. Indeed, to throw away millions of tonnes of food that is good enough for humans and say that it is not good enough for pigs makes a nonsense of all the arguments for recycling.
The fact remains that we have a damaging, sloppy and ineffectual meat import policy which allows the importation of contaminated meat from countries that have endemic foot and mouth, or have it without owning up to it. Unless rigorous controls are introduced, undoubtedly we shall face a further foot and mouth disease epidemic 'ere long. It would be a waste of time to introduce a programme of rural regeneration until we have closed the door to contaminated meat imports. I hope we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that steps are being taken to achieve that.
When I was chairman of the Rural Development Commission we were able to introduce a number of measures to encourage indigenous enterprise, many of which are still in place and are just as important today. However, in pursuing those policies we were deeply aware that the changes they helped introduce were only peripheral to the huge and underlying economic impact of national and EU policies. The real issues, like anywhere else, remain employment laws, the cost of fuel, the rate of exchange, et cetera. One must be careful not to advocate headline grabbing but merely tokenist measures that are basically ineffectual. Village appraisals and post buses are peripheral matters.
Any strategy to help rural areas—this is my second point—needs to differentiate between those parts of the country where alternative businesses such as home computing and local markets stand a reasonable chance of success and those more deeply rural parts of the country where the basic economy will have to continue to rely on agriculture—areas where tourism is already up to capacity. I was delighted to see that the Minister in the other place, Mrs Beckett, endorsed that in a speech the other day when she said:I recognise the role of agriculture within the rural economy. It remains and will always remain the case that agriculture is a vital, even essential, ingredient in its life and prosperity".That is so true of that great industry.
The problem with our agriculture and, indeed, with agriculture world-wide is one caused by overproduction, and in our case over-production exacerbated by an over-valued pound. Overproduction has led to the collapse of prices worldwide, prices that do not reflect in any sense the world median cost of production but are dumped market clearing prices in practically all instances.
616 The major question remains of how to bring supply and demand into balance, both nationally and internationally. But meanwhile governments worldwide are subsidising their agriculture to prevent it going bankrupt in order to ensure next year's supply of food. I quote from the Farmers Weekly:President George Bush this week signed off another emergency package for his country's beleaguered farmers—the fourth bailout in as many years … The latest pay out means that the US have spent over 30 million dollars (that is over 21 million pounds) in four years in emergency farm support".The fact remains that currently one either has to have subsidised agriculture or no agriculture. If food is being sold below the cost of production, it is not unreasonable to ask "Who is subsidising whom?" Is such support aimed at reducing farm output so that supply and demand come more naturally into balance? If we wish to have a sustainable rural economy, we have to have sustainable farm incomes. I hope that this key factor will be at the heart of any plan for rural regeneration.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, the Secretary of State in another place used to have a Lincolnshire seat. However, she lost it and it is depressing and quite frightening that she now believes that farming is an optional extra in the countryside today. It was No. 5 in the list of priorities which she mentioned in her speech at the Labour Party conference. As the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said, I fear that she will lose out in the next round of agricultural spending. I doubt whether we shall get the extra money available under the agricultural money scheme. The Chancellor is bound to get his own back on farmers in the near future.
The rural economy today can be transformed only if there is a more flexible planning system—for example, using old farm buildings to accommodate tourists, or even office blocks. I hope that the Minister realises that DEFRA does not have the right to be consulted on planning applications. That is an anomaly when farmers are being asked to diversify. The Minister, when replying to debates, gives us all kinds of answers, but I am afraid that there is little follow-up. I hope that he will follow up that point about DEFRA and planning applications.
The Government seem to believe that there will be a major shift in the common agricultural policy. The lobby in France and Germany is less strong and less vociferous than it was, but things will change slowly. We shall certainly see in this country a shift from headage payments to acreage payments. However, I was impressed when I got in touch with the local agricultural college in Leicestershire to discover that, despite all the problems of zero farm incomes, the number of people applying to Brooksby Agricultural College is greater than at any time over the past three years. Young people believe that they can turn this country round. Farmers must continue to add value to their own products and sell them to the customer either wholesale or retail. What we must avoid is a subsidised theme park. We must be certain that taxpayers' money is used in a way that Whitehall believes might be useful.
617 Over the past eight months the Daily Telegraph has kept us informed about the spread of foot and mouth. It has not always been easy. DEFRA has been on strike in Nottingham and, previously, in Northumberland. I had hoped that the Secretary of State might have given better leadership. However, for the past 15 days there has been no mention in the Daily Telegraph of foot and mouth. We are grateful for the way in which it has kept the matter in the public eye.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord Taverne
My Lords, I address one narrow point: the relevance to the future of the countryside of organic farming. My points are my own and not those of my party because I want to challenge the common view that organic farming should be encouraged. I am sorry to differ in that respect from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, for whom I have immense respect.
Organic farming originated in the mystical, back-to-nature philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who had some unsavoury followers in Germany. It has developed since then, but, as was made clear by the evidence given to the House of Lords Select Committee on Organic Farming, it is still not based on science. Even its supporters acknowledged that anyone looking for logic should not look to the rules of the Soil Association or the UK Register of Organic Food Standards. Those rules are fundamentally illogical and contradictory. They allow the use of some highly toxic inorganic compounds, such as copper sulphate, as well as spraying with the pesticide bacillus thuringiensis, to which the Soil Association violently objects when its gene is inserted into a plant by gene splicing.
It seems that people buy organic food because they believe that it tastes better, is safer and is better for the environment. That is why they are willing to pay a large premium. Blind tests do not bear out the claim that organic food tastes better. Because it has a short shelf-life, it is fresher than most conventional foods and fresher food tastes better, but it was not found to taste better than fresh conventional food.
The Food Standards Agency has examined claims that organic food is safer, but found no evidence that it is. In fact, articles in Nature have cited evidence that it can be less safe. There are special risks stemming from the fact that organic farming uses animal waste as fertiliser, which can be a reservoir of enteric pathogens. It has certainly not been as thoroughly tested as conventional food—or, for that matter, genetically modified food.
The main claim is that organic food is better for the environment. Many people take up organic farming for admirable reasons because they care for the environment. They set out to manage their farms in an environmentally friendly way. It is not surprising that they achieve good environmental results. However, conventional farms that are managed to be environmentally friendly achieve equally good results at lower costs. That was the clear evidence to the Select Committee of the Institute of Arable Crops Research.
618 The most thorough study—the Boarded Barns study in Essex—showed that, compared with organic farming, integrated crop management was better for promoting biodiversity and at least as good for bird life, soil quality and mammal and insect life. It was also less costly and used less energy.
However, even if organic farming is based on gobbledegook and does not achieve the results that are claimed for it, should it not be encouraged because it is more profitable? First, there is no merit in promoting more expensive food if it has no special qualities. The vocal middle class might not mind paying extra, but poor people need cheap food. Secondly, it makes no economic sense to base future agriculture on inefficient production with higher costs. If supply increases, prices will come down, as they already have for organic milk, and many organic producers could soon be left struggling.
If we based our policy on science, not on mysticism, if we looked at evidence and ignored fashion, false alarms and hypes, we would end subsidies for conversion to organic farming and support integrated crop management instead. We should not spend money on an inefficient form of farming and an inefficient use of land whose main claims have not been substantiated.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Elliott of Morpeth
My Lords, my noble friend has opened this most important debate with his usual ability at a very appropriate time. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough on his speech; he happens to be my Bishop. I thought that his contribution was extremely good and very thoughtful. I hope that we shall hear many more contributions from him in the future.
A number of areas of the country have been badly hammered by the foot and mouth outbreak—none more so than Northumberland, which I know well and where I farmed for many years. The news in recent days that the outbreak may well be over is most welcome. I very much hope that movement restrictions in the north of the country can be lifted. There is an urgent problem of stock presently on higher ground facing starvation through movement restriction.
Contributors to the debate have rightly sought to emphasise the need for a long-term strategy for the country as a whole. In that regard, I very much welcome the formation in recent days of a task force in the North East of England. A number of eminent people have agreed to serve on it and a number of eminent organisations are taking part, including the tourist board.
There is no doubt that the foot and mouth outbreak has been desperately difficult for many people in Northumberland, many of whom I know personally. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, talked about tourism. It was announced this week that the Roman wall in Northumberland, which is probably our major tourist attraction in the north of the country, had 70,000 fewer visitors in the past summer than in the summer before. That is the measure of the effects of foot and mouth.
619 A long-term strategy is very important, but I shall concentrate on the immediate short-term problems of farming. The viability of farms has long depended a great deal on their size. There was a time when it was considered in the north of England that 100 acres and a pair of horses would keep a man. That is a long time ago. Just after the Second World War, that figure had risen to 400 acres, with much greater use of machinery. I contend that a tenant farmer now would have to work very hard to make a living from that size of holding. If the recent proposed European Physical Agents Directive, which would limit the time that a man can spend on a tractor to two or three hours a day, is implemented, it will be impossible to make a living from that acreage.
The future of farming falls under three categories. The immediate problems for larger farms are fewer than for smaller ones. I know of a well organised and efficiently run estate in the north-east of Scotland. When grants were available, they were used wisely. Old buildings were replaced by modern ones and fields were made into workable sizes. There was also some diversification through forestry and sport—shooting and fishing. Larger farms have fewer problems than smaller ones.
In the second category are holdings that have been in the same family for generations. For such farms, the problems of heavy mortgages are way in the past.
The third category, particularly tenant farmers, is the most difficult one. Like the right reverend Prelate, I fear for their future. Their holdings are often too small and co-operation is highly desirable. Years ago, as an officer of a county branch of the National Farmers Union, I chaired a committee that looked into the possibility of co-operation on the sharing of machinery and co-operative buying. We did not have great success, but co-operation in those areas is still very important. I very much hope that they can be looked into in the longer-term strategy that we hope will be developed.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for initiating the debate. I declare an interest on several counts. I live in an area of the countryside that has been infected with foot and mouth and I farm. I have a small riding centre to help give tourists and locals a recreation pursuit and I have recently been a victim of rural crime.
The complex foot and mouth disease regulations have made life extremely difficult. My pedigree Texil rams remain unsold. I was allowed to have some ram lambs carried across a river, but not taken a few yards down a road in a trailer. Yet strange people with dogs can walk along footpaths through fields on either side of, and crossing, the road, and often their dogs are off the lead. Small farmers feel bewildered and frustrated over that. Many of them depended on supplementing their income by providing bed and breakfast accommodation, but that has been virtually nonexistent over the past eight months.
620 Recently I attended a conference in Settle on the subject of stress in farming. I know that people still living with their stock, which must be fed through the winter, are worse off than those who have had their stock culled. There is much insecurity. The very wet weather over the past year has added to the bleak depression that surrounds the farming industry in the North of England.
My riding centre has been broken into over the years on several occasions. We have security lights, alarms and double locks, which add to the expense of shoeing, vets' bills, staff and fodder. My handbag vanished two weeks ago in Masham town hall. Nothing that was in it has been found. My diary was in the bag. The entry for Monday, 15th October, read: "Back in the House of Lords". Our house was burgled with three people in it at about 8 p.m. on Monday. They used a jemmy to prise open a window.
We have no local police in Masham. The police house stands empty. When I was giving details of the contents of my bag to a policeman from Ripon the day after it was stolen, he was called away to a rape case involving a 15 year-old girl in the village of Masham. Rural crime is on the increase. I was told that the police were short-staffed, with many off sick. This deteriorating situation does not help the recovery of the countryside, tourism and rural businesses. The changing situation and the increase in drug abuse without enough crime prevention facilities makes the countryside a dangerous place in which to live.
I hope that the Government will help and support the countryside so that good morale returns to the police and country dwellers and so that, once more, England's green and pleasant land will flourish.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood for enabling us to have this debate. I start by declaring two interests in this area, both of which are unpaid. I am patron both of the Tourism for All Consortium and of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain. I shall concentrate my few remarks today on tourism matters.
Increasingly, tourism is seen as part of the answer to supporting a rural economy and its communities. When handled sensitively, tourism can also be a truly creative force in conserving the rural heritage, biodiversity and the landscape on which it depends. However, as others have mentioned today, the tourism industry faces an unprecedented situation—a drop of 20 per cent in business this year. Of course, that is due to the cumulative effect of the foot and mouth outbreak since March and the terrorism attacks in America last month. The Government's response to the crisis caused by foot and mouth was tardy, confusing and inadequate.
I recognise that the Government now face a very difficult task in helping the tourism industry to launch a recovery strategy in the face of the loss of business caused by the unprecedented terrorism in the United States. The Government will receive my support for measures which make reasonable attempts to address this further crisis.
621 The total losses to tourism this year from foot and mouth are estimated to be £4.2 billion. The terrorist attacks are expected to cause a further loss to tourism of £1 billion this year. By the end of the year, we can expect to see 3,000 small tourism businesses under threat of failure. The Tourism Minister has said that we should market our way out of this crisis and that the domestic market is the way to go. I believe that he may well be right in that, but it is not the whole picture; nor is it an easy solution. It will require commitment from central government, local government, all the tourism boards at every level and the tourism industry itself.
However, one commitment could be made by the Government immediately. They could seize this opportunity to restore to the English Tourism Council its marketing remit. I believe that it is the right time to do so. The industry is not one to whinge about its ills. It states clearly what its problems are and then tries to get on with solving them itself wherever possible. But sometimes it cannot do so all alone.
In August I was interested to read the report, Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside. It is a five-year blueprint for the recovery of rural tourism, produced jointly by the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency. I ask today: what is the Government's response to that report? Do they agree with me that it offers a sound, visionary way forward for the countryside?
The report makes it clear that diversifying to tourism from farming is not always quite as easy as the Government like to make out. We must recognise that diversification to tourism is not always possible or even desirable in some locations. As my noble friend Lord Vinson pointed out, market saturation may already exist where tourism is a mature business. Of course, in areas as yet almost untouched by tourism, diversification must always be handled sensitively.
Furthermore, the promotion of special attractions in remote areas may need help with infrastructure costs, such as transport improvements. Visitors have high expectations of the variety of events and activities which should be available to them and their families within a reasonable distance of their accommodation. Tourism businesses are inter-dependent to a great extent. They cannot be created overnight in areas where farming can no longer be the business of first choice.
However, the question that I ask today is: what happens to that ETC and Countryside Agency strategy now? Its implementation will require a whole range of organisations and enterprises to be involved, and it requires proper funding. At the moment, the ETC is not funded or staffed to tackle such an undertaking. I hope that the Minister is able to give today the undertaking that the Government will make such funds available.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell-Savours
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on bringing forward this debate today. Like him, I live in the county of 622 Cumbria. I myself live in Keswick, at the foot of Skiddaw, surrounded by hill and sheep farmers and various areas of tourism.
I want to bring two very simple messages to the debate today. They are based on my experience of counselling and advising a large number of people during the early months of the foot and mouth crisis at the beginning of the year. What came ringing through in all the conversations that I had was the feeling, particularly among the farming community, that MAFF—as it was at that stage—was simply not equipped or prepared to deal with the scale of the crisis. Furthermore, MAFF was not revealing to Ministers or officials at a regional level the full story as to the scale of the escalating crisis. The message that MAFF gave to Ministers through the Civil Service structures by way of Page Street was totally at variance with the message that we, as Members of the other place, were bringing directly to Ministers.
I do not say that that was characteristic of MAFF over many years. MAFF in the county of Cumbria has provided an excellent and superb service. But the reality, irrespective of government, if I may say so, was that at that stage the Civil Service was simply not competent or capable of dealing with the scale of the problem.
My first message is: let us be absolutely sure that the officials involved in providing a service by MAFF within areas of the United Kingdom affected by crises of a similar nature in the future understand quite clearly that they have a duty and a responsibility to reveal to Ministers at art early stage what is happening in those areas. In the case of foot and mouth, my own view is that, if the department had been alerted earlier with accurate information, many millions of pounds of public money, yet to be spent, would have been saved.
The second message that I want to bring relates to the tourist industry. I believe that the Government were absolutely right to appoint the North West Development Agency as the lead agency to deal with the problems in Cumbria. Following representations by a large number of individuals, including myself, measures were brought in on marketing and IT, as was an interest-rate subsidy. Such measures were of help to many people within the tourist industry. The problem is that the crisis is changing. Instead of being a short-term crisis it has now become a medium-term and perhaps even a long-term crisis for the tourist industry.
The demands of the tourist industry are changing and will continue to change. A subsidy regime was introduced to help the industry. The local authority subsidies and, in particular, those brought in by the North West Development Agency, need to be modified to include expenditure on refurbishment and perhaps support for people who are in arrears with VAT, PAYE or, indeed, mortgage payments. Consideration should be given to that matter.
I understand that the report by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, will be published tomorrow. Perhaps I may say that his was an excellent appointment. I was pleased when I saw news of his appointment on the television screens outside both Houses. I had dealings 623 with the noble Lord some five or six years ago on the agriculture Bill and felt confident then that he would come up with the right solutions.
I plead with Government to find the money to implement all of his recommendations, irrespective of what they are.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, I must declare a lifetime interest in tourism, the rural economy and particularly built heritage, which is suffering from a severe decline in visitors as a result of the crises. It is particularly important to acknowledge that most of Britain's heritage and landscape is man made, evolved over centuries, moulded by good husbandry and by subsequent creation of fine buildings and gardens.
Britain's historic buildings and the heritage of its towns are at the heart of our appeal to tourists from overseas. Indeed, 40 per cent of all our tourist accommodation is in the countryside. Even before foot and mouth, it was accepted by all that tourist income maintained the viability of our green and pleasant land. Initially the crisis was considered to affect only our agriculture, but through short-sightedness, the Government did not foresee the immediate and devastating effect the message that "our countryside is closed" would have on tourism.
Tourism is worth four times as much as agriculture as a national earner, and directly employs more than four times as many people. For many years it has received relatively little recognition and only grudging assistance from government. By the end of March, even the Prime Minister was asking people to go back to the countryside. Most tourism businesses have high fixed costs. Tourist venues cost as much to open for one visitor as for 1,000. Consequently, the dramatic fall in admissions has caused immediate local economic difficulties and closures, cancelled repair and conservation projects, and caused staff to be laid off just as the summer season began.
The lost income from the missing visitors was more than the difference between marginal profitability and survival, or the threat of closure. The rural economy is fragile, as is Britain's tourist appeal. Such schemes of assistance that were finally offered by the Government came too late and offered too little.
For many farmers, who are desperately seeking to supplement their income, tourism has been seen as a potential saviour. But here, the voice of caution should be heard. Diversification into tourism should not be lightly undertaken. It should be competently marketed and developed otherwise they will succeed only in weakening the tourist industry and cutting the tourist cake too thin.
Most rural tourism businesses are considered "micro businesses". For rural tourism to thrive, it is essential that the inherent fragmentation of the industry is overcome. There needs to be good marketing and perhaps better information to entice visitors. We certainly need to give more assistance to the regional tourist boards in fertilising the ground.
624 The faltering ability of the industry to respond in the face of recent crises has brought into the spotlight one particular failure of recent government policy. I refer to the decision to strip the slimmed-down English Tourism Council of the marketing remit exercised by its predecessor, the English Tourist Board. In times of need, DCMS had to look to ETC to act, which, when set up, was specifically excluded from a marketing role. The need to reinstate the central marketing role is urgent, especially now that the domestic market is of even greater importance until the international circumstances revert to normality.
As ever, we should congratulate the BTA on the leadership it has shown in overseas marketing and in working with the industry to overcome extreme circumstances. We must ask, however, what is the evidence of the Government's commitment to tourism, especially given the benefits it surely brings to Great Britain. We are aware that the Government are consulting the industry through a variety of newly-established groups, cabinets, task forces, summits, and other miscellaneous entities. Unfortunately, at present it seems to be only talk.
Just before the election the House of Commons Select Committee published a report on tourism, which states:Recent developments have exposed the problems brought about by the failure of successive Governments to invest in the promotion of tourism appropriate to the structure of the industry and to the revenue benefits to the public purse …There is also a compelling case for a fundamental reconsideration of the scale and nature of public sector support for the tourist industry".Following the election, we have a new Minister who I gather is consulting industry widely to better understand its needs. So far the solidarity and support has been characterised by his insulting and ill-judged remarks such as, "the industry pays slave wages", that Britain's tourism lives up to its "Fawlty Towers" image, and that its participants are either lacking in vision and ability or are profiteers.
Does the Minister agree with those remarks by the Minister for Tourism?
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, this debate, and others like it, may put little pinpricks in the shrink-wrapped soul of government before it is microwaved by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and others.
We are facing fundamental social and economic changes where a few ghosts must be laid to rest. First, I have always wondered why so many people believe that the ruling classes are wealthy and landed and live in the country. Perhaps the St George on the Bench opposite may stop tilting at dragons and concentrate upon others. Today the ruling class lives in Islington in a house worth £1 million. He pays his labour four times as much as someone in the country and could probably swap that house for 500 acres of land. He would like to have 500 acres of land as well, with white posts around it, non-productive agriculture, the right to ride go-karts with his children, and to keep horses.
625 The changes through which we have gone began with the flight from the land to industry. Then there was the flight from industry, but to where? What is the basis of our economy now? We have no industry left in the manufacturing sector. Even the great GEC seems to have disappeared almost without trace. Upon what is the future economy of the United Kingdom to be based? Should it be based upon subsidy or grants? Should it be based upon the increased value of property that has reached exorbitant heights, or upon people?
The ruling classes, as they were called—I was never privileged enough to belong to them—were peasants. A peasant is someone of any class who lives and works in the country and earns his subsistence through himself and his family; in short, a small family business. lf we look at the rural areas, we see that the flight from the land has led to only 10 per cent of people in the United Kingdom living in the country. One hundred and ninety-two countries in the world have a greater proportion of their people living in the country than we do.
The problem in the country is de-population and lack of productivity. There may be all sorts of problems connected to that. However, we should encourage more people to live and work in the country. That leads to certain measures which governments may or may not take. The Government will probably not now agree to do what I suggest. The whole of the rural area of the United Kingdom is effectively classified as a special development area. Compared to other parts of the European Union, it desperately needs support.
First, the Government should introduce tax holidays for all those who live in a designated rural area. We could draw a map of that area, should it be necessary. Secondly, they should remove road tax from any vehicles belonging to people who live in such a rural area. That has been done in France. It should be noted that anyone living in a rural area pays far more in fuel tax than the cost of a road fund licence.
I turn to the desire for outsourcing, the creation of SOHOs (small offices, home offices) and the encouragement from t hose in inner cities to outsource, which is perfectly possible, in this age of high technology. There are many things we can do, but I declare my interest as a peasant farmer within the EU. I have just received my first grant from the EU for replanting vines. There is hope that we peasants will stick together; otherwise, what happened 620 years ago—now re-emerging under the Countryside Alliance—the peasants' revolt, may come again.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Williamson of Horton
My Lords, this is a very necessary debate as we can see from the number of speakers. It is also sad that we have to keep returning to the recovery of the countryside and rural business because the situation remains so serious. This debate is drawn very widely, as it should be, because we have to cover all the fabric of rural life. Recent events have shown very dramatically how the problems of 626 agriculture quickly become the problems of many other businesses—travel and tourism. I declare my own interest as a director of Whitbread that has a large hotel and restaurant business across the United Kingdom.
I wish to pose three questions. First, following the disasters of BSE and foot and mouth, what of the future perspective for the control of significant animal disease if it recurs? The British Tourist Authority and the English Tourism Council are doing a very good job. But we have to concentrate heavily on campaigning against negative perceptions related to animal disease. Secondly, how do we build into our strategy on a longer-term basis the role of farmers as guarantors of the environment, the landscape and the support we give them in that role? Thirdly, what should be the future thrust of policy for rural development that must cover rural businesses and rural amenities? It may cover, but it must go much wider than, the traditional three Ps—pubs, post offices and preachers—that most of us hope to see in our villages.
The answers are more difficult. First, I deal with the future control of animal disease. I give it priority because we have seen how much the country—not just the countryside—has been damaged by BSE and foot and mouth. We have had the excellent Phillips report that gives lessons for the control of health risks to animal and man in the future. We need to draw upon those lessons. There are a lot of positive elements. One thing that is clear, and it is a very had conclusion, is that we passed a number of laws that were not rigorously respected. As the Phillips committee dramatically puts it,some members of the feeds trade, being given an inch. felt free to take a yard".We can eliminate BSE from the cattle herd, but we need to take account of the bitter lesson that full enforcement, not half enforcement, is an essential element of disease control. On foot and mouth, we need, in letters of fire somewhere, two words only, "Never again". I am pleased that there are the inquiries by Dr Anderson and the Royal Society. We need to concentrate on how we can improve our import vigilance—a number of noble Lords have referred to this point—and how we can limit the disease risk from livestock markets.
Those are key points for the control of animal disease. As to the environment and the rural landscape, all my life I have been deliberately and resolutely attached to the view that farming—above all, farmers—are exercising an economic activity. We need to put much greater emphasis now on the second aspect, the guardianship of the land, the landscape and encouraging projects such as the Country Stewardship Scheme which introduced 14,000 schemes. I like the idea of a menu of schemes of the kind mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. That is the way forward.
We need active support for rural development projects. We need maximum devolution to the regions. Above all, in the present difficult situation, we need to be quick on our feet to improve our capacity—regions, local services and private businesses together—to 627 offset the reduction in overseas, particularly US, visitors. More than four in five of the visitors to our rural areas are from our own country. We can increase that figure. Although this is a very serious crisis, it is a real challenge. I think we can make progress on that line. At the same time there are things we can do to diversify activity in the countryside that will help business and tourism; for example, the operation of the planning system, taxing businesses as one trading unit, and so on. There are things that can be done which would be helpful.
My conclusion is that we may be in a crisis situation but I console myself that the great potential of our rural businesses and landscape has not gone away.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, I declare my interest as a farmer or as a peasant, as my noble friend Lord Selsdon would have it, and as a serial diversifier. Therefore, I welcome the laudable aims of the Government White Paper last year, Our countryside, our future.
I concentrate on one particular point in that paper where the reality does not yet match the rhetoric. That is the matter of business rates and the problems they present to small businesses. I take an example on my own farm where I have converted some farm buildings into small workshops and business premises. There are about a dozen businesses, one of which started as a one-man band and is now employing 18 persons servicing the aerospace industry. They succeeded in spite of, rather than because of, the rural rates. I have several others, all start-ups, one-person operations. We have several women working there.
Without exception those businesses say that one of their biggest problems is the weight of the rural uniform business rate, levied at exactly the same rate as that levied on businesses in towns or business parks—around 43 pence in the £1. That seems to put a complete damper on enterprise. These people are risking their own time, energy, capital and belief in starting a small business that hopefully will develop to bring employment both directly and indirectly into the rural economy which is the aim of the rural White Paper.
For the rate they receive nothing at all. They receive no water, no rubbish collection, no sewerage, no electric light. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pointed out, they get extremely sketchy, if not nonexistent, police protection.
I welcome the commitment in the White Paper to examine ways of reducing the burden of business rates on small businesses. The rating Act 2001 was introduced to give some new relief to agricultural businesses, but that does not go nearly far enough. It gives rate relief only to buildings used for agriculture during six of the previous 12 months. It does nothing for people who want to start new businesses in existing converted agricultural buildings such as mine. There are many others around the country who must be in the same position.
628 Can the Minister confirm the proposals in the Green Paper issued last year called Modernising Local Government Finance to give special rate relief to all small businesses, both urban and rural, up to a rateable value of £8,000. On 28th February 2001 the junior Environment Minister, Beverley Hughes, replied in a Written Answer:Legislation to implement these proposals will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows. They are a significant contribution to realising the vision set out in the White Paper, 'Our countryside: the future'".—(Official Report, Commons, 28/02/01; col. 689W.)Hear, hear to that! Can the Minister tell the House in his reply or in a letter to me when the Government will introduce the necessary Bill to put these proposals into flesh? Perhaps the answer should not be "soon" which the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said early on, but rather more concrete than that.
§ 5.20 p.m.
Lord Carlile of Berriew
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, on enabling us to have this debate today. I declare an interest as the director of an agricultural feed manufacturing and merchanting company.
Not for the first time in debates on agricultural questions I find myself totally in agreement with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. He is absolutely right. A long-term solution is needed to the problems of farming and agricultural areas. In recent weeks we have seen the Prime Minister developing a creditable status as a world statesman. Is it not time that we saw our Minister of Agriculture, Mrs Beckett, in her new and enhanced role as Secretary of State for DEFRA similarly going about Europe ensuring that at long last we get a grip of the failed, discredited common agricultural policy.
For years the common agricultural policy has been not much more than a lifeboat which, from time to time, has assisted farmers from crisis to crisis. Foot and mouth has not been the first such crisis.
The principles are not difficult. The first requirement is that we should tear up the existing common agricultural policy. We should replace it with one which has, in my view, three clear principles. The first is that we should have adequate production of cheap food. Why has it not got through to policy makers that if food is cheap, people will buy and use more of it. That can only be in the interests of farmers and will encourage domestic consumption of domestic production.
The second principle of a new policy should be an enhanced environment. That will create more domestic tourism and, indeed, more foreign tourism throughout Europe. The third principle, in my view, is that there should be reasonable public access which will ensure that the urban and rural environments have greater understanding of each other's needs and requirements.
I hope therefore that the Minister will be able to tell us what new initiatives DEFRA has taken with a view to reforming the common agricultural policy.
629 The broad Arcadian landscape that I see from the Welsh hill on which I live is now physically divided as never before, on one side of our lane, for several miles, are sheep and cattle as far as the eye can see; the other side, for several miles, has not a single sheep, cow or bullock—they have all been killed as a result of foot and mouth. Unlike Arcadia, mid-Wales contains real people. The effect of what we see from our hill is reality for those people. It threatens the future of the schools, the churches, the pubs and all facets of village life.
We suggest to the Government that talking of glib solutions is no longer any good. In mid-Wales we had the Development Board for Rural Wales and have the Welsh Development Agency. They have done a great deal. We already have hotels; we have our love spoon manufacturers; we have bed and breakfast establishments; we have caravan sites; we have an unusual museum of sculpture and jewellery, some of which I have seen on the more exotic lapels of some noble Baronesses. We even have a village blacksmith who built the conjugal bed for the new marriage of somebody who is shortly to be joining this House.
So we need no lessons on the development of rural businesses. We need much more than that—the long-term solution of which the right reverend Prelate spoke. My plea therefore is that we stop this cycle of rescue situations for the farming industry. Let us bring some stability to the rural life of this country and let us ensure that farmers no longer feel the threatened species which they have become.
Finally, if the Government really want to demonstrate their commitment to helping the countryside, for heaven's sake leave off the trivia of hunting, at least in this parliamentary Session, and let us rebuild rural life.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Cavendish of Furness
My Lords, the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Inglewood for so ably introducing this debate. Especially valuable is the authority with which he speaks of agriculture in the context of the European Union. As always I declare an interest as chairman of a group of Cumbria-based companies concerned with land ownership, farming, forestry, construction, mineral extraction, tourism and National Hunt racing. I have a personal stake in all those companies.
With a slightly heavy heart I have to express my disappointment with the Government and I occupy precious time doing so because it is important. This is the fourth time I have intervened in debates about the countryside since the first outbreak of foot and mouth. During that time I have asked Ministers more than 12 questions, all of them, I like to think, constructive; all of them, as it seemed to me and others, needing answers. There has never been a single attempt to respond to those questions, either at the time or later in writing.
Perhaps a powerful Administration like this one, with a huge majority in another place, feels entitled to dispense with normal courtesies, and perhaps the contemptuous rudeness on the part of Ministers is 630 something we should learn to endure without extravagant distress. But that overlooks two important points. The first is that, in democratic societies it has always been the instinct of sensible politicians to lend a special ear to under-represented sectors of the population. That is done for reasons of common decency and to include those who might otherwise be excluded. This Government I fear appear to reject that instinct.
Secondly, I believe that Ministers in your Lordships' House have a right to expect that those of us who belong to opposition parties give at least a fair hearing to the Government when they are away from here, especially when the Government are seeking to deal with intractable problems of a non-partisan nature. The Minister should know that his apparent indifference, not to say hostility, to rural Britain makes that difficult for us.
In respect of the management of the foot and mouth crisis, the noble Lord, Lord Whiny, in a New Statesman interview, appeared to accept that mistakes were made. I do not know what the circulation of the New Statesman is in Cumbria—I suspect modest—but that sensible admission reinforces the need for a full public inquiry, not, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, to punish the Government, but so that next time (of course there will be a next time) a clear policy will be in place.
More than 1 million animals have been slaughtered in Cumbria, that is 44 per cent of the total killed; Devon is next with 8.5 per cent. In money terms, gross loss of agricultural output through slaughter, at the end of July, was just short of £130 million. Consequential losses amount to between £20 million and £30 million, which includes the support industry. In the current year it is estimated that tourism in Cumbria will have lost £200 million.
I have always argued that in essence recovery will come through our own efforts and by recognising the need to change—a point made by my noble friend Lord Ingleby. Those features are central to a document entitled First Steps: a proposal for a Cumbria Rural Action Zone: Draft Strategy, which is due to be launched this Friday. It is a powerful document and I pay tribute to the commitment or the many Cumbrians who contributed to it and to the leadership which emerged in the country which has led to a spirit of renaissance.
I commend the proposals to the Government, not because I endorse every syllable of them, but because they demonstrate that the spirit and the will to recover is very much alive. If the Government show themselves willing to foster that spirit, they do a great service to the countryside and to the country.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for instigating this debate. I declare an interest, as I have many times before, in that I had a farmed forest in the 1960s in Eskdalemuir, which I started on land which had been abandoned for 11 years before I came and the house 631 had been empty for 14. The incomes were really down so at that time there was no future in farming. The markets were in Lockerbie, Langtown and New Castleton. We had a D notice but fortunately it was removed during the foot and mouth period.
As a result, everyone is looking to the future. In that regard many suggestions have been made in this interesting debate. But obviously hill farmers are having to diversify into new areas like field sports, tourism, environment, fishing, shooting and so forth to add to their incomes. But that means, in the post foot and mouth era, segregation of the visitor from the farm factories; that is, the farmlands. Visitors do not wander through manufacturing factories with dogs. I take the point made by my noble friend Lady Masham, that if we are trying to farm, we should keep visitors separate—and that would require an urgent fencing grant—so that we can re-landscape the farming areas.
The Minister would do well to clarify the Government's attitude to country sports, such as fishing and shooting. Why should farmers invest in reorganising river banks, managing forests or planting copses, if, through a Private Member's Bill, they are unable to use that land for sporting purposes? A definitive statement from the House on this matter would be very helpful.
Consideration also needs to be given to the question of second homes, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, referred in a rather deprecating way. Second homes provide income to the region. Since 11th September many people have given consideration to their second homes perhaps becoming their first homes at some future date.
In addition, businesses are now looking to relocate to the regions. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, knows—I have previously asked him about it—they will require access to broadband Internet. Broadband communications are essential to the conversion of farm buildings to offices or new factories. If businesses do not have access to broadband communication, as they have in the City, they will not come to the regions, and we shall be left with a bed and breakfast economy, which will be left behind in a post-foot and mouth disease economy.
The same point applies to children in primary and secondary schools in the countryside. A lack of access to broadband communication, which this Government, when in Opposition, promised would be available throughout the nation, would result in children being discriminated against. That surely is not the intention. If we have to wait another 10 years for BT's ADSL, which I have commended to everybody in this House—BT say that it will not come to Dumfriesshire for at least 10 years—there will be no primary schools left in Dumfriesshire and no farmers in the hills and uplands of Dumfries and Galloway. The hill farmers will have walked off the land, as they did in the 1960s, and they will have to walk off again, for their future will be non-existent.
632 I have not seen IT put forward as one of the main points by the Countryside Alliance, the Country Landowners' Association or other similar organisations. They seem to have missed the point. People will not move to the country unless they have proper access to the Internet, on which they can conduct their business and from which they can get enjoyment. That access is not available today. It is required by schools, the police, hospitals, and individuals with second homes in the country who want to enjoy the same access. Where is it going to come from? It cannot come through cable. It must come through satellite access and through enlightened planning permission that allows people to put up dishes. It is essential that Ministers and civil servants should understand what broadband Internet communication is about. One sometimes despairs that that is not fully understood or appreciated when we debate countryside issues.
I hope that something positive will come out of this debate, rather than the rounded reassurances that we have so often had.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, as I have frequently done in the past, I address my remarks to the West Country and in particular to Devon, where I live and my wife farms.
Even in those parts of Devon that have been so devastated by foot and mouth disease, there is a huge resilience in the rural community and a determination to rebuild businesses and lives. Due to the sorry record of incompetence and mismanagement that has marred the efforts of MAFF and DEFRA to control the disease, the damage that must now be made good is far worse than it might have been. The Government therefore carry an even greater burden of responsibility to help the rural community to recover and rebuild.
What has been the Government's response to date? A paltry £11.5 million for assisting business recovery and a miserable £260,000 to help South West Tourism in the massive task of bringing tourists back to the rural areas of the South West; and that despite the fact that the South West is England's largest and most rural region and has been as badly affected by foot and mouth disease, Devon having had the second highest number of cases after Cumbria. Once again, we are the poor relations.
The South West has an agricultural output more than three times that of Wales and has had twice as many cases of foot and mouth disease. Yet Wales has had more than four times as much Government funding—£69 million, compared with a total of £16 million in the South West—for the foot and mouth disease recovery operation. That is the latest example of the way in which the rural English regions are disadvantaged compared with the devolved administrations. For tourism, Wales has £4.13 per head of population; the South West has just 26p. For economic development, Wales has £55.17 per head of population; the South West has just £18.77. For the 633 promotion and marketing of agriculture, food and drink following the foot and mouth outbreak—an area in respect of which we are in direct competition with our friends across the Bristol Channel—we receive just £250,000, compared with £18 million in Wales. Well done, Wales! But why no equality for the West Country?
Great plans are afoot in the South West to revive the rural economy on the back of the unparalleled beauty of our countryside and the unrivalled quality of our food. We shall shortly launch a chamber of rural enterprise to represent and take forward the entire land-based sector. In addition, there are proposals to set up an industry body to promote and market food and drink from the regions—an industry in which 3,000 businesses employ a total of 45,000 people; and a further 46,000 are employed in agriculture, where there is also huge potential.
If those initiatives are to succeed in injecting into our economy the confidence and cash that it needs, we must receive equivalent support to that enjoyed by our competitors. The response of the rural community to the challenge and the tragedy of foot and mouth disease has been as magnificent as the Government's has been mean. My message to Ministers is simple: country people in the South West are determined to lead the recovery, but it is vitally important that the Government should help them to help themselves.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for introducing this debate. The noble Lord made a number of excellent points, ably amplified by my noble friend Lord Carlile, about the external pressures of the WTO and CAP on the countryside and on agriculture.
I propose to concentrate on what we believe the Government should be doing. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough said in his excellent maiden speech, the Government are either still unclear about the purpose of the countryside or are giving mixed messages about it. The first thing that we need in a countryside strategy is a much clearer indication from the Government of what they believe the countryside is for. We need that message to be given by all Ministers at all times.
A successful government strategy must address three points. First, it must recognise the differences that exist in the countryside. The countryside is not an homogeneous place, a point made by my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Lords, Lord Vinson and Lord Selsdon. Secondly, it must recognise that any strategy needs to be a long-term strategy, a point made by a number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and my noble friend Lord Carlile. Thirdly, it needs to build on local and regional strengths. The Government must realise that one solution does not fit all.
I deal with the first point of recognising the differences, and I declare an interest as the Vice-President of the Council of National Parks. I speak 634 particularly for the upland hill and remote areas, because they are very different from the lowland areas and face very different pressures. Those areas have been hardest hit because of the link that we in this country have come to understand between hill farming and tourism; but I believe that those areas also offer unrivalled gains if the Government get it right.
I could spend the rest of my time reading out the 50 excellent recommendations of the task force for the hills, but I believe that the Minister and many other noble Lords will have that report. What is the Government's response to the report and when will they begin to act on its recommendations? There is no better starting place for dealing with upland areas than that report. The report deals, for example, with the reform of commons—and I do not mean the other place but the upland areas. They suffer from overgrazing and arcane legislation which often requires unanimity and makes difficult any application of the environmentally sensitive area criteria. However, a reformed commons regime could be a starting point and a vehicle for the co-operation of commoners for marketing their goods and working together. It could also bring big biodiversity gains. During the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, the Government stated that they were interested in bringing forward such legislation, but it has again disappeared over the horizon. In view of the importance of the countryside strategy, will the Minister tell the House whether there have been any discussions about bringing the legislation forward more urgently?
The noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Williamson of Horton, mentioned other reports. The Government have commissioned a number, many of which have contained excellent recommendations, but we have not seen their implementation. In fact, I cannot think of any which have been implemented in full or any in respect of which a good start has been made. I hope that any strategy will incorporate a firm timetable as regards the recommendations which the Government accept and their enactment.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out that the national parks are willing and able to be a blueprint for rural revival because they have the experience of a coordinated approach to planning, farming, biodiversity and housing. Each national park could haw different policies and solutions, but they will he what works in their areas. What is the Minister's view of the future role of national parks? If he cannot expand on that during the time available to him today, will he come back to the House with information at a later date?
I had wondered whether we would get through the entire debate without a reference to new technologies and I was most pleased to hear such points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. I believe that without proper investment in the kind of e-technology infrastructure which the Government envisage for urban areas, rural areas will be left in the kind of economic backwater experienced by those areas with no roads and railways at the end of the 19th century. Rural areas cannot make that investment themselves—not even regional government can do it 635 for itself—and it needs to come from national government. Will the Minister tell the House what initiatives the Government are taking to ensure that the private sector is involved? Will they put national funding into this important area?
Any strategy needs to be long-term. During the summer I travelled around and spoke to different organisations. One of the constant refrains related to the funding of pilot initiatives. Such funding is innovation-driven so that when a good scheme is no longer an innovation—usually after two or three years—the funding disappears. Good schemes which work manage only to get off the ground before their funding disappears. I believe that such funding could be less annually but available for a longer time.
The funding for the Rural Challenge, for example, was a good idea but a huge sum of money—£1 million—was given to schemes for only three years. The effect was that they have tended to be bricks-and-mortar-based and have often struggled to receive the necessary grass-roots community support. I believe that it would have been better for those schemes to have received £100,000 annually over 10 years and they would have succeeded in establishing community support more thoroughly.
The England Rural Development Plan offers the Government a good way of setting out their future funding. The Labour Party when it was in opposition and then newly in government stated that it was disgraceful that we had fallen so far down the European league in funding the second pillar of the CAP; that is, the pillar which allows us to have rural development instead of subsidy support. But where do we rank now? Is it more important to the Government; and if so, are they willing to invest more in that? I believe that that is the way forward.
The long-term view is also about young people. It is about education. Another sadness is that the national curriculum has no space for an imaginative use of the outdoors. I visited many outdoor centres during the summer and it is clearly one of the most memorable things school children do. However, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience because the constraints of the national curriculum make it impossible for such centres to offer more. The chairman of the Countryside Agency made a sad comment, stating that he did not believe it was possible to change the situation. If the Government are serious about links between urban and countryside areas and want to imbue children with a sense of outdoor excitement, they must start to build an imaginative national curriculum.
Can the Government build on the strength which exists and move away from the perception, which I somewhat share, of a centralist government who find it difficult to accommodate small populations, small businesses and small schemes? They need to allow different places to have different solutions, as have the devolved administrations.
In conclusion, I want to echo the plea for a public inquiry into foot and mouth. The disease has involved the loss of £5 billion of public money and the jobs and 636 futures of people across all communities, not only those of farmers. Alun Michael, in addressing the Local Government Association conference in Buxton, said that having a public inquiry would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. But I do not believe that the crisis was a nut—it was extremely expensive and it has brought the countryside further to its knees.
The three inquiries do not address the same issues as a public inquiry. First, three inquiries leave room for inconvenient decisions that were made at the time to slide down the gaps between them. Secondly, a public inquiry should at its best he a catalyst for wider change because everyone who suffered through the crisis and who gives evidence can have a stake in it; people can give evidence, hear the deliberations and understand the outcome. In that way they are signed up to future changes. At the moment they feel that they may be forced upon them in one way or another either by economic circumstance or the Government. Surely the Government would prefer to have a public inquiry which acted as such a catalyst and provided a more optimistic future for our countryside.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, I, too, want to thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood for introducing the debate today. His comments about the devastation which the foot and mouth outbreak has had on the Cumbrian community was reflected to me during my three-day visit there some 10 days ago. The farming industry has been in steep decline for the past four years. Some 48,000 jobs were lost between 1998–99 and 2000. Farm incomes are down by 75 per cent to a mere £2,500, or £50 a week, from an average of £80,000 in 1995–96. Those figures from Deloitte & Touche were referred to by my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
On top of that came the disastrous outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which has seen the killing of 5.6 million animals on some 2,030 infected premises. Dangerous contacts and contiguous culls meant that more than 9,500 premises had every living cloven animal slaughtered. Those figures do not include the 500,000 sheep killed in Cumbria in response to the voluntary cull, the 1 million lambs, which do not count at all, or the other half-million animals killed in the welfare cull. It is a national scandal. Others have reflected today that it shows sheer incompetence on the part of the former MAFF. No wonder my noble friend calls for a strategy of recovery to aid the countryside, tourism and rural business.
At this stage I should remind the House of my family's farming interests and my patronage of VIRSA, the Rural Stress Network and membership of other organisations listed in the register. All of those interests are unpaid.
I also welcome and congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough on his very thoughtful contribution. We look forward to hearing from him often in future debates. He reminded us today of the 18,000 families which had received help and the need for farmers to be profitable. I take this 637 opportunity to acknowledge the extra work undertaken by the Churches and members of their congregations throughout this crisis.
This month's report by Ferguson, Donelly and Anderson in Nature and Keeling and his colleagues in Science on the response to the foot and mouth outbreak makes interesting reading. To paraphrase, speed of action is paramount; the cull policies must be implemented much faster in any outbreak. Animal movements spread disease and the policy must ensure that movement bans are implemented faster in any future suspected outbreak. Vaccination needs to be considered in any policy on the control of animal diseases.
There is no doubt that the infection is coming to Britain from both third world countries and maybe EU sources. Unless procedures at points of entry are tightened up and adhered to, swine fever, foot and mouth and other such diseases will hit us again and again. A report on "Farming Today" on 6th October indicated that raw meat was still being brought into the UK in great quantities by visitors in personal luggage. I ask the Minister yet again what additional inspection procedures have been put in place since the outbreak. How many more inspectors are employed throughout the country at ports of entry? That question has remained unanswered since June.
We hear plenty about the need to reform CAP and move away from direct payments for food production. Perhaps more importantly we need to reform the European rules as to how, when and who may examine all kinds of food imports to ensure that the trade in, and the practice of, the illegal importation of suspect food products ceases immediately. How can the Government consider requiring farmers to insure against future diseases if they fail to shoulder their responsibility in these undertakings?
We have heard again today from my noble friends Lord Ferrers, Lord Cavendish and many others the call for a full public inquiry. I repeat that call. The Government must have a full public inquiry into this crisis. It is surely right that former Ministers and officials are cross-examined. We need to know how they came to the decisions they took and why they were implemented in the way they were. Surely, all we want are answers to make sure that in any future outbreak we benefit from hindsight in formulating a quick response leading to a less adverse impact on the people and animals affected. MAFF's mistakes in managing farmers and their families must never recur.
The foot and mouth outbreak has affected farmers directly. But many rural businesses have also been hit hard, as we have heard. None of us had realised the dependency on tourism for the health of the countryside. Overseas visitors were frightened to come to the UK, and some of those who intended to visit only the cities also cancelled. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, made a very important point in that connection.
My noble friend Lady Anelay predicted the loss of some £5.2 billion this year. A team booklet on British tourism reflects that in Cumbria alone 18 per cent of 638 its GDP comes from tourism, which relates to 25 per cent of jobs in that county. Clive Aslet, writing in the latest issue of The House Magazine, said:Cumbria has been a war zone that now needs the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to get it going".Other noble Lords have also referred to that today. In order to draw visitors back there must be a concerted effort both at home and abroad.
I have already mentioned reform of the CAP and the rules which govern the inspection of imports. But it is also obvious that in times of trouble individual regions or countries need to be able to impose special measures. It has become obvious that in normal times differences of culture, geography and custom and practice militate against: the imposition of continent-wide regulations. No lesser person than the Minister herself, in a speech to the CEA in Ireland last week, acknowledged that policies needed in northern Finland differed from those required in southern Greece.
Any future strategy to revive the countryside economy must consider the WTO and its probable forward direction. Unfortunately, that is likely to play down the importance of animal welfare and emphasise even greater free trade. Such developments are likely to be at cross-purposes with Britain's intentions on the environment, wildlife, fishing and other policies such as forestry.
Each nation must feed its people. For the first time for many years this country has suffered a major pestilence. No one denies that farming and horticulture will have to change in order to survive. They will be affected by the negotiations on CAP but must also respond to changes in the UK. There appears to be general agreement that farmers must work much more closely together, and the new farmers' markets are examples of that. But there is room for conventional, organic, specialist and niche markets, as other noble Lords have pointed out.
Rural business should be about rural people being able to live and work in their locality. Over recent years we have seen some businesses moving out of towns and cities. While that is welcome, some of them continue to employ existing staff with little or no recruitment of local people or use of local enterprises. Local people should be encouraged to go into business for themselves and local authorities should work with them sympathetically, thereby improving the rural opportunities for tourism and business in the market towns, to which several of my noble friends have referred.
I have been on my feet for some nine minutes and have not mentioned such matters as transport, public services, post offices, schools, doctors' surgeries, utilities, housing, facilities for young people, the environment and the greater use of bio-fuel. These are hugely important. What have the Government done today? They have produced the urban and rural White Papers, neither of which has been debated in this House. Recently, the Prime Minister intervened by setting up the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food chaired by Sir Don Curry I ask the 639 Minister whether its deliberations will supplant the content of the rural White Paper. The Government continually seek advice but appear to be unable to translate it into action.
None of us will ever forget the 11th September, but we must still plan ahead. The future consists of the short, medium and long term, to which many noble Lords have referred. In the short term, businesses dependent on tourism are going bankrupt, livestock particularly on hill farms is threatened with starvation, and some breeding cycles are already being disrupted. In the medium term we face shortages of home produced meat, fodder and grazing land next year. Very worryingly, in the long term we risk handing to others the ability to feed our own nation.
The countryside has been in crisis and that has affected both town and country alike. This crisis must be overcome. I and others like me are concerned by the absence of political leadership, the proliferation of consultation and the total lack of coherent action.
§ 6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, not only for initiating the debate but also for his thoughtful contribution. I know that the noble Lord, as other noble Lords, has immediate experiences in the stricken county of Cumbria which has had the roughest end of recent months. The noble Lord was not only able to deal with that but also to challenge us all to look to a longer-term and more viable future.
Perhaps I may also commend the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough. The right reverend Prelate showed an enormous commitment to the countryside and knowledge thereof, which I am sure will inform future debates.
Most noble Lords' contributions, at least in part, have been hugely constructive and helpful. However, I must introduce a slight jarring note at the start of my speech. I also take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. It is difficult for the Government, who are attempting to do their best to deal with a crisis in the countryside, to face criticisms that we do not care and that we are deeply hostile to the countryside and to country people. It is perhaps understandable that that view is held among the distressed farming population in areas that have been hit seriously by foot and mouth and its knock-on effects. I do not think that it is appropriate, even in political knock-about in this House, for such views to be repeated.
The Government are deeply concerned about the state of many areas of our countryside. We have expressed our commitment on many occasions not only to the countryside and to rural people as a whole, but specifically to the development and return to prosperity of, in particular, the agricultural sector.
As other noble Lords have found necessary, I also need to deal with the shadow of foot and mouth before dealing with anything else. It has been an immense 640 problem for the Government and for the countryside. We are now at a situation where there is a glimmer of hope. For the last six weeks the disease has been contained in two areas—Northumberland and Cumbria. During the whole of the outbreak we are for the first time experiencing a period where there have been no new cases for over a fortnight.
In England and Wales we have 104 counties and local authorities which have been declared FMD free. The whole of Scotland is FMD free. Therefore, the broader part of the countryside is beginning to return to something like normality. The vast majority of premises which were covered by restrictions have now had those lifted. Nevertheless, we must keep up our vigilance and our guard. It has been necessary to introduce a difficult system of control on autumn movements of animals to ensure that what is inevitably and necessarily a massively increased volume of animal movements is subject to strict controls. That has understandably caused difficulties for farmers and for trade. Its introduction has had some difficulties. I think that everyone recognises that we need a balanced approach to this matter in order to allow necessary movements and also to bring in a regime which does not encourage a further outbreak of the disease.
For that and other reasons we are not there yet. I remind the House that in the 1967 outbreak there was a period of 29 days without an outbreak. There were four months of outbreaks beyond that. So we are not home and dry yet. Nevertheless, it is important that we begin to look at the way out and at cushioning measures over the winter. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and others referred us to the important work of the Addington Fund. The Government back that fund. They will intensify their backing of that organisation which brings fodder to those animals which are still effectively locked up due to restrictions. We need to address the immediate problems, not only of farmers but also the rest of the countryside, of getting through the winter.
It is perhaps too early to draw the full lessons of this outbreak. A number of noble Lords have put down a few markers. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has mentioned the problems with communications. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, emphasised the need for more vets. There are other issues in the administration of this outbreak which I readily accept have not gone as well as they should. Serious lessons have to be learnt by DEFRA and by the other authorities and indeed by the farming community.
The regulation of animal disease in this country needs to be addressed. The effectiveness of the enforcement also needs to be addressed, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. The noble Lord also said that the message for any investigation as to what we do in the future must be "never again". But we will be faced with the challenge again.
I have some sympathy with those noble Lords who say that we should have greater concentration on import checks and greater priority on those checks. But in the global market we will always be faced with 641 some challenge. Even those countries with far more robust forms of import checking than ourselves occasionally have outbreaks. The point is that when an outbreak occurs, they suppress it much more rapidly than we were able to do on this occasion. So although we can take measures to ensure that we minimise the risk of disease coming in, we also must take measures to ensure that the spread never occurs as rapidly and as disastrously as on this occasion.
In terms of learning those lessons, I should like to knock on the head the argument that, because the Government have said that we will not have a formal public inquiry, with its full quasi-judicial overtones and procedures, we have something to hide. We have nothing to hide. That is not to say that we have not made mistakes. I have already admitted to that, as has the Secretary of State. We are being open about this. Those noble Lords who might have been in another place this morning will have known that the Secretary of State had a full two-hour session in front of the Select Committee on precisely how we managed the outbreak. We intend to be open about this matter. We do not believe that what is normally seen as a public inquiry with lawyers sitting at one's elbow is the best way of getting the full truth.
We believe that the inquiries being made under the Royal Society and under Dr Ian Anderson—and every one has full access to them—are a better way of showing not only whether the way that science and veterinary expertise was deployed in the control of this disease and the way in which the Government administered that expertise was correct, but whether the rules and regulations of Britain and the EU covering the control of disease are the ones that we should be following in future or whether we need a radically different approach. We intend to be open with that. We hope everybody will have access to it. We believe, both here and in another place, that Parliament will certainly have its use to make matters clear during that whole process and at the end of that process.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question because he made a very interesting and important statement. Can he say whether this inquiry will have the right to call people such as ex-Ministers and so forth and ask them directly what the questions were? As I understand the situation, one can have that with a public inquiry but not with any other form of inquiry.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the inquiry will request the presence of whomever it wishes. Former Ministers have made it absolutely clear that they are prepared to give evidence to whatever inquiry is appropriate and established. So the answer is, yes, their evidence will be taken into account. The question of the precise procedure is a matter for these independent inquiries and their chairs.
That is the sad background of foot and mouth disease against which we have this debate. Of course many of the problems of, in particular, agriculture and parts of our countryside more generally predate foot 642 and mouth disease but are now very much focused on the consequences of foot and mouth disease. It is true that farmers, particularly those with stock, in areas still subject to restrictions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, made clear, are probably the most obvious victims of this. But there are a great many other victims—small businesses, tourism and other parts of the rural economy—which have suffered.
Perhaps I may deal first with the agricultural sector. It is appropriate and timely for us to take a long-term view of the future of agriculture. The Government are being asked for clear signals. We have established the independent Policy Commission for Food and Farming under Sir Don Curry. It is intended that the commission will mark the first step towards producing a new consensus on the future of food and farming in this country. At present there is no consensus. Indeed, even in our discussions today many different views have been put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, saw one future in which all agriculture shifted to small farms; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford put all his money on organics, which somewhat offended the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. Even in this House, all shades of opinion and view are held.
Perhaps I may underline what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. "One size fits all" is not a solution for agriculture. The common agricultural policy, which in effect adhered for most of its existence to such a policy until the most recent reforms, now finds that it is no longer appropriate, either in Britain or in Europe.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have to say that I do not put all my eggs in the organic basket and I agree with much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on that subject. I am far more keen on pursuing long-term strategies addressing integrated crop management. Perhaps the Minister misunderstood what I said.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I beg the pardon of the right reverend Prelate. I was too much taken by his advocacy of Hereford organic cider. I became completely carried away.
As I have said, we do not have a consensus on the future of agriculture. I think that it is important to put agriculture into context, as did my noble friend. Lord Judd at the beginning of our debate. Instead of seeing agriculture as an activity subject to environmental pressures, the future of agriculture both for its landscape and production should form part of a broader environmental and rural economy, both in its processes and in its context. For that reason, we need to look at our methods of food production.
I would take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he said that the Government take the view that the production of food is not important. That is not our view. I have stated that several times, both in this House and elsewhere. Indeed, I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who saved me from having to quote myself in the course of my remarks. I and my 643 right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have reiterated our wish to see a viable, sustainable, diverse food production industry in this country, embracing livestock and arable, as well as horticulture, if it is not already covered by arable farming. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, pointed out that that industry already stands on its own two feet and has a great future.
We want to support all sectors of agriculture, but they are subject to change. They are subject to change in the nature of subsidy, in consumer demand and from environmental pressures. Agriculture is always changing; it does not remain the same. It has changed since I was a child and in 10 years' time it will not be the same as it is now. That will be the case irrespective of CAP reform or individual government policies. We need to seek other outputs for current agricultural activity. Some of those are close to agriculture, such as the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for biofuels. I share his enthusiasm for those developments. Biofuels and other industrial uses for crops form an important part of the jigsaw which I hope that the Policy Commission on Food and Farming will address.
We need to look also at diversification into the wider rural economy. It is important that we recognise that food production comprises only a part of the equation, albeit an important one. How self-sufficient we should be in food is now perhaps an old-fashioned question. I certainly do not agree entirely with the implication of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that it is the most important question. We produce nearly two-thirds of our food ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, stated that 80 per cent of the food that can be grown indigenously is produced by our farmers. That is a remarkable record. Whether it is the right figure is a matter of contention. But it is not the only issue. More important is the question of how we should utilise the assets of the nation's farming skills and experience, as well as our landscape, to maximise their benefits for the population as a whole. Part of that question concerns food production, part concerns landscape, part concerns recreation and part is agriculture-based but covers diversification into other activities in our rural areas.
The traditional forms of agricultural support are more than creaking; they are breaking down. CAP reform is central to our strategy. It should be the aim of us all to see that the CAP is altered from its present basis—aid offered largely in the form of production subsidies, albeit changing types of subsidy—to something which supports the rural economy as a whole. I was surprised when a noble Lord commented that Margaret Beckett has not been prominent in this effort. She has strongly advocated the point that our central aim must be to focus on the negotiations covering the mid-term review of the Agenda 2000 aspect of the common agricultural policy. Serious negotiations on that will begin by the middle of next year. In the long term, we seek a complete change in the policy.
644 The CAP is not the only way in which taxpayers' money has been put into farming over recent years. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, and others asked about agri-monetary compensation. Over the period of this Government, we have committed £1.7 billion, including about £700 million of agri-monetary compensation, over and above the contribution made by the CAP. Whether we go further on that at this juncture is a matter for pause; we are now considering the matter further. Clearly a great many other pressures are being exerted on the Exchequer. Whether further compensation is the best use of taxpayers' money at this point is something to which we must return. For that reason, I cannot give the commitment which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, was looking for.
Furthermore, I cannot give immediate commitments on other aspects, including the regional development pillar, a matter referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The size of the UK allocation from the RDP has been disappointing and we are working on that. We want to broaden the scope of projects and expenditures that can be met under that heading. Changes can be made, even without complete radical reform of the CAP.
Diversification also forms a part of the jigsaw. Complaints have been made about the burden of regulation and planning restrictions. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, spoke of planning restrictions which affect diversification of agricultural enterprises. I would ask the noble Lord to wait for a week or so, at which time my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer will have something to say publicly on that matter. Obviously it is an issue which needs to be addressed.
The longer-term recovery of farming has to be seen in a wide context. Sir Don Curry's commission will play a major part in that. Broader rural recovery depends on the Government completing the process initiated by the publication last November of the rural White Paper, to which my noble friend Lady Gibson referred; namely, consolidating policies for market towns, rural transport and affordable rural housing. This last point was taken up by several noble Lords in their contributions. The social dimension of the recovery of the countryside is just as important as the purely economic and agricultural dimensions.
Tourism now forms by far the biggest rural industry and is one that we must seek to sustain. By that I do not suggest that we move from agriculture subsidy dependency to tourism subsidy dependency, but a little help along the way may be given to businesses to help them to become viable in the medium term. My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have given their full support to the tourist boards and other interested groups currently examining the issues.
In the immediate and more local context, tomorrow will see the publication not only of the report of my noble friend Lord Haskins—I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has given an unreserved and totally blind commitment to its 645 conclusions—but also of the wider report from the Rural Task Force. It will deal in particular with the worst-hit counties of Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Devon. I would prevail upon noble Lords to await the outcome of that report. It will form an important, albeit short-term, indication of the Government's commitment.
We need to develop the tourist industry, just as we need to develop rural businesses as a whole. Furthermore, we need to address the particular problems of the countryside. However, let us not write off the countryside as a failure. Before the foot and mouth outbreak, large sectors of the rural economy were doing relatively well. It is not true to say, except in the remotest areas, that rural England is becoming depopulated. In some cases, the opposite is true and it can be a problem. Businesses and people are moving into rural areas at a rate which sometimes those areas find difficult to accept.
There was a prosperity in much of rural England. We hope to get back to that position quickly. We believe that we can. We already are in many of the areas which were not seriously damaged by foot and mouth.
I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, reminded me that the House of Lords I entered four years ago was full of peasants. His description of the social origins and the social basis of rural England is partially true, but nevertheless it is a little limited because every profession now lives in rural England: farmers, certainly; agricultural-related trades, certainly; tourism, certainly—but every single profession now lives in rural towns and rural villages. We are more one country than many people think. The rural part of this country has been hit hard in recent months and we all have a responsibility to help it, but in the long run we all face the same problems.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, the time allocated for the debate is more or less complete. We have had some good contributions and it would be invidious to single out any particular one. Each has in turn complemented the other to create a comprehensive discussion about the issues we have been debating. As is customary on these occasions, all that is left for me now is to beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.