|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): This is an extremely important point. In my constituency, there are a huge number of apple growers. The booklet on the regulations mentions that orchards come under the EIA. It is essential that farmers in my constituency find out when the Minister replies what the understanding is for orchards. Currently the crops are grubbed up about every 25 years. I wonder whether my hon. Friend could press the Minister for an answer on that point.
Mr. Ainsworth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point, which has been raised by outside concerns. It would be helpful if the Minister expressly addressed the issue of orchards, which do need to be grubbed up. The regulations should not impair normal farming practice. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is not his intention and that it will not happen under the regulations as drafted.
There is concern about the way in which the regulations may affect existing agri-environmental agreements such as the countryside stewardship scheme. The Country Landowners Association has highlighted the fact that land managers entered voluntary agreements on the basis that their options would remain open at the end of agreement period. By potentially restricting the options open to land managers, the regulations change the basis on which the original agreements were made.
That problem could be mitigated if the Department stated that landowners will be offered the opportunity to renew their agreements on equivalent terms once they expire. Again, I would welcome the Minister's remarks on that issue. There is a danger that unless it is addressed, the regulations will act as a disincentive to farmers to
I have received a letter from Mr. Michael Payne, a farmer and environmental consultant, who points out that the regulations could have a particular impact in the areas worst affected by foot and mouth disease. He says:
Mr. Payne raises the general point about the gold-plating of EU directives. That goes to the heart of many of the concerns that have been raised about the Government's proposals. On 30 March 2000, the Government published their action plan for farming. In it, they said:
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): An important point has been raised. Farmers do not want to be over-regulated, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, but organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds say that even a 3 ft margin on a field can have significant implications for the wildlife. The cumulative effect of a lot of very small things has a significant environmental impact. Presumably that is part of what the directive had in mind.
Mr. Ainsworth: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the cumulative effects but I hope that he shares the concern about the cumulative effects of regulation on farmers' ability to go about their business at all. Piling regulations on the farming sector makes it less viable, less profitable and in the long run less able to look after the environment that we all care about so much.
the execution of construction works or of other installations or schemes,
other interventions in the natural surroundings and landscape including those involving the extraction of mineral resources".
The Government's efforts to make the pill slightly less bitter than it would otherwise be give a faintly laughable tone to the leaflet that they have circulated, and indeed to the guidelines. However they are dressed up, it is impossible to escape the fact that these are new regulations. They impose new burdens on farmers. They threaten fines of up to £5,000 for non-compliance.
It is true that the regulations set up an appeals process but appeals will be made to the Secretary of State, to officials in the Department or to people appointed by the Department, which is the enforcing agency. There is no right of appeal to an independent body. I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on why that is.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is an increase in regulation. One would be hard pushed, however, to work all this out from reading the notes, pamphlets and leaflets published by the Department. I have a copy of a page from the leaflet. It says:
EIA is a way of helping farmers, land managers and others to consider the environmental effects of changing the way they use their land."
A casual glance at the information would lead one to think that the regulations were, in some way, the answer to farmers prayers; something that they have been asking for rather than something that has caused them considerable concern.
Has the Minister thought to consider the implication of that statement? The implication is that land managers do not have a clear understanding of good agricultural practice. Many of us wonder why the Government believe that they understand good agricultural practice better than farmers do. The Minister should justify that belief in his remarks. It is time to challenge the assumption that has characterised the relationship between agriculture and Government for too long. It is the patronising assumption that politicians and civil servants know better than farmers what is good for them.
There is no other industry in the world in which the machinery of government is so intimately involved in people's daily lives and decisions. Of course there should be penalties for those who knowingly and deliberately set out to wreck important wildlife sites or landscape features. Of course there is a need to recognise in law the public value of a sustainable and diverse environment. Of course there is a need for regulation, particularly where human health is at stake. However, on 3 January, Lord Whitty, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place said that
I regret that these regulations will do nothing to foster the trust that will be central to economic recovery and vitality in the countryside and I doubt whether, in the real world, they will afford much protection to important natural sites, the majority of which are already protected under different legislation.