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The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I am not aware that we have any extra privileges. If it is the House's wish, I shall certainly stay and catch a later train. I am at such a distance from the north east and I have an appointment first thing in the morning. It presents some difficulties when that convention has to be obeyed. I promise that I shall try to avoid that kind of excuse in future.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, we on these Benches are very understanding, and Members on the Government Benches appear to be in agreement. We all try to observe the convention, but we are grateful for the contributions of noble Lords even if occasionally they are not able to be present for the conclusion of the debate. The Government may wish to comment.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not think that we should debate the general principle. A principle has been laid down and we should not undermine it. Equally, all of us appreciate the contribution of the right reverend Prelate. I do not think that any of us would want him to be unnecessarily delayed this evening.

5.2 p.m.

Lord Plumb: My Lords, first, I declare an interest. I have been involved in agriculture practically all my life, among a number of other activities. As a farmer, I have always regarded myself as being among the custodians of the countryside. Perhaps in replying the Minister will comment on that. As a custodian of the countryside, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that leisure and tourism are certainly important; but will they be so important if we take the heart out of the countryside and neglect agriculture? We hear stories, as we did from the right reverend Prelate, about large numbers of people, particularly young people, moving away from the countryside. What will be left to interest those who visit it?

I rise in particular to support my noble friend Lord Ferrers, and I thank him for introducing the debate. It is particularly important at the present time. It is a pleasure and encouragement--indeed, it gives us great inspiration--to hear such fine comments from two right reverend Prelates. The right reverend Prelate the

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Bishop of Lichfield represents a diocese that I know well. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham represents a totally different area, one that contains many small farms and farming families, who are in extreme difficulty at present. I hope that the important statements of the right reverend Prelates will be well presented throughout the country.

In a previous debate on this subject, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells reminded us of the necessity of a level playing field for farmers. He registered the importance of that idea for the archives of this great building. Many speakers have recognised the present crisis in agriculture and the inevitable pressures on the countryside as a whole.

Over the years, many of us in this Chamber have witnessed the struggle and progress of British agriculture and its different stages: its contribution to the economy; the growth in productivity; the elimination of so many plant and animal diseases; the high-quality products that are now being produced through the advantage of science and technology; and the healthy landscape--anyone who has not noticed that when travelling through our wonderful countryside is not very observant. My noble friend Lady Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, said in opening the Royal Show that if the rest of industry in Britain was as efficient or productive as British agriculture, the economy would be in much better shape. An example has been set in the countryside by those involved in the agricultural industry.

As we move towards the end of this millennium and into the next, we are witnessing a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Farming resilience is being tested to the limit and the future does not offer much cause for optimism. At present, many farmers would be grateful for the bone from the T-bone steak that they are attempting to sell.

Many of my noble friends have mentioned the possibilities, or lack of them, for the future of young farmers. There are young farmers present today, listening to the debate. They tell me that they have the courage to face the challenges ahead. They are prepared to cut costs and to diversify, as the countryside demands. They are prepared to work hard and efficiently to keep British agriculture afloat. They want to use their own slogan; they want to put the "young" back into "Young Farmers". I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply. She may comment on the possibilities or otherwise for their future.

Part of the crisis that we presently face is not of the Government's making. The cost of the BSE crisis may reach £5 billion overall by 2001. We have received government aid and agri-monetary compensation from Brussels, which has helped, but it is too little, too late. It could have been paid earlier, and paid in full, as every other country in the European Union has done when its farmers have been in a similar position, through the strength of their currency against those of other countries. Competing in an unfair market is impossible and unnecessary when a mechanism is available to correct it through currency exchange.

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Equally, we are faced with imports produced under less stringent animal welfare conditions and the high cost of the red tape affecting farmers and those who work in slaughterhouses, manufacturing, processing and so on. I am pleased that the Government have at least accepted the need to examine the position and that a committee is reviewing the whole question of red tape and bureaucracy.

I believe that consumers are getting the message, but do they understand that growth promoters in the form of hormones are accepted in the United States and elsewhere by those who buy them? The products can be marketed here. Do consumers realise that over 65 per cent of soya produced in the United States and elsewhere is genetically modified? Of course, there are methods of checking products coming in, but it is difficult to check every kilo of soya in a 2 million tonne product that comes into this country. Do consumers realise how much junk food we consume in this country? It is £2.7 billion worth, probably coming from imported products. We consume more than Italy, France and Spain together.

As we debate the issues, policy-makers are at this moment trying to discuss a move to globalisation of trade in Seattle. In the last round, the United States made it clear--this was supported by their own Farm Bill--that they wanted to remove all subsidies. Last week, Senator Glickman, the Secretary for Agriculture in Washington, announced an emergency package for struggling farmers of 22.5 billion dollars. He said with great pride, "This is the highest in history".

So much for free trade policies. This morning on television I saw the demand by President Clinton that Europe's common agricultural policy must remove all subsidies. Of course, the common agricultural policy is being reformed; it is moving in that direction. No one will mind that, so long as we can have fair play and the level playing field which is so important to it.

It is extremely difficult for farmers to understand why we restrict production with quotas and set-asides, while other exporters talk about expansion. We know that expansion is necessary in many parts of the world where half the population is starving. In her reply, perhaps the Minister could suggest a way of survival, when regulations drive people in one of the country's most efficient areas out of business. Chickens have not been mentioned, but I mention them now because the point applies to all other products too. One producer whom I know well has been driven out because of the regulations concerning his business. All it does is to export our industry and jobs overseas, where welfare, food safety, and global warming regulations are minuscule compared with our own.

So we must be protected from what we call "cheap" food policies--unfair policies and unfair imports coming from other countries. Does the Minister accept, or is she aware, that for countryside conservation to provide what the public wants, a viable agriculture is essential? There are no medals for going bust. Low level environmental payments are no substitute for profit.

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I also ask what measures are in hand to enable efficient, hard-working farmer-businessmen to make a living. They know how to farm, but if they have to cut back on maintenance and the necessary nutrients, it would be like living off our seed corn. I hope that the Minister agrees that it would be disastrous to follow the woollen industry of 130 years ago.

Finally, will the Minister encourage the Government to act on the growing problem of TB in badgers and cattle? To country people, this is a far more intractable priority, and welfare, economic and health issue than fox-hunting. I shall accept the noble Baroness's answers in writing, if she prefers to send them to me.

5.13 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Plumb. I wish he could have continued for the next few minutes as well, because we all know of his great experience and personal interest in world agriculture. It is a privilege to speak in this debate and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for the opportunity to have another beef!

That aside, the farming news is still grim. The economic weather forecast seems continually bleak and farmers are already looking ahead to the deficits of the coming season. Every year, I wonder whether my farming friends and neighbours in Dorset will still be there in 12 months' time. Every year I am relieved and delighted that somehow they have remained, and yet many of them are the marginal farmers whom the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, mentioned.

Destitution is never far away and there are already small signs of change: a downward rent review, sold off grass keep, a farm worker laid off or a new source of income off the farm, taking up the opportunities for change mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel.

So why do things apparently stay the same? The first reason is the outstanding quality of our farmers. The second is the pride we all have and which has been described in preserving our countryside, including the churches, schools and fabric of village life.

As a nation which seriously expects a dwindling farm industry to pick itself up, look beyond the farm to alternative forms of income, welcome more visitors and become caretakers as well as tillers of the soil, we are asking a great deal. We are lucky to have farmers at all after those demands. It is an almost impossible task in a normal year, let alone another one of falling prices, incomes and investment. The NFU has reported a 20-year low in investment and a 62 per cent fall in real income over the last three years, as the noble Earl said. It is a crisis that would defeat most small businesses. Yet farmers are still being asked to carry heavier burdens as regards food standards, access and field sports and at the same time to care better for the countryside. They have not ceased to care for it. As the substantial employer, they already know that they have a wider duty to the community through their

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management of the countryside. In fact, while they suffer hardship, they have made sure that hedges and fields and paths are looking as good as they ever have.

The take-up of environmental schemes like countryside stewardship and organic conversion has been impressive. I hope that, when the Minister confirms this, she will explain why there is so little money available for a myriad of small schemes and diversification schemes which the Government have rightly identified as inevitable and which yet seem to attract farmers into a maze of financial culs-de-sac. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned one important future source of income: renewable energy and biofuels. I hope that the Minister has prepared an answer for him.

Farmers well know that their future depends on wider and still unanswered questions like European Union enlargement and world trade. In my experience, they have a more developed global view than that of the general population. It was farmers in Britain, after all, who responded so quickly to the Africa famine appeals, and joined in the send-a-tonne and send-a-cow campaigns. It was not only East Anglian and Sussex farmers sitting back on their intervention prices who responded, it was all farmers, those in the West Country and Scotland. I know farmers who travelled to countries like Ethiopia and the Sudan when it was thought that our food surpluses were the solution. They turned out to be part of the problem. Those farmers now support longer term development projects and organisations like Farm Africa and SOS Sahel.

I believe that farmers, however conservative they are in their budgeting and accounting, still have this wider sense of responsibility. Many would like to contribute to a new world order. They would never demonstrate at Seattle, but they can see the way free trade winds are blowing in the World Trade Organisation. They would like to see fairer restructuring of world agriculture and agricultural trade, including more initiatives to reshape the common agricultural policy. They recognise the importance of the environment in today's world. They have demonstrated their eagerness to adapt to new environmental conditions. They do not accept the watery provisions of Agenda 2000, which, as the House of Lords Committee reported in May, seem only to postpone the inevitable decisions to restructure agricultural support and do away with the massive subsidies in preparation for the juggernaut of enlargement.

I take seriously the observation of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, about competitive agriculture and his suggestion last week about guaranteed average income instead of subsidies. These solutions should be given serious consideration. The Government are making the right noises and have made some minor improvements. I grant that rural transport is changing. In our part of the west of England we now have some bus services. But in my view the Government are not emphatically on the side of farmers. If they do not want to be judged in future as the Government who abandoned the industry to the free market--surprising

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as it seems, that is a real possibility--they need to make significant proposals before the next election above all to convince the people of the countryside.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, as a countryman born and bred and living in a village, I very much welcome this debate and, like other noble Lords, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ferrers for introducing it. I also welcome the Countryside Alliance, which is successfully focusing people's attention--above all, the Government's--on the many problems that are faced in the countryside. It is not normal for country people to demonstrate. The fact that they are doing so shows that there is deep disquiet and that many believe that their way of life is threatened by an urban-minded government who do not understand or sympathise. It is true that this disquiet was triggered by the threat to hunting, but there are many other problems which have already been mentioned.

All noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned farming. Those of us who are familiar with that activity are aware of the traditional phrase "up horn, down corn"--or the other way round. That illustrates that there always have been, and always will be, ups and downs in farming, but the trouble is that at the moment particularly for agriculture they are virtually all "downs" and the situation is getting worse. As my noble friend Lord Jopling said, this affects a whole series of enterprises in the countryside: farm workers who are laid off; seed and feed merchants; the suppliers of agricultural machinery; shops; garages and vets. Only last weekend a leading expert told me of the troubles that we are laying in store in threats to animal health. We also have the bureaucratic nightmares that are closing down rural abattoirs. The response of the Government to the farming problems has been slow and inadequate. So often it has been too little and too late. The Government must do more to help farmers out of the trough in which they are sinking.

My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to law and order. It is an unhappy fact that rural crime is on the increase, particularly burglary and vandalism. In the country the cry continues to go up, "We never see a policeman". There is no substitute for the regular presence of a policeman who knows people and is known by them. We now have a number of community policemen and school policemen in various parts of the country, and that is a step in the right direction. In many villages there is Neighbourhood Watch, where local volunteers are prepared to help the police rather than pass by on the other side. While these developments are welcome, country people will not be reassured until there is a stronger local police presence.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham mentioned local schools and churches. In many of our villages the church is the pride and joy of the community, but the burden of maintenance must be borne by very small congregations. Expensive repairs are required. Those repairs are made more burdensome because of the imposition of VAT. I can assure the Government, as I did the previous one, that

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we shall go on pressing for the exemption of church repairs until they stop making excuses and do something. Many of our local schools have closed under governments of both colours. That is a big loss to village life. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, many of these are Church schools. When such a school closes it breaks the link between the Church and education which is so important in this secular age. I welcome the Government's announcement that there will now be a presumption against the closure of village schools. That is good news, and I hope that the policy will be effective.

I turn to housing. The right to buy on favourable terms has converted many families in the countryside from council tenants to home owners, but that can be done only once. There is now an acute shortage of affordable housing. In many instances when young couples gets married they must either move away or live with their in-laws. In part that is because in-comers have forced up the price of houses in villages. I do not suggest that we need a new generation of council houses to deal with this problem. I believe that these days it is more appropriate to give additional help to housing associations and the like which can provide houses for rent that are within the means of country people.

Shops and post offices are vital to villages. They provide not only goods but a service. Those of us who live in the country are familiar with many conversations that take place in village shops. "Charlie hasn't been in this week for his ounce of tobacco. I wonder if he's all right. We must find out"--and they do so. That important service which the village shop provides is certainly not available at a supermarket. The Government have done something to relieve the burden on village shops. While that is very welcome, the fact remains that they are fighting a losing battle. So far as concern post offices, they may face a new threat. If payment of benefit is removed from them it is absolutely essential that they are given encouragement to diversify; otherwise, the closure of village post offices will be substantially accelerated.

There is a whole series of other problems related to health, transport and work, but I do not intend to bore your Lordships by going any further. I summarise the position by saying that these problems do not involve a vast increase in expenditure. Most problems need a change of atmosphere in which decisions are made, pump priming to encourage voluntary effort or a modest reallocation of resources to countryside projects. I hope that we shall have a favourable response from the noble Baroness when she comes to reply.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for introducing this debate on the countryside. When introducing the debate the noble Earl referred to the fur trade and fox-hunting. I understood him to say that there were only three noble Lords on these Benches who stood up for bans. He will be relieved to know that I have no intention of making any reference whatever to bans.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, out of 14 speakers in the debate, 11 have emphasised agriculture. Therefore the debate could equally have been to call attention to agriculture. I am conscious of the difficulties that the agricultural industry is facing. I have a great deal of sympathy for the industry. But, as the debate is on the countryside, perhaps I shall be forgiven for dealing with countryside circumstances other than agriculture.

It is not my intention to speak for long, and essentially I shall be focusing on one specific point: that everyone, whether living in an urban or rural environment, should as far as possible be afforded the advantages provided by both nature and man. However, it seems to me that, when we debate the countryside, too often there is a tendency to drift away from the differences in urban and rural environments and somehow to conjure up perceived and often exaggerated differences between those who live in one area and those who live in another. If that is not always overtly expressed, it is certainly an underlying feeling.

Of course I concede that at one time, in particular during the Industrial Revolution, there would have been a greater difference between the two groups. Those living and working closely together in urban developments--for example, in areas of mines and mills--identified closely with one another in such communities. However, those living and working in the countryside, and spread out, identified more with the elements--the weather, the seasons and the land--than with one another.

But we have moved on. Ever increasing means of communication have seen to that. Trains, buses and, even more so, the motor car with a network of motorways, draw people and communities ever closer together. The radio, telephone, now mobiles, and the television, now satellite, bring instant experiences into every parlour, not only from this country but from the world over. So to talk in terms of two societies, one urban and one rural, defies the reality of our one integrated society. Of course there are differences. But those differences are not necessarily demonstrably greater between exclusively urban and exclusively countryside dwellers. No longer can we draw a clear distinction between urban and rural dwellers.

Some people work in our towns and cities and live in the countryside. Many people move from the countryside to urban areas and never return. Some who have been born and brought up in towns and cities move to the countryside to live and work. Many of those born and brought up in the countryside come to the cities for university education. Some return, and some do not. So when lines are drawn between one group and another, let us be cautious that those lines reflect reality.

The world in which we live is often called a global village. That being so, let us imagine what we in the United Kingdom are by comparison. Let us see how we compare geographically with countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas as well as some in Europe. We are one nation, one people, and, although we are all

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different, those differences do not essentially stem from whether we live and work in the countryside or in our towns and cities.

We must not neglect the fact that the countryside itself is different. In East Anglia, where I lived for 10 years, we have a wide expanse of flat land and the uniqueness of the Norfolk Broads, whereas in Wales we have the mountains and the valleys; and in the north of Scotland we are inspired by its mystery and remoteness. We describe Kent as the garden of England and I was told a long time ago that Wiltshire was the pantry of England. So when we refer to the countryside we must remember that our countryside is not uniform but is itself different.

The Labour Government have a manifesto commitment to provide greater access to open countryside. This will give those who choose greater opportunity to enjoy the benefit of what nature has created. That is not to abuse or damage, but to enjoy the wide open spaces, the landscape and the wildlife that nature provides in our countryside. By the same token, those who live and work in the countryside must always be able to enjoy the benefits that man has created in our towns and cities, such as theatres, museums, art galleries and universities.

I welcome the countryside amenity and conservation Bill because it recognises that such measures improve the quality of life for all of us. It removes perceived and exaggerated differences between respective sections of our society, and it is another step towards drawing all our people together in a one nation society.

5.35 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Ferrers for introducing the debate. I congratulate him on what I might call a typical Ferrers speech. It was factual, witty and poignant. I agree with everything he said about red tape. It is strangling the countryside. The issue must be addressed.

The Government can be under no illusions as to the strength of feeling in this House about the need for them to take a more pragmatic and sympathetic approach towards the countryside. The truth is that the feeling out there in our green and pleasant land is one of anger and frustration. Your Lordships have made your views very clear not only in this debate but in other recent debates in your Lordships' House. However, one topic has not had the airing it deserves. I refer to rural crime. I wish today to address most of my remarks to that.

To illustrate the strong feeling that rural people have on the subject, a 1998 survey by the Countryside Agency's predecessor, the Countryside Commission, found that 68 per cent of people in the countryside were very concerned about crime, and that the issue topped the list of rural concerns, coming above traffic problems and green belt development. It is, therefore, particularly extraordinary that in its document The State of the Countryside, the new Countryside Agency failed to mention rural crime or policing in any of the list of key rural services.

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The latest published crime figures from the Home Office demonstrate that the police have achieved a 19 per cent reduction in crime over the past five years. That is clearly to be welcomed. They should be congratulated. Perhaps the Government should also be congratulated; I cannot differentiate between the extent to which that has occurred in the past two years and other years. Clearly there has been a marked decrease and one must congratulate the Government on that.

The figures in rural areas are less clear. Listening to local people and reading local newspapers, I suggest that the problem is increasing. A recent article in The Times at the weekend gave what I can only describe as a chilling report of how big-time crime operators are now moving into rural areas. My noble friend Lord Caithness gave figures from the BBC 1 programme "Countryfile". I shall not repeat them, but they are horrific.

The other aspect which concerns me is the repeated victimisation which occurs on so many farms. It is a debilitating experience for anyone, in particular at this time when farmers are experiencing such harsh economic times. I suspect, as The Times reported, that much of that is due to the fact that criminals who are becoming thwarted by the more efficient and sophisticated crime prevention methods employed in urban areas are moving out to the rural areas, which they regard as being a soft touch. In other words, the success of the towns and cities is working against the countryside, and clearly that matter has to be addressed.

In 1997, 92 per cent of parishes had no police station, compared with 89 per cent in 1991. Now many rural communities have taken up their own initiatives in an attempt to tackle crime, as my noble friend Lord Dean mentioned: Neighbourhood Watch, Car Watch, Sheep Watch, and many different "watches". In my part of the world, we now have Dales Watch. I discussed the matter recently with my chief constable. He said, "Quite frankly, our local police force simply would not be able to cope in rural areas if it were not for those local initiatives." I also acknowledge the fact that the Home Secretary has introduced crime and disorder partnerships as part of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 specifically to encourage and develop the relationships between police, local authorities and local groups. Perhaps it is too early to see how it is working, but the initiative was worth taking and I wish it well.

However, the problem is that local communities involved in such schemes will soon lose confidence if the police fail to deliver as a result of a continuing lack of resources. One upshot of all that is local security groups setting themselves up as custodians of law and order in the countryside and frightening people by putting pamphlets through letter boxes encouraging them to subscribe to such schemes. That is happening more and more and many local people who cannot afford to be involved in the schemes are increasingly afraid because others are putting them under pressure to do so. Then there is a split in local communities.

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Many such groups are cowboy operators and they have no accountability to local authorities or to the police. It is a most unsatisfactory situation.

One of the many examples of the seriousness of the situation comes from Cumbria. The chief constable is quoted as saying that government underfunding could force him to close another 20 of his smaller police stations and concentrate officers in major towns. The same force has already closed 10 rural stations and recruited civilians to 70 officer posts in order to cope with a £2 million shortfall. No wonder the criminal fraternity is turning to the countryside; they see it as a soft option.

Of course I appreciate only too well the need for budgetary constraints. However, surely, policing any community must be regarded as a cornerstone for any civilised society. Furthermore, if we are to encourage investment in rural areas and create the new businesses and jobs which are so necessary to take up the slack in the traditional agricultural activities that are disappearing, investors must have the confidence to do so. A proper law enforcement system is essential to that.

One of the principal reasons behind the lack of investment in policing in rural areas is the inadequacy of the police funding formula. It fails to take into account what is now known as the "sparsity factor". I believe that the sparsity factor cuts across many aspects of rural life and hinders local authorities in their attempt to deliver many different services at the same costs as their urban counterparts. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield referred to this issue in his excellent speech.

In reply to a Written Question asked by my right honourable friend David Maclean on 25th November, the Government stated that there was general agreement that a sparsity factor had been detected but less agreement about how to include it appropriately in the police funding formula. The Government reply went on to state:


    "the Government will need to be satisfied that the research has provided a final answer to this question, which is beyond dispute or challenge.".--[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/99; col. 183W.]

For heaven's sake, if all government decisions were based on achieving full agreement, frankly, nothing would ever happen! On the face of it, this looks like a fudge and yet another example of the countryside getting a raw deal.

It is clear that the Government must accept the sparsity factor. Will the Minister ask her right honourable friend the Home Secretary and her honourable friends in the Home Office to act positively on this important issue?

I have a further comment to make on policing. I noticed that the Home Secretary announced at the Labour Party conference that he would provide an additional 5,000 police officers over the next three years. There is no news as to how they will be distributed, or whether they will be forthcoming, but the Government have spoken of a bidding process and have said that their salaries will be ring-fenced. In my

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home county of North Yorkshire, that would mean about 50 additional police officers, which is excellent. However, I am told that, if the present underlying funding continues to fall, a further 100 staff will be laid off, thus making a nonsense of such a commitment and negating any advantage.

Therefore, whichever way one looks at the issue, the indications are not good. I urge the Government to ensure that rural communities are given the level of crime prevention that they deserve.

Finally, I turn briefly to another subject. My noble friend Lord Ferrers mentioned fox hunting. I had not intended to mention it, but I recently read Ken Livingstone's announcement that he might be prepared to take a Private Member's Bill through Parliament banning the hunting of foxes with hounds. I was interested because I had always believed that Ken Livingstone was a tolerant person who understood minority groups. I was also interested to note his comment that one of the reasons he is against fox hunting was because foxes are attractive and intelligent. Presumably, that implies that it would be all right to hunt them if they were ugly and stupid.

Ken calls himself a man of the people. I say to him, "If so, go to Cumbria and to Wales and talk to the people whose lives will be affected. Spend some time with them and find out what the subject is all about. But do not try to pick up cheap votes on the back of the countryside in order to become mayor of our capital city".

5.46 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, it was good to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, whose experience is different from that of other speakers today. He said that there would be an uproar if country dwellers were not allowed to make laws affecting people living in the inner cities. As someone who has worked with young people in the inner cities, I would feel most uncomfortable about country dwellers making legislation affecting those living there, just as I would tend to have no confidence in an education Minister who had not been state educated or taught in a state school.

I am an agricultural landowner. My farther used often to warn me against the evil of absentee landlords. At the time, I could not understand the reason for his concern. After all, my tenants are determinedly independent and their rights are protected by statute. Looking back, I see that he may have been remembering our absentee forebears, the Hares, who spent most of their time away from their Irish estate. Then the landowner could greatly affect the lives of his tenants and did indeed need to be more in touch with his people.

Today, rural business is suffering and very many small farmers, especially livestock and tenant farmers, are going out of business. They depend on government to help them through this period of difficult and painful change. So I would urge the Government not to allow themselves to become out of touch with those

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whose business is the countryside. So far as possible, I hope they will listen most attentively to those within their ranks who have had experience in rural business; to those in the other place from rural constituencies; and to those inside and outside Parliament who make their living from the land.

Can the Minister say what is being done to encourage civil servants advising the Government on rural matters to gain experience of working with those most affected by policy; for instance, livestock and tenant farmers in the South West and in the Borders? How many civil servants in the Minister's department have visited farms and put on green wellies? There is nothing that can replace a deep understanding of the countryside and what it means and personal experience of working on the land and in the countryside environment.

5.49 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, it is excellent for one elected Peer to follow another elected Peer whose grandfather was the last governor-general of Ghana.

I must declare an interest also, in that I am a landowner in Surrey; I regret to say, a much smaller landowner than was my grandfather or my great-grandfather. In the 1930s agricultural slump, my grandfather persuaded people to come from Wales to take some of his rented farms at extremely low prices.

The history of agricultural boom and bust has continued for a long time. After the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws, an agricultural slump was forecast in the United Kingdom. That slump did not actually arrive until the 1870s, with the invention of the binder and the opening up of the American West and the American grain trade. That slump lasted more or less until the 1914 war. The 1914 war produced a temporary but prosperous agriculture because of the U-boats in the Channel and the Atlantic. The 1930s agricultural slump followed.

That slump was in a way reversed by the war. The war influenced all agricultural thinking beyond anything. After the war there was a really marvellous Minister of Agriculture. Tom Williams, to his eternal credit, made absolutely certain that no fox-hunting ban was passed by the 1945 Labour government. He was succeeded in the Wilson government by the late and much-loved Lord Peart. All those Ministers understood the important role played by the agricultural industry in the country's affairs.

There was also the Boyd-Orr report, which emphasised that we had to produce because the third world was going to starve. It was deeply influenced by U-boats in the Channel. To a certain extent we were subsidised right up until the mid-1980s for production at all costs. Since those subsidies ceased, the poorer areas have done far worse. The poorer areas tend to be the most picturesque areas. The people who have least harm done to them by an agricultural slump are the grain farmers in the Beauce and those in Sussex and Hampshire. They carry enough fat to withstand the catastrophic fall in prices.

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As one of my noble friends said, the price of wheat was £140 per tonne and it is now £64 per tonne. I admit that the price of £140 per tonne was at a time when the Chinese harvest failed and wheat prices went through the roof, so it is not totally fair to quote that high price as the norm. However, even taking that into account, the prices of wheat, grain, cattle, sheep and pigs have gone through the floor.

I suspect that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, will talk about slaughterhouses, although I have not asked her. She signifies that she is not going to speak about them. That is a pity, because she is quite qualified to do so. The slaughterhouses have been regulated out of existence. The cost of slaughtering an animal here is astronomical compared with the Continent. The regulations specify that six people must check every single animal. That is crazy as a regulation. I accept that that is not all the fault of the present Government; the previous government set them on that way with the Meat Hygiene Service, when local authorities were doing a perfectly adequate job. However, that is another story.

Regulation on our slaughterhouses has been increased, followed by the gold-plating of EC regulations. A gentleman produces the original Aylesbury duck and slaughters them himself. It appears that the EC has passed some regulations on the home slaughtering of ducks. We have gold-plated that regulation by saying that he cannot sell his ducks dead outside his own local authority area. Your Lordships should listen to this because it is lovely. If a man from a smart restaurant in Cumberland goes to the slaughterhouse and says, "Please may I have 12 ducks?" and pays for them, he may then return to Cumberland and the ducks can be sent by post. That is because he has purchased them within the local authority area. If, however, he picks up the telephone and says, "Please, O duck killer, send me 12 dead ducks by post", they cannot be sent by post because he is outside the local authority area. That is a silly way of running anything.

The EC regulation says nothing about the local authority area. We put in that stipulation just for fun. Even worse, he cannot appoint a chum as an agent to go in with his credit card or his pounds, shillings and pence--or whatever we now use as a currency--and say, "Here is my money, please send the ducks up to Cumberland". He must come down to the farm himself, say, "Please sell me the ducks", go back, and then they will be sent to him. It is impossible to think of anything so stupid.

The hygiene regulations for slaughterhouses have become worse. There is a new regulation on hygiene for pig units and battery chickens which imposes a cost of £18,000 on a modest-sized intensive pig unit. Our competitors in the rest of Europe do not have to bear those charges. That is what is so unfair and so wrong. It has not saved one single tummy bug in a single human being. I shall be prepared to lay my bottom dollar on that. It is regulation for the sake of regulation, followed by the fun of writing regulations, followed by gold-plating them. The industry cannot be prosperous if that is how we behave.

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I touch briefly on hill farming. The problem of the hill farmers not being looked after is due to the common agricultural policy, which is a problem common all over Europe and not unique to Britain. In the Massif Central and Burgundy in France there are deserted villages because the common agricultural policy has failed in its social purpose. Where do we go from here? It seems to me that we should go for free trade in food production with the minimum of sensible regulation and a major amount of subsidy, which will cost much less than the common agricultural policy, for what--for want of a better description--I shall call "gardening and game-keeping". That is looking after countryside activities which are totally uneconomic.

We have a blessed countryside. It is so varied that it changes every 20 miles. It is like English and Scots accents which change every 20 miles. I have no objection to a large amount of public access to the countryside, because if we as landowners or farmers are in receipt of a subsidy, that subsidy is a tax paid by our fellow subjects. Therefore we cannot deny them access to the land. However, it should be done by agreement and co-operation. I know very few landowners who are not totally reasonable in the access which they allow. That should be encouraged.

We are blessedly lucky in the land that we own and love. It is our duty to share it as much as possible. It is equally our duty to ensure that the countryside is not merely a farm factory. That farm factory is essential for its prosperity, but there are other activities which must take place in it. Above all, do not clobber it with unnecessary regulation and banning. I have not had time to deal with the subjects of fox-hunting and fur farming, but I shall do so at a future date.

5.59 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for introducing this debate. I believe that his speech deployed the maximum amount of reasonably good jokes to conceal the maximum amount of rather bad argument. I take the example of trying to put the rather cruel farming of mink for their fur on a par with the use of leather for our shoes from animals which almost certainly had to die anyway.


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