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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is nothing to do with PFI. The classification of Network Rail is a classification of an organisation and not of an asset. The Office for National Statistics and the National Audit Office have agreed that, according to the way in which the ONS must classify Network Rail as per European accounting standards, it has been handled correctly.

Countryside Agency Report

3.16 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Countryside Agency report, by painting pictures of alternative future scenarios, makes a very useful contribution to the debate on how we should reconcile, in a sustainable way, the conflicting pressures in our countryside. The Government are already actively working both to achieve real improvements to the quality of life in rural areas and to make the countryside itself attractive and enjoyable.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the fact is that the pictures painted by the Countryside Agency's report depend largely on whether the Government will have more success in implementing their urban regeneration programme than they have had to date. Does the Minister agree that that programme is sadly behind schedule and the report of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has not been implemented, which is why the knock-on effect on the countryside that the Countryside Agency has identified is likely to be so severe by 2020?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness, uncharacteristically, completely misunderstands this report. The Countryside Agency is setting a number of possible scenarios such as whether there is greater or less success if the Government do nothing or if they complete and enhance their policies. There is obviously a relationship between what is going on in the towns and in the countryside, but it is not a direct relationship in terms of urban regeneration as against rural regeneration. The Government have

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programmes for both. They have been very successful in delivering both in many respects. Of course, some programmes are behind and some are more successful than we originally estimated. The general picture of the countryside in the report is of a very green and pleasant land.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I declare an interest. Does the Minister agree that the paragraph on farming on page 18 is so depressing that he might have written it himself? Does he further agree that unless we look after farming we will not have the beautiful countryside, the landscape or the habitat that the whole nation wants? At the moment, the Government are going in quite the wrong direction, particularly through their alleged reform of the CAP.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, clearly farming is a major factor in the economy of the countryside and the way the landscape looks. It is therefore very important that we have a sustainable farming sector. But if the noble Lord is suggesting that in order to get a sustainable farming sector we keep the common agricultural policy in its present form, which is effectively subsidising production that does not have a market, greatly distorting the way in which farming operates and preventing it from becoming a commercial success, that is the wrong way to go. The right way to go is, as Commissioner Fischler suggests and the British Government support, the reform of the CAP.

Earl Peel: My Lords, leading on from my noble friend's question, and given the widespread dissatisfaction in the countryside about how the Government are fighting the cause of British agriculture, I ask the Minister two specific questions. What assurance can he give the House that his department will begin to take action against preventing the imports of food from abroad that are produced at standards which are below those produced by our farmers in this country? Secondly, what assurance can he give the House that he will seek derogations when EU directives work directly against the benefit of farmers, thus ensuring that by the year 2020 we still have a farming industry in this country?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we shall have a successful farming industry in this country, and one with a good environmental outcome, if we pursue together the need for farming to respect the environment while at the same time becoming more commercial and more market oriented. That is the lesson of the Curry report, and that is very much the way in which the CAP reform proposals are going. As regards imports, clearly there are EU standards relating to those countries from which we take imports, particularly in relation to meat products. However, the noble Earl appeared to suggest that we would somehow roll back our commitment—and the commitment which we intend to pursue in the WTO negotiations—to a more liberal system of trading of food. I do not think that that is the right way to proceed.

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Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister share my regret that the Government, while they have found it so easy to make copies of the Countryside Agency report available to the press, nevertheless cannot make it available to the PPO until tomorrow? Will he therefore forgive me if I ask for information which may be plainly available in the report? We hear from time to time of country dwellers on means-tested benefits who spend 10 per cent of their benefit on fares to travel to collect their benefit. Is the Minister aware of any research which quantifies that phenomenon? If he is not, will he attempt to persuade his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to commission such research?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not aware of such research. It certainly is not covered in the Countryside Agency report. If that report has not yet reached the PPO, I apologise to noble Lords. It certainly should have done.

It is certainly true that, although the general picture of the countryside is one of substantial prosperity, the picture for some people in the countryside dependent on means-tested benefits and distant from transport and public services is not a good one and needs to be addressed. All government departments need to ensure that their policies take into account that rural dimension.

Lord Carter: My Lords, farming is suffering severe economic problems, but will my noble friend confirm that British agriculture receives more direct subsidy from the Treasury than the rest of British industry put together?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is, of course, correct. That subsidy results from the CAP. The problem, as I enunciated in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Monro, is that that is the wrong kind of subsidy and support. We want to support British farming. We want to support European farming. However, the way the CAP currently does that goes entirely in the wrong direction.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, as many noble Lords obviously have not had the opportunity to look at this report, perhaps I may say that I too am very disappointed by it. It highlights the problems but it does not address any of the solutions. So I ask the Minister two questions. Accepting that obviously much depends on CAP reform, does he accept that the proposals mean that UK farmers will actually be at a disadvantage compared with other members of the EU because on the whole we have larger farms? Does he also accept that the report does not offer any solutions for many who live in the countryside? Indeed, the comments in that regard of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, were quite correct. It is all very well for the middle classes who have their own transport and housing they can afford, but for those who do not fall within those particular groups the report does not offer any solutions.

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, on the latter question there are a number of government and Housing Corporation programmes relating to affordable housing which go some way to meeting the problems mentioned. Certainly, it is true that in many cases to be poor in rural areas is worse in relative terms than to be poor in parts of our cities. That is a problem which needs to be addressed. As regards the common agricultural policy reforms and UK farmers, although in general I support the direction in which Commissioner Fischler is going, there is one element—the formula on modulation—with which the noble Baroness is familiar, which would disadvantage British farmers if it remains in the form in which it is currently proposed. The British Government therefore seek radical changes to that part of the package.

Iraq: Media Frontline Coverage

3.24 p.m.

Lord Glentoran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many media passes to cover the war in Iraq they have allocated.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, over 2,300 journalists have been registered and provided with media passes by the coalition in theatre. Of these, some 133 print and broadcast journalists are officially accredited war correspondents embedded with British forces.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that precise Answer. Do Her Majesty's Government think that having such a large number of journalists and reporters embedded in the front line is a sensible and responsible way of covering what is a major war conflict?


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