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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I say immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, who has taken a great interest in that area of the world, that we are very supportive of the chief prosecutor and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Let that be absolutely clear. We have great commitment to and energy in pursuing the indictees who are still at large. From his interest in the matter, the noble Lord will know that 94 indictees have appeared before the ICTY and that 20 now remain at large. Having myself been in Bosnia during the Bosnian war, I do not need convincing of the importance of apprehending those two people and the other indictees at large. I hope that I can give the noble Lord some reassurance in that SFOR has increased the intensity and frequency of its operations to break Karadzic's network in Bosnia-Herzegovnia.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the chief prosecutor is clearly a resolute lady and her work should be fully supported, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, said. However, might there not be a case for someone passing to her a quiet and respectful hint that it might be wiser first to secure the apprehension and bringing to justice of those unsavoury individuals before making too many statements about their possible whereabouts? That seems unhelpful in tracking them down.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we indeed continue to support all the efforts being made. The result of the energy invested by the chief prosecutor in apprehending those indictees is that, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, SFOR has increased the frequency and intensity of its operationsboth the operations that it pursues under intelligence received and its day-to-day operations. We have shown our support for the tribunal by ensuring that the EU-wide visa ban includes nine further individuals this February. All in all, we are working at top whack with our international partners to ensure that those indictees are brought to book.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that questionsincerely. I am aware from the press statement by the ICTY president that Judge May is to resign on health grounds. That should not unduly disrupt the trial. I use this opportunity to pay tribute to Judge May's outstanding performance, as widely acknowledged by the international judicial community.
The rural White Paper was published in November 2000 by the then mighty Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Since then the former has been reduced to less obese proportions and the latter has disappeared without trace. Subsequently, we witnessed in 2001 the birth of Defra and, as of the other day, a review of the White Paper by the Secretary of State, Mrs Beckett.
However, to further complicate matters, the Government have commissioned a review of rural delivery by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, which can, I believe, only be viewed as an indictment of how ill-thought-through was the planning of the new department. On top of that, we are witnessing a major reform of the common agricultural policy, which is one of the most fundamental changes ever experienced in agriculture. The Secretary of State has just announced how she intends to implement those changes. During that turbulence, agriculture has lurched from crisis to
I should say from the outset that I, along with most other commentators, wholly welcomed the fusion of MAFFso totally discredited after the foot and mouth epidemicwith responsibility for the rural environment. They are natural bedfellows and cannot be effectively separated if we are to have a cohesive rural policy.
Another major commitment in the White Paper was CAP reform and the decoupling of support from production. Again, that move had overwhelming support, ensuring that those in the business of food production should gear themselves to the marketplace, thus allowing the continued support from public fundsstill very considerableto be channelled into sound environmental management.
However, delivery of those new policies is complex and I am bound to say that I find it peculiar, to say the least, that England is taking a different route from all other countries in the United Kingdom. Of course, the principle of decoupling is to be welcomed, but the route adopted by the Secretary of State is bound to have a hugely damaging effect on efficient dairy and beef producers. Taking the special disadvantaged area boundary as the dividing line between the two areas could well bring about the demise of English suckler herds within those SDAs.
With those area payments are attached cross-compliance conditions, which will demand certain environmental standards. How those will operate is crucial. The conditions must be clear to farmers, land managers and those whose task it is to conduct the monitoring. Who will have the responsibility is uncertain, but we cannot expect civil servants to be given the power of objective measurement, unless the parameters are clearly defined. It is also important that the conditions imposed on our farmers remain pretty constant with those in other EU countries to ensure that British farmers and growers are not placed at a competitive disadvantage.
Furthermoreand it would be disingenuous of me not to mention Sir Don Curry's considerable input into current rural policy formulationhow will the implementation of the level entry scheme, one of his main recommendations for further environmental enhancement, dovetail with the cross-compliance conditions attached to area payments? Will the two schemes be the responsibility of different agencies? I suggest that the cost and confusion could be considerable if not.
I would like to add something at this stage about the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. I do not propose to dwell on these as they are complex and a subject for a separate debate. But if the Government do accept his basic principles in that the formulation of rural policy and its delivery are to be separated, it strikes me as essential that that part of the Countryside Agency which is responsible for rural proofing be retained in order to act as the overarching link between the two objectives. I
The new challenges facing those who make their living from the land, and whose responsibility it is to manage the environment, are demanding to say the least. Any new order creates concernand the task of government in setting the right framework is equally demanding. But the key to success is, I believe, mutual understanding and trust. Here I feel that the Government have forced rural communities on to the back foot, and they have lost the confidence of so many.
European directives have been gold plated and forced through without proper consideration of their true impacts. There is the constant threat of anti-hunting legislation, which has gone deep into the heart of so many rural communities. There was the ham-fisted and irresponsible way that the Government handled the Animal Health Act after foot and mouth, which with more consideration could have had the support of the farming community. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the effects of which are still to be felt, showed a lack of practical common sense and was forced through on the back of political dogma. The draconian powers of compulsory purchase under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill shows a gross insensitivity towards those who own land. The potential effects of regional assemblies, if successful, include virtually disenfranchising those who live and vote in rural areas.
We all welcome the recognition of the importance of economic vitality in rural areas expressed in the White Paper. I am particularly glad that the Government have accepted the principles of broadband.
Rural Britain is changing and it is changing fast. Agriculture no longer dominates in the way that it did, even though I remain confident that the production of food, and the management of the countrysideso vital for the ever-important tourism businesswill remain the bedrock of rural society. But the future must embrace new opportunities and new enterprises, as well as encouraging the old.
That is all very well. But many local planning authorities have interpreted this demand for traffic reduction as a reason for refusing sustainable rural development. There is no way that we can have a thriving rural economy without some measure of traffic generation, particularly when there are no alternative modes of transport.
Furthermore, and in addition to addressing this fundamental issue, I would like to see a whole culture change in the attitude of planners, when they actually begin treating people more like clients, and start serving the community in a more positive and helpful fashion. But, clearly, the first stage is to have a more realistic rural planning guidance that is not moulded around urban conditions.
I have just mentioned housing and, of course, the shortage of affordable accommodation has now become a crisis in many rural areas. Although recognised in the White Paper, since 1997 there has been a steady decline in new affordable accommodation in settlements with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants. Indeed, homelessness in rural areas has soared by 13 per cent since the Government came to power.
There is a real need for new thinking and new initiatives, and I urge the Government to enter into dialogue with organisations such as the CLAand I declare an interest as a member of that organisationwhose members can help to deliver, and whose recent report on housing and the rural economy details the real impediments to securing a better prospect for rural people.
I turn to the police. Clearly, effective crime prevention is a hallmark of any civilised society. This is important, not simply in terms of protecting those that already live in rural areas, but also in encouraging new businesses and jobs. Reported rural crime has increased by 5 per cent in the past year. According to police authority figures, police numbers and funding have decreased in many rural areas. It is an astonishing fact, but over 50 per cent of rural businesses and 75 per cent of farmers have been victims of crime during the past five years. That is unacceptable. Indeed, to see a policeman on foot in any rural area has become a rarity: you stop, you take note, you look at him. But we must not forget the considerable psychological effect that this has on those who live in isolated areas, or by themselves.
I have no doubt that the most significant reason for this wholly unsatisfactory situation was the removal of the old tied police accommodation, brought about, I fully acknowledge, under a Conservative administration. Perhaps we should seriously consider restoring this system, thus ensuring that the police become, once more, an integral part of the communities that they serve.
Back in 2000, the Government responded to the ever-increasing wails of anguish being uttered by the farming community about the mounting burden of red tape. That is an issue that my noble friend Lord Vinson will be addressing later. As in most cases when the Government are in doubt about something, they turn to the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. He duly produced his report Environmental Regulations and Farmers. The noble Lord came forward with 21 specific recommendations but, to the best of my knowledge, none of these has been implemented by the Government. No doubt the Minister will put me right if I am wrong on this point.
For example, there is no mention of the considerable contributions that field sports have made, both in maintaining and enhancing habitats and ensuring the well-being of many species. In the north of England, the areas that have been designated as sites of special scientific interest have largely been on land that has been managed for shooting.
In conclusion, 30 per cent of England's businesses are in rural areas, thus making a hugely important contribution to the GDP. Yet metropolitan areas receive an average of 20 per cent more of standard spending assessment. That speaks for itself.
There are some excellent schemes both in the public and the private sector which have helped to encourage the survival of, or indeed the enhancement of, general rural services. But by and largeand here I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Haskinsthe key to their survival is use, and the key to use is businesses, jobs, and affordable housing.
I have no doubt that those who farm, manage land and run businesses in rural areas will continue to rise to the new challenge ahead. But the Government must start showing a greater appreciation of those who live and work in rural areas, and start governing and legislating accordingly.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate; I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Peel, on initiating it. We are debating a massive topic today. The noble Earl has mapped out the current situation, particularly regarding the rural White Paper and some of the reforms taking place. I shall try to build on that in relation to specific aspects of rural life, referring in particular to the situation in the farming industry, the rural infrastructure and the threat of bovine TB and its impact on rural communities.
I declare an interest as the former MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, the most rural constituency in England and Wales. At 87 miles long and 45 miles wide, it is a continent rather than a constituency, but I know it well. I am also president of the Brecknock Federation of Young Farmers, which, although not in England, puts the problems of young people living in the countryside very much to the fore. I shall try to approach this debate in the context of England, as I realise that agriculture in Wales is devolved, and rightly so.
Average farm incomes have increased from around £9,000 about two and a half years ago to the present rate of around £16,500. Incomes on many farms had been below the national minimum wage. The situation is better now but incomes are not as good as they were in the late 1990s. The situation is particularly poor in lowland livestock farms and for milk producers. Incomes of milk producers in the past 12 months have increased by only around 1 per cent, which is a reflection of the terrible price of milk; the fact that it has been used often as a loss-leader; and that there is a very poor marketing arrangement for it at present.
The other factor that must be taken into account is that on many farms up to 50 per cent of income now comes from diversification. The increased importance of the tourism industry, in particular, which is now worth many billions of pounds, was shown starkly at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, when it was identified as being far more valuable as a source of income then the farming industry itself. That tells a story; the synergy between agriculture and tourism should never be underestimated.
I am particularly concerned about the exit of young people from rural areas. The noble Earl touched on one or two very important aspects, not least housing. I am concerned about the importance of sustaining young people in the countryside and in farming. I make no apology for quoting again that the average age of farmers is around 57 years old. I speak as a former member of staff of the Welsh Agriculture College and as president of a federation of young farmers. The closure of entire agricultural colleges and university departments of agriculture that has occurred during the past 10 years or so reflects a depression in the farming industry. Advisory services should be reinstated with links to university and college agriculture departments, as they were a long time ago and still are in Scotland. There should be a link between advice and education as a lifelong experience. It is a lifelong learning curve that never stops, so such communication must continue.
The common agricultural policy reforms should be broadly welcomed. The decoupling that has taken place between subsidies and production into a single farm payment should be welcomed. The problem is how it should be best administered, which is a problem in its own right. The noble Earl referred to problems in cross-compliance with environmental factors. We now see a diversification of how that will be applied in Englandmainly on an area basis, although it is a hybrid schemecompared to Wales and Scotland,
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, has outlined the problems in England, which have an impact on family farms, particularly on an area basis. The historical basis actually benefits small family farms. Will the Minister say whether the matter will endure in the long run, or will he be forced to change it in the medium termby 2008 or soand will the whole policy have to be applied on an area basis? I have seen that question put in the agricultural press and do not know the accurate answer.
The problem of product prices and the activities of supermarkets needs much investigation. All I will say is that the decision by Stephen Byers, when he was Minister in the other place, on the marketing of milk, particularly milk co-operatives, and the share of the market that they should have was very unsatisfactory and should be revisited. It does not make sense that milk co-operatives in the Netherlands and other countries in the European Union, for example, can operate with 80 per cent of the market share, whereas here it is below 30 per cent. That cannot be right.
The rural infrastructure, to which the noble Earl referred, is very important. Services in rural areas have declined enormously, which has brought genuine hardship for old and young people in particular. I shall not go into much detail, as the issue will be referred to later.
I am particularly concerned about the crisis of bovine tuberculosis in the countryside. I do not know what is behind a Defra leaflet that advised that farmers and farm workers should consult their GPs if they have bovine TB on their farms. That is a very alarming statement. I believe that there is only one answer as far as eradicating TB is concerned. I am talking about eradicationnot trying to live with TB, which is unacceptable. Badgers and cows and cattle should be equal. If they have got TB, they should be controlled. That must be our aim.
We need an answer on whether the rural delivery review now supersedes the rural White Paper for England. Some of the Government's proposals are in line with the Curry report. Many years ago, I took a soil sample on Don Curry's farm in Northumberland. You cannot get nearer the grass roots than that.
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