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Earl Peel: My Lords, I certainly did ask that question, but I went on to ask who is actually responsible for helping farmers or anyone else in the rural community who want to develop the industry and need help and advice in formulating the business.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, for that, because there are many different problems and issues, there are many different agencies. But I do not think that there is any overlap between them. If one is looking for help for farmers, one looks to one agency. If one is looking for help in planning, one is looking for help in small businesses. Different people are concerned, but that does not mean that there is overlap.
I was pleased to hear the general welcome for the consultation document on rural tourism from the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency. Like many other noble Lords, I am looking forward to seeing the responses to that consultation document and to contributing to the Government's response to it. Yes, it is true that field sports are not included in the 22 key issues for consideration, but it is up to noble Lords to respond and to add field sports to the 22 key issues if they want to do so.
I was asked about the timing of the rural White Paper, which everyone appeared to be awaiting eagerly. That is also good news. Consultation is still going on. The discussion document was launched in February of last year. We have had about 800 comments, which are now still being considered. When that is complete, we shall publish as soon as possible. It is not possible for me to give a date for it, but I can say that there will be a strong tourism development aspect to the rural White Paper.
In case I neglect it, I want to respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about zoo regulations. The revised standards of zoo practice were announced last month. The Zoo Licensing Act 1981, to which they refer, does not apply to farms, as farms do not generally exhibit wild species. If they do exhibit birds of prey, wallabies or animals like that, they will fall within the provisions of the Act as such birds and animals are not normally domesticated in this country. Perhaps I may finish by saying that there is a common theme here. We are concerned with the protection of the public from attack and the protection of the workers in zoos. Above all, we are concerned with public health, because there are issues here which affect wild animals, wherever they may be.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I shall do so briefly. Is he aware of the representations that have been made by the Farm Attractions Network with regard to the fact that it has
This is a debate about tourism in the rural economy rather than a more general debate about agriculture. What we might say usefully about the very major problems and opportunities for agriculture in the context of a debate of this kind is quite limited. However, reference has been made to the Action Plan for Farming announced last week by the Prime Minister, with its £200 million pounds of funding. It is true that there are parts of the country and types of farm where diversification in to tourism is not possible. But there are many measures that could be of use in developing tourism in the rural economy.
For example, £6.5 million will be available for the provision of on-farm advice through the Small Business Service. A free consultancy service will be available to any farmers wishing to seek approval from the planning authorities for a diversification project under the England Rural Development Plan. There will also be a doubling of the regional development agencies' redundant buildings grant to £8 million in this new financial year. MAFF already works with farmers and with its agencies, including the agricultural development agencies, advising farmers working to diversify in to tourism--a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. That will ensure that they are able to benefit from new initiatives such as LEADER+ and the England Rural Development Plan.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made a familiar but none the less serious complaint about there being too many agencies concerned with rural tourism. While acknowledging that there has been in the past a considerable degree of what might be called "iniative-itis", we nevertheless need to bear in mind that different parts of the country and different parts of the rural economies have different needs in terms of tourism development. This is not a case of "one size fits all". It is true that people with different needs go to different bodies for support. They approach the regional development authorities, on occasion the regional cultural consortiums, and particularly local authorities, specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
It is true that many of the powers of local authorities have been eroded over the years, especially under the previous government. But local government legislation under this Government seeks to restore powers to local authorities and in particular the power to decide for themselves how they spend some of their
Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lords, Lord Wade and Lord Plumb, spoke about planning issues and urged that our planning systems should be quicker and more flexible. I acknowledge the need for that. We are firmly committed to sustainable development and the need to integrate the environmental aspects of development with the economic and social aspects, which was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade.
Clearly, new tourism development must be assessed with all those points in mind, and planning guidance has been amended to take account of them. Publications by the DETR such as Planning for Sustainable Development: Towards Better Practice is evidence of our determination to do that.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked how planning policies can be made more flexible. Tomorrow's Tourism aims to ensure that all tourism development is more sustainable by ensuring that it is aesthetically attractive and in keeping with the landscape. Again, that is why planning policy guidance is being revised.
Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, perhaps I may come back to the Minister on that point. He has not answered my specific point as to why there is a statutory obligation to examine environmental matters and no statutory duty on planning authorities to take into consideration the economic needs of their region. That has not been changed by any recent planning guidance.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, I acknowledge that it takes a great deal longer to turn around statutory obligations than it does to affect the way in which planning authorities operate through planning policy guidance--which is why, seeing the urgency of the noble Lord's point, we are relying on planning policy guidance at the present time.
Many noble Lords talked about the importance of rural transport. I was slightly surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Monro, saying that some of this does affect tourism. I suspect that he was referring to specific examples such as support for rural bus services. Much of our transport policy has been directed at tourism. One such example is the abolition of the air passenger duty in the Highlands and Islands, which I hope the noble Lord welcomes. Unfortunately, I am not sure that I am qualified to answer about Eurostar connections to the West Country since Eurostar is a private company and its network and timetabling is not a matter for the Government.
I was surprised to hear noble Lords talking as though there were a possibility that the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill could actually damage tourism. I should have thought that the reverse was self-evidently the case and that access for a wider public to more of our beautiful countryside was bound to be helpful to tourism. The Bill contains protection for landowners. We shall be able to debate its provisions
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said that this is not the time to debate hunting. Indeed, the Government will not make any public statements about the matter until they have received the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and have had time to consider it. The debate has been not merely about hunting but about shooting, fishing and riding. It would be perverse to suggest that those are not important parts of the rural economy, and they are important to tourism as well. There is no threat to those field sports. There are many ways in which the Government are acting: our approach to infrastructure, accommodation and access will undoubtedly help field sports.
I could refer to the daughter document to the transport White Paper on inland waterways, which will include, for example, angling issues. I do not have time now to go into the detail on the others, but I could refer to the Rural Enterprise Scheme. The annex to the published scheme refers specifically to the needs of riding schools. I could certainly refer, if I had more time, to the Small Business Service and the importance of what it is able to do for small businesses in rural areas. After all, tourism in rural areas is largely a matter of small businesses. I acknowledge the validity of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lords, Lord Harrison, Lord Phillips and Lord Montagu, about the role of small businesses and the need for support to be provided to them.
The unanimity of views expressed in the debate has been impressive. I hope that I have shown in the time available to me that the Government agree wholeheartedly with the emphasis that has been given to the importance of tourism and in particular its importance to rural England.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. We have heard from a wide range of experience in terms of geographical accounts of tourism. Some clear and supportive themes were developed throughout all the contributions.
One of the most interesting aspects, about which I feel particularly strongly, is the need to identify the tourist regions and the United Kingdom itself. I was rather taken by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that the harmonisation of culture was a deterrent to tourism. That was a very helpful way to crystallise the difficulties that might be faced. That observation was somewhat at odds with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and his vision of what might be described as European tourism in which the local pub would become known as the "Drag and Hounds" and the sterile theme park nightmare, to which many noble Lords have referred, would creep upon us.
Many noble Lords felt strongly about planning. From the reply of the Minister, I detected some recognition on the Government Benches of the need for flexibility in planning. The Minister said that farming had perhaps played too large a part in the debate. I do not agree. Frankly, farming is such an integral part of rural Britain that if that is what we are to sell to tourists, it must be viewed with that clear objective in mind.
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