My right hon. Friend will know that my interest in the subject derives from the fact that my constituency ranges from the smallest English national park to the Somerset levels. Will he ensure that that land, which is not suitable for intensive and, therefore, fairly profitable farming or for conservation assistance, does not drift into a gentle decline? Will he therefore, as a matter of some urgency, bring forward proposals to ensure that all the countryside is farmed in an environmentally sensitive way?
As my hon. Friend knows, I have had many individual and informal meetings with conservation bodies and I am pleased to find that they increasingly recognise that if the British countryside is to be conserved, it can be only through the activities of farmers. That is why we are insistent that the reform of the common agricultural policy should be driven by a demand for environmental support. The Government are working for that fundamental change, which we hope to achieve.
I hope that, when the Minister meets conservationists in Monmouth next week, he will remind them that Welsh farmers' incomes have dropped by 50 per cent. over the past two years and that 14 per cent. of Welsh farmers are contemplating giving up farming due to the policies of the Secretary of State for Wales, who has full responsibility for agriculture in Wales. The Minister may not be aware that his colleague said yesterday at the annual general meeting of the Farmers Union of Wales in Aberystwyth that there is worse to come. Is that policy due to the advice given by Ministers in London and by the Government?
The hon. Gentleman's question would go down better were it not known that his party was wholly in favour of the European Community and supported the common agricultural policy. He knows perfectly well that the events about which he is talking are a result of the CAP, which we are committed to changing and which we are fighting to alter. The hon. Gentleman has no possible answers to that. He should not do this and he does so only because it is this week.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to emphasise the importance of conserving water resources in the countryside? Will he redouble his efforts to encourage farmers to impound the water from excessive rainfall in the winter rather than running down river levels by extraction for spray irrigation in the summer?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the problems of water levels, especially in the east of England, are of great seriousness. Happily, even the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) cannot blame the Government for that. The truth is that we shall have to share out the use of water. I was very unhappy about some of the suggestions that the National Rivers Authority put forward originally. I am pleased to say that they have now been considerably revised in a way that will protect the water table and, at the same time, enable farmers to use water as they need it to produce crops. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are looking carefully at the water levels of rivers in which I know that he has a particular interest, which he has pressed regularly to me.
Why cannot the Minister tell Mr. Ian Richardson and other conservationists in his constituency who is behind the Swiss bond holders who own Heveningham hall, one of the 20 most beautiful houses in England? Does he understand that, as I represent Hopetown and Dalmeny, it would be quite remiss of me as a Member not to know who owns those great houses?
The hon. Gentleman referred to a matter which is entirely under the control of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be more careful with his comments and I also hope that he will recognise the enormous amount of work that has been carried out to save that particular house——
—and take that in the context of a long period of misuse of the house by the former owners. Who that former owner was—he is now dead—is no more clear to me than it is to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and it would be quite improper for me to answer in any other way except to say that I do not know who the owner is.