Rural Life

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 4th November 1997.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 6:46 pm, 4th November 1997

Before I call the first speaker, I inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I remind the House that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 7:32 pm, 4th November 1997

I beg to move, That this House expresses its concern about the economic and environmental pressures currently affecting the rural economy and rural life; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to respond to this situation by protecting farmers from the effects of the appreciation of sterling, withdrawing the Government-imposed ceiling on the weight of cattle entering the BSE over thirty months scheme and undertaking without precondition discussions with farmers and their representatives about the level of payments to be made through the 1997–98 Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances scheme; and condemns the proposals to extend access to the countryside by means of a legal right to roam rather than voluntary agreement, not to introduce policies to protect small village shops and rural post offices, to create urban-based regional development agencies, to weaken planning controls designed to protect the Green Belt and the countryside, and to threaten the pursuit of traditional country sports.

I find myself at the Dispatch Box as a result of the sad resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) from the post that I now hold. He carried out his job as shadow Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with distinction following his ministerial career in that Department. He has made his decision for his own reasons, which he has stated. I know that he wishes to contribute to the debate this evening, and I wish him well in the future.

The motion standing in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends deals with the threats to rural life and the rural economy arising from the Government's actions. We shall address issues such as the decline in farm incomes, the future of the hill livestock compensatory allowance, access to the countryside, country sports, and the situation with rural development agencies. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) will deal with a whole raft of environmental issues that are threatening the countryside at present. It is hardly surprising that the countryside believes that it is under siege, but it is interesting that Labour Members should express surprise about that.

I note that the amendment put down by the Liberal Democrats—the junior partners in government—which you did not select, Mr. Deputy Speaker, agrees largely with the line that we have taken and that we shall debate this evening. We should not be surprised that the countryside feels under siege as a result of the Government's actions.

I referred to the Labour manifesto—it is always useful to see where a party is coming from—and, after an assiduous search, I discovered the 20 words in that manifesto that amount to an agriculture policy. One of those words was "Labour" and the other 19 dealt vaguely with agriculture. On the basis of such a thin diet, not only do the Government not have a coherent rural policy but they cannot claim to speak for the countryside, as Labour Members do from time to time.

It is interesting to consider what the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been up to since May. I used the modern technology of the internet to see if I could find anything that constituted a coherent rural policy. The only document I found that used the word "comprehensive" was a spending review. That was the only reference to rural policy to be found in MAFF press releases. The way that Ministers' minds were working is clear from the way in which they caved in to Treasury pressure. The press release entitled "MAFF Conducts Comprehensive Spending Review" states that the Government aim To examine the contribution of HLCAs towards meeting the objectives identified and to examine any other options for achieving those objectives more cost effectively or in ways which otherwise minimise public expenditure"— the cat was well and truly out of the bag as long ago as 29 July when the Minister was under pressure to reduce public expenditure— and maximise the positive impact on the economy. The Minister wants to boast to the rest of the non-rural world about how he has cut expenditure in that area. He winds up by saying: The consideration of possible options should not be limited to agricultural support measures. Goodness knows what is going on. No wonder there is uncertainty in the countryside and that it feels under siege.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

Is it not hypocritical of the Minister to talk in those terms when Labour inherited a bill for £3.5 billion arising from the BSE disaster?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman anticipates a rapid change of Government that would translate me immediately to the other Dispatch Box. Would the hon. Gentleman not have afforded that degree of support to farmers as a result of the BSE difficulties? It was right and proper to support the farmers at a time of considerable stress. It is no use Labour Members mocking me. Successive Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the former Conservative Government followed the scientific advice that they were given and acted properly in the interests of food and farming. They fought our corner in Europe until Professor Pattison's announcement. This debate is not solely about BSE, but I am happy to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman—perhaps on a Wednesday morning—and to defend our position robustly.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food claims to speak for the countryside: he claims to be in touch with rural Britain. What was one of his earliest acts? On 28 May, the Minister who wants to be in touch with the countryside scrapped the MAFF regional panels—the one lifeline of communication with the countryside. He replaced it with Ministers having to go hither and thither, the length and breadth of England, listening to farmers and talking to the food industry. They will be breathless if they try to carry out the work of the regional panels. [Interruption.] I hear the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), saying, "We will do it." I suggest that he read the Grower, for example, where his ministerial colleague the noble Lord Donoughue is reported only for cancelling meetings—not a good example of getting out and about so as to be in touch with the countryside.

Cutting off those rural panels was not a very clever thing to do if the Minister and his team want to keep in touch. The people involved will feel cheated because they made a significant contribution to ensuring that the previous Government were kept up to speed about rural and countryside issues and the benefit of that knowledge will no longer be available to the Minister.

It is hardly surprising that Labour Ministers go about their business in this way. One has only to read the Government amendment that has been selected for debate. It is pretty old, tired politics for the Minister to fall back on words such as deplores the neglect of the countryside and rural areas over the past eighteen years". I am delighted that behind me this evening is my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), a distinguished former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whose track record in fighting for the interests of British farmers during a period of reform of the common agricultural policy is second to none. He defended the interests of Britain's farmers, as did the former Member, William Waldegrave, my boss when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. But for his hard work, animal welfare would not be an issue on the European agenda. The Government's tawdry charge that the previous Administration did not look after the countryside for 18 years does not wash.

I remind the Minister that since 1992, farm incomes went up by 85 per cent. when we were in charge. I remind him that our work on Food From Britain has helped more than 1,000 companies to develop their food exports. We have some of the highest welfare standards in Europe as a result of our stewardship of countryside matters. We brought in massive deregulation and the opening up of agricultural markets with the removal of the Potato Marketing Board and the milk marketing boards. That is a record of which my right hon. and hon. Friends can be proud. I dismiss the first line of the Minister's amendment to my motion.

The amendment goes on and congratulates the Government on its commitment to the countryside". Twenty words in a manifesto do not add up to a commitment, and the cancelling of the regional panels seems more like cancelling a commitment than building one.

Further on in the amendment, we get to the real issue: the Government's intention to create the conditions necessary to let the rural economy flourish". We will speak about declining farm incomes, the tawdry way in which the Government are dealing with hill farmers, the burden on dairy farmers of the work that they have done on the over-30-months scheme, and other issues.

Then we read the hidden agenda—the Government's intention to enhance the rural environment and to enable everyone to enjoy the countryside". If that is not shorthand for the right to roam, I do not know what is.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

My right hon. Friend will realise that hill farm incomes have fallen by 20 per cent. Recently, farmers in Northumberland tackled the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), to ask what he intended to do about hill livestock compensatory allowance payments. The Minister replied: I thought there was some better news around—but I have forgotten what it is. Will my right hon. Friend press the Minister of State to see whether he can remember what good news he had for hill farmers?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I tried to find out what the Minister of State said at the Great North Meet. According to a newspaper report, Mr. Rooker told the Great North Meet in North Yorkshire that `there is better news floating around the system than there was in the summer. What is this system? Is this some new agricultural world in which Ministers live? It is hardly surprising that they are cut off from the countryside; they are in the system, and there is something floating about in it—probably the Minister.

The Minister of State went on to make this devastating commitment—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I am sorry if Labour Members do not like the truth, but this is what their Minister is saying. He said that Labour will not walk away from hill farmers—because we recognise the contribution they make to the upland landscape, the countryside and so on. All the soft words in the world do not take away from the fact that, as I shall outline in greater detail, he has already told hill farmers, "I am taking away £60 million from the hill livestock compensatory allowance. You are back to 1996. I do not care what arguments you put, because I am not going to listen to you. You are not going to come and see me—"

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Later I will welcome the right hon. Gentleman and congratulate him on his appointment, but now I will intervene as briefly as I can. The right hon. Gentleman was a Treasury Minister in the previous Administration. Did they make any provision for continuing that support in this financial year or next year?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

As the right hon. Gentleman is not a Treasury Minister, I suggest that he goes back to the Red Book, where he will find that there is a year-on-year increase. I will explain later how he can easily afford that within his budget, as he will also know the way in which the European public expenditure survey works. Let us have none of this nasty business of tripping me up at this stage. I suggest that the Minister does his homework and goes back and looks at the Red Book, where he will see that for the next financial year there is an increase, not a decrease, compared with this financial year.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Perhaps in the course of his remarks my right hon. Friend will ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food not whether there was a provision but whether he even asked the Treasury for something for HLCAs.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

My right hon. Friend is right. That is why under the fundamental expenditure review I concentrated on the fact that the Minister had already given it away before he started on the current exercise of not listening to the hill farmers. I do not think that he bothered to ask the Treasury, and he should speak to his own accounting officer. I shall try to help him out later and find him some money, as I have done a little homework on that. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that under our tutelage and our stewardship of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whereas at one time agriculture accounted for 73 per cent. of the European budget, we helped to negotiate that down to 50 per cent. Our record of agricultural stewardship stands examination.

If the Minister wants to attack us for the past 18 years, why has he, together with his colleague from the Department of the Environment, not had the courage to say that he will produce a parallel to "Rural England 1996", which contains 140 separate commitments from my party to the countryside? It is the only comprehensive record of countryside policy that exists. The Government do not have one.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

The right hon. Gentleman commended to the House his Government's stewardship of the countryside over the past 18 years. How would he account for the fact that the landslide on 1 May was almost as impressive in the countryside as it was in the towns? Some 50 seats there fell to the Labour party on 1 May and several more fell to the Liberal Democrats. Can he account for that phenomenon?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

The hon. Gentleman should look at a map, and he should listen to the voices of disillusion, especially from the hills. He would realise that people understand the message from the Opposition.

Let us deal with the meat of the debate. The first item that we want to discuss is farm incomes. The Minister knows that farmers face severe problems because of the appreciation of sterling against the ecu. One of my hon. Friends mentioned an increase of some 20 per cent. The Minister seems to have ignored the effect on farm incomes of the two summer revaluations in the green pound, which took place since his party has been responsible for agriculture policy.

Some of that is connected with the fact that the Government have abrogated their responsibility for the setting of interest rates and given it away to the Bank of England. I am sure that if we had been in charge none of that would have occurred. Labour has some responsibility for what has happened to sterling in respect of the appreciation against the green pound and the reductions in farm income that have taken place.

Despite the fact that a freeze occurred on certain green rates within some support schemes, the National Farmers Union has calculated that given the effect on prices of agriculture commodities there has been a loss in output value terms of between £1.7 billion and £11.8 billion. Higher estimates have been circulated, but I have chosen to quote lower figures because I believe that they are realistic. It has been suggested that losses could have been as high as £3.5 billion, a sum equivalent to that which we spent on bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The Minister will be aware that a new compensation mechanism was agreed under the new agri-monetary regime, which I am sure has been considered in considerable detail. I remember when the matter was debated in the House, when to the best of my recollection the then Labour Opposition did not oppose the adoption by the United Kingdom of the then proposals. I take that to mean that the then Labour Opposition agreed with them. It is interesting that the Minister, who appeared before the Select Committee on Agriculture today, admitted under questioning, so it is reported, that about £980 million could be available to the United Kingdom for compensation for loss of value of farm output. That applies to losses incurred in the dairy, beef, cereals and sugar sectors. What do the Government intend to do within the remit of the mechanism?

So far the Minister has shown no enthusiasm for dealing with the problems now besetting certain agricultural sectors as a result of a severe and sudden drop in income. As the Minister knows, other member states facing circumstances similar to those confronting the United Kingdom have used the mechanism to which I have referred. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will comment on that. Germany, in particular, argued for the implementation of the mechanism when it, too, was facing a similar situation to that experienced by the United Kingdom. The Minister owes it to the House to explain why he chooses not to use the mechanism that was urged especially by Germany to deal with the broad range of issues, and why he is not prepared to do that in compensating farmers for the losses that they have incurred up to January 1998.

Is the Minister prepared to consider some of the sectoral impacts of the fall in farm incomes? He will know that in spite of the efforts to help the beef sector it continues to face considerable difficulties, certainly in terms of values.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

It is all very well for the Minister to ask whose fault it is. The Minister is responsible for these matters and he represents the Government's views. The Opposition are asking questions on behalf of Britain's farmers in the rural community, and he owes them an answer. If the Minister is not prepared to compensate across the board, is he prepared to focus on the hardest-hit sectors? I am thinking especially of beef, sheep and dairy. Milk prices have fallen substantially and given the appreciation of sterling there is considerable import pressure. Surely the right hon. Gentleman can bring himself to focus on the genuine needs of the sectors to which I have referred, given the circumstances that I have described.

The second and substantive part of the motion relates to hill farming. I have alluded already to the cavalier way in which the Minister appears to be treating hill farmers. It is interesting to reflect on the terms in which the previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced that there would be an additional £60 million for hill and upland farmers. His announcement was the result of the normal discussions with hard-pressed hill farmers, and an additional £60 million was included in the hill livestock compensatory allowance for that year.

The Minister will know that rates have traditionally been set as a result of discussion between the Minister of the day and territorial representatives of each of the major farming organisations. So far, as I understand it, those representatives have been sent to talk to their territorial Ministers, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food having refused to meet them. In a press release last year, the Minister stated: This has been a difficult year for cattle farmers in the less-favoured areas. The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged the difficulties that were faced that year. Hill farmers will have reminded the Minister that the year to which they are looking in terms of HLCA will be no less difficult.

How has the Government's attitude been viewed so far in the farming press? Farmers Weekly on 19 September described the Minister's stance as "wanton vandalism". It stated: There can be no other way to describe the government's decision to abandon hill farming to the chill winds of market economics. It has delivered two, possibly fatal, body blows to the future of hill farming.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is being slightly unfair to the Minister. Surely the Minister is holding his meeting back until he can welcome the representatives of the farming organisations into his new offices, having spent £1 million of taxpayers' money tarting them up so that he can have a meeting. He does not want to have a meeting any earlier as there might then be suspicions that the refurbished offices are merely for his own interests and not to be shared by anyone else.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

My right hon. Friend is right. Given that the hill farmers are struggling to keep a roof over the Minister's head, I am sure that he has taken careful note of what my right hon. Friend has said.

I shall put before the House an interesting letter that I received. In 1994 a Labour Member wrote these words to a farmer in Richmond about HLCAs: We in the Labour Party recognise how important this payment is to hill farmers. We recognise the important role hill farmers have, both in terms of rural employment, environmental management and tourism. In that respect we do believe that HLCAs do offer very good value for money and we will strongly oppose any move by the government to reduce them. Those comfortable words to hill farmers were uttered by none other than the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), in a letter to Mr. Davy of Richmond. How thin that diet now appears as the Minister connives with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to face hill farming with a difficult situation.

Let us consider what a letter from No. 10 Downing street tells us on the same subject. A letter to the same Mr. Davy of the Hill Farming Initiative contains the following: Let me confirm straightaway that the Government is committed to the idea that hill farmers need special help". That shows that the Government are thinking about the issue, but they are not exactly backing up their thinking with very much action.

The Minister wrote to Alistair Davy on 22 October 1997: I know from my own constituency that incomes are under pressure". The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. More than 40 per cent. of hill farmers in England and Wales earn less than £10,000 a year. The Minister is choosing, however, to take a large sum away from these farmers. I want the Minister, if he will, to concentrate on the lines that have been put to me by the Hill Farming Initiative. Those involved have made it clear that if the Minister does not recant, hill farmers will be short by about £60 million. The figures show that there will be a 20 per cent. loss in hill farm incomes, and some have suggested that the loss will be even greater. Is it the Minister's understanding that the loss in hill farming incomes projected for next year for those farmers with an average net income of between £10,000 and £16,000 will be between 20 and 25 per cent? Will he admit that there are real problems for hill farmers, especially with the debt load that they are carrying?

I draw the Minister's attention to an example—

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

The Minister asks me to draw to a close. When the truth is hurting the answer is no—I shall continue to give the Minister information.

I pass on to the Minister for his comment some information from the Hill Farming Initiative. Those involved point out to me that a farmer last year with £18,200 of net farm income—38 beef cows, six cows in heifer, 663 ewes and 89 gimmers, which the Minister will recognise as a typical modest-sized hill farm—faced with all the changes that will ensue as a combination of green pound rates and the expected reduction in HLCAs will be about £8,000 down next year. The Minister, so far, has turned his face against the real needs of the most vulnerable in the rural economy. It seems that the Minister is hitting the weakest hardest.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the principal beneficiaries of the work of the Rural Development Commission are hill farmers, who will need all the help that they can get? The RDC has a fuddy-duddy image: that it is only about thatching, shoeing horses and saddlery. It is not; it is about high-tech help for rural communities and assistance for all rural hill farm communities as well as the wider rural community. Is he aware that the RDC is due for the chop under this Government? What a mean-minded trick.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk will deal with that matter when he winds up.

The changes that the Minister made to the over-30-months scheme bear particularly heavily on hill farmers. How did he calculate the weight restriction that he has imposed? Why did he do it? I have been informed that it was on the basis of an analysis of the Irish cattle market. He seems to have got a very Irish result. He has chosen 560 kilos as a wholly arbitrary figure for the cut-off point for the over-30-months scheme. It is one of those situations where people choose the breed of cow that best suits the marketplace, then the Minister comes along and arbitrarily decides who will get maximum help and who will not. It is about time that he explained himself. It is particularly mean-spirited as far as hard-pressed dairy farmers are concerned. The Minister owes it to the House to deal with that issue.

There are other issues that cause the countryside to feel under threat at this time. In their amendment there is a clear indication that the Government are still keen on having a legal right to roam, with all the uncertainties that that causes for the countryside. Will the Minister pay attention? These are questions to which we shall want answers. What representations will he make to his colleagues in Government about what is to be defined as moorland, heathland and downland in terms of the access schemes to be proposed? For instance, will downland that is currently farmed in a managed way be part of the open access policies? One thing that distinguishes our approach from the Government's approach is that we believed in managing access through agri-environmental schemes to applaud and support landowners who voluntarily made access to the countryside available. The Government's sole solution is to legislate. So far there is great uncertainty in the countryside about that matter.

The threats to country sports remain. I do not want at this stage to have the debate that will take place on 28 November, but I point out to the Minister that the countryside feels under siege. The pressures on rural sports are a threat to an industry which, in 1997, common resource consultants calculate to be worth £3.8 billion per year. The Government have sought, perhaps, to distance themselves from the Bill on fox hunting, which is to be debated on 28 November, but they will need to do more than that to reassure the countryside and farming interests that they have not got a long-term agenda to take away one of the most valuable contributors to the rural economy.

My right hon. and hon. Friends will make their own contributions to the debate to fill out some of the arguments that I have made, but the time has come, as the Walrus said, for the Minister to speak of many things. I hope that his reply will be forward looking and that it will respond to the real fears and concerns of country people. I want him to show that the fine words that he and his colleagues have uttered from time to time on the question of hills, the vital role that hill communities face and the work that they do in looking after that aspect of our countryside, will be sustained by his Ministry. I want him to show that he has at least some understanding of farming matters. If he does not do so, it will be absolutely clear to anybody in the country and the farming community that there is only one true voice for countryside matters in this country—the Conservative voice.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 8:05 pm, 4th November 1997

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: deplores the neglect of the countryside and rural areas over the past eighteen years by the previous administration; congratulates the Government on its commitment to the countryside; welcomes the Government's intention to create the conditions necessary to let the rural economy flourish, to protect and enhance the rural environment and to enable everyone to enjoy the countryside; and further welcomes the start already made, notably on the reform of the CAP, the review of the Organic Aid Scheme, introducing Arable Stewardship, and reviewing the legislation for the protection of hedges and SSSIs. I welcome the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) to his new position in the shadow Cabinet. He has taken over from the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who has an enviable record in these matters and no doubt will be sorely missed—even though they might not recognise it yet—by the rest of the shadow Cabinet. We just wonder, given the ructions in the Conservative party at the moment and his well-known views on European issues, whether the right hon. Member for Fylde will survive until Agriculture questions on Thursday. The right hon. Gentleman displayed a broad sense of humour in his speech and an easy facility for being rather careless with the facts. I remind him that he promised us that in the course of his speech he would tell us where he would conjure up the £60 million that is not in the provisions that we inherited from him and his colleagues in the previous Government. He made no mention of where it would come from.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I am grateful to the Minister for giving me this opportunity. Perhaps between now and the close of the debate he will ask his officials to look at the underspend on the sheep annual premium, which possibly amounts to some £200 million. Will he also confirm that if he wishes to apply to the Treasury, he has, with its agreement, the ability within his budget to redirect the money to cover the £60 million shortfall on HLCAs?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Nevertheless it is true, although the right hon. Gentleman refuses to acknowledge it, that the previous Government made provision for one year and one year only. They made no on-going provision for this expenditure. That is the reality.

Members of the shadow Cabinet have chosen this topic for debate on the forlorn ground that somehow they think it sensible as an area on which to attack the Government. They claim that they represent the countryside and the people who live there. Sadly for them, that is no longer—if it ever was—the case. They misrepresented the countryside. That is true. They misrepresented the countryside so badly that, on 1 May this year, the people in the countryside drove out the Tories in very large numbers and gave huge support to Labour candidates, so much so that Labour Members of Parliament not only represent more rural constituencies than Conservatives these days but represent more rural constituencies than Conservatives and Liberal Democrats put together. If there is any true voice in the countryside at the present time, it is the Labour voice that is speaking up for rural areas.

In Scotland, in rural areas or urban areas, the Tories have no voice in the House. It is the same in Wales. They have been rejected comprehensively by the Scottish and Welsh people, who have supported Labour, by and large, for a generation. I have represented one of the most rural constituencies in England for 27 years. Labour is the real party representing the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were driven out because of their incompetence over 18 years in failing effectively to serve rural communities.

Let us have a brief résumé of the record. Bus deregulation has left rural communities trapped and isolated. That was one of the Conservative Government's brilliant ideas. There was the threat to privatise the Post Office in rural areas and cities, which, fortunately, was headed off by the Post Office workers. There was also a threat to rural railways and housing association homes. The Conservative Government even wanted to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales until they were defeated on that, too, by a combination of the National Farmers Union and the Transport and General Workers Union.

The Conservative Government left high, persistent, levels of unemployment, low incomes and rural deprivation. All that before we even come to their record on agriculture or fishing. They were isolated in Europe, devoid of credibility and support where it mattered in European Councils. Common agricultural policy reform was not even on the agenda when they left office. The fishing industry and fish conservation was left in a shambles. In addition, they failed to act on the sale of fishing quota, which went on under their Administration.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Not for the moment.

BSE gave rise to a catalogue of indecision and ineptitude, which is taking billions of pounds to rectify, and resulted in a global ban on British beef. The shambles in which the Conservative Government left the British beef industry cost the British taxpayer £1.33 billion last year and will cost more than £2 billion more in the next two to three years, yet the right hon. Gentleman dares to say that the Conservative party speaks for the countryside.

There were disastrous failures in food hygiene and a loss of confidence in food safety and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Conservative Government also had an abysmal record on support for organic farming, the worst in the EU. After 18 years of Conservative government only 0.3 per cent. of our farming is organic.

Labour was elected because of its real commitment to all the British people, including those in the countryside, and to rural issues. We recognise the needs of all those who live and work in rural areas, not just those who wear blue Barbour jackets and green wellies and ride around in Range Rovers, which is the epitome of the forlorn, bedraggled and minor Tory voice left in the British countryside.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Is that the best that the right hon. Gentleman can do when it comes to dealing with those on the lowest incomes, such as the hill farmers? [Interruption.] That is the real substance of the debate and the right hon. Gentleman had better get to it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber. The only voice that I should hear is that of the Minister.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The right hon. Gentleman made a long speech and has already made two interventions. I shall get to the substance of the matter quickly—a lot more quickly than he did.

We recognise the special needs of those who live and work in rural areas and we shall ensure greater protection for wildlife, as well as people, in our rural areas. We recognise that the countryside requires careful stewardship, enabling the needs of people who live and work in rural areas to be met in a sustainable fashion. The previous Administration failed in that regard too.

We support reform of the CAP in order to reduce the burden that it imposes on taxpayers and consumers and to free resources to support the rural economy and enhance the environment. In addition, yes, we will give people greater freedom to explore their countryside. There is no doubt about our commitment to that.

The Government believe that the countryside is a vital national resource and a key part of the economy.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No, not for the moment. If the countryside is to be protected and enhanced, we must recognise that its purpose and identity are as important as that of towns and cities. The countryside is the workplace or home for many, as well as a place of recreation for many others. It is also the habitat for much of our wildlife. It is essential that we all strive towards sustainable use of the countryside for this and future generations.

When the right hon. Gentleman said, as he did more than once, that country sports are under threat, he was, again, completely misleading the House. There is no threat to angling or shooting in the countryside. As has already been demonstrated, there is overwhelming support in the House and in the countryside for the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster).

The Government have set out their commitment to opportunity, fairness and prosperity for all, whether they live in cities or rural areas. At the same time, they recognise the distinctive needs of people in rural communities. The Government intend to make rural areas a better place in which to live and work. That is the background against which policy will be formulated. Now I shall address some specific policies.

A healthy rural economy is central to the Government's integrated approach to rural issues. It is important for many reasons—to support our economic growth, for conservation and to combat social exclusion and poverty. Wages are still low and unemployment is still too high everywhere as a result of the Conservative Government's approach, and there are pockets of deprivation in the countryside with high unemployment, often because of the scattered nature of rural communities, the narrow economic base and the shortage of employment and training opportunities.

The Government intend to tackle all those issues in order to help create the conditions necessary to allow rural enterprise to flourish and to develop a diverse and vibrant rural economy.

Our countryside is defined by agriculture which, in turn, is largely shaped by the current system of support. That is why reform of the CAP is a major priority for the Government. To that end, we will work hard and constructively with the European Commission and our European partners, in all the EU institutions, unlike the previous Government, who were such an abysmal failure in Europe that they had no friends and no support for anything that they wanted to do.

The Commission's Agenda 2000 proposals are a welcome step towards that reform and are of major significance for rural policy. The package is not as radical as I would have wished and as the Government would have liked and there are elements in it, such as the proposal to retain milk quotas, which are disappointing. Nevertheless, it is important to have proposals on the agenda and we shall work with our colleagues in the Council and the Commission who want to progress them.

The proposals for rural agri-environment policy are also welcome. In particular, it makes sense to create integrated rural development measures which will apply throughout the Community. That offers the prospect of closer integration between environmental and rural development measures and the availability of a wider range of targeted measures outside those areas qualifying for special help. In those special areas we shall work to ensure that the UK receives a fair share of funding.

In future, the intention is that eligible rural areas will benefit from objective 1 status, in a similar way to now. Objective 5b, which has benefited a wide range of rural areas, will be phased out, but fragile rural areas will be eligible, along with others, for aid from a new objective 2 proposal. We will work to ensure that the rural parts of those new objective 2 areas receive an appropriate share of the support available.

In the longer term, further reform of the CAP will be necessary, not least as part of the next round of agriculture negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, which is due to start at the beginning of the new century. It is our intention to secure the phasing out of production-linked support. That would yield consumer benefits and substantial budgetary savings, some of which could be used to support targeted schemes to help rural development, rural economies and the rural environment.

We heard much from the right hon. Gentleman about expenditure proposals, but he did not put a price on what he had to say. That is quite a change for a former Treasury Minister who, when in government, used to stand at the Dispatch Box and demand to know the cost of every Opposition proposal. He did not do any costings of his proposal, so I took the precaution of doing some for him.

The right hon. Gentleman misled the House about green pound compensation. I said that £980 million was available under that general heading, but only half of it could come direct from Brussels; the other half would have to come from the United Kingdom. Thanks to the negotiations carried out by the previous Administration, of that Brussels half, 71 per cent. would have to come from the British taxpayer. So the first part of the bill for the right hon. Gentleman's motion is £340 million of extra public expenditure.

The right hon. Gentleman complained about the changes to the over-30-months scheme. If we went back to the status quo, as he seemed to suggest, that would cost another £40 million minimum. He did not put a price on his demands on hill livestock compensatory allowances, but he mentioned a figure of £60 million, so we will add that to the total. That takes us to £440 million of additional public expenditure, which is the cost of the right hon. Gentleman's amendment. Where does he propose that should come from? Tax increases? Does he want it to be taken from other budget headings, such as health, education or training? He made no suggestion about that, because he knows that the whole proposal is so fraudulent as to be laughable. That is the cost of his menu without prices: with prices it is in excess of £400 million.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I have already supplied an answer to the question of hill livestock compensatory allowances. With great respect, the Minister has not read our motion. We asked him how he intends to respond to the calls from farmers, particularly hill farmers, on these issues. So far, all we have had is an accounting exercise. The Minister will not answer the questions that we posed.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

It is a bit rich for a former Treasury Minister to call it an accounting exercise. Does he think that we do not have to keep the books? Is that what he proposes?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I shall not give way again: I have given way three times already. I am not having any more of his long, boring, convoluted interventions thank you very much. The right hon. Gentleman must face the fact that he is demanding that British taxpayers should, one way or another, produce a minimum of an additional £440 million to support the motion. There is no way that we can realistically provide anything like that sum of money.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

The right hon. Gentleman is frit.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

Yes, and my Scottish colleagues met Scottish farmers, the Secretary of State for Wales has met farmers in Wales and the same will happen in Northern Ireland. When that round of consultation has finished, we shall discuss the outcome. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we have already made up our minds about these matters is completely bogus: I have said no such thing.

As for agri-monetary compensation, I have told farmers exactly what I am telling the House now and what I told the Select Committee on Agriculture this morning. I am not persuaded that the case has been made. I have not said no, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. I shall keep the matter under review, and I have until January next year for some of the potential compensation and even longer than that to make up my mind.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he help us on the question of the £200 million underspend? Does that underspend exist? If so, could he apply it? We are not asking him to say now whether he will apply it. Has that £200 million already been taken by the Treasury? If he could help the House, we would know whether or not he has the money.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No money from the existing budget has been taken by the Treasury. I shall find out whether the assertion of the right hon. Member for Fylde is true, and we can then consider it. I am not convinced that it is true, but we shall see. I shall return to the speech that I was making before the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) intervened. The previous Government's scheme to encourage conversion to organic farming offered the lowest rates in the European Union. We are urgently studying the structure and rates of that aid scheme with a view to raising the profile and quantity of organic farming in Britain. However, organic farming is not the only way to bring environmental benefits, nor will it suit every farmer or every consumer. We have taken broader steps to protect and enhance the countryside. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are currently undertaking a joint review of countryside policy.

The right hon. Member for Fylde criticised us for not having produced a White Paper on the countryside. It took the Conservative Government 16 years to produce a White Paper, and he criticises us for not having produced one in six months. The criticism is absurd, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. Like the road to hell, their White Paper was paved with good intentions but made no specific proposals that were acted on by the Conservative Government.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the environment. Surely it is most important for the rural environment to remain inhabited. Neither the Government nor the official Opposition have expressed concern about family farms and smallholdings, which are under great threat. Geraint Jones, a farmer, wrote to me and said—[Interruption.]

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

We know there are problems. I would be the first to acknowledge that there are pretty serious problems, because I represent hill farmers. The idea that we can resolve those problems within six months of taking office, or provide the resources on the scale that the right hon. Gentleman pretends is possible, is frankly absurd, and people know that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) says, from a sedentary position, that we have made matters worse. During the election, we campaigned on a proposal to stay within the previous Government's spending policies. Conservative Members supported and voted for those spending policies, but now that they are in opposition, they criticise them. They pushed their spending proposals through the House of Commons. They supported them then, and within six months of losing office they are criticising them. The right hon. Gentleman's opportunism and that of his hon. Friends is transparent and naked in its vulnerability.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Like me, my right hon. Friend has hill farmers in his constituency. The previous Government's failure is shown by the amount of land that has gone out of production and by the number of farmers who have ceased to farm.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I know that in some of the dales in my constituency, where there were once five or six farms, there are now one or two. People have left the land and others have bought the farms and amalgamated them simply because, over years, people could not make even a subsistence living under the previous Government's policies.

We are committed to supporting the biodiversity action plans that have been drawn up for many of our important and threatened species and habitats. With our encouragement, flax processors have introduced a protocol that should end farmers ploughing up land of conservation value to gain the large subsidy available for that crop. We are looking at ways of strengthening the protection for hedges and sites of special scientific interest with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and her colleagues in the Department.

We have made major progress on better, more effective animal welfare policies in six months in office. On the problem of BSE and the beef ban, we have made more progress in six months in Brussels than the previous Government made in 18 months.

We are introducing a pilot arable stewardship scheme to enhance biodiversity in arable areas and particularly address the serious decline of many of our well-loved birds, such as the skylark. We have noted concerns about the protection of various areas of outstanding natural beauty and look forward to receiving advice in the spring from the Countryside Commission.

This ragbag of an Opposition motion and the speech of the right hon. Member for Fylde—a former Agriculture Minister and a former Treasury Minister—simply beggars belief. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is reading."' If hon. Members really want to know, it does not actually say that in front of me. The suggestion that, somehow, the Government are not concerned about the position of farmers is nonsense. Compensation is not without cost, as I pointed out. The compensation scheme available requires a 71 per cent. contribution from the Government and taxpayers.

Turning to the point by the right hon. Member for Fylde on the over-30-months scheme, I believe that farmers have had a reasonable amount of time to adapt to the changed circumstances brought about by BSE and the introduction of the scheme. When the changes were made, I met representatives of the National Farmers Union. We invited them to suggest alternative proposals. I said that, if they could come back to me with alternative proposals which suited them and the union's members better, I would be happy to try to persuade Brussels to accept them. The sad reality was that they were unable to reach any agreement on any set of proposals to substitute for the ones that came from Brussels in the first place.

On HLCAs, I would more than welcome, as I have said to the right hon. Member for Fylde, the Opposition's advice on how they think that we could continue with the £60 million provision which they made for one year only.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am not giving way any more.

Although we wish to help farmers whenever possible, the Government were elected with a clear commitment to remain within the previous Government's predetermined public expenditure totals, for which the right hon. Gentleman voted. Unlike the previous Tory Government, this Government will keep their promises.

I asked the right hon. Member for Fylde earlier, although he did not reply—

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

No, 1 am not giving way again. It is clearly a waste of time to do so. The right hon. Gentleman did not suggest extra taxation or transferring resources from anywhere else. As I have said, he has tried to get through the debate without putting any price on his proposals.

The Conservative party's condemnation of the Government for not introducing policies to protect small village shops and rural post offices is an act of desperation rather than a coherent line of policy given its policies in that area, especially Post Office privatisation proposals. The Government will push ahead with our manifesto pledge for greater freedom for people to explore the countryside. Not only is it important to preserve and enhance the landscape and wildlife; it is important that everyone should be able to enjoy it. We are firm in that commitment but we are equally determined to respect the rights of those who live and work in the countryside. We will work closely with all those involved and shortly publish a consultation paper on the matter.

I have demonstrated the Government's commitment to rural communities. We have taken many issues forward in the past six months. The Government aim to create a healthy, sustainable rural economy. The development of an integrated approach, better use of resources and effective European policies can combine to help us create it. The previous Administration never even tried to do so on that basis.

With a new Labour Government, the prospects for our countryside and the people who live, work in and depend on it are better than ever. I urge the House to reject the fraudulent Tory motion and support the Government amendment.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon 8:35 pm, 4th November 1997

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the real situation in agriculture as seen in my constituency, which is a fragile one of uplands and difficult farming, where there are some of the most difficult conditions in the United Kingdom. What he has said in this debate will not bring one crumb of comfort to farmers in my constituency who fear for their livelihoods.

If farmers who fear for their livelihoods are forced to quit the land, enormous support of the landscape, the environment and wildlife will go with them. Finding an alternative means of supporting the land, keeping the landscape and enabling people to enjoy it will cost more than the maintenance of farmers on that land. They know about that countryside and that landscape.

There is a real crisis that affects the lifeblood of my constituency, which is typical of many in the uplands of the United Kingdom—whether in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or large parts of England. Three elements are fuelling the crisis. Price cuts following revaluation have brought the dairy prices for a Milk Marque producer down to 20p, with whatever quality payments might be available.

Cuts in the over-30-months compensation scheme, especially to the weight limit, are bound to hit suckler herds, which are characteristic of uplands and difficult areas. Farmers there do not have a range of choice of breeds. A Charolais or Belgian Blue-based herd in my constituency suffers immediately from such a cut.

Cuts in beef prices have been disastrous. I was at the Craven auction mart yesterday—I am afraid that I shall mention it frequently. The following are yesterday's prices; what farmers are getting at the moment; the actual situation to within 24 hours of the present. Farmers in the Craven auction mart are talking not about biodiversity action plans but about the beef price. That is what matters to them.

For steers, farmers are getting 90p a kilo. Two years ago, it was 115p. Heifers fetch 97p a kilo, but two years ago they were sold for 135p a kilo. The best price for the most fashionable and desirable Belgian Blue is about 138p a kilo, yet the same beef was bringing in more than 200p a kilo two years ago.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I represent hill farmers. He represents hill farmers. I am concerned about their situation now, and appealing to him to do something about it. He understands it.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

It does not seem a cheat to farmers. The prices affect their income, what goes into their bank balances, their collateral, what the bank manager has to judge. If the right hon. Gentleman told farmers at Craven auction mart that they should not compare prices because it is a cheat, it would not help their bank balances or their livelihoods.

There is a problem, and I would like to help the right hon. Gentleman to solve it. Plenty of cattle are still being sold at 80p a kilo. He mentioned that there might be a hill livestock compensatory allowance review. It certainly does not feel as if there is to be one to the farmers in my constituency.

For a dairy farmer, the combination of cuts in cull cow compensation and price cuts for heifers and bull calves means that the farm income for a 55 or 60-strong dairy herd, which is a typical size, especially in Wales, is £13,000 to £15,000 down on last year's profit. In the past few months, no fewer than 15 small dairy farmers in my constituency have sold their whole undertaking at the Craven auction mart. That is the extent of the haemorrhage affecting the dairy herd.

Of course, that option is not open to many hill farmers, because they are locked into the land and cannot get away so easily. They do not have quotas, as dairy farmers have, which are immediately marketable and, in fact, provide pensions for some of the older farmers. They depend on the HLCAs to the tune of 90 per cent. or more, and they have been hit by the cattle price and the sheep price. I am sorry to keep coming back to the Craven mart, but the prices there represent the farmers' incomes, because it is their marketplace. Mule wether lambs were selling for £38 to £42 in August, but the same animals are now £34 to £35. That fall has happened in a matter of months, so the same problem is occurring even in the sheepmeat sector, which is normally regarded as having done well.

Upland farmers cannot walk out, so we see increasing poverty. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was right about one thing—people in the countryside work for very low wages—sometimes for what we would regard as pocket money. Poverty in the countryside is much less obvious than in the town, because the communities are more remote and it is therefore less easy to treat. The sheer levels of despair that are reached—the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is nodding, because he knows this is true—are very serious indeed. The Government can help.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) mentioned the green pound revaluation and the weight limits. On that subject, I wonder whether the Government have achieved savings on the suckler premium, because that has been affected by the revaluation. The suckler premium savings might enable the Minister to lift the weight limit on suckler herds only, which would be an enormous help, which could be targeted on some of the most vulnerable sectors.

The Government should conduct a proper HLCA review. The cost of doing nothing may be bearable in the short term, but in the long term the fabric of rural life and landscape—which we value and which the Minister says he values—is at risk from what is happening. That is not just a farmer's whinge. Everybody is used to epigrammatic remarks about farmers always being miserable, but the current problems go to the very heart of their livelihoods and of life in my constituency and other rural areas.

I can tell the Minister that the hills are bleeding, and, if the Government do nothing, the hills will soon be dying. That is not the only fear. People have fears about access, and the Government could do a service by tidying up the many untidy bits of legislation on access. It is not right for the diversion of a footpath to cost £10,000 and take seven years. There is a good case for tidying up the legislation and introducing voluntary access agreements with landowners.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), I am concerned about the fate of the Rural Development Commission and the absorption of objective 5b into objective 2. Will the Government continue the single regeneration budget universally across the country, or pull it back to the cities? Not a word has been said on that by the relevant Department since the Government came to power. It appears to be one of the few matters that the Government are not reviewing at the moment.

I am concerned about local authority services. The Government claim to have helped education and health, but personal social services will face a crisis this year. That crisis will affect many elderly people living in residential homes in remote communities.

What will the Government do about planning? The Minister is a decent man, and he represents an upland constituency. I know that he understands the problems and would like to support his constituents. He knows, because he talks to farmers and the other country people who come to see him and he goes about his constituency, that the problems are the same throughout the country.

We all accept the financial constraints on Governments—although the Government have had a Budget and the opportunity to change their priorities—but what matters is the livelihood of the people on whom we depend to maintain a certain sort of countryside and way of life. Those people are crucial to the countryside, and we want to preserve them. If the right hon. Gentleman does nothing, we will not succeed. If he is prepared to act, we can look forward to seeing succeeding generations in that precious and vital landscape that we all wish to enjoy.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda 8:43 pm, 4th November 1997

I crave the indulgence of the House, because I wish to speak on another aspect of the rural economy, which has nothing to do with farming. I speak with reasonable authority, because I was a professional geologist when I had a proper job. I emphasise at the beginning that more than 100,000 people are involved in the minerals extraction industry in this country, much of which is based in rural areas and which contributes enormously to the rural economy.

Britain is underlain by rocks of an extraordinarily rich variety. Those minerals have been used since pre-history in every facet of this island's social and commercial life. Boxgrove man knapped flints from chalk cliffs 500,000 years ago; Roman colonists obtained gold, silver and lead from Cornubia; Wealden iron made the guns that defeated the Spanish armada; and our coal resources fuelled the industrial revolution. That extraordinary revolution was built on the mineral wealth of this country. It provided the raw materials for the chemical industry, the sand and gravel and limestone for concrete, and the oil and gas that now drives most of our modern transportation system.

Despite the demonstrable value of the minerals industry to the national economy, the widespread public perception is of an industry that has squandered the earth's resources, despoiled the landscape and polluted the environment. I say to the Government, as I would have said to the previous Government, that they cannot base a policy on the opinions of the last pressure group that Ministers spoke to. We need a properly planned minerals policy. I speak not on behalf of the industry, but on behalf of the more than 100,000 people who are involved in the industry, many in rural areas where there is no other option for work.

Apart from the jobs and prospects in rural communities, the industry is enormously valuable to the country. The total value of minerals production in the United Kingdom is some £17 billion a year, including industrial minerals such as fluorspar, barytes, salt, potash, fuller's earth and special clays, and construction minerals such as crushed rock, national aggregates, gypsum and common clay. Many hon. Members have quarries and works in their constituencies that extract those vital minerals for our economy.

Mineral production in Britain is now dominated by oil, followed by coal, but other vital non-metallic minerals are very important, including crushed rock, limestone, sand and gravel. They are essential to our construction industry and in the development of our cities, which are probably the greatest despoilers of the environment, especially when the Government allow intrusion into the green belt.

Britain is a major minerals producer on a world scale. More than 80,000 people are employed directly by the industry, and many are employed, especially in the rural communities, in transporting the minerals to the consumer through heavy road vehicles and rail freight haulage. In addition, much of the revenue generated and derived from mining and quarries supports secondary industries in their areas, which often have few alternative sources of employment.

Negative perceptions of the industry are often trotted out by certain pressure groups. The first is that it squanders the earth's resources. That is simply not true. The record of mineral production through time shows clearly that, while individual mineral deposits can be worked out, known reserves have increased with time.

The second charge levelled at the industry is that it despoils landscapes. That also is not true. The industry may be an unwelcome neighbour in some areas—particularly for people who have come from the city to live in the country. They may not want to see any development of the rural economy, but, on the other hand, most people who live in rural communities welcome this way of earning a living outside agriculture.

An unavoidable fact at the heart of this debate which needs to be tackled by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is that Britain is a small and crowded island with many different demands for land use. The limits of free market principles and deregulation, which were the wont of the Tory party when it was in power, need to be closely addressed.

Having listened to the shadow spokesman, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), I must say that I was amazed by his attitude and his calls for Government intervention—this is the only industry in which the Conservatives want the Government to play a part. Certainly, when the Conservatives were decimating British industry, I wished that they had interfered positively.

Planning decisions are desperately important, but they must be balanced with land use and the reconciliation between local desires and the national interest when an application is called in by a Department and examined at a public inquiry. The effect of minerals operation on the local environment in an aesthetic sense has to be balanced against the value to the local economy and whether the mineral is vital and is not available elsewhere.

It is important to recognise that aggregates extraction takes up only a minute area of the British landscape—something like 0.3 per cent. Oddly enough, the figure is declining rapidly, because the process of rehabilitation currently exceeds the present extraction rate. After mineral planning guidance 6 in 1994, the then Government were positive and said that there ought to be a rundown of primary extraction and greater use of recycling material.

There are some who say that MPG6 did not go far enough, and they would like to see the closing of limestone quarries and gravel workings, for example. They say that, if we cut the road building programme, it would reduce the demand for road stone.

The important thing to remember is that road building under the Conservatives was cut by such a degree that, in England, only one national scheme was started in 1995-96, and there is a huge backlog of maintenance need. If no new roads were constructed by 2010, the demand for primary aggregates would be likely to increase by about 25 per cent.

I mention that because it is important to remember that 80 per cent. of the demand for primary aggregates leads not to road construction but to improvements in housing, schools, hospitals, railways, factories, inner cities, recreational facilities and amenities, sewage treatment works and a host of other essential uses. That is a positive contribution by the countryside economy to those who live in urban areas.

There is a conflict between landscape and the use of the countryside in this positive sense. But this must be balanced, and it can be balanced only by the Government adopting a constructive policy on mineral extraction. It is right for the industry to seek to create wealth from our natural resources, and it is equally right that neighbours should be entitled to object to activities which impinge—

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall 8:53 pm, 4th November 1997

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am a last minute stand-in for my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) who is undertaking duties in the Standards and Privileges Committee. Any shafts of wisdom in the next few minutes come from me, while anything of a more prosaic nature comes from my hon. Friend's script.

I know that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) has had to leave the Chamber for another engagement. I have made my apologies to him, because I must congratulate him on his speech and thank him not only for his contribution to tonight's debate, but for the way in which he has suggested how much better the debate would have been if he were still on the Conservative Front Bench. All of us who represent hill farmers and less-favoured areas know that the right hon. Gentleman sincerely believes that we can work together to help them. That is in sharp contrast to the new Conservative spokesman, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr Jack), who seemed to be suffering from the most extraordinary case of amnesia.

The countryside is under siege—we all know that. What is extraordinary about the motion is that, for some incredible reason, Conservative Members seem to think that that siege started on 2 May. That is patently ridiculous. How they have the nerve to table the motion, I do not understand. To his credit, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon did not speak in those terms, but instead spoke about trying to help those who have been hardest hit by many years in which hill farmers have been decimated by Government policies. Many in those communities would have been more impressed by the speech by the right hon. Gentleman than by the absurd attack by the right hon. Member for Fylde.

The countryside is under siege because of successive policies over a long period by urban-minded Governments from both sides, and we would do well to recognise that. Time after time in this House, Liberal Democrats have stood up for hill farmers, and we have had support from hon. Members from all parties. Indeed, some notable Labour Members have supported us on those occasions. I hope that we will have their support in a few weeks' time.

I take the Minister's point that the review of HLCAs has not yet taken place and that he has not come to a conclusion. We shall hold him to that, and we expect him to respond to the facts being put before him, not just by the fanning unions but by the Country landowners Association and the Hill Farming Initiative.

Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute

Does my hon. Friend welcome the Minister's assurance that no decision has been made yet about HLCAs? I represent an area that is not only less favoured but severely disadvantaged and if our hill farmers do not receive positive help in the near future, many will go out of business.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

That is the case in many less-favoured areas. We look to the Minister to live up to the impression that his predecessors gave when in opposition, that they would be the hill farmers' champions.

The Conservatives have a miserable record in that respect: they cut, cut and cut again, even when the figures showed that, merely to compensate for reductions in income, which is what the hill livestock compensatory allowance is all about, payments would have been increased. We led the charge year after year—we shall do so again this year—and we look to the Government to live up to promises made in opposition.

Hill Farming Initiative estimates that, in this twelvemonth, there will be a cut of one fifth, on top of the previous cuts in incomes. We are determined to restore the real level of the HLCA to what it was in 1992, and we expect the Labour party to come with us.

The green pound revaluation has been mentioned several times and the figure is clearly considerable. The Minister rightly says that not all the money will come from Brussels, but a substantial sum can come from Brussels and is sitting there waiting for us. If we do not pick it up, our competitor countries in the European Union will use it to put their farmers in a better competitive position than ours. Every day that goes by with our Minister failing to pick up what is rightly ours gives British taxpayers' money to our competitors, making the famous level playing field even less level.

The same goes for the cut in the over-30-months scheme payments. I find it extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Fylde had nothing more to say about BSE. It is incredible. After the 18 months of dither, delay and shambles—as the farmers kept saying—over BSE, it is extraordinary that a Conservative spokesman can say that increasing OTMS payments is all that needs to be done to help the livestock sector and beef producers in particular.

There is a major problem with the weight system, and farmers in the lowland areas, where animals are fed on grass, will be especially disadvantaged—that will feed through the entire livestock sector—but to alter that will not be enough.

The Minister recently said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West that he is actively considering a full-scale inquiry into what went wrong with BSE. I hope that there will soon be an announcement about that, because it is about time that we exposed the 18 months of confusion caused by the Conservative Government and their 10 years of mismanagement of BSE. On several occasions in the previous Parliament, I pressed Ministers to come clean, but they failed to do so. I hope that we shall now get the full-scale inquiry that the farming community deserves, so that we can identify what went wrong and ensure that it does not happen again.

The pressing issue of the BSE crisis is not the export ban but the failure to act effectively and vigorously to ensure that imports are of the same standard that we insist on from our own producers. The Minister announced a welcome initiative in the summer when he told us that he would introduce restrictions to ensure that products imported from other European Union countries, and countries outside the EU, were monitored to the high standards that we insist on in this country. We understand why the previous Government were only too happy to let in cheap imports for their friends in food processing and supermarket chains, but there is no excuse for the present Government not to act.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon mentioned prices. Prices in the market are affected far more by those imports than by the export ban. Of course we want to get rid of the export ban, but it would be a real start if we achieved parity throughout the European Union in controls, monitoring, restrictions and effective steps to ensure that no BSE-affected meat could ever again reach consumers in this country. It is a scandal that imports are allowed in from countries that have declared instances of BSE and are not operating on a level playing field.

I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), will respond more fully on the general issue of development and jobs. I regret deeply the threat to the Rural Development Commission, which will have an extremely important role, regardless of whether there are regional development agencies. The Government, like the previous Government, seem not to understand that there are rural environmental considerations that are completely separate from the urbanisation that has so often caused such difficulty.

That is also true, for example, with the jobseeker's allowance. All of us who represent rural constituencies must know that young people have great difficulty in meeting the constraints of the allowance because of transport problems but, as I understand it, the Government have made no attempt to adjust what they inherited from their predecessors and to adapt the requirements to the needs of rural communities.

The same is true of rural training, help for rural businesses, and advice on premises and finance. Jobs in rural areas are invariably less well paid, often give less choice, and are difficult to plan for in the new environment that the Government have inherited and seem not to be prepared to change.

Clearly, there needs to be a better balance in planning. In recent months, we have seen the Government's failure to come forward with a national plan to cope with the anticipated increase in households.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was unfortunate that Ministers said that rural land was up for grabs? Does he agree that the matter of 4.4 million homes needs to be treated with great sensitivity and in consultation with the rural and urban communities that will be affected by that massive development?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Liberal Democrat, North Cornwall

I agree very much with my hon. Friend and I hope that the Under-Secretary will examine that point when she replies.

The Government face a major problem, but it is a problem of their own making. In an admirable confession a few minutes ago, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that he had had to adopt the previous Government's spending restrictions. Who said that he had to adopt them? [HON. MEMBERS: "The electors."[The electors said nothing of the sort. Did the electorate say that the new Government had to adopt those expenditure limits for two years? Of course they did not. What bunkum! Every councillor in the country knows that that is not true. The suggestion that the Minister had to adopt the expenditure constraints is ludicrous. By cloning the Tory Budget, the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have adopted a straitjacket in agriculture as in so many other areas of public policy.

The Minister referred to the common agricultural policy reform programme. Clearly, far too much of his predecessor's menu has, again, been swallowed hook, line and sinker. We must achieve some subsidiarity over issues such as modulation so that we can have more local and regional control over the way in which they operate. It would be fatal for the Government to go into negotiations on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and to find themselves landed with modulation at European level. That would be absurd and would not fit the circumstances in the United Kingdom.

I acknowledge that the Government are looking positively at ways in which European funding arrangements can be adjusted to suit our needs. I hope that that is true of the new objective 2 status areas. There is, however, a real problem about which those of us in 5b areas already know. I refer to the absurd red tape, the maladministration and the slow administration of existing funding in 5b areas.

We shall find that, at the end of the full period of 5b status, we have taken up about 50 per cent. of the money available to us from British taxpayers as well as other taxpayers. My colleague the Member of the European Parliament for Cornwall and Plymouth West has calculated that we have got only about a quarter of what we deserve and can draw down from Brussels, although we are already halfway through the programme. If that happens again with objective 2, the Treasury may save a few million pounds, but little will be done to help the rural communities for which the programme is intended. It is vital that we speed up the process. If we do not, the whole programme will work to the advantage of our competitors in Europe and will do little to help us.

It is sometimes said that there is a conflict between environmental policies and those designed to help employment in rural areas. I do not believe that that is true. The work being done by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is particularly helpful in that respect because it demonstrates that, in agriculture and other country activities, there is a real chance to improve employment by the use of more explicit environmental programmes. The society says: RSPB believes that maintaining wildlife is entirely compatible with better living standards for rural communities: a healthy countryside and strong local communities go hand in hand. The needs of wildlife and their habitat are often regarded as an obstacle to rural development. What has become clear in our research on rural issues, is that the environment is a foundation stone for a healthy thriving rural community.

Nowhere more so than in the hills.

The right hon. Member for Fylde had somewhat more notice to prepare his speech than did I. It was not much more time but I find it mind-boggling, breathless cheek that he could describe the present dispensation on HLCAs as tawdry. Where was he for the past five years when his Government colleagues cut and cut and cut again? We then had a bit of staggering amnesia when he talked about the treatment of beef farmers. Where was he last year when they were hammering on the doors of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food calling for the resignation of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)? Presumably, like most of the ostriches in the Treasury, he had his head in the sand.

Farmers have longer memories. They will not forget or forgive the Conservatives playing partisan politics this evening. We should have heard from their spokesman a speech along the lines of that of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, who discussed the practical concerns of the countryside. If we had had more of that from the Conservatives, not only the House but the farming community would hold them in more respect.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire 9:10 pm, 4th November 1997

For one and a half hours of a three-hour debate to be taken up by the three Front-Bench spokesman is unacceptable, and an abuse of those of us on the Back Benches who have been trying to get in. Having said that, I was much diverted by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who represents probably the flattest constituency in England, lecturing my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who represents probably the most mountainous, on the problems of hill farming.

In the last Parliament, it was irritating to be told over and again by the Conservative Government that they represented rural interests about which the Opposition parties knew nothing. The right hon. Member for Fylde did not mention the document that the Labour party produced in the lead-up to the general election, "A Working Countryside", which ranged across the whole gamut of rural life and showed how the quality of life in rural areas such as mine depends not only on farming incomes, important though they are, but on the health service, transport systems, social services and education. The countryside is not set in aspic, as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) once memorably said, but is part of a continuum with urban areas. There is no simple division between country people and urban people. They have different problems but they are not different species, as the Tories like to pretend. They often talk as if towns were surrounded by mediaeval walls and the people in them never went outside.

The debate has mainly been about farming, but I should like to make some disparate points, with which I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will be able to deal at some point. I am glad that, with her wide brief, she is responding to this debate.

The countryside is under siege. An important point made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) must be emphasised. We are told that we need an extra 4.4 million homes. I do not believe that such a quantity is needed, but that figure was adopted by the previous Government, and, as far as I know, is accepted by the present Government as an assumption. Please let that not involve huge developments in our villages. My constituency, for example, includes the beautiful village of Newburgh, where there was an attempt to bribe the community and the councils into building nearly 400 houses in a village that did not have so many to start with in return for a bypass provided by the developer. It was a great temptation for the village because it is pounded to pieces by traffic.

Brown land and the land surrounding new towns such as Skelmersdale should be the first areas to be considered for new housing and other building development. In north Wales, for example, the only piece of prime agricultural land is about to have factories built on it. It is currently farmed by one of my constituents. Right next to it are hundreds of acres of brown land in the form of the old steelworks which will not be developed. That is plainly crazy. The Country landowners Association was quite correct in its briefing paper on the need to take action to secure developers from future claims and to give further help in the clean-up of brown land and land that might be contaminated. We cannot have the green belt, which occupies most of my constituency, plundered by developers any longer.

I welcome the Government's plans to reduce investment in major roads and motorways, but small bypasses to deal with terrible bottlenecks in villages and small towns still have to be considered. All too often, ancient and beautiful old towns such as Burscough, Newburgh and Parbold in my constituency are being pounded to pieces.

There are also problems with public transport. There are enormous problems with isolation in rural areas, particularly for elderly people and those who do not possess cars. Under the Conservative Government my part of the world experienced the collapse of rural bus services almost into oblivion and the seemingly deliberate rundown of rural rail services. We need more halts and more stations, but the few that are being provided, such as that at Euxton in Lancashire, are not being provided by the railway companies: it is the county councils that have to find the money. We need more regular trains, later trains and trains on Sundays to enable people to communicate. The same applies to bus services. There is a great deal of scope for the integration of planning so that any domestic development in rural areas is concentrated around railway stations to encourage both the use of the station and less use of private cars.

Another completely separate problem in west Lancashire, part of Fylde and certainly part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) is the collapse of moss roads that were built over peat. Over the years, the peat has dried out, shrunk and collapsed, so the roads are collapsing. The county councils cannot—no highway authority could—fund the rebuilding of that elaborate road network, and, certainly since I have been involved in the county council and then in Parliament, there has been no Government help whatever to tackle the problem of moss roads. As farm vehicles get bigger and heavier, the problem becomes worse. I could continue for hours, but as time is short I shall simply flag up the uglification of parts of our countryside and the plethora of road signs. Why do local authorities seem to require a separate post for every sign instead of putting them all on the same post? Why are signs getting bigger? Why are we providing public money to build wind turbines in environmentally sensitive areas such as Kirby moor in south Cumbria and, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) knows better than anyone, on Longridge fell? We have to tackle those idiotic planning monstrosities in our countryside.

Over the past 18 years many economic calamities have hit our villages and rural areas. They include the blow suffered by rural sub-post offices—because of some idiocy by the Government at the time—from which many have never recovered.

There are also tremendous problems with village schools. As people increasingly drive their children to schools in nearby towns, small village schools, which are usually the centre of the community, start falling to bits. The same problem affects village pubs, which are also centres of community life. They are hit by supermarket competition and by beer smuggling and the problems that arise from it.

It would be churlish not to mention that there has been some attempt to help village shops and sub-post offices through rate relief and grants from the Rural Development Commission to some small shops in select parts of the country. However, the full implications of almost every policy that applies to rural areas—or, indeed, every policy—should be put through a rural filter and through an environmental filter. That is what "A Working Countryside" sought to prefigure and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport deserve great credit for that document and the new direction it gave to Labour party policy.

The great advantage of urban living is the convenience of facilities provided to meet the needs of the critical mass available there. The great advantages of rural living are better air, relative quiet, relative isolation and so on; the downside is sparsity of services. The palliative—

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 9:20 pm, 4th November 1997

I would go along with much of what was said by the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), especially his remarks about the need to protect the countryside from large-scale incursions of new housing. I wish that the Minister for London and Construction were here, because this is one of the few areas of environmental affairs where the present Government have departed significantly from the position that obtained before. The Minister said that we were naive to say that those 4.5 million houses could be built on brown land. Despite his attacking me for naivety, I am happy to be as naive as the Round Table on Sustainable Development and the Council for the Protection of Rural England in saying that we should be siting at least 75 per cent. of those new homes on brown land. I should like us to go further than that.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

No, I have only 10 minutes. I should like to go further than that because it is good for the countryside and for the town to build on brown land. Indeed, I do not see how we can have a sensible regeneration policy for our urban areas if we allow people to take the easy option of building on green-field—especially green-belt—sites.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) is not here to explain why, at the time when she has been lucky to be able to buy a new house for herself, others are now facing the destruction of their rural area because Hertfordshire county council has declared by one vote—a vote over the Conservative minority—that it will release 800 acres of green-belt land between Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead, which are hardly kept apart at the moment, so that many new homes will be built on that land. Such decisions are damaging to our cities and to the countryside and I am sorry that the Government have decided to turn their backs on the policy that formerly obtained, which was that the green belt would not be damaged in that way.

I can recall only one occasion when I was Secretary of State when I gave permission for a substantial development in the green belt. People knew, therefore, that there was no point in asking for permission, so they had to get on with developing brown land. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will dissociate herself from the attacks on the protection of the green belt that we have heard from the Minister for London and Construction, who should look far more carefully at his policy if he is to be in tune with what I understand Government policy to be.

I also agree with the hon. Member for West Lancashire about the road signs. The only contribution made by the Liberal Democrat party in Suffolk was to put up a large number of signs. One entered a small village to be greeted by a great yellow sign saying "Peasenhall" and underneath it said, "Village", in case one did not know it was a village and might think that it was a combine harvester. The Liberal Democrats may have felt that they needed to tell people that it was a village because most of them were not country people representing the countryside but needed to be told about it. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) did himself no good at all with his comments about my right hon. Friend—

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well which right hon. Friend I am referring to. He knows as well as I do that Liberal Democrat party policy on the countryside depends entirely on the constituency[Interruption.] We all know that, and Labour Members know that it is true. Indeed, it does not even change from constituency to constituency; it changes from ward to ward. Where there is a vote to be garnered, a policy can be changed. If the vote of somebody who thinks differently can be gained, the principles can be changed, for nobody will notice. Comparisons seat by seat show perfectly well where the Liberal Democrats stand: where they think that they might win a vote. That is the only principle that has ever obtained in the Liberal Democrat party.

It is therefore reasonable to ask the Labour party, now that we have heard the less than eloquent speech by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, why it has not yet explained to the House how, in times of such difficulties with money, it was possible to find £1 million to re-do the Agriculture Minister's offices. That sum might have been spent better on farming, but I do not know from which part of the budget it was taken. It was certainly not in the Red Book; nor was it part of the tight collar of which he spoke in respect of the previous Government. However, it is unusual for an Agriculture Minister who has been in position for six months not to know whether any money was left over from the sheep annual premium. He must be the first Agriculture Minister for many years not to have such a figure at his fingertips.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I should tell the hon. Gentleman who is rushing to the Minister's aid that I was not about to say something rude. I was simply going to mention why previous Agriculture Ministers always had that figure at their fingertips. 1 knew that if I did not have it, the Treasury would have pinched it and I wanted to defend it against the Treasury. I always knew the figure because the Treasury was always out for any little "candle ends", as it would say. I am worried that, if the current Agriculture Minister does not know the amount, it has probably gone already because the Treasury will have got its sticky fingers in there very rapidly.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

No, I really should not give way because I promised to be brief. There will be plenty of time for summing up.

I understand that £200 million is available and I hope that the Agriculture Minister will sort that matter out rapidly. I hope that he will also look at the fact that the last Government put in train an operation that would have given special help to rural post offices and small shops in villages with only one shop. That would not have been affected by the regulations about how much money was available because we were going to use the same totality but put a little more into the countryside by helping those shops. We have heard nothing of that from the Labour party. There was silence when Labour Members were asked about it and I want to know where they stand. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will doubtless be able to tell us.

We then had a story about how the Government would reform the common agricultural policy, a matter of which I have some experience. I was unhappy about the Agriculture Minister's statement, which said that the Government wanted to take the money that was now used for production support and use it for the environment. I am very much in favour of that but did not like the sentence, which was dangerous. He said that "some" of the money "could" be used to help "targeted" environmental purposes. I do not like that at all. Some of it? Perhaps, but how much? Does "could" mean "will", or "only if we can get away with it"? Most people in rural areas listening to the Agriculture Minister will probably say that he is not standing up for them. They will say to themselves, "He does not know whether he has any money in his back pocket; he is not on top of the job; he obviously does not know the figures."

People will also say to themselves that the Minister lacks the fire to battle in the European Union. No one could be more enthusiastic about our place in the European Union than I am, but undoubtedly, because one believes in it one must battle there and fight for Britain. If the right hon. Gentleman is woolly about the funds that could be used to target, he will not get tuppence, or even a penny. He does not have a chance. He must go and fight.

I have heard from the Labour party no evidence of a desire to fight for the rural areas. I have heard no fire from Labour. Until we have a Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who believes in them, feels for them and fights for them, we shall not have a hope in the rural areas.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud 9:29 pm, 4th November 1997

Because of the shortage of time allocated to me, I shall concentrate on the planning issue, following the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who talks a lot about planning and about brown-field development. The problem is that when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, he did not take the opportunity to question the figure of 4.4 million households that was quoted, and he made no proposals on how brown-field sites might be pressed into use. Now we are confronted with a very difficult problem, which we shall in due course debate and study to search for solutions.

I was intrigued that, although the word "planning" appears in the Opposition motion, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) mentioned it only superficially. That shows the depth of the Conservatives' concern about that key issue, which was taken up subsequently. Obviously, it is not as important in some respects as agriculture, but we must consider how it fits into the rural economy.

I, for one, will say that I question the numbers. I question the need for 4.4 million new households and I wish and hope that there will be a debate on the subject. My criticism is based on two presumptions.

First, it is not good enough to say that the figures for the previous 20 years will be replicated during the next 20 years. Major sociological changes are taking place, which need to be reflected in the forecasts. Secondly, in my area, much of the requirement is based on migration and I am pleased that, with colleagues, I have been able to do research to show that migration, which is the driving force, is slowing down. Unfortunately, that is not reflected in the figures.

I would ask this of the Government—and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, when he is listening: if and when this debate is taken up, I hope that we can get some genuine understanding of what the numbers mean and especially the implications of those numbers. I am one of the 170 Labour Members mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who represent a truly rural area, and my area is under development pressure. Those development pressures cannot be hidden from or escaped from; they must be dealt with rationally. Development must take place when it is needed and according to rules that are open and understood—not at the whim of developers.

The right hon. Member for Fylde failed to mention rural poverty—an issue that many hon. Members representing rural constituencies know too well from our surgeries, our mailbags and discussions with individual constituents. It would be nice to think that hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench would feel guilt for what they did in the past 18 years. We have heard listed the policies that have increased poverty instead of reducing it: the deregulation of buses, the continuing decline in the number of shops and other services in the rurality, the imposition of signing on through jobseeker's allowance, which the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) mentioned. The list goes on and on. It would be nice to see some remorse from Conservative Front Benchers. They have offered no solutions; they have not mentioned poverty or attempted to address the root cause of the problem by advancing ideas to deal with it. Poverty exists in our rural areas as well as in our inner cities, and we must introduce policies that address that terrible problem.

I am pleased, even at this late stage, to say that the Government will introduce a coherent platform not just on agriculture and rural areas, but on the whole development issue. The Government will deal with the saddest issue of all: rural poverty. I hope that all hon. Members have some understanding of how those matters can, and should, be addressed.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Conservative, South Suffolk 9:35 pm, 4th November 1997

This has been a very significant debate that has raised many issues of enormous importance to the rural community. However, it has also been a desperately sad debate as it has exposed with brutal clarity the truth about Labour's attitude to the countryside. That attitude is founded on ignorance, riddled with prejudice, expressed without sympathy and is bordering on outright hostility. Labour's total lack of understanding of the needs and aspirations of the men, women and children who live in the countryside is nothing less than frightening.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to respond to all the points raised in the debate. However, I gladly pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), whose expertise on the subjects studied during many years of service at both MAFF and the Department of the Environment was clear from his speech. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) struggled—as he and his colleagues usually do now—with the dilemma of whether to attack the Government or the Opposition. As a result, most of his punches missed their targets.

I shall focus on four issues, the first of which is planning. On Radio 4 last week, the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), said: The green belt is up for grabs". They are chilling words, but we cannot say that we were not warned. It is no use the Minister shaking her head: that is what the hon. Gentleman said live on Radio 4. We were warned last August by the Deputy Prime Minister, who overturned the recommendation of an independent planning inspector and approved the industrial development of a 140-acre site in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). Incidentally, that site was owned by the Labour-controlled Birmingham city council—not that I am suggesting that that was a factor in the Deputy Prime Minister's thinking.

When the Minister replies to the debate, will she repudiate the extraordinary comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central? Will she confirm categorically, without qualification, that the rigorous protection of the green belt—which was a cornerstone of planning policy under the Conservative Government—will be maintained without any relaxation? Is she aware that if she refuses to give that assurance to the House today alarm will spread through millions of people, the quality of whose lives has been enhanced immeasurably by the green belt? They know—even if the Minister and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central do not—how eagerly developers will eye up the countryside that was protected previously by Conservative policy.

A wider planning issue is where the new homes will be built. I accept that there is a debate about how many there will be. Perhaps we shall not need 4.4 million new houses in the end, but we shall still need quite a lot. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) question the 4.4 million figure as he attempted to clothe himself in some kind of green mantle. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) for reminding me that the hon. Gentleman's remarks would be better addressed to the Labour-controlled local council in Stroud, which is proposing to despoil large areas of his constituency.

The Round Table on Sustainable Development recommended that 75 per cent. of those new homes should be built on sites that had been previously developed. At present, the country is achieving a figure of 50 per cent. Contrary to the comments made by the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), the previous Government were ready to raise that target. Indeed, I have no doubt that the consultation document that they published earlier this year was the prelude to a significant increase in the target.

The question now is what the Labour Government will do. Will they set a higher target for the proportions of homes that should be built on previously developed sites? If they fail to do so, and if they weaken the existing controls over the development of green-field sites, their decision will cause dismay in the countryside.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal rightly pointed out, it is not just the countryside that suffers when such development takes place in green-field sites; the inner cities suffer as well, because allowing new homes in the countryside leads to an exodus of the very people whom the inner cities need if the process of regeneration, in which the Conservative Government played such a distinguished part, is to continue.

I shall deal with one of the Government's socialist proposals. It was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack)—the right to roam. This trespassers' charter sits ill with new Labour's proclaimed agenda. I am not surprised that it has few champions. Apparently they include that well-known specimen of new Labour, the Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher).

Will the Minister confirm, when she winds up, that the consultation paper on the right to roam has not appeared because her Department's proposals have run into trouble elsewhere in Whitehall? Does she recognise that the right to roam is potentially an extremely dangerous threat to the cause of conservation and the environment in many parts of the country and could destroy many previously undisturbed and valuable habitats?

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Will the hon. Gentleman condemn with me the action of absentee landowners, such as the Garendon estate in north-west Leicestershire, which for decades deny public access to wild, beautiful, lonely, unfarmed places on the ground that it would damage those places and yet the moment mineral operators want to come and quarry they welcome them with open arms and open wallets? In those circumstances, is not profit being given a higher priority than preservation, and contamination more common than conservation?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Conservative, South Suffolk

I am sorry that I gave way. I understand that the family concerned has a distinguished record of conservation and far from being an absentee landlord is resident in the constituency of one of my hon. Friends.

I suggest that instead of publishing the right to roam consultation paper the Government should abandon their policy and devote the resources to encouraging the voluntary agreements that have been so successful in extending access in the past few years.

On resources, the Minister has a chance this evening to allay the fears that the Government may tamper with the formula on the revenue support grant to take cash away from rural councils. Any caving in by the Labour Government to unjustified demands from their allies in the towns for extra money at the expense of the rural community will not pass unchallenged. Will the Minister confirm that the countryside will be no less favourably treated by Labour when the revenue support grant is announced next month than it has been in the past?

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned the Rural Development Commission. Will the Minister confirm that the commission's budget will not be plundered and that it will be fully protected? Does she recognise that the Rural Development Commission's rural regeneration work, which accounts for £22 million of its spending, is not a suitable source from which to take away resources and give them to the regional development agencies, whose focus is inevitably likely to be more urban? Perhaps the Minister will tell the House what the regional development agencies will contribute to the countryside.

On accountability, I was dismayed to learn that the Government are abandoning their predecessor's tradition of publishing an annual update of the White Paper "Rural England". Is the refusal to continue to monitor the widely welcomed initiatives in the 1995 White Paper because the Government do not intend to continue with the policies contained within it, or is it simply that despite all the rhetoric about open government Labour is terrified of further scrutiny of its failure to serve the countryside? Is it that the Government know full well that by publishing regular updates of the White Paper they would expose the cuts in resources that they are planning and the consequences of those cuts?

The House has learnt today what many outside have begun to suspect, and that is that the Labour Government, with their urban-based majority[Interruption.]—neither understand nor care about the countryside. The Prime Minister's claim that Labour is governing Britain in the interests of all the people is nothing more than a hollow sham. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 9:45 pm, 4th November 1997

It is always a pleasure to listen to the rants of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), and we had a vintage performance tonight. I shall get round to answering some of his questions in due course. Initially, I shall deal with the rather virtual reality view of politics that Conservative Members seem to be propounding. It is a myth, and it is perpetuated with increasing desperation by the Conservative party, that Labour does not represent the interests of the countryside. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) was at it in Farmers Weekly recently when he said that we, Labour, did not represent those interests. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) has similarly ranted.

Following the general election, wherever the Conservative party has representation the Tories do not represent the countryside. Labour has 170 county constituencies while the Conservatives hold 135 and the Liberal Democrats 32. Labour now represents more county constituencies than both Opposition parties put together. In the general election, Labour enjoyed a national swing of 10.7 per cent., which was almost equalled in county constituencies with a swing of 10.4 per cent.

I shall not bore the House by going through the swings against Conservative Members who have contributed to the debate, all purporting to represent the countryside. Suffice it to say that on 1 May the countryside turned against the Conservative party in the same way as urban areas. The rump that the Tory party parades as an outdated caricature of town versus country can do only damage to the countryside while Labour is the one-nation party. It is Labour which seeks to unite the country and to create partnerships for progress. The Conservatives seek to divide the country in an attempt to set one part of it against the other. Before we take any more pious lectures from Conservatives about the needs of the countryside, it would be wise to remember the legacy that they left us to struggle with after 18 years of their stewardship of rural areas.

What was that legacy? I shall pluck a few examples out of the air to give the House the flavour of it. Between 1979 and 1996, there was a 144 per cent. increase in crime in the English and Welsh shire counties. There was a 29 per cent. cut in bus journeys after deregulation and 75 per cent. of rural parishes now have no daily bus services.

The Conservatives tolerated low pay and failed in their attempt to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board—a proposal that was opposed by everyone but the free market zealots in their own ranks. There are plenty more examples—I could go on.

There was the BSE fiasco, which devastated many rural communities, put public health at risk and cost the country billions of pounds. It was a Tory legacy. That debacle was almost as awful as the poll tax, which helped a few large landowners in the other place but caused massive hardship in our rural communities.

It is no wonder that the Tories lost so much support in the countryside on 1 May. It is no wonder that the swings against them in the rural areas were nearly 10.5 per cent. It is no wonder that they do not represent so much as a tree or a blade of grass in Scotland and Wales. The people gave them their verdict on 1 May, after 18 years of Conservative stewardship in our rural areas, and it was a damning verdict.

I will now deal with specific points that were made in the debate. [Interruption.] I gave up some of my time so that Opposition Members could make their speeches.

The idea that somehow the Rural Development Commission has no future was raised by several right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon and the hon. Member for South Suffolk. Ministers have fully discussed the rural role of the regional development agencies with Lord Shuttleworth, who is chairman of the Rural Development Commission. I can assure the House that the commission's views will be given due weight when the Government consider the role of RDAs. Decisions on this will be announced when the White Paper is published later in the year.

I also assure any hon. Members who may be worried about this that the RDAs will not be urban based. They will have a remit to look after the economic good of the entire areas that they cover—not just urban areas but rural areas. That will be central to their reason for existing.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) mentioned a possible inquiry into the BSE legacy. That is under active consideration. I hope that my assurances about the RDC and its future satisfy his worries.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and the hon. Members for South Suffolk and for North Cornwall mentioned household growth. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) made an extraordinary speech, given that the figure of 4.4 million was his. Those figures were published by the previous Government. We are currently examining the 700 responses to the Green Paper that he published. We do not dispute the figures, and neither does he.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

Does the Minister agree or disagree with the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), who said that the green belt is up for grabs—yes or no?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

That is not what he said. I will read exactly what he said. I have a transcript. He was asked by an interviewer: So the green belt is up for grabs then? My hon. Friend then said: The green belt is up for grabs as much as it ever was. That is what that means: as much as it ever was, which is true because the Government have not changed the policy introduced by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No, I shall not give way. The right hon. Gentleman has had his chance to make his views known. It is interesting that he now talks about a 75 per cent. brown-field site target when his Government were considering 50 per cent. and seeing whether they could achieve 60 per cent. Out of government, he immediately finds another 15 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman made a disingenuous contribution to the debate.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the hon. Lady is not giving way. Let the debate be completed in the good order in which it has been conducted so far.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was particularly disingenuous in the light of his previous responsibilities in government. In misrepresenting our policy on green-belt and brown-field sites, the right hon. Gentleman is simply scaremongering.

Are those Conservative Members who are worried about our policy prepared for us not to build the houses that we are required to build and to put up with the homelessness, the rising land prices and the dislocation in society that failure to make provision for the people who will need housing in the future will create?

Through the planning process, the Government will create as much brown-field site development as possible. However, we must remember that even in rural areas there are population and housing formulation changes. A smaller number of people are living in individual households and people are living longer in single households because of the success of our health services. We must ensure that new householders and young people have the chance to live in the areas in which they were brought up. Those living locally account for 90 per cent. of the predicted housing need. It is not the result of mass migration into the countryside. Conservative Members are simply scaremongering if they try to present it in that way.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk said that the right to roam was a socialist policy: good—I am glad that he recognises that. The hon. Gentleman is a well-known socialist theorist, possibly to rival Marx, so we all listen to what he has to say about what is a socialist policy. However, there will be no indiscriminate right to roam—rather a right to access. The right to access was in the manifesto on which we were elected and which was supported by many rural and urban voters.

We must balance the right of access to land with the responsible use of that right. The consultation paper will appear shortly and there will be a two to three month consultation period. We shall listen extremely carefully to the views of all those involved and we expect legislation on the issue in the next Session. I emphasise that, unlike Conservative Members who do not understand the meaning of the word consultation, the Government will take their duties in the consultative process extremely seriously.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Lady must make clear her intentions.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No. Is that clear enough?

In my usual polite way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was going to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I then realised that he had not even done the House the courtesy of being here for the debate. He may be a new Member, but he must not expect to walk in at the end of a debate and be heard. [HON. MEMBERS: "Retread."] Even though the hon. Gentleman is a retread or a recycled Member, if he wants to intervene he should do the House the courtesy of being here for the debate.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No.

The debate has shown that Labour is the party of the countryside, and that Labour understands and represents the interests of rural people the length and breadth of the land.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 371.

Division No. 82][9.59 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Clappison, James
Amess, DavidClark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Arbuthnot, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baldry, TonyCollins, Tim
Bercow, JohnCormack, Sir Patrick
Beresford, Sir PaulCurry, Rt Hon David
Boswell, TimDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaDay, Stephen
Brady, GrahamDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Browning, Mrs AngelaDuncan, Alan
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Duncan Smith, Iain
Burns, SimonEvans, Nigel
Butterfill, JohnFaber, David
Cash, WilliamFabricant, Michael
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Chope, ChristopherForth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanPaice, James
Fox, Dr LiamPaterson, Owen
Fraser, ChristopherPickles, Eric
Garnier, EdwardPrior, David
Gibb, NickRandall, John
Gill, ChristopherRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gillan, Mrs CherylRobathan, Andrew
Gorman, Mrs TeresaRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gray, JamesRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Green, DamianRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Greenway, JohnRuffley, David
Grieve, DominicSt Aubyn, Nick
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSayeed, Jonathan
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamShepherd, Richard
Hammond, PhilipSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hawkins, NickSoames, Nicholas
Hayes, JohnSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Heald, OliverSpicer, Sir Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidSpring, Richard
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasSteen, Anthony
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelStreeter, Gary
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Swayne, Desmond
Hunter, AndrewSyms, Robert
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelTapsell, Sir Peter
Jenkin, BernardTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Johnson Smith,Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyTaylor, Sir Teddy
Key, RobertTemple-Morris, Peter
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Townend, John
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTredinnick, David
Lansley, AndrewTrend, Michael
Leigh, EdwardTyrie, Andrew
Letwin, OliverViggers, Peter
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Walter, Robert
Lidington, DavidWardle, Charles
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Waterson, Nigel
Loughton, TimWells, Bowen
Luff, PeterWhitney, Sir Raymond
McIntosh, Miss AnneWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
MacKay, AndrewWilkinson, John
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWilletts, David
McLoughlin, PatrickWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Madel, Sir DavidWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Malins, HumfreyWoodward, Shaun
Maples, JohnYeo, Tim
Mates, MichaelYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
May, Mrs TheresaTellers for the Ayes:
Norman, ArchieMr. John Whittingdale and
Ottaway, RichardMr. James Cran.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeBennett, Andrew F
Ainger, NickBenton, Joe
Allan, RichardBermingham, Gerald
Allen, GrahamBerry, Roger
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Best, Harold
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Betts, Clive
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBlears, Ms Hazel
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBlizzard, Bob
Ashton, JoeBlunkett, Rt Hon David
Atherton, Ms CandyBoateng, Paul
Austin, JohnBorrow, David
Ballard, Mrs JackieBradley, Keith (Withington)
Banks, TonyBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Barnes, HarryBradshaw, Ben
Barron, KevinBrand, Dr Peter
Bayley, HughBreed, Colin
Beard, NigelBrinton, Mrs Helen
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretBrown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Begg, Miss AnneBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Beggs, RoyBrowne, Desmond
Beith, Rt Hon A JBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Buck, Ms Karen
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Burden, Richard
Benn, Rt Hon TonyBurgon, Colin
Burnett, JohnField, Rt Hon Frank
Butler, Mrs ChristineFisher, Mark
Byers, StephenFitzpatrick, Jim
Cable, Dr VincentFitzsimons, Lorna
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Flint, Caroline
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Flynn, Paul
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Follett, Barbara
Campbell-Savours, DaleFoster, Don (Bath)
Canavan, DennisFoster, Michael, Jabez (Hastings)
Caplin, IvorFoster, Michael, J (Worcester)
Casale, RogerFoulkes, George
Caton, MartinFyfe, Maria
Cawsey, IanGalbraith, Sam
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Gapes, Mike
Chaytor, DavidGardiner, Barry
Chidgey, DavidGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Chisholm, MalcolmGerrard, Neil
Church, Ms JudithGibson, Dr Ian
Clapham, MichaelGilroy, Mrs Linda
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Godman, Norman A
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Gorrie, Donald
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clelland, DavidGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clwyd, AnnGrocott, Bruce
Coaker, VernonGrogan, John
Coffey, Ms AnnGunnell, John
Coleman, IainHain, Peter
Colman, TonyHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Connarty, MichaelHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cooper, YvetteHanson, David
Corbett, RobinHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Corbyn, JeremyHarris, Dr Evan
Corston, Ms JeanHarvey, Nick
Cotter, BrianHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Cousins, JimHealey, John
Cranston, RossHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Crausby, DavidHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Hepburn, Stephen
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Heppell, John
Cummings, JohnHewitt, Ms Patricia
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)Hill, Keith
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Hoey, Kate
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireHome Robertson, John
Dalyell, TamHoon, Geoffrey
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairHope, Phil
Darvill, KeithHopkins, Kelvin
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Davidson, IanHoyle, Lindsay
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)Humble, Mrs Joan
Dawson, HiltonHurst, Alan
Dean, Mrs JanetHutton, John
Denham, JohnIddon, Dr Brian
Dewar, Rt Hon DonaldIllsley, Eric
Dismore, AndrewJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Dobbin, JimJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankJenkins, Brian
Donohoe, Brian HJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Doran, FrankJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Drew, David
Drown, Ms JuliaJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Jones, Ms Jennifer (Wolverh'ton SW)
Edwards, Huw
Ellman, Mrs LouiseJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Ennis, JeffJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Fatchett, DerekJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Fearn, RonnieJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Jowell, Ms TessaPalmer, Dr Nick
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPearson, Ian
Keeble, Ms SallyPerham, Ms Linda
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Pickthall, Colin
Keetch, PaulPike, Peter L
Kelly, Ms RuthPlaskitt, James
Kemp, FraserPollard, Kerry
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)Pond, Chris
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Pope, Greg
Khabra, Piara SPound, Stephen
Kidney, DavidPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kilfoyle, PeterPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Prosser, Gwyn
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Purchase, Ken
Kingham, Ms TessQuinn, Lawrie
Kirkwood, ArchyRadice, Giles
Kumar, Dr AshokRammell, Bill
Ladyman, Dr StephenRapson, Syd
Lawrence, Ms JackieRaynsford, Nick
Laxton, BobReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Lepper, DavidRendel, David
Leslie, ChristopherRobertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Linton, MartinRogers, Allan
Livingstone, KenRooker, Jeff
Livsey, RichardRooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lock, DavidRowlands, Ted
McAllion, JohnRoy, Frank
McAvoy, ThomasRuane, Chris
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRuddock, Ms Joan
McDonagh, SiobhainRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Macdonald, CalumSalter, Martin
McDonnell, JohnSanders, Adrian
McIsaac, ShonaSavidge, Malcolm
McKenna, Mrs RosemarySawford, Phil
Mackinlay, AndrewSedgemore, Brian
McLeish, HenrySheerman, Barry
MacShane, DenisSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mactaggart, FionaShort, Rt Hon Clare
McWalter, TonySingh, Marsha
Mahon, Mrs AliceSkinner, Dennis
Mallaber, JudySmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Marek, Dr JohnSmith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, EricSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Maxton, JohnSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Merron, GillianSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Michael, AlunSnape, Peter
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Soley, Clive
Milburn, AlanSpellar, John
Miller, AndrewSquire, Ms Rachel
Mitchell, AustinStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Moore, MichaelStevenson, George
Moran, Ms MargaretStewart, David (Inverness E)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Stinchcombe, Paul
Morley, ElliotStoate, Dr Howard
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Mountford, KaliStringer, Graham
Mudie, GeorgeStuart, Ms Gisela
Mullin, ChrisStunell, Andrew
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Naysmith, Dr DougTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Olner, BillThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
O'Neill, MartinThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Öpik, LembitTimms, Stephen
Organ, Mrs DianaTodd, Mark
Tonge, Dr JennyWhitehead, Dr Alan
Touhig, DonWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Trickett, Jon(Swansea W)
Truswell, PaulWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)Willis, Phil
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Wills, Michael
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)Winnick, David
Tyler, PaulWood, Mike
Vaz, KeithWoolas, Phil
Wallace, JamesWray, James
Ward, Ms ClaireWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Watts, DavidTellers for the Noes:
Webb, SteveMr. David Jamieson and
White, BrianMr. Jim Dowd.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 319, Noes 171.

Division No. 83][10.15 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ainger, NickChaytor, David
Allen, GrahamChisholm, Malcolm
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Church, Ms Judith
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clapham, Michael
Armstrong, Ms HilaryClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Atherton, Ms CandyClark, Dr Lynda
Austin, John(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Banks, TonyClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Barnes, HarryClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Barron, KevinClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bayley, HughClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Beard, NigelClelland, David
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretClwyd, Ann
Begg, Miss AnneCoaker, Vernon
Beggs, RoyCoffey, Ms Ann
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Coleman, Iain
Benn, Rt Hon TonyColman, Tony
Bennett, Andrew FConnarty, Michael
Benton, JoeCooper, Yvette
Bermingham, GeraldCorbett, Robin
Berry, RogerCorbyn, Jeremy
Best, HaroldCorston, Ms Jean
Betts, CliveCousins, Jim
Blears, Ms HazelCranston, Ross
Blizzard, BobCrausby, David
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Borrow, DavidCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Cummings, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs HelenCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Browne, DesmondDarvill, Keith
Buck, Ms KarenDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Burden, RichardDavidson, Ian
Burgon, ColinDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Butler, Mrs ChristineDavies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Byers, StephenDawson, Hilton
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Dean, Mrs Janet
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Denham, John
Campbell-Savours, DaleDewar, Rt Hon Donald
Canavan, DennisDismore, Andrew
Caplin, IvorDobbin, Jim
Casale, RogerDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Caton, MartinDonohoe, Brian H
Cawsey, IanDoran, Frank
Drew, DavidKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Drown, Ms JuliaKeeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Kelly, Ms Ruth
Edwards, HuwKemp, Fraser
Ellman, Mrs LouiseKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ennis, JeffKhabra, Piara S
Fatchett, DerekKidney, David
Field, Rt Hon FrankKilfoyle, Peter
Fitzpatrick, JimKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fitzsimons, LornaKing, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Flint, CarolineKingham, Ms Tess
Flynn, PaulKumar, Dr Ashok
Follett, BarbaraLadyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Laxton, Bob
Foulkes, GeorgeLepper, David
Fyfe, MariaLeslie, Christopher
Galbraith, SamLevitt, Tom
Gapes, MikeLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gardner, BarryLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gerrard, NeilLinton, Martin
Gibson, Dr IanLivingstone, Ken
Gilroy, Mrs LindaLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Godman, Norman ALock, David
Godsiff, RogerMcAllion, John
Goggins, PaulMcAvoy, Thomas
Golding, Mrs LlinMcCafferty, Ms Chris
Gordon, Mrs EileenMcDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Macdonald, Calum
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McDonnell, John
Grocott, BruceMcIsaac, Shona
Grogan, JohnMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gunnell, JohnMackinlay, Andrew
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)MacShane, Denis
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Mactaggart, Fiona
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)McWalter, Tony
Hanson, DavidMahon, Mrs Alice
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMallaber, Judy
Heal, Mrs SylviaMarek, Dr John
Healey, JohnMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hepburn, StephenMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Heppell, JohnMartlew, Eric
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMaxton, John
Hill, KeithMerron, Gillian
Hodge, Ms MargaretMichael, Alun
Hoey, KateMilburn, Alan
Home Robertson, JohnMiller, Andrew
Hoon, GeoffreyMoran, Ms Margaret
Hope, PhilMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hopkins, KelvinMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Morley, Elliot
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoyle, LindsayMountford, Kali
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mudie, George
Humble, Mrs JoanMullin, Chris
Hurst, AlanMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hutton, JohnNaysmith, Dr Doug
Iddon, Dr BrianNorris, Dan
Illsley, EricO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Olner, Bill
Jenkins, BrianO'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Organ, Mrs Diana
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Ms Jennifer (Wolverh'ton SW)Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pond, Chris
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Pope, Greg
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Pound, Stephen
Jowell, Ms TessaPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Prosser, GwynStinchcombe, Paul
Purchase, KenStoate, Dr Howard
Quinn, LawrieStott, Roger
Radice, GilesStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Rammell, BillStringer, Graham
Rapson, SydStuart, Ms Gisela
Raynsford, NickSutcliffe, Gerry
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Robertson, Rt Hon George(Dewsbury)
(Hamilton S)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Roche, Mrs BarbaraThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rogers, AllanThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rooker, JeffTimms, Stephen
Rooney, TerryTodd, Mark
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Touhig, Don
Rowlands, TedTrickett, Jon
Roy, FrankTruswell, Paul
Ruane, ChrisTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Ruddock, Ms JoanTurner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Salter, MartinTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Savidge, MalcolmTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Sawford, PhilVaz, Keith
Sedgemore, BrianWard, Ms Claire
Sheerman, BarryWatts, David
Short, Rt Hon ClareWhite, Brian
Singh, MarshaWhitehead, Dr Alan
Skinner, DennisWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Wood, Mike
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Woolas, Phil
Snape, PeterWray, James
Soley, CliveWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Speller, John
Squire, Ms RachelTellers for the Ayes:
Starkey, Dr PhyllisMr. Jim Dowd and
Stevenson, GeorgeMr. David Jamieson.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Allan, RichardCollins, Tim
Amess, DavidCormack, Sir Patrick
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelCotter, Brian
Arbuthnot, JamesCran, James
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyCurry, Rt Hon David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Dafis, Cynog
Baldry, TonyDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Ballard, Mrs JackieDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Beith, Rt Hon A JDavis, Rt Hon David (Halternprice)
Bercow, JohnDay, Stephen
Beresford, Sir PaulDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Boswell, TimDuncan, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Duncan Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaEvans, Nigel
Brady, GrahamFaber, David
Brand, Dr PeterFabricant, Michael
Breed, ColinFallon, Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaFearn, Ronnie
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Flight, Howard
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Burnett, JohnFoster, Don (Bath)
Burns, SimonFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Butterfill, JohnFox, Dr Liam
Cable, Dr VincentFraser, Christopher
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Garnier, Edward
Cash, WilliamGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Chidgey, DavidGibb, Nick
Chope, ChristopherGill, Christopher
Clappison, JamesGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethGorman, Mrs Teresa
(Rushcliffe)Gorrie, Donald
Gray, JamesPickles, Eric
Green, DamianPrior, David
Greenway, JohnRandall, John
Grieve, DominicRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnRendel, David
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamRobathan, Andrew
Hammond, PhilipRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Harris, Dr EvanRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Harvey, NickRuffley, David
Hawkins, NickRussell, Bob Colchester)
Hayes, JohnSt Aubyn, Nick
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Sanders, Adrian
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidSayeed, Jonathan
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasShepherd, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hunter, AndrewSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSpicer, Sir Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Spring, Richard
Jenkin, BernardSteen, Anthony
Johnson Smith,Streeter, Gary
Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyStunell, Desmond
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Swayne, Desmond
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Syms, Robert
Keetch, PaulTapsell, Sir Peter
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)Taylor, John M (Esher & Walton)
Key, RobertTaylor, John M (Solihull)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTemple-Morris, Peter
Kirkwood, ArchyTonge, Dr Jenny
Lansley, AndrewTownend, John
Leigh, EdwardTredinnick, David
Letwin, OliverTrend, Michael
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Tyler, Paul
Lidington, DavidTyrie, Andrew
Livsey, RichardViggers, Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Wallace, James
Llwyd, ElfynWalter, Robert
Loughton, TimWardle, Charles
Luff, PeterWaterson, Nigel
McIntosh, Miss AnneWebb, Steve
MacKay, AndrewWells, Bowen
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWhitney, Sir Raymond
Madel, Sir DavidWhittingdale, John
Malins, HumfreyWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Maples, JohnWigley, Dafydd
Mates, MichaelWilletts, David
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianWillis, Phil
May, Mrs TheresaWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Moore, MichaelWoodward, Shaun
Norman, ArchieYeo, Tim
Öpik, LembitYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Ottaway, RichardTellers for the Noes:
Paice, JamesMr. Oliver Heald and
Paterson, OwenMr. Patrick McLoughlin.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House deplores the neglect of the countryside and rural areas over the past eighteen years by the previous administration; congratulates the Government on its commitment to the countryside; welcomes the Government's intention to create the conditions necessary to let the rural economy flourish, to protect and enhance the rural environment and to enable everyone to enjoy the countryside; and further welcomes the start already made, notably on the reform of the CAP, the review of the Organic Aid Scheme, introducing Arable Stewardship, and reviewing the legislation for the protection of hedges and SSSIs.