Listening to the Countryside

– in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 3 March 1998.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 6:45, 3 March 1998

We now come to the debate on listening to the countryside. I have to inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 7:14, 3 March 1998

I beg to move,

That this House recognises the concern of those marching in London on 1st March that the voice of the countryside should be listened to by all politicians but regrets the attempts by non-attending Agriculture Ministers to undermine the credentials of the march with claims of it being hijacked by political and overseas interests; calls upon Her Majesty's Government, in acknowledging that a viable agricultural industry lies at the heart of a successful rural economy, to recognise properly the fears and concerns of farmers over dramatically falling farm incomes, rising levels of food imports, the continued imposition of the beef ban, the introduction of the Minimum Wage, the Working Time Directive and Agenda 2000, by now making a clear statement of how it proposes to address these concerns; deplores the threat to life in rural Britain resulting from a revenue support grant settlement which has removed resources from rural local authorities; and calls upon the Government not only to strengthen the protection for the countryside while encouraging the renewal of towns and cities, but also to respect the patterns and fabric of rural life by removing the threat to land owners of a statutory right of access. I move this motion as the spokesman of the true party of the countryside in the House. [Interruption.] The guffaws of Labour Members are typical of people who have not done their homework.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

Can the right hon. Gentleman, my parliamentary neighbour, explain why his party is regarded as the true party of the countryside when, in all their 18 years in government, they did nothing to resolve the problem of the moss roads, which so afflict both my rural constituents and his?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

When the hon. Gentleman and I join forces perhaps something will be done on that. I am grateful to him because he usually leads with his chin. I will take advantage of that by noting that Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde university, using data from the 1991 census to classify seats as rural on the basis of the number of people directly involved with agricultural production, classifies 54 of the 100 most rural seats as Conservative and 21 as Liberal; in third place comes the Labour party with 15, there are nine for the nationalists and one other. That conclusively shows that when it comes to the real rural voice of the United Kingdom, it is the Conservatives who speak for rural Britain.

The first thing that our motion does is to recognise the significance of Sunday's march. The first thing that the Government's amendment does is to ignore the march and its clear message. Its message was that every hon. Member should listen to the voice of the countryside. Our motion recognises the importance of that listening exercise; the Government's amendment does not.

Let us spend a moment considering the amendment. It is a slap in the face for the voice of the countryside, which was heard in London. More than 280,000 people came to a dignified, positive demonstration to speak on behalf of the countryside. I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends were proud to walk with our constituents and help their voice to be heard. There is nothing about listening in the Government amendment. Most of it condemns the previous Administration. Has it not dawned on Labour Members that, in 18 years, in spite of some things that we may have done that upset some people some of the time, we never provoked a reaction that filled London's streets like the country people did on Sunday? Let that be a lesson to the Labour party.

We recognised the need to do more for the people of the countryside. That is why, in 1995, we published a countryside White Paper, the first such document since 1945. We published a follow-up in 1996 to say what we had done. It included initiatives on matters such as rural transport and housing. The Government amendment says that they have policies for the reform of the common agricultural policy. I did not know that the Government were the Commission in disguise; perhaps we have discovered something new. The Community is responsible for that policy.

If the Government have ideas for successful sustainable agriculture, why did the Select Committee on Agriculture, which consists of seven Labour Members, three Conservatives and one Liberal, say in its recent report on Agenda 2000 that the Government should produce a comprehensive and clear vision of the future for UK agriculture"? Only today, the same Select Committee, dominated by Labour Members, pointed out that it was the same lack of strategy and forward planning which had contributed to the problems of the beef industry. It states: We concede that valuable time and money that could have been spent on restructuring the industry has been wasted for lack of a clear Government long-term strategy which would have assisted farmers to recognise the need for change. On two counts, the Select Committee condemns the Government's approach to the future of agriculture.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

It is hardly surprising to discover the Government's priorities. The Prime Minister dropped agriculture as a priority for one of the presidency priorities, about which he boasted so much.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the BSE crisis. Will he acknowledge that this Government are to spend £70 million on introducing a cattle traceability scheme? What did his Government do? Nothing.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

With respect to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), when we were in government we promised that, on its introduction, such a scheme would be free to farmers in terms of its establishment costs. His right hon. Friend decided only later to join that party.

The motion refers to the minimum wage. I shall return to that, as it poses a serious threat to agricultural employment for temporary and casual people.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

Is it not the case that the Agricultural Wages Board, which survived despite the attempted abolition in 1994, gives a minimum wage of £4.12 and an average—

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

The hon. Gentleman contradicts me from a sedentary position. I have the figures. The minimum rate is £4.12, and the actual rate is £4.69 per hour. How can the right hon. Gentleman speak of minimum wages devastating the agricultural industry, when the wages board is protecting minimum wages in that industry?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I shall deal with that when I come to the fruit industry later in my speech.

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he can give the House an assurance, when he talks about rural prosperity, that he has made a Budget submission to the Chancellor, asking him to ensure that no one in the countryside will be worse off as a result of the up-coming Budget. I expect that he will be unable to do that.

The march on Sunday was described in a recent magazine article in these words: But the march is also about ordinary people coming from communities across Britain coming together to show their concern about the future and help to raise awareness throughout the country of the vital role that farming and the wider rural community plays. It is a great pity that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), his Minister of State, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and others on the Front Bench spent so much time rubbishing the march as having been hijacked by politicos and the American gun lobby—points that the organisers of the march forcefully rebutted. The right hon. Gentleman may not have realised that the words that I quoted, which welcomed the march, were those of the Prime Minister. It will not have done the right hon. Gentleman's career any good to have departed from the Prime Minister's line on the march.

The only Minister who seemed to get it right was the Minister for the Environment, who was brave enough to turn up and be counted. We can draw our own conclusions. We see a Government divided on the question of the countryside, as witnessed by their attitude to the march.

The march illustrated how out of touch with the countryside the Government have become in nine short months. In a panic response to the force of argument deployed by Conservative Members and others speaking for the countryside, the Deputy Prime Minister tried to convince us that, all of a sudden, his free-for-all on the green belt had come to and end. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) soon rumbled that, by pointing out that in that announcement there was no evidence that any of the controversial housing developments in the green belt had been stopped.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I cast my mind back to the hundreds of thousands of miners and their families who came down in the Tory Government years when we fought for our communities and to save our pits. The Tory Government did not take a blind bit of notice, and the former President of the Board of Trade, who led the great march on Sunday, put one finger up to us. Where was the Tories' support when we were trying to save our communities in those days?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I am flattered that the hon. Gentleman still calls me the Minister.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government are in charge and will be replying to the debate tonight.

A farming concession followed on the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question and I have not got the answer yet. I and the mining communities are entitled to an answer. When they came down—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. [Interruption.] Order. The House must calm down a little. It is for hon. Members on the Front Bench to answer questions as they see fit.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

If this was a debate about mining, perhaps we could debate the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is a debate about the countryside. [Interruption.] It is typical of Labour Members, who want to raise everything other than the countryside. They are deeply embarrassed about their miserable record, as I am teasing out in front of the House.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not use words like that, and I must ask him to withdraw that word. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is an experienced—

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

I will not withdraw the word hypocrites, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because that is what the Tories are.

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I remind the hon. Gentleman, as an experienced Member of the House, that the debate is about the countryside. I understand his feelings, but he must withdraw the word hypocrite. I ask him to do that.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not withdraw it. They are nothing but hypocrites. I remember the miners fighting for their communities in the countryside, and they got nothing.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have given the hon. Gentleman every chance to withdraw the word hypocrite.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

In that case, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to leave the House for the remainder of the sitting.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Before that interruption, I was pointing out to the Minister of Agriculture that he was second in line with a concession to the voice of the countryside. It is remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman has told us on umpteen occasions in the past few months that there was no new money for agriculture. He said that the cupboards were bare. We pointed out that money was there. Suddenly, in the week running up to the march, we find new money coming out to deal with the higher charges for the Meat Hygiene Service and the cattle passport scheme. Is it not remarkable how, under a whiff of grapeshot coming in the direction of MAFF, the Minister panics and finds £70 million?

The Minister tried to put about the myth that the Government were giving money to farmers. They were not. All that he had decided to do was not to charge them for those schemes. It is about time that he acknowledged that fact, which we have pointed out.

Not to be outdone in the rush to concessions, the Minister for the Environment produced his much-delayed consultation document on the so-called right to roam. The document is a mailed fist in a velvet glove. Paragraph 5 of the introduction tells us: If we could be certain of achieving our objectives entirely by voluntary means, there would be no need to legislate at all". So much for the spin that it would be voluntary—there is an implicit threat of legislation. Who is the judge and jury? None other than the Minister.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I think that we have had enough interruptions from Labour Members for the time being. The House wants to hear our message on behalf of the countryside, because last Sunday Labour Members were too frightened to turn up and march with country people and, more important, to listen to what they had to say.

The Government have pledged to protect village schools. However, when we examine the fine print, we find that the closure decisions will be called in for further consideration. There is no guarantee whatsoever that no rural schools will close in future. The question regarding the Department for Education and Employment's proposal to stop parish councils nominating governors of rural schools remains unanswered. I must conclude that this rag, tag and bobtail collection of piecemeal policy concessions does not add up to a comprehensive policy for the countryside. People were crying out on Sunday to hear that policy from the Government, but they were met with silence.

I suppose that is not surprising when we consider the true priorities of the Minister of Agriculture. Rather than concentrating on the countryside, the wallpaper fetish from which this Government are suffering has really taken hold in the Ministry of Agriculture. The Guardian revealed this week that the Minister has spent £2.3 million on his office move. Did that move have anything to do with the priorities and problems of farming? No, it took place because the Minister needed new accommodation to send a strong signal that the department should have a new aim, focus and objectives. What are the Government's new aims, focus and objectives? If their main aim is not looking after farmers in their present plight, I do not know what their priority is. We also discover that the Minister spent £10,409 on an antique reproduction desk—he cannot recognise the real thing when he sees it, so he must buy a reproduction. I suppose that that is typically new Labour.

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)

Before the right hon. Gentleman digs himself into a bigger hole of myth and inaccuracy, I shall tell him one or two truths. The Guardian revealed nothing: all that information was published in the MAFF bulletin in January this year. That is my first point.

Secondly, the accurate figures for the cost of transferring the headquarters of MAFF, not just my office, to Nobel house—and I remind the House that the previous Government took the lease on that property; it was already a MAFF building—were provided in answer to a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) last month. Incidentally, that information was also given to the Agriculture Select Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman checked the facts in Hansard, rather than the inaccuracies in The Guardian, he might be worth listening to.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

That reveals that nobody reads the MAFF bulletin. I would be wary if I were in the Minister's boots. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), the Chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee, told The Guardian: We were told £930,000, you have got figures saying £2.3 million. We are very concerned and we will be investigating. My hon. Friend would not have said that if he was not sure of his facts.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee

This is a matter of considerable importance to the House. The Guardian obtained those figures under the access to information code. MAFF did not deny those figures until the Minister came to the Dispatch Box tonight. My right hon. Friend may wish to know that the Select Committee is writing to MAFF seeking clarification of how the discrepancy between the figures is accounted for.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

That answer will be very interesting. I had thought that the Minister had installed a naff kitchen, but it turns out to be a Neff kitchen.

That is typical of what has been happening in MAFF. Irrespective of the Minister's denials, the authoritative article in The Guardian shows where the Ministry's priorities lie—and they are not with farming issues and the countryside. The Select Committee summed up the situation currently facing farming in its report on Agenda 2000, which states: UK farmers are experiencing a uniquely difficult time, with structural problems compounded by the strength of sterling. It is unusual for all sectors of fanning to be confronting sharply reduced incomes simultaneously. So it is understandable if many farmers are concerned about radical change. It is sad that the Minister has not responded humanely to what the farmers have said. Those who attended the annual general meeting of the National Farmers Union heard one of the most chilling addresses ever made to a farming audience. The Minister talked about partnership at the start of his speech and then lectured farmers saying, "You will do this and that". In no sense did he appear to share the current burden in agriculture.

Two columns of figures published by MAFF highlight the seriousness of the income situation facing farming. It has been said that times improved for agriculture in 1992–93. Compared with an average net farm income at 100 per farm between 1989–90 and 1991–92, the index shows that net farm income for the dairy sector stood at 116 in 1992–93. However, the provisional figure in that sector for 1997–98 is 60—which is a 50 per cent. fall. Net farm income for cattle and sheep in less favoured areas was 129, but it is projected to be 80—a fall of 38 per cent. There will be a fall of 75 per cent. in projected net income for cattle and sheep in the lowlands. There is a level picture for cereals. General cropping will be down 12 per cent., pigs and poultry will be down 40 per cent., and mixed farming will be down 48 per cent.

Those chilling statistics reveal that if farm incomes had accumulated over a series of good years—as was said in a recent Adjournment debate—any accumulated surpluses will be used up by the end of this year.

Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall Labour, Weaver Vale

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Agriculture will truly face a frightening financial crisis to which the Minister has provided no solutions so far.

Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall Labour, Weaver Vale

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I pointed out to the Minister some time ago that there were opportunities for the Government.

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 Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I pointed out some time ago that there were things that the Government could do. The Opposition highlighted the fact that hill farmers needed help. The Minister provided a sort of increase in funds, but he botched that as well. As a result of his announcement in December, hill farmers will receive not £65 million but £57 million. The sum total of the Minister's assistance for agriculture to date is plus £21 million.

The Minister has often challenged us to say where the money would come from to deal with the question of agrimonetary compensation, for example. I remind the Minister that the Treasury has confirmed that there was a surplus in the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund in 1996. That resulted in Britain's achieving a higher Fontainebleau rebate which assisted the Government in terms of the Chancellor's Budget statement. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that same fund is under-spent for the calendar year 1997. In which case, will he be prepared to go to the Chancellor, in light of the figures that I have put before the House, and ask for at least some compensation for our farmers? That could be done within the bounds of public expenditure. After all, we did not ask the Government to adopt our plans, but they have adopted them. I have pointed out from where money could come to assist our hard-pressed farmers.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

The Minister is aware of the figures. If he has done his homework, he will be able to put before the House the detail that it requires and, once and for all, answer the questions that I have asked. Underspends on United Kingdom Community-funded agricultural schemes could enable him to recycle to the areas that are hardest pressed.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

The Minister asks me questions. He is supposed to give answers. I have done my homework. I know that the EAGGF fund is underspent.

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)

Since, as always, the right hon. Gentleman never fails to demand more public expenditure, more taxpayers' money, let me remind him and the House that £86 of every £100 of agrimonetary compensation comes from Her Majesty's Treasury. How much more public expenditure is he demanding?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

If that is an example of the Minister's preparation, he has not listened to what I have said. I said that I wanted him to use the underspend, which would enhance our rebate, to give money back to farmers, within public expenditure guidelines. That is not more public expenditure. The guideline for agriculture is 41.8 becu. The spend is 40.374 becu. He should have known those facts. If I can get them, why could not he?

On a serious point—[Laughter.] The guffaws of laughter to questions that affect the very fabric of rural life in this country clearly show that the Minister's priorities really are his wallpaper and his plants, and not the needs of the countryside in the United Kingdom.

I should like the Minister, if he will be kind enough, to tell the House what will happen at the end of this year when the freeze on the livestock and arable area payments ends. Those payments are worth some £400 million to United Kingdom agriculture and farming. Farmers would like to know what the situation is.

The Minister has shown scant regard for the effect of his policies on rural communities. I quote from a survey undertaken in west Wales by the NFU, as reported in the Farmers Guardian of 20 February. The area is represented by Labour Members of Parliament, who claim to speak for the countryside. The report says: Trade down 50 per cent, staff being laid off, debts still unsettled 12 months on, veterinary practitioners surviving largely on cat and dog treatments and even a vicar praying hard that the depression within the farming industry would not turn into a wave of suicides. Those are the real issues that face farming and countryside communities. The Minister must address those fears and concerns when he replies.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way at last.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying in all honesty that his former Administration take absolutely no responsibility for the crisis in the countryside in mid-Wales?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

I said earlier that we take some responsibility for the need to improve. That is why we produced two White Papers on the countryside.

I have put before the House the Labour Government's record of neglect on the countryside. I gave information on incomes in farming, and its knock-on effects on the rural community. When one considers all the other things that are going on as far as the countryside is concerned, it is hardly surprising that the countryside feels under siege: no early lifting of the beef ban in sight; the ending of the Rural Development Commission; the beef on the bone ban; the efforts to ban green-top milk; an assault on country sports; the reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission of the milk industry; the Krebes report, leaving large parts of the countryside vulnerable to tuberculosis from badgers; and a raft of Labour private Members' Bills on pigs and poultry, which would leave our industry seriously disadvantaged compared with our European competitors.

It is no wonder that country people cry out to be listened to, but not, it seems, by the Government. The listening will be done by Opposition Members. I beg to support our motion.

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) 7:44, 3 March 1998

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: condemns the previous administration for its persistent neglect of the countryside over the past eighteen years which resulted in rural unemployment and deprivation and the collapse of the rural transport system; and congratulates the Government on its emphatic commitment to comprehensive countryside policies, to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, to successful, sustainable United Kingdom agriculture, and on its vision for a countryside that is strong, fair and modern, with a programme for social justice, inclusiveness, welfare reform, improving services, the national minimum wage, education and skills which will ensure prosperity for all in rural areas as well as in the towns.". It is an easy task to deal with the rag bag of a motion that stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, particularly since it is as incoherent as it is inaccurate. After the long, boring and convoluted speech of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), the task should not take too long. The Opposition motion refers to the need to recognise concerns over farm incomes, yet it opposes the minimum wage. In fact, farm incomes fell consistently throughout the period in which the Conservative Government were in office. The Opposition motion refers to concerns about the Agenda 2000 proposals, which the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and the Government support. The motion talks of rising levels of food imports. It is pretty easy to dismiss that, too, because they were lower in 1997 than in 1996. It talks of the need to strengthen protection for the countryside and the fabric of rural life, which Tory policies disastrously undermined over 18 years and left in tatters.

On access to the countryside, the Government have listened and responded to the dialogue and a request for a voluntary approach. The Opposition motion contains no new proposals for a better future for agriculture or for rural communities. It is devoid of coherence and content. As The Scotsman asked on 7 April last year, speaking of the Tories, Do their plans for the future of farming really matter when we know perfectly well what they have done in the past 18 years or even the past year? That simple quote says it all about the failure of the Tories' stewardship of the countryside.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

The motion asks the Government to consider properly the fears and concerns of farmers over falling incomes. If the Minister doubts those fears and concerns, he has only to look at the tragic case, detailed on "Panorama" last night, of a farmer who committed suicide. Will the Minister now tell the House that there will be a proper green pound compensation scheme for our farmers, which every other Government in Europe have given to theirs? Our farmers have to compete with those farmers in the same marketplace.

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 latter part of the hon. Gentleman's statement is not only inaccurate but untrue. In case he has not noticed or does not understand, virtually all the agrimonetary compensation available to beef and livestock farmers has already been given to them.

The Opposition's motion represents another attempt by the Conservatives to deny their past: their record of taking rural communities for granted for almost two decades; their disastrous record of betrayal of millions of people in the countryside, which culminated in swings to new Labour in rural areas every bit as powerful as they were in the urban areas. That is why Labour has so many Members of Parliament representing rural communities, and they are doing it well.

The right hon. Member for Fylde struggled to find a Scottish academic who had produced a paper saying that the Tories represent rural areas. They do not represent a single seat in Scotland, so that is stretching credibility just a little bit. Nor do they represent any constituency, urban or rural, in Wales.

Since last May, the Labour party has had more Members in rural constituencies than the Tories and the Liberal party put together.

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

May I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that, like Scotland and Wales, Cornwall is now a Tory-free zone?

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

We shall do the infilling later.

I invite the Minister to ignore Conservative Members' absurd amnesia and deal with the concerns of those who really represent rural areas—the farming unions and all those concerned with the future of the countryside. The Agriculture Committee's report, which was published today and which Labour Members support, makes it clear that long-term problems face the farming community. Will the Minister ignore the ridiculous speech that we have just heard?

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 do my best to satisfy the hon. Gentleman, although I am sure that I shall not succeed totally. I warmly welcome the Agriculture Committee's report, which is an important and constructive contribution to the debate about the problems in the beef industry. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and his colleagues on the Committee—of all parties—on their serious piece of work.

As I was saying, last May people in rural areas put their trust in Labour—for the first time, in many cases. They did so because they felt betrayed by successive Tory Governments, and we all know why: bus deregulation has meant no public transport for many communities. The closure of rural schools—450 closed in just over a decade—has torn the heart out of rural communities. Health care is inadequate and inaccessible: many of my constituents in rural west Cumbria cannot gain access to a national health service dentist as a result of Conservative policies. Low pay is a chronic problem in rural communities. Even recognising that, the Conservatives tried to abolish the agricultural wages board—in the teeth of the opposition of farmers, incidentally. They left us and the farmers with the tragic consequences of BSE and the beef crisis.

The list of Tory failures is almost endless. Rural parishes were destroyed: 75 per cent. were left with no daily bus service; 82 per cent. were left with no food-only shop; 70 per cent. were left with no general store; 43 per cent. were left with no post office—and the Conservatives tried to privatise that, too. In addition, 93 per cent. were left with no public nursery provision; and 91 per cent. were left with no access to day care, banks or building societies. That is the Tory party's record. What a legacy, yet they have the gall—the brass neck—to table such a motion.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd

Would my right hon. Friend consider adding to that list Alar in the apple industry, anthrax in the pig industry, botulism in the food processing industry, salmonella in the chicken industry, listeria in the dairy industry, E. coli in the meat industry and BSE in the beef industry?

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)

As I said, the list is almost endless.

As the Agriculture Committee points out in its good and constructive report, the previous Government bequeathed an "unenviable inheritance" to this Government on BSE. In short, the previous Government presided over the worst crisis in British agriculture this century, destroying beef farming and loading colossal costs on to taxpayers, culminating in the tragedy of new variant CJD. It is an appalling record.

The election of a Labour Government last May signalled a clear break with the past right across Britain. That is as true in rural areas as it is in towns and cities. The Labour party is effectively—indeed, formidably—represented in rural areas and I am proud to have represented a rural constituency in west Cumbria for almost 28 years.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is proud to be the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Mrs. Wright, whose family farm is in Salmesbury in my constituency, telephoned me today and wanted to know the answer to two questions. First, what is the Minister's response to last night's "Panorama" programme? Secondly, does the Minister fully appreciate the number of hours that farmers put in every day, seven days a week, to make a small return? The Minister heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) said about the returns that farmers get. Will he answer both those questions, please?

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)

My response to the "Panorama" programme is that I was in it and gave my response at the time. On the second question, the hon. Gentleman can tell his constituent that I am well aware of how hard-working and industrious farmers are.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

My constituent does not think so.

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 hon. Gentleman had better tell his constituent that I have represented people like her for much longer than he has. I represent many, many farmers in west Cumbria. Nothing changed under Tory policies for hill farmers with incomes in the lowest decile of farm incomes.

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, I shall not promise to visit the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Rural people voted for our policies, which are putting more money into health care in rural areas and, for the first time, making allowances for the extra costs of emergency ambulance care in rural areas. They voted for our new deal, which the Conservative party opposes. That is bringing quality jobs and training to young people. Pilot schemes of that £3.5 billion initiative in counties such as Cumbria and Cornwall are already showing the potential for benefiting rural as well as urban areas. Those same people voted for a Government who would understand the need throughout the country for regional development agencies that could understand different regions' unique needs.

The difficulties in British farming and the concerns for the future felt by people in rural areas are the result not of 10 brief months of the new Labour Government but of 18 years of failure by the Tory party in office.

Action for Communities in Rural England said of the Conservative record: Our main perception is one of neglect. The NFU and the Country Landowners Association also complained about Conservative neglect of their interests. The Conservative party's attempts to proclaim itself as the party of the countryside just do not wash. It should credit the public with a longer memory of its record in government, although we all understand why it wishes to forget that record.

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.

Farm incomes have been in long-term decline for more than two decades, apart from the brief period between 1992 and 1996. The situation then changed temporarily only because sterling's weakness gave British farmers bigger rises in income than those in any other European country. Naturally, European farmers then complained that the playing field had been tilted too far in Britain's favour.

We have already promised more essential help for farmers who need it most—certainly more than the Tory Government were prepared to plan for or provide. The package of measures that I announced in December, which was targeted at livestock farmers who have particular disadvantages, was worth an extra £85 million. The measures that I announced last week were worth £70 million to the same sector. A further £9 million, which is not new money but money that has been recycled from a scheme under which some farmers were paid too much and others too little, will go principally to suckler cow farms.

We are working consistently to lift the beef ban. Indeed, the scheme is being considered today and tomorrow in the Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels. We are working constructively with our European partners, the member states and the institutions of the European Union, within which Britain is no longer reviled and mistrusted as it was when the Conservative party was in power.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the income of hill farmers several times. Many hill farmers in his constituency and in mine are on incomes of much less than £10,000 a year. How can he justify spending more than £10,000 on a desk?

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 sorry that I took the hon. Gentleman seriously. I did not spend £10,000 on a desk, let alone more than £10,000. The hon. Gentleman should look at the figures. I shall not be sidetracked, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to read something accurate in The Guardian, he should read today's editorial, and not refer repeatedly to yesterday's misleading and inaccurate article. I regret inviting that particular journalist into the Ministry and taking him through—[Interruption.] I want to be open about what is going on.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

What about the £2.3 million?

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)

There is no such expenditure figure. We are reorganising the Ministry, because the previous Government left it in a shambles. Many buildings used by the Ministry are decrepit, dilapidated and under-utilised. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Minister of State says from a sedentary position, others are unsafe.

Today, I decided to bring our civil servants into the centre of London from places such as Tolworth, where the previous Administration left them, and to dispose of surplus sites and assets. The taxpayer will see a substantial profit from that exercise.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am anxious to hear more about the possible internal reorganisation of MAFF, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and other Departments, because that is slightly more significant in the long term than the cost of office furniture. The rueful smile crossing the right hon. Gentleman's face has perhaps given me the answer before he has said anything. Can he put further flesh on the bones of weekend press reports, and tell us the time scale for reaching any decisions?

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 cannot provide more flesh off the bone, let alone on the bone.

The Prime Minister asked me to do several things at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, one of which was to set up the Food Standards Agency. We are making good progress, and the White Paper has been exceptionally well received. We are reorganising, redirecting and slimming down the Ministry—many civil servants will leave as a result—and giving it a new open culture, but the Prime Minister will make the final decisions.

The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) is smiling benignly at me. He rarely does so, but he is welcome to continue, for a while at least. The right hon. Gentleman knows that decisions about changes to Ministries and the machinery of government in Whitehall are for Prime Ministers, not individual Ministers. I have noted what the Select Committee on Agriculture and the Country Landowners Association have said on the subject, but no decisions have been taken. I will not be tempted any further on that issue.

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, I want to deal with the nonsense that we heard from the right hon. Member for Fylde.

The prudent control of public expenditure is a Government commitment. Every time the right hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box, he demands more support and public expenditure, but never puts a figure on it or says where the money should come from. He is almost always misleading, as he was today. The right hon. Gentleman knows this well, but the record should be set straight: the Conservative Government never once in 18 years recycled money from European budgetary contributions back into Ministries—MAFF or any Ministry. His argument is a complete fraud.

The Conservative party never once paid agrimonetary compensation when in office, probably because the previous Prime Minister, as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, knew that £86 out of every £100 would have to come from the Exchequer.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

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)

No, not on that point.

Let us hear no more of those fraudulent arguments. The right hon. Member for Fylde knows, as we do, that easy, no-cost money from Brussels is not available to the Government or to farmers.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

My figures are based on Treasury figures. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Economic Secretary's answer about the £400 million that the Chancellor gave away in his July Budget is wrong, and that underspend on the EAGGF did not help to provide that £400 million?

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 at all; I am saying something completely different. If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand, he clearly has a problem with understanding what goes on in the Treasury and in Brussels.

The Government have provided an extra £447 million for shire counties to raise school standards and to repair school buildings which were neglected under the previous Administration; £900 million of capital receipts is being released for new homes in urban and rural areas; and an extra £1.5 billion has been made available for the national health service in all areas of the country. Work opportunities for young people are being created through the biggest welfare-to-work programme in history, and pathfinder schemes are already operating in rural areas in Cornwall and Cumbria; £300 million has been provided for child care, and pilot programmes have been set up in rural as well as urban areas. Rural transport needs are being examined by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and his ministerial team—I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) to the Front Bench this evening—as part of the Government's integrated transport strategy. A rate relief scheme will give sole post offices and general stores in small rural villages 50 per cent. off their rates bills.

We have released a consultation paper on access that balances the needs of landowners—[Interruption.]

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

Order. The House must come to order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.

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 think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that some Conservative Members have spent too much time recently in the vicinity of hunting horns.

Last week's announcement about the green belt will help to protect the countryside, as will the extension of the green belt that has been agreed since the Government were elected. We have found extra resources for hill and livestock farmers as well as the additional £70 million in costs which we removed last week. [Interruption.]

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

Order. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) must be quiet. I demand silence.

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)

Farmers will begin to receive those payments next week.

Yesterday, I visited the A1nwick district in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Did the right hon. Gentleman have lunch with the Duke of Northumberland?

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 met the Duke, and he was a welcoming and generous host.

I was greeted warmly by the leader of the council—who, incidentally, was not a Labour party councillor—and was astonished when he announced to the gathering of farmers, farmers' wives and other people from rural communities that, in the history of the district council and in the past 18 years, in one of the most rural parts of one of the most rural counties in England, no Conservative agriculture Minister had shown his face.

That is indicative of the Conservative party's betrayal of rural areas. It is a record which we and the country roundly condemn. It is a record which we shall erase, while demonstrating that we are genuinely committed to all the people of this country.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 8:10, 3 March 1998

At the end of his speech, the Minister made a point in passing. The Government—and the Liberal Democrats, for that matter—rightly point to the 18 years that preceded the events of last May, and it is fanciful nonsense to suppose that the British public are so thick that they imagine that all the problems of the countryside began on the stroke of midnight on 2 May. The truth is, however, that ever since the days of "dig for victory" during the second world war, thanks to social, economic and technological changes, the country has seen almost the reverse of the industrial revolution. That is behind many of the problems of the countryside as much as specific policy controversies, or the shortcomings of Administrations of one hue or another.

One hundred years ago, people were moving from the country into the city—into conurbations—in search of work. Now, owing to technology, greater social mobility and increased disposable income, more and more people are moving to the country, taking with them pressures that are attitudinal as well as infrastructural. I feel that, given the seriousness of the subject, it is worthy of a slightly greater sense of perspective in regard to time than has been allowed for by the Conservative party.

The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) produced a selective series of statistics showing how well his party was doing, on the basis of a sample of 100 rural seats. It would be interesting to be given the same statistics on the basis of a sample of 200 seats. We would then find that Labour and the Liberal Democrats handsomely outnumber the Conservatives in terms of rural representatives. I empathise with the right hon. Gentleman, however. For four years, I was something called the president of my party, and I always took the view that the difference between the leader and the president was this: when the party won a by-election on a sensational swing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) would be seen on "Newsnight" saying what a great breakthrough it had been, but when a by-election was lost—and the candidate's deposit with it—the president would be seen on "Newsnight" telling Jeremy Paxman that, in fact, the lost deposit was a very encouraging base on which to build for the future. I felt that there was a hint of that in the opening analysis of the right hon. Member for Fylde.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I was elected by only 77 votes; the Liberals were pushed into third place by the Labour party. I congratulate the Minister, who, in 10 months, has converted my local farmers from being very anti-me and the Conservative Government to being totally against him. Surely the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) does not support that lot, who have made such a disastrous job of the past 10 months.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My colleagues and I are immensely encouraged by that tale. If the farmers began by hating the hon. Gentleman and now hate the Government as well, that must mean that we are set for another appearance on "Newsnight" by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil. What a great day for us that will be.

It is interesting that the Conservatives entitled the debate "Listening to the Countryside". Listening is a faculty that we did not associate with them during their period in office. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) pointed out, if we were concerned about the Conservatives' faculties in general, we would be concerned not just about their capacity to hear, but about their capacity to remember even recent history in this context.

I do not think that the amazing scenes in London on Sunday—in which a number of us were very pleased to participate—should be interpreted by the Conservatives as an overwhelming endorsement of all that they stand for. I think that they should be interpreted as a rainbow coalition of contradictory viewpoints sending a common signal. There was a general concern for the countryside as a whole. The march was disparaged in some ministerial quarters, although not in others. I have to say that, for once, I agreed with the Minister for the Environment. I felt that he was entirely right, as Minister for the Environment, to turn up and to make it clear that he disagreed with one of the central tenets of the march. I consider that not an inconsistent position, but a perfectly sensible one. [Interruption.] I am interested by the running commentary that I am hearing from Conservative Members.

The march achieved one thing apart from the tremendous image that it presented. It led to a raft of policy statements during the week. If the threat, or the approach, of the march could achieve that, let us hope that its aftermath will achieve even more.

I note that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths)—the Welsh agriculture Minister—looked as rueful as the Minister himself over departmental reorganisations. I do not refer only to the original reorganisations applying to the Minister's Department—the Food Standards Agency and all the rest. I am thinking of changes elsewhere in Government that are being implemented under—I fear—the none-too-sensitive hand of the Deputy Prime Minister, affecting both the structure and the funding of the Rural Development Commission and its absorption into the regional development agencies.

I should have thought that, if the Government are having something of a turf war in Whitehall on what kind of rural-agricultural agency may yet emerge, they would take a fresh look at their own legislation. They might ask themselves whether it would make more sense, if such an agency is established, not to subsume the RDC in the original RDAs—where many of us feel that the voice of rural Britain will not be heard sufficiently—but to merge it with the Countryside Commission and make it answerable to a rural and agricultural Ministry. I think that that would be a much more sensitive approach than the approach that we might see if the agency ends up in the Deputy Prime Minister's super-glorified Department.

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 budget of the Rural Development Commission will be ring-fenced within RDAs, and at least one member of the agency will be given specific responsibility for rural areas and rural enterprise. As for the wider argument, the important thing is to get the decisions right if there is to be any reorganisation in Whitehall. Turf wars usually result in people not getting things right. In politics, it is important not to engage in a turf war in the first place.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not think that that last comment was directed at me. I hope that those at whom it was directed will read it in Hansard, and will act accordingly. Liberal Democrats are always willing to act as a useful conduit for the Minister to engage in megaphone diplomacy with some of his ministerial colleagues.

Photo of David Curry David Curry Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Is the hon. Gentleman aware—given the intervention by the Minister of Agriculture—that, in the Standing Committee debating the Regional Development Agencies Bill, the Government specifically rejected the idea of giving one person in the regional development agencies a mandate to deal specifically with rural issues? The Government are, therefore, doing exactly the opposite of what the Minister said in this debate that they wanted to do. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the sensible thing would be if the entire membership of the agencies were mandated to keep an eye specifically on rural interests? Would he also be interested to know that the Government plan to incorporate the rump of the Rural Development Commission into the Countryside Commission—unless the Government's fundamental spending review cuts all the commission's remaining money, as is entirely possible?

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I think that it was T. S. Eliot who wrote: In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions,Which a minute will reverse. It may well prove to be the case that the confusion on the issue that we saw spilling out in column inches from different bits of the Government over the weekend has not yet been fully clarified.

Regardless of whether there is to be ring fencing of funding or only one person designated to deal with countryside matters, the fact is that one person would not be sufficient to deal with them. Although the RDC's impact on the rural areas that it covers—in the north of England and Cornwall, for example—is very important, the totality of its budget compared with those that will be available to RDAs will be sufficiently small—significant though those funds will be for the areas that they cover—that ring fencing will not act as a sufficient safeguard. I should prefer wider consideration to be given to the matter.

In a very good letter in today's The Daily Telegraph, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury said that—of all people—the late Nicholas Ridley, who may not have had the greatest credentials in countryside matters, had a blueprint ready to go as far back as 1987 to deal with those matters. It might be worth revisiting that blueprint to discover whether it is applicable to current circumstances.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee

May I be clear about the hon. Gentleman's comments? Is he suggesting that Liberal Democrat party policy is now to support the creation of a Department of rural affairs, along the lines suggested by the Agriculture Select Committee in its first report, which was endorsed in an early-day motion signed by 60 Labour Members?

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No; we shall have to wait and examine the Government's proposals. I am trying to say that if the Government are examining the matter—as the Minister, in his interventions, has clearly confirmed that they are—they will have to consider the implications of other bits of legislation that are being passed in parallel with that Bill.

Ministers will have to consider two issues. First, if a post were created at Cabinet level, they would have to determine how to prevent it from being regarded as a rural ghetto for all rural issues, allowing other Ministers completely to switch their attention from the rural implications of their policies. If that were to happen, it would be a setback rather than a step forward. Secondly, Ministers will have to deal with the extremely vexed issue of planning, and decide who will responsible for it. The planning issue will have to be examined very carefully.

Many of the issues that have been raised in this debate, as detailed in the Conservatives' motion and in the Government's amendment, show that—as the Minister knows that we have argued—there is now an overwhelming case for a royal commission to examine countryside issues.

The flashpoint for recent concerns—leading to last summer's protest in Hyde park, and to this weekend's events—may have been the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, and perhaps the post-Dunblane gun legislation. Those were rightly regarded as free-vote issues in the House and divided all parties. If there is to be a royal commission, surely it is sensible that it should encompass not only the types of issue that I mentioned earlier, but those more recent issues, and determine—as it looks as though that private Member's Bill will die a death on Friday—whether we can find a way forward.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Is the hon. Gentleman interested to note that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) has not been in the Chamber for any part of this debate?

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes his point. We may hear in Friday's debate why the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) has not attended.

Liberal Democrat Members commend the idea of a royal commission to examine overall countryside concerns. A commission could also examine the other issues that have been raised in this debate, the first of which is the catastrophic situation vis-a-vis farm incomes.

A couple of weeks ago, hon. Members may have heard on "Farming Today" a representative of Barclays bank say that farmers are perhaps in for a better year. However, in the recent edition of Farmers Weekly, another representative of Barclays pointed out that, in the most extreme cases, farm incomes would fall from £47,500, in 1996, to only £2,485 this year. That exceeds the traditional picture of farming in which one or two good years help to compensate for one or two bad years. That peak and trough will be disastrous not only for farmers, but for the rural economy.

The position of farmers was well summed up by a very entertaining barrister who spoke, a couple of weeks ago, at the National Farmers Union's annual dinner in London. He said that he spoke to a wholesaler in Yorkshire, who said that farm incomes were now so bad that even the blighters who did not pay had stopped ordering. [Laughter.] That was a graphic illustration of just how bad things have become.

We must undoubtedly deal with the issue of farm incomes. Equally, there is no doubt that the continuing unjust ban on British beef is contributing significantly not only to depressed morale, but to depressed income and depressed opportunities to enhance income. In his reply, perhaps the Minister will reflect on reports in today's Evening Standard that the Department has issued further clarification to inspectors on policing the ban, and that meat inspectors are being encouraged to act as agents provocateurs in many respects. If that is not the case, we would like clarification of the matter—which has been well spelt out in the Evening Standard, with attendant supporting quotes.

The Minister of Agriculture currently holds the presidency of the Council of Agriculture Ministers. The Government have also placed great emphasis on reforming the common agricultural policy. The emphasis on that reform has undoubtedly changed significantly since the beginning of year—reflecting, we believe, Germany's upcoming elections, in September, and the fact that Chancellor Kohl does not want to open up that Pandora's box in immense detail, especially after this weekend's election results, which he will have to consider.

One wonders, therefore, whether the Government are not putting the cart before the horse. Last night on "Panorama", the Minister was at pains to stress the need to get away from the subsidy regime and to restructure the policy. Reform is part of a bigger debate. However, surely it is better not to restructure on a United Kingdom-wide basis until we know what shape and form Agenda 2000 will take; it may cause even more dislocation.

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 hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Surely we can all see that the policies that have been pursued for the past couple of decades have not well served farmers, let alone consumers or the environment. There is an overwhelming case for change; the question is how and to what time scale we shall manage that change. The hon. Gentleman was, of course, right to say that one of the first proposals that we shall see from the Fischler package of reform will be on restructuring the beef sector throughout Europe. He was right also to say that we must insist that the brunt of the burden of restructuring the beef sector does not continue to be borne by British beef farmers—as it has been for the past three or four years—but is shared equally across the European Union.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for that response. I tell him constructively that, if that attitude were being expressed more strongly by him and the Ministry—

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As the Minister well knows, politics—he has been in this business a long time; a lot, lot longer than I—is about perceptions as much as anything else. The current perception outside the House is that such restructuring is not the Government's priority. Farming sectors will be more reassured if he and his colleagues take more opportunities to emphasise that that is the Government's priority. Hon. Members who represent those sectors would be significantly assisted in our jobs, when dealing with local farmers, if they were to do so.

On the CAP reform, given the general consensus that there should be greater emphasis on environmentalism, if we allow the baby to be thrown out with the bath water, there will not be sufficient personnel on the land to carry out the husbandry that will be essential to the environmental protection enhancement that we all support. If we allow it to go wrong, it will also defeat Europe's stated objectives.

On the right to roam, I welcome the fact that, last week, the Government opted for local voluntary agreements, although there is a different legal and traditional framework in Scotland which works rather well, albeit in a rather piecemeal fashion. There is no reason why it should not be extended south of the border, although it might be helpful to remove the continuing uncertainty. As for the squeeze on local authority funding, the worry is not that the landlords will create problems, but that local authorities are likely to say, "Let us sit back and do nothing for 18 months or two years. We know that there will be legislation at a later date that will allow us to proceed from a statutory position rather than have to make the time and effort to deploy personnel to negotiate local voluntary agreements".

In respect of the local authorities, our principal disagreement with the Government remains, and it impacts on the countryside as much as on everything else. By accepting the rather arbitrary Conservative spending limitations which, in the unlikely event that the Tories had won the election, the previous Chancellor would have broken on day one—of that there can be no realistic doubt—

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No. I am concluding my remarks. The Government are making it almost impossible to meet the laudable objectives that would unite a considerable body of opinion in different parties in the House in respect of countryside concerns and the rural environment. Although the Government have taken some initial positive steps, they clearly have a long way to go, largely because they are hamstrung by an item of their own making—accepting their predecessors' artificial constraints and sticking to them unrealistically. Due to that and other disagreements of principle with the Government, we shall not support them tonight. Nor shall we be giving our endorsement—[Interruption.] It takes a particular acumen to know when both parties are wrong.

As I was saying, our disagreement with the Government is on principle, but we disagree with the Conservatives because we are not prepared to be unprincipled, as their amendment is tonight.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire 8:31, 3 March 1998

I represent a large rural constituency and I am also the patron of Country Guardian, of which the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is president. It is an organisation which exists to prevent country-loving landowners from putting wind turbines all over choice upland areas.

It is interesting that the Conservatives—the "true party of the countryside"—have not been able to muster a dozen Back Benchers to attend their own debate. That shows how much interest they have in the countryside. Only eight Conservative Back Benchers are present in the Chamber.

A few weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) initiated a debate on rural poverty that was well attended by Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. For the Conservatives, there was a brief appearance by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), who made a short speech about his rural constituents and then left. The only Back-Bench Member present was the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). The Conservative Whip wound up the debate as no Front-Bench representative was present. That was emblematic of the Conservatives' true concern for the countryside. They have no interest whatever in rural poverty, isolation in the countryside or the regeneration of the rural economy. They are interested only in the continuation of blood sports, which are opposed by 57 per cent. of rural dwellers, the preservation of privileged enclaves in the countryside and, most seriously, the creation of a false division between town and country.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

First, the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to say that I attended the debate only briefly. I was present for virtually the entire debate. If the hon. Gentleman was there, he will have heard what I said. Secondly, I made none of the points that he identified with the Conservative party. I said exactly the reverse and many of his colleagues praised my speech. I do not know whether or not the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber throughout, but if he reads Hansard he will see that I am correct.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

I do not remember the right hon. Gentleman's speech being praised by my colleagues, but I remember him leaving shortly after making his speech.

The Tories and the Countryside Alliance seem to assume that the United Kingdom is made up of rolling countryside occupied by real British people—a squirearchy served by cheerfully toiling peasants, farmers and hunters—and opposed by huge urban conurbations such as Greater Manchester—full of alien masses that are eager to burst out and swamp merry England. They do not address the reality of much of Britain—the complex interpenetration of rural areas, market towns, large villages, suburbs and, of course, larger towns and cities. They consider urban dwellers visiting the countryside or seeking to live there to be alien interlopers, but feel that it is perfectly natural for rural dwellers to penetrate urban areas for work, services or leisure activities.

It is airily forgotten by many Conservatives that the industrial, commercial and tax base of our economy is largely urban and that if it were the collective will to end all agricultural subsidies, each taxpayer would save £4 a week and most farmers would be bankrupt. They forget that a child in a rural school costs the taxpayer in Lancashire, for example, four times as much as a child in an urban school and that does not include school transport. They forget that without urban links all rural rail services would cease and that local authority transport subsidies are almost all that keep rural services going.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

No. I am trying to be brief, as many of my hon. Friends are waiting to speak.

It is forgotten that the opponents of overdevelopment in the countryside—of whom I am emphatically one—are not just those who come from 10 generations of green wellies and Barbours. They are often urban escapees, whose first priority, having grabbed a chunk of rural Britain, is to pull up the drawbridge so that other townies cannot get anywhere near them.

The underlying presumption by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions that the health and prosperity of the countryside is inextricably bound up with the health and prosperity of urban areas is exactly right. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) has expressed the same view on several occasions, and I agreed with him each time.

I recite all that, not to attack the countryside in which I live, but to assert the need for balance as opposed to the recent drive to create enmity and rivalry. Town and country should forge alliances against their common problems, as is the case in many shires, although some of those alliances have been badly damaged by the creation of unitary authorities.

The stirring up of hatred by the Countryside Alliance and the killing wing of the Conservative party is extremely dangerous and threatens every rational attempt to address the genuine needs of the countryside.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

No. The Conservative motion begins by recognising the concern of those marching on London, and that is fair enough. It then attacks falling farm incomes, rising food imports, the beef ban—which was achieved by the Conservatives—the minimum wage, the working time directive, Agenda 2000, the rate support grant settlement and the right of access to the countryside. It makes not one mention of hunting. Yet Robin Hanbury-Tenison, a well known hyphen and chief executive of the Countryside Alliance said in a press release yesterday: Yesterday's march demonstrated … the concerns of rural people. Fears for the future of hunting and field sports, and deep concern at the problems facing livestock farmers were undoubtedly the issues that brought the majority of the crowd to London. He goes on: Yesterday's march could not have happened without hunting. So why is there no mention of it in the Conservative motion? Could it be that it has finally sunk into the brain of the Leader of the Opposition that more than 70 per cent. of the population support the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster)? If they decided to march through London, they would take about a week to march past Nelson's column.

The central concern of the countryside is the difficulty faced by many farmers. After a number of good years, they are having a bad year, largely as a result of the level of the pound, but also because of the problems with beef. It is worth reiterating that no other sector of the economy has had so much subsidy or compensation in hard times. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) has had to leave the Chamber because of his feelings about mines. Many of us share those feelings.

We are constantly told that the Government are doing nothing for farmers. The Government were right to remove the cost burden of cattle identification and meat hygiene inspection, but they should expect no thanks for that—and they got none from the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). Rather, they should expect further demands.

I did not notice many banners on Sunday attacking supermarket buying policies, which can have as debilitating an effect on farming as BSE. Safeway in my constituency recently announced that it was ceasing to buy locally grown produce. Farmers have rightly complained that lower prices for their meat are not reflected in lower prices on supermarket shelves. I saw no banners saying, "Growers against the Government", although they are having a hard time, too. I represent many growers. There is more to agriculture than beef, although one would not think so listening to the Conservatives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) once memorably said, he is not just the Minister for meat.

The National Farmers Union bravely addressed the long-term structural problems of agriculture in its document, "Options for Change" a couple of years ago. The NFU and the Government agree on the need for common agricultural policy reform and the steady removal of subsidy and quotas. We should be working on that agenda, not one designed to provoke the majority in this country to say, "A plague on farmers and on the countryside."

The Government should look closely at the labelling of foodstuffs so that the consumer can choose British meat—and other products—with confidence. We should also examine the distribution of beef cattle compensation. It is logical that there should be much greater compensation for a pedigree beef animal than for a finished dairy cow.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has effectively addressed my concerns about building development in the countryside and the need to protect the green belt in particular. However, I urge him not to have a blanket policy on urban brown-field sites. We must not forget that towns need open spaces, too. The ending of predict and provide and the policy to take more planning decisions regionally represent an important breakthrough, marking a major change from the previous Government's attitude to planning in the countryside, which all too often was just to let it rip.

Governments cannot achieve the same services, leisure facilities, transport systems and choice of occupation for people in rural areas as are available for those in urban areas, contrary to what the Country Landowners Association foolishly asserted in the handout that it sent us today. Similarly, it is not possible to achieve for people in urban areas the benefits of clean air, open landscapes and small, quiet communities enjoyed by most people in rural areas. Government, local and national, must ensure that each is available to the other as easily as possible without damaging either. Public transport systems through rural areas provide a crucial means of achieving that. Government policy is moving in the right direction on that.

It is disturbing that a vociferous minority, purporting to represent rural areas, is seeking to brand the towns as predatory and privileged and to keep townspeople out of large chunks of the countryside if possible. Most people in rural areas feel no antagonism towards the towns. If anything, they feel sympathy, sometimes even pity. Most of my rural constituents have not been impressed by the motives of many involved in Sunday's demonstration, sympathetic though they are to the concerns of farmers and some of the other groups represented on the march.

When the Countryside Alliance shouts, "Listen to us"—not, "Please listen to us"—they really mean, "Don't listen to anyone else." The Conservatives—devastated at the election result in rural and urban areas—are desperately seeking to claw back support in what they have always regarded as their heartlands. If they cannot do that, they have no hope of ever forming a Government again. In the process, they are trying to obliterate from the public memory 18 years in which they presided over the devastation of rural areas such as mine in matters ranging from housing, transport and schools to BSE. They should remember that the march on Sunday may not have been the tip of the iceberg, but the whole of it and that the ship of state, to stretch the image, spotted it a while ago and has sailed on by.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden 8:45, 3 March 1998

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am concerned from the speech of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) that we are being treated to a selective interpretation of what happened on Sunday. The great thing about Sunday's march was that it brought together such a wide range of interests—a patchwork of people with different concerns for the countryside. We have to be careful about selective interpretation. The Conservative party was careful not to abuse the request from the Countryside Alliance to keep the march apolitical. We tried our best to respect that.

I owe it to those of my constituents who participated in the march to use this opportunity to articulate their concerns in Parliament. I feel strongly that the Government amendment seriously misses the mark. At no point during 18 years of Conservative agricultural policy did more than 250,000 people find it necessary to descend en masse on the capital to express their fears for the future.

One had only to ask those taking part to discover the causes that brought them to London. Like me, many of them had sat at the back of the hall during the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's address to the National Farmers Union annual general meeting. They became increasingly disappointed, then annoyed, by what they had to listen to. He did not uphold new Labour's promises of partnership. I was appalled by the mismatch between his statement on page one that the Government seeks a partnership with everyone involved in agriculture and the use of the word "we" shortly afterwards referring only to the Government. In most of what followed, he consistently used the word "you" to refer to the industry in phrases such as, "the challenge to you" and "yours is the choice".

Partnership requires co-operation and communication between two or more parties.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

Will the hon. Lady explain what partnership the previous Administration were involved in when they closed their eyes in the hope that BSE would go away between 1988 and 1996? What communication was there between the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the farmers?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

Practical partnership when facing a food scare established by the scientific community means listening to the advice of the scientific community and following it. The previous Government undertook that. In contrast, when the present Government were presented with scientific options, they selected one without consultation.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

Will the hon. Lady give way again?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

Not again. I should like to proceed. I think that I have described the professional partnership between the Government and scientific bodies adequately.

The greatest offence in that speech was the Minister's separation of the industry from the Government, again using the word "you", saying: Farmers need to he good business people. Apart from stating the blindingly obvious, he was rather patronisingly suggesting that they are not good business people. The successful rationalisation and modernisation—a response to world market forces in agriculture—that has been achieved in this country is a tribute to the good business management of the majority of farmers.

The Minister's speech was full of hand-washing phrases designed to exonerate the new Government from blame for the farming crisis. Hiding behind Conservative spending plans or suggesting that farmers should have set more money aside in good times is an inadequate response to the crisis facing the countryside.

The farmer who built the beacon in my constituency on Thursday is not untypical. He has had to sell his farmhouse. Formerly, he and his brother farmed together and hired labour. His brother had to find a job in landscape gardening; they no longer hire labour. That is a typical example of the real crisis faced today. That was why he was so keen to have the beacon built on his land: as a statement of his practical experience.

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

Is the hon. Lady aware of the Conservatives on North Yorkshire county council who have made known their intention to sell their farm estate? As the farm estate is the way in which most people without means come on to the land, does she agree that those Conservative county councillors deserve condemnation?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

I am wisely advised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who has a better understanding of that part of Britain, that the council has to make such a move because the local government financial settlement, under a Labour Government, put the council in the financial position of having to realise an asset.

Why would the NFU, an organisation which has been commended by Labour, go to the lengths of producing slogans such as "Keep Britain Farming" and putting them on trailers and standing them over motorways if there were not a real threat? An empty threat would simply bring that organisation's reputation into disrepute.

The Government cannot wash their hands of the impact of their economic policies since they came to power. Allowing the Bank of England to raise interest rates has resulted in five separate rises since 1 May. It is to the immense frustration of farmers that the political instrument that the Minister has at his disposal under the common agricultural policy to compensate for such currency fluctuations just lies motionless on his table. It may be possible in the short term to "tough out" such times of strong currency, but do the Government envisage the pound weakening in the short term? Is it not rather more likely that Britain's position outside European monetary union—[Interruption. I am not making a comment on that stance. We must think about the consequences of the policy. It will attract speculation on our currency, result in a strong pound and aggravate the difficulties faced by agriculture. The instrument that could do something about that lies unutilised on the Minister's table.

It is not possible for the Government to wash their hands of the deepening crisis and ignore the way in which their policies have aggravated the situation for the beef industry. The Government's decision to impose a ban on beef on the bone was riddled with inconsistency. We find that the guiding principle of the new Food Standards Agency will be to give consumers the right information and allow them the freedom to decide. Yet precisely the opposite is true of the ban on beef on the bone. That is why the decision has attracted ridicule in the wider population—urban and rural. The nannying stance of deciding for others in the case of minimal risk is what has so irritated consumers.

The march sought not only to call the Government to account for such decisions but to draw attention to what is ahead. At the NFU annual general meeting, we saw a little of the Minister gazing into the future. I am concerned by the inexperience and naivety of his perspective on the future of British agriculture. He said that he wants to see changes … so that British farmers can take full advantage of growing world markets". Although we all aspire to a reduction in agricultural support and want a reduction in protectionism in agriculture, it is unrealistic to think that British agriculture can survive on its own with reduced support in a market where competing countries would not hesitate to capitalise on a disadvantaged competitor.

A reduction in agricultural subsidy is a sincerely held objective among Conservative Members and has been progressively achieved in GATT rounds, but any comparative advantage that Britain enjoys with its relatively large farming structures pales into insignificance alongside the economies of scale of the prairies of the mid west, the plantations of South America and the low-wage farming of the far east. The new Government's policy direction of unilateral disarmament, particularly in relation to sectors that are experiencing an abnormal crisis, is irresponsible.

The Minister has been challenged on numerous occasions in the Chamber over his commitment to the beef industry. It was pointed out to him that, in Agenda 2000, there is a Commission intention to reduce the size of the beef sector in Europe by 30 per cent. It was put to him that the current situation in British farming and the inadequate support given to the beef sector in order that it might stabilise its position could result in the entire 30 per cent. reduction occurring in this country. Yet we have been given no adequate answer.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that, when the Minister was asked in the Select Committee on Agriculture whether he had a vision, a view, a projection for the amount of production or the number of producers in the British beef industry, he was sadly lacking? That lack of strategic vision, of targets, was pointed out in the Select Committee's reports on beef and on Agenda 2000—by all Committee members, not just Opposition Members.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

Consequently, the Select Committee, which has a majority of Labour Members, concludes its report on the beef industry by saying that the UK beef industry could become too enfeebled to restructure itself rationally". That is the very point that I have been making. With inadequate help, Britain will unilaterally disarm an otherwise profitable, competent and professionally run sector, which is handicapped by the Government's handling of it.

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

Are the hon. Lady and her colleagues aware that farming, deep though its crisis is, involves and employs a relatively small proportion of people who live in the countryside? Whether or not farming was in crisis, 56 per cent. of people in rural parishes would still be left without a shop of any kind, 45 per cent. without a post office, 53 per cent. without a school, 84 per cent. without a general practitioner and 86 per cent. without a rural bus service. What has she to say to people in rural constituencies such as mine and hers whom she and her colleagues continue to ignore—even though they have called for this debate?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

We do not ignore the ancillary industries serving agriculture. At my surgeries, I have repeatedly received delegations from farmers and from ancillary industries. The crisis in farming has knock-on consequences for a far wider group of people than the hon. Gentleman would imply. Only last week, I learnt that Massey Ferguson—a well-known tractor producer outside Coventry, offering jobs to a large number of the population of the surrounding conurbation—has been forced to adopt a three-day week. That is an example of the way in which the difficulties in the agricultural sector knock on to a wider range of industries.

The countryside is in crisis because the country is governed by an Administration who do not really understand its ways and presume, with the audacity of a new Government, to know better than country people how they should maintain our rural heritage. The Government are not prepared to fight for the needs of the countryside and, in a curious modern double-speak, claim a vision of the countryside which is strong, fair and modern while presiding over its demise. That is why people marched on Sunday—to demonstrate their solidarity with the many ancient rural traditions under threat.

The small concessions and selective back-tracking are no substitute for forward vision. Blaming a past Administration is a feeble attempt to duck responsibility. In opposition, we call the new Government to account. In so doing, we keep alive the hopes of the countryside protesters, who have no confidence that the Government will fight their corner.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood 8:59, 3 March 1998

I am pleased to speak in this important and topical debate. I spend a lot of time listening to the voices of the countryside, and it is important to recognise first that there are different voices in the countryside. Countryside people are not a homogenous mass, and anyone who has had a meal around a farm kitchen table will recognise that.

I regularly speak to and arrange events with a range of countryside organisations—the Country Landowners Association, the National Farmers Union, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Countryside Commission, the Rural Development Commission, the National Trust, parish councils, the Council for National Parks, the Youth Hostels Association and the Ramblers Association. Let me make it clear to the House that I am a vice-president of the Ramblers Association.

Last weekend, I was tree planting and looking at erosion where people had been walking. The weekend before that, I was with the National Trust, looking at its positive policies in the High Peak. Not long ago, I spent a day on a hill farm, talking about the real problems that farmers have. Only yesterday, I was talking with people about traffic-calming measures and the powers of parish councils in rural areas.

Given all that, to be accused of not listening to the voice of the countryside, or of not understanding the delicate balances that exist there, is, to put it mildly, rather irritating. It is important to recognise that Labour Members representing county seats make up more countryside Members of Parliament than the Tories and Liberal Democrats put together.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman will make his own speech, if he has the opportunity.

I am backed by a fine group of parish, county and district local councillors, who look after the needs of the rural community.

I watched the countryside march with great interest. What surprised me was that I was not certain under what banner those people were marching. I am extremely grateful to the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance for telling me what the march was about. In a press release on 2 March, he said that the march could not have happened without hunting. More than 70 percent of the coaches and trains bringing people to London were organised by the hunting community. That is not top of the agenda in the countryside that I know and love. There are important issues, hard questions and difficult decisions about priorities that must be made in the countryside, and it will take time to put them right.

What is my countryside agenda, and that of the people in Nottinghamshire to whom I speak? First, let us be straight—farmers face real problems. British farmers are the most efficient in Europe, but they face problems. Farm incomes have fallen, and we must contrast what is happening now and in the past year with previous years. We must be open—there is no point in having discussions with farmers unless we are open and honest. We must say that there is no pot of gold in Brussels. The story spread by Opposition Members about £985 million being made available is nonsense. The British taxpayer would have to contribute to 70 per cent. of the cost. It is all about priorities, and farm interests have had priority with this new Government. Let us not dismiss the fact that £85 million was made available before Christmas for the most disadvantaged farmers. Let us welcome the fact that £70 million will be made available for a cattle traceability scheme and let us remember that the Conservative party presided over the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis, but did not produce a computer scheme like that, which will help.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

No, I will not.

New and extra money has been made available to farmers, on top of existing Tory spending plans. We must also remember that reform of the common agricultural policy is on the agenda. Enlargement will happen, and we shall have to move from a system in which we support production to one that is different. I hope that we shall work with our partners in Europe at the centre of Europe, using our voice wisely to bring in more money and investment, and to create jobs and investment in the rural economy. Also, I hope that we shall move towards a green premium, whereby we can lift the landscape and enhance the environment.

Farm incomes have fallen in recent years, and I am delighted that we have recognised that and are consulting and talking carefully to such bodies as the NFU about an early retirement scheme. Those are not easy issues and they will require a Government who look to the future, not the past, who believe that the countryside is for all our people and not merely for the landowners and who are prepared to take tough and hard decisions to drive reform through.

Progress is being made on lifting the environment. I was delighted that one of the first steps taken by the new Government was to put a moratorium on the sale of Forestry Commission land. Under the previous Government, a piece of land the size of the Isle of Wight was sold off, with no access to the public, whether the environment was rural or urban. I am also delighted that since the Government came to power, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has given no new consents for opencasting on green-field sites. That is widely recognised and welcomed throughout the countryside.

We have taken steps to ensure that we protect the green belt. I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State only last week, that 60 per cent. of new housing will be built on recycled sites, and his statement on sequential planning permissions—the end of predict and provide. Those are important steps forward. I look to the Budget for fiscal measures to reinforce that programme.

On a more critical note, there are real problems in the east midlands. Under the previous Government, 32 per cent. of houses were built on recycled sites. If I put that another way, under that Government, two out of every three houses were built in green-field areas. There are problems in my county of Nottinghamshire, where the previous Government endorsed a structure plan that provided 67,000 new houses. I must praise councils such as Gedling borough council, which is struggling to find a way through the Conservative Government's mess. I know that it welcomes the policy changes announced by the Secretary of State.

People in Nottinghamshire welcome the fact that this Government have put extra money into education. Nottinghamshire schools have an extra £12.2 million to spend next year as opposed to this. For the first time, there is new and extra money—2 per cent.—to develop new initiatives. The people welcome the new deal.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that last Friday the Newark Advertiser, a rural newspaper, welcomed the new deal, saying that it was by no means an inner-city policy. It welcomed the initiatives that we have taken.

One thing that filled me with enormous pleasure last week was the publication of our consultation paper, "Access to the open countryside in England and Wales". The principle of greater access is not negotiable. We want to ensure that access by the millennium—what a way to celebrate the millennium, with the right to walk over open countryside. We shall ensure that that promise is delivered. Landowners have been given a chance, and now it is up to them to respond. If they do not, legislation will follow.

I know that the countryside is not a museum—it has always changed, and it will always change. Our policy must be to ensure that that change is properly managed. I believe that we can achieve that. We shall consult and we shall listen. We are not ignorant of and arrogant about the countryside. Unlike the Conservative party, we are not full of pride and prejudice about it—we have sense, and we shall have sensitivity. We shall deliver. I am confident that, under the Labour Government, the countryside will be a place for all our people.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes 9:10, 3 March 1998

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) said, but I am not sure that I am a vice-president of the Ramblers Association.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

A very good and honoured supporter.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I know that I am something important in it. I am also involved with the Open Spaces Society and the Dartmoor Preservation Association. I cannot list as many great deeds as the hon. Gentleman did, but I have some interest in and experience of the countryside, and I want to share with the House what I believe to be some of the threats to the landscape and the continuation of the rural way of life.

All hon. Members will recognise that agriculture plays a central role in the rural economy. The rundown of a farm has a knock-on effect. For example, when I first went to South Hams in 1983, a father, his son and six workers used to repair tractors in the little village of East Allington. Now, only the father and son do that, as the demand is not the same. The rundown of agriculture also affects local builders, who do not have as much work, as well as mechanics, temporary milkers and the village shop. The importance of the crisis in agriculture is that it threatens not only the farmers but the whole rural way of life in Britain.

The decline in agricultural support will result in what has happened in third-world countries—the agricultural worker will move from rural to urban areas. Although the rural way of life currently provides an enormous amount of employment, if it is not supported, rural areas will become run down, and the workers will find jobs only in the towns and cities, which is the very thing that we do not want to happen in this country.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the regrettable movement of young people from rural areas to the towns. Was not that exacerbated, however, by the policies of the previous Government, which led to the reduction in the availability of affordable accommodation? Young people who have grown up and now work in rural areas can no longer afford to live there. Should not we address that issue as a matter of some urgency?

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

The problem about making a speech in the House is that one can end up debating each point. I do not want to outstay my welcome, but I will answer that point. One can go on building affordable housing association or council accommodation in the countryside, but one has then to find jobs. Without a buoyant agricultural community to supply the jobs, it is no good building houses.

There is a great movement of people into my area from the north, on retirement, which pushes up the house prices. One cannot build a wall and stop them moving around. That is a problem of market forces.

I want to deal with the more serious problem of urbanisation and suburbanisation of the countryside. The drift from major cities to rural areas is well documented. The number of Members of Parliament representing Liverpool and Birmingham has seriously declined. In 1965, Liverpool had about nine Members, and it now has five, while in Birmingham the figure has decreased from about 11 to eight.

The drift is away from the inner cities and urban areas to the rural areas, because that is where people want to live. Should we deal with that by building new satellite towns around the principal conurbations, or should we infill the villages and hamlets? In my part of south Devon, we have done both, with the result that the countryside between the conurbations is getting narrower and narrower.

The Labour Government, not following the Conservative lead, have increased the number of houses that are to be built in Devon by 2011 from 90,000 to 95,000. The problem is where we are to build all those houses. The Liberal Democrat councils in South Hams and Torbay are simply lying down and accepting the Government's figure, but in my view they should fight the Government and say that they cannot accommodate 95,000 more houses. We shall end up with a continuous run of housing from Plymouth to Exeter. The whole of the A38 will be one urban sprawl, as I forecast in 1983. Unless we stop the growth, we shall get one large urban sprawl throughout the county. How are the Government to stop that happening?

A more significant problem is how the Government are to help to preserve the countryside; that is the subject of this debate. The major factor to be considered about the countryside is the landscape and the view. [Laughter.] One of the first steps that the Government could take is to introduce a new planning policy guidance whereby the view has to be taken into consideration. At present, people can build anything where they like, because the view is of no consequence. The Government may say that we could have done that, but I am saying that they can do it now.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Labour Members may laugh, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. He is saying—I hope that he will accept my clarification—that aesthetic concerns are important both in planning terms and in terms of people's perception of the environment around them. That is a matter not only of what they do, but of what they are. The fear of radical change—of the transformation of customs; culture; and the traditions of whole communities—motivated Sunday's march more than any other factor. Of course it was about hunting, but, more than that, it was about the fear of such radical change.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful elucidation. In fact, I was saying that in current planning law one cannot consider the damaging effects of development on the view and the landscape. The planners say that the view is not a consideration when an application for development is approved. The Government could look at that.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

Yes, provided that it is not another clarification of what I am saying.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, just as there are additional planning protections for conservation areas in towns, there are numerous designations—not least areas of outstanding natural beauty—that afford such protection in the countryside? Is he really saying that if people in the countryside do not have jobs, they do not need homes, and if they do not have homes, they do not need buses, but a view would be helpful?

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

We need someone to explain the hon. Gentleman's point. The serious question is how we can build 4.5 million houses in Britain without damaging the countryside. One of the factors that should be taken into account when planning applications and structure plans are considered is the effect that those developments will have on the landscape and the view in the area. We do not want to see the British countryside rapidly changed and destroyed.

At present, we have a two-way movement of people. We have the rundown of British agriculture and the movement of rural workers to the towns, and we have a movement from the urban areas to the countryside by, usually, young married couples who want to have their children taught in rural areas and to experience the rural way of life. People are being levered from the towns to the countryside to find a better quality of life for themselves and their children, while country dwellers are forced—by the decline in agriculture—from the villages into towns to find work.

The Government must support the agricultural sector, and so slow down the migration from the country to the towns. They must also make the cities more attractive places in which to live, to stop the reverse process. I draw the House's attention to an excellent book that I wrote about 10 years ago, called "Plums", in which I suggested that publicly owned vacant land should be auctioned and that derelict land in the inner city should be used first before the rural landscape is changed.

The Government can take action on some of the issues that I have mentioned. The landscape must be protected by changes in planning law, and farming must be supported, as it is in other European countries, so that the rural economy is anchored and safe. Our principal cities must be given an injection of new life, because we have been talking about the inner cities for the 24 years that I have been in the House and they remain as bad as ever. Housing need on green-field sites must be approached with caution, with new settlements being considered preferable to creeping urbanisation of existing market towns and villages. I hope that I have been helpful to the House, which has listened carefully to what I have said.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn 9:22, 3 March 1998

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, because I represent a large rural area in north Wales and have done so since 1992. It is an area with a large farming community, many small villages and many problems with transport, access to rural services and other matters. We also have a fox hunt—the Flint and Denbigh hunt—as well as a Labour majority of 13,000.

I am pleased to see so many of my hon. Friends who also represent rural areas present for the debate. Labour Members represent many of the rural areas of this country, and I must point out to Conservative Members that not a single tree, bush, fence, hedge or cow in Wales or Scotland is represented by a Conservative Member of Parliament.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

No, time is pressing. It is a caricature of the debate to claim that there is a difference between town and country. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) put his finger on it when he said that we are interdependent. All of us have an interest in rural areas and all of us have an interest in the success and prosperity of those areas. All of us eat the food produced by rural areas and use the leisure facilities available in rural areas. All of us have a stake in the future of rural areas and many of us who live in cities and towns pay through our taxes for the success and development of rural areas. We all need such success. The caricature of town versus country exemplified by Sunday's march is unproductive and unhelpful.

I hope that Sunday's march helps us to focus not only on those who want preserve fox hunting, of whom I am not one, or members of the Conservative party, of whom I am not one, but on the real issues of rural Britain and the positive things that can be done. In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I welcome some of what the previous Government did. I welcome their White Papers on rural England, the working countryside for Wales and rural Scotland. I just wish that they had done something about those issues, rather than simply producing White Papers.

I welcome the Liberal Democrat amendment, which recognises that things did not get bad in the countryside only after 1 May. I remind the House of bus deregulation in 1985. In Wales, 33 million bus journeys a year have been lost in rural areas since 1985. In one small village in my constituency, Trelawnyd, people cannot get to the dentist, doctor or the shops because bus deregulation has robbed it of its lifeline. We have also seen the sale of housing association homes and the failure of the previous Government to promote low-cost home ownership. The previous Government allowed more green-belt building than this Government intend to. They reduced the number of properties available for rent and the number that councils could build for rent.

Crime is also a factor in rural areas, such as mine in north Wales, with the closure of local police stations. Crime rose by 80 per cent. under the Conservative Government, while police numbers fell in my area. My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) mentioned the sell-off of Forestry Commission land. In Wales, under Conservative rule, 229 woodlands were sold—4,500 hectares of land. Only 18 have had access agreements put to them.

Those were the actions of the previous Government. There were proposals that we managed to stop, such as the abolition of the wages board, the sell-off of rural post offices and, through local councils, the closure of local schools. The previous Government's record was not addressed by Conservative Members, but the House should address it—and that is before we touch on BSE or the 17 per cent. drop in farm incomes in Wales between 1981 and 1991, or the loss of local businesses, pubs and shops. It is also before we touch on the fact that, after 18 years of Conservative rule, many rural areas such as mine cannot get NHS dentists. People have a 25-mile drive to the local major district general hospital. The Conservatives would do well to recognise and address that inheritance, as well as the issues that we are discussing today.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

My hon. Friend mentions apologising. I think that the Conservatives owe my rural constituents an apology for the misery that they put them through. In the short time remaining, I should like some discussion of how to address those issues—not only fox hunting and the others mentioned by Conservative Members.

There are three broad objectives: economic renewal, protection and enhancement of the environment, and social renewal.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I have not got time.

I do not mind whether the issues are addressed by a rural Minister directly or by Ministers in each Department with a rural responsibility, but they need to be addressed. On economic renewal, we need to consider an overall economic strategy, both in Wales and in each region, to include rural areas.

I hope that we will examine information technology: bringing the city and information to rural areas through IT. I accept that the new deal will create many jobs for people such as my constituents in rural areas. I hope that we examine—I am sure the Government are doing so—diversification to help with falling farm employment and incomes. I hope that the Government will look at helping small firms to establish themselves in rural areas.

Next year, there will be a minimum wage in rural areas, something which I am very proud of. That will help to support the economic regeneration of areas that are traditionally low paid, especially in parts of Wales. I welcome the rate relief that has been given to local shops and businesses in rural areas. This Government have done it. I hope that we will reform the common agricultural policy to shift the balance of wealth and power from the larger farmer, to ensure that the small farmers, who are in most need, have the income and support that they need. I welcome the Government's announcement of £12 million extra to be given to Wales and farming incomes this year, in connection with the charges for specified risk material and the cattle tracing scheme.

On the protection and enhancement of rural areas, I should like to know how many of the people who went on the march on Sunday have been responsible for removing hedgerows and destroying the rural areas that they purport to represent. Reform of the common agricultural policy is important in that respect. The Government will take steps to protect flora and fauna, strengthen areas of outstanding natural beauty and establish a green belt for the first time in Wales.

A further issue that we need to discuss is a third party right of appeal on planning applications, so that local community councils can tackle developers.

In the context of social renewal, we must examine transport issues. I am pleased to see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), is winding up the debate. Transport is crucial to rural areas.

I appreciate the Government's initiative on rural schools, so that such schools cannot be closed without ministerial approval.

Thanks to the Government's capital receipts programme and the input from local authorities into new social building and improvements in local villages, a village in my constituency has for the first time had central heating put into the small council accommodation in the area.

I welcome the extension of the social exclusion unit to include rural areas. I hope also that we can look imaginatively at the use of lottery money to improve village halls and be proactive about the investment in village halls. Perhaps we could examine the issue of matching funds to make it easier for local communities in rural areas to have access to lottery money.

The Opposition motion is too simplistic. It focuses on countryside issues, ignoring the failure of the Conservative Government over the past 18 years to tackle those issues. I know that my Government have a constructive approach to rural areas, and I will be pleased to support them in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow 9:32, 3 March 1998

In a wide-ranging debate, we have heard hon. Members on both sides claiming to support the countryside, but, when one listens to the speeches, it is apparent that the perception and understanding on the two sides are quite different.

That was demonstrated by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping), who said that his approach was not the result of ignorance or arrogance. He went on to say that the right to roam on other people's land is not negotiable. That will strike many of those who have listened to the debate not as ignorant or arrogant, but as intolerant, as is the Labour party's commitment to abolish the right of other people to hunt on their own land. We have seen no great enlightenment among Labour Members, but rather a digging in and reinforcement of an intolerant attitude.

I appreciate that the job of agriculture Ministers is always difficult. I thought that the fisheries Minister was to wind up the debate, and I would have said that no job was more difficult than his. I do not want to open up the European debate, but it is clear that not least among the difficulties of agriculture Ministers is the fact that they have responsibility without necessarily having the authority to do what needs to be done. In his opening remarks, the Minister of Agriculture spent much time criticising the record of the previous Administration. Let me say to him and to others on the Front Bench: you will be judged by your record.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not be saying anything of the kind.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

I beg the House's pardon. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite will be judged by their record.

Many of us regret the non-attendance of agriculture Ministers at the countryside march on Sunday. It was a missed opportunity to listen to what the countryside had to say—more to the point, Ministers would have been able to hear what country people had to say because it was a good-natured, peaceable demonstration. It was not a howling mob. Ministers could have conversed with the people on that march, and doubtless they would have learnt something.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will the hon. Gentleman note that certain Labour Members attended the march on Sunday?

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

That is simply not a point of order for the Chair.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

It was a peaceable demonstration by responsible people whose livelihoods and way of life is under threat.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

With reference to the spurious point of order from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), is it not interesting to note that the only Minister to attend the march on Sunday is notable by his absence from this debate? He has not even turned up.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

I think that the House will draw its own conclusions.

Ministers cannot dismiss the significance of Sunday's march, and they certainly cannot ignore the fact that 300,000 people sent but one message. That single message was, "Please listen to us".

In this debate, we have heard some predictable responses to the recognisable problems in the countryside. It was suggested that a royal commission should be established, that there should be a Minister for rural affairs and that possibly the Ministry should be reorganised. Is the House really saying that it does not know what the problems are? Surely the problems of the countryside are all too plain. The electorate in this country expects its politicians, particularly the Government and Ministers, to provide answers to those questions.

That job cannot be sub-contracted to a review or a task force. In nine months, the Government have appointed no fewer than 140 such bodies. The urgency of the problems in the countryside does not permit the establishment of bodies to investigate such matters: we do not need a theoretical examination by intellectuals who cannot tell wheat from barley. We need to listen to people in the countryside who do the job—they are the experts.

The problems have been identified already. There is high dependency on agriculture in the countryside. The difficulties currently facing agriculture are exemplified by one of my constituents who produces 1,400 cattle per year at a cost of 112p per kilo and who is currently selling them at 97p per kilo. Another problem is the high dependency on the motor vehicle in the countryside. The House will be watching to see what the Chancellor does in his Budget, because we are aware of the devastating effect that an increase in vehicle excise and fuel duties would have on transport in rural areas.

The threat to community hospitals is implicit in the ending of the general practitioner fundholding system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Oh yes. I invite Labour Members to come to my constituency where they will see how fundholding doctors, working closely in conjunction with a community hospital, have transformed that hospital, which now provides a much greater range and quality of services than ever before.

In the few seconds that remain, I must mention the totally inadequate SSAs for sparsely populated rural areas, where economies of scale do not apply. Those areas have high transport costs and, as the Minister said, low wages. This year, we shall face record increases in the council tax. Shropshire county council's precept will be 14 per cent. up on last year, before we even consider the district council precept. The Government must take responsibility. Many of the solutions to the problems identified tonight are in their own hands. A measure of the Government will be whether they address those very real and obvious problems.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 9:39, 3 March 1998

We have had an exceptionally interesting debate which has reflected the depth of concern about the countryside—a concern which is particularly shared by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.

The debate has exposed the Government's continuing lack of understanding of rural issues. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food showed no sign at any stage during his 26-minute speech that he had listened to a single concern of the 280,000 people who marched on Sunday. That is not, perhaps, surprising, as he did not have the courtesy to turn up and meet them. Let me point out to him that the mandatory rate relief for small shops, to which he referred, was introduced by the Conservative Government.

The truth is that, on the countryside, the Labour Government have moved from denial, through panic into confusion. A month ago, they denied that there was a problem. A week ago, they panicked about the extent of public hostility. Today, they are in a state of total confusion about what to do and who should do it.

On Saturday, we saw the extraordinary spectacle—it would have been bizarre had it not been disgraceful—of an agriculture Minister publicly smearing the march, just when his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, was announcing that he would take part in it. Open warfare has broken out between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about who is in charge of countryside policy. Will it be the Minister of Agriculture, who preferred to remain in the comfort and security of his expensive new office rather than meet the 280,000 representatives of the countryside? Or will it be the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who, uncharacteristically, is hiding in the corner—the Minister who picked the pockets of local authorities in rural areas to reward his friends in the towns; who, in 10 short months, has destroyed the principle of the green belt, which has protected the environment around our cities for half a century?

The losers in the battle between the Departments will be those who live and work in the countryside. It is a battle which should never have started. The countryside needs not a new Minister or Department but a new policy.

Having heard the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who has not had the courtesy to return to the debate, I am of the view that not only the Government but the Liberal Democrats need a new policy. The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the Rural Development Commission, but, only a week ago, in the Standing Committee, two of his colleagues voted to approve clause 39 of the Regional Development Agencies Bill, which gives the Government the power to abolish the Rural Development Commission. It was a familiar example of the Liberal Democrats pointing in both directions at the same time.

The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) joined Labour's attempts to impugn the motives of Sunday's marchers, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), rightly pointed out, at no time in the 18 years of the previous Government did 280,000 people protesting about Government policy on the countryside descend on the capital city.

The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) was at least honest enough to admit that farmers face real problems, but he would have done himself more credit had he also recognised that those problems are among the reasons why the marchers came to London last Sunday.

The Government still have an opportunity this evening to regain a shred of credibility and to show that they want to make amends. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) to the Front Bench. It is revealing that, for all the Government's claimed expertise in rural matters, and for all the countryside seats which they have now won, the person who is fielded to wind up a debate entitled "Listening to the Countryside" is a London Member and the Minister for Transport in London. I hope that in her winding-up speech, she will announce changes of policy in three key areas. None of those changes would cost a penny of public money, none would need legislation and each would herald the possibility of a more sympathetic attitude towards rural communities.

The first change concerns the way in which the cash is distributed to local authorities. This year, the Government carried out a funding fiddle. They took £94 million off the standard spending assessments for rural authorities and switched it into towns. None of the eight changes made by the Government to the standard spending assessment formula has helped shire England. The Government took £8 million from Oxfordshire, £8 million from Norfolk and £10 million from Hampshire.

This week, the Prime Minister wrote in Country Life of his concerns about rural crime. Those were fine words, but, as so often under new Labour, they were just words and they were not matched by deeds. In rural Lincolnshire, the standard spending assessment for the police authority has been cut in cash terms. The same applies to Wiltshire and many other counties. What a contrast with the police authorities in urban areas, which are getting an increase in their standard spending assessment. Yet again, that is the clearest possible proof that when it comes to allocating public money, the Government always favour urban Britain.

The second change of policy that is needed concerns planning. Last Monday, the Secretary of State for the Environment announced a partial climbdown. He appeared to overrule his junior Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), who had described any increase in the target for building more new homes on previously developed sites as a "recipe for disaster". We welcomed those greener noises from the Secretary of State, but we listened in vain for a hint that he would rethink his recent decisions to approve up to 10,000 homes on the green belt in Hertfordshire and 2,500 homes on the green belt in Newcastle, and approve industrial development of 150 acres of farmland in the west midlands. We listened in vain for a hint that he would not insist on inflicting an extra 13,000 new homes in the West Sussex countryside.

The Secretary of State talked of a sequential and phased approach to the development of all sites, but when will that approach be incorporated into planning policy guidance? In a written answer in yesterday's Hansard at column 429, the Minister for London and Construction explained that that idea is merely for consultation at this stage. Until planning policy guidance notes are altered, nothing has changed and the green fields are just as much at risk as they were before. The Minister's fine words are not matched by deeds.

What about the county structure plans? When will the new approach apply to them? Counties such as Hampshire were dragooned into accepting an extra 10,000 houses for their structure plan. Will Hampshire, Devonshire, Cheshire and Gloucestershire have a chance to think again before their structure plans are adopted? That problem was rightly highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen).

The third policy that should be changed is the right to roam—another example of Government confusion. Months of delay occurred while Ministers argued about whether to implement their promises. Finally last week, a document was published, which was portrayed as evidence of the Government's conversion to the voluntary approach, which the Conservative party has always supported and which has opened up 250,000 acres of land for access since 1990. However, during questions about the documents launched, the Minister for the Environment was reported as saying that he saw legislation as inevitable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) pointed out, that threat should be withdrawn today.

I hope that all hon. Members will study the wording of the Government's amendment, which claims that the Government want prosperity for all in rural areas". Yet the Government have just taken powers in the Regional Development Agencies Bill to wind up the Rural Development Commission. The amendment claims that the Government are concerned about rural transport, but their planned huge increase in petrol tax will clobber every rural motorist. The amendment also claims that the Government want "comprehensive countryside policies", yet they refuse to continue to publish an annual update of the countryside White Paper, the first ever comprehensive review of countryside policy.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Yes we did, and the Minister should know it. If the right hon. Gentleman aspires to be the countryside Minister, he should do his homework.

The amendment claims that the Government believe in inclusiveness, but lovers of traditional country sports are not just being excluded; Labour Members are supporting a Bill that will criminalise them. The Government's actions contradict the fine words in their amendment. The debate gave the Government the chance to show that they understand why 280,000 people gave up their Sunday to march on London, and that they are willing to listen to the anxieties of the marchers and millions of other country dwellers. That chance was missed by the Minister, but I hope that it will be seized by the Under-Secretary.

If the Government agree to our motion, the marchers really will have something to cheer about. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 9:51, 3 March 1998

In his opening remarks, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) dubbed the debate one in which the true voice of the countryside would be heard. The Country Landowners Association may not agree. In January 1995, it stated: For too long there has been a lack of political focus on Britain's rural areas. In January 1995, the National Farmers Union stated: Many parts of the countryside are seriously affected by unemployment, under-employment, a narrow range of job opportunities and low average wage levels. In July 1994, the Rural Development Commission stated: Declining rural services threaten village life. In November 1994, Countryside 2000, the country life magazine, stated: Protecting the countryside is something that we did well traditionally. Sadly the 1980s was a disastrous decade in this respect, thanks to the new spirit of laissez-faire that afflicted planning. Speaking on the Conservative Government's rural record in January 1995, Action for Communities in Rural England stated: Our main perception is one of neglect. On 10 October 1996, the National Farmers Union Council passed a vote of no confidence in the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), declaring that it had no confidence in the Minister's representation of the interests of the UK and its agricultural industry in the EU. The Opposition are noted for their lack of policies, direction and principles. Tonight's debate showed their sheer opportunism. The Conservative Government would not have wanted to abolish the agriculture wages councils if they had been genuinely concerned for the rural economy and the countryside. The Conservative Government deregulated bus services and privatised the railways, leaving 75 per cent. of parishes with no daily bus service, 79 per cent. with no community minibus or social car scheme, and 93 per cent. with no rail service at any time. They also closed 450 village schools, constantly threatened rural post offices with privatisation, built 60 per cent. of new houses on green-field sites, and closed village shops, hospitals and dental surgeries.

We are dealing with 18 years of Conservative neglect, but, during their lamentable contributions, Conservative Members did not have the courtesy to apologise to the people of this country for the damage that their Government caused. I have not even touched on the relaxation of regulations which led to the introduction of BSE not only into the British beef herd, but into the human food chain. The previous Government were responsible for that disgraceful occurrence, which has had an appalling effect on the countryside and its economy.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, my hon. Friends the Members for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) and for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), and the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) dealt with the serious issues that face people in rural areas.

Several themes have recurred tonight. My hon. Friends the Members for West Lancashire and for Delyn pointed out that the Conservatives' policy was clearly "town versus country". That is not our policy. We are clear about the fact that town needs country and country needs town. [Interruption.]

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

Order. Hon. Members should listen to the Minister, who is winding up an important debate.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is too late to ask Conservative Members to listen. If their own leader cannot point out to them that their arrogance and unwillingness to listen lost them the last election so resoundingly, there is nothing that anyone can do. Regrettably, their ignorance is bliss for no one in this country.

The peroration of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) matched the opening speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) in its lack of any understanding of the real difficulties that their Government created for those living in rural areas. The hon. Gentleman castigated the present Government for their local government finance settlement, particularly in a rural context. For the first time in four years, increased funds have been provided for services delivered by a shire district. This Government have done that. We have treated all local authorities, whether rural or urban, fairly and consistently.

The pattern of gainers and losers in rural and urban areas is mixed. There are gainers and losers in both types of area. That confirms yet again that the present Government govern for all the people. We are not interested in creating artificial divisions between town and country.

Many grievous allegations were made about the Government's policy. I shall touch on only a few that we have heard, perhaps on both sides of the House but certainly from Opposition Members. A recurring Opposition allegation—

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

No.

A recurring Opposition allegation related to building on green-belt land.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I said no. That is another example of Opposition Members' inability to listen.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in a statement to the House only a few days ago, we have abandoned the old predict and provide policy with regard to house building. We will work from the bottom up. We have asked for 60 per cent. of building to take place on brown-field sites. It was the Conservative party that built 60 per cent. of houses on green fields. In our 10 short months of government, we have added five times as much land to the green belt as has been lost.

Certain allegations were made about our ban on beef on the bone. Opposition Members described it as a panic measure. Let the record show, however, that independent scientists said that the material could be infected with BSE. The Conservative party banned all sales of infected material; we have done the same. It is vital to rebuild confidence in British beef at home and abroad.

More than once we were asked where was our right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment. Let me allay the fears that may be pounding in the breasts of Opposition Members: my right hon. Friend is abroad on Government business.

Our manifesto pledged to recognise the special needs in rural areas, and our policies are being designed to take account of rural interests—it is quite wrong to suggest that we do not care or understand. The Government believe in opportunity, fairness and prosperity for all—applied equally to urban and to rural areas. We realise also that people who live and work in the countryside have distinctive needs. The rural dimension is an important consideration in many of the Government's policies.

Most important, we wish to foster a strong and vibrant rural economy. New jobs are being created in the countryside.

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 131, Noes 321.

Division No. 188][9.59 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Survey)Horam, John
Amess, DavidHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Arbuthnot, JamesHunter, Andrew
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Jenkin, Bernard
Baldry, TonyJohnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir PaulKey, Robert
Blunt, CrispinKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Boswell, TimKirkbride, Miss Julie
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaLait, Mrs Jacqui
Brady, GrahamLansley, Andrew
Brazier, JulianLeigh, Edward
Browning, Mrs AngelaLetwin, Oliver
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Burns, SimonLidington, David
Cash, WilliamLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Luff, Peter
Chope, ChristopherLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clappison, JamesMacKay, Andrew
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMajor, Rt Hon John
Collins, TimMalins, Humfrey
Colvin, MichaelMaples, John
Cormack, Sir PatrickMates, Michael
Cran, JamesMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Curry, Rt Hon DavidMay, Mrs Theresa
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Moss, Malcolm
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Nicholls, Patrick
Day, StephenNorman, Archie
Duncan, AlanOttaway, Richard
Duncan Smith, IainPage, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterPaice, James
Evans, NigelPaterson, Owen
Faber, DavidPickles, Eric
Fallon, MichaelRandall, John
Forth, Rt Hon EricRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanRuffley, David
Fox, Dr LiamSt Aubyn, Nick
Fraser, ChristopherSayeed, Jonathan
Gale, RogerShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Garnier, EdwardSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gibb, NickSoames, Nicholas
Gill, ChristopherSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Gillan, Mrs CherylSpicer, Sir Michael
Gorman, Mrs TeresaSpring, Richard
Gray, JamesStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Green, DamianSteen, Anthony
Greenway, JohnSwayne, Desmond
Grieve, DominicSyms, Robert
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamTapsell, Sir Peter
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hammond, PhilipTownend, John
Hawkins, NickTredinnick, David
Hayes, JohnTrend, Michael
Heald, OliverTyrie, Andrew
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidWardle, Charles
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelWaterson, Nigel
Whitney, Sir RaymondYeo, Tim
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss AnnYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Wilkinson, John
Wilshire, DavidTellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)Mr. John M. Taylor and
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)Mr. John Whittingdale.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Ainger, NickCunliffe, Lawrence
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)
Allan, Richard
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Dafis, Cynog
Ashton, JoeDalyell, Tam
Atkins, CharlotteDarting, Rt Hon Alistair
Austin, JohnDarvill, Keith
Baker, NormanDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Ballard, Mrs JackieDavidson, Ian
Banks, TonyDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Barron, KevinDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bayley, HughDavies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Beard, NigelDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretDawson, Hilton
Begg, Miss AnneDean, Mrs Janet
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDenham, John
Bennett, Andrew FDismore, Andrew
Benton, JoeDobbin, Jim
Bermingham, GeraldDonohoe, Brian H
Blackman, LizDoran, Frank
Blears, Ms HazelDowd, Jim
Blizzard, BobDrew, David
Boateng, PaulDrown, Ms Julia
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Edwards, Huw
Brake, TomEllman, Mrs Louise
Brand, Dr PeterEnnis, Jeff
Breed, ColinEtherington, Bill
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Fearn, Ronnie
Buck, Ms KarenField, Rt Hon Frank
Burden, RichardFisher, Mark
Burgon, ColinFitzpatrick, Jim
Burnett, JohnFitzsimons, Lorna
Burstow, PaulFlint, Caroline
Cable, Dr VincentFollett, Barbara
Caborn, RichardFoster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Foulkes, George
Campbell—Savours, DaleFyfe, Maria
Cann, JamieGalloway, George
Caplin, IvorGapes, Mike
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Gardiner, Barry
Chidgey, DavidGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Chisholm, MalcolmGeorge, Bruce (Walsall S)
Clapham, MichaelGerrard, Neil
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Gibson, Dr Ian
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Norman A
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Goggins, Paul
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Gorrie, Donald
Clelland, DavidGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Coaker, VernonGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Coffey, Ms AnnGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cohen, HarryGrogan, John
Colman, TonyGunnell, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hain, Peter
Cooper, YvetteHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Corbett, RobinHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cotter, BrianHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cousins, JimHanson, David
Cranston, RossHarris, Dr Evan
Crausby, DavidHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Maxton, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Meale, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Michael, Alun
Heppell, JohnMichie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)
Hesford, StephenMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hinchliffe, DavidMilburn, Alan
Hodge, Ms MargaretMiller, Andrew
Hoey, KateMoffatt, Laura
Home Robertson, JohnMoore, Michael
Hoon, GeoffreyMoran, Ms Margaret
Hope, PhilMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hopkins, KelvinMorley, Elliot
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Mudie, George
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Mullin, Chris
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hurst, AlanMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hutton, JohnOaten, Mark
Iddon, Dr BrianO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Illsley, EricO'Hara, Eddie
Ingram, AdamOlner, Bill
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Öpik, Lembit
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Organ, Mrs Diana
Jenkins, BrianPalmer, Dr Nick
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Pearson, Ian
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)Plaskitt, James
Pope, Greg
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pound, Stephen
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jowell, Ms TessaPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keeble, Ms SallyPrescott, Rt Hon John
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Prosser, Gwyn
Keetch, PaulPurchase, Ken
Kelly, Ms RuthQuin, Ms Joyce
Kemp, FraserQuinn, Lawrie
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)Rammell, Bill
Kidney, DavidRaynsford, Nick
Kilfoyle, PeterReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lawrence, Ms JackieRendel, David
Lepper, DavidRobertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Rogers, Allan
Liddell, Mrs HelenRooker, Jeff
Linton, MartinRooney, Terry
Livingstone, KenRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Livsey, RichardRoy, Frank
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Ruane, Chris
Llwyd, ElfynRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Lock, DavidSalter, Martin
Love, AndrewSanders, Adrian
McAllion, JohnSawford, Phil
McAvoy, ThomasSedgemore, Brian
McCabe, SteveSheerman, Barry
McDonagh, SiobhainSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McDonnell, JohnShipley, Ms Debra
McFall, JohnShort, Rt Hon Clare
McGuire, Mrs AnneSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McIsaac, ShonaSingh, Marsha
McKenna, Mrs RosemarySkinner, Dennis
Mackinlay, AndrewSmith, Angela (Basildon)
McLeish, HenrySmith, John (Glamorgan)
McNamara, KevinSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mactaggart, FionaSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
McWilliam, JohnSnape, Peter
Mahon, Mrs AliceSoley, Clive
Marek, Dr JohnSpellar, John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Stevenson, George
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Stinchcombe, Paul
Martlew, EricStott, Roger
Straw, Rt Hon JackWebb, Steve
Stringer, GrahamWhitehead, Dr Alan
Sutcliffe, GerryWicks, Malcolm
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Williams, Fit Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Tipping, PaddyWillis, Phil
Touhig, DonWinnick, David
Trickett, JonWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Truswell, PaulWise, Audrey
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Wood, Mike
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)Worthington, Tony
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Wray, James
Tyler, PaulWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Vis, Dr RudiWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wallace, JamesWyatt, Derek
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms ClaireTellers for the Noes:
Wareing, Robert NMr. Clive Betts and
Watts, DavidMr. Graham Allen.

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 265, Noes 163.

Division No. 189][10.13 pm
AYES
Ainger, NickClelland, David
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Coaker, Vernon
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Coffey, Ms Ann
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Cohen, Harry
Atkins, CharlotteColman, Tony
Austin, JohnCooper, Yvette
Banks, TonyCorbett, Robin
Barron, KevinCousins, Jim
Bayley, HughCranston, Ross
Beard, NigelCrausby, David
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Begg, Miss AnneCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCunliffe, Lawrence
Bennett, Andrew FCunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, GeraldCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blackman, LizDalyell, Tam
Blears, Ms HazelDarting, Rt Hon Alistair
Blizzard, BobDarvill, Keith
Boateng, PaulDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Davidson, Ian
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Buck, Ms KarenDawson, Hilton
Burden, RichardDean, Mrs Janet
Burgon, ColinDenham, John
Caborn, RichardDismore, Andrew
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Dobbin, Jim
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Donohoe, Brian H
Campbell—Savours, DaleDoran, Frank
Cann, JamieDowd, Jim
Caplin, IvorDrew, David
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Drown, Ms Julia
Chisholm, MalcolmEllman, Mrs Louise
Clapham, MichaelEnnis, Jeff
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Fitzpatrick, Jim
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Follett, Barbara
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Foulkes, George
Fyfe, MariaMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Galloway, GeorgeMcIsaac, Shona
Gapes, MikeMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gardiner, BarryMackinlay, Andrew
George, Bruce (Walsall S)McNamara, Kevin
Gerrard, NeilMactaggart, Fiona
Gibson, Dr IanMcWilliam, John
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMahon, Mrs Alice
Godman, Norman AMarek, Dr John
Goggins, PaulMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Golding, Mrs LlinMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Gordon, Mrs EileenMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Martlew, Eric
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Maxton, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Meale, Alan
Grogan, JohnMichael, Alun
Gunnell, JohnMichie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)
Hain, PeterMilburn, Alan
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Miller, Andrew
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Moffatt, Laura
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Moran, Ms Margaret
Hanson, DavidMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Heal, Mrs SylviaMorley, Elliot
Healey, JohnMudie, George
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Mullin, Chris
Heppell, JohnMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hesford, StephenMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hodge, Ms MargaretO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Home Robertson, JohnO'Hara, Eddie
Hoon, GeoffreyOlner, Bill
Hope, PhilOrgan, Mrs Diana
Hopkins, KelvinPalmer, Dr Nick
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Pearson, Ian
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretfond)Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Perham, Ms Linda
Hurst, AlanPickthall, Colin
Hutton, JohnPike, Peter L
Iddon, Dr BrianPlaskitt, James
Illsley, EricPope, Greg
Ingram, AdamPowell, Sir Raymond
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jenkins, BrianPrescott, Rt Hon John
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Primarolo, Dawn
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Jowell, Ms TessaRobertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Rogers, Allan
Kelly, Ms RuthRooker, Jeff
Kemp, FraserRooney, Terry
Kidney, DavidRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kilfoyle, PeterRoy, Frank
Lawrence, Ms JackieRuane, Chris
Lepper, DavidSalter, Martin
Levitt, TomSawford, Phil
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Sedgemore, Brian
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Sheerman, Barry
Liddell, Mrs HelenSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Linton, MartinShipley, Ms Debra
Livingstone, KenSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Singh, Marsha
Lock, DavidSkinner, Dennis
Love, AndrewSmith, Angela (Basildon)
McAllion, JohnSmith, John (Glamorgan)
McAvoy, ThomasSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McCabe, SteveSnape, Peter
McDonagh, SiobhainSoley, Clive
McDonnell, JohnSpellar, John
McFall, JohnStevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Ward, Ms Claire
Stinchcombe, PaulWareing, Robert N
Stott, RogerWatts, David
Straw, Rt Hon JackWhitehead, Dr Alan
Stringer, GrahamWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)Winnick, David
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)Wise, Audrey
Tipping, PaddyWood, Mike
Touhig, DonWorthington, Tony
Trickett, JonWray, James
Truswell, PaulWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Tellers for the Ayes:
Vis, Dr RudiMr. Clive Betts and
Walley, Ms JoanMr. Graham Allen.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)George, Andrew (St Ives)
Allan, RichardGibb, Nick
Amess, DavidGill, Christopher
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Arbuthnot, JamesGorman, Mrs Teresa
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Gorrie, Donald
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Gray, James
Baker, NormanGreen, Damian
Ballard, Mrs JackieGreenway, John
Bercow, JohnGrieve, Dominic
Beresford, Sir PaulHague, Rt Hon William
Blunt, CrispinHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Boswell, TimHammond, Philip
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Harris, Dr Evan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaHawkins, Nick
Brady, GrahamHayes, John
Brake, TomHeald, Oliver
Brand, Dr PeterHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Brazier, JulianHeathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Breed, ColinHoram, John
Browning, Mrs AngelaHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Burnett, JohnHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Burns, SimonHunter, Andrew
Burstow, PaulJack, Rt Hon Michael
Cable, Dr VincentJenkin, Bernard
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Chope, ChristopherKeetch, Paul
Clappison, JamesKennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Key, Robert
Clifton—Brown, GeoffreyKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Collins, TimKirkbride, Miss Julie
Colvin, MichaelLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Cormack, Sir PatrickLait, Mrs Jacqui
Cotter, BrianLansley, Andrew
Cran, JamesLeigh, Edward
Curry, Rt Hon DavidLetwin, Oliver
Dafis, CynogLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Lidington, David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Day, StephenLivsey, Richard
Duncan Smith, IainLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Evans, NigelLlwyd, Elfyn
Faber, DavidLuff, Peter
Fallon, MichaelLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fearn, RonnieMacKay, Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMcLoughlin, Patrick
Fox, Dr LiamMadel, Sir David
Fraser, ChristopherMaginnis, Ken
Garnier, EdwardMajor, Rt Hon John
Malins, HumfreySpicer, Sir Michael
Maples, JohnSpring, Richard
Mates, MichaelStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianSteen, Anthony
May, Mrs TheresaSwayne, Desmond
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Syms, Robert
Moore, MichaelTapsell, Sir Peter
Moss, MalcolmTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Nicholls, PatrickTownend, John
Norman, ArchieTredinnick, David
Oaten, MarkTrend, Michael
Öpik, LembitTyler, Paul
Ottaway, RichardTyrie, Andrew
Page, RichardViggers, Peter
Paice, JamesWallace, James
Paterson, OwenWardle, Charles
Pickles, EricWaterson, Nigel
Randall, JohnWebb, Steve
Rendel, DavidWhitney, Sir Raymond
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ruffley, DavidWigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Wilkinson, John
St Aubyn, NickWilshire, David
Sanders, AdrianWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Sayeed, JonathanWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianYeo, Tim
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Tellers for the Noes:
Soames, NicholasMr. John M. Taylor and
Spelman, Mrs CarolineMr. John Whittingdale.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

Resolved,

That this House condemns the previous administration for its persistent neglect of the countryside over the past eighteen years which resulted in rural unemployment and deprivation and the collapse of the rural transport system; and congratulates the Government on its emphatic commitment to comprehensive countryside policies, to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, to successful, sustainable United Kingdom agriculture, and on its vision for a countryside that is strong, fair and modern, with a programme for social justice, inclusiveness, welfare reform, improving services, the national minimum wage, education and skills which will ensure prosperity for all in rural areas as well as in the towns.

MR. GRAHAM ALLEN (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury) and MR. JOHN M. TAYLOR, who acted as Tellers in Division No. 187, came to the Table.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen The Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury

I have to report an error in the number reported as having voted in the No Lobby in the Division at 7 o'clock on the first Opposition motion. The number voting no was 320, not 329 as reported.

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

The Clerk will arrange that the record is corrected.