The Countryside

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:46 pm on 1st December 1999.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 5:46 pm, 1st December 1999

My Lords, it was good to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, whose experience is different from that of other speakers today. He said that there would be an uproar if country dwellers were not allowed to make laws affecting people living in the inner cities. As someone who has worked with young people in the inner cities, I would feel most uncomfortable about country dwellers making legislation affecting those living there, just as I would tend to have no confidence in an education Minister who had not been state educated or taught in a state school.

I am an agricultural landowner. My farther used often to warn me against the evil of absentee landlords. At the time, I could not understand the reason for his concern. After all, my tenants are determinedly independent and their rights are protected by statute. Looking back, I see that he may have been remembering our absentee forebears, the Hares, who spent most of their time away from their Irish estate. Then the landowner could greatly affect the lives of his tenants and did indeed need to be more in touch with his people.

Today, rural business is suffering and very many small farmers, especially livestock and tenant farmers, are going out of business. They depend on government to help them through this period of difficult and painful change. So I would urge the Government not to allow themselves to become out of touch with those whose business is the countryside. So far as possible, I hope they will listen most attentively to those within their ranks who have had experience in rural business; to those in the other place from rural constituencies; and to those inside and outside Parliament who make their living from the land.

Can the Minister say what is being done to encourage civil servants advising the Government on rural matters to gain experience of working with those most affected by policy; for instance, livestock and tenant farmers in the South West and in the Borders? How many civil servants in the Minister's department have visited farms and put on green wellies? There is nothing that can replace a deep understanding of the countryside and what it means and personal experience of working on the land and in the countryside environment.