The Countryside

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:10 pm on 1st December 1999.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of State (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) 7:10 pm, 1st December 1999

My Lords, I thought the noble Earl was going to say that it would have spoilt his joke if he had admitted what he had found out yesterday. As far as concerns the Newbury snails, I can draw on past experience. The noble Earl made a wise decision in the snails' benefit because, as I understand from my time as Minister with responsibility for roads, they were relocated and have thrived in their new location and are breeding better than ever.

While I am on the issue of roads, perhaps I should respond to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who referred to the dualling of the A.1. I know, again from a previous incarnation, that that is a matter of great concern to him. He will appreciate that specific road schemes are not now within my hands or purview, but I have some sympathy with him on the accident record on that stretch of road. I shall take the opportunity to ensure that my noble friend Lord Whitty, whom I am sure the noble Lord has lobbied anyway, is made aware of his concerns on that area.

Another matter that is not in my hands is the future of MAFF, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady Byford, made reference. I shall repeat the mantra that it is a matter for the Prime Minister. But that is not to say that it should not be debated in this House or that Members of this House should not express a view on it. It is just rather difficult for MAFF Ministers to express a view on it. I hope that noble Lords will understand that. Equally, it is difficult for MAFF Ministers to express a view on matters of taxation, which are for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The issue of a pesticides tax was raised today. Noble Lords will be aware that we understand the concerns of agriculture and have made clear that those will be well considered in any government decisions in that area. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred to VAT on church repairs. I shall ensure that my right honourable friend the Chancellor has his attention drawn that issue.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked whether MAFF staff and civil servants appropriately understand farming, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, also has views on that subject. In all areas of government it is important to ensure that people who are involved in advising Ministers about policy have some experience and vision of the areas concerned. When I have donned my green wellies and gone out, the farmers to whom I have spoken have been very appreciative of MAFF, particularly of the regional service centre staff, and feel that they are very involved regionally and have an understanding of those areas.