asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will state the level of funding for the Countryside Commission annually since 1979 at constant prices.
At constant prices and 1985 value, Countryside Commission expenditure has increased from £9 million in 1979 to £15·3 million this year. But the earlier figure excludes staff and accommodation costs, which were met directly by the Department until 1 April 1982. On a comparable basis, the increase in real terms is about 35 per cent.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, and I am sure that the House will support funding the Countryside Commission in a reasonable way, because it must discharge many difficult duties. Can he say what will happen when the GLC and the metropolitan councils are abolished? At present, they undertake duties and responsibilities that will fall upon the Countryside Commission after abolition.
Yesterday I met the chairman and senior officers of the Countryside Commission to discuss its corporate plan, and we discussed this matter in some detail. It will be a factor that we shall take into account when deciding the funds to be provided to the Countryside Commission next year.
Does the Minister appreciate that the Opposition believe that the voluntary amenity and conservation bodies are essential in the protection of the countryside? Will he confirm that, although the budget of the Countryside Commission has been increased, strings have been attached to it? One such string is that the amount provided to the voluntary societies is strictly limited. Will he increase that limit?
The Countryside Commission put that point to us yesterday, and we shall take it into account. It is not unfair to reflect the priorities of the Government and the House in the plans of the Countryside Commission, and the corporate plan is designed to be a reasonable consensus on the priorities.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one success of the Countryside Commission has been the establishment of demonstration farms, which have shown that productive agriculture and imaginative conservation can work hand in hand? Should we not follow up that success, and could not our aim of good stewardship for the countryside be furthered by giving great publicity to the demonstration farms?
My hon. Friend is right. The growth of farming and wildlife advisory groups, with the help of the Countryside Commission, has been an outstanding success in countryside policy in recent years. I hope that progress will be continued, and, if possible, accelerated.