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The Countryside: Strutt Report

Volume 413: debated on Wednesday 8 October 1980

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2.52 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, although the Question is in fact that of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the proposed Wildlife and Countryside Bill will include all the recommendations of Her Majesty's Agricultural and Horticultural Advisory Committee's Report (the Strutt Report).

My Lords, the recommendations in the Strutt Report were mainly of a non-statutory nature. The Government have already endorsed its central proposal: that, as resources allow, the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service should extend its existing knowledge of environmental matters and develop its capacity to provide guidance to farmers on conservation. The report has no specific implications for the proposed Wildlife and Countryside Bill.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Can he confirm that it will be possible to do as the Strutt Report recommended should be done for the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service of the Ministry of Agriculture; namely, to introduce a conservation element into their awarding of grants—that is, to give a conservation grant to farmers when that becomes appropriate?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mansfield explained to the House on 6th August that some of the savings achieved by reducing the administrative burden on ADAS staff would be used to increase the service's capacity for giving advice on both agriculture and conservation.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the advisory service is a valuable part of the life of our countryside and agriculture? May we be assured that there will be no cutting down of this service, which is good for the farmers and the community?

My Lords, I think I can give the noble Lord every confidence that there will be no cutting back at all.

My Lords, in this context, may I ask if the Government will continue to impress on all concerned, and particularly on local authorities, that agriculture by itself in the countryside is not enough and that there is also great need for forestry, small businesses and small manufacturing industries?

My Lords, I do not think anybody could possibly deny my noble friend's assertion.

My Lords, may I too congratulate the noble Earl on his first appearance on the Front Bench opposite? Is he aware how well received the Strutt Report was? It was recognised as being a very useful report by all sides of the industry and those interested in the industry. Does the noble Earl understand the satisfaction which was expressed when the previous Government accepted in principle the main recommendations of the Strutt Report? Is he aware, however, that there is now a certain amount of disappointment that a large number of the recommendations have not been taken up and that there is no indication that they will be taken up? It is true, is it not, that the report affects not only agriculture, the interests of which it protects, but also the interests of amenity and conservation, about which other noble Lords have been so concerned? Is it possible for the Minister to give an assurance that all the recommendations of the report—apart from ADAS, and I appreciate what was said about ADAS—will be properly and fully considered with a view to their early implementation?

Once again, my Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind remarks. I am also grateful for the nice words he used about the Strutt Report which, coming from the noble Lord, is very flattering. All I can really do is endorse what I said at the outset. The Government have looked at this matter very carefully and fully appreciate all the proposals in the Strutt Report. They are, however, of a non-statutory natures but various departments are considering the recommendations in the report.

My Lords, even though the proposals in the Strutt Report may be of a non-statutory nature, may ask the Minister if he is aware that the proposed Wildlife and Countryside Bill will contain proposals, according to the information paper, which will be designed to safeguard wildlife habitats? Is the noble Earl aware of the urgency of introducing legislation to provide that protection, given the Nature Conservancy Council's estimate that 4 per cent. of sites of special scientific interest are being lost each year, so that therefore, given that the Bill has already been delayed one year, 4 per cent. of irreplaceable wildlife habitat in this country has already been lost?

Yes, indeed, my Lords, I am aware of the urgency which the noble Lord expressed. I hope he will bear in mind that we have moved very fast during August and September. I cannot promise, because of parliamentary time, more than that, but I think he will find that the signs are that we are moving fast, and I am sure that will be continued.

My Lords, because of its relevance and cogence to the supplementary question asked by my noble friend Lord Melchett—and first I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Earl—may I ask whether the noble Earl is aware that, with the destruction of wildlife habitats, the outskirts of London are already being attacked by foxes? That being so, I can visualise noble Lords opposite out in their hunting gear tally ho-ing through the streets of London. On the serious side of this issue, as wildlife gets nearer to centres of population, in regard to rabies is there not a problem which needs studying when considering this whole question of the loss of habitats for wildlife?

I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks, my Lords. Perhaps we should leave the problem of foxes until we come to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am most grateful for his appearance on the Front Bench? I hope the Government will regard the forthcoming Wildlife and Countryside Bill as a measure which will be as little controversial as possible.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. Is it poacher turned gamekeeper or vice versa?