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Environment: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 3 April 2008

rose to call attention to the environmental importance of areas of outstanding natural beauty; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this seems a sudden step away from the drama and tragedy that is Zimbabwe to the relative tranquillity of the British countryside, but I am pleased to have this opportunity. The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty asked me not long ago whether I could make a little noise about AONBs at Westminster. I am glad to have the opportunity to do so this afternoon.

I must first declare an interest. I was for seven years chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board and I have for the past three years been chairman of the South Downs Joint Committee, for which I am paid a modest salary. The South Downs Joint Committee is a coming together of the Sussex Downs and the East Hampshire AONBs and it therefore covers the Downs for nearly 100 miles from Winchester to East Sussex.

I should also declare a second interest in that I have the good fortune to live in the Sussex Downs AONB. Every morning when I am there I can stare at our,

“blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs”,

to quote Kipling, and at the Mount Harry hill behind which Henry III was famously defeated by Simon de Montfort in the Battle of Lewes in 1264. We have natural beauty and a good deal of history, too, around us. I thank Elizabeth Shepherd for the extremely good note that she wrote for the House of Lords Library on the origin and history of AONBs. Because of that note, I do not intend to spend any time on past history. I also thank the NFU for its press release, which I received yesterday. I am delighted to read the following sentences in it:

“We believe that in general the AONBs do achieve the primary purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the landscape. Local experience suggests that AONBs have dealt sensitively and pragmatically with landowners”.

Good words coming from the NFU.

It is interesting that today the word “environment” is on everyone’s lips. Yesterday I listened to the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, on the radio. He was talking about the number of new homes that were going to be built and the importance of their not causing “environmental damage”—his words—through carbon emissions.

What does the phrase “environmental importance” mean in relation to AONBs? I believe that it has two meanings. The first is about natural beauty. Can the existence of an AONB in the first place persuade a farmer that through a countryside stewardship higher level scheme, for example, he will leave 50 yards of grass on the edge of a ploughed field where rare invertebrates, unusual birds, flowers and butterflies may come? We have in a measure succeeded in that in the Downs around me. We have refound the Adonis Blue butterfly, the Brimstone butterfly and even a man orchid. The environment influence in that case is about beautiful hills, grass fields mown by sheep, clear streams with fish in them, ancient woods and more trees being planted to absorb the carbon.

There is a second environmental purpose, which in my book is something bigger and more important: an attempt to share the country with those who live in and only know the towns, so that they can appreciate and enjoy a good day in the country and are tempted to do it again. For some time we have had the Take the Bus for a Walk campaign to encourage people living in Brighton, which has a lot of land in the AONB, to take the bus to be dropped in one part of the Downs, walk for three or four miles and then take the bus back into Brighton again. We have encouraged people to visit bed and breakfasts and to leave their car behind, so that they can walk or bicycle for all the following day. I want to have more visits by schoolchildren to look at the beauties at Cuckmere Haven, but I also want them to go to farms to see chickens lay eggs, to see how milk comes out of a cow and not to be frightened by a herd of bullocks. All those things are possible for AONBs to do. They would all come within the definition of AONBs’ charges and tasks in the CROW Act of 2000. As the population grows and tourism increases, and as towns grow bigger, it seems inevitable that there will be more demand for quiet places where traffic noise does not drown out all the birdsong.

Where will the money come from? The answer at the moment is that core funding for staff and officers comes from Natural England and the local authorities. Sustainable development funding, which is particularly for small partnership projects, also comes from Natural England. Project funding for special projects that may last up to three years or more comes mostly from Natural England but tends to bring in other funding, such as Heritage Lottery Fund money and different types of EU money. Natural England is a relatively new organisation and, however hard it tries to help the AONBs—we appreciate its efforts—all these resources are now under threat, because the Defra budget has reduced by some £200 million from last year.

I have received many e-mails over the past few days from AONBs that knew that this debate was taking place. If your Lordships will allow me, I would like to read an extract from one of them. It is from Robin Toogood of the South Devon AONB and it well illustrates the problem that we face. He says:

“To illustrate the leverage and value for money that Defra and Natural England derive from their financial input, I would cite our very successful programme called Life Into Landscape, which ran in South Devon AONB from 2004 to 2007, where Natural England was one of ten supporting partner organisations. In return for a small Natural England project contribution … (which also included Heritage Lottery Fund and European Regional Development Fund) we were able to … restore over 50 historic green lanes, assist 200 landowners with conservation work, conserve 32 old orchards, improve 20 walking trails, and involve 50 community groups in 7500 days of volunteer work. Many such partnership projects are underpinned by a small core of Natural England Funding”.

As one would expect, he goes on to say that he is now waiting for new money for more projects in future.

I have received similar comments from Dorset AONB, Kent Downs AONB, North Pennines AONB, Cotswolds AONB, East Devon AONB, Tamar Valley AONB, Isle of Wight AONB, Surrey County Council and Hampshire County Council. I recognise the widespread feeling that we could be doing so much more, but where will the money come from? AONBs do not yet officially know what money they will get from Natural England for the year that has just started.

According to the figures that I have, central government funding of AONBs for 2006-07 was £14 million and for 2007-08 was £12.2 million. It is expected that for 2008-09 it will be £10 million. Project funding for the year ahead is expected to be £500,000 for all the AONBs put together to help with staff redundancies, to try to avoid the loss of match funding from HLF and the EU and to support existing projects. There will be no new money for projects. I have to compare that with the treatment of national parks. National park money is going up from £44 million last year to £46 million this year and to £49 million in two years’ time. There has been wide praise from the Minister, Jonathan Shaw, for the good work that the national parks do, which is basically all the things that AONBs do as well.

I remind noble Lords of the depth of important interest within the AONBs. We have 25 per cent of all the sites of special scientific interest, 90 per cent of the defined heritage coast, 55,000 listed buildings and 6,500 scheduled ancient monuments. In fact, we have 15 per cent of England, representing our finest landscape.

The Government recognise areas of outstanding natural beauty because in planning terms they have the same level of protection as national parks. The Minister will, though, be pleased, and perhaps surprised, to hear that I am not asking for the same status or payments as national parks have. I know quite well that I shall not get them. However, I am suggesting that Ministers, who are very supportive of AONBs in rhetoric, should try to do something a little more in action. I suggest that as the common agricultural policy money, the single farm payments, are phased out over the next five or six years, with a review in 2009 and a new budget in 2013, Ministers should make every effort to see that some of that money is reallocated to the environmental tasks that are undertaken by the areas of outstanding natural beauty. That would be an enormous step forward and, in the difficult negotiations that will go on about the common agricultural policy, it could well be a step to follow.

The Government already look to areas of outstanding natural beauty to achieve a range of their policies: access to the coast; opportunities for disadvantaged groups to enjoy the countryside, which is covered by the diversity action plan; biodiversity targets for SSSIs; and the new strategy introduced by the Department of Health, Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives, the aim of which is to get rid of obesity by encouraging more exercise. Where can you more easily get more exercise than by cycling or walking in one of the AONBs? Therefore, I hope that Ministers will carefully consider making AONBs a new target for EU money as the common agricultural policy is changed. It would be a great opportunity for Ministers to show that they have not lost interest in the rural economy and it would help AONBs to fulfil their huge potential to improve the countryside environment in Britain. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for calling to the attention of your Lordships’ House a subject that is of ever-increasing importance in the scheme of things, indeed of importance in making sure that a decent scheme of things continues. There is now a realisation across the planet that it is not only our home but our responsibility. The planet used to control us; now, increasingly, we control the planet, and we have to face up to that. Those of us who are concerned for the future of our country and for the generations to come have a historically unprecedented duty to keep the earth habitable and somewhere worth living. This is to be done in several ways, one of which is the preservation of areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The grand overview given by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, releases me to talk exclusively about the Lake District. It was one of the first great leisure and environmental landscapes uncovered anywhere in the world and as such is more than 200 years old. In its origins and its continued existence, it is an example and the pathfinder for much of the world. It is a useful and mature example of what we need to preserve and keep. Although comparatively small on the surface of the globe, the Lake District, with its unique and magnificent landscape that was scanned by our third greatest poet, Wordsworth, celebrated by our greatest literary critic, Coleridge, and our greatest art critic John Ruskin, backgrounded by our greatest children’s author Beatrix Potter, painted magnificently by our greatest painter, Turner, and many other distinguished painters up to and including Julian Cooper today, is essentially what environmental importance and outstanding natural beauty are about.

Into this small area pour 16 million day visitors each year, who support 44,000 jobs and, in effect, sustain the area. The core workforce in the Lake District sustains the visitors who sustain the Lake District. That symbiosis is crucial. The environment includes those whose livelihood makes it the destination of several increasingly urgent contemporary demands. I shall give a few more, rather more colourful, statistics. There are 33 lakes—only one is called a lake, which is a Trivial Pursuit puzzle for your Lordships—hundreds of rivers, scores of waterfalls, several of which are celebrated in immortal verse, more than 400 fells—Norse for “mountains”—a unique gondola on Coniston and bus boats on Derwent Water and other lakes. There are the highly successful Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, a music festival in the south lakes, the wonderful toy train up Eskdale, one of the world centres of poetic scholarship around Dove Cottage in Grasmere, the famous pencil museum in Keswick, the bird sanctuaries, the ospreys, the celebrated Lowther driving trials, the agricultural shows, the unique hound trailing tradition and the anorak centre of the world. There is so much, but as the pressure grows, more sustenance is needed, which is why, for instance, the Lowther Castle and Gardens project is so important to the north of the county. I look forward to the day when we can walk around every lake as now it is promised we can walk around the coastline of this country.

As in all national and natural environments of outstanding beauty, we increasingly need to keep up with the diverse demands of the visitors. For more than two centuries this extraordinary and complex environment has been fought for by philanthropic and far-sighted men and women. It is dependent on and maintained by the people who live there: their work, their sports and their habits, by those who live in it most of the year and keep it real and grounded, not a park, but a place. I sometimes wonder, idly, I suppose, why, given the billions that we allow in negative tax to the City of London and the billions we spend on sustaining projects and on mountains—fells—of legislation that appear to leak away without issue, we seem to lack the knack of looking properly after our core cultures.

I am not speaking here of the arts and the sciences, although their proper sustenance might merit another debate in your Lordships' House; I am talking about what should be our inviolable staples. For example, why are our fishermen not being helped in their overwhelmingly overregulated world? Are we not an island? More pertinently for this debate, why are hill farmers not better appreciated in the Lake District? It is they who anchor it in work that keeps its landscape, its character and its characteristics.

Dr Johnson said, “Keep your friendships in good repair”. Like all your Lordships, I think that we have to keep our environment in good repair, especially those areas miraculously preserved, such as the Lake District, which is the second biggest visitor attraction in this country next to London. That means looking after those whose daily occupation makes it acceptable for those 16 million visitors. That is my key point. The environment is basically in the hands of those who work there, and they and their jobs are as important as the landscape. I believe that that applies everywhere. Without a real infrastructure, an area of outstanding natural beauty can become a Disneyland and lose vital integrity. The infrastructure needs careful attention.

There is no lack of interest from those who are committed to the Lake District and those who use it. For instance, volunteers turn up by the hundred to put holding stones onto well worn paths up well worn walks. It is an area of outstanding national good manners, but good practice and good manners should be underpinned by good laws and good husbandry. It need not be emphasised in your Lordships' House that fresh air, exercise, the refreshment of landscape, the testing of physical limits by way of fell walking or, for the brave, rock climbing, and, above all, the opportunity to enjoy imagination in nature, become more and more valuable as the world becomes more and more citified and dissociated from roots dug in over millions of years. The bigger the cities grow, the more we need the country. That is where we came from and to which we need viscerally, at least from time to time, to return.

It is a fight to preserve the Lake District and other such areas. For instance, at the moment, the Lake District is threatened by too many wind farms. There are other threats where, as always, some private greed or public folly assails public welfare. Many fear that there is a real danger that this kingdom of outstanding natural beauty will be eroded. It is at present well run, but with something like this, we cannot be too careful.

The momentum of the times looks forward to independence. Scotland, Wales and even England are sometimes mentioned. If the Lake District is threatened, I suggest that it makes a bid for independence. After all, it is bigger than Monaco.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, at election time, there was a man called Mr Brownrigg. He liked to stand for Parliament. He would go into a field in Wigton, a town in which I was brought up, at a time when fields came right into the middle of market towns, and shoot bullets in the air from his gun to call up a crowd, with some success. With three or four other boys, I went to hear his uncompromising rant in the dialect. We heckled—at a distance from the gun. Those were the days of serious politics.

His central policy statement was that we should build a wall around Cumbria. As an enthusiastic 10 year-old, I was a convert. Now, once again, I think that that might well be a way to hold fast the Lake District in an uncertain future, if constructive help is not fast coming from Whitehall and other coffers. We could build a wall around the Lake District. We are good at walls in Cumbria. We have a massive chunk of the Roman wall. The Lake District is netted all over with amazing dry stone walling—miles and miles of it—one of the most beautiful features of the landscape. We could wall everyone out with ease. We could charge our 16 million visitors a pound or two a head and provide a basis for our treasury. We could welcome back nuclear energy and develop it every bit as well as France, our new best friend, which gets 80 per cent of its energy from nuclear. We in Cumbria have the sites and the expertise.

Above all, we have water—the 33 lakes and innumerable rivers. We endure it. We should benefit from it. The Lake District should profit from it. As oil is to Scotland, diamonds and gold to South Africa, and gas to Russia, water could be to Cumbria—a flowing mine. As the world hots up, by way of water we could guard and preserve what is a unique environmental jewel in these islands and beyond. It might be worth the attempt. I think that we should get preparations under way just in case we need to help ourselves.

In the mean time, we should encourage those who can enrich the environment to move forward. The times and, I suspect, the people in this country are on their side and well understand and cherish the importance of such areas for themselves and their future.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. It occurs to me that perhaps this is a subject that he might include for a good discussion in one of his morning broadcasts. I am sure that there would be tremendous interest.

Before I declare my interests, I make an apology. I have a long-standing commitment to speak in Warwickshire this evening. Perhaps I may be forgiven for leaving before the Minister winds up—I see him nodding his head and I thank him for that. I will stay as long as I can, but with the traffic as it is, I fear that I may have to leave before then.

First, I thank my noble friend Lord Renton for initiating this debate. It is a very important subject and it is a matter of concern not just to those who live in the countryside or who visit areas included in areas of outstanding natural beauty. I declare my interest as president of the Cotswolds AONB. I had the great pleasure a while ago of spending a Saturday in the area with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, when we walked around some of the areas of unrivalled beauty. I am sure that he will remember that occasion, when we saw a sample of some of the 4,000 miles of dry stone walls in the area and a landscape equal to any in the national parks. We walked some of the Jurassic limestone grassland. We witnessed some of the work done to preserve our heritage with the aid of government and European funding. We had the pleasure of receiving the Minister at our annual general meeting last year. I thank him in your Lordships' House for his support.

The Cotswolds were designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1966, and the area was extended in 1990. It is the largest AONB in England and Wales, covering 790 square miles, second only to the Lake District National Park as the largest protected landscape. It is important to remember that 80 per cent of that land is in farmland and 9 per cent is in woodland. The area covers the whole area from the border of Warwickshire to Somerset.

In 2000, the Government confirmed that our AONB shared the same landscape status as national parks. However, as my noble friend Lord Renton said so clearly, that landscape status is not reflected in equality of resourcing or investment. We must all recognise that Defra has suffered its own financial difficulties and has passed on cuts in the various agencies, including Natural England, but Defra also funds the national parks through a grant-in-aid settlement, which has risen by 4.2 per cent for this year. Meanwhile, the AONBs receive their grant aid from Natural England, and as my noble friend so rightly said, they face a series of cuts.

We are three days into the new financial year, but the board has not yet received a grant offer from Natural England. For an independent corporate body, that is of deep concern for the financial viability of the organisation. Given that the conservation board’s purposes and structures draw heavily on those of our national park authorities, I am forced to conclude that the board’s financial settlement should similarly be modelled on those of the national parks, and that it would be far better off receiving a settlement direct from Defra, rather than from Natural England.

I am sure that the Minister will state that it is for Natural England to determine its own priorities and that, if we do not receive the investment that we desire, we should enter into discussion with Natural England, not Defra. Of course, that is true, from a strict interpretation of the rules, but the cuts that have been delivered to Natural England by Defra do not leave Defra entirely free from scrutiny.

Our financial settlement from Natural England comprises three grants: the core costs, for the general running of the organisation; the project costs, to achieve projects on the ground; and the sustainable development fund for special projects, the funds to deliver sustainable development projects in the community. We face reductions in all three grants. Having taken the decision to establish the conservation board in 2004 in collaboration with the 17 local authorities in the Cotswolds, we are concerned by these cuts. We should remind ourselves that the board comprises 40 board members, 15 of them appointed by the Secretary of State at Defra, 17 by the local authorities and eight by parish councils. We are bringing together the local authorities, but after only 3 years we appear to be undermining the board’s ability to deliver before it has had a chance to begin to realise the potential benefits that led to its creation.

The SDF grant within the national parks is secured at £200,000 per park. Since its establishment as a funding stream within the AONBs, the SDF grant has reduced year on year from £100,000 in 2005-06 to what is rumoured to be £60,000 in 2008-09. This variation of grant award between the two parts of our protected landscape family and the ongoing cuts within AONBs are of great concern.

I am also concerned by the way that the SDF fund is distributed. It is awarded as a standard lump sum per national park or AONB. On average, that amounted to £300 per square kilometre of protected land last year. The standard sum spread over an extensive area such as the Cotswolds reduces to £39 per square kilometre, severely disadvantaging Cotswolds residents. Despite these frustrations, we have utilised the SDF to support more than 50 innovative projects valued at £500,000, with demand for support far exceeding supply.

Our projects fund has similarly been cut year on year over the past four years. In 2007-08 the board received £50,000, compared with settlements in the region of £120,000 four or five years ago. That is the fund that enables the board to deliver projects on the ground and enables us to secure other funding streams, such as the lottery funds. One example of how it can work is the board’s Caring for the Cotswolds project, which drew down £1.4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund in return for an investment of £250,000 by the board—a tremendous gearing ratio. That programme helped to restore dry stone walls, invested in rural skills by providing dry stone walling training courses, restored flower-rich limestone grasslands by enabling the reintroduction of grazing and provided grants to local communities for the restoration of locally distinctive features, such as a village cross. The programme was completed in December 2007 and we are extremely grateful for that support. Without a reasonable projects grant, the board is unable to commit to similar projects and put its pound on the table in order to capture additional resources from lottery bodies.

Our core costs enable us to operate the board and employ staff. They also support the work of our voluntary wardens, who currently number more than 300. They are marvellous; they work voluntarily, investing their time in leading an extensive programme of guided walks, almost one for every day of the year, and undertaking a range of practical works to improve access and the natural environment. In June this year they will celebrate their 40th anniversary. In 2006-07 those 300 or so people invested more than 40,000 hours of time conserving, enhancing and improving the understanding and enjoyment of the Cotswolds. In monetary terms, that equates to £250,000 of effort—a prime example of volunteering in the community and the countryside.

So, no grant award three days into a financial year and a series of financial cuts year on year. Surely that is no way to invest in some of our most treasured communities and landscapes, very many of which are recognised right across the world. It is no way to invest in an asset that is worth billions to the tourism industry.

My Lords, like others here, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for initiating this debate. I shall speak about the Isle of Wight, the South Downs National Park and then three issues that relate to this debate: the place of the churches, which relates to it directly, and then transport and new housing development. I shall be brief.

A considerable portion of the Isle of Wight is made up of AONBs. It is easy, if you know the island, to demarcate where they are: you just take certain bits out where lots of people live, and the rest is a beautiful and delightful AONB. Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of taking part in a conference in the yacht haven in Cowes organised by the Island Strategic Partnership to promote the eco-island project. The speakers included John Owen, the chairman of the strategic partnership, David Pugh, the leader of the council, Bill Wakeham, the vice-chancellor of Southampton University, Sir Ghillean Prance and others.

In my view the eco-island project is the most ambitious and laudable that the island has undertaken in its history and deserves a great deal of support, for a number of reasons. It highlights the relationship between AONBs, other initiatives and areas near at hand. We cannot divide the world up into different bits; we are all related. The dream of the eco-island project is that the island will be self-sustaining by the year 2020, with, one hopes, the lowest carbon imprint in England and becoming a world-renowned eco-island. I shall give two examples. First, Vestas Blades promotes electricity and is the largest producer of blades in the UK. Secondly, there is the project, which I have mentioned on a previous occasion, to use manure from 500 cows—spelt without an “e” this time—to fuel buses. The eco-island project is about education, health and safety for the whole island and the AONBs play an important part in this.

The symbiosis between the eco-island project and AONBs is unique. There are so many AONBs and they are part of the project. If the project goes ahead, there will be a chance to test out ideas that could be used elsewhere, which makes it even more important. I am not talking just about Europe, but the rest of the world. Therefore my question is about money. I understand that AONB funding by the Government has recently been cut. I should like gently to prod the Minister on that point because the eco-island project, which is related to the AONB initiatives, would attract funding from elsewhere. Everything is related to everything else.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, obviously knows much more about the South Downs national park than I do. However, noble Lords may care to be reminded of the fact that it starts just east of Winchester and ends just west of Eastbourne. It is a very large area, but there is a proposed reduction, about which I understand there is a certain amount of division of opinion, with a minority in favour of a reduction but the majority on the ground in favour of things staying as they are. NP status would remove some county responsibilities. Here we are touching on an area which has already been raised in the debate and which may well come up again later—the issue of complementary responsibility, which is so frustrating when you want to start something and get it going. Clearly a large national park is going to be more powerful than a number of AONBs. I believe that I speak for many people when I say that this issue needs to be resolved. Natural England rejects the alternative boundary wholeheartedly. AONB offices are constantly complaining that cuts in funding are a major problem. They say that government funding has a huge, multiplier effect.

I turn now to three other issues. Your Lordships will not be surprised if I speak on behalf of the churches. I am sure that I speak on behalf of AONBs elsewhere in the country. They are a vital part of every AONB. One example is the often visited church at Brighstone on the Isle of Wight. The South Downs includes that wonderful church at Idsworth which is so much looked at as a landmark by commuters on the train—and of course by others, as well.

If I may be forgiven for blowing the ecclesiastical trumpet, the churches in this country are in better condition than they every have been in their history, without any doubt at all. If I may sing an ecclesiastical mantra, I am not sure what the VAT situation is at the moment. I think it has been gently looked at, but certainly until recently, the churches paid more in VAT on church repairs than they received from English Heritage. That is a surprising fact which is much ignored, or not even known about. In the diocese of Portsmouth we are assessing how we use our buildings and how they can be more friendly to visitors and tourists. We are looking at this project, not just in the beauty spots but in the more brutalist areas of our cities.

I now move on to transport and the Hindhead tunnel which is a controversial saga that has been going on for a long time. One of the reasons for the length of time it has taken to get the thing going has been money rather than local and national discussion. However, the local and national discussion has slowed it up. Can the Minister say—this is not directly related to the debate, but abuts it—whether there are ways in which these processes can be speeded up? One of the consequences of the tunnel is that the local AONB office has received, I hope, a promise—although it is yet to be confirmed—of funding for project officers to assist with landscaping issues on Hindhead common and in the regeneration of Hindhead. I have known of this for 20 years because before I came to Portsmouth I lived in Guildford and I have watched the area become more depressingly carbonised with traffic fumes, making the place less attractive as we drive through it. If we are going to have a national park or a number of AONBs, people will still have to move around the country. I am sure that the quality of landscaping planned for Hindhead is one of the results of AONBs and the national park project near it.

The question of housing developments brings in the South East Plan, which I suspect is behind strong feelings about the threatened reduction in size of the South Downs national park. I recognise fully the need for affordable housing. When I look around my own patch, as I am sure will my colleagues theirs, I see where housing can be built and where it perhaps should not be built. However, it needs to be built.

I know that the Planning Bill is producing a new system of infrastructure whereby the Secretary of State does not have the final say, which may or may not be a mixed blessing. Near where I live, in the development of Whiteley, a rather soulless shopping centre is going to be destroyed—fortunately, as far as many people are concerned—and rebuilt. There is an example of where developers and planners get it wrong.

I shall not name names, but the sense that I get from conversations with people around the diocese is that, where there is to be a new housing development, the local authorities are very much—perhaps too much—in the hands of the developers, who because of their experience and their money hold the strings of power. There is an area which needs to be checked.

I repeat what I said earlier. We are looking at AONBs—the Isle of Wight and the national park of the South Downs—in relation to many other issues. This debate is timely, because, in the past few months, the world’s population of city dwellers has moved from being in a minority to being in a majority. We are not quite sure when the change was made, but it is probably about now. Perhaps that is why we turned our clocks forward an hour last Sunday.

That makes me think of the Bible, which begins in a garden of lost innocence, where responsibility is avoided—surprise, surprise: that is very much a local and national government issue. We have to play God, whether it is in planting trees or initiating stem cell research. But it ends in a city, which is landscaped, lavishly irrigated and a place of space, peace and justice. It is not quite an AONB, but perhaps an aspiration in that direction. It is a place of play.

In conclusion, I pick up the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, about the Lake District. He will know that in the north-west of England and Yorkshire, “lake” is a Norse dialect word for “play”. “Legoland” is a “playland”, which my Viking forebears brought to this land with their culture. Here we have a vision of a community that is at ease with itself, where urban and rural live and work together and where we can play. AONBs are a place of play for children of all ages.

My Lords, like others, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Renton for giving us the opportunity to consider AONBs. He has given us opportunities in the past. I remember well his introducing the 1999 AONB Bill, which was effectively put on the statute book by Part 4 of the CROW Act. My noble friend played a large part in getting through those measures, which went a small way to alleviating some of the problems which have already been touched on and which AONBs have to address—at least when one compares them to other designations.

I, too, have an interest to declare. I live and farm in an AONB in east Hampshire, much of which, incidentally, is in the Diocese of Portsmouth. So I am delighted to follow the right reverend Prelate, who takes a great interest in the rural part of his diocese.

It is inevitable that since 1949 unfavourable comparisons have been made between AONBs and national parks, as they have in today’s debate. If you were to be driven into an unknown part of the countryside and told that the area was designated, you would be hard pressed to know whether you were in a national park or an AONB, or indeed in some other form of designation or some area not designated at all. The truth of the matter is that the English countryside, of which we are so proud, has a sort of seamless continuity. The fact that we have quite different legislation for different forms of designation and different funding arrangements simply accentuates the inconsistency of our approach to managing those parts of our countryside which we value. This was made inevitable by the very nature of that legislation in 1949 and those who framed the legislation very carefully made it clear that the administrative structure for national parks was to be completely different to the administrative structure for AONBs with completely different funding arrangements. Although the planning powers were similar in some respects, the planning administration was very different. The Minister will hear others, I am sure, talk about resources which are clearly different.

Having recognised the problems that AONBs have had to address, it is only fair to point out the minor improvements that resulted from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 in which my noble friend played an important part. There are now statutory management plans. There is government guidance on a number of measures, particularly on how organisations whose activities impact on protected areas should consider their obligations in AONBs. We have heard about Defra’s sustainable development fund which very often gears funding of considerable proportions from elsewhere. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act allowed for the conservation board which had already been rolled out in Sussex as a precursor or trial. Conservation boards have now been rolled out elsewhere, as my noble friend Lord Plumb told us, not least in the Cotswolds. But these inherent problems remain. Most people understand the nature of a national park. You know when you have driven into a national park because it is usually evidenced; the identity of national parks is well understood, appreciated and valued. However, it is not always clear when you have entered an AONB, or even if you live in an AONB in some cases. There is no linkage, or inadequate linkage, with conservation bodies and biodiversity action plans. Local authorities have biodiversity action plans but they operate rather removed from the AONB structure. We have heard how important conservation of the built heritage is in AONBs but again this happens almost as a separate exercise, not inevitably connected to the activities of the AONB, although it will of course get a mention in the management plan.

Education and the creation of new jobs and appropriate skills within the protected landscape are quite difficult issues to mesh into the concept of an AONB with this very limited resource and management structure. I have not read every statutory management plan but I would assume that each one talks about contributing positively not just to the rural economy but to the quality of life of those who live there and the quality of the environment in a way that is compatible with the protected landscape. This is the challenge for all who try to ensure that protected areas conserve what we value—and visitors expect things usually to remain as they were on their last visit—without making it a handicap and a hardship to have to try to earn a living there.

Planning powers are, without doubt, important. They should help to prevent unsuitable development, although many would complain that they have not always done so. In a sense it is the stick rather than the carrot, but equally important to the stick is the carrot. If there is to be a champion for each AONB, if there are to be organisations like the conservation boards and the management boards about which we have heard today, they need to be able to champion new markets for the products of this protected landscape. They need to champion ways in which education and tourism that is compatible with these protected landscapes can be promoted. They need to champion better conservation practices than those in the generality of the wider countryside.

Yet we have heard from my noble friend Lord Plumb just how large these organisations must be, taking in as they do a wide range of local authorities and other interests. I forget just how many people my noble friend said sat on his committee, but it seemed a rather unwieldy organisation. I think the Secretary of State appointed 15 members. The climate change committee, which the Minister successfully steered through this House, has only eight members, with perhaps two or three to come. That suggests a rather more appropriate management structure for championing these areas of outstanding natural beauty without trying to reconcile a large number of bureaucracies, local authorities, NGOs and other interest groups. That is not to say that they should not be represented. I am sure there are other ways of ensuring that they can participate in dialogue and discussion, but ultimately there must be someone who champions areas of outstanding natural beauty and who owns the problem.

The problem, as I said before, is to ensure that all who have an interest in these areas of outstanding natural beauty, whether because they live there, work there or visit there, recognise that to be within the area of outstanding natural beauty could give them an advantage denied to others. We are a long way from that concept at the moment. Realistically, many people who try to earn their living in these protected areas feel that they have to jump over more hurdles than others do in order to get planning permission for developments, even if it might be seen to be in the long-term interests of the economy.

My own area is heavily wooded. Some 25 per cent of it is wooded, which is much more than the Cotswolds AONB. As noble Lords may know, the south-east of England is the most heavily wooded area. A lot of these woodlands are quite frankly derelict. In the 19th century, they were managed for charcoal burning. A whole range of products came out of these woods. It was very labour intensive but was an important part of the rural economy. That dropped by the way as charcoal was no longer needed, and there was not the money or the income stream to manage these woodlands properly. Now, however, an opportunity is staring us in the face—biomass in the form of woodchips, and the use of combined heat and power.

To get this going, however, you need to put together an awful lot of players in the field. You need planners, district heating schemes and the public procurement of schools, hospitals, government offices and the like. If they commit themselves to CHP plants, people will go back into the woods to manage them and produce by-products—we are not talking about timber—on a large scale for use as biomass. That is precisely what parts of our areas of outstanding natural beauty need. They need markets, not subsidies—they do not need more money from Defra. They simply need long-term strategic thinking, with a board that understands the objective precisely, and plans that can be implemented over years, not months. In a modest way, this is precisely the sort of long-term strategic direction that we talked about in our debates on the Climate Change Bill. There should be one for each AONB. It should not be an organisation in which every local authority and interest group has to be represented. It must be an organisation that can actually deliver; that can stand up and say, “You are now living in an AONB. We are going to make you proud of it. We will give you opportunities which others would love to participate in”. When we have made an AONB something that people can buy into and be proud of and do not see as just another planning obstacle, we will no longer talk of areas of outstanding natural beauty, as we are in this debate today, as the Cinderellas of the protected designation systems.

My Lords, I live in an AONB—the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB—and as I shall illustrate, my experience suggests that insufficient attention is being paid to this designation by the various offshoots of government, including at times, I regret to say, central government. By contrast, our county council in Suffolk has done its best to help us with its limited resources.

I have one success to record and one serious current anxiety. The success concerns the attempted sale, 10 years ago, of a former military airbase, Bentwaters, within the AONB, not far from Woodbridge in Suffolk. During the Second World War the Royal Air Force built this airfield, intending it for use by fighter aircraft in defending us against attack by enemy bombers. It was not used for long and, with the arrival of the Cold War, was taken over by the American air force, the USAF, which had a second runway nearby, at what is now designated RAF Woodbridge. The Americans deployed a light jet bomber, the A-11, and its Cold War mission was to be available to attack Russian tanks should they start rolling across central Europe. That makes one realise how far we have moved on since then.

Of course, this never happened, but the aircraft from these bases were used with devastating effect to destroy the Iraqi tanks as they withdrew from Kuwait in 1991. The A-11s never came back to Suffolk, but returned, as the Americans say, Stateside, and the Bentwaters airfield became redundant. Inevitably, the Bentwaters runway had just been resurfaced to the highest standards, at a cost of several million pounds. Understandably, perhaps, the Ministry of Defence then put the airfield on the market, hoping that it could be sold profitably as a commercial airport, for the benefit of their always-stretched budget. A private deal was done with the local district council to permit such a development, with a suspicion locally that some of the MoD profits might eventually accrue to the district council. The device was called a planning brief—a suspect document. My recollection is that little or no mention was made in this documentation of the fact that the airfield was in the AONB.

At this point, my wife, who was a member of the county branch of the CPRE in Suffolk and active in planning matters, became involved. Her strongest argument—surely right—was that a commercial airport in the AONB should be out of the question by definition. She was helped by the fact that she had been brought up locally and spent some time between school and proceeding to Cambridge as a classical scholar working as a clerk on Orford Ness during the Second World War, where numerous important military experiments, including radar, were taking place. Her approach was to remind the public authorities of the AONB designation, of which most seemed quite unaware, and to speak always in a quiet and reasoned manner, with strong arguments. This was exactly the right style to convince local opinion and it was, in the Latin phrase,

“suaviter in modo, fortiter in re.”

It also helped her case that the former Royal Air Force base at Horsham St Faith in Norwich was being developed by a number of airlines, notably KLM, as a commercial airport, and Stansted was being planned. Finally, our local Member of Parliament, Mr John Gummer, who was always very clear-headed about these environmental issues, informed a meeting, which he convened one Sunday evening, that the enthusiasts for the airport had lost their case: there was no commercial support for it. The scheme was dropped, but there had been no considerable—or indeed any—visible support from central government in defence of the AONB in this argument.

More recently we have been facing a different threat, which concerns me very much because of the Government’s decision to stop spending modest sums—a small contribution—to help to repair the walls of our tidal river, and their willingness to abandon large tracts of the coastline in the AONB to the sea, as I shall explain. I live 16 feet above sea level in the coastal village of Orford. I have 1.5 acres of orchard and garden and am not engaged in agriculture. The key to the problem is our tidal river, variously called the Alde and, in its lower reaches, the Ore, which flows from the west, in Snape Maltings, to the east, until reaching the coast at Aldeburgh. It then turns 90 degrees to the south to run parallel with the coastline from which the river is divided from the sea by a shingle spit—an unusual feature; it is Europe's longest vegetated shingle spit and has a certain fame among geologists. The river finally enters the sea at the mouth.

There are various critical points. The first, just south of Aldeburgh, is where the sea broke through in the last serious floods in 1953 and did much damage. There is a fine Martello Tower, one of the largest in the series and a listed building. This place is called Slaughden. The river then continues 15 miles or so southwards to Shingle Street where it enters the North Sea. The river wall on the land side has been steadily maintained and the drained marshland behind it produces valuable food crops and is home to flocks of cattle and sheep. Your Lordships may care to be reminded that in most years we in this country are a net exporter of wheat and barley malt.

However, the organs of central government seem to have decided to abandon this terrain for reasons which are not altogether clear to me. Plans are being discussed to make a deliberate breach at Slaughden, which means goodbye to the Martello Tower, and to create a new tidal stream moving south towards Orford and Shingle Street against the incoming tide. The effect will surely be to silt up the river and that will lead to the loss of Havergate Island, a prized site owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has contrived to persuade the avocet to make its home there. The avocet has been adopted by the RSPB as its national logo. Do the Government really want to have an open argument with the RSPB, which has millions of members who are very vocal?

I remind the Minister that Her Majesty's Government have given the National Trust £1 million in the past decade to preserve Orford Ness, particularly as a habitat for numerous rare birds. Another loss would be the Orford Ness Lighthouse, which would be damaged by the changing pattern of water in the estuary. I therefore consulted officials in Trinity House to see whether they were aware of the danger to this lighthouse and found—surprise, surprise—that no one in central government nor in the local authorities had troubled to inform them. Trinity House attaches importance to the continued existence of this lighthouse because of its role in guiding ships carrying oil from the northern isles to the Thames estuary.

I have derived the impression—I regret to say a clear one—that some government departments in London have little or no understanding of the AONB designation and its scientific importance. I venture to suggest to the Minister that the Cabinet Office might be invited to send round a letter to all departments at a fairly senior level to remind them of the existence and relevance of the AONBs. I find it frankly amazing that a team organised by Defra is now making plans which would destroy our AONB and cause it to be overcome by the sea. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for making it possible to have this short debate, and I rest my case.

My Lords, I am very glad to have the chance to follow my noble friend and neighbour in speaking on this subject and I take this occasion to pay a heartfelt tribute to his late wife, Rachel Bridges, who did an enormous amount to conserve and protect the Suffolk countryside.

I have been involved with AONBs for many years. First I was a member of Countryside Commission for 12 years from 1980 to 1992, and then I was chairman of CPRE from 1993 to 1998. Since 1997, I have been president of the Suffolk Preservation Society. I am also a farmer in Suffolk in a special landscape area adjacent to one of Suffolk’s two AONBs. I am therefore delighted that my noble friend Lord Renton has secured this debate. It has enabled us to have the esteemed presence of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is one of the most valued Members of the Government to the Government and of this House to this House.

The importance of the subject is obvious. We live on a small, crowded, but still very beautiful island. This means that we have to protect and, where possible, enhance the beauty of the countryside by every means that we can. With the growth of population, the pressures become ever greater. Our Select Committee on Economic Affairs in its excellent report, The Economic Impact of Immigration, published this week, states at paragraph 181:

“For example, the English countryside is an environmental amenity of great value and a substantial rise in population, however caused, is likely to diminish it. Rising population density will also increase the demand for infrastructure including roads and airports, decrease the … living space available … for public parks and green fields … Different people will have different views about whether or not an increasingly crowded environment is desirable”.

I suspect that most of us here are of one view on that question. The committee points out that the present UK population of 61 million is now projected to grow to 71 million by 2031.

There can be few greater obligations on our generation than to hand on a beautiful countryside to our children and grandchildren. We cannot protect everything, which is why it has been crucial to have a hierarchy of landscape. Such a hierarchy, combined with the new planning system, the need for which had become so apparent between the wars, was established by the post-war Attlee Government. Together with the National Health Service, it was one of their two great legacies.

Today that hierarchy encompasses national parks, AONBs, heritage coasts, special landscape areas and conservation areas. All of these are crucial. In addition to the planning arrangements, one great bulwark for conservation is of course the National Trust which, with its gigantic 3.6 million membership, owns more than 600 miles of England’s most special coastline. It is attempting to acquire another 300 miles, because, frankly, the coastline is perhaps the most vulnerable of all parts of our island, and once it is gone, it is gone forever. I would not trust any owners in the way that I would trust the National Trust. At this stage, I should remember a former colleague of ours, Nick Ridley, who—ex cathedra, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment—made a very important statement that it was government policy to protect the countryside for its own sake.

Perhaps the most urgent question on which I hope the Minister will shed some light is whether the planning Bill, which I assume will reach us in the summer, will invalidate in any way that crucial PPS 7 on sustainable development in rural areas or Section 85 of the CROW Act, to which my noble friend Lord Selborne referred. We cannot allow the protection given by that earlier legislation to be trumped by new planning Bill measures.

The funding of AONBs has been mentioned by several noble Lords, particularly by my noble friend Lord Plumb. We must not forget that the funding provided for national parks includes an element to cope with the recreational role of the parks. That was one of the functions for which the parks were created. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, spoke very beautifully about that most beautiful of all areas. Only this morning I was listening to a lecture from him on Newtonian physics. I understood his speech better than I understood the Newtonian physics.

AONBs, however, were created solely on their landscape merit. There are now increasing recreational demands on AONBs and this certainly applies to Dedham Vale in Suffolk—Constable country. These demands must be welcomed, but their management must be funded. At present, some 75 per cent of AONB funding comes from Natural England. As the Minister knows, DEFRA has cut the Natural England budget.

Europe also has a part to play. I am glad that the Government last year ratified the European Landscape Convention. I hope that one day it will be converted into a directive, given the great contribution that the habitats directive has played in conservation. We in the United Kingdom have a great deal to teach our European neighbours about the protection and conservation of the countryside. Of course, the United States was at the forefront, inventing national parks in 1908 or even earlier, about 50 years before we did. Americans look after their national parks wonderfully well, but unfortunately seem to regard the rest of the landscape as largely expendable and are doing some pretty awful things to it. On this relatively small globe, no landscape is expendable.

I mention a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, about the threat to our coastline. The view of the Environment Agency seems to be that everything should be abandoned to the sea. It is out of touch and out of date. First, we are moving into a period of world food shortage, which is being greatly exacerbated by turning over much agricultural land to the production of biofuels. This is separate from the threat of global warming, which I discount quite heavily.

Secondly, some of our most precious landscape would be lost without coastal defences, which need a much longer planning horizon. This is nothing to do with global warming or climate change, which of course does exist. Coastal defences need a much longer time horizon than any political or planning timescale. Somebody told me today, when I was discussing this debate, that we should think in terms of 100 years when planning coastal defences. Certainly, some of our continental neighbours do that. This applies particularly to our Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

Suffolk is aiming to be England’s greenest county. Apart from protecting our wonderful countryside—and I join in the tributes to Suffolk County Council—I hope that our particular contribution will be to welcome two new nuclear power stations at Sizewell. I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, in recognising and welcoming the huge importance of nuclear power in filling a gap that will otherwise turn out the lights. I am afraid that playing around with renewables such as wind power is, to a significant extent, political tokenism that cannot begin to deal with the problem. The Government have left the launch of a new nuclear programme almost too late. Others, especially China, are making great demands on a limited nuclear construction capability and Britain must book a place in the queue.

A special quality of our AONBs should be tranquillity. Noise, like light, can be immensely polluting. Neither is as long term—and certainly not as irreversible—as pollution by concrete. None the less, they counter quiet enjoyment, which is one of the aims of AONB designation. We all recognise that the military has to have low-flying training for war operations and we should play our part in that with pride. However, civil aviation is another matter. We in Suffolk worry about the expanded air-stacking area that is expected to be part of the expansion of Stansted. I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of stacking aircraft over the sea, rather than over land—in our case, that would be the North Sea.

Finally, I should like to add to what my noble friend Lord Selborne said about the crucial contribution made to AONBs by the world of volunteering. Many of them, for example, have volunteer wardens, and the Government should demonstrate their appreciation of this by supporting AONBs in every way they can.

Those of us who are very privileged to be lifetime stewards to small pieces of England’s countryside have an obligation, through hedge-planting, tree-planting, digging ponds, the sensitive conversion of redundant farm buildings and housing and so on, to see that when we depart from our patch, it is more beautiful than when we arrived.

As I said at the start, the Labour Party can claim proud parentage of much of our conservation legislation. It would be sad indeed if during the last couple of years of its present period in office, it were to renege on our national heritage. However, that is a subject for wider debate and I have a lot of confidence in the Minister.

My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for initiating this debate. He, like other noble Lords who have spoken, has hands-on experience in the structure and management of AONBs.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford reminded us just how overcrowded this island is. It is the most densely populated country in Europe, with the exception of Belgium, and that is without the huge increase in population that can be expected in the next 10 years—that is not a party-political point of any kind. Areas of outstanding natural beauty cover a surprising 15 per cent of the whole land area of England. It is vital that these tracts of land, set up through the foresight of previous legislators, are cherished. It was nice to hear the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Selborne to the part played in this by my noble friend Lord Renton. However, it is a sad fact, and one that has run through this debate, that money is at the heart of many of the problems with AONBs. I shall refer briefly to three of the imaginative schemes that are in danger of failing because of the lack of funding.

The East Devon AONB management has a scheme called Parishscapes. This is a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to digitise all the tithe maps covering the AONBs so as to improve public access. The project works with local schools and includes the creation of oral accounts of landscape change through local community contacts. It has taken two years to develop, originally with the help of the former English Heritage. It is, in short, a scheme that will benefit young and old alike.

The funding structure is typical of many AONBs—a three-year commitment by the local authority and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Without the help of Natural England funding, however, the project is in danger of failing. The local NE officers—the unfortunate messengers in all this—are just not in a position to give a definitive answer about this year’s funding, commencing this month, and the funding will in any case be for only one year. Not unnaturally, that has unsettled the local authorities, which not unreasonably are looking for a longer-term commitment from Natural England.

Perhaps I may give an example from another part of the country. The North Pennines AONB has two major projects. The Peatscape project involves the blocking of 200 kilometres of moorland drains—or, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, will correct me, “grips”, as they are known up there. Incidentally, that will be done with dams built by dry-stone walling apprentices, thus fostering and encouraging a precious north of England craft, although I have to acknowledge that my noble friend Lord Plumb also referred to a similar craft, and indeed training, in the Cotswolds. These dams will keep the peatlands as functioning wetland ecosystems, allowing them to store carbon, reduce the impact of downstream flooding, conserve biodiversity and reduce water colour, so there are a good many ticks in boxes there. It is estimated that the peat, which would otherwise have dried out, would have released carbon equivalent to 72 years of emissions from the Drax power station. That is the degree to which the wetlands will contribute to the saving of carbon emissions.

Another example is the Hay Time project, which is doing valuable work in restoring upland hay meadows. On a technical note, I should add that both these projects, funded by Natural England through the AONB bodies, meet PSA targets that Natural England itself could not—and this must apply to many similar projects up and down the country. Natural England funding binds projects together, giving them a chance to “buy in”. Crucially, it allows managements to generate levels of matched funding. It is the shop window to justify the value of the Government’s investment in these AONBs.

My third example has international dimensions. South East Protected Landscapes has been working with Kent Downs AONB—the AONB has a particular problem because it has five urban projects within its area—to develop a truly international partnership with the parc naturel around Paris and its equivalent regional organisation, Ile de France; with two universities, Kingston in England and Versailles in France; with protected landscapes around the German capital; and with the South East England Development Agency and Natural England. The strong educational element qualified it to call on the SDF, which will be crucial in applying for matched funding elsewhere to build a strong international tertiary sector.

The comments of this project’s leaders speak for many. They complain about the uncertain level of funding, its short-term, annual nature and, once again, how late in the year the current budget is announced. As with East Devon, there was no official confirmation of the 2008-09 funding for the Kent project at the end of March, a point to which my noble friend Lord Renton has drawn attention.

These are but three examples of the work of AONBs. I hasten to add that I have seen many more submissions from managers up and down the country. Time does not permit me to mention them all, but I have chosen three that give an example of the wide—and, if I may say so, heart-warming—diversity of projects, which were conceived with imagination and dedication, in virtually every case on shoestring budgets, and, as many noble Lords have pointed out, with that devoted band of volunteers without whom they could not continue.

This all leads back to Natural England’s funding difficulties, but, sadly, it goes further back than that—to Defra. One has only to mention the list of disasters that have had an effect on Defra’s ability to fund: the disastrous overspend on the Rural Payments Agency, the Pirbright foot and mouth scandal and the fiasco over the single farm payment scheme, which resulted in an EU fine of £63 million. A cash-strapped AONB manager does not have to be a cynic to reflect that, had it not been for that fine, he might have had some of that money. Natural England, together with the AONB projects that it supports, is but one of the sufferers of all this mismanagement.

It is said that there are no votes in prison building. Sadly, there are precious few votes in conserving and cherishing our AONBs. However, I urge the Government to reverse some of the decisions that threaten further to undermine the quality of our rural infrastructure and natural environment.

My Lords, I should first declare that I am president of Friends of the Ridgeway and of the CPRE in Oxfordshire and that I live right on the boundary of the Chilterns AONB.

I will talk about national trails. These have not been mentioned in the debate so far, but there is work going on to consider their future. They are the long footpaths that traverse much of the AONB land. They are the network that should be at the heart of our strategy to encourage the public at large peacefully to enjoy the countryside. They should be the gateway through which people have access to the countryside and what it has to offer, be it nature, history or healthy recreation. They should represent the best walking routes in the country through a good cross-section of different terrain, to which many noble Lords have referred this afternoon.

I will not labour the benefits of national trails—the health benefits, the climate benefits, the educational benefits, the economic benefits and the social benefits. There is a tremendous opportunity to increase the use of these trails. Many noble Lords have referred to the fact that this is a very crowded island. I could lay £5 on the table and say, “I can take you to a place on the Ridgeway where you can see for miles in any direction and there will be nobody else there”. Why is there nobody else there? Partly because access to that network is extremely difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, said that you could take a bus from Brighton and walk four or five miles through the AONB and catch another bus back. I am afraid that the Ridgeway runs through parts of the country where a bus is something of a rarity and certainly does not offer any sort of regular service that people could plan to use. In any long-term strategy, we must look at access. People want to get out of towns but they need to be able to; if they come in a car or on a bike or whatever, there must be somewhere for them to leave it.

The threat to the national trails is almost entirely a question of funding. There is a huge body of volunteers. Friends of the Ridgeway is one such body; it does enormous work to publicise the place and improve it. I pay tremendous tribute to the Government and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for the work done in this House to rid the Ridgeway of almost all mechanically propelled vehicles, which were almost destroying it. The joint efforts made in that respect were a manifestation of what can be done without spending a huge amount more money; it was a question of changing the law and a bit of enforcement. That was much helped by volunteers.

Whatever the amount of money the Government put in, local authorities, trusts and people will put in money to match, and it will grow. We are asking the Government more about putting down the seedcorn than about harvesting the crop. There are national trails officers who effectively manage the trails, but such people are extremely thin on the ground. We have to address how much the existence of national trails and their advantages—and the advantages of the things looked after by English Heritage, the National Trust and the AONBs—are in the tourist literature. Do we encourage the people who come here, or those who live in cities, to know about these areas and visit them? Despite what is said about the island being terribly overcrowded and about pouring concrete over the whole of England, that is not the case in large areas of England.

My second point is about noise. Noble Lords have probably seen the maps that the CPRE has produced over the years showing ever shrinking green areas; they are quiet areas or tranquil areas, as I believe it calls them. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has already referred to the fact that people in, I believe, Suffolk are concerned about the expansion of Stansted and the rerouteing of aircraft approach paths over Suffolk to Heathrow. The threat of aircraft noise is substantial. It would be devastating in the Chilterns AONB. NATS, in its wisdom and in its efforts to get more aircraft into Heathrow Airport, seems to be almost oblivious to the areas that aircraft are flying over. I have asked Written Questions about the extent to which direction is given to NATS to avoid certain areas. I have more or less been told that NATS has to make the best judgments, that space is limited and so on. I would rather like to see a positive direction given to NATS to try hard to avoid certain areas; flight paths across the country should avoid those areas. I am afraid that some of that loss of tranquillity is due to the growth of recreational aviation taking people on holiday. Both the climate change and noise issues that we face must come smack up against the issue of how much cheap flying we can afford without tremendous detriment to the area around. The question of new runway capacity at Heathrow will be a cause célèbre and it will bring a great deal of protest about noise.

I now want to jump to the A30 in Devon. I do not know whether the Minister in his various travels has driven from the Salisbury area to the Exeter area. The noise from that road is horrendous. It is not just the noise that one hears on the road; one can go two or three miles to either side and the noise is continuous and horrendous. There are remedies for that. The surfaces of roads can be treated with what I believe in the trade is called “whisper asphalt”. In fact, a piece of the A34 north of Oxford, which was also a concrete road like the A30, has been treated with whisper asphalt and the noise has been reduced substantially.

If we want tranquillity we have to control the transport. It is certainly possible, as I know, to control the noise on railways and I believe that it should be done, but at least railways do not have the disadvantages of all the things that are on the edges of roads—you do not have a McDonalds every few yards or a Little Chef or a garage or whatever. Some railways, such as the Settle to Carlisle line—the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, may or may not agree with me—add to the environment rather than detract from it.

I am looking to hear from the Minister about not necessarily generous funding but a steady stream of funding looking to the future. I would particularly like him to say something about supporting the rural community councils. Those are small bodies in the counties that look after things such as rural housing and the generation of businesses in localities. They also give advice on opening rural shops and so on. They do a great deal of work to support the community, but they are thinly funded. They are not well paid and they are not overstaffed. I would like the Minister to say something positive about the possibilities of promoting tourism and access to the many beautiful areas that we have. I am sure that that can be done without destroying them. I am sure that many children, as has been mentioned, would benefit from getting out into the open air and finding their way into these places. I am not pessimistic in that I do not believe that the demand for more housing is necessarily inconsistent with the promotion of areas of outstanding natural beauty. I am sure that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, said, the demand for open space on our island will and should grow. We should be proud of what we have rather than seeing everyone wishing to fly out of the country and disturb everyone else.

My Lords, the noble Lord understates the massive leadership he gave during the passage of the NERC Bill to secure the control of mechanical vehicles on rights of way.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry on securing this debate today. Although noble Lords have said that much of it comes down to money, at least we can go away to our Recess having had the opportunity of talking, even waxing poetic, about something which is part of our national heritage and of value to us all.

When parliamentarians speak about security or safeguarding the nation, it generally has something to do with military or foreign policy—protecting British borders and a British way of life—but all too often it seems that we forget the British landscape, our countryside, which is as wrapped up with the British way of life as the rights we have defended and the culture we have inherited. It is truly a,

“precious stone set in the silver sea”.

What can be more important in the recognition of our country’s identity than the demarcation and preservation of areas of outstanding natural beauty? One does not have to be a Romantic poet to recognise that our landscape in so many ways defines that which we see as the core of our national identity: the land, the territory, the countryside itself. It is thus absolutely essential that these areas that embody the most beautiful aspects of our landscape are properly managed and protected. As my noble friend Lord Renton and other noble Lords have said, they exist for all of us whether we are a city dweller, a townsman or a countryman.

Before delving into some of the specific questions, it is useful for us to understand the broader context of the environmental importance of areas of outstanding natural beauty. My noble friend Lord Selborne showed how important this can be for future strategy. According to the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the definition of such areas is,

“a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard them”.

However, natural beauty is not a straightforward concept. It does not mean wild or primeval, as the Countryside Agency's guide to managing them acknowledges. According to the Countryside Agency, the statutory definition of natural beauty includes flora, fauna and geological and physiographic features, but it recognises that AONBs are man-made cultural landscapes.

Much of the success of AONBs has been the way in which they have worked with farmers, landowners and others working and occupying the land to maintain the dynamic of a living and working landscape. AONBs are not museums. They have maintained a pragmatic relationship and have sought to work through consultation and advice rather than prescription. In this respect they are widely seen as having a better relationship with those who live and work in them than the national parks.

The history of this island’s inhabitants is inextricably linked to our landscape. There is not much nature in the UK that is not the result of hundreds of years of human modification and influence. Any country’s landscapes are dynamic. They are changing and being changed. From Hesiod to Hardy we see examples of the way farming, forestry, settlements and local communities have had profound and beneficial impacts on the beauty of the countryside. Yet not all change is welcome. The threat of global warming and the more immediate dangers of poor upkeep threaten these areas of outstanding natural beauty. If what is special about them is to be preserved, the greatest care must be devoted to sustaining them.

My noble friend Lord Renton has shown how important these areas are to our national environment. There are currently 36 designated areas of outstanding natural beauty that cover about 15 per cent of England. Under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, recreation is, unlike in the national parks, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, not a statutory objective, although it is encouraged in so far as it is compatible with the primary aim of designations: conservation. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, showed how important the balance is between conservation and access in the life of the Lake District National Park.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 brought in new measures to help protect AONBs further. Local authorities were given greater responsibilities for the management of those areas; thus there are frameworks for their protection. However, they were set up almost a decade ago. Considering that legislation to protect those areas was last passed in 2000, what plans does the Minister have to legislate in the near future?

My noble friend Lord Selborne reminded us of my noble friend Lord Renton’s role in the CROW Act, which enables the creation of conservation boards for individual areas where there is local support. The boards take over the management plan and other aspects of managing the area. Natural England and local authorities must be consulted in their creation and people with appropriate skills and knowledge are to be appointed to the board. Can the Minister tell us about the success of those boards in preserving AONBs? Has there been any review of their success? Does he consider the scheme a success in general? How many such groups and boards are currently being funded or will be in future?

As my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, among many others, told the House, uncertainty of funding can create great difficulties. Funding is a key issue when it comes to preserving our environment, and not one that I expect that the Government will be very keen to talk about. Frankly, what has happened has been disgraceful. Let us consider the plight of Natural England. In 2004, following a review of rural delivery carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, Defra published its rural strategy. As part of that strategy, a new body was created called Natural England, formed by the merger of the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the Rural Development Service.

Natural England was formally established on 1 October 2006. Just after it was established, Defra Ministers were forced to cut budgets to the tune of more than £200 million in 2006 and a further £270 million in 2007. Further cuts mean that Natural England has been asked to cut its budget by £12.5 million for 2008-09. That could have disastrous effects on the preservation of our natural landscape. What will be the impact on areas of outstanding natural beauty? Is the Minister not concerned that the Government are jeopardising their alleged commitment to promote biodiversity and conservation? Can he assure us that the Defra cuts will not have a negative impact on the grants issued by Natural England that currently support those areas across the country?

What has happened is a cause for distress. As soon as the Government gave Natural England the breath of life, they tried try to choke the funds out of it. Indeed, the director of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds put it just that way, saying:

“Natural England was set up by the Government and now it looks as if it is being strangled”.

That seems an entirely fair assessment of what has happened to Natural England. What about the future, as my noble friend Lord Plumb asked? Given the consistency of those budget cuts, can we expect the shrinking of Natural England's budget to continue? Considering the growing importance of conservation and drives to include further protected areas, is the Minister prepared to give up on the development of a serious conservation agenda?

The most disheartening thing about the budget problems that are currently plaguing Defra is that they were avoidable. I have no wish to rehearse the usual litany; the department’s mistakes have been acknowledged by the Minister many times. However, Defra’s crisis is real. Mismanagement, particularly of the Rural Payments Agency and the subsequent fines imposed, is putting the environment at risk. It is unfair that many excellent schemes have been, or are at risk of being, cancelled simply because of the deficiencies within the Government. These self-inflicted wounds have been made worse by the fact that the Government as a whole, despite all the extra stealth taxes they have raised, appear to be running out of money, and the Treasury is looking for further cuts. Do Defra and its budget continue to be at risk?

To protect the future needs a more holistic approach. I see the future funding of AONBs not as a party political matter. We must seek to incorporate a range of bodies at local, regional and central government levels. There also need to be further efforts to encourage private organisations and individuals. Do the Government have any specific schemes to do that?

The issue of individual involvement is pertinent, and one that the Government have evidently not considered carefully enough. They need to consider it further. While we have been talking about the importance of the ways in which people can impact the environment, I want to close with the corollary that is too often ignored; that is, how much the environment can impact on individuals and their lives. There is a substantial cultural dimension to the natural world that we inhabit; indeed, part of the process of civilisation is a constant attempt to make sense of our environment, to understand it scientifically, to depict it beautifully and even just to contemplate our place in it. To preserve the natural beauty of this country is to preserve its culture.

As the right reverend Prelate might have said, the psalmist long ago commanded us to lift up our eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh our help, but I am reminded more of Wordsworth, who was the first to open our eyes to the world around us. I will not quote “The Daffodils” as a way of declaring my interest in today’s debate, but I will quote from a lesser known poem, “Michael”:

And hence this Tale, while I was yet a boy

Careless of books, yet having felt the power

Of Nature, by the gentle agency

Of natural objects led me on to feel

For passions that were not my own, and think

At random and imperfectly indeed

On man; the heart of man and human life.

All of us, in the humanity we have in common with those past and yet to come, are capable of similar revelations. That is why we are right to seek to protect our most outstanding landscapes as a daily reminder of our place in the natural world, and indeed in creation.

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on securing it and on his choice of subject. A lot of questions have been asked and points made, and I shall do my best to respond to as many as possible. I will seek to write regarding those that I miss out. As I go through, I have counted about five declarations of interest that I will have to make in responding to various issues.

I want to put a couple of facts on the record. Natural England’s settlement for 2008-09 is £176 million. No one mentioned that. Up or down, it does not matter; that is the figure. It is flat cash compared with last year, with a £5 million efficiency saving that was built in. I understand that that came about as part of the efficiency savings that would be expected from the merging of three separate organisations. There was some long-term planning, which others in the House will be more familiar with than I am because I was not at Defra at the time the legislation went through. At present Natural England is on record as saying that it was a good outcome for the natural environment, but it is not yet able to say what the funding is this year. I regret that as much as anyone else. It has had board meetings relating to this, and I accept that there are some hard choices to be made. It is in everyone’s interests, including those of the Natural England board members, to get decisions out as soon as possible. There is a contrast there with the national parks. Because they are effectively quasi-local authorities, they have to set their budgets in advance like ordinary local government, which are duty-bound to fix their rates or taxes in advance. That difference goes to the very point that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, made about differences in the administration of these bodies.

One thing that I can say, and it might answer a couple of questions asked by noble Lords, is that they are considering three-year settlements for areas of outstanding natural beauty in order to provide more stability and certainty. That is important. The delivery of Defra’s policies is undoubtedly devolved to Natural England. We cannot micro-manage them from Whitehall. That would be completely wrong. The man and woman in Whitehall do not know best; there is no doubt about that.

Natural England is spread over the country to take the decisions appropriate to the particular areas, even the areas that are run by the conservation boards. There are only two conservation boards, for the Chilterns and the Cotswolds. It is up to the constituent parts of the areas of outstanding natural beauty to decide whether they want a conservation board. It is not for Defra to impose them.

I have to get another point out of the way before I am accused of missing it out. I cannot say anything whatever about the proposed South Downs national park. I have all the fancy words here in bold: “quasi-judicial”; “prejudice the Secretary of State’s decision”; “essential that Minister’s officials to do not engage in public discussion on the issue”. But I can say this—and then I can get it off my chest. I remember the announcement, in 1998 or 1999, of two new national parks. I think it is appalling. It is not a credit to democracy that, in 2008, we still do not have one of those. It is not a credit to say, “It takes a long time”. I regret the lapse in standards of administration and democracy and the fact that no decisions have been made. But a second inquiry is still under way and I cannot say anything about the detail.

My Lords, I totally understand what the Minister has just said. I, for one, was certainly not expecting any statement today on the national park. However, I am very glad to hear the rider that he added, that it is absolutely extraordinary that the first preliminary decision to turn the South Downs into a national park was taken in 1999. It is amazing that, eight years later, that has not been finalised. I would only like to put on record that it makes life difficult for the loyal staff who work for us on the South Downs Joint Committee.

My Lords, it also blights the economy and investment plans for the future. It blights all kinds of plans for the area. It blights the quality of life for everybody, whether they live in the countryside or the towns or whether they live or work there. It is no service to the community that it takes so long. I am not making the case that positive decisions should be pushed through. I am simply saying that delaying the decision is a disbenefit to people in all walks of life. As I say, I cannot say much more about it . I think that I have said enough.

I will not go over Defra’s budgets; they are well known. I make my own modest contribution. Yesterday, in going to address a major international conference on the CAP, I used a London number 24 bus. I did not charge Defra for the journey because I used my bus pass. We are making contributions. I banned Christmas cards from Defra Ministers when I arrived there and they are now done electronically. Those are not tokens. We simply had a look at what we were doing, bearing in mind that we had to make cuts to our agencies and difficult decisions had to be made. However, the decisions on the budgets for the areas of outstanding beauty will be made as soon as possible.

A well-rehearsed speech has been drafted for me on the assumption that certain points would be made but I think it would be better if I tried to pick up some of the points that speakers made and then go back to my notes if needed. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, was right to say that he had been asked to raise a little noise on behalf of the areas of outstanding natural beauty, and I think that he has done that. I can assure him that the message has been heard loud and clear in the department.

The noble Lord specifically raised one point. As the common agricultural policy changes, Pillar 1 direct payments will go, sometime between 2015 and 2020. The key will be to get as much of the money as possible into Pillar 2 for rural development and the wider rural economy. Of course, there are those who will say that we should cut the size of the CAP budget anyway and put it back into the central kitty. The UK Government’s central objective is to transfer that money to Pillar 2 for rural development programmes. We want to make sure that it is done in such a way that we do not suffer. The UK suffers in this, as those experts here will know, because of our rural development programmes in the past. There is a possibility there. Much of the £3 billion expenditure over seven years that we have announced—I cannot put a figure on the precise amount—is essentially for rural development. Therefore, it will touch on areas of outstanding natural beauty.

I always go back to page 44 of the Communities Plan, published in 2003 by John Prescott, which set out the land mass of England. Seven per cent of it is covered by the national parks, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, referred. Thirteen per cent of it is green belt. Sixteen per cent of it comprises areas of outstanding natural beauty. All those plots of land are separate. The national parks are separate from the areas of outstanding natural beauty; they are both separate from the green belt. Added together, they cover 36 per cent of England. It is reckoned that urban England covers 12 per cent. That gives us about 48 per cent of England. It leaves 52 per cent for everything else. It is argued that there is not enough room for housing. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, as long as that housing is built carefully and sensitively, and the land managed properly, there is plenty of land still to protect the beauty of our environment. The green belt does not qualify as an area of outstanding natural beauty. A lot of it is rubbish land, as I have said before, because it is a collar around the urban area. It is not the most beautiful land, but it is there to stop the sprawl. Nevertheless, as I said, areas of outstanding natural beauty cover 16 per cent of England and are separate from the national parks. So there is quite an area there.

The Lake District would qualify in anyone’s definition as an area of outstanding natural beauty. I shall not go into the administrative differences, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, fully understands. I declare an interest as having had for more than 20 years a one-week timeshare in the Lake District. I use it every year and get up there as often as possible, even on Defra business—I shall be there during the Recess, visiting farms in Cumbria. I met the hunt trailers last year. I know that the noble Lord is one of their presidents. I had seen hunt-trailing last summer but did not know what it was. It was only when I met the hunt trailers just before Christmas to discuss the difficulties they were having because of the foot-and-mouth restrictions that I realised what I had been watching at one of the shows that I had gone to.

We are in the process of reforming the hill farm allowance. I fully accept that hill farmers, particularly sheep farmers, have been more damaged by foot and mouth than probably any other sector of farmers. I hope that when the hill farm allowance is remodified, most if not all the money can be kept in those areas. Hill farmers look after the landscape. The first people to complain if it goes to wilderness will be the 16 million visitors to the Lake District from the cities. They will say, “Well, we’ve lost it all. It’s all gone to scrub. Why’s that?”. The response will be: “Well, we’ve lost the farmers. We didn’t look after them. You didn’t use the sheep and we decided not to subsidise them any more. We forgot that, if we want to manage that landscape, it will cost a fortune if it is not done by farmers living there”. Therefore, that is an issue, and I fully take on board what the noble Lord said.

The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said that he would not be present. We had a very pleasant day. It was a Friday, not a Saturday. I well remember it: it was about three years ago. I also went, as the noble Lord said, to the annual meeting of the conservation board just a year ago. We got the message there about there being no budget yet and the damage that it has caused. I agree that a board of 40 members seems quite preposterous. Fifteen are sent by the Secretary of State; 17 are sent by the local authorities; then there is a string of others. You cannot have effective management that way. That is where there is a problem. Each local authority wants its champion but there are difficulties in managing with such large boards.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth mentioned the Isle of Wight. I plead guilty to never having visited. I was talking earlier to two friends in Guildford who were going to visit the Hindhead Tunnel this afternoon, so it seems to be well under construction although I fully accept that it has been very slow. He also makes a valid point about resources and the way the money is dealt with, and he referred to the cuts in funding. There are choices but no decisions or announcements have been made. I realise there are rumours and that this debate is timely. Natural England’s board will get a copy of the debate, as will Defra officials. The overall budget has been set but the individual breakdown has not been made available or any final decisions made. The right reverend Prelate also raised issues relating to the proposed national park. I can only say that we anticipate that a decision about the park will be taken by January 2008, so there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

I fully accept what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said. He made a case for making these areas vibrant because if they are not, they will die. They must not be put in aspic; there has to be a vibrancy of work and play. We have to be sensitive to planning matters but we do not want villages to simply die as businesses leave and new ones are not allowed in. So we need good, vibrant, sustainable areas in those parts of our countryside.

I cannot answer all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. He certainly gave us a history lesson. I declare an interest only in the sense that I am a member of the RSPB—and the noble Lord is right: Defra does not want to go to war with the RSPB. For the first time in my life I walked the strip of land between the river and the sea at Orford Ness in the Easter Recess last year. I fully accept that people in London have no idea of these areas of outstanding natural beauty, of which the noble Lord gave examples. In a way, it is salutary that local authorities are making decisions about these designated areas and they do not appreciate that they are in them. You do not see a sign like you do when you go into the national parks because it is a matter for the local authority. Local authority signs are up on the roads but AONB signs do not appear in that way.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, may have been personally complimentary but he was also quite nasty. He does not like my department or any of our agencies. It is not true that the Environment Agency has written off the whole of our coastline. That is somewhat of an exaggeration. I do not know all the details but there are proposals in that part of the world to give up some of the land back to the sea. I will seek to write to him and make sure that he receives up-to-date information on this. He asked a specific question about PPS 7 and Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. They will not be diminished by the Planning Bill; I can give him positive assurance on that. The Environment Agency works 100 or more years ahead. In terms of coastal defences and flood plains, they make estimates for a long term ahead. Part of the discussion about the Thames Barrier is predicated on looking a quite long term ahead. The noble Lord made the point about aircraft, as did others. If the aircraft stack up over the water, you could argue for putting the airport in the water. That is not an argument that the Government are putting forward. I do not think I can get into that.

I shall be on the A30 myself in about 48 hours, so I shall be part of the generation of the noise the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to. I think he is right about the noise. In the old days when Dunlop was a proper company they produced a road surface which was better for braking and drainage and, above all, a lot quieter because it was for use on the urban motorways.

There is no difficulty in encouraging tourists. I am not going to say that this is a matter for another government department because, as the debate has shown, by definition virtually every government department is involved in what we are dealing with here. There is no difficulty with tourism. I am happy to make inquiries about that, but I have not been made aware that the areas of outstanding natural beauty are suffering particularly as a result of tourism.

The noble Lord made a point about the funding of the rural community councils. There is also the Rural Services Network, a 250-strong organisation that recently sent Defra a document. I apologise that it got buried under my files on the Climate Change Bill. Nevertheless, there is a case to be made. A lot of the small organisations are run by volunteers, as has been said, and can make a much better contribution than a plan from Whitehall can. They can also be better value for money. Great schemes of mega-billions do not always get down to where we need them.

Another issue that was raised, although I think it is accepted, is the difference between the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty. We fund them differently. The national parks are virtually quasi local authorities. There is a big difference between them in that the national parks have planning powers, which is a substantial change to the way in which they are administered. There are some 40 areas of outstanding natural beauty. I do not know how many local authorities are involved in those 40 areas; I should have asked, but I did not. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, told us that there are 17 areas of outstanding natural beauty in the Cotswolds, so the numbers are enormous. It may be that greater numbers of areas of outstanding natural beauty being in fairly small local authorities with smaller capacities does not give them a loud voice. That may be a difficulty; I do not know. A good many local authorities in this country will have an area of outstanding natural beauty, or part of it, in their area, and I do not know whether some local authorities give them more importance than others.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, asked about decision-making. I am reminded that back in 2005, the then Minister, Alun Michael, issued a note to departments to ensure that they took account of areas of outstanding natural beauty in their decisions. As it is 2008, and as I have been reminded that we are coming to the end of a period of this Government—those are not my words but another Peer’s; he is very optimistic—I will take the opportunity to see whether we can reissue Alun Michael’s salutary reminder to other departments to ensure that they take account of the areas of outstanding natural beauty in their decision-making.

I mentioned PPS 7. I cannot get into the question of the stacking of aircraft, which is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport. I often wonder why we still fly to Paris and Brussels, but I have said that before. On the other hand, ruling out cheap flights is not an answer. It may be a slip of the noble Lord’s tongue, but having only expensive flights is not a message that any Government would want to give to their population. We must deal with the question much more sensitively than that.

I have probably covered a good deal of the issues without coming to the first paragraph of my speech. I will trawl those that I think I have not covered to ensure that I cover them all. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, again on securing the debate and on the way in which he introduced the subject. It is always a pleasure to congratulate someone who has had a big influence on legislation. Today was a fitting tribute to that.

My Lords, I congratulate and thank all those who have spoken in this debate, including the Minister and others on the Front Bench. The speeches were unusually thoughtful, knowledgeable, passionate at times and, typically in the case of the Minister, very lively.

I am delighted that in the course of the last two hours we have strayed from Cumbria, through the Lake District, to the north Pennines, and on to the Chilterns and Cotswolds. We have touched briefly on Oxford, quite a lot on Suffolk, and we then moved down to the Kent Downs, Hampshire, Sussex and the Isle of Wight. We have all supported the idea that AONBs need more help. We have all expressed the wish that they should be able to fulfil their important objectives. I was particularly delighted to hear from the Minister that the Government strongly intend, in the EU financial negotiations, to move CAP money from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. Reading this debate on the internet or in Hansard will give great pleasure to all those who work for the AONBs and all those who wish to protect our beautiful countryside. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.