21 April 1995

Labour promises a better countryside – but at a price

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

LABOUR is promising to reform the CAP, expand organic and environmentally sensitive farming and improve the rural economy.

But its latest rural policy document reveals the price farmers will have to pay:

lTough new environmental restrictions.

lHedgerow protection laws.

l"Right to roam" for ramblers.

lMoves to end exports of slaughter animals.

Launching A Working Country-side last week, Labours deputy leader John Prescott said it set out their pledge to people living in the countryside to rebuild their economy, renew their environment and their communities.

Publication of the rural policy is timed to influence voters before next months local elections when, Mr Prescott said, Labour will be campaigning "as never before in rural areas".

"Labour is fielding a record number of candidates in the shires – more than the Tories and more than the Liberals," he said.

Shadow farm minister Dr Gavin Strang said by abolishing all intervention buying and export subsidies they would cut the CAP bill by about two-thirds and help wipe out huge amounts of fraud. The money saved would go on achieving Labours environmental objectives and improving the rural economy and employment.

He agreed it could not be done by the UK unilaterally but said support for CAP reform was growing in the EU. The Community could not let eastern European countries into the EU without changing the CAP.

Encourage new entrants

Labour, he promised, would encourage new entrants into farming by siphoning off milk quota for a national pool to provide start-up quota which would not have to be paid back for 10 years. They also wanted to introduce the EUs early retirement scheme in the UK and to ensure local authorities continued to provide smallholdings and farms for new entrants.

Asked about Labours "right to roam" policy, Dr Strang said Britains countryside was part of the heritage for everyone to enjoy. "But we have always said the right to roam policy cannot be unqualified. It must be consistent with agricultural practice."

To illustrate the "devastating picture of neglect under the Tories" the document lists the Rural Development Commissions 1994 survey results. These showed that 43% of rural parishes had no post office, 41% no permanent shops, 52% no school, 80% no pharmacy, more than 83% no permanent GP surgery and 93% no rail service.

Labour would strive for economic, social and democratic renewal by expanding services and employment in rural areas and protecting and enhancing the environment, the document adds.

Policy points

Loans Labour promises to launch a business development bank to provide small firms with long-term loans, and to encourage diversification schemes that boost tourism.

Planning It promises planning permission for housing development on land usually protected from building, if the homes are for rent by local people.

Environment A CAP-funded aid scheme would encourage a big expansion in organic farming and greater emphasis would be put on research into low inputs. Labour would expand production of fuel and other non-food crops on land not used for food. New penalties and incentives to regulate excessive use of sprays and fertilisers would be introduced.

Welfare Labour would support welfare friendly production while continuing to press for EU-wide bans on veal crates, sow stalls and tethers, phasing out of battery cages and the redefinition of farm animals as "sentient beings". Live exports for slaughter would be discouraged with stronger controls on exporters and an effective licensing scheme for hauliers.

Habitats Labour would bring in laws to strengthen designations such as sites of special scientific interest. They would be redesignated sites of national importance and given the "strictest possible protection". Local authorities would designate sites of local importance which would be subject to planning permission. "Effective legislation" to protect hedgerows would be introduced. &#42