HC Deb 06 November 1978 vol 957 cc484-6
10. Mr. Gwynfor Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the product of marginal land in Wales.

Mr. Alec Jones

No precise information is available about the output from marginal land specifically. The Government are well aware of the problems of farming such land and are keeping the matter under review.

Mr. Evans

Is the Minister aware that this difficult type of land, of which we have a great deal in Wales, would be capable of yielding far greater food production if we had a small investment of Government aid? Is he aware that this matter comes broadly within the terms of the European directive concerning less favoured lands? Does he agree that the loss of the beef cow and calf subsidy has been a particularly heavy blow to farmers of such land?

Mr. Alec Jones

Certainly it is true that this type of land is difficult to farm. The solution to the problem is equally difficult. For instance, we could well be talking of about half a million acres of such land in Wales, comprising about 20 per cent. of the agricultural land. We are certainly aware of the problem. It has been drawn to our attention by hon. Members. We have had consultations with a variety of organisations in an attempt to find some way of dealing with it. Farmers of marginal land can apply for aid in the form of grants for capital improvements and can obtain practical advice from the Agricultural Development Advisory Service.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is the Under-Secretary aware that the answer he has given today is a good deal less encouraging than that which he gave on a previous occasion, when he certainly gave the impression that the Government were hoping to find a solution to these difficult problems? Does his answer mean that the Government have failed to solve the problem? Is he aware that we would all agree that more can be produced from this land, of which there is a great deal in Wales?

Mr. Alec Jones

The Government are hoping to make a statement on this matter shortly. If, for instance, it was suggested that we could solve the problem simply by extending the EEC directive on less favoured lands, that could be done only with the agreement of our partners in Europe. It is not simply a matter for Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Roderick

How helpful is my hon. Friend finding the EEC in these talks on marginal land?

Mr. Alec Jones

This is a matter which we shall be discussing with our partners in Europe.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Is the Minister aware of the decline in the beef herd in Wales during the past few years? Is he further aware that what the marginal hill farmer is looking for now is something to give him confidence in the future? Can the Minister give an assurance today that financial aid will be given to the hill farmers between now and next year's price review?

Mr. Alec Jones

The hon. Gentleman should await the publication of the review of "Food from Our Own Resources". I am sure that that document will give to the farmers the confidence which he says they are seeking.

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