HC Deb 13 March 1980 vol 980 cc1533-4
3. Mr. Watson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to have completed the identification and classification of marginal land.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

We have firmly committed ourselves to doing a survey. How long it will take will depend on a number of factors. Staff to do the survey will not become available before the summer, when the new simplified grant scheme announced by my right hon. Friend on 31 January will be introduced.

Mr. Watson

Is my hon. Friend aware that the National Farmers Union is currently campaigning for some degree of special assistance to be given to farmers on marginal land? Will he inform the House whether he is likely to agree, at least in principle, with the objects of that campaign?

Mr. Wiggin

My right hon. Friend said in his statement on 1 February 1980 that it was his intention to seek to quantify this problem, at the request of the NFU. It is in response to that statement that my Department is seeking to work out the precise line.

Mr. Foster

Is the Minister aware that there is widespread anger throughout Durham and North Yorkshire over the delay of these designations? Is he aware that incomes have been reduced substantially over the past two years, and that there are instances of marginal land farmers being eligible for family income supplement?

Mr. Wiggin

The hon. Gentleman should direct the anger of those farmers towards the previous Labour Government, who did nothing about this issue. In seeking to quantify and delineate the areas concerned we are making a substantial step forward. I hope that the farmers represented by the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that.

Mr. Farr

What is the purpose of the survey? Would not those who are to be employed to carry out the survey be better employed in productive work elsewhere?

Mr. Wiggin

My hon. Friend cannot have it all ways. There are some good arguments in favour of determining whether there is any way of identifying those who, perhaps, have some restrictions on the productivity of their land and who do not receive aid under the less favoured areas directive. I am sure that all those with land of that nature will agree that the Government are proceeding in a proper manner.