HC Deb 21 October 1982 vol 29 cc489-90
5. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the current position for additional financial assistance to marginal land areas.

Mr. Peter Walker

Discussions on the case for extending the United Kindom's less favoured areas have commenced with the European Commission, and the Government's present priority is to secure designation of the new areas.

Mr. Hicks

I appreciate the progress that has been made on the recognition of marginal land in this country, but when does my right hon. Friend hope that the negotiations will be completed in Brussels? In the event of the submission being successful, when will tangible financial assistance be made available to our marginal farmers?

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend will understand that we must make our decisions when we know the exact designation of the volume of land involved. We shall put on every possible pressure in Brussels to come to as speedy a decision as possible.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

is the proposed delimitation of marginal land in the United Kingdom, which has been published in the form of maps, final, or is it subject, to negotiation and modification?

Mr. Walker

It is subject to modification and negotiation if the Commission considers that there is some justification in doing so. We believe that there is every possible argument for the maps that we have submitted. On all the assumptions and past criteria, we believe that those maps will be accepted, but obviously I cannot guarantee that the Commission will not query any of those maps.

Mr. Wigley:

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Welsh farmers, for whom this is an important matter, feel that progress has been extremely slow? Will he give an assurance that any settlement on marginal land will not result in any erosion of benefits for hill land?

Mr. Walker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain to Welsh farmers that the Government were unwilling to accept the procedures that were being adopted when we came to office, and we went to the Commission and asked for totally different procedures. Had we adopted the previous procedures, it would have taken another two to three years before we could have sent the maps. Therefore, we have done everything possible to speed up the process. I can only guarantee that we shall review the hill subsidies in terms of the problems of the hills themselves.

Sir Peter Mills

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, if this matter proceeds quickly, it will be the next major step forward in British agriculture and will be of particular importance to the South-West of England? Will he also bear in mind that, given the present tremendous loss of agricultural land, if we could re-use some of our marginal land for food production it would help not only British agriculture but the consumer?

Mr. Walker

The importance of that is recognised in a number of areas. It is of considerable importance to Northern Ireland, Wales, the South-West and various other areas of the United Kingdom. That is why the Government have done everything possible, first, to prepare our proposals more speedily and, secondly, to negotiate them more speedily within the Commission.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the right hon. Gentleman study the findings of the Arkleton Trust, which have demonstrated that, in the less favoured areas, British farmers have done far less well under the Community arrangements than have other Community farmers? Will he therefore make more financial resources available to compensate for that?

Mr. Walker

That is undoubtedly why the Government have done superbly well in massively increasing the hill farm subsidy.

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