HC Deb 28 July 1983 vol 46 cc1318-9
7. Mr. Knox

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether a decision has yet been taken on marginal land designation.

Mrs. Fenner

As my right hon. Friend the Minister has mentioned, although it has not yet come before the Council of Ministers for decision, a proposal was issued by the European Commission early this month for redesignation of the United Kingdom's less favoured areas in accordance with the case formally submitted by the Government last December.

Mr. Knox

Does my hon. Friend accept that a considerable period of time has elapsed since the original review was established and that many marginal land farmers in this country are anxious to lave details of the scheme?

Mrs. Fenner

I accept my hon. Friend's comments, but designation of marginal land as less favoured is not just a simple formality. Extensive data on a wide range of economic and social factors were required, and the Commission needed time to consider them. Furthermore, it required additional information, which we then sent. In those circumstances, the rate of progress has been reasonable. We want to see that maintained through early agreement on the proposal that has now emerged.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that the Government have double standards about the operation of industries at the margin? On the one hand, Energy Ministers and the Prime Minister say that marginal pits must close, and on the other hand, all on the Treasury Bench say with one voice that to keep down the flow of imported food it is necessary to use all the marginal land we can get. Why do they operate such double standards?

Mrs. Fenner

The answer is that the marginal pits are in loss, while farming is in profit.

Mr. Mark Hughes

When the Minister has regretted that comment, will she accept the remarks made by her right hon. Friend the Minister at, I believe, the Great Yorkshire show, to the effect that if there is an increase of 40 per cent. in the designated areas, any additional funds from Europe can be triggered only by savings in the Ministry's overall budget?

Mrs. Fenner

I am sure that whatever my right hon. Friend said is accurate. However, I must stress again that the Government's commitment to see marginal land designated does not imply any commitment to additional assistance. Our first priority is to secure designation. The Government will then be in a position to decide where or when.