HC Deb 01 March 1984 vol 55 cc377-8
5. Mr. Hayes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the adequacy of existing financial incentives available to British farmers from Community funds for environmental purposes.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

Under the present EC structures policies, aid may be paid in respect of environmental projects associated with agricultural investments. Similar provisions are included in the new structures policies which are currently under discussion.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer and for the efforts that he and his Department have made. However, has he seen the recent report by the chief scientific officer to the Nature Conservancy Council, which refers to the alarming waste and destruction of wildlife habitats? Is it not time that there was a proper allocation of assistance for environmental matters, as well as agricultural assistance?

Mr. MacGregor

The whole purpose of the Wildlife and Countryside Act was to ensure that the situation was improved. However, under the terms of article 43 of the Treaty of Rome, under which the structures programme is run, it is not possible to use the structures programme for purely environmental purposes. Projects must also, and primarily, have an agricultural investment content.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Are not the interests of conservation best served, not by increased expenditure, but by a better balance between corn and horn? The livestock sector is at a serious disadvantage because of the high cost of cereals. Is that not bad for the countryside and for British farmers in areas such as the west country, where it is difficult to grow cereals?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One of our principal objectives in our current discussions of the reform of the CAP, and in the price review proposals, is to get a better balance between corn and horn. My hon. Friend is also right about the impact on the west country. When we consider conservation and the environment, it is important to stress the other side of the coin. The attractiveness of our countryside is primarily due to the efforts of the majority of our farmers who, with the aid of capital grants—and our capital grant charges have emphasised the environment—are undoubtedly making our countryside more attractive. Without them, I shudder to think what the countryside would look like.