HC Deb 01 March 1984 vol 55 cc383-4
15. Mr. Bruce

asked the Minister of Agricultural, Fisheries and Food whether it is Her Majesty's Government's policy to secure the long-term future of hill farmers and the less-favoured areas; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jopling

The Government have amply demonstrated their concern for farmers in the less-favoured areas and their determination to safeguard the future of those farmers by the high level of support that they have given them since taking office in 1979, despite the severe pressures on public expenditure. We have also shown our determination by pursuing the case for extending the United Kingdom's less-favoured areas, and I shall be making a statement on that later today.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Will he acknowledge that, although hon. Members from both sides of the House welcome the decision to go ahead with payments under the hill livestock compensation allowances, the threatened delay is causing serious concern to hill farmers who require a reassurance from the Government that there will be a sustained, long-term commitment to hill farming, which is vital to many areas of my constituency and throughout rural Scotland?

Mr. Jopling

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that, in cutting the red tape surrounding the Community legislation and directive, we decided to continue those payments although the Community directive had not been renewed. I hope that my statement will give an ample and clear demonstration of the Government's determination to look after farmers in our upland areas.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that farmers in highland Perthshire and Angus are very appreciative of the Government's efforts to ensure that farming will continue in those less-favoured areas? Is he further aware that many ewes were lost in the recent ghastly weather suffered by our area and that there will be a substantial reduction in lambing this year?

Mr. Jopling

I am aware of the difficult weather conditions that hill farmers have had to put up with in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is responsible for these matters, will have heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Kennedy

Is the Minister aware that there is also considerable concern among farmers about possible proposals for a three-year price freeze? Will he give urgent attention to this and to any protestations on the subject from the fanning community?

Mr. Jopling

I think that farmers throughout the country realise that, as I have said many times before, they have no God-given right to go on producing more and more food that we can neither eat at home nor sell abroad. However unpalatable that may be, it is a basic fact of life. Nevertheless, we shall do our best to ensure that the difficulties that will be faced by the whole agricultural community will not be unfair to British agriculture and that the restrictions are lifted as soon as possible.

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