HC Deb 14 February 1985 vol 73 cc467-8
5. Mr. Yeo

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to publish his review of drainage.

Mrs. Fenner

We expect to issue the consultation paper on the financing and administration of land drainage, flood protection and coast defence in March.

Mr. Yeo

I welcome that reply. Is my hon. Friend aware of the urgency of this issue? It is well illustrated by the proposals of the Anglian water authority for the River Stour, which will desecrate the world-famous landscape in Dedham Vale. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only way, ultimately, to prevent that from happening will be to use yet more taxpayers' money to persuade landowners to refrain from growing products which the country neither needs nor can afford?

Mrs. Fenner

I regret the delay in the publication of the paper, but I am confident that it will now be issued in March. It will not cover conservation issues as such. Its prime purpose is to seek views on financial and administrative issues.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that there is a firm in my constituency which makes pipes for land drainage? Will the Minister bear in mind what I have just said, because that firm has a marvellous record for exports, which are important to the economy, but it desperately needs some help with the home market?

Mrs. Fenner

The purpose of the paper is to consult interested parties on the present arrangements and to obtain their views on any improvements that are considered necessary. I do not believe that it will affect the hon. Gentleman's firm.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the reply that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) and accept that conservation is of widespread interest and is extremely important?

Mrs. Fenner

Yes, I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that conservation is important. I merely pointed out that that was not the purpose of the drainage paper.

Mr. Beggs

Is the Minister aware of the importance to agriculture of capital grants for land drainage and reclamation schemes in maintaining the jobs of employees of agricultural contractors, quarry operators and those who supply stone and gravel for drainage schemes? Will the Minister advise the House of the estimated number of job losses that will arise from the proposal to cut £13 million from the allocation to Northern Ireland and £27 million from the funds allocated to the mainland for capital grants?

Mrs. Fenner

Land drainage has had an enhanced rate of grant for some time now, and it is only fair that it should take its share of public expenditure cuts. The paper will review the present grant-aid arrangements, not fix future levels of grant-aid.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the paper deal with the problem of Wakefield, which is in a most difficult position between the hon. Lady's Department and the Department of the Environment? Does she accept that there are major difficulties in balancing conservation and agriculture, and that her answer that conservation is not included is disturbing?

Mrs. Fenner

I have had a good deal of correspondence on this issue with the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison). I am aware of the problem. I note that the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) is interested in conservation, and I share that interest. The paper is about financial and administrative arrangements and seeks consultation about changes or improvements.