HC Deb 06 March 1986 vol 93 cc436-8
8. Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what percentage of land at present farmed he estimates will be surplus to agricultural needs by 1990.

Mr. Jopling

Further measures clearly need to be taken within the Community to cut back production of commodities now in surplus. I see this as leading to changes in the existing pattern of land use in agriculture and forestry, rather than to the creation of substantial areas of land which are no longer in production.

Mr. Carlisle

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many authorities in the industry believe that about 10 per cent. of current production will be surplus to requirements by 1990? Will that not present the farming industry with its greatest challenge and opportunity for more than half a century? Will it not need a structure on which it can plan for the future, and will my right hon. Friend provide such a structure?

Mr. Jopling

Yes, I think that we must give serious thought to the possibility that there may be a need for a change of land use in that way. It is very dangerous to be too specific about that. Any changes will depend on a number of factors, such as the nature and level of Community support, the level of Community and world demand for temperate foodstuffs, the relative efficiency of our industry, technological improvements that might take place and the extent to which other countries outside the community, particularly the United States, are successful in developing their agricultural policies.

Mr. Ralph Howell

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fact that he is dealing with the problem of food surpluses without mentioning cutting prices. I urge him to persuade the Government to call for a world food conference to try to deal with this problem, which cannot be dealt with either in the United Kingdom or in Europe alone.

Mr. Jopling

I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's point in mind. If I have not said it already, I fear that I must tell my hon. Friend now that I see no prospect of reducing the huge surpluses of foodstuffs in the Community unless we have a stringent price policy.

Mr. Hardy

Is there not a case for substantial and immediate higher priority to be conferred on conservation? Does the situation not justify serious consideration being given to the additional production of cellulose on non-arable land?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman is right to think that environmentally sensitive areas should play an important part in the business of land use. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as any other hon. Member the initiatives that the Government have taken in the Community and which are enshrined in the legislation before the House to provide for environmentally sensitive areas. I hope that we shall be able to set the ESAs before too long. I think that that goes a long way towards meeting the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Hicks

If consideration is to be given to taking land out of production deliberately, does my right hon. Friend agree that attention must be given to the impact of that on the stability of rural areas?

Mr. Jopling

That is correct. That is why I said in my original answer that we should look for changes in the existing pattern of land use rather than to the creation of substantial areas of land which are no longer in production.

Mr. John

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in 1990, which is the year to which the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) referred, only five ESAs will exist? In view of the difficulties in changing agriculture production patterns, is it not time that the Minister stated the level of forestry and alternative crops that will be available to farming at that time?

Mr. Jopling

We have said that we hope, in the first instance, to set up five ESAs. The hon. Gentleman has welcomed that move. That is for this year. What may be done in future years is a matter for future decision.

Mr. Rathbone

Whatever the surpluses may be, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the policies presently applied to encourage—not to allow —the growing of opium-producing poppies as a cash crop in Britain without any sense of responsibility in relation to how that crop might encourage the misuse of drugs? The rest of the Government are trying to contain that problem.

Mr. Jopling

We are looking into these matters. I am sure the House agrees that we must not do anything that allows illegal drugs to become more freely available.

Mr. Latham

What does my right hon. Friend expect farmers to grow instead of surplus barley — trees or caravans? Is it not high time that we had a strategic document spelling out the way in which agriculture is supposed to go?

Mr. Jopling

I am sure that my hon. Friend has heard me say on many occasions that I believe that it is necessary for us to consider carefully the opportunity to grow more trees. I hope that he has seen the consultative document that we issued some months ago on encouraging more farm woodlands.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Maclennan.

Mr. Maclennan


Hon. Members


Mr. Andy Stewart

Does my right hon. Friend agree that allowing every village and small town of fewer than 7,000 people to expand its housing stock by 10 per cent. would be the most advantageous way of using our surplus land?

Mr. Jopling

Yes, I am sure that every hon. Member will agree that where housing needs to be provided, one should go to every possible extent to find suitable land for development.