HC Deb 19 March 1987 vol 112 cc1027-8
4. Mr. Dorrell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is now in a position to announce his detailed proposals on alternative land usage.

Mr. Jopling

As already announced, the Government have published a set of documents entitled "Farming and Rural Enterprise" which include details of my proposals on alterantive land use. Copies are available from the Vote Office.

Mr. Dorrell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the document is extremely welcome? Does he agree that it is important to realise that agriculture is not necessarily synonomous with food production and that there are many alternative crops and uses for agricultural areas which could make a major contribution to the rural economy? Does he further agree that the policies of his Department, as well as planning policies, must be sufficiently flexible to allow those opportunities to be exploited?

Mr. Jopling

We are extremely conscious of that. That is why part of the package deals with capital grants for farm diversificaton. We are also extremely interested to see whether non-food uses can be found for agricultural produce. Certainly I believe that in the next few years there will be considerable growth in the use of sugar for various industrial processes.

Mr. Skinner

Is not the truth of the matter that the Government statement about further use of land was the result of a battle within the Tory party between the city spivs and the farmers currently occupying the land, a battle which the city spivs and speculators won and the farmers lost?

Mr. Jopling

As so often, the hon. Gentleman is not really up to date. He never tires of telling us about his friends the city spivs buying up land. As the statistics show that in recent years farm land prices have fallen, anyone speculating in agricultural land may have had his fingers burnt.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his imaginitive new policies have been very well received, especially by the National Farmers Union in Scotland, which realises their value in relation to upland land? Will he also proceed as much as possible along the lines of environmentally sensitive areas, which offer great hope in areas of scenic beauty? Is he aware that if EEC money can be put into those areas it will be very welcome?

Mr. Jopling

We announced in the document that we would be doubling the funds. I cannot say how many new areas we shall be designating, but we have already designated nine across the United Kingdom. I am grateful for the welcome that my hon. Friend and, indeed, hon. Members in all parts of the House have expressed for the environmentally sensitive areas.

Mr. John

Given the importance of the document, will the House have an opportunity to debate it, or have the press conferences exhausted the Minister's appetite for the subject?

Secondly, if the Secretary for State for the Environment says that planning permission on agricultural land will be as difficult as ever to obtain, why do the guidelines need to be changed?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the business of the House is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I am happy to pass on what the hon. Gentleman has said. As it is Thursday, there will be a business statement later.

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