HC Deb 19 November 1987 vol 122 cc1194-5
12. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to bring forward detailed proposals for the set aside of agricultural land.

Mr. Gummer

The European Community extensification scheme already offers an opportunity to introduce incentives to farmers to set aside land used for cereals production. At this week's meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, the Commission has proposed that this scheme should be strengthened and extended to cover all arable land. Discussion is proceeding on this.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a voluntary set aside policy is an expensive way of achieving not much, since producers throughout the Community will find ways of maximising the apparent acreage taken out and minimising the subsequent drop in production? Does my right hon. Friend think that the problem could be better tackled nationally, with each country separately committed to a reduction of expenditure on surplus production, and finding the mechanisms to do that?

Mr. Gummer

I must disagree with my hon. Friend. A voluntary system can be made to work efficiently, because it polices only those in the voluntary system. It can be made to work properly without the cheating to which he refers. We are enthusiastic about it, and the rest of the Community is beginning to come round to the idea. That shows that the United Kingdom is once again taking the lead in the European Economic Community.