HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc1009-10
11. Mr. Ron Davies

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the prospective future trends of farm incomes.

Mr. Gummer

It is not my practice to forecast future levels of farm incomes.

Mr. Davies

Will the Minister confirm that 80 per cent. of current farm subsidies go to the richest 20 per cent. of farmers? As the Minister is so anxious to reduce the overall level of farm subsidies, will he tell us what proposals he has to ensure the more equal distribution of the subsidies that will remain?

Mr. Gummer

The policies of this Government are to make sure that subsidies will continue to be paid on the basis of production, where they are production subsidies, and that other subsidies shall increasingly be paid for environmental purposes.[Interruption.] We are determined to make sure that British farmers get a fair share of those subsidies and that they are not distorted so as to help other countries disproportionately.[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to listen to these questions. This is a rare opportunity and there are only six minutes before Prime Minister's Question Time.

Mr. John Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the spirit of the agreement in the Agriculture Council with regard to the reduction of agricultural support in the GATT round relates only to support that aids production and has not stopped the British Government or any other European member state Government supporting the environment? Does he agree that the proposed expansion by 36,000 hectares of less-favoured areas will be a great boost? Will he announce soon exactly which areas are included so that farmers will receive extra income?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right. The present arrangements suggest that we will be able to continue the help that we are giving for environmental purposes while we reduce that which relates to production. However, there is still much to be fought because the United States is proposing something that would enable it to continue direct support and thus reduce the costs of its exports. We must stop that.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of assisting farmers is to ensure that they get a good price for their product in the marketplace? Will he consider releasing surplus food from intervention stores to assist the Russian people at this time and thereby increase market demand for British produce?

Mr. Gummer

I am not sure that the answer is as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests. We are looking at all sorts of ways of improving the market, but, in the end, the tone of the market will be upheld only if supply and demand are much more closely correlated.