HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc1000-2
2. Ms. Armstrong

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what effect the recent agreement regarding subsidies to farming will have on small hill farmers.

3. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present position of and future prospects for livestock farmers in the English uplands.

Mr. Gummer

Any agreement in GATT must provide the opportunity for continued support for farmers in less-favoured areas.

Ms. Armstrong

Is the Minister aware of the desperate plight of many hill farmers in Weardale and many other areas of my constituency who play a critical role in maintaining the enormous beauty of the area? What can he do to guarantee a future for them?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that I have already sought to do all that can be done to help the hill farmers of whom she speaks. I hope that she also agrees that I have sought to ensure that they get the extra and special help that they need. I hope, however, that the hon. Lady will mention to them the policies of her own party, which the recent independent report showed would be infinitely damaging to them and would mean a considerable loss in terms of their existing incomes.

Mr. Nicholson

May I pay tribute to the concern about this matter hitherto shown by my right hon. Friend, in contrast with the desultory interest shown by the Labour party, typified by the extraordinary gaffe a moment ago by the Labour spokesman on agriculture, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the problems faced by hill farmers in my constituency—those who farm on Exmoor, the Brendon hills, the Quantocks and the Blackdown hills. Will he do his best to bring forward the hill livestock compensatory allowance payments for 1991 to the earliest possible date?

Mr. Gummer

I assure my hon. Friend that I am still considering the information given to me on the hill livestock compensatory allowance. I shall make the announcement as soon as I possibly can. My hon. Friend was right to point out that, despite remarks of a constituency nature by Opposition Members, the Labour party's policies would very significantly reduce farmers' incomes, as the Savill report shows.

Mr. John D. Taylor

In view of yesterday's statement by the vice-president of the European Community that at the GATT talks he is prepared to negotiate subsidy reductions amounting to more than 30 per cent. if the Community agrees to reductions amounting to more than 30 per cent., will the Secretary of State bring the proposal back to the House for consideration before Her Majesty's Government approve it?

Mr. Gummer

Over the years, I have learnt that leaks during negotiations in Brussels or anywhere else are better not commented upon until we know the realities. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has found me wanting in defending United Kingdom interests. I shall continue to do so.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Does my right hon. Friend agree that milk quotas have been an outstanding success in directing taxpayers' money throughout the EEC to the producers rather than to the storers and in preventing subsidies from going to exported surplus commodities? Why can he not see that the same system could be applied universally, thereby preventing the depopulation of the countryside without excess expense to the taxpayer?

Mr. Gummer

There are very grave difficulties about extending quotas to the whole of the agricultural industry. It would cause the end of the growth in new technology, a wholly quotaed system would remove the interest in the market and young people would be deterred from entering agriculture. Moreover, agriculture would not change. That would be extremely damaging and I certainly would not propose it.

Mr. Ron Davies

Does the Minister acknowledge the particularly important role that hill livestock compensatory allowances play in the uplands? Is he still alone in the Council of Ministers in resisting the tiering of HLCAs? Does he not accept that if tiering were introduced it would prove to be a particularly effective method of targeting support on the small upland family farms, which are most in need of that help?

Mr. Gummer

Throughout my time as Minister I have shown interest in HLCAs and sought to use them as effectively as possible. Also, Britain has sought to green the HLCAs and has permission from the Community to do that. I hope that we shall be able to spread that elsewhere. The HLCAs are an essential way of keeping people in the hillsides to look after the land. Without them, the land would not be properly cared for.

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