HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc1004-6
7. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next plans to meet representatives of the National Farmers Union to discuss British hill farming.

Mr. Gummer

I met representatives of the National Farmers Union on 23 October to discuss the economic conditions in the hills and uplands. I met other representatives of those areas yesterday.

Mr. Griffiths

The Minister mentioned in an earlier reply his defence of the hill livestock compensatory allowance. Can he explain why, since 1987, it has been cut by £12.5 million in real terms? When the Minister met NFU representatives, did he give any indication that he is thinking of restoring the value of the allowance in real terms, perhaps to the 1986 level, as that could prove vital to hill farmers?

Mr. Gummer

I have increased hill livestock compensatory amounts, as the Government have done on several occasions. The hon. Gentleman may like to explain to his hill farmers why the independent Savill report suggests that if Labour party policies were adopted there would be a 17 per cent. drop in the typical farmer's profitability.

Mr. Hunter

What is my right hon. Friend's reaction to the NFU's suggestion that the way forward for hill farming and, indeed, all United Kingdom farming is through the introduction of strict supply management?

Mr. Gummer

I do not believe that supply management is the answer to agriculture's problems. We need to get nearer the market, make our support more environmentally oriented and ensure that we do not overproduce. If we were to quota the whole of agriculture, we should do considerable harm to the industry.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Given that the maintenance of the hill sector is particularly important to ensure the viability of our rural economy and given that in Scotland 90 per cent. of hill farming lies in the less-favoured areas, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he expects to be able to make a clear statement on the future level of HLCAs? Many of our farmers have reduced incomes because of a drop in the price of calves and lambs.

Mr. Gummer

As I said in answer to an earlier question, I shall make that announcement as soon as possible. I have already extended the suckler cow premium in the LFAs to the maximum amount available. A ewe supplement is to be paid to sheep farmers in the LFAs in 1991. The green pound devaluation will be effective from 7 January. Assistance to the beef and sheep sectors is now worth about £330 million more than in the previous year. There is already a considerable amount of extra help. We are certainly looking at the possibilities of what we should do in terms of the HLCAs, but much has already been done, as I believe that the hon. Lady would acknowledge.

Miss Emma Nicholson

I know that my right hon. Friend has the future of the small family farm in mind. With the freer markets that we expect from within—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about hill farming. The next question is about family farms.

Miss Nicholson

I know that my right hon. Friend has the future of the small family hill farm in mind. Will he make an early statement on term tenancies, which may be the only way in which sons and daughters of small family hill farmers can enter this important industry?

Mr. Gummer

I have already made it clear that I shall publish a paper on alternatives to deal with tenancies. That paper will protect the rights of present tenants. I very much hope that we shall look for a radical change in the system so that more land comes forward for letting.

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