HC Deb 29 November 1990 vol 181 cc1007-8
9. Mr. Pike

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received from small farmers and hill farmers.

Mr. Gummer

I have received a number of representations about the position of small farms and of farms in the hills and uplands. I shall continue to keep the position under review.

Mr. Pike

Does not the Minister recognise that, despite his words this afternoon in reply to similar questions, small farmers and hill farmers will judge the Government not by their words but by their actions? The Minister may find it necessary in the next few weeks to visit Ribble Valley and the Trough of Bowland. If he looks at the balance sheets of the farmers in those areas, he will find that they are now receiving less in real terms for their livestock than they were receiving a few years ago and that they are facing bankruptcy. They expect action from the Government. When will they see it, or will they be allowed to go out of business?

Mr. Gummer

If the hon. Gentleman talks to those farmers, he will hear from them that the suckler cow premium has been increased to the maximum allowable in those areas; that is action. He will hear that this Government have brought forward the payment of the ewe premium both for the first and for the second instalment; that means action. He will hear that the Government have done so much for the livestock industry that they are now spending almost £800 million a year in support of that industry; that means action. The farmers will then turn to the hon. Gentleman and say that all that the Labour party speaks of is to reduce farm incomes by its policies. Labour's only action would be to cut incomes during these difficult times for farmers. The hon. Gentleman must not come to the House as poorly prepared as that.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Although I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's actions for those who farm in less-favoured areas, is not he concerned by the letters that I have sent to him from members of the High Peak Livestock Society, representing farmers in the villages of Wildboarclough, Wincle, Langley, Rainow and Kettleshulme? Those farmers are deepy concerned about their future. Does he accept that hill farmers are essential to the maintenance of the countryside, which is a matter of great environmental importance?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend asks a constituency-based question and shows that he understands his farmers' problems. His question stands in sharp contradistinction to the previous one.

My hon. Friend will know that I agree with him entirely. Without farmers, the countryside will not be cared for, and farmers need the support of society to enable them to look after the countryside. They cannot do it unless they earn enough to meet the costs.