HC Deb 03 December 1992 vol 215 cc386-7
10. Mr. Pike

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in introducing the new set-aside proposals.

Mr. Gummer

A detailed booklet on the arable area payments scheme for 1992–93 was published in early September and copies were placed in the House Library.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that while it may be seen as folly to pay farmers not to produce when millions of people in the world are starving, if we have to have a set-aside policy, we must be sure that the farmers will know the rules of the non-rotational scheme in time to plan for the next growing year?

Mr. Gummer

I certainly want to make sure that when we have the non-rotational scheme which was inserted at British insistence, it will be early enough for people to make that choice and to include within it the areas which they have set aside under the rotational scheme as the first year of a non-rotational project.

Mr. Gill

What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the effect of set-aside on tenant values when dilapidations are settled at the end of a farm tenancy?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend raises a point which we have looked at carefully and it is one of the things that are informing our present discussions about the reform of landlord-tenant arrangements. I hope very much to be able to make decisions on that and, when legislative time is available, wholly to reform our landlord-tenant arrangements which are wildly out of date and do not provide enough land for tenants to take up.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Does the Minister accept that his policy on set-aside is quite unsatisfactory? It applies to no other industry; it has a very dubious effect on the environment and there is the further danger that farmers will increase the productivity of their remaining land to make up what they have lost on set-aside. Would it not be wiser to encourage less intensive agriculture?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Member has obviously not read our statements, which show that we are doing precisely that. It is our purpose to encourage less intensive arrangements, but set-aside is a necessary part of the whole policy and he does not do his own farmers any good by perpetuating myths about set-aside which they would disagree with.

The fact is that we are over-producing and that we cannot use what we over-produce to help the developing countries, as every aid agency would tell us. The hon. Member must not blame us for not doing something for which every aid agency would attack us if we did. Secondly his comments about the environment would be entirely undermined by most of the environmental agencies in this country. Set-aside has been welcomed by a number of them. A mixture of rotational and no-rotational set-aside would have their widespread support. The hon. Gentleman should not intervene when he has not done his homework.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), my right hon. Friend will be aware, having completed his consultation on landlord and tenant reform, that there is a window of goodwill from all organisations that this reform should succeed. May I urge him to come forward with a White Paper or legislative proposals as soon as possible?

Mr. Gummer

The point about set-aside is that it again underlines the need for the arrangements between landlords and tenants to be left to the landlords and tenants and not to a panoply of legal arrangements. I do not believe that we shall get sufficient land forward, so that tenants who want to come into the industry will be able to take it, unless we ensure that decisions are made between two grown-up people and not interfered with by a lot of people who have arrangements that are based on laws that are long out of date.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Minister agree that we would be less dependent on set-aside if farmers in this and other countries in the Community were more able to meet their agricultural feedstuff requirements from their own resources? Will he look particularly at the exports of maize gluten and other feedstuffs from America in the context of the GATT round?

Mr. Gummer

We have been discussing this, not in the context of the GATT round but in the context of the GATT panel finding on two separate occasions that we in Europe have for too long excluded the products of the United States and other countries, having given them tariff-free entry.

The Commissioner has achieved what I believe to be a good deal for Europe on that issue and we should congratulate him on what he has done, because it has paved the way for a wider GATT agreement.

Mr. Morley

I am sure that the Minister will agree that without constructive and positive uses for set-aside land, we shall face a new wasteland policy in this country because of land that is left uncultivated. We are looking forward to proper proposals to ensure that land is used constructively, without a negative waste of public funds. Bearing in mind what the Minister has said about the impact of the GATT agreement, can we take it that he is giving the House an assurance that no more than 15 per cent. of agricultural land will be set aside in this country?

Mr. Gummer

There is no question of the GATT agreement increasing substantially the costs of the common agricultural policy reform for the farmer, and among those is set-aside. I do not change from that position. The hon. Gentleman talks about set-aside as if it were an innovation, when there has been crop rotation throughout the history of agriculture. Large areas of land have always been left to rest, and the hon. Gentleman cannot start some terrible scare about it. Farmers are being paid to look after the land. The rules that I have laid down are tougher than in other European countries because I have environmental support—[Interruption.]—if hon. Gentlemen ask questions and expect answers, they should not interrupt people when they are trying to answer.

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