HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc396-7
2. Mr. Morgan

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to strengthen the incentives for environmentally sensitive areas.

Mr. Gummer

The first group of ESAs were strengthened and enlarged earlier this year. Proposals for enhancement of the remaining areas have been the subject of recent public consultation and revised schemes will come into effect early next year. I also expect to make an early announcement concerning further ESA designations.

Mr. Morgan

Will the Minister confirm to the House that he has lost the battle with the Treasury for further funding for environmentally sensitive areas? He lost it when he was in the United States recently, travelling incognito and signing himself in as Wyatt Earp at the Chicago Hilton. If matters continue in that manner, he will have to travel incognito around the Hilton hotels of this country, too.

Mr. Gummer

I shall make an announcement soon, and I promise that I shall not detain the House for as long as the hon. Gentleman did on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.

Mr. Hendry

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gratitude of farmers in the North Peak area for the meeting that he arranged for them with officials in his Department following the letter that I wrote to him setting out their concerns? Will he assure us that, when the revised proposals for the North Peak ESA are published, there will be another opportunity for consultation so that any further concerns that they have can be taken into account?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend's remarks are kind. However, any Minister or Secretary of State who responded to such a question without saying that people will have to wait and see would be very silly on any subject during a public expenditure survey round. However, that does not mean that my hon. Friend should feel that what has happened in the past will not have some direction in the future.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

The Minister will he aware that there has been a considerable welcome, among both the farming community and the environmental lobby, for the latest set of environmentally sensitive area designations in England and Wales, but is he aware that there is considerable concern that the timetable seems to be slipping back? The impression given to farmers is that the areas might he sacrificed in the current round of negotiations on public spending. Will the Minister assure us that that will not happen?

Mr. Gummer

I was the Minister who took the original Bill on ESAs through Committee, and I have been committed to that legislation ever since. As Minister, I have also presented further extensions to it, so the hon. Gentleman will know that I am keen on the concept. In those circumstances, he must understand that the subject is among the range of priorities within my remit that I have been discussing. If I were to say, "This is okay" or "No, it is not", other hon. Members would present me with other issues and ask similar questions. Therefore, I shall have to stick to saying that I will make an announcement as soon as possible.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My right hon. Friend will be aware that farmers in my constituency are pleased that the Cotswold hills appear in the next wave of published ESAs. I am pleased at my right hon. Friend's announcement today that he expects to be able to present guidelines on that ESA early next year. Will he assure the farmers in my constituency who enter the agreement voluntarily that they will not in future be subject to further environmental guidelines to which other farmers will not be subject?

Mr. Gummer

The concept of the ESA is that it is a voluntary agreement between farmers and the community. That understanding must be supported and continued; otherwise, farmers will not enter into the agreements with their current alacrity and enthusiasm or voluntarily do more than they are paid for. I am impressed with the reaction of the farming community and I shall do nothing to undermine it.