HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc403-4
9. Mr. Harvey

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the Exmoor environmentally sensitive area will come into being.

Mr. Gummer

We plan to make an announcement on the proposed Exmoor environmentally sensitive area in the near future.

Mr. Harvey

Does the Minister recognise the very real problems faced by Exmoor farmers who can no longer take part in countryside stewardship schemes and programmes because they have ended in anticipation of the ESA proposals? Because of the new requirements resulting from much of Exmoor being a site of special scientific interest, there is no money to meet those obligations. With bank managers hovering over many Exmoor farmers, what reassurance can the Minister give farmers to take back to bank managers that the money for ESAs which he announced earlier this year will not be taken away from other agriculture programmes?

Mr. Gummer

I shall certainly make an announcement as soon as possible. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the ESA proposals, which began in this country, have now been taken up by the whole Community. We have been able to contribute to that process. That is why I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was one of those who did not wish us to go on being at the heart of the Community. I honour all his colleagues who stood up for their belief in Europe.

Mr. David Nicholson

With no reflection on the voting activities of the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) last night, I support his representations to my right hon. Friend. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Exmoor farmers in my constituency as well as in North Devon worked extremely hard to complete the form sent out by his Ministry in April, which, his officials may not be aware, is the lambing season on Exmoor? They were promised an early determination of this matter but are still left high and dry. As someone who obtained votes in April on this matter of the ESA, I am extremely anxious that my right hon. Friend should keep the pledges that the Government made to those farmers and implement the ESA proposals as soon as possible.

Mr. Gummer

I am never unhappy to have the support of my hon. Friend, as we had it last night.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The Minister says that we shall have a response as soon as possible. Has he forgotten the solemn undertaking given to Exmoor, the Lake district and other national park farmers that they would receive ESA offers this year? Now that the Liberals, apart from the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), have bailed out the Government, enabling them to cut public expenditure further and threaten the ESA programmes, has not a large hole been blown in the Government's entire approach to environmental protection?

Mr. Gummer

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what I think is his first appearance at the Dispatch Box on the Opposition Front Bench. Of all Opposition Members, I should have thought that he would be the last to congratulate his party on putting party politics before principle and to attack the Liberal Democrats, who put principle before party politics.

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