HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc402-3
7. Illsley

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures he is taking to keep farmers on the land.

Mr. Curry

The common agricultural policy provides a range of measures to support farming.

Mr. Illsley

Is the Minister aware that many people consider his response to rural depopulation somewhat inadequate? Is he aware that between 1990 and 1992 British farming lost, on average, some 200 farmers and farm workers each week? Already articles are appearing in magazines such as Farmers' Weekly, comparing the state of agriculture to that of mining and forecasting huge job losses.

How long can the Government continue to protect farm incomes through set-aside? Are decisions likely to be made that will be as disastrous to agriculture as decisions about the pits were to mining?

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect: there has been an enormous structural change in agriculture over the past couple of decades—in the United Kingdom, a quarter of a million people have left agriculture, and in the Community 4 million people have left. That is as big a structural change as there has been in any other part of the economy.

We have to make sure that the surpluses and overproduction, which depress farmers' incomes, are removed through reform. At the moment, the grain price is relatively buoyant and the sheep price is higher than it has been for many years. Because of the changes in the agrimoney system and the eventual green pound devaluation, we should put some income into the agricultural sector. That is very much needed, and we welcome it.

Mr. Lidington

Is my hon. Friend aware of the difficulties faced by farmers in areas such as the Chiltern hills and the vale of Aylesbury, where efforts at diversification often fall foul of what are necessarily strict planning controls? Will he undertake to work with his colleagues at the Department of the Environment to make sure that we have both a beautiful countryside and one that rests upon the good stewardship of farmers making their living there and not turning the countryside into a museum?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend will know that I represent an area with a large national park and that what is not national park is an area of outstanding natural beauty. I understand exactly the problems that he describes and we will work very closely with planning authorities to overcome them.