HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc401-2
6. Mr. Butler

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to announce details of the permanent set-aside scheme.

Mr. Curry

We expect decisions on non-rotational set-aside to be made in time for farmers to choose this option next year if they so wish.

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. It is clear when we look around the countryside that rotational set-aside has disastrous environmental effects, whereas permanent set-aside will allow environmentally beneficial projects to be undertaken on the same land. I urge my hon. Friend to announce the details of his welcome reply as swiftly as possible.

On a lighter note, may I commend to my hon. Friend for European consideration the world-famous Milton Keynes practice of decorating fallow set-aside land with concrete cows? They have the benefit of being low maintenance; they add nothing to the greenhouse effect; they neither suffer from nor pass on bovine spongiform encephalopathy; they are particularly difficult to rustle; they can be supplied with or without udders and other attachments; and, most attractive of all, they are totally non-productive and might therefore form the basis of a new standard Euro cow. Given that they are a singularly different breed, perhaps "MacSharry" would be an appropriate name for them.

Mr. Curry

I hope that my hon. Friend does not mind a reply that is shorter than his question. I think that he may have solved the problem of the deficiency of the milk quota in Italy.

Mr. Tyler

Does the Minister agree with the estimate in The Timesthat his policy for set-aside will cost British taxpayers £130 million a year, without making any real difference to EC yields and without any beneficial environmental effect?

Mr. Curry

I disagree profoundly. First, Ministers can decide to vary the precentage of land put into rotational set-aside as a function of the decrease in yields that that generates. Secondly, in regard to the permanent set-aside —we have both the non-rotational and the longer-term schemes—we want the rules to permit us to incorporate two important environmental schemes: the farm woodland premium scheme, to encourage woodland, and the countryside premium scheme, to encourage habitat. If those two schemes can be married to the non-rotational scheme, we shall have an extremely effective environmental package.

Mr. Lord

I am sure that my hon. Friend will know of the general unhappiness felt by farmers about the need to set aside fertile and productive land. He will be aware also of the need to return dynamism and hope to farming. What steps is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food taking to encourage the growing of non-food crops on set-aside land, and also the establishment of trees?

Mr. Curry

When we have the permanent and non-rotational set-aside schemes, we shall want to be able to put woodland on the sites concerned. We also wish to encourage farmers to plant crops that will yield biomass. Those two aspects relating to energy and trees will be very important. We are studying how we can target the longer-term set-aside—the 20-year permanent scheme—very specifically, to secure the best possible environmental benefits. Those could be related to amenity woodland.

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