HC Deb 29 April 1993 vol 223 cc1143-4
14. Mr. Bates

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on progress being made in the assessment of agricultural land for the purposes of set aside.

Mr. Gummer

I hesitate to use a crystal ball when we will soon have the exact figures as a result of the filling in of the integrated administration and control system forms.

Mr. Bates

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, does he agree that farming is one of this country's most productive industries and, as such, requires reductions in bureaucracy and red tape to maintain its competitive edge, just like any other business? Is my right hon. Friend therefore aware of the concern in my constituency about the IACS forms, in particular in respect of set aside and other acreage payments, which require 79 pages of explanation and which required one of my constituents to answer 3,000 questions? Is not that an unnecessary and heavy burden on our farming industry?

Mr. Gummer

I do not think so. After all, farmers in this country will receive £1,000 million as a result of it. The danger of recoil from the taxpayer if farmers were not required to give the right facts to obtain that money, would be enormous. My hon. Friend referred to competition. The farmers in every other country in the Europen Community have to fill in the same forms. However, we were sensible enough to give farmers a booklet which enables them to fill in the form very simply. In the many meetings that my colleagues and I have had, farmers have told us that the booklet is extremely good and explains well how to fill in the forms. They felt much happier after reading the booklet than they did when they first saw the form.

Mr. Flynn

What will the Minister do to increase the amount of set-aside land that is used for coppicing and for growing biofuel? Does he agree that much set-aside land might look a mess to those whose interest in land relates only to profiting from the land? However, to most sensitive souls, set-aside land presents a magnificent sight with its unfettered growth of wild flowers. Is it not an example of where beauty is to be found in the wallet of the beholder?

Mr. Gummer

I think that the hon. Gentleman is a bit thick on that point. Most people find set-aside land difficult to take because they are used to neat farm land. We have far too neat a view of the countryside. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's end, but not his explanation. Set aside should be a matter of choice for the farmer between rotational and non-rotational. It should have environmental requirements. Farmers are being paid to look after the land properly and that is right.

Mr. Budgen

Why does my right hon. Friend keep talking about future changes in set aside and other arrangements in the CAP? Last Thursday, in a wide-ranging and very conciliatory speech the Prime Minister spoke of the triumphs of the EC and included in that the reform that has already taken place—apparently to his satisfaction—in the CAP.

Mr. Gummer

Because the reform in the CAP is not yet extended to a wide range of products over which it should extend. It is not yet satisfactory, particularly in relation to the beef regime. Life will change and different reforms will be necessary year after year. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not say the same thing to a Chancellor of the Exchequer who had introduced—as the current Chancellor of the Exchequer has—a very successful Budget. My hon. Friend would not therefore say that there is no need for another Budget next year.

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