HC Deb 10 June 1993 vol 226 cc421-2
5. Mr. Legg

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures are being taken to reduce unemployment in the rural economy.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

In the negotiations that resulted in the reform of the common agricultural policy, the United Kingdom was successful in ensuring that the CAP continues to benefit all United Kingdom farmers. That success will help to maintain rural employment.

Mr. Legg

May I also welcome my right hon. Friend to her new post and hope that her period of office in her new Department is as successful as it has been in other Departments? As unemployment in agriculture is still at about 10 per cent., will my right hon. Friend consider other ways of reducing it, including the production of a consultative paper to consider the abolition of the Agriculture Wages Board which still sets minimum wages?

Mrs. Shephard

As my hon. Friend knows, the Agriculture Wages Board network is reviewed every five years. It was last reviewed in 1988, so another review is now due. There is to be a fundamental review process with full consultation, and that will be prepared in co-operation with the Department of Employment.

Mr. Salmond

May I say how disappointing it is that the new Minister chose to answer the question solely with reference to agricultural unemployment? Does she not understand that there is enormous concern in the fishing communities about the possibility of rural unemployment arising directly from the days-at-sea legislation passed by her predecessor? Does she acknowledge that concern as represented in the blockades and demonstrations in the past few weeks? As a new Minister without, we hope, the prejudices of her predecessor, will she re-examine that days-at-sea legislation to see whether changes can be made?

Mrs. Shephard

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, along with the fishing industry, understands that the fundamental need is to rebuild fish stocks. That is universally accepted, but, of course, I am fully aware that there is a lot of controversy about how it should be done. I do not know whether we can avoid unpopular decisions, but I have already met representatives of the fishing industry, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State is engaged in ongoing discussions with them. We are closely in touch, discussing all the background papers and seeing what might be done, but the parameters remain the same.

Mr. Cash

I hope that my right hon. Friend has a successful period of office in her new job. Will she bear in mind the fact that one of the reasons for increased unemployment in the rural areas is that British farmers have to set aside 19 per cent. of our land, whereas the Germans set aside only 12 per cent? The Greeks and the Italians have just been given an increased national quota without its being referred down to farm level, whereas the United Kingdom has a much tougher regime. Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to ensure that the British farmer gets a fair deal in the European Community and that we have as level a playing field as possible in agriculture? Surely that will significantly reduce levels of unemployment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Just answer yes.

Mrs. Shephard

I am being given a lot of advice today. I am tempted just to say yes to my hon. Friend, because there is nothing exceptionable in what he says. However, when he talks about a level playing field, he should note that the British Government have also managed to insert into set aside a number of environmental schemes that can help stimulate rural employment.