HC Deb 18 January 1994 vol 235 cc842-65 1.13 am
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jack)

I beg to move, That the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) Scheme 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 2901) dated 24th November 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th November, be approved. This scheme came into existence after a major review of help to farmers in 1988. As a result, the conclusions reached reflected the need at that time to introduce assistance for farmers to help curb production. It was decided that aid should be switched away from investments intended to increase productive capacity and that the benefits to farmers should be in the form of help with conservation schemes and schemes to benefit the environment.

To that end, I must start by making some announcements about improvements to the farm and conservation grant scheme [Interruption.] We have decided to provide additional assistance in three ways. First, through grants to help farmers with the costs of capital works to open up access to farmland. They will underpin further assistance because we shall return to the House to seek its approval shortly on matters connected with access and environmentally sensitive areas. Also we have decided to give grant aid to people in the poultry industry to deal with poultry waste, just as grants are available for assistance with other livestock wastes. Finally, we want to extend the life of the special package of grants for the Scilly Isles offered under the farm and conservation grant scheme for a further year while we consider the longer term needs of growers on the islands. I hope that the House will agree that those are three small but important ways in which we are trying to develop the

I shall now mention the rates of grant. As the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said from a sedentary position, there are reductions. However, those measures have to be viewed in the context of the overall position of farm incomes. Farmers in the dairy sector have benefited significantly, especially from the on-farm schemes to deal with waste, and it is perhaps worth reflecting that in recent years dairy incomes have steadily increased. In 1991–92 incomes increased by 11 per cent. I expect that last year's 1992–93 forecast of a 19 per cent. increase in that sector will be fully realised.

In the beef sector there have been increases in incomes and in beef special premium and suckler cow premium. Those have been substantially increased and will increase further up to 1995.

Finally, for those farmers in the less favoured areas, total direct subsidies will be worth about £550 million in 1994.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)


Mr. Jack

will hon. Friend allow me to make a little progress? I do not want to detain the House unnecessarily.

The fact that grant rates under the scheme are to be reduced should also be viewed in the context of what that will mean in terms of the expenditure next year on the farm and conservation grant scheme. I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that that will amount to about £27 million —only £2 million less than the peak expenditure in this financial year. That indicates the continuity of help that we are providing under the scheme, because much help is in the financial pipeline and is reflected in that expenditure.

Mr. Greenway

Perhaps it is as well that my hon. Friend continued a little longer, because he has just mentioned the point that I wanted to discuss. He is right to say that many dairy farmers have benefited enormously from the recovery in incomes and from the grant while it was 50 per cent. It is fair to say that those farmers who have money in the bank have made use of that. The farmers who now have schemes in the pipeline are the poorer farmers, who will lose out as a result of the cut to 25 per cent. Does the Minister think that there is a case for saying that those farmers who had a scheme at the planning stage and ready to go ahead should receive the 50 per cent. anyway?

Mr. Jack

Those farmers who submitted acceptable plans prior to 1 December 1993 will receive the old grant rate, as witnessed by the amount of money that I said was already in the pipeline.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Jack

I hope that hon. Members will allow me to make a little more progress.

The rate of grant, such as it was at 50 per cent., was above the European Community then maximum level of 35 per cent. We did that as a pump-priming exercise, to encourage farmers to take up that important opportunity to deal with farm wastes. It is worth pointing out that we have already paid out more than £115 million in grant in the four and a half years since the scheme was announced in February 1989. At that time, the intention was to spend about £50 million only in the first three years of the scheme.

To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), about 9,000 farmers have already taken advantage of the scheme. Its success is demonstrated by the fact that in 1989 nearly 600 serious pollution incidents were attributed to agriculture. The figure in 1992 was less than 200.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Very many farmers still have not been able to carry out works in relation to pollution. I am worried that some of them, because they cannot afford the costs, will sell their quota. To all intents and purposes, that will mean that the farms they occupy will cease to be viable units. That will lead to further fragmentation and amalgamation of units, and make it that much more difficult for young people to enter the industry because the farm sizes will constantly increase as a consequence.

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman might have had a point if I had been saying that we intended to end the grant scheme altogether. But I have described a remarkable take-up; 9,000 farmers have participated. The hon. Gentleman mentioned young people coming into farming, and I can think of no finer way to respond to that point than to remind him that the proposal to reform tenancy law has come from the Government.

As I was saying, the grant will continue, but at the rate of 25 per cent. The other area affected by the proposals is conservation, involving hedges, stone walls and traditional buildings.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)


Mr. Jack

Before I take the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the farm conservation grant scheme came into existence at a time when many of the environmental schemes that have subsequently been developed were at a very early stage.

Mr. Wallace

The Minister has told us that there will be a reduction in the grant. Is he aware that already farmers in my constituency have told me that, because of that reduction, they do not intend to proceed with projects that they had hoped to undertake? Will he confirm that, under the current regulations, if certain action is not taken on waste disposal, it will be possible for environmental health officers to close a farm down? Against such a background, how is it possible to justify cuts that are stopping investments necessary for environmental and even for statutory reasons?

Mr. Jack

The fact that I can say that 9,000 farmers have already decided to minimise their risk of being penalised for pollution by taking up the grant shows me how aware the farming community is. I recently visited a farm in Cumbria where a substantial amount of work had been completed and more plans were in the pipeline. The people there were glad of the assistance, which had helped them to modernise and improve their farm. I saw no evidence that they intended to diminish their attempts in that direction, taking advantage of the scheme.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)


Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Mr. Jack

I want to make progress. Perhaps I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) in a moment.

In connection with the conservation and environmental aspects of the grants, I have already told the House that the scheme was introduced when other schemes, such as that designating environmentally sensitive areas, were in their infancy. In January 1993, six new environmentally sensitive areas were established, and six more are expected to be launched in March. By the year 1996–97, expenditure in the United Kingdom on such areas, which provides assistance for many of the types of scheme covered by the farm and conservation grant scheme, will total about £63 million. There will also be benefits in terms of farm conservation activity from parts of the agri-environment package, details of whose timetabling and introduction we shall announce later this year.

The House should also take into account the fact that the Department of the Environment has a budget of £105 million to deal with schemes such as the Countryside Commission's countryside stewardship scheme, the hedgerow incentive scheme and the work undertaken by English Nature. All of those are complementary to the work of the farm and conservation grant scheme in connection with hedges, stone walls and traditional buildings.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned hedges and traditional stone walls. Surely it is more important to spend money on those, especially in our part of the world, than on encouraging access to the hideous set-aside land.

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the idea of the typical landscape—in Cumbria and the north-west, for example. That is the aspect that I am discussing. As I explained, in addition to our farm and conservation grant scheme, which will continue to provide assistance for such work, a range of other schemes funded by the Department of the Environment will also enable similar work to be carried on. Those complementary schemes show why it is justifiable in our scheme for us to reduce the grant rates in that area.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jack

I want to come to a conclusion, as many other hon. Members want to speak and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to do so.

The third element in the grant scheme, which is coming to an end, deals with matters connected with horticulture. It is a matter of sadness to me as I made my living in the horticultural business before coming into the House. Although there was help for horticultural buildings, especially glasshouses and modernisation grants for orchards, less than 9 per cent. of eligible holdings took up the orchard replanting grant and less than 4 per cent. took up the greenhouse replacement grant.

Clearly, much work needs to be done in that area and I can assure the House that I shall take into account the problem with grant schemes in the work that I am undertaking to consider horticulture as a whole.

I commend the motion to the House and I hope that hon. Members will understand that, on the Conservative Benches, there is no diminution in our wish to provide assistance to farmers, in our effectiveness in dealing with farm waste, in the commitment of the Government to provide funding for environmental concerns and in the complementarity between schemes from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and those from other Government Departments.

1.25 am
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

There are parts of the supplementary estimates which we on the Labour Benches welcome. Those are the parts that the Minister has rightly outlined: grants for access, changes in provisions concerning poultry waste and the extension of support for the Isles of Scilly.

However, overall, the statutory instrument is a major blow to the farming community. It represents substantial cuts in environmental and conservation management. Unless the Minister will give some indication that he is prepared to take the statutory instrument away and consider it again, we shall have no alternative but to vote against it, because the changes are not to the advantage of the farming community, nor do they meet a number of commitments that the Government have made, as I shall outline.

The changes are a double blow. They are not only a direct blow to the farming community because of the loss of capital grants, but a blow to the wider issue of protecting and managing our countryside. I remind the House that the intentions of the scheme, as printed in the foreword of the original farm conservation grant scheme handbook were as follows: The Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme is designed to help farmers maintain efficient farming systems while also meeting the often heavy cost of combating pollution and conserving the countryside and its wildlife. The scheme focuses on those investments which cut costs by updating existing resources and those which help to achieve good countryside management. A special priority of the scheme is to help farmers install and improve waste handling facilities to avoid the risk of pollution. I am sure that those are worthy aims, which the whole House should fully support. There is a shift in support payments for such objectives and such schemes which are exactly the kind to which we in the Labour party give high priority. We want to see the large amounts of public money being diverted towards such aspects of the CAP.

The scheme is comparatively modest in comparison with the total sums of available agricultural support. The scheme totals £74 million this year. To put that in perspective, it is well below 10 per cent. of the £840 million spent on set-aside and the arable payments scheme. Even though the scheme is modest, grants for conservation. schemes are to be cut from 50 per cent. to 30 per cent. in less favoured areas, and from 40 per cent. to 25 per cent. elsewhere.

Capital grants for the handling, storing and treating of waste are to be cut from 50 per cent. to 25 per cent. Grants for the repair and reinstatement of traditional farm buildings are to be cut from 35 per cent. to 25 per cent. in less-favoured areas and to 20 per cent. in other areas. It is estimated that those cuts will bring about savings of about £12 million in the current year. I contrast that with total Government spending of £2.5 billion on the CAP in the current year. Such comparisons put into perspective the amount being spent on conservation management.

The National Farmers Union parliamentary land use and environment committee this morning—

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Yesterday morning.

Mr. Morley>

Not according to the parliamentary day.

That committee pointed out that the great advantage of such a scheme is that it is available to the whole country and that, unlike schemes such as environmentally sensitive areas, valuable though they are, it applies to the 85 per cent. of the countryside outside less favoured areas and environmentally sensitive areas. Such cuts, therefore, are detrimental to the whole countryside.

The scheme can be said to have been successful, unlike many agricultural support schemes. There has been a good take-up, and spending on waste handling facilities in particular has increased from £64,000 in 1989, to a peak of £23.4 million in 1991–92, and to £21.1 million in 1992–93. That demonstrates the tremendous investment that has been made in the farming community to deal with the problems of agricultural waste and its potential for polluting waterways

. Cuts in grant are a major blow to the livestock sector and they will affect the investment plans that many farmers, particularly those who do not have large sums of money available to them, have been planning. Of course, they have a knock-on effect on the environment and on jobs.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

Will my hon. Friend comment on the likely adverse effect on watercourses of cutting grants to subsidise the treatment of waste? According to a recent report from the National Rivers Authority, in Wales the number of pollution incidents, from farms in particular, has increased alarmingly over the past few years.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is right. Over the years, agricultural run-offs have accounted for a large proportion of pollution incidents in waterways. There has been a recent reduction, but that is a tribute to the scheme and it is a reason why the scheme should not be cut when there are tangible gains in capital grants to deal with potential pollution problems.

It is worth raising a query which was referred to me by the Country Landowners Association, which shares my concern about the impact of cuts in grant. If capital grants for livestock waste are to be reduced, will the Government consider diverting some resources into grant-aiding the separation of clean and dirty water on livestock farms? That would reduce the volume of muck to be disposed of and it would also help the farmer and the environment. Is it possible to divert resources to such a purpose?

Apart from livestock waste, the grants have helped greatly in respect of environmental features such as shelter belts, trees for shading stock, the enclosure of grazed woodlands, traditional field boundaries, bracken control, the regeneration of heather and grass moorland, and the repair and reinstatement of traditional buildings. Again, the House will agree that those are important objectives and that they deserve support in terms of cuntryside management.

I shall focus on traditional field boundaries. I refer, of course, to hedges and dry-stone walls. Both features of the agricultural landscape are attractive, functional and important conservation features.

The loss of grant assistance for the reinstatement of hedges is a serious blow. Indeed, a recent Government survey revealed that there was a net loss of 23 per cent. of hedgerows between 1984 and 1990 and a substantial increase in derelict hedges because of a lack of management.

I wonder how the cut in grant for landscape features such as hedgerows squares with the Government's manifesto pledge to introduce legislation to protect hedgerows. What has happened to that pledge? Is it yet another broken promise to add to a litany of broken promises? Is the Minister prepared to urge his counterpart in the Department of the Environment to introduce the legislation which was promised many years ago and which is very necessary? Many miles of hedgerow continue to be lost or destroyed. Indeed, there is a case for increasing the amount of grant available for hedgerow planting, rather than decreasing it, as the statutory instrument does.

A measure for features such as hedgerows is too important to be left to the private Bill procedure, although I know that hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), have campaigned for a long time for such legislation. We had a private Bill on hedgerow protection. I regret that Tory Members wrecked it by talking it out and ensuring that it did not get on the statute book. If they continue to use such wrecking tactics, the Government need to introduce proper legislation to meet their manifesto promise.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Although I am in favour of hedges, there were certain disadvantages to the private Bill. It would have put the power into the hands of local authorities, which often do not know much about farming. I would rather have the power to deal with hedges with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the farmers themselves but not with local authorities.

Mr. Morley

Obviously, there is an argument about the detail of the Bill. But dealing with hedgerows in terms of planning was a logical way forward. The Bill was supported by Ministers. If they think that the way forward is to introduce hedgerow legislation as part of planning controls—of course, they drafted the detail of the Bill—I assume that they think that it is the best way to proceed. Although the hon. Lady has her disagreements, I am sure she would agree that we do not need this statutory instrument.

The introduction of legislation is the right way forward, although we could argue about how it would work. I still think that it is important for the Government to give hedgerow protection some priority and to ensure that they abide by their commitment. Certainly, they do not abide by that commitment in this statutory instrument.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England rightly argues that what we need in terms of agricultural policy is an increase in countryside management and the support that goes with it. As for dry-stone walls as a field boundary, the CPRE refers to surveys which show that there has been a 10 per cent. reduction in the amount of dry-stone walling on agricultural land. Of course, such cuts do not impact simply in terms of conservation features and conservation management: they also impact on jobs in the rural economy.

Many people are trying to acquire new skills, or relearn old skills, in terms of hedge laying, tree planting and rebuilding dry-stone walls. Indeed, a colleague of mine is encouraging the reinstatement of dry-stone walls on his farm. He told me that the person who is doing the work has taken on an apprentice to learn the skill. That work is supported by the grants. I wonder how many people will lose their jobs and their income as a result of the cuts in grant. Such grants would otherwise have encouraged the reinstatement of these important features.

The same applies to the renovation of traditional farm buildings. In many parts of the country farm buildings are an important part of the landscape, and not only is their reinstatement valuable as a landscape feature but there are employment opportunities for acquiring and implementing traditional skills which are much needed within the rural economy.

I do not see how cuts of this kind will benefit the rural economy or rural communities. Not only will the cuts have an impact in terms of conservation features, but they are particularly badly timed in terms of the Government's commitment to publish a biodiversity plan which I understand will be published on 26 January. I wonder how the Minister can argue that the cut can meet the Rio commitments made by the Prime Minister for meeting biodiversity. Is that yet another broken promise which we can add to the list of commitments which have been given?

Is the Minister aware that a survey published last November by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology underlined the losses to wildlife species and the importance of hedges in maintaining their populations?

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the Cotswolds, where there is a large proportion of stone walls, those stone walls are disappearing because they are simply too expensive to keep up? The hon. Gentleman quoted from a report by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. The reason why hedgerows are disappearing is simply because they are becoming derelict.

The proposed Hedgerows Bill would have had no effect on that. If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends wish to keep up such landscape features, the only way is to have a proper management plan under such schemes as the countryside stewardship scheme. There is considerably more money available for that scheme from the Department of the Environment and the hedgerow incentive scheme from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food than is available under the farm conservation grant scheme, which is merely—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This sounds like a speech, and not an intervention. Interventions are supposed to be brief.

Mr. Morley

I have put in perspective the sums which are available for farm conservation grants. Those sums are tiny in terms of the global commitment made by this country on the common agriculture policy.

I say to the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that it is true that it is expensive to maintain and repair stone walls. It is often difficult to find people with the skills to do so. However, cuts in grants will do nothing to assist hedgerow maintenance. I would have more respect for the hon. Gentleman on such issues if he had not been one of the main culprits in wrecking the Hedgerows Bill which was put before Parliament. I should have thought that, if he wants to be taken seriously on such matters as landscape protection, he should make sure that there was a proper facility or provision to protect such things as hedgerows, rather than wrecking the Bill in the way he did.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The simple reason, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman) pointed out, was that we did not want local authorities which do not understand about growing hedgerows interfering and telling farmers what to do. That would not have been the right way forward and would have been bureaucratic.

The hon. Gentleman criticises me personally for wrecking the Bill. I have a record of a net gain of one mile of hedgerows on my farm.

Mr. Morley

I return to the original point that Ministers drafted the Bill, and they felt that local authority planning was the correct mechanism. While I do not doubt his commitments, that is no excuse for wrecking a Bill which many people were anxious to see put on the statute book.

I return to the issue of the impact of biodiversity. Is the Minister aware of the detailed farmland bird census which was carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology? That census demonstrated the dramatic losses of many of the once-common farmland birds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds calculated that the numbers of grey partridges have fallen by 73 per cent. during the last 20 years. If the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) were here, he would share my concern at the decline of a species such as the grey partridge.

The measure also includes grants for heath and moorland reinstatement. Heath and moorland are vital to threatened species like the sand lizard, which is a red data book species. The proposals to reinstate habitat have been cut by the statutory instrument. How does all that square with the Rio declaration which the Prime Minister signed and which supports the biodiversity convention and protection when the Government are taking measures to cut the kind of support systems that are protecting biodiversity?

We need clear objectives and targets in terms of protecting species and habitat. How can cuts in a measure like this achieve that? Did MAFF consult the Department of the Environment about the statutory instrument? Will the DOE set targets for habitat protection and restoration? How will the cuts allow the Government to comply with the European Union habitat directive? That is particularly important, as the Government are already on record as saying that they will meet the requirements of the habitat directive precisely through measures of this kind.

If the Government are going to cut the farm conservation grant scheme, how will they meet the commitments that they have already made with respect to the habitat directive? Is that yet another broken promise to add to the list? Those issues, in addition to conservation and the impact on farmers, are important in terms of the overall commitment and responsibility that the Government should have for our countryside and environment.

The welcome aspect of the statutory instrument relates to the grants for access to agricultural land. The Opposition have been arguing for that for sometime. We welcome the grants for the provision of gates, stiles and footbridges. We believe that encouraging farmers to allow public access to their land is a valid use of public money. We hope that that will succeed. It is therefore a matter of regret that such positive measures are outweighed in the measure by the negative impact of the overall cuts in grant.

Given the overall reduction, will the Minister confirm what I understood from his opening remarks? Are the new grants for support for access to come from the budget for the farm conservation grant scheme or has there been diversion from the agri-environment programme to fund the improvement? I am working on the assumption that that is not the case because the Minister said that there is to be a further announcement about the agri-environment package and support for public access. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that we are not talking about diversion from the agri-environment package.

That point is important because the agri-environment package is not exactly a generous scheme. A joint report by the CPRE, the Ramblers Association and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation demonstrated that green payments to farmers, including environmentally sensitive area schemes, amounted to £2.31 per hectare on a United Kingdom average, while set-aside and arable payments amounted to a somewhat larger £45.39 per hectare on a United Kingdom average. That is a considerable difference, particularly in terms of value of money.

There is a great deal more value for money with regard to conservation and environmental support as part of agri-environment packages than simply paying farmers to keep land in set-aside. Farmers in my constituency share that view. They would rather see public money being spent on positive schemes which the public can appreciate and see than on the negative set-aside scheme.

Cutting environmental payments under the farm and conservation scheme while £840 million is spent on set-aside and arable aids, shows lack of commitment to environmental management. The cuts will produce minimal savings this year and will undermine a good value-for-money scheme. They will also undermine the ability of farmers to protect and manage our countryside, and they breach the Government's commitment to the habitat directive and the biodiversity treaty. I urge the Government to withdraw the instrument and to think again on the matter. If they do not, they will stand accused of breaking yet more promises, adding to a record that is already littered with broken promises, and of a shift away from responsible management and protection of our countryside rather than giving the commitment and support that our farmers and our countryside deserve.

1.50 am
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

I am glad to take part in the debate. As a farmer, I do not think that, in a time of economic stringency, it is at all unreasonable to reduce grants. Grants still remain to spur the planting of hedges and shelter belts, and farmers are increasingly likely and increasingly encouraged to do that off their own bat. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) rather ruined his speech by exaggerating the effect that such fairly modest cuts would have on the countryside. I am sorry that he lost his balance.

When drainage grant was about 20 per cent. lower than what is proposed in the legislation, it was a spur for many farmers to continue with drainage schemes. Moreover, it is in the general interest of farming to be weaned from grants. We do not want to be the one sector of society that is continually encouraged and fed by grants to do what is fairly natural work in the maintenance and stewardship of the countryside.

I understand the reasons for the measure. It is necessary for farmers to share the general stringency that the rest of the country faces at a time when we are seeking to reduce public expenditure. The concern that has been generated about the reduction in grants is understandable because we all want to conserve and increase the wildlife value of our countryside. It is certainly not right to be complacent about what is being done to make the countryside a better place for wildlife and to rebuild some of the depleted stocks.

I am convinced that we can and should do more, and this is a unique opportunity to do that. The obvious way is not through grants and small measures of the type that we have been debating, but by using the vast sums that are available under the set-aside scheme. As the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe said, last year farmers were paid about £840 million to set aside nearly 1.5 million acres. We are speaking of sums that are 100 times more than the relatively modest cuts in the measure.

Few of us who have anything at all to do with the land are pleased by the set-aside regime. We certainly feel that the existing arrangement is of little benefit to wildlife. In addition, the management of the set-aside regime is costly and, as a farmer, I do not think that it improves the fertility of the land or assists in growing crops in the following year. Under the set-aside regime, there is a massive opportunity and a real challenge to improve our efforts to help conservation and wildlife. We have a real opportunity to make set-aside of lasting benefit to conservation.

One such measure that we are moving towards is permanent set-aside. Set-aside along the edge of a wood can be of permanent benefit to wildlife.

We also have to accept that, to achieve real benefit to wildlife, we have to manage some areas. Where we manage the countryside, we increase the benefit of that countryside to wildlife. Let me give two examples. Britain has a shortage of lowland heathland. The reinstatement of heathland requires a low level of grazing. It would be valuable if we could secure that.

If we want really good permanent pasture, we need a regime of mowing for hay at a late date without adding fertiliser. If we could secure through the Common Market some measures by we which could have limited cropping from land, the advantages to conservation and wildlife would be huge. That is what we want, and it would produce real value for money from the huge sums being spent.

If we could secure the proper management of set-aside combined with growing areas under the environmentally sensitive area scheme and many other schemes—for example, the management of ancient woodlands—we could continue making real efforts to reconstruct valuable habitats on a grand scale and we would be spending the huge sums of available money effectively.

In conclusion, I certainly accept the modest measures proposed this evening. We should be weaned from grants and contribute to the national economic efforts, but I cannot accept our continuing failure to make set-aside work creatively for conservation. I should like the Government to be absolutely certain that the measures we take with other members of the European Community in the next few years ensure that set-aside land is of lasting benefit to the environment.

1.57 am
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), because he has shown yet again that there is a groundswell in the House—an increasing tendency to realise that set-aside is central to the Government's problems with agriculture and with the misinvestment of resources in agricultural development.

When the former Minister came back to the House waving a piece of paper and saying that he had achieved peace in our time, he claimed reduced surpluses, reduced costs and reduced bureaucracy as major benefits from his common agricultural policy reform package. Initially, the Liberal Democrats were alone in the House in taking the view that the dependence on set-aside, especially rotational set-aside, would be the seed of the decline of the whole policy. In fact, it had built into it its own calamitous conclusion.

I very much endorse the views expressed this evening about the way in which, sadly, the cuts that the Treasury has made in agricultural support have been on the wrong targets. That has to be the message that hon. Members on both sides of the House have to express to the Government.

I hope that the Minister will be able to explain to us, if he speaks again tonight, how precisely the target has been selected out of all the targets that could have been selected by the Treasury in making cuts, when there is such a clear view among the agriculturists, conservationists, the general public, taxpayers and Members of the House that the real target should be the huge sums being paid in arable area compensation for rotational set-aside.

In the meantime, as hon. Members have already said, there is an element of double-speak or double standards in that the proposals are being brought forward at this juncture, when the Department of the Environment is to publish its biodiversity action plan within a few days. I hope that the Government will reiterate their support for the European Union habitats directive. How could any Government square the reiteration of that support with those cuts and those proposed targets for economies?

The National Farmers Union has made it clear that the great value of the farm and conservation grant scheme is that it is generally applied, extremely popular, nationwide and comprehensive and all farms are eligible, wherever they are. It is not selective and does not depend on lines on maps. Surely that is the way to proceed if we want all farmers—not only a few in particular areas—to sign up to wider environmental and community benefits.

The organisations that brief hon. Members of, I am sure, all parties have emphasised the fact that the take-up of the scheme has been unique in that it has been so cost-effective and has led to real improvements. The most popular take-up has been for investment in waste handling facilities and the scheme has been one of the best run of any Government. As the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, the people who now wish to benefit from such schemes were not making large profits before and therefore had no ready cash to invest. We are therefore penalising the least well-off—in the dairy sector in particular—when it should be the other way around.

What message are the Government sending to the industry and to the country? In recent weeks, I have been to the borders of Scotland, to North Yorkshire and Somerset and, of course, to Cornwall, to meet dairy farmers. I do not think that the hon. Member for Lincoln has as many dairy farmers in the city of Lincoln as I have in my constituency. The diary farmers in particular know only too well that the scheme is of practical help to them. It is a deplorable day when cuts are made simply because the Treasury finds it easy to make them. That is the real reason for the cuts; it is not because the Minister felt he had found the correct target for reductions in costs.

On-farm waste management is a major problem, as has already been mentioned. Of course there is room for significant improvement. The National Rivers Authority and other organisations outside government have emphasised that fact and, in the interests of a long-term environmental policy, it is extremely important that there continue to be improvements.

It is significant that the grant scheme makes no great difference to the profitability of an individual holding; indeed, it may increase costs on the farm. Nor does it make any difference to the productivity of a particular enterprise. There is no benefit to the farmer. The benefit is to the environment and the wider community and, one hopes, to the Government's long-term environmental objectives.

The Minister referred to increasing income. What we are discussing is not a matter of income. It is not intended to help the farmer to make a bigger profit. Indeed, it cannot do so, but it can achieve other benefits for the community and the environment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said that the NRA can effectively close a dairy farm enterprise if it does not meet the appropriate waste management standards. The scheme is not merely a voluntary addition to help farmers do a better job, or make a bigger profit, but has much wider advantages.

I remind the Minister that it was his right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), who is now the Patronage Secretary—that shows how far the Minister can rise if he plays his cards right—who introduced the scheme in 1989 when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister. On 14 February 1989, which is Valentine's day—I am sure that that was appropriate—he said: Concern to protect and enhance the beauty and wildlife variety of our countryside is growing all the time. Increasingly, too, the public look to the farmer as the guardian of the countryside … What is less often recognised … is the extra cost this can impose on the farmer. That is the point—it is an extra cost, not an advantage, to the farmer to introduce such a scheme. He continued: Another important priority under the … scheme deals with the problems of pollution from farm effluent. The pressure on farmers to clean up their act is acute, and rightly so. He added: It also shows our determination to target assistance where it can do most good, both for the farmer and for the community as a whole."—[Official Report, 14 February 1989; Vol. 147, c. 269–70.] Where is that promise and that targeting tonight? Cuts has been made precisely where, on that occasion, the then Parliamentary Secretary identified a need to expand and increase support.

What has changed in those few years? Do the Government no longer believe that protecting the environment is important? Were their claims of sustainability so much cant? Is this measure just a sop to the Treasury because the environment does not really matter when the chips are down?

Do the present ministerial team share the right hon. Gentleman's view that the extra cost should not fall on the farmer? Today's targeting is most curious in relation to the priorities set at the Rio summit, the European Union habitats directive and the terms in which the scheme was introduced in 1989.

The Government's own 1990 countryside survey, published just a few months ago, reported the decline of habitats over the past 12 years—including the most valuable in this country. I refer to hedgerows and to upland grass and moorland—in both of which I am extremely interested, given the part of the United Kingdom that I represent.

Those habitats were precisely targeted, and rightly so, under the farm and conservation grant scheme, on the best possible advice to the Ministry. However, during the 12 years of the survey, 23 per cent. of hedgerows were lost, in addition to the considerable losses that occurred in previous eras. Up to 8 per cent. of upland grass and moorland was also lost.

Those areas are of huge value in terms of not only natural habitat but the upland landscape available to be enjoyed by people who do not live there all year but who visit from all parts of the world to see a man-made but nevertheless extremely attractive landscape—so there is even tourist value in work done under the scheme.

The survey identified an increase in derelict hedges, probably because of declining hedge management. Mention was made tonight of skills being lost because the grant is not enough—not because it is too much or too generous. Surely no one suggests that the scheme has outlived its usefulness. The reverse is true. Hedgerows, stone walls and Cornish banks—each area has its landscape vocabulary—are all part of the fabric of our countryside. The survey confirmed that they are still deteriorating. That is surely a reason for increasing the amount.

The Minister made three small announcements this evening. We heard nothing dramatic about poultry waste.

Although I am delighted—I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) shares my interest—that the Isles of Scilly scheme will continue, that announcement was not so dramatic that we can all tear up our Order Papers and go home.

The access provisions are not a new announcement. On 10 August 1993, the Department announced that it would introduce funding for public access as part of its commitment to the European Union's agricultural environment programme. We cannot have double booking—that support cannot appear twice in the accounts. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will press the Minister to say this evening whether that is new money or whether it has simply been recycled—already announced, but presented by the Minister this evening as new by a sleight of hand.

The scheme's objectives are most worth while and deserve maximum support, but we want to ensure not only payment for existing rights of way but increased public access as part of the bargain, otherwise, we shall be paying for something that we already have. There is no value in that.

As the hon. Member for Lincoln pointed out eloquently, what is so galling is the contrast between the huge sums being spent on arable set-aside, particularly rotational set-aside—which he rightly identified as having limited conservation benefits—and this cut. The Council for the Protection of Rural England has pointed out that the cut represents 0.08 per cent.—less than 1 per cent.—of the total amount that will be invested in organised dereliction. Rotational set-aside, after all, is simply managed dereliction.

Rotational set-aside is in danger of becoming a bottomless pit into which increasingly large area payments will be thrown, bringing the whole of farming into disrepute. Already, parts of the tabloid press—perhaps not so ostentatiously in recent weeks; they have had other interests—have identified as scandalous the huge sums paid to large landowners in the eastern part of England. This will increasingly become a scandal, and the taxpayer will not put up with it in the long term. It simply is not sustainable politically. That would be so even if it were sustainable in other regards, which it clearly is not.

In the last year, 550,000 hectares of farmland in the United Kingdom were left idle, with virtually no environmental or social benefits. The Government's proposals will bring the CAP to its knees. It has already been brought into disrepute.

As the arable area scheme is now constituted, it is clearly doing great damage to the reputation of the farming community, and to the taxpayer. It appears that it is doing some good only to the largest landowners and the largest farmers. No doubt they used to be Conservative supporters. I do not know whether that is still the case. In the meantime, the Minister has suffered a severe defeat.

Let us be clear about this: these are not the Minister's proposals. I give her credit for at least having the good judgment to know that this is not the right target for cuts, although it may be a soft target. The statutory instrument involved has the Treasury's fingerprints all over it; it is nothing to do with the priorities of the Minister and her team. I have too much respect for them to believe otherwise. The Treasury has been allowed to savage the most valuable and vulnerable elements in the Minister's budget. No flights of fancy can disguise the fact that this represents a major defeat.

That defeat concerns not only the Minister; the real victims will be the farmers who really want to plan, in the long term, for the conservation of their land, as good stewards of that land. This is a defeat for the countryside.

2.12 am
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I trust that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks too closely; others wish to speak. Let me say, however, that I felt that a good speech was spoilt by his conclusions. The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) put the matter into perspective. I think that it was a bit over the top to talk about a "savaging" policy. I am, however, grateful for his reference to the Isles of Scilly, which are in my constituency.

I fear that I have spent a good deal of my time in the House criticising my hon. Friend and his predecessor over their responsibility for fishing matters. I am delighted to be able to congratulate my hon. Friend on the announcement about the Isles of Scilly.

As one of your predecessors knows, Mr. Deputy Speaker—Lord Dean spends all his summer holidays there —the fabric of the islands is composed of small holdings. They are not farms in the accepted sense; they are minute holdings, but they make the landscape for the inhabited islands. In recent years, I—along with others—have been increasingly concerned about the future of some of those holdings. The structure of agriculture and horticulture on the islands has come under trememdous pressure from economic forces and several other factors. One of those factors was cold weather and violent storms some years ago, which destroyed the hedge pattern of the islands.

I was pleased to accompany my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) to the islands when he was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He announced the application of the scheme to the islands with particular reference to replacing some of the hedges. [Interruption.] I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Glandford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) is saying. That is probably just as well. I am sure that his comments are not helpful.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Suffolk, Coastal announced the scheme to give aid to the islanders Io replace hedges and to improve and store bulbs. That has been a valuable scheme. I am sorry that, as a result of economic factors, there has not been the take-up for which some of us hoped. It is right, and greatly appreciated, that my hon. Friend the Minister has announced tonight that the scheme will be extended for another year while longer-term measures are considered. That will be welcomed by farmers on the Isles of Scilly and particularly by Mrs. Penny Rogers, the splendid secretary of the National Farmers Union branch. She is a grower, as are all her members of her family. She has worked extremely hard on behalf of all those involved in horticulture and agriculture on the islands. She has been in constant contact with me about the scheme and other measures that are needed.

My concluding remarks refer to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) said. He was right to say that responsible farmers do not expect to survive or depend on grants. That is perhaps the fundamental difference between Conservative Members and some Opposition Members on the point. There is a place for grants where encouragement is needed and where they are necessary to carry out certain preservation works. The Isles of Scilly certainly come into that category.

Isles of Scilly farmers are extremely independent. They do not expect to survive on grants. They have done an enormous amount to help themselves, particularly in marketing the daffodil crop. It always gives me enormous pleasure to see Sol d'Or daffodils being sold at Westminster tube station. A year ago, when Mrs. Rogers came to the House, she stopped at the tube station because the florist there was selling Sol d'Or daffodils from the Isles of Scilly. She looked at the box and they came from Lunnon, her farm on the Isles of Scilly.

The farmers have imagination. They have done a tremendous amount in marketing and promoting their products, particularly the daffodils. The scheme is a little further encouragement. For those reasons, I thank the Minister, on the farmers' behalf, for his announcement tonight.

2.18 am
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I had not intended to speak, but I wanted to ask the Minister a simple question. I was sorry that he did not give way. I shall be brief because I know that several hon. Members wish to speak.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) referred to hedgerows. We have lost 23 per cent. of our hedges in 12 years. I presented a hedgerows measure in 1982. The Government said that it was not required because the threat to hedgerows had ended. Between 1984 and 1990, almost a quarter of Britain's hedgerows disappeared. I urge the Minister to give favourable consideration to the Bill that I have presented in the past few days. It has been refined from the one that was blocked in 1989. It commands the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including some of the Minister's hon. Friends who have a distinguished record in conservation. I know that I could have had the support of more of his hon. Friends, if a larger number of supporters were allowed. The Minister will recall that we are trying to keep that measure non-partisan and I say that as a long-serving chairman of the Council of Europe sub-committee on the natural environment.

I would like Britain to maintain its leading position in the field. The Government's commitment in the manifesto on which Conservative Members were elected in 1992 means that they have an obligation to ensure that a hedgerows Bill is allowed to go through and that would make up for the decline in interest in hedgerows which may be a consequence of the order.

2.19 am
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made one of the most telling contributions when he asked the Minister about the position of those farmers who have already submitted plans to the Ministry and had them accepted. I was very interested and encouraged by the Minister's response that, if plans are accepted, they will receive grant at the higher rate. I note that the Minister is again agreeing to that.

I am especially pleased about that because, sadly, at the time that the farm and conservation grant scheme was introduced in 1989 there was some difficulty about the interpretation of the expression, "expenditure incurred", which appears in paragraph 2 of the statutory instrument.

One such case involves one of my constituents, Mr. Winston Richards, who was engaged in a project under the agricultural improvement scheme, which predated the farm and conservation grants scheme. The interpretation of "expenditure incurred" in his case has been particularly inflexible. I shall briefly quote to the Minister a letter that I received from the Secretary of State for Wales, which said that he accepted that the Welsh Office has to determine in any individual case how the term 'expenditure incurred' is to be applied. In doing so it must act in accordance with the guidelines which have been agreed between all Agriculture Departments and the Treasury". If the interpretation has changed, I wonder how it will apply to constituents such as Mr. Richards, who incurred £15,000 of expenditure and—whether the grant is 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. —has not received a penny of assistance because of the inflexible interpretation of the rule.

I was very much encouraged by what the Minister said about developing the agri-environmental package. Environmentally sensitive areas are playing a more significant role in some of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom, such as my constituency. Two areas within it—the Cambrian mountains and the Radnor area —have been designated ESAs in recent times. However, the Brecon Beacons national park—an area of equal beauty —has within it many hedgerows, as the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) will know, on which the skills of hedge laying have been kept alive.

Although other schemes assisted hedge laying and maintenance, I look forward with anticipation to the proposals that.the Minister has said that he will present to the House in due course to ensure that we do not lose those skills and that farmers will be in a position to carry on their important work of looking after our beautiful countryside, in which they should be supported.

2.23 am
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

I was struck by one comment made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), the Liberal Democrat spokesman on agriculture. He said that each area has its traditional landscape. I only wish that that were true in my area on the Lancashire plain. When I first knew it 20 or 25 years ago, it looked as most hon. Members would expect. Now it is a huge plain, which resembles Saskatchewan more than Lancashire.

So many years of destruction and dereliction of hedgerows will need a lot of fixing. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who mentioned having created one mile of hedgerow, would have to work extremely hard to restore some of those in west Lancashire. They have been left as stunted stumps, which have all sorts of implications for country roads in the area. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans)—who has quite a large rural patch, believe it or not—watches as, in dry weather, thousands of tonnes of topsoil annually blow off his constituency and all over mine. Much as I like to receive things from his constituency, we could do without that. That is attributed by the farmers to the destruction and dereliction of hedgerows.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

When my hon. Friend refers to the situation on the south side of Lancashire, will he recognise that, in east Lancashire, the situation on the Pennines is very different in terms of the need for stone walls? The farmers in other parts of Lancashire will not be happy about what a Lancashire Minister said in opening the debate.

Mr. Pickthall

I welcome the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). He is quite right and the wind that blows in his part of the world is even more ferocious than it is in mine, although I maintain that, in a flat area like west Lancashire, any diminution of grants towards the maintenance and building of shelter belts and hedgerows is nothing short of disastrous.

I shall briefly mention the cuts in grant for the handling and storing of poultry manure in my region, where farmers have already expressed a great deal of concern to me about their problems in disposing of that manure. Especially they express concern in connection with the 15 per cent. set-aside, which presents them with extra diffficulties. When I brought the problem to the attention of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials, I was told that the solution was simply to burn it. That seems to me not only an absurd waste of energy in the process of the burning, but an absurd waste of energy in the material itself, which I suggest should be more imaginatively used. The types of grant that we are discussing could be useful in that respect.

I wish to comment on what the Minister said about the low take-up of greenhouse replacement grant. Most of that grant must have been taken up in my constituency, where there are vast areas containing thousands of derelict greenhouses, which are being restored piece by piece, with great difficulty in these times of recession. I very much resent any cut in that grant.

I welcome the provision of grants towards access to agricultural land for the maintenance of stiles, gates and so on, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). Such provision is important because popular paths especially sustain much damage from normal wear and tear. Footpath groups such as the Ramblers Association are, quite rightly, aggressive in keeping those paths open to walkers. That costs a good deal of money.

I hope that it will be possible for some of the grant to go towards the major footpath projects that we have in my part of the world. We have a lot of huge sluices in the peatland area, which sometimes can be as much as 20, even 30, ft across. Where the footbridges have fallen into disuse, it costs a vast sum of money to put them back in place. I know that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) will be reaching for her garlic, but Lancashire county council has shared with the Council for the Protection of Rural England the cost of building a bridge there that has cost tens of thousands of pounds. Farmers could not afford that, even with the type of grant assistance that we are discussing. That is the responsibility of local authorities and I hope that some of the money might find its way in their direction.

2.29 am
Mr. Morley

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to some of the comments which have been made.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) made a fair contribution, describing how farmers were trying to move away from grant support. Indeed, there should be a move away from set-aside schemes to environmental support schemes. That is precisely what the Opposition are arguing. The whole farm and conservation grant scheme is extremely small compared with the overall package of agricultural support and in such a small scheme, which has been viable and well supported, the cuts made are mean and petty.

The Opposition want a major shift in the structure of the agricultural support system. I know that farmers want to be more commercial and more independent, but for all sorts. of reasons—whether social, environmental, economic or strategic—there will always be a need for some sections of the agricultural community to receive support. Assistance should be shifted away from subsidies for production towards support for environmental gain. Measures such as the grants scheme should therefore be expanded rather than cut.

I much appreciate what the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) said about the Isles of Scilly. I usually spend a week there each year, and last time I was there I had talks with the chief executive about local problems. I generally go to the Isles of Scilly during the week of the Conservative party conference, because there are few better places to be at that time, and I recognise the sensitive and fragile nature of their habitat. Incidentally, I believe that support for increased public access would be much appreciated by the tourists who go to Scilly.

I again emphasise the importance of a proper measure to protect hedgerows. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) may well have created one mile of hedgerow on his farm, but by wrecking the private Member's Bill on hedgerows he destroyed the chance to protect hundreds of miles of hedgerow. His constituents will judge him on that rather than on the one mile that he has created, and the electorate will judge the Government on their commitment, or lack of commitment, to conservation and the environment—a commitment that is sadly missing from the scheme.

2.31 am
Mr. Jack

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall try to reply to some of the points that have been raised in the debate.

First, I put on record my profound appreciation of the considerable interest shown in the measure by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but especially on the Government side. There has been an excellent turnout. Many of my hon. Friends have stayed throughout the debate, and I was especially pleased by the telling contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris).

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) chastised me for being the bearer of the news that rates of grant were to be diminished. He shows the typical Opposition approach to such matters, in that he is unable to take the wider view. We have heard during the debate about additional farming income from other sources. The Government have had to take a balanced view, because our task is to make the best use of scarce and limited resources. We reviewed the effectiveness of the scheme and, for the reasons that I explained in my opening speech, we concluded that we could afford to make some sensible and modest reductions without inhibiting the take-up of money. As I have said, about 9,000 farmers have already taken advantage of the waste management grants. We have spent £149 million under the scheme, £119 million of which has gone towards waste handling projects.

One of the common themes of the debate has been the question whether we have put fundamentally at risk our commitment to the restoration of dry-stone walls, hedgerows, traditional farm buildings and various forms of banks and cover. I commend to the House an excellent book called "Conservation Grants for Farmers", a joint publication by my Department and the Department of the Environment, which lists a tremendous range of available schemes.

I can put on record the fact that, in additional to our expenditure, the Department of the Environment has a budget of some £105 million, which goes to the Countryside Commission, to national parks, to English Nature and to Groundwork, all of which have various schemes to deal with some of the important features of our countryside. The Government's commitment to working to restore those features is second to none, especially in the extension of the environmentally sensitive areas.

While considering the expenditure on those environmentally sensitive areas, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe chose to ignore the fact that by the financial year 1996–97, £63 million will have been spent on that highly focused form of help to special types of countryside, of which hedgerow management and dry stone wall restoration are a part.

I visited Cumbria during the Christmas recess—I did not visit the constituency of the hon. Member for Workington—and went into an environmentally sensitive area. One of the farmers there said that the available money meant that there was no excuse for not maintaining the country craft of restoring dry-stone walls. Opposition Members' use of some rather cataclysmic and flowery language to describe the changes, when they are balanced by the introduction of many other schemes, must be for the consumption of local newspapers.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred to the wider environmental package. I remind him that, in addition to the environmentally sensitive areas and the continuity of the farm and conservation grant scheme, and the schemes which I mentioned under the Department of the Environment's responsibility, in 1994 we shall introduce the moorland scheme, the habitat scheme, nitrate sensitive areas, the countryside access scheme—which the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe mentioned—organic aid schemes, and so on. We are not reluctant to take seriously our responsibility for the countryside and the environment.

Opposition Members must have written their speeches on the financial impact of the changes before I had a chance to put on record that expenditure in the next financial year under the farm and conservation grant scheme in England will be £27 million—£2 million less than it is in the present financial year. By any standards, that is a substantial amount of money spent on such important matters.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe asked me a number of questions. He asked whether resources could be made available to separate in the schemes water from building roofs and run-offs resulting from the farm waste scheme. The answer is no. If the scheme had been extended to do that, we would have ended up cutting grant rates on the wider scheme. The hon. Gentleman asked whether access provision was paid for by money diverted from the agri-environment package. The short answer to that is no. It is in the envelope of the existing farm and conservation grant scheme.

The hon. Gentleman also suggested that there was no consultation between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment on the changes. The fact that I have pointed out a growing range of schemes administered by the Department of the Environment which dealt with many of the sensitive issues that he chose to raise shows carefully that, as expenditure in one area of Government rises, quite properly we re-examine expenditure in those same areas of our own budget.

Much criticism has been made of money that farmers are receiving under the arable area payments scheme and in other community receipts. It was this Government who fought for the reforms of the common agricultural policy and it was this Government who fought to control expenditure in that area. Farmers cannot ignore the fact that that income enables them, at a time when, properly, price support is being reduced and they are becoming more market sensitive, to play their part with or without grant schemes and to maintain the traditional fabric of the countryside which they have fashioned. The hon. Member for North Cornwall should not lose sight of that fact, because that is a farmer's responsibility.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) made his speech from the Back Benches for the first time in six years. It was a special contribution, and I am glad that he made it. He reminded us of the importance of good management practice within the set-aside scheme. I assure him that there is growing awareness of that. My hon. Friend will be aware of the new requirements within the rotational and non-rotational set-aside, and I shall write to him and spell out in more detail some of the important measures. I welcomed my hon. Friend's recognition of the need to re-examine our spending priorities in light of the substantial income that farmers receive from various sources.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall mentioned the habitat scheme. That is part of the agri-environment package. the hon. Gentleman cannot walk away from the fact that we are committed to introducing it during 1994. I emphasised environmentally sensitive areas. They cover about 10 per cent. of the land area of England. That brings to bear in a very focused way schemes to deal with many of the points to which the hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention. I am certainly convinced, from my own involvement in inspection during the Christmas recess, that farmers in those areas are taking advantage of schemes.

Mr. Tyler


Mr. Jack

I am sorry, but I shall not give way; I want to finish my speech in a moment.

Such schemes are contributing to the preservation of those important features of our landscape.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives for his generous comments on the Scilly Isles. It is right and proper that, when discussing big agriculture, we do not forget small, innovative farmers in places such as the Scilly Isles.

This has been an interesting debate. It clearly shows that, when farm incomes are rising, the Government were right to re-examine their priorities. I hope that I have demonstrated that we do not shirk our responsibilities in the environmental sense and that the schemes of my Department and of the Department of the Environment fulfil the objectives laid down by the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 38.

Division No. 79] [2.41 am
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Faber, David
Alexander, Richard Fabricant, Michael
Amess, David Forman, Nigel
Arbuthnot, James Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Ashby, David French, Douglas
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gallie, Phil
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Gardiner, Sir George
Baldry, Tony Gillan, Cheryl
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bates, Michael Gorst, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hague, William
Booth, Hartley Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Boswell, Tim Hanley, Jeremy
Bowden, Andrew Hargreaves, Andrew
Bowis, John Harris, David
Brandreth, Gyles Hawkins, Nick
Brazier, Julian Hayes, Jerry
Bright, Graham Heald, Oliver
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hendry, Charles
Browning, Mrs. Angela Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Burns, Simon Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Butterfill, John Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Carrington, Matthew Hunter, Andrew
Carttiss, Michael Jack, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Jenkin, Bernard
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Jessel, Toby
Colvin, Michael Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Congdon, David Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Conway, Derek Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Key, Robert
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Knapman, Roger
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Day, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Devlin, Tim Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Legg, Barry
Dover, Den Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Duncan, Alan Lidington, David
Duncan-Smith, Iain Maclean, David
Elletson, Harold Madel, Sir David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Maitland, Lady Olga
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Malone, Gerald
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Marland, Paul
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Merchant, Piers Spink, Dr Robert
Milligan, Stephen Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Moate, Sir Roger Stephen, Michael
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stewart, Allan
Moss, Malcolm Streeter, Gary
Neubert, Sir Michael Sykes, John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Nicholls, Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thomason, Roy
Oppenheim, Phillip Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Page, Richard Thurnham, Peter
Paice, James Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Patnick, Irvine Trend, Michael
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Pickles, Eric Viggers, Peter
Rathbone, Tim Walden, George
Richards, Rod Waller, Gary
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Waterson, Nigel
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Wells, Bowen
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Whitney, Ray
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Whittingdale, John
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Widdecombe, Ann
Sackville, Tom Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Shaw, David (Dover) Willetts, David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wolfson, Mark
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wood, Timothy
Sims, Roger
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Tellers for the Ayes:
Spencer, Sir Derek Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and Mr. Andrew MacKay.
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Barnes, Harry Llwyd, Elfyn
Campbell-Savours, D. N. McMaster, Gordon
Cann, Jamie McWiiliam, John
Clelland, David Michael, Alun
Cryer, Bob Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Miller, Andrew
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Morley, Elliot
Dafis, Cynog Pike, Peter L.
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Rendel, David
Foster, Don (Bath) Skinner, Dennis
Foulkes, George Strang, Dr. Gavin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Turner, Dennis
Graham, Thomas Tyler, Paul
Hardy, Peter Wallace, James
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Wise, Audrey
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Wray, Jimmy
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Tellers for the Noes:
Kilfoyle, Peter Mr. Colin Pickthall and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Lewis, Terry

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) Scheme 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 2901) dated 24th November 1993, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th November, be approved.