HC Deb 20 October 1994 vol 248 cc418-9
11. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what new proposals he has in respect of arrangements for set-aside land.

Mr. Jack

New proposals to develop alternative non-food use crops which can be grown on set-aside land have been published, and we have launched the countryside access scheme.

Mr. Flynn

Will the Minister confirm that taxpayers subsidise farmers to grow less food, thus bringing up prices; subsidise farmers to grow food regardless of the yield; subsidise farmers with a guaranteed minimum price; subsidise farmers by their intervention stores; and then consumers—the taxpayers—have to pay increased prices in the shops? When will he stop the income support scheme for farmers, many of whom are millionaires? The set-aside scheme was designed to cut food production by 50 per cent., but it does not do that. When will the right hon. Gentleman act against the common agricultural policy, before it collapses under the weight of its own unfairness, futility and stupidity? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I asked for the co-operation of the House less than five minutes ago, but it would appear that I am not receiving it. I expect the support and co-operation of the House—not a lot of "Hear, hears" and continued conversations.

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman has been exercising a certain right to roam away from the facts of what we have been up to. As my right hon. Friend has said, we have pressed forward in pursuit of realistic reforms of the common agricultural policy. We have pressed forward reforms of the set-aside scheme too. I am singularly disappointed by the fact that the hon. Gentleman fails to recognise the measures that we have taken to encourage set-aside for alternative, non-food uses. His failure to acknowledge, for instance, the short rotational coppice scheme is lamentable.

Mr. John Greenway

I warmly welcome the promise given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to set up a CAP policy review group—an important initiative taken by the Government for the future of agriculture. Will my hon. Friend ensure that part of the remit of that group will be to nail the lie, by means of proper research, about the link between agricultural price support and food prices—the sort of nonsense that we have heard talked about by the Labour party today?

Mr. Jack

I agree. The Opposition line is to end the common agricultural policy, pull the rug from under British farmers and not think about the consequences. They talk about a burden of £20 a week per family imposed by the CAP, but the figure is not valid because nobody knows what world prices would be in a world without the CAP. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall adopt a realistic view of reform.

Mr. Tipping

When English farmers alone receive more than £140 million in set-aside payments, do not people have the right to expect better conservation measures, an improvement of the landscape and better access to the countryside in return for that money?

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman must have been asleep when I was answering questions earlier. I said that, in the financial year 1995-96, we shall spend about £100 million on a range of environmental measures designed to achieve a better balance between farming and conservation.

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