HC Deb 04 May 1995 vol 259 cc425-6
7. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made with his Department's environmental programmes. [20942]

Mr. Waldegrave

My Department is making excellent progress on a number of environmental initiatives. We have recently added a new moorland scheme to the existing range of agri-environment schemes. We have also made significant progress in attaching environmental conditions to the common agricultural policy and in linking agri-environment and forestry schemes with set-aside.

Mr. Greenway

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, with no environmentally sensitive area in the North York Moors national park, the introduction of the moorland scheme will greatly help farmers and landowners there to conserve the much-valued heather and grouse moorland. Does not this initiative show that, while others talk of fancy ideas for conservation, it is the Government who are doing something practical? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that environmental schemes continue to be based on good science and proper and adequate compensation for loss of farm income?

Mr. Waldegrave

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. It is perfectly true that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, for example, and others have been, are and will remain strong supporters of these schemes. After all, the moorlands and uplands of England contain the only bird species that is entirely unique to the United Kingdom—the grouse—so it is a good idea to conserve them.

Mr. Foulkes

Is not the Minister's policy on the environment undermined by the privatised electricity companies retaining compulsory powers that they had when they were publicly owned, enabling them to string pylons across the countryside, which is cheaper than undergrounding, and to pay farmers peanuts in compensation for putting those unsightly pylons on their land?

Mr. Waldegrave

I well remember the last great wave of pylon building, which happened during a period of Labour government. Very few of those great cables were put underground because of the expense involved. Nevertheless, individual schemes—I know that there is a controversial one, to which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is referring—will be looked at extremely carefully.

Mr. Marland

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to tell the House a little more about his plans for putting trees on set-aside land? It is an excellent idea, on which he was active in European forums, and it is a much more constructive use of agricultural land than leaving it fallow.

Mr. Waldegrave

I have made it one of my objectives, and we are making progress with it. The specialist committee examining the proposals has ironed out all the technical problems which remained. We now have to get the proposals through the Council of Ministers, and I have every confidence that we shall. It is a far better use of set-aside land than simply growing weeds.