HC Deb 04 May 1995 vol 259 c423
3. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to take forward the environmentally sensitive area scheme. [20934]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave)

The scheme has been an outstanding success as I saw on recent visits to Halvergate marshes in Norfolk and the mountains of Mourne in Newry and Mourne.

Mr. Bruce

My right hon. Friend will know that the environmentally sensitive areas in my constituency, and the farmers who care for them, are thankful for the grants that are being made and that not only is that good for farmers and the environment, but it is good for tourism. Will he look at the effects that the Agricultural Tenancies Bill will have on the way in which environmentally sensitive area levies and grants are paid to tenant farmers or to landlords or to a combination of the two, as that matter is causing some concern to many farmers locally?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with my hon. Friend and many other people that the environmentally sensitive areas scheme has been an outstanding success. What started all those years ago in the Halvergate marshes became a European movement and was the beginning of the greening of agricultural policy more widely in Europe. We in this country, through individual campaigners such as Andrew Lees, academics such as Professor O'Riordan and even the Ministers who were involved at the time, take genuine pride in that.

On my hon. Friend's point about the Agricultural Tenancies Bill, I think that the new farm business tenancies will help as we know that quite a lot of farmers have been having to take tenancies on short lets because that is all that is available. In those situations, there has to be a complicated negotiation with the landlord because the scheme has to be joined for five years at a time. Once it becomes easier for farmers to get tenancies of rather longer duration, that will simplify the system and benefit the farmers concerned.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Should a farmer be able to make a profit out of an environmentally sensitive area?

Mr. Waldegrave

The object of the payments is to ensure that enough people join the scheme to make it work, so there has be to be an incentive element in it. The previous schemes were all based on compulsion, so yes, there should be an incentive to enable people to join voluntarily. Up and down the country, we have found that those who join voluntarily put far more into the schemes than those who are compelled.