HC Deb 30 April 1998 vol 311 cc448-9
8. Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

What steps he is taking to ensure that CAP reform increases job opportunities in rural areas. [39115]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham)

Increasing job opportunities in all areas, including rural areas, is a key priority for the Government. We will take account of that priority in the negotiations on CAP reform.

Mr. Tipping

Is not the most effective way of creating new jobs in rural areas to ensure that Departments work together? Will that not ensure that planning, training and support for small businesses are used effectively? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the present departmental structures and agencies are not necessarily organised in the best possible way?

Dr. Cunningham

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's first point. That is why the Government have instituted reviews across Departments, including a review of countryside and rural policy. As for matters involving reorganisation and responsibilities in Whitehall, some of those are under discussion. The Select Committee on Agriculture also had some recommendations to make, but it is too soon for us to announce any conclusions.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Minister agree that, by cutting hill livestock compensatory allowances by £35 million this year, he has damaged job prospects in upland areas? Can he explain why the British presidency has not yet done more to reform the common agricultural policy during the six-month period?

Dr. Cunningham

I was delighted to see that even the hon. Lady smiled when asking the second part of her question. She must know that the detailed proposals for reform of the CAP were published only last month, and that I immediately called a special additional Council meeting for Agriculture Ministers to begin discussing those proposals straight away. Moreover, we had already prepared detailed official working parties, so the proposals went straight into detailed consideration by member states. I assure the hon. Lady that there has been no delay on our part.

As for the first part of the hon. Lady's question, she will recall that in December we announced an additional £85 million of support over and above last year's level for farmers, particularly those in less-favoured areas. Since that decision, we have announced that the Government will fund, with an additional £70 million, items including the start-up costs and the first year's running costs of the cattle traceability scheme.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the new jobs in rural areas will undoubtedly be in tourism and that tourism, especially in the hill country, will mean that we have to preserve the present balance and not destroy those things that attract people to such areas?

Dr. Cunningham

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that we must look increasingly for additional opportunities to improve farm incomes, which means providing farmers with help and support for a variety of developments, including, where possible and where farmers wish it, involvement in tourism. If, as my hon. Friend says, we as a nation wish to preserve the nature, heritage and environment in our countryside and environmentally sensitive areas, we as a nation must find better ways to pay for that preservation than we have found hitherto.