HC Deb 22 July 1998 vol 316 cc1108-9
8. Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

When he intends to publish his proposals for an all-Wales agri-environmental scheme. [50276]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Davies)

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), gave a progress report on the all-Wales agri-environment scheme at the Royal Welsh show in Builth Wells yesterday.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Secretary of State accept that the support of farmers is absolutely essential if the tir gofal scheme is to work? Does he accept also that, if the resources provided for expanding the scheme are insufficient and large numbers of farmers are turned down, it will cause great disenchantment and disappointment? Does he agree that those in Wales who are most seriously committed to the agri-environmental system strongly oppose a ranking system based on the supposed ecological value of the farm as a condition for entry into the scheme? Will the Secretary of State agree to consider adding a tier within the scheme for organic farming, bearing in mind the fact that that would have considerable benefits for the market and for the price that farmers in it would get for their produce?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman has asked five questions and I will not attempt to answer them all in detail. There is an organic conversion scheme in operation and it will continue to exist alongside the tir gofal scheme. A broad welcome for tir gofal was expressed to me at the Royal Welsh show on Monday. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we must ensure continuing support for the farming community. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are consulting widely with farmers.

On resources, in September we will produce in Wales a document setting out our priorities as a result of the comprehensive spending review. I shall obviously do what I can to ensure that the scheme is funded properly. On ranking, it is an important principle that the schemes that offer best value for money, and therefore the best environmental enhancement, receive the highest priority.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that his proposals assist the fanners of the vale of Glamorgan in their endeavours to maintain the environment and the countryside in the face of a drop in farm incomes caused by the dreadful policies of the previous Government over the past five years?

Mr. Davies

The scheme is important, because it will bring environmental benefits. It will also help to provide an alternative income stream for farmers who, as my hon. Friend said, have been hard hit over the past couple of years. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am discussing with my officials and the farming unions the best way of ensuring that all the counties of Wales have an opportunity to have schemes in their areas, if only for exemplary purposes to spread the message that good farming is compatible with the best environmental practice.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

The Secretary of State presumes that farmers will survive, but some farms have lost 80 per cent. of their income. When will the Secretary of State wake up to the real crisis in Welsh farming and react accordingly?

Mr. Davies

I do not presume that, and I am working hard to ensure that it does not happen.

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