HC Deb 16 March 2000 vol 346 cc493-4
6. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What assistance he has provided to hill farmers in the past two years. [113373]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)

Hill farms received £600 million to £700 million in total in livestock headage payments last year. A significant proportion of the £235 million purchase costs under the over-30-months scheme and various sums under other schemes, including for environmentally sensitive areas, also went to hill farmers.

Helen Jackson

I repeat the welcome that I gave to the Government policy of putting environmental schemes at the heart of their grant programmes for hill farming and other purposes, because that will improve the countryside in hilly areas. Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that, often, hill farming is not big business? Do not small businesses need greater simplicity built into countryside stewardship schemes so that smaller applications, as well as larger integrated projects, are also given favourable treatment?

Ms Quin

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in hill areas, especially those in her part of the country. I accept the validity of what she said about the size of hill farms and their present circumstances, but we believe that our approach is right. In particular, the review of red tape that we have undertaken, and our keenness to simplify the advice system, will help to meet her requests.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

What, in the Minister's view, is the future for hill farmers—bright or gloomy?

Ms Quin

The Government recognise the role that hill farmers play in agriculture, and the economic, environmental and social aspects of hill farming. We believe that our rural development plan, and developing the second pillar of the common agricultural policy, will help hill farmers, because those measures recognise their multi-functional role. Hill farmers have an environmental role, and are also an important part of the social fabric of the countryside.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

One of the things that sicken me about the whole question of subsidies from the Common Market is that, according to research and calculations over the past 12 months, 80 per cent. of subsidies went to 20 per cent. of farms—the conglomerates—whereas only 20 per cent. ended up with the hill farmers and the rest. We never hear the Tories talk about subsidies of that kind. I propose that we start dividing the subsidies more equally, and stop the fat cats from getting them.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Such as Livingstone.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, including him.

We should have a pesticide tax on the millionaire conglomerates that are getting the subsidies. Once we start the process, we shall manage to solve some of the problems.

Ms Quin

I firmly believe that the existing common agricultural policy provides support in an inefficient way—a way that distorts markets, helps some sectors but not others and is backward-looking rather than forward-looking. That is why the Government have adopted a rural development approach rather than the backward-looking traditional common agricultural policy approach.

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