HL Deb 28 April 2004 vol 660 cc769-72

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

What will be the effect of excluding orchards from the single payment scheme to be introduced under the common agricultural policy reforms from 2005.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, land used for permanent crops, including orchards, cannot be used to claim for the new single payment. This rule applies throughout the European Union. But existing advice from the Commission does allow land in dual use—for example, traditional grazed orchards—to be considered as forage rather than orchard land, subject to certain conditions. We will consider claims for the single payment on their merits. This should help to reduce the apparent incentive to grub up traditional orchards, an incentive which has been seriously exaggerated and is in most cases illusory.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, I must declare an interest in that my brother-in-law owns a substantial acreage of orchards. I hear what the Minister says—that the Government intend to look at each claim on a case-by-case basis—but can he assure the House that they will look in a very positive manner at giving every incentive to traditional orchards? Over the years we have encouraged their growth at both local authority and government level, not only for reasons of biodiversity but also in order to eat the excellent fruit they produce. I do not believe that the Minister's reply is yet positive enough and that everything will be done to maintain orchards rather than giving incentives for them to be grubbed up.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I endorse the noble Baroness's view of the quality of English apples, particularly those from Somerset—and, indeed, her brother-in-law's own apples—and the cider which comes from some of them. Regrettably, there has been a long-term decline in orchards and the return that one can receive from them. But the reports that this new system—which of course has not applied and will not apply to orchards anywhere else—will be a significant incentive for farmers to grub-up over and above what they would otherwise have done are wrong. Most traditional orchards are already under countryside stewardship schemes, which will give them a substantially better return than the incentive under the single farm payment, even at the end of eight years. Much of the coverage of this issue and the reaction in the industry has been exaggerated.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, this is obviously an important issue in Somerset and more widely. As the Minister knows, it has been the intention recently to encourage the establishment of more orchards so that we can meet a growing home demand, particularly for cider production. The noble Lord has not given a categoric answer that there is no economic disincentive now to the establishment of orchards. Can he confirm that if people apply to go into countryside stewardship it is not automatic that they will get it? Can he give a real assurance that if people seek to apply they will be able to get it for orchards?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, two-thirds of traditional orchards, which are the focus of most concern here, are already in countryside stewardship. The new system which will replace countryside stewardship schemes will also have an orchard dimension to it, for which most traditional orchards will be eligible.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, in replies given on 22 April to a series of Written Questions that I put down in the House, my noble friend stated in one Answer that the census data are not collected for traditionally managed orchards; and in a second Answer he stated that the countryside stewardship scheme now provides funding of £600,000 a year for agreements covering two-thirds of the area of traditional orchards. That suggests that the two replies are contradictory. I reiterate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord King. What will happen to the one-third of traditional orchards which are not capable of drawing money and support from the countryside stewardship scheme? Does my noble friend recognise that the scheme itself is competitive and that that means inevitably that some will fall outside of the fence?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is competitive, but the fact is that two-thirds of traditional orchards have managed to achieve it. My noble friend is referring to two different issues. Two-thirds of orchards are covered—the volume is more difficult to ascertain—and there is no reason at all why a similar or better percentage should not be covered by the new, higher level agri-environment schemes which will succeed countryside stewardship. Moreover, there will be a few traditional orchards which are already classified as grazing land, as I said in my original Answer. They are therefore almost certainly IACS registered and, in most cases, will be eligible for the single farm payment.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, does the Minister, who came to the National Food Show the other day, recognise that more apples are grown in Kent than were probably ever grown in Somerset? Is not the point that if an orchard is grubbed under the new scheme, no matter how far into the distance and no matter what alternative use it is put to, it will not be eligible for any subsidy scheme then applying to that use elsewhere? Will the Government reflect on the possibility of making the national reserve, which I understand to be created under the scheme, available to orchards in those circumstances?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will recognise that much of the Kentish production of apples would not fall nowadays, perhaps regrettably in some ways, under the definition of traditional orchards. They would be more commercial orchards, for which an incentive of £20 per hectare in the first year and slightly more than £200 in eight years' time is not much compared with the return that would be generated from fully commercial, closely planted orchards. I do not think that many of Kent's most competitive apple producers will be tempted to go down that road in any case.

As to the national reserve, there are circumstances in which we think we may be able to use the national reserve where there is a temporary cultivation to replace existing orchards, which can be taken out. We are in discussion with the National Farmers Union and the European Commission about that. As the noble and learned Lord will know, consultation on the whole issue of the national reserve is taking place at the moment.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the taste of British apples is absolutely superb? Should he not include orchards in the single payment scheme to help to tackle the problem of child obesity? Surely the Government are promoting the consumption of fruit by children in schools. I come from the Welsh border. A lot of apples are grown both there and in Herefordshire. As the Minister has said, he could designate many orchards as grazing land, but he should make a firmer statement and include orchards in the single payment scheme by that method. After all, in many instances, sheep graze the land and produce meat; and children eat the apples, thereby grazing them as well.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, where the orchards are primarily grazing land and are registered under I ACS, it is likely that they would he in the single payment scheme. If the owners think that is desirable, they could be registered under the single payment scheme. In response to the noble Lord's opening remark, I obviously endorse the taste of English and even the odd Welsh apple.

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

Well, my Lords, there are a few that spread just across the border, but not very far. It is important that all of us help the public sector in its own procurement policies. Its Fresh Fruit In Schools programme is helping with that. All of us who ever issue a catering contract should specify apple juice rather than orange juice, because then there is at least a 50 per cent chance that the juice will come from an English apple.

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