HC Deb 23 March 1979 vol 964 cc193-4W
Mr. Roderick

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he intends to give special help to farmers on marginal land outside the less-favoured areas.

Mr. John Silkin

My agricultural colleagues and I have been studying the problems of marginal land outside the traditional hill areas for some time. Poor quality land is found throughout the United Kingdom, often as part of larger farm units used for dairying, fattening and cash cropping. There are, however, some sizeable areas which are farmed on a more extensive system and which suffer under specific natural handicaps in much the same way as the hill areas.

We intend to survey these marginal areas in greater detail to establish their extent, their stocking and cropping, the natural and other handicaps affecting them, and the cost and feasibility of offering special assistance through the capital grants or otherwise.

Because such assistance would be governed by the European Community's less favoured areas directive, it will be necessary to consult the EEC Commission about the scope for extending our less favoured areas to include any suitable marginal areas that may be identified by the survey.

The survey will necessarily have to be undertaken by existing staff of the agricultural departments and could make heavy claims on their time. We shall keep this aspect under review. Meanwhile the Government must reserve decisions on whether special assistance should be provided and, if so, whether additional funds could be found for this purpose.