HC Deb 26 July 1990 vol 177 cc552-3W
Mr. Bellingham

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what areas outside the existing pilot scheme in East Anglia he intends to extend the agricultural set-aside scheme.

Mr. Curry

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the countryside premium scheme for set-aside land, currently operated by the Countryside Commission in seven eastern counties of England. The question of extending the present scheme would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Gill

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make an announcement on the arrangements for the third year of the set-aside scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

My right hon. Friends and I have reviewed the workings of this scheme in the light of the experience of its first two years. Our policy is that the scheme, which has as its primary purpose the reduction of surplus production of cereals and other crops, should protect the environment and should, where possible, go further and lead to environmental improvements. In general we favour integrating, so far as possible, environmental measures into agricultural policy. We have therefore decided to make a number of amendments to the scheme for 1990–91 and subsequent years.

First, we have decided to require the plant cover on fallow set-aside land to be cut twice a year instead of once as at present with suitable time gaps between cuts. This should achieve an improvement in the appearance of such land.

Secondly, we are extending the list of environmental features that farmers participating in the scheme will have to maintain and protect to include stone walls, vernacular buildings, unimproved grassland, moorland and heath.

Thirdly, we have decided to introduce a limited grazed fallow option. Under this farmers who kept livestock in the base year 1987–88 will be able to graze animals on fallow land up to a limit of the number of livestock units on the holding in the base year. We have also agreed to allow producers of deer or goats to graze these animals on their fallow set-aside land up to a limit of one livestock unit per hectare if they did not have livestock in the base year. This will be of benefit to fibre producers. I am aware that some farmers have in the past been concerned about the possible effects of a grazed fallow option on upland livestock producers, but this limited provision should allay their fears while being very positive environmentally.

Fourthly, equivalent changes will be made to the Countryside Commission's countryside premium scheme which offers additional aid on suitable set-aside land in seven eastern counties for management practices designed to achieve specific environmental and recreational benefits. This will be helpful in the re-creation of wildlife habitats.

The Government have also decided to increase the rates of aid for permanent fallow and rotational fallow, partly to offset the increased costs arising from the new management rules.

New entrants to the scheme will receive the higher rates and will be bound by the new management rules. Existing participants may also opt to observe the new management rules and receive an appropriate adjustment to rates. Those wishing to continue to observe the old rules may do so but will be paid at existing rates of aid.

The revised rates for permanent and rotational fallow are as follows:

Permanent fallow LFA non-LFA
(i) new participants 202 222
(ii) existing participants under new rules 190 210
(iii) existing participants under old rules 180 200
Rotational fallow
(i) new participants 182 202
(ii) existing participants under new rules 170 190
(iii) existing participants under old rules 160 180

The rate of aid for grazed fallow will be approximately half the permanent fallow rate. We have also decided to introduce differential rates of aid in order to reflect better the savings made in the setting aside of large proportions of land on larger farms. Farmers who set aside to fallow more than 100 hectares of land and more than 75 per cent. of their area eligible for set-aside will receive lower rates of payment on the hectarage above 100 ha.

Application forms and explanatory literature will be available from local offices of Agriculture Departments on 27 August 1990. All applications should be submitted by 30 September 1990.

An amending statutory instrument incorporating these changes into the existing legislation will be laid before Parliament.

I have placed in the Library a detailed guidance note providing information on the new rules of the scheme.