HC Deb 02 July 1992 vol 210 cc701-3W
Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what decisions have been taken on the detailed arrangements for area payments and set-aside under the new arable regime.

Mr. Gummer

The Council of Agriculture Ministers this week adopted the legal texts governing the new system of area payments for producers of cereals, oilseeds and protein crops. These are part of the package of measures agreed in principle in May which aim to bring cereal prices down by some 30 per cent. over three years. The price cuts will bring producers nearer the marketplace and, together with the new area payments, mark a major step in reform of the common agricultural policy.

The area payments will apply to cereals, oilseeds—rapeseed, soya and sunflower seed—and protein crops—peas for harvesting dry, field beans and sweet lupins—including fodder crops. Producers will be able to claim payments based on the area of cereals, oilseeds and protein crops grown, provided that they meet the conditions of the scheme, including the requirement to set aside a proportion of their land. Separate arrangements will apply for those claiming aid on a small area—less than around 15 or 16 hectares. The transitional EC oilseeds support scheme will be integrated into the new system.

The United Kingdom, like other member states, will not be able to draw up detailed rules for the scheme until the European Commission's implementing regulations are tabled and agreed. I want to get these adopted as soon as possile but they will deal with important and difficult issues, including the effective prevention of fraud across the whole Community, and inevitably it will be a few weeks before they are settled as the United Kingdom and other member states will need to make sure that they are satisfactory. However, the scheme applies to cropping in 1992–93 and farmers should begin planning now on the basis of the information that is available. To help them, a short leaflet is available on demand from the Ministry's regional service centres and the offices of the other Agriculture Departments. I have also placed copies in the Library of the House. Once further details are available, the Agriculture Departments will issue an explanatory booklet to all known cereals, oilseeds and protein producers.

Two schemes will be available. Under the simplified scheme, there will be no set-aside requirement, but claims will be limited to around 15 or 16 hectares: the payment rate for 1992–93 will be around £116 per hectare whether the crop is cereals, oilseeds or proteins.

The general scheme will offer payments of around £116 per hectare for cereals, £301 per hectare for proteins and £375 per hectare for oilseeds for 1992–93. In order to claim these aids, farmers will have to set aside 15 hectares of land for every 85 hectares of cereals, oilseeds and proteins they intend growing. Thus the set-aside area should equal 15 per cent. of the total of the arable area on which aid is being claimed and the area set aside. Land must be set aside from this autumn to qualify for payment of area aid and set-aside compensation in the autumn of 1993. Payments of around £208 per hectare will be made on set-aside land but only up to the area needed to satisfy the 15 per cent requirement. These figures are approximate and based on average United Kingdom yields. The actual payment rates will depend on historic regional yields. Land which was in permanent grass—including rough grazing and moorland—woodland, permanent crops or non-agricultural use at 31 December 1991 will not be eligible for area or set-aside payments.

Claims for aid will have to be submitted by 15 May 1993—possibly earlier for oilseeds. Claim forms will be available later this year. It is likely that, in the first year of the scheme, claimants will have to submit a 1:10,000 Ordnance Survey map, or in Northern Ireland the equivalent survey map, of their holding. We shall need these to ensure that area aids are not claimed on land that is ineligible. This is in producers' own interests too, because the aid per hectare may be reduced if more land comes into arable production. Farmers may wish to order or buy maps now. Payments will probably be made in November and December 1993. There may continue to be separate arrangements for oilseed payments.

Although there is no restriction on individual farmers expanding their areas of cereals, oilseeds and protein production, regional base areas will equal the average annual area of cereals, oilseeds and proteins grown and land fallowed under set-aside in the region concerned over the period 1989–1991. If claims for area payments—including set-aside—exceed the regional base area in any one year, claimants will have the area on which their claims are paid reduced proportionately that year. The following year there will he an additional uncompensated set-aside requirement.

Producers will not be able to count any land already set aside under the five-year set-aside scheme towards their new set-aside commitment, but they will be given the opportunity to opt out of the five-year scheme if they so wish. Further details will be sent to five-year set-aside participants when they become available.

The next stage will be the tabling and adoption of Commission implementing regulations. Once this legal framework is clear, we shall announce the payment rates. Further details. including the management conditions for the set-aside land, will also depend on the implementing regulations. We shall notify farmers of the relevant rules as soon as possible. A statutory instrument will be laid before the House to implement those details of the scheme that are not contained in Community legislation.