HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 c215W
Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he will list the principles he proposes to apply in restructuring the beef-producing sector in the United Kingdom; and if producers in less favoured areas will continue to be the prime recipients of longer-term support payments; [25245]

(2) what account he will take of the position of the quality specialist suckler producer in the hill areas in his proposals to restructure the beef industry. [25243]

Mr. Rooker

[holding answer 26 January 1998]: The aim of our restructuring plan, which will be drawn up in full consultation with the industry, is to help the sector become more efficient, and thus less dependent on subsidies and other support.

Our initial thoughts are that it would be appropriate to devise such a plan for both beef and sheep producers. If the plan is successful, it is possible that overall levels of production may decline. The extent to which this happens will reflect producers' decisions rather than those of Government. It is not an objective of the plan deliberately to alter the balance of production as between the less favoured areas (LFA) and non-LFA or as between the dairy herd and the suckler herd.

It is no part of our thinking that, by putting such a plan in place, the Government will reduce the need to provide some form of continuing long-term support to hill farmers that recognises the natural handicaps which they face. But, as my right hon. Friend said in his statement to the House on 22 December 1997, Official Report, columns 677–79, we do need to look carefully at the way in which such support is provided and to devise ways of enabling that support to achieve positive environmental goals. This too will be the subject of full consultation with the industry.