HC Deb 22 April 2004 vol 420 cc26-8WS
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

On 12 February I announced the basis upon which the new single payment will be calculated in England once the scheme comes into operation next year. As part of those arrangements, I said that England would be divided into two regions, namely the severely disadvantaged areas of the less favoured areas (SDA) and land outside the SDA.

Since that announcement, I have been approached by a number of key representative interests who have argued that the original proposal did not adequately reflect the extent of the different land types in England. They have requested a further division of land in England that would identify moorland within the SDA as a separate region. They argued that this would more closely reflect land conditions and productive capacity and, therefore, current subsidy payments.

I have given careful consideration to those representations and to others which have argued for alternative solutions. However the further refinement of a moorland line within the SDA was ultimately the proposal of all the main representative bodies.

One of the purposes of setting the regional boundaries as proposed was to provide some limitation on the redistributive effects of the move to the new flat rate single payment. I accept that the boundaries as announced might have resulted in redistribution of subsidy away from more productive SDA land to less productive moorland. I have therefore decided to amend the regional boundaries as announced on 12 February.

The regions in England will now comprise the moorland within the upland SDA; the rest of the upland SDA; and all land outside the upland SDA. The upland SDA comprises all the areas classified in accordance with Article 3(4) of Directive 75, 268/EEC. It does not include the Isles of Scilly which were classified as a less favoured area in accordance with Article 3(5) of that Directive.

In selecting moorland in the SDA as one of the regions, I am aware that it is possible that there may be some minor inaccuracies in the location of the boundary at certain points. I am therefore considering whether and what practical arrangements can be made for consideration of representations on this issue as part of the arrangements for the introduction of the new scheme. I will make a further statement on this at an early date.

I recognise that this decision to amend the regional boundaries may come as a disappointment to some. Although there will be farmers in the SDA who will gain from this decision, some others, particularly those within the moorland line, will see payments at a lower level than would have been the case under the original announcement, and in some cases less than their coupled historic receipts.

We will need to see that hill farming communities receive appropriate support from other sources, including the England rural development programme. The hill farm allowance scheme will continue to operate for the remainder of the current England rural development programme (up to the end of 2006). In addition, I want to ensure that farms in the uplands have a full opportunity to be rewarded for improved environmental management of their land, including through agri-environment schemes. I have therefore asked my officials to consider how the next round of rural development programming (from 2007 onwards), can better reflect the needs of upland communities, and the public interest in good management of some of our best-loved landscapes.