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Hill Farming

3.31 pm

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement. My right hon. Friends and I have now completed the annual review of economic conditions in the United Kingdom's less-favoured areas, in consultation with representatives of farming interests. The conclusion of this review was delayed until after the decision of the EC Council on the new hill livestock compensatory allowance conditions.

The review has shown that average net farm incomes of livestock producers in our hill and upland areas are forecast to fall in 1989-90, following an increase in Great Britain in the previous year. In particular, there is a reduction in the incomes of specialist sheep producers in the high hill areas, where the opportunities to diversify are limited. In farming as a whole, diversification is an important matter and in these areas such opportunities are not very wide.

I am therefore, pleased to announce that, subject to parliamentary approval, my colleagues and I are proposing to increase the rate of hill livestock compensatory allowance payable under the 1990 scheme on hardy breed ewes maintained in the severely disadvantaged parts of our less- favoured areas. The rate per hardy breed ewe will be increased by 75p, from £6.75 to £7.50 per animal. All other HLCA rates and conditions will remain unchanged in 1990. We shall be laying before Parliament a draft statutory instrument giving effect to this rate increase as soon as possible. The additional HLCA payments are expected to cost £5.2 million in a full year. This will increase total HLCA payments to about £125 million a year, which represents a very significant commitment to the hill and upland areas of the United Kingdom.

As I said in the early part of my statement, which some hon. Members may have missed, the reason for the lateness of this statement is the discussions in the European Community about changes in the HLCA regime-- changes which are discriminatory against the United Kingdom because of the headage limits which are provided. We are therefore aware of the concern felt by the LFA livestock sector at the possible impact of the reduction in FEOGA funding of HLCAs based on the size of holding which I reported to the House on 22 November 1989. The House will remember that on that occasion I was able to report that we had made some significant improvements in what the Commission had proposed. One of those was that it would not apply this year but would start next year. But of course many in the industry are concerned to know now what it will mean for them then. First, the changes in the European Community rules will not affect the 1990 HLCA scheme. From 1 January 1991 the mandatory European Community limit on payments of 1.4 livestock units per hectare will come into operation and will have some environmental benefits. We cannot anticipate at this stage the level of HLCAs or the other arrangements for 1991, but I can say that there is no question of automatically carrying through into our payment arrangements the impact of the new European Community ceilings on FEOGA funding. We do not believe that they should be related to the size of the

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enterprise. Therefore, any changes would be made only after the needs of the LFA livestock sector had been assessed in the normal way following the autumn review later this year. This will be our review, on our terms, about our hill problems, and we will not automatically carry through the views that have been approved by the European Community contrary to our wishes.

Finally, there is the new provision in the European Community regulation which allows member states to include measures in the HLCA scheme to take account of environmental requirements.

[Interruption.] Some Opposition Members do not find these matters important, but for those farmers in our most difficult areas they are vital. I hope that those farmers will notice the cavalier way in which the official Opposition, although not others, have received this most important announcement for their future.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I represent a hill farming area. I have been trying to hear the Secretary of State and cannot do so because of the noise from the Government Benches. I hope that Conservative Members will keep quiet so that I can find out how this statement affects my constituents.

Mr. Speaker : I will refrain from saying what I was going to say about that on behalf of the hon. Member. Let us hear the statement.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to say this, but I found the last remark of the Minister objectionable. Would you ask him to withdraw?

Mr. Speaker : Nothing out of order was said.

Mr. Gummer : The HLCAs already provide a significant contribution in terms of environmental benefits, but the British Government will be looking carefully over the next few months to see whether this should be made more specific. One of the things we seek in all the actions of the European Community is to make sure that what we do in farming is applied not only to the need to produce the food that the nation requires but to keeping up the countryside, which is one of the most important jobs of farmers and one in which they serve the country and the countryside well.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : This is the first time ever that we have had an oral statement to the House on hill farming. My colleagues and I welcome it. We have a particular interest in upland areas and over the years we have often demonstrated that in the House. I only wish that the Minister's statement had had a little more substance in it, but I hope that it will become a precedent and that we will have an annual statement to the House on this vital subject. So that we might explore his proposals further, may I suggest to the Minister that he should initiate an early debate to find out whether we have constructive ideas to put forward from this side of the House?

I also welcome the increase in the hill livestock compensatory allowance for sheep from £6.75 to £7.50. As the House knows, the payment has been frozen for four years. However, the increase hardly keeps pace with inflation. Even with the increase to £7.50 the allowance is not in real terms at the same level as two years ago because

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of spiralling inflation and interest rates running at 18 per cent. for many upland farmers who face many other economic difficulties. Hon. Members may have missed the fact that there was no mention in the statement of HLCAs for cattle. That is a serious omission. The Minister spoke about environmental considerations. He has missed a great opportunity for extensification and improving the environment of upland areas by refusing to uprate the support for cattle. That is doubly so when beef rearers are facing falling prices for cattle because of the effect of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the Government's mishandling of that crisis.

Towards the end of his statement the Minister mentioned FEOGA payments. As the House knows, the level of those payments will be reduced. The Minister talked in strange terms when he said that he could not ensure that the system would be guaranteed. What does that mean? Will the Minister make up the shortfall of FEOGA contributions? Will he ensure that upland farmers get the guaranteed benefits which they need? If he did, he would have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House because we believe that upland farmers need much more support.

May I clarify a further point? The Minister mentioned that the scheme would cost £125 million per annum. In the Government's expenditure plans, which were published just five minutes ago, I noticed that the budgeted figure for next year is not £125 million but £120 million, a shortfall of £5 million. Will the Minister assure the House that the figure of £125 million which he has quoted today supersedes the Treasury figure published in the Government's annual expenditure plans? That is very important.

We welcome the Minister's statement, but it is most unimaginative. He said nothing about cattle or about direct income payments to farmers. He said nothing constructive about how he intended to improve the environment of upland areas. He said nothing about diversification or environmentally sensitive areas. In short, there was no single constructive proposal in the statement other than to increase HLCAs for sheep to take account of inflation. It is a most unsatisfactory statement.

Mr. Gummer : I think that you, Mr. Speaker, would have found it embarrassing had it been necesary to call me to order for speaking about environmentally sensitive areas when I was supposed to be making a statement on hill livestock compensatory allowances. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) gave a whole list of matters that I did not mention, which might have gone on ad infinitum. I did not mention them because they had nothing to do with my statement. Nevertheless, my statement was of considerable importance.

The figure in the estimates published today is £5 million less than the figure that I cited because the figure that I announced today represents an increase of £5 million. That does not need any underlining. Whereas before the proposal that I announced in my statement the cost would have been £120 million, it is now £125 million. I should have thought that it was obvious from my remarks that an extra £5 million was being made available.

The hon. Member for South Shields also asked about the fact that the amounts have been frozen. Last year the real terms increase in farm incomes was 19 per cent. and it was therefore not appropriate to increase the payments.

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This year, we estimate that there has been a fall in real terms in farm incomes, which overtakes the level of the payments.

I wanted to do something helpful, and I found the way in which the hon. Gentleman announced his opposition somewhat curmudgeonly. He should have said, "Look, we have been pushing you for this for some time and we are pleased that you have done it." It is sad that the Opposition's welcomes, which have become almost Spanish in their brevity, should be succeeded by a whole series of attacks on everything that the Government do.

The hon. Gentleman made a curious comment about bovine spongiform encephalopathy. I do not think that anyone else in Britain would share the hon. Gentleman's view. Most people accept that the Government have dealt with the matter extremely well. We have put the health of the public first and foremost and we have sought to help the farming community out of a difficult position. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on trying to make bricks out of no straw, but I fear that the bricks that he tried to produce would build no house.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Does my right hon. Friend understand that his statement is warmly welcomed, both in the House and especially in hill areas where the extra support was very necessary? Will he spend a good deal of his time in the next year or so explaining to the British public that if they wish to have high-quality, moderately priced food, on the one hand, and the maintenance of our glorious upland scenery, on the other, there is no better way of investing in those aims than by putting money where my right hon. Friend has put it today?

Mr. Gummer : With his considerable constituency and ministerial experience on this matter, my right hon. Friend has spoken the truth. No payment contributes more to the maintenance of the British countryside than a payment that ensures that we have sheep in our upland areas.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : The Minister rightly identified the problems of fallen income last year and limitations on diversification. Is he aware of the impact on upland farmers of interest rates running in their teens and of the fact that the green pound is disadvantaging the farmers as they seek export opportunities? Clearly he is not, or he would not have given the industry this kick in the teeth--a paltry sum to be awarded to one sector and nothing for any of our other hill livestock producers. How far short of the ceiling allowed by the European Community does the increase that the Minister has announced fall? What steps does he propose to take to seek devaluation of the green pound in the sheep and beef sectors? In the past, the Highlands and Islands have had an enhanced rate for the HLCAs at times. Is that also to be the case under the present review?

Mr. Gummer : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is taking account of the special position of the Highlands and Islands, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased with the results. I am sorry that he should use such emotive language. I can only suggest that his words have less connection with the truth than with his desire to drive a division between himself and those of a different political

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view. No one else will regard the statement as a kick in the teeth to the farmers. It is what has been asked for, and I am pleased to be able to deliver it.

I fight extremely hard for a change in the green pound rate, which I believe is the most important thing affecting the future of price fixing. I am extremely concerned that Britain should be discriminated against in this way. I am especially concerned that many of our colleagues in the European Community do not want such a change. I am even more concerned by those colleagues who do not believe it necessary, even in 1992. It is an uphill battle, but I am determined to win through because nothing is more important to the future of British farming than a fair deal that will enable us to compete fairly. There must be no distinction or differentation against us by the time we get to the single market. If we can do a great deal this year, I shall be best pleased.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford) : May I assure my right hon. Friend that his announcement on sheep will be well received in the western most parts of my constituency and, I suspect, all the way along the marches as well? However, will he clarify the position on cattle, because many of my hill farmers indulge in suckler calf rearing in the hills for pure-bred beef? Does he agree that pure-bred beef from suckler herds is the source of beef that is least exposed to any of the dangers of BSE in that the cattle are fed on hay, silage and grass? Does he further agree that a constant flow of pure-bred beef from the suckler herds can only be good for the beef industry in this country? Finally, if my right hon. Friend is not satisfied, would he care to come to my constituency to talk to the beef suckler herd producers because I am certain that they want the confidence that has been given to the sheep industry?

Mr. Gummer : I am sure that my hon. Friend would want me to remind the House that cattle producers in the less-favoured areas benefit from the 42 per cent. increase in the suckler cow rate. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say that they are already dealt with under another aspect of the way in which we provide support. That is why I thought that it was rather unfair that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) did not mention that in his catalogue of woes. If the hon. Gentleman had wanted the public to feel that he was being properly balanced on this matter, I think that he would have mentioned that fact.

I should not like to make a distinction with my hon. Friend about BSE. The fact is that any beef that is bought in this country is entirely safe for human consumption and is very much better than the beef that is bought from many other countries.

Mr. Foulkes : Will the Minister confirm that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was being generous to him because the increase has not kept up with the rate of inflation and certainly does not meet the demands of the farmers? Will he answer my hon. Friend's question about hill cattle? Why has no announcement been made on hill cattle, which are important in my constituency and in the constituencies of many of my hon. Friends? Finally, does the Minister accept that his whole statement has been sullied by the overlay of his unique combination of impudence and arrogance?

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Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman is an expert in both those subjects, as the House no doubt remembers. I wonder why the hon. Gentleman did not ask for a cut in the HLCAs last year when there had been a 19 per cent. increase in real terms in the incomes of the farmers concerned. He did not ask for a cut because he knew that the rates are not fixed on a year-by- year basis. They are fixed properly to compensate for people's needs at any particular time. The hon. Gentleman is in his usual position of always asking for more money without mentioning the bill that has to be paid by the taxpayer if that extra money is to be spent. The cattle producers in the LFAs have not had a similar or parallel increase because we thought that, in view of the 42 per cent. increase in the suckler cow rate, it was more important to concentrate our aid on the sheep sector.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the House welcomes his firm stance in European negotiations in recent weeks? Does he also accept that there will continue to be grave anxiety about the future of hill livestock farming in the uplands of Britain? Will he take this opportunity to re-emphasise the Government's commitment to maintain the value of support for upland farming in future, pointing out that such support provides the best value for money of any environmental spending?

Mr. Gummer : I thank my hon. Friend. He shows his close understanding of the problem when he emphasises that the future is of the greatest anxiety to the industry. That is why I was surprised that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), did not emphasise the industry's advantages in having an assurance that the decisions on next year's HLCA payments will be based on the needs of our industry and will not be affected by the changes that the FEOGA funding has brought about. That is an important assessment for the Government to make, so far in advance of deciding the rates. It shows our support for an industry which, above all others, maintains the countryside.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : While one welcomes any statement by Her Majesty's Government that support for hill farmers will be increased, we require clarification. The statement given to us says :

"incomes of livestock producers in our hill and upland areas are forecast to fall in 1989-1990, following an increase in Great Britain in the previous year my colleagues and I are proposing to increase the rate of hill livestock compensatory allowance payable under the 1990 scheme on hardy breed ewes maintained in the severely disadvantaged parts of our LFAs. Subject to parliamentary approval, the rate per hardy breed ewe will be increased by 75p, from £6.75 to £7.50 per animal"-- Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the hon. Member ask a question?

Mr. Taylor : The Minister said that that represented a "significant commitment to the hill and upland areas of the United Kingdom."

In my experience during the past 10 years, the European Community recognises the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. As the Minister referred to Great Britain and the United Kingdom in the same sentence, will he tell the House whether his increase applies to the United Kingdom or only to Great Britain.

Mr. Gummer : It is a United Kingdom increase.

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Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of my constituents on his announcement today, which comes at a difficult time for hill farmers, particularly those who farm sheep? Is he aware that the North York Moors national park committee will shortly launch a scheme designed to combine essential support for sheep farming in the LFAs with much-needed environmental protection? Does he agree that the future of our farming industry, supported by taxpayers, can be assured only if we can combine the need to support the farmer with care of the environment? The HLCAs are an important part of that package.

Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend is right to underline the close connection between the production of food and the maintenance of a beautiful countryside. The British countryside is as it is because it is farmed. Almost 80 per cent. of Britain's land area is farmed. We must increasingly make sure that farming is done in an

environmentally acceptable way. Most farmers already farm in that manner, but some need particular help to continue to do so. The Government are determined to provide that help.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : The Minister rightly praised upland farmers for the way in which they tend our countryside. He then referred to their difficulty in obtaining alternative incomes. Will he consider carefully the possibility of improving access to the countryside by allowing millions of people in our cities who want to walk freely in the countryside to do so and giving farmers compensation for allowing people to walk on their land? Is he aware that the national parks have powers to enter into access agreements, but that, apart from the Peak District national park, they rarely do so? Will he encourage the development of access agreements so that people in the towns can walk in the countryside and people who farm in upland areas receive monetary income from it?

Mr. Gummer : I know that the hon. Gentleman has a close interest in this matter. I spent yesterday in the hillsides of Scotland and the problem there is that increased access, which is now a feature of many parts of Scotland, has a deleterious effect on the ability of farmers to look after their stock and to protect the countryside. It is not always possible to increase access without causing considerable damage. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of that because of the problems encountered in the environmentally sensitive area of the South Downs.

It is not always possible to increase access and to regard it as a means of extra income. I notice that that income will be paid for not by the people who have access but by the taxpayer. There is a certain competition for use of the countryside, and the right balance is always necessary.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Welsh hill farmers will greatly welcome the statement on LFA compensatory amounts and the statement on the green pound? Will he confirm that in future negotiations with continental producers he will ensure that British lamb from LFAs has an open market on the continent?

Mr. Gummer : We must stop any repetition of the situation in which British lamb, which is the best in Europe, was excluded from markets that it had taken over because it was the best. I am pleased to say that, in large measure, our colleagues are accepting British lamb as they

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should. We shall continue to ensure that that happens. In the negotiations on the green pound I have stated my case extremely strongly, and I shall continue to do so. In the end, however, I must have a majority of the Twelve and a proposition from the Commission.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : Does the Minister agree that we must consider not only the quality of our countryside, but the quality of life of its inhabitants? The fragility of the economic base in many of our rural areas means that support is necessary to retain not only that economic life, but the social and cultural heritage of the countries of the United Kingdom. Will he top up the EC payments on HLCAs to ensure that there is a good level of support for our hill farmers?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman's comments are entirely in line with my thinking, and that is why I have sought hard to look carefully at the disadvantaged areas. There are various ways in which we can help those areas, not least by our environmental payments and by the extensions and improvements that have led to the ESAs. I hope that there will be further extensions in the future. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the ESAs and their subsequent extension will benefit parts of the Principality, as they will the rest of the United Kingdom.

We must ensure that the money goes in the right direction. My announcement today is one way by which we can ensure that, but we shall continue to look for other means of achieving that aim. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I take a close personal interest in ensuring that the most difficult farming areas of Britain are properly supported and that there is confidence for the future. That is why I made a statement about the parameters of our decisions next year. That statement has not been paralleled previously as it commits us in such a way that previous Governments were not prepared to be committed.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Scottish hill farmers, the mountain farmers--I have 2, 000 sq miles of mountain in my constituency--will welcome his statement. If the environment of the Scotish Highlands is to be properly looked after, the balance to which my right hon. Friend drew attention must continue. The farmers are the best people to look after that balance.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the problems in the Highlands are largely brought about by uncertainty? Much of what he has said today will remove that uncertainty, including his pledge to look after farmers' interests. His pledges on other matters will go a long way to ridding the public of certain worries that they have had for some time.

Mr. Gummer : I spent yesterday with Lord Sanderson of Bowden, who is the Minister in the Scottish Office responsible for agriculture. On my visit a little north of my hon. Friend's constituency I looked at many of the problems that he has mentioned, and I confirm what he has said.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Does the Minister agree that the oddity of the statement and its timing is contributed to by the fact that we have not had a parallel statement on Scotland, despite the fact that, proportionately, the Scottish interest in this matter is much greater than elsewhere? Does he also agree that he has no right to speak about this as an all-British matter if

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he is unable to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) about whether the premium within the Highlands and Islands Development Board, currently running at 58p, will be maintained? That information is crucial. Will he kindly get it?

Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that his reference to the environmental benefits of reducing the headage in many LFAs is by no means undisputed? If one reduces the headage one also decreases the number of people living in many communities dependent upon sheep. There is nothing worse for the environment than for living communities to be killed.

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. That is why I did not say it, did not dream of saying it and would not have said it. I said perfectly clearly that the present system has considerable environmental benefits. We fought hard to ensure that the headage limits of which the hon. Gentleman speaks were not so low as to have the effects that he feared. Because we fought it, the figure rose to 1.4 rather than the much lower one that we had before. I went on to say that I hoped that under our new freedom we would be able to make those payments even more environmentally beneficial. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would support me in that.

This is a United Kingdom statement because the changes I mentioned cover the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for Scotland was here to listen to the statement. I promise the hon. Gentleman that the points he made have been taken into account, and changes commensurate with them are being made by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : I extend a warm welcome to my right hon. Friend's statement. The increase in payments for hardy ewes has two benefits. First, as other Members have said, it will help to ensure a better standard of living for those who live in the hills. Secondly, it will ensure the foundation stock, for which many hardy ewes are used. They are the pure breeds from which commercial herds are developed. For both those reasons, I welcome the first part of the statement.

With regard to the second part of the statement, I am glad that my right hon. Friend will stand against the flock limitation sizes imposed by the Community. I hope that that will be a forerunner and that he will persuade the Treasury to open its purse, be more generous and maintain the payments for all the flocks of this country's farmers.

Mr. Gummer : We are committed to ensuring that when the decisions are made next year they will be made on the basis of the economic position affecting the less-favoured areas and the farmers who receive those payments rather than the impact of the changes in the European Community. Therefore, we make the decision and nobody else. As for the stock position of the hardy ewes, my hon. Friend is perfectly right : the rest of Britain depends considerably on the quality of stock produced in the upland areas. I pay considerable tribute to those farmers who work in extremely difficult conditions to keep the countryside as we would want it and produce the food that we need.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Why has it taken so long--since last October--for the

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Government to come forward with this paltry increase which will be greeted with dismay in hill farming communities in Scotland? Can the Minister confirm that the increase of £5 million-- from £120 million to £125 million--is an increase of 4 per cent. in public expenditure? That must be a cut in real terms in the livelihood of the hill farmers because of the increasing costs that they face. Will he also confirm that he had it within his power to increase the ceiling from £6.75 to £10 per head? Hill farmers will see this statement as demonstrating only a lukewarm commitment to the continuation of the vital HLCA system of support which provides such an important livelihood to the farming community in Scotland.

Mr. Gummer : That is not the view of the hill farming constituencies. I am sorry that, although the hon. Gentleman has sat through our discussion, he has not appreciated the points that I made.

The reason that the statement could not be made earlier was simply that the Common Market had not made a decision about the HLCAs. I said that I would not make any decison about the British position until I knew what would happen in Britain this year. That was because I needed to fight the European Community's proposition that its new proposals would come into operation this year. I managed to succeed in pushing them off so that they did not come into operation until next year. I then started the negotiations and discussions to prepare for a figure for this year. It took us less time to produce the figures from the starting date than it normally does.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I shall allow questions to continue for a further five minutes. [Interruption.] Order. It is my usual practice to ensure that Back-Bench Members have twice as much time as the Front- Bench spokesmen.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be usual, after 40 minutes on a statement, for you to remind the House that today is an Opposition day?

Mr. Speaker : I am not responsible for the statement. I do not make such decisions. I always endeavour to give Back-Bench Members twice as much time as the Front-Bench spokesmen on important statements.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : On a point of order Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Points of order take up time, and I shall have to make allowances for that.

Mr. Allen : Is it not a fact that, since live television coverage finished at 4 pm, these proceedings can be wound up quickly?

Mr. Speaker : That has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Does the hon. Gentleman's point of order need my immediate attention?

Mr. Skinner : Yes.

When you, Mr. Speaker, receive applications for statements from the Government and for private notice

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questions from the Opposition, you look at them carefully. Did it cross your mind today that the Opposition's ten- minute Bill in support of the ambulance workers would have been seen on prime time television were it not for the Government's statement?

Mr. Speaker : I do not hear such arguments when Government business follows.

Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham) : Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that to the EEC British hill farmers are the forgotten men of agriculture, despite the fact that they produce high-quality meat and look after the environment? Will he accept an invitation to visit my constituency where I can assure him that he will receive every possible support in his continued battle against EEC discrimination against my hill farmers?

Mr. Gummer : I have been to my hon. Friend's constituency before, and I shall be happy to go again. I very much have in mind the farmers who work so diligently in his constituency when I come to fight such battles. We have done much better than people thought that we would, but we have not yet done well enough because we do not wish to have that discrimination. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is notable that the last few exchanges did not take place when the public could have seen them because they would have been ashamed of people who do not care about hill farming.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that hill farmers have existed recently on incomes well below those of lowland farmers? Since farmers' margins on Dartmoor have become so slender that they are invisible and they are nearly living on fresh air, will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will revise hill livestock compensatory allowances at far more regular intervals?

Mr. Gummer : I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased that we have made the changes that we have made today, but I cannot promise to review the allowances more regularly. However, when we review them next we shall do so on the basis of the figures from our own industry and not take into account automatically the changes in FEOGA funding, which would have meant a great deal of discrimination against British farmers.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the importance of this matter to all those concerned about the countryside in our national parks which have just celebrated their 40th anniversary? Is he also aware that farmers in the Exmoor national park in my constituency face not only income difficulties but considerable problems caused by damage from the recent

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storms? Will he do all that he can to diminish discrimination from the EEC in the support for United Kingdom producers?

Mr. Gummer : Non-discrimination is the fundamental right of all British farmers, because they can compete effectively on equal and fair terms, but they cannot accept a situation in which they receive less for their products than their competitors and those competitors receive support for exporting their products into our markets.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : The farmers of Derbyshire welcome the statement and I welcome the opportunity to say so. Will my right hon. Friend take on board their professional view that sheep are an important part of conservation in the upland areas and that without them there is more likely to be erosion, the growth of bracken, and other unacceptable deterioration?

Mr. Gummer : That is why I sought in my announcement today to help sheep farmers in particular.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : My right hon. Friend's announcement will be greatly welcomed. Is he aware that thousands of people throughout the country walk the uplands and enjoy the countryside? His statement referred to environmental measures to help farmers and those who use the uplands for recreation. Will he say what he has in mind?

Mr. Gummer : We shall be looking at circumstances in which overstocking has the opposite effect to that achieved by the vast majority of sheep farmers, who help the environment, to see whether there are ways in which we can prevent that overstocking.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Hill farmers in my constituency will warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. I take this opportunity to ask him to consider extending the North Peak environmentally sensitive area to take in the village of Marsden in my constituency, where there is a serious problem with sheep wandering into people's gardens, and in some cases into their homes. Is he aware that provisions within the ESA would give hill farmers an incentive to take 25 per cent. of sheep off the hills during winter, which could be of significant help to the residents of Marsden village?

Mr. Gummer : Obviously there is an interrelationship between HLCA payments and environmentally sensitive areas. I shall examine the point my hon. Friend makes, but I hope that the villagers of Marsden, like so many others in the rest of the country, will note the degree to which the Opposition do not seem to care what happens to hill farmers.

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