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Mr. Jack: I have already supplied an answer to the question of hill livestock compensatory allowances. With great respect, the Minister has not read our motion. We asked him how he intends to respond to the calls from farmers, particularly hill farmers, on these issues. So far, all we have had is an accounting exercise. The Minister will not answer the questions that we posed.

Dr. Cunningham: It is a bit rich for a former Treasury Minister to call it an accounting exercise. Does he think that we do not have to keep the books? Is that what he proposes?

Mr. Jack rose--

Dr. Cunningham: I shall not give way again: I have given way three times already. I am not having any more of his long, boring, convoluted interventions thank you very much.

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The right hon. Gentleman must face the fact that he is demanding that British taxpayers should, one way or another, produce a minimum of an additional £440 million to support the motion. There is no way that we can realistically provide anything like that sum of money.

Mr. Gummer: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham: No, I shall not give way for the moment. We shall deal with these issues.

Mr. Gummer: The right hon. Gentleman is frit.

Dr. Cunningham: The right hon. Gentleman flatters himself.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Dr. Cunningham: The right hon. Member for Fylde suggested that I had failed to talk to farmers about HCLAs.

Mr. Jack: HLCAs.

Dr. Cunningham: HLCAs, that is right. I met Sir David Naish and his colleagues to discuss this subject just last week.

Mr. Jack: For English farmers.

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, and my Scottish colleagues met Scottish farmers, the Secretary of State for Wales has met farmers in Wales and the same will happen in Northern Ireland. When that round of consultation has finished, we shall discuss the outcome. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we have already made up our minds about these matters is completely bogus: I have said no such thing.

As for agri-monetary compensation, I have told farmers exactly what I am telling the House now and what I told the Select Committee on Agriculture this morning. I am not persuaded that the case has been made. I have not said no, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. I shall keep the matter under review, and I have until January next year for some of the potential compensation and even longer than that to make up my mind.

Mr. Gummer: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he help us on the question of the £200 million underspend? Does that underspend exist? If so, could he apply it? We are not asking him to say now whether he will apply it. Has that £200 million already been taken by the Treasury? If he could help the House, we would know whether or not he has the money.

Dr. Cunningham: No money from the existing budget has been taken by the Treasury. I shall find out whether the assertion of the right hon. Member for Fylde is true, and we can then consider it. I am not convinced that it is true, but we shall see.

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I shall return to the speech that I was making before the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) intervened. The previous Government's scheme to encourage conversion to organic farming offered the lowest rates in the European Union. We are urgently studying the structure and rates of that aid scheme with a view to raising the profile and quantity of organic farming in Britain. However, organic farming is not the only way to bring environmental benefits, nor will it suit every farmer or every consumer. We have taken broader steps to protect and enhance the countryside. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are currently undertaking a joint review of countryside policy.

The right hon. Member for Fylde criticised us for not having produced a White Paper on the countryside. It took the Conservative Government 16 years to produce a White Paper, and he criticises us for not having produced one in six months. The criticism is absurd, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. Like the road to hell, their White Paper was paved with good intentions but made no specific proposals that were acted on by the Conservative Government.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the environment. Surely it is most important for the rural environment to remain inhabited. Neither the Government nor the official Opposition have expressed concern about family farms and smallholdings, which are under great threat. Geraint Jones, a farmer, wrote to me and said--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Dr. Cunningham.

Dr. Cunningham: We know there are problems. I would be the first to acknowledge that there are pretty serious problems, because I represent hill farmers. The idea that we can resolve those problems within six months of taking office, or provide the resources on the scale that the right hon. Gentleman pretends is possible, is frankly absurd, and people know that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) says, from a sedentary position, that we have made matters worse. During the election, we campaigned on a proposal to stay within the previous Government's spending policies. Conservative Members supported and voted for those spending policies, but now that they are in opposition, they criticise them. They pushed their spending proposals through the House of Commons. They supported them then, and within six months of losing office they are criticising them. The right hon. Gentleman's opportunism and that of his hon. Friends is transparent and naked in its vulnerability.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Like me, my right hon. Friend has hill farmers in his constituency. The previous Government's failure is shown by the amount of land that has gone out of production and by the number of farmers who have ceased to farm.

Dr. Cunningham: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I know that in some of the dales in my constituency, where there were once five or six farms, there are now one or two. People have left the land and others have bought the farms and amalgamated them

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simply because, over years, people could not make even a subsistence living under the previous Government's policies.

We are committed to supporting the biodiversity action plans that have been drawn up for many of our important and threatened species and habitats. With our encouragement, flax processors have introduced a protocol that should end farmers ploughing up land of conservation value to gain the large subsidy available for that crop. We are looking at ways of strengthening the protection for hedges and sites of special scientific interest with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and her colleagues in the Department.

We have made major progress on better, more effective animal welfare policies in six months in office. On the problem of BSE and the beef ban, we have made more progress in six months in Brussels than the previous Government made in 18 months.

We are introducing a pilot arable stewardship scheme to enhance biodiversity in arable areas and particularly address the serious decline of many of our well-loved birds, such as the skylark. We have noted concerns about the protection of various areas of outstanding natural beauty and look forward to receiving advice in the spring from the Countryside Commission.

This ragbag of an Opposition motion and the speech of the right hon. Member for Fylde--a former Agriculture Minister and a former Treasury Minister--simply beggars belief. [Hon. Members: "He is reading."] If hon. Members really want to know, it does not actually say that in front of me. The suggestion that, somehow, the Government are not concerned about the position of farmers is nonsense. Compensation is not without cost, as I pointed out. The compensation scheme available requires a 71 per cent. contribution from the Government and taxpayers.

Turning to the point by the right hon. Member for Fylde on the over-30-months scheme, I believe that farmers have had a reasonable amount of time to adapt to the changed circumstances brought about by BSE and the introduction of the scheme. When the changes were made, I met representatives of the National Farmers Union. We invited them to suggest alternative proposals. I said that, if they could come back to me with alternative proposals which suited them and the union's members better, I would be happy to try to persuade Brussels to accept them. The sad reality was that they were unable to reach any agreement on any set of proposals to substitute for the ones that came from Brussels in the first place.

On HLCAs, I would more than welcome, as I have said to the right hon. Member for Fylde, the Opposition's advice on how they think that we could continue with the £60 million provision which they made for one year only.

Mr. Jack: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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