Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): The Minister will be aware of the severe difficulties that livestock farmers in upland areas are facing. Will he give the House the assurance that, when his study of the hill livestock compensatory allowances is completed, whatever money it indicates as necessary for the payments of future HLCAs will not be top sliced from the money that he has spoken of this afternoon?

Mr. Brown: The enhancement of the less-favoured areas regime, which the Government have carried out for the past two years, has for each year been a stand-alone announcement as part of an aid package to help the uplands through difficult times. There is much in this package that will help the upland farmers. The LFAs--some of them, at any rate--are in some of the most outstandingly beautiful parts of the countryside. It should be possible to draw on the countryside stewardship schemes, the farm diversification programme and the other measures that I have announced today to enhance farm incomes in the less-favoured areas.

There will be an annual review of the hill livestock compensatory allowances at the end of the summer, as there is every year, except that, this year, such a review was pre-empted by my announcement of the extra £60 million--an announcement that was widely welcomed by hard-pressed hill farmers.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Having been a recent visitor to my constituency, he knows that it has 300 farms. May I ask him, in the cause of joined-up government, to consider the university for industry for the reskilling and retraining element of the rural package? As it is impossible to have a university for industry hub in a rural area, he might consider using Wye college--which has an astonishing IT background--for retraining and reskilling. The college is not in my constituency, but I have a very warm feeling for it.

Mr. Brown: I will take that as an early representation on the shape of the schemes, region by region. I want to ensure that, as far as possible, we focus the training moneys, the marketing grants and the farm enterprise scheme on young and innovative entrants to agriculture, so that we really can reshape farm businesses so that they are more market oriented and look to the future rather than back to circumstances that pertained 50 years ago.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Minister accept that the failure to reverse the disastrous legacy of

7 Dec 1999 : Column 710

the previous Government has meant that there is a cumulative effect on farmers, especially livestock farmers? This week, this month, this winter, they are facing their bank managers and simply do not know whether they can survive. How quickly does the Minister estimate that his package will kick in to reverse the disastrous decline in farm incomes, especially in the less-favoured areas--and will he please tell the banks?

Mr. Brown: The modulation receipts come on stream in the year 2001-02. We shall submit our proposals to the European Union at the end of this year. Funding will continue for the existing schemes, but we anticipate a six-month pause as the old schemes are wound up and the new schemes are put in place. We hope to be able to make a start, later on next year, on the new package of measures that I have announced today.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Obviously, the farmers of Lancashire will welcome this good news today, and I am sure that the NFU in the north-west will fully support the proposals that have been laid before the House. There is a great danger that my right hon. Friend may become the patron saint of farming if he is not careful, because he seems to be coming regularly to the Chamber with very good news which is much welcomed. As my constituency encompasses a variety of farmers, from the arable farmers on the Lancashire plain right up to the hill farmers on the moors, many farmers in my constituency will be very pleased with today's announcement.

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate for the benefit of the Opposition that there is new money for farming and that it will go some way towards ending postcode farming grants? I am worried because my area has no objective assistance status. However, if I have understood my right hon. Friend's announcement correctly, farmers will be able to apply for new money whereas previously they were not able to do so. That will be welcome if it is true.

Mr. Brown: As for the danger that my hon. Friend alerts me to, it is not the biggest one that I face. I shall live with it.

My hon. Friend is right: this is new money to extend across the United Kingdom. Because the payments are decoupled from production--

Mr. Yeo: How much?

Mr. Brown: I have just explained that the figure will be on a rising profile. I have said that I will publish a table setting out how the profile will rise and I have said that, at the end of the period, total spend will be £295 million per year. I have tried to explain the figure in a number of different ways, but the hon. Gentleman does not seem to be able to comprehend it, but that might be because he does not want to. In any event, I can do more than say that I shall put into the public domain a table setting everything out, so that even Conservative Members can discern it.

Madam Speaker: Order. I do not look favourably upon repetition.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): Will the right hon. Gentleman's announcement about funds for diversification

7 Dec 1999 : Column 711

have any implications for the planning system? If it does, will it affect designation for areas of outstanding natural beauty or conflict with county structure plans? If so, what advice will he give to local government, or are the Government planning to take more powers unto themselves?

Mr. Brown: The hon. Lady is on to a good point. Clearly, farm diversifications that involve structural change to farm businesses, which is a perfectly good way for farm businesses to reshape and to become more market-oriented, have to be compatible with the planning system. I hope that the planning system will also shape itself to become more compatible with my ambitions for the successor scheme to the objective 5b scheme and the article 33 scheme--or the rural enterprise scheme, as it is now called.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): The Minister is being unduly modest about early retirements. In Dorset, farmers are taking early retirement at an enormous rate under his present policies. Will he consider carefully the effect of the over-30-months scheme on extensification of cattle? In Dorset, before BSE, many farmers in areas of outstanding natural beauty and on heath land fattened cattle for a long time without using concentrates. That was exactly the best thing to do to avoid BSE. However, unless the over-30-months scheme is relaxed, they will not be able to do that. When will the scheme be relaxed?

Mr. Brown: I accept that the hon. Gentleman is trying, in his mild-mannered way, to make a political point about the early retirement scheme. I have considered it carefully and we cannot make it work in a way that is good value for public money. It is better to say that now, so that we do not get behavioural change and so that people do not wait for a scheme that will not come on stream.

The average age of farmers in the United Kingdom is 57, which is the same as across the European Union. Behind that figure are many farmers in their early 60s who will want to think carefully about how long they will stay in farming and about the arrangements that they need to make for retirement and for their succession. That is why I have made this statement as clearly as I have today.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the future of the over-30-months scheme. As he knows, it is a very powerful public protection measure in this country and the Government are professionally advised by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee about it. I am awaiting advice from that committee.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): I apologise if the Minister thinks that he has

7 Dec 1999 : Column 712

already answered this question, but can I check whether the new match funding for Scotland will be in addition to the entire existing Scottish block?

Mr. Brown: The match funding is in addition to the sum modulated from the current compensation payments for price cuts. The sum across the United Kingdom is £1.6 billion. Match funding applies to the modulated amount alone; it does not apply to what is currently spent in the Scotland Office's block grant on agriculture, nor does it apply to Scotland's share of the money from the European Union.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): The Minister said in his statement that the review of hill livestock compensatory allowances would be made in the autumn. My calendar shows that we are in December and, thus, in the winter months--so will he tell farmers who rely on those payments when they will have a concrete idea of what to expect?

Mr. Brown: The payments are made in January, and of course this January they will be made at the enhanced rates because last autumn's review was pre-empted by my aid package. The 55 per cent. increase, which was an extra £60 million, was widely welcomed by hard-pressed hill farmers.

Next Section

IndexHome Page