HC Deb 09 June 1988 vol 134 cc973-4
5. Mr. Pike

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects the first arable land to he set aside under his new proposals.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall be making an anouncement shortly on the implementation in the United Kingdom of the Community set-aside scheme in order to enable it to go ahead in time for this autumn's planting.

Mr. Pike

The Minister has a tight timetable. He has to have a scheme in place by 14 July. Does he intend to allow the option of extensive grazing to be used? If so, what type of payment will be involved? If the Minister intends to permit that option to be used, will it not create other problems for agriculture?

Mr. MacGregor

Those matters will have to await the announcement, but the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that there is a tight time schedule. We have been working very hard and we are in the final stages of preparation. I am anxious to make an announcement to the House as soon as possible. I know of the widespread interest in the matter and I want to make sure that farmers are able to take details of the scheme into account in their plans for the forthcoming year's planting. As for the hon. Gentleman's last point, I have been listening carefully to all that has been said about grazed fallow, including the views of hon. Members.

Mr. Latham

Is it intended that when the scheme has been produced, less grain should be grown or that the same amount of grain should be grown on less land?

Mr. MacGregor

The primary objective is to deal with the problem of surpluses in cereals, but the scheme has other objectives. When farmers have to set aside 20 per cent. or more of their arable land, it will have a considerable impact on their cereal production. It may not be a full 20 per cent. in every case, but it will have a considerable impact, and less grain is the main objective.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not a sad state of affairs, with one third of the world's population wanting food, that the Common Market and the Minister are getting together to set land aside and leave it fallow? Has the Minister taken into account the fact that after a few years, when some of the land has been lying fallow for a while, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment may come along and say, "As that land has not been used for arable purposes for several years, we can make a further incursion and use it for development"?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman's last point does not arise, because normal planning considerations will apply to all land, whether it is set aside or otherwise. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have a substantial food aid programme, but it is not the answer to the problems of agriculture in developing countries and those that are short of food. Those countries' leaders themselves make it clear that they believe that the development of their own agriculture is the important requirement. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would share our concern about the cost to the taxpayer of disposing of the surpluses; hence this measure as well as others.

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