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Marginal Land

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made in the survey for identifying and classifying marginal land outside the hills; and how long he expects the work to take.

Work on the survey of marginal land outside the hill line which might qualify under the Community's less favoured areas directive (75/268 EEC) is going ahead as speedily as possible and in some parts of the United Kingdom is virtually complete. As I have made clear—in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) on 13 March—the field inspections needed in England and Wales cannot be undertaken until staff can be freed for this work by streamlining the capital grants procedure. We want to find the best way to organise the remaining stages of the survey without undue pressure on scarce staff resources.I have, therefore, arranged with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for a pilot study to take place on some 150,000 hectares in Shropshire and Powys, in co-operation with the Ministry and the Welsh Office Agriculture Department. Work has already started and it is hoped that a worthwhile result will come from this by the time that staff are freed from other duties by the introduction of the new simplified grant scheme for farm improvements which my right hon. Friend announced on 31 January.We understand the urgency which marginal land farmers attach to the completion of the survey, but the time it will take will depend on the outcome of the study and other factors. It will not be possible to know for some time yet what case may emerge from the survey for submission by the United Kingdom to the Commission for their examination, and ultimately to the Council of Ministers. The Government can, of course, still give no undertaking at this stage that extra public funds would be available.