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Marginal Land Areas

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 1980

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in which areas of the country the survey on marginal land areas has not yet been completed ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and ]]]]HS_COL-1753]]]] Food
(Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

Survey work is complete so far only for the areas in Northern Ireland. It is still under way in Scotland. Further progress for England and Wales depends on various factors including the present pilot study.

Is my hon. Friend aware that marginal land farmers are becoming impatient about the delay in designating marginal land? When does he expect the review to be completed?

The previous Government announced the start of the review, but they provided no resources for carrying it out. Until the capital grants are changed there will be no resources available in my Department. That is why we are carrying out the pilot study now, and I hope to have a report on that shortly.

Is it not crucial to have a proper land development policy for Britain, including the aspect of capital grants? In view of the developing squeeze in world food resources that is likely during the remainder of the century, is it not crazy that we are not developing and expanding grass policies for our livestock?

We are carrying out studies with a view to identifying that sort of land.

When will the Minister inject some practical urgency into the problem, particuarly in England and Wales. Is the reluctance due to his Department, or to the fear that the Treasury will not be forthcoming with the necessary funds in due course?

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that we have to satisfy certain criteria for the Community to make the necessary contribution. In order to establish that properly we have to make out a full case. I have explained on many occasions to the House that that information is not easily obtained. That is why we have started a review, and are doing something about the problem.

Does not the Minister agree that it would help marginal farmers if they received an increase in the hill livestock compensatory allowance? Can he give the up-to-date position, bringing in line the FEOGA contributions with the United Kingdom allowance, to the same extent as in the Mezzo Giorno and in the western part of Ireland?

This Government have already made the largest single increase in the less favoured areas allowances. The matter will be reviewed again in the autumn in consultation with the unions. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can ask for more.