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Conservation Projects

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the use of funds under the common agricultural policy for conservation projects.

As I told the House on 13 March, the Commission has agreed to bring forward during 1985 proposals for a Community-funded scheme based on the new provision for grants to environmentally sensitive areas. This represents a very successful outcome to the initiative which I put forward last year. FEOGA funding is already available for conservation work undertaken as part of an agricultural improvement.

I welcome the personal initiative of my right hon. Friend in this matter. What is the value of the funds, and what proportion of the total do they represent? For the benefit of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) I assure him that I am talking about the switching of funds and not about the increasing of funds.

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but it is not possible to isolate a figure to show how much FEOGA spends on the conservation element of agricultural improvements. It is too early to assess the cost of our new initiative. We shall be seeking primary legislation as soon as possible.

Now that the Government have effectively banned the use of the pesticide dieldrin, why do they not use some of the European money for conservation purposes to ensure that that dieldrin that still remains in the supply chain within the United Kingdom is not used? Why do they not purchase it, take it off the market and protect the environment in so doing?

That is rather wide of the question, but the hon. Gentleman will well know—I know that he is a member of the Standing Committee that is dealing with these matters—that the Government are taking positive steps to reduce any risks from the use of pesticides.

Can the Minister give us an assurance that there will be no reduction in United Kingdom funded aid for conservation when we get the money from the Community, so that we avoid the dreaded additionality problem?

The hon. Gentleman should recall that the initiative agreed during March by the Council of Ministers is, at this stage, a nationally funded scheme. We hope that, at a later stage, we can persuade the Community to embrace the scheme as one funded by Community money. We have in progress an investigation of that possibility.

Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that it is his policy, wherever possible, to conserve land for agricultural use? In view of the arguments that we hear in the House from time to time about north versus south, does he agree that it would be helpful if he and his ministerial colleagues would take on board the point that so long as we allow farming land to be eaten up for development in areas such as Dorset, we are doing everything that we should not be doing if we wish to encourage growth in the less-favoured parts of the country?

My hon. Friend will know that a great deal of the effort of my Ministry goes in giving advice about the quality of the land that is concerned in development. He will know that over the years the Government have had a policy of trying to prevent the very best land being taken by development.