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Severe Weather Payments

Volume 87: debated on Thursday 21 November 1985

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is able to indicate into what areas the additional Government assistance will be channelled for farmers affected by recent bad weather conditions.

I have been examining the best way in which to help those worst affected in the livestock sector by the exceptionally bad weather and hope to be able to make an announcement very shortly.

In view of the catastrophic weather in the north, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland recently, will my right hon. Friend try to make his announcement just as quickly as he can? Even more important, will he make the payments this year if at all possible?

Yes, we shall make the announcement as quickly as we can. I am prepared to see how we can bring payments forward as soon as possible.

What has the Minister been doing with his time? He announced at the Conservative party conference that aid would be made available, but there has been a deafening silence since. Is he aware that about £25 million has been lost in my Scottish border constituency as a result of this summer and that there is a lack of winter fodder for upland farmers? When will he make a statement? If it is not next week, it will have been too long in coming.

We quite rightly wanted to get the full picture and have used the autumn to that end. We are now reaching the point at which we can pinpoint the areas that have had the greatest difficulty as a result of the atrocious weather. I hope that we can make a statement very soon.

Does cutting agricultural research constitute providing additional resources for farmers in the areas that have been hit by the bad weather? Why do the Government intend to introduce charges for the services offered by ADAS, payable by these very farmers—

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would relate his question to the subject, please.

The farmers in these areas are suffering and will have to pay the high charges for ADAS. Why should they not be relieved of those charges?

I do not suppose that farmers in Cumbria will read that question sympathetically. The hon. Gentleman missed the opportunity to press for the problems of Cumbria to be taken into account. Although he missed that opportunity, I can assure him that I am looking after those farmers very well.

I echo what my right hon. Friend has just said. Will he take it from me that it is essential that he takes as long as necessary to get the bad weather payments right? Will he ensure that he consults all sectors of the industry so that he may have as wide a spread of advice as possible on how the payment should be administered and to whom it should be allocated?

I pay tribute to the responsible advice that we have had from many people in trying to pinpoint the areas where the problems are greatest and where help is needed most.

When he announced the scheme at the Conservative party conference, the Minister promised that it would be in place by the end of October. This will be the longest October on record. Does he not realise that the livestock are suffering now? Will he expedite from the Treasury money as well as promises?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman made that announcement at his conference, but I do not recall giving an understanding that the scheme would be in place by the end of October. All I can say is that we want to get a full picture of the total effect of the bad weather before deciding how best to spend the money that we have available.