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Alternative Farm Enterprises

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 23 April 1987

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the value of the output of alternative farm enterprises from commercial holdings in the most recent year for which figures are available.

The phrase "alternative farm enterprises" covers a wide range of farm-based activities. I am afraid that no single figure for output is available.

Does the Minister accept that the recent figures announced in his programme of £25 million subsidy is pathetically small in comparison with the £2·5 billion subsidy to agriculture in general'? How will the ALURE proposals affect this policy and arise when the figures are so small and he is not able to respond to the question that I originally asked?

The hon. Gentleman's original question was suitably vague, and therefore he got a suitably vague answer. The £25 million is to be added to the whole range of grants that are available in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and other less-favoured areas, which are sometimes as high as 30 per cent.—often 15 per cent.—and for environmentally beneficial works, 60 per cent. The less-favoured area grants are well appreciated and well understood by farmers. If we add the amount that the hon. Gentleman put to the grants already available, it comes to a substantial sum.

Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever may be the potential income from alternative farming enterprises, the main income for farmers will still be derived from producing traditional crops and other foodstuffs that are produced on the farm? Does he not think that it might be appropriate at this moment to pay tribute to those who have done a marvellous job in marketing our cereal surplus during the past year, because they have halved to just under 2 million tonnes the amount of surplus cereals that we are carrying forward to next year?

It is a remarkable piece of marketing that I hope will be taken up by other parts of the industry. Marketing is most important. I agree with my hon. Friend that the main range of crops will, and must, be the basis of British farming for years to come.

Will the Minister tell us how many jobs he expects to be created as a result of the £25 million investment in alternative enteprises that was announced by his right hon. Friend last month? Will he confirm that the £25 million is new money and that he is not simply talking about money that has already been earmarked for investment in the countryside

It is new money, and it is a good initiative that saves jobs before they are lost. That is the sort of thing for which the hon. Gentleman has been looking for a long time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that despite the fact that many people claim that agriculture is being subsidised to the tune of £2·5 billion, according to our right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the net cost to the Treasury of agricultural support is only £246 million? Will he explain this inconsistency?

My hon. Friend has obviously read the White Paper and is still reading it. In fact, he has not got to the part that gives him the answer to the question about which he is coming to see me next week.