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Set-Aside Scheme

Volume 175: debated on Thursday 28 June 1990

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1.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to review the workings of the set-aside scheme.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. David Curry)

We have been reviewing the scheme in the light of the first two years of operation and we shall be announcing decisions when the third year of the scheme opens.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the set-aside scheme will need significant changes if it is to be made acceptable to farmers and the public? Will he consider bringing forward cutting dates and supporting an extension of the countryside premium scheme? Most important, will he ensure that any proposals to support the so-called grazed fallow do not allow the grazing of additional breeding stock on set-aside land, because that would undermine the business of existing traditional livestock producers?

The Government recognise the great importance of the uplands for livestock grazing. However, there are anomalies in the present scheme. For example, if a farmer who has set-aside and livestock suffers from drought and runs out of fodder, he cannot use set-aside land to feed his livestock. There is a case for some flexibility, which would also be in the interest of the environment. If we make changes or introduce flexibility, they will be limited and designed to protect the traditional activities on the uplands, which I and 25 of my hon. Friends represent.

Notwithstanding the complex question of the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), is not he really saying that he wants farmers to get more money to watch the grass grow?

Watching the grass grow is an environmentally friendly activity and, of course, many wild species breed in the grass, so there is a good case for watching it grow. The scheme does not pay farmers to do nothing because they have to maintain their normal farming activity over the major part of the farm, and the taxpayer gets an extremely good deal for not having to finance surplus production on land that is set aside.