Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660 - 669)



  660. At 20 per cent?
  (Mr Hutcheon) At 20 per cent that should be, again, coupled with further CAP reform.

  661. On a flat rate system?
  (Mr Hutcheon) No, I think what we need to do is better understand what the differential impacts will be. In moving from ten per cent to 20 per cent we would hope that research could be done to identify what the impacts might be, we could test what the impact of the additional support mechanisms has been and then we can look again. We are not wedded to a particular approach at this stage although we would support the objective of modulating further as Curry has outlined.

  662. You do not have a further system other than flat rate at this time?
  (Mr Hutcheon) At this time, yes.

  663. Can I turn to the Friends of the Earth evidence in terms of your view on that. What sort of criteria do you think we should use in terms of trying to identify what is a small and medium sized producer? Is it the size of the acreage, the output, the income of the farmer? What are the criteria that you would use to differentiate between small and medium sized farmers?
  (Ms Diamand) We have done a small amount of work on that. There are different measures. There is the land, the number of people who work on the farm. I think we have not taken it much further than that.
  (Ms Stupples) One thing I would say, which is probably where we do have some common ground with CPRE, is I have tried very hard to get anybody in the DTI, DEFRA, whatever, to tell me the Government assessment or Government modelling of what would happen to the rural economy under various scenarios. It is very difficult to be able to piece together a picture of what the impact of any one of these policies could be. We know already that MAFF has said there is going to be a restructuring and we are going to have larger farms, less farms, and less people working in agriculture, but I have not seen any numbers on this. The nearest estimate I can give is about 40,000 farmers were due to leave agriculture and that was before foot and mouth, we do not have any definite estimates after. If we go down full liberalisation there may be as many as 50 per cent of farmers who will go out of business and leave the land. We also know that another MAFF study said that probably the only sectors in which British agriculture will be internationally competitive will be arable and dairy. You can see that paints quite a different picture. We may be able to make those arable farms and dairy farms slightly green around the edge by compensating them for the money that they spent on green schemes but I do not know what that means in terms of diversity of the crops and the mixture of farming and all that kind of thing.

  664. At 20 per cent modulation do you have a preferred system, flat rate or aggressive or banded?
  (Ms Stupples) Banded or maybe even tapered is another piece of jargon that is going around.

  665. You do not favour a flat rate?
  (Ms Stupples) No, we are not in favour of the flat rate because we think that would unnecessarily further disadvantage the small and medium sized farmers.

  666. Can I just ask you both this. To the average taxpayer in this country who probably does not live in the countryside, what would you say would be the justification to put more taxpayers' money into agriculture at this time?
  (Mr Hutcheon) I think foot and mouth has clearly demonstrated justification for that and the value that the British public place on the countryside. There is all sorts of evidence which shows that. I think the range of public goods that it delivers justifies it. I think what took us all by surprise was the impact that foot and mouth and the controls used to curb the spread of the disease had on the wider economy too. I remember doing an interview early one morning, I was going in a taxi and the taxi driver in London said that their business was suffering considerably because of foot and mouth. That was not just because of the decline in tourists, it was because of the fact that some of their cars were stored on a farm in rural Hertfordshire.

  667. Regretfully, of course, the British public often has a very short memory and their ability perhaps to remember foot and mouth towards the end of this year—
  (Ms Stupples) I would accept all those arguments about wildlife but I would add the quality of food and being able to have food that you can trust because I think that is definitely something that the British consumer is increasingly concerned about. I think they do wonder "why have we got this Kenyan mange-tout in our supermarket or apples from New Zealand", if I can say that coming from New Zealand, "when in fact we may be able to produce those apples here?"


  668. Are you not worried with your concerns for the small farmer that modulation might do precisely the opposite of what you want and actually damage the small farmer more than anybody else? Let us make a proposition. The proposition is that by and large the larger the farmer, the more likely you are going to be able to buy into environmental schemes because you have got more land you can dispose of, so you have a wider choice of schemes. If you then levy modulation and you have a small farmer whose net farm income is, let us say, £3,000 and he is going to lose a percentage of that because modulation is a tax on that income, his ability to buy into or subscribe to environmental schemes might be quite limited by the nature of his farm. Is modulation not a redistribution away from the small farm to the larger farm?
  (Mr Hutcheon) If you see it only in terms of the broad and shallow scheme as being the only support that is going to be available. What you heard earlier from the RSPB was that what the Wildlife and Countryside Link group of organisations is arguing for is a pyramid approach where you actually have higher tiers of greater support and greater resources for farms that are delivering a broader range or a better quality of environmental outputs and public goods. In many cases the small farms, the small farmers in Devon, are very often in higher quality landscape and they will have the features that will be rewarded by that tiered approach which means they will get disproportionately more perhaps than the prairie farmers in East Anglia.

  669. Can I just ask you finally a slightly mischievous question. Had you existed in 1760 do you think that your members would have rigorously opposed the enclosure movement which has produced the landscape that your members are so passionately devoted to?
  (Mr Hutcheon) That is a very good question. How on earth do I answer that? CPRE is not necessarily wedded to a particular type of landscape. We do advocate lots of change, we do support lots of planning applications, for example, we are not just about pickling the countryside in aspic. There are certain qualities, the tranquillity or the response that you get from people's perceptions of landscape, that our volunteers and members of our organisations do respond to and those are the things that we would like to try and retain, full stop.

  Chairman: Thank you very much all of you for coming, it has been very helpful. If there is anything you wish to add to what you have said, do not hesitate to let us have it, or any further details or clarification then we are always willing to receive that. Thank you very much indeed for coming to see us today.

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