|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
5. Mr. David Cameron (Witney): What representations she has received about the implications of the common agricultural policy reform proposals for farmers who have diversified into non-subsidised activities; and if she will make a statement. 
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We have received responses from a wide range of stakeholders to the public consultation on the options available to member states under the agreement on reforming the common agricultural policy. These have included farmers producing non-supported crops, many of whom support a scheme which redistributes subsidy, and other farmers, particularly in the livestock and dairy sectors, who support a scheme based on historic entitlements. An assessment has been made of the redistributive effects of a number of CAP direct aid payments, and a copy has been placed in the Library of the House. A decision on the model for the single farm payment will be made as soon as possible.
Mr. Cameron : While I thank the Secretary of State for that response, she will know that I have written to Ministers about my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Hobbs, and many others in my constituency who have
Margaret Beckett: To pick up first the hon. Gentleman's final point, he will know that what happens with the business of the House is not a matter for me, although I heed what he says and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will also heed it. As the hon. Gentleman will have understood from my reply, we are receiving a range of responses to the consultation and people are highlighting, as he has on behalf of his constituents, a range of different concerns and interests. We shall look at all that very carefully, because we are anxious to get the maximum benefit for all in the community from this opportunity for reform.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): At a recent meeting I held with local farmers, they put to me the view that the options for CAP reform are too restrictive. In fact, there is a strong case for a hybrid approach under which there may be regionalisation for arable farmers, but an historic view may be taken on livestock based on the fact that one involves land area and the other headage. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that she will consider that issue going forward on this important reform?
Margaret Beckett: We are certainly getting a range of representations. I have to say to my hon. Friend that whether it is possible and practical to have a different regime for different methods of farming, particularly in this country where one may get mixed farming, is another matter, but it is a further interesting addition to the debate.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) probably right to say that if subsidies are paid on an historic basis, that will give the recipients of such subsidies an unfair competitive advantage if they subsequently compete with those who historically have produced in the unsubsidised sectors of agriculture?
Margaret Beckett: Such an eventuality should not arise because it will not be possible to claim the single farm payment on land that has previously not attracted payment as it has been growing unsubsidised crops. I am sorry; I think I have got that the wrong way round, but I am saying to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he should look again at the scheme and the proposals: it is not open to subsidised people simply to move in and compete on the same basis with those who have, as he rightly says, established farming that is unsubsidised. It is also the case in respect of those who are going for a totally area-based system that there may
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My right hon. Friend will probably be aware that there are many fine examples of diversification schemes in the context of the most marginal areas of the countryfor example, in the North York Moors national park. Often, not only the work of her Department, but that of the national parks themselves, helps those diversification projects to come forward. In the context of the review, what is she doing to ensure that that best practice is not lost in the larger national debate?
Margaret Beckett: I assure my hon. Friend that the last thing any of us wants to see is established best practice, whereby people have diversified and looked for markets that they can satisfy, to be lost in this transition. I see no reason to suppose that that is likely to be the case; indeed, we anticipate that it will create greater opportunities rather than fewer.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Does the Secretary of State accept that farmers who have diversified into the unsubsidised activity of potato growing are deeply concerned about the outbreak of potato ring rot? Given that a further three farms are under investigation, will she say what progress is being made in containing the disease and give an assurance that the plant health and seeds inspectorate, which is investigating the outbreak of four different diseases, has all the resources necessary to do so?
Margaret Beckett: First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I also welcome the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). I apologise for not welcoming her earlier; I intended to do so, but got sidetracked.
Of course I understand that one of the many concerns of people who have moved into that unsubsidised sector is the emergence of a disease such as potato ring rot. My understandingthis is based on a report that I received yesterday; I have not had chance to update myself this morningis that we are making quite good progress in tracking down any potential course of the disease. Obviously, like him we take it extremely seriously. It is also my understanding that we have the resources needed to tackle it, but I can assure him that I and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), are taking the greatest interest and are very aware of the concerns.
6. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): What her policy is regarding the removal of silt from watercourses in respect of the (a) European waste framework directive and (b) nitrate directive. 
Andrew Selous: Flooding is a real concern to many of my constituents in their towns and villages. What advice would the Minister give to the Bedford group of drainage boards, among others, who wrote to me recently, as they believed that an increased risk of flooding would result from reduced dredging, which they think will happen when silt removed from watercourses cannot be sent to approved landfill sites after 2006?
Mr. Morley: In my experience, it is rare for a drainage board to send dredgings to landfill sites, so that should not have an effect. There has been some concern about whether traditional dredging methods, which leave spoil and vegetation along the side of dykes, will be restricted in some way. That will not be restricted. The regulations will prevent spoil from going to landfill, but the hon. Gentleman will find that that is a very unusual procedure in drainage. If there is a major problem, I shall be happy to speak to him and to look into it in further detail.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): What advice is given to farmers about farming practice to avoid soil erosion, which causes rivers to silt up in the first place? Surely it is better to tackle the cause of silting, which leads to flooding, rather than to deal with the consequences afterwards.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. DEFRA produces codes of practice in relation to soil management. For the first time, as part of the changes to and reviews of our agri-environment programme, one aspect will be natural resource management, which will include soil management. In the changes to whole farm plans and audits, it is also possible that those examples of good agricultural practice can be looked at in further detail in terms of how we apply them and ensure that they are maintained.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does the Minister agree that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has identified a serious problem, namely the plethora of bodies involved in keeping watercourses clear? I have raised the matter with him on a number of occasions. There are the Environment Agency, British Waterways, the drainage boards, county councils, district councils, and, to a certain extent, parish councils, which are involved as wardens if there is flooding. Does he agree that this is a good opportunity to streamline the structure for keeping watercourses clear?
Mr. Morley: I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position on the slimmed-down Opposition Front Bench. We have done precisely the same thing in streamlining the organisation and system of flood management. The funding review considered the issue of critical ordinary watercourses, which will now become the responsibility of the Environment Agency, instead of the